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A Socio-Economic History Of Ihitenansa, 1900-1960




Paradoxically speaking, every society has a social and economic history. The social and economic history of any given society x-rays the social and economic aspects of the people’s culture. To this, Ihitenansa community is not an exemption. Ihitenansa community has a rich social and economic history prior to 1900 and after 1960. However, I was tickled by this great reality of my people and this brought the idea of my project titled “The Social and Economic history of Ihitenansa 1900-1960”. Some aspects of social and economic history such as Religion, Agriculture, Trade, Local Industries and festivals prior to 1900 are considered. The emphasis is to realistically express the development of Ihitenansa community which has turned herself from formal to informal history.



Background of the Study

Every society has social, economic and political aspects of life. It is the system by which the tasks necessary for the society’s continuing existence1 are carried out. Ihitenansa, our area of study is not an exception.

Pre-colonial Ihitenansa society had a socio-political system that was adequate for coping with most of the challenges that faced it. There were mechanisms for the settling of personal and group disputes, the maintenance of peace and markets, the mobilization of community resources for commercial purposes, taking of decisions as to peace or war within the constituent groups or with neighbours.

Apart from the introduction of the warrant chief system and its attendant influences on the political and judicial decision making process, colonialism did not change most of the equalitarian and kingship nature of Ihitenansa. Not much was change on the socio-economic spectrum. Colonial rule merely introduced on oaken political system, which the people condone more out of fear than of respect and relevance.

In Ihitenansa, colonial rule was a stunning and crucial experience partly because of its aims and partly because of the methods both which occasioned far-reaching changes.2

However, Professor Afigbo has pointed out that colonial rule transformed Igbo society in many respects. It did not destroy Igbo identity or cultural goals.3

In essence, colonialism not-withstanding, the identity and the cultural, soul of the Ihitenansa people remained as in other parts of Igboland.

Economically, Ihitenansa was not very different from most of its neighbours in pre-colonial and colonial Igbo society. It was an economy based on three major heads, agriculture, trade and manufacturing. Each of these three main provinces of economic activity played an important part in the survival of the Igbo as a group and in determining the character and quality of their culture, even of their religion and cosmology.4 These three areas, (economy, culture and religion), it is difficult to draw a sharp distinction between them.

Nonetheless, the socio-economic and political life of Ihitenansa is highly enriched historically. This is apparently because of the rich cultural practice of the people. And as it has been pointed out initially, it is difficult to rigidly compartment all of them.

That is to say, it is not possible to put the social, economic or political life of the people into a tight and mutually exclusive container.

In Ihitenansa today, it is fashionable for people to concentrate on the present and the future, which hold promises and challenges.

In doing so, the past is forgotten and little of any record. For posterity how our forbeared lived and organized themselves as well as how they were also able to make out a living in their geo-polity. Works on the colonial experience in Igbo society continue to be relevant to the understanding of the social and economic dynamics of Igbo society. The background to this study therefore rests in the proper knowledge of the colonial experience. This study which focuses on the experience of the Ihitenansa community or clan of Orsu L.G.A of Imo state makes a contribution to this understanding. Such a study had not been carried out on the area or the people previously.


This research work is centered predominantly on the social and economic history of Ihitenansa in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo state, Nigeria. Every society however primitive has a social, economic and political organization that is a system by which the tasks containing existence are distributed among its members. Ihitenansa community is not an exception. The choice of time frame was informed by the prelude of colonial era and its end in Nigeria. This implies 1900-1960.

Aims and Objectives

  1. The study is a painstaking effort at reconstructing the economic and social history of Ihitenansa otherwise, would have gone into oblivion.
  2. However, merely asking a little question will reveal that the people have rich social and economic life. The socio-economic life of the people in pre-colonial period and in present is edifying. Like all aspect of the history of all the colonized people that of Ihitenansa was affected by colonialism.
  3. This study focuses on how the economic and social lives of the land had added value  to the course of history and had  enriched the peoples past for the consumption  for succeeding generation.


In order to achieve the aim or purpose of this work, two approaches have been employed, namely, Oral Interview, and written sources involving the collecting and examination as well as consultation of various forms of written materials.

Attempt was made to collect oral information from Ihitenansa and from the neighbouring towns.

Again, some existing works by non-historians and incidental historians like anthropologists, were collected and gleaned through with all the dedication, I can boast of.

Significance of Study

This work can be used as a guide as well as a tool for contemporary Ihitenansa people towards the real understanding of their vicinity especially the aspects of social economic history prior to 1900 and the social and economic history till 1960. It equally serves as a practical guide to historians towards a firm understanding of Ihitenansa people.

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Literature Review

Presently, so many works exist on Igbo history. The history of any Igbo community cannot be written in isolation. To write meaningfully on any aspect of Igbo history or any part of Igboland involves a synthesis and analysis of the different works on Igbo history. This is because “despite minor variations in customs and dialects, the Igbos are essentially one people.

