Igbo people

Igbo people
Igbo people
Ndị Igbọ
Igbo people.jpg
Total population
15–30 million worldwide (est.)
Regions with significant populations
 Nigeria 15–30 million [N 1]
 United Statesa [1][2]
 United Kingdomb [3]
 Cameroon [4]
 Sierra Leone ~30,000 (1839) [5]
 Ghana ~21,000 (1969) [6]
 Equatorial Guinea [7]
Bioko ~8,680 (2002) [8]
 Jamaicac [9]
 Trinidad and Tobagod +2,863 (1813) [10][N 2]
 Japan ~1680 (est.) [11]
 Saint Lucia +894 (1815) [12][N 2]
 Canadae +715 (2006) [13][N 3]
 Saint Kitts and Nevis +440 (1817) [14][N 2]
 Guyana +111 (1819) [15][N 2]

Igbo  · Igboid languages


Historical: Traditional Igbo religion
Predominantly: Christianity

Related ethnic groups

Ibibio, Ijaw, Efik, Ejagham, Annang, Eket, Ogoni, Urhobo/Isoko, Idoma, Igala, Esan
African Diaspora

a Igbo American, b Nigerian British, c Igbo Jamaican,
d Afro-Trinidad & Tobago e Igbo Canadian

Further diaspora due to Slavery is unknown

  1. ^ Sources vary widely about the population. Mushanga, p. 166, says "over 20 million"; Nzewi (quoted in Agawu), p. 31, says "about 15 million"; Okafor, p. 86, says "about twenty-five million"; Okpala, p. 21, says "around 30 million"; and Smith, p. 508, says "approximately 20 million". Assuming the figure of 18% of the population is still accurate, the CIA World Factbook population total suggests 27 million.
  2. ^ a b c d Slave population born in Africa may not express the complete amount of people in these countries with Igbo ancestry at the time.
  3. ^ 19,520 identify as Nigerian, 61,430 identify as black.

Igbo people, also referred to as the Ibo(e), Ebo(e),[9][16][17] Eboans[18] or Heebo[19] (Igbo: Ndị Igbọ) are an ethnic group living chiefly in southeastern Nigeria. They speak Igbo, which includes various Igboid languages and dialects;[20] today, a majority of them speak English alongside Igbo as a result of British colonialism.[21] Igbo people are one of the largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria.[22] Due to the effects of migration and the Atlantic slave trade, there are descendant ethnic Igbo populations in countries such as Cameroon[4] and Equatorial Guinea,[7] as well as outside Africa. Their exact population outside Africa is unknown, but today many African Americans and Afro Caribbeans are of Igbo descent. In rural areas in Africa, the Igbo are mostly farmers. Their most important crop is the yam; celebrations are held annually to celebrate its harvesting.[23] Other staple crops include cassava and taro.[24]

Before British colonialism, the Igbo were a politically fragmented group. There were variations in culture such as in art styles, attire and religious practices. Various subgroups were organized by clan, lineage, village affiliation, and dialect. There were not many centralized chiefdoms, hereditary aristocracy, or kingship customs except in kingdoms such as those of the Nri, Agbor and Onitsha.[25] This political system changed significantly under British colonialism in the 19th century; Eze (kings) were introduced into most local communities by Frederick Lugard as "Warrant Chiefs".[26] The Igbo became overwhelmingly Christian under colonization. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is one of the most popular novels to depict Igbo culture and changes under colonialism.

By the mid-20th century, the Igbo people developed a strong sense of ethnic identity.[24] Certain conflicts with other Nigerian ethnicities led to the Igbo-dominant Eastern Nigeria seceding from Nigeria to create the independent state of Biafra. The Nigerian-Biafran war (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970) broke out shortly after. With their defeat, the Republic of Biafra was reabsorbed into Nigeria.[27] MASSOB, a sectarian organization formed in 1999, continues a non-violent struggle for an independent Igbo state.[28]



The Igbo people have had heavily fragmented and politically independent communities.[29] Before knowledge of Europeans and full exposure to other neighbouring ethnic groups, the Igbo did not have a strong identity as one people. Based on his close reading of Olaudah Equiano's 1789 narrative, the historian Alexander X. Byrd argues that the Igbo identity had its origins in slavery, emerging in the "holding patterns" of coastal towns in West Africa.[30] As in the case of most ethnic groups, the British and fellow Europeans identified the Igbo as a tribe.[31] Chinua Achebe, among other scholars, challenged this because of its negative connotations and possible wrong definition.[31] He suggested defining the Igbo people as a nation similar to the Cherokee Native Americans or Japanese, although the Igbo do not have an officially recognized physical state of their own.[31][32]



