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Permanence, Temporality and the Rhythms of Life : Exploring Significance of the Village Arena in Igbo Culture


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The village arena (or ‘square’ or ‘Otobo’ in Nsukka Igbo) is at the physical and socio cultural centre of Igbo life, in southeast Nigeria. It is a space where intangible Igbo cultural heritage is played out, and also serves as a virtual museum where heritage materials are kept. The arena performs its roles in two very different ways: as a sacred space hosting initiation rites and religious rituals; and as a profane space for meetings and ceremonies. Either way, these uses see the arena transition between permanency and temporality, following routines and rhythms which themselves give the practices meaning and significance, and contribute to their inscription on the landscape. This paper explores the complexities associated with these village arenas with a particular focus on their socio-cultural, political, economic and religious functions through time, as well as the way those complexities are manifest in material cultures that serve to characterize the village arena.
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World Archaeology
ISSN: 0043-8243 (Print) 1470-1375 (Online) Journal homepage:
Permanence, temporality and the rhythms of life:
exploring significance of the village arena in Igbo
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi & John Schofield
To cite this article: John Kelechi Ugwuanyi & John Schofield (2018) Permanence, temporality and
the rhythms of life: exploring significance of the village arena in Igbo culture, World Archaeology,
50:1, 7-22, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1473164
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Published online: 01 Jun 2018.
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Permanence, temporality and the rhythms of life: exploring
signicance of the village arena in Igbo culture
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi
and John Schoeld
Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK;
Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of
Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
The village arena (or squareor Otoboin Nsukka Igbo) is at the physical and
socio-cultural centre of Igbo life, in southeast Nigeria. It is a space where
intangible Igbo cultural heritage is played out, and also serves as a virtual
museum where heritage materials are kept. The arena performs its roles in
two very dierent ways: as a sacred space hosting initiation rites and religious
rituals; and as a profane space for meetings and ceremonies. Either way, these
uses see the arena transition between permanency and temporality, following
routines and rhythms which themselves give the practices meaning and
signicance, and contribute to their inscription on the landscape. This paper
explores the complexities associated with these village arenas with a parti-
cular focus on their socio-cultural, political, economic and religious functions
through time, as well as the way those complexities are manifest in material
cultures that serve to characterize the village arena.
Village arena; Nigeria;
temporary space; permanent
space; rhythmanalysis; Igbo
The Igbo are found in the southeast part of Nigeria, in Western Africa and occupy an area of c.41,000
square kilometres (Uchendu 1965;Ofomata2002;Oriji2011). The area is made up of Abia, Anambra,
Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states with some Igbo living in some parts of Delta, Rivers, Cross River and
Akwa Ibom states in the south. The Igbo population is placed at around 16 million (NPC 2006).
The origin of the Igbo people is contested, with three schools of thought suggesting dierent
backgrounds: as autochthons; and according to either a Niger-Benue conuence theory or an
oriental hypothesis. The autochthonous model suggests that the Igbo are indigenous, with
evidence including environmental change in the area over a long period (Sowunmi 1991) com-
bined with archaeological (Shaw 1970,1977; Chikwendu 1976; Anozie 1979; Okafor and Phillips
1992; Eze-Uzomaka 2009,2010), and, more recently, by ethnolinguistic evidence (Acholonu 2005,
2009). Archaeology provides a date for earliest settlement from pottery at 2555 BC (Hartle 1965).
The Niger-Benue conuence theory is derived from the linguistic model of glottochronology and
lexicostatistics (a linguistic model that compares the percentage of lexical cognates between
languages to determine their relationship). According to Greenberg (1963), who applied this
technique to undertake a linguistic grouping of African societies, Igbo belong to the Kwa family
within the Niger-Congo stock (see also Armstrong [1964]). By this model, it is estimated that the
CONTACT John Kelechi Ugwuanyi Department of Archaeology, University of York, Kings Manor, York,
2018, VOL. 50, NO. 1, 722
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Igbo speakers arrived at their present location after 8000 B.C. (Manning 2005,2006; Webb 2005).
The orientaltheory of Jewish origin is derived from the Biblical trace of descent through Jacob to
his son Gad and to Eri, one of Gads sons (Gen. 46: 16). Apostles of this model argue that some
cultural traits among the Igbo are found among Jewish people, suggesting to some that they may
have migrated from Israel (Equiano 1789;Jereys 1956; Isichie 1976; Onwuejeogwu 1981; Onyesoh
2000; Nwaezeigwe 2007).
Either way, the Igbo today live across the region in independent villages. A village among the
Igbo comprises groups of people tracing descent to ancestors who lived in their current location, or
to more distant towns and villages from which they emigrated. Exceptions include settlers adopted
into the ancestry on the basis of good relationships or because they possessed a particular and
useful skill or craft. These people maintain quasi-independence and have their own village arena, but
pay allegiance to the rst settlers. Their origin/migration narratives are woven into that of the
autochthons, requiring careful and sustained enquiry to uncover their dierences.
These complexities over indigeneity dene who controls what based on migration, birth,
innovation and war strength. By migration, emphasis is on the rst to settle on the land; by
birth, focus is on the ancestor(s) born in the land before or after others; by innovation, interest is
on the person(s) that founded or brought a particular skill, knowledge or practice; and by war
strength, who led the war that brought the people to the land or who helped in conquering the
enemies that troubled them in their place of settlement. These factors shape how the people of
Nsukka Igbo understand indigeneity. It confers prerogative right(s) on people to have control over
a particular cultural or heritage object/material, place or practice.
