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Culture: The Osu Caste System In Igboland

By Franklin Ugobude (Contributor) 18 November 2018   |   8:00 am

In October, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, had taken a stance to abolish the Osu Culture in Igboland. Days before this, some traditional leaders in Oguta Local Government of Imo State had endorsed the abolishing of the age-long culture to free affected people from stigmatisation in the community.

The fight for the abolishment of the Osu Caste System goes back in time to the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe who in his historic address to the defunct Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly in 1956, described the system as “devilish and uncharitable to brand any human being with a label of inferiority due to the accidents of history”.

The late Dr Sam Mbakwe had banned the system in Old Imo State during his tenure as governor. Despite these attempts, they still uphold the Osu Caste system in some parts of Igboland with many people stigmatised for being Osus.

What is the Osu caste system?
The Osu Caste System is an ancient practice in Igboland that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of people, referred to as Osu (outcasts). This is because they dedicate these Osu people to the Alusis (deities) and are thus seen as inferior to the Nwadiala (free-borns).

This system has been traced back to a time when people were offered to the deities to clean the land from an abomination. Another view on the historical perspective of the Osus puts them as defiant people who simply refuse to head to the orders of the king or the decision of the community.

What happens to an Osu?
As an Osu, you’re kept in a state of permanent and irreversible disability and subjected to abuse and discrