There have been cases among the Igbos of titled men of great standing. In most cases, however, such a conversion deserves to be described as a miracle of grace because it meant dismissing extra wives, thus breaking up normal home life and surrendering much of one’s social standing, and denying oneself of many of the joys of public life. Religion has also a political significance, since traditional governing authority has a religious foundation. The rulers in societies are Chiefs, Secret Societies and priestly Elders, all embodying and using authority from the unseen world of gods and ancestor spirits.
The native law and custom enforced by them with regard to marriage and land rights for instance, are thought of originating from sanctified ancestors and gods whom it would be sacrilege to disobey; risking a dangerous curse as well penalties by the direct physical force still sometimes commanded by these traditional rulers. Missionary influence has been felt in varied aspects of culture including such changes as the suspension of twin-killing among the Igbos, the adoption of Western clothing in place of traditional styles of dress, and the partial absence of polygamy.
An Igbo offspring is a product of his father’s lineage and therefore the chi is patrilineal in outlook.
When one attains the age of puberty, then one is introduced to both the mother’s mother’s lineage and the father’s father’s lineage. When one marries, his wife’s lineage plays a very important social role for his children. In fact, in the entire society of Igbo people, there exists a series of Agnatic groups. For inheritance and succession, a person takes the lawful right property from the lineage of his father.
Not long ago, western scholars with colonial genes thought and wrote that primitive and tribal societies in Africa had no laws. The European scholars saw “law” as a concept of western culture, including courts and the judges. In Nigeria they observed the rulers like the Emirs of Kano and Sokoto. Scholars did not realize that all societies have their own laws, developed out of their experiences for their unique needs and survival. Before the arrival of the colonial government, the Igbo people were ruled by their Obis and Ezes according to the traditional laws and customs. Native courts were established in different divisional headquarters. Each village was represented by the headman or Nze councilor. Small cases were handled locally at the village level by village heads, particularly cases such as family disputes. Many cases in native courts were reviewed by the district officer or the resident who lived in the urban or divisional/provincial headquarters. The enforcem
Among the Igbo law is based on rules which are enacted by the elders and sanctioned by the ancestors Ndichie. An infraction of a law does not constitute the breaking of a taboo. Those who broke the law are punished or fined. Igbo concept of law is rooted in Igbo jurisprudence which is a body of complex arguments of ethical principles.
During the Administrative Empire, the former head rulers in Igbo land were removed, and they were replaced by the “warrant” chiefs and their functions were re-defined. The “indirect rule,” as it was popularly called, or imperial rule established its chain of command as explained in the above chart. With the ushering in of political life in Igbo land, N.C.N.C. (Nigerian Cameroon National Council) political leaders preached African Democracy. This gave rise to local government reforms in the Eastern region of Nigeria; the heart of Igbo land. The electoral voting zones were created according to population. The Igbo consensus rule was affected by the European political system. From 1952, the system of rule was regarded by the Ezes and the 0bis as a non-Igbo way of life; a democratic system whereby strangers outnumbered the aborigines who could rule. The formation of political parties was one of the most modern organizational changes that occurred in Igbo land before the Independence.
The advent of a political system no doubt brought many innovations in education, modernization, and changes in infrastructure, but has drastically changed many men from their cultural code and moral basis of acquiring wealth. Wealth acquired immorally does not earn profit and respect. The stealing of an ear of corn from a farm was an abomination to an “old Igbo” but a Bizz (business) to the new Igbo, the one I call a counter culture Igbo.
Ancestral Spirit Through title Dummy Gods
The elders believe the world is full of created beings and things, both animate and inanimate. The spirit world is the abode of the creator, the deities, the disembodied and malignant spirits, and the ancestral spirits. It is the future abode of the living after their death. There is constant interaction between the world of man and the world of the dead; the visible and invisible forces. Existence for the Igbo may be said to be dual. Interrelationships involve the interaction between material and spiritual, the visible and the invisible. the good and the bad, the living and the dead.
Kola-Nut — Symbol of Hospitality
At any village function, the titled man or a village head is presented with kola-nuts, which play a very important social and ritual role in the Igbo culture. The kola-nuts are the highest symbol of Igbo hospitality. Whenever a kola-nut appeared in a gathering, the matter to be discussed at that particular time was regarded as very vital. The offering of drinks, food and meat are not regarded so important in Igbo culture as the offering of kola-nuts. When an important guest visits the community, kola-nuts are brought out and handed to the elder person or the priest. This symbol of Igbo hospitality has three steps and anyone who fails to follow these steps is penalized by the village elders.
- The first step is the presentation of the kola-nuts
- The second is the breaking of the kola.
