Original

Original (correct) names/spellings for Igbo City's/Towns/Villages
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.

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.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Two-storey building

Another Igbo tower or two-storey earth building photographed by Northcote Thomas. Öka (Awka), c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Chi nà Ekè

Interior of Chi shrine at Nkarahia, an Isiokpo Ikwere settlement. Photo: P. Amaury Talbot, early 1910s.

An interview of an Urata man about the High God:

“Chineke molded the world; then Eke divided the world. Eke came out of the hands of Chi, so they became the same. They are the same mother. It is like the creation of the world: the world is one. That is the way Eke came out of the hands of Chineke. But they are the same.
If it were only for the hands of Chineke no one would die a violent death. It is Eke who divided the world and after that people died in power [probably transliterated from ‘ọ́nwụ́ íké’, literally meaning "powerful death”, but metaphorically a painful suffering death]. Eke is the tricky one who portioned out these things. Chineke is straight and long, and he [no gendered pro-nouns in Igbo] made the lives of the people upright and good. Eke played this trick we are now inside.“ [in notes: (Parts of creation stories related by the cult priest of Afo at Umuoye Etche)] [Igbo group in southern Imo, northern Rivers states of Nigeria].

[Cole:]

Chineke (or Chukwu) [in notes: (In many parts of Igboland, as in Owerri, the high god is also called Chukwu, an ellision of chi and ukwu ("great”), but in Owerri Chineke is the more common usage.)] is the creator, the high god. Though distant and not the object of images or direct sacrifices in Owerri, he is often addressed by name in prayer and does receive offerings indirectly. He knows what people are doing but does not himself intervene or punish. The etymology of his name suggests that he is both a deity and a concept, for “Chineke” is a contraction of chi, na (“and”), eke: chi apparently meaning “god” or “soul”, with eke approximating “creation” or “division”. Chi and eke are also personifications, as suggested by the quotations above and the words of another informant: “Chi and Eke represent male and female. Chineke—I don’t know if he is a man or a woman. He is up, up, up, and we don’t see him.”

– Herbert M. Cole. MBARI: Art and Life among the Owerri Igbo (1982). p. 54. Indiana University Press.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Ögbü Compound [Colourised]

Ögbü compound and tower, Anambra State today, photographed by Northcote Thomas, May 1911, colourised, Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2018.

... (and two (possibly lazy) compound dogs.)

... (kpaaa~.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Thomas Thistlewood’s diary

An entry in Thomas Thistlewood’s diary, a British plantation overseer in Jamaica who eventually became a landowner and owner of enslaved people. Entry Aug. 12, 1776: A Jamaican (British) planters wife seeks “an Ebo girl, about 12 years of age” to be a “sempstress” “with small feet, not bow-legged, nor teeth filed, small hands & long, small taper fingers, &c.”

Image via Beinecke Digital Collections, Yale. Transcription via: Audra A. Diptee (2016). “A Great Many Boys and Girls.” In: Falola, T.; Njoku, R.C. eds. Igbo in the Atlantic World. p. 117.

Stereoscopic view

'Stereoscopic' gif made from two photos taken in succession of an Igbo man from Öka by Northcote Thomas c. 1910-11.

Uri Art, Bende

An ùrì drawing from Bende made by an uncredited Igbo woman artist (or group of women). Photographed by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Crisis in the soul"

Chinua Achebe:

What I think is the basic problem of a ... country like Nigeria is really what you might call a "crisis in the soul." We have been subjected — we have subjected ourselves too — to this period during which we have accepted everything alien as good and practically everything local or native as inferior. I could give you illustrations of when I was growing up, the attitude of our parents, the Christian parents, to Nigerian dances, to Nigerian handicrafts; and the whole society during this period began to look down on itself, you see, and this was a very bad thing; and we haven't actually, even now with the independence, we still haven't got over this period [...] You see, a writer has a responsibility to try and stop this.

– Pieterse, C.; Duerden, D. (1972). "African Writers Talking". pp. 7-8.

