Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. Ed. Timothy L. Gall and Jeneen Hobby. Vol. 1: Africa. 2nd ed. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2009. p282-288.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning
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LOCATION: Igboland (Southern Nigeria)
POPULATION: 18 million
LANGUAGE: Igbo (Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family)
RELIGION: Tribal religion
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Nigerians


The Igbo make up the second largest group of people in southern Nigeria. They are a socially and culturally diverse population, living in the southeastern part of the country. the Igbo consist of many subgroups, all speaking one language, and live in scattered groups of villages, lacking the cities and centralized kingdoms that characterize other major groups in Nigeria, such as the Yoruba and the Hausa.

When, and from what area, the Igbo came into their present territory is not known. Their origin is a subject of much speculation. The people have no common traditional story of their origins. Nor do the local traditions of the various Igbo groups provide clues. It is for this reason that some Western writers on the colonial era treated the Igbo as “a people without history.” While this view is no longer considered valid, the Igbo culture historian is handicapped because there is little archaeological data from which to draw. On the basis of cultural data and fragmentary oral traditions, historians have proposed two interrelated hypotheses of Igbo origins: one, that there exists a core area that may be called the “nuclear” Igboland, and two, that waves of immigrant communities from the north and the west planted themselves on the border of this nucleus as early as the 14th and 15th centuries.

The belt formed by the Owerri, Awka, Orlu and Okigwi divisions constitutes the “nuclear” area: its people have no tradition of coming from anywhere else. It is a densely populated area, from which people migrated to the Nsukka area in the north, and into Ikwerri, Etche, Asa, and Ndokki in the south. From these areas, a secondary wave of migration took people farther to the north, south, east, and west. This was a movement that tended to homogenize Igbo culture. The main reasons for migration were population pressure in certain areas and natural disasters.

In addition to this pattern of migration from the nuclear area, there are traditions, confirmed by culture traits, of peoples that entered Igbo territory in about the 14th or 15th century. Of these, three are the Nri, the Nzam, and Anam. Some of these people claim descent from the Bini people of the Benin Kingdom to the west.

European contact with the Igbo-speaking peoples dates back to the arrival of the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century. For nearly four centuries, the Niger Coast formed a “contact community” between European and African traders. It was a period of trade on the coast rather than one of conquest or empire building in the hinterland, or interior. the main item of commerce provided by the Igbo was slaves, many of whom came to the New World. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, a new trading epoch opened, with a shift to traffic in raw materials for industry: palm products, timber,

elephant tusks, and spices. With this shift, the European traders could no longer be confined to the coast. In the struggle to establish a “free trade” hinterland between 1807 and 1885, the British companies played a decisive role for Britain through their joint program, combining aggressive trading with aggressive imperialism. When, in 1900, the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was created from the former British Niger Company's administrative area and the Niger Coast Protectorate, Igbo-land was already being treated as a British colony. Between 1902 and 1914, there were 21 British military expeditions into Igboland. Until 1960, Nigeria was a British colony and the Igbo were British subjects. On 1 October 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation with the political structure of a federation of states.


An accurate census has been difficult to achieve in Nigeria, and the same is true for the Igbo. According to the 1963 census, the Igbo number about five and a half million. this population is very unevenly distributed, with most of it concentrated in a line, or axis, formed by Onitsha, Orlu, Okigwi, and Mbaise areas. Along this line, the density of population exceeds 1,000 persons per sq mi in many places, resulting in one of the world's most densely populated rural areas where people subsist on root crops raised through hoe cultivation. In all directions from this main population axis, the density of the population falls below the Igbo average of 350 per sq mi but remains well above Nigeria's average of 85 per sq mi.

Igboland is located in southeastern Nigeria between 5° and 6°n latitude and between 6°and 8°e longitude. The total land area is about 41,000 sq km (about 15,800 sq mi). Before it enters the Atlantic Ocean through a network of tributaries that make up its delta, the Niger River divides Igbo country into two unequal parts. The greater portion lies east of the river, the smaller one to the west. The western Igbo are territorially marked off from the Bini and Warri, their non-Igbo neighbors. On the left bank of the Niger, the eastern Igbo extend from the Niger Delta, where the Ijo and the Ogoni are their southern neighbors, to the north, where the Igala and the Tiv mark the boundary. On the eastern boundary are the Ibibio. Although separated by the Niger, the western and eastern Igbo have retained their cultural and ethnic unity. In modern times, their attitude toward political questions and their identification with their own leaders have revealed the solidarity between the Igbo on both sides of the Niger.

