The History Of Ndigbo - part 1

Igbo people, also referred to as the Heebro (Igbo: Ndị Igbọ) are an ethnic group living chiefly in southeastern and south Nigeria. They speak Igbo, which includes various Igboid languages and dialects; today, a majority of them speak English alongside Igbo as a result of British colonialism. Igbo people are among the largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Due to the effects of migration and the Atlantic slave trade, there are Igbo populations in countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, as well as outside Africa. Their exact population outside Africa is unknown, but today many African Americans and Afro Caribbean’s are of Igbo descent. In rural areas in Africa, the Igbo are mostly farmers. Their most important crop is the yam; celebrations are held annually to celebrate its harvesting. Other staple crops include cassava, and taro.
Before British colonialism, the Igbo were a politically fragmented group. There were variations in culture such as in art styles, attire and religious practices. Various subgroups were set according to clan, lineage, village affiliation and dialect. There weren't many centralized chieftaincy, hereditary aristocracy, or kingship customs except in kingdoms like that of the Nri, Arochukwu and Onitsha. This political system changed significantly under British colonialism in the 19th century; Eze (kings) were introduced into most local communities by Frederick Lugard as "Warrant Chiefs". The Igbo became overwhelmingly Christian under colonization. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is one of the most popular novels to depict Igbo culture.
By the mid-20th century, a strong sense of an Igbo identity developed. Certain conflicts with other Nigerian ethnicities led to the Igbo dominant Eastern Nigeria seceding from Nigeria to create the independent state of Biafra. The Nigerian-Biafran war (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970) broke out shortly after. The end of the war led to the defeated Republic of Biafra being reabsorbed into Nigeria.

It would be difficult to define a single Igbo identity because of the group's heavily fragmented and politically independent communities.
Before knowledge of Europeans and full exposure to other ethnic groups neighboring them, the Igbo did not have a strong identity as one people. Upon engaging in a close textual reading of Olaudah Equiano's 1789 narrative, historian Alexander X. Byrd argues that the Igbo identity had its origins in slavery, emerging in the "holding patterns" of coastal towns in West Africa.
As in the case of most ethnic groups located in sub-Saharan Africa, the British and fellow Europeans identified the Igbo as a tribe.  Chinua Achebe, among other scholars, challenged this because of its negative connotations and possible wrong definition. The suggestion was that the Igbo should be defined as a nation similar to the Cherokee or Japanese, although the Igbo do not have an official recognized state of their own.


There are several theories regarding the etymology of the word Igbo. [24] It is presumed that it has Sudanic origin, derived from the verb gboo.  Charles Kingsley Meek, writer of Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe, suggests that it may originate from the neighboring Igala, coming from the word onigbo, a word for slave.  As of now, the origin of Igbo is still unclear.
Igbo had been spelled Ibo by British colonialists until the 20th century. Ibo can still be found being used, but Igbo is considered the correct and preferred spelling by the Igbo and has been used in many different publications. The word now has three uses, to describe indigenous Igbo territory, domestic speakers of the language and the language spoken by them.


Main article: Origins of the Igbo people
Pottery dated at around 4500 BCE showing similarities with later Igbo work was found at Nsukka, along with pottery and tools at nearby Ibagwa; the traditions of the Umueri clan have as their source the Anambra valley, and in the 1970s the Owerri, Okigwi, Orlu and Awka divisions were generally supposed to have been from linguistic and cultural evidence "an Igbo heartland".
There is evidence that the ancestors of the Igbo people and most of their neighbors were the proto-Kwa group, which came from the African Great Lakes and Mountains of the Moon of East and Central Africa and settled at the old Sahara grasslands. It was the desertification of the Sahara that forced some of the Kwa people to migrate farther south to the north of the Niger Benue confluence and founded Nok.
Elements of the Kwa people migrated south of this confluence and later became the Igala, Idoma, Yoruba, Igbo, and possibly the Tiv peoples. The Kwa people's first areas of settlement in Igboland was the North Central uplands (Nsukka-Afikpo-Awka-Orlu) around 5000 BCE Elements from the Orlu area migrated south, east, and northeast while elements from the Awka area migrated westwards across the Niger river and became the Igbo subgroup now known as the Anioma. The Igbo share linguistic ties with the Bini, Igala, Yoruba, and Idoma peoples.

