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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Igbo women and girls and their hairstyles, 1900-1930.

The crested hairstyle ojongo was popular until the mid-20th century, it is a distinctive feature of Igbo arts depicting women. Women used ornaments like thread, feathers, shells, bone, wood, beads, Igbo currency, coins, or cloth; mud containing colourful ores, yellow and red camwood powder or paste and palm oil and charcoal were also used for style. Isi/Ishi owu, a threaded hairstyle is still popular among married women in rural areas.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Textile Trading on the Atlantic

Internal trading, that is, trading among Africans, may also have brought about the distribution of [textiles]. [...]
Photo: Akwete (top) and Ijebu Ode (bottom) cloths compared. British Museum.
[...] One could navigate canoes from the Volta River as far east as the Calabar River in southeastern Nigeria. The Popos [Grand Popo and Aného in Togo] were transporting goods along this channel, at least as far as [...]
Photo: Ferry at Grand-Popo. Dahomey." 1936, British Museum.
[...] Whydah (Kea 1969:39-40) and possibly to Lagos. From either of these two points, [...]
Image: "Canoe on the Yoruba River [sic]." [Ogun River] BMArchives.
[...] Ijebu Yoruba merchants would then have carried them by canoe to the eastern side of the delta, as the literature tells us they had done with other textiles.
— Lisa Aronson (1982), Popo Weaving.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Odeziaku: Poet, pederast and palm-oil merchant

John Moray Stuart-Young (1881–1939) was an English 'Uranian' poet, memoirist, novelist and merchant trader who was born into poverty in the slums of Manchester and eventually found his way to Onitsha where he later became a wealthy merchant palm-oil trader under the British colonial machine. Ostracised by the white colonial upper class in the British west African colonies, Stuart-Young was embraced by the people of Onitsha who nicknamed him Odeziaku. He grew famous in Onitsha for his stores and his 'strange ways' as well as for his lack of interest in women and his apparently unmarried status. His 'strange ways' were really his 'Uranian' tendencies, John Stuart-Young was a 'boy-lover' who took a few [very young] Onitsha boys under his wing over the years, sponsoring them and their families and leaving much of his wealth to them on his death. John Stuart-Young's perceived 'effeminate' demeanour earned him the names Eke Young and Mami Wata's Wife by the Onitsha people, names he detested, preferring Odeziaku ('writer of wealth', originally a misspelling of Odoziaku, 'treasurer'). His weird shopfronts in Onitsha town, some of the shops including 'Ye Little Wonder Shop', Half Way to Bush' (his dwelling called 'The Little House of No Regrets'), with distorting mirrors in his largest store, had his stores nicknamed Mami Wata's shrine and further linked his 'unconventional' ways with the water spirit, a figure that was largely born out of the contact between west Africans and Europeans on the coast.

As a writer Stuart-Young assumed names such as "Jack O'Dazi" and "O. Dazi Aku", carrying on from his consciously manufactured identity in Onitsha, a place far from the slums of Manchester. His articles and poems were highly regarded and printed in several African-edited newspapers which had him hailed as "West Africa's Poet Laureate". John Stuart-Young died from throat cancer in Port Harcourt on 28 May, 1939. The ceremony for his mourning lasted up to four days and was attended by 10,000 Igbo mourners; a newspaper suggested his grave should become a national shrine.

John Stuart-Young's story highlights many things about Africans and Europeans in the colonial period and the relations between them, one of the largest take aways is the unveiling of the breadth of exploitation of Africans by European colonial agents. Stuart-Young's story shows the extent to which a European could be embraced in an African society and how different identities were dealt with in Igbo society in particular.

John Stuart-Young's life and implications surrounding his identity has been expounded upon in The Forger's Tale: the Search for Odeziaku by Stephanie Newell.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Account of the Phoenix, A Slave Ship Stopped by Africans from Trading in the Bonny River, 1757

“Paquito de Cabo Verdo Portuguese Slave Brig captured by the Boats of HMS Scout on the 11th Jany 1837 in the Bonny River. She had mounted 2 18 Prs with a Crew of 35 men and 576 slaves on board.” – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

“Captain Bailie, commander of the slave-ship Carter, writing to his owners in Liverpool from the River Bonny, Africa, on January 31st, 1757, reveals the method sometimes resorted to by slave-captains to compel the native chiefs to trade with them. He says:—

"We arrived here the 6th of December, and found the Hector, with about 100 slaves on board, also the Marquis of Lothian, of Bristol, Capt. Jones (by whom I now write), who was half slaved, and then paying 50 Barrs, notwithstanding he had been there 3 months before our arrival. I have only yet purchased 15 slaves at 30 and 35 Barrs; but as soon as the bearer sails, I propose giving more; for at present there is a dozen of our people sick, besides the two mates, some of whom are very bad, and I have been for these last 8 days in a strong fever, and frequently insensible. Yesterday morning I buried Thomas Hodge, and on the 13th James Barton. Capt. Nobler of the Phoenix arrived here the 3d, and on the 19th our trade was stopt (as it had often been before) ; upon which we all marched on shore to know the reason and applied to the King thrice, though he constantly ordered himself to be denied, and wou’d not admit us. However, we heard his voice in doors, and as he used us so ill, we went on board, and determined (after having held a Council), to fire upon the town next morning, which we accordingly did, in order to bring them to reason, but found that our shot had little effect from the river, upon which we agreed that the Phoenix and the Hector shou’d go into the Creek, it being nigher the town, whilst Captain Jones and I fired from the river. The Phoenix being the head-most vessel went in, and the Hector followed about a cable’s length astern. The Phoenix had scarce entered the Creek before they received a volley of small arms from the bushes, which were about 20 yards distant from the ship, and at the same time several shot from the town went through him, upon which they came to anchor, and plied their carriage guns for some time ; but finding there was no possibility of standing the decks, or saving the ship, he struck his colours, but that did not avail, for they kept a continued fire upon him, both of great and small arms. His people were thrown into the utmost confusion, some went down below, whilst others jumpt into the yaul which lay under the ship’s quarter, who (on seeing a number of canoes coming down to board them) desired Capt. Nobler to come down to them, which he at last did, as he found the vessel in such a shattered condition, and that it was impossible for him to get her out of the Creek before the next ebb tide, in case he cou’d keep the canoes from boarding him. With much difficulty they got on board the Hector, but not without receiving a number of shot into the boat. The natives soon after boarded the Phoenix, cut her cables, and let her drive opposite the town, when they began to cut her up, and get out her loading, which they accomplished in a very short time. But at night in drawing off some brandy, they set her on fire, by which accident a great many of them perished in the flames. The Phoenix’s hands are distributed amongst the other three ships, and all things are made up, and trade open, but very slow, and provisions scarce and dear.” The Marquis of Lothian was afterwards taken and carried into Martinico.“
— Gomer Williams (1897). History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade. pp. 481–482.

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.
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