Pottery dated at around 4500 BCE showing similarities with later Igbo work was found at Nsukka, along with pottery and tools at nearby Ibagwa; the traditions of the Umueri clan have as their source the Anambra valley. In the 1970s the Owerri, Okigwe, Orlu, Awgu, Udi and Awka divisions were determined to constitute "an Igbo heartland" from the linguistic and cultural evidence.[33]

There is evidence that the ancestors of the Igbo people and most of their neighbors were the proto-Benue group, which came from the African Great Lakes and Mountains of the Moon of East and Central Africa, before settling at the old Sahara grasslands.[34] The desertification of the Sahara forced some of the Benue people to migrate farther south to the north of the Niger Benue confluence, where they developed the Nok culture.[35][36]

Elements of the Benue people migrated south of this confluence and later became the Igala, Idoma, Yoruba, Igbo, and possibly the Tiv peoples. The Benue people's first areas of settlement in Igboland was the North Central uplands (Nsukka-Awka-Orlu) around 5000 BCE. Elements from the Orlu area migrated south, east, and northeast, while elements from the Awka area migrated westwards across the Niger river and became the Igbo subgroup now known as the Anioma.[37] The Igbo share linguistic ties with the Bini, Igala, Yoruba, and Idoma peoples.[38][39]

Nri Kingdom

Bronze from the ninth century town of Igbo Ukwu, now at the British Museum.[40]

The city of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture.[41] Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umueri clan who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri.[42] Eri's origins are unclear, though he has been described as a "sky being" sent by Chukwu (God).[42][43] He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra.[43] The historian Elizabeth Allo Isichei says "Nri and Aguleri and part of the Umueri clan, [are] a cluster of Igbo village groups which traces its origins to a sky being called Eri."[44]

Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century,[45] and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around 948 with other related Igbo cultures following after in the 13th century.[46] The first Eze Nri (King of Nri) Ìfikuánim followed directly after him. According to Igbo oral tradition, his reign started in 1043.[47] At least one historian puts Ìfikuánim's reign much later, around 1225 AD.[48]

Each king traces his origin back to the founding ancestor, Eri. Each king is a ritual reproduction of Eri. The initiation rite of a new king shows that the ritual process of becoming Ezenri (Nri priest-king) follows closely the path traced by the hero in establishing the Nri kingdom.
E. Elochukwu Uzukwu[49]

An Igbo man with facial scarifications, known as ichi, early 20th century [50]

The Kingdom of Nri was a religio-polity, a sort of theocratic state, that developed in the central heartland of the Igbo region.[46] The Nri had seven types of taboo's which included human (such as the birth of twins), animal (such as killing or eating of pythons),[51] object, temporal, behavioral, speech and place taboos.[52] The rules regarding these taboos were used to educate and govern Nri's subjects. This meant that, while certain Igbo may have lived under different formal administration, all followers of the Igbo religion had to abide by the rules of the faith and obey its representative on earth, the Eze Nri.[52][53]

Traditional society

Traditional Igbo political organization was based on a quasi-democratic republican system of government. In tight knit communities, this system guaranteed its citizens equality, as opposed to a feudalist system with a king ruling over subjects.[54] This government system was witnessed by the Portuguese who first arrived and met with the Igbo people in the 15th century.[55] With the exception of a few notable Igbo towns such as Onitsha, which had kings called Obi, and places like the Nri Kingdom and Arochukwu, which had priest kings; Igbo communities and area governments were overwhelmingly ruled solely by a republican consultative assembly of the common people.[54] Communities were usually governed and administered by a council of elders.[56]

Three Igbo women in the early 20th century[57]

Although title holders were respected because of their accomplishments and capabilities, they were never revered as kings, but often performed special functions given to them by such assemblies. This way of governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana. Umunna are a form of patrilineage maintained by the Igbo. Law starts with the Umunna which is a male line of descent from a founding ancestor (who the line is sometimes named after) with groups of compounds containing closely related families headed by the eldest male member. The Umunna can be seen as the most important pillar of Igbo society.[58][59][60]

