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, January 31, 2018

The Account of the Phoenix, A Slave Ship Stopped by Africans from Trading in the Bonny River, 1757

“Paquito de Cabo Verdo Portuguese Slave Brig captured by the Boats of HMS Scout on the 11th Jany 1837 in the Bonny River. She had mounted 2 18 Prs with a Crew of 35 men and 576 slaves on board.” – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

“Captain Bailie, commander of the slave-ship Carter, writing to his owners in Liverpool from the River Bonny, Africa, on January 31st, 1757, reveals the method sometimes resorted to by slave-captains to compel the native chiefs to trade with them. He says:—

"We arrived here the 6th of December, and found the Hector, with about 100 slaves on board, also the Marquis of Lothian, of Bristol, Capt. Jones (by whom I now write), who was half slaved, and then paying 50 Barrs, notwithstanding he had been there 3 months before our arrival. I have only yet purchased 15 slaves at 30 and 35 Barrs; but as soon as the bearer sails, I propose giving more; for at present there is a dozen of our people sick, besides the two mates, some of whom are very bad, and I have been for these last 8 days in a strong fever, and frequently insensible. Yesterday morning I buried Thomas Hodge, and on the 13th James Barton. Capt. Nobler of the Phoenix arrived here the 3d, and on the 19th our trade was stopt (as it had often been before) ; upon which we all marched on shore to know the reason and applied to the King thrice, though he constantly ordered himself to be denied, and wou’d not admit us. However, we heard his voice in doors, and as he used us so ill, we went on board, and determined (after having held a Council), to fire upon the town next morning, which we accordingly did, in order to bring them to reason, but found that our shot had little effect from the river, upon which we agreed that the Phoenix and the Hector shou’d go into the Creek, it being nigher the town, whilst Captain Jones and I fired from the river. The Phoenix being the head-most vessel went in, and the Hector followed about a cable’s length astern. The Phoenix had scarce entered the Creek before they received a volley of small arms from the bushes, which were about 20 yards distant from the ship, and at the same time several shot from the town went through him, upon which they came to anchor, and plied their carriage guns for some time ; but finding there was no possibility of standing the decks, or saving the ship, he struck his colours, but that did not avail, for they kept a continued fire upon him, both of great and small arms. His people were thrown into the utmost confusion, some went down below, whilst others jumpt into the yaul which lay under the ship’s quarter, who (on seeing a number of canoes coming down to board them) desired Capt. Nobler to come down to them, which he at last did, as he found the vessel in such a shattered condition, and that it was impossible for him to get her out of the Creek before the next ebb tide, in case he cou’d keep the canoes from boarding him. With much difficulty they got on board the Hector, but not without receiving a number of shot into the boat. The natives soon after boarded the Phoenix, cut her cables, and let her drive opposite the town, when they began to cut her up, and get out her loading, which they accomplished in a very short time. But at night in drawing off some brandy, they set her on fire, by which accident a great many of them perished in the flames. The Phoenix’s hands are distributed amongst the other three ships, and all things are made up, and trade open, but very slow, and provisions scarce and dear.” The Marquis of Lothian was afterwards taken and carried into Martinico.“
— Gomer Williams (1897). History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade. pp. 481–482.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Igbo Water Divinities

River gods and goddesses are found wherever a significant river or waterbody is found in Igboland, some of the more powerful cults cover larger areas and command more respect and followers by the importance of the waterbodies. Often of fluid gender, the water spirits are powerful ‘images’ of sexuality, fertility, beauty, and wealth and power. The most powerful water spirits are listed.


Ńjābá is so powerful among southern and specifically southwestern Igbo communities that he outranks Àlà, the Earth Mother, in these communities. Ńjābá is usually male and is the guardian of the river of the same name that is a major tributary of Ụ́gwụ́tá (Oguta) Lake in Imo State, Nigeria. Éké, the royal python, is sacred to Ńjābá and surrounding communities consider them messengers and manifestations of Ńjābá and somewhat of a totem animal of which it is forbidden to harm or eat; serious fines and the responsibility of funding a human-sized burial for the snakes befalls anyone who harms pythons.

