Category: philosophy

Igbo Family Structure

Family is a very important institution in the lives of Igbo people. All relationships, according to Igbo culture, emanates from the family. Every child birthed in any family begins to learn about human relationships from within the 1Our collective view of the family unit, as people of Igbo extraction, is quite different from the views of the Western world. To Americans and Europeans, family basically implies one father, one mother, and their biological or adopted children. But, if we observe closely what is implied when Igbo people talk about family, we’ll see that, to our people, family refers to a group of people living under one household who may or may not even be related by blood or marriage.

It is in a family setting as described above that we, Igbos, differ so much from Westerners but not-so-much from other African tribes.

familyIn understanding Igbo family life and structure, we have to take into consideration three (3) Kinds of family settings common in Igboland as follows:

  • Family Setting with Only One Mother:
    This kind of family structure found in Igboland consists mainly of father, one mother, children, dependants, and relatives. Some 50 years ago, it was quite rare to find this kind of family setting among our people living in the geographical area designated as South-East Nigeria.
  • Family Setting with Multiple Mothers:
    Polygamy is part of Igbo culture, and is well accepted and acknowledged by our people as a man’s legitimate right, if he so chooses to have multiple women as mothers in his household. One key feature of this kind of family setting is recurrent quarrels and undue competition among the mothers within the household as each mother typically cooks her own meals and maintains her offspring without undue interference from others.
  • Extended Family Setting:
    We, Igbos, are mainly known for this kind of family set-up in which father, mother or mothers, children, in-laws, from both sides, friends, and other relatives all live together as one household.

Reasons Why Igbo People Prefer the Extended Family Setting

  • The extended family is like a pillar of support for each member of the household as some members may be not-so-rich, widowed, orphaned etc as the case may be. The popular Igbo saying; “Igwe bu Ike”(Multitude is power) was coined to reflect the high value we place on the extended family setting.
  • It helps the upbringing of children as their training is not merely confined to the limits of the knowledge and experiences of their biological parents.
  • It reduces the financial burden and woes of the elderly members of the household as both the young and old jointly work together to make money and pay bills or put food on the table for every member of the family.

Some Challenges Associated with Igbo Extended Family Setting

  • It makes the financial burden of a few members of the household heavier as every other member’s needs also become theirs.
  • It could make some members of the extended family household lazy, because some will not develop their abilities or increase their effort in life, because they have their hopes of survival hinged on the success of well-to-do members of the extended family household.

Responsibilities of Various Family Members According to Igbo Culture and Tradition

The father represents and speaks on behalf of the family in public forums. It is his responsibility to cultivate, grow, and develop the family wealth and resources. He serves as the family priest and spiritual leader and teacher of Igbo culture and traditions to members of his household. It is the fathers’ responsibility to lead by example, correct deviant members of the family when they go wrong, and provide for the needs of his household.

It is the mother’s responsibility to inspire and fuel the father with ideas to move the household forward towards progress and development. It is expected of her to preserve the family wealth and resources. It rests on the mother’s shoulders to set and uphold standards of morality and purity in the family. She has to make the household homely and comfortable for every member of the family including occasional visitors. Finally, it is her duty to love the father of the house, cook his meals, and maintain the cleanliness of the home.

Children and other Dependants:
According to Igbo culture and tradition, children and dependants are expected to serve and remain under the mentorship of father and/or mother only on the condition that they know what they are doing and are not bad influence on the children or dependants. Male children and dependants are supposed to be 100% under the mentorship of the father, while female ones are supposed to be 100% under the mentorship of the mother.

Igbo Chieftaincy Titles

Highly accomplished men and women are admitted into orders for people of title such as Ndi Ozo or Ndi Nze. These people receive insignia to show their stature. Membership is highly exclusive, and to qualify an individual need to be highly regarded and well-spoken of in the community.chiefFrom the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, slavery took a massive toll of many weaker communities in this part of the country. With the colonisation in the early part of the twentieth century, the British introduced a system based on ‘indirect rule’ in the north of Nigeria, leveraging the existing northern emir hierarchies. A few years later, the colonial rule decided to introduce this system in the south as well. They commissioned ‘warrant chiefs’ to rule the districts in Igboland, but due to the lack of social hierarchies, the mandate for their authority did not work out as well as it did in the north. After the independence, the role of these district officers was quickly transformed and adapted to Igboland’s ‘traditional’ title society, which used to be based on traditional worship titles.


Nowadays, each community consisting of a number of villages, wards and/or clans, can nominate their traditional ruler, also called Igwe or Eze.

The Igwe has this role for life and can give titles to his community people, mostly out of recognition for their achievement and character. The title system varies from community to community, but except from different names, the hierarchy itself is in most cases the same.

In most communities, the title system starts with the Nze title, given to persons in recognition of their community contribution. When the Nze titleholder reaches the elder age and remains in the village, he becomes part of the Igwe’s cabinet. Upon becoming a senior elder, the Igwe may honour him with the Özö or Ichie title, standing directly below the Igwe.

These titles and many other chieftaincy titles, each signifying certain achievements come along with privileges and symbols of authority. One could be allowed to wear a red or black cap, to hold a walking stick, an elephant tusk, a horsetail or a fan of ram or cow skin, all dependent on the local customs and the rank of title.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChieftaincy titleholders are privileged to do the “chief handshake”. This handshake starts with touching each other’s hand with the upper-side three times before shaking. If one of the persons does not recognise the other as a chief, even though he might pretend to be one, the touching stops after two times before the shaking.

War heroes are a separate category of titleholders, they can wear parrot’s plumes in their hats and are the only ones allowed to dance the war dance.
chiefAmong his cabinet members, the Igwe appoints his Prime Minister and secretary and together with his full cabinet, the Igwe-in-council serves the community in matters of peace, development and values. For instance, he is called upon in cases of resolving internal conflicts. If so, each party needs to bring four kola nuts, a gallon of palm wine and 1,000 Naira to the ruler. The case is put forward, and the ruler will make the final judgement. The money, palm wine and kola nuts are returned to the winner, the latter two being given in most cases to the Igwe as a token of gratitude. The loosing party is expected to pay on top of their deposit the penalty or fine as stipulated by the Igwe. If the parties do not agree with the settlement, the case can be brought to court and fought out in a more formal way.
chief 2The Igwe-in council also works together with government, but they do only have an advisory role in this context. Villages and communities have many other groups and opinions represented, to mention the most important ones:

  • Town Union, responsible for development and organising social events of the community. The members of the Town Union are elected by members of the community;
  • Councillors, representing the community in political matters in the local government council;
  • Youth Organisations, responsible for youth activities;
  • Vigilante groups, maintaining security, law and order in the village and community;
  • Women Organisations, representing the women and
  • Church Organisations, mostly representing Roman Catholic and Protestant believes.

chief 1In some communities, the groups listed above may not have any representation. Then, there are many other persons who can play an important role in the community, for instance the school’s headmasters, principals etc.

Kola Nut

The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus (Cola) of trees that are native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. The caffeine-containing fruit of the tree is used as a flavouring ingredient in beverages, and is the origin of the term “cola”.

kola3The first taste is bitter, but it sweetens upon chewing. The nut can be boiled to extract the cola. Kola nut is known within the western world as an ingredient with soft drinks however it has incredible significance with Igboland.



The Kola Nut tradition is used for a variety of events, but it is a principal when welcoming guest to a village or house. Igbo elders believe that once the Kola nuts have been blessed with incantations (which can only be said in Igbo) then and only then will the visitors feel ensured that they are well and truly welcomes.kola-nutKOLA NUT CEREMONY

During a Kola Nut ceremony typically the host presents a plat with a number of kola nuts (ranging from 2-16) to the leader of the delegation. The leaser will then take the plate and show it to the elders (senior members of his entourage).

To acknowledge that he has seen the plate he briefly touches the plate with his right hand before passing it on (so on and so forth)kola 1When the plate is then return to the host he will take the plate to the visitors and would typically say

“Oji luo uno okwuo ebe osi bia” translated means “When the kola nut reaches home it will tell where it came from”

This proverb says that the visitor needs to show the kola nut to his people at home as proof of having visited this village.

Igbo relationships

There is this popular saying “If you want to marry rich….move to where rich people live and find love” put differently if you want to marry and Igbo people you need to go to where Igbo people go. We at ICSN are under no disillusions that a lot of people attend our meetings and events as a platform to not only network but to also find someone of Igbo decent that they can start a family with.



We at ICSN have had a long line of successful Igbo unions during our years that have all started from a chase encounter from our organisation, which we have all loved to be a part of and attend as guests of the bride’s and groom’s. This section is particularly useful for those who are single and looking to get involved with an Igbo person. Or for those who have a natural curiosity for what the Igbo marriage process looks like start to end. So feel free to take notes.



If you or someone you know is a member or ICSN (past and present) and are getting married soon and would like us to be a part of your special day then kindly let us know by sending us an email just let us know what type of support you would like/need from us and one of our executive’s will get back to you as soon as possible.



When marrying within the Igbo community one of the very first things to consider is each other’s kinship (bloodline) to make sure that you are not accidentally marrying within your extended family. For people marrying in that are not from the Igbo community this step is almost not relevant. However for those with have parents from different Igbo states this has to be looked into for example (Mother from Imo state and Father from Delta state).



Kin Groups and Descent: Igbo society places strong emphasis on lineage kinship systems, particularly the Patronage (father’s decedents), although some Igbo groups, such as the Ohaffia, have a matrilineal descent system (mother’s decedents), whereas groups like the Afipko Igbo have a double descent system (both sides are considered). In all the Igbo groups, one’s mother’s people remain important throughout one’s life.

Kinship is the relation by the bond of blood, marriage and includes kindred ones. It represents one of the basic social institutions. Kinship is universal and in most societies plays a significant role in the socialisation of individuals and the maintenance of group solidarity.

Anthropologists study kinship because it is the relationship between people through marriage, family, or other cultural arrangements. The two types of kinship which exist are related by blood or related by law/marriage. Through kinship there is a transmission of goods, ideas and behaviour. Kinship is defined as a sense of being related to a person or people through descent, sharing or marriage. This provides the base for an examination of different styles of partnership, community and reproduction across the globe.

Due to this wives are normally found outside of the village to prevent inter-family marriages taking place, which is why it is common to see dual state marriages. But once they are married the wife and the children will claim their father’s state going forward.