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.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly, Enugu

The Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly, Enugu. c. 1960. Postcard.

The Iva Valley Massacre, 1949

Image: French post stamp of the coal mines at Enugu. c. 1960s.

On 18 November, 1949, 21 miners were shot to death in the Iva Valley coal mine during protests over the dismissal of demands made by colliery workers. The mines in Enugu, opened in 1914 in Ngwo, an Agbaja village group, were the only coal sources in the west African region and were exploited by the British colonial regime to fuel the railways of West Africa. The 1949 protests were set within a history of similar protests preceded by workers actions against mistreatment by warrant chiefs (in the form of “boss boys”) introduced by the British and for the increase of wages. As war loomed in 1930s Europe, since Enugu mines were an important source of coal, these workers actions eventually led to the Colonial Office establishing a minimum wage for workers and creating the posts of Labour Master, in charge of organisation, and a Staff Welfare Officer who managed and settled disputes. The 1940s was a time in which Britain was particularly dependent on its colonies during World War II, consequently Empire took stringent measures to suppress strikes and protests; Britain introduced trade unions to quell worker uprisings while severely hampering their autonomy, including persecuting its leaders. In 1941, the Nigerian Defence Regulations banned strikes in industries that were broadly described as “essential services”. The Colliery Surface Improvement Union (CSIU) and the underground Colliery Worker’s Union (CWU) were founded by the “boss boys”, clerks and Igbo-English interpreters who were the main individuals involved in the struggle for representation and management in the colliery’s.

By 1945, Enugu coal was the main energy source in West Africa. Things took a turn in 1944 when Okwudili Isaiah Ojiyi, a “foreign” management trainee and former school teacher who was neither from the local Agbaja nor Nkanu groups, campaigned for better working conditions for miners in the valley as the General Secretary of the CWU; his memorandum included demands for a seven-hour working day and workmen’s compensation and underground allowance, his demands reflected on the industrial health standards in the national labour codes. The rejection of these demands by the mine's manager, the Welsh engineer Roy Bracegirdle, moved the colliery into a state of conflict, later involving trade disputes.

Image: Workers at Ekulu coal mine in 1959, near Enugu, Nigeria. Eliot Elisofon. Smithsonian.

In the backdrop of this conflict was the rise of nationalism and the decolonisation movement which the incumbent British Labour Party, in charge of reconstructing a war-ravaged Britain, tried to shield trade unions from through state repression and aggression. By 1945, the colliery’s output had dropped from 151,000 tons to 16,500 tons when workers rejected a new pay system that would have workers paid in groups. Continuing his petitioning, Ojiyi as union leader and the worker's demands were recognised by the Harragin Commission in April 1946, and the Miller Commission in 1947, commissions deliberating on the condition of workers, with the Miller Award, a wage increase, being granted. This award, however, and the wage increases were ignored by the colliery manager leading to the CWU beginning a “go slow”, an industrial action Ojiyi followed and took to the nationalist press. The Chief Commissioner intervened and back wages were awarded. The British trade unionist, Robert Curry, reorganised the CWU by decentralising it in order to isolate Ojiyi. Ojiyi’s relationship with the managerial sector had caused his credibility to be questioned by the colliery workers. New demands were made by Ojiyi which helped to restore his credibility. In June, 1949, with a confrontational edge, a “go slow” was instated.

On 14 November, a sit-in was staged by the colliery hewers over concerns that they were being replaced. The government aggressively sent Northern Nigerian police to the mines on 16 November to remove mine explosives after the decision that the miner's access to the explosives constituted a threat. A mediation attempt failed. On 18 November, in vague, incomplete reports, mostly held unpublished by the Colonial Office till date, an incident escalated and ended up with an order by the Assistant Police Superintendent, F. S. Philips for the police to fire at protesters ending up with 21 workers dead and 51 wounded. The nationalist sentiments throughout the country, and especially in the east were solidified by the killings; riots through the 18th and 26th broke out all over the country with people of all walks of life involved. On 12 December, amidst a “state of emergency”, a commission was appointed and hearings with two British and two African judges were convened, despite police intimidation and the collapse of the CWU, the “go slow” was continued. The commission’s report held Ojiyi personally responsible for the crisis, Ojiyi was consistently attacked by union dissidents who favoured control under chiefs and who were represented by their lawyer, Charles Onyeama, the son of the warrant chief Onyeama of Eke a former slave trader who grew rich by recruiting his people, usually exploitatively, for the colliery’s and for his palm oil trading. Bracegirdle was criticised for “serious errors of judgement” and the government was criticised for taking an industrial action for war. The killings came to be known as the Iva Valley Shootings or the Iva Valley Massacre and gave rise to "Zikisim”, an anti-colonial movement spearheaded by Nnamdi Azikiwe against British imperialism and colonisation.

[Written and summarised after Carolyn Brown (1988) and Augustus Elendu Eronini (1976).]

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