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SOCIO-RELIGIOUS ANALYSIS OF THE EFFECTS OF MODERNITY ON IGBO FAMILIES
Igbo family is faced with the challenges of modernity evident in innovations and changes in patterns of life. In the light of this, the study examined the socio-religious effects of modernity on Igbo family. The work studied patterns of life in the traditional Igbo family such as economic life, social life, political life and religious life. The researcher discovered that many of the norms and values found in the traditional Igbo family are no longer observed in the modern Igbo family. The study also discovered that modernity has impacted both negatively and positively on Igbo family. Paramount among the negative effects of modernity on Igbo family discussed are individualistic spirit, ill-training of children by some parents and some good traditional values such as morality, good sanctions and taboos, respect for elders, decent dressing, etc. positively, modernity has brought about western education and eliminated some of the harmful cultural practices of the Igbo like human sacrifice, killing of twins and slave trade.
1.1 Background of the Study
The Igbo people live in the eastern part of Nigeria. They are bounded in the East by
the Efik and Ibibio who seem to share some cultural similarities with the Igbo. In
the North are the Idoma and the Igala while in the West are the Benin, the Urhobo
and the Isoko ethnic groups. The Ogoni and the Ikwere are in the South. Majority
of the Igbo live in Anambra, Abia, Imo, Enugu and Ebonyi States of Nigeria.
Others also live in parts of Delta and River states.
The above geographical background explains the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo.
One of such cultural institutions being approached is the Igbo family system. The
origin of the Igbo family system is difficult to trace in spite of the long years of
education, and -the influence of western civilization. The reason for this could be due
to different traditional world views, external influences and cultural meanings. From
such names as Ahudie or husband’s body, Nkem or mine, Enyidie or husband’s friend
or companion, one could deduce that it is as old as man or started with the origin or
man. It is a social fact that Igbo family came into existence in order to integrate Igbo
cultural values, norms and traditions into a web of relationship. Consequently, one
is related to another in Igbo society either by blood or by marriage.
Igbo family is therefore defined as the basic primary social, religious, economic and
political unity of the wider society made up of the father, mother, child(ren) or
ward(s). Individualism is said to have no place in Igbo family system. The reality of this
is found in the extended family system.
As an integral part of Igbo family system, the extended family members include
patrilinial and matrilinial uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephew and in-laws. In Igbo
family affairs, they have a say and have always made moral, social, economic and
religious commitments to the growth of Igbo family system.
They have craved and encouraged traditional values of their family members and their
firm grip on their members has promoted the traditional Igbo pattern of life. Igbo people
abide by the norms and traditions of their culture. This explains the reason why certain
characteristic features can be predicted of the Igbo. For instance, the Igbo people are
hard working and believe strongly in the dignity of labour. This is so because agriculture
was their chief employment and everyone, even the children and women are engaged in
it. Igbo tradition explains that the need for increased labour and agriculturally enhanced
productivity explains the need for more than one wife in the traditional setting of Igbo
family life. It was so too because they had no beggars and could not be acquainted with
idleness. Igbo family had respect for elders because they believe that the elders are the
closest link to and represent the ancestors. They believe in the enhancement of life, that
is the reason why they abstain from bloodshed. This enhancement of life has added
value for the unborn and the living dead in Igboland. Thus through this unborn and the
living dead there seems an endless communication between the world of the spirit and
the world of the living. Through this, they could reincarnate to their families from time to
The value system of the Igbo family life concerns every member. The family members
believe in the brotherhood of every member. Thus they love to serve not to be served.
They abhor jealousy because it could cause one to harm another. The spider web
relationship which exists among the Igbo is shown in such expression as “onye bebe
nwanne ya ebebe” (when one cries, his relatives cry also).
The above mentioned spider web relationship has promoted Igbo religious morality
which has impacted good moral conduct on every member of the family. They also set
taboos and place sanctions which serve as a moral guides to Igbo family life. These
socio-religious moral background in traditional Igbo life gave a bearing, a guide and
principle on which the people hinge their whole life activities. Traditional Igbo people
believe in achievement orientation and self-efforts which are still rewarded with
traditional titles or merit awards such as Ogbuagu, Ikemba, and Dike.
