Friday, 3 January 2014

Culture Series: Igbo Part1

The Igbo ethnic group is found majorly in south-eastern Nigeria. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. With regards to their origin, there are many schools of thought. Some hold that the present-day Igbo people migrated from Benue region of Nigeria while others say that they migrated from Far East, descending from the Jews. Another school off thought holds that the Igbo people have always been there. They didn’t migrate from anywhere.

Majority of Igbos are Christians with a few of them still practicing indigenous traditional worship. Although the advent of Christianity at around 1885 has left marks in the traditional belief system, the traditional system had its positive contributions to the culture and lives of the Igbo people.

The era of slave trade cannot be forgotten as it affected the Igbo people heavily. Slaves were sold to Europeans who buy these slaves to work on their plantations. There were market days to sell human beings, usually 300 to 500 in number. Slaves were usually captured during raids or wars and in some cases, were captured because they were indebted.

Traditionally, Igbo people are mainly farmers and hunters, cultivating mainly yam, cassava, and cocoyam. Increase in population and a need for land has however caused deforestation. Also the exodus of men and women in search of greener pasture and white collar jobs has left the farming business handicapped.

Beliefs/ Religion
  • The Igbo people believe in a supreme god (Chukwu, Chi) who created this world for the living and another for the dead ancestors. It is common to have a family worship its own wooden idol. It is also believed that the supreme god created divinities that are sensitive to acts of disrespect. At such, there exist chief priests that mediate between the gods and men.
When misfortunes and calamity befalls a person, household, or community, the chief priest is called upon to reveal the cause and provide a possible solution.
Chief priests are required to interpret the mind of the gods/ancestors as well as consult the gods to ensure battle victories.

  • As touching birth, new born babies are introduced to the family ancestors in their father’s hurt. This ritual is known as Iguaha.
  • Burial rites fall within any of the three categories; burial of the old (elderly), burial of the young (children who die pre-mature), and burial of those who misbehaved or committed atrocities. As opposed to the rigid attitude that follows the death/burial of elderly people, when a child dies, there is uncontrollable wailing and sorrow.
Those who committed atrocities are denied burial space in the land and are often thrown into the “evil forest.” The advent of Christianity and the increase in population is slowly eliminating these practices.

One predominant belief in the Igbo tradition is the belief of reincarnation. Reincarnation is one of the important tenets of the Igbo religion. The Igbo people attach much importance to social status and at such, they believe that a person can continually improve his status from incarnate to incarnate.
When a person dies, it is believed he moves to the disincarnate realm waiting to be reincarnated. Some Igbo people believe that not every dead person can reincarnate. Those who died in accidents, prematurely, or committed suicide and those who led worthless lives fall in this category.
Still on the issue of reincarnation, Igbo people believe in the existence of “ogbanje (evil child)” similar to “abiku” of the Yoruba tradition. Ogbanjes are a group of people linked in the disincarnate realm with the primary aim of causing harassment to parents by dying young. Ogbanjes live a couple of weeks or years and then die only to be reborn into the same family and die again. This cycle continues unless it is broken.
Breaking this cycle involves compelling the child to reveal a hidden object; usually a pot, rock, or pebble. As part of his or her oath, the ogbanje child is believed to hide some objects. Revealing of these objects will dissolve ties with the other world. Most often, the services of an ogbanje doctor (specialist) is employed to champion this ritual.

Another method employed by the ogbanje doctor or child’s parents in breaking this cycle is mutilating a part of the child’s body or burning part of the child’s body if he or she eventually dies. It is believe that ogbanjes dislike ugliness and at such, the child will be expelled from the cult thus freeing him or her.

There’s a whole lot more to talk about when discussing the Igbo people; their dressing, food, music, marriage, amongst others. This article is long as it is, so I’ll break the subject of the Igbo people into several episodes; most likely 2.
I hope you enjoyed this piece, till next time, remain blessed.