Nri Kingdom

The city of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture.  Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umueri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri.  Eri's origins are unclear, though he has been described as a "sky being" sent by Chukwu (God).  He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra.  Elizabeth Allo Isichei says "Nri and Aguleri and part of the Umueri clan, a cluster of Igbo village groups which traces its origins to a sky being called Eri."
Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the ninth century, and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around 948 with other related Igbo cultures following after in the 13th century.  The first Eze Nri (King of Nri), Ìfikuánim, followed directly after him. According to Igbo oral tradition, his reign started in 1043.  At least one historian puts Ìfikuánim's reign much later, around 1225 AD.
Each king traces his origin back to the founding ancestor, Eri. Each king is a ritual reproduction of Eri. The initiation rite of a new king shows that the ritual process of becoming Ezenri (Nri priest-king) follows closely the path traced by the hero in establishing the Nri kingdom.

The Kingdom of Nri was a religio-polity, a sort of theocratic state, just like you find in the ancient Judaic kingdom of ancient Israel under King Sennecharab. That Igbo theocratic state developed in the central heartland of the Igbo region. The Nri had seven types of taboo's which included human (such as the birth of twins), animal (such as killing or eating of pythons/pigs), object, and temporal, behavioral, speech and place taboos.  The rules regarding these taboos were used to educate and govern Nri's subjects. This meant that, while certain Igbo may have lived under different formal administration, all followers of the Igbo religion had to abide by the rules of the faith and obey its representative on earth, the Eze Nri.

Traditional society

Three Igbo women in the early 20th century
Traditional Igbo political organization was based on a quasi-democratic republican system of government. In tight knit communities, this system guaranteed its citizens equality, as opposed to a feudalist system with a king ruling over subjects.  This government system was witnessed by the Portuguese who first arrived and met with the Igbo people in the 15th century.  With the exception of a few notable Igbo towns such as Onitsha, which had kings called Obi, and places like the Nri Kingdom and Arochukwu, which had priest kings; Igbo communities and area governments were overwhelmingly ruled solely by a republican consultative assembly of the common people.  Communities were usually governed and administered by a council of elders.
Although title holders were respected because of their accomplishments and capabilities, they were never revered as kings, but often performed special functions given to them by such assemblies. This way of governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana.
Umunna are a form of patrilineage maintained by the Igbo. Law starts with the Umunna which is a male line of descent from a founding ancestor (who the line is sometimes named after) with groups of compounds containing closely related families headed by the eldest male member. The Umunna (the most backdated form of parliamentary system in history) can be seen as the most important pillar of Igbo society.
Mathematics in traditional Igbo society is evident in their calendar, banking system and strategic betting game called Okwe.  In their indigenous calendar, a week had four days, a month consisted of seven weeks and 13 months made a year. In the last month, an extra day was added.  This calendar is still used in indigenous Igbo villages and towns to determine market days.  They settled law matters via mediators, and their banking system for loans and savings, called Isusu, is also still used.

An Igbo man with facial scarifications, known as Ichi, early 20th century
Used as a ceremonial script by secret societies, the Igbo had a traditional ideographic set of symbols called Nsibidi, originating from the neighboring Ejagham people.  Igbo people produced bronzes from as early as the ninth century, some of which have been found at the town of Igbo Ukwu, Anambra state.

A system of slavery existed among the Igbo after and before the arrival and knowledge of Europeans.   Slavery in Igbo areas was described by Olaudah Equiano in his narrative. He describes the conditions of the slaves in his community of Isseke (in present day Ihiala local council of Anambra State), and points out the difference between the treatment of slaves under the Igbo in Isseke, and those in the custody of Europeans in West Indies:
…but how different was their condition from that of the slaves in the West Indies! With us, they do no more work than other members of the community,… even their master;… (Except that they were not permitted to eat with those… free-born and there was scarce any other difference between them, some of these slaves has… slaves under them as their own property… for their own use.
The Niger coast acted as a contact point between African and European traders from the years 1434–1807. This contact between the Africans and Europeans began with the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British.   Even prior to European contact, Igbo trade routes stretched as far as Mecca, Medina and Jeddah.


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