Mathematics in traditional Igbo society is evident in their calendar, banking system and strategic betting game called Okwe.[61] In their indigenous calendar, a week had four days, a month consisted of seven weeks and 13 months made a year. In the last month, an extra day was added.[62][63] This calendar is still used in indigenous Igbo villages and towns to determine market days.[64] They settled law matters via mediators, and their banking system for loans and savings, called Isusu, is also still used.[65] The Igbo new year, starting with the month Önwa Mbụ (Igbo: First Moon) occurs on the third week of February,[66] although the traditional start of the year for many Igbo communities is around springtime in Önwa Agwụ (June).[67][68] Used as a ceremonial script by secret societies, the Igbo had a traditional ideographic set of symbols called Nsibidi, originating from the neighboring Ejagham people.[69] Igbo people produced bronzes from as early as the 9th century, some of which have been found at the town of Igbo Ukwu, Anambra state.[40]

Igbo Trade Routes before 1900 (click for larger image)

A system of Indentured servitude existed among the Igbo after and before the arrival and knowledge of Europeans.[70][71] Indentured service in Igbo areas was described by Olaudah Equiano in his narrative. He describes the conditions of the slaves in his community of Essaka, and points out the difference between the treatment of slaves under the Igbo in Essaka, and those in the custody of Europeans in West Indies:

…but how different was their condition from that of the slaves in the West Indies! With us, they do no more work than other members of the community,… even their master;… (except that they were not permitted to eat with those… free-born;) and there was scarce any other difference between them,… Some of these slaves have… slaves under them as their own property… for their own use.[71]

The Niger coast acted as a contact point between African and European traders from the years 1434–1807. This contact between the Africans and Europeans began with the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British.[72] Even prior to European contact, Igbo trade routes stretched as far as Mecca, Medina and Jeddah.[73]

Transatlantic slave trade

Paul Robeson was a multi-lingual American actor and writer whose father was of Igbo descent.[74]

The transatlantic slave trade which took place between the 16th and late 19th century affected the Igbo heavily. Most Igbo slaves were taken from the Bight of Biafra (also known as the Bight of Bonny).[75] This area included modern day southeastern Nigeria, Western Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and parts of Northern Gabon.[76] Major trade ports for goods and slaves in the area included Bonny and Calabar Town. A large number of slaves from the Bight of Biafra would have been Igbo.[77][78] Slaves were usually sold to Europeans by the Aro Confederacy who kidnapped or bought slaves from Igbo villages in the hinterland.[79] Most Igbo slaves, however, were not victims of slave raiding wars or expeditions, but were sometimes debtors and people who committed what their communities considered to be abominations or crimes.[80] About 15 percent of slaves were taken from the Bight of Biafra between 1650 and 1900, the third greatest percentage in the era of the transatlantic slave trade.[81] Igbo slaves were known for being rebellious and having a high rate of suicide in defiance of slavery.[82][83][84] For still unknown reasons, Igbo women were highly sought after[85] (possibly as concubines).[86]

Contrary to common belief, European slave traders were fairly informed about various African ethnicities, leading to slavers' targeting certain ethnic groups which plantation owners preferred. Ethnic groups consequently became fairly saturated in certain parts of the Americas.[87] The Igbo were dispersed to colonies such as Jamaica,[9] Cuba,[9] Haiti,[9] Barbados,[88] the United States,[2] Belize[89] and Trinidad and Tobago,[90] among others.

Elements of Igbo culture can still be found in these places. For example, in Jamaican Patois the Igbo word unu, meaning "you" plural, is still used.[91] Red Ibo" (or "red eboe") describes a black person with fair or "yellowish" skin. This term had originated from the reported prevalence of these skin tones among the Igbo but eastern Nigerian influences may not be strictly Igbo.[17][92] The word Bim, a colloquial term for Barbados, was commonly used among enslaved Barbadians (Bajans). This word is said to have derived from bi mu in the Igbo language (or bem, Ndi bem, Nwanyi ibem or Nwoke ibem, which means "My people"), but may have other origins (see: Barbados etymology).[93][94] A section of Belize City was named Eboe Town after its Igbo inhabitants.[95] In the United States the Igbo were found most commonly in the states of Maryland and Virginia, where they remained the largest single group of Africans.[96][97] Recent Igbo-speaking immigrants have also settled in Maryland, attracted to its strong professional job market.[98]