Ímò Ḿmírí

Ímò Ḿmírí is the spirit of the Imo River [pictured] which runs between present day Imo State (which is named after the river) and Abia State and runs into the Atlantic between a section of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. She is usually feminine and was associated with the Ibinukpabi oracle or “Long Juju” of Arochukwu, the most powerful oracle in southeastern Nigeria during the Atlantic Slave Trade, and she is considered as its female counterpart. Ímò Ḿmírí is a largely benevolent fertility spirit. In myth, the Imo is the river that rushed between the Ngwa people of Abia State and their relatives in Imo State creating a permanent cut-off between them.


Also: Ósìmírí / Órìmílí / Órìmírí / Ósìmílí - the female spirit of the Niger River which is named after her in Igbo. As is usual to feminine water spirits she is a fertility goddess. Èzù nà Ómáḿbálá, the confluence of the Anambra and Niger Rivers, is the site where Èrì’s band, the primogenitor of the Umuleri and Umunri Igbo people, migrated from the north to and settled.


Ìdèmílí is the female spirit of the river of the same name that runs through the local government area of the same name in Anambra State, Nigeria. Ìdèmílí means ‘the pillar of waters’ referring to the spiritual force of the water spirit preventing rain-clouds in the sky from falling [ídè also means flood, and water spirit forces are known to punish through floods or other sorts of water-logging]. Like most water spirits Ìdèmílí is a fertility goddess. Éké, royal pythons, are also sacred to Ìdèmílí and to communities that depend on her and are also known as Éké Ìdèmílí. Ìdèmílí’s story also involves appearing to mortals as a maiden.


Also: Ụ̀hámírí - The ambivalent feminine spirit of Ụ́gwụ́tá Lake of which she owns, she is paired with Ńjābá and she is also known as Ògbúìdè meaning ‘deep floodwater’ and her husband is Okita. Ụ̀háḿmírí roughly translates from Igbo as ‘the shining beauty of the waters’; Ụ̀háḿmírí is beautiful and wealthy and happy and childless. She is a powerful spirit among women in Ụ́gwụ́tá and is considered as somewhat of a spirit of achievement among women; successful women in Ụ́gwụ́tá especially were said to mostly be devotees of Ụ̀háḿmírí.


Also: Ụ́làsị̀ / Ụ́ràsị̀ - The spirit of the Ụ́ràshị̀ (Orashi) River which runs through Imo State and Rivers State. A male, Ụ́ràshị̀’s sacred grove, like Ògbúìdè’s, was marked primarily by the red and white pieces of cloth.


Also: Ọ́máḿbálá - The spirit of the Ọ́máḿbárá (Anambra) River which runs through northern Anambra State in Anam-Igbo land and then into the Niger River.

Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí

Of the Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí (Otamiri) River which runs through Imo State and particularly Ụ́ràtà-Igbo communities where the Ḿbárí votive shrines are dedicated to his mother, Àlà the Earth Mother, and where he plays a significant role.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Origin of Red Bones

Creole Boy with a Moth, 1835, by Julien Hudson (American, 1811–1844); oil on canvas; 29 x 23 inches.

‘Red Bone’, referring to an ethnic group in Louisiana and a black American term for people with fair skin, has strong ties to peoples in what is now eastern Nigeria. Originating from 18th century chattel slavery in the West Indies, the term ‘red bone’ takes from the creole term ‘red Ibo’ referring to fairer skinned black people. The term derived from observations of fair skin among some members of the Igbo ethnic group (and some other peoples lumped in from eastern Nigeria) whose numbers in slavery ratcheted up in the 18th century due to internal conflict in Igboland. European slavers and plantation owners often made observations and generalisations about various ethnic groups since different Africans were targeted for their knowledge, education and skills; a hefty amount of stereotyping and dehumanising was subsequently placed on various ethnic groups found in large numbers in slavery. One recurrent observation was the relatively higher prevalence of fair skinned people from the Igbo area, known then in the Atlantic as the ‘Eboe Country’. The fairer skin was demonised by planters as ‘sickly’ and the Igbo were characterised as weak because of this. This also meant their ‘price’ dropped and poorer planters in places like Virginia took many Igbo leading to a saturation of Igbo people there. The disdain, however, may have been fuelled somewhat by the fact that enslaved Igbo people weren’t unknown for their defiance of slavery, immortalised in the folktale of Ebo landing; they were also involved in a number of slave revolts all over the Caribbean, including in Haiti.

