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IGBO Culture and Tradition

CULTURE AND TRADITION

Ndi Igbo (The Igbo People)

The Igbos in Nigeria geographically, is located in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria and are found in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Delta and Rivers State. The Igbo language is predominant throughout these areas, although Nigerian English (the national language) is spoken as well. Prominent towns and cities in Igboland include Awka, Aba, Owerri, Enugu (considered the 'Igbo capital'), Onitsha, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Agbor, Nsukka, Orlu, Okigwe, Umuahia, Asaba and Port Harcourt among others. There is a significant number of Igbo people found in other parts of the world such as in Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti,[ Barbados, the United States,[ Belize[and Trinidad and Tobago, among others. For example, The word Bim, a colloquial term for Barbados, was commonly used among enslaved Barbadians (Bajans). This word is said to have derived from bi mu in the Igbo language (or bem, Ndi bem, Nwanyi ibem or Nwoke ibem, which means "My people"), A section of Belize City was named Eboe Town after its Igbo inhabitants. In the United States the Igbo are found in the states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama where they remained the largest single group of Africans after the slave trade.

South-Eastern Nigeria, which is inhabited primarily by the Igbos, is the most densely populated area in Nigeria, and possibly in all of Africa. Politically, the Igbos are a politically fragmented and diverse group, with numerous divisions due to geographic differences; various subgroups delineated following umunna, clans, lineages, and village affiliations. There is no centralized chieftaincy, hereditary aristocracy, or kingship customs, as found in Hausa and in Yoruba lands. Instead, the responsibility of leadership falls on the village councils, which include the heads of lineages, elders, titled men, men who have established themselves in leadership through wisdom, philanthropy, wealth within the community. At the mantle of the leadership are Igwes/Obi/Ezeuzu and their cabinet chiefs as the case may be. It is possible for an Igbo man, through personal success, to become the nominal leader of the council.

Western Civilization: The first contact between Igboland and Europe came in the mid-fifteenth century with the arrival of the Portuguese. From 1434-1807. The Niger coast acted as a contact point between African and European traders, beginning with the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the English. At this stage there was an emphasis on trade rather than empire building, in this case the trade consisting primarily of Igbo slaves. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 came a new trading era, concentrating on industry (palm products, timber, elephant tusks and spices). At this point the British began to combine aggressive trading with aggressive imperialism. They saw the Igbo hinterland as productive, and refused to be confined to the coast. In 1900 the area that had been administered by the British Niger Company became the Protectorate on Southern Nigeria, also incorporating what had been called the Niger Coast Protectorate. Control of this area then passed from the British Foreign Office to the Colonial Office. Long before it had officially been conquered, Igboland was being treated as a British colony. Between 1900 and 1914 (when Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated) there had been twenty-one British military expeditions into Igboland. In 1928 for the first time in their history, Igbo men were made to pay tax – they were a subject people. The rumors that the Igbo women were being assessed for taxation, sparked off the 1929 Aba Riots, a massive revolt of women never encountered before in Igbo history.

IGBO CULTURE/TRADITION AND WAY OF LIFE

Title Holding is an enviable Position In Igbo Land; Igbo title holders hold a highly respected position in the Igbo community and all over the world, partly because of their accomplishments and capabilities. Though never revered as kings, they often performed special functions given to them by the communities and such assemblies. They are seen as part of the customary and governing system in the umunna setting and in the entire communities. This way of governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana. Umunna are a form of patrilineage maintained by the Igbos. Law starts with the Umunna which is a male line of descent from a founding ancestor (who the line is sometimes named after) with groups of compounds containing closely related families headed by the eldest male member. The Umunna can be seen as the most important pillar of Igbo society.
The Igbos have a very rich culture comprising peculiar ways of dressing, dancing, respect for elders and the gods of the land to food, music, and language dialects. Because of their various subgroups, the variety of their culture is heightened further.

KOLANUT (OJI)

