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.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Women's War British casualty list

Official British record of people, primarily women, killed or injured during the Women's War of the Calabar and Owerri colonial provinces, 1929-30.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Öka man's hair

"Achetefu(?) young man." … "Hairdressing (Ibo) Man of Awka". Northcote Thomas, c. 1911. MAA Cambridge.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Ogboli Origins: A Western Igbo Nri (Nshi) People

"Water Side Assaba." The Oshimili (Niger River) at Asaba c. 1889. Pitt Rivers Museum.
At Ani Udo, Edini […] prospered. […] Oral historians believe that many of the Ogboli clans that dot Anioma today were formerly the inhabitants of the original Ogboli community that was founded by Edini in Ani Udo. They also believe that the Benin-Anioma wars played a major role in dispersing the original residents of the Ogboli community, forcing them to abandon their homes at Ani Udo. Some moved closer to Igbuzo, where their new settlement became known as Ogboli-Igbuzo. Some moved to Issele-Ukwu to occupy the Ogboli-Issele-Ukwu quarters. Many more moved to Atuma and Akwukwu, while a large party fled across the Niger river to settle in Ogboli-Onitsha.

– Don C. Ohadike (1994). “Anioma: A Social History of the Western Igbo People”. p. 17.

Ogboli Origins: Isele Uku

The earliest ancestor of Ogboli village in Issele-Uku, was one Oke who like Edini, the founder of Ibusa and Odaigbo the founder of Ogwashi-Uku, came from Nshi or Nri in the East Central State.

– Lawrence N. Okpuno (1968). “A Short History of Eze-Chima”. p. 12.

According to Issele-Uku oral tradition, the Ogboli had long settled at the present town of Issele-Uku before the arrival of Ise who founded the Chima section of the town that claims Benin origin. In the past Nri people controlled kingship; it is not therefore [surprising] that up to this day Ogboli of Issele-Uku are the king makers [Onishe].

– M. A. Onwuejeogwu (1972) “An outline account of the dawn of Igbo civilization…” Ọdinani: The Journal of the Ọdinani Museum, Nri vol. 1. p. 37.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ila Elder, Origins

An elder in Ila (Illah) holding an abani or eben sword, present-day Delta State. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1912. MAA Cambridge.

Illah is said to have been founded by Ala[.] […] One of the traditions holds that Ala’s father, lka, came from Nteje (some informants say he came from Nri) and the mother, Ejini, came from lgalaland. […] While at Omorka, the Anam/Nzam people from the east of the Niger frequently harassed the Illah. Through the assistance of a later immigrant, an Edaiken (Oba's first son) from Benin, the Illah contained the Anam's menace. […] The Asaba and Illah traditions seem to indicate a fusion of Igbo and Igala migrants, and emphasize the age-long relationship between them and the Igala in the north and the Igbo in the east.

– Adiele Afigbo (1992). "Groundwork of Igbo history." p. 335.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The road from Ügwüta to Owere, c. 1909

The road from Ügwüta (Oguta) to Owere (Owerri), c. 1909, showcasing the undulating landscape of the Igbo country.

Whether this is a ‘pre-colonial’ road or not is not specified, but this could be how trade routes were in the past.

Nigeria, 1932 [cropped]. Library of Congress.

The Igbo area is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Relative stability over centuries made it so. Developmentally, it may turn into one metropolitan area, with considerations for nature and the environment.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Women's War: 1930 British Report Map

A map from an official 1930 British colonial government report on the Women's War of the Calabar and Owerri Provinces (1929-1930). The pink dots (enhanced) pinpoint places where "firing took place," the blue dots are Native Courts that were either damaged, burnt, or destroyed.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Government School, Owerri District, c. 1909

Government School, Owerri District, c. 1909.

Colonial Home, Enugwu

Home of a member of the British colonial establishment, Enugu. Staged photo, 1930s(?). The people standing are named, from left: Adebayo, Kanu(?), unnamed person(?), Thomas, two "gardeners," an unnamed person, and a "cook" on the right.

In all contact with the natives, let your first thought be the preservation of your own dignity. The natives are accustomed to dealing with very few white people and those they meet hold positions of authority. The British are looked up to, put on a very high level. Don't bring that level down by undue familiarity.

