The Igala (Igara) people are largely agrarian and semi-fishery and Yoruboid-speaking people located at one of the natural crossroads in Nigerian geography (east of river Niger), occupying the Niger-Benue confluence and and astride the Niger in Lokoja, Kogi state of Nigeria. The area is approximately between latitude 6°30 and 8°40 north and longitude 6°30 and 7°40 east and covers an area of about 13,665 square kilometers (Oguagha P.A 1981).
The Igala tribe is among the great Iron-ore technology states that rose to power between 1400 and 1700 AD, alongside with the Benin, Nupe and Oyo empires. They have exercised a considerable influence on the surrounding neighbours. Igala forms a kingdom whose ruler, the Attah, has as his capital Idah on the River Niger. “Igala people are not toddlers. They are goal-getters in every positive sense of the term, never mediocres. In a nutshell, they are typical achievers, movers and shakers of history” (Egbunu 2001).
Igala land begins at Adamagu a few kilometres north of Onitsha and continues up to a confluence, from where it protrudes linearly north-eastward along the Benue. It finally terminates at Amagede in Amagede at the eastern boundary, which is demarcated by the Idoma in Oyegede and Otupl and north Nsuka – areas of Enugu Ezeke, Itah Edem, Ururu, Adavi and Ogugu of the Anambra rivers. The two great rivers that divide what became Nigeria, place the confluence as one of the national and cultural regions which brought the Igala into contact with the wide range of people in Nigeria.
Igala elderly woman
The population of Igala land is estimated to be about four million, over 70% of whom are subsistence farmers. The Igala ethnic group is densely populated in their settlements around the major towns such as Idah, Ankpa and Anyigba. They are also found in Edo, Delta, Anambra, Enugu, Nassarawa, Adamawa and Benue States. However, the bulk of them are indisputably found in Idah, Ankpa, Dekina, Omala, Olamaboro, Ofu, Igalamela/Odolu, Ibaji, Bassa (and even Lokoja and Ajaokuta) Local Government Areas of Kogi State (Egbunu 2001,49).
Varieties of people from different ethnic origins, speaking different languages live in Igalaland. The dominant group however are the Igala people themselves who are regarded as the most primordial of all identified groups that exist in the area today. Other ethnic groups include the Nupe, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Idoma, Ebira as well as immigrant from the Etsako Local Government Area of Edo State.
Kola nut (obi) of Igala people: http://ayedefilmandphotography.com/
Among the Igala people Kola nut (obi) is very important. It has socio- religious significance and is often eaten in socio-religious gatherings. Without it no traditional marriage can be celebrated in Igala-land. Its breaking and eating symbolize unity, peace, love and acceptance under the protective eyes of Ọjọchamachala (God) and Ibegwu (Ancestors)
Igala women in their traditional dress, USA
In Igala tradition, infants from some parts of the kingdom, like Ankpa receive three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way of identifying each other. However, this practice is becoming less common.
Origin of the Name Igala
The first tradition says “Igala” is a derivative of the Yoruba name for antelope (Igala). So these school of though tries to suggest that there were many antelopes during the early migrations into the land giving rise to this name. The Yoruba word “Igala” means Antelope which is Ọchachakolo in Igala language.
This animal is noted for its fast steps. It is a pacesetter and frontliner. Of this animal, the Igala proverb refers, “Ọchachakolo Ẹla ki d’ọgba amomi ẹbun”, (Antelope, an animal at the forefront never drinks unsettled or dirty water). This point looks plausible, considering the fact that so many of the Igala villages were named after animals. For instance, Ojuwo-Ọcha (Antelope hill), Ugwọlawo (Guinea fowl’s bath), Ọbagu (Chimpanzee), etc. It is also related in some quarters that even a German Volkswagen company recognized the nature of this to the extent that they named one of their best cars “Igala Volkswagen” in the 1970s after it. But the second tradition is even far more tenable.
This second tradition is based on two premises:
That the Igalamela (nine Igala clans) are the autochthonous, first occupants of Idah (Igala) native town. About them, oral tradition says that they pushed the Idoma people to their present location in Benue state (from the present Idoma Street in Idah). This Igalamela chiefs are greeted “Onu-Igala” (Igala leader or chief) up till date.
