Original

Reformed spellings for Igbo Settlements
Abakaliki is Abakaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Asaba is Ahaba; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzor; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owerre; Oyigbo is Obigbo; Port Harcourt is Diobu; Ogwashi-Uku is Ogwa Nshi Ukwu... any more will be added.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Igbo Male Hairstyle

This is the kind of hairstyle worn by young Igbo men around the northern side of the Igbo area. The photo was taken around the 1920s. Young guys grew their hair like this for the same reasons young guys grow their hair today.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Igbo Warfare: Shields

Photo: An Öka (Awka) elder and another man during a war demonstration. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

Large body shields are commonly ọta, dialect depending; smaller lighter wicker shields èkpèkè. Shield: ọta; wicker/straw shield: èkpèkè, egbeje; gun shield: òkoro.

The Ibo warrior also carried shields which were of two types. One was a heavy wooden shield. This was used for home defence when defending a town against attack. It was too heavy to be carried on raids or forays and was then replaced by a light wicker shield made from laths cut from the midrib of the oil palm (Elæis guineënsis) or of the Borassus palm (Borassus æthiopica). These wicker shields are found widely distributed.

– M. D. W. Jeffreys (1956). "Ibo Warfare."

Ọ̀gbọ Agha

Ọ̀gbọ agha. A war demonstration by men whose names do not appear to have been noted, photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. The men have swords/machetes, shields made from either wood or the 'midrib of oil palms', and war hats. The location is given as Awka. Colourised Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2019. MAA Cambridge.

Original.

Burial Duties

Duties of the (Igbo) second burial (ịkwa ozu?) according to the European source, early 20th century. This is probably for a very prominent person. The photograph is also likely from today's Anambra State.

Ebiriba Origins

Photo: The Otiri masquerade of Ebiriba (Abiriba), a masquerade, of the Iri Ama festival, that praises beautiful women of the community for gifts. Photographed in the 1930s by G. I. Jones. MAA Cambridge.

Ebiriba (Abiriba) was one of the centres of blacksmithing in the Igbo area. The smiths from Ebiriba were itinerant and had bases outside of their homes in nearby towns like Uzuakoli. The smithing trade was so central to the economy of Ebiriba that ụzụ (smithing) in Ebiriba refers to any sort of long-distance trade.

The settlement of Ebiriba appears to coincide with the general eastward expansion of the Igbo people in the Cross River area. Included in this migration were the Ohafia, Aro, Abam, and Eda and Nkporo people. Like in most parts of the Igbo area, the migrations are very mixed and complex, some moving back on one another. In legend, the Aro, Abam, Ohafia, Eda, and Ebiriba people are said to have links to a progenitor, Eze, who came from Ibeku in today's Umuahia.

The links between Ohafia and Ibeku are well established through a legend recounting Ohafia's departure from Isieke, a village in Ibeku, as well as the rights Ibeku people have in Ohafia as members of the elder settlement and as kin. Customs linking the Ebiriba and other Cross River groups and Ibeku are not as strong. It is, however, likely that these Cross River Igbo groups did migrate from the Ibeku and the general Umuahia area.

The Ebiriba and Aro are linked in tradition as coming from the same migration. All these Cross River Igbo groups backed the Aro militarily during their ascension in the late 17th century; this bond is now popularly known as the Aro Confederacy. The Cross River Igbo groups all have strong connections with non-Igbo Cross River groups.

See: Philip Nsugbe (1974). "Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People"; John Oriji (1994). "Traditions of Igbo origin".

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Igbo Dualism and Àlà

Photo: Ugonachomma Igbo art piece of a man-woman couple, carved to the average person's height. British Museum.

So, in summary, Igbo cosmology is dualism, the universe is ultimately made up of two complementary and opposing primordial forces, often represented as male and female, it is how everything is equally paired.

It's the philosophy of balance, of the mortal realm and the spirit realm, for example, women's and men's parallel and complementary organisations and initiations, okenye, oke ibiri; daada, deede; ọzọ, ịyọm; ọmụ, obi; places for living and sacred groves for nature, etc.

Nne ahịhịa n'agwọ oke ahịhịa, female plants are antidotes to male plants, and vice versa.

