The Igbo Tribe in Nigeria: Hidden Facts, Historical Background and Culture

With various ethnic groups found in Nigeria, be sure to experience an explosive mix of culture. From the food, to the dance and music, to the festivals, you can agree that the people of Nigeria are energetic and pleasant. That said, there are three major tribes in Nigeria, they are: Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. But in this article we’ll be focusing on only one tribe, which is the Igbo Tribe.

The Ibo or Igbo people live in southeastern Nigeria and have a variety of fascinating customs and traditions. They are one of the largest and most powerful tribes in Nigeria, with a population of over 40 million people. Igbos are well-known for their business ventures both in Nigeria and beyond the world. Let’s dive to learn intestinal things about this wonderful ethnic group.

Symbol of Authority
The Ofor

Ndigbo Historical Background 

Archaeological evidence uncovered in Igboland, including pottery, metal wares, and prehistoric artifacts from Davidic times, suggests that the genealogy of the Igbo people may be traced back to patriarchal Eri, who is the fifth son of Gad an offspring of Jacob.

Eri is thought to have wandered and settled in medieval West Africa as far back as the ninth century (948 A.D.). Eri’s strong power forced a sporadic spread to the South Eastern Region of present-day Nigeria and the founding of the Umuleri, Aguleri, and Nri kingdoms (948-1911).

The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the transatlantic slave trade, which occurred across the Atlantic Ocean from the 16th to the 19th centuries, mitigated the decline of the Nri Kingdom.

The vast majority of individuals sold into slavery and transported to the New World, many via the triangular trade route and its Middle Passage, were West Africans (many Igbos “Oru” were sold). According to current estimates, the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, Dutch Empire, and United States transported approximately 12 million Africans over the Atlantic. In 1914, the Igbo kingdom of Nri was merged into modern-day Nigeria as a result of British colonialism of other African kingdoms.

Igboland currently encompasses the geographical territory of Nigeria’s southeastern states, notably Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. Igbo communities were also identified in Rivers (60%) and Delta (50%) states, with remnants of Igbo language speakers in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, and Cross Rivers. There are also small Igbo groups in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

Governance in the Igbo Tribe 

The Igbo political system is distinct from that of most of its West African neighbors. With the exception of a few prominent Igbo villages that have an Obi (king), Igbos have a traditional republican style of governance that consists of a consultative assembly of people that guarantees citizens’ equality. 

This system differs from the traditional style of administration in which a king rules over his subjects. Even while some title holders are admired for their accomplishments, they are never venerated as kings.

Historical Discoveries

Thurstan Shaw unearthed many Igbo artifacts at archeological sites in Igbo-Ukwu between 1959 and 1964, including approximately 700 high-quality bronze, copper, and iron artifacts, as well as stone beads, glass, and ivory. The oldest bronze artifacts in West Africa are claimed to be Igbo. The British Museum currently has five bronze artifacts from the dig.

Occupation

Igbos were traditionally farmers, craftsmen, and traders; evidence of crafts and metallurgy has been discovered in ancient excavations. A lot of the metals used by craftspeople were claimed to be from Egypt, indicating trade across the Sahara long before Europeans arrived in Africa.

Cuisine of the Igbo Tribe 

Yam is the most significant crop for the Igbo people, and it is the reason for the New Yam Festival (Iri Ji), which celebrates the harvest of new yams. 

It is also an important element of the traditional cuisine, and it is served as pounded yam, eaten with various soups, or eaten immediately after boiling. Igbos are outstanding for their soups, which are specially prepared with vegetables, fruits, and seeds grown through local means. Oha, nsala, akwu, okazi, onugbu and ofe owerri are the most popular Igbo soups.

Religion of the Igbo Tribe 

The Igbo people hold a traditional theological belief that there is only one creator, known as ‘Chineke’ or ‘Chukwu’. Many additional deities and spirits in the guise of natural objects can be contacted by the creator, most notably the thunder deity ‘Amadioha’. 

Other gods include ‘Ala,’ the feminine earth spirit, ‘Anyanwu,’ a divinity thought to dwell on the sun, and ‘Idemili,’ the water goddess whose symbol is a serpent. Following Nigeria’s colonization, the majority of Igbos (more than 90%) converted to Christianity, which is the dominant religion today.

Traditional Igbo religion integrates spiritual beliefs with the natural environment and other aspects of daily life. Igbo people also believe in reincarnation among members of their immediate and extended families. 

Birthmarks, physical traits, or behavioral similarities in a newborn baby are used to identify reincarnated ancestors. There is also a group known as ogbanje, who are thought to be wicked spirits who create sorrow by dying young and reincarnating into the same family.

Marriage in the Igbo Tribe

A marriage is formed in Igbo culture by the man asking for the woman’s hand from her father, which is the first stage known as ‘iku aka’ (‘to knock on the door’). 

The groom and his family members’ second visit to the woman’s family will include the presence of her extended family, who must also offer their consent. 

The groom will make a third visit to pay the bride price and obtain the list of items he will bring to the woman’s family for the wedding from his future in-laws. 

The fourth and final stage is the wedding, which is known as ‘igba nkwu’ or ‘wine carrying,’ in which the bride will come out to hunt for her groom (who will be hiding in the crowd) and present him a cup of palm wine. The couple is then blessed by family and friends, and the celebrations begin.

The Language of the Igbo people

Igbo is one of Nigeria’s official languages. It is a member of the Niger-Congo family of languages and is thought to have originated in the 9th century. 

Asụsụ Igbo is the Igbo people’s primary native language. It is developed from a set of languages spoken in southern Nigeria, including Igbo proper, Ikwerre, Ika, Izii-Ikwo-Ezza-Mgbo, Ogba, and Ukwuani-Aboh-Ndoni. 

