The Project File Details
- Name: OSU-CASTE SYSTEM IN IGBO LAND AND ITS CONTEMPORARY IMPLICATIONS: A CASE STUDY OF ISU LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, IMO STATE, NIGERIA.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Title page ……………………………………………………………………. 2
Certification …………………………………………………………………. 3
Dedication ……………………………………………………………….….. 4
Acknowledgements …………………………………………………………. 5
Table of Contents …………………………………………………………… 7
CHAPTER ONE ……………..………………………….…………………. 8
Background to Study
CHAPTER TWO ………………………………………………………….. 20
Historical foundations of the Osu-Caste System in Isu Local Government Area.
CHAPTER THREE ………………………………………………………. 31
Socio-Cultural and Political Implications of the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu
Local Government Area.
CHAPTER FOUR ………………………………………………………… 45
Legal Implications of the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government
CHAPTER FIVE ………………………………………………………… 55
BACKGROUND TO STUDY
Igbo nation like every other nations in the world, has certain traditions, customs,
culture, beliefs and worldviews, which constitute their dos and don’ts. Most of these
traditions are handed over to them from one generation to the other, from their great
fathers. The violation to these beliefs and traditions are seen by most of them as a great
abomination (Aru).1 Thus, they give a strict adherence to the laws even when they are
no longer obtainable in a given epoch like in this contemporary era when and where
scientific inventions, globalizations, civilization and so on have become the order of the
Among these traditions and beliefs is the obnoxious, outrageous and annihilative
tradition and belief of the Osu-Caste System which has in different places both in the
past and present become a continuous humiliation, infringements and isolation in the
places where it is practice.
Before moving further, it is only appropriate that the subject be defined for the
better and quicker understanding of the reader. Rev. Dr. G.T. Basden, puts the word
Osu to mean “A slave, but one distinct from an ordinary slave who in fact is the property
of a god, and when once devoted to a god, he has no prospects of regaining freedom
and he restricts his movements to the presents of the shrine to which he was attached.”2
According to Okafor J.N. “Osu is an ideology of class domination that
incorporates the beliefs that a particular class of people is to be disinherited and
excluded from association, with others, either because they are themselves victims of
ritual offering or they are descended from those who were victims.3
Victor C. Uchendu who seems to have concentrated his study of the South
Eastern Nigeria on the Igbos of Imo and Rivers States wrote of Osu as a slave, “a slave
who has been dedicated to the services of the dedicator’s deity, whose descendants are
also Osu, be he dedicator and individual, extended family or a linage.4 While J.O
Nwachukwu opined that “Osu is a sacred and holy being deserved to lead a secluded
life like a monk in order to salvage and serve the people under him as a king and
Also, the 1956 Osu Bill, echoes word for word the 1963 Eastern Nigerian Law
on the Osu System: “any social way of living which implies that any person who is
deemed to be an Osu or Oru or Ohu is subjected to certain prescribed social disability
and social stigma or a deity, and that person and his descendants are therefore regarded
as social right which non-Osu are bound to respect.”6
Therefore, it can be said that the Osu-Caste System is an invented conventional
religious preposition established by our forefathers through religious ceremonies with
religious apparatus to serve a religious purpose.
Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives of this study include:
– To examine the historical foundation of Osu-Caste System in Isu Local Government
Area of Imo State.
– To examine the socio-economic implications of the Osu-Caste System in
Contemporary Isu Local Government.
– To examine the political implications of the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu
– To unveil the stigmatization and obnoxious practices that is embedded in the Osu
Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government.
– To provide future researches with a document on the system in the Local
– It also aimed at correcting the misconception on the issue and to point out that human
being are created equal and have a role to play in the society.