– WWII instructions given to white troops stationed in West Africa. From the West African Review, January 1943.

Initially, when people in present-day Nigeria came into contact with British people, they were usually upper and upper-middle class. This gave the impression that all Europeans were of this background.

Comparisons were made between the peoples of what became Nigeria and some of the wealthiest and most privileged people in British society.

It was the manners, speech, etiquette, etc., of upper-class British people that many European educated Africans strived to imitate. Devout missionaries also influenced the image of the European in West Africa.

European educated Africans were surprised when they travelled to Europe and saw that not all Europeans were of a certain class and that not all Europeans were as pious as the missionaries.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Edward Wilmot Blyden

Edward Wilmot Blyden, pictured c. 1851-1860, daguerreotype of a young Edward Wilmot Blyden by Rufus Anson. Library of Congress.

Edward Wilmot Blyden (August 3, 1832 – February 7, 1912) was a West Indian-born writer and politician who described both his parents as being of complete Igbo ancestry.

As the father of pan-Africanism, he was an educator, writer, diplomat, and politician after settling in Liberia and afterwards Sierra Leone. Born in the Virgin Islands in the West Indies, he joined the free black immigrants from the United States who migrated to the region. He taught for five years in the British West African colony of Sierra Leone in the early 20th century. His writings on pan-Africanism were influential in both colonies.

In Liberia, Edward Wilmot Blyden was an advocate for indigenous African people and their culture and was largely opposed to the encroachment and domination of Western culture through the small ruling Americo-Liberian population made up of former slaves and descendants of ex-slaves from the Caribbean and United States resettled on the coastal areas of Liberia.

The Americo-Liberians largely saw Western civilisation as superior to the indigenous African cultures; Blyden sought to integrate the two populations in Liberia leading him to campaign for the independent state to be taken under Britain as a protectorate in the belief that the British would not interfere in the indigenous societies of the hinterlands as he believed the Americo-Liberains would. Ultimately, the plan to put Liberia under British governance gave way leading to his expulsion to Sierra Leone where he spent his last days.

It was through these actions and the essays he made on African identity that he became known as the 'father of pan-Africanism', in his case he was an African culturalist, decades after his life, his ideas, however, were realised in the form of African ethnic nationalism.

See: Judson M. Lyon (1980). "Edward Blyden: Liberian Independence and African Nationalism, 1903-1909."

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Are you a Mason?"

Are You a Mason? A Member of the Egbo, A Nigerian Secret Society, In Costume.
The most important and widespread of the secret societies in Nigeria is the Egbo society, which…may almost be compared to Freemasonry in England. The dress worn by the lowest-grade members is something like a diver’s suit. The man has fringes of black and red grass round his ankles, and, covering his face, is a mask of wood painted white. (p. 774)

– 1909. “At the Sign of St. Pauls.” The Illustrated London News, Vol. 134, No. 3658. Ross Archive of African Images (RAAI).

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Eze Ede

Ndị Ngwa, around Aba, photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge.

In the Igbo area, in southern parts especially (Abia, Imo, Rivers), women who are highly successful in farming cocoyams take on the Eze Ede, king of cocoyams, or Ikwa Ede title. Eze Ede become the spokespeople for women in the community. Women with even larger mkpuke ede, cocoyam stores, are initiated with the title of Ezumezu. In some communities, the title associated with women's cocoyam farming is referred to as Lọlọ Ede.

Exemplarily of the dualistic nature of Igbo society, Eze Ede is the female counterpart to a major title for men, the Eze Ji title, king of yams, given to successful farmers with large yam barns. Other similar titles are the Diji and Duru Ji titles. Yams are traditionally cultivated by men, cocoyams are the spiritual and folkloric female equivalent of yams.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ikenga and other Igbo ritual items, French Catholic Mission

Ikenga and other Igbo religious items, French Catholic Mission, perhaps from converts, many artefacts ended up in European museums and private collections this way, not directly looted or bought, but given up and sold and collected in Europe. Friederich, R.P (1916). RAAI Yale University.