That being said, it's now a question of whether Chi na Eke were seen as ontological concepts rather than deities, if the former, then Chi na Eke (and Chukwu) is not the supreme Igbo deity, Àlà, Ànà, Àlị̀, Ànị̀, the Earth Mother, is the recognised supreme Igbo deity in general.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Omu Okpanam

The Omu of Okpanam, whose name was not recorded, photographed by Northcote Thomas in 1912. Okpanam is an Enuani Igbo town near Asaba in Delta State, Nigeria today.

The Omu are titled women who control markets and are spiritual protectors to the Obi, the king, in Igbo communities west of the Niger River, typically among the Enuani, and in the past in Onicha (Onitsha) and Osomari on the east bank of the Niger River. There is one Omu in each community with the institution.

The Omu work closely with diviners performing rites for the community and are the authorities over the opening of markets and resolving disputes within the market. The Omu depending on the community and period take titles typically reserved for men and also dress like men, as a consequence women who are post-menopausal are preferred for the role because such women in Igbo society could achieve the same status as men. As is custom in most communities, the Omu was not allowed to be married to a man, Omu were known to marry wives to assist them and have children for them.

Colonialism greatly reduced the power of the Omu in the market and over society in general due to gender bias in the indirect rule system, colonialism was also partly the cause of the disappearance of the institution in some Igbo communities. Today there are many Omu who are still active in their roles.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Igbo hair

Women's hairstyles from different Igbo groups sketched by P. A. Talbot in or before the 1920s.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Bende Ekpe Club House

Interior of an Ekpe society house in Bende photographed by P. Talbot around or before the mid-1920s.

Ọ̀gwa - Igbo shrine hall

An ọ̀gwa, an ancestral meeting and reception shrine hall of household patriarchs photographed by P. Talbot around or before the mid-1920s in reference to Ogwashi Ukwu. Ogwa Nshi Ukwu means the great ọ̀gwa of founding Nri-Igbo migrants.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

18th c. Ụ̀banị̀ Ìgbò vocabulary

Ụ̀banị̀ Ìgbò, the Igbo spoken on Bonny Island in today's Rivers State, recorded by the slave trader Captain Hugh Crow from the late 18th century, from "Memoirs of the late Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool."

Bèkê seems to have been recorded here which brings the theory that it originated from the Scottish explorer William Baikie into doubt. Westermann, Smith, Forde (1932). Oxford University Press.

Bonny Island was one of the largest slave ports of the Atlantic slave trade era, especially in the late 18th century. Hugh Crow describes the predominance of Igbo captives on the island, most going to British colonies. "Memoirs..." p. 198.

This led to a large amount of Igbo people in the British Caribbean in particular, in places like Jamaica where this early 19th century description was made. John Stewart (1808). "An Account of Jamaica, and Its Inhabitants." p. 235–236.

Could some of these words have been recorded from some of the ancestors of people now in North America?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Les Békés

A woman from Guadeloupe (apparently en route to Montreal, Canada). Photographed by Augustus Frederick Sherman.

The word for white men in the French-speaking Caribbean island of Martinique and to a certain extent Guadeloupe is Béké presumed to be from bèkée in Igbo meaning the same. These islands were the disembarkation points for many Igbo people during the forced Atlantic migrations from the 16th to 19th century. Igbo is the main component of English Caribbean creoles and, as may be apparent, has influenced French Caribbean creoles.

Some of the Ubani (Bonny) Igbo recorded by slave trader Hugh Crow.

The popular folk etymology of the word bèkée in Igbo says that it was derived from the Scottish explorer William Baikie who had contact with Igbo people, however, what seems to be a word used in the same way as bèkée has been found in the memoirs of Captain Hugh Crow, a slave trader out of Liverpool who had close contacts with the Igbo speaking middlemen of Bonny Island in Rivers State today. His voyages largely took place in the 18th century and he died in 1829, Baikie was born in 1825.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Peopling of Ikot Ishie, an Igbo Diasporic Town of Calabar

Photo: "The Calaba and Opobo people at the show, Lagos," 1909 postcard.
[Ikot Ishie, Calabar] was named after Ishie Offiong Okoho, an Igbo ex-slave of Chief Offiong Okoho of Archibong House in Duke Town[.] […] Oral tradition maintains that Ishie, an Igbo slave, was bought as a youth and grew up in his masters' household. He was adopted and acquired the name Offiong Okoho from his master, Chief Offiong Okoho. […] Having served his master faithfully, Ishie Offiong Okoho was manumitted and was allocated the whole expanse of land (consisting of Ikot Ishie area) to live and prosper on his own.