Colonial period

The arrival of the British in the 1870s and increased encounters between the Igbo and other ethnicities near the Niger River led to a deepening sense of a distinct Igbo ethnic identity. The Igbo proved remarkably decisive and enthusiastic in their embrace of Christianity and Western education.[99][100] Due to the incompatibility of the Igbo decentralized style of government and the centralized system required for British indirect rule, British colonial rule was marked with open conflicts and much tension.[70] Under British colonial rule, the diversity within each of Nigeria's major ethnic groups slowly decreased and distinctions between the Igbo and other large ethnic groups, such as the Hausa and the Yoruba, became sharper.[101]

Colonial rule drastically transformed Igbo society as depicted in the book Things Fall Apart. British rule brought about changes in culture such as the introduction of Warrant Chiefs as Eze (traditional rulers) where there were no such monarchies.[102] Christianity had played a great part in the introduction of European ideology into Igbo society and culture, sometimes shunning parts of the culture.[103] The rumours that the Igbo women were being assessed for taxation sparked off the 1929 Igbo Women's War in Aba (also known as the 1929 Aba Riots), a massive revolt of women never encountered before in Igbo history.[104]

Living conditions changed under colonial rule. The tradition of building houses out of mud walls and thatched roofs died while houses started being built with cement blocks and zinc roofs. Roads for vehicles were built. Buildings such as hospitals and schools were erected in many parts of Igboland. Along with this change came electricity and running water in the early 20th century. Electricity brought new devices such as radios and televisions which are now common place in most Igbo households.[105]

Nigerian–Biafran War

Flag of the Republic of Biafra (1967–1970), sometimes regarded as the ethnic flag of the Igbo.[32]

A series of ethnic clashes between Northern Muslims and the Igbo (and other peoples) of Eastern Nigeria living in Northern Nigeria took place between 1966 and 1967. This was followed by the assassination of the Nigerian military head of state General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi by elements in the army[106] and by the failure of peace talks between the military government that deposed Ironsi and the regional government of Eastern Nigeria at the Aburi Talks in Ghana in 1967.[107] These events led to a regional council of the peoples of Eastern Nigeria deciding that the region should secede and proclaim the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.[108] General Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu had made this declaration and became the Head of state of the new republic.[109] The war, which came to be known as the Nigerian Civil War or the Nigerian-Biafran War, lasted from July 6, 1967, until January 15, 1970, after which the federal government reabsorbed Biafra into Nigeria.[108][110] Several million Eastern Nigerians, especially Igbo, are believed to have died between the pogroms and the end of the civil war. In their brief struggle for self-determination, the people of Biafra earned the respect of figures such as Jean Paul Sartre and John Lennon, who returned his British honor, MBE, partly in protest against British collusion in the Nigeria-Biafra war.[111]

In July 2007, the former leader of Biafra, General Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, renewed calls for the secession of the Biafran state as a sovereign entity. "The only alternative is a separate existence...What upsets the Igbo population is we are not equally Nigerian as the others".[112]


After the Nigerian–Biafran War, Igboland was devastated. Many hospitals, schools, and homes were completely destroyed in the war. In addition to the loss of their savings, many Igbo people found themselves discriminated against by other ethnic groups and the new non-Igbo federal government.[113] Some Igbo subgroups, such as the Ikwerre, started disassociating themselves with the larger Igbo population after the war.[114] The post-war era saw the changing of names of both people and places to non-Igbo sounding words such as the changing of the name of the town of Igbuzo to the Anglicized Ibusa.[115] Due to the discrimination, many Igbo had trouble finding employment, and the Igbo became one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria during the early 1970s.[113][116][117] Igboland was gradually rebuilt over a period of twenty years and the economy was again prospering due to the rise of the petroleum industry in the adjacent Niger Delta region. This led to new factories being set up in southern Nigeria. Many Igbo people eventually took government positions,[118] although many were engaged in private business and constituted and still constitute the bulk of Nigerian informal economy.[119] Recently, there has been a wave of Igbo immigration to other African countries, Europe, and the Americas.[120]


Anklet beaten from a solid brass bar of the type worn by Igbo women. Now in the collection of Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The leg-tube extends approx 7cm each side of the 35cm disc.

Igbo culture includes the various customs, practices and traditions of the Igbo people. It comprises archaic practices as well as new concepts added into the Igbo culture either through evolution or outside influences. These customs and traditions include the Igbo people's visual art, music and dance forms, as well as their attire, cuisine and language dialects. Because of their various subgroups, the variety of their culture is heightened further.