The missionary is a revolutionary and he has to be so, for to preach and plant Christianity means to make a frontal attack on the beliefs, the customs, the apprehensions of life and the world, and by implication (because tribal religions are primarily social realities) on the social structures and bases of primitive society. The missionary enterprise need not be ashamed of this, because colonial administrations, planters, merchants, Western penetration, etc., perform a much more severe and destructive attack. Missions, however, imply the well-considered appeal to all peoples to transplant and transfer their life-foundations into a totally different spiritual soil, and so they must be revolutionary.

– International Missionary Council spokesman, c. 1938. "The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World," p. 342.

Onye Ọcha

Onye Ọcha mask, Igbo parody of a white man during the colonial era from Amobia, part of a larger play. Apart from more serious ritual masks, a key part of many Igbo masquerading festivals are comedic and satirical masks. G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge. [Consider the photographer.]

Ghost policemen masks, symbols of colonial powers, part of the same masquerade play as the Oyibo or Onye Ọcha mask from Amobia. G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.
A performance in the Northern Ibo village of Amobia was opened by a hooded character called “Government”. He had no face and was crowned with a Homburg hat; an elephant tusk horn, symbol of authority, was laid on the ground in front of him and he read in ghostly gibberish from an important-looking document. He and his acolyte withdrew and were succeeded by a parade of ghostly policemen and court messengers wearing imitations of police and messenger uniforms and with cloth masks over their faces and head. They performed a spirited guard drill before being posted by their commander to their stations to control the crowd. Their followed a supercilious white-faced sun-helmeted figure in white drill jacket and trousers called Oyibo (White Man), who inspected the audience and then took his seat amongst the places reserved for the distinguished visitors who had come to watch the play. After him came a succession of characters, some white-faced, representing female spirits, some black or multi-coloured fierce and masculine creatures with masks that combined animal and human features; others again, mainly harmless or comic or benign, representing antelopes, or other animal spirits or characters drawn from village life. Each had his or her special role to play and having acted it withdrew to the secret enclosure or sat on seats at the ringside waiting to repeat his performance. [...] [A] large concerted display which included characters contributed by all the local societies.

– G.I. Jones (1984). "The Art of Eastern Nigeria." pp. 59-60. [Quote via MAA Cambridge.]

Abiriba School – Mission Schools

Pole Vaulting, Abiriba School, today's Abia State, ca. 1930-1940. "Missionaries first entered Abiriba, an Igbo iron-working area, in the early twentieth century. Agwu Otisi, a priest of the witch-doctors’ society, was keen to set up a school in the village and to learn about the new faith of Christianity, eventually becoming a Church Elder. The school was under the charge of Rev. R Collins." USC Digital Library.

As late as 1942 [missionaries] controlled 99 per cent of the schools[.] [...] The mission school was an instrument [...] for the rapid Christianization (and hence Europeanization) of the youth of Nigeria. […] The schools taught young Nigerians to aspire to the virtues of white Christian civilization. They consciously encouraged the emulation of European culture, and unwittingly fostered disdainful feelings toward the "heathen" brothers of their students. Consistent with their preconceptions regarding African culture, the missionaries tended to ignore "African" forms of education because they considered them either evil or nonexistent. The African was treated as a tabula rasa upon which could be written a completely new civilization.
With a few notable exceptions, education in Nigeria was based on learning to read, write, and calculate in the English language. [...] As African history was considered either nonexistent or unimportant, the great men who were studied in the schools were the kings of England and the early white empire builders who came to Nigeria with a new and superior civilization. [...] In literature, Shakespeare and the Bible held the stage. Even today, it is not uncommon to find a semieducated Nigerian working as a steward who can name the principal English cities, quote the Bible, and recite Hamlet, but who has little knowledge of the geography, the proverbs and folk tales, or the prominent leaders and outstanding events in the history of his own country.

– James Smoot Coleman (1958). "Nigeria: Background to Nationalism.” pp. 113–115.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Ukara cloth, c. 1900-1950. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Ukara cloths are designed with nsibidi mostly for Ekpe club members to wear and are also used to decorate Ekpe clubhouses. The designs are made by the Igbo people who traditionally used nsibidi widely in society, the Cross River Igbo people, the Bende, Eda, Ohafia, Aro area in today’s Abia State. The designs are taken up to the Ezilo area of today’s Ebonyi State to be resist-dyed, usually with indigo. The dating of ukara is uncertain, but ukara became more common around the late 19th century.

Monday, December 2, 2019


The Ebonyi River from a photo album made before the 1920s. The National Archives UK.

The Igbo people who passed and lived around the Ebonyi River were part of a great expansionist Igbo group that mostly sprang out of an initial migration over the Imo from the Mbano area. The groups, including the Izi, Eza, Ikwo, and Mgbo, were large militaristic groups who were able to overtake the lands of several Upper Cross River groups over the last couple of hundred years.

Mgbo children photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge.

The Ogu Ukwu, as they are collectively called due to their large farm tools, were more remotely related to the other Igbo area with a strong warrior tradition, the Abam-Ohafia-Bende area in addition to the Aro area in today’s Abia State. This northeastern Igbo area that mostly makes up today's Ebonyi State was the last to be conquered by the British.

Culturally and linguistically, this area is quite different from other Igbo areas, for example, ọfọ ritual staffs are not generally found in this area and the horse title took precedence; horses are especially important in this area for ritual use; a lot of the horse trade went through here, salt was a major commodity in the Uburu market. The people of this area are generally expert rice cultivators.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Ikenga

The Ikenga, a 1960s luxury GT car, named after an Igbo icon of achievement. Ebony September 1969.

Expatriate photographer’s dream car stirs GT auto design world in Great Britain
At 29, David Gittens [...] has gained recognition [...] as a member of the growing colony of black Americans who are “making it” abroad[.] [...]
[...] Gittens will probably make the transition from the ranks of the comfortably well-off to those of the wealthy [...] because of the futuristic Ikenga, a car which had its origins somewhere in the mind of a nine-year-old Brooklyn boy two decades ago. [...]
[...] Gittens’ Ikenga (named for a mythical two-horned animal representing man’s life force in the culture of the Ibo tribesmen of West Africa) began to take shape in sketches on a roll of photographic paper in his studio. It was to be a luxury car of the GT ( grand touring) class.

The Western-style school established in 1870s Opobo

Photo: King Jaja of Opobo, The New York Public Library.

The Western-style school established in 1870s Opobo by King Jaja and other Africans before British colonisation.

The aspect of modernization that deeply interested Jaja was the acquisition of secular education, which he considered essential if his people were to profit from their commercial enterprise. Because he could barely read and write he had to employ a private secretary, a Sierra Leonean known as D. C. Williams, who became responsible for maintaining his correspondence with the British. In 1873 Jaja sponsored the opening of a school at Opobo with another Sierra Leonean, Mr. Gooding, as the teacher. Twelve years later the population of this school stood at sixty boys and girls, under the instruction of an American Black woman, Emma Johnson. According to one visitor, the standard of education attained by the children was comparable to that of English children of the same age.

– Sylvanus John Sodienye Cookey (1974). “King Jaja of the Niger Delta: His Life and Times, 1821-1891.”

Canoe of King Jaja of Opobo, c. 1882. Museum Volkenkunde.

King Jaja of Opobo was the first king of Opobo, founded in the 19th century. He was sold as a slave from the Igbo hinterland to Bonny where he rose up as a prominent member of the Bonny houses. King Jaja went on to break from Bonny to found Opobo, becoming a wealthy coastal merchant king whose dominance became a threat to Opobo’s rivals, including Bonny, and the British who were closing in on the Niger Delta during the palm oil trade. King Jaja was captured and exiled to the Caribbean by the British. He died en route back to Opobo in 1891.

Deeply attached to traditional religion, he was hostile to missions, but not to education. He sent one of his sons to Glasgow to be educated, and set up a secular school in Opobo, under the tutelage of a remarkable black American, Emma White. Emma White, born in Kentucky of slave parents, left the States to settle in [Liberia], ultimately coming to Opobo [where she was also hired to write King Jaja’s commercial correspondence], where she changed her name to Emma Ja Ja.

– Elizabeth Isichei (1976). “A history of the Igbo people.” p. 98.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Enuani Lady

A young Igbo woman from Onicha Olona, or surrounding settlement, c. 1912-13. Onicha Olona is an Enuani settlement, an Igbo population west of the Niger River. Many of these settlements were founded by migrations from east of the Niger River (Oshimili) hundreds of years ago. These settlements came into much contact with the Edo and Igala. The Benin Empire especially influenced their political structures and even populations, particularly after the conquering 15th century Oba, Oba Ewuare.

