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, 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.]
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