Amongst their many characteristics, each village has an arena, variously called Otobo, Obodo,
nkr,fu, Ilo/Iro, Ama or Ezi, according to dialectal dierences. Otobo is the more centralized
name for the arena among the Nsukka Igbo. The arena is central to the Igbo social structure and
social processes and was present in the founding of all Igbo villages. It provides the frame around
which the architecture of the village and/or town structure is constructed (Aniakor 2002). In scores
of ethnographic, historical and archaeological studies on Igbo life and culture, the arena is viewed
as a centre of unity (Aniakor 1980,2002; Okolie 1992; Anigbo 1996) used for village meetings
(Ajaegbu 2014). It is also a theatre for ceremonies and masked performances (Achebe 1958;
Nwabueze 1984), religious tabernacle (Shelton 1971; Metuh 1973; Okolie 1992) and a place for
judicial proceedings (Onyeozili and Ebbe 2012). Consequently, Okolie (1992,18) notes that
it is the theatre for the practicalisation, in all its ramications, of [an] Igbo worldview whether it is on
socio-cultural, politico-religious, economic, educational or judicial levels. It is the centre that holds all
the communities together, without which things are bound to fall apart.
Thus, it is a place for negotiation and renegotiation of social institutions for the survival of all
the communities. The village arena is vital within the Igbo landscape.
According to Cresswell (2004,12),place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the
context of power.In his phenomenological study of existential anxiety, Giddens (1991) established
that ones ontology is that of the environment within which s/he was raised and nurtured. Referencing
Altman (1992), Lewicka (2005) argues that place attachment forms, maintains and preserves identity
and fosters individual, group and cultural self-esteem, worth and pride. So, when we look at the world
as [a] world of places we see dierent things. We see attachments and connections between people
and place. We see [a] world of meaning and experience . . .(Cresswell 2004, 11). Cresswell further
argued that places are never nished but produced through the reiteration of practices the
repetition of seemingly mundane activities on a daily basis(Cresswell 2004, 82).
These views promote the idea that the tangible and intangible nature of spaces is found within
and gives signicance to specic places. Mazundar and Mazundar (2004) observed that within
some communities, religion is one of the more obvious means for forging attachments between
people and place. Spiritual leaders and elders teach place ritual, give value to artefacts and expose
people to signicant places through rituals. Stories and myths, dramas and plays, songs and
hymns all become important strategies in the teaching of place attachment and identity. In New
Zealand, Schroder (2008) found that social relations based on family, friendship and participation
in community life are the major ties for attachment. Mazundar and Mazundar (2004) may be
correct in stating that religion is one of the strongest bonds that sustain social relations. In this
way, place attachment constructs identity on the one hand and creates heritage on the other.
The relationship between landscape and time is also relevant here. Ingold (1993, 152), for example,
describes how human life is a process that involves the passage of time . .. this life-process is also the
process of formation of the landscapes in which people have lived. This position aligns with cultural
relativist anthropology and its observation of life activities existing in its rhythms and spatial context
(Durkheim [1954] 1912;Malinowski1927; Evans-Pritchard 1940;Geertz1973;Munn1992), and with the
view that such activities also exist in linear and cyclical time, which combine in many cases (Bloch 1977;
Appandura 1981; Howe 1981; Schaepe et al. 2017). This combination creates the transitional move-
ment of a space from permanence to temporality, a characteristic of Otobo the Igbo village arena.
This paper concerns itself with this transition, the intangible aspects of the arena, as well as the
material manifestations, and how its use is negotiated through time.
To help understand these complex relations between people and place and how they play out in
the village arena, eldwork was conducted and data collected between October 2016 and June 2017
from the region of Nsukka Igbo comprising Nsukka, Udenu, Igbo-Etiti, Isi-Uzo, Uzo-Uwani, Igbo-Eze
North and Igbo-Eze South local government areas in Enugu state (see Figure 1). Seven villages, one
from each of these local government areas, was studied. For the purposes of this paper, we focus on
two villages: Umu-Obira Nkporogu and Amokpu Uhunowerre in Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Eze South local
government areas respectively. An ethnographic method was applied, and the techniques used for
data collection were primarily eld observation, in-depth interviews and focus group panel (FGP)
discussions. Nine months were spent carrying out ethnography in the region, additional to more than
three decades of one of the authors life experiences as a member of this culture, where he was born
and brought up. Good ethical principles were adopted and anonymity was granted to all participants.
Accordingly, individual and group narratives are presented in coded reference.
Permanent and temporary places of the village arena
The multi-functionality of the village arena also renders the permanent physical place a transient place
regarding the values and belief systems associated with it at dierent times of the day, week, month
and year. Values attached to the arena itself have assumed a permanent position as a collective identity
in the hearts of the people. Yet, the activities that occur are temporary and cyclical. Touw (2006) argues
that the intervals between successive cyclesdene the position of the arena at any particular point in
time. Timeis a very signicant variable in the transient periods of such successive cycles. Rhythm also
provides a helpful context for understanding the complexities of the arena, recalling Lefebvres
rhythmanalysis and the central premise that everywhere where there is interaction between a place,
a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm(2004, 15). Edensor (2010,3)furthersuggeststhat
despite uidity and dynamism in the ways that we use space, and the potential for disruption and
destruction, many rhythms oer a consistency to place and landscape over time.We shall see clear
examples of this in the case studies that follow. These are highly complex places and this short paper
can barely touch on that complexity. But we recognize that concepts of place attachment, time and
rhythm provide helpful frameworks within which to appreciate and begin to understand it.
Figure 1. Map of southeast (core Igbo states) Nigeria.
We now turn to assess some of the values and signicances associated with the arena, and
notably socio-cultural, political and religious signicance. Attempting separate discussions of these
roles of the arena is dicult as these functions are inextricably combined. Although we may
attempt specic identication of these dierent roles, the discussion is simultaneous, covering
each in turn, creating an integrated and thus complex narrative.