[Apparently, Ishie Offiong Okoho also became a wealthy trader during the slave trade era, obtaining his slaves from the interior of the Igbo area to his domain of Ikot Ishie.]

Photo: "Government Hill from Duketown, Old Calabar," 1903 postcard.
Beside the present Bassey Duke, Bedwell, Chamley and Nelson Mandela axis, Ikot Ishie has the highest concentration of Igbo community in Calabar. [...] [N]inety percent of traders in the Ikot Ishie market are of Igbo extraction, and [speak] Efik [...] though they have not lost contact with their original homeland, the Igbo at Ikot Ishie have been, and will remain, part of Archibong House.
[Edit: Chief Ishie Offiong Okoho apparently died in 1901 according to the recounting of the Ishie House's genealogy in a court case over land disputes in 2000 involving his descendants.]

– Winifred E. Akoda (2005). “The Socio-economic Impact of Stranger Communities in Calabar: A Study of the Igbo and Hausa Since 1900.” In: “History and Citizenship: Essays in Honour of Okon Edet Uya.” University of Calabar Press. pp. 160–161.

The forced human migration is a long and complicated history which can be attributed to the nature of slavery, more like indentured servitude, in the interior of the Bight of Biafra itself which, outside of Atlantic expulsion, resulted in the absorption of servants into a household resulting in a population today that is largely descended from a mixture of both masters and servants. (And this indentured servitude system seems to have survived in the form of houseboys and housegirls today.)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Ase, Ndị Osimili

"Assay Chief & wife." P A Mc C. British Museum. Ase is an Ndị Osimili settlement on the Ase River which connects to the Niger River, now in Delta State. It is an Igbo-speaking settlement with a mixture of Isoko and Ijo ancestry as it is near the border of these three cultural areas. In the late 19th century, British traders established a trading post in Ase, such posts were used for imperial expansion, as in the case of the bombardment of Patani in 1882 for its attack on the National African Company's factory in Ase.

In Assay village (Ejaw) some of the women were busy making fishing nets, whilst others were engaged in preparing the evening meal. Many of the girls had heavy bands of ivory around their ankles and wrists. They seemed to serve the same purpose as the bracelets of our English girls. As it was the dry season the river was very low, many sand banks being visible. On a number of these, fishermen had pitched their grass huts. I could not help thinking of them as Arabs in the desert resting by the wayside. Pitched on the golden sand in the middle of the river, they looked most picturesque.

– R. Hope (1906). “With Pen and Camera in Nigeria.” In: “Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society.” p. 130.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Omambara

Crossing the Omambara River (or ‘Anambra River’) at Ogurugu in present day Uzo-Uwani LGA, Enugu State, Nigeria, c. 1916. Photo: Hugh Nevin Nevins.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

African (Igbo) Art’s Influence in Late 18th Century Virginia

[Left] Wrought-iron figure made by an African in Alexandria, Virginia, late 18th century. Height 11 in (27.9 cm). Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC. [Right] Alụsị figure, Christie's.

Douglas Chambers (2005, Murder at Montpelier, p. 174) suggests that this figure may have been influenced by Igbo arts. The slave trade in the Bight of Biafra, where the densely populated Igbo homeland sits, reached its peak in the late 18th century, the largest African ethnocultural group in Virginia at the time were Igbo, many of the men were skilled blacksmiths which is a profession that carried spiritual weight in Igbo society along with iron itself. The semi-representationalism and elongated stance of the figure made by an anonymous African is characteristic of Igbo ancestral shrine figures in contrast with neighbouring groups with more stout and realistic features.

Maybe the figure was struck as a personal ancestral figure of an African-Virginian to an Igbo ancestor, maybe even a blacksmithing figure from back home or Virginia, an object of religious worship, or all of these things.

Mkpuru

Plain woven raffia cloth (mkpuru?) taken from the Igbo ('Eboe') country by William Baikie before 1856. British Museum. The first Igbo textile is ajị, beaten bark cloth. Before the 9th century CE weaving was done with vegetable fibres and, from an unknown date, local cotton.

Several areas of the Igbo country grew their own cotton, sometimes cotton was also gotten from the Igala and Idoma. The cotton was locally spun and dyed. Igbo people used narrow cloths as loin cloths to cover the needed areas when they reached maturity.