- The third is the distribution of the kola-nuts.
Below is an example of the role of Kola-Nut amongst the Igbos culled from Chinua Achebe’s book, “Things Fall Apart,”
There was a wealthy man in Okonkwo’s Village who had three huge barns, nine wives and thirty children. His name was Nwakobie, and he had taken the second highest title man could take in the clan. It was for this man that Okonkwo worked to earn his first seed yams. He took a pot of palm wine and a cock to Nwakobie. Two elderly neighbors were sent to present a kola-nut and an alligator pepper, which were passed round for all to see, and then the kola-nut and alligator pepper were returned to him. We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.
The presentation of kola-nuts is a privilege reserved exclusively for the men. This privilege is denied to women for cultural reasons. When the kola-nut is presented to a guest, the kola-nut travels around until finally it comes back to the host. The elder who is present at the ceremony holds the kola-nut up and says a prayer to the ancestors. Thus, such prayers are said often in Igbo ceremonial gatherings. The gods of the ancestors and all the friendly spirits are summoned together and offered the kola-nuts. The elder demands good health for the good people, and ill health for their enemies and peace for all in the village.
Marriage in Igbo land is an arrangement which enables individuals (man/woman) to live together and cooperate in an orderly social life. A marriage in Igbo land or any African country goes beyond sexual union. “The type of family organization is the extended family, where “one is his brother’s keeper.” This consists of the nuclear family, the western type of family organization, (man, wife, and children), plus the couple’s parents, brothers, and sisters; their grandparents and great grandparents. The extended family takes the form of three or four generations of nuclear families of lineal descendants.
The Igbo family structure expands the range of consanguine relationships, or membership by blood, and affinity relations, or membership by marriage. The marriage is patrilineal. One has to take a wife outside his kinship community. There is much emphasis placed on compatibility of the couples and social standing within the kinship community. In the Igbo marriage more emphasis is placed on arrangement than on love in the marriage. There is much screening for hereditary illness, for insanity, and sanctions are placed on incest rules.
Bride wealth or bride price is practiced in Igbo land instead of a dowry. Bride price is a token of appreciation for the loss of a daughter. This token gift is given to the bride’s father or relatives before the elders of both the bride’s and bridegroom’s communities. It is not a purchasing of a wife, but a part of a contract between two couples. Bride price plays a very important role in social, legal and economic customs. The bride wealth seals the two couples and also regulates the rate of divorce cases, if any. The marriage is solidified with the birth of a child, particularly a male child who will in the future inherit the land. The Igbo traditional marriage is no marriage of romantic love through beauty or handsomeness. The couples establishing a family for procreation. Important functions are reproduction, child care, socialization, economic support, collective responsibility and status placement.
Generally, marriage is regarded as a family and clan affair. When a boy betroths a girl, the matter does not end there. The families of the contracting parties will embark on a series of investigations about the character, home training, lineage, health, clan relationship. Where all the requirements are satisfactory to both sides, approval is readily given for continuation of betrothal intercourse, but if otherwise, any further relationship between the two youngsters will be discouraged.
The Igbo traditional marriage favors polygamy (one man marries many wives). There is no civil ordinance law against anyone who takes more than one wife (bigamy) as long as the person can maintain them. With impact of Christianity on Igbo education and bureaucracy, monogamy is gaining momentum.
Abduction in Marriages
The modern Igbo has gone through cultural metamorphosis regard to marriage. Due to European influences, the status of women gone through many changes. At the middle of the 20th century, there existed in Igbo land both church marriages and civil marriages. These were foreign to Igbo culture. The two marriages are contracted in the Christian Church and in the Civil Court House after the traditional ceremonies been completed. In both cases, the traditional bride price must be paid. The modern Igbo woman prefers church or court marriages because it give tremendous security. The traditional wife could desert the husband at will if the husband is caught stealing from the community. She would then refund the bride price at will. On the other hand, if the husband caught the wife stealing or caught her in adultery, the wife is divorced and she refunds the bride price. In either case, there is a public hearing by the village elders before any major decisions are taken for a woman to leave her children and her husband.
To the general opinion of the Africans, the civil marriage is regarded as a marriage without dignity and honor. Many Africans look upon such couples with scorn. Those who marry by civil marriage do so because they pay little or nothing as a bride price. If by civil marriages you mean marriage in a civil court, the older type of native does not like it because they say that many of the younger natives resort to it in order to avoid their marriage obligations and sometimes to hide immoral deeds. It is detrimental [to] and detribalizing [of] the natives from their original and natural laws by allowing the child to choose his or her own way without consulting the parents to that effect.
