The Igbo Caste System

“Okirikiri ka anagba ukwu ose anaghi ari ya elu”, chants the chief priest commonly believed to be the gods’ representative and mouthpiece. “Okenye anaghi anoro n’ulo, ewu a muo nwa n’ohia”; he continues. Hmmm!!! The gods are hungry and that is why they are angry. They have sent down famine and pestilence upon the land, and have ceased the rains from falling. He pauses and looks around at the council of elders, then clears his throat and rants some chants. “All the gods demand of you is just human sacrifice or they send down deaths upon your livestock and families. The gods are hungry”; he concludes.

The above story is an insight to how the Osu Caste system began. It is an ancient lousy practice that discourages social interaction between a Diala (Freeborn) and an Osu (Slave or Outcast). Osus, believed to be property of the gods are seen as inferior beings, hence are socially ostracized from relating with Dialas.

Although it is not a popular fact, the Igbo Caste system actually comprises the Osu (Outcasts), Ohu (Slaves) and Akaekpe (Lefthanders). The root of the Osu Caste system in Igboland can be traced back to the demands by the gods of the land for human sacrifice in order to cleanse the land of trouble. In some cases, during inter communal wars, those who ran to the gods seeking for refuge and protection, promising to serve them if saved automatically became slaves of the gods; thus outcasts.

It is also believed that some became outcasts as a result of banishment from the land.

The discrimination against Osus is such to an extent that they are not allowed leadership positions in the community. In those days, they were forced to live separately and far away from Dialas; usually in shrines or outskirts of the land and were not allowed in gatherings involving a freeborn.

Also considered unclean, an Osu has no right to break Kola nut or say a prayer in a social gathering of the community. And before the introduction of Religion, they were offered separate seats in worship places.

Though the system is widely criticized, it is still being practised underground today. Several relationships have broken because of the Osu Caste system; marriages, parents disowning their child(ren), community denouncing her member etc. causing emotional and psychological traumas. It is commonly believed that any association with an Osu brings forth nemesis on the associator and the entire family.

However, on their own, Osus are extraordinarily gifted, intelligent, hard workers and successful in most things they engage in. Probably, because of the stigma attached to them, they work so hard trying to prove their worth to the society.

Without doubt, education, religion and civilization have made just a little impact on the Caste system, but YOU can’t afford to do the same. The alleged Osus are humans like you and me with freedom of movement and association. We should learn to accept and relate with them. They pose no threat whatsoever to us. Speak up against the Caste system. Speak up against discrimination.

“Anyuko mamiri onu, o gba ofufu”.

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