Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Social Control in Precolonial Igboland of Nigeria

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Social Control in Precolonial Igboland of Nigeria

Article excerpt


This study is a descriptive investigation of the traditional system of social control and order maintenance in the Igbo nation of Nigeria in Africa. It discusses how the Igbo employed customary standards of conduct and negative sanctions for breach of norms to control its people prior to the advent of the Europeans, colonization, and prisons. Employing ethnographic methodology, the paper describes what constitutes serious deviance and the stringent penalties imposed for their contravention in pre-colonial Igboland. Specifically, the Igbo employed the services of council of elders, age-grade associations, title-making associations, oracles, "Dibia" fraternities (medicine men), secret societies, the myth of reincarnation and non-transmigration, and the invocation of spirits of the ancestors ("mmanwu" and ancestral worship) to preserve collective conscience. Finally, the paper suggests a re-evaluation by current government in Igbo nation to determine a possibility of co-opting certain elements of pre-colonial systems into the 21^sup st^ century social control in Igbo states.


African Studies; Anthropology; Criminal Justice; Criminology; History; Political Science; Sociology; Council of elders; Age-grade associations; Title-making associations; Ancestral worship; Dibia fraternities (medicine men); Oracles; Secret societies; Reincarnation; and Non-transmigration.


Many anthropologists, historians, political scientists, sociologists, etc., have written on different aspects of the African peoples. Unmistakably, the traditional systems of social control and policing of the various ethnic groups in Africa drew little attention to international and national scholars. In effect, the unique and sometimes traumatizing methods of offender apprehension and disposal, in many parts of Africa, remain hidden to scholars in various regions of Africa, as well as scholars from outside of Africa.

Deviance is an ubiquitous phenomenon. It is found in every healthy society, "even in Durhheim's Society of Angels (1964)." The Igbo (Ibos), like all societies world- wide, have customary standards of conduct and negative sanctions for any breach. In the study of African criminology, we had to start with investigating how each African ethnic group controlled its people prior to the advent of the Europeans. In this vein, African nationals who grew up in rural African societes can lead the way. It is our attempt to fill the void by studying the Igbo system of social control as natives of the Igbo nation.

Some early European writers (Basden, 1966) on Africa have described people of Africa south of the Sahara as savages. Through this study of social control in Igboland, scholars may see that there was a stringent system of order maintenance in Igboland as was the case in all of the African Kingdoms south of the Sahara. Leading authors on ancient Africa like Diop (1987) have argued that "there is agreement on the fact that the African variety of organization is indigenous: it could not have come from Aryan or Semitic Mediterranean" (p. 100).

Whereas deviance is a cultural universal phenomenon, what constitutes deviance is not. Therefore, it is expedient that other Africans and non-Africans know the various behaviors that were regarded as offenses, the seriousness of such offenses and the disposal mechanisms for their violations. In fact, some Igbos who are forty years old or younger today have little or no knowledge of what constituted serious deviances and penalties for their contravention in pre-colonial Igboland. This study is a descriptive account of how the Igbo social system was controlled in pre-colonial times. Furthermore, it provides data for comparative analysis of other societies' traditional systems of social control.


The Igbo occupy southeastern part of Nigeria with a population of over forty million people today (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2006a; 2006b). …

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