A Philosophical Appraisal On The Igbo Traditional System Of Child Upbringing, Vis-à-Vis The Contemporary System

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy


Table Of Contents


Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title Page
  • Declaration
  • Approval
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of Content

Chapter One

  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Statement Of The Problem
  • 1.3 Scope Of The Study
  • 1.4 The Purpose Of The Study
  • 1.5 The Significance Of The Study

Chapter Two

  • Child Upbringing In The Igbo Traditional Society
  • 2.1 Traditional View Of Pregnancy
  • 2.2 Traditional View Of Child Birth
  • 2.2.1 Abnormal And Difficult Birth
  • 2.2.2 Complications During Child Birth
  • 2.3 Rites And Ceremonies Surrounding Child Birth
  • 2.3.1 Omugwo Seclusion
  • 2.3.2 The Rite Of Imenyu Oku
  • 2.3.3 Igba Afa Ceremony
  • 2.3.4 Naming Ceremonies

Chapter Three

  • 3.1 Puberty Rites And Formal Training Of A Child In The Igbo Traditional Society
  • 3.1.1 Circumcision (Ibe Ugwu)
  • 3.1.2 Clitoridectory(Ibe Agama)
  • 3.1.2.1 Significance Of Clitoridectory And Circumcision
  • 3.1.3 Fattening (Mgbede) Seclusion
  • 3.1.4 Iwa Akwa (Clothing)
  • 3.1.5 Cicatrisation (Igbuichi),Subincision (Mbubu)
  • 3.1.6 Teeth Filing
  • 3.2 Children Training
  • 3.3 Raising Up A Male Child
  • 3.4 Raising Up A Female Child
  • 3.5 Socialization In Traditional Igbo Society
  • 3.5.1 Friendship And Courtship
  • 3.6 Disciplines And Punishment
  • 3.7 Marriage

Chapter Four

  • Child Upbringing In The Contemporary Society
  • 4.1 Pregnancy
  • 4.2 The Birth Of A Child
  • 4.3 Character Formation
  • 4.4 Formal Education
  • 4.5 Raising Up A Male Child
  • 4.6 Raising Up A Female Child
  • 4.7 Friendship Of The Opposite Sex
  • 4.8 Courtship
  • 4.9 Marriage

Chapter Five

  • 5.1 The Comparison Of The Traditional Igbo And Contemporary Societies’ Systems Of Child Upbringing
  • 5.2 The Critical Evaluation Of The Both System
  • 5.3 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One


1.1 Introduction

There seems to be universal law of preservation and conservation in nature. Rock, seas, minerals, plants, animals and man; all endure because of this universal law of nature. For instance, animals of both higher and lower species that breach this natural law risk extinction, as the other animals will prey on them. Hence, all species, genus, genders, classes and families preserve their own. In man (the higher animal), this law is particularly fundamental because it is tied to the conservation of his own existence and physical well-being. The care of his offspring is a basic inclination natural to man and is a divine commission.

Therefore, the first law of nature is self-preservation and the society preserves itself by ‘preserving’ and training the children, for without them, society is as good as dead. And as such, any society that negates or in any way impede the progress of child raising, likewise the family, is carrying in its womb the bomb for its destruction, for the growth of the society is founded on the growth of families. Parents in larger proportion owe to the society and indeed to mankind, the duty of raising up their children properly, because members of society work mutually to promote its progress and so safeguard the common good.1 Proper raising up of children is a way of maintaining the continued existence or preservation of human species. As a result of this, proper attention should be paid towards it, lest humankind is extinct.

The task of raising children in my own view is the greatest responsibility on earth, and therefore, should not be left for the parents alone. It should be a joint project that includes every person. In Igbo culture, child is referred to as ‘Our child’ – ‘Nwa anyi’, ‘Nwa ora’, and meaning community child. Therefore, child up bringing is neither the sole responsibility of the parents, the maids, nannies, nor the school teachers. Rather, it is a collective affair, since the child is: ‘Nwa ora’ – community child”2. In Igbo society, as well as in African communities, the birth of a child brings joy and celebration to the community. This celebration is community-based, not family-based. This shows that not only the immediate family of a child that thinks good of the child, the community as well thinks. Community, together with the parents preserves itself from extinction through importing good moral values, cultures and ethos into the child who will in turn do same to his/her on-coming progeny.

