The Igbo are an ethnic group of Southeastern Nigeria who constitute a significant portion of the Nigerian population. Their language, traditions, and culture are immensely influential in Nigerian society and across Africa. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the Igbo people.
Sources: “Home and Exile” (Chinua Achebe), EveryCulture.com, Britannica.com, CIA World Factbook, Edition.CNN.com, Faculty.UCR.edu, ComeToNigeria.com, AfricaGuide.com, Bradt Travel Guides
Though cassava and taro are also key crops, the yam is the lifeblood of the Igbo people – those who live in rural areas and work as farmers. Annual celebrations are even held to celebrate the yam harvest such as the New Yam Festival (called “Iwaji” in Igbo), where people show off their yam tubers as a sign of success and wealth.
Colonial powers often overlook cultural distinctions between groups, and the nature of the Igbo people changed drastically during the time of British imperialism. Before that, however, there were starker differences between groups with regard to art styles, clothing, religious practices, and dialect. British colonialism introduced “eze,” or kings, into most local communities, centralizing political authority.
Claiming that this distinction promotes negative connotations and inaccurate facts, Achebe maintains that the Igbo should be defined as a nation, such as the Native American Cherokee nation or Japanese, rather than a tribe. Though they do not have a homeland of their own, he asserts that this classification is more in line with the actuality of the Igbo people, and their vast diversity.
Source: Chinua Achebe, “Home and Exile”
Up to the late 19th century, the transatlantic slave trade meant thousands of young Igbo slaves were taken, mainly from the Bight of Biafra, and sold to Europeans. Young people were the biggest target, and warfare increased as slave traders offered high prices to kidnappers.
After the Nigerian-Biafran War (1966-1967), Igboland was devastated. Fighting destroyed much of the region’s infrastructure including hospitals, schools, and homes. Many Nigerian Igbos chose to leave the country in favor of neighboring countries in Africa, as well as areas of Europe and the Americas. While many stayed and helped to rebuild the area, there was a significant diaspora of the Igbo people.
Though Igbo is considered a language in itself, there are hundreds of different Igbo dialects and Igboid languages. “Igbo” often refers to Central Igbo, the standard Igbo dialect that includes the Owerri and Umuahia groups, as well as the Ohuhu dialect.
Highlife, a unique musical genre that combines a fusion of jazz and traditional music, has become extremely popular in Igbo communities, and has been popularized by the works of Dr. Sir Warrior, Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, and others. It often uses traditional Igbo percussion instruments such as the udu, the ekwe, and the ogene.
While the majority of the Igbo people are Christian, and predominantly Roman Catholic at that, there is also a small population of Igbo Jews. They claim to descend from ancient Jewish traders who came to the region and married local women, creating a unique Jewish community in Nigeria.
The 2013 CIA World Factbook estimated the Nigerian population at about 170 million, and the Igbo population at 23.5 percent of that – making the Igbo population approximately 40 million people. They live predominantly in Southeastern Nigeria, the most densely populated area of the country.
Before a marriage, the woman must give her consent, negotiations must be made through a middleman, her character must be tested, and the groom must pay something known as bride wealth. The process is rarely accomplished in less than two or three years, at which point the ceremony may take place.
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