Language and literature

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, perhaps the most popular and renowned novel that deals with the Igbo and their traditional life

The Igbo language was used by John Goldsmith as an example to justify deviating from the classical linear model of phonology as laid out in The Sound Pattern of English. It is written in the Roman script as well as the Nsibidi formalized ideograms which is used by the Ekpe society and Okonko fraternity, but is no longer widely used.[121] Nsibidi ideography existed among the Igbo before the 16th century, but died out after it became popular among secret societies, who then made Nsibidi a secret form of communication.[122] Igbo is a tonal language and there are hundreds of different Igbo dialects and Igboid languages such as the Ikwerre and Ekpeye languages.[20] In 1939, Dr. Ida C. Ward led a research expedition on Igbo dialects which could possibly be used as a basis of a standard Igbo dialect, also known as Central Igbo. This dialect included that of the Owerri and Umuahia groups, including the Ohuhu dialect. This proposed dialect was gradually accepted by missionaries, writers, publishers, and Cambridge University.[123]

In 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was published in London, England, written by Olaudah Equiano, a former slave. The book featured 79 Igbo words.[124] In the first and second chapter, the book illustrates various aspects of Igbo life based on Olaudah Equiano's life in his hometown of Essaka.[125] Although the book was one of the first books published to include Igbo material, Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brüder auf den caraibischen Inseln St. Thomas, St. Croix und S. Jan (German: History of the Evangelical Brothers' Mission in the Caribbean Islands St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John),[126] published in 1777, written by the German missionary C. G. A. Oldendorp, was the first book to publish any Igbo material.[124] Perhaps the most popular and renowned novel that deals with the Igbo and their traditional life was the 1959 book by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. The novel concerns influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on a traditional Igbo community during an unspecified time in the late nineteenth or early 20th century. The bulk of the novel takes place in Umuofia, one of nine villages on the lower Niger.[127]

Performing arts

A contemporary Igbo masquerade, Umuahia

The Igbo people have a musical style into which they incorporate various percussion instruments: the udu, which is essentially designed from a clay jug; an ekwe, which is formed from a hollowed log; and the ogene, a hand bell designed from forged iron. Other instruments include opi, a wind instrument similar to the flute, igba, and ichaka.[128] Another popular musical form among the Igbo is Highlife. A widely popular musical genre in West Africa, Highlife is a fusion of jazz and traditional music. The modern Igbo Highlife is seen in the works of Dr Sir Warrior, Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, and Chief Osita Osadebe, who were among the most popular Igbo Highlife musicians of the 20th century.[129]

Masking is one of the most common art styles in Igboland and is linked strongly with Igbo traditional music. A mask can be made of wood or fabric, along with other materials including iron and vegetation.[130] Masks have a variety of uses, mainly in social satires, religious rituals, secret society initiations (such as the Ekpe society) and public festivals, which now include Christmas time celebrations.[131] Best known are the Agbogho Mmuo (Igbo: Maiden spirit) masks of the Northern Igbo which represent the spirits of deceased maidens and their mothers with masks symbolizing beauty.[130]

Other impressive masks include Northern Igbo Ijele masks. At 12 feet (3.7 m) high, Ijele masks consist of platforms 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter,[130] supporting figures made of colored cloth and representing everyday scenes with objects such as leopards. Ijele masks are used for honoring the dead to ensure the continuity and well-being of the community and are only seen on rare occasions such as the death of a prominent figure in the community.[130]

There are many Igbo dance styles, but perhaps, Igbo dance is best known for its Atilogwu dance troops. These performances include acrobatic stunts such as high kicks and cartwheels, with each rhythm from the traditional instruments indicating a movement to the dancer.[132]

Visual art and architecture

It is near impossible to describe a general Igbo art style because the Igbo are heavily fragmented. This has added to the development of a great variety of art styles and cultural practices.[130] Igbo art is generally known for various types of masquerade, masks and outfits symbolising people animals or abstract conceptions. Bronze castings found in the town of Igbo Ukwu from the 9th century, constitute the earliest sculptures discovered in Igboland. Here, the grave of a well established man of distinction and a ritual store, dating from the 9th century AD, contained both chased copper objects and elaborate castings of leaded bronze.[40] Along with these bronzes were 165,000 glass beads said to have originated in Egypt, Venice and India.[133] Some popular Igbo art styles include Uli designs. The majority of the Igbo carve and use masks, although the function of masks vary from community to community. Igbo art is also famous for Mbari architecture.[134]