The Igbo village arena is empirically dened as the general compound of all members of the
village(FGP, ObiraSAs, 21 January 2017), where young people learn what they do not know about
their history and tradition(interview, AmokpuME, 18 May 2017). It is the meeting point for human
and spirit, for the dead and for the living(interview, AmokpuME, 18 May 2017), the religious
tabernacle of the people(FGP, OnichaRA, 17 March 2017); a place where communal cultural
properties are kept, where important communal monuments are also located(interview, OgorON
and OgorAA, 28 November 2016). Otobo is the symbol of Nkpran independent village
(interview, EborOU, 6 December 2016; AmokpuOU, 26 May 2017), a centre of unity(interview,
ObiraSAj, 11 February 2017), and a leisure and recreational centre of the village(interview,
UsehPN, 3 January 2017). In the views of all the participants in the research, the village arena
was in the past and (in some places) is at present the centre for political, cultural, religious and
economic meetings. It provides space for cultural rites, festivals/ceremonies and juridical proceed-
ings. It is our native court, a place where Itarigba(meaning strictly of a people tracing descent
from a known ancestor) meet to make laws/policies and resolve crises(interview with AmokpuJU,
25 May 2017). In the words of OnichaIU2 (interview, 16 March 2017), fis the village.His
position agrees with those who see the arena as the symbol of an independent village. The arena
is the Wholeof the village, the heartbeat of the community. This core denition accounts for the
reason for locating some important monuments outside the village arena, yet they are regarded as
being part of the arena. They also express the civic role of the arena and represent a system that
connects the Whole’–the village. These denitions also illustrate ways in which the arena has
become a signicant landscape in the political structuring of the Igbo, where the decisions in all
aspects of life are made. In the past, life radiated from the village arena. Consequently, an
independent Igbo village must have one or more such spaces that asserts its sovereign identity.
The process of establishing the village arena is in part profane and in another spiritual. It either
begins when the people arrived on the land or when there is expansion that leads to founding a
new independent village. Either way, land acquisition is central to the establishment.
There are two classications of the Igbo village arena based on ownership and functions. According
to ownership, there are those owned by the entire village and those that belong to the lineages that
make up the village. Those owned by the entire village also confer identity to a specic lineage within
which the arena is located. Village arenas found in this category also serve as the political, cultural and
to an extent religious headquarters of the village or the confederacy. Examples of this in the two case
studies to be examined are Otobo Umu-Agbo in Amokpu Uhunowerre and Otobo Ifu in Umu-Obira
Nkporogu. The arenas that serve only the lineages in Umu-Obira are Otobo Ugwuenechi, Ogbara,
Amaozaka, Akpachi and Uwani; and in Amokpu, there are Otobo Amauzu and Amaegu. Looking at
categorization by functions, all the village arenas in the rst category also belong here. Those with
special functions are found in Umu-obira Otobo Ogwudinama (Ogwu in short form) and Otobo
Amamgbokwe (see Figures 3 and 5for their distribution). The rst is dedicated to the great deity of
Ogwu, which led to locating other vital shrines here, such as nAl,nEnyanwEzechitoke and n
In summary, the village arena is established among the Igbo to be used for one or more of the
reasons below. A village may have one arena that embodies these responsibilities, or more with
specic functions assigned:
(1) To stand as a symbol of an independent village.
(2) To provide space for keeping or locating shared cultural materials and monuments
(3) To provide a venue for meetings, where laws/policies of the land are made and reviewed.
(4) To serve as a civic space for inculcating values, ethics and traditions of the land.
(5) To serve as a religious centre/tabernacle of the village.
(6) To serve as a native court for the people, where cases are tried and judgments delivered.
(7) To provide space for carrying out performances, festivals, ceremonies, initiations and all
kinds of communal feasting.
(8) To provide space for leisure, games and sporting activities.
Two case studies will now examine these various roles in more depth and over time.
Umu-Obira Nkporogu
Otobo Ifu is the cultural and political headquarters of the Umu-Obira village and Nkporogu town, a
confederal arrangement with a cluster of villages that share descent and/or cultural interests. It
assumes this position because the descendants of Dimara whose lineage arena is Otobo Ifu hold
the royal stool (Eze) of Nkporogu. Also, the location was the rst settlement of Diugwu Idu, the
founding father of the Nkporogu people. In nwa mb(rst month in the Igbo calendar), the
arena hosts the Ika Ezugwu rite a pronouncement of the festival of the great Ezugwu deity. On
this day, the Igbo calendar is counted by sha/ha/Idi Nkporogu (council of elders) to mark the
beginning of a new year. Other cultural or heritage rites/ceremonies are also scheduled for the
year at this meeting. Mini celebrations take place, and prayers are made in the Ifu Diugwu Idu
(shrine) located on top of the settlement mound of the founding father of Nkporogu, Diugwu Idu
(see Figure 2).
Similarly, sha/ha Umu-Obira and that of the larger Nkporogu confederacy hold their meet-
ings to settle disputes and discuss matters that aect the communities. In nwa itegna (the ninth
month in the Igbo calendar), during the festival of the Ogwudinama deity, the priests of Ogwu
perform the rite of Ite Ushue (dancing to the music of Ushue a wooden gong). Ite Ushue is a
celebration that signies the peoples reconciliation with the Ogwu deity and includes a successful
cleansing of the land for the year. The reconciliation and cleansing rites are performed around
Otobo Ogwu throughout the night before the Ite Ushue is done the following morning. Later in the
afternoon, masked performances are observed in most of the arenas, and the entire village is
thrown into a celebration.
In nwa en(the fourth month in the Igbo calendar), during the Ikpa iyi festival, a group of
mada (daughters of Umu-Obira), made up of elderly women, assemble maidens who are to
undergo the rite of passage to adulthood in this arena before proceeding to Obunyko (the village
spring) at midnight. The women and the girls return to their various lineage arenas to perform the
nal ceremony. Monumentally, there is a village hall, masking house and masking paraphernalia,
Ifu Chi Ogwu (an extension of the Ogwu shrine), Ifu Diugwu Idu and m(a public sharpening
stone) in Otobo Ifu.