They speak a common language (Igbo) share common social and political institutions and have a common outlook.5

Writing on the Igbo, M.M. Green observed “their most immediately striking characteristics is what had aptly been called their social fragmentation. This great people is broken up into hundreds of small, more or less independent, social units, the largest being in many cases…the village group”.6

The Igbo social and political fragmentations have been observes “is deeply rooted as a political unit by any one single, political overlord or kingship. Instead each social group was and still is fragmentally independent.7

Ihitenansa community, in the pre-colonial time was one of the Igbo independent social units without any political overlord or kingship. And it belonged to the first of the four different political system identified by A.E. Afigbo.8 As central Igbo type as practiced among the Okigwe, Orlu, and Owerri Igbo. Here the kingship system is prominent and age-grades; titles and secret societies were largely social clubs and not political agencies as such.9

Writing about government in pre-colonial Igbo society, Afigbo observed: “Throughout Igboland, political fragmentation obtained with the largest unit of definite political integration” and within the village group authority was dispersed with lineage and non-hereditary office holders, men and women, the gods and the ancestors playing recognized roles in government” .10

We mean not only that the whole body of villages can and do, if they so wish take a hand in most practical affairs but that there is often a tendency for matters to be handled in an ad hoc fashion by a member of different groups or sections of society rather than by one recognized center of hierarchy.11

Afigbo has pointed out another characteristics feature of socio-political organization in pre-colonial and colonial Ihitenansa, in pointing out the socio-political characteristics of the Igbo people. According to him “there was… lack of clear separation between judicial, executive, and legislative function.

The same institution at one and persons most times performing the three functions at one the same place.12

But stressing the informality of the process of government adumbrated by Afigbo, M.M Green observed that kingship gathering such as those concerned with a second burial could be used as an opportunity for getting a case discussed or dealt with.13

On law making, he posited:

There seems to be no specialized institutions for this functions and one meets again, the fact that a group of people who met together for some economic purposes such as a market to some traditional purpose, use the occasion of meeting to discuss public matters.14

While it must be conceded that the judicial, legislative and executive aspects of governance involve informal process, attempts were made sometimes to formalize them. This can be seen from the fact that the people can be specially summoned on a particular day for one or all the aspects or governance. On such a gathering, be it judicial, legislative or executive can and do, take place.

Comparing the democratic village republic of Igbo people and Western democracy, Isichie observed that “Democracy as it exists today in the Western world is full of limitations. Government takes decision that many citizens disapprove of, even among those that elected them. Minorities, even large ones have little hope of having their political ideas put into practice. The average citizens have effectively no power to alter the network of regulations that govern his life. One of the things that struck this first western visitor to Igboland was the extent to which democracy was truly practiced.15

This true liberty which existed in Igboland notwithstanding, the fact that it’s any moment.16 This was made possible because “Igbo political institution were designed to combine popular participation with weighting for experience and ability.17

However, this has been the subject of varied interpretations. These sterns from the fact that many people viewed the Igbo from one aspect and everything about them. The notable thing remain that they are equalitarian in nature and this they guava jealously.

Generally speaking however, the Igbo communities were democratic in the sense that the government of the communities was the concern of all.”18

One another characteristics of Igboland in general and Ihitenansa community in particular was the fact of the absence of clear distinction or even an attempt to distinguish between the political and the religious in the government process”.19 Consequently, “Law making and its enforcement were both political and religious in character. The autonomous units among these people was not just a stale in the secular western sense of spiritual union of the living and the dead and the gods traditionally associated with the particular piece of territory in question”.20 The economic system of the Igbo people in pre-colonial times centered around and can be studied under three major needs viz: Agriculture, trade and manufacturing”.21 Of these, agriculture was the most important economic activity with regard both to the number of the people engaged in it either on fall or part time basis and to the prestige attached.”22 One result of this attitude was that every Igbo man and woman was a farmer. This was successful adaptation to the tropical rain forest environment”.23

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Trade, though subsidiary to agriculture, was nonetheless as important aspect of Igbo economic activity. For one thing, “Just as Chukwu is believed to have instituted agriculture, so is he believed to have institutionalized trade and making…markets were sacred institution in Igboland and to preserve their sanctity server rules were enforced to make the market safe for marketer.24

Commenting on the importance of markets, S.N. Nwabara said: “Apart from being a place for transacting business and exchanging goods, the market served as social center where friends and distant  relatives met exchange news discussing current affairs and holding ad hoc meeting on important issues”.25

