The Igbo: A Stateless Society?
Most scholars have argued that Igbo society was
and that the Igbo region did not evolve centralized
institutions before the colonial period. According to this
theory, the relatively egalitarian Igbo lived in small,
selfcontained groups of villages organized according to a
system that did not allow social stratification. An
fitness to govern was determined by his wisdom and his
his age and experience. Subsistence farming was the
economic activity, and yams were the staple crop. Land,
through inheritance, was the measure of wealth.
commerce were well developed, and a relatively dense
characterized the region.
Despite the absence of chiefs, some Igbo relied on an
of priests, chosen from outsiders on the northern fringe
Igboland, to ensure impartiality in settling disputes
communities. Igbo gods, like those of the Yoruba, were
but their relationship to one another and to human beings
essentially egalitarian, thereby reflecting Igbo society
whole. A number of oracles and local cults attracted
while the central deity, the earth mother and fertility
Ala, was venerated at shrines throughout Igboland.
The weakness of this theory of statelessness rests on
paucity of historical evidence of precolonial Igbo
are huge lacunae between the archaeological finds of Igbo
which reveal a rich material culture in the heart of the
region in the eighth century A.D., and the oral traditions
twentieth century. In particular, the importance of the
Kingdom, which appears to have flourished before the
century, often is overlooked. The Nri Kingdom was
small in geographical extent, but it is remembered as the
of Igbo culture. Finally, Benin exercised considerable
on the western Igbo, who adopted many of the political
familiar to the Yoruba-Benin region.
Data as of June 1991