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, December 27, 2017

Igbo Blacksmithing

A blacksmith, ọkpụ ụzụ, and his nwa ụzụ, an apprentice blacksmith. The first job given to a young Igbo blacksmith was to attend to the eko, bellows (pictured) and to do menial tasks like fetching fuel, all while watching and learning from the master blacksmith, the nna ụzụ at work. The nna ụzụ was truly like an nna (father) to the boy whose well-being he was responsible for, including ensuring the upkeep of the boys spiritual care and making prayers and sacrifices to the boys chi when taking trips. Parents kept a watchful eye on the treatment of their apprentice child and could withdraw or transfer their child at any time if there were any concerns over their treatment (or mistreatment).

After they gain some experience, the first work an apprentice got with working with metal was making small chains from brass and other scrap metal; the experienced blacksmiths of the past smithed and produced igwe aga, pig-iron, from iron ore, nne igwe, obtained locally. In Alaigbo (Igbo land), the best known smithing centres were at Awka, Nkwere, and Abiriba; Awka dominated blacksmithing in north-central Alaigbo and Akwa smiths were said to have spent most of their time abroad for work which included areas far outside of Alaigbo [as J. S. Boston (1964) noted, Awka blacksmiths dominated smithing at Igala land, for instance], their work and trading times were scheduled by seasons.

Awka people were generally skilled artisans and long-distance traders (especially of ivory, they had many ivory hunting groups) hence their name, Ọ́ká, meaning artisan or skilled one; they were also well known for being dibia as well as for crafting amulets and making other religious paraphernalia, sometimes even erecting shrines. Awka dominated in wood carving, particularly of wooden screens and the mgbo ezi, the wooden gate once used as the main entrance to a family compound in old times found in museums around the world today, and other items like titled mens stools. The Agulu village-group of Awka, in order to get a competitive edge, had developed the ivu aba private language used by Awka smiths which flipped Igbo words and developed new terms all together. In Awka, nwa ụzụ were usually Awka boys in their early teens who were strong enough for the tasking work at hand; the boys were related to the ọkpụ ụzụ, rarely were non-Awka boys taken under apprenticeship, since the late 20th century, however, this has changed and non-Awka can now enter smithing guilds. Awka blacksmiths were often part of an otu ụzụ, a blacksmithing guild headed by an nna ụzụ (in Awka it is said that the master blacksmith may actually be referred to as nnẹ ụzụ) who led and managed the smiths in workshops, acting as a counsellor who settled tensions and disputes. A workshop was usually a section of a guild and they were small, including less than a dozen workers. Blacksmiths could also travel to work for themselves to supplement their income.

By the 1950s interest in apprenticeships in blacksmithing started to decline, today blacksmithing at Awka is underfunded and under the threat of disappearing, older blacksmiths say that the trade in no longer attractive to young people since it has become less of an economically viable trade.

Photo: “A blacksmith at work” by G. T. Basden, early 20th century, coloured by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2017.

Igbo Burial Rites

Burial rites and hand washing, food offering at an Igbo funeral in Isele Azagba. Photo by Northcote Thomas, 1900s, coloured by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2017.

People were buried as soon as possible in Alaigbo, usually within the same day of their death with the exception of titled and wealthy men whose interments were planned for longer while their bodies were preserved. The planning of a prominent persons funeral had the lying-in-state of the body put into consideration, this event drew in people from distant areas (mgbaru); money and other worldly possessions including the deceased persons tools of trade in life like a blacksmiths hammer or a farmers hoe were laid out on display next to the persons body.

Leaders and heads of state were not announced as dead to the public until certain rites took place, this event known as ikpo oku could be done well over a year after a leaders passing. Most people were buried near or within their compound, a titled elder was buried in their obi, or living room. In old times, as is the case today, people living abroad made plans for they or their relatives bodies to be taken back to their ancestral home. On the other hand, in cases where people were considered to have had a ‘bad death’ their bodies were thrown away into a designated bush, usually an ajọ ọhia, or bad bush, some bad deaths included deaths by capital punishment and from serious diseases like small pox. The burials of deceased children were not given much fanfare, children were buried very quickly, almost immediately or very early in the morning or late at night. When married women died their bodies were taken to their fathers home to be buried, except in cases when sons were present to bury their mothers as they wish.

A corpse was handled as a source of extreme pollution, when preparing the body with nzu (chalk) and uhie (camwood) the preparers and bearers of the body were sure to wash themselves thoroughly after such contact. In old times, the body of an ordinary person was wrapped in a grass mat and put on a stretcher with a single cloth covering the corpse. Titled men and some women were buried in burial chambers sitting upright on a stool against the chamber wall. There were days in various communities when burials could not be held, usually on ehi eke (eke day). Women and men mourned their husbands and wives for seven Igbo weeks, 28 days, and nine Igbo weeks, 36 days, respectively and shaved their heads in front of observers and would not work for that period. A nwanyi ajadu, ogidi, or ekpe, a widow (widowers are called ajadu nwoke, or oke ekpe), stays near an ọkpụkpụ ntụ, an ashy fireplace, in a secluded hut called akwụ wearing aji (black bark cloth) for the duration of the mourning period (mkpe) and was fed by her children and relatives, after some rites during the period she would carry out the final ritual of ikpa ntụ asaa which involves clearing the ashes. In some communities seclusion for 28 days was also done by parents mourning their deceased older children.

After the initial burial of a deceased elder, a rite known in many Igbo communities as ikwa ozu was held for them in order to help their spirits reach the spirit world and secure a place among the ancestors, ndi ichie. This is still done and includes festivities with much merriment, eating and drinking that could run on for several days depending of the stature of the deceased figure in the community. Special rites are done during the ikwa ozu involving people of the same age-grade and title of the deceased person (ebiri onye) which varies depending on the community. The concept of ikwa ozu seems to have merged with the idea of a thanksgiving celebration after a burial as Christianity rose in popularity in Alaigbo and as some Christians have opted out of participating in indigenous spiritual practices.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A recently married young woman in front of a dilapidated building in Awka, northern Igboland. She stands next to what Bolinder notes [in Swedish]:
when a daughter marries, the father puts out such a character that appears in the picture outside his house.“

Location: Oka, Alaigbo | Date: 1930-31 | Credit: Gustaf Bolinder

Igbo policeman mask

Unfinished [Igbo] mask of Policeman.
— G. I. Jones

Location: ?Unknown? | Date: 1930s | Credit: G. I. Jones