Igbo History

History of the Igbo People

According to Professor A. E. Afigbo, “the Igbo, and perhaps the Idoma and [[Ijaw]] (Ijo), would appear to be the one of the only surviving coherent ethnic groups from the first set of proto-Kwa speakers to penetrate the forest areas of Southern Nigeria and who at one time occupied areas as far to the west as Ile-Ife in Yorubaland” .

Pre-colonial life

Pre-colonial Igbo political organization was based on semiautonomous communities, devoid of kings or governing chiefs. With the exception of towns such as Onitsha, which had kings called Obis, and places like Nri and Arochukwu, which had priest kings known as Ezes, most Igbo village governments were ruled solely by an assembly of the common people. Although titleholders were respected because of their accomplishments, they were never revered as kings, but often performed special functions given to them by such these assemblies. This way of governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana. Igbo secret societies also had a ceremonial script called Nsibidi. Igbos had a calendar in which a week has four days. A month has seven weeks and thirteen months a year. The last month had an extra day. They also had mathematics called Okwe and Mkpisi and a saving and loans bank system called Isusu. They settled law matters by oath-taking to a god. If that person died in a certain amount of time, he was guilty. If not, he was free to go, but if guilty, that person could face exile or servitude to a deity.


The arrival of the British in the 1870s and increased encounters between the Igbo and other Nigerians led to a deepening sense of a distinct Igbo ethnic identity. The Igbo also proved remarkably decisive and enthusiastic in their embrace of Christianity and Western education. Under British colonial rule, the diversity within each of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups slowly decreased and distinctions between the Igbo and other large ethnic groups, such as the Hausa and the Yoruba became sharper.

The novel Things Fall Apart by Igbo author Chinua Achebe, is a fictional account of the clash between the new influences of the British and the traditional life of the Igbo.

Instability and Biafra Secession

In 1966, a failed coup d’état by Nigerian army officers led by an Igbo—Major Kaduna Nzeogwu—resulted in the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a prominent northern Nigerian of the Hausa ethnic group. Although the coup was foiled primarily by another Igbo, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, the belief prevailed in northern Nigeria that Hausa leaders were singled out for death. This situation gave rise to a retaliatory pogrom in which tens of thousands of Igbo were murdered in northern Nigeria, which led to the headlong flight back to the Eastern Region of as many as two million Igbos.

Eventually, the crisis reached an apex in May 1967 with the secession of the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra headed by the aforementioned Colonel Ojukwu. The secession quickly led to civil war after talks between former Army colleagues, Yakubu Gowon and Ojukwu broke down. The Republic of Biafra lasted only until January 1970 after a campaign of starvation by the Nigerian Army with the support of Egypt, Sudan and the United Kingdom led to a decisive victory.

Excerpt from Ojukwu’s last war speech as Biafran Head of state

“In the three years of the war necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years of heroic bound, we leapt across the great chasm that separates knowledge from know-how. We built rocket, and we designed and built our own delivery systems. We guided our rockets. We guided them far; we guided them accurately. For three years, blockaded without hope of import, we maintained all our vehicles. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined petrol in their back gardens. We built and maintained our airports, maintained them under heavy bombardment. Despite the heavy bombardment, we recovered so quickly after each raid that we were able to maintain the record for the busiest airport in the continent of Africa. We spoke to the world through telecommunication system engineered by local ingenuity; the world heard us and spoke back to us! We built armored cars and tanks. We modified aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircraft to bombers. In the three years of freedom we had broken the technological barrier. In the three years we became the most civilized, the most technologically advanced black people on earth.”

Igbo language

Source – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Igbo (also known, less commonly, as Ibo; as?s? Ndi Igbo in Igbo) is a language spoken in Nigeria by around 30 million speakers (the Igbo), especially in the southeastern region once identified as Biafra. The language was used by John Goldsmith as an example to justify going away from the classical linear model of phonology as laid out in The Sound Pattern of English. It is written in the Roman script. Igbo is a tonal language, like Yoruba and Chinese.

