There are a number of customs that are special to the Igbo Community, and an account of some
eight of them is set out below.
The customs, and the word used for the different ceremonies, and those used during the ceremonies may differ from area to area in Igboland, and students will find an interest in comparing what is described here with what they have observed in their own village or community.
A knowledge of these customs, and indeed of others besides, should be part of the tradition of all Igbo people, and the ability to discuss them and to describe them and their significance is a distinct advantage to all those interested in Igbo society.
The ọjị (Kola-nut) ceremony is among the things which the Igbos deem very important.
This nut, though not pleasant to the taste, is very much in evidence on social occasions.
It is shared among friends, as a token of goodwill, and is offere to a visitor as a sign of appreciation for his coming.
When the kola-nut is brought, the ceremony isperformed by the oldest person present, and he carries out what is called ịgọ ọfọ.
This may consist in blessing the kola, as well as the person who provided it; in giving thanks to their ancestors, and in wishing those present good fortune.
After this, the person performing the ịgọ ọfọ splits the nut, and it is shared among all those present.
Kola plays an important part in marriages and sacrifices. Old men believe that it helps them to bear the pangs of hunger when food is not available.
In a wider sense of the word, ọjị is a present from one person to another, particularly as an acknowledgement of favours received.
The word ịgọ means to pronounce (e.g. a blessing), to deny (e.g. Ha gọrọ agọ, they denied
it; Ọ gọrọ agụgọ, he made a denial).
Ịgo mmụọ is used of the performing of rituals by heathens to their gods.
When people visit you and kola is broken, they wish you long life; you can say of them Ha gọọrọ m ọfọ ndụ - Ọfọ is the name of a kind tree.
If someone illtreats you without cause, you can say of him, Ejiiri m ya ọfọ, literally, I am holding ọfọ for him.
In its right context, ịgọ ọfọ can also mean to curse, e.g. Ha gọọrọ ya ọfọ ọnwụ, they wished him dead.
Ọmụ nkwụ (Palm tree shoot) is used as a receptacle for things offered as a sacrified.
It is surppose to be able to purify a town from any crime committed or any sacrilegious act.
It may be kept as an indication that a certain object must not be tampered with. It is used to show that which is sacred or very dangerous.
A victor in battle or any performer of an outstanding feat of strength has "Ọmụ nkwụ" tied round his neck during an important celebration to show his bravery.
If there are two rival tribes, or if the inhabitants of two towns are so opposed to one another that fighting must ensue when a group of one meets a group belonging to the other;
It becomes necessary that a representative of another Igbo community, passing through the rival towns, should hold the young "ọmụ" as a token of goodwill and innocence.
During funeral ceremonies, ọmụ is tied round the drums and musical instruments as well as on the corpse, as a token of sanctity.
It is also used in fastening mats to the roof of a house.
Nzu (Chalk) Igbo Customs is generally used by women immdiately after child-birth and for some days after.
It is sometimes presented instead of kola-nut (ọjị) to a titled visitor as a mark of respect and social esteem.
The visitor rubs it on his eyelids and on his toes, and has to make certain orthodox marks on the floor according to his rank as a titled man, native doctor, or juju priest.
There are four popular Markings in Igbo Customs, namely:-
This is a custom by which a man may secure special recognition in the Igbo community to which he belongs.
The honour is given only to a free-born person. Before he undergoes it, he has to be well fed to give him strength for the ordeal.
For the performance of the ceremony, he lies on his back in a small pit dug for the purpose.
An artist, "Ogbu ichi", cuts a pattern on his face with a sharp knife, the victim being firmly held down while he does so.
The man must not show any sign of fear while the blood flows from his cuts, for to do so would be regarded as a dishonour to himself and to his family.
Charcoal is ground and then sprinkled over his face, which is tied up; the victim is taken into a room and given careful attention, being served with whatever food he fancies.
When the wounds heal, he goes to the market to be congratulated by the people. Henceforth, he is honoured in any social circle.
It is an emblem of high birth. Reasons for Igbu Ichi:
This shows a distinction between the free-born and the slave. Its designs are different kinds, each being special to a particular
Some townsmen have the designs on their faces, others have them on their bodies. The facial markings is more usual.
This is a design on the face or any other part of the body. The marking is made with needles, and stained green
or some other colour.
It has nothing to do with social prestige; it is only a form of decoration or a means of showing one's ability to endure pain.
This is an ordinary design made on th ebody with indigo (uri). No cutting of flesh is untailed, a soft stick being used.
It is mostly done by women as a means of beautifying the skin, or for festive occasions. It is sometimes painted on the body as a sign of mourning.
A woman is said to be in Ọmụgwọ immediately after child-birth.
During this period, she does not work but keeps indoors and caring for her young child, she herself usually being taken care of by her mother or her sister.
On the day on which the child is born, the connection between the mother and the child (the umbilical cord) is cut, leaving a portion
of the cord attached to the navel of the child.
This cord is carefully treated by the mother so that germs may not enter the child's body through it.
The mother warms her hand and stretches the cord between her fingers.
On the eighth day after delivery, the cord falls away from the navel.
The parents of the child bury the fallen cord, and over the spot plant a fruit tree in honour of the baby.
The baby is the sole owner of the fruit tree, and when it grows has the greatest regard for it.
After the cord has fallen off, the navel opening is regularly treat with palm oil (Vaseline is also used today) until it heals.
This take place on the eighth day. It is performed by a specialist.
Palm oil is used for the treatment of the wound.
After being bathed, the child is painted with nzu (chalk).
This is also an important aspect of Ọmụgwọ. Immediately after child-birth, much blood is lost by the woman and
she perspires very freely.
Nowadays she is given brandy to drink. Palm wine is a substitute in some places.
The woman is properly fed. She is given ofe nsara soup (mmiri ọgwụ), that is, soup full of pepper and containing no oil.
She eats plenty of fish and meat in order to derive nourishment and remake blood. She drinks lukewarm water or wine administered in a clean receptacle.
In due course, she begins to eat the normal type of soup. The immediate environment of the woman and child is kept clean.
Coconut and nzu are kept in the room where the mother and child are living chiefly to attract small children
who are supposed to be accompanied by the spirit of the new baby.
The children thus attracted will undertake little errands for the mother, and from among them, the woman will be able to choose a careful child to look after her baby when she is not on the spot.
After the umbilical cord of the baby has fallen off, as a custom in some parts, all the ashes in the room where the woman has been living, which all this time have removed, are collected and used in planting a fruit tree for the benefit of the child.
This is not as compulsory as in the case of planting with th efallen umbilical cord.
In some parts, a pot containing a solution called ụrụ enyi is placed beside the
doorway where the woman and child are.
Any visitor going into the room must first plung his toes into the solution before he enters.
It is believed that the solution protects the woman and child from the attact of "Enyi" - a disease of the skin which is highly infectious even in its dormant stage.
The eight day - this the circumcision day, the day of feasting and rejoicing.
The twenty-eight day - this is the day when the woman comes out of Ọmụgwọ. It is called "Izu Asaa".
On this day, the chief guests of the household into which the baby is born are Ndị ọzọ (titled people), ụmụ okorobia (young men), ụmụ agboọghọbịa (young women) and ụmụ nna (relations).
Eache of these groups of guests usually donates a sum of money for the occasion. The total amount collected belongs to the mother by right.
On the following big market day, she is gorgeously attired for the ceremonial parade in the market place. This is called "Ihe ahẙa nwa", or Ahẙ Ọmụgwọ.
After this, she is often visited by friends and well-wishers, and presents of money are given to her.
Some people may send her delicious dishes of food - this is called Ileje Ọmụgwọ.
At times, some people send pots, or money to be used for the purchase of pots, which the woman may use
in feeding the baby. This is called Ịkpọ Ọkụ nwa.
When the child is a female and a man offers money, saying that he intends it for Ịkpọ Ọkụ mmiri, this means that he intends to marry her when she grows up.
On the morning of the twenty-eight day, the woman who all the while has been caring for the babay's mother (probably her own mother or sister) goes back to her home, after the woman's husband has given her cloth, wine, yams and fish in appreciation of her services.
See Palm Oil - Mmanu | Igbu Akwu to read all about palm oil and blood pressure.