Original (correct) names/spellings for Igbo City's/Towns/Villages
Abakaliki is Abakaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Asaba is Ahaba; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzor; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owerre; Oyigbo is Obigbo; Port Harcourt is Diobu; Ogwashi-Uku is Ogwa Nshi Ukwu... any more will be added.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Igbo Water Divinities

River gods and goddesses are found wherever a significant river or waterbody is found in Igboland, some of the more powerful cults cover larger areas and command more respect and followers by the importance of the waterbodies. Often of fluid gender, the water spirits are powerful ‘images’ of sexuality, fertility, beauty, and wealth and power. The most powerful water spirits are listed.


Ńjābá is so powerful among southern and specifically southwestern Igbo communities that he outranks Àlà, the Earth Mother, in these communities. Ńjābá is usually male and is the guardian of the river of the same name that is a major tributary of Ụ́gwụ́tá (Oguta) Lake in Imo State, Nigeria. Éké, the royal python, is sacred to Ńjābá and surrounding communities consider them messengers and manifestations of Ńjābá and somewhat of a totem animal of which it is forbidden to harm or eat; serious fines and the responsibility of funding a human-sized burial for the snakes befalls anyone who harms pythons.

Ímò Ḿmírí

Ímò Ḿmírí is the spirit of the Imo River [pictured] which runs between present day Imo State (which is named after the river) and Abia State and runs into the Atlantic between a section of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. She is usually feminine and was associated with the Ibinukpabi oracle or “Long Juju” of Arochukwu, the most powerful oracle in southeastern Nigeria during the Atlantic Slave Trade, and she is considered as its female counterpart. Ímò Ḿmírí is a largely benevolent fertility spirit. In myth, the Imo is the river that rushed between the Ngwa people of Abia State and their relatives in Imo State creating a permanent cut-off between them.


Also: Ósìmírí / Órìmílí / Órìmírí / Ósìmílí - the female spirit of the Niger River which is named after her in Igbo. As is usual to feminine water spirits she is a fertility goddess. Èzù nà Ómáḿbálá, the confluence of the Anambra and Niger Rivers, is the site where Èrì’s band, the primogenitor of the Umuleri and Umunri Igbo people, migrated from the north to and settled.


Ìdèmílí is the female spirit of the river of the same name that runs through the local government area of the same name in Anambra State, Nigeria. Ìdèmílí means ‘the pillar of waters’ referring to the spiritual force of the water spirit preventing rain-clouds in the sky from falling [ídè also means flood, and water spirit forces are known to punish through floods or other sorts of water-logging]. Like most water spirits Ìdèmílí is a fertility goddess. Éké, royal pythons, are also sacred to Ìdèmílí and to communities that depend on her and are also known as Éké Ìdèmílí. Ìdèmílí’s story also involves appearing to mortals as a maiden.


Also: Ụ̀hámírí - The ambivalent feminine spirit of Ụ́gwụ́tá Lake of which she owns, she is paired with Ńjābá and she is also known as Ògbúìdè meaning ‘deep floodwater’ and her husband is Okita. Ụ̀háḿmírí roughly translates from Igbo as ‘the shining beauty of the waters’; Ụ̀háḿmírí is beautiful and wealthy and happy and childless. She is a powerful spirit among women in Ụ́gwụ́tá and is considered as somewhat of a spirit of achievement among women; successful women in Ụ́gwụ́tá especially were said to mostly be devotees of Ụ̀háḿmírí.


Also: Ụ́làsị̀ / Ụ́ràsị̀ - The spirit of the Ụ́ràshị̀ (Orashi) River which runs through Imo State and Rivers State. A male, Ụ́ràshị̀’s sacred grove, like Ògbúìdè’s, was marked primarily by the red and white pieces of cloth.


Also: Ọ́máḿbálá - The spirit of the Ọ́máḿbárá (Anambra) River which runs through northern Anambra State in Anam-Igbo land and then into the Niger River.

Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí

Of the Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí (Otamiri) River which runs through Imo State and particularly Ụ́ràtà-Igbo communities where the Ḿbárí votive shrines are dedicated to his mother, Àlà the Earth Mother, and where he plays a significant role.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Origin of Red Bones

Creole Boy with a Moth, 1835, by Julien Hudson (American, 1811–1844); oil on canvas; 29 x 23 inches.