It is interesting to note that when this photo was taken, the western Igbo people, Enuani people in particular, were in the midst of a 30-year resistance against British colonial expansion, the Ekumeku Movement, that fizzled out roughly just before the 1920s.

Photographed during British colonial anthropologist Northcote Thomas tour of the western Igbo area c. 1912-13, which culminated in a book on the history and culture of this area. MAA Cambridge.


The other citizens, dogs from the past around the Lower Niger River area, c. 1890s–1930s. MAA Cambridge / RAI / British Museum.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Igbo Landscaping and Architecture

A building photographed in the western Igbo area, filed under Onicha Olona by the MAA Cambridge, but may be another surrounding Igbo town. The trees and shrubs appear to have been planted in an order. Photographed by Northcote Thomas and assistants, c. 1912-13.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A View of the Arọ̀ from Igbere

Before the Europeans came, the Arọs […] main interest in their trade was the purchase of slaves. […] Some of them came as medicine men, […] traders […] agents of Ibìna Ụ̀kpaàbị̀. We called them Ọbụ̄ Arọ̀ bụrụ Ìgbò (He is Arọ as well as Igbo), […] Arọ̀ Oke-Ìgbò, […] Inokun. […]
The Arọ people exerted a tremendous influence over our people's culture. For instance it was through them that cassava, coconut and maize came to Igbere. They also introduced the […] gun here. […] They were feared because they were cunning as the tortoise. They fought their enemies by sending other people to fight for them. I was told that the Arọs were not answering 'Arọ' before. […] [T]he people wanted to know the name of their spear which appeared strange[.] […] They uttered 'Arọ’. […] The name Chukwu was attached to it because of the mysteries of their deity called Ibìna Ụ̀kpaàbị̀. […]
[F]rom the Aro people […] Igbere people learnt the kind of writing known as ǹsìbìrì. Ǹsìbìrì was used by members of the Ekpe secret society and could not be read by a non-member. […]
The most powerful influence came from their religion, which was feared in every land. […] In the Ibìna Ụ̀kpaàbị̀ lay their power […] people who went there never came back. […] They travelled and traded with many people in many places and we used to call them Arọ̀ enwēghi ụlọ̀ (The Arọ have no homes).
It was when the white man destroyed their oracle that the Arọs ceased to be a fearsome people.

Interview of Madukwe Anyankụ, aged 75, in Agbo, Igbere, July 10, 1973, U. O. A. Esse (1977).

Igbo Kitchenware

Igbo kitchenware, from Ögbü (Awgbu), in today's Anambra State, taken into the collection of British colonial anthropologist Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11; Igbo names recorded in his notes as: top left, "okwa mai [ọkwa maị]," palm wine cup; top right, "Ngagis 2 Spoons for eating [ǹgàjì];" bottom, "oku mma [ọ̀kụ̀ may refer to the word for dish, mma meaning fine (as in special dishes).] ... for soup" MAA Cambridge.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ndị Ìgbò

An unidentified group portrait taken by a Royal Niger Company employee c. 1886 - 1895. Based on other photos, these could be people from the Asaba or Önïcha area. MAA Cambridge.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ezeani Obidigbo of Neni

"Chief Obudugbo. Ezeana of Neni" [Ezeani Obidigbo of Ugwudunu, Neni?]. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

The keepers of Ani (Ala), the shrine of the Earth Mother, are usually the autochthonous section of a community, a group that can trace their patriline to the original settlers of a community. Ndị nwe Ànà are the highly respected and revered spiritual leaders of a community due to the supremacy of Ani in Igbo society. To keep the Ani is to keep the laws of the land.

Various communities have their own personal Ani because of their unique relationships with Ani and the work in setting up the shrine.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Near Nnewi

Entrance gate and walls with relief of a farmer's compound at Nnewi (noted as "Entrance to a compound of IGBO farmer's house near NEWI"), northern Igbo area, c. 1938. Photo: Edward Duckworth. Pitt Rivers Museum.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


"Water play Bonny For Oko Jumbo" – Jonathan Adagogo Green (Ibani photographer). 1895-1905. British Museum.

