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Dining and Social Etiquettes of the Igbo Society In South-Eastern Nigeria

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Social and Dining etiquette are part and parcel of the Igbo cultural heritage and such social norms should be adhered to to avoid annoying or committing an offense against your host or elder. This article showcases some of those practices obtainable in th

In most cultures of the world, whether in business or social affairs, there are certain eating and social etiquette that have to be observed for normal interpersonal relationships.

The Igbo traditional society in Nigeria is not left out in the observance of such cultures. Infact, you stand to offend some core traditionalists; those who hold a strict adherence to the traditions of the land; if you falter or fail to adhere to set down rules. In addition, failure to stick to certain eating or social etiquette in the Igbo traditional society could result to a fine or even excommunication in certain cases.

In this article, I would bring to limelight some certain dining and social etiquette spread across the Igbo community of Nigerian.

Dining / Eating and Social Etiquette In The Igbo Society

The traditional Igbo society is usually made up of several large homesteads where the families reside. The homestead is usually comprised of the main house where the Nna Anyi (father of the house) resides and other smaller hamlets for the children and other wives. However, these days, instead of hamlets you now see corrugated zinc houses or aluminum roofed houses.

The wives take turns, usually daily, in providing for the father of the house. A certain time is set when the meal must be presented to the husband; latest 6:00PM is the evening. Anything later than that, the husband may reject the food and report the incidence to the Umunna, the clan. Such offenses are usually followed with a strict warning and a fine of white cock to be prepared and given to the man to be eaten alone.

During meals, the wife is expected to be with the husband attending to him. If you are a visitor eating with the Nna Anyi, please find out if he is a titled man. That is, if he has a chieftaincy title. If he is a titled man, you must never start eating before him or wash your hands to eat before him. Food are usually eaten with the fingers for fufu and pounded yam; the Igbo traditional food. Eating with forks and knives or washing your hands to eat before the chief is a sign of disrespect.

If you are a younger person eating with an elderly person, it is an offense for you to eat the meat that comes with the meal. You must eat your meal without touching the meat in the soup then wait for the elder to present you with a lump or lumps of meat as he / she deems fit. Dipping your hands and eating the meat is a serious offense and a gross sign of disrespect. This culture is not just peculiar to the traditional Igbo society but most of the other tribes as well.

The younger person is required to be silent during the meal unless when spoken to. Questioning the elder and talking during meals are highly frowned upon. Also, after the meal, you thank the elder for a good meal and every other elderly person around. You much thank them individually; and with their titles.

When it comes to exchanging pleasantries, that’s greetings, the cultural norm is for the younger to greet the elder first. If the elder is a titled man, you MUST address him by his title. Ichie is for a chief and Igwe for a King. Addressing an elder by his first name is a gross sign of disrespect and could warrant a fine depending on the circumstance.

The greeting usually comes with a bow from the younger person while the ladies are required to kneel down and greet. You do not extend your hands for an handshake or hug the chief / king. Addressing an untitled man, that’s a man without chieftaincy title, with a tile meant for the chiefs, is an offense.

The Igbo people are a hard working ethnic group and one of the three major tribes in Nigeria. True, westernization has calmed some of these social norms but it’s still very much alive even in the mind of the educated Igbo man. Deviance from such ethics, either in business or general social activities could be used in rating the visitor positively or negatively.

Persons of alien culture could be pardoned due to ignored of the culture of the land but a fellow Nigeria will not be easily pardoned for neglecting to stick to such social norms.

Sources:

From the books: Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

http://ilc.igbonet.com/lesson07/Lesson_VII.pdf

http://www.nigerian-newspaper.com/igboland-titles.pdf

Image Credit:

http://www.republicreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/igbo-day.jpg

http://www.igbofocus.com/assets/images/Igbo_Village_2.png

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A. Smith
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A. Smith

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