Manufacturing was also another aspect of the Igbo economic system. Some of the craft were practiced by anybody, but only selected communities practiced some, either because only they had the necessary raw materials or because the craft demanded only they had the necessary raw materials or because the craft demanded more time than could be combined with full-scale farming. But by and large, it could be said that no region of Igboland lacked specialists in at least one particular craft.26

It is noteworthy to point out that the relationship existing between agriculture, trade and manufacturing in the Igbo economic system is that of inter-dependence. While trade distributed the product of agriculture and manufacture the “later and only offered, some relief from technological base of the Igbo society as well as providing some of the items made necessary by social and ritual life.27 As time went on, trade and manufacturers grow in importance, and in consequence by 19th century according to Afigbo, “Igbo society, reached a stage at which some people, or even some communities were coming to live more and more by trade manufacture”.29

Thus, a survey of the socio-political and economic life of the Igbo people, through the authorities shows that it is “complex and difficult to understand”. S.S. Nwabara sees it as rather strange that the “Igbo people had no singular rule and yet lacked no essential norms of government”.30  Perhaps it is complex and difficult to understand the nature of the Igbo that made Basden to fall into mortal error when he said (concerning the Igbo) that:

He is the victim of circumstances; and his policy is very large one of drift. The will of the tribe or family, expressed or implied, permits his whole being and is the deciding factor in every detail of his life.31

Undoubtedly, he must have seen the Igbo through spectacles with bias and confusion emanating from his inability to comprehend the Igbo. For one thing he wasn’t describing the Igbo of which Ihitenansa community is a part of it.

However, he should be forgiven for he recognized the impossiblity of his focusing correctly through his spectacles. This he recognized in his preface when he said:

They are probably errors which need ratification. Even though, he is not ratified this since then, I believe I am doing it for him now.

Geographical, Cultural and Historical Background

Ihitenansa is one of the Autonomous Communities in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo state. Ihitenansa is a town of about four Kilometers from Orlu, bound it in the south. It has a high population density. The 1903 census placed the population at 7,500 and the 2000 census placed the population at about 12,900. Immediately one enters Ihitenansa, from the neighbouring towns, one will also be confronted, with the famous Ngele River, which is a source of economic viability of Ihitenansa people. This River enhances the richness and fertility of their soil. People from other areas and neighbouring communities make their way to Ihitenansa for the purchase of fish and thereby promoting the economic stability of the people.

In the cultural perspective, there are certain acts whose branch is considered to be not only illegal but also an offence against supernatural power and particularly against Ala (the land) such offences are usually said to be “Nso” (taboo). In many cases, it involves a propitiatory for Ala in addition to the punishment of the offender. Example of such an offence is incest. Incest is the most serious crime in Ihitenansa. It is a crime against “Ala”. It involves a man and woman born in the same village or from villages that do not intermarry having sexual intercourse. In fact, the Umuada play an important role in the punishment of this offence.

Another serious crime in Ihitenansa is murder. Any person who kills must be killed. But accidental killing was treated less severely.

One other offence is stealing. Stealing is a serious offence and mark of bad character. In t5he olden days it was treated according to the gravity of the offence. The notorious they was either fined or openly disgraced or sold into slavery or killed. The sterling of yam had a very serious implication. In addition, it is crime against Alajioku.

Another thing worth considering here is adultery. It has been said enormously that adultery was a serious (six) crime in the presence of God and Man.

In Ihitenansa, chastity before marriage for a girl was highly priced. There was no trial marriage or premarital sex. If a young girl gets pregnant while still with her parents or unmarried, she will be punished in the presence of her kindred.

However, some of the punishments like the killing of a thief were carried out in the secret and in most cases at night especially if caught while committing the offence.

Other aspects of cultures in Ihitenansa include ceremonies and festivals such as Egwu-Ukwu and Iri-Ji (New Yam Festivals).

Origin of Ihitenansa

The question of the origin of the Ihitenansa is not a straightforward issue. However, different traditions have agreed on one fact that the starting point of Ihitenansa can be traced from the immigrants who migrated eastwards across the Niger in their bid to enter hinterland1. They settled in the hinterland and started making a living there. Neighbouring communities later attacked them. In the process, there were a lot of killing, inter-village wars; hurdles and hostilities became a common phenomenon in the lives of the people. It took them many years before they succeeded in getting a permanent location. The location of the land where Ihitenansa is located makes it easy for free movement of goods and services.

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They had the Ngele River as the source of their drinking water2. Farming and hunting were their main occupation. They lived there for many years at a stage they had tremendous increase in their population; as a result, living accommodation became one of their unbearable problems. This accommodation problem also affected their economic conditions seriously.

In view of these, they decided to move out Westwards. This time they had no problem on their way until they got to the present permanent location of Ihitenansa community.  They fought heavy wars with the first settlers of the place. They won them and pushed them far away and acquired large areas of the land to their living and agricultural purposes.

