The Igbo people are an ethnic group native of the present-day south-central and South-eastern Nigeria and have many interesting customs and traditions. There are about 40 million Igbos throughout Nigeria, they are one of the three biggest and most influential tribes in Nigeria. Igbos are well-known for their entrepreneurial endeavours, both within Nigeria and around the world. Here’s everything you need to know.

Civilization dated back in history centuries before the arrival of the British Colonial Rule. Before British colonial rule in the 20th century, the Igbo were a politically fragmented group, with a number of centralized chiefdoms such as Nri, Aro Confederacy, Agbor and Onitsha. Frederick Lugard introduced the Eze system of “Warrant Chiefs”. Unaffected by the Fulani War and the resulting spread of Islam in Nigeria in the 19th century, they became overwhelmingly Christian under colonization. In the wake of decolonisation, the Igbo developed a strong sense of ethnic identity. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–1970 the Igbo territories seceded as the short-lived Republic of Biafra. MASSOB, a sectarian organization formed in 1999, continues a non-violent struggle for an independent Igbo state.

Major towns and cities

Igbo land map

Igbos inhabit an area referred to as Igboland, which is divided into two sections along the lower River Niger. They live in most or all parts of five states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, as well as minor parts of Delta, Rivers and Benue states. Small Igbo communities are also found in parts of Cameroon and Equitorial Guinea.

As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, Igbos have migrated to other countries including Jamaica, Cuba, Barbados, Belize, the United States among others.

Origin of The Igbo People

The Igbo people are descended from Eri, (though there are a divine figure who, according to Igbo folklore, was sent from heaven to begin civilization. Eri’s origins are unclear, though he has been described as a “sky being” sent by Chukwu (God). He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra.

Igbo people

Mythology

Though today many Igbo people are Christian, the traditional ancient Igbo religion is known as Odinani. In the Igbo mythology, which is part of their ancient religion, the supreme God is called Chineke (“great spirit”); Chineke created the world and everything in it and is associated with all things on Earth. To the ancient Igbo, the Cosmo is divided into four complex parts:

  • Okike (Creation)
  • Alusi (Supernatural Forces or Deities)
  • Mmuo (Spirit)
  • Uwa (World)

Religion

The Igbo people have a traditional religious belief that there is one creator, called ‘Chineke’ or ‘Chukwu’. The creator can be approached through many other deities and spirits in the form of natural objects, most commonly through the god of thunder called ‘Amadioha’. Others gods include ‘Ala’, the feminine earth spirit, ‘Anyanwu’ (meaning ‘eye of the sun’) a deity believed to dwell on the sun, and ‘Idemili’, the water goddess whose symbol is that of a python. After Nigeria was colonized, most Igbos (more than 90%) became Christian, which is still the predominant religion today.

Ceremony

  • Naming Ceremony

Newborn babies were sometimes named after the day of the week when born. This is no longer the fashion. Names such as Mgbeke (maiden [born] on the day of Eke), Mgborie (maiden [born] on the Orie day) are commonly seen among the Igbo people. For males, Mgbe is replaced by Nwa or “Okoro” (Igbo: Child [of]). Examples of this are Solomon Okoronkwo and Nwankwo Kanu, two popular footballers

  • Wedding Ceremony

Igno Wedding

 

In Igbo culture, a marriage is contracted by the man asking for the woman’s hand from her father, which is the first stage called ‘iku aka‘ (‘to knock on the door’). The second stage and second visit of the groom and his family members to the woman’s family will involve the presence of her extended family, where they must also give their consent. The groom will pay a third visit to pay the bride price and collect from his future in-laws the list of items he will bring to the woman’s family for the wedding. The fourth and final stage is the wedding itself, called ‘igba nkwu‘ or ‘wine carrying’ where the bride will come out to look for her groom (who will hide in the crowd) and offer him a cup of palm wine. The couple is then blessed by the family and well wishers, and celebrations begin.

  • Funeral rites

After a death, the body of a prominent member of society is placed on a stool in a sitting posture and is clothed in the deceased’s finest garments. Animal sacrifices may be offered and the dead person is well perfumed. Burial usually follows within 24 hours of death. In the 21st century, the head of a home is usually buried within the compound of his residence. Different types of deaths warrant different types of burials. This is determined by an individual’s age, gender and status in society. Children are buried in hiding and out of sight; their burials usually take place in the early mornings and late nights. A simple untitled man is buried in front of his house and a simple mother is buried in her place of origin: in a garden or a farm-area that belonged to her father. In the 21st century, a majority of the Igbo bury their dead in the western way, although it is not uncommon for burials to be practiced in the traditional Igbo ways.

Apprenticeship (Igba Boy)

Igba boy

The Igbo have a unique form of apprenticeship in which either a male family member or a community member will spend time (usually in their teens to their adulthood) with another family, when they work for them. After the time spent with the family, the head of the host household, who is usually the older man who brought the apprentice into his household, will establish (Igbo: idu) the apprentice by either setting up a business for him or giving money or tools by which to make a living.

Foods

The yam is very important to the Igbo as it is their staple crop. There are celebrations such as the New yam festival (Igbo: Iri Ji) which are held for the harvesting of the yam.

The yam is also a significant part of a traditional diet and is prepared as pounded yam, eaten with different soups or eaten immediately after being boiled. Igbos are well known for their variety of soups, made from locally grown vegetables, fruits and seeds. The most popular Igbo soups are ohansalaakwuokazi and ofe owerri.

Kola nut (Igbo: Ọjị) occupies a unique position in the cultural life of Igbo people. Ọjị is the first thing served to any visitor in an Igbo home. Ọjị is served before an important function begins, be it marriage ceremony, settlement of family disputes or entering into any type of agreement. Ọjị is traditionally broken into pieces by hand, and if the Kola nut breaks into 3 pieces a special celebration is arranged.

Clothing

Traditionally the attire of the Igbo generally consisted of little clothing as the purpose of clothing then was to conceal private parts, although elders were fully clothed. Children were usually nude from birth till their adolescence (the time when they were considered to have something to hide) but sometimes ornaments such as beads were worn around the waist for medical reasons. Uli body art was also used to decorate both men and women in the form of lines forming patterns and shapes on the body.

Also Read, The Yoruba People

Source: Culture Trip