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.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Arụ̀ Women

Aro women photographed by Rev. William T. Weir, in The Women's Missionary Magazine of the United Free Church of Scotland, 1904. Google digitisation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

19th century Akwete Textiles

19th century cotton textiles likely made by Ndoki Igbo women at Akwete and surrounding communities. British Museum. [+] [+] [+]

1981 letter from the donor and grandchild of the collector via the British Museum:

[…] I thought though, that you should know they [the textiles] are not from Cameroons. My grandfather, Walter Johnstone, brought them home just over 100 years ago and had been stationed in Calabar, Bonny and Opobo [so] that they must have been woven in one of those places, possibly by some of King Jaja's women as my grandfather was very friendly with King Jaja[.]

"letter Mrs J A Macdonald/M McLeod, 16.5.1981".

… (The last one looks like akwà mmiri.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dike Nwaàmị̀ Ọ̀hafị̄ā

Ohafia women with long braids fashionable in Ohafia at the time. Photographed by Rev. William T. Weir. From The Women's Missionary Magazine of the United Free Church of Scotland, 1904. Google digitisation.

Ohafia is a society where rights to farmlands are passed through the maternal line and where there were women, although rare, who joined the usually male Ekpè society. A number of Ohafia women warriors, dike nwaàmị̀, local and married into Ohafia, are recorded in the history and folktales of Ohafia. A version of one particular story tells of Nne Mgbaafo who, in war gear, risked her life looking for her husband who she thought was killed by enemies in Ibibio territory. Putting her life on the line, Nne Mgbaafo's intimidation of the enemies led to them revealing that her husband had in fact been kidnapped and, through her bravery, she was able to take him back to Ohafia.

Another story tells of Inyan Olugu whose husband, Itenta Ogbulopia, hadn’t taken heads during battle and therefore hadn’t solidified himself as dike, a valiant warrior. As an onye ụjọ, a coward, his status opened him and his wife up to harassment and humiliation. Inyan Olugu took things into her own hands to secure the honour of her house. She took her husband into the forests of the Nkalu, getting her battle-shy husband to accompany her with the expectation of harvesting palm fruits. While her husband scaled a palm tree, she shot five Nnong Ibibie men dead with her husband's gun, procuring several heads and arranging them in a long basket. On returning to Ohafia, she presented the heads to the ikòrò, the ancestral slit drum that traditionally receives sacrifices. As warriors hailed her husband, Inyan Olugu told the revellers to also sing praises of Inyan Olugu who brought heads and gave the honour to her husband.

Later in the 20th century, by the instruction of the divinity Kalu Akanu through a woman in the compound of his priesthood, Nne Uko Uma Awa of Akanu Ohafia, with other girls during their age-grade's coming-of-age ceremony, carried out a ritual hunt usually done by boys. The girls were led by Nne Uko who dressed in attire usually worn by male warriors including a warrior's loincloth and an òkpu agụ, the leopard cap. Nne Uko continued to dress in a typically male style.

Nne Uko was admitted into the usually exclusively Ekpè society, danced the male style of the iri agha dance of Ohafia warriors, and married two wives who had children through Nne Uko's brother. Nne Uko had yam titles as a successful farmer with the assistance of the wives and children and became the custodian of the maternal lineage shrine dedicated to named female ancestors. In later years, Nne Uko wore more conventionally female attire. In Nne Uko's words, “I dressed like a man because by creation I was meant to be a man. But as it happened, when coming into this world I came with a woman's body.” These are some of the stories of the dike nwaàmị̀ of Ohafia.

Sources: Chukwuma Azuonye (1990). The Performances of Kaalu Igirigiri, an Ohafia Igbo Singer of Tales. John C. McCall (1996). Portrait of a Brave Woman.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bridge over Imo River

Bridge over Imo River. Published 1920. Internet Archive.

A temporary wooden bridge over the Imo River for the Eastern Division railway line built from 1913 to access the Udi coalfields around Enugwu Ngwo, terminating at the Diobu cliffs of the new port named Port Harcourt by Frederick Lugard. It was originally intended for the line to extend further north to Kaduna to join the Western Division railway to Kano, but the outbreak of WWI led to postponement. The work on the 151 mile section from the port to the Udi hills was prioritised due to the wartime need for coal.

Quay building at Port Harcourt. The National Archives UK.

Several battles were fought against the British in the Ngwo area leading to the British taking lands for the railway and for uses relating to the collieries and the building of the city of Enugu which also included the lands of the Nike. At Diobu, the railway took up more land than the local people agreed upon. These lands were declared the property of the Crown.

Much of the labour for the construction of the railways was gotten through British appointed warrant chiefs who selected local people to work, often by force, on sections of the railway running past their communities. Railway and road building was important to the colonial regime. The building and repair work of the railway was a source of contention between the colonial regime and communities on whose lands the railway ran through or near.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ Tolls

An Ekpe masquerader in Uzuakoli, present-day Abia State. Photographed by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ members controlled important roads in the eastern Igbo area. British imperial interests ran against this system.

