The River Niger flowing through Igboland makes the home of the Igbo rich and fertile and densely forested. Consequently a vast majority of the Igbo are farmers. Igboland is also one of the more densely populated areas within all of Africa. Today a vast majority of the Igbo are Christians (one of the reasons behind this being that their traditional religions are very similar to Abrahamic religions and traditions).
Alexander X. Byrd argues, upon engaging in a close textual reading of Olaudah Equiano's narrative (1789), that the Igbo identity has its origins in slavery, emerging in the "Holding patterns" of coastal towns of West Africa. Like almost every ethnic group in "sub-saharan Africa", the British and fellow Europeans have identified the Igbo as a tribe. Chinua Achebe, among other scholars, have challenged the idea of the Igbo being a tribe, suggesting it has negative connotations. The suggestion is that the Igbo should be considered a nation similar to the Cherokee or Japanese, although the Igbo do not have an official recognized state of their own.
According to several sources, Igbo people evolved over a long period of 4000 BC to 500 AD in Igboland through waves of migrations. There is evidence that the ancestors of Igbo and most of their neighbors were the proto-Kwa group. This ancient group came from the African Great Lakes and Mountains of the moon of East/Central Africa and settled at the old Sahara grasslands. It was the desertification of the Sahara that forced some of the Kwa people to migrate further down to the north of the Niger Benue confluence and founded Nok. Elements of the Kwa people migrated South of the Niger Benue confluence and later became the Igala, Idoma, Yoruba, Igbo, and possibly the Tiv peoples. The Kwa people's first area of settlement in Igboland was the Nsukka-Afikpo-Awka-Orlu uplands over a 5000 year period. Elements from the Orlu area migrated south, east, and northeast while elements from the Awka area migrated westwards across the Niger river.
Nri Enweleana (the present Eze Nri) has said that the Igbo are descendant's of Jewish Egyptians who had fled Egypt to come to their present settlement, their head being the Nri Kingdom's progenitor, Eri. Eri's children had been said, by Nri Enweleana, to have met a group of people who they called Igbo bush people. The children of Eri had also been said to have come with their culture, language and monarchy, assimilating the Igbo to the fullest extent.
Although title holders were respected because of their accomplishments and capabilities, they were never revered as kings, but often performed special functions given to them by such assemblies. This way of governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana. Igbo secret societies also had a ceremonial script called Nsibidi. The Igbo had and still have their indigenous ancient calendar in which a week has four days, a month consisted of seven weeks and thirteen months made a year. In the last month, an extra day was added. This calendar is still in use in villages and towns to determine the market days.
They also had mathematics called Mkpisi and Okwe used for counting, measurements and a form of an ancient strategic Igbo game also called "Okew". The Igbo have had a banking system for saving and loans called Isusu which is still in use today. They settled law matters via mediators.
Traditional Igbo life is perhaps best known for being depicted in the internationally acclaimed novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It is also known for the bronzes it has produced from as early as the 9th century. Some of these bronzes have been found at the town of Igbo Ukwu, Anambra state.
Colonial rule drastically transformed Igbo society as seen in Things Fall Apart. British rule also brought about changes in culture, such as the introduction of Warrant chiefs as Eze (traditional rulers) where there had been no such monarchies. Christianity had also played a great part in the infiltration of foreign ideology into Igbo society and culture, sometimes shunning parts of the culture, such as worshiping Alusi.
Due to the discrimination, many Igbo had trouble finding employment, and the Igbo became one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria during the early 1970s. Igboland was gradually rebuilt over a period of twenty years and the economy was again prospering due to the rise of the petroleum industry in the adjacent Niger Delta region. This led to new factories being set up in southern Nigeria. Many Igbo people eventually took government positions. Even though this happened, a vast majority were engaged in private business and constituted and still constitute the bulk of Nigerian informal economy. Recently, there has also been a wave of Igbo immigration to other African countries, Europe, and the Americas.
Igbo culture includes the various customs, practices and traditions of the Igbo people. It comprises archaic practices as well as new concepts added into the Igbo culture either by evolution or by outside influence. These customs and traditions include the Igbo people's visual art, music and dance forms, as well as their attire, cuisine and language dialects. Because of their various subgroups, the variety of their culture is heightened further.
Another popular musical form among the Igbo is Highlife, which is a fusion of jazz and traditional music and widely popular in West Africa. The modern Igbo Highlife is seen in the works of Dr Sir Warrior, Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, and Chief Osita Osadebe, who are the four greatest Igbo Highlife Musicians of the twentieth century.