Otobo Ogwu is an arena dedicated to the Ogwu deity. This space is central to the cultural and
religious life of the people as it holds the shrines of the Ogwu deity, Al/Ani (earth goddess), Enyanw
Ezechikwoke (the sun of the supreme God) and mada (a shrine depicting powers of the daughters
of the land). Others are shrines of Dimgbokwe (the deied medicine man whose help settled Ogwu in
Umu-Obira), Odiokara (the medicine that Dimgbokwe applied in making Ogwu settle) and Obu
(palace) of the head priest of Ogwu (for information on Ogwu history; see Ugwuanyi [2017]). There
is a mound of pots and potsherds, and some of the pots contain healingwater. Signicant also are
the daily rituals that take place within the landscape of Otobo Ogwu. According to ObiraASj (inter-
view, 11 February 2017), Ogwu protect and prosper our people. When someones property is
missing, Ogwu is called upon to help look for it. If one is shortchanged or deprived of his property,
Ogwu is used to seek justice.These activities allow the people to experience the space on a regular
basis through daily rituals and supplications (meaning humble requests and prayers).
Otobo Amamgbokwe is used for an annual legislative meeting, where sha/ha Umu-Obira
meets on the day of Izu Amamgbokwe (a yearly legislative session) during the Ogwu festival in
nwa itegna (the ninth month in the Igbo calendar). At this gathering, the council of elders make
and mitigate laws/policies of the land. On that day, heads of lineages assemble at a particular
point carrying the Arua of their lineage (an ancestral symbol of authority) and a large bell. The
head of a specic family leads the procession from that point to the Otobo Amamgbokwe. The
Aruas are mounted in the arena as deliberations on laws/policies and other important matters of
interest to the land begin (see Figures 4a and b). In the end, they will individually remove their
Araand the laws/policies and other issues will remain as agreed and cannot be negotiated until
the next nwa itegna in the following year. It is believed that the dead ancestors meet with the
living elders on this day and at this venue. Conspicuous monuments in Otobo Amamgbokwe are
Figure 2. Settlement mound of Diugwu Idu in Otobo Ifu (the arrow points to Ifu Diugwu Idu a shrine dedicated
to the founding father of Nkporogu).
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, January 2017
Figure 3. A map showing Otobo Ifu, its contents and other arenas in Umu-Obira Nkporogu.
gb(Ficusthon ningii)Otobo and a buried stone where the person that led the procession to the
venue sits.
All other Otobos (Otobo Ugwuenechi, Otobo Uwenu [Ogbara], Otobo Uwani, Otobo Amaozaka
and Otobo Akpachi) belong to the lineages that make up Umu-Obira where they hold various
meetings and ceremonies.
These otobos comprise a hall, masking house and masking paraphernalia, Ifu Chi Ogwu (an
extended shrine of Ogwu) and gbu (Ficusthon ningii)Otobo. During most of the festivals, dancing
and masking activities are typical, and the village arena also provides space for spectators. The
cow-killing rite of passage for the dead is carried out in the lineage arenas. Initiation of young men
into the masking institution is also done in this space when the Iba Mmowu rite (initiation into
masking society) is organized. At dierent meetings, rites and ceremonies, individuals usually
Figure 4. (a) Section of sha/ha Umu-Obira during Izu Amamgbokwe (annual legislative session) in Otobo
Amamgbokwe, (b) Complete view of all the participants in Izu Amamgbokwe.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, January 2017
attend with dierent cultural objects/materials which are either then deposited or lost within the
landscape. These physical manifestations become the archaeological signatures from which ritual
behaviours may later be inferred and interpreted.
Amokpu Uhunowerre
Otobo Umuagbo is the socio-cultural and political headquarters of Amokpu village, Uhunowerre
town (the cluster of villages with traceable descent and shared cultural interests) and the Eketeker
confederacy (the cluster of towns that have traceable ancestry and shared common interests). Oral
narrative has it that the Umuagbo people were the rst to settle in the area. As the rst people, they
hold the leadership position in indigenous culture, politics and religion and their arena was elevated
above others. Also, Otobo Umuagbo is said to be a holy place where the gods and the ancestors
attend meetings and all participants are expected to speak truth to avoid being cursed.
Umuagbo people are trusted with the observation of the moon and counting of the Igbo
calendar. In this way, every new year in the Igbo calendar, the Onyishi (the oldest man and head of
the village) and ha (council of elders) of Umuagbo assemble here for a ceremony called ipa
mmanya aha(literarily translated as carrying wine for the year). It is at this event that they count
the calendar and schedule cultural rites/festivals for Uhunowerre people for the year ahead.
Prayers are made in nAl(shrine of earth goddess) and nEnyanwEzechitoke (shrine of
the sun of the supreme God). But more recently, this rite has moved from the arena to Obu the
palace of Onyishi because of Christianization and modern inuences that have combined to
reduce the number of participants. ha Umuagbo, ha Uhunowerre and ha Eketeker previously
Figure 5. A map showing Otobo Umuagbo, other Otobo and heritage sites in Uhunowerre.
had their meetings in this arena, but these have also now been moved to the Obu Onyishi of
Umuagbo for the same reason.
Every four years, in nwa ebo (the second month in the Igbo calendar), the mabe mask spirit
enters the village from Ag/Egu (farmland), before settling in and operating from the arena.
Festivals associated with mabe ranging from arrival, a rite in nwa ise (the fth month in the
Igbo calendar) to departure in nwa ishi (the sixth month) are done in the arena. The mabe
shrine (Figure 6b), the musical instruments and all the masking paraphernalia are found in the
Figure 6. (a) Hall Umuagbo, (b) nu mabe in Otobo Umuoagbo.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, June 2017
nwa et(the third month in the Igbo calendar) is the Egba Eze festival, when the Akatakpa
masking performance is observed. Within this feasting period, an kpEbule (ram) rite is organized
in Otobo Eketeker. IkpEbule is the most popular ceremony in Egba Eze (see Figure 7). This is
marked with cane whipping and merriment. On that day, many of the masked Akatapka in
Uhunowerre come to perform in Otobo Eketeker. Prizes such as an Ebule (ram) for the rst position,
an Oke kk(rooster) for the second and some Ji (tubers of yam) for the third are made available
and distributed among the most beautiful and best performed Akatakpa. But because of the crisis
caused by sharing these prizes in the past, the prizes now rotate annually from one village to
another. A day following kpEbule is the la Akatakpa (the day that the Akatakpa spirit departs
from Uhunowerre). la Akatakpa is marked with a rite that sees all the masked Akatakpa in
Uhunowerre place their whipping canes in nAkatakpa (popularly called Igbudu Akatakpa)
located in Otobo Umuagbo.
nwa Esat(the eighth month in the Igbo calendar) is the Uke (agricultural/new yam) festival.