The Igbo country exhibits a wide variety of physical features. The Niger River contributes to this diversity. the most important rivers—Niger, Imo, Anambra, and Urasi—flow from north to south, indicating a steep northward gradient. Four distinct areas may be distinguished: the riverine, delta, central, and northeastern belts. The riverine and delta belts are lowlying, are heavily inundated during the rainy season, and are very fertile. The headwaters of the Imo and Urasi rivers serve the central belt, a relatively high plain that gradually fades into the Okigwi-Awgu plateau. The Udi highlands, which contain coal deposits, are the only coal-mining area in West Africa.

Igboland has a tropical climate. The average annual temperature is about 27°c (80°f), with an annual range of 5 to 10 degrees. The rainy and dry seasons are well marked. the former begins in April and lasts until October, when the dry season starts. Rainfall is heavier in the south than in the north. Important Page 283  |  Top of Articlein the seasonal cycle are the southwest monsoon winds that bring rain and the northeast winds that are dry, dusty, and cold. These dry winds are known as the “harmattan.”


The Igbo language is one of the speech communities in the Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family. It is marked by a complicated system of high and low tones that are used to indicate differences in meaning and grammatical relationships and a wide range of dialectal variations. Using a longitudinal dialectal profile, communities at the center and those at the poles can understand one another's dialects; but between communities at the poles, mutual understanding varies from partial to almost none. These polar dialects are the result of greater isolation.

Here are a few Igbo expressions:


English Igbo
Hello, how are you? Keku ka imelo?
What is your name? Kedu ahagi?
Thank you. Ndewo


The Igbo world in all its aspects is made comprehensible to the people by their cosmology, which explains how everything in the world, including material, spiritual, and social entities, came into being. Through it, the Igbo know what functions the heavenly and earthly bodies have and how to behave with reference to the gods, the spirits, and their ancestors. In their conception, not only is cosmology an explanatory device and a guide to conduct or ethics; it is also an action system that defines what they should do.

The Igbo world is a world peopled by invisible and visible forces, by the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. All these forces interact and affect and modify behavior. the survival of this world requires some form of cooperation among its members, although this cooperation may be hostile in nature. It is a world in which others can be manipulated for the sake of an individual's advancement in status, which is the goal of Igbo life. Reincarnation is seen as not only the bridge between the living and the dead, but a necessary factor in the transaction and transfer of social status from the world of the living to the world of the dead. It is a world of constant struggle that recognizes that conflicts exist and requires that people be able to adjust to changes in their lives—being “good citizens” and cooperating for the good of the group. The leader in this world is given minimal power and yet is expected to give maximum service in return, to fulfill the common goal of progress and “making the town get up.”


Igbo religion is a tribal religion in the sense that its major tenets are shared by all Igbo-speaking people, but in matters of participation, it remains locally organized, with the most effective unit of religious worship being the extended family. Periodic rituals and ceremonies may activate the lineage (larger kinship unit) or the village, which is the widest political community.

While the Igbo religion is polytheistic—having many gods—the idea of a creator of all things is basic to Igbo theology. The Igbo believe in a supreme god, a high god who is all good. This god is a “withdrawn” god, who has finished all active
Igbo works of creation and keeps watch over his creatures from a distance. He is not worshiped directly: there is no shrine or priest dedicated to his service. He gets no direct sacrifice from the living but is seen as the ultimate receiver of all sacrifices made to the minor gods. He seldom interferes in the affairs of human beings, a characteristic that sets him apart from all the other deities, spirits, and ancestors. Although he may be distant and withdrawn, he is not completely separated from human affairs. He is still the great father, the source of all good. The high god is conceived of in different roles. In his creative role, he is called Chinook or Chi-Okike. To distinguish him from the minor gods he is called Chukwu—the great or the high god. As the creator of everything, he is called Chukwu Abiama.

Besides the high god, there are other minor gods called nature gods, sometimes described as kind, hospitable, and industrious; at other times they are conceived of as fraudulent, treacherous, unmerciful, and envious. They are, in general, subject to human passions and weaknesses. But, they can be controlled, manipulated, and used to further human interests. Of these minor gods, Ala, the earth goddess, is considered nearest to the people. She is a great mother, the spirit of fertility of both human beings and the land. Anyanwu is the sun god. He makes crops and trees grow. Igwe is the sky god, the source of rain.

