THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE IGEDE TRIBE OF BENUE STATE

 

THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE IGEDE TRIBE OF BENUE STATE

Written by Rosemary Ochiwu

Perhaps i can hear the the big question popping up and down in your head right now. “Igede? What kind of tribe is that?” but that’s alright. You won’t be the first.  While in the university, each time I answered the question “where are you from?” I often expected two reactions. Either I got a blank stare from a face that twitched in confusion or I met an angry face with eyes that reflected shock.

The confusion came from the average citizen who took it as one more mystery that will remain unsolved about his/her “beloved” Nigeria and her people. The shock came from the above average citizen who takes pride in having a vast knowledge of Nigeria, her people, and their culture.

This means that they take such ignorance as a perceived failure on their part. I vividly recall the words of one professor. He said: “I can’t believe this! You mean there is a tribe in Nigeria that I haven’t heard about? This is unbelievable”

Often, I am put in an unreasonable position of trying to placate this second set of individuals and sometimes, I find myself apologizing to them and saying such beautiful nonsense like “oh sorry about that. It is not your fault you don’t know. Igede is only the third largest tribe in Benue state and very little is known about her people. So it’s alright”.

I usually said all that in a rush, with a comical smile on myself, as I hurriedly extricated myself from that situation and slipped away.

This write up is not just another article you will see on the internet. This write up is a tribute to Al’igede, which means, the people of Igede. A people that so little is known about and the indigenes feel such shame about their heritage that they neglect to mingle with each other in public, having labeled themselves as social pariahs.

I am an Igede lady by tribe and though I have never been there, I have heard so many stories about my hometown from My Dad, an indigene, and my mum, an Idoma woman, who has been there severally and speaks the language fluently.

The History of Al'Igede

As is usual with history, several stories abound about the origin of the Igede tribe but the most common is the story that traces the origin of the Igede people to Sabon Gida Ora in Edo state. This same folklore alleges that we are descended from a high chief of Sabon Gida Ora.

A conflict led to the separation and migration of the Igede people to present day Benue state. This journey had them passing through modern day Nsukka in Enugu state. It is no wonder then, that some Igede names are Igbo sounding. A typical example is my surname Ochiwu which contributes to individuals’ confusion when they hear my name. They are so sure they can place my tribe. 

In the political terrain, the Igede people fall under the south senatorial district of Benue state, with only two local government areas, Obi and Oju. The people of Benue state are known for their agricultural activities and the Igede people are no different. We are known as farmers of cassava, groundnut, yam, and maize.

Igede Festival

My people have a prominent festival known as Igede-Agba. It is a festival to commemorate the harvesting of new yams and no one eats new yams until the day of the festival.

I have found out that this festival is more popular than the people herself. The festival was created in April 1956, following the formation of the Igede Youth association in 1950 and it had as its first chairman a man called Eje Iyanya. The Igede people have five market days known as Ihigile, Isho, Ishoghla, Ihejo and Ihiokwu. But the day chosen for the festival is the first Ihigile day in the month of September. This day was chosen by the leaders of the Igede association formed at that time. 

Each market day has its significance with different meanings. On one of those market days, Ishoghla, it is forbidden to carry out a funeral as it is seen as the equivalent of the Christian holy day of rest. This is strictly adhered to by all. Those who live in the city are not exempted from this and those who insist have to wait till the next day.

The yam festival is preceded by preparations which include weeding of farms, clearing of major roads and foot paths connecting households and villages, and the buying of new dresses for children by their parents, especially the Igede attire.

The Igede attire is known as Ogodogodogo. It consists of blue, black and white colours and together, they signify peace and unity. The black colour specifically signifies the fertile soil of Benue state.

On the eve of the yam festival, heads of households go to their farms to harvest the new yam and the following morning, the women cook and pound the yam, accompanied with lots of meat in a soup of individual choice. The festival celebration is also characterized by gifts of yams given by young men to the eldest member of their family and their lineage. The acceptable, royal numbers in Igede are odd numbers, so the number of yams given must be an odd number.

