Dubois, Mary Elizabeth

Igbo people

In the 19th century, much of Africa was still under the veil of colonization. British efforts to colonize present-day Nigeria resulted in severe cultural and political changes among many societies in the region, most specifically, the Igbo people. Almost completely detached from “sophisticated” civilization beforehand, the Igbo people and their identity as a society radically changed with the arrival of a British presence. Specifically, the British inspired a political reworking of the society, the permeation of Christianity with native beliefs, and a search for an ethnic identity that ultimately lead to a civil war and present-day conflicts.

Before the British arrived in Nigeria, the Igbo people and their surrounding societies subsisted under a peaceful, decentralized government. This government consisted of small, tight knit communities that ensured equality and promoted the assembly of the common people. A council of elders typically administered these communities, and though respected, the common people did not consider the elders “kings” or “deities.” This helped maintain a balanced equality amongst citizens and leaders.

With the arrival of a centralized form of government, courtesy of the British, the Igbo’s political system collapsed. Increasing British colonial rule introduced and enforced Warrant Chiefs (monarchies) as rulers over the societies, heavily contrasting with their previous form of decentralized power. Ultimately, the British changed the political atmosphere of the Igbo people, most effectively through the use of Christianity as a persuasive tool.

Ancient Igbo society worshiped a solar deity called Chuckwu, believed in reincarnation, and practiced polygamy. The presence of Christian missionaries during the colonial period radically changed these views. Remarkably, despite the very different cultural and social practices of the two very different belief systems, most Igbo were enthusiastic about the conversion to Christianity and Western religion. Despite the cooperation, the religious conversion radically changed the cultural and political dynamic of the society, which would then go on to separate the Igbo people from both their ancient past and their new British role model.

The most specific ramifications of the colonial period dwell in the political, cultural, and technological arena. With these new tools and ideologies, the Igbo people began to search for a concrete, ethnic identity, which would eventually cause conflicts with other Nigerian peoples. A direct consequence and example is the Nigerian Civil War. Today, MASSOB, an organization formed in 1999, continues a peaceful struggle for an independent Igbo state. As far as defining a worldwide ramification, without the British colonization of the Igbo people, Africa would, perhaps, have remained untouched. African identity, particularly Nigerian identity, would not be what it is today without the Igbo people’s specific ideological shift from equality to monarchy; native religion to Christianity.