Passing by Abruki, which had, however, to be " dashed " in the usual way, we arrived in the evening at Omo-pra [Ụmụ̀ọpara?], the last mile or two into the town being more like an avenue in England, shaded by splendid trees, than a wild roadway in Africa. […] Under a lowering sky, and in a, slight drizzle of rain, we left Omo-pra early the next morning[.]
On the way we passed by quite a picturesque ruin of a conko [Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀]—or club—house, standing almost on the road. It was covered with one mass of convolvulus, which grows quite like a weed in these parts, creeping and twining over bushes, shrubs, and trees, but is, for all that, pretty and effective, with its various tints of lilac and purple, enlivening the otherwise sombre foliage with light and colour.
Ekpe clubhouse in Bende, early 20th century. P. A. Talbot. Wellcome Collection.
It appears that these conko-houses are nothing but toll bars—hence their close proximity to roads—to join which members have to pay a certain entrance fee. The custom is for certain members to take it in turn to sit there and demand toll from all people passing with goods for trade or who make use of the road for their own purpose. If this is refused, the club members plunder the goods, and in many cases seize the owners, or drive them away. The priests, it is almost needless to say, form the leading members of these institutions, and when necessary to produce an effective impression, Ju Ju is used, for the connection between the conko-houses and Ju Ju-ism is extremely close and binding. In plain words, conko is nothing but part and parcel of a pernicious system of levying blackmail that seems to prevail all over the country—a system which is in a great measure, I imagine, responsible for the closing of roads and the stoppage of trade. A system which at times recoils on itself, however, for it is on this very account that the club-house in question has fallen into ruins.

– Major Arthur Glyn Leonard (1898). Notes of a Journey to Bende. In: The Journal Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society. pp. 196-197.

"A Famous Were-Leopard"

"A Famous Were-Leopard". Percy Amaury Talbot. Internet Archive.
The power of metamorphosis is generally termed Uworraw-Ukponn, corresponding to the Ibo word Ehihi, and is sometimes inherited, sometimes bought. Since many believe that it is only used for evil purposes, the faculty is not often boasted of, or admitted, by its possessor. Nearly all " strong " animals in the bush, such as leopards, elephants, etc., are credited with being were-beasts, but such can only be recognised by hunters, who, unless bad men, would not shoot them, since their death would entail that of their affinity.

Many communities and lineages among Cross River peoples like the Ibibio and among different Igbo groups and beyond have special animals or vegetation that they have bonded with. In many cases, this came with the ability to take the form of the animal, plants, or trees through a projection of the individual's consciousness which can happen at great distances such as from one's home to an entity in the wild. The ability is usually first gotten through medicine and is hereditary. Sometimes these animals may have protected or saved the community before the bond. It is forbidden for members of such lineages to harm or harvest the animals, plants, or trees they have bonded with or allow others to do so because they are considered kin.

[…] Among Eket, snake " affinities " predominate over all others, though many women say that their souls go forth and enter the great fish in the rivers. A man named Ikot of Usun Inyan gave the following account to Mr. Eakin :
  " I was sitting, with others, in the verandah of my house, when one of the company suddenly jumped up, crying out that his soul was caught in a trap on the farm of a man whom lie named. He had the appearance of struggling violently, as though seeking to loose himself, and begged some of those present to go to the place indicated and set free his affinity. Several of the spectators ran to do as he asked, while I stayed by him, to see what would happen. In a short time he quieted down, and said, with an appearance of great relief : Now I am free once more. My soul has come back to me:
  Not long afterwards our friends returned, and said :
  " ' We went to the place pointed out to us, and there found a great python (Asaba) caught in a trap. So we cut the ropes and the snake glided forth into the bush.' "
[…] Usually fast runners, and those who move with a peculiar creeping motion, are looked upon as leopard souls[.]
[…] So firmly is this belief in fish affinities held among Eket women that, when other Ibibio have had a specially good catch and carry fine specimens of smoked fish to market, the former are known to burst into bitter tears at the sight, weeping and wailing, " You have slain our kin."

– Percy Amaury Talbot (1923). Life in Southern Nigeria. pp. 88-89, 91, 106.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Igbo compound walls

An Igbo compound entrance, in or near Önïcha. Photographed by Herbert Wimberley, c. 1903-18. Cambridge University Library.

The ancestral compound is usually handed down from father to first son, and other lands are shared by other sons, usually making concessions for daughters. There were compounds that were headed by women, especially in the case of wealthy women who married other women into their umunna (patriline), and there are Igbo communities such as Ohafia where agricultural land rights are traced matrilineally.