No celebration is complete without songs and dances and this is no different. Different dance styles are rehearsed and done on that day. Some of them include the ayita dance, ogirinya dance, ogbete dance, akatanka dance, and egbuo dance, all of which are unique to the Igede people.

Igede Culture and Traditional Attire

There are three things about the Igede people which will be highlighted under this section.

Igede Marriage Custom

Marriage is a thing of joy and its sacredness is celebrated in a way that embodies the uniqueness of different culture. The Igede people are no different. A distinct trait of this tribe is the shooting of guns during traditional marriages. This is the glue that binds and certifies that two people are legally married in the eyes of the law. One of my Uncles used to jokingly say that "if you don’t have money, marry an Igede girl. All they need to do is shoot a gun and it’s done!"

A bad part of this is that it can be done without the consent of the woman and it will still be recognized as a marriage by the indigenes. The man plans with his friends and asks the lady to visit him. Once she enters the house, the door is locked till the following day, a gun is shot and the parties involved are deemed married in the eyes of our native law.

In the case of an indigene and a non-indigene, the woman is regarded as married in the eyes of the law but not by non – indigenes. This means that she can get married to a non-indigene.

However, in the case of two indigenes, no one will collect the bride price for that woman if it is paid by another man because she is deemed to be the wife of the man on whose behalf a gun was shot.

Ban on Marriage to the Tiv Tribe of Benue State

The second distinct culture is the ban on marriage by an Igede man/woman to a tiv man/woman. This is rooted in the belief that the Tiv people do not frown upon sexual relations between relatives.

My father told me of a story about an encounter on one of his trips to the village. On this fateful day, the travel band consisted of my father and some kinsmen. On their way, one of the vehicles collided with a stranger’s car which necessitated their filing a report in a police station. At the station, they met a Tiv man who brought an Igbo man to the station. His complaint was that the Igbo man committed adultery with his wife.

It would have just been another story in a society with a depleting moral compass. But, what made it memorable to my father, and to me as well, was the statement by the Tiv man. He said 

“Officer, if na my brother, e for go even better. That one, no fit be problem. But this man na total  stranger. I no go let am go oo”.

This ban on marriage is seriously adhered to, such that when the groom is a Tiv man, no one collects the bride price of the lady. When a man insists on marrying a Tiv woman, she is openly scorned by other Igede women during festivals and community gatherings. The same goes for the Igede woman who insists on marrying a Tiv man.

Female Genital Mutilation

The final culture is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Although this is not peculiar to the Igede people, it is worth mentioning because of the rationale for the practice. My sisters and I would have been victims of this but for my Father, who doggedly insisted that there is no medical basis for this culture and it will not be accepted.

The rationale for this is rooted in the story of a woman who went to the city and came back with a voracious appetite for sex. To avoid a repetition, a conclusion was arrived at along the line of if the clitoris is cut off, then the women will be less likely to engage in premarital sexual acts.

I am thankful that now, efforts are being made to combat this unsavoury practice around the world.

Igede People in National Politics

The Igede people are not a fixture in national politics and this makes the effort of the few who doggedly forged a path to the top, worth mentioning in this article. Some of these notable individuals include Ode Ojowu, the economic Adviser to former president Obasanjo and the CEO of National Planning Commission, Oga Okwoche, former Nigerian ambassador to France, and his son Peter Okwoche, the former host of the BBC Focus on Africa TV News Magazine program.


Conclusion

As with all things in life, the Igede people have their good and bad components but at the end, it is my origin and they are my people. I know now that I do not have to acquiesce to everything they hold dear and I no longer feel shame for belonging to a minority tribe.

Now, when I am asked “where are you from?” I answer with an inward pride, an outward confidence and a calm smile: “I am an Igede girl from the local government of Obi and the village of Echori".

This is my identity, this is my culture, these are my people.


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