Ceramic Alter for the Igbo Agriculture Deity Ifejioku. c 1890

HomeArtCeramic Alter for the Igbo Agriculture Deity Ifejioku. c 1890
Ceramic Alter for the Igbo yam/agriculture deity Ifejioku from Osisa in the Ndokwa Igbo area, 1890s
Ceramic Alter for the Igbo Agriculture Deity Ifejioku, Osisa in the Ndokwa Igbo area, c 1890. British Museum

The Igbo people, with their rich cultural heritage, have a fascinating system of kinship and religious practices. One remarkable artifact that sheds light on their beliefs is the ceramic altarpiece dedicated to the yam/agriculture deity Ifejioku. This altarpiece, housed at the British Museums, let’s us look into the spiritual world of the Igbo communities during the late 19th centuries.

The altarpiece features a central male figure surrounded by family members. These figures represent ancestors and their preferred mode of manifestation in the human world. Let’s delve deeper into the significance of this intriguing piece.

Agnatic Kinship and Leadership

Igbo societies are structured around agnatic kinship, where lineage and descent play a crucial role. At the heart of this system is the Okpara Ukwu, the first son of a family. The Okpara heads the Umunna, a section of the village tracing its lineage back to a common father. As we move up the patrilineage, the umunna expands until it encompasses the entire community

The Role of the Okpara

The okpara assumes religious responsibilities within the household. These elders, typically the first sons of deceased fathers, oversee ritual duties. During umunna meetings, they hold the sacred Ọfọ (staff of authority). Even after British colonization, the Okpara system continued to influence leadership in many Igbo communities, with the British often appointing Okpara Warrant Chiefs during the colonial era.

Ritual Authority

In Igbo culture, a person with a living father relies on them for religious duties. The okpara’s role extends beyond mere leadership; it encompasses spiritual guidance. However, this responsibility isn’t exclusive to men. The eldest daughter (Ada) also shares in these duties, tending to women’s shrines under the Umuada (daughters of the lineage). Married women bring their Chi shrine under the household’s protection.

Interestingly, those who aren’t household heads have limited involvement in religious duties. Sons must wait until their father’s passing before acquiring true ritual authority, including the right to bear titles. Thus, in Igbo culture, A man is not considered a man until his father dies.

As we explore the past through artifacts like this ceramics altarpiece, let’s encourage dialogue. What aspects of Igbo culture resonate with you? Share your thoughts below!


Explore Further

For those interested in delving deeper, consider these insightful books available on Amazon:

Ada/Umuada in Igbo Land Nigeria.: Ada Igbo. by Okeke Vivian

This book is all about the first born daughters in Igbo Land in Eastern part of Nigeria.

They are considered the most important people in every Igbo community, they are respected alot.

This book is dedicated to all First daughters in Igbo Land, because they are highly regarded and cherished by men and gods of the land.

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The Igbo Gods by Mitchelle Benjamin
The igbo people, a tribe in the Eastern part of Nigeria, located in the western part of Africa always believed in their (chi),meaning (God), and just as the people differs in tradition, so is also there believe in their (chi), this books unfolds the different god's of the igbo land

Just as the days of the weeks are 7days, the igbo tribe believes in the ancestral days numbering which goes in line with the 4 major market days in the igbo land up till days, theses days are considered to be the days big events tends to happen, appointment are booked using the 4 market days of the week, we have the EKE day. ORIE day, AFOR day and finally the NKWO day, these days are also ruled by different gods, the IGBO tribe of Nigeria is well rooted in their CHI, that we believe that the outcome of our exitances is based on the mercy we receive from our CHI.

AMADIOHA' The god of thunder and lightening, the god of vengeance

ANYANWU' The goddess of the sun

AGBALA' The goddess of the hills and the caves

IKENGA' The god of strength and war

Each CHI, is called upon when needed ,represented by an chosen one to speak for the people in the presence of the god, they hear, speak , listen to the gods , and at the end interpret the messages to the people. The chosen one is the only person permitted to enter the sacred ground, they usually go in with their back while praising the gods , This shows respect and also a sign of appeasing the gods.

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ODINANI: The Igbo Sacred Tradition – February 5, 2021 by Emmanuel Ojiaku


The Igbo religion contain various elements ranging from the divine sacred things, faith, supernatural beings. Religious practices include rituals, commemoration or veneration (of deities and/or saints), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. The Igbo tribe a beautiful ethnic group found in West Africa, have a rich religious and cultural practice. The Religion Odinani, have sacred histories and narratives.

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Onyeka Nwokike
Onyeka Nwokike

Onyeka Nwokike, a graduate from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and a writer at Igbo Archives, is working to challenge common misconceptions and broaden understanding. He has curated a collection of historical photographs and artifacts for Igbo Archives, which helps to fill the educational gaps left by mainstream media and school curricula. His commitment to the celebration and conservation of Igbo heritage has made Igbo Archives an essential resource, cultivating a strong sense of pride and cultural identity within the Igbo community.

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