The organization and power structure of these nature gods mirror Igbo social structure. Like the latter, the gods are seen as forming a hierarchy. But, it is usual Igbo practice to appeal Page 284  |  Top of Articleto one god or to a number of gods simultaneously without any consideration of their rank or status.

In addition to the important deities, the Igbo believe in other spirits that may be either personal or impersonal, benevolent or wicked, according to the circumstances. People can keep their goodwill by treating them well. Only the wicked need fear them. Among the principal spirits are Agbara and Alosi. Forests and rivers lying on the fringes of cultivated land are said to be occupied by these spirits. Important personal spirits include Mbataku and Agwo (both of whom are spirits of wealth), Aha njoku (the yam spirit), and Ikoro (the drum spirit).

These deities and spirits have anthropomorphic characteristics (human traits). The Igbo attitude toward them is not one of fear but one of friendship, a friendship that lasts as long as the reciprocal obligations are kept.


The Igbo celebrate the major national holidays of Nigeria, including the following: New Year's Day (January 1), Easter (March or April), Nigerian Independence Day (October 1), and Christmas (December 24–26).

In addition, each town has its own local festivals. Those in the spring or summer are held to welcome the new agricultural cycle. In the fall, harvest festivals are held to mark the end of the cycle. The timing of these festivals varies from town to town.


Circumcision takes place about eight days after the birth of a boy and is performed by a skilled woman in the village. At this time the umbilical cord is buried. This is not marked by an elaborate ritual but its social significance is great: a child whose navel cord is not buried is denied citizenship. the child's mother selects the most fruitful oil palm tree from those that her husband shows her; the umbilical cord is buried at the foot of this tree.

Receiving a name is an important event in a child's life, for the child is socially accepted as soon as he or she is given a name. The name-giving ceremony is a formal occasion celebrated by feasting and drinking. A child may be given many names. The parents' choice of names may be dictated by the kind of birthmarks on the child's skin and by the opinion of the diviner, or seer. Njoku and Mmaji, the male and female figures of the yam deity, are conferred by divination. Other names may be given to indicate the market day on which the child was born, or a preference for male children, or a certain concern for the future of the child. the name Nwanyimeole (“What can a woman do?”) means that a father is in need of a male child. Onwubiko (“May death forgive”) expresses the fact that parents have lost many of their children by death and pray that this child may survive. Chukwuemeka (“God has done well”) is a thanksgiving name for the favor received.

Before the advent of Western schooling, adolescent boys passed through a formal initiation known as ima agwo. Girls passed through mgbede, a ceremonial seclusion known as the “fat house.” In southern Igbo communities this was followed by clitoridectomy, or female circumcision.

The process of betrothing and marrying an Igbo young woman is a long, ceremonious one that often takes years and is rarely accomplished in less than a year. Marriage is so important to the Igbo that nothing concerned with it is taken lightly. The process falls into four interrelated stages: asking the young woman's consent, working through a middleman, testing the bride's character, and paying the bridewealth, a kind of dowry.

Death in old age is accepted as a blessing. It is the desire of every Igbo man and woman to die in his or her own town or to be buried within its boundaries. If death occurs at a distance, the relatives bring the body home for burial. After death, the body is clothed in its finest garments, and the corpse is placed on a stool in a sitting posture, propped against the wall. In front of the corpse are placed the deceased's special treasures and the implements of his or her work. Lying or sitting in state lasts for a few hours, during which old friends and relatives come and pay their last respects to the dead. When due time has elapsed, young men wrap the corpse in grass mats, carry it out to the burial ground, and bury it. When the head of a family dies, he is buried in a deep grave beneath the floor of his house. As a general rule, burial follows within 24 hours of death.


The Igbo are often depicted as an egalitarian society in which almost everybody is equal. This obscures some of the regional differences in Igbo social structure. But, in spite of these differences, all Igbo share the same egalitarian ideology: the right of the individual to climb to the top and faith in the individual's ability to do so.

