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 The 1995 Ahiajoku Lecture








B.Sc. (Hons) Econs., (London), M.A., Ph.D. (Northwestern)

Director, Institute of Public Policy & Administration

University of Calabar

VC UchenduOchi agha Imo State


Ndi isi ala


Oha n'eze


Ekele na udo diri unu:


Igbo bu Igbo; Igbo buru miri ga ogu kpo ya ijiriji; Kele nu:

Igbo na aru ji, aru ede: Kele nu.

Igbo n'azu ahia eke ukwu, azu eke nta: Kele nu:

Igbo n'azu ahia orie ukwu, azu orie nta: Kele nu:

Igbo n'azu ahia afo ukwu, azu afo nta: Kele nu:

Igbo n'azu ahia nkwo ukwu, azu nkwo nta: Kele nu: (3)




Thirty years ago, I faced the challenge of introducing Igbo society and culture to the world. My response was The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria (Uchendu, 1965). Today, I face a more formidable challenge: the task of interpreting Igbo society to its custodians and its culture to its culture-bearers, and through them, to the world. My task is nor, unique. Since 1979; fourteen Ahiajoku Lecturers, drawn from various disciplines and professions, had faced this challenge, each lecturer utilizing the most effective tools in his discipline: And they have succeeded in providing us with differing "windows" to Igbo culture.


As I address you, in the largest "classroom" for Igbo studies anywhere in the world, a Persian folktale comes to mind. There lived in Persia, in the 8th century, an Islamic teacher popularly called Mulla Nasrudim. He lost his key and came to the village square in search of it. Soon after, a villager arrived at the square, and seeing that the eyes of the learned man were attentively focused on the ground, and not wanting to disturb him, the villager, unobtrusively bent down and started an aimless search. After a few minutes which appeared to have stretched into hours, the villager mustered some courage and asked the learned man:


”What are you looking for, Mulla?"

"My key", said the Mulla.


The villager became better focused, went down on his knees and diligently looked for the Mulla's key. After a while, the villager became curious and asked the Mulla:


"Where exactly did you lose the key?"

"In my house", the Mulla replied.

"Then, why are you 1boking for the key you lost in your house in the village square?", asked the villager.


"There is more light in the village square than inside my own house", answered the Mulla.


Mr. Chairman, this lecture could have been given anywhere: in a classroom; at a symposium or as an "after-dinner" talk; but I assure you that I find "more light" among you today than I could have ever found anywhere else in the world.


The topic for my lecture is EZI NA ULO: The Extended Family in Igbo Civilization. In selecting this topic, I was mindful of the limitations which "generative ideas ---the wealth of formulative notions with which the mind meets experiences" impose on human understanding. According to Susanne Langer (1962:19-31), a Harvard philosopher, a generative idea is like


...a light that illuminates presences which simply had no form for us before the light fell on them. Yet it is the most natural and appropriate thing in the world for a new terminology to have a vogue that crowds out everything else for a while. It becomes a word that everyone snaps up... the "Open Sesame" of new positive science. The sudden vogue of such a key-idea is due to the fact that all sensitive and active minds turn at once to exploit it, we try it in every connection, for every purpose, experiment with possible stretches of its strict meaning, with generalizations and derivatives.


Whether or not EZI NA ULO is, in fact, a centrally important scientific concept for the analysis of Igbo civilization, I don't know. What I do know is that no single concept can resolve so many fundamental problems at once and also promise to resolve all fundamental problems, clarify all obscure issues for all times.


We are interested in furthering our understanding of Igbo culture through analysis and explanation. In his The Savage Mind, the French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss (1966) remarks that scientific explanation does not consist, as we have been taught to accept, in the reduction of the complex to the simple. Rather, what the analyst seems to confront is the substitution of a complexity more intelligible for one which is less. With specific reference to the study of man, Clifford Geertz (1975:33) argues that the explanation of cultural behavior often consists of "substituting complex pictures for simple ones, while striving somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with simple ones". These contrasting positions seem to put Alfred North Whitehead's advice to natural scientists on its head. Whitehead urged natural scientists that in the process of understanding they should "seek simplicity and to distrust it". On the other hand, the social scientists tend to "seek complexity and order it" (Geertz, 1975:34).


Our approach would lie mid-way between idiographic and nomothetic, that is, between situation-centered description and law-seeking global generalizations, without ignoring either. Our analytical strategy is anthropological, not in terms of techniques and received procedure6 which define the traditional anthropological enterprise, but in what Clifford Geertz (1975:34), drawing from the collected works of Gilbert Ryle calls "thick description". In his essays, Thinking and reflecting" and "The thinking of thoughts", Gilbert Ryle illustrates the method of inferring cultural behavior from ethnography.


Ethnography is a scientific process of observing and recording field data and also an end result. As an end result, ethnography is a historical document created by the ethnographer to assist him in cultural comparison and analysis and it serves others as a source-book for history. It is in "doing ethnography" that the distinction which Ryle makes between "thick" and "thin” descriptions can be illustrated.


Consider two boys, Okorie and Nwafo, rapidly contracting the eyelids of their right eyes. In Okorie, this is an involuntary twitch; in Nwafor, a conspiratorial signal to Mgbokwo hiding away from the observer. From a phenomenalistic point of view, the two eye movements are, as movements, identical. The observer could not distinguish which was twitch and which was wink or indeed "whether both or either was twitch or wink". Yet, in terms of communication and cultural analysis, the difference between a twitch and a wink is vast. The winker is communicating precise information in a unique medium. His message is deliberate; it is addressed to someone in particular. The content of the message is specific; and the mode of communication is through a socially established code; and the message is strictly inter-personal and not public. "Contracting your eyelids on purpose when there exists a public code in which so doing counts as a conspiratorial signal is winking" (Geertz, 1975:6). It is a "fleck of culture".


The description "thickens" when a third boy, Okonkwo, enters the picture. Innocently assuming that Okorie and Nwafor were engaged in a twitching contest, and asking a poor job of it, their efforts appearing amusing, clumsy and amateurish, Okonkwo began to parody the two boys, laboriously exaggerating their patterns of twitching, and dramatizing his mimicking abilities. If he does not find his efforts satisfactory, he could practise twitching .it home before a mirror, in which case his is "not twitching, winking or parodying, but rehearsing".


The point of all this is to re-state the fact that the object of ethnography is to reveal a "stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures• embedded in simple human acts and social designs. Twitches, winks, fake winks, parodies, rehearsals of parodies are produced by what appears a single observable human act, the twitching of eyelids. Our task is to explore the different layers of meanings which are embedded in the concept of ezi na ulo and how these help to shape our cultural life and civilization.




Ezi and ulo are two clusters of culture-traits. They are separately identifiable units in Igbo cultural organization, embodying both material aspects of the environment and the non-material structures of meaning which influence the attitudes of properly enculturated Igbo 'individuals. On the other hand, ezi n'ulo constitutes a unity, a single culture-complex, carrying with it a hierarchy of meanings which we will make obvious later Since culture-traits and culture-complexes do not make much sense outside their relevant contexts, we will begin our exploration by specifying our notions and conceptions of culture and outlining what we regard as the defining Characteristics of Igbo culture and civilization.


Popular and technical definitions of culture abound, So also do ethnocentric notions of the concept. In historical perspective, the Enlightenment view of culture predated the Tylorean idea of culture which is a "trait list" of all man-made aspects of the human environment, including man's thoughts and worldviews. The Enlightenment view of man, nature and culture was essentially uniformitarian except that the non-western man had no place in it. The Enlightenment constructed a view of culture inspired by Bacon's idea of natural science as guided by Newton's notion of the universe. In that construction, culture, like human nature, was conceived as "regularly organized, as thoroughly invariant and as marvelously simple as Newton's universe”. Clifford Geertz (1975:35) reminds us that the "image of a constant human nature independent of time, place and circumstance, of studies and professions, transient fashions and temporary opinions, may be an illusion, that what man is may be so entangled with where he is, who he is, and what he believes that it is inseparable from them". Modern anthropology was born when arm-chair theorizing was replaced by scientific field investigations which confirmed the fact that man "unmodified by the customs of particular places do not in fact exist, have never existed, and most important, could not. in the very nature of the case, exist" (Geertz, 1975:35). A culture-bearing animal therefore, remains a bundle of the natural, the universal and the constant, and also of the conventional, local and the variable. To draw a line between the two remains always arbitrary and can be justified only by analytical purposes.


In popular terms, a man of culture is a person who Can speak languages other than his own, who is familiar with history, literature, philosophy, politics or the fine arts and especially in the Western tradition of literary scholarship, the cultured person is one who can talk about James Joyce, Scarlatti and enjoy Picasso but it would not have mattered if he had not read Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka. At a symposium on Ozo title system hosted by the Cultural Division of the Ministry of Information, Youth, Sports and Culture, Enugu, in 1977, which I had the privilege to chair, I was mildly surprised, when a delegate from one of the States in northern Nigeria argued that "Religion is not a part of culture" (Uchendu, 1988:17-18), Religion is nothing if not an essential part of culture, What makes aspects of religion so emotionally contentious is that they are eminently cultural, whatever other elements society and managers of religious organizations attribute to them.


On a more technical level, I agree with Clyde Kluckhohn (1963:24) that "to be human is to be cultured". Believing, that "anthropology holds up a great mirror to man and lets him look at himself in his infinite variety", Kluckhohn (1963:19, 24, 28, 29, 31-34) goes on to define culture in turn as: that part of the environment that is the creation of man; a way of thinking, feeling, believing; a theory that helps us to understand a mass of otherwise chaotic (social) facts; a store-house of the pooled learning of the group found in the memories of old men and women, in books and material objects created by man; anti the learned experiences by individuals as the result of belonging to some particular group. Cultures praduce needs as well as provide a means of fulfilling them; every culture is a precipitate of history; culture throws up to history social facts which the seive of history can hold, in changed or unchanged form but always with altered meanings, to maintain the cultural and ideological integrity of a living people. Culture is like a map, an abstract but approximate representation of a particular cultural entity which enables the young and the stranger to find their way in particular cultures; and all culture bearers are creators and carriers of culture as well as consumers of culture and its products.


Culture is all these and more. I share with Clifford Geertz the semiotic view of culture. "Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz, 1975:5). Culture is meaning-centred and a public property. It is this public character of culture that led me to the strategic concept of culture. Permit me to quote from my early work on the subject:


Culture is more than just a heritage, a historical product. It is more than the expression of man’s mode of living, something that individuals in each society must undergo as a kind of fate or rites de passage. Social engineering in society demands a notion of culture as a strategic instrument... as an instrumental agent, as another mode of intervention in our social and economic life. ...the notion of culture as an interventionist agent has led man to subsume the roles of nature within normative rules that are subject to cultural direction (Uchendu, 1988:18-19), 1977:72).


Culture is public because meaning is shared. Cultural meaning is not, however, uniformly or equally shared but every culture-bearer is made to receive enough knowledge to make him or her culturally competent. This is what Ralph Linton (1936:272-75) implied when he reminded us that every culture embodies three separate but related spheres, cultural universals, cultural alternatives and cultural specialties. Cultural universals refer to those elements of a culture open to all and shared by every culture bearer. To be competent in Igbo culture requires sharing in its cultural universals. We do this through the socialization of the young in our ideal ways and the resocialization of the way-ward or delinquent adults, including strangers, in Igbo ideals and values. Cultural transmission, the process of producing Igbo citizens through their participation in our institutions and informal life, is a never ending process. To ask a person whether he or she is an animal is another way of questioning whether he has lost all the benefits of his cultural transmission. As we shall see in the discussion of Igbo social structure, Igbo society is an ideologically open society where equal opportunities are provided for the individual to achieve his goals.


No individual can master all the aspects of his culture. Individual participation in his culture, therefore, tends to be highly selective. Society therefore provides cultural alternatives to enable individuals satisfy a given cultural end. In the domain of religion, we have a great passion to ”find out" the wishes of the gods or ancestors who have sent us a symbolic message. Consulting a diviner may be one alternative source of communicating with them; going into a trance, or to one of he major oracles in Igboland may be others. The marriage institution is an important part of our life and culture. Until the Catholic Christian religion introduced celibacy as a virtue, an unmarried Igbo male cuts a sad picture of hopeless poverty; and the unmarried female was a social disaster. Our ancestors in their wisdom provided us cultural alternatives in the form of polygamy and concubinage which give every adult access to a spouse or consort (Uchendu, 1965:187-97).


Our society provides institutions for specialized training and knowledge needed by our cultural specialists. Membership of these institutions may be voluntary or ascribed. Ezes, Igwes, Dibia and other classes of medical practitioners; and the Umu ada in our society are examples of our cultural specialties. It follows therefore that no individual can master all the knowledge of his culture since part of a culture must be learned by everybody; part may be selected from alternative institutions; and part is open to only those who perform special roles in society. Culture is not a hodgepot of traits and ideas; it is relatively integrated and patterned. Margaret Mead (1970) sees cultural integration and patterning as a matter of cultural transmission and commitment to a given tradition of social heritage. She distinguishes three possible styles of life which contribute to cultural patterning and she describes these patterns as post-figurative, co-figurative and pre-figurative.


A post-figurative, is one in which children learn primarily from their forebears; the past of the adult is the future of each new generation; and the blue print of Culture is essentially complete and therefore unchallenged by foreign models. In the absence of a written language for documenting the past, the perception of the new is denied by the ”elders who edit the version of the culture that is passed on to the young". Igbo society still embodies aspects of the post-figurative culture. Post figuration requires unquestioning commitment to the essentials of culture and is perpetuated because the elders were needed not only to guide the group but to provide the complete model of what life was. The post figurative Culture depends upon the actual presence of three generations. Its defining characteristic is that the culture is taken for granted (Mead, 1970:1-34)


On the other hand, a co-figurative culture is one in which both children and adults learn from their peers and the prevailing cultural model is the behavior of their contemporaries. Co-figuration has its beginning iii a breakdown of the post-figurative system. Indiscipline in Our contemporary society is rooted in the co figurative system of a culture which fosters shared expectation that members of our generation can model their behavior on the indiscipline of their contemporaries. To change this behavioral orientation is the challenge to the youth and society (Mead, 1970:25-50).


A pre-figurative culture is one in which adults learn from their children. Igbo society is still far away from pre-figuration, although the generational differences in access to formal education has made unschooled parents victims of a pre-figurative culture (Mead, 1970:51-76).


One of the insights derived from Margaret Mead's figurative thesis is that the youth must make and occasionally reaffirm their commitment to their culture. The question to every generation remains: to what past, present or future can the idealistic young commit themselves? This question was not relevant to the youth in most traditional societies. You will recall Okonkwo, the hero of Chinua Achebe's (1958) Things Fall Apart His principal commitment to the ideals of traditional Igbo culture arose from the fact that he could not conceive of or be subjected to co ting styles of life and traditions. Okonkwo was who he was. He suffered exile, lost friends and property but was never alienated from his culture or his country. He could not change his commitment because he found no meaningful alternative.




Anthropological theory makes a distinction between culture, the collective achievements and heritage of the human race and a culture or cultures, the achievements and heritage of an identifiable population or populations. Igbo culture is rather complex. Its complexity is misunderstood by the foreign scholars who forget that the Igbo utilize a limited budget of organizational principles for their social system. This apparent paradox creates two problems. First, the foreign scholar is fascinated and puzzled by an open, decentralized society which exhibits cultural strengths and resilience under stress but lacks any observable overarching institution to account for this strength. He ends up asking the wrong question and of course gets the wrong answers. Cultural strength does not lie in a single over-arching institution. Second, the Igbo student is forced into a defensive position. He goes into a fruitless search for institutions which the Igbo culture does not need, and if such an institution were to be forced on it, Igbo culture would lose its integrity. A holistic culture, which Igbo is, cannot just be "part society and part culture" because it does not draw its cultural wellspring and inspiration from outside. One of the great achievements of Igbo scholarship in the last three or four decades is the demonstration, further reinforced by the Ahiajoku Lecture series since 1979, that Igbo society owes no apology for any social institutions it had or did not fully develop. To have done otherwise would have done' violence to Igbo worldview.


Igbo Worldview


A people's worldview and their social structure are two elements of the socio-cultural system; and they play a pervasive role in the social system. The worldview shapes the social structure, the body of rules which governs society and gives direction to its institutions. On the other hand, the social institutions, including ezi na ulo, reinforce the social structure and re-affirm the worldview. As we shall show, ezi na ulo makes a statement on the social structure and aids our understanding of our worldview, that is, the basic notions underlying our cultural activities, the definition of cultural goals and social relations.


Drawing from my work, The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria (Uchendu, 1965:11-21) we may summarize Igbo worldview in seven propositions, as follows:


First, the Igbo world is an integrated one in which all created beings, the living and the dead, are in communion through symbolic interactions and other communication channels. In Igbo view the world of man is not strictly divorced from the world of the spirits Lineage continuity is a cooperative enterprise between the world of man and the world of the spirits. Existence in this world involves interaction between the visible and the invisible, and the living and the dead, each honouring a contract based on mutual interest and reciprocity.


Second, the Igbo world is a dynamic world which demands that cosmological balance be maintained at all times to sustain the social structure. When this balance is threatened by evil men, women or evil spirits, the cause must be ascertained through divination and the appropriate ritual remedy must be put in place to restore the cosmological balance. Every imbalance has its appropriate ritual remedy.


Third, the Igbo world is conceived in market terms. It is a "market place" involving a bargaining strategy but guaranteeing only "equality of opportunity" but not "equality of outcome". Individuals as a party and the spirits as another, are subjected to this bargaining process. The socially deprived individual is not denied alternative opportunities to demonstrate his talents and abilities. He can still negotiate a more rewarding social status for himself during the next cycle of reincarnation through the institution of ebibi. Misfortune in this world can only be a temporary setback since ebibi and reincarnation promise a better chance in the next cycle of life.


Fourth, in a world of status instability, status seeking in Igbo society is cyclical and therefore a never-ending quest. Every elder tries to live a transparent life to guarantee for himself a place of honour among the ancestors. The elder "confesses" his transgressions every morning as he breaks the morning kola-nut and does not spare those who wish him and his ezi na ulo any evil. On the other hand, the ancestors try to bring prosperity to the living lineage because they have a vested interest in reincarnating into it. To die young in Igbo society’ is to die unfulfilled and for the ezi na ulo an unbroken series of such deaths is a corporate disaster.


Fifth, "in a world where life processes are delicately balanced and where individuals enjoy a wide latitude in manipulating human relationships, it is necessary for individuals to live a transparent life". To live a secret life from ezi na ulo, from the kin and social groups, is to court the charge of sorcery or other anti-social activities, personality traits that spell disorder in Igbo communities. The Igbo say that "a country is spoilt by man, not by gods" implying that a community is as good as its citizens.


Sixth, although the Igbo seek explanations for social disasters through the medium of divination, they know from life experiences that their society is not "spoiled" by the spirits but by evil doers in society. They therefore impose a strict code of conduct with penalty for infraction that may stretch into many generations. In Igbo worldview, accountability enjoys no time limit or benefit of doubt. The individual is held accountable for his wrongs, moral and otherwise, and he faces retribution in this life if he can be detected or in any number of his cycles of reincarnations. It is not uncommon for divination to hold a wrong doer accountable for wrongs committed in his third or fourth reincarnation, as long as the living memories could recollect the event. The only redeeming feature is that ritual remedies are available.


Seventh, the Igbo live in a world of constant change and are socialized to adapt to it where possible or take a courageous exit by suicide where society or the forces do not permit individual dignity. The ethnographic history of Igbo slaves in the various parts of the New World makes the point. In Haiti, for instance, Melville J. Herskovits, my teacher, who ruled and reigned as the Dean of African Studies in the United States for nearly fifty years and whose seminal research in West Africa and the Black World in the Americas is widely acknowledged, reported of:


Igbo tendency of despondency, noted in many p arts of the New World, and a tradition of suicide as a way out of difficulties has been remarked, as, for example, in Haiti where the old saying "Ibos pend cor a yo" -- "the lbo hang themselves" is still current (Herskovits 1941:36).


This Igbo trait of achieving freedom, liberty and human dignity through suicide, to escape the inhuman slavery conditions that prevailed in the Americas, was confirmed by my doctoral students who worked in South Carolina, United States, in 1970s. Paradoxically, the suicide of these Igbo freedom lovers in pursuit of liberty, earned their descendants in the New World "family respect". Their action was based on the logic that the time difference between death and birth was no more than nine months, the period it takes a pregnancy to come to term.


Igbo Social Structure


It is easier to make statements about social structure than to define it. Let me take you back to village, any Igbo community, for glimpses of cultural statements we make on our social structure. When a guest visits an Igbo household, there is a compulsive necessity to serve him with kola nuts. The presentation of kolanut, that ubiquitous symbol of Igbo hospitality, follows a "path" which helps the Igbo to reinforce their "model" of social structure. The presentation of kola may follow any one of the following principles depending on the commensal group: it may follow the principle of genealogical distance, the social distance, social differentiation; and of course, status structure (Uchendu, 1964:47-50). If the guests are drawn from different Igbo communities, an expanded "model" is invented to accommodate the new situation. When a child is born, the umbilical cord must be buried and this ritual may require the presentation of an economic plant or a symbolic gift. When a young child brings home his or her first calabash or pot of water, he or she is directed to present it to the most senior woman having a close genealogical of affinal relationship to the child's father or mother. This creates a new bond of reciprocity between the two. When a child dies in the village, there are immediate, uncontrolled bursts of wailing as opposed to the rigid discipline that fosters "business as usual" when an elder dies. The dignity and the status of the dead elder and the prestige of his living relatives demand that the elder's death must not be formally announced until there is due consultation with all interested parties, and even then, there is a compelling necessity to assemble critical items for the "first burial rites" before any formal announcement is made. A premature wailing would be totally irresponsible in the circumstance. These random samples of behaviors are among many that are distinctively Igbo, although the behaviors are neither limited to Igbo society nor universal in all Igbo villages and communities. They have been selected to illustrate the proposition that we need not have precise knowledge of our social structure to make cultural statements about it. In a literal sense, social structure can be regarded as the "building block" of society. But social structure is not a concrete phenomenon. It is a statement of principles embodied in objective reality. One of those realities is ezi na ulo.


Ezi na ulo: Founding a new homestead in Igbo society is always a political act, an assertion of independence from a parental homestead. Expanding an existing homestead is an indication of prosperity and harmony in the domestic domain; but abandoning a homestead in a hurry is always a response to crisis of monumental proportions - crises of death, particularly of the young, that defy ritual prescriptions and remedies or man-provoked disasters like murder or homicide which leave the members of the homestead no option but to seek security in flight.


Ezi n'ulo is more than a homestead. It is a cultural phenomenon of great complexity. A basic spacial unit in Igbo social organization, analytically ezi precedes ulo in structural time, but ezi loses its functional integrity once ulo disintegrates. It is the peace of ezi that brings prosperity to ezi n'ulo and poverty that leads to its fusion. Ezi n'ulo should not be confused with ezi na ulo. Although in structural time, ezi precedes ulo, both protect ezi n'ulo. In cultural terms ezi na ulo constitute a unity. You cannot meaningfully think of the one without thinking of the other. In structural analysis ezi na ulo are polar concepts but they are also complementary. Their complementarity lies in the fact that it is the social life in the ulo that activates the cultural life of the ezi, the achievements of the ulo that are celebrated in ezi and vice-versa.


Ezi is a complex word, used in a primary or literal sense and also in its secondary, idiomatic sense. I recall a short discourse between Ogbonna, my father's eldest brother (FB), and his wife, Ikodiya (FBW) during my "period of innocence", to use Prof. Adiele Afigbo's (1981) term. I was stroking a fire for my father's brother as he dried some tobacco leaves in our ezi, preparatory to grinding it into powder. He called out in a loud voice to Ikodiya, who was in her kitchen, and asked her to bring him a drink of water. Ikodiya replied: Dim, a nom na ezi wo: As a child I understood the primary meaning ezi, a courtyard but did not worry about the apparent contradiction in Da-Ikodiya's assertion that she was in ezi when in fact she was in her usokwu (kitchen). Like a "good child", who enjoys the company of elders as long as he minds his own business, I asked for no explanation and none was expected of me in the circumstance. My father's brother understood his wife. I thought that I did; but as it turned out, I did not. This is a communication environment in which what Paul Bohannan (1964:11) describes as "the principle of the working misunderstanding" occurs. Bohannan was characterizing communication in a colonial situation but the communication between mp father's brother and his wife assumed a "cultural", not a colonial environment. My presence introduced a "generational gap” which made the use of an idiomatic expression necessary. Nwa Disi and Lamoji Ugoji, in their very highly successful TV situation comedy, called Icheku, dramatically and effectively illustrated the "principle of working misunderstanding" in a colonial communication. My case was one of incremental enculturation. It was much later, and under different circumstances, that I learned what the Igbo mean when they say - na nwanyi no na ezi. More than two hundred years ago, Olaudah Ekwuanu, a young Igbo caught in the net of the trans-atlantic slavery and who was able to work himself into freedom and wrote about it, recorded this experience about ino na ezi nwanyi:


Every woman, at certain times, was forbidden to come into a dwelling house or touch any person or anything we ate. I was so fond of my mother I could not keep from her or avoid touching her at some of those periods, in consequence of which I was obliged to be kept out with her in a little house made for that purpose till offering was made and then we were purified (Olaudah Equiano (First Published 1789):1967:12).


Ino na ezi nwanyi is a perfectly natural and indispensable process in the perpetuation of a race. It is a symbol of womanhood; and it is in symbols that cultural meanings are stored. In Igbo worldview, this symbol of life, which they term ino na nso is at the same time a threat not only to social and ritual status, but to life itself. It is pollution and a danger; and lies at the heart of the gender patterning which paradoxically limits the opportunities open to women in a society that claims to be equalitarian in ideology.


Ezi is not just a "purifying shrine" for the menstruating woman, it is also a social theatre where cultural events are enacted and celebrated. The moonlight plays, folk entertainments, marriages, births and funerals are staged at the ezi. In many parts of Igboland, ezi serves as the "official" burial ground" for the elder as the ulo is the "grave yard" for the male home owner. These cultural events and activities create a deep seated historical sensitivity which strengthens the emotional attachment and interest of the Igbo individual in his ezi na ulo as well as in his okpulo (former homestead).


While ezi and ulo are culturally complementary, ezi and ama are structurally opposed but functionally interactive. Ama is the path to ezi and it does not discriminate between the "good and the evil” which it carries to the ezi. It is therefore compelled to limit "evil traffic" at the onu obu by ritual fortifications. Simon Ottenberg (1968), the American ethnographer on Afikpo, describes in his provocative essay, "Statement and Reality...”, the role which protective shrines, egbo, located above the compound entrance, plays in guarding against evil entering ezi. The antagonism between ezi and ama is further demonstrated by the fact that the path used during the construction of a compound (ezi) is usually abandoned and a new path (ama) would be constructed, with a protective shrine in place, therefore the new compound could be occupied by its residents. Ezi n'ulo is not just a bundle of material cultural traits; it is a people -- people united by a bond of kin network and interlocking functions and reciprocities. We term this network of people ezi n'ulo, an extended family.


The Extended Family: To create order out of many competing social facts and to understand at least part of the diverse cultural forces that shape human behavior, social science teaches us to examine the complicated facts from a particular point of view and to assume, implicitly or explicitly, that "other things are equal". We can easily see that "other things" are never equal, even in a shared cultural environment. But the alternatives are to assume the impossible task of covering all the variables or give up the effort.


All societies, no matter the level of their technological, industrial or socio-cultural achievements, have the same genealogical capacity to construct and maintain an extended family. Many do; a few don't; and some of those which developed an extended family network have reversed it because of the hostility of their changing environment. The common element in all types of extended family systems is marriage; and without marriage, there would be no genealogy. Marriage creates four kinship matrices: husband-father, wife-mother, brother-brother and 'sister-sister, which are repackaged into eight basic kinship syndromes: husband-wife, father-son, mother son, mother-daughter, father-daughter, sister-sister, brother-brother and brother-sister. No society can claim more or less of these basic structures but each society decides how much importance to attach to each of them. The basic structure that is attached the most importance gives a focus and direction to a particular culture. For instance, the father-son and the brother-sister emphases provide these directions in the two contrasting Igbo kinship structures.


The Concept of the Extended Family: What is an extended family? Permit me to answer from a previous work (Uchendu, 1971:183-85). The classic conception of the extended family is a kinship unit with four major characteristics: a unit marked by geographic propinquity, of occupational integration, strict authority of the presiding elder or patriarch over the component nuclear families and stress on extended rather than nuclear family relations. Operationally, we may define the extended family as a social system lacking a fixed number of specifiable positions (e.g. husband/father, wife-mother, etc.), but consisting of two or more familiar positions of which one or more resulting dyads is not a nuclear dyad. Implicit in our notion of the extended family as a social system is the fact that it is marked by persistent- patterns of social relationship which prevail from generation to generation; and that as an on-going social unit, it commands certain resources (facilities and a territorial base) and certain integrative mechanisms and sanctions such as norms, power, status and prestige which facilitate the attainment of its objectives.


Theoretically, the extended family concept may concept at least four different notions. First, it may be used as an ideal type construct, in the Weberian sense, in formulating family theory. In this sense, the extended family represents the polar limit of the nuclear or conjugal family system. Characteristics which are associated with the ideal type extended family system sharpen the contrasts which exist between it and the nuclear family. Second, the extended family may be viewed as the ideal family culture with a varying range of value characteristics and ideological patterns exhibited by societies in which this institution is a cherished value. The extended family ideal is shared world-wide by most cultures, and in the traditional prestige system, it is the ideal that motivated the aspiring individual to accumulate wealth and use it to build up "social 'power”. Third, we can view the extended family as a cultural goal realized in a social system. The distinction that anthropologists make between the "real culture" and the "ideal culture" might be conceptually useful here. The ideal of the extended family is not attained by every aspirant. The degree to which aspirants achieve an extended family status which their fellow culture bearers would recognize as "legitimate", or "proper", is a measure of the existence of the extended family system in action. Finally, there is-the extended family which can be viewed as a structural construct – a structure with several central variables. Theoretically, the extension of kin boundaries is potentially limitless. The structural aspect of the extended family is the most flexible quality of the system. What sets the boundary is not geography but social frame of reference. Depending on this social frame of reference, African societies like the Nuer and the Tiv – to cite classic ethonographic examples – have no problem claiming to be members of the same extended family. However, the amount of resources available to the extended family, the technological level of the total social system of which it is a part, are two important factors which shape the organizational form of the extended family, its corporate quality, the degree of interaction among the membership and its general viability during the industrialising and post industrial periods of development.


The central feature of the extended family is its structural extension. From this, a number of attributes which characterize the ideal system, and which are the synthesis of our four-fold view of the extended family may be deduced (Goode, 1963:237-255):


1. The extended family includes a wide range of affinal and blood relatives. Some of the relatives are immediate and interact in the day to day affairs of the extended family; others are remote and are articulated by family crises. Some are attracted by the improved fortunes of the system, and in contemporary Africa their presence may give rise to the social phenomenon called parasitism; others may be motivated by the opportunity to acquire technical skills or get a job.


2. In the African situation, while the husband/wife relation is gaining in importance, it is seldom the hub of the system. The father/son or mother’s brother/sister's son relationships are the traditional emphases in Igbo sub-cultures with consequences for the radical adjustment of the nuclear families in the system which face conflicting loyalties.


3. By definition, members of the extended family have many rights with respect to one another, and at any given time these reciprocal rights may be active or dormant.


4. Following from the reciprocal rights are the moral sanctions and control over one another.


5. Ideally, the interests of the extended family affect the behavior of the nuclear components in the system. For instance, fertility and residence are influenced by kin consideration. In an industrial system this raises questions about labour mobility and appropriate family size.


6. In the Umunna belt of Igbo sub-culture, the value attached to lineal continuity creates the need for androcentric culture and tends to perpetuate widow inheritance and plural marriages.


In a summary of the relevant literature on the extended family, Gelia Castillo et al (1968:1-40) isolates the following ten elements which in their view characterize the extended family:


1. In an extended family, relatives other than husband, wife and unmarried children share residence or live adjacent to the nuclear family.


2. There is a pooling or sharing or joint ownership of resources which is usually formalized or legally recognized and these resources normally include symbolic estates, that is, the inheritance of rights in relatives.


3. Recognition of kin relations either of a lineal or. of a collateral character but usually of both.


4. Recognition of common responsibilities.


5. Allegiance to a common ancestor and pts worship.


6. Reciprocal assistance pattern.


7. Joint economic activities either on production or consumption or both.


8. Maintenance of expressive relations among extended family members through visits and support at crisis periods.


9. The use of the extended family as a reference group in decision-making.


10. Authoritarian control over relationships and decision- making by the elder who has command over the corporate resources and his house, the centre for all formal activities, both ritual and social. This list is far from exhaustive and I have added to it in a subsequent publication (Shimkin and Uchendu, 1978:393-94).


The Extended Family Universe: Kinship systems manifest themselves in many areas of social life. They are involved in domestic activities such as cooking and eating; in sexual activities like sleeping and copulating; in the transmission of knowledge, values, status and property from one generation to another; in the terms of address we use; and in how we perpetuate the memory of the dead and of our heroes. Claude Levi-Strauss (1963:46-75) stresses that all kinship systems are built up out of a single "universe", a single type of what he calls "elementary structure". He identifies this structure as consisting of a woman, her brother, her husband and their son. His thesis that "exchange is the universal form of marriage" can be shared by all Igbo elders. Because of the universally recognized prohibition of incest, a woman cannot find a husband within her family of orientation. She and her brother have to seek spouses outside this family group. This fact places the destinies of women in marriage in the control of men. The consequences are many, and one of them is the creation of a diverse extended family universe, each a corporate group with important role in allocating and guarding the family symbolic estate, that is, the wealth in their women, who may be daughters or sisters.


In his study of "The kinship terminology of Ezinihitte Mbaise, Edwin Ardener (1954:85-99) provides a chart from which we recreate Igbo extended family universe. (Figure I)



Ideally, Igbo extended family universe consists of three ascendant and three descendant generations from EGO. Very few Igbo live long enough to be personally acquainted with members of all these three categories, but as corporate groups, they exist and can be activated when such important events as title-taking, the burial of elders or other major life crises occur. In a patrilineal system, the durability of the ties with EGO's father's lineage is easy, EGO being a member; that of mother's and mother's patrikin is less difficult than that of father's and father's patrikin because the functional linkages with the former have greater emotional content than the latter. The durability of kin ties is reversed for EGO in a double descent system.


Each generation of the extended family can be grouped into a number of clusters or categories.


Cluster I: This consists of EGO, the parents, siblings and children.


Cluster II: It consists of EGO’s father's wife or wives, their children and children's children.


Cluster III: This is located in the ascendant generation and consists of EGO's mother's siblings, their children who belong to EGO’s generation and EGO's mother‘s and father’s father.


Cluster IV: This consists of a category of relations with whom EGO might not have much contact with. But a successful Igbo is "found" by his remote relatives. This category of relations consists of EGO’s father's wives mothers and fathers as well as EGO's mother’s, mother's father and mother.


Cluster V: This consists of the in-law group of relations for whom Ogo is a reciprocal term of address, no matter the generation. EGO's daughters create this relationship, which is further strengthened by EGO's grand children who in the status of Okene or Okene ukwu, depending on the generation, are treated with privileged consideration and indulgence.


In summary, we may picture the Igbo extended family as an onion with many layers. Igbo individuals peel as many layers of the bulb as their social status since kinship is a reciprocal relationship, individual tends to reactivate dormant relations.


Social Structure: Concrete Reality or Body of Rules? We have presented ezi n'ulo as a concrete reality from which structural rules can be inferred. In social anthropology, the meaning of social structure is still debated. In the development of social structure as a technical concept, the effort is in many ways linked with Radcliffe-Brown (1959:190-91), who used social structure to "denote the network of actually existing relations". As to the content of social structure, he emphasized two elements, dyadic relations and social differentiation as critical. The dyadic relations would refer to what Levi-Strauss described as "elementary structures", such as father-child or mother's brother and sister's son relationship. Social differentiation or stratification refers to the social roles attributed to individuals and classes or social categories.


Radcliffe-Brown did not resolve all our conceptual problems, still various writers on social structure start off by paying him an intellectual obeisance. Nadel's treatise on the subject is a case in point. It is based on the assertion that "...in anthropology, the very concept of social structure is still in a sense on trial". He found the prevailing definitions of social structure by Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes, Eggan, Evans-Pritchard, Leach, Levi-Strauss, and others rather unsatisfactory (Nadel, 1956:2, 5). He defines social structure as "...the pattern or network of relationships obtaining between actors in their capacity of playing roles relative to one another" (Nadel, 1956:12). He takes issue with both Levi-Strauss and Leach for viewing social structure as a "model" that has no empirical reality. His statement on this could not be more forthright:


I am not prepared to dismiss empirical reality so completely from the positional picture we call social structure. I consider social structure to be still the social reality itself or an aspect of it, not the logic behind it (Nadel, 1956:150).


Levi-Strauss's contribution to our expanding concept of social structure is widely acclaimed. I call attention to the distinction he made between social structure and social relations, two terms that were often fused and confused. He sees social relations as consisting of “…the raw materials out of which the models making up the social structure are built, while social structure can, by no means, be reduced to the ensemble of the social relations to be described in a given society” (Levi Strauss, 1967:271). His view that "every culture has its own theoreticians whose models of social structure deserve the same attention as that which the anthropologist gives to his colleague" will command the respect of Igbo elders (Levi Strauss, 1967:274). In Levi-Strauss's view, structure is a systemic property and social structure refers solely to those aspects of the social system chat have demonstrably systemic properties. He posits the following as the four elements of a structural model:


(a) a structure is made up of several elements, none of which can undergo a change without affecting changes in all the elements.


(b) it should be possible to subject a model to a series of transformations (both synchronic and diachronic) without changing its fundamental character.


(c) the properties (of a system and transformation) make it possible to predict how the model will react if one or more of its elements are submitted to certain modifications.


(d) the model should be so constituted that it makes all the observed facts immediately intelligible (Levi Strauss, 1967:271).


Raymond Firth had also been helpful. He argued that the use of social organization as synonym for social structure, a practice too common in ethnography of his day, is most unacceptable. He points out:


The more one thinks of the structure of a society in abstract terms, as of group relations or of ideal patterns, the more necessary it is to think separately of social organization in terms of concrete activity...social organization implies some degree of unification, a putting together of diverse elements into common relation…people getting things done by planned action (Firth, 1963:35-36).


Each of the subsystems of Igbo society, such as kinship the polity, the economy, religion, warfare, law and medicine has its appropriate organization. A social organization means more than a collective action drawing from organization theory, Firth identifies four important elements or principles involved in social organization: the coordination of individual efforts, a matter that calls for leadership, foresight, which calls attention to planning and prudent management of available resources; responsibility which has two elements, assumption of responsibility by the ultimate decision-maker and an assignment of responsibility among those individuals who help to realize the organizational goals; and a reward system that may take various forms (Firth, 1963:75-78).


If conceptual clarification and rigour in the terms needed for the analysis of social structure are among our intellectual debts to Radcliffe-Brown, Levi-Strauss and Firth, we must turn to M.G. Smith for a theory of social structure which seems to do justice to the complex social system in Igboland.


Defining Characteristics of Igbo Social Organization: Iqbo society is complex and as far as current scholarship stows, this social complexity is not a recent development Students who approached Igbo society from the perspective of its decentralized political structure had tended to misrepresent Igbo social system and had actually denied its complexity. In a provocative essay, "The Comparative Study of Complex Societies", M.G. Smith (1975) suggests a list of twelve characteristics which, in his opinion, are common to complex societies. The Igbo society ranks high when scored on this measure, and depending on the frame of reference, some Igbo communities rank higher on this measure than others. Of the list of complexity suggested by Smith, only the criterion of "some traditions of literacy" was lacking, if we exclude Nsibidi and the Okonko signs (akara ala) as symbols of literacy. In Smith's (1975:249) view, a complex society tends to have or incorporate:


1. Sufficient levels of structural differentiation. All the Igbo communities "ensure differences in the distribution of differentiated roles" among their adult men and women on the one hand and between them and children, on the other hand.


2. Some nucleated settlements with relatively large and heterogeneous populations. Studies of riverine city states of Abo, Oguta, Osomari and Onitsha by Nzimiro (1972), Henderson (1972) on Onitsha, Ottenberg (1971) on Afikpo and Onwuejeogwu (1981) on the Nri suggest a nucleated form of settlement pattern. R.I. Udo (1965) has suggested that the dispersed settlement pattern characteristic of a large proportion of Igbo communities today represents a "disintegration" of a formerly nucleated settlement pattern.


3. The institutionalization of production for exchange. Igbo traditional economies, based on cultivation and fishing, incorporated specialist craftsmen and women who formed trade guilds in some communities. The principle of reciprocity dominated the domestic and kinship spheres of the economy; that of redistribution characterized extra domestic relations and particularly relationship with the political structures; and the exchange principle was characteristic of the extra-territorial market places, fairs, and other market institutions. The overall objectives of the Igbo "prestige economy" is to convert tangible, productive assets into intangible, status, and prestige symbols (Uchendu, 1965:92-3),


4. Forms and degrees of social stratification that differentiate the life-chance of individuals and social categories within the society. It is our argument that the Igbo "conscious" model for their social stratification has led some scholars into the mistaken belief that Igbo social structure is homogeneous. The status distinctions that the Igbo make between Diala or Amadi and Ohu (oru) and within the Diala category, the differentiation between Nze (Eze), and Oke Okporo, are not empty terminological distinctions but rather stratification terms that differentiate significant life chances of individuals and social groups


5. Differential distribution of opportunities for spatial and social mobility. The Igbo are best described in the words of LeVine (1966:3) as "pragmatic frontiersmen with a persistent history of migration, settlement and resettlement of new lands". Prof. Adiele Afigbo (198i) gives us tantalizing glimpses of this phenomenon in his Ropes of Sand. This distribution of Igbo in all parts of Nigeria reaffirms this tradition in a modern setting. The Igbo encourage migration and travels. The proverb, Onye ije ka onye ishi awo ama ihe (the traveller is more knowledgeable of the world than the stay-at-home elder) makes the point. They also remind the migrant of his risks, Onye ije na eri abirika ocha (the traveller may claim no more for a meal than a ripened banana). Migration is a selective process, and not all Igbo communities have a reputation for this mode of adjustment. Today, education and economic opportunities are central vehicles of social and geographical mobility. In the traditional past, such factors as one's position in the status structure and the amount of land a people have at their disposal were the significant factors in the decision to migrate.


6. Relatively clear separation of the private and public domains of social life. The corporate character of Igbo social system makes a clear distinction between the familial or private domain and the collective or public domain. Leaders are made accountable for public property which they hold as a sacred trust. Igbo lineage members make a distinction between interests that are personal, sub-lineal or familial and interests of the whole lineage. These distinctions are further symbolized by the types of ofo held. The family ofo and the lineage ofo, to which, in some communities, specific farm Hands are attached, institutionalize the difference between private and public affairs. The current trend in our political life where some leaders convert public property into personal property is not an Igbo heritage.


7. The allocation of an increasing number of public roles on criteria other than sex and age.  Igbo society stresses achievement -- both individual and group achievement -- and in constructing their social institutions, they try to maintain a delicate balance between the need to retain the wisdom of the elders and the demand for technical and professional knowledge of energetic and enterprising young men so as to achieve efficiency and economy in public administration. The greatest failure of Igbo stratification system is the few opportunities it offers to women before they attain menopause.


8. A significant number of impersonal and instrumental forms of social relations Igbo society possesses and applies, in varying degrees, among its public, complex and universalistic bases of social order. Some of these are personal and others impersonal, and still the most successful were institutional. Simon Ottenberg (1958:295-317) shows in a comparative analysis of Igbo oracles how the Ibini Okpabe of Aro Chukwu, Agbala of Awka, Igwe-ka Ala of Umuneoha, Amadioha Ozuzu of Ikwerre, each in its sphere of suzerainty, combined to provide pan Igbo contacts and political protection.


9. Significant areas of social relations and activities formally open to individual choice and initiative. Practically, most areas of Igbo social life were open to those who enjoyed the Diala or Amadi status. But the most important single failure in Igbo social structure was the osu system, a form of ritual slavery that is sometimes wrongly described as a caste system. Traditionally, the osu belonged to a special, low status group and played only a restricted ritual role for the dominant group. Social discrimination against the osu was almost total and contradicted the princip1es of equality on which Igbo culture was constructed.


10. Diversity in the forms and units of social grouping. Great civilizations accommodate contradictions. Igbo society is well known for the diversity of its social arrangements and groupings. It compensated for its organizational diversity by utilizing a limited budget of structural principles for their articulation and integration.


11. An increasing number of alternative forms of secondary groups in which communications are mediated through some intervening link or set of links. Igba Ndu (literally means joining lives together) is an institution that creates "blood brotherhood" among the Igbo and is designed to "build trust" among enemy lines, and establish secondary group communications and social links in Igbo society.


Igbo Society as a Corporation: The corporate descent group is one concrete structural arrangement that is characteristic of all Igbo Communities, irrespective of their other organizational forms and levels of complexity. Of the four varieties of descent system known to anthropology, two have been reported in Igbo society: the patrilineal and the double descent systems. It is the corporate character rather than the linearity of these descent groups that must be emphasized in a comparative sociology of Igbo descent system. The corporate descent structures, irrespective of their directional emphasis, contain micro-structures. They also aggregate themselves into larger structural forms that may be identified as intermediate structures and macro-structures. By micro-structures we mean primary group relations such as families, peer groups, work-groups and various interpersonal dyads. The intermediate structures include neighborhoods and social categories like age sets, title associations, etc. Macro-structures represent the widest units of collective action and they constitute the polity. By invoking an accepted charter, macro-structures can and do lay claims to the widest use of resources and regulatory powers. They also give assurance of continuity as micro-structures and intermediate structures are more subject to fission and fusion than macro structures.


Following Henry Maine (1905) we call these structures corporations. Corporations are boundary maintaining units, "perjuring units", which regulate interactions and activities in Igbo communities. They provide the Igbo with a framework for formal organizations. Maine thought of corporations in terms of the ownership and transmission of property. He distinguished two classes of corporations -- the Corporations Appregate which requires several members and the Corporations Sole, which can only have one member at a time. The Igbo lineage would be a good example of a Corporation Aggregate.


Corporations are names groups. They are capable of taking group action, which implies an acceptance of group responsibility. They presume or assume indefinite life, have precise rules of recruiting membership, and maintain social boundaries. Corporations of either type -- Corporations Aggregate and Corporations Sole -- integrate and articulate a complex of differentiated roles. Because of their organizational autonomy, corporations are relatively free in prescribing distinctive forms of social and economic relations that govern in-group and out-group behavior among their members. "Most emphasize some set of functions or interests as primary, though few pursue these exclusively. All exploit some collective resources or privileges and rely on collective criteria for the recruitment of members, while most possess directorates to administer their affairs by procedures regarded as effective and appropriate" (Smith, 1975:248).


Smith (1975) has advanced our thinking on corporations in three ways. His notion of society as corporations furthers our understanding of social structure in a way that few other theoretical models have done. He has elaborated on the conceptual distinctions made by Maine, showing the utility of these distinctions in sociological analysis. His exposition on the various modes of incorporation utilized by corporations is seminal. Smith accepts Maine’s distinctions between Corporations Aggregate and Corporations Sole but, however, subdivides Corporations Aggregate into two major types: Corporate Categories and Corporate Groups.  Corporate Categories have open membership, lack exclusive affairs, and allow mobility in membership. A college of chiefs or priests in an Igbo community may be cited as examples; so also are statuses of dibia (diviner, priest), ohu, osu (slave, ritual slave), uke, ogbo (age sets) examples of corporate categories. On the other hand, Corporate Groups have an organizational capacity and most of the characteristics of corporations. They have common but exclusive affairs, the capacity for collective action, and sufficient autonomy to regulate their affairs. A namea lineage like Umueke is a corporate group. Within the corporate group are embedded social units or status structures like the college of Amala or commissions such as Ndi-Iwu, or the okonko.


The mode of achieving membership in the corporations may be universalistic, consociational, or differential. Lineage membership is categorical. As the individual lineage member expands his interactions from the micro-structural unit to the mico-structural level, he correspondingly assumes multiple membership in units of varying scope, type and levels. As he acquires wealth and begins to convert it into respected status symbols that confer prestige, his membership in corporate categories, colleges, and commission is accepted. In this sense, most Igbo villagers enjoy consociational mode of incorporation; and members of a village group, city-state, or kingdom enjoy universalistic mode of incorporation. On the other hand, the osu and ohu by reason of their categorical statuses, are differentially incorporated. They are in Igbo society but not of it. Nzimiro found differential incorporation a major principle of political organization in the state of Osomari. He writes, "The three…dominant migrant (ruling groups in Osomari) each...has incorporated two other groups, namely an autochthonous and a servile group...the three servile ebo are responsible for the internal government of their respective ebo but have no political representation outside it at the divisional or state levels (Nzimiro, 1972 113-14, 78). The segmentary model which Nzimiro employed in his analysis leads him to interpret this differential incorporation as a fact of segmentarism. Our theory of corporations suggests it is a structural fact of domination. When domination in a traditional macro-structure occurs in the context of a new corporation, the traditional structure tends to accommodate new servile members through differential incorporation.


The Institutional Patterns in Igbo Society: We started with a view of social structure as a model for understanding social relationships. Since we cannot directly observe social structure, the pattern of Igbo society must be sought in its social interaction, in its concrete spatial dimension. The locus is ezi na ulo.


Studies of Igbo social structure remain rather uneven, although statements on aspects of Igbo social structure abound (DeLancey, 1967, 1972). Igbo political culture and structure has received most attention. The pioneer efforts by Meek (1937), has been followed by Nzimiro (1972), Henderson (1972), Afigbo (1972) and Ottenberg (1971). Important monographs on aspects of Igbo social organization include the ethnography of Umueke by Green (1964), Afikpo by Ottenberg (1968), of Igbo-Igala Borderland by Shelton (1971), and Ohafia by Nsugbe (1974). General ethnological studies of the Igbo remain few indeed: Forde and Jones (1950), Uchendu (1965). In general, our knowledge of Igbo communities that emphasize patrilineal descent is good. We still badly need a solid ethnographic statement on the Western Igbo communities. Generalizations about the Cross River basin Igbo communities are still limited, the ethnographic contributions by Ottenberg and Nsugbe notwithstanding.


With available ethnographic data, we are able to delineate Igbo pattern of social organization as well as the structural principles that govern them. Forde and Jones (1950) pioneered this effort. They divided Igbo society into the following five "cultural" provinces or divisions: Northern or Onitsha Igbo, Southern or Owerri Igbo, Western Igbo, Eastern or Cross River Igbo, and North Eastern Igbo. Their approach was to isolate diagnostic cultural traits for the major sub-divisions in each "cultural" province. The weakness of this method, as is the culture area hypothesis that inspired the approach, is that we are never certain what traits or combination of traits determine the boundaries of the cultural province. For instance, in the Northern Igbo cultural province, which includes the subdivisions of Nri-Awka, Elugu and Onitsha Town, there are two major traditions of origin: the Igala origin, claimed by Elugu and Nri and the Benin origin, claimed by Onitsha. It is not clear why other Niger city-states, which have similar political and cultural traits as Onitsha were excluded. The priestly cult was the specialty in Nri; and Awka people were known for their blacksmith guild. It is the absence of the practice of clitoridectomy in Onitsha, and the replacement of the Ozo title by the Ama title in Elugu that tended to set them culturally apart.


If the Northern Igbo cultural groups are known for their kings and an elaborate hierarchy of ozo system, it is the importance of the okonko institution that distinguishes the Southern Igbo from them. Each of the four cultural divisions in Southern Igbo has its distinct cultural trait: the Oratta are known for their Mbari houses; the Ngwa for their double-climbing ropes. Here again, the negative traits raise questions about the cultural unity of the divisions. Isu-ikwu-ato is unusual in not having the ofo system, a universal symbol of ritual and political authority in the area. Although the osu system is highly institutionalized in the culture area, its reported absence in many Ohuhu-Ngwa-Umuahia areas shows the linkage between the institution of the powerful oracles in southern Igboland and the institution of the osu system.


In political structure the Western Igbo have a mixed tradition of Obiship and Okpara uku or Di-Okpa, the former distinctive of the Northern Ika group and the latter of the Southern Ika. The Oru, who are identified by Forde and Jones (1950) as a Riverain Ibo, are a mixed group. They have an elaborate title system and live in compact settlements, as do other Niger city-states, and unlike some of them, have a hereditary obaship. In the Eastern Igbo (Cross River basin), are grouped the Ada, Abam-Ohaffia and the Aro. Forde and Jones (1950:52-53) inform us that:


Among the Ada and Abam land rights pass matrilineally…these groups are generally distinguished by the importance attached to head-hunting…by 'secret societies' of the Cross River type (e g. Okonko)…Ritual staves of lineage headship (ofo), Ikenga and other typical Ibo religious deities and symbols are absent. Cult slaves osu are absent…


It is not clear why the Aro, who are strongly patrilineal, are grouped together with the matrilineally dominant Ada and Abam-Ohaffia groups.


The North-Eastern Igbo (Ogu uku) are a most heterogeneous group. Forde and Jones (1950:57) isolated eight village groups and five "tribal" units in this culture area. A region known for its large yam-heaps and unusually large circular blade hoes (hence the name Ogu uku), the North-Eastern Igbo region has been characterized as "...singularly free from the fear of witchcraft. The 'horse title'…is found as a sole title among them other than the Isis" (Forde and Jones, 1950:59). The osu system is not recognized in this area (Jones, 1949:156).


This brief survey shows that the distribution of cultural traits in Igbo society does not tell us very much about the pattern of social structure. For a full understanding of our problem, we must not ignore the way the individual Igbo thinks of his society and its structural arrangements.


          Models of Igbo Social Structure: In the analysis of social structure, contemporary anthropology is integrating the "analytical model" or "outsider's" point of view with the "folk model" or the "insider's" point of view -- the view of the culture-bearer. Borrowing from linguistic theory, the two points of view have been termed the etic and the emic orientations. Etic, from phonetic, signifies a scientific statement or principle that can be verified by any trained observer. An emic point of view, on the other hand, is one from within a particular culture -- the view of an insider developed from the conceptual categories of his culture. Both the etic and the emic orientations must be regarded as complementary rather than in opposition. What are the Igbo emic orientations of their social structure?


The Emic Model of Igbo Social Structure: The traditional Igbo social structure is a status structure rather than a class structure. Ours is still a "culture that permits a child who washes his hands clean to dine with his elders". Viewed from the emic perspective, Igbo social structure is rooted in a common equalitarian ideology. This ideology is expressed by the corporate groups through the principle of lineage equality and by individuals through a process we may term "social conversion", a mechanism by which individuals and corporate groups transform their wealth into highly valued prestige symbols. The distribution of social advantage and the differentiation of life styles in our society are the functions of the individual's willingness to engage in competitive "social conversion".


The Igbo world is based on an equalitarian principle. Equality or near equality among lineages was a structural obstacle to the development of an authoritarian political culture within our various polities. It gives individuals of Diala status an equal opportunity to achieve political office. It has fostered a highly competitive society with a political culture that is conciliar and democratic. This pattern of political culture is principally rooted in the pattern of kinship and family structure; in the absence of literacy, and in the principle of social conversion for all status seekers. With all the variations in content, Igbo kinship rests upon the principle of exogamous unilineal descent groups. Except in the highly localized "slave communities" in Nike, exogamy produced a set of affinal ties that inhibited sub-cultural differentiation among descent groups. A second factor inhibiting rigid political and cultural stratification was the absence of literacy in the society. Fallers (1961:108-110) has argued that these two factors had inhibited social structural differentiation in tropical Africa. Probably central to the Igbo is what we have characterized as "social conversion", a principle that makes social status an unstable affair that requires constant revalidation in order to retain its prestige level.


The Social Status Model: The most important status distinctions that the Igbo make are those between Diala/Amadi and non-Diala. There are also categorical distinctions between the status of free-men and that of bondage. The structural principle of duality embedded in the Diala-non-Diala distinctions divides Igbo society into two clearly defined social strata. The non-Diala is generally socially or ritually subordinate to the Diala. Everywhere in Igboland, the ritual precedence of the autochthonous groups is recognized. "One of their special roles is to provide the priest, Eze Ani, the land deity" (Nzimiro, 1972:24). As far as I know, the privilege to offer communal prayers and sacrifice at Ihu ala belongs to the Diala, often the descendants of the founding lineage or the first settlers in a multi-lineage corporation.


In spite of its clear status reference, and its pan-Igbo application, the Diala-non-Diala dichotomy is weak from the etic point of view. Each social category is in fact highly differentiated. The Igbo recognize and make further social distinctions among members of each status category depending on their political, economic, and religious achievements. A paradigm of the Igbo status structure is presented in Figure II.



Igbo status structure is dichotomous at one frame of reference and multi-layered in internal differentiation at the other frame. The dichotomy lies in the distinction between the Diala or Amadi and the non-Diala categories. The multi-layered status system falls into seven categories: kinship, political, associational, wealth and poverty, ritual and residence statuses.


Diala is a free born, full citizen, who enjoys an ascribed, generalized status which implies no particular distinction or achievement for the individual except his capacity to be called upon to enact or initiate important societal roles, normally ritual in nature. However, Diala status confers a pan Igbo citizenship in the sense that a Diala in one Igbo corporation is guaranteed the same status in other corporations. In most communities, the status of Diala is symbolized by the burial of his naval cord, preferably at the foot of an economic tree, which for most areas, is the oil palm tree. To be a Diala is to have the doors of title societies and other associations open to one. While the Diala status opens the door to social climbing, one's place in the stratification system depends on economic success and willingness to engage in "social conversion".


Non-Diala status is reserved for the oppressed and dominated groups in Igbo society. The generic term, Ohu (oru), applied to this group, is also misleading sociologically unless it is further differentiated. Ohu is a slave. As the Igbo conceived the status, a slave is a person whose links with his own corporation has been severed forever. Slaves had some rights, and their treatment varied in many Igbo communities  "Not infrequently, a slave became the companion of his master and was put in a position demanding great trustworthiness" (Basden, 1921:109). In most communities, slaves were generally absorbed into the lineage of their masters, and with this incorporation, it became tasteless to mention the fact of their origin among people who had no right to know (Uchendu, 1977).


Pawns are distinguished from slaves: In the fine status distinctions that the Igbo make between the two, "slaves and pawns are referred to by a generic term, Ohu, but pawns are often terminologically distinguished from ohu by a descriptive term – nvu nvu aku (collateral for wealth)". Pawns enjoyed special privileges and legal protection that slaves never had. They could not be re-pawned by a creditor master; their natural death did not terminate the debt obligations by their family; and since the pawn-master relationship was contractual, the pawn was usually allowed a number of days in the week to practise his own crafts or to hire out his labour to any employer, including his master.


The system of ritual slavery practiced by many central and riverain Igbo communities has been a subject of comments in both literary and academic journals. Osu is a cult-slave tied to the service of the dedicator's deity. The descendants of such a cult slave were also osu. The osu system was legally abolished by the Eastern Nigerian Government in 1956. In a few communities, the status of osu is ranked with that of ume (those who wither away), a social category that is also considered ritually polluted, and on which we have practically no ethnographic documentation. Osu and ume should have no place in any civilization.


The Kinship State Structure: The foundation of the Diala/non-Diala status structure rests on the position of an individual within the kinship system. If we define stratification as the principles which regulate the distribution of social advantages, then kinship as the network of interrelated statuses is central to the stratification processes Igbo kinship structure emphasizes male precedence, seniority by birth order irrespective of sex, sex linked roles and for most communities, agnation.


Seniority by birth order in the lineage is the normal basis for Opara and Ada statuses; and also succession to those positions. By the extension of the structural principles, the first male child in the family is Opara and the first female child is Ada. Affinal relationship creates an important status position for one's children. Every patrilineally dominant Igbo enjoys an okene (okele) status in his or her mother's lineage, a privileged position that ensures support, which may be emotional, political, or economic. In the double descent systems of Cross River basin Igbo, individuals enjoy rights rather than privileged in their ikwu nne. Ottenberg (1971:17) estimates that about 85 per cent of the farmlands in Afikpo are controlled by the matrilineal groups. This means that an upward mobile individual farmer must depend on his matrikin for a large measure of his economic success.


Our discussion seems to have ignored women. In the kinship domain, distinction is made between two categories of women: umu okpu, lineage women who may be married, unmarried, divorced or widowed and ndom or ndinyom, or okporo alu alu, who belongs to the lineage by marriage. In most communities, first wife ranks highest no matter her age or other social disabilities. In the public domain, the sex-linked roles. which clearly foster sex segregation, have a leveling effect of leaving women and men to manage their own affairs. Although practices vary, Igbo women have the freedom and the opportunity to engage in trade on their own account. Wealthy Igbo women, in their role as "social father", traditionally contracted a legal marriage with other women and enjoyed all the rights and privileges of husband, except the role of a genitor. The institution of gynaegamy, a term I coined for woman marriage (Uchendu, 1968), enables wealthy women to convert their wealth into one of the most prestigious rights of Igbo society, the exercise of rights in the reproductive powers of women. Those who confuse sex with marriage, no doubt protest this institution. But marriage is not co-terminous with sex. While marriage is associated with sex, and in fact, formally gives husband and wife mutual sexual access, which cultures may define as exclusive or not, many societies still fall short of this ideal.


The conversion Principle: We have so far considered the major ascribed statuses. The Igbo are also known for their achieved status, a point emphasized by all students of this society. In a very enterprising theory of social structure and personality that combines historical, sociological and psychological factors into one frame in an effort to uncover the determinants of achievement motivation in Nigeria, LeVine postulates that Igbo status system is occupationally oriented. In his formulation,


...among the Ibo, the acquisition of wealth led to political power. Thus, status mobility was achieved... through the demonstration of economic skills of an entrepreneurial sort. The ideal successful...Ibo appears to have been the energetic and industrious farmer or trader who aggrandized himself personally through productive or distributive activity (LeVine, 1966:33-37).


LeVine's occupational orientation hypothesis has support in Igbo ethnography. I contend, however, that to understand the dynamics of the "associational status" system in Igbo society, we have to apply the notion of "social conversion", that is, how wealth is transformed in society. The process by which the individual Igbo transforms his material wealth into highly desired intangible symbols is what we call social conversion. The Igbo lay a great emphasis on wealth in their stratification model. They distinguish between Ogbenye or mbi (the poor), from aka ji aku (hand that command wealth) or uba (the wealthy). The Igbo make clear status distinctions between wealth (aku). They treat wealth and prestige as two different variables. For instance, a person impoverished by costly title-taking may have no wealth but still commands high prestige. The conversion process is at the heart of Igbo title system which is the concrete structure or institution which mediates the social conversion process. The conversion principle is applied to every occupation that the Igbo could think of. It is a unidirectional process, never reversible. A successful occupation leads to the acquisition of wealth which generates pressure to convert it into prestigious symbols. While the occupations and prestige institutions do vary among Igbo communities, the principle of conversion is invariant.


Wealth is a social product. It is not an end in itself. Rather, it is viewed in Igbo society as a means of achieving prestige; and prestige is the reward which society bestows on those social climbers who use their wealth in ways approved and most esteemed by their neighbors and communities. The object of wealth is to further achievement both personal and communal. Traditionally, wealth was not used for things that would not effect a positive change in status.




Our review of Igbo social structure demonstrates its complexity, both in form and content (Uchendu, 1991: 27-47). Variations in Igbo social structure can be explained situational factors; and such variations are practically limited to the kinship domain. We have noted that the attempt by Forde and Jones (1950) to contour these variations by pointing out critical cultural traits was not convincing. In a recent statement on the subject, I suggested that kinship is the key diagnostic cultural trait to the variations in Igbo social structure and isolated the rules of exogamy, endogamy and incest as critical variables. The application of these variables revealed that a distinction must be made between the Ikwu and the Umunna belts of kinship systems (Uchendu, 1994).


Two Kinship Belts: Umunna is a common term used in both belts but it is given a different content in each. Both Umunna and Ikwu kinship belts share some marriage features. Post-marital residence is patrilocal in both belts and the kinship structure is differentially corporate. Marriage is legitimized by bridewealth payment which is comparatively a token in Ikwu but high in the Umunna belt


The Umunna kinship belt coincides with the strictly patrilineal areas of Igboland, which is the whole Igbo territory less the eastern portion of the mid Cross River basin. Marriage rules provide for the payment of comparatively large bridewealth in the Umunna belt resulting in the acquisition of full genetricial and uxorial rights in their wires and the incorporation of such rights in their descent lines, no matter who fathered the children. The logic of bridewealth payment is that "the child belongs to the man who paid the bridewealth". Widow inheritance is practiced because the patrilineage and not just the bridegroom, has an enduring interest in every marriage. The rule of exogamy excludes cross-cousin marriage but gynaegamy and wife exchange are reported and fit into the structure of the kinship system.


The Ikwu kinship belt lies in the mid Cross River basin and spills into Yakurr (Ugep) in Cross River State. It stretches from the Okpoha-Amasere-Edda in the north to Abiriba-Ohaffia axis in the south The western boundaries are approximately Akaeze-Nkporo borderlines; but the kinship status of these borderlines is not well documented.


The most important and therefore unique kinship feature of this belt is the double descent system. In this kinship a person enjoys concurrent matrilineal and patrilineal descent, his or her affiliation is unambiguously matrilineal but movable and immovable personal property, some lineage lands, palm groves and fish ponds are subject to partition between the matrilineal and patrilineal groups. As can be predicted from the kinship structure, widow inheritance is either absent or unimportant, the child bearing capacities of women are not transferred at marriage, because they belong to their descent group and while the socialization of the child is the formal responsibility of the patrilineage, this may also be shared.


The patrilineage and the matrilineage are both corporate in character but while residence in the matrilineage is highly decentralized, the patrilineage is residentially concentrated in various villages. The lines of cleavages are drawn by marriage and activated by death and other crises which draw interest in sharp focus. Property rights, including the rights in women, are highly focused on the matrilineage and the administration of these rights is in the hands of the male descendants even though that women provide the seeds of lineage continuity through children fathered and socialized by husbands who come from different descent groups.


The kinship and marriage traditions of the Ikwu belt were identified by Darly Forde in 1930s for the Yakurr of the Cross River State and by the Ottenbergs for the Afikpo in the late 1950s and by Nsugbe on the Ohaffia in the 1960s. Nsugbe (1974) caused an academic furor for classifying the Ohaffia system of kinship as matrilineal. Paradoxically, it was those who had not apparently read the Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People who led the outburst. What are the general features of the double descent system and where did Nsugbe get it wrong?


Features of the Double Descent System: Parenthood is a duality. If recognition of descent were symmetrically accorded through both parents at each generation, kinship ties would so "proliferate indefinitely in ever widening aggregates" that we would need a computer to work it out. Human cultures have tended to simplify this problem by adopting a limited number of principles in the classification of their descent. These principles yield four varieties of descent systems: bilateral, patrilineal, matrilineal and double descent. The patrilineal descent system is far too common and so dominant that is characteristics are not easily confused with those of other descent systems. This is not so with the double descent system which combines both the features of the matrilineal and patrilineal descent systems and vary its corporate character so widely that its identification and classification have posed some theoretical problems (Goody, 1961).


The patrilineal and matrilineal kinship systems have highly focused marriage types and characteristics. David Schneider and Kathleen Gough (1962), in their synopic survey, Matrilineal Kinship, suggest a set of "minimum conditions or constants" which distinguish matriliny from other kinship types. The constants are:


(a)             affiliation is with the matrilineal descent unit.

(b)             descent group exogamy is imperative.

(c)             each child is the responsibility of a specified woman; and women in the descent unit have the duty to promote and protect the reproductive capacities of all women in the unit no matter their residence.

(d)             men are in authority over women and children, no matter the descent system.


The Schneider-Gough analysis simply re-states and affirms the facts characteristic of marriages in matrilineal systems, that is, the husband is to exercise the rights in genetricem but the rights in personam are limited because they are partitioned rights. The rights in a woman's reproductive capacities are owned by her lineage, policed by her sisters but the fruits of her womb descend not to the pater (physiological or social father), but to the woman's lineage. The husband has a right of sexual access but the exercise of this right may not be exclusive. The only exclusive right to the husband on both sides of the middle Cross River basin, is that the post-marital residence is patrilocal.


Descent poses a different theoretical problem where the father's role is more important than the strength of the lineage in matters relating to women married to their members. This is one of the unique features of the double descent system which defines a kinship situation in which a person belongs to a pair of unilineal groups, one based on the patrilineal, the other on the matrilineal, mode of reckoning. This type of kinship embodies two corporate descent groups, patrilineal and matrilineal, accompanied by "double inheritance" in which a person inherits property both from patrilineal and matrilineal descent groups simultaneously. Double descent groups in Igboland are property-holding corporations and they are concentrated in the region we defined as the Ikwu marriage belt. Forde and Jones (1950:52) list Ada, Abam and Ohaffia; Ottenberg (1959) studied (1961:12), Jones expands the list to include Akeze, Amaseri, Okpoha, Afikpo, Ada, Unwana, Abiriba, Abam and Ohaffia. Nsugbe's (1974) study of Ohaffia is a masterly ethnographic documentation but his analysis is theoretically flawed for failing to recognize the double corporations in Ohaffia kinship which clearly make it a double descent, not a matrilineal system.


Igbo Marriage Types: One important function of descent in corporate lineage systems is to act as the guardian of the family estate. This is precisely what it does in Igbo culture in which married life is the normal condition for both men and women, and polygyny, the ideal.


Igbo marriage types are strongly linked to their kinship structures.  The marriage types that are structurally compatible with the patrilineal system and therefore unique to the Umunna marriage belt include the Mmaji-Njoku marriage, woman marriage, widow inheritance and wife exchange marriages. These marriages reflect the high degree of incorporation achieved by wives into the lineage of their husbands resulting from the acquisition at marriage of the reproductive capacities of wives by husbands. On the other hand, certain marriage types are unique to the Ikwu marriage belt, and they are marriage that are clearly taboo in the patrilineal system. Nsugbe (1974:81) lists four such preferred marriage-forms in the Ikwu marriage belt to include two varieties each of nwa nna di and nwa nne di marriages.


(a)     Nwa nna di marriage forms:


(i)                            FSD marriage: Ego marries the daughter of his male half-sibling, that is, Ego’s wife is a close patrikin, the grand-daughter of Ego's own father.

(ii)                          FBD marriage: Ego marries the daughter of his father's male half-sibling, the same woman whom Ego's father could marry.


(b) Nwa nne di marriage forms:


(i)                            FZD marriage: Ego marries the daughter of his father's female half-sibling, in a situation where Ego's father and Ecro's father's half-sister are of the same mother but of different fathers.

(ii)                          MBD marriage: Ego marries his mother's brother's daughter because both husband and wife do not belong to the same matrilineage.


In the Umunna marriage belt, FSD, FBD, FZD and MBD marriages, would be an abomination because they break the rule of patrilineage exogamy. However, in the Ikwu marriage belt, the rules are reversed, the emphasis being on matrilineage exogamy. "Whereas Ego cannot marry mother's sister's daughter because both belong to the same matrilineage, he can marry mother's brother's daughter because both husband and wife do not belong to the same matrilineage" (Nsugbe, 1974:81).


"Woman marriage", for which I coined the term "gynaegamy", is widely reported in Africa. It is strictly a patrilineal institution, inherent in the logic of the transfer of a woman's reproductive powers to her husband’s lineage. Thomas (1914:83-85), Talbot (1932:93, 195-6), Meek (1937:275) and Uchendu (1965:50) have called attention to "woman marriage" in the Umunna kinship belt of Igboland.


Gynaegamy gives us an important insight into gender issues in marriage. It is an institution that is grossly misunderstood by our elite in the name of our imported religions. Once the rights in marriage can be analytically distinguished, the confusion as to which gender should do the "marrying", be the husband, for instance, and whether marriage is coterminous with sex or not, becomes irrelevant. In a gynaegamous marriage the seed raiser or genitor is different from the genetrix and the social father. The Judaeo-Christian tradition of marriage treats all the rights in a woman as a "bundle of rights” and transfers them to the husband as an inseparable bundle.  Other civilizations don't. Before science advanced to the stage that yielded test-tube babies and gave us surrogate mothers, Igbo civilization had made it possible for wealthy and respectable Igbo women to play a husband role, not as a legal fiction but as social and legal reality.


Widow inheritance is another marriage type that grows out of the logic of the retention by the husband's lineage of the reproductive capacity of the wife. It is a marriage type that is structurally inconsistent with the double descent or matrilineal system. In either kinship system, a woman's reproductive capacities are not transferred at marriage but retained by her descent unit.


Wife exchange has been reported for the Umunna marriage belt by Meek (1937:265) and Uchendu (1965:51). It is based on the principle of strong patriliny and for the reasons that explain other marriage types unique to the Umunna marriage belt.




Whenever we touch upon sensitive institutions – and some think that Ahiajoku is one such primitive deity that should be consigned to the museum of history – we tend to strike a cord with many echoes. In fact, more often than not, what we strike is not a chord but a discord, not a harmony but a disharmony because the Ahiajoku deity appears to be a bundle of contradictions in its roles. It gives prosperity and protection to yams, our most important prestige crop; eze ji, an important title guild, functions in its name as it sets the annual farm calendar; and Ahiajoku created and set the rules for the Mmaji and Njoku marriage, the only prescriptive marriage in Igbo culture.


Ahiajoku is impossible to conceive outside the context of the yam crop. The yam belt of the world stretches through the equatorial tropics with the edible yam clustered around four distinct centres of origin: the Indo-Chinese peninsula; Southern China; the fringe of the West African forest; and the Caribbean area. Each centre of origin is associated with varying species of the genus Discorea (Coursey, 1967:11). While the peoples of these yam belts practically produce all the world yam crops and engage in elaborate ceremonies connected with yam cultivation and harvest, no other society but the Igbo succeeded in building a unique "civilization" based on the cultivation of the yam crop.


The Yam Title: The Ezeji (yam title) tradition is widely shared in Igboland. It is highly elaborated within what might be described as the "nuclear" Igboland from which the title system diffused to other parts of our culture area; and in this century, it was adopted across the Western Cross River basin with the Yakurr area of the Cross River State as one of its major centres of diffusion outside Igboland.


To be initiated into the yam title, the aspirant requires a long period of indoctrination, re socialization and motivation by the lineage elders. The aspirant would not only work hard on the farm, but needed the labour of a large network of relatives, with his extended family showing leadership, dedication and devotion. In the tradition of the Old Bende Division, which includes Ngwaland, Ubakala, Umuopara, Ibeku, Ikwuano and other communities in Bende area, an aspirant must exhibit in his barn at least one hundred stakes of the "approved" yam type (ji efu) (this excludes all yams harvested more than once in their growing cycle). The first group of people to "inspect" the yams would be the elders of his extended family who had taken the "first step" in the initiation process to the yam title. If they are satisfied with the quantity and quality of the yams and are encouraged by the number of collateral yams which are not in the prescribed list, the elders would summon their "worthy" son to take the "first step".


The "first step" in the initiation into eze ji guild was a purely religious affair. It involved the dedication of a goat (eghu Ahiajoku) to the yam deity who would be prayed to make the aspirant's efforts on the farm more prosperous. For a large number of Igbo aspirants, the dedication of eghu Njoku might be their first and last step to the coveted eze-jiship. They end up in a status of liminality. For the more successful aspirants, their yam crops and eghu Ahiajoku would show tremendous increases as they cultivated and re-activated their potentially large and diverse groups of the extended family networks who would add pageantry to a future ime ihe ji (yam title taking) ceremonies.


Ime ihe ji could take off with a single title of Ihu iri or a double title of Nnu. An aspirant who exhibited two hundred stakes of "approved” yams would be awarded Ihu iri title; and he could qualify for a double Ihu iri title by exhibiting two hundred stakes of ji efu and two hundred stakes of a pu ji (i.e crested yam yam harvested more than once). The Nnu title was about the terminal point of the yam title. Igbo status climbers who claimed a double Nnu title, that is four hundred stakes of ji efu and four hundred stakes of apu ji, would not be many in any community. I am not describing our modern Igbo society where "suit-case" farmers, without farms, wives or extended family support could depend on the market to provide yams for their yam titles.


The yam title creates for its holders an opportunity to be involved in an exclusive but prescriptive hypergamic connubium popularly called Mmaji Njoku marriage. It is a high status marriage restricted to the children of those who had taken the yam title. Mmaji and Njokuji are carefully identified by diviners at birth. Because of the serious extended family obligations they impose, no parent would take the opinion of one diviner as final; second and third opinions might be sought, with members of the extended family involved.


Mmaji, literally means the "yam’s knife", the knife that cuts .yams into pieces. She is sociologically an uncommon child and a rare bride. She must be the first wife of her husband, who must be of Njoku status by prescription. If there is an Njokuji in the core extended family, he is formally allocated the bridewealth from the "family," Mmaji, irrespective of the fact that they might be of different fathers and mothers. The logic of Igbo worldview assigns Njokuji and Mmaji ambiguous ritual statuses. Njokuji, a male servitor of the yam deity, must assume a female role when mourning the death of his father and dedicator. In that role, he must join his late father's wives in the mourning room and eat with his left hand during the mourning period. To assume these assigned roles, he would literally keep the yam barn under interdiction until all his demands were met. Njokuji and Mmaji do not ordinarily make any extraordinary demands on the extended family or society while alive; and as individuals, they have no distinguishing marks that separate them from other individuals. Paradoxically, they constitute a cultural threat at their dedicator's death or at their own death. Their remains must be ritually disposed of as prescribed by tradition when they die. Tradition prescribes and cultural practices reaffirm that the skull of Njokuji and Mmaji must be protected from rain and sunshine and rest on a pedestal in a house, as long as the extended family lasted. Although there is no sacrifice made to the skulls of Njokuji and Mmaji, they still impose a long-term responsibility on society. Religious change, operating under a radically different logic and worldview, has turned the responsibility imposed by Njokuji and Mmaji into an incompatible and therefore totally unacceptable burden. The extended family ofo and Njokuji and Mmaji are alike in one respect. They reaffirm the continuity of the extended family. While the extended family ofo is highly decentralized, the Njokuji and Mmaji are the products of chance, achieved through the yam title, but selectively endowed, as "family estate". Both still symbolized to Ndi-Igbo the continuity of culture and civilization.




All civilizations are the products of intellectual culture; and they draw inspiration and support from such a culture. By intellectual culture, I mean the paradigms for understanding a people's cultural achievements. An intellectual view of civilization is essentially idea-centered; it is a system of ideas, a communicable intelligence identified with a given tradition. Civilization is a symbol which cannot be understood in itself but must be taken correlatively with what it is mean to convey. It stands for something other than, or at least more than, what it immediately signifies. For instance, extended family in Igbo culture is an illustration of a unit of social organization which stands for more than a group of relatives. It is a concept which opens the doors of Igbo civilization so that through it, we can truly understand what it means to be Igbo.


Civilization is more than a symbol or an idea. It is also the ennoblement of culture which may occur through one focal culture trait at the same time. According to George Adams (1959:49-61) the idea of civilization demands that we distinguish between “life as it is lived and life as it is observed". Civilization is a supreme human achievement and it is constructed with the "energies and the life of man". Life as lived is life felt from within. Life as observed is the life of other living creatures. "The observed and observable is objective and phenomenal, the home of evidence, of verifiability of fact, the area to which description, prediction and scientific hypotheses are relevant" (Adams, 1959 50). The observed civilization is the "many diverse civilizations studied and surveyed by historians". Most of these are dead. They have finished and completed their careers. They now live in the museums and come to life through intellectual efforts which re-enact their activities. When civilization is used as a "class term" usually in the singular, it is civilization as observed" usually in the singular, it is "civilization as observed" that is meant.


Igbo civilization is "civilization as lived". It is a civilization that is being lived and enacted, a civilization in the making, a civilization that pursues certain ends, makes certain policies, practices its arts and sciences and prescribes a morality and imposes a code of conduct. Civilization as lived denotes the content of human life, its directional processes as well as the structure, organization and machinery of its social system. Organization is not a privileged prerogative of human societies, nor of civilization. A chaotic society, like the one we in Nigeria are working hard to leave to our children, does not mean lack of organization but rather one with a type of organization which bars it from incorporating significant ideas and values, such as equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of result, justice, freedom and liberty for all.


Civilization is like a totem, ofo, ishi Njoku, ishi Mmaji – all containers and vehicles of culturally significant values. As long as totemism or Njokuism; or Mmajism endures, the totem remains a container adequate for its content and its meaning. The content of which the totem is the bearer is not a "class idea". It is an ideal. It provides a criterion by which to measure the adequacy of the meaning which the totem embodies. Once the content of a totem -- and it is sacred, awesome or numinous -- is disincorporated from the totem, the search for a new totem, adequate for the meaning, begins all over again. Under the colonial contact situation, our totems were discredited as bad containers, no longer suitable for their contents; new meanings crowded out the old meanings; and all meanings outgrew their visible embodiments (Adams, 1959:61). The challenge, and it is our challenge, is what symbols of civilization should carry the meanings created by our living civilization.


The transformation of a civilization occurs when its "generative" ideas and ideals are fundamentally changed. History and ethnology provide some illustrations. The Greek Sophists and Protagoras gave us the insight that "man is the measure of all things"; and that man as a creator of culture, must artistically mould himself and society in conformity with his beliefs and ideals. The classic Greek and traditional Chinese cultures made aesthetic configuration a dominant aspect of their civilization.


In China in particular, "form” and "face-saving" became dominant preoccupations of the culture; and in classic Greek culture, the importance assigned to music, literature, drama, gymnastics and mathematical sciences attested to its aesthetic orientation. Even Plato's attempt to re-orient Greek culture from an aesthetic to a moral focus succeeded only in reaffirming the Greek primacy of aesthetic values. From a sociological point of view, the Greek aesthetic cultural orientation made much sense in the Athenian society of Plato's time. Their value orientation was consistent with a culture of the leisure class, made possible by the utilization of slave labour for all the menial, utilitarian tasks. As educators know, Plato and Aristotle's philosophy of education is not as democratic as it sounds. They were concerned with the education of free-born Athenian citizens and gentlemen who had the social opportunity and the leisure to cultivate the liberal arts and sciences (Bidney, 1964 402). Nearer home, the 19th century Efik or Aro nobleman was not quite distant from the Greek nobleman of another age. Both lived in a society where emancipation from menial work made leisure pursuit necessary, and the pursuit of aristocratic social status made it obligatory.


The liberal educational tradition of the Greek cultural aristocracy found its way to the Romans who transformed it into a universal human ideal, the ideal of humanitas. The Middle Ages refined it into the “humanities" comprising the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy). There have since been further transformations. In the modern age of science and technology and amusement parks, aesthetic culture is no longer an integrated pursuit of knowledge; it has ceased to be a total vision of life or a "testament of beauty". It has become a luxury, an ornament created to enable a few to escape from the vulgarities of daily life: Bidney (1960:403) captures the irony of this development:


The major paradox of our contemporary democratic culture is the fact that our education system is based upon abstract, aristocratic cultural values, whereas, our social system is organized on democratic lines; and our scientific technology is geared to material wealth and national power. The incompatibility of our cultural ideals and practices is demonstrated by the social esteem in which our educational system is held and the distrust of the educated man in practical affairs.


If a dominant aesthetic cultural orientation is based on the theme that a society is good when it is beautiful, a moralistic cultural orientation subscribes to the view that a society is beautiful when it is organized according to some dominant idea of the good that fits its "way of life". The Medieval world provides some illustrations. While the ancient Greeks cultivated the wise man, the philosopher in quest of rational wisdom; the medieval world cultivated the saint, the righteous man, dedicated to a life of ascetic holiness, a man but sometimes and reluctantly a woman, imbued with faith in divine grace and love. Since life on earth was conceived as a “pilgrim's progress", the whole process of living became of direct concern to the Medieval Church. The Summa theological of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Divine Comedy of Dante gave classic theoretical and poetic expressions of the ideals of this moralistic cultural orientation.  The growing secularization of thought which began in the 17th century and the commercialism and industrialism of the 18th and 19th centuries, have combined to produce a world and a civilization in which ethical and political theories have won autonomy from theology, thus eroding the moralistic orientation of culture. This emancipation of morality from secular culture is far from complete. But a moralistic orientation is now seen as an endangered species which must be protected by "Fundamental Human Rights" clauses in the United Nations Charter, in the Nigerian Constitution and as the doctrine of inalienable rights in the United States Constitution.




The central values of Igbo culture are rooted in the social structure, particularly in the extended family. Among such values are the importance attached to mutual dependence; to lineage continuity; to a man as a value; to life affirmation; and to a strong occupational orientation.


Mutual Dependence is a central value in Igbo culture, an attribute of an inclusive kinship system inherent in the primary descent group whether patrilineal or double descent. The other important attribute of this descent stem is continuity. Every father-son or mother daughter of sister brother relationship is link in an endless chain of the descent system. Enmeshed in a network of continuous relationships, the individual is conditioned to orient himself linearly, and in a secondary way, laterally within a well defined kinship system. An individual's place in this line of descent is specific and inalienable. While the obligations are mutual between parent and child, they are not equal throughout the stages of each generational cycle. The child owes the parent obedience, which is transformed into filial piety, a ritual obligation at the death of the parent. The parent owes the child protection. Succession to property, name and status is a fact of descent principle, not of the arbitrariness of law or a testamentary will.


In a system where parent-child bond is dominant, the wife in a patrineal society remains as much a stranger as the husband is in a matrilineal or double descent system. The primary duty of a wife in a patrilineal society is to provide members to her husband's lineage, and if she falls in this task, she is easily dispensable. The same is true of the husband in a matrilineal system. His primary function is to seed the continuity of his wife’s lineage.


The need for lineal continuity and horizontal solidarity in Igbo kinship system tends to reduce individual privacy. Children participate in the adult world as they grow up. Mutual dependence requires that children share the problems of the adult, to empathize with family history, and to share in its prejudices.


Lineage Continuity: Deriving from the value orientation of mutual dependence is lineage continuity. The lineage is seen as the building block of a peoplehood. To maintain the lineage is a preoccupation reflected in the demands made in prayer: more children and wives and general prosperity to support them are usual refrains. Since women, as wives and daughters, are the vehicle of lineage continuity, plural marriages are sanctioned everywhere. Furthermore, the concept of paternity, which is central to the legitimacy of children, is given a broad interpretation. A legitimate child is not necessarily fathered by the social father, rather it is a child who can lay a claim to a social father and social fatherhood is validated by bridewealth payment. This interpretation of legitimacy places a premium value on marriage as an institution, particularly on those processes of the marriage institution which are designed either to transfer the potential offspring of a woman's womb from her husband or to retain it in her lineage.


Man as Value: Following from mutual dependence, is the value placed on the importance of man. Man is valued above things in Igbo society. The society demanded, and still demands, a large family, a demand that makes polygyny a desirable goal and the position of ancestors a dignified one. The emphasis on man as the measure of value is not new in history; but the Igbo give it a unique value. To live till the ripe age before one joins the ancestors is the cherished wish everywhere. Unlike Asia which glorifies ascetic life and seeks to withdraw from the mundane world, or the Western culture which accepts the Judaeo-Christian worldview of a heaven as the last place for retirement for the good, the Igba construction of the world is that reincarnation after death and the need to join the living lineage, make the world of man and the world of the dead a single universe providing an alternating abode for man.


Life Affirmation is an important Igbo value that supports the centrality of man in the scheme of things. It does not mean that Igbo do not take their own life. Suicide is not valued, and where it occurs, it is of a "protest" type, designed to call attention to one’s social failure in this world. After a suicide, a ritual remedy lets the living get on with their life.


Occupational Orientation: Central to work attitudes and the values they create, is the occupational orientation manifest in a particular status system. Exploring the thesis that certain occupational orientations, mandated by a status system, provide greater incentives for status mobility than others, LeVine (1966) calls our attention to the different cultural and value implications of a "politically oriented" and "occupationally oriented" status systems. Using the Hausa and the Igbo as illustration, he observes:


The Hausa status system was politically oriented, where the Igbo one was occupationnally oriented. Among the Hausa, political office led to wealth, among the Igbo, the acquisition of wealth led to political power. The status mobility was achieved in one instance (Hausa) through demonstrating capability of playing a role in an authoritarian political system, and in the other instance (Igbo) through the demonstration of economic skills of an entrepreneurial sort. The ideal successful Hausa man seems, to have been the office holder who faithfully supported his superior and rewarded his followers; the Igbo ideal appears to have been the energetic and industrious farmer or trader who aggrandized himself personally through productive or distributive activity. By Igbo standards, the Hausa ideal was over dependent and confining to the individual, by Hausa standards, the Igbo ideal was dangerously selfish and anarchic (LeVine, 1966:36-37).




Historians warn us against identifying civilization with any one individual civilization, implying that civilization is not tied to one specific way of life. Nor is it tied to one specific approach to understanding or method of analysis. Abstract structures, like grande ideas, can lead to the explication of the concrece event, and vice versa. Ezi na ulo which transforms itself into ezi n'ulo is a concrete form of Igbo social system and it provides insights into other structures of Igbo social life and the theories and organization of such life. We can learn much about civilization and civilizations or achievements of the human race on one hand and the individual achievements of diverse populations on the other, by exploring at Marchall Sahlins (1983:518) describes as "other times, her customs" according to "the otherness of the suctoms". I have attempted to show that the "otherness" of Igbo customs constitute an important civilization in its own right and contributes to the pool of human civilization.


What can modern society, including Nigeria, learn from Igbo-type society? The problem is not what analysis of such society will reveal and therefore teach but rather what prejudices, which poet William Coleridge identified as blindspots, "passion and party", would permit us to learn. Let us hear Coleridge on the prejudice:


If man could learn from history

What lessons it might teach us!

But passion and party blind our eyes

And the light which experience gives

Is a lantern on the stern;

Which shines only on the waves behind us.


We live in a politically troubled society where the search for political models consumes a lot of our scarce national resources and the energies of our rulers. If we put aside our prejudices and let the "lantern shine" on problems, we can easily learn four lessons from Igbo political culture, all rooted in the operations of ezi na ulo. The first lesson is the idea of politics as the mutual accommodation of differences; the second is the concept of sovereign power as everybody’s business; the third lesson is the direct consequence of the second lesson; and it is …rotation of, power and authority among politically competing units. The fourth, is the primary of public state and the importance of political discourse among individuals.


The management of diversity is an important challenge in every civilization. Igbo-type society manages diversity through decentralization of power. It teaches that the selective management of institutional and social diversity does not lie in its suppression but rather in accommodating… This can be achieved through the strategy of exploiting an existing "minimum consensus" which is expanded" as mutual confidence and trust are built up during a period of mutually beneficial interaction. The principle of "expandable minimum" consensus leads to the…of politics as the mutual accommodation of differences and to the concept of sovereign power as everybody’s business, just as it is in the ezi na ulo.  Following from the central idea that the exercise of sovereignty is everybody's business, is the idea that power must be shared. Like the Nigerian polity, Igbo polity was concerned about political domination, but unlike Nigeria, Igbo political culture found a ready resolution by making domination and submission to authority alternating sides of the same relationship by making lineages competent political units and rotating authority among them following the principle of lineage seniority. Rendering public debate among equals in the public square "where open covenants are openly arrived at, thus developing speech to a preeminence over the instruments of power" appears Greek; but it is equally Igbo. The political training ground for the Igbo citizen begins at the ezi, a domestic political arena, and expands to the village assembly and then to the wider polity. It is a polity where the citizen pleads his own cause and oratory is cultivated and rewarded.


Mr. Chairman, this was not planned as a marathon lecture, nor is it a doctoral thesis, in the mandarin tradition. Permit me, however, to end it the way it started, with a story. There was an old Chinese sage who told a group of his student his dream. "Last night", he said, "I dreamed I was a butterfly flittering from blossom to blossom enjoying the delicious perfumes of various flowers and sipping from their nectar. Then I woke and found myself a tired old man". At this stage he paused and surveyed the reactions of his students. "Now, tell me", he asked them, "Am I an old man who dreamed he was a butterfly or am I a butterfly who is dreaming that he is an old man?"


Let me rephrase the question, in the context of this Lecture. Am I an armchair anthropologist creating civilizational roles for our extended family or is our civilization giving us new insights into our extended family and other institutions? Since the format of this Lecture does not permit a dialogue, may I leave you with the Lecture and its puzzles.



Ochi agha, Oha n'eze!

Kam mii ya mma 'm na ovo.

Oge eruo 'la mgbe onye gburu agu ji afu ahia.

Ji fo ufo,

onu ala afo ufo.

Ikwu n’ibe, ndewo nu!









The distinguished Ahiajoku Lecturer for the Year Professor Victor Uchendu is not new to Igbo Studies. About three decades ago, in 1965, he pioneered an extensive exploration of The Igbo of South-East Nigeria which haw remained a classic in Igbo Social Studies. That work introduced Igbo Society and Culture to the World.


In the present study of the Extended Family, he has undertaken the more formidable task of interpreting Igbo Society to its custodians and Igbo Culture to its Culture-bearers and through them, to the World. In doing this, he has further extended our understanding of Igbo Culture through analysis and explanation by clearly defining the characteristics of Igbo Culture and Civilization. He has explored the different layers of meanings which are embedded in the concept of ezi na ulo, and how these have helped to shape Igbo Cultural life and Civilization. This Concept which focuses on the Family is in consonance with the spirit of the current emphasis on the family in the World affairs. The United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 44/82 of 9 December 1989 had designated 1994 as the International Year of the Family. This was duly celebrated here at the National, State and Local Government levels. In these celebrations, attention was drawn to the central role of the family as the most fundamental unit of society which must form the basis for the moral and cultural reconstruction of the State and Nation. Only last month, the family was also the focus of attention at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. In the same vein, the Family Support Programme (FSP) initiated by the wife of the Nigerian head of State, Mrs. Maryam Abacha has continued to spearhead the efforts to highlight the positive role which the family can and must play in the life of the nation.


With characteristic analytical dexterity, Professor Uchendu has expanded the horizon of Igbo World View by time-tested propositions. His present thesis is an elucidation of the central position accorded to the family in Igbo life and the role which the family has played ill the success or failure of the individual as well as in the celebrated group achievement spirit for which the Igbo have become truly famous.


I have great pleasure, therefore, in commending this Year's Lecture on BZI NA UIO: The Extended Family In Igbo Civilization to the general public as yet another Igbo contribution of Ahiajoku to African and the World Civilization.



Professor F.N.C. Osuji, B.Sc., Ph.D. Hon. Commissioner for Information and Social Development, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria.

November, 1995.









"I ZA EYE?" on the face of it means, 'where do you come from?' But the question, 'I za eye?' means much more than an inquiry where somebody comes from. The deep structure meaning of the question includes a spurn, a scorn, a belittling of a person, a challenge to the person to prove that he is worth any respectable attention, 'to show his antecedent, to prove his comparative social stature. The same kind of meaning is imbedded in questions like "E si be gi eje be onye?" "Where does one go through your home?" "Onye nkea isidi olee?" "This fellow, where do you hail from?" "Kee oshi olee?" This one, where does he come from?"


Oru na Igbo here present, we have been asked those questions several times either directly or obliquely in Nigeria, in the world and often we smother or evade them. Since 1979 Igbo people felt it was time to tell ourselves and others, who we are, what we are, what we have achieved for Nigeria and mankind; we have deliberately brought in articulate scholars to answer with appropriate decorum and comprehensive postulation to ensure that every hearer gives us the requisite respect due to our Igbo culture and our civilization and in order to remind ourselves, our status among birds, our class among animals, our grade among trees.


After fifteen years, not many people would still want to ask Nwa Igbo "I za eye?" as the Aro Okigbo would contemptuously ask an outsider or Onye ke a obu onye?" as Ndi Ngwa would arrogantly ask or "Nna gi o wu onye?" who is your father? The Ahiajoku Lecture Series has brilliantly briefed us on who our father was, his exploits, his successes and one dares add, his indiscretions. This is how we confirmed that we are eagles among birds, leopards among animals and iroko among trees.


Perhaps, more importantly, Ahiajoku Lecture Series has used the past to alert us of the future, the future which we have privilege to read today. And the import of this foreknowledge is an advance preparation. A planned battle, they say, does not catch a cripple by surprise; he shoots in time and from afar.


In 1979, when history gave me the opportunity to start this Ahiajoku Series, I said, among other things, that the series should challenge our scholars to make their researches relevant to our lives. I am overjoyed to say that year after year one finds that the wise hear and understand at the first instance: Everyone of the Ahiajoku Laureates has shown evidence of deep consideration of Igbo world view and has each pointed to greater Igbo relevance to Nigeria and mankind. Each lecture bears testimony to this my claim.


And today, we have brought a person of repute, a versatile scholar, a fellow chief from the same throne. His person will be fully highlighted by an orator presently. Oha na Eze, my interest is to express a justification, the opportuned entry, the historic interjection of EZI NA ULO - The Extended Family in Igbo Civilization - in the Ahiajoku Series. Indeed, our chief contribution to civilization is the family, the very absorbent system which scorns refuge camps, old people's homes, and all the experimental lot. It gives the world the riddle of the ten fingers that stem from the same body and hold things together. The ten toes that move in the same direction.


When "I za eye?" is asked you in any language be it English, German, French or Urdu, raise your chest and reply with all pride and, of course, no Arrogance that you are:


Mwa afo Igbo! Igbo ezumezu;

Ike Ukoro jiri aka ya dozie onwe ya;

Anu a na agbara izu, ya a na akpa nri;

Ike aki jiri aka ya kuru miri laa n'elu;

Mba Kechiri aka afo ato, uwa a na agba rughurughu;

Akpirido churu onye nwe ohia;

Agbawoghi izu di na mba.


Igbo wu Igbo, ekelenu. Ndewo, Unu nwe aka a. Ahiajoku is your statement, it is a collective Igbo statement. It is a pan Igbo assertion, submission, reassurance, and prayer.
















Onye isi oche, Ndi Eze, ndi ochi-agha na-achi achi,

Ndi nze-na-Ozo, ndi Ichie nile, Oha-ne-Eze,

Ndi Nwe m, ndi muru m, Ekeleele m unu-o,

Kaa noo, kaa ni wo! Unu abia lee!


Since last night, for the fifteen year, anyi wu Igbo

kpu Oku n'onu. Onu anyi gara n'otu. Onu anyi aka

'jug' oyi. Onu anyi agaghikwanu aju oyi.


Akpurulam oja-oku n'onu ughua! AHIAJOKU agbagasakwale!

Onye kam ni kpu okpu n'onu n'abia. Ha m'supe uzo.


Today, my joy is boundless. My honour shines as crimson; glows as velvet. For I am about to catch up with a unique man; a man whose friendship with my life has been as a will-o'-the-wisp could be to a night traveler: you catch a glimpse now, he disappears the next instant, only to re-appear, re-emerge a warmer, more magical glow, before the next even more enigmatic reappearance, which melts yet into another puzzling image.


I first glimpsed him in Ibadan, in 1959; then again i5 San Francisco, California in 1975; at an A.S.A. Conference which he led; then again three years later, at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1978; then I nearly caught up with him at the University of Calabar, in 1983. Now, I have finally grabbed him, pinned him down through Ahiajoku in 1995.


There is so much, so much, to tell, to reveal, to share with you, about this unusual man... this man, whose

Wise men, using tile three great human instruments of religion and theatre, philosophy and science, have reflected upon life. They have probed its meanings. They assert that there are three great milestones on a man's trip through the thoroughfare to entropy: first, the day and date of his birth; second, the day and date of his marriage; third, the day and date of his death.


Ahiajoku teaches me, however, to dissent from this wise observation, and add a fourth wisdom: the day and date on which a man makes his Ahiajoku outing in Igboland, in Nigeria the only spot on earth to which the Igbo are autochthonous.


So, here are: at another crucial milestone – and lone flutist, am on the rooftop. Not just as fiddler, bur. also as a watchman. I'm on the parapet of the Ahiajoku Castle. I will signal from the crenels; I will wail. I will proclaim from the merlons; I will from the machicolations My song would be long, but alas, we are short of time.


I. Birth. Early Education and Life


If we had time, I would have taken you into a twilight zone. In the years when the Women of Eastern Nigeria were bloodying the nose of the Colonial Government in what Historians have come to call the Women's War. You would have heard a different chant of women done with drums and done in dances greeting the household, family and compound of Ezeji Uchendu Isaac Aburonye and Daa Enyidiya Nwaefere Nwampagha Sabina Ogbuishi in Umuerim, Nsirimo, then in Old Bende Division.


A male scion had been born. For Pa Aburonye, this boy of his brave new world, was a continuation of the line of ten male children of his own mother of whom Pa was the last. A special blessing of light, the child was named CHIKEZIE, for Igwekala was still in ascendant, despite incessant premature deaths that often visited male offspring. By the age of six, and through the next seven years the agile boy moved through Roman Catholic Mission Primary Schools in Nsirimo, Ntigha, and N'bawsi. His interest in soccer grew through his role model player, Victor Achebe, till the young man adopted to himself ac. baptism, the name 'Victor’. He was set for greater conquest Of the heights of endeavour. He assisted in the produce businesses of his father whose 'Master’ Mark Selema was a well known instigator of trade from Port Harcourt to Okrika. There too his mother displayed her own astute and shrewd business sense. Ambition for College and self-made shrewd business sense. Ambition for College and self-made education took the youthful Victor by 1951 to Bishop Shanahan Teachers' College in Orlu, and by 1959, both the Teachers' Grade II and Grade I Certificates had become part of his plummages of distinction; the lead Atilogwu plumed dancer-acrobat in intellectual circuits had been initiated!


II. His Distinguished University Career


In September 1959 he set the higher rhythm of intellectual dance by entering for the B.Sc. Hons in Economics of the University of London via the University College, Ibadan, emerging in 1962 with a second class upper division. There, in Ibadan, he was twice a prize man, winning first, the Departmental Prize for the student with the highest scholastic achievement, and second, tile Faculty prize for the student with the highest of the Social Sciences achievement. Simultaneously he was the Eastern Nigeria Government scholar, catapulting to a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Northwestern University, 1962-65. By 1976, the Centre for Advanced Study in Behavioural-Sciences, at Paolo Alto, California has bestowed on him the Elegebel Fellowship. That was on November 1st, 1976.


III. His Professional Prowess


If we had time – but we don't – and you must pardon my skirting brevity in this biography – if we had time, I would take you further, beyond these scholastic distinctions, to narrate to you his professional prowess after University. He went into field research – in the world, beginning in the United States of America, that country which has been characterized as the world's melting pot. From 1964 to 1955, Uchendu carried out a study of migrant labour problems among the Navajo Indians of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – focusing on the reservation community of Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Through such similar studies commenting his earlier and concurrent peregrinations through six countries of Africa itself, first, Nigeria (since charity from in here from home); then Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana established him as a distinguished agricultural economist and thinker who could see and expose for public policy applications, the intricate web or connections interlinking agriculture with social structures, urbanization, socialization (especially of youth), historical circumstances and change in countries on the verge of, or just after independence, their politics, anthropology and


1. Nigeria


1961-62      Field Study of Igbo Social structure.


1962           Field Study of Nigeria Urban Youth – (A Ford-sponsored Project of eastern Nigeria).


1972           Study of Igbo Religion – Its historical Roots and Contemporary Relevance.


1974           Study of Technical determinants of change in Nigeria Agriculture.


1978           Law and Social Change (in Igbo Legal Culture)


1980-90      a) Public Policy: Education and Privilege.

b) Public Policy and Public Interest, Traditional and Change.

c) Social Mobilization.

d) The Politics of Regional Inequality.


2. Uganda


1966-67      Determinants of Change in Ugandan Agriculture – Case Study of Teso District.


1969-71      Livestock Marketing in Uganda. 1969-71 Pre-school Education in Kampala.


1969-71      Urban Adaptation by Ugandan Youths..


1974           Study of Technical Determinants of Change in Ugandan Agriculture.


3. Kenya


1969           Determinants of Change in Kenyan Agriculture.


4. Tanzania


1967           Determinants of Change in Tanzanian Agriculture.


5. Zambia


1967           Determinants of Change in Zambian Agriculture.


6. Ghana


1968           Determinants of Change in Ghanaian Agriculture (Bawku, Ashanti Region).



IV. His Inter- and Intro-University Academic/International Contributions. Services and Consultancies


Fellow diggers for the Ahiajoku tubers, we do not have time. If we did, I would now take you inside the Universities from which this fiery brain proceeded to accomplish the few field research works I’ve just browsed.


Stanford University, Paolo-Alto, California, took the kick-off when it appointed him Assistant Professor from 1965 to 1969.


Then Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, made him Senior Lecturer in Sociology, from 1969-70; and simultaneously Executive Director, Makerere Institute of Social Research from 1969-71; then Reader in sociology, from 1970/71 session.


The University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign took him over as Foundation Director of African Studies Centre and Professor of Anthropology, 1971-1980. In the same period there he was Member, Board of Directors, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. From here also, he made the inter-University visiting scholar contact with home when he came as Research Professor into the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1977/78, briefly also heading, from January – August 1978, that University's Department of Sociology. During that visit to UNN, Uchendu had occasion to let the then military government in Enugu see and know the colour of his legal mind and social rights and responsibility when he sued that Administration for damages to his VW Beetle Car which suffered injury on the Old Enugu-Agwu Highway where there was danger without warnings posted as they ought to be incivilised, safe road cultures. Since 1980, after the Illinois stint, Uchendu has settled in the Canaan City, University of Calabar where his experiences have coalesced in a diversity of scholarly and administrative posts, postings and consolidations. He was Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, 1980-1986; Dean, Graduate School, 1982-1985; Chairman, Committee Of Post-Graduate studies, 1980-82; Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, 1981-82; Chairman, Housing Allocation Committee, 19800-83; Chairman, Committee .of Deans, 1983-84; Member at the Governing Council of the University, representing Senate, 1989-91; Chairman, Car Refurbishing Loan Committee, 1992-93; Chairman, Housing Committee, 1993-94. Today, he is the substantiative Director, Institute of Public Policy and Administration, a post he has held since 1988.


The giant who has bestrode sc many Universities world-wide has also, through the practice of external examinership, rendered international service. He examined Ph.D. candidates for Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in the area of African Anthropology, he also examined in the University of Missouri, Columbia; in the State University of New York, Buffalo and, nearer home, in the Universities of Benin, 1980-83; Lagos, 1981-83, UNN, 1982-84; 1986; ABU, BUK, Maiduguri, Lagos, Benin, Legon, Makerere, Zambia, Gaborone, and Accra have used him as external assessor for professorial and readership candidates.


This indefatigable scholar has unstintingly rendered special service to specialized international institutions. He has been


a) Associate Rappoteur, UNESCO Project on the "Main Trends of Research in Social and Human Sciences", 1975-76.


b) Member, Consultative Seminar on "Technical assistance Methodology (TAN, USAID, Washington, D.C.) 1972-75.


c) Regional Consultant and African Correspondent on "Language Policy for Development Countries" – A UNESCO Project, 1974-75.


d) Consultant to the United States Office of Education, 1973-76.


e) Consultant to Educational Research Council of America (Reading Materials for African Children), 1974-76


f) Consultant to the United States National Academy of Sciences on the "Blue Sky" Panel, "World Food and Nutrition Study", 1976.


g) Consultant, Ford Foundation Middle East/Africa Division on Program Reviews and Development in the Decade, 1973-76.


V. Membership of Professional Associations, Organisations, Fellowships and Listings


Fellow reapers, you see how heavy the yam tuber grows. I am still at the' crenels, at the machicolations of the Ahiajoku '95 castle. We lack time, but time flute flows on: this colossus that I've been trying to let you appreciate, from this versatile profile has garnered international and national memberships of professional associations, organizations and fellowships. No wander he‘s been listed since 2 973 in Who's Who American Men and Women of sciences; since 1975 in Outstanding Educators of America; since 1975 in Who’s Who in the Midwestern U.S.A., and re-mentioned there in 1976, 1977, and 1978, almost yearly; by 1979 the prestigious Who's Who in the United States had also included Dim. ear the Economics scholar who found himself in a wide variety of interfaces of allied disciplines therefore, he is Member:


a) American Anthropological Association.


b) African Studies Association of the Americans.


c) Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.


d) Association for Current Anthropology


e) International African Institute, London.


f) Society for Applied Anthropology.


g) Centra1 States Anthropological Society.


h) Association for the Advancement of Agricultural Sciences in Africa.


i) American Association for the Advancement of Science.


j) Eastern African Agricultural Economics Society.


k) Nigerian association for Sociology and Anthropo1ogy.


VI. Editorships, Editorial Board Services


Because we are still beating against the tyranny of the clock, let me tell you only a little that out of these scholarly memberships, our fiery-mouthed acrobat of ay has been Editor, Editorial Consultant, and Editorial board member for no less than fifteen journals, periodicals and magazines of local and international repute. The journal of African Studies. UCLA; Studies in Third World Societies, Ikenga. American Ethologist. Human Organization. the African Review. Dar-es-Salaam; The Calabar Journal of Liberal Studies and the Cross River State Public Service Management Journal are few of them.


VII. His Own Publications: the "magnus opus" and others


But what is a scholar is all he has are mentions by others in Journals, Books, or Magazines, and nothing of his personal imprint with an identifiable ISBN? He would be a golden mirage where there should be alluvial gold in the bedstream; he would like a glow worm at night, not a streak of lightning across a darkened sky.


Fellow reapers, do grant me time to reveal to you that our man of distinction and honour today, the lecturer you are longing to hear, has under his personal imprimatur more than eighty assorted books, monographs, theses, chapters in books, journal articles, besides numerous unpublished manuscripts, public lectures, seminar papers and occasional speeches.


I should begin where it matters. If you are a true Igboman, if you are keen to learn who you are, as these Ahiajoku Series, since 1979, have tried to awaken in us a thirst for ourselves; if you've been challenged to chink of your identity; to think of Igbo food and plants in their peculiarness, to think of yourself and your Nigerian neighbours; to contemplate your environment; to think of what your world is in your youth and old age, to ponder what legalities bind you; to reflect on politics and parties in Nigeria as an Igboman; to think of your civilization and how, if it has, it has evolved; to worry about your health; education, philosophy, thought cognition processes and self-respect; – then you must know of a seminal book of thirty years ago in 1965, called The Igbo of South-Eastern Nigeria, published in New York: that book prophetically began this search for the Igbo, and that book remains V. C. Uchendu's monumental "magnus opus". All perspectives and ramifications of Igbo life are in it, from agriculture through politics to culture, and every other issue we discuss is merely an expanded foot note. That book stands, at the head of all wisdom, more or less, as Plato's philosophy stands at the head of all Western philosophy. Since that book, the Igbo.... Uchendu has had one more book published, on the average, every three years from i966 – Sepal Agricultural Labour among the Navajo Indians till 1994 - Planning and Process in Environmental Management in Nigeria. Had we time, I would enumerate all the nearly eighty publications he has generated and which have inspired new directions in thought and practice of learning in Nigeria and the World. I do not exaggerate if I assert to you, fellow harvesters, that every book, every article, every book chapter, every essay which Uchendu has published is a classic, a pathfinder, a way to victory, a means to intellectual stimulation, the trail of "Nwa kpu oku n'onu turu ugo n'isi".


VIII. Family Life


Yet, for all this immersion in academics or, call it "ivory towerism", V.C. Uchendu has found time and christianly devotion to be a father, husband and paterfamilias. His bridewealth paid in 1949, July 31st, for the jewel called Margaret Urasiagwu in school, but renamed Caroline by him, a formal Christian church style wedding occurred only in December 1959. The marriage has been blessed with many children – Carolyn Ijeoma, graduate of Mathematics/Psychology; Clarita Uchechi, graduate of Law; Victor Jr. Chimela, B.A., M.A., Criminology; Chike Valentine, graduate of Mechanical Engineering, UNN; Clara, French graduate and Chinwe Calista, Year Three Law student. They have, under the inspiring example of their parents, also scaled the heights of excellence, achievement and intelligence, humility and home-bred politeness and decency, whether they are in Nigeria of in the United States of America.


IX. Executive Summary


As time squeezes in on me, flute must draw down a concluding note.

So, fellow reapers, I give you in summary a man who cannot be labeled, for all labels are stereotype; a man whose Age-grade name, "idi-n'otu-buike", symbolizes. the quintessential raison d'etre of our assemblage today; a man who would rather write a new book than reform and so, deform, an older book; a man well-versed in the Igbo and their world-view because that is the centre-piece of his life, writing and thought; a man whose global view of the Igbo and of his place in the World has given him identity as a classical scholar; a man who has asserted that the Igbo will always be found wherever things are happening in war or peace; a man who believes in patriotic service to his Nigeria because he is a civilised Igboman Civilization being the ability to manage and thrive in Contradictions.


He is a Professor of Anthropology, a shrewd University administrator, a chief of his community, a many-sided consultant to the world; an active field researcher, an organiser of men, materials and matter.


I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, fellow reapers, PROFESSOR (CHIEF) VICTOR CHIKEZIE UCHENDU to tune for us and sing for us, the 1995 Ahiajoku "Litany" – ”EZI-NA-ULO" - the matrix of Igbo extended family as a pivot of Igbo civilization.


I'm still on the battlements - but my flute tests!


Izumba I, I feel honoured to lead you, to the accompaniment of the drums, into the kleig lights – Sing, Super Fire.
























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