Bonny was a powerful coastal state and major port during the slave and palm oil trade. Bonny, Ibani, known as Ụ̀banị̀ in the Igbo interior, set on trading expeditions into the creeks with dozens of canoes holding up to 120 people each. During the slave trade, a group of Bonny slaving canoes could reportedly carry back up to 2000 people from the interior. The creeks were major highways for trade. The Ụ̀banị̀ people brought European cloth and other goods such as gin, pomade, and other European-made drinks to the traders in the interior.

Bonny was settled by people coming through the Ndoki area; the Ibani and Ndoki people maintain a close relationship. Ndoki Akwete cloth is the main cloth used by Bonny's monarchy and for coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings in Bonny. The settlers of Bonny Island eventually moved towards the estuary, founding Okoloama (Bonny town), meaning curlew town. The estuary was apparently widened for Portuguese ships through a sacrifice by Asimini, a king of Bonny, of his daughter, Ogbolo, to the sea around the late 15th century. And so Bonny came to the forefront of the Trans-Atlantic trade as the first to receive the Portuguese.

As early as the 1490s, Europeans were describing the large size of canoes around this area. From around the 18th century, Bonny's war canoes were equipped with European-made cannons in their prows. Many old cannons can still be found in Bonny.

Bonny developed a sort of complex because of their success. Igbo people involved in direct trade with Bonny named their children Ubani and Nwaubani after Bonny as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

Bonny were arbiters of taste for people in the interior when it came to foreign cloth and other European products. The fashions from here influenced what many consider their traditional dress today.

Bonny had several trading rivals, including Old Calabar (Calabar), New Calabar (Elem Kalabari, or Owome), Brass (Nembe), Andoni, Okrika, and during the oil palm era, Opobo (also Ubani to the Igbo) which split from Bonny to Egwenga or Igwenga in Andoni under Jaja of Opobo.

See: E. J. Alagoa. "The slave trade in Niger Delta oral tradition and history..."

Friday, October 25, 2019

Igbo Cotton

Cotton thread from the Igbo area donated to the British Museum by William Balfour Baikie in 1856. Photo: British Museum. Many Igbo communities grew cotton in the past, people spun and dyed them locally.


"At the Akquete [Akwete] Market" by Jonathan Adagogo Green, an Ibani (Bonny) photographer, 1895-1905. British Museum. The Ndoki (which Akwete is a part), Asa, and Omuma area is collectively referred to as Ụ̀kwà, which apparently means wealth.

Before the 20th century, this area was a major market area including the Ohambele, Ohanku, Azumini, and Akwete markets that served as meeting points for Igbo groups and coastal middlemen, especially the Ubani or Ibani (of Bonny Island) who brought up European goods to be traded.

These goods were sent further inland by traders coming from places like today's Umuahia, passing through major trading centres like the Uzuakoli and Uburu markets. They used currency like the m̀kpọ ọlà and ìkpèghè or òkpòghò, brass, copper, and bronze rods and coils.

'King manilla' from Bende. British Museum.

This area was also a major slave trading area where the Aro, mainly, exchanged slaves with said middlemen. Bonny, Elem Kalabari, and other coastal states received much of their slaves like this, who they traded with Europeans before the 1870s.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Symbol of Ala, the Earth Mother, among the Eda Igbo, present-day Abia or Ebonyi State. P. A. Talbot, c. 1920s.

Most Igbo people in the past did not perceive themselves as belonging to a religion. The split between culture and religion did not exist. All practices were viewed as duty. This view of duty, compulsory rites that place tradition and service and reverence to ancestors over belief itself, still exists in the kola nut rite, ịche ọjị, for example, which could've been classed as a religious rite.

(It is probably the case that this rite is so central to Igbo people, that it was difficult to eliminate, and overlooked in the later classifications of 'heathenism' and 'paganism,' etc.)

This view on duty is also linked to the idea that Igbo ritual practices and, obviously, cosmology, were indigenous ways of interpreting the world and the human psyche, not just the propitiation of divinities.

