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.

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).

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