Igbo war tower in Awka Nibo Nise. Early 20th Century

HomeArchitectureIgbo war tower in Awka Nibo Nise. Early 20th Century
Igbo war tower in Awka Nibo Nise. Early 20th Century. Photograph by Zbigniew Dmochowski. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X
Igbo war tower in Awka Nibo Nise. Early 20th Century. Photograph by Zbigniew Dmochowski. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X

These towers are far from mere remnants of the past. They were vital strongholds built during a tumultuous period – the brutal era of the transatlantic slave trade (15th-19th centuries). As you gaze upon their sturdy forms, captured in Zbigniew Dmochowski’s photographs, imagine the Igbo communities of that time facing a constant threat: slave raiders.

The decentralized nature of Igbo society, with its autonomous villages, made them vulnerable during this dark chapter in history. European powers and their allies fueled the demand for enslaved people, tearing families apart and placing communities under constant fear of raids. The war towers stand as an evidence to the Igbo spirit – their resilience in the face of violence and their determination to protect their people. Yet, they also serve as a somber reminder of the deep scars inflicted by the slave trade.

A closer look at these war towers reveals the ingenuity behind their construction. The sturdy walls, often built with mudbrick or timber reinforced with poles, provided a strong barrier against attackers.

But the defensive strategy went beyond strong walls. The elevated vantage point, achieved through multiple floors, served a dual purpose. Imagine watchtowers crowning the highest floor, offering a panoramic view. This allowed inhabitants to spot approaching raiders from afar, granting them precious time to prepare.

A sketch of the upper floor of a war tower in the compound of Nwankwo Iriezuo by Zbigniew Dmochowski. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X
A sketch of the upper floor of a war tower in the compound of Nwankwo Iriezuo by Zbigniew Dmochowski. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X

I’m the sketch, we see hints of spacious interiors, it was the residence of the patriarch, the head of the household. However, during emergencies, this space transformed into a secure refuge for the entire family. This adaptability reflects the ever-present need for vigilance but also underscores the core Igbo value of protecting loved ones at all costs.

Sadly, time has not been kind to these war towers. Many have crumbled and faded away. The final photograph depicts a lone tower in Umudike, Ukpor, attributed to Dike Madueke.

A lone tower stands in Umudike, Ukpor, a poignant reminder of a vanishing architectural legacy. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X
A lone tower stands in Umudike, Ukpor, a reminder of a vanishing architectural legacy. Image courtesy Ukpuru on X

Its solitary presence serves as a powerful symbol of a vanishing architectural legacy.

We invite you to share your knowledge and experiences. Do you have any ancestral stories about these war towers? Have you encountered any war towers in your travels across Igbo land? What do these war towers tell us about the Igbo spirit of resilience in the face of adversity? Share in the comment section below.


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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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