Thatching with palm leaf mats, early 20th century

Mbari houses of the Owerri-Igbo, which are large opened-sided square planned shelters, are examples of Igbo architecture. They house many life-sized, painted figures (sculpted in mud to appease the Alusi (deity) and Ala, the earth goddess, with other deities of thunder and water).[135] Other sculptures are of officials, craftsmen, foreigners (mainly Europeans), animals, legendary creatures and ancestors.[135] Mbari houses take years to build and building them is regarded as sacred, therefore new ones are constructed and old ones are left to decay.[135] Everyday houses were made of mud and thatched roofs with bare earth floors with carved design doors. Some houses had elaborate designs both in the interior and exterior. These designs could include Uli art designed by Igbo women.[136]

One of the unique structures of Igbo culture was the Nsude Pyramids, at the Nigerian town of Nsude, in Abaja, northern Igboland. Ten pyramidal structures were built of clay/mud. The first base section was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala/Uto, who was believed to reside at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction.[137]

Religion and rites of passage

Igbo Roman Catholics in Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles, California

Today, the majority of the Igbo people are Christian, well over half of whom are Roman Catholics.[138] There are a small population of Igbo Jews. The ancient Igbo religion and traditions are known as Odinani.[42] In Igbo mythology, which is part of their ancient religion, the supreme God is called Chukwu ("great spirit"); Chukwu created the world and everything in it and is associated with all things on Earth. Chukwu is a solar deity. To the ancient Igbo, the Cosmos was divided into four complex parts: creation, known as Okike; supernatural forces or deities called Alusi; Mmuo, which are spirits; and Uwa, the world.[139]

Chukwu is the supreme deity in Odinani as he is the creator in their pantheon and the Igbo people believe that all things come from him[140] and that everything on earth, heaven and the rest of the spiritual world is under his control.[141] Linguistic studies of the Igbo language suggests the name Chukwu is a portmanteau of the Igbo words: Chi (spiritual being) and Ukwu (great in size).[142] Alusi, alternatively known as Arusi or Arushi (depending on dialect), are minor deities that are worshiped and served in Odinani. There are a list of many different Alusi and each has its own purpose. When an individual deity is no longer needed, or becomes too violent, it is discarded.[143]

Wooden sculpture of Ikenga, an Alusi, in the British Museum

The Igbo believe in reincarnation. People are believed to reincarnate into families that they were part of while alive. Before a relative dies, it is said that the soon to be deceased relative sometimes give clues of who they will reincarnate as in the family. Once a child is born, he or she is believed to give signs of who they have reincarnated from. This can be through behavior, physical traits and statements by the child. A diviner can help in detecting who the child has reincarnated from. It is considered an insult if a male is said to have reincarnated as a female.[144]

Children are not allowed to call elders by their names without using an honorific (as this is considered disrespectful). Children are required to greet elders when seeing them for the first time in the day as a sign of respect. Children usually add the Igbo honorifics Mazi or Dede before an elder's name when addressing them.[145][146]


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 to them and they can be well perfumed.[147] Burial usually follows within 24 hours of death. The head of a home is usually buried beneath the floor of his house.[146] Different types of deaths warrant different types of burials. This is affected by an individual's age, gender and status in society. For example, 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.[148] Presently, 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.[149]


The process of marrying usually involves asking the young woman's consent, introducing the woman to the man's family and the same for the man to the woman's family, testing the bride's character, checking the woman's family background and paying the brides wealth.[150] Sometimes marriages had been arranged from birth through negotiation of the two families.[151]

A modern Igbo wedding, Nnewi, Nigeria

In the past, many Igbo men practiced polygamy. The polygamous family is made up of a man and his wives and all their children.[146] Men sometimes married multiple wives for economic reasons so as to have more people in the family, including children, to help on farms.[152] Christian and civil marriages have changed the Igbo family since colonization. Igbo people now tend to enter monogamous courtships and create nuclear families, mainly because of Western influence.[153] Adopted Western marriage customs, such as wedding in church, are sometimes accompanied by a traditional wedding.[154]


Traditionally, the attire of the Igbo generally consisted of little clothing as the purpose of clothing originally was to conceal private parts, although elders were fully clothed.[155] Children were usually nude from birth until they reach puberty status (the time when they were considered to have something to hide) but sometimes ornaments such as beads were worn around the waist for spiritual reasons. Uli body art was used to decorate both men and women in the form of lines forming patterns and shapes on the body.[156]