Within this egalitarian ideology, two criteria shape interpersonal relations: age and gender. Precedence is given to males and to seniors by birth order. This latter is the normal basis for headship of an extended family. The behavior between kinsmen and nonkinsmen is similarly regulated by this senior-junior principle. Seniors are considered the moral agents of the young. It is the duty of the children to greet their seniors first in the morning or whenever they meet. In children's play groups, leadership and authority are informally given to the older boys and girls.

The women members of an Igbo village are of two categories: the women who belong to the village by descent, who may be unmarried, married, divorced, or widowed and the women who belong to it by marriage. The Igbo woman in general enjoys a high socioeconomic and legal status. She can leave her husband at will and summon him to a tribunal where she will get a fair hearing. She marries in her own right and manages her trading capital and her profits herself. Although land rights do not normally descend through the female line, and although living in their husband's compounds makes it impossible for them to play important social and ritual roles in their own family's natal village, women can take titles and can practice medicine.

Social stratification is based on wealth. It does not matter what occupation a person engages in to provide for his old age and for his family. With this ideological approach, the Igbo distinguish between obgenye or mbi, the poor, from dinkpa, the moderately prosperous, and the latter from nnukwu madu or ogaranya, the rich.


The Igbo live in compact villages, each built around a central square, which is a clearing with a thatch-roofed mud resthouse of the village men's society and a large open space where meetings Page 285  |  Top of Articleand ceremonies are held. Extending from the village, sometimes for several miles, is a wide band of farmland, divided into sections, one or two of which are cultivated each year while the others lie fallow. At the edges of the villages and along the roads and bush paths connecting them are scattered groves of oil and raffia palms.

Most villages are divided into wards, and each ward is divided into compounds. The physical structure of the compounds consists of houses crowded wall-to-wall along narrow alleyways. The entrance to a compound is usually through an ornamental gateway leading from the square. The back of the compound, at the edge of the village, is devoted to garden land where certain crops not planted on the farms are grown.

Village life has changed considerably since the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Villages became connected by roadways to urban centers, which exerted considerable influence even on the most remote areas. The government has also supported development in the rural areas. Electricity was introduced; television sets and radios are now commonplace. the houses, which were formerly made of mud walls and thatched roofs, are now constructed of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Villages have running water, although it is not connected to every house.

Another important development is the network of health centers and hospitals that now dot the rural areas. Almost all villages have a health center and a nurse practitioner or a resident doctor.


There is no Igbo word for “family.” The term “family” as used by English-speaking Igbo may apply to several different sorts of groups. On the simplest level is the elementary family, composed of a father and a mother and their children, that is, the nuclear family in the usual Western sense of the word. But, under the practice of polygyny, many Igbo men have more than one wife, so there is also the polygynous family, made up of a father and his wives and all their children—father, mothers, and a group of full and half-siblings. Residence is patrilocal; a woman goes to live with her husband when she marries, and sons, when they marry, do not traditionally leave home and set up separate homes their own. Thus, there is, in addition, the extended family: a father and his sons—or a group of brothers if the father is dead—their wives, sons, and unmarried daughters. The extended family usually has about 5 to 30 members.

Ideally, all of the members of the extended family live in one large compound. The ideal of Igbo family life is a big compound. Establishing a big compound depends on the abilities of the head of the compound. It is the demonstration of his personal achievement and his social status. A successful man marries as many wives as he can support, which involves providing farm plots to help the women and their dependents make a living. Polygyny is seen as imposing social and economic obligations that can be fulfilled only by a man of substantial wealth.

The compound consists of a number of economically independent households, each with a man or a woman as the head. All the heads and their dependents recognize the authority of the compound head and would not make a major political decision without first consulting with him. The compound head has numerous ritual, moral, and legal rights and obligations. In Igbo idiom, he is the “eyes of his compound members as they are his ears.” In return, he receives respect, obedience, and material tokens of goodwill.

In recent years, many changes have taken place that contradicts this ideal. Christian marriage and marriage by ordinance (law) are important innovations. Both have given women legal protection and property rights not recognized by the traditional system. This has not, however, completely eliminated polygyny. A legal limit has also been imposed on the amount of bride-price a woman's family may demand. There has been an opposite trend, however. As more women have become educated, their families have raised their expectations of bride-wealth, demanding higher and higher amounts.

Among Igbo professional people, the trend is toward a nuclear family, establishment of a separate residence, and marriage based on love. Tension still exists around the issue of the amount of support that should be given to the members of the extended family, creating conflict between generations.