A lot of the weaving now uses imported machine-made and coloured yarn which is the case for all Akwete weaving today and for the Nsuka ori cloth. These yarns are supposedly more colourful and have a greater variety of colours.

Before these textiles, the body was likely covered with skins and interwoven leaves and other vegetable fibres. Many of these textiles were and are still used, often times ceremoniously, along with cotton textiles.

Jịọjị

Photo: Sinhalese people and an Ikwere Igbo boy photographed during a Rumuji Owu play by G. I. Jones, c. 1930s, MAA Cambridge.

Have you heard of the lungi? This plaid material commonly known as madras is a textile from India that has become ethnic wear in southeastern Nigeria, known as George (Jịọjị) by the Igbo and injiri by the Kalabari. This is a brief history.

The lungi has been worn in India for centuries particularly in the south, today in India the lungi is relatively cheap and widely made and is associated with the working class. With British colonialism, the lungi was exposed to empire.

Madras, now Chennai, was a British East India Company post centred on the Fort St. George factory in the 17th century. It became the principal weaving and distribution spot for the lungi when empire exponentially increased its amount of weavers, marketing the madras worldwide.

Fort St. George, 19th century.

The Kalabari claim that the injiri (madras) was first introduced to the area by the Portuguese.

Pelete bite Kalabari cloth is made by women removing some of the thread on injiri. British Museum.

The origin of the name ‘George’ is unknown, but since Fort St. George was the founding settlement of Madras, the main centre for the ‘George,’ it may be possible that the cloth got its name from the factory as it was traded in what became southeastern Nigeria.

The British brought this cloth through trade in the delta areas of what became southeastern Nigeria, in turn the George was traded deep into the Igbo interior where it became the primary clothing for many and a prestige cloth regarded as a sign of wealth and success in trading.

What may be Ngwa Igbo people wearing 'George,' Indian madras, in this photo noted by Northcote Thomas as being taken near Aba, c. 1912-13. MAA Cambridge.

It was not long before weavers, particularly those in Akwete, were able to copy the weave of the lungi and started to locally produce imitations while also adding elaborations. Imported madras, ‘real India,' seems to have remained the highly prized kind.

Akwete woman's work, British Museum.

The Kalabari used injiri to cover ancestral shrines and the cloth is so meaningful that mothers are gifted with a piece after birth. The Igbo tie George on ancestral figures, some masquerades, and wear it for festivals. It is a prized heir loom in both cultures.

"The Chief Steward Julu & one of the pantry boys named Assimo off duty. out on the marn." Jonathan Adagogo Green (Ibani (Bonny) photographer), around the turn of the 20th century. British Museum.

Ndị Otu Ọdụ

"Rich Women. Onitsha. (church members.)" G. F. Packer, 1880s. Pitt Rivers Museum.

These women are likely part of the Ndị Ọdụ or Otu Ọdụ society which is a women’s socio-political and economic organisation in Onicha (Onitsha) made up of wealthy members who either bought the rights to the title or whose relatives bought the rights to either wear ọdụ aka, ivory bracelets, or ọdụ ụkwụ, ivory anklets, or both.

Before the 1890s, the Ọmụ Ọnicha, the female counterpart to the Obi, the overall leader of Onicha, the last being Ọmụ Nwagboka, who was also the head of commerce and trade, wielded great power over most women and the Otu Ọdụ society. Ọmụ Nwagboka, initially resistant to Christianity and the church, later became a catalyst for the growth of church attendance among women after encouraging them to attend services which brought many women, including quite influential ones, to the Anglican mission.

Ọmụ Nwagboka was initially a traditional practitioner before converting to Christianity, at least, formally. Her change in attitude to the religion may have been due to pressure from missionaries and her European trade partners who worked as two arms of European imperialism in the area, traders later becoming invaders and subsequently forming a colonial government. Indeed this may have been the case for other women traders, the most successful of whom would have no doubt been Ndị Ọdụ.

Pressure to convert also came from their children trained in mission schools; although older generations may have been resistant towards conversion, the mission school attenders eventually came to take the position at the top of society in politics, in the courts, and in what was termed ọrụ or ọlụ bekee or ọrụ oyibo, civil service and other jobs introduced by the British Empire that formed a decade after the last Ọmụ Ọnịcha. While there hasn’t been a woman appointed by the Obi Ọnịcha to the position of Ọmụ for well over a century now, the Otu Ọdụ society is still quite prominent.