‘Red Bone’, referring to an ethnic group in Louisiana and a black American term for people with fair skin, has strong ties to peoples in what is now eastern Nigeria. Originating from 18th century chattel slavery in the West Indies, the term ‘red bone’ takes from the creole term ‘red Ibo’ referring to fairer skinned black people. The term derived from observations of fair skin among some members of the Igbo ethnic group (and some other peoples lumped in from eastern Nigeria) whose numbers in slavery ratcheted up in the 18th century due to internal conflict in Igboland. European slavers and plantation owners often made observations and generalisations about various ethnic groups since different Africans were targeted for their knowledge, education and skills; a hefty amount of stereotyping and dehumanising was subsequently placed on various ethnic groups found in large numbers in slavery. One recurrent observation was the relatively higher prevalence of fair skinned people from the Igbo area, known then in the Atlantic as the ‘Eboe Country’. The fairer skin was demonised by planters as ‘sickly’ and the Igbo were characterised as weak because of this. This also meant their ‘price’ dropped and poorer planters in places like Virginia took many Igbo leading to a saturation of Igbo people there. The disdain, however, may have been fuelled somewhat by the fact that enslaved Igbo people weren’t unknown for their defiance of slavery, immortalised in the folktale of Ebo landing; they were also involved in a number of slave revolts all over the Caribbean, including in Haiti.

Ultimately, this characteristic was taken in as a negative one and the term ‘red’ was combined with ‘Ibo’ (Igbo) as a pejorative used by black people in the British West Indies for people who were black but with fair skin as opposed to mixed people who were just ‘red’ or ‘brown’ thus suggesting a hierarchy of phenotypes and hair types. Some creole linguists trace the term to Louisiana where it was heard as ‘reddy bone’, leading to the understanding of the term as ‘red bone’ with a less negative connotation as it is still used in AAVE today.

The term red bone is interesting as it seems to be a word that’s linked to a particular experience of an ethnic group in slavery. The word itself carries a lot of historical weight in terms of what it meant for one group of Africans in that era. (Kniffen, Gregory and Stokes 1987; Don C. Marler 1997, 2000; Winer (2009). Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago. pg. 754.; [Louisiana, Where Music is King, PBS.])

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Study the native from the native point of view..."

Charles Partridge, Assistant District Commissioner in Southern Nigeria, photographed by an interpreter at Ndiya, present day Akwa Ibom, February 10, 1905. British Museum.
Study the native from the native point of view is the motto which all my senior officers have given me since I joined the service of the Protectorate. When I first landed in Southern Nigeria in July, 1901, the government was being administered, during the absence of the High Commissioner, by Mr. Probyn, […] [he] “laid stress on the importance of our being patient and tactful in our dealings with the native chiefs."
[...] Mr. C. H. Read, F.S.A. […] at the British Museum: [...] “[anthropological studies] is, in fact, the necessary training of a diplomatic service for dealing with primitive peoples, with the important difference that whereas the diplomatist can have recourse to argument and common sense on the occurrence of a blunder, such an opportunity is rarely given to the white man in dealing with the savage, whose method is to act first and leave the argument to the end. [...] [I]f it [anthropological work] should serve no other purpose, it at least demonstrates the necessity for intimate knowledge of tribal customs before attempting any but the most perfunctory relations with a primitive people.
[…] [T]he following apposite remarks occur in a leading article in The Morning Post on France and Morocco “[…] It is largely because we have known how to respect native institutions, and to preserve whatever is good in them, that we have been so successful in our dealings with races on a different plane of civilisation [...] A few thousand pounds spent in the early stages of our contact with peoples brought under our influence, or a systematic inquiry into their administrative systems, manners, and customs might save us hundreds of thousands of pounds in punitive expeditions."
— Charles Partridge (1905). Cross River Natives. pp. vii–ix.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Effects of British Colonialism on Indigenous Technology in the Nkwere Axis

Farmers from Nkwere, in present day Imo State, Nigeria. Catholic Mission of the Lower Niger. Early 20th century.
[…] The colonial educational system disorientated the people and the effect was so conspicuous that it emphasised on clericalism and neglected artisan and technical training. The educational system created no links with traditional occupation and skills; rather, it tended to divorce the recipients from traditional skills. The dysfunctional nature of the system had adverse effect on the traditional milieu of the people. The view is supported by Walter51 when he maintained that it was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social sources. He further averred that it was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil/inculcate a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalism. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.
Therefore, the net effect of colonialism was that it foisted negative change on Nkwerre traditional technology and other communities in Igboland. The people became dazzled and stupefied by the events such that their response became mimetic rather than analytical; thus, they despised their emerging civilisation and technology for similar foreign-made products and they took to schooling but made paper qualification and end in itself.
— Uzoma Samuel Osuala (2012). Colonialism and the Disintegration of Indigenous Technology in Igboland: A Case Study of Blacksmithing in Nkwerre. Historical Research Letter. [PDF]. pp. 16–17.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Igbo School Teacher

Postcard, Igbo school teacher, CMS Bookshop Port Harcourt.