Igbo has a number of dialects, distinguished by accent or orthography but almost universally mutually intelligible, including the Idemili Igbo dialect (the version used in Chinua Achebe’s epic novel, Things Fall Apart), Owerri, Ngwa, Umuahia, Nnewi, Onitsha, Awka, Abriba, Arochukwu, Nsukka, Mbaise, Ohafia, Wawa and Okigwe.
The wide variety of spoken dialects has made agreeing a standardised orthography and dialect of the Igbo language very difficult. The current Onwu orthography, a compromise between the older Lepsius orthography and a newer orthography advocated by the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (IIALC), was agreed in 1962.

The dialect form gaining widest acceptance, Central Igbo, is based on the dialects of two members of the Ezinehite group of Igbos in Central Owerri Province between the towns of Owerri and Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria. From its proposal as a literary form in 1939 by Dr. Ida C. Ward, it was gradually accepted by missionaries, writers, and publishers across the region. In 1972, the Society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC), a nationalist organization which saw Central Igbo as an imperialist exercise, set up a Standardization Committee to extend Central Igbo to be a more inclusive language. Standard Igbo aims to cross-pollinate Central Igbo with words from Igbo dialects from outside the “Central” areas, and with the adoption of loan words.
In 1999, Chinua Achebe, the most internationally famous Igbo speaker, passionately denounced Standard Igbo and its ancestors as colonial and conservative impositions on the rich range of Igbo dialects. To illustrate his point, he delivered his lecture in a dialect peculiar only to Onitsha speakers, which was almost unintelligible to more than half the audience.

Igbo is mainly a spoken and colloquial language today, and not much Igbo literature exists. Reading and writing Igbo is not very widespread either, and Igbo is mostly used as a spoken language. Although Igbo is taught at all levels in eastern Nigerian schools, English remains the literary language that is to be studied extensively.
In many urban areas, Nigerian Pidgin English often replaces Igbo. In fact, many Igbo today do not use the Igbo language, but instead use local dialects of pidgin English.
Outside Nigeria, the language is not commonly spoken. However, there are sizeable groups of Igbo who live and try to speak the language in North America and Europe. ICAC encourages Ndi-Igbo to speak the language, and to teach their kids to speak same; thus Igbo Language school was set up to help facilitate and create an environment for those who desire to learn the Igbo Language.


Igbo, like many other West African languages, has borrowed many words from English. Example loanwords include the Igbo word for blue (“blu”) and operator (“opareto”).
Many names in Igbo are actually fusions of older original words and phrases. For example, one Igbo word for green is “akwukwo nri,” which literally means “leaves for eating,” or “vegetables.” Another example is train (“ugbo igwe”), which comes from the words “ugbo” (vehicle, craft) and “igwe” (iron, metal); thus a locomotive train is vehicle via iron (rails) , a car “ugbo ala” ; vehicle via land and an aeroplane “ugbo elu” ; vehicle via air. Words may also take on multiple meanings. Take for example the word “akwukwo.” “Akwukwo” originally means “leaf” (as on a tree), but during and after the colonization period, akwukwo also came to mean “paper,” “book,” “school,” and “education.” This is because printed paper can be first likened to an organic leaf, and then the paper to a book, the book to a school, and so on. Combined with other words, “akwukwo” can take on many forms — for example, “akwukwo ego” means “printed money” or “bank notes,” and “akwukwo eji eje ije” means “passport.”


Awde, Nicholas and Onyekachi Wambu (1999) Igbo: Igbo-English/English-Igbo

  • Dictionary and Phrasebook New York: Hippocrene Books.
  • Emenanjo, ‘Nolue (1976) Elements of Modern Igbo Grammar. Ibadan: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-154078-8
  • International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the International Phonetic Association ISBN 0-521-63751-1