Igbo - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Traditional Igbo social life is based on membership in kinship groups and parallel but complementary dual-sex associations, which are of great importance to the integration of society. The associations take several forms, including age grades, men's societies, women's societies, and prestige-title societies such as the Nze or Ozo for men and the Omu, Ekwe, or Lolo for women. The interlocking nature of these groups prevents the concentration of authority in any one association. Age sets are informally established during childhood. Respect and recognition among the Igbo are accorded not only on the basis of age, but also through the acquisition of traditional titles. In Igbo society, an individual may progress through at least five levels of titles. One could liken the acquisition of titles to the acquisition of academic degrees. Titles are expensive to obtain, and each additional title costs more than the preceding one; they are, therefore, considered a sure means to upward mobility.

Political Organization. The basic political unit among the Igbo is the village. Two types of political systems have been distinguished among the Igbo on both sides of the Niger River: the democratic village republic type, found among the Igbo living to the east of the Niger River, and the constitutional monarchy type, found among Igbo in Delta State and the riverine towns of Onitsha and Ossomali. Most of the villages or towns that have the latter type of political system have two ruling monarchs—one female and one male. The obi (male monarch) is theoretically the father of the whole community, and the omu (female monarch) is theoretically the mother of the whole community; the duties of the latter, however, center mainly around the female side of the community.

Women engage in village politics (i.e., manage their affairs, separately from the men). They do this by establishing their own political organizations, which come under an overall village or town Women's Council under the leadership of seasoned matriarchs. It was this organizational system that enabled Igbo women and Ibibio women to wage an anticolonial struggle against the British in 1929 known as the Women's War (Ogu Umunwayi).

Both types of political systems are characterized by the smallness in size of the political units, the wide dispersal of political authority between the sexes, kinship groups, lineages, age sets, title societies, diviners, and other professional groups. Colonialism has had a detrimental effect on the social, political, and economic status of traditional Igbo women, resulting in a gradual loss of autonomy and power.


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