What should we know about Igala culture?

People are wondering who Igala people are. Do they have rich culture and ancient traditions? What is their origin and how it has affected their life? You’ll find all the answers here!

Igala family

Igala, atagara, okpoto are people in central Nigeria, in the states of Benue and Anambra south of the Benue River and to the east of the Niger River. There are 1070 thousand people. They are divided into Igala, ebu and ibaji living on the right bank of the Niger (Bendel State). Igala culture and tradition are very rich.

The population of Igala is about four million. Over 70% of people are subsistence farmers. The true Igala ethnic group is very populated in their own settlements around the main towns such as Ankpa, Anyigba and Idah.

Igala culture

Other ethnic groups mostly include the Hausa, Yoruba, Nupe, Tiv, Idoma, Ebira Igbo, as well as a lot of immigrants from the Etsako Local Government Area of large Edo State.

Different people from variety ethnic origins, speak different languages living in Igalaland. The dominant group is the Igala people themselves. They are regarded as the most primordial one of all the identified groups that currently exist in that area. Igala language is of Niger-Kordofanian family. There are the major Igala dialects - Center, Ida, Ebu, And Ibaji and Ankpa. Hausa and Igbo languages are also popular. Writing was created on the basis of Latin graphics. Most Igala people are adheres to traditional beliefs, some are the Sunni Muslims.

Igala map

Igala believe that they have a common origin with the Yoruba. Since the beginning of the 16th century Igala established close ties with Benin and chiefdoms Nupe. In the 13-16 centuries, there was an early politician education with the center in Ida city, which flourished in the 18th century as a major center for the slave trade, and in the 19th century - palm oil; from the middle of the 19th century – depending on the emirate Nassarawa.

Main activity of Igala people is manual slash-and-burn agriculture (yam, maize, sorghum, millet, vegetables, cotton, cocoa), cattle (cattle, sheep, goats) plays a secondary role (animals are not milked). They collect the fruit, the oil palm and rubber, like hunting, fishing. The pottery is produced for their own consumption. Agriculture is mainly done by women; men are clearing the land and graze cattle. Basic crafts are blacksmithing, leather products and manufacture of fishing nets.

Igala woman

They retain the traditional social structures (huge family community with the patrilineal clan organization, secret society for men, dance associations). Ruler of Igala - ata (‘the sacred king’), who rules the leaders of different ranks.

Most of the settlements are of rural type (lay scattered). Each household consists of a few huts, circular in plan, with a conical roof and mud walls.

Traditional clothing of Igala people is a piece of cloth wrapped around the hips; one end of it is thrown over one’s shoulder. The clothes resembling Hausa ones are very popular too.

Traditional clothing of Igala

READ ALSO: "Attah Igala" strikes Fulani Herdsmen and their cattle with a thunder

The main food is plant ones (porridge, stew, boiled and baked vegetables and tubers, as a condiment - palm oil), fish and meat.

Among the Igala Kola nut (which is called obi) is extremely important. It has deep socio- religious significance and is usually eaten during their socio-religious gatherings. No traditional marriage can be performed in Igala-land without it. Its eating and breaking mostly symbolize peace, love, unity and acceptance under the protective eyes of their Ọjọchamachala (God) and also Ibegwu (Ancestors).

Traditional food of Igala

As they are farmers, they need more hands on the farm. So men married much more wives in order to raise more kids whose help was extremely needed on the farms. Besides that, in some regions polygamy was a real status thing and also a reflection of a man’s wealth. The more prevalent was considered the compound family, where a man, his wives and kids were together.

The compound and nuclear families were, indeed, the units of the wider and also longer-lasting patrilineal joints, which usually comprised two or even more generations of sons and brothers, their wives and also children. So it means that Igala families are mostly long-lasting and also self-perpetuating as the death of one member does not make any difference to the overall structure. Such structure can last over a few generations with a huge membership - up to 100 people or more.

Traditional Igala girl

The calendar rites are developed too. The biggest festival is considered to be the Festival EHP dedicated to commemoration of the ancestors, as well as a hunting ceremony ocho. The different cult forces of nature, magic and witchcraft are also popular. There are all a lot of genres of folklore.

Culture and traditions

Culture and traditions

The Igala traditions are mostly mythological in their character, and the early period had not had the same time value as much latter part of their dynastic record. Instead it often takes a synoptic view of the ancient past, compressing different events and also developments that must have covered a lot of centuries into single reigns. Abutu Eje is remembered as he has associations with the leopard myth; his name Eje or leopard, means a symbol of his own descent from original mythical founder of their royal clan. Similarly, Ebulejonu is often treated by Clifford as a real historical figure, whereas, indeed, the account of her reign contains a lot of mythological allusions to their marriage between the Ebulejonu and Achadu.