The everyday clothing in urban areas is not different from that of Westerners. Traditional clothing is still worn on important occasions in the cities and every day in rural areas. There are both formal and informal attire for both men and women. For everyday use men wear a cotton wrapper, a shirt, and sandals. For formal occasions they wear a long shirt, often decorated with tucks and embroidery, over a better-quality wrapper, shoes, and a hat. Women wear wrappers for both informal and formal occasions; the major difference between these is the quality of fabric. For everyday use, the preferred material is cheap cotton that is dyed locally. For formal wear, the wrapper is either woven or batik-dyed, often imported from Holland.

The blouse for formal wear is made of lace or is embroidered. Women also wear a head tie, a rectangular piece of cloth that can be tied around the head in a number of different ways.

Both men and women have distinctive facial markings, although this is becoming less common. For women, the marking is performed as a preliminary to marriage and is called mbubu. the mbubu consists of a series of small slits made in the flesh with a pointed razor. Into these slits, pellets of tightly compressed cotton or palm leaf are inserted, and the whole is smeared with charcoal. The end result is a regular pattern of black oval blobs that stand out on the skin.

The tribal markings of the men, called ichi, are more elaborate and diverse. Some of the Igbo groups use them only on the face, others on the body as well. The latter is often part of the initiation ceremony. The work is done by women; the flesh is cut in a series of lines and soot from a cooking pot is rubbed into them to produce an intensely black effect.


The yam is the staple food of the Igbo. To be deprived of yams creates a condition of acute distress. Whatever substitute may be offered, it cannot satisfy the Igbo palate. There are many varieties, which differ greatly in size, appearance, and flavor. Other starchy foods include rice, cassava, taro, maize and plantains.

Traditionally, the yam was the choice of food for ceremonial occasions. Nowadays, it has been replaced by rice.

A usual meal includes a starch and a soup or stew, prepared with a vegetable, such as okra or bitter leaves, to which pieces Page 286  |  Top of Article
An Igbo Maiden Spirit mask, which men would wear to mimic activities of women for magical purposes. The masks would be worn during certain rituals, especially at funerals and festivities.

An Igbo Maiden Spirit mask, which men would wear to mimic activities of women for magical purposes. The masks would be worn during certain rituals, especially at funerals and festivities.(The Image Works)
of fish, chicken, beef, or goat meat are added. the following recipes are very popular.

Shrimp Jollof Rice

Jollof rice of various types is popular throughout Nigeria, and among the Igbo who live near waterways it is often prepared with shrimp. Elsewhere, the protein may be chicken.

The dish is cooked until the rice grains are soft and separate, but never until they become mushy.


500 g (17.5 oz) shrimp

300 g (10.5 oz) fresh tomato

20 g (0.7 oz) tomato paste

75 g (2.6 oz) onion

fresh red pepper

dry ground pepper

peanut oil

200 g (7 oz) rice


300 ml (11 oz) water

Shell the shrimp. Grind the tomato, peppers, onion, and 6 to 8 shrimp together. Wash, clean, and drain the rice. Heat the oil until it smokes slightly. Add the ground ingredients and cook for 5 minutes. Add 300 ml water and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, and add the rice, salt, and remaining shrimp. Replace cover and bring back to a boil. Heat oven to 120°c (250°f), pour rice mixture into an ovenproof dish, and place in oven. Cook until the liquid is absorbed completely. Stir to loosen the rice grains, replace the cover and allow to sit in warm oven for a few hours with the heat off and door ajar to blend the flavors.

Thin Goat Meat Pepper Soup

This dish may be served with simple shrimp stew and a salad.

480 g (17 oz) goat meat


dry ground red pepper

100 g (3.5 oz) onion

20 g (0.7 oz) tea leaves

enge, crushed

20 g (0.7 oz) dried crayfish, ground

100 g (3.5 oz) dried fish (optional)

Wash the goat meat and cut into pieces. Place in a pot and add water to cover. Add salt, pepper, thinly sliced onion and crushed enge. Boil on low heat until the meat is tender. Top up water to cover and add coarsely chopped tea leaves, ground dried crayfish and dried fish. Boil for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 30 minutes for flavors to blend well.


When Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, its new parliamentary government immediately set out to transform the country into a highly developed, modern nation. It set a priority on education and poured its resources into schooling its people. Universal primary education soon became the norm in southern Nigeria, where the Igbo live. Secondary education also developed rapidly. The Igbo were much involved in these efforts since education had had a long tradition among them, and they saw it as a way of moving forward. One of the first universities in the country, modeled on the American system, was established in Nsukka. This university serves the population of the entire country; however, the majority of students at Nsukka are Igbo. A sign of enthusiasm for education is the fact that in any major city of the country, the majority of civil servants are of Igbo origin.


In addition to the visual arts, the Igbo cultural heritage includes music and dancing. For music making there are a number of wind and stringed instruments. These include the ugene, a kind of whistle made of baked clay, round in form, and about the size of a billiard ball. Chiefs are entitled to carry an ivory horn for sending out messages by powerful blasts of dot-and-dash notes. The horn is blown like a flute, and the note can be varied in length but not in pitch. Probably the most interesting of the Igbo instruments is the ubaw-akwala, a sort of guitar. It has a triangular body formed by three pieces of soft wood sewn together. This instrument is the favorite for accompanying songs and chants and is used by strolling singers in the evenings. Singers are much appreciated, and they must possess not only a gift for music, but poetic ability as well. They improvise Page 287  |  Top of Articletheir themes as the song proceeds and show great ingenuity in fitting words to tempo and tune.

Dancing is a great Igbo pastime, and it is practiced by everybody capable of movement. There are many forms—for boys, for girls, for men, for women, and for mixed groups, group dancing is associated with religious observances and festivals.


The traditional Igbo economy depends on root-crop farming. Yams, cassava, and many varieties of cocoyam (taro) are the chief staples and provide the majority of the population with its subsistence needs. There are other occupations besides farming, but land is considered the most important asset.

The Igbo system of land tenure is based on four principles:

  1. All land is owned. There is no concept of abandonment of land or unowned land. Whether the land is cultivated or not, it belongs to somebody.
  2. Land ultimately belongs to the lineage, or kinship group, and cannot be separated from it.
  3. Within his lineage, the individual has security of tenure for the land he needs for his house and his farm.
  4. No member of the lineage is without land.

There is a division of labor according to gender. Men clear all bushes and plant the yams with the help of the women and the children, collectively. Following the planting of yams, the main crop, plots are allocated to the women individually. Each woman plants crops, such as maize, melon, and okra, on the slopes of the hills, and plants pumpkins, beans, cassava, and taro in the spaces between the yam hills.

Trading has become an important source of livelihood for the Igbo. It is no longer possible for them to maintain the desired standard of living by depending entirely on agriculture. There are some Igbo communities where trading has surpassed farming in importance. Trading is an old occupation among the Igbo, and the marketplace has occupied an important place in their economy and life for a long time.

Many Igbo are now engaged in wage labor, with the number of people increasing constantly. The incidence of migrant labor is heaviest in the most densely populated areas. Migration is of three types: villagers seeking paid labor in more urbanized areas within Igboland, those who work in Nigeria but outside Igboland, and those who work outside Nigeria. the opportunities offered to labor, skilled and unskilled, by the economic developments of Nigeria in the past few decades have been grasped by the Igbo. The growing cities, expanding road construction, building boom, new industries, and oil explorations are creating job opportunities demanding varying kinds and degrees of skill; the Igbo are found at every level.


Wrestling is universal among boys and young men, and it is the most popular sport. Every youth who is physically capable practices it and continues to do so until he marries. There are great yearly contests in every part of Igbo country.

The other popular sport is soccer, played traditionally only by boys, but more recently introduced through the school system to girls.


In addition to rituals, dances, and traditional music, modern forms of entertainment include watching television and going to the movies and discos. Most households own radios, and there are several television sets in each village. The tradition of storytelling continues. As in the past, the Igbo also play games, including card games and checkers. Among the younger people American youth culture is popular, and most young people listen to rap and rock music.


The Igbo practice a number of crafts, some engaged in by men only and some by women.

Carving is a skilled occupation and is confined to professional men. They manufacture doors and panels for houses, as well as stools, dancing masks, and boxes for kola and snuff. Tom-toms, or drums, are also the work of specialists. These are hollow blocks of wood and mostly intended not as musical instruments but for spreading information about ceremonies, festivals, and meetings. Another valued craft is that of the blacksmith. It is only practiced by people in certain towns, who are able to control production. The Awka smiths hold the leading place in the profession throughout Igbo country and beyond. They also travel to such distant parts as Bonny, Calabar, and even Lagos, plying their craft. They manufacture items of personal adornment as well as practical items such as hoes and axes. Nowadays, manufactured goods are replacing these implements.

