The Instruments of Igboland

Onyemobi Anyiwo

Music is one aspect of Igbo culture that has survived the onslaught of colonization. As with every African culture on the planet, Igbo music serves as a soundtrack for every function of the society, from celebrations and ceremonies, and the instruments can be used for both musical and non-musical purposes:

Oja (Flute)

The oja, which is a flute with holes on the bottom and the top, is played solo or with dances and songs. During masquerades, it is used to lead the drums. The instrument is also used to announce the arrival of an important person.

Udu Drum

This hollow, dumb-bell shaped drum is used to produce bass, which can be changed by the addition of water. Typically played by women, this drum is used for rites of passage ceremonies, weddings, and community club meetings. Its non-musical functions include use as a safe, and for the storage of water, palm oil and produce.

 Igba (Talking Drum)

Also known as an Nkwa, Egwe, or Egede, this drum is said to mimic the human voice. It is the most popular and commonly used drum and is used for celebrations, festivals, weddings, male and female rites of passage, and sometimes even funerals.

Small Ekwe (Slit Drum)

In pre-colonial times, this drum played the role of a radio to the village, and was used by the chief of the village to communicate with the town. The chief would relay their message to the town crier, who would move with the ekwe from street to street informing the townspeople of the message of the chief. The majority of the time, it was used to summon the men of the village to an important meeting. This drum would also be used by chiefs early in the morning to thank God for the good and safe night that they had as well as to ask for God's protection for the forthcoming day.

Ikoro (the big Ekwe Drum)

The Ikoro drum was used when there was an emergency at hand. When this drum was sounded from the palace of the chief, all men would leave whatever they were doing and report to the chief. Events such as murders, deaths of major public figures, and threats of war could be announced by using the Ikoro.

Ogene (Gong)


The Ogene is very prominent in Africa, in particular in West Africa. The music style that it is popularly featured in originated in the Aguleri part of Igboland, however the construction of the bells is a specialty of metalworkers of Awka (another part of Igboland). In Yorubaland, it is the symbol of Ogun, the Yoruba Orisha (deity) of Iron, and has special significance in his worship. The Ewe of Ghana use it in ritual and court music, as well as for timekeeping in the music ensembles.

    In Igboland, it has a variety of functions. Musically, it is the most important metal instrument, and accompanies dances, songs, religious ceremonies, and also to transmit messages. Politically, it was used by women to call their own meetings, and as an authoritative voice to keep order in general community meetings. It was also a symbol of the once powerful Ekpe society.

Metaphysically, it was used by Igbo Dibias (traditional healers and priests) for healing purposes. They would use it to sedate the mentally ill, and drinking water from a broken ogene was once used as a kind of speech therapy. The bell was also used as a means of invoking spirits and as a way to communicate to ancestors and the Alusi (deities).

“The Technology and Music of the Nigerian Igbo "Ogene Anuka" Bell Orchestra”  by O’dyke


Biafra and Pan-Africanism


Onyemobi Anyiwo

The short lived country of Biafra represents a paradox in Pan-African history. As one of the first civil wars of post-colonial Africa, it was a symbol of the potential destruction of the colonial borders of the new African republics; however, it also represented a new type of African republic based on people who were bold enough to draw borders on their own accord.

Biafra’s Pan-African influence was no more evident than in their flag, modeled after the red, black and green flag of the UNIA, which is the symbol for Pan-Africanism worldwide. However, this same Pan-Africanism that influenced the Biafrans would also lead to its undoing. Of all the countries in the Organization of African Unity (OAU), only four (Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tanzania, and Zambia), recognized and aided Biafra. Outside of the continent, Haiti was the only Black country to give recognition and aid to it. The vast majority of African nations stood behind the republic of Nigeria, and some even provided aid, weapons and even soldiers.


                        UNIA Flag                                                                                        Biafran Flag

There were a number of reasons for the OAU not throwing its support behind the newly formed Biafran state. For one, the recent crisis in the Congo had made the OAU members hesitant to get involved in the affairs of its members. However, the biggest reason may have been for the preservation of their nations. If the Igbos had successfully broke apart from Nigeria what would stop other ethnicities from doing the same? Nigeria was not the only country in the OAU that had ethnic tension. What would happen if groups like the Akan of Ghana or the Kikuyu of Kenya followed suit? Would the OAU support these new nations against its current members?

Pan-Africanism on the part of the OAU helped to kill Biafra. But had Biafra succeeded what would it have done for Pan-Africanism? Would it have encouraged other oppressed minorities to stand up against tyrannical governments? Would it have helped to spark a movement to positively reconstruct the continent of Africa? Or would it have lead to Balkanization of more African countries, and the destruction of unity of any kind on the continent? The world will never know.