Academic journal article Africa

Legacies of Biafra: Marriage, 'Home People' and Reproduction among the Igbo of Nigeria

Academic journal article Africa

Legacies of Biafra: Marriage, 'Home People' and Reproduction among the Igbo of Nigeria

Article excerpt


This article examines the ways in which the legacies and collective memories of Biafra, the secessionist state established at the time of Nigeria's civil war from 1967 to 1970, shape contemporary Igbo practices and experiences of marriage, rural-urban ties and reproduction. The importance of appropriate and permanent marriage and the perceived necessity of dependable affinal relations for contemporary Igbos are analysed in relation to recollections of marriage during the war. The intense identification of migrant Igbos with place of origin and the importance of 'home' and "home people' are situated in the context of the legacy of Biafra. The importance of kinship relationships for access to patron client networks is linked to the Igbo perception of marginalization in the wake of Biafra. Igbo ideas about the significance of reproduction and the vital importance of 'having people' are reinforced through collective memories of Biafra. Igbo people's conceptions of Nigerian politics, their understandings of the social and economic importance of kinship and community in contemporary Nigeria, and even their reproductive decisions can be better explained by taking into account the legacies of Biafra.


Cet article examine la maniere dont les sequelles et les memoires collectives du Biafra, l'Etat secessioniste forme au moment de la guerre civile au Nigeria entre 1967 et 1970, ont faconne les pratiques et experiences contemporaines igbo en matiere de mariage, de liens ruraux-urbains et de reproduction. L'importance de la convenance et de la permanence du mariage, ainsi que la necessite percue de relations affines sures pour les contemporains igbo sont analysees par rapport aux souvenirs de mariage pendant la guerre. L'article situe dans le contexte de l'heritage du Biafra la vive identification des migrants igbo a leur lieu d'origine et l'importance du << pays natal >> et du << peuple natal >>. L'importance des relations de parente dans l'acces aux reseaux patron-client est liee a la marginalization percue par les Igbo dans le sillage du Biafra. La place donnee a la reproduction et l'importance vitale d' << avoir des siens >> sont renforcees chez les Igbo a travers les memoires collectives du Biafra. La conception que se font les Igbo de la politique nigeriane, leur interpretation de l'importance sociale et economique de la parente et de la communaute dans le Nigeria actuel, voire meme leurs decisions en matiere de reproduction s'expliquent plus facilement a la lumiere de l'heritage du Biafra.


In 1967, following a succession of military coups and interethnic violence, the predominately Igbo-speaking region of south-eastern Nigeria attempted to secede, declaring the independent state of Biafra. The name Biafra is widely associated with images of starving children and a suffering continent, a conflict foreshadowing the centrifugal forces that would threaten to shatter many postcolonial states in Africa. In Nigeria's civil war, the Igbos were ultimately defeated, and Nigeria has remained a single country. The war exacted a devastating human toll, with estimates of the number of people who were killed, died of disease, or starved to death ranging between one and two million.

For Igbos, memories of Biafra can be poignant and powerful. Igbos commonly explain their perceived marginalization in contemporary Nigeria as a legacy of Biafra. The political dynamics popularly believed to explain their defeat are widely seen as being replayed in the current context. Yet legacies and recollections of Biafra also reverberate in more subtle ways. Some of the most powerful aspects of Igbo culture and demography are reinforced through the production and circulation of collective memories of Biafra. Attachment to place of origin, the importance of appropriate and permanent marriage, and the value of children, including the desire for relatively high fertility, are all subtly but significantly buttressed by recollections of Biafra that emphasize the importance of 'having people'. …

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