The Modern Ozo (Nze) Title

Photo: "Chief Okeke" photographed by Northcote Thomas in Agukwu Nri, c. 1911, this photo appears to be among a series including those taken of Eze Nri Obalike in March 1911).
The analysis above shows that at Nri, the ozo title and Nri title of kingship are closely interrelated. The first Eze Nri was the first man to take the ozo title and become the eze Nri; thereafter other men who took the title became eze ozo. This culture element associated with leadership diffused to other parts of Igbo land. ...
The decay of the essence of ozo title in Igbo land synchronizes with the decline of Nri hegemony. Nri title and ozo title symbolize leadership par excellence. The attack on Eze Nri and Ozo title by early British administrators and the Christian Churches was an attack on the basic structure of Igbo philosophy of political leadership. It was unfortunate and unwarranted as demonstrated in recent attempts of westernized Igbo elites to revive a system they still regard as primitive because it happens to be developed by their ancestors. The revived-ozo-title is not ozo title geared to leadership but bears the mark of conspicuous consumption and split political personality. ...
... The Igbo man of today is like a confused political animal, not sure of its political future, because neither the government nor the churches, nor the westernized elites are able to bridge the gap between the two trends of political ethics and values which though they believe are opposing yet could co-exist in the name of Cultural Revival.

– M. Angulu Onwuejeogwu (1979). "The Genesis, Diffusion, Structure and Significance of Ọzọ Title in Igbo Land". In: "Paideuma". p. 142.

Owere Woman

A woman from Owere (Owerri) photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1912-13. Her name (or at least an approximation) may have been recorded in Northcote Thomas' photographic register. MAA Cambridge. Her wrapper is similar to Akwete textile designs.

Uri Art, Bende

An ùrì drawing from Bende made by an uncredited Igbo woman artist (or group of women). Photographed by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

The Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group


Igbo Speech

Photo: An Igbo notable and a meeting in his compound, late 19th century.

Indirect speech, multilayered and complex meanings and action is characteristic of Igbo communication, at least originally. The Igbo way of talking was/is often indirect, there was often the use of euphemisms and analogy not only to be polite or to show off oratory skills, but to take a non-combative stance, at least perceptively. The goal is always to seem rational and objective. This form of communication is also one in which a person strives to remain elusive; it has developed in a society ruled by debate and consensus based on perceived ration for hundreds of years. This form of communication includes the use of proverbs and in other cases indirect speech, like in the case of 'kam ga hụ nwanyị ahụ agwọ tara' when going to the toilet, it can also be seen in the lack of the verb for love, instead 'ịhụnayna', the meeting of the eyes, is used, the term alludes to the reciprocity of love, to the idea that it isn't simply one acting (loving) on the other. At first glance, 'let the day break' (kachibọọ) for goodnight, 'have you survived overnight?' (ịbọlachi) for good morning, and 'keep on working' (daarụ) or 'you have done it' (ịmẹla) for thank you, may seem distant, this however is the stoic nature of Igbo communication that honours and values objectivity, but contains a deep amount of meaning and emotion.

This way of communicating means that an action or a declaration may not be valued by its own but for its ultimate goal or for its intention given a wider perspective. This is somewhat like a verbal guerrilla strategy and one in which a person seemingly takes a step back only for them to take a better position. The question may be whether this art form still exists among the Igbo people, or whether things have been slowed down and can only be approached at face value, whether there still exists reflection and the ability to not rush into the most obvious paths and into pitfalls.

Ọ̀kọnkọ̀ masks, Opobo

"Play of late Chief Ogolo of Opobo - men dressed in ritual costumes." photographed by Arthur Tremearne, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge.

These appear to be Ọ̀kọnkọ̀ masks which is the Ekpe society over the eastern part of the delta including present-day Abia, Imo, and Rivers State. It was spread by the Aro people as a way of securing commercial ties on trade routes (including the slave trade). The mask on the extreme right is known in the Igbo hinterland as Ohu ebì meaning porcupine quills.

Ohu ebì, an Ọ̀kọnkọ̀ mask used throughout the south central and eastern part of the Igbo country and the delta.