The dilemma, for many, is in the attempt to decouple 'spiritual' elements from 'Igbo culture,' pigeonholing indigenous concepts into 'god', 'religion', 'sin', etc., as people now looked from the outside in as another system was positioned as the default way to view the world.

When Igbo people refer to omenala, odinala, and the like, they are not referring to religion, they are referring to duties to the land and ancestors, laws that were set by the Earth and ancestors. Respect to ancestors and heritage.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Interview of an Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ priest born in c. 1880s Umuopara

This is likely Nwa Agụ, in Umuahia, the leopard Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ mask worn by high ranking men as the emblem of the society. The costume's chequers represent leopard spots. The masker is signing (nsibidi?). Photo: G. I. Jones, c. 1930s. MAA Cambridge.
Uwaga Okeanya, aged c.90 (an Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ priest), in Ogbodiuumwu [Ogbodiukwu?], Ụmụọpara, 12 August 1972
You people now talk of the white man's government as if we had no government in the past. The '044,0' was a secret society which served as a traditional system of government before the advent of the white man, The Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ enforced the verdicts of the ama àlà (village assembly). In the past, if the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ music was played near the house of anybody, anxiety was created as to the reason for the beating of the drum and if a palm leaf was left behind in the man's house, it meant that the person was to appear before the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ court of appeal. As at present, there was then no age-limit for whoever wanted to be a member of the society. But then, only men of proven character and without a shameful past were accepted into the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ society. When you people talk of a better government today, we laugh, because any thief can today be in government because he has the money.
[...] The arrival of the white man changed the traditional pattern in Ụmụọpara society. The Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ society was condemned, polygamy was said to be an uncivilised practice, Ọ̀jam̄ Ụmụ̄ọ̄para, which united all of us in the past, was destroyed, the religion we used to know — all our Ǹjọkụ̄, ọ̀fọ, iyi àfọ̀ — were all discarded with the advent of the Christian churches and schools. One thing I must tell you is that most of those things va hit h the white. man came to destroy arc still with us, and shame on us if we abandon the religion and practices of our fathers.

Interview by A. I. Atulomah (1977).

Saturday, August 31, 2019

John Brown

John Brown (c.1810 – 1876) was born into slavery in Virginia. He said in his life story that his father's father was an Igbo (written Eboe) man stolen from Africa. John Brown’s family was split several times by the time he was ten. He was later sold to people who tortured him for medical experiments, as was often done on many people of African descent. John Brown managed to escape and gain freedom and dictated his life story, published in 1855 as “Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Now in England.”

August 2019 is 400 years since the beginning of the enslavement of Africans in the British Colony of Virginia which later became a US state. Virginia is also noted to have received a large amount of Igbo people during the 18th century.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Agbọọ mmụọ

Agbọ mmụọ, Igbo maiden spirit masks, early 20th century. These masks are worn by men and the design of the costumes incorporate the cosmetics, ornaments, and dress of women in the community. Their outing brings a balance of femininity to masquerade festivals. They play a role in the veneration of the Earth Mother through their appearance at festivals.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Igbo Male Hairstyle

This is the kind of hairstyle worn by young Igbo men around the northern side of the Igbo area. The photo was taken around the 1920s. Young guys grew their hair like this for the same reasons young guys grow their hair today.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Igbo Warfare: Shields

Photo: An Öka (Awka) elder and another man during a war demonstration. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. MAA Cambridge.

Large body shields are commonly ọta, dialect depending; smaller lighter wicker shields èkpèkè. Shield: ọta; wicker/straw shield: èkpèkè, egbeje; gun shield: òkoro.

The Ibo warrior also carried shields which were of two types. One was a heavy wooden shield. This was used for home defence when defending a town against attack. It was too heavy to be carried on raids or forays and was then replaced by a light wicker shield made from laths cut from the midrib of the oil palm (Elæis guineënsis) or of the Borassus palm (Borassus æthiopica). These wicker shields are found widely distributed.

– M. D. W. Jeffreys (1956). "Ibo Warfare."

Ọ̀gbọ Agha

Ọ̀gbọ agha. A war demonstration by men whose names do not appear to have been noted, photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1910-11. The men have swords/machetes, shields made from either wood or the 'midrib of oil palms', and war hats. The location is given as Awka. Colourised Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2019. MAA Cambridge.