There are conventional layouts for compounds depending on the cultural region. A compound, known commonly as ngwuru, ezi, or ama, depending on the wealth of the owner, can be divided by walls into different sections. For each wife is the mkpuke which is her own section and house, while a central building known as the obi or obu serves as the head of the house's main living area and the meeting house where the main ancestral shrine is usually in. The kitchen area, often in the back is commonly known as ọnụ ụsọ Ekwu or Usekwu, the abode of the women's hearth spirit Ekwu. In many places the common practice is to surround the compound with a high defensive wall made out of earth known as egwe or aja ngwuru, such compounds usually had a grand entrance with many carved and coloured wooden panels and a large door or gate known as mgbo ezi. There are few aja ngwuru and mgbo ezi (usually the right of titled people) left today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Prince Chukwuma of Àbọ, William Baikie

"Prince Tshúkuma [Chukwuma]" of Abö, illustration from an 1854 voyage by William Baikie. Internet Archive.
[At Abö] we learnt that King Obí [Osai] had been dead for nearly nine years, and that since that time there had been no regular king. At Abó, the chief power is elective, and after the death of Obí two parties sprung up, one of which supported the claims of his son, while the other advanced as their candidate an influential person named Orísa. The two sections were respectively entitled the king's people and the Oshiodápara party. Obí's friends were unanimous in their selection of Obí's second son, named Ajé, an active, intelligent, young man ; and this was acquiesced in by his less energetic and more peaceful brother Okúrobi or Tshúkuma.
[…] Ajé has four large war-canoes, and about 250 slaves, while Tshúkuma has five smaller canoes, and about 50 or 60 slaves.
[…] At this moment Ajé was absent, having gone to settle some dispute at Igára ; but Tshúkuma, as his deputy, had sent Alihéli to receive us. We promised to come on shore the next morning and pay our respects. […] About mid-day, after church, some canoes were seen approaching, in one of which a drum was heard constantly beating. This we discovered to contain Tshúkuma, with a large retinue, come in grand state to pay his regular return visit. To-day he was dressed in an engineer's scarlet uniform coat, a pair of duck trousers, and a purple beaver hat ; he held in his hand the sword I had presented to him, and round his neck were suspended two small medals given him by Captain Trotter.
[…] Abó, the Eboe or Ibu of Lander and of Allen, is the name of a town and also of a district extending along both sides of the river, from the Orú country towards Igára. It forms one of the sections of the Great I'gbo (Ibo) territory ; and though by no means the largest, is, from its position along the Kwóra, one of the most important. The sovereignty, since the death of Obí, having, as I have mentioned, been partly in abeyance, many towns which were under his rule have ceased to pay tribute, and have become independent. The dialect spoken along this tract is called also Abó, and it is readily understood over the whole of I'gbo[.]

– William Baikie (1856). Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the Rivers Kwóra and Bínue… in 1854.. pp. 42-43, 48, 50, 303.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Lady of Nibo

An Igbo woman from Nibo, present-day Anambra State. Photographed by Northcote Thomas c. 1911. MAA Cambridge.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

'The King of the Eboes'

People on the island of Jamaica. USC Digital Library.

March 22, 1816. A European's account of a thwarted African uprising in Jamaica.

The two ringleaders of the proposed rebellion at St. Elizabeth's have been condemned, the one to be hanged, the other to be transported. The plot was discovered by the overseer of Lyndhurst Penn (a Frenchman from St. Domingo) observing an uncommon concourse of stranger negroes at a child's funeral, on which occasion a hog was roasted by the father. […] They had elected a King of the Eboes [Igbo], who had two Captains under him; and their intention was to effect a complete massacre of all the whites on the island; for which laudable design His Majesty thought Christmas the very fittest season in the year, but his Captains were more impatient, and were for striking the blow immediately. The next morning information was given against them: one of the Captains escaped to the woods; but the other, and the King of the Eboes, were seized and brought to justice. On their trial they were perfectly cool and unconcerned, and did not even profess to deny the facts with which they were charged. Indeed, proofs were too strong to admit of denial; among others, a copy of the following song was found upon the King, which the overseer had heard him sing at the funeral-feast, while the other negroes joined in the chorus:—


Oh me good friend, Mr. Wilberforce, make we free!
God Almighty thank ye! God Almighty thank ye!
God Almighty, make we free!
Buckra in this country no make we free!
What Negro for to do? What Negro for to do?
Take force by force! Take force by force!


To be sure! to be sure! to be sure!

The Eboe King said, that he certainly had made use of this song, and what harm was there in his doing so? He had sung no songs but such as his brown priest had assured him were approved of by John the Baptist. "And who, then, was John the Baptist?" He did not very well know; only he had been told by his brown priest, that John the Baptist was a friend to the negroes, and had got his head in a pan!

As to the Captain, he only said in his defence, that if the court would forgive him this once, he would not do so again, "as he found the whites did not like their plans;" which, it seems, till that moment the conspirators had never suspected! They had all along imagined, no doubt, that the whites would find as much amusement in having their throats cut, as the blacks would find in cutting them.

– Matthew Gregory Lewis. Residence Among the Negroes in the West Indies. pp. 114–115.

Sunday, May 3, 2020


An Igbo girl from Nibo, present-day Anambra State, with ùlì designs on her skin. Photographed by Northcote Thomas c. 1911. MAA Cambridge.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...