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.

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.

Òsú

Photo: "Alusi The same shrine with its priest (seated) and it’s osu (“juju slave”), Orsu, West Isuama [Igbo]" – G. I. Jones, 1930s.
[O]su, an Igbo caste system ... deemed some individuals and families to “belong” to particular deities. Forbidden all social contact with the regular community, these people lived by, and performed custodial services for, the shrines of the specific deities they supposedly belonged to. ... The osu responsibility for tending shrines supports the suggestion that the institution represented a priestly function before the Atlantic slave trade, but that the trade changed its character .... Every market had a priest who was also called osu, after the name of the market that he served. Thus, there were Osueke (for the Eke market), Osuawho (Awho market), Osunkwo (Nkwo market), and Osuoye (Oye Market). In other words, Aro people used the term osu to designate the priest.

– G. Ugo Nwokeji (2010). The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra. p. 198.

The actual sacrifice of an Osu may be preceded by the sacrifice of a cow or a goat, especially when the sacrifice is being made on behalf of the community. The following are the major steps:
(i) Before the shrine of the deity, the designated Osu is asked to open his mouth. A piece of chalk (nzu) taken from the shrine, is put into his mouth.
(ii) The ear of the victim is split with a razor and blood is drawn and smeared on the divinity. Blood symbolizes the essence of a being: to offer the blood of an animal therefore, is to offer the whole animal.
(iii) He is next carried on both limbs and dropped gently seven times before the shrine.
(iv) The officiating priest takes the ofo [In notes: The ofo is the Igbo traditional system of justice and truth. It occupies a prominent place in Igbo traditional religion.] stick and hits him on the head.
(v) The oil-palm frond (omu-nkwu) or any other object or shrub taken from the shrine, may be tied on him.
(vi) Finally, he is completely shaven. During all these ceremonies, the victim generally makes no resistance, for resistance is useless. If he tried to escape by force, he could be killed. In any case, if he were to escape, he generally would not know where to go.

– S. N. Ezeanya (1967). The Osu (Cult-Slave) System in Igbo Land.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Twenty Years War

"Aro natives making road for us by order outside Bendi [Bende] Cutting bush with matchets" during the 'Aro Punitive Expedition', or Anglo-Aro war, 1901. British Museum.
Far from willingly conceding their territory to the military patrols, the people of Southeastern Nigeria opposed the British advance in more than three hundred pitched battles over a twenty year period, suffering at least ten thousand casualties. [...] Although violent resistance could not halt the British advance, it was effective in moderating and speed and thoroughness of that advance and in enabling Southeastern Nigerians to retain a measure of self-determination over the rate at which they absorbed technological and other changes.

– Robert D. Jackson (1975). "The Twenty Years War, Invasion and Resistance in Southeastern Nigeria 1900-1919".

People of Bonny

"Groepsportret van inwoners van Bonny in Nigeria rond Chief Fred Pepple [Group portrait of people of Bonny in Nigeria around Chief Fred Pepple]" – J.A. da Cunha Moraes, 1870.

Background of the Movement for an Anioma State

The people of Benin Province were mostly Edos and people of Warri Province were mostly Urhobos. The Ibo-speaking people living in the area were put into two Administrative divisions namely, Asaba Division and Aboh Division. Asaba Division was put into Benin Province and Aboh Division was put into Warri Province. This exercise is an example of the old Roman practice of "Davide et Impera (divide and rule)". Naturally, this did not please the Ibo speaking people West of the River Niger and so early in the Nineteen-forties, some fifty years ago, they formed the Western Ibo Union with headquarters in Lagos to demand that Asaba and Aboh Divisions be taken out of Benin and Warri Province and constituted into their own province to be known as Western Ibo Province. The British paid no heed to this demand and the people went on agitating.

– Dennis Chukude Osadebay (1991). "History of the Demand for the Creation of Anioma State."

Agitation for a separate political identity for the West Igbo dates back to 1939 when a Western Ibo Union, following the division of the Southern Provinces into East and West, requested a merger of the Igbo-speaking communities on the west of the Niger with their kith and kin on the east. Although the colonial government recognized the demand, 'the exigencies of the Second World War made the necessary boundary adjustment impossible.' At a mammoth rally at Amai in August 1956 delegates from West Igbo areas of the former Western Region forwarded to the Colonial Secretary, Rt. Hon. Lennox Boyd, a resolution on the creation of a West Niger Province which would have given them 'a sense of belonging in the context of Nigeria,' and placed them 'on equal footing' with Benin and Delta Provinces.