Burial Duties

Duties of the (Igbo) second burial (ịkwa ozu?) according to the European source, early 20th century. This is probably for a very prominent person. The photograph is also likely from today's Anambra State.

Ebiriba Origins

Photo: The Otiri masquerade of Ebiriba (Abiriba), a masquerade, of the Iri Ama festival, that praises beautiful women of the community for gifts. Photographed in the 1930s by G. I. Jones. MAA Cambridge.

Ebiriba (Abiriba) was one of the centres of blacksmithing in the Igbo area. The smiths from Ebiriba were itinerant and had bases outside of their homes in nearby towns like Uzuakoli. The smithing trade was so central to the economy of Ebiriba that ụzụ (smithing) in Ebiriba refers to any sort of long-distance trade.

The settlement of Ebiriba appears to coincide with the general eastward expansion of the Igbo people in the Cross River area. Included in this migration were the Ohafia, Aro, Abam, and Eda and Nkporo people. Like in most parts of the Igbo area, the migrations are very mixed and complex, some moving back on one another. In legend, the Aro, Abam, Ohafia, Eda, and Ebiriba people are said to have links to a progenitor, Eze, who came from Ibeku in today's Umuahia.

The links between Ohafia and Ibeku are well established through a legend recounting Ohafia's departure from Isieke, a village in Ibeku, as well as the rights Ibeku people have in Ohafia as members of the elder settlement and as kin. Customs linking the Ebiriba and other Cross River groups and Ibeku are not as strong. It is, however, likely that these Cross River Igbo groups did migrate from the Ibeku and the general Umuahia area.

The Ebiriba and Aro are linked in tradition as coming from the same migration. All these Cross River Igbo groups backed the Aro militarily during their ascension in the late 17th century; this bond is now popularly known as the Aro Confederacy. The Cross River Igbo groups all have strong connections with non-Igbo Cross River groups.

See: Philip Nsugbe (1974). "Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People"; John Oriji (1994). "Traditions of Igbo origin".

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Igbo Dualism and Àlà

Photo: Ugonachomma Igbo art piece of a man-woman couple, carved to the average person's height. British Museum.

So, in summary, Igbo cosmology is dualism, the universe is ultimately made up of two complementary and opposing primordial forces, often represented as male and female, it is how everything is equally paired.

It's the philosophy of balance, of the mortal realm and the spirit realm, for example, women's and men's parallel and complementary organisations and initiations, okenye, oke ibiri; daada, deede; ọzọ, ịyọm; ọmụ, obi; places for living and sacred groves for nature, etc.

Nne ahịhịa n'agwọ oke ahịhịa, female plants are antidotes to male plants, and vice versa.

That being said, it's now a question of whether Chi na Eke were seen as ontological concepts rather than deities, if the former, then Chi na Eke (and Chukwu) is not the supreme Igbo deity, Àlà, Ànà, Àlị̀, Ànị̀, the Earth Mother, is the recognised supreme Igbo deity in general.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Omu Okpanam

The Omu of Okpanam, whose name was not recorded, photographed by Northcote Thomas in 1912. Okpanam is an Enuani Igbo town near Asaba in Delta State, Nigeria today.

The Omu are titled women who control markets and are spiritual protectors to the Obi, the king, in Igbo communities west of the Niger River, typically among the Enuani, and in the past in Onicha (Onitsha) and Osomari on the east bank of the Niger River. There is one Omu in each community with the institution.

The Omu work closely with diviners performing rites for the community and are the authorities over the opening of markets and resolving disputes within the market. The Omu depending on the community and period take titles typically reserved for men and also dress like men, as a consequence women who are post-menopausal are preferred for the role because such women in Igbo society could achieve the same status as men. As is custom in most communities, the Omu was not allowed to be married to a man, Omu were known to marry wives to assist them and have children for them.

Colonialism greatly reduced the power of the Omu in the market and over society in general due to gender bias in the indirect rule system, colonialism was also partly the cause of the disappearance of the institution in some Igbo communities. Today there are many Omu who are still active in their roles.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Igbo hair

Women's hairstyles from different Igbo groups sketched by P. A. Talbot in or before the 1920s.

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