Societies like Ọ̀kọnkọ̀ in the southern Igbo area are part of àbàràm̀àba, the different societies a man especially may enter to expand their knowledge, trading ties and prestige; knowledge, like that of Ekpe-related nsibiri, and titles had to be purchased. Ọ̀kọnkọ̀ acted as a judicial authority before colonial conquest in these areas where centralised authority like Eze or Obi were largely absent or symbolic like in case of the Aro. The name appears to have come from an Ekpe mask.


With the Igbo east of the Niger, there's a rough split culturally between north and south, especially southeast. Towards the south some of the stereotypical cultural elements of Igbo people, mmanwu, Ikenga, Ozo na Nze (red caps), Ogene genre, etc. are faint or completely absent. It often means Umuahia groups for example can share a lot of culture with Opobo for instance that they do not with Onicha. The cultural continuum to the south blends into the delta areas (like Kalabari) with dialect, dance, dressing, music, etc.

One of the major differences is that the stratified system based on priests in some areas to the north like Nri, is completely absent in the south and is replaced by rich titled men and men's societies like Ekpe and Okonko which were borrowed from the Cross River. This is related to the two main areas of origin for most Igbo groups which is the Nri-Öka area and the Nkwere-Ölü area. With the solidification of pan-ethnic identity, and influence of colonial policy, you might now see monarchical systems like Eze to the south and people wearing red caps, but these things are not part of the core culture.

Friday, March 8, 2019

"In Nigeria It Is The Women Who Propound Laws"

By CAROLINE ISAACSON

One of the most precious gifts a kindly providence can bestow upon one, W. L. George, a popular writer in the early days of the century, but alas little read today, once declared in one of his books, is a sense of adventure. That sense that sends one questing and which invests even a tram journey with- a certain amount of excitement. I thought of this when recently I met Mrs Kenneth Ross

For we got into conversation, and I learnt that she had been in Australia but a very short time, ana had spent the greater part of her life in Nigeria. Her coming to this country was via Singapore, the same as so many other newcomers to these shores.

The name Ross and Nigeria instantly recalled to my mind a book Ik had once read by Sylvia Leith

Ross about that particular part of the Empire, and I was most interested to learn that Mrs Leith Ross and my travelling companion were not only sisters-in-law, but had spent some considerable time together in Nigeria whilst the investigations which form the basis of the book were being made.

Mrs Kenneth Ross accompanied Mrs Leith Ross on many of her exploratory journeys. They travelled all over Nigeria, and the subsequent report on the life of the Ibos is considered one of the most comprehensive documentary research efforts compiled.

Life in Nigeria appears to be amusing as well as interesting. Marketing, for instance, Mrs Ross told me, she found not only a necessary but an exhilarating pastime. All the goods and foodstuffs are set out in the market in sections, and more by good luck than by good management lanes are somehow kept open between them. "It is true one had to pick out the needed pot from between 10 pairs of legs, and pull out the desired mat from under 20 garrulous women, and fowls were passed from hand to hand over the heads of the crowd until they reached the purchaser, and a sudden shriek would tell one a foot had inadvertently stepped into a cherished pot of pal oil; yet good temper reigned supreme, and even if a quarrel did arise it was quickly smothered by the laughter of the onlookers," was how she described a typical morn ing's shopping.

I was interested to learn that the Ibo women claim full equality with the men, and indeed Mrs Ross found them if anything the dominant partner. It is women's councils there who rule agricultural matters, and it is these which enact laws for the protection of crops, and enforce them by suitable penalties.

In so far as marriage is concerned, an Ibo girl becomes betrothed while still in infancy. The girl's dowry is paid on the instalment plan, and, what is more, the bridegroom has to pay a dowry to the bride's parents, and if he has not completed payments before 18 months after the first child arrives the parents can recall their daughter to their home, and the husband has no redress whatsoever!

Mrs Ross and I decided that although we Western women may pride ourselves on our enterprise and intelligence and perspicacity, there is still a great deal, it would seem—in comparison with the Ibos—we have to learn.