In Igbo family system, there is no room for celibacy. Life is seen as a continuous
circle of events revolving around the family. Every member is an active participant. In
marriage, the bridegroom makes the approach indirectly through an intermediary “onye
aka ebe” (witness) or “onye ajuju” (an inquirer or middleman). It is assumed that the
matter remains secret between the three parties namely; the bridegroom, the bride and
the intermediary. Until public declaration, if a bridegroom mismanages his marital
approach and the matter gets to a public talking point in the village, the intended
marriage could miscarry. This could be based on the activities of evil or wicked tale
bearers whose intents and purposes arc to misinform and misrepresent issues
concerning the persons and families concerned. These are called ndi agbugba or ndi
emu (the gossippers). In spite of these characteristics of Igbo family pattern of life,
there exists equally some harmful marital practices in Igbo family institution.
The advent of colonialism and missionary activities in Igboland brought about western
education and civilization. This meant culture and in the words of Chinua Achebe
things fall apart and things are no longer at ease. There were tremendous changes in
authority and every sphere of Igbo life. However, the researcher’s concern here is on
the effects of modernity on Igbo family, respect for elders seems to be affected because
the spirit of individualism has taken place. Modernity has its influence on worldly
passions, materialism and affluence. These are in enmity with Igbo cultural norms and
values such as diligence, respect, honesty, hard work, patriotism, patience, truth telling
and responsibility in Igboland today. The negation of patriotic acts has negatively
affected Igbo cultural institution exemplified in Igbo family life. Less premium is
placed on moral character of spouses because materialism seems to becloud their sense
of objectivity to ideals and principles upon which Igbo family is built upon. Some
parents especially mothers insist that it is either the men after their heart or no
marriage. The men in question may be of questionable character but due to financial
and material gratification, they see giving their daughter in marriage as an
appreciation to such men who might be as old as their husbands. There are few cases
such spouse must have been dating their would be mother-in-laws. In order not to loose
them, they shift such relationship to their daughters in the name of marriage. Such
mothers use all sorts of methods such as pleading, threats and petting to establish
acceptance to the relationship. This is especially the case where such mothers are
widows who turned business women. The patronage they receive from such intended
in-laws is not easily forgotten, further, it is made a reference point and with a promise
of receiving more if marriage is established. This is observed that when such marriage
takes place in the family, the in-laws go to bed with their mother in-laws.
The Igbo family in modern time has witnessed conflict of cultures. The acid of
modernity does not only pollute Igbo system, but appears to bring about negligence
and disregard on the Igbo value system. A look at what constitutes the statement of the
problem will shade more light on the effects of modernity on the socio-religious
activities of the Igbo as experienced in the family.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The above background to the study reveals that there is a culture contact between Igbo
culture and western culture leading to a serious conflict of cultures. The western
culture has diffused in Igbo family and has eroded the core socio-religious values of
the Igbo family system. The preference for and gluing to western culture has some
benefits but its effects on Igbo family leaves much to be desired. Is modernity a curse
or a blessing in Igboland. This has not been addressed by sociologists of religion, but
has received comments by such literary and historical gurus like Achebe and Afigbo.
Culture is dynamic in transforming people, institutions and relationships. The
substance in this statement has not been investigated in recent time. Consequently, the
weight of modernity on Igbo family in the age of internet, globalization, computer and
other civilizing agents have challenged this thesis to raise the following research
questions on the socio-religious analyses of effects of modernity on Igbo family:
(a) How can the traditional value system of the Igbo people be revived?
(b) How can the Igbo morality, good sanctions and taboos be restored?
(c) How did modernity come to be and persists?
(d) How has modernity affected the pre-colonial Igbo family and modern Igbo
(e) What are the socio-religious effects, challenges and difficulties posed by
modernity on Igbo family?
