Igbo names and spellings for various settlements
Abakaliki is Abankaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzö; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owere; Oyigbo is Obigbo... any more will be added.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Three Men

Photo of three Igbo men in loin cloths posing for the camera. Then man in the middle is elderly and standing with a knife raised, two men squat flanking him holding guns.

Three men, probably from an Igbo town around the Niger River, photographed by William Henry Crosse, part of the Royal Niger Company, 1886 - 1895. MAA Cambridge.

Guns were part of society in this area for hundreds of years before this photo was taken. The access to the Atlantic coast and the Niger meant that coastal and riverine settlements gained a head start and advantage when guns, gunpowder, and cannons newly arrived through European ships. Europeans arrived on the shores of the Niger Delta around the late 15th century. This allowed coastal polities like Bonny to grow large fleets of armed canoes, several metres in length holding dozens of men, leading to their dominance in the delta. The competition between what became slave trading and raiding states led to the increase of people ending up in the ships of Europe.

Old and faulty guns were sold to Africans by Europeans. Guns were reverse-engineered in the interior and various blacksmithing lineage groups, such as Nkwere, became known for manufacturing guns. In local histories, there is a recounting of the time when a warring faction was surprised and defeated by the party wielding the newly introduced gun. Traditions and protocol grew up around the use of guns, a certain number of shots in the sky has meaning to a lot of communities, for example.

Guns are a man’s weapon. The introduction of various products from Europe such as gin, guns, and gunpowder created or strengthened any kind of hierarchy that put men over women because only men, by custom, handled these important trade goods. In many communities, at least, it’s against custom for women to pick up guns. The European show of force was completely made up of men. The entire European interaction had emphasised male aggression and authority against any sort of authority rooted in womanhood, including the supreme deity of various communities in the delta, the Earth Mother, for example, which was overshadowed by powerful male oracles, Kamalu Ozuzu (Amadioha) and its offshoot Igwe-ka-Ala Umunneoha, Chukwu Abiama or Ibina Ukpaabi Aruchukwu, and Agbala Öka. These male oracles, controlled by men, became the nuclei for the slave trade and among the most powerful ideological and administrative strongholds which later Europeans who started off colonialism, proper, targeted and destroyed.

Monday, July 6, 2020


Two women who are most likely Igbo and from the Önïcha area judging by the presence of the Obi Önïcha in related photos. Photographed by Herbert Wimberley, c. 1903-18. Cambridge University Library.

The pair posing with a man with a staff in the middle that looks to be a staff for men who hold the ǹzè title (alọ̀).

Monday, June 29, 2020

Aja Ǹgwùlù

Igbo compound (ǹgwùlù) entrance and high walls (aja ǹgwùlù), in or near Önïcha. Photographed by Herbert Wimberley, c. 1903-18. Cambridge University Library.

Ụ̀dị ndị 'ọ̀ ka ibè ya' (I pass my neighbour).

A Lady of Ụgwụtā wearing Ivory

A woman of Ügwüta, Òru area, early 20th century. Internet Archive. Òru, riverine Igbo around the Niger, were known for their markets by waterways, the highways of trade. Wealthy traders made up exclusive title societies and wore ivory armlets and anklets. The ivory was traded long-distance.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Arụ̀ Women

Aro women photographed by Rev. William T. Weir, in The Women's Missionary Magazine of the United Free Church of Scotland, 1904. Google digitisation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dike Nwaàmị̀ Ọ̀hafị̄ā

Ohafia women with long braids fashionable in Ohafia at the time. Photographed by Rev. William T. Weir. From The Women's Missionary Magazine of the United Free Church of Scotland, 1904. Google digitisation.

Ohafia is a society where rights to farmlands are passed through the maternal line and where there were women, although rare, who joined the usually male Ekpè society. A number of Ohafia women warriors, dike nwaàmị̀, local and married into Ohafia, are recorded in the history and folktales of Ohafia. A version of one particular story tells of Nne Mgbaafo who, in war gear, risked her life looking for her husband who she thought was killed by enemies in Ibibio territory. Putting her life on the line, Nne Mgbaafo's intimidation of the enemies led to them revealing that her husband had in fact been kidnapped and, through her bravery, she was able to take him back to Ohafia.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bridge over Imo River

Bridge over Imo River. Published 1920. Internet Archive.

A temporary wooden bridge over the Imo River for the Eastern Division railway line built from 1913 to access the Udi coalfields around Enugwu Ngwo, terminating at the Diobu cliffs of the new port named Port Harcourt by Frederick Lugard. It was originally intended for the line to extend further north to Kaduna to join the Western Division railway to Kano, but the outbreak of WWI led to postponement. The work on the 151 mile section from the port to the Udi hills was prioritised due to the wartime need for coal.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ Tolls

An Ekpe masquerader in Uzuakoli, present-day Abia State. Photographed by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ members controlled important roads in the eastern Igbo area. British imperial interests ran against this system.

Passing by Abruki, which had, however, to be " dashed " in the usual way, we arrived in the evening at Omo-pra [Ụmụ̀ọpara?], the last mile or two into the town being more like an avenue in England, shaded by splendid trees, than a wild roadway in Africa. […] Under a lowering sky, and in a, slight drizzle of rain, we left Omo-pra early the next morning[.]

"A Famous Were-Leopard"

"A Famous Were-Leopard". Percy Amaury Talbot. Internet Archive.
The power of metamorphosis is generally termed Uworraw-Ukponn, corresponding to the Ibo word Ehihi, and is sometimes inherited, sometimes bought. Since many believe that it is only used for evil purposes, the faculty is not often boasted of, or admitted, by its possessor. Nearly all " strong " animals in the bush, such as leopards, elephants, etc., are credited with being were-beasts, but such can only be recognised by hunters, who, unless bad men, would not shoot them, since their death would entail that of their affinity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Igbo compound walls

An Igbo compound entrance, in or near Önïcha. Photographed by Herbert Wimberley, c. 1903-18. Cambridge University Library.

The ancestral compound is usually handed down from father to first son, and other lands are shared by other sons, usually making concessions for daughters. There were compounds that were headed by women, especially in the case of wealthy women who married other women into their umunna (patriline), and there are Igbo communities such as Ohafia where agricultural land rights are traced matrilineally.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Prince Chukwuma of Àbọ, William Baikie

"Prince Tshúkuma [Chukwuma]" of Abö, illustration from an 1854 voyage by William Baikie. Internet Archive.
[At Abö] we learnt that King Obí [Osai] had been dead for nearly nine years, and that since that time there had been no regular king. At Abó, the chief power is elective, and after the death of Obí two parties sprung up, one of which supported the claims of his son, while the other advanced as their candidate an influential person named Orísa. The two sections were respectively entitled the king's people and the Oshiodápara party. Obí's friends were unanimous in their selection of Obí's second son, named Ajé, an active, intelligent, young man ; and this was acquiesced in by his less energetic and more peaceful brother Okúrobi or Tshúkuma.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Lady of Nibo

An Igbo woman from Nibo, present-day Anambra State. Photographed by Northcote Thomas c. 1911. MAA Cambridge.