Although the majority of Igbo are Christian, the Igbo culture is still relevant and upheld by all faiths in Igboland. An example of how this is how the Osu caste system is still upheld by a number of Igbo people of all faiths.
Traditionally, the attire of the Igbo generally consisted of little clothing as the purpose of clothing then was to conceal private parts, although elders were fully clothed. Children were usually nude from birth till their adolescence (the time when they were considered to have something to hide) but sometimes ornaments such as beads were worn around the waist for medical reasons. Uli body art was also used to decorate both men and women in the form of lines forming patterns and shapes on the body.
With colonialism and the Westernization of Igbo culture, Western styled clothes such as shirts and trousers over took traditional clothing.
For women, an embodied puffed sleeve blouse (influenced by European attire) along with two rappers (usually modern Hollandis material) and a head tie are worn.
The Igbo in Nigeria are found in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, as well as in Delta and Rivers State. The Igbo language is predominant throughout these areas, although English (the national language) is also spoken. Prominent towns in the Igboland include Ahiara, Aba, Aguleri, Aboh, Anam, Abiriba, Nbawsi, Oguta, Awka, Igwe Ocha, Akpo (Umuachara-Elemmadu dynasty), Agbor, Awkuzu, Abagana, Abba, Egbuoma, Omor, Owerri, Orlu, Nnewi, Oraukwu, Mbaise, Mbaitoli, Nsukka, Nawgu, Enugu, Onitsha, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Okigwe, Udi, Umuahia, Asaba, Ohafia, Okigwe, Okija, Arochukwu, Igbuzo, Ihiala, Ndoni, Ngwo, Nteje, Mbaitoli, Ikeduru and Agulu Ihiala amongst others.
Percentage of Igbo people in various states of Nigeria:
Deliberate underestimation of African population has begun since the days of British colonialism in Nigeria where the Igbo population was put at 6 - 8 thousand people. Some recent sources have even put the Igbo population at 5.5 million.
After the Nigerian-Biafran War, many Igbo people emigrated out of the traditional Igbo homeland in southeastern Nigeria due to an absence of federal presence, lack of jobs, and poor infrastructure. In recent decades the Igbo region of Nigeria has suffered from frequent environmental damage mainly related to the oil industry. Not only have the Igbo people moved to such Nigerian cities as Lagos and Abuja, but have also moved to other countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Prominent Igbo communities outside Africa include those of London in the United Kingdom and Houston, California, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. in the United States.
The transatlantic slave trade which took place between the 16th and late 19th century affected the Igbo heavily. The Bight of Biafra (also known as the Bight of Bonny) was the area where most Igbo were taken from. Major trade ports for goods and slaves in the area included Bonny and Calabar town. The Bight of Biafra included modern day southeastern Nigeria, Western Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and parts of Northern Gabon, but a large amount of slaves from the Bight of Biafra would have been Igbo. Slaves were usually stolen from the shore or were sold by fellow Africans to European slave traders to be taken to the Americas and Europe. African slave traders were more experienced with the areas and would be used by Europeans to obtain people from the mainland. The Aro Confederacy was born out of the Atlantic slave trade. The Bight of Biafra was the third area where the most slaves where gotten from with 14.6% from the year 1650 to 1900.
Contrary to belief, European slave traders were fairly informed about various African ethnic groups, this led to slavers targeting certain ethnic groups which plantation owners preferred. Ethnic groups consequently became fairly saturated in certain parts of the Americas. The Igbo where dispersed to colonies such as Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, United States, Brazil, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago among others. Elements of Igbo culture can still be found in these places. For example, in Jamaican Patois the Igbo word 'unu', meaning 'you' plural, is still used as well as the term 'red Ibo' which describes a fair skinned black person, because of the prevalence of fair skin among the Igbo. The word Bim, a name for Barbados, was commonly used by enslaved Barbadians (Bajans). This word is said to also derive from the Igbo language, derived from bi mu (or either "bem", "Ndi bem", "Nwanyi ibem" or "Nwoke ibem")(English: My people), but it may have other origins (see: Barbados etymology).
In the United Sates the Igbo were found common in the state of Maryland (ironically, recent immigrants still are) and Virginia, with a total of 37,000 Africans that arrived in Virginia from Calabar in the 1700s, 30,000 were Igbo.
In the 2003 PBS program African American Lives, Bishop T.D. Jakes had his DNA analyzed; his Y chromosome showed that he is descended from the Igbo, Bishop Jakes is from the state of West Virginia. American actors Forest Whitaker and Blair Underwood have also traced their genealogy back to the Igbo people.