Stella Dimoko The Igbu Ichi Traditional Practice In Igboland...


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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Igbu Ichi Traditional Practice In Igboland...

Igbu ichi is an ancient tradition performed by Ndi Igbo in South East Nigeria. Unlike what people think, Igbu ichi is not just a tribal mark but a mark of honour and prestige. 

Ichie Fred Chukwuelobe (left), his wife and Chief Uche Nworah
To be initiated into the Ichi Society stands one out as a man of valour. It is not everybody that is considered worthy to be initiated into the Ichi society. In the olden days, It is only brave men who can 'bear pain' and protect their communities, warriors if you like, that are initiated into the Ichi society.

Outwardly, you can distinguish an initiated member by what many may regard as ‘tribal marks’ on the person’s cheeks. In the old days, these are actual incisions made with ‘aguba’ or knife on the person’s cheeks. These stand him out in the society and attract to the person reverence and admiration. Once initiated, the person becomes one of the trusted few that will always stand up to fight for, or defend the community against external aggression.

Ichi society complements the Ọzọ society in Igbo land, especially in Igbo communities where they are still observed. Whereas the ancient Ọzọ society still remains the most prestigious in Igbo land, members of Ichi society command their own respect as they are regarded as clan warriors, ndi ọzọ being the wealthy ‘bourgeois’.

In Igbo communities where the ọzọ society does not exist, the Ichi society suffices as the most revered and prestigious.

Nedu E. C, a native of Umudioka, Dunukofia local government area of Anambra state in a social media commentary argues that “One cannot talk about Igbu Ichi without mentioning Umudioka town. Igbu Ichi is an ancient craft for which the people of Umudioka were known. The Nwadiokas plied the trade across Igboland in the olden days and indeed left a legacy of it. Hence, today we hear of places bearing the name "umu dioka." Examples, Umudioka-Awka, Umudioka-Neni, Umudioka-Orlu and so on. These are communities founded by itinerant ichi craftsmen of Umudioka origin, who settled in those lands and practiced the art”.

Things have however changed as modernity has set in, just like in other aspects of Igbo culture. In most Igbo societies, the act of ‘Igbu Ichi’ is now symbolic. The facial incisions are no longer strictly observed as actual marks are no longer made on the person's cheeks. However, the initiation ceremony is still performed to the admiration of other members of the society, invited family members and friends at a public function where feasting and merry making takes place.

Sir Fred Chukwuelobe, a native of Amolu clan, Adazi Nnukwu in Anaocha local government area of Anambra state performed his ‘Igbu Ichi’ ceremony on Saturday, 22nd February 2020. According to him, “This is one of the ways we sustain the Igbo culture and tradition”. On the day he was initiated, his wife stood or rather sat with him while a senior member of the Ichi society performed the symbolic igbu ịchị rituals.

Just like it is done in the olden days, before the ceremony begins, the leader of the society performing the initiation, clutching a piece of traditional knife (agụba) which looks like it had performed many Igbu Ịchị in its life span announces to those present the reason for the gathering, and asks members of the society if the ceremony should go ahead. It is at this stage that anybody opposed to the initiation speaks up. No one raised any objection in this case meaning that Fred has been considered and found worthy. Having received a positive response by way of ‘O yes’ chorus, the ceremony commences.

The traditional breaking of kola nut by the Adama Adazi Nnukwu had taken place earlier. Each titled man in the gathering adorning their white clothes, red caps, akupe (traditional fan) and traditional staff (ngwu agiriga) sat in a semi-circle and receive a kola nut each to take home as a mark of respect. They each also receive a hen and a tuber of yam which is their entitlement before they can eat or drink at the event.

To the ceremony proper, three able bodied and trusted family members or associates were called out to stand behind Fred . Their job is to hold him firmly and ensure that ‘he doesn’t run away’ midway as a result of the ‘pains’ arising from the 'incisions' being made on his cheeks. In the old days, these are performed without any local anesthesia. Before Fred are set on a table pieces of charcoal which will be applied onto the resultant 'facial marks' to stop the bleeding, some coils of dry fish and native source. The job of his wife is to feed him the fish broken into tiny pieces and native source to soothe his ‘pain’.

In Fred’s case, he survived and withstood the 'pain', and did not run away. Afterwards, a red cap is placed on his head, likewise, aka (beads) are placed on his neck and wrist thus signifying his full initiation. He then goes round saluting other members of the society in the traditional Igbo 3 back-hand salute. He dances round the arena with his wife to the admiration of family and friends who spray him money and call him by his new name ‘Ichie Obiekunie’.

Fred’s Igbu Ichi ceremony was quite colourful and attracted lots of personalities including Mr. C. Don Adinuba, Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, former Governor of Anambra state and current Minister of Labour in the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Fred had served his government as a senior media aide.

Igbu Ichi, like other Igbo traditional practices should be sustained.

Omenani Igbo ga adi.

The author,Chief Uche Nworah is an Igbo culture aficionado. His passion is to introduce Igbo culture to young Ndigbo and non-Igbo.(


  1. Replies
    1. Nothing good comes out of disobeying God's laws to make a mark on your body.
      He that destroys the temple of God, him shall God destroy. 1 Cor. 3:17

  2. Why did Uche Nwora leave his whole family, kids and wife in the USA and came back here to be taking us back to darkness?
    Did he do Igbu ichi on all his son or even himself?
    I am an Igbo person and that is why this is so disgusting to read.

  3. Both the Old and New Testament are in agreement that we should avoid this initiation into the Kingdom of darkness:
    Leviticus 19:28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

    Matthew 5:37 36Nor should you swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one

    Now, this "initiation" is beyond "yes" or "No" and that is a camouflage of the evil one (Satan) to draw people into hell fire that has prepared for him and his devils.

  4. Does Mr. Nworah know the contents of that native "source" [sic.] that they Fed Fred with the fish? God is emphatic about NOT eating blood or food sacrificed to idols.Acts 15:20,29

    If it is any other subject, people will be screaming, "this is 2020, this is 21st century, I am a 21st century woman..."
    And here, a dude who kept his entire family in the USA is espousing idolatry of the highest order of initiations, and people are taking him serious? Why doesn't Mr. Nworah seek to curb some evils that are troubling Igboland like insecurity, kidnapping instead of this insanity?

  5. Omenala Igbo ga adi, for ndi di interested.

  6. Loved this. My Father is a titled man. I remember his igbu ichi very well. Well Done

  7. I have always read about this igbu ichi as a Nwadioka. It is what we are known for. Umudioka Dunukofia LGA bu zi be Nnam.

  8. I hope they sterilized the instrument they used, Aids is real.


  9. I'm from Neni.Umudioka Neni is well known for this every 29th Dec

  10. For those of you attacking him
    Am from Enugwu ukwu and a core Igbo girl... Ezeudo Enugwu ukwu na Umunri you just lectured me more.... I love this
    Onye amaghị ebe mmiri bidoro maba ya agaghị ama ebe ọ kwụsịrị.

    Nnebo Ifeoma
    Ada Umunri

  11. no born again christian should ever take this kind of tittle. looks innocent but it is an initiation and some things will not be brought to light in the open

  12. ..I am ezebo na dioka ichi .we must preserved our cultural inheritance


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