Men wearing the modern Isiagu with traditional Igbo men's hat Okpu Agwu

Women traditionally carry their babies on their backs with a strip of clothing binding the two with a knot at her chest, a practice used by many ethnic groups across Africa.[155] This method has been modernized in the form of the child carrier. In most cases Igbo women did not cover their breast areas. Maidens usually wore a short wrapper with beads around their waist and other ornaments such as necklaces and beads.[155] Both men and women wore wrappers.[155][156] Men would wear loin cloths that wrapped round their waist and between their legs to be fastened at their back, the type of clothing appropriate for the intense heat as well as jobs such as farming.[155][156]

In Olaudah Equiano's narrative, Equiano describes fragrances that were used by the Igbo in the community of Essaka;

Our principal luxury is in perfumes; one sort of these is an odoriferous wood of delicious fragrance: the other a kind of earth; a small portion of which thrown into the fire diffuses a most powerful odor. We beat this wood into powder, and mix it with palm oil; with which both men and women perfume themselves.
Olaudah Equiano[157]

In the same era as the rise of colonial forces in Nigeria, the way the Igbo dressed changed. These changes made the Igbo adopt Westernized clothing such as shirts and trousers.[156] Clothing worn before colonialism became "traditional" and worn on special occasions. The traditional clothing itself became westernized with the introduction of various types of Western clothing including shoes, hats, trousers, etc. Modern Igbo traditional attire, for men, is generally made up of the Isiagu top which resembles the Dashiki worn by other African groups. Isiagu (or Ishi agu) is usually patterned with lions heads embroidered over the clothing and can be a plain color.[158] It is worn with trousers and can be worn with either a traditional title holders hat or with the traditional Igbo striped men's hat known as Okpu Agwu.[159] For women, a puffed sleeve blouse (influenced by European attire) along with two wrappers and a head tie are worn.[155][156]


Yam porridge (or yam pottage) is an Igbo dish known as awaị[160]

The yam is very important to the Igbo as it is their staple crop. There are celebrations such as the New yam festival (Igbo: Iwaji) which are held for the harvesting of the yam.[23] During the festival yam is eaten throughout the communities as celebration. Yam tubers are shown off by individuals as a sign of success and wealth.[161] Rice has replaced yam for ceremonial occasions. Other foods include cassava, garri, maize and plantains. Soups or stews are included in a typical meal, prepared with a vegetable (such as okra, of which the word derives from the Igbo language, Okwuru)[162] to which pieces of fish, chicken, beef, or goat meat are added. Jollof rice is popular throughout West Africa.[163] Palm wine is a popular alcoholic beverage among the Igbo.[164]


The Igbo in Nigeria are found in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Delta and Rivers State.[165] The Igbo language is predominant throughout these areas, although English (the national language) is spoken as well. Prominent towns and cities in Igboland include Aba, Owerri, Enugu (considered the 'Igbo capital'),[166] Onitsha, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Agbor, Nsukka, Orlu, Okigwe, Umuahia, Asaba and Port Harcourt among others.[167] There is a significant number of Igbo people found in other parts of Nigeria by migration, such as in the city of Lagos.[105]

The official population count of ethnic groups in Nigeria has remained controversial as a majority of these groups have claimed that the government deliberately deflates the official population of one group, to give the other numerical superiority.[168][169][170] The CIA World Factbook puts the Igbo population (including the various subgroups of the Igbo) at 18% of a total population of 152 million, or approximately 27 million.[171] Southeastern Nigeria, which is inhabited primarily by the Igbo, is the most densely populated area in Nigeria, and possibly in all of Africa.[172][173] Most ethnicities that inhabit southeastern Nigeria, such as the closely related Efik and Ibibio people, are sometimes regarded as Igbo by other Nigerians and ethnographers who are not well informed about the southeast.[174][175]


Igbo people celebrating the New Yam festival in Dublin, Ireland

After the Nigerian-Biafran War, many Igbo people emigrated out of the traditional Igbo homeland in southeastern Nigeria due to an absence of federal presence, lack of jobs, and poor infrastructure.[176] In recent decades the Igbo region of Nigeria has suffered from frequent environmental damage mainly related to the oil industry.[177] Igbo people have moved to both Nigerian cities such as Lagos and Abuja, and other countries such as Gabon,[178] Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prominent Igbo communities outside Africa include those of London in the United Kingdom and Houston, California, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. in the United States.[179][180][181][182]