"In Nigeria It Is The Women Who Propound Laws— And Enforce Them" (1944, December 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 8. Retrieved March 8, 2019.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Smoking Pipe

A pipe from Afikpo taken between 1902 and 1909 by Captain James Harold Dyer during the colonial conquest of Arochukwu and what became southeastern Nigeria. Museum of Vancouver, Canada.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Agbor Rising

Photo: "Mud figures of Chief and Attendants and Commissioner of Police. North Ika" – G. I. Jones, 1930s.
On 9 June 1906 the Ekumeku Society was in the news again, in connection with the killing of O.S. Crewe-Read [Iredi or Rédì], District Commissioner. Crewe-Read, together with an escort of fifty-three men, was on a visit to Uteh — a town in the Agbor district — and had halted for the day in Owa. [T]wo men, who were sent by Crewe-Read to summon the rest of the men of the town … returned late in the evening to report that the people refused to see him, … two policemen … sent to Agbor with telegrams … requesting assistance … were stopped … and the telegrams snatched from them. They barely escaped with their lives. With such a small force and no hope of immediate relief, Crewe-Read started back for Agbor on 9 June, but was ambushed at a place not far away from the town of Owa-Aliosimi. There he received two fatal gunshot wounds[.]
On receiving the news headquarters sent an army under Captain Rudkin to Agbor to ‘punish’ the killers, but in an encounter with the natives of Agbor, two European officers sustained serious wound, two soldiers were killed and twnety-six wounded. … A section of the column managed to reach Owa and did not encounter opposition immediately, and was therefore able to search for the body of Crewe-Read, which was found buried in the bush between the spot where he was killed and the town. It was exhumed and removed to Benin for burial. The battle that followed ended with the capture of the chiefs of Owa, Igbenoba, Inyibo, Ukute I, Ukute II, Ikaria, Ekuneme, Echenim, Tete and Ijioma. On 26 September 1906, these men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to execution by the judge of the supreme court of Nigeria, J.M.M. Dunlop.

– S. N. Nwabara (1978). “Iboland: a century of contact with Britain, 1860-1960”. p. 130–131.

———
[E]vents show the lack of sympathy coupled with the resort to driving tactics which could characterise early British rule in new districts. ... It was Crewe- Read's practice too, according to Gilpin, to flog the boys of the different towns in Agbor 'for not turning up to work on the roads as a rule'. Crewe-Read's … end in the Agbor district was … foreshadowed by the events of the first quarer of 1906. When he was an acting District Commissioner, Benin City district, the poeple of Alidinma had refused to see him at Akuku while on tour to the area. … Crewe-Read was not pleased by [the British D. C. Asaba’s] letter in which the … officer expressed the view that it was ‘hard not to say cruel to take people away at this time of the year'. Without any special qualification for knowing the Agbor people better, Crewe-Read pompously asserted that he ‘was the best judge if it was hard and cruel.

– Philip A. Igbafe (1967). "The 'Benin Scare' of 1906". In: “The African Historian”. pp. 10–11.

Ọ́jị́ Ìgbò

Image: Cola acuminata, Ọjị Igbo.
A three cotyledonous kolanut […] has been variously referred to as Ọjị Ikenga [cult object of achievement, advancement] […] Ọjị Dike (Kolanut of the strongman or strong kolanut). […] This kolanut is thought to bring good luck and progress to the breaker in any enterprise in which he may be involved. […] Four cotyledonous kolanut is the most preferred in Igboland. 'Four' and 'Eight' are sacred numbers amongst the Igbo. Only a four cotyledonous nut is used on purely religious occasions. […]
In Iwollo in Udi area of Enugu State, a four cotyledonous nut is said to represent the Igbo week i.e. the four market days, Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo. Five, six or seven cotyledonous kolanut is called Oji Ọmumu or Ụba Ọjị (Kolanut that brings increase in birth, wealth and abundance of everything.) When broken, the smallest cotyledon is called ubaa (plenty).

– Comfort O. Chukuezi & Anelechi B. Chukuezi. "Kolanut Hospitality in Igboland." Journal of Igbo Culture, 2002, (6) p. 67.

So in looking at Igbo cosmology in general, it would seem that there's the belief that in the beginning there wa one, Chi, and then Eke split out of Chi, and there was two, and then Eke divided the world into four and there was Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo, and these are split into big (ukwu), and small (nta), making an eight day week.

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