– Ugbana Okpu (1986). "Genesis of the Anioma Movement" In: Asian and African Studies: Vol. 20, No. 3. pp. 338–340.

The Western Ibo Union has lately been very active in the propagation of the idea of a Mid-West State, and it has spent a considerable amount of money sending delegates to accompany Western Ibo politicians touring the Mid-West, in order to explain the necessity of voting solidly for the creation of a Mid-West State. Western Ibo land has been a traditional National Convention of Nigerian Citizens area, and most of the elite feel, justly or unjustly, that as a result of their political alignment, they had not, in the former Western Region, received their fair share of amenities.
– Chukwuka Okonjo (1967). "The Western Ibo" In: “The City of Ibadan.” p. 114.

An Igbo Girl with Nja

An Igbo girl photographed by British colonial government anthropologist Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge. Colourised from black and white, Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2019.

An Igbo Girl

An Igbo girl in the photo album of British colonial government anthropologist Northcote Thomas, taken c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

Mbari

Urata-Igbo Mbari votive shrine. The buildings are built in honour of particular deities, most often Ala the Earth Mother, in what is now Imo State and Rivers State. The actual site is not used as a place of worship. Photo: Edward Chadwick, 1927-1943. British Museum.

Some Igbo Women's Titles

Photo: Igbo copper bracelet. 19th-20th century. Metropolitan museum.
While Lọlọanyị was the highest and most important women's title (the equivalent of the male Ọzọ title among the Nsukka), Ogbuefi was the highest female title in Oguta. In addition to enhancing their social status and political power, these societies also offered the initiates avenues to exercise religious power in their communities. Some of the women members were seen as "males" who consequently enjoyed certain privileges that were denied non-initiates. Such privileges included admittance into exclusive men's societies such as [...] the privilege of breaking and sharing the kolanut. [In notes:] Kolanut was a status symbol and a male's preserve. Women were not allowed to break it in Igbo society, especially when a male figure was around. But in Oguta, titled women could break and share kola nuts with men.

– Gloria Chuku (2009). "Igbo Women and Political Participation..." pp. 86–87.

Nsibidi Bende

208. On left breast of Essem, a Bende [Igbo] man (a man offered two rods to a woman, but she refused them and turned her back upon him).

– Elphinstone Dayrell (1911). "Further Notes on ‘Nsibidi Signs with Their Meanings from the Ikom District, Southern Nigeria." The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 41.

"Mbari Njokku"

An Mbari house at "Omo Dim" [Umudim?] which is known as "Mbari Njokku" according to P. A. Talbot who says it was built in honour of an elder named "Njokku and his wife Mbafor." P. A. Talbot (1927). "Some Nigerian Fertility Cults."

Igbo Pottery

Pottery jugs made by Igbo or neighbouring peoples. British Museum. From before 1954.

Elder Efuome of Ezi Öka

"Chief Efuome of Ezi Awka," photographed by Northcote Thomas and assistants, 1910-11. In the elder's hand is ngwụ agịlịga and elili Ọzọ (or owu Ọzọ) on his ankles which is for ndị Nze (titled men). In the elder's hat are probably ugo (fish eagle) feathers.

Onicha Titled Elder

"A chief of Onicha [Onitsha] wearing a schako [hat] of the Royal Guard of England in which he has fixed bird feathers." Via the French Foreign Legion officer, Antoine Mattei, late 19th century. Gallica Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Igbo family

What is likely an Igbo family from Onicha (no known documentation left), photographed by William Henry Crosse, part of the Royal Niger Company, 1886 - 1895. MAA Cambridge.

The significance of Igbo groups in the Ibo Union, c. 1958.

