Ohu Caste a Case Of Igbo Benevolence

The Ohu Caste (Slaves in Igbo) although regarded as one of the Ancient but surviving traditions of the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria, today is regarded as inhuman especially as slavery had been abolished in most part of the world, although the Ohu Caste (Slave in Igbo) is seen in the light of the time and civilisation as a very inhuman practice by the Igbo tribe, back in the day such practice would have been celebrated by the rest of the world as an ideal.

One thing the current society fails to understand is that Igbos were not as discriminative towards slaves as the current propaganda paints, Igbos never saw slaves as less human, the case of Igbo slaves was more of adoption rather than outright slavery. Unlike in other places where slaves where deployed to the farm, castrated and used in the most horrible ways possible, slaves (the ohu caste) in ancient Igbo lands were not always reduced to these inhumanities.

Igbo Themselves Did  Not Like The Idea of  being enslaved, Some Go as Far as committing Suicide to escape slavery

image for Mass Suicide By Igbo Slaves
Mass Suicide By Igbo Slaves as they reject slavery and took their own life

The Igbo Landing is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia. It is the site of one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people in history. Historians say Igbo captives from modern-day Nigeria, purchased for an average of $100 each by slave merchants John Couper and Thomas Spalding, arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on the slave ship the Wanderer in 1803. During the voyage, approximately 75 Igbo slaves rose in rebellion. They drowned their captors and caused the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek. If Igbos hated the idea of slavery so much and would commit suicide just to be free if the Ohu Caste in Igbo land were treated as bad as it is being painted, why have slaves in Igbo land not revolted? that is if such term as slavery ever existed in Igbo land as it is being painted today.

Even in the period where human sacrifices were rief in most of west Africa, slaves were usually not used to appease the gods in Igbo land this practice of human sacrifice is more an aspect of the Osu caste except however in the case of burial where a living person is first put in the grave of a deceased before the person is buried, this practice is usually for great men and then one could understand why slaves were usually used in this regard, the situation with the burial is that such burial is a personal case exorbitance, and there is no way you can use a free bone or an integrated slave for burial, the use of slave for burial was only a family arrangement and this is only possible with unfamiliar slaves.

Slaves were never exempted from the republic but the reality is that free-born (Nwadiala in Igbo) are more favoured, there is a common belief among many Igbo communities that the slaves are domineering and frequently more successful than Nwadiala and as such every attempt is made to keep the slaves in check. The truth is that slaves were usually more likely to succeed in the then Igbo land because slaves were usually bought (adopted) by the rich, this leaves the slave exposed to wealth and knowledge usually not available to the majority of the community.

The greatest fear of the then docile Igbo community is that should the influence of the slave become so prominent, the then slaves where much likely to protect their personal interest than the interest of the people, another superstitious belief that contributed to the fear of the slave dominion is the belief that the gods turn blind eyes to most of the activities of the slaves as such they are usually more successful because the gods of the land (Ala) usually don’t make requests of them nor hold them responsible when they commit abominable acts (Alu or Aru).

The Issue of Societal Recognition, Marriage and other Social aspects

The slaves were a crucial part of the then Igbo communities as most times they always bring foreign craft and civilisation, which is passed on to the communities and also their descendants. The discrimination against slaves as regards marriage is real but this is not entirely in a bid to treat slaves as less of a human, the reality is that since slaves are adopted in Igbo land and seen as brothers or sister within the immediate adoptive household, as such a slave can not marry from such immediate adoptive household as that would be seen as incest, which is a taboo in Igbo Land now the problem starts when they now go to marry outside the household, it is a norm in Igbo Land for families to inquire about their would-be inlaw at which stage they may discover that they are not freeborn which the other party may call off the wedding, for clarification, there is no known law in the whole of Igbo land that forbids marriage to the slave, it is more of a family or personal decision.

Politics and Leadership as regards the Ohu Caste (slaves) in Igbo Land

Although there was great variation in government among Igbo communities Gerontocracy (Government by elders) was very common. Apart from gerontocracy, Monarchy is also very common in Igbo Land, even among the freeborn, not everyone is allowed to assume the throne in most part of Igbo land, the throne is a preserve of the royal linage, in this case, it is very unlikely that a freeborn with no connection to the throne can be king,  this is also applicable to slaves since it is hard for free-born with no connection to the royal linage to assume the throne, slaves are then most unlikely to be considered.

Must Read: Ikweres and the tale of the Igboid