Christian marriages are not common except among the educated, urbanized Christian elements, mainly in the South. The government established a marriage ordinance based on English common law under which a couple may solemnize their marriage before a Christian minister or civil registrar, which then requires them to observe Christian marriage customs. Marriages under these ordinances are not common because of the restriction it places on plural marriage and easy divorce. They are becoming more frequent, however, particularly among the prominent and growing sections ol literate city dwellers in the South who are gradually adopting new attitude toward marriage and the family in consequence of their education, Christian orientation and new economic position.
The Ohu status originated in the early period in Nigeria. The great demand for laborers on European plantations in the Americas led to the development of an immensely profitable export of slaves. The slaves were traded mainly on the coast of the Niger River. Slaves were regarded also as subordinate to the Diala in this society, but they could marry the Diala (free-born) children. This was a kind of slavery already established in Africa. It was forced service within the African tribal or state system. Men captured in war were forced into what may be called “domestic slavery,” that is, they became the servants of those who captured them. So did certain kinds of law-breakers. It was a kind of slavery that had long existed on the other continents. In Africa, on the other hand, a man who owned domestic slaves had to look after them. They could marry the master’s daughter and inherit his property. They could even become kings or rich merchants.
Sometimes payment was made with goods since money was not an accepted medium of exchange. Had this been the only intrusion, the slave method would have been abandoned. Ordinary Igbo simply despised slaves and to retain this system would have dragged Christianity into disrepute. The (Ohu/Oru) slavery started from the early period according to Genesis. From the Hebrews of old, one remembers the history of Noah and Ham. A slave system, whether domestic or plantation, requires no sacrifice or dedication to gods or goddesses. The practice was mainly motivated by the need of money.
“Persons who pawn themselves acquire the status of an Ohu (slave) until redeemed, and the children of unredeemed persons are also regarded as 0hu.”
Besides financial motives, many people were taken into slavery because they were lazy and could not render much help to the community. Rogues, stubborn men and women were sold into slavery. Also many were sold into slavery who were the victims of tribal wars. Intertribal wars were often waged.
There were then more than six sources of slaves, namely, Intertribal war captives, lazy children, victims of political machination, unprotected/unguided strangers and stray. There were other causes such as poverty, victimization frustration and religious obligation.
Osu concept. While domestic slavery Ohu/Oru > is accorded a lower status, the Osu system finds rationalization in Igbo religious beliefs and dogma. It is traditionally believed that Osu could contaminate non-Osu by close association. Many scholars have defined the Osu as a cult slave, a living sacrifice, untouchable, an owner’s cult, a slave of the deity, a sacred and holy being. All these definitions are accepted as they seem to explain the existing values and norms of the Igbo community.
An Osu is a person who is sacrificed or consecrated alive together with his/her descendants to the service of a pagan god. There are two types of Osu: (1) The public and (2) the domestic one. The public Osu ministers to the public god and the domestic Osu ministers to a domestic patron god.
There had been rigid distinctions of status between the Diala, Osu and Ohu. The Osu and Ume have a similar status connotation to the untouchables in India. In the Diala status, an individual was used for sacrifice to the gods and goddesses and was thereby transformed to Osu or Ume status. In different areas of Igbo land, the Osu system is called by different names. However, one thing that these names have in common is that those with these names are not allowed to marry a free-born or what Owerri call Diala. At Nzam in Onitsha an Osu is called Adu-Ebo; this is a mixture of Igbo and Igala language. In the Nsukka area, Osu is called Oruma (Jujus slaves). At the Awgu area, Osu is called Nwani or Ohualusi.
No one could say that the regional government had never attempted to look into the problem of Osu in Igbo land. In 1956, there was a giant step taken by the members of Eastern Regional Government to stamp out this evil.
I beg to move that a bill for the law for the abolition of the Osu system and the prescribed punishment both for the practice of it, and the enforcement of any disabilities arising from it be passed into law. Do not let us make any mistake about this system. It is apartheid. It is what Dr. Malan and his followers have been preaching and practicing in South Africa.
Many schools of thought say that one could not legislate a brotherhood. Many surveys taken by the District Officers in Southern Nigeria, in 1955, came to the opinion that enactment of laws against the Osu caste will not solve the problem and that there was no amount of imprisonment that could frighten the so-called free-born (Diala).