Photo: Diobu Ikwere leaders protesting the 1958 (Willink) Minorities Commission (probably protesting the decision not to create a Rivers State and other states considered 'minority' states outside of the larger ethnic groups like the Igbo). August 27, 1958. National Archives UK.
Among the Ibo, as among other Nigerian nationalities, numerous tribal sections and sub-sections have their particular customs and traditions which inspire local or sectional loyalties. The Nnewi, the Mba-ise, the Ohafia, the Ngwa, the Ikwerri, etc., exemplify that remarkable "strength of Ibo clan feeling"' which sustains the vigor of the ubiquitous Ibo improvement associations and the enthusiasm with which programs of community development based on voluntary communal labor have been pursued. …
While the Ibo State Executive has not been amenable to facile manipulation by the NCNC leadership, the lower echelons of the Union—i.e., the town, village, district, and clan unions—work virtually without direction to identify the NCNC with the cause of Ibo welfare. In many instances, town and clan unions affiliated with the Ibo State Union have made up for the organizational failings of the official party organization. For example, the ground swell of mass support for Azikiwe in the summer of 1958, during his struggle with Dr. Mbadiwe, was generated largely by local units of the Ibo State Union. In addition, certain branches of the party, including the strong NCNC organization in Port Harcourt, derive their strength from sub-nationality associations affiliated with the Ibo State Union.
[In notes:] In 1958 numerous ethnic group associations affiliated with the Port Harcourt Ibo Union were represented informally within the official structure of the Port Harcourt NCNC by influential members of the branch executive committee and the executive committee of the Port Harcourt NCNC Youth Association. Among them were the following: the Nnewi Patriotic Union, the Orlu Divisional Union, the Orlu Youth League, the Oguta Union, the Owerri Divisional Union, the Mbasi Clan Union, the Bende Divisional Union, the Ikwerri Development Union, the Okigwe Union, and the Abiriba Improvement Union. The Ibo Union of Port Harcourt, comprising representatives of these and other Ibo associations, co-ordinates certain of the activities of its affiliates but has no power of direction over them. It does not constitute an effective alternative power structure to the NCNC branch, inasmuch as the latter draws its popular support directly from the people and indirectly from their sub-nationality associations.

– Robert L. Sklar (1963). “Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation.” pp. 147, 463.

Young Igbo Women

“Belles of the Village” - from "Among the Ibos" by George Basden, early 20th century.

Women and Ofo in Igbo Tradition

Photo: A titled woman wearing ivory leglets, bracelets, and locally woven cloth. Nsuka area. Photo: K.C. Murray, ca. 1940.
... Nearly all the afore-mentioned classes of Ofo are generally in all parts of Igbo land the preserve of men. Men only could handle such ritual objects without profaning them. Some of these Ofo symbols considered rather very sacred and powerful may not even be seen by women. Such is the Ofo-Ataka found in Nnewi, a special titular Ofo.
... But this is not the whole story. ...
Ritual experts who happen to be women, such as diviners, native doctors, etc. and the category of married women known as the Umu-Ada/Umu-okpu in the north-western sub-cultural zone, as well as married women from upwards of middle age in areas like Nsukka, Arondizuogu, etc. possess small-sized Ofo twigs which they use for few events, such as in meetings and settling of disputes among their ranks. Ordinarily, the small-sized Ofo which the groups of women keep is known as Ofo-Nkiti. Some keep theirs at their Chi shrine. Some carry their sticks about in their hand-bags.

– Christopher I. Ejizu (1986). “Ofo: Igbo Ritual Symbol.” pg. 52.

Öka Smiths among the Western Igbo and Others

In Onicha Olona, a western Igbo town, two individuals in the courtyard of a house with what seems to be blacksmithing tools (tongs and hammers). Photographed by Northcote Thomas, 1912. MAA Cambridge.
Awka, ... is famous for its smithing skills. ... In fact, the men of one section of the town, Agulu, were Awka's principal blacksmiths. ... As itinerant journeymen, Agulu smiths ... [worked] in northern provinces of Igala and Idoma and over a broad belt of southern Nigeria, from Yoruba settlements in the west to the Cross River in the east. The orbit of Awka (Agulu) peregrinations was vast, limited only by the existence of rival smithing groups, such as the Hausa to the north of the Benue, and by the necessity to return to Awka annually. ...
Smiths of three Agulu villages worked the western side of the Niger, supplying iron hoes, machetes, spears, cooking stands and other useful items to Western Igbo, Urhobo, Isoko, Itsekiri and Ijo communities. They also used the lost-wax method in making bronze ofo for Western Igbo patrons.

– Nancy C. Neaher (1976). "Igbo Metalsmiths among the Southern Edo."

A Woman of Onicha Olona

An Igbo woman photographed by Northcote Thomas, Onicha Olona, 1912. Onicha Olona (now in Delta State) is one of the sister settlements to Onicha Mmili (‘Onitsha’) as part of the Umu Eze Chima (or Chime) lineage, a lineage of the patriarch Eze Chima who travelled from the west.

Onicha Mmili is now the biggest of the Umu Eze Chima settlements due to the river trading port from colonial times at Otu Onicha (away from the original Enu Onicha). Onicha Mmili ('Onitsha') is the only major Umu Eze Chima settlement to the east of the Niger River.