That Etemahi is the leader (head) of the Igalamela royal lineage. “Ete ma hi” in Igala language denotes – “it is from the beginning (the roots) one can cook any edible object well”. An Igala adage goes thus, “Ẹtẹ ma hi ma m’ahi ọgbọ n” (from the beginning they cook and it would not be tasteless).
These are idiomatic expressions suggesting that the Igala race as developed (or tasty) as it is today evolved from this particular thorough roots, Odudu I chanẹ ichanẹ-n (Day break began in the morning, not in the evening).
From the foregoing, we can infer that the word IGALA is a compound word with “Iga” as its root and “Ala” as the qualifying noun. In Igala language, Iga means a partition, blockade, a dividing wall e.g. partition of India in 1947. And the qualifying noun, Ala means “Sheep”. This could imply that the first settlers in Igalaland (the Igalamela) saw themselves as God’s flock or sheep that eventually found their greener pasture in this location. They probably felt it was better to settle here. Whether they came from the Yoruba race or any other larger language group or whether they drove out any group of their earlier inhabitants (such as the Idomas) is not our immediate concern here. They came, they saw it was a fertile ground full of prospects and they settled here from antiquity. Period!
Perhaps, they made Iga-Ala Mẹla that is, making nine “sheep” apportionments, partitions, dividing walls or simply, fences against possible invading troops, as it was common in those days in search of a formidable security. They were then referred to generally as the IGA-ALA people. The name gradually metamorphosed from Iga-ala to IGALA as a result of the combination of the two vowels (a + a). The nomenclature then became IGALA. The name must have come in the figurative sense of people referring to themselves, as the sheep feels shielded and protected under its shepherd.
God (Ọjọ), is often seen by the Igala people as Ọchamachala (owner of the entire universe), Odobọgagwu (the all-powerful one), Anẹ-magẹdọ (the all-courageous one), etc.
Igala Owuna masquerade performing traditional dance
This sense of being protected under God’s shadow was extended into the naming of a certain street, UBI-IGA (behind the partition) in Idah, during the Benin/Igala War in A.D. 1515 – because of the partitioning against foreign invaders. Other parts of Igalaland are not left out in naming villages after their functions. For instance, villages which served as formidable fortresses against foreign invasion at a certain period of history or the other, had such names e.g. Iga-Ebije (iron partition), Iga-Ikẹjẹ (Ikẹjẹ’s wall); Igaliwo (Aliwo’s wall), Iga-Olijo (Adder’s wall), Igagbo (Agbo’s wall); Ig’ọjọ (God’s protective wall), etc. It is interesting to note that the Igas were practically erected in those days for defensive purposes.
According to oral tradition, the Odogo (ancient storey building) in Ata’s palace was used as a hideout. From there the soldiers had a full view far over and across the cliff near the River Niger. By this means they were able to detect enemy troops afar. A river is also believed to have changed its course or totally dried up around Ọkpakpala-Ukwaja. This river also served as another shied against enemies.
From the above, it is obvious that Igala people are people who feel highly secured under God’s umbrella. That is why in times of adversity, they would simply exclaim “Ọjọma” (God knows or God is in control). And if the Antelope Igala origin appeals to the reader more, he/she should know that Igala people are not toddlers. They are fast at achieving their goals. They are goal-getters in every positive sense of the term, never mediocres. In a nutshell they are typically achievers, movers and shakers of history.
The Igalas have an unusually and richly endowed environment. They are within the “middle-belt” of Nigeria which has an advantage of the climate of the drier Savannah vegetation to the north and the wet forest regions to the south.
The area lies within the warm humid climatic zone of Nigeria. There is a distinctive wet season dichotomy. The wet season lasts from about April to the end of September or early October while the dry season lasts from about October to about the end of March or early April. Rainfall can be heavy and the effects of the harmattan can be severe, especially from about November.