With genealogy tracing by means of DNA testing, the roots of the African diaspora is being uncovered by descendants of the victims of the atlantic slave trade who are researching their family history. In the 2003 PBS program African American Lives, Bishop T.D. Jakes had his DNA analyzed; his Y chromosome showed that he is descended from the Igbo.[183] American actors Forest Whitaker, Paul Robeson, and Blair Underwood have traced their genealogy back to the Igbo people.[184][185][186]


The 1930s saw the rise of Igbo unions in the cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt. Later, the Ibo Federal Union (renamed the Ibo State Union in 1948) emerged as an umbrella pan-ethnic organization. Headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe, it was closely associated with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which he co-founded with Herbert Macaulay. The aim of the organization was the improvement and advancement (such as in education) of the Igbo and their indigenous land and included an Igbo "national anthem" with a plan for an Igbo bank.[187][188]

In 1978 after Olusegun Obasanjo's military regime lifted the ban on independent political activity, the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo organization was formed, an elite umbrella organization which speaks on behalf of the Igbo people.[189][190] Their main concerns are the marginalization of the Igbo people in Nigerian politics and the neglect of indigenous Igbo territory in social amenities and development of infrastructure. Other groups which protest the perceived marginalization of the Igbo people are the Igbo Peoples Congress (IPC).[191] Even before the 20th century there were numerous Igbo unions and organizations existing around the world, such as the Igbo union in Bathurst, Gambia in 1842, founded by a prominent Igbo trader and ex-soldier named Thomas Refell. Another was the union founded by the Igbo community in Freetown, Sierra Leone by 1860, of which Africanus Horton, a surgeon, scientist and soldier, was an active member.[192]

Decades after the Nigerian-Biafran war, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist group, was founded in September 1999 by Ralph Uwazurike for the goal of an independent Igbo state. Since its creation, there have been several conflicts between its members and the Nigerian government, resulting in the death of members.[191][193][194] For the promotion of the Igbo language and culture, the Society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC) was founded in 1949 by Frederick Chidozie Ogbalu, and has since created a standard dialect for Igbo.[195][196]

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  195. ^ Gikandi, Simon (2003). Encyclopedia of African literature. Taylor & Francis. p. 328. ISBN 0-415-23019-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=hFuWQmsM0HsC&pg=PA328. 
  196. ^ Zabus, Chantal (2007). The African palimpsest: indigenization of language in the West African europhone novel. Rodopi. p. 33. ISBN 90-420-2224-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=Sv27dpnZeWAC&pg=PA33. 

Further reading


  • Forde, Cyril Daryll; Jones, G. I. (1950). The Ibo and Ibibio-Speaking Peoples of South-Eastern Nigeria. International African Institute by Oxford University Press. 


  • Afigbo, Adiele (1972). Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. London: Longman. ISBN 0-19-575528-6. 
  • Añunobi, Chikodi (2006). Nri Warriors of Peace. Zenith Publishers LLC. ISBN 0-9767303-0-8. 


  • Njoku, John Eberegbulam (1990). The Igbos of Nigeria: Ancient Rites, Changes, and Survival. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0-88946-173-2. 


  • Ottenberg, Simon (2006). Toyin Falola. ed. Igbo Art & Culture. Africa World Press. ISBN 1-59221-442-8. 


  • Blacking, John; Kealiinohomoku, Joann W. (1979). The Performing arts: music and dance. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 90-279-7870-0. 
  • Agawu, Kofi (2003). Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94390-6. 


  • Smock, Audrey C. (1971). Ibo Politics: The Role Of Ethnic Unions In Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-44025-0. 
  • Njaka, Elechukwu Nnadibuagha (1974). Igbo political culture. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-0428-8. 


  • Rwomire, Apollo (2001). Social Problems in Africa: New Visions. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-96343-8. 
  • Emenyonu, Ernest, ed (2003). Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Africa World Press. ISBN 0-86543-876-5. 
  • Smith, David Jordan (2004). "Igbo". Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures. Volume I: Topics and Cultures A–K. Springer. ISBN 0-306-47770-X. 
  • Okpala, Benneth (2003). Toasting the Bride: Memoirs of Milestones to Manhood (2nd ed.). Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4120-0777-1. 


  • Chambers, Douglas B. (2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-706-5. 
  • Morgan, Philip D.; Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture (1998). Slave counterpoint: Black culture in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake and Lowcountry. UNC Press. ISBN 0-8078-4717-8. 

External links

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