This marriage may be a symbol of the ritual leader that the kingmakers possess over the king through their huge control of the succession and of the total earth cult. All the early members of that royal house had mythological attributes, and cannot be regarded as historical figures occupying the same dimension of historical reality as the real kings, who previously ruled Igala land in the nineteenth century. For example, Ayegba is considered to be the founder of the whole dynasty in the sense that a man formed the apical ancestor of their royal house, and in the other sense that (people say) he had fought a war which later freed Igala from severe Junkun control.

Igala couple

But Ayagba is also a stereotypical figure, a creator and founder in the same kind of historical and tradition idiom as Oduduwa of the Yoruba people, or Nyikang of the Shilluk people. Supposedly his historical achievements symbolized the creation of their nation with all its important political institutions and full individuality, which was always noticed.

Each tradition emphasizes a totally different aspect of their mythical past, and their problem of trying to account for divergent traditions of Igala origin resolves itself into a huge problem of explaining the real function of myth in the whole Igala tradition. And this brings them on to the third major problem, which is separating the different political facets of their traditions from the historical aspects, since most people suggest that the function of myths in the Igala culture is mainly political.

Igala leader

In the tradition of Igala, the infants get three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way to identify each other. However, this practice is becoming less common. Igala cultural dressing - a piece of cloth wrapped around the hips, one end of it put over the shoulder.

The basis of the national cuisine is plant food - porridge, stew, boiled and baked vegetables and tubers dressed with palm oil.


Igala people

It is very interesting to note that the wonderful culture has flourished in Igala in the prehistoric times. The culture had held on to the entire gamut of the Igala people life, so making its traits well-known through the much publicized arts, customs, moral philosophy, artifact, crafts, dress code, language, knowledge, festivals, religious beliefs, historical relics etc.

Earlier the cultural life of these people has been a very pleasant reflection of unique cultural endowments, which are characterized by a wide range of different taboos. They prohibited all forms of any evil practices in their society. For example, the traditional religion was an addition to being used for deep spiritual fulfillment. Their religion equally served as a very important source of their political control. Like the other traditions, which we’ve already mentioned above.

Attah Igala

People were afraid of being sanctioned by the dangerous ancestral spirits and so, lived a normal life with very high moral philosophy. They had good manners, while the societal evils were often equally abhorred. At the same time, the security was provided thanks to the social and cultural norms and also thanks to the use of masquerades for practical enforcement of their rules and also regulations.

Igala mask

 The use of masquerades usually believed to be some ancestors’ incarnate or personification, symbolically representing their watchful eyes (of their founding fathers of the kingdom in our world. It is very a common phenomenon in the whole African society. Also the powers of some certain traditional masquerades like Ekwe, Egwu afia, Abule to publicly identify, discipline or even  sanction thieves, terrible witches and those who often violated their cultural norms of the good society was a very common feature. That was why the masquerades were always greatly respected and feared.

igala boy

Similarly, there were very strict table manners. The child first washed his hands just then sit well before eating only with his right hand. He should not speak while he was eating. His parents should sent him on any errand. And after the dinner (or breakfast or supper), he came to his mother and father in order to greet and also pray ‘ojo ki denyo wa’ which meant ‘thank you and may God bring more blessings’. They usually started with this and then continued to train well-mannered kids.

national Igala clothing

Another interesting aspect of rich Igala culture, which is noteworthy, is the mutual relationship that exists between kids of one family or by some extension between the youth and the elders in the society. Igala tradition makes the young person after greeting his mother and father in the morning, equally do the same thing to his elder brother, saying ‘enegbani, I wola odudu’ which in English means ‘good morning my elder brother’. The next thing for a younger family member to do is to listen and also answer all the questions that may come from the elder brother in a very polite and, of course, humble manner.

The kid must do the same to his elder sisters, all other members of the family and the whole society, in some cases. In addition, the young person never talks while the elders are talking to him, and he must respond only in a very respectful manner as like he is answering to his father. He can’t lose his temper while receiving any query from the elders. This happens because the tradition demands that elders should get a deep respect and also unquestioning obedience.

 Igala girl

Igala culture is very rich and beautiful. These people should be proud of themselves and their ancestors, as they have managed to maintain such legendary culture in our world.

Your comment
Add image

By posting your comment, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.