The arts and crafts in the hands of the women include pottery making, spinning, weaving, basketry, and grass plaiting. Earthen pottery is manufactured by women skilled in the art throughout Igbo country. The pottery is limited to vessels designed for utilitarian purposes, and decoration is not developed to any great extent. Spinning of cotton is done by means of a bobbin that revolves by its own weight. Since this equipment is portable, a woman can do her spinning while trading in the market or sitting in her compound. The thread is then woven on hand looms into strips of cloth from 12 in to 15 in wide. The strips are then sewn together and can be used for a variety of purposes. Mat weaving is another of the women's crafts. the craft work of each area is distinguished by its own regional characteristics. One other art practiced by women is artistic abilities in the adornment of their persons by means of stains.


The problems that beset the state of Nigeria in postcolonial times, ranging from a civil war in which the Igbo were principal players to a series of military coups, have affected the Igbo profoundly. Among them there is a continuing distrust of the peoples of the North (primarily the Hausa) and the West (primarily the Yoruba). Although Nigeria is party to several international human rights treaties, the current government's human-rights record is poor.

The crime rate in Nigeria is high, especially in larger urban centers, but rural areas are also affected. Crimes against property generally account for more than half of the offenses. the crime wave was exacerbated by the worsening economic conditions of the 1980s.

Drug-related crime emerged as a major problem in the 1980s. Igboland has so far escaped the worst of this, but young people even here are reputedly now smoking marijuana.

Page 288  |  Top of Article


A woman in modern Igbo culture is no longer just a consumer of wealth; she is also a maker of wealth. the traditional values and expectations of the patriarchal Igbo society have changed with the breakdown of the traditional norms, the influence of other cultures, and formal education for women. Igbo women now occupy senior positions in the society just like their male counterparts.

In the past, there were a number of clear-cut expectations for both men and women exerted on the members of the community. For example in the traditional Igbo culture, a boy was expected to display masculinity and stiffness. Femininity in a boy was scorned and a boy would be scolded and beaten to discourage womanish traits. Boys were groomed by their fathers to be brave, bold, adventurous, and audacious. Girls on the other hand were brought up to be soft, subservient, and gentle. Both men and women played their gender roles in a complementary manner. These roles were so deeply indoctrinated into their everyday lives that there was little conflict between the sexes. The gender roles were so clear that a member of either gender doing the opposite of what was expected of him or her would be consider as an abomination. For example, if a girl held her father's gun, that would be an abomination. On the other hand, a girl could stay with the older women in the kitchen as they cooked and told jokes, but the same behavior would be considered unacceptable for a boy.

In traditional Igbo society, the birth of a boy was considered a more joyful occasion than the birth of a girl. For the father, the birth of a son meant the continuation of the family line and a clear path of inheritance. For a mother, the birth of a son brought acceptance in society and a sense of greater acceptance into the husband's family. The birth of a daughter, however, would be welcomed with mixed feelings, especially if she was coming after a line of other girls without a son in-between. Without a son, the father would lose hope of having someone to continue with his lineage, since the girls would grow and be married off, thus leaving the home.

In traditional Igbo society, there was clear division of labor based on one's gender. From an early age, the boy, for example, knew that his duties would include staying close to his father, washing his father's clothing, taking care of the livestock, maintaining farming implements, and gathering yam seedlings for planting. He was expected to protect the girls of the community. He would be allowed to participate in “manly” sports, such as wrestling, and he would accompany his father to social meetings and ceremonies. He was expected to establish himself as a skilled member of the society, perhaps as a farmer, blacksmith, or a shepherd. The man's movements were not restricted.

Girls, however, were taught from childhood that their world began and ended with marriage, childbirth, and caring for the needs of her husband. She was taught that the kitchen would be her primary domain and headquarters.


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—reviewed by M. Njoroge

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
"Igbo." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, edited by Timothy L. Gall and Jeneen Hobby, 2nd ed., vol. 1: Africa, Gale, 2009, pp. 282-288. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX1839300058%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dtuls74135%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3Dbfa12961. Accessed 24 Jan. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1839300058

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