Ultimately, this characteristic was taken in as a negative one and the term ‘red’ was combined with ‘Ibo’ (Igbo) as a pejorative used by black people in the British West Indies for people who were black but with fair skin as opposed to mixed people who were just ‘red’ or ‘brown’ thus suggesting a hierarchy of phenotypes and hair types. Some creole linguists trace the term to Louisiana where it was heard as ‘reddy bone’, leading to the understanding of the term as ‘red bone’ with a less negative connotation as it is still used in AAVE today.

The term red bone is interesting as it seems to be a word that’s linked to a particular experience of an ethnic group in slavery. The word itself carries a lot of historical weight in terms of what it meant for one group of Africans in that era. (Kniffen, Gregory and Stokes 1987; Don C. Marler 1997, 2000; Winer (2009). Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago. pg. 754.; [Louisiana, Where Music is King, PBS.])

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Study the native from the native point of view..."

Charles Partridge, Assistant District Commissioner in Southern Nigeria, photographed by an interpreter at Ndiya, present day Akwa Ibom, February 10, 1905. British Museum.
Study the native from the native point of view is the motto which all my senior officers have given me since I joined the service of the Protectorate. When I first landed in Southern Nigeria in July, 1901, the government was being administered, during the absence of the High Commissioner, by Mr. Probyn, […] [he] “laid stress on the importance of our being patient and tactful in our dealings with the native chiefs."
[...] Mr. C. H. Read, F.S.A. […] at the British Museum: [...] “[anthropological studies] is, in fact, the necessary training of a diplomatic service for dealing with primitive peoples, with the important difference that whereas the diplomatist can have recourse to argument and common sense on the occurrence of a blunder, such an opportunity is rarely given to the white man in dealing with the savage, whose method is to act first and leave the argument to the end. [...] [I]f it [anthropological work] should serve no other purpose, it at least demonstrates the necessity for intimate knowledge of tribal customs before attempting any but the most perfunctory relations with a primitive people.
[…] [T]he following apposite remarks occur in a leading article in The Morning Post on France and Morocco “[…] It is largely because we have known how to respect native institutions, and to preserve whatever is good in them, that we have been so successful in our dealings with races on a different plane of civilisation [...] A few thousand pounds spent in the early stages of our contact with peoples brought under our influence, or a systematic inquiry into their administrative systems, manners, and customs might save us hundreds of thousands of pounds in punitive expeditions."
— Charles Partridge (1905). Cross River Natives. pp. vii–ix.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Effects of British Colonialism on Indigenous Technology in the Nkwere Axis

Farmers from "Unkwele" (Nkwere?). Catholic Mission of the Lower Niger. Early 20th century.
[…] The colonial educational system disorientated the people and the effect was so conspicuous that it emphasised on clericalism and neglected artisan and technical training. The educational system created no links with traditional occupation and skills; rather, it tended to divorce the recipients from traditional skills. The dysfunctional nature of the system had adverse effect on the traditional milieu of the people. The view is supported by Walter when he maintained that it was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social sources. He further averred that it was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil/inculcate a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalism. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.
Therefore, the net effect of colonialism was that it foisted negative change on Nkwerre traditional technology and other communities in Igboland. The people became dazzled and stupefied by the events such that their response became mimetic rather than analytical; thus, they despised their emerging civilisation and technology for similar foreign-made products and they took to schooling but made paper qualification and end in itself.
— Uzoma Samuel Osuala (2012). Colonialism and the Disintegration of Indigenous Technology in Igboland: A Case Study of Blacksmithing in Nkwerre. Historical Research Letter. [PDF]. pp. 16–17.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Arochukwu, 'Punitive Expedition', Progress