Onicha Lady

A woman of Onitsha, c. 1890 engraving from the travels of the French Foreign Legion officer, Antoine Mattei. [Captioned in French: “Civilised woman of Onitsha: Onitsha women wear only a loincloth which goes down at mid-leg and which is tied around the kidneys; it is civilised.”]

Europe

The first description of the Igbo area written in Europe was made by the Portuguese explorer and sea captain Duarte Pacheco Pereira (c. 1460 – 1533) in the manuscript Esmeraldo de situ orbis, composed between 1505 and 1508, in which he describes "a land of negroes, called Opuu, where there is much pepper, ivory, and some slaves." 'Opuu' has been linked to 'Opu', the 19th century Igala term for the northern Igbo, other theories say 'Opuu' is the Jukun word for man, 'apu'.

Chi and Equiano

[…] Equiano’s constant references to destiny, providence, and faith fit into the Igbo concept of Chi (a spiritual entity or personal god, often perceived as a person’s double). As the determiner of destiny, a person’s chi acts as the intersecting force that connects the mundane with the spiritual, wherein the core values of Igbo culture – “‘individuality,’ 'achievement,’ a belief in 'destiny’ – are lined to the supreme being and creator 'Chukwu’ or 'Chineke’. [...]

– Chima Jacob Korieh (2009), "Olaudah Equiano and the Igbo world." p. 77.

[Image: The Slave Ship by the British artist Turner, an abolitionist painting which alludes to the particular case of the Zong massacre in November, 1781 when 133 enslaved African people loaded onto the slave ship Zong were thrown overboard, murdered by drowning to save drinking supplies and to eliminate sick slaves that would sell poorly at the destination at Jamaica. The murder by the crew and owners of the ship was in part to receive insurance placed on enslaved Africans. Olaudah Equiano, a prominent abolitionist by then, of Igbo origin, shocked England with his exposé on the slaver Zong whose crew were ultimately ruled against in court. The painting was first exhibited in 1840, well after Olaudah Equiano's passing.]

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Atụ

"Play of late Chief Ogolo of Opobo - men dressed in ritual costumes." photographed by Arthur Tremearne, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge. Ọkọnkọ masquerade known as Atụ, bush cow.

Accessories of a young Igbo girl

Accessories of a young Igbo girl, a leg ornament usually made of brass that is wound round the leg and a bone hair ornament from Aguleri and surrounding areas, below a hair pin used to scratch the head from Onicha (Onitsha). Etnografiska Museet, Sweden.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Arụsị

Alụsị with its priest and its ritual iron belled staff, Ösü (Orsu), West Isuama Igbo. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

The attitude towards what are termed alụsị / arụsị, etc. varies among Igbo people. Generally, the nature spirits are handled by dibia and by family heads. They were set up in order to protect the community or provide for some need of the community, like fertility, or were temporarily used like in times of war; in that case, the etymology of alụsị / arụsị may point towards the Igbo view of these entities, where arụ [work] sị [emphasis] may refer to a spirit that has been built up into the community through dibia work.


Four nzụ (chalk) lines.

In most cases, just as how arụsị have been 'built up' is also how many can be taken down since many do not necessarily represent a fundamental part of worship in various Igbo communities.


Eight nzụ lines.

Some entities referred to as alụsị or agbara, etc., depending on the Igbo community may be a focal point of worship, speculatively some of these entities may be stand-ins for the fundamental elements of the universe in Igbo worldview such as Anyanwụ and Ala, it does not appear that a fundamental entity like Ala can be taken down.

Ùlì Ǹrì

An Igbo man from Agukwu Nri decorated with what appears to be ùlì, a semi-permanent dye from a plant and a system of symbols of the same name. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Pearl Buttons

An Igbo lady from Öka (Awka) with pearl buttons in her hair. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11.

[Published photo.]

Monday, April 29, 2019

Ìbe Nne

Photo: The hairstyle for a new Igbo mother, according to P. A. Talbot, 1926. Musée du quai Branly.

Due to exogamy, women are able to manoeuvre between lineages in Igbo society, for this it appears that women were barred from positions to ‘secure’ the patriline. In most cases women are not directly in charge of ancestral veneration of male community founders in rites associated like breaking kola in the case of addressing the patriline (umunna), and masquerading. Men competed for land and resources and in most cases became the establishers of communities; in the case of Ohafia where women played the key role in establishing communities, rights to land can be traced through mothers.