– Finally, to expose the traditional views, beliefs and as well religion of the Igbos,
both past and present, based on the Osu-Caste System which to an extent, constitute
the lion share of the Igbo traditional belief, religion and philosophy. It will also
clarify the ambiguous notions and conceptions about the Osu and the cause of the
present day subjugation and discrimination against the people who are known as
Scope of Work
The scope ranges from the historical foundation to the present day. The work
however, focus more on the contemporary implications; socio-economically and
politically. The work also covers the efforts made both individually and governmentally
to abolish the system and extend to which these efforts have been effective.
In the process of carry out this work, the researcher made use of different
methodological approaches ranging from:
i. Primary Source:
Primary sources which were utilized in the course of the research were
conducted oral interviews and archives materials. Oral interviews were
conducted with experienced individuals which includes traditional ruler, and
elders of Isu Local Government. Also, National Archives Enugu was visited in
other to get materials on the topic and place of study.
ii. Secondary Sources (Written Sources):
The secondary sources which were consulted in the course of this research
are basically books, articles, journals and paper. This information that were
obtained help to provide historical analysis of the topic.
iii. Tertiary Sources (Written Sources):
The tertiary sources which were also consulted in the course of this
research were basically reference sources such as dictionary and others. This
information that were obtained help to provide meanings and contemporary
implication among young persons.
In as much as the literary or academic works on the Osu-Caste System in Igbo
Land are much available, the research work has no specific textbook on the Osu-Caste
System in Contemporary Isu Local Government and its contemporary implications. As
a result of the dearth of documentation on the aforementioned, most information were
based on oral information. However, various materials were reviewed and they provided
a general knowledge on the subject of discourse and the necessary information needed
for the successful completion of this work, among them is a well-known book on Osu’s
study. Igwebuike Romeo Okeke, The ‘Osu’ Concept in Igbo Land: A Study of the Types
of Slavery in Igbo-Speaking Area of Nigeria. I.R. Okeke in this book examined the
origin and historical background of Osu-Caste System in Igbo land. According to him,
the Osus are slaves that have been dedicated to the services of the dedicators deity,
whose descendants are also Osu, be the dedicator and individual, extended family or a
lineage. Furthermore, he claimed that the concept of Osu is as old as the creation of
Igbo race and could only be associated with antiquity.7 The genesis of the Osu
institution could therefore be traced back to man’s primitive political evolution when
cannibalism, suppression and terrorism were common phenomena in the society.
Rev. G.T. Basden made a similar assertion in his book Among the Igbos of
Southern Nigeria. According to him “an Osu is a slave, but one distinct from an ordinary
slave who in fact is the property of the god and when devoted to a god, he has no
prospect of regaining freedom and he restricts his movements to the vicinity of shrine
to which he was attached.”8 What the above assertion simply connotes is that an Osu is
nothing but a property of a particular god or gods. It is said that in the early days in Igbo
land a particular community will go to a very far land and get a small boy or girl either
by buying or kidnapping, after which, they will dedicate the child to a particular deity
for the atonement of their sin. There, the slave (Osu) will take the responsibility of
taking care of the shrine, performing other functions like running errands for the deity
and the chief priest and so forth.
In the words of Jude C. Mgbobukwa in his book titled Alusi Osu and Ohu in Igbo
Religious and Social Life. “In Igbo traditional religion, Osu is seen as an accused human
being sacrificed to a deity. In the prayer of consecration, he is made to be the absorber
of the iniquities, weakness, and problems of the people. He is also made to take on
himself the death of the freeborn. Hence the Osu could well be said to be the redeemer
of the freeborn.”9
The novel Things Fall Apart written by Chinua Achebe explains that the Osu is
a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart as a taboo forever and his children after
him. He could neither marry nor be married by a freeborn. An Osu could not attend an
assembly of the freeborn and they in turn could not shelter under his roof.10 The work,
though not on Isu Local Government will be useful in stating the restrictions of an Osu
in Igbo land which Isu Local Government Area is part of.