When defining the meaning of a word, it is heavily focused on tone, vocal inflections, and context. Depending on these characteristics, a single word can have multiple interpretations. Idioms and proverbs are very prominent in the Ibo language.

The language includes roughly 30 dialects and is made up of 8 vowels, 30 consonants, and 2 tones. Igbo words are primarily formed by compounding. For example, the Igbo terms ugbo (vehicle) and igwe (iron) are combined to produce the word for a locomotive train, ugbo igwe. The language also borrows vocabulary from English and other African languages, such as the Igbo word for operator (opareto).

Igbo Culture & Traditions: Art Igbo art (Igbo: kà Igbo) is a type of visual art that originated with the Igbo people. Traditional figures, masks, artifacts, and fabrics, as well as works in metals such as bronze, are all produced by the Igbo. Igbo antiquities dating back to the 9th century have been discovered, including bronze objects discovered in Igbo Ukwu.

Traditional Dress of the Igbo Tribe

For men, modern Igbo traditional costume is typically composed of the Isiagu top (or Ishi agu), which is designed with lions heads stitched over the clothes. It can also be plain (most commonly black). It is worn with trousers and can be paired with either a traditional title holder’s hat (a fez called okpu agu or agwu) or a traditional Igbo striped men’s hat (similar to the Bobble hat).

Women wear an embodied puffed sleeve blouse (inspired by European dress), two wrappers (often current Hollandis material), and a headscarf.

Music in the Igbo Tribe

Igbo folks are among the creatives driving the Nigerian music industry forward. Phyno, Flavour, Chidinma, Illbliss, Psquare, Tekno, Patoranking, Runtown, Zoro, and a slew of others are among them.

Igbo music is often joyful, energetic, and spontaneous. Igbo highlife, Igbo bongo, and Odumodu are popular Igbo music forms. Igbo musicians use ancient instruments like the Ekwe (slit drum) and Udu (drum) to enhance the beat of their song.

The highlife genre was immensely popular in the 1950s, and musicians played all throughout Africa and Europe. Oriental Brothers, Oliver De Coque, Chief Osita Osadebe, Celestine Ugwu, and others were among the notable highlife artists. 

Passage Rituals of the Igbo Tribe 

Circumcision is performed roughly eight days after a boy’s birth. The umbilical cord is buried at the foot of a tree chosen by the child’s mother at this time.

The naming ceremony is a ceremonial event marked by food and drinking. A vast range of names are available. The name might be based on anything from the child’s birthmarks to the diviner’s or seer’s assessment. 

The name Nwanyimeole, which means “What can a woman do?” Implies a father’s desire of having a male child. Onwubiko = “May death forgive” — emphasizes the reality that parents have lost many of their children and hope that this child will survive.

The procedure of marrying a young Igbo woman is lengthy and complicated. It is rarely completed in under a year and frequently takes several years. The procedure is divided into four stages: obtaining the agreement of the young woman, bargaining through a mediator, verifying the bride’s character, and paying the bride wealth as a form of dowry.

Death in elderly age is considered a blessing. Following death, the body is dressed in the deceased’s finest attire. In a sitting position, the corpse is put on a stool. Old friends and relatives come to pay their respects. 

Young men wrap the corpse in grass mats and take it to the burial ground, where it is buried. When a family’s head dies, he is buried beneath the floor of his home. Burial is usually performed within twenty-four hours of death.

Life in the Family

Many Igbo men have more than one wife, a practice known as polygyny. A wealthy man marries as many wives as he can afford. This entails providing farm plots to assist women and their dependents in earning a living. A polygynous family consists of a guy, his wives, and all of their children. 

Beyond that unit is the extended family, which includes all of a family’s sons as well as their parents, wives, and unmarried daughters. The extended family may consist of five to thirty members. Ideally, the extended family should all dwell in one enormous property.

In recent years, the Igbo family has evolved. Civil marriage and Christian marriage are significant innovations. The nuclear family with its own dwelling is becoming more popular among Igbo professionals.

Other Interesting Facts About the Igbo’s Include;

  1. The Igbo tribe is credited with popularizing the Omugwo tradition, which is now practiced throughout Nigeria. This custom provides special attention to new and nursing mothers. For roughly 40 days after delivery, they are frequently supported by their experienced mothers, mothers-in-law, or older aunties.
  2. The Ndebe Script Project, the first finished Igbo writing system in history, is a source of pride for the Igbo people. The Ndebe script is one-of-a-kind and pays respect to historic Nsibidi logographs. Lotanna Igwe -Odunze, a writer, illustrator, and Ios Engineer, created it in 2009.
  3. The Igbo culture bestows many titles on deserving members of the community. The Ozo title for men, Ichie, Aruma, and others are among the most prestigious.
  4. In the Igbo community, women are also recognized title holders. An Iyom title, for example, is bestowed upon ladies of integrity, class, and character. It is the highest traditional society to which women can aspire.
  5. The Igbo people proudly display the Nigerian flag all over the world. They have some of the most talented writers and painters. Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cyprian Ekwensi, and Ben Enwonwu (sculptor) are among them.

Conclusion

Like earlier stated, we cannot cover everything about the Igbos in one article. There’s a whole lot to know about the great Igbo community, and studies are still ongoing. Although the facts you just read are revealing, it does not make other tribes less relevant than the Igbo tribe. As a matter of truth, each tribe has their uniqueness and should be appreciated accordingly.

Nevertheless, the Igbo community is one to reckon with, as they’re always accommodating and value relationships. They remain one of the most resilient and hardworking people in Nigeria, and thrive to maintain that spirit in any part of the world they find themselves.

That said, more findings can be made about the history of the Igbo tribe, as there are many conflicting opinions about their origin. 

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