Igbo Armlet

An Igbo bronze armlet from an unknown origin, 19th-early 20th century. Minneapolis Institute of Art. The two figures seem to be holding ngwu agiliga, Ozo title staffs.

Mbari Chi Chamber

Illustration of the sacred 'forbidden' inner chamber of an Mbari house in the Urata-Echie Igbo area (Imo and Rivers today) by P. A. Talbot in "Some Nigerian Fertility Cults," 1927. The chamber, which holds the chi of the Mbari's main deity, is guarded by two female divinities.

Title Man of Ogwashi

A titled Igbo man from Ogwashi Ukwu, Enuani, present-day Delta State, photographed by Northcote Thomas, 1912. Colourised from black and white, Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2019.

Ogwashi Ukwu was established by Odaigbo from Agukwu Nri, the son of an Eze Nri. Odaigbo [or Odaba Igbo] fled over the Niger with his brother Edini. Odaigbo and Edini are said to have fled from Agukwu Nri due to issues there and in several versions of the story were given a ritual pot which would fall at the spot where they'd establish a settlement.

Ogwashi Ukwu, Ogwa Nshi Ukwu, means 'the great shrine-hall of Nshi (Nri) people.' Edini founded Igbuzo with other migrants from Isuama around present-day Imo State headed by Umejei a son of (nwa) Eze Isu [other traditions place this Isu north of Öka around Isu Aniocha].

Öka Travelling Blacksmiths

Son of the late Eze Nri at Oreri, wearing Benin-style bronze pectoral mask. Photo: Thurstan Shaw, 1960.
Awka smiths working on the eastern side of the Niger among the Igala were known not only to copy but also to make outright purchases of bronze goods from local casters. These bronzes were sold to northern Igbo who used them in title-taking activities. Extrapolating from this experience, it is quite possible that Awka smiths exploited their particular sensitivity to metal goods and facilitated the distribution of these and other bronzes among Delta peoples. The programmed movements of Awka men, therefore, may well have influenced the flow of divergent bronze styles throughout the Delta.

– Nancy C. Neaher (1976). "Igbo Metalsmiths among the Southern Edo."

At the Hairdressers

At a hairdressers in Onicha (Onitsha). French Catholic Lower Niger Mission postcard, early 20th century.

Unidentified people [Eze?]

Unidentified people photographed by Henry Crosse with the Royal Niger Company, c.1886–1895. MAA Cambridge, the two men in the forefront may be members of the Agbala Nze priestly title association of Onicha (Onitsha) or Eze-titled men from Asaba since many of the photos taken by Henry Crosse were in Onicha and Asaba.

Öka Elder

An Igbo elder who seems to have been photographed in Öka (Awka) with "wooden head dress, set with pearl buttons" [isi ojongo?]. From the photo album of Northcote Thomas, photographed c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

The elder seems to be titled as she's seen here on what seems to be an oche mpata, a stool for titled people, particularly Ọzọ.

Some of the Oldest Surviving Textiles in West Africa, Uncovered at Igbo Ukwu


Textile with gauzelike structure, Igbo Isaiah. Shirley Institute.

Some of the oldest fibres of textiles found in western Africa from the compound of Isaiah Anozie in Igbo Ukwu dating back to around the 9th century; the bast and flat grass fibres survived by being wrapped around copper and bronze objects that preserved them. At the time of their excavation in the 1960s they were the oldest known examples of textiles in west Africa. Photos: Shirley Institute.


Cabled yarn from the chains of a bronze pendant. Shirley Institute.


From Igbo Isaiah a shrine, textile associated with copper chain with weave pattern and selvedge. Shirley Institute.

Nsibidi Writing

Photo: Ikpe case from Enyong in nsibidi recorded by Macgregor (1909).
In a class I was teaching, a pupil deeply resented the statement that the civilisation of the people in Nigeria was primitive because they had no writing. He [Ezeikpe Agwu?] declared that they had a writing called nsibidi. This happened in April, 1905. ... I set myself to find out all I could about nsibidi. People smiled when I asked for information and declared that they knew nothing about it. The reason for this is that in Efik nsibidi is used almost only to express love [and sex], and this term covers such a multitude of most abominable sins that no self-respecting Efik person will confess that he knows anything, about the writing of it. ... Still from them it was possible to see that here we have a genuine product of the native civilisation the origin of which is so old as to have become the subject of a Märchen.

– J. K. Macgregor (1909). Notes on Nsibidi.

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