Added to being used in soft-drinks, energy drinks and its chewing by laborers to diminish hunger and fatigue, Kolanut has sacred significance in Igboland and among the Igbos. It symbolizes love, acceptance, and blessings. Usually presented to welcome guests both at the home of a traditionalist or at events; once the 5-centimetre nut is blessed with incantations to the gods/God as religion permits, the visitors will feel assured that they are welcome and accepted with open hearts by the host/hosts. It is believed that Kolanut does not understand any other language except Igbo (Oji anaghi anu asusu ozo, ma obughi Igbo), hence the incantation following the breaking of Kolanut must be in Igbo language. When Kola is presented, the guest or representative usually, the eldest among the guests will acknowledge the presentation by briefly touching the plate with his right hand, before it is shown to less senior members and so forth, until most members have taken a glimpse of the plate. After that, the host gets the plate returned from the visitor(s) and takes one of the kola nuts and gives it to the visitor saying: ‘Öjï rue ulo, O kwue ebe O si bia.’‘ When the Kolanut reaches home, it will tell where it came from.’ Usually, the oldest man among the host audience is asked to bless kolanuts. He will take one of the nuts in his right hand and make a blessing, incantation, prayer in Igbo language; most at times, filled with proverbs and idiomatic expressions. Following is a good example: ‘Onye wetara oji, wetara ndu’ (He who brings Kolanut, brought life) ‘Ihe obula dï mma onye n’achö, ö ga-enweta ya’ (Your thoughts of good will be granted you) ‘O biara gaa igbu gi, ga kwa egbu onwe ya’ (Any who plans to kill you, will kill him/herself). I ga adi ndu were zua umu gi, i zusi kwaa ha, ha ga azu kwa gi’ (You will live to train your children, and after, they will not forget you; they will take care of you at your old age) Subsequently, the presenter breaks the kolanut with his hands or knife and passes on to a younger male among them to break into small parts and distribute to all. If in an event, the event will begin after the kolanut breaking ceremony, if at a home, the visitors will now explain the purpose of their visit, while the kola parts are distributed to the people. Occasionally, kolanut is accompanied with palm wine, (nkwu or ngwo), garden eggs and chilli peanut butter (ose oji).

The Igbo attaches great importance to the number/divisional of parts Kolanut. The more division, the more prosperity it gives to its presenter and visitors. If the nut yields only to two parts, it signifies ’bad omen’; portraying that the presenter has a sinister motive behind the kola. Consequently, Kolanuts with only two parts are avoided, therefore the purple/reddish colored nuts, cola acuminata are preferred over its greyish counterpart, the cola nitida, as the latter one only breaks up in twos. Kolanut that breakd into ‘four parts’ is said to coincide with the four market days of the Igbo week (Eke, Orie, Afor, and Nkwor). These of course, are the days of the market in Igbo land and are used to count weeks in Igbo. They are also the most common last names in Igbo land today. Five or more parts mean prosperity for the family/guests. In some parts of Igboland, when the kola breaks into six, a separate celebration is required and sometimes slaughtering of a goat to commemorates the good omen represented by the nut.  

Kolanut must be presented with two hands at the same time. It is also important to note that Kolanut can only be presented and blessed by men. Among women, the youngest man even if he is ‘one day old’ will perform the rites of breaking kolanut, and also as the kola tree is associated with man, only men can climb and pluck the kola tree.

MASQUARADE

Masking is one of the most common arts in Igbo land and is linked strongly with Igbo traditional music and religion. A mask can be made of wood or fabric, along with other materials including iron, raffia, fabrics, and vegetation. Masks have a variety of uses, mainly in social satires, religious rituals, secret society initiations such as the Ekpe, iba mmonwu, amanwulu society and akwam ozu (burial ceremony), as well as iri ji ohuu (new yam festival), public festivals, which now include Christmas Celebrations, and the popular ‘Imoka’ celebrated by the Awka people. Different masquerade are designed to reflect peculiar cultures and interests of each community. There is Agbogho Mmuo (Maiden spirit) masks of the Northern Igbo which represent the spirits of deceased maidens and their mothers with masks symbolizing beauty). Others are Izaga; very tall about 12ft-25ft and with tiny wooden legs. The Awka community are known for their Iga, Ayolo, and ukwuaju, seen at ’Egwu Imo Awka’. Also to celebrate the deaths prominent people and to ensure the continuity and well-being of the community by the Awkas are Okwo mma, Agaba, Idu, Oshiashili, and Ijele masks seen on rare occasions such as the death of a prominent figure in the community.

MUSIC

The Igbo people have a musical style into which they incorporate various percussional instruments such as udu, which is essentially designed from a clay jug; ekwe, formed from a hollowed log; and the ogene, a hand bell designed from forged iron. Other instruments include opi, a wind instrument similar to the flute, odu enyi, carved out of elephant tusk igba, and ichaka. Popular musical form among the Igbos are ‘egwu-ekpili’ and ‘Highlife’. A widely popular musical genre in West Africa, Highlife is a fusion of jazz and traditional folklore. The modern Igbo Highlife is seen in the works of Dr Sir Warrior, Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, Moroco Nwamaduka, and Chief Osita Osadebe., who were among the most popular Igbo Highlife musicians of the 20th century.

DANCE

Each community is known for a peculiar dance step. The Anambra, Enugu and Eboni are known for their regalia shoulder movement, while the Abias and Imos will mesmerize every occasion with their waist ‘rigling’ move. The best, perhaps, is the Atilogwu dance troops. These performances include acrobatic stunts such as high kicks, jumps, and cartwheels, with each rhythm from the traditional instruments indicating a movement to the dancer.

