How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

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Details of traditional Igbo government and social structure varied from place to place throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but its characteristic nature remained the same. The basic unit of Igbo life was the village group, and the most universal institution was the role of the family head. This was usually the oldest man of the oldest surviving generation. His role primarily involved settling family disputes, and because he controlled the channel of communication with the all-important ancestors, he commanded great respect and reverence. In some areas the government of chiefs and elders was composed of a governing age grade, in others the council of elders was made up of the oldest members of particular families. Titles played a major part in this society. There was a hierarchy of ascending titles that were to be taken in order, accompanied by an ascending scale of payments. The system acted as a simple form of social security, in that those who acquired titles paid a particular fee, and then were entitled to share in the payments of those who later acquired titles. A series of intense rituals were to be undertaken before acquiring a title, which was considered a symbol of character as well as of success. A titled man’s life was dominated by numerous religious restrictions, and it was expected that these would be strictly adhered to. A few Igbo states, such as Aboh and Onitsha, which had a tradition of origin from elsewhere, were ruled by kings, which were regarded as sacred and lived in ritual seclusion. However, the decisions taken by these kings were by no means final, they were often challenged and overruled by other titled men with whom they were required to consult. In general, however, kingship was an unfamiliar concept to the majority of Igbos. A political institution that was widespread but not universal was that of the age-grade. Each age-grade was responsible for specific areas of community service, and this often promoted rivalry...
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