The significant of time in Igbo culture, part 4 - THE IGBO CALENDAR


The traditional Igbo have a calendar represented by symbols. These symbols of Igbo calendar are well preserved in the Mbari Art center at Eke Nguru in Abo Mbaise, Imo State of Nigeria . The curator, the Dulu Omenka of Mbaise, Major Chukwu S.A.O., reports that the symbols of Igbo calendar were recovered from his late grand father Opara Chukuegu of Oshichoko in Umumadi Nguru Mbaise.

The common knowledge is that the Igbo calendar consists of a week, or Izu, of four days; a lunar month, or Onwa, of twenty-eight days comprising seven native weeks, or Izu asaa; a year, or Afo, made up of ninety-one weeks, or Izu, or thirteen lunar months. The day is called Ubochi.
The priests of each community are the time-keepers, and the process of time-keeping is known as igu afo, or igu aro. The lunar months dictate major feats and celebrations in Igbo land, as is the case in other traditional Africa societies. For economic convenience, there is a practice among the Igbo to reckon Izu nta izu ukwu, that is, small and big native weeks of four and eight days respectively. Official market days with heavy sessions rotate in an eight-day cycle among villages in a town in order to avoid monopoly by one village or town. The determination of the market day session is based on the principle of propinquity with the result that an Afo or Orie day can have small and big sessions in different places on the same day without provoking any rift or contradiction. It is important also to observe that apart from the seeming confusion by the terms “small and big weeks”, the Igbo language has only the names of four days: Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo. It appears therefore that the question of an Igbo calendar is a matter of opinion.
The question of calendar is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact in so far as what the calendar represents or stands for are natural movements. For example, the day is determined by the rotation of the earth or its axis, the month is determined by the period the moon takes to revolve around the earth; while the year follows the revolution of the earth around the sun. The Igbo, no doubt, haven’t the scientific knowledge and technology to observe with precision, the movement of the earth or that of the moon. Discussion with time-keepers show that all time reckoning is based on natural phenomena.
It is now obvious that it is impossible for a calendar based on a four-day week to have 12 months in 365 days. Rather, the Igbo with a four-day week have the following stricture.
1 month = 4 (days) x 7 (weeks) = 28 days1 year = 12 (days) x 13 (months) = 364 days + 1 day
The calculation presented by Ukaegbu, betrays knowledge of the Gregorian (Western idea of) calendar. The origin of the Igbo calendar is a master of conjecture and the Igbo have a lot of legends and theories on the origin of their calendar. What is important is that the Igbo have idea of calendar.

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