Inheritance and land ownership are related to this idea of ‘preserving’ the patriline from women who are perceived as being able to bring in competing patrilines. Men negotiate bride money as it is the negotiation of a citizen, a women, being uprooted from one patriline (‘nation’) to another. A child born out of the official adoption of a woman (marriage) stays with the patriline they are recognised in, that of her father’s.

Wives are still recognised members of another patriline as can be seen by the various associations of daughters and the burial of deceased wives in their father's homes; wives can return to their patriline on divorce and daughters are potential adoptees of another patriline.

It’s no surprise that women’s institutions like that of the Omu, the Otu Odu, etc, are primarily women’s trade unions, because trade is one of the areas in society Igbo women could dominate since it was mostly a free domain outside of the structure of lineages.

Many Igbo women were the main income earners for their households, but this money was put towards the upholding the patriline of husbands represented in gestures such as the buying of titles for men, this also served to shield the economic power many wives had. Women are left with handling the issues of women and other issues outside of anything that may challenge the overall structure of the patriline which in past represented the sovereignty of the nation.

Gọ̀ - be in-lawed, ọgọ̀ - in-law, ngọ̀ - bride money? Ngọ̀, the in-law maker, is a symbol of the mixture of two families and the recognition of the adoption of a daughter into her husband's patriline, as she keeps hers (what may be termed her children’s ibe nne, matriline).

The matriline in reality is also very important, the matriline is the refuge for people who came to be adopted in it. Many rites, including burials, require the participation and recognition of the matriline in Igbo society.

Names like Nneka and Nnebuisi hold the Igbo view towards mothers. There is a reason why nwanne and umunne on a personal level are the main Igbo terms for siblings and kin.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ahaba or Onicha woman

A photo of a woman taken around the Niger River, likely Ahaba (or Asaba) or Onicha (Onitsha) [partially cropped]. Photographed by Henry Crosse with the Royal Niger Company, c.1886–1895. MAA Cambridge.

[Probably onye Ọ̀nị̀chà.]

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Owere Creation Story

Photo: Mbari votive shrine in Percy Amaury Talbot (1926). "The peoples of Southern Nigeria." Vol. II, fig.13. via the Musée du quai Branly.

Creation of the days from the Owere (Owerri) area:

Chineke created four people [...] and put those four people inside the house in four rooms. Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo. These are men, and he also put women in a separate room. Then Eke suggested it would be a good idea for Ala to exist. The land just came out, and existed before we met it. The land and the sky are the same. [...] No one gave birth to them. Then Chineke called in all the gods and fixed a time for creating the days. Chineke asked, "Which of you knows the days?" Agwushi [god of divination] said he knew. "This is Eke, the next is Orie, then Afo, then Nkwo. These are the four days of the world." Chineke took Agwushi and gave him to all [...] to feed them....Then Chineke told Agwushi to go to man and leave part of himself [...] [Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo], and also to [...] every god—Amadioha, Ala, and all the others.

– Ugo of Ihette via Herbert Cole (1982). Mbari.

According to this record of a creation story from the Owere (Owerri) area, the days are four men put into four rooms, but there's also mention of women, although their number and relation to the men isn't substantiated, it's plausible that they are also four. Could the Izù ukwu, the eight day week, be a pair of four male and four female primordial entities making eight in total?

Also, it's interesting how the name for week or group of the days is ízù, when the entities are said to congregate in various Igbo creation stories, like ìzù, a meeting or council. Even the nsibidi signs for the four (or eight) directions is similar to the nsibidi sign for meeting or congregation, which is also similar or the same as the four and eight rods.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

'Fishery in the Lower Niger'

Image: 'Fishery in the Lower Niger' c. 1890 engraving from the travels of the officer of the French Foreign Legion, Antoine Mattei.
[...] I had before observed below Onitsha, along the shores, rustic sentry boxes, supported on six poles about 12 feet above the ground, and had taken them to be stations for guardians of the river. They are stations, but for the fishermen. They perch themselves up in these watch-boxes, whence they can command the neighbourhood. A large oblong net, a sort of seine, with a basket in the middle, made of vegetable fibres, is suspended over the water. By the aid of a long rope of the same material, the fisherman lowers or raises his net. Near at hand, in a canoe moored to the shore, two negroes, silent and motionless, are on the look-out. As soon as the net is raised the canoe comes up and the catch is thrown into it ; the sentinel, who does not move from his eyrie, then again lets down the net into the river. This method appears to answer very well, for I have seen the natives thus catch a large quantity of fish ; they swarm there, and they are as fine as they are abundant. This does not prevent them from also using harpoons and fish-hooks, which they manufacture themselves. [...]