From the debates on Osu in the Eastern House of Assembly in 1956, not all the members from the area where Osu/Ume are rampant or practiced spoke sincerely. Some members had some reservation in voicing their opinion on the Osu Slave Cult. The problems of Osu and Ume are not economic but ones of social stratification. The freedom to marry within the system is what disturbs the so-called Osu. Within the system the so-called Osu/Ume include wealthy groups just as their counterpart, the so-called Diala (free-born). Many Christians and intellectuals have the attitude of letting a sleeping dog lie. The missions have helped a lot with education which sat Osu and Diala in one classroom, one dormitory, and one church. Before the arrival of Christianity the position of Osu and Diala was earmarked. The discrimination was so keen the situation became a pressure cooke
However, this pagan cancer was not so rigid by the mid-20th century. With non-discriminatory attitudes of both the Federal and State Government, all people are believed to be created equal.
The Christian community in Igbo land have a stake in the problem of Osu, Ume and Aro distinctions. During the Christian Evangelization, everyone, regardless of whether they were Osu or Diala, was baptized and encouraged to turn from dummy god to real God. The Christian community in Judea understood the problem and this explained why Peter had to be queried in Jerusalem on his return, “So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them, have you?” (Acts 11:3).
The Igbos of Nigeria have a stake in this pagan cancer. United we stand. During the Civil War Igbo lost the greater part of the war because a the so-called saboteurs. This is comparable to Osu/Diala stratification an the situation needs an urgent solution. The first phase of evangelization is over. The church is now faced with social change and the importance of retention of membership without breaking the community mores and norms. The theory of African socialism according to President Nyerere of Tanzania is to be your brother’s keeper.
Rite of Passage
One of the highest occasions in the life of Igbo girls and boys is the initiation into adulthood through the rite of passage. This marks an epoch in the life of these adults. It appraises the physical and moral estate and plans for their future. Both boys and girls go through the rite of wearing cloths (Ima Akwa). From undress to clothing a sign of social status and individual transformation.
The rite of circumcision, whereby a child is initiated into his culture, occurs on the eighth day after birth, when he or she is circumcised. Traditionally, the operation was performed by a midwife (native doctor), but since the mid-20th century, this slight surgical operation is done mainly by physicians for hygienic reasons. The experience of modern Igbo girls proves that they are neglected and are resentful of traditional circumcision.
The ritual framework for circumcision is still traditional in much of the world despite heated medical controversy–it is complicated and varied. But the tradition best known in the United States is the Jewish custom, set forth in Genesis. God speaks to Abraham in no uncertain terms; ‘and he who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people, for he has broken my covenant.’
God commanded Abraham and his posterity to give Him their soul and heart, to be holy in all their deeds according to His will. This was the first principle of the covenant God made with Abraham, and circumcision was a sign that Abraham was ready to comply with the will of God. He was the first to be circumcised.
Female circumcision is the cutting of the hood of the clitoris–known in Muslim countries as Sunna. The mildest type affects only a small proportion of the millions of women concerned. It is the only type of mutilation which can be called circumcision.
The age at which the mutilations are carried out varies from area to area, and according to whether legislation against the practice is foreseen or not. It varies from a few days old (for example, the Jewish Falashas in Ethiopia, and the Nomads of the Sudan), to about seven years old in Egypt and many countries of Central Africa, to adolescence.
Among the Igbo of Nigeria, for instance, excision takes place shortly after the child is born. The Igbo circumcision dates back to the Stone Age when the Igbo people were moving from Egypt through Sudan southwards. It is basically a conservative rite of passage.
The third rite in Igbo culture is Iru-mgbede (fattening of a girl before marriage). The women are separated from the usual household or abode. This shows the change of a woman’s status from a single, virginal individual to someone looking forward to moral sex, pregnancy and childbearing. The songs during the ritual convey the maturation to womanhood. The Iru-mgbede culture rite of passage is only for women. The culture feels that healthy offspring, physically fit enough to cope with life, can be born only to healthy, physically fit mothers. It is therefore very jealous of the health of Igbo women, taking every precaution to safeguard it before marriage. Chief among these precautions is the custom of monthly separation before marriage. This is a time to prepare, refresh, prepare intellectually, emotionally, physically in readiness for the status of married woman.
The fourth rite of passage is Itu Anya (the initiation of a Diviner). The individual passes through many stages before he is equipped with the power, knowledge and courage for being confirmed with the title of a Diviner. Itu Anya introduces adolescents to the world of men and confers an additional power or ability to communicate with spirits. According to this doctrine the initiated person sees far into the future. “Itu Anya initiation lasts eight days. Usually it is performed by adolescent males.”
The fifth is Igba Mgba (wrestling). It is always a privilege in the community for one to have the courage to engage in a fight against an opponent. One becomes a star, a warrior, or a wrestler by winning at a wrestling match. “The Igbo believe that a man should fight such aggressors, human or spiritual, to the best of his ability. In Igbo land, a man is said to be a man when he efficiently and effectively handles trying situations.”
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