In searching deep into the dimensions of this topic, we shall do so under five chapters. Chapter one will treat the statement of the problem, the scope of the study, the purpose of the study and the significance of this research. Chapter two will concentrate on raising up children in the Igbo traditional society; then chapter three treats puberty rites and formal training of a child in the traditional Igbo society. In chapter four, we deal with raising up children in the contemporary society. Chapter five takes care of all the deliberations arrived at, in the chapter two, three and four, in the form of juxtaposition. Then, we summarize and conclude.


1.2 Statement Of The Problem

People are identified through their culture, likewise any nation or people that compromises its culture or ways of life runs the risk of being misplaced with other nationalities. It is on this line of thought that the researcher envisages the future of some African tribes and nationalities, whose cultures had been adulterated, and cannot be distinctly distinguished from others. This has been as a result of the contact with the Western-American culture and civilization.

Frankly speaking, going through Igbo cultures, one would testify to the fact that many of these Igbo cultures are far better than those of the foreign. At least a review of Igbo traditional way of raising up children will say it all. But the Igbo people, after many years of colonialism and absorption of the foreign cultures, hook, line and sinker, now arrived at a conclusion with the whites that their ways of life are crude, barbaric and devilish. They (the Igbos) take the white’s cultures as superior, and oblivious of the truism that as environment and climate differ, so also do people and their culture differ. The culture one people cherishes, may not be cherished by the other. Both the Igbo traditional way of raising up children and the contemporary forms are good, but there should be a boundary where the influence of each on the other will stop.


1.3 Scope Of The Study

This research will cover all Igbo speaking regions, the people who share a common language known as ‘Igbo’ and a common culture known as ‘omenala’. These two features distinguish the Igbos from any other ethnic group in Nigeria. The Igbos, occupy an area of some 15, 800 square miles and are found between latitudes 5 to 7 degrees north and longitudes 6 to 8 degrees east. They lie in the tropics and as such have a tropical type of climate3

In 1982, the population of Igbo people was about 10.13 million people and they occupy the heart of southeast Nigeria, though some can also be found in the south like in Rivers, Etche, Asaba and Agbor. In this study, we shall approximately articulate the views of all these people on child upbringing in Igbo traditional way, and compare them with those of the present society.


1.4 The Purpose Of The Study

The emergence of Western cum American cultures had brought a great change in the cultures of the Africans especially the Igbos. These Western and American ways of life have permeated all the nooks and crannies of Igbo culture and ways of life. The Igbos are now ‘copy cats’. In this project therefore, we are using the method of raising up children as a case study. Through this, we will be able to evaluate the Igbo traditional method and the contemporary.

The culture of the Igbo is in the crossroad. They (Igbo) take themselves as inferiors to the white in all things. They now dress, laugh, speak, and train their children like the whites do. The women neither breast-feed their children, carry them on their back, sleep with their children nor inculcate in their children those ethoses which Igbos are known for. These corrosion and erosion of Igbo culture and tradition have made it completely difficult to distinguish Igbo culture from the White culture. The Igbos have lost their culture and are in a social mess. They are not truly Igbos; they are not truly Whites. In this regard therefore, something must be done and quickly too, to revive the bastardized old Igbo culture and the tradition of the Igbo nation, especially as they pertain raising up children.


1.5 The Significance Of The Study

The findings of this study will go a long way into enhancing the life of mankind as it involves imbibing other people’s cultures, just as the Africans especifically the Igbo people had done. This will make the Igbos to cherish with jealousy, their traditional culture and thereby stop imitating the White in all areas.

The government in its policy and adjustment to foreign cultures will then consider the culture of the individual nations under its jurisdiction, and this will open the eyes of the government concerning the positive sides of the peoples’ traditional culture. The church in her campaign for ecumenism will equally know how to mediate with peoples’ ways of life and the Church teachings. It will equally juxtapose and strike a balance between Igbo traditional culture and the contemporary from the stand point of raising up children.


Chapter Five


5.1 Comparison Of The Traditional Igbo And The Contemporary Societies’ Systems Of Child Upbringing

In the pre-natal period in the Igbo traditional society, the pregnant woman was allowed to eat certain food like peas and ‘sweet clay’ for the good of the baby and the mother. Certain foods equally were prohibited. Likewise, in the contemporary society, pregnant mothers are advised to avoid smoking and taking strong drinks, while good diet is recommended.

At birth, the circumcision of a male child only (that of the female child is no longer a la mode) is done at about eight days after birth, though observed mainly among the Christian and Traditional religions. On the contrary, the Traditional Igbo in some places circumcises both male and female and certain rituals are observed. The ‘omugwo’ seclusion is still observed but not as strictly as in the Traditional Igbo society.

