All About Igala Land: History, Culture, Taboos and Rites


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The ethnic group, Igala, is located in Nigeria. The Igala land is within the angles formed by Benue and Niger rivers. The Igala tribe was part of the Kabba region, but presently, the Igala ethnic group is in Kogi state. The local language spoken by the people of Igala is Igala, but with different dialects.

History of Igala
‘Attah’ is the title given to the traditional rulers of Igala people. The first holder of the title was a woman, Ebule Jonu, she was eventually succeeded by her brother called- Agana- Poje. He is also known as the father of Idoko. Aganna Poje had two sons, Atuyele and Ayegha. The first son, Atiyele left his father’s kingdom to establish his own.

The second son became king after his father, he became the Ata-gala. The title is presently shared by four branches of the Igala royal clan. Igala kingdom expanded it’s fame during the Idah-Benin war. People of Igala announced that the war established independence for the tribe, and boosted its economic and political power.

Villages And Towns In Igala

The Igala kingdom is divided into ruling councils. The ancient kingdom has nine ruling council. The capital of Igala, Idah, is part of the land’s nine subdivisions. Each of the nine council is headed by a chief. The chiefs are appointed through religious and traditional rites of the people. The supreme leader, the Attah, makes the appointment of the chiefs.

Collectively, the nine ruling councils are referred to as Igala mela-odulu. The councils are: Anyiba, Ibaji, Ajaka, Ankpa, Bass, Olamaboro, Omalla, Dekina, Ugwolawo and Ankpa. According to historians, each ruling council had a certain degree of administrative power on certain aspects, such as: tax collection, market trading, amongst others.

Major Occupation/Economy Of The Igala People
Like many early African tribes, Igala’s major occupation was farming and fishing. The colonization of some African countries made it easier to explore other modern occupation. Looking deeply at Igala’s arts, they were involved in a lot of economic activities besides fishing and farming, even though the two were their strongest domain.

The Igala people were also involved in dying, animal husbandry, canoe building, and making of medicines from herbs. Due to their strong ties and interactions with two of the major tribes in Nigeria, the Igbos and Yorubas, this enhanced her farming occupation tremendously. The Igala people were no longer farming for just themselves, but other tribes too, leading to a growth in the economy.

The people in riverine areas like Idah were majorly fishermen. Presently, the people are equipped with merchandise farming machines to ease farming.

Rich Culture Of The Igala People
Historians claim the word ‘Igala’ is derived from the Yoruba word that translates as ‘antelope’. This is backed up by the fact that Antelopes were a common sight in the present day Igala community.

The people of also Igala believe in a god they call ‘Ojo’. They believe ‘Ojo’ gave certain spirits powers to rule over the earth. Their belief is similar to beliefs of other African tribes, the belief in deities and a supreme God. The Igalas are also patrilineal in nature. They believe a woman has to leave her parents to stay with her husband.

In the traditional Igala, children from some parts of the Kingdom, like Ankpa, receive three horizontal tribal marks in their face. The marks were used to identify people from that area. The prominent inter-tribal wars led to the creation of these large marks. However, tribal marks are rarely given to infants now, due to the otgee means of identification available.

The Igala people believe in river gods and goddesses mainly due to their closeness to rivers. They also have a belief in the existence of this earth and Oj’ona- the afterworld. A place where people go to after death. The Oj’ona can also be called a resting place.

Dialects Spoken In Igala
The Igala people all speak Igala, but in different dialects. Here are some dialects spoken by the Igala: Ebu, Idah, Imane, Ankla, Dekina, Ogugu, Ibaji, and Ife.

Common Beliefs Of The Igala People
The Igala people acknowledge that there is a tripartite hierarchical order of divinity. There are beings more powerful than humans, but lowly to ‘Ojo’. The Igala people also believe in a supreme God called ‘Ojochamachala’- the being beyond description. It also means a God that cannot be comprehended.

The Ibegwu rank second to God in hierarchy. They are known as the messengers and representatives of God. The Ibegwu are not humans, but strong and powerful. The natives also believe in the powers of the ancestors. The ancestors having the power to control crop-yields, fertility, piece and progress. They also understand the continuity of life after death- a king being a king even after death.

Ancestors are celebrated every year at the Ibegwu festival. The festival marks the beginning of the yam festival. During the festival, ancestors are appreciated for their love and blessings in the past year; they also pray for their blessings in the new year. They believe that the dead pray for them and help them grow their community.

The natives also acknowledge the importance of kolanut. The Kolanut has a socio-religious significance, especially in religious gatherings. No marriage can be celebrated without the kolanut being broken. The breaking and eating of kolanut signifies unity, piece and acceptance by ‘Ojo’ and ‘Ibegwu’.

Taboos In Igala Culture
The native believe incest is a taboo. Incest means a sexual relationship with a relative. Sexual relations amongst clans are acceptable once there is no blood lineage amongst the people involved. Even when they are of different clans, once there is a blood relationship, it is received as a taboo if there is a sexual relationship between them.

The belief is borne out of norms and traditions. If a person has sex with his/her relative, it is believed that they will both suffer and will not be healed unless they confess and be appeased by the gods for their deeds. The Igala people believe that it could cause childlessness, shame, and the girl involved might not get married.

Festivals In Igala Land
There are festivals peculiar to every African tribe. Igala, as an African society, is a strong partaker in cultural festivals. These festivals promote unity and harmony amongst the Igala people. Some festivals practiced in Igala include:

The Itali festival of the Igala people

The Itali festival is the most popular festival in Igala, especially in the early nineties. This festival is also called the Igala national day. This day is for uniting Igala people all over the world. The festival creates an appropriate time for the people, home and abroad, to come together to brainstrom and deal with things affecting the kingdom as a whole.
This period also signifies the time where problems and issues are tabled before the elders and settled.

The national association for the Igala people – Igala Cultural And Development Association(ICDA) organises the festival. The event has, however been suspended due to a terrible incident during the festival in 2007.

Marriage Ceremony/Rites In Igala Kingdom
The marriage preparation starts when the husband and wife-to-be have reached an agreement. The families will go ahead to make their findings concerning the family their child wants to marry into.

After the thoroughly check, if they are satisfied, the man’s family goes to the woman’s family to ask for her hands in marriage. After this step, the marriage ceremony is then divided into three major parts: the introduction of her father’s family, her mother’s family and her own introduction.

On the day of the wedding, in accordance with cultural rites, a mat is laid and a new wrapper is prepared on the mat. The bride will come with her friends dancing, during the process, they will great the families. The process will be repeated and they will eventually go back again.

When she comes out the third time, with only two of her friends, she will then stand on the mat. The groom’s family will then ask her to sit, if they refuse, the groom’s family will keep spraying them money till they decide to sit.

The same process goes for the groom and his family. But here, it’s the groom’s family that sprays him, as opposed to the bride’s family. After this, the kolanut will be broken, counselling, prayers and celebrations continue for the new couple.

Bride price And Requirements For Marriage in Igala

Complete Traditional Marriage List In Igala

Local Delicacies/Foods Of The Igala People
Like a lot of traditional African ethnic groups, the Igala people have a wide range of foods made specifically by them. The most cherished foods are their local delicacies. Some of the local delicacies are: Ogidigbo, Ijebu, Omaidi, Oro Egbe, and so on.

Ogidigbo is like moi-moi, a food common amongst the Yorubas, but Ogidigbo is prepared from fresh corns as opposed to moi-moi, that is prepared from beans. Ijibu is also made from corn, it can be prepared and enjoyed even in its basic form. The people of Igala love their meals, and so do the neighboring tribes.


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