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The objective of this study is to investigate, analyze and find functional answers to the
above research questions. A balanced view of the meaning, origins and the western
cultural encounter with Igbo culture will also make our purpose. There is need
therefore to examine how these indices of modernity have affected the life styles and
the attitudinal orientation of the Igbo. An analysis of the traditional Igbo family and
modern Igbo family will help to see how changes have taken place in Igbo family
system. It is our purpose to proffer solutions to the research work so as to impact more
values on Igbo family system in particular and Nigerian family system in general.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The thesis is significant as the most recent research on socio-religious analysis of
effects of modernity on Igbo family. This research would help draw a policy guideline on
the effects of modernity on Igbo family. As a reference point to the individuals,
institutions on Igbo family system, the study is significant in promoting balanced
understanding, social cohesion and harmony in the whole society. The society is placed
in a better position to mirror the image of the family. The study would make our future
generation have an improved conception of their fore-bears’ world-view. This will
promote their value system. The study challenges the church and the family in Igboland to
dialogue so that peace, security and unity would reign in Igboland through mutual
tolerance, accommodation and respect for human dignity.
1.5 Scope of the Study
The scope of the study refers to the area covered by the research. The research topic:
Socio-Religious Analysis of effects of modernity on Igbo family explains the focus of
this work. The conflict of cultures between traditional Igbo family and modernity in
Igbo family system are examined in Igbo states as Anambra, Abia, Imo, Enugu and
This research employed primary and secondary sources of data collection. The primary
sources include interview, historical and observation methods. The secondary sources
include literary and documentary sources such as journals, books, magazines,
dictionaries and encyclopedia. Others include discussion, chart and logical reasoning.
No single method is for a valid and reliable data, a combination of primary and
secondary data from resource persons and key informants ensured a reliable working
data on the research question.
This research employed sources which are interview, historical method, observation
method, journals, books, magazines, dictionaries and logical reasoning
1.7 Definition of Terms
There are relevant key words like society, religion, modernity and family will be
explained/defined for the purpose of objective clarity and understanding. To these the
Society comprises a group of persons living together, sharing the same world-view for
the common good of its members. The Igbo society in the pre-colonial time was
characterized by the bound of mutual reciprocity and collective effort of each member,
and this was derived from the world view which have its basis on religion. Whenever
there is conformity of order in any given society, there would be sure stability and
harmony in that society. That was the reason why the Igbo society was bound together
in all their activities and there existed brotherly love and morality in the Igbo society.
Religion in this research refers to an affixed relationship between man and God and
between man and his neighbour. In other words, religion refers to a set of beliefs,
practices, norms and values linking man to God and to his neighbour.
Modernity is an evolution of change in the human life. It brought about change in human
application. Modernity brought change in the way and pattern of Igbo life style, however,
it is not only on progressive aspects but also in the retrogressional dimension in people’s
lives. In other words it is a mixed blessing to humanity. It induces on Igbo family almost
wither the cultural norms and traditions of the Igbo taboos and sanctions are no longer
employed in their daily activities except in some local villages of the Igbo where the
vestiges of taboos and sanctions are. Because no sanctions are employed, does appear that
the height of immorality is high. Every one does as pleases, respect for elders are seen as
nothing again, a child can beat up his elderly parents and so on. In fact all sorts of vices are
seen in these modern times, kidnapping is now the routine culture of the people, it is now
the quickest way of money making. To some, today, it is civilization. For the
researcher, it is the height of incivility and the heralds of people who have devalued
their traditional norms, customs and culture.
In essence modernity helps to abolish the harmful cultural practices of the Igbo people
which are against humanity and these includes killing of twins, humans sacrifice, slave
trade and “slavery” and so on.
The family is understood in this research as referring to the primary, social, religious,
economic, political and moral unit of Igbo society. It is hierarchization made up of the
father, mother and children or wards. The Igbo family is more of extended type which
involves husband, wife/wives, children, aunties, uncles both from maternal and
paternal lineage or blood related family. This type of family creates conditions for
mutual affection amongst its members. And for this reasons, every member is fixed
together, carry out each members need for the sustenance and progress of the family.
The induced modernity made it that the extended family type practiced by the Igbo
family is no longer strong as it was in the pre-colonial times. The modern Igbo adopted
the nuclear form of family, where almost everyone is concerned after his own family
which involves the man, wife and children. Perhaps this type of incivility often
warrants killings, kidnapping and all sorts of nefarious acts in the family.
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