European Segregation of Nigerian Cities

Postcards, areas reserved by the British colonial government for Europeans and for "natives" in Port Harcourt. Segregation was part of the British system of indirect rule, indigenous people were kept as far away as possible with exception to servants and those invited.

Many British-African cities (Enugu, Harare, etc.) were segregated as such with well planned and built-up European areas and 'native' settlements usually growing as slums as people moved to the new urban areas to work. Photo: European Hospital, Port Harcourt (postcard).

European court, Old Calabar, Southern Nigeria; uniformed Africans sitting behind a table and Europeans behind them; two banners bearing Union Jack flags with "NEW PROVIDENCE | OLD CALABAR" on them, 1894-1908. Photo: W J Sawyer.

Echoes of segregation linger on; European reservations were usually central and better built with important administrative buildings nearby, independence turned them into GRAs (Government Reserved Areas) which are usually still among the wealthier parts of Nigerian cities today.

Eze Nri Obalike

Eze Nri Obalike photographed by Northcote Thomas during his ethnographic tour of the northern Igbo area around Onitsha and Awka, around c. 1910, coloured by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2017.

Eze Nri Obalike sounding his gong on his Ọzọ stool, round him is the Ọzọ na Nze priestly sect distinguished by their okpu mme (red hats) [or perhaps the Nzemabua council of the Eze], beside the Eze Nri is a young Adama boy, who are called “wives” by the Eze Nri according to Northcote Thomas and leave the service of the Eze Nri in later puberty. The building behind is one of the temples and meeting houses that once dotted Nri, the epicentre of northern Igbo religious life. Eze Nri Obalike is the 14th recorded Eze Nri (15th when including Eri) and headed Nri, the oldest continuous kingdom in the area, from 1889 till 1935. Eze Nri Obalike was appointed as a warrant chief of the Awka Native Court by the British in the 1900s, but relinquished the position afterward; the Eze Nri’s status isn’t simply that of a king but as the head, and origin, of all leaders (also priests) in the area.

The British and Christian missionaries conspired to remove Nri authority in the area by threatening the massacre of the Igbo highlighting the function of Christian missionaries as an arm of European conquest (including the function of aiding in the removal of religious control and reliance within the people and moving it to Rome for Catholics and England for Anglicans, etc.); in order to avoid the mass killing of his people, Nri Obalike, against tradition, left Nri after the British failed to capture him and he was made by the British colonial government to abrogate the codes that governed his Eze status, including taboos and abominations. Before the British, the Eze Nri was not easily accessed or seen, but this changed when he left Nri in the early 20th century. When Eze Nri Obalike was summoned to the native court at Awka in 1910, the government anthropologist Northcote Thomas reported that “the whole assembly rose and [fled]” as the belief was that the Eze Nri’s status was that of a spirit-man. Warrant chiefs introduced to the area by the British were made to renounce the Eze Nri; since then the Eze Nri’s influence has been confined to Umunri, the village-groups of the Nri people. As mushroom kingdoms continued to pop up around Nri and as Christianity dominated Igbo life, the social and religious significance Nri held over the Igbo around today’s Anambra State, northern Imo State, southern and central Enugu State, and some parts of Aniocha in Delta State, retreated.

More about warrant chiefs here.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Okonko Masking

Ọ̀kọ́ńkọ̀ masqueraders with raffia costume on the cover of African Arts journal. Umuowa, central Igbo area, Nigeria. March 1988. Photo: Eli Bentor.

"The Okonkor is the leading secret Society among the people of these parts. It originated from Arochuku. It was an innocent play organized by a few members just to amuse themselves; the inviting sounds of the drums they used in their play, the curious sounds produced in the Okonkor private chamber from what they call cloth, the funny dances, soon brought the elders and notable men who are curious to know how and by what these sounds are produced, to join the new play. In short as many were desirous to join, and as many important men and elders join the club, they soon make it to gain supremacy over other clubs .... Every member is sworn not to disclose the secrets of the Society excepting at the formation of a Branch Society in some other countries for the purpose of money making. In this way it spread among the countries but the Aro people being cunning use the greatest care to introduce it to a certain limit. The Okonkor of the Coast towns was not introduced by the Aros but by the offenders of Okonkor laws and who were sold away as slaves to the Coast towns by the Aros. Chiefs and elders of every town soon invited the Okonkor and make it the channel by which they rule the affairs of the country."

— Memorandum by A.O. Ockiya of the Delta Pastorate Mission, Aba, [1920] (NAE Abadist 1/12/54). via Robert D. Jackson (1975). The Twenty Years War.

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