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The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria

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111 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1965

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Victor C. Uchendu

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Profile Image for Liralen.
2,695 reviews146 followers
September 19, 2013
When I read Chinua Achebe's There Was A Country, about the Biafran war/Nigerian civil war, my strongest takeaway impressions were that a) his view is important but biased, and b) I would have to read more Igbo history in order to properly understand what he was talking about.

Fast-forward to last week, when I was exploring a new-to-me library. I was poking around in the stacks, and—what ho! The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria! It’s short (~100 pages), else I probably wouldn't have bothered, and I was inclined to think that it was just about kismet.

So I read this book. It's anthropology, though from the perspective of one who grew up in an Igbo village—both a boon (because he has an insider's view) and occasionally an annoyance (as when he dismisses the fact of women being unable to do certain things 'for ritual reasons' and leaves me going BUT WHAT REASONS?). There's some really interesting stuff, as with the existence of 'female husbands'—women who take wives, often if the 'female husband' is infertile (or has lost her children) and needs somebody to bear children for her, and who are often quite economically powerful. I’ve read about that sort of thing in other contexts, and I’d love to know whether it’s still an established custom today. (It should also be noted that both he and Achebe made a strong distinction between economic power and general prestige—the latter can be bought by the former, but generally at the expense of the former.)

Anyway, since the book was published in 1965, I don't know how much of this still holds true (although the timing is otherwise great, since Achebe's book covers events of the late 60s). But the other really cool thing, especially given the time period, is his discussion of 'credit associations'. He describes several types, most of which are quite similar in setup to Korean money clubs (gaes? I read a novel in university that mentioned them, but I can’t for the life of me remember which book...)—each week everyone puts in a small amount, and the pot goes to a different member each week.

The best part, though, is that he also describes a women-specific sort of money club: instead of giving the pot to a different woman each week, the idea is to save the money for a big yearly project—a Christmas feast, clothing for a ceremony, etc. Some women's clubs also do (not that he uses this term) micro-loans, which are subject to steep interest and which members keep a very close eye on. So basically Nigerian village women were using a now-lauded model of money lending, on their own, at least as far back as the 60s.

As an anthropology text, this wasn’t so much the history I originally wanted, but it filled in a lot of blanks anyway.
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