Image: "Burning Arochuku" Charles Partridge, 1902.
During the year 1902 the Protectorate was freed for ever from the evils of slave-raiding and slave-dealing on an organised scale. On April 1st, 1901, ‘The Slave Dealing Proclamation’ was published, and on the 26th November, 1901, the provisions of that law, making slave-dealing in all its forms a penal offence, were applied by Order to all parts of the Protectorate, but it was not until the termination, in April, 1902, of the successful military operations in the Aro country, that the system of tribal warfare, for the purpose of making slaves, could be accurately regarded as an evil of the past.... Slave-raiding had been repressed for many years previous to 1902 in the delta country and in all the hinterland, except that part of the latter which lies between the Niger and the Cross River (a distance of 100 miles), and it was throughout this region that the Aro influence was predominant.
The most noteworthy fact brought to light by the military operations in the last stronghold of slavery above described, was that the Aros were not a military race, and that their influence was due to their relatively great intelligence, as compared with other native tribes. The strength of this influence was such, that not only was it paramount in the Aro country, but was also felt in many places in the delta region between the Niger and the Cross River, and also to the east of the latter. Whenever a tribe attempted to avoid acting in accordance with the Aro policy, it was fought by warlike tribes under the direction of the Aros, who recompensed such mercenaries by allowing them to loot the conquered tribe and to seize and sell as slaves those who survived the conflict. Within the area of the direct Aro influence, no important dispute could be settled save by reference to the oracle in the Juju or sacred grove, situated in a ravine near Ibum (Aro Chuku). Each of the contending parties attempted to propitiate this oracle by large offerings, and the party against whom judgment was pronounced, was believed by his tribes to have been destroyed by the hidden power, while, in reality, he was almost invariably sold secretly into slavery. As the tribe supposed to be specially favoured by this oracle, the Aros were able to gain wealth in the shape both of propitiatory offerings and of slaves. In addition to being a constant source of wealth, the Juju oracle also afforded the Aros a means whereby anyone opposing or supposed to be desirous of opposing their authority could be easily removed, as they could at any time contrive that a charge should be made against the rebel, thus forcing him to appeal to the oracle and then, on his arrival at Ibum, he would either be made powerless through parting with all his wealth as an offering, or, if his gifts were insufficient, his doom would be pronounced by Aro priests hidden in a concealed cave in the sacred ravine, and thereafter the Aro opponent became the Aro slave. The Aros do not appear to have resorted to trial by ordeal.
The military operations which were brought to a successful close in 1902 destroyed the system of slave-making above described, and the dreaded Juju oracle ceased for ever to exercise its baneful influence. The Aros themselves, however, were not destroyed, but, on the contrary, immediately gave further proof of their intelligence by adapting themselves to the new conditions of life. It had been their practice to prevent tribes within their influence from attempting to do a direct trade with the delta country, and thus they alone had experience in trade. They at once began to utilise this experience, they readily learnt to appreciate the superior value of English currency, as compared with the native mediums of barter, manillas, brass rods, etc., and, by their activity, showed that for many years they would be probably the principal gainers in any increased trade which might result from their country having been thrown open to the delta traders.
— Mr. Probyn, Acting High Commissioner, in the preface to his Report on Southern Nigeria for 1902.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

An old kind of warrant chief, from The Nigeria Handbook, 1936

As a largely acephalous people*, the British colonial government found it difficult to incorporate Igbo communities into the imperialist system of indirect rule, in response to this the British set up a system in which Igbo communities elected one of their members as a “Warrant Chief” who would be given a ‘warrant’ to act as a representative of the colonial administration in their community under the 'native court’ system, including the responsibility of collecting tax. The system was not well understood by the Igbo who came to decisions via consensus which often included a debate; with the misunderstanding of what the Warrant Chief’s powers entailed, many communities elected individuals in their communities who hadn’t necessarily been significant in terms of leadership, other communities elected lineage heads and other leaders. The system became widely abused and many Warrant Chiefs amassed wealth through their positions and quickly became despised by their communities.

It was the abuse and threat of taxes by the British through Warrant Chiefs that sparked the Aba women’s movement of 1929 in which women led protests and demonstrations and skirmished against Warrant Chiefs and the colonial administration. After 1929, Warrant Chiefs were removed from power, although some of them and their descendants became big men and took up chieftaincy titles. The British then devised Native Authority Councils in which they tried to 'prefect’ indirect rule by matching it with what their intelligence reports had told them were traditional organisational structures, this included a council of elders and an elite leading the community, however, women’s roles in traditional Igbo organisation were not recognised in this system. After the exit of the British at independence, many of these leaders and their descendants sought traditional legitimisation in many ways, one such example of this was the changing of their official title of 'Chief’ to 'Igwe’ and 'Eze’ in order to further root their status in tradition, it’s not unusual to see monarchies in Igboland that were started by an individual originally and officially referred to as 'Chief’ but whose descendants are titled 'Eze’ for example.

[*Excluding some communities and excluding priest kings and the system of lineage heads who are (originally) fundamentally priests of the lineage, e.g Okpara, Di Okpara, Dede, etc, and senior communities and households.]

More information: Axel Harneit-Sievers (1998). Igbo 'Traditional Rulers’: Chieftaincy and the State in Southeastern Nigeria. Africa Spectrum Vol. 33, No. 1.