BURIALS

After a death, the body of a prominent member of the community is placed on a stool in a sitting posture and is clothed in the deceased's finest garments. Animal sacrifices may be offered to them and they can be well perfumed. Burial usually follows within 24 hours of death. This observation, though very remarkable, is fading out quick. The head of a home and titled men are usually buried beneath the floor of their main house (Obi or living room). Itg is also important to note that types of death or the way someone dies, warrant how the person will be buried. This is affected by an individual's age, gender and status in the society. For example, children are buried in hiding and out of sight, their burials usually take place in the early mornings and late nights. A simple untitled man is buried in front of his house and a simple mother including one who does not give her husband a male child or no child is buried in her place of origin in a garden or a farm-area that belonged to her father. It is believed wicked people die shameful deaths (with swollen gait) in the hand of the god of the community and are thrown into evil forest by non-indigenes of the land. Presently, majority of the Igbos bury their dead in the western way, although it is not uncommon for burials to be practiced in the traditional Igbo ways.

MARRIAGE

The process of marrying usually involves asking the young woman's consent, introducing the woman to the man's family and the same for the man to the woman's family, testing the bride's character, checking the woman's family background and paying the brides dowry. Sometimes marriages had been arranged from birth through negotiation of the two families. Following the Igbo culture, marriage does not hold until dowry and traditional rites are performed, otherwise, the relationship is described as ili-enyi (illicit relationship or friendship). Such couple are looked down in the society. In most parts, children born out of such relationship are described as bastards and are not accepted into the folds of the family of the man.
In the past, many Igbo men practiced polygamy, (still practiced today, but gradually fading out). The polygamous family is made up of one man and two or more wives and their children. Men sometimes married multiple wives for economic reasons in other to have enough hands to help with farming, which was a major source of economy in the then world. Western education, Christianity and civil marriages have changed the Igbo family since colonization. Igbo people now tend to enter monogamous courtships and create nuclear families. Today, western marriage customs, such as wedding in church and court marriage is added after traditional marriage.

DRESSING

Traditionally, the attire of the Igbo generally consists of little clothing as the purpose of clothing originally was to conceal private parts, although elders were fully clothed. Children were usually nude from birth until they reach puberty status (the time when they were considered to have something to hide) but sometimes ornaments such as beads were worn around the waist for spiritual reasons. Uli body art (western tattoos) was used to decorate both men and women in the form of lines forming patterns and shapes on the body. Women traditionally carry their babies on their backs with a strip of clothing binding the two with a knot at her chest, a practice used by many ethnic groups across Africa. This method has been modernized in the form of the child carrier. In most cases Igbo women did not cover their breast areas. Maidens usually wore a short wrapper with beads around their waist and other ornaments such as necklaces and beads. Both men and women wore wrappers. Men would wear loin cloths that wrapped round their waist and between their legs to be fastened at their backs. Today, traditional wear for the men include red cap or black round cap and free short or long cut top and pant or wrapper. Lion head (isi agu) is very popular among the men. Women wears comprise george wrapper and lace top, hollandaise and top, and a few others from the west.

Food and Iri-Ji or Iwa ji (New Yam Festival):

The Igbos, although of several communities with some diversities, have one festival in common and that is New Yam Festival. The yam is very important to the Igbos as a staple crop. New yam festival, is held for the harvesting of the yam. During the festival, yam is eaten throughout the communities as celebration. Yam tubers are shown off by individuals as a sign of success and wealth. Today, rice and other foods such as cassava, garri, maize and plantains are popular. Soups or stews are included in a typical meal, prepared with a vegetable (such as okra, of which the word derives from the Igbo language, Okwuru) to which pieces of fish, chicken, beef, or goat meat are added. Palm wine is a popular alcoholic beverage among the Igbo.

The Igbos, 1970 to present

After the Nigerian–Biafran War, Igboland was devastated. Many hospitals, schools, and homes were completely destroyed in the war. In addition to the loss of savings, many Igbo people found themselves discriminated against by other ethnic groups and the new non-Igbo federal government. Some Igbo subgroups, such as the Ikwerre, started disassociating themselves from the larger Igbo population after the war. The post-war era saw the changing of names of both people and places to non-Igbo sounding words such as the changing of the name of the town of Igbuzo to the Anglicized Ibusa. Due to the discrimination, many Igbo had trouble finding employment, and the Igbo became one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria during the early 1970s. Igboland was gradually rebuilt over a period of twenty years and the economy was again prospering due to the rise of the petroleum industry in the adjacent Niger Delta region. This led to new factories being set up in southern Nigeria. Many Igbo people eventually took government positions,[ although many were engaged in private business and constituted and still constitute the bulk of Nigerian informal economy. Recently, there has been a wave of Igbo immigration to other African countries including Europe, the Americas and South Africa.