Heavy wood door from Nri Awka, 19th-20th century

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Heavy wood door from Nri Awka, 19th-20th century
Heavy wood door from Nri Awka, 19th-20th century. Image Courtesy: The Africa Archive

This heavy wooden door, known as ḿgbó èzí in the Igbo language, is more than just an entrance. It’s a statement piece, a symbol of status, and a testament to the artistic heritage of the Igbo people.

These doors were traditionally used as grand entryways to the enclosed compounds of titled men. The Nri-Awka region has a long history of creating highly elaborate carved gateways, reflecting the importance placed on such structures in Igbo society.

Symbolic Strength

The intricate carvings on these doors are a fascinating blend of symbolism and artistry. They often incorporate elements of ichi facial markings, traditionally worn by men, alongside uli designs, typically associated with women. However, in the context of ḿgbó èzí, the uli motifs take on a more masculine character, reflecting the elevated social status of the homeowner.

The size and elaborateness of the carvings served a dual purpose. They not only displayed the wealth and prestige of the family head, but also hinted at the grandeur of the òbí, the central meeting building within the compound. The ḿgbó èzí stood as a guardian, protecting not just the family but also the sacred space within the compound, which might house shrines visited by travelers seeking blessings and good fortune.

A Legacy of Skilled Carvers

The creation of these magnificent doors was entrusted to highly skilled professional carvers. The carvers of Awka were particularly renowned for their artistry. These craftsmen, often belonging to specific patrilineages (umunna), were not only responsible for crafting doors but also produced wooden panels, shrine figures, and other ritual objects.

Sadly, the Nigerian-Biafran war significantly impacted the creation of ḿgbó èzí. Prior to the conflict, these doors were far more common.

Mgbó èzí are more than just architectural elements; they are windows into Igbo history, social structure, and artistic expression.

What questions do you have about these fascinating doors?

Have you ever seen a ḿgbó èzí in person?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Explore Further

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

Lessons From Vernacular Architecture in Nigeria – February 15, 2019 by Joyce Lodson

Contemporary architecture today has its roots from the vernacular. All cultural groups in the world have their unique form of vernacular architecture though approaches vary from place to place and from people to people. Many values can be found in vernacular architecture which is relevant to contemporary architecture today. This book looks at vernacular architecture in Nigeria as practiced by two ethnic groups who have varying climatic, religious and socio-cultural practices. The approaches to architecture by these two groups, i.e. the Hausas and Igbos, are looked at with the intention of finding positive values in the vernacular which can be applied to contemporary architecture both within Nigeria and beyond.

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Igbo Art And Culture: And Other Essays (Classic Authors and Texts on Africa) – January 1, 2006

This volume encompasses over forty years of scholarly research on African art, both traditional and modern, by the anthropologist, Simon Ottenberg. Focus is on the arts of the Afikpo, an Igbo group in southeastern Nigeria and on Bafodea Limba of northern Sierra Leone. The essays discuss art objects and music in the context of their use in performance and ritual, and the symbolism of aesthetic forms and behavior. Stress in the writing is placed on obtaining Africans’ conceptions of their own arts blended with Western viewpoints. The writing is based on extensive research in Africa.

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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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