Igbo, also called Ibo, people living chiefly in southeastern Nigeria who speak Igbo, a language of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. The Igbo may be grouped into the following main cultural divisions: northern, southern, western, eastern or Cross River, and northeastern. Before European colonization, the Igbo were not united as a single people but lived in autonomous local communities. By the mid-20th century, however, a sense of ethnic identity was strongly developed, and the Igbo-dominated Eastern region of Nigeria tried to unilaterally secede from Nigeria in 1967 as the independent nation of Biafra. By the turn of the 21st century, the Igbo numbered some 20 million. Most Igbo traditionally have been subsistence farmers, their staples being yams, cassava, and taro. The other crops they grow include corn(maize), melons, okra, pumpkins, and beans. Among those still engaged in agriculture, men are chiefly responsible for yam cultivation, women for other crops. Land is owned communally by kinship groups and is made available to individuals for farming and building. Some livestock, important as a source of prestige and for use in sacrifices, is kept. The principal exports are palm oil and palm kernels. Trading, local crafts, and wage labour also are important in the Igbo economy, and a high literacy rate has helped many Igbo to become civil servants and business entrepreneurs in the decades after Nigeria gained independence. It is notable that Igbo women engage in trade and are influential in local politics.
The Igbo people have a traditional religious belief that there is one creator, called ‘Chineke’ or ‘Chukwu’. The creator can be approached through many other deities and spirits in the form of natural objects, most commonly through the god of thunder called ‘Amadioha’. Others gods include ‘Ala’, the feminine earth spirit, ‘Anyanwu’ (meaning ‘eye of the sun’) a deity believed to dwell on the sun, and ‘Idemili’, the water goddess whose symbol is that of a python. After Nigeria was colonized, most Igbos (more than 90%) became Christian, which is still the predominant religion today.
In Igbo culture, a marriage is contracted by the man asking for the woman’s hand from her father, which is the first stage called ‘ikuaka‘ (‘to knock on the door’). The second stage and second visit of the groom and his family members to the woman’s family will involve the presence of her extended family, where they must also give their consent. The groom will pay a third visit to pay the bride price and collect from his future in-laws the list of items he will bring to the woman’s family for the wedding. The fourth and final stage is the wedding itself, called ‘igba nkwu‘ or ‘wine carrying’ where the bride will come out to look for her groom (who will hide in the crowd) and offer him a cup of palm wine. The couple is then blessed by the family and well wishers, and celebrations begin.