There is Uke Eguru (Uke for blacksmiths) and Uke ha (Uke for the general public). Uke Eguru is
carried out by blacksmiths in Amauzu before the general public would do the same after Nkweizu
(one native week, four days). Amauzu has this privilege because they produce the agricultural
implements. In the past, this festival involved a wrestling competition in the arena. Oriri Chukwu
(celebration of the supreme God) is in nwa iri (the tenth month in the Igbo calendar). On the
appointed day, all members of the village bring food, meat and wine to the arena to feast
together. Prayers are made in the shrines of nEnyanwEzechitoke (shrine of the sun of the
supreme God) and nAl(shrine of the earth goddess). It is important to note that Oriri Chukwu is
separately organized for men and women. nwa iri is for the women while men celebrate in nwa
iri ne na (the eleventh month in the Igbo calendar).
nAl,nUgwuoburu and nOshu-Idenyi are shrines situated outside the boundaries of
Otobo Umuagbo but have some link to the rituals and activities taking place in the arena. Apart from
the shrines mentioned above, there are nAbere (Ikpny) and nụỤmada in Otobo Umuagbo.
Abere is the wife of Ikpny, a night masking performance that reveals to society individual ways of
living. AmokpuPO (interview, 1 May 2017) narrates his encounter with Ikpnythus:
Just [a] few days ago when Ikpnyi was performing, it passed beside my house, called me and I answered.
It started by telling me that I am a drunkard; that I go to market and return late every day because of my
drinking attitude. . . . I am lucky because if I were living a life that is considered very bad in the society, it
would have exposed me to the public. . . . But friends were praising me after that encounter. .. . Ikpnyi
Figure 7. IkpEbule (ram) ceremony during Egba Eze in Otobo Eketeker, Uhunowerre.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, May 2017
told my neighbour that he is a trouble maker, that he should conclude his brothers funeral rites, avoid
making trouble with people and stop sleeping about with dierent women.
The goal is to expose people that have bad and dubious attitudes and to appreciate those with
positive behaviour. This masking performance involves a procession that sets out from the arena
after some rites are carried out in nAbere. Thus, nAbere is found in virtually all the lineage
Otobos Amauzu and Amaegu.
nụỤmada is a shrine associated with womanhood, particularly the daughters of the land.
Prayers are made in this shrine during the assumption of oce as a new Onyishi mada also
known as Ede (the eldest person among the daughters of the land). In a separate context, when a
married daughter of Umuagbo or Uhunowerre dies, the gba ba rite is carried out for her. Igba
ba is one of the rites of passage for women in Uhunowerre. In gba ba, the children of a dead
woman arrange an ba (a small basket containing some money and materials that signify their
mothers place in society) which they take amidst dancing to their mothers people. The ba is
received by the rst son of their mothers family. Some prayers are made in nụỤmada and the
ba is hung around the shrine. The practice is gradually diminishing and faces extinction due to
the inuence of Christianity. However, there are some women who insist that the rite should be
performed for them when they die.
Otobo Eketeker houses the Eketeker customary court and provides space for many festivals/
ceremonies. There are nụỌmabe, nAbere and other shrines associated with the lineage that
own Otobo Amauzu and Otobo Amaegu. As such, meetings of all kinds are also held in them.
Nevertheless, Otobo Umuagbo remains the headquarters of all the social institutions in
Uhunowerre, and to some extent, in Eketeker confederacy.
Discussion and conclusions
As we have seen, time is positional in the transitional movement of the arena from permanent to
temporary states. Time in Africa according to Animalu (2011, 27), depicts the world as an immortal
regenerative cycle of birth, death and re-birth of all things in nature in which time the African
Time”–is cyclic and irreversible. . .. Ifesieh (1989) asserts that time among the Igbo is marked with
reference to traditional landmarks, in the life of the communitysuch as cultural festivities and
events. Time in Igbo is oge, which if specically applied means mgbe. Because time, whether as oge
or mgbe according to Ugwuanyi (2017) is organized by the Igbo in a non-sequential and var-
iegated manner across space, cultural events/rites transiently occur within the Igbo cyclical
Igbo cyclical time organizes all the events/rites that happen in the Igbo village arena in these
temporal perspectives. They occur periodically and follow an established course. Similarly, atten-
tion given to monuments and events in the arena is also framed by these same rhythms. Though
the space and its contents are physically xed/permanent, the time of the event/rite occurrence is
xed in its rhythm, but temporary in nature. Take, for instance, the Ika Ezugwu rite, Izu
Amamgbokwe and Ogwu festival in nwa itegna in Umu-Obira and ipa mmanya aha, egba eze
and mabe festival in Amokpu; these events are temporarily carried out in the arena within the
Igbo cyclical cosmos. By contrast, Igba ba in Amokpu is more uid and unpredictable, as is the
death which brings it about. What seems permanent about the rites/events is that they are found
within the cyclical experience or rhythms of life which characterize the lives of the Igbo people.
The shrines permanently sited with the arena, and the associated materials, form archaeological
signatures that contribute to understanding the complexities of this important space in Igbo life.
Further and extensive enquiries into the use of the arena among the Igbo will help to understand
and better appreciate Igbo history and heritage.