Name or names are given to the new born child with or without ceremony, thus contradicting the Traditional Igbo name giving which was replete with heavy feasting and formal ceremonies. In the traditional Igbo society, certain births (disable or dumb child, twin birth etc) were taken as abomination but contemporary society accepts all forms of birth.

Complications during birth were attributed to the woman’s immoral life or attack by the evil spirit, but in the present society the use of forceps or caesarean takes care of the situation. In the Igbo traditional society, ways of nursing the new born baby (total breast feeding, mother sleeping with the baby etc) made the child more precocious and acceptable. While the contemporary society’s method of partial breast-feeding, baby sleeping in a cot, baby always with the maid etc reduce the precocity of the child.

Education in the Igbo traditional society was mainly by observation and participation, and only at the informal level, while both informal and formal education exist in the contemporary society. As a result, the child has access to a host of knowledge. In the puberty, both societies recognize the coming of age of the child and the required education and teaching are imparted.

In the both societies, carefulness is given to the training of the female child. The boys were very close to the fathers while the girls were to the mothers in the Traditional Igbo society. But in the present society, it is fluctuating; the boys are often close to the mother while the girls are to the fathers. In the areas of socialization, the Igbo Traditional society with its limited means of socialization cannot compete with the contemporary, which has innumerable means of socialization such as: family, school, club, party, beach, music, dancing, television, drama, play, cinema, sports, etc. In some cases, these lead to malformation and moral decadence of the child1.

In the areas of friendship and dating, the contemporary society records a greater failure. Enough enlightment has not been made here, as a result, the duo are misunderstood especially as it involves the opposite sexes. In traditional society, little or no traces of friendship and dating were recorded. Through its water-tight prohibition of friendship among opposite sex, high level of morality was recorded, but the system is still not the best.

In the area of marriage, the traditional Igbo society never gave a room for the people to make choices or indicate that they needed to marry. The parents informed the child that he/she has reached the age of getting married, and they also made the choice. But the contemporary society allows the child to decide when to get married and also gives him or her the freedom to choose the partner. Courtship also was done in the traditional Igbo society but between the boy and the father in-law, and the girl with the mother in-law. But the contemporary society allows the would be partners to engage in courtship through which they study themselves, to know if they can make a good family.


5.2 Critical Evaluation

Having gone through the tenets of both the Igbo traditional and the contemporary systems of child upbringing. It is now left for us to evaluate and critically analyse their contents. In the course of this academic journey, one may be tempted to draw a conclusion that the method of forming and training child in the ancient traditional Igbo culture is far better than what is obtainable today, in the sense that immorality, children insubordination to their parents and the authorities; stealing, robbery, prostitution, irreligiousity etc., were infinitesimally below tangibility. Toeing this line of opinion therefore, we arrive at a home truth that the people of the ancient times – the Igbo people included – lived in a kind of centralized communities, and had little or no means of reaching out to people of other cultures. As a result of this, the ancient Igbo culture was unaltered and unadulterated. Their yardstick for measuring good and evil, and what they called abomination, proper way of dressing and ethos of the society remained for them, uncontaminated.

In the contemporary society, people are no longer holed into a centralized community. There are now innumerable means of socialization and communication among people of varied races, colours, tribes and nationalities. We now have aircraft, motor vehicles of different types, internet and computer, radio, television, cinema, telephone, Western education etc. Through these aforementioned avenues, the ‘virgin’ Igbo culture was influenced and ‘violated’. Not only the Igbo culture but also, the whole corpus of world culture. People no longer go on naked or half naked and those who appear as such are taken as abnormal and immoral. People of different race and colour relate and inter-marry, and there is ‘marriage’ among different cultures; these giving birth to what is called contemporary society.

Both the Igbo traditional and the contemporary societies systems of child upbringing have merits and demerits. What we should do is not total eradication of all the traces of contemporary system of raising children from the traditional system, nor the other way round. We should indulge in cultural harmonization, tolerance and mediation between the both systems, in which process, the distinctive features, peculiarities and original traits of each will be retained. Therefore, the traditional Igbo society should not be fanatical; it should incorporate some of the good side of the contemporary system of raising up children and jettison the bad sides. Then, the contemporary society should also incorporate the positive aspects of the traditional Igbo system of raising up children.


5.3 Conclusion

Taking cognizance of all the deliberations reached in this academic tour, it is now crystal clear that the both system have merits and demerits. The term of “marriage” becomes now tolerance and accommodation of the positive sides of each system, and the removal of the negative sides. Hence, no culture can claim of beginning with a ‘clean slate’ or without a starting point. One system must copy from another; even the ancient traditional Igbo culture cannot be free from this.


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