Ihitenansa is a community with a population of about 32,900 people since the year 2000. The community consists of seven large villages. The villages in their order of seniority are shown in the table I which follows:



1. Umudibia 4. Chekenagu
2. Umudim 5. Ogum
3. Nansa 6. Amaokpara
    7. Ufuala


The location of Ihitenansa is enviable and strategic. Her geographical feature is educative. The people are blessed with many human and natural resources. One can easily locate Ihitenansa along Orlu – Onitsha road.

 Map of Ihitenansa

Ihitenansa is located Northwest of Orlu on attitude 05 53 00 and Longitude 06 58 38. The town is in Orsu Local Government Area in Orlu Zone, Imo state. Ihitenansa is bounded by Amaruru Community at its northern border, Ihiteowerri in the East, Assah Ubirielem in the south, Eziawa in the South west, Orsu-Ihiteukwa in the west and Lilu in Anambra State in the North west.

According to 1991 census, Ihitenansa has fifty two enumeration areas, five wards and with a population of about thirty one thousand, two hundred and a land mass of about 9.82km. Ihitenansa has a tropical climate characterized by dry and rainy seasons. It is situated in the sub-equatorial south with 200-250cm annual rainfall average and a relative humidity of between 60% and 80%.

The temperature of the area is moderate, not as in the Northern part of Nigeria. The average daily maximum temperature is about 27c while the daily maximum temperature is 25c. Rainfall in the area is conventional in character because of the prevailing south west winds blowing across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Guinea Coast. Two periods of maximum rainfall are experienced and this period usually coincides with the passage of the overhead sun across the equator-Northwest from April-July and Southwards from September-October. The dry season comes during the month of November to April, with the months of December and January being the driest months. While the rainy season starts from April to October.

Ihitenansa is drained by Urasi River in the North East with its tributary-akwaihediriver. The area is mainly drained by Ezize stream that passes through Umudim, Akama, Chekenagu, Nansa and empties itself into Urasiriver. Ohiara river is another river that runs through Umudim, Umudiaba, Ogum, Ogwugwenyi (UmuEzeEnyi) and then Ngwugwo river that runs through Amaokpara at the boundary. Ihitenansa enjoys a regular undulating land formation containing water shades with numerous streams or pure natural water.

Ihitenansa lies on partially plain and hilly land. It is topographically not steep and not all that hilly, but indivisibility of a region with another cannot be determined. The town falls under the equatorial rain forest region. The forest consists of tall trees with a canopy and some under growth of creepers. Trees here are characteristically evergreen. The animals found here are mainly climbers.


  1. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, (Vol.19, 15th edition), 906.
  2. A.E Afigbo, Ropes of Sand: Studies In Igbo History and Culture

(Ibadan: 1981), 283.

  1. A.E Afigbo… 283.
  2. A.E Afigbo…124.
  3. R.K Ekechi, The Igbo and Their History: The Problem of Culture

        Origin in Alvan Journey of the Social Sciences, (Vol. 1 No.2


  1. M.M Green, Igbo Village Affairs, (New York: Frankcass 1947), 3.
  2. F.K Ekechi…
  3. A.E Afigbo, The Indigenous Political System of Igbo Speaking people

       in Tarikh,( Vol.4 No.2, 1973).

  1. S.A Shopaka, The Socio-political Organization in Pre-colonial Nigeria,

in Nigeria Culture and History, occasional pibil. No.4. Vol 1of G.S

      Department UNIBEN (1980), 55-56.

  1. A.E Afigbo, Ropes of Sand: Studies In Igbo History and Culture


  1. M.M. Green…77-74.
  2. A.E Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs (Longman London, 1972), 16.
  3. A.E Afigbo…16.
  4. M.M. Green…110
  5. M.M. Green….132.
  6. I.E Isiechi, A History of the Igbo People, (London: Macmillian,

1976), 21.

  1. Ferrier to Poirier 26 November, 1906, (in Echo des Missions

Africans de Iyon 1907),18.

  1. I.E Isiechi…21.
  2. G.I Jones, The Ibo and Ibibio Speaking people of South Eathern


  1. A.E Afigbo, The Warrant Chief; …17.
  2. A.E Afigbo…17.
  3. A.E Afigbo. Ropes,…124.
  4. A.E Afigbo…124.
  5. A.E Afigbo…126.
  6. A.E Afigbo…130.
  7. S.N Nwabara,… 21.
  8. S.N Nwabara, …21.
  9. A.E Afigbo, Ropes,… 21.
  10. A.E Afigbo…143-144.
  11. A.E Afigbo…. 144.
  12. S.N Nwabara,…22.
  13. N. Basden, The Igbos, Nigerian press, 1967… 34.

Pages:  63

Category: Project

Format:  Word & PDF        

Chapters: 1-4

Material contains Table of Content, Abstract and References.

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