– Adolphe Burdo (1880). "The Niger and the Benueh." p. 174–175.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Asaba Jewellery

Asaba, turn of the 20th century. Igbo jewellery [cropped].

Model of Igbo Cosmology

Some of the ideas are theoretical like the placement of the days. Some of the structure and ideas are partly via Obiakoizu A. Iloanusi (1984) and from the Kongo cosmogram.

The sun is an analogy, if that's the right word, for a person's life through the mortal (elu ụ̀wà) to the spirit (Àlà mmụọ), a person may be reincarnated with a unique Chi and the Ekè (characteristics) of their ancestor, and may pass through morning, afternoon, and evening.

When the person has a complete mortal cycle (reaching ụ̀wà mgbèdè, the evening of one's life), they enter the spirit realm awaiting burial, a second burial guiding them to ancestorhood, and then ancestorhood awaiting reincarnation.

The Chi and Ekè duality is repeated, or represented, in or by several other principals of the universe, the numbers 2, 4, 8, as alluded to in another post, are important numbers.

(The circle, the path, may be likened to, or represent the Igbo allusion to ụzọ̀.)

Aro Woman [Postcard]

A woman from Arochukwu, early 20th century, a postcard via the US Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm-winetry

Consider this made up example of a scenario:

The Igbo people were invaded by the British and the British met a people who tapped and drank wine from palm trees. The British found this strange and abominable and so they condemned what they came to call 'palm-winists' who practice 'palm-winetry.' The Igbo people where confused by the idea of palm wine being bad or them being defined as 'palm-winists' and wondered what was wrong with palm wine, but the British officers and leaders of the church and mission schools kept reiterating the idea of 'palm-winetry' and that they were better because they didn't drink palm wine but rather they drank tea. Over time this was built into the psyche of Igbo children and they decided to abandoned the abominable practice of 'palm-winetry' and insisted on only the finest British tea.

An Igbo man climbing a palm tree for palm nuts photographed by G. T. Basden, early 20th century.

Over the generations, however, a new generation rose up to counter what they considered misinformation by the British and they started what they felt to be a renaissance and a revitalisation of the culture that the previous generations had abandoned because of colonialism. One of the first things they wanted to attack was the idea of 'palm-winetry' and that Igbo people were 'palm-winists.' They insisted that the Igbo people, contrary to earlier colonial reports, were not drinkers of palm wine but that rather the Igbo people only took a sip of palm wine to check whether a palm tree was ripe enough for its palm oil to be harvested. The palm oil was the real target, according to them, not palm wine; Igbo people did not drink palm wine! In fact, Igbo people were the original drinkers of coffee and it was the British who drank other kinds of wines. Further more, the Igbo people were the original growers of tea leaves.

The story is a long winded analogy to challenge manipulative colonial-era language which introduced ideas such as 'idolatry,' 'paganism,' 'heathenism,' and the like, the suggestion is that instead of attacking a particular classification of indigenous practices, perhaps it would be wiser to take a wider look at what these classifications are and why they exist in the first place. If 'palm-winists' and 'palm-winetry' are replaced with 'idolators' and 'idolatry', what would justify the absurdity of the condemnation of palm wine as abominable that also wouldn't justify the same for 'idolatry', that is, outside of the worldview and frameworks designed by the inventors of such classification? In other words, what was the word for 'idolatry' in Igbo before colonial education?


Igbo worship is 'pagan,' 'pagan,' according to Western tradition, usually refers to religious practices outside of Abrahamic beliefs. The idea in this post isn't to challenge being labelled 'heathens' or 'pagans,' the idea is to ask what makes being 'pagan' bad for example and how can this manipulative language impact how people handle and evaluate their own worldview.

In other words, 'pagan', 'fetish', 'idolatry,' etc, are words and ideas from the European Judeo-Christian worldview and tradition, they are ideas that were solidified by them without the input of Igbo people for example, so these ideas cannot be used to judge or evaluate the Igbo worldview which is a totally different tradition and worldview.

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