Going by the cyclical temporality of the village arena, the landscape is a space where the inter-
generational behaviour of the Igbo, from the ancient, through the present to the future manifest.
Ingold (1993, 152) noted that landscape tells or rather is a story. It enfolds the lives and times
of predecessors who, over the generations, have moved around in it and played their part in its
formation. This essay not only arms Ingoldsndings; it shows how such landscapehuman
entanglements express indigeneity and confer rights to heritage control.
While the majority of village arenas are vibrant and active spaces, some examples are physically
abandoned. Yet even in these abandoned arenas prayers continue to be made at the shrines
within them. Equally, the hosting of major festivals will often lead to re-activation of many of the
monuments within the arenas. These are therefore uid places, transitioning between states of
abandonment and active use over time, but always characterized by uses that are transitory and
ephemeral. They are in a sense therefore ambiguous spaces, the meanings and signicance of
which depend on the various perspectives of participants and observers, of the time of day, month
or year. Such spaces likely transcend time and space, from prehistoric Europe to the contemporary
city. But here, in rural West Africa, their uses and signicance are highlighted through the
persistence of ritual behaviours and ceremony, where materiality and memory are central compo-
nents. We can learn much from these spaces, about ancestors, others and ourselves. And a helpful
framework for that understanding is one that recognizes patterns of behaviours and the rhythms
of daily life. This temporal perspective can give shape and clarity to complex patterns of behaviour.
By this means, the village arena comes into sharper focus.
We would like to thank all those that participated in this research especially in Umu-obira Nkporogu and
Amokpu Uhunowerre in Enugu state, Nigeria.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by the Overseas Research Scholarship, University of York; Gilchrist Educational Trust;
Tweedie Exploration Fellowship, University of Edinburgh.
Notes on contributors
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi teaches in the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of Nigeria. He is
currently a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. His thesis
explores the negotiation between the global heritage discourse and the existing beliefs and value systems
in the context of the village arena (or square) among the Igbo of Nigeria. The work hopes to bridge the gap
between the authorized heritage institutions and local communities to discourage public exclusion and
encourage democratic inclusion in heritage management in post-contact societies. John is a Certied Project
Manager (C.P.M.) and has a diploma in tourism and museum studies, as well as a B.A. and M.A. (both cum
laude) in archaeology and tourism from the University of Nigeria. His research interest is heritage, museum,
tourism, postcolonial archaeology, indigenous knowledge systems and indigenous methodologies.
John Schoeld is Head of Archaeology at the University of York where he teaches and conducts research in
cultural heritage and the contemporary past. He is also Docent in Archaeology at the University of Turku
(Finland), Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia), Member of the Chartered
Institute for Archaeologists and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
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... It is as well a virtual museum centre where heritage materials such as figurines, pottery, gong, shrines, a masquerade house and paraphernalia, musical instruments and many other treasures are found. The village arena is "a symbol of an independent village" (EborOU, 2016 in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018); "a place for all kinds of meeting/gathering" (ObiraCE &ObiraAA, 2017 in Ugwuanyi andSchofield, 2018). It provides space, "for law/policy making as well as serving as a native law court to the people" (ObiraCE, 2017; AmaeguFU, 2017 both in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018). ...
... It is as well a virtual museum centre where heritage materials such as figurines, pottery, gong, shrines, a masquerade house and paraphernalia, musical instruments and many other treasures are found. The village arena is "a symbol of an independent village" (EborOU, 2016 in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018); "a place for all kinds of meeting/gathering" (ObiraCE &ObiraAA, 2017 in Ugwuanyi andSchofield, 2018). It provides space, "for law/policy making as well as serving as a native law court to the people" (ObiraCE, 2017; AmaeguFU, 2017 both in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018). ...
... The village arena is "a symbol of an independent village" (EborOU, 2016 in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018); "a place for all kinds of meeting/gathering" (ObiraCE &ObiraAA, 2017 in Ugwuanyi andSchofield, 2018). It provides space, "for law/policy making as well as serving as a native law court to the people" (ObiraCE, 2017; AmaeguFU, 2017 both in Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018). A classification of the Arena based on ownership and functions was attempted by Ugwuanyi and Schofield (2018: 5) thus: "according to ownership, there are those owned by the entire village and those that belong to the lineages that make up the village. ...
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The continued practice of ‘Authorized Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) in Nigeria and the non-impact it has on local communities calls to question the sustainability of heritage management in the country. The way archaeology, anthropology and other related disciplines that study and contribute to the management of heritage were introduced into the country made the entire heritage management processes non-inclusive and unsustainable. Established heritage institutions have for long existed as ivory towers with little or no impact on local communities. This paper examines the implications of this hegemony on the Nigerians’ heritage consciousness and further established how the current practices exclude the people that create and use heritage in their cultural places. The essay considered the recognition and integration of indigenous heritage knowledge systems and practices (focusing on the Igbo village arena (or ‘square’) with specific examples from Nsukka cultural area in southeast Nigeria) into the western model-AHDto boost public inclusion and encourage sustainability .
... In Otobo Ogwu, in the arena of the great Ogwudinama deity in Umu-Obira Nkporogu, a tree (unidentified species) is used to symbolize Dimgbokwe and another -an Akpụ tree -Odiọkara. 2 What Dimgbokwu and Odiọkara represent is explained in the following interview from an Obira villager about how the people received the Ogwu deity and the knowledge of the Igbo calendar (see also Ugwuanyi and Schofield 2018), ... Diugwu Egbune consulted a great dibia [medicine man] by name, Dimgbokwe from Obosi (in the present Anambra state) to prepare for him a medicine with which to identify the name of the woman when next she visits. Dimgbokwe came to Umu-Obira, prepared a Ọgwụ [medicine] called Odiọkara and planted Akpụ [silk cotton tree -Ceiba pentandra] where the medicine was kept (Interview, February 11, 2017; see also Ugwuanyi 2017). ...
... After the encounter, two different trees were used to symbolize Dimgbokwe -the dibia and Odiọkara -the medicine he made. Noting Okolie's (1992) excerpt above, it is common to find in all the village arenas in Umu-Obira an Ọgbụ Otobo, a tree in the village arena that symbolizes the sacredness of the Otobo as a political, cultural, religious and social space in Igbo culture (Ugwuanyi and Schofield 2018). ...
Open Access volume available to download now from Open Humanities Press (part of their Critical Climate Change series): Understanding how pasts resource presents is a fundamental first step towards building alternative futures in the Anthropocene. This collection brings together scholars from a range of disciplines to explore concepts of care, vulnerability, time, extinction, loss and inheritance across more-than-human worlds, connecting contemporary developments in the posthumanities with the field of critical heritage studies. Drawing on contributions from archaeology, anthropology, critical heritage studies, gender studies, geography, histories of science, media studies, philosophy, and science and technology studies, the book aims to place concepts of heritage at the centre of discussions of the Anthropocene and its associated climate and extinction crises – not as a nostalgic longing for how things were, but as a means of expanding collective imaginations and thinking critically and speculatively about the future and its alternatives. Contributors: Christina Fredengren, Cecilia Åsberg, Anna Bohlin, Adrian Van Allen, Esther Breithoff, Rodney Harrison, Colin Sterling, Joanna Zylinska, Denis Byrne, J. Kelechi Ugwuanyi, Caitlin DeSilvey, Anatolijs Venovcevs, Anna Storm and Claire Colebrook.
... If you go to the Ore Edem market, something was kept on the land, which has made it to survive until today. Even the place we are sitting now (referring to Obu Aja -the palace of Aja deity), something was kept on the land and that is why we are sitting here today (for details on Otobo, see Ugwuanyi and Schofield 2018). ...
... When a further enquiry was made to ascertain if he was talking about his immediate father, he reiterates that 'Anyi nwe yabụ Al' ne ọha, mane Ogiri Ada bụ ọgerenyi -Onyishi -mgbe o wefutere', meaning 'it was a collective land, but Ogiri Ada was the eldest, who was ruling when the land was carved out'. Note that Ọfụ is a village arena (or square) and a symbol of an independent village (Ugwuanyi and Schofield 2018). The said Ogiri Ada is one of the ancient ancestors who ruled at the time Onicha Ogbo gained independence to establish its Ọfụ, an event that took place among a generation in the deep past. ...
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This paper reflects on how heritage knowledge is built around time-space discourses. It takes a Critical Heritage Studies (CHS) position to examine heritage knowledge systems through the lenses of Walter Mignolo’s decolonial praxis on ‘locus of enunciation’ and Tim Ingold’s exegesis on ‘dwelling perspectives’. Drawing from ethnographic evidence collected among the Igbo of Nigeria, the study engages Indigenous concepts and heritage ontologies in the context of time and space in heritage making in Africa. Secondly, it interrogates the evidence with the continuity that occurs in society through intergenerational knowledge systems that began with known ancestors. Thirdly, such sustainability mechanisms are examined using what I call ‘territorial communion’ – the ways in which those local knowledge systems are ‘printed’ on the landscape through human-nature ‘relational ontologies’, and how such pictured living holds heritage in a continuum. Finally, the paper contends that a good knowledge of intergenerational ‘dwelling perspectives’ from different loci of enunciation would begin the decoloniality of heritage in Africa.
... The mediated relationship between humans and nonhumans made it possible to feast and celebrate different 'beings' at various times of the day, week, month, or year. As such, events repetitively occurred in a cyclical form, thus, changing from permanent to temporality and vice versa (Ugwuanyi & Schofield 2018). Birth, life, death, and the afterlife are all celebrated. ...
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This paper examines the principles of cultural heritage conservation in pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Nigeria. It uncovers how cultural heritage is used and cared for in pre-colonial time based on its ‘utilitarian values’ and the ways colonialism isolated and appropriated cultural heritage from utilitarian communities to create museums/secluded sites for exclusive national narrative. The article interrogates how local worldviews and the intricate relationship of people and environment play around heritage and identity, and how the discourses include or exclude indigenous/local people in the national heritage-making processes. It goes further to show that post-colonial Nigeria has continued with the heritage binaries (e.g. local and national, past and present) created by colonialism, which reflects some approaches that obscure more complex underlying cultural continuities in villages/local communities. The paper argues more generally for a review of national heritage conservation policies and practices to accommodate side-lined local heritage knowledge systems in Africa.
... People's memories of a landscape, be it either a 'formal' or mundane site, can be linked to conflict, war and other traumas (Baird and Le Billon, 2012;. There have been efforts to understand the sociocultural meanings and significance of the physical landscape in Nigeria (Okolie, 1992;Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018;Ugwuanyi, 2020). Other efforts have been on exploring cultural landscapes in Nigeria, such as Afamefuna and Okonkwo's (2019) investigation of the Sukur cultural landscape in the Adamawa State of Nigeria. ...
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The memories of landscapes that people hold can stabilize histories and traditions in rural areas and are entwined with everyday lives and have several meanings. The paper explores the memories that people hold about plateaus in two adjoining villages (Alor-Uno and Edem-Ani) in the Nsukka area of Enugu State, South-Eastern Nigeria. This area is an exciting and essential area of the world distinctly underrepresented in landscape memory scholarship. The paper shows that the plateaus separating Alor-Uno and Edem-Ani are landscape of political memory of the ancient wars between the two communities and more contemporary disputes regarding territorial extent of the communities and use of the land behind the plateaus if you are in Alor-Uno. Alor-Uno claims wars waged against it by several kingdoms displaced the community permitting occupation of parts of the community's land and they seek to reclaim it from Edem-Ani. However, extant narratives often recognize the disputed area as part of Edem-Ani because of the use of the plateaus as a boundary by colonial administrators. The presence of the plateaus helps the people recollect these ancient wars' memories, and they use it to seek legitimation of their claim over the land. The paper argues that the memory of past land use reinforces the legitimacy of current land tenure configurations and shape sensitivity to territoriality leading to exclusion. This can sustain group identities across generations translating into a ground for future fighting. It calls for more attention to the non-human agency and in connection to landscapes political memory, which speaks to the current post-human thinking in human geography. It suggests that resource conflicts analysis should take social meanings, memories and identities connected to the physical landscape seriously as they contain ideological and symbolic elements foregrounding conflict environments.
... Likewise, for natural heritage resources like caves and lakes; the Igbo belief systems agree on the existence of an unseen creator from whom everything was made. That belief system (intangible heritage) is, again, made manifest in those lakes and caves (tangible heritage), there is not one without the other (see Munjeri, 2004;Ugwuanyi and Schofield, 2018). Hence, we may give the Igbo definition of heritage as various traditions, norms and cultural practices collectively held by a group of people (related Indigenous cultural heritage management by birth or ancestry) over a certain period of time, and that is tied or connected to a place of origin or settlement. ...
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Purpose This study explored an alternative understanding of heritage through the lens of the Igbo cultural group in Nigeria. It used the Igbo concept of “ Ihe Nketa ” or “ Oke ” to examine the complex relationship between indigeneity, attachment and sustainability in the context of heritage management and conservation. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative approach was used, and ethnographic methods of data collection that include interviews and focus-group discussions (FGD) applied. The interview participants included village chiefs and the elderly (men and women), and the FGD comprised village elders (men and women) and youths. The interview guide contained demographic questions to determine age and occupation, followed by interactive open-ended questions stemming from the study's objectives. The interviews were conducted in the language most preferred by the respondents such as the Igbo language, Nigerian Pidgin English and the English language. The evidence generated was thematically analysed in a descriptive and interpretive manner. Findings The study found that while the Igbo understanding of heritage have related meaning with the definitions offered by the United Nations, their approach to heritage conservation takes a different turn through the concepts of “ Ihe Nketa ” or “ Oke, ” which recognises the ephemerality of tangible heritage resources with particular focus on the preservation of intangible heritage–knowledge over objects. The Igbo approach describes the framework for the acquisition, use and transfer of heritage resources in the Igbo society. Originality/value This study contributes to the understanding of the concept of heritage through the lens of the Igbo of Nigeria. Against the centralised national management approach to heritage, this paper argues that achieving sustainable heritage management in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria requires the recognition of the principles that conserve(d) and manage(d) heritage among the indigenous/local peoples.
... Smith underlines the possibilities for conflict as well as consensus over open spaces, reminding us that open spaces can be used against 'official expectations'. An excellent example of Smith's ideas concerns the alternating uses of the Igbo village arena, at the physical and socio-cultural centre of village life, between a sacred space for hosting initiation rites and religious rituals and a profane space for meetings and ceremonies (Ugwuanyi & Schofield 2018). The inner open space at Nebelivka can also be conceptualised as the physical and socio-cultural centre of megasite life, with alternating sacred and profane uses. ...
... After the encounter, two different trees were used to symbolize Dimgbokwe -the dibia and Odiọkara -the medicine he made. Noting Okolie's (1992) excerpt above, it is common to find in all the village arenas in Umu-Obira an Ọgbụ Otobo, a tree in the village arena that symbolizes the sacredness of the Otobo as a political, cultural, religious and social space in Igbo culture (Ugwuanyi and Schofield 2018). ...
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The main focus of this paper is to bring to limelight how archaeological activities/findings are appropriate resources not only for understanding the past, but also for the purpose of adequately informing future plans. Archaeological activities and findings have the ability to provide positive answers to the general social instability in a nation (as being experienced or witnessed in Nigeria in particular and West Africa in general). This research is of the opinion that, the archaeological education and engagement is a good asset to a nation's quest for peace and security which can bring about social stability. This is what Nigeria as a nation require at the moment. Archaeological knowledge can be pulled to provide possible solutions to the numerous challenges confronting Nigeria (particularly instability and insecurity) that are causing none-patriotism and disunity in Nigeria today. This is because archaeological resources have the ability to reveal the vast range of human cultural achievements and struggles in the past. The paper articulates that, reviewing the principles, regulations, norms, values and the kind of social organs that helped to drive the past societies can help to ascertain causes of today's problems/situations, which will then provide positive remedy to the problems. The paper suggests that archaeology should be introduced in the primary and secondary levels of education in Nigeria to avail children with the opportunity to grow with African cultural norms and values which promotes good behaviour, neighbourliness, respect for elders/human-lives and tolerance.
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Our research, teaching, and outreach engagements with descendant communities are identifying a therapeutic role for archaeology. We argue that community-based archaeology—meaning community-directed studies of ancestral places practiced by invitation—can improve individual and communal health and well-being. Archaeology has untapped potential to elicit and confirm connections among people, places, objects, knowledges, ancestries, ecosystems, and world-views. Such interconnections endow individuals and communities with identities, relationships, and orientations that are foundational for health and well-being. In particular, archaeology practiced as place-focused research can counteract cultural stress, a pernicious effect of colonialism that is pervasive among indigenous peoples worldwide. A Stó:lō–Coast Salish model of health provides a baseline for assessing and guiding community-based archaeology and related pursuits. Three cases of community-based archaeological practice among the Coast Salish of southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington show how archaeology can promote health by connecting project participants and other community members with their territories and their heritage, both tangible (artifacts/belongings/heirlooms) and intangible (knowledge/traditions/histories). © 2017 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.
This fully revised and updated second edition of Migration in World History traces the connections among regions brought about by the movement of people, diseases, crops, technology and ideas.
Although the Igbo constitute one of the largest ethnic nationalities of Nigeria and the West African sub-region, little is known about their political history before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. This book is a pioneer study of the broad changes Igbo political systems have undergone since the prehistoric period.