The area has an average rain fall of about 50” a year. The lowland riverine areas are flooded seasonally, making it possible for the growing of paddy rice and controlled fish farming in ponds that are owned on individual or clan basis. The lbaji area is the major place awashed by flood. This makes the area very fertile soil more than other place in the land: “The receding floods leave behind a large quantity of fish in ponds and lakes. This facts, plays an important role in the economic and social lives of the people,”
Simply put, the vegetation is mainly deciduous, with the major rivers (Benue and Niger), a few minor ones such as Okula, Ofu, Imabolo, Ubele, Adale, Ogbagana, and many streams in the land. Hence, is Igalaland popularly known as a blessed fishing and arable region.
The most common economic trees are palm trees (ekpe), locust beans (okpehie). mahogany (ago), iroko (uloko), whitewood (uwewe) and raffia palms (ugala). Common plantations are of okra (oro..-aikpele), cashew (agala), banana (ogede). Some of the economic trees mentioned here provide timber for the people and for sale. In the forest regions were also found certain wild animals, such lions (idu), hyenas (olinya), leopards (omolalna or eje), elephants (adagba), bush-pigs (ehi), chimpanzee (ukabu). etc.
This favorable vegetation makes farming and hunting highly profitable. Thus. 90% of the population. practice farming. Both forest and savannah crops thrive on Igala soil very well. Thus, the main forest crops produced are: yams, cassava, maize, melon and groundnut. And they produce such savannah cereals as guinea corn. beans. millet and benniseed. However, due to the shifting cultivation being practiced, bush burning and felling of trees, a good proportion of the forest is being gradually destroyed and wild animals are fast becoming extinct.
Igalaland is blessed with rich natural resources. In the south are swamps where crude oil was prospected some years ago. It is generally believed that oil was discovered at Alade and Odolu. IS The Okabba (Adagio) coalmine is close to Ankpa in the north. The country has benefitted from the coalmine since 1967.
There are many roads in the area. The main ones are Anyigba-ldah, Anyigba-Ankpa, Anyigba-Shintaku. Those of Anyigba-Ajaokuta, Ankpa-Otukpo, Otukpa, Ankpa-Ogobia. Idah· Nsukka and Ejule-Otukpa link the land with neighboring states. Good waterways are possible between Idah-Agenebode-Onitsha and the Shintaku-Lokoja axis of River Niger. These waterways have served as veritable means of transport in the recent past. It encouraged social and economic interactions.
Today, Igala land does not possess any airport. However, air travelers make use of Ajaokuta Steel Company’s airstrip. The Itobe-Ajaokuta Bridge constructed about two decades ago on the River Niger has also turned out to be of tremendous benefit as it has enhanced intra and inter-state links and commercial transactions.
Igala people speak Igala language, which belongs to the Yoruboid languages spoken in North Central Nigeria (Akinkugbe 1976, 1978; Omachonu 2000, 2002) which also forms part of the larger West Benue-Congo phylum (formerly part of Kwa).
As a result of the strong linguistic affinities, Dr. Femi Akinkugbe (University of Lagos) has recently classified Yoruba, Itsekiri and Igala as belonging to what he calls the Proto-Yuroboid sub-group in the main Kwa group.
It is estimated that nearly 4 million people speak Igala, primarily in Kogi State, Delta State and Edo State. Dialects include Ebu, Idah, Ankpa, Dekina, Ogugu, Ibaji, Ife. The Agatu, Idoma, and Bassa people use Igala for primary school.
Although one may argue that Igala is unlikely to be so endangered in the proper sense of the word considering the number of its native speakers and linguistic researches available in the language (Armstrong 1951, 1965; Omachonu 2000, 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008; Atadoga 2007; Ejeba 2009; Ikani 2010), one of the aspects always identified as being so seriously endangered in the use and study of the language is the numeral system (See Etu 1999, Ocheja 2001). This is because children nowadays rarely know how to count in Igala. Even adults, mix up Igala with Hausa and English when they count money and other objects in the language. A similar scenario was pointed out by Atóyèbí (n.d.) of the numeral system of Ọkọ which he described as the most endangered aspect of the language because the act of counting in Ọkọ, according to him, has been left to older members of the community with the younger generation preferring to express numerals in the English language
The actual origin of the Igala people is not quite known. Different people present many versions of legends of immigration There are claims, for instance, that the Igala people came from the Jukun (Kwarara/a), some says Benin, others Yoruba. Yet, others feel they migrated from Mecca (Southern Yemen) or Mali.
In the past, the reigning Atta, His Royal Majesty. Agabaidu (Dr.) Aliyu O. Obaje, had. for instance, explained: "the !gala came from Southern Yemen, passed through Ethiopia (where there is an ethnic group called the Gala) and through the (medieval times} Empire of Mali, to Jukun land; then finally, to our present location." In another instance, the Atta said that the Igala "came from the Arab country of Yemen and were in the present Nigeria at the same time as the founding fathers of the Yorubas, the Jukuns and the Beriberis or Kanuris Bornu. He also maintains that the earlier migration into Igalaland was at "about the 12th century A.D.... led by Amina, a Zaria princess and warrior. who fought her way to Idah ... with Hausa and Nupe followers.
Certain traditions even hold that the Igala are of Fulani origin, simply because of the similarities in their physical features. It IS clear that Fulanis do not speak a Kwa language. And owing to the linguistic affinity, others affirm the Yoruba connections. For Byng Halt notes that, "It is not surprising that within a short period of arrival in Igala land, a Yoruba is well acquainted with the language.” He attributes the ease in learning the language to the closeness of the two languages. Armstrong sticks to this same view when he said: "the most definite historical statement that can be made about Igala is that . they had a common origin with the Yoruba and that the separation took place long enough ago to allow for their fairly considerable linguistic differences. There is a whole corpus of oral traditions on the origin of the Igala people.
While this study did not engage .in any detailed criticism of the diverse opinions on the Igala origins. it gave a thorough look: at certain .inescapable facts, These intricate issues were pin-pointed in order to allow us take a solid stand.
The view that Princess Amina of Zaria led the very first migration into Igalaland in the 12th century does not hold water. This is because Queen Amina was a 14th C figure and history has it that the Igala people were already settled in this area and were relating socio-culturally with the Igbos right from the ,7th and 9th century A.D. Moreover, the obvious absence of a legend relating to this princess and warrior .in Igalaland is a clear indication that it might not be true afterall that she actually reached Igala land. Stories on Igala Benin war and Igala-Jukun war, for instance. are very popular. The near dead silence on an Amina war leaves room for great doubts. Niven argues against the presupposition that she died at 'Atagara' (that is ldah) when he said: "she died at Atagara, probably a place iii the Gongola valley then under Kwararafa, not Idah. which is now known as Atagara.'
The linking of the Igala with Yemen In Arabia is another highly speculative opinion. This story was probably a device of the Muslims to Islamise Igala people. The people of Igala had long settled before the Galas entered Ethiopia. because tradition has it that it was only in the century A.D, that the Gala migration to Ethiopia took place. In addition, it is quite improbable that the Semite Galas would metamorphose into Negroes of the contemporary Igalaland overnight. The similarity in name is thereby merely coincidental.
The Mali connection remains baseless too because the similarities between the words "Mela" (nine of them) of Igala-Mela (the nine Igala kingmakers) is in no way attributable to “9” as originating from Mali. To the Igala mind, "nine" simply symbolizes perfectness.
Likewise, the supposition that the Igalas came out of the Fulanis, carries no weight, since "no tradition in Igala supports it. History attests to the fact that the Fulanis were still in the region of Senegal by the time the Igala were already having a "centralized state system ... in the 12" century.
That the Igala have a traditional link with the Benin kingdom is indubitable. There abound theories for instance, that support a Benin origin of Igala kingship. However, there was already in existence indigenous Igala people with their kingship systems before the arrival of the Benin kings. But it must be understood that at some stage of Igala history, the Benin people wielded some power of influence over them. The difference in their system of government alone is enough reason to prove that it is never true to say the entire Igala originated from Benin.
The tradition, which holds that the Igala has the same origin with the Yoruba seem to be a plausible one. This humble submission is based on the fact that the Igala language has a lot in common with the Yoruba. Okwoli supports this view when he said: "When people speak the same language. or related languages, there is every reason to believe that they have common origin or have met somewhere.
The Jukun link with the Igala is another very strong tradition that immediately calls for serious attention. Stories about the Jukun origin of Igala kingship, for instance, cannot be waved aside. That there were certain Jukun immigrants who came among the Igalas at some stage of the development of the Igala kingdom is quite evident It is even a common knowledge that the present ruling dynasty is Jukun.
Ultimately, therefore, there is no single account of the origin of the Iga1a people, which is unassailable However, one may agree with Boston that the different tradition "probably correspond to different phases of history in which the Yoruba link may be the most ancient, followed by the Benin connection, and most recently. some form of Jukun suzerainty'. In order not to continue swimming in this shark-infested waters of legends and traditions, we concluded that the Igala kingdom originated from within their immediate vicinity, namely. West Africa. As a matter of fact, before the advent of the colonial masters, about seven very prominent black. kingdoms were noticeable in the forest belt, thus, Ashanti, Dahomey. ]fe, Oyo, Bini, Igala and Jukun(Apa) kingdoms.
The social organization is essentially kin-based. The nuclear family is the smallest social unit but this is inseparably tied to the extended family system involving the linage and the clan. All members of these extra nuclear-family units regard one another as “brothers” or “sisters”. A number of agnatic families combine to form a clan and number of them may constitute a hamlet or even village. Often the members of such hamlets or villages trace their origin to common apical ancestors. The sociological arrangement is, itself a factor that promotes unity and peace among the people.
The political organization is concerned on the monarchy, headed by a paramount king, the Attah-Igala, who is regarded as the father of all Igala people. Attahs of old wielded a lot of power and authority and established a very powerful kingdom possibly dating to about the 8th or 9th century AD. At its apogee, perhaps in the 16th century, the Igala kingdom did extend far and wide to include parts of Igboland (Nsukka Area) to the south Koton-karfe (including and beyond area of north Kogi) to the north; part of western Idoma land to the east (including Igumake) and parts of Etsakor in the west.
Influences of the Igala, operating from the headquarters at Idah, were also felt at Nri-Igbo-Ukwu and Onitsha in Anambra state; among the Nembe and Kalabari on the Atlantic cost; as Asaba and among Nupe in present day Niger state where an Igala prince, tosede or Edgi is acclaimed to have established the Nupe kingdom. Wars were fought, peace treaties were concluded, tributes were paid and trade organized with these and other people. Wars for instance were fought with the Jukun of Kwararafa in present-day southern Taraba State and with the Bini during the reign of Oba Esigie 1 in (1515, 1516 AD) as recorded in Portuguese in Lisbon today.
The glorious era of Igala kingdom was disrupted with the effective colonization by the British of the area now known as Nigeria from about 1890, with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorates in 1914 (by Col. Frederick Lugard) the British policy of what is now known as Nigeria, where established monarchs were used to rule their own people “indirectly”. Thus the power of the kings and chiefs was gradually eroded until they become puppets in the hand of the British. There was resistance here and there, for instance in Opobo (by Jaja), in Itsekiri land (by Nana), in Benin (by Overanwen), in Sokoto (by Sultan Attahiru) and in Igalaland (by Prince Atabo Ijomi later, Ata-Igala from 1919 to 1926); but in essence, the traditional rulers lost the battle.
Native administrators were established (somewhat along geo-ethnic lines) and the monarchs were made tutelary heads of the administrations, while the British acted as the real administrators and decision makers. In this vein, the Igala native authority was administered as part of Kabba province so even after the independence in 1960.
With coming of the military in 1966, and with state creation in 1967, Igalaland became the eastern part of a Kwara State (initially named Central Western State) when a twelve state structure was created. When a new nineteen-state structure was later created out of the 12 in February 1976, Igalaland was carved out of Kwara and merged as the Western part of a new Benue State. In August 1991, itinerant Igala found themselves in a new state, Kogi which is where they are now.
Idah remained the cultural headquarters of Igalaland and the political capital of Idah Local government Area. In 1968, Igalaland was split into three administrative units for the sake of conveniences. The units – Idah, Ankpa and Dekina were administered as local governments, later (in 1976). Dekina division was itself split into Dekina and Bassa, again local government areas were carved out of Ankpa while Ofu was carved out of Idah. Today, Igalaland harbours nine local governments out of the 21 local governments in Kogi State.
Igala man in his traditional groom dress
The Igala Traditional Council
There used to be one Igala traditional council headed by the Attah. Later, with the creation of autonomous local government area, and Ankpa traditional council headed by Eje was created. A Bassa Komo, Bassa Nge and the Ebira Mozum Districts with its headquarters at Oguma was also recognized. Dekina and Idah remained under the umbrella of the Igala traditional council headed by the Attah-Igala. In the present dispensation, each local government council in Kogi state has its own council of Chiefs and everyone recognizes the pre-eminence of their respective premier monarchs – the Attah-Igala, the Ohinoyi-Ebira and the Obaro of Kabba.
The Igala Monarch
The Igala Monarchy, one of the oldest and one of the most formidable in the central Nigerian area is central around the person and office of the Attah-Igala who is regarded and treated as the father of all Igala people. The remoteness of the Attah institution has not been properly determined historically but oral tradition and archaeological records point to dates around the 8th and 9th century AD.
HRM, AMEH OBONI II, Agaba Idu, Ata Igala.
The possible influence of the Igala kingship on Nri and Igbo Ukwu cultures, the latter of which has been dated to about 8th and 9th century AD by Professor C. Thurstan Shaw, shows that if Igala monarch influenced Igbo Ukwu’s at that period, it could be suggested that origins and history of Igala culture may well pre-date the 8th or 9th century AD (Shaw, C.T. 1970, Igbo Ukwu, Faber, London).
Oral tradition state that some Attahs whose period of reign cannot be determined chronologically reigned over “Igalaland” for quite some time. These include Agenepoje, Abutu-Eje and Ebole Jonu. This is however a very shady period of Igala monarchial history, the length and remoteness of which are yet to be ascertained.
The Special Jumm'at Prayer led by the Chief Imam of the palace, Alh. Idrisu Liman... HRM, AMEH OBONI II now resumes office for the day's tasks.
But after the proto-dynastic period, emerged a period where oral tradition is much more reliable, that is the period of Ayegba Oma Idoko who is the founder of the present quadrilinear dynasty. Thus the descendants of Ayegba headed by Akwumabi, Akogwu and Ocholi have produced the Attah Igala in succession to one another over the years. Later however, the genealogy of the Akwumabi dynasty was split into two, headed by Ame-Acho and Itodo Aduga, thereby creating a four dynasty structure as shown in the scheme below (note the figures after each name show the tenure-ship from Ayegba Oma Idoko.
HRM, AMEH OBONI II, Agaba Idu blesses the Royal Palace Singers before proceeding for the day's job... Achebe!!!
The Atta’s scope of influence
With Atta Ayegba Om’Idoko, the kingdom was zoned in the 17th cetltury A.D. into smaller units in order to decentralize authority. Then in 1905 the British created the districts. These districts comprised Ankpa, Dekina, Egwume., Ejema, Imane. Iga, Ika, Ogwugwu, Ojokwu. Atabaka (Okpo), Biraidu (Abocho), Ife (Abejukolo). Odu, Iyale, Emekwutu, Okenyi, Ojokiti, As these districts were formed and “trustworthy relatives and followers” were sent to rule, these were given the ‘traditional titles of “Onu” (the principal person or chief).
Some Igala tradition holds that an Atta gave the Nupes a Kingdom, He bestowed the rule of Nupe country to Edegi (Tsoede), one of the sons he had from a Nupe mother. He gave riches of various types to him and gave him different insignia of kingship: a bronze Canoe, twelve Nupe slaves. the bronze Okakachi (Trumpet) which are still being used by Northern Nigerian ~.state drums hung with brass belts and heavy iron chains and fetters which were endowed with strong magic power …, Tsoede or Edegi then became the ruler of the Nupe people and took the title of Etsu (King) and the Nupe kingdom became an ally to Igala.
The Igala are patrilineal and authority in the family or clan resides in the men. Patilineality among the people inexplicably entails virolocal residence in which the woman moves into her husband’s household among his paternal kinsmen, or sometimes his maternal kinsmen. The basic family unit is the nuclear family, made up of a husband, his wife and their children, as well as attached kin but rarely did you find this type of arrangement for the traditional Igala society was basically polygamous.
As farmers, the need for more hands on the farm meant that men married more wives so that they could raise more children whose help was badly needed on the farm. Besides, in some parts polygamy was a status thing and reflection of a man’s wealth. The more prevalent was the compound family in which you had a man, his wives and children. The nuclear and compound families are, in real sense, units of the wider and longer-lasting patilineal joint family which typically comprises two or more generations of brothers and sons, and their wives and children. In this way Igala families are long-lasting and self-perpetuating as the death of a member makes no difference to its overall structure. It can last over several generations with a membership of up to 100 or more.
An Igala lineage comprises several extended families- the wives and offspring of brothers as well as wives and offspring of the father of these brothers and all the relations of the brothers of ones father.
The clan is made up of several patrilineal related extended families or lineages and has numerous functions, including common name, and identity, exogamous marriages, property ownership, mutual economic and political support and protection from a rival or aggressor among others. As kin who have claim to a common ancestry, they recognize various ritual prohibitions, such as taboos on certain foods, totem etc, that give them a sense of unity and distinctiveness from others.
The concept of kinship flourishes well among the Igala. It has helped to construct groups that have lasted for generations and in which the close-knit ties of kinship provides powerful links through the notion of common “blood”. And by claiming exclusive ancestry these groups can claim exclusive rights to clan and lineage property. This kind of kin relationship also provides for individual members a sense of personal identity and security. In traditional Igala society, kinship relationship plays important roles in the lives of the people by determining what land they could farm, whom they could marry, or have sexual relationship with, and their status in the community. It also means much more than blood ties or family or household. It includes a network of responsibilities, and support in which individual families are expected to fill certain roles and obligation.
Among the Igala generic terms such as ‘uncle’, ‘aunt’ or ‘grandparents’ are often not sufficient to describe family relationship, rather very specific terms such as my “maternal uncle” or “maternal aunt” are used to clearly differentiate between patrilineal and matrilineal kin. Lineal relationships, which refer to those between grandparents and grand children, are well cherished. Relationships with uncles and aunts, cousin and nephews and nieces are essentially treated as those biological relatives. The Igala enjoys robust relationship among the maternal kin. As a “daughter” he/she is loved, protected and enjoys lot of privileges but the right of inheritance is only with the paternal clan. Kinship relationships and obligations toward lineal, collateral and affina l kins (i.e between parent –in-law, children-in-law and sibling-in-law as well as with partrilineal and martrilineal kin) are related to lines of descent, to residence, to inheritance of property, to marriage etc.
Igala newly wedded couple dancing at Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria
Incest taboo refers to any cultural or norm that prohibit practices of sexual relation between relatives. Relations with clan members are permissible where no traceable genealogical relations exist, but members of different clans cannot have sexual relationship if there exists blood ties. The restrictions on marriage and sexual relation amongst kin in Igalaland is based on normative sense of decency and the unequivocal belief in the sanctity of blood ties. There are rules, though not written concerning appropriate and inappropriate sexual relation. Incest, which is sexual intercourse between individual related in certain degrees of kinship, is prohibited. If a man conducts inappropriate sexual relationship with a kin, it is believed that both will suffer severe afflictions from which they would not recover until they confess and the gods are properly appeased through sacrifice. It could also result in barrenness. Both would lose respect among the people as people will no longer take them seriously. In the past young girls involved in such acts hardly ever marry.
Among the Igala, people relate to one another in different ways, and sometimes distantly, are classified as sibling, and other who are just as closely related genetically are not considered family because they are patrilineal and children belong in the father’s clan. As a consequence of patrilineality relations between brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son, uncle/niece etc are considered incestuous, though in certain matrilineal society father/daughter may not be such a problem. Sexual relation between a man and his mother’s sister and mother’s sister’ daughter are considered incestuos. Similarly, a man and his father’s sister cannot have a flirtatious relationship, have sex and marry, not even with his father’s sister’s daughter.
According to Professor Emmy Idegu, Igala cosmology hinges on three worlds – efi’le (the world of the living), ef’ojegwu (the world of the dead) and the space inhabited by the supreme being (odoba ogagwu, ojochamachala). A typical Igala person believes in “Ojo” (God) as the Supreme Being. The concept of God is therefore not foreign to the Igala mind. The belief in Ojo-ochamachala (Almighty God who is regarded as Alpha and Omega) precedes the advent of the missionaries. God (Ojo), the Supreme Being is also known by his attributes as creator, as the immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, unique, transcendent judge and King. They also believe in divinities and spirits.
The traditional Igala person believes in divinities or deities who are said to be next in hierarchy to the Supreme Being. Such are personified in certain natural forces and phenomena, especially in rivers, lakes, trees, the wind, deserts, stones, hills e.g. Aijenu (Water Spirits), Ikpakacha (spirit husband), Ane (earth goddess), Ichekpa (fairies or bush babies), Ejima (twins), Egbunu (goodluck), etc. In their order of ranking, the next is belief in deified ancestors (Ibegu). This refers to the spirits of elderly members of one’s family, lineage or society that died non-violent or non-evil death and have promising offsprings. The Igala person believes too in mysterious powers, which come in various forms such as incantations (ache), medicine (ogwu), magic (ifamfam) and witchcraft (ochu, ogbe).
Three basic elements of worship are easily identifiable, namely, Sacrifice, Music/ dancing and Prayer; certain people are regarded as Sacred e.g. family heads (elders) village heads or town leaders i.e. the traditional rulers, who most often act as chief priests before traditional shrines; they also believe in Oracles or divination e.g. Ifa-anwa (by seeds), ifa-ebutu (by use of sand), ifa eyo-oko (by cowries), Ifa-omi (by water).
While making these sacrifices, as earlier mentioned, certain victims or materials are used for sacrifice. These include, food Stuffs or Crops (amewn egbaru) e.g. maize (akpa, igbala), yam (uchu), kolanut (obi), beans (egwa), rice (ochikapa), beniseed (igogo) etc; birds, e.g. hens (ajuwe), chicks (ebune), cocks (aiko), pigeon (oketebe); Animals e.g. She-goats (ewo-ole), she-goats (obuko), ram (okolo), cow (okuno), tortoise (abedo or aneje), agama -lizard (abuta-oko); and some liquid substances e.g. cold water (omi eruru), local liquor (burukutu), gin (kai-kai),and palm-oil (ekpo oje). Other items also employed could be articles of clothing, pieces of white, red or black cloths, money, especially coins or cowries, red feather (uloko), alligator pepper (ata), etc.
It is noteworthy at this juncture that there exists other aspects of the culture which posses certain dynamics or key values that are hinged on some of the above practices. Among them are: Child-bearing and the male-child Phenomenon (fecundity or fertility cults); Naming ceremonies, circumcisions (amonoji); widowhood practices redolent with so much oppression, deprivation, discrimination, rejection, humiliation, abuse and injustice; “ikpakachi” (spirit husbands), high bride price, arrangee-marriages, levirate marriage (oya-ogwu); second burial (ubi) rites; masquerade cults; coronation and initiation of traditional rulers etc.; the issue of caste system or descendants of slaves (amoma adu); use of charms; incisions, oath-taking, rain-making, or reincarnation rites; traditional festivals; etc.
Some of the cultural or traditional practices mentioned above have gone extinct in some areas of the land, but are still so prevalent in many other places. However, there are many other practices which may not be directly related to traditional religion but which are values which need to be cultivated, cherished or modified with all sense of commitment. Such values include the use of Igala proverbs, myths, legends, language, sculpture, greetings, (including tribal marks, tattooing, body decoration), cuisines, discipline, dressing and agriculture.
PERSONHOOD (ONẸ) IN IGALA WORLDVIEW: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPRAISAL