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Ibo(ē`bō), one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, deriving mainly from SE Nigeria, numbering around 15 million. Originally settled in many autonomous villages, the Igbo nevertheless had a sense of cultural unity and the ability to unite for political action. They were receptive to Christianity and education under British colonialism and missionary influence. The Igbo became heavily represented in professional, managerial, technical, and commercial occupations, and many migrated to other regions of Nigeria. They played a major role in securing Nigerian independence from Britain in 1960. During the political conflict in 1966, thousands of Igbo immigrants were killed in the northern region, home of the Muslim Hausa and Fulani. Many Igbo fled to their eastern homeland, which seceded from Nigeria in 1967, calling itself the Republic of Biafra. Civil war followed, and, by 1970, Biafra was defeated.
See G. Basden, Among the Igbos of Nigeria (1921, repr. 1966); A. C. Smock, Igbo Politics (1971); S. Ottenberg, Boyhood Rituals in an African Society (1988).
The universe of the Igbo, a southeastern Nigerian people, is conceptualized into three broad categories through certain metaphors and myths: Elu lgwe, the sky, which is inhabited by the supreme deity Chiukwu; Ala Mmuo, the land where reside numerous spirit beings which are either back from their sojourn on the earth or awaiting their turn to begin a new travel in the world of living men—and where are also found the revered ancestors, and Ala Mmadu, land of the living, where spirits are invisible to man.
Considerable and continuous contact exists between humans and spirits. Chiukwu keeps in touch with humans and their affairs through the chi, the spiritual entity embodied in a person’s identity from before birth, which journeys with him or her through life. In Igbo thought each person’s life is predestined through the agency of the chi, although this destiny can be modified by the ikenga, the personification of each individual’s right hand, representing the power to achieve.
A study by Robert LeVine published in 1966 examined achievement motivation among the Igbo. LeVine analyzed private dreams of personal success as a means of identifying underlying cultural values of achievement motivation. In addition to being a consequence of achievement motivation, dreams, omens, and prophecy are seen in Igbo society as the principal demonstration of extra-human powers in the candidacy for religious office. When the Igbo determine succession to religious office, dreams and the use of dream narratives are sometimes thought to be a manifestation both of the agency of the spiritual entity behind the office and of the candidate’s chi.
Dreams are perceived as a means for divine messages, and the role of divination in the succession process is regarded as a means of both interpreting and validating the message of a dream. Usually, the messenger who appears in the dream is either the previous tenant of the office or a manifestation of the spirit to the service of whom the office is devoted. In some cases, the first type of messenger appears in an initial dream, and in a following dream the message is strengthened by the appearance of the other type. The chief mode of communication is always through the physical placement, by the messenger, of the symbols of office in the hands of the dreamer, and in many cases this act is reinforced by a voice telling the dreamer that he has been chosen for office.