A History of Igbo People by Elizabeth Isiechei shows the status of the Osu before
the nineteenth century. According to her, the Osu were originally regarded with respect
and honor. In the nineteenth century, their number expanded and their status
deteriorated drastically, so they became outcastes, feared and despised.11 The work will
be of immense value especially in her examination of the Osu before and after the fall
of Nri civilization in Igbo Land.
Victor Dike, in The Osu System in Igbo Land, defines Osu as a people sacrificed
to the gods in Igbo community. They assist the high priest of the traditional religion to
serve deities of the gods in their shrines.12 For Dike, the Osu-Caste System is a societal
institution borne out of a primitive traditional belief system colored by superstition and
propagated by ignorance. This work, though not on Isu Local Government, offers
insight into the role of an Osu in the Igbo community which Isu is a part.
According to the Osu Bill written by T.O. Elias, S.N. Nwabar, and C.O.
Akpangbo which came under the title ‘Law of Eastern Nigeria’, “an Osu is more or less
like the untouchables of India and probable in worse position. Osu was regarded as a
degraded human being not fit for the companionship and association of decent and
reputable men and women in the society, an outcaste fits only to be sacrificed to the
propitiation of the gods. An Osu initially was as it were, an animal sacrificed to a local
deity or idol.13
Furthermore, Igwebuike quoting Rev. Arazu in his book The Osu Concept in
Igbo Land see the Osu as “a living sacrifice, something or someone totally dedicated to
divinity, only natural dead can terminate its existence on this side of reality.”14 What
Arazu meant in this view is that whenever one becomes an Osu he/she will forever live
as an Osu. Put differently, there is no means of changing an Osu to a freeborn.
Also Mesembe Edet in his work title Outline of Oriental Philosophy, said thus
“among the Igbo of Nigeria, some customs distinguished between ‘the son of the soil
or freeborn’ and the ‘Osu’. The Osu does not enjoy the same right which the other
members of the community who are recognized as freeborn or true sons and daughters
of the land do enjoy. The Osu is an Out-Caste just like the outcaste of the Hindu society,
they are discriminated against. Marriage to an Osu is a taboo and like the Hindu system,
one cannot change his Osu status.”15 The above words of Edet tried to show some of
the social implication inherent in the Osu-Caste System which is tantamount to that of
the Hindu or Indian Caste System.
Other literature includes, an article in “The Leader Newspaper, Sunday
November 20th, 2016, title The Osu-Caste System: The Unfortunate Apartheid in Igbo
Land by Izuazu Eugene C.16, Osu-Caste in Igbo Land an article in “Vanguard
Newspaper, Monday 25th October, 2010 by Tony Uchenna17, and Information of
Current Treatment of Osu-Caste by the Igbo Tribe; Nigeria-Research and Compiled by
The Refugee Documentation Center of Ireland on 26th and 27th September, 2012.18
Johnson Iberim and 9 Others of Nkwerre Isu Clan, “Intelligent Report on a Partition
Applying for an Enquiry into the Status of the Osu Community, Okigwi District”.19
These literatures while noting that the 1958 Osu Abolition Law legally abolished they
system, work-and-descent based discrimination, remains concerned about persistent
allegations that members of the Osu still subjected to social exclusion, segregation and
mistreatment, as well as discrimination in employment and marriage.
Moreso, Francis Onwubuariri in his paper work posted on the internet on
November 14th, 2007 titled Appraising the Osu-Caste System in Igbo Land within the
Context of Complementary Reflection portrays the segregation, stigmatization,
subjugation, conflicts, wars, Hatred, class division, exploitation and so forth which has
dominated the entire spectrum of Osu-Caste System in Igbo Land.20
From the above, it can be seen that none of the existing literature has carried out
any substantial analysis of the subject of our study, as their primary focus was on “Osu
Caste System in Igbo Land”. Thus, apart from the primary purpose of contributing to
our knowledge, this study would also serve as a source material for the contemporary
implications of Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government Area of Imo
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