Igboland (Standard Igbo: Àlà Ị̀gbò), also known as Southeastern Nigeria, is the indigenous homeland of the Igbo people. It is a non-governmental cultural and common linguistic region in southern Nigeria. Geographically, it is divided by the lower Niger River into two unequal sections – an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section. It is characterised by the diverse Igbo culture and the equally diverse Igbo language.
Politically, Igboland is divided into several southern Nigerian states. Culturally, it is divided into several subgroupings, including the Anioma, Ngwa, Edda Egbebu, Ezaa, Ibeku, Ohuhu, Omuma and the Ekpeye. William Balfour Baikie remarked that “in Igbo[land] each person hails, as a sailor would say, from the particular district where he was born, but when away from home all are Igbos. And yet considerable differences exist between different parts of this extensive country, and the dialects spoken also vary greatly.
Geography and biodiversity
Historically, Igboland has taken up a large part of southeastern Nigeria, mostly on the eastern side of the Niger River. It extends westward across the Niger to the regions of Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ukwuani, and Ika in present-day Delta State and also minute parts of Edo State in Nigeria. Its eastern side is terminated by the Cross River, although micro-communities exist over on the other side of the river; its northernmost point enters the Savannah climate around Nsukka.
Bonny Island and Opobo are often included in the Igbo speaking region since the language of trade of the island and town is Igbo and since many inhabitants are ethnic Igbo. Through these ports, the Igbo speaking region reaches the Atlantic Ocean to its south, although both towns are geographically separated from the rest of Igboland by smaller Ijaw and Andoni speaking communities.
In Nigeria today, Igboland is roughly made up of Abia,Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, and major parts of Delta andRivers states. Small parts of Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cross River, Edo, and Kogi State make up the rest of Igboland. More than 30 million people inhabit Igboland and with a population density ranging from 140 to 390 inhabitants per square kilometre (350 to 1,000/sq mi) it could be the most densely populated area in Africa after the Nile Valley. Altogether Igboland has an area of some 40,900 to 41,400 km2(15,800 to 16,000 sq mi).
Igboland is surrounded on all sides by a host of large rivers, and other southern and central Nigeria indigenous tribes namely Bini, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ogoni, Igala, Tiv, Yako, Idoma and Ibibio. In the words of William B. Baikie, “Igbo homeland, extends east and west, from the Old Kalabar river to the banks of the Kwora, Niger River, and possesses also some territory at Aboh, an Igbo clan, to the west-ward of the latter stream. On the north it borders on Igara,Igala and A’kpoto, and it is separated from the sea only by petty tribes, all of which trace their origin to this great race”.
It is primarily situated in the Lowland forest region of Nigeria, with parts in the Niger-Delta, where the Niger river fans out into the atlantic ocean in a vast network of creeks and mangrove swamps on the Bight of Bonny.
The earliest found settlements in Igboland date back to 4500 BC in the central area, from where the majority of the Igbo-speaking population is believed to have migrated. The northern Igbo Kingdom of Nri, which rose around the 10th century AD, is credited with the foundation of much of Igboland’s culture, customs, and religious practices. It is the oldest existing monarchy in present-day Nigeria. In southern Igboland several groups developed, of which the most notable was the Aro confederacy. Igboland was part of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate of the British Empireand was amalgamated into modern-day Nigeria in 1914; the nation gained independence in 1960. Shortly afterwards Igboland was involved in its biggest war during Biafra’s movement for secession, which eventually ended in 1970 when this area rejoined Nigeria.
Ancient trade routes
Within its various clans and peoples, and with its ancient trading neighbours, allies and lately with Europeans. Mr W. B. Baikie said, “I seized the moment, and, by our interpreter, told Tshukuma, that we had come to make his acquaintance and his friendship, and to ascertain if the people were willing to trade with us”, whilst signing a trade agreement with Igbo chief, Mr Tshukuma (Chukwuma) Obi from Aboh clan, who were one of the leading Igbo clans, engaged in early active trading with Europe. Similarly, “after our salutations, I spoke of friendship, of trade, and of education, and particularly enlarged upon the evils of war, and the benefits of peace, all of which was well received”, remarked William B. Balkie when signing a trade agreement with Igbo chief, Ezebogo in Asaba on August 30, 1885.
Due to the native common linguistic standard and interrelated cultures in Igboland, pre-dating the arrival of Europeans, the lower Niger River, which divides Igboland into unequal eastern and western parts, has from ancient times continued to provide easy means of communication, trading and unity amongst the natives on both sides of the Niger River, as well as promoted ancient trade and migration of people into Igboland, and between Igboland and rest of the world. Some of the notable ancient trade and export routes in Igboland included the famous lower Niger and Njaba-Oguta lake-Orashi navigational routes via Asaba-Onitsha-Aboh, and Egbuoma, Awo-omamma-Oguta-Ogba–Egbema–Ndoni-Aboh ferry services respectively.
READ: Igbo King (Eze)
Pre-history (6000–3000 BC)
Early settlement of Igboland dates back to 6000 BC based on early pottery work found in the Okigwe, Oka Igwe, and known today as Awka. Some local Villagers retains the Original name, like Umuzuoka, The Black miths Ezioka, Okigwe, Imoka, etc Oka ,igwe-Nsukka axis. There is, however, evidence of Palaeolithic man settling in southern Nigeria from at least 10,000 years ago. Much of the pottery excavated by a team led by Thurstan Shaw with the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1978 uncovered a rock quarry which was a mine for tool and pottery making for a ‘stone civilisation’ nearby at Ibagwa. Anthropologists at the University of Benin discovered fossils and use of monoliths dating back to 6000 BC at Ugwelle-Uturu in the Okigwe area. Further evidence of ancient settlements were uncovered at a hypothesised Nsukka metal cultural area from 3000 BC and later settlements attributed to Ngwa culture at AD 8-18.
Ancient history (3000 BC–AD 300)
The Nsukka-Okigwe axis forms as a basis for a proposed Proto-Igbo cultural heartland antecedent to contemporary Igbo culture. It is unclear what cultural links there are between these pre-historic artifacts and today. Later human settlement in the region may have links with other discoveries made in the wider area particularly with the culture associated with the terracotta discoveries based at Nok spanning a wide area about north-central Nigeria.
Much of the Igbo population is believed to have migrated from a smaller area in this region, starting several independent Igbo-speaking tribes, village-groups, kingdoms and states. The movements were generally broken into two trends in migration: a more northerly spread group towards the banks of the Niger and the upper quadrant of the Cross River; the other, following a southerly trail had mostly risen from the Isu populations based nearer the axis from which the majority of southern Igbo communities were populated. Mbaise are notably the best examples of an Igbo group claiming autochthony and rejecting many migratory histories about their origins, many of these groups either way are evidently culturally northern or southern Igbo based on the proximity of their traditions to those of their neighbours and, many times, familial and political ties.
READ: Igbo Art (Ǹkà Igbo)
Igbo-Ukwu and early settlements (300–900)
Isiah Anozie was digging in his compound to install a cistern in 1939 when he stumbled unto the first finds of the Igbo Ukwu metal and precious artefacts that led to the discovery of a larger network of linked metal works from the 9th century. The works were based in Igbo Ukwu and further finds were found by archaeology teams led by Thurstan Shaw in 1959-60 and in 1964 in the compound of Jonah Anozie.
Initially, throughout the 1960s and 1970s it was thought that the Igbo Ukwu bronze and copper items were of an external origin or were influenced by outside technology due to their technical sophistication. The opposite was revealed to be true since local copper deposits had been exploited by the 9th century and anthropological evidence, such as the Ichi-like scarifications on the human figures, show local origin. The works have been attributed to an isolated bronze industry which had developed without outside influence over time to reach such sophistication.
Igbo trade routes of the early second millennium reached the cities of Mecca, Medina and Jeddah through a network of trade routes journeyed by middlemen. There was evidence of beads that originated in India in the 9th century Igbo Ukwu burial sites: Thousands of glass beads were uncovered from the ruined remains of a nobleman’s garments. The burial site was associated with the Nri Kingdom which began around the same century according to indigenous history.
Nri and other migrations (900–c. 1560)
The northern Igbo Kingdom of Nri, rising around the 10th century based on Umunri traditions, is credited with the foundation of much of Igboland’s culture, customs, and religious practices. It is the oldest existing monarchy in present-day Nigeria. It was around the mid-10th century that the divine figure Eri is said to have migrated, according to Umunri lore, to the Anambra (Igbo: Omambara) river basin — specifically at its meeting with Niger known as Ezu na Omambara near present-day Onitsha. The exact origins of Eri are unknown and much of Nri traditions present him as a divine leader and civiliser sent from heaven to begin civilisation. In contrast, Eri’s origins generally suggest a north easterly origin which has sparked up debate pertaining to a possible Igala origin for Eri.
Due to historic trade and migration of old, other people also entered the Igboland in about the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries and mixed with the natives. Towards the western end of Igboland, across the Niger River, rose a man known as Eze Chima who fled Benin with his accomplices after a dispute with the Oba of Benin who consequently exiled him in the 1560s. As they left Benin City heading eastwards, Eze Chima and his followers settled in a number of lands and established monarchies with the natives in those areas. Those grew into major village groups and towns after the 16th century. Collectively, these places are known as Umuezechima which translates as ‘the children or descendants of king Chima’.
Igala wars and European contact (1450–18th century)
Igboland was historically known as the Ibo(e), Ebo(e), and Heebo Country by early European explorers. Igboland was conquered by the British Empire after several decades of resistance on all fronts; some of the most famous of the resistance include the Ekumeku Movement, the Anglo-Aro War, and theAba Women’s Riots which was contributed to by women of different ethnic backgrounds in eastern Nigeria.
The extreme northern parts of Igboland in the eighteenth were subject to much raiding by elements of the Igala people of Idah under Onoja Oboni, a descendant of one of the Idah royal families. The conflicts drew down further into areas in central northern Igboland, particularly Nsugbe near where early European settlers with Joseph Hawkins noted events from parts of the conflicts between the ‘Ebo Country’ and ‘Galla’ in A History of a Voyage to the Coast of Africa published in 1797. Umunri traditions state that Onoja Oboni, however, is of royal Nri stock and founded Idah as he trailed northwards. The Igala do not claim origins from Onoja Oboni or the Igbo.
Arochukwu and the slave trade (1750–1850)
A number of polities rose either directly or indirectly as a result of Nri; the most powerful kingdom of these was the Aro Confederacy which rose in the Cross River region in the 17th century and declined after British colonisation in the early 20th century. The Aro state centred on Arochukwu followed Nri’s steady decline, basing much of its economic activities on the rising trade in slaves to Europeans by coastal African middlemen.
The present site of Arochukwu was originally settled by the Ibibio people under the Obong Okon Ita kingdom before the conquest of what became Obinkita in the 17th century by two main Igbo groups: the Eze Agwu clan and the Oke Nnachi assisted by the Ibom Isi (or Akpa) mercenaries under the leadership of the Nnubi dynasty. Led by Agwu Nnobia, the descendant of Nna Uru from Igboland, the Eze Agwu clan were centred at their capital Amanagwu and were resisted by Obong Okon Ita which led to the start of the Aro-Ibibio Wars.
The war initially became a stalemate. Both sides arranged a marriage between the king of Obong Okon Ita and a woman from Amanagwu. The marriage eventually failed to bring peace but played a decisive role in the war. Oke Nnachi was led by Nnachi Ipia who was a dibia or priest among the Edda people and was called by Agwu Nnobia to help in the war against the Ibibio. These groups were followed by a third non-Igbo Ekoi-cultured group, Akpa or Ibom Oburutu who were led by Akuma Nnaubi, the first Eze Aro, the title of the king of the Aro.
In southern Igboland several groups developed mostly independent of Nri influence. Most of these groups followed a migration out of Isu communities in present-day Imo State, although some communities, such as the Mbaise cluster of village groups, claim to be autochthonous.
Colonial era (1850–1960)
Following the British parliament’s abolition of the slave trade in 1830, the British royal navy had opened up trade with coastal towns Bonny and Opobo and further inland on the Niger with Asaba in the 1870s. The palm oil industry, the biggest export, grew large and important to the British who traded here. British arrival and trade led to increased encounters between the Igbo and other polities and ethnic groups around the Niger River and led to a deepening sense of a distinct Igbo ethnic identity. Missionaries had started arriving in the 1850s. The Igbo, at first wary of the religion, started to embrace Christianity and Western education as traditional society broke down. Christianity had played a great part in the introduction of European ideology into Igbo society and culture often time through erasure of cultural practice; adherents to the denominations were often barred in partaking in ancient rites and traditions, and joining fraternities and secret societies were forbidden as the church grew stronger.
Due to the incompatibility of the Igbo decentralized style of government and the centralized system required for British indirect rule, British colonial rule was marked with open conflicts and much tension. Under British colonial rule, the diversity within each of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups slowly decreased and distinctions between the Igbo and other large ethnic groups, such as the Hausa and the Yoruba, became sharper. British rule brought about changes in culture such as the introduction of warrant chiefs as Eze (traditional rulers) where there were no such monarchies.
Nigerian independence (1960s)
Following the independence of Nigeria from the United Kingdom in 1960, most of Igboland was included in its Eastern Region.
Biafra and the Nigerian–Biafran War (1967–1970)
Following a coup in 1966 which saw mostly Igbo soldiers assassinating politicians from the western and northern regions of Nigeria, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi seized control of Lagos, the capital, and came into power as military head of state of Nigeria. In revolt and retaliation against the government General Aguiyi-Ironsi was ambushed and assassinated by Northern members of the military on 29 July 1966 in a revolt against that had strong ethnic overtones. Ironsi’s assassination stood out more because of the method of his killers; Ironsi had his legs tied to the back of a Land Rover and was driven around town while still attached. The Eastern Region formed the core of the secessionist Republic of Biafra. A regional council of the peoples of Eastern Nigeria decided the region should secede as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
Nigerian General Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu on this day made a declaration of independence of Biafra from Nigeria and became the head of state of the new republic. The Nigerian Civil War (or the “Nigerian-Biafran War”) lasted from 6 July 1967 until 15 January 1970, after which Biafra once again became part of Nigeria. The Republic of Biafra was defeated after three years of war by the federal government of Nigeria from 1967 to 1970 with military support from the United Kingdom (strategy and ammunition), Soviet Union (ammunition), the United Arab Republic (air force), as well as with support from other states around the world. The effects of Nigerian war strategies on Biafran civilians (most of whom were ethnic Igbo) remains a controversial topic. The movement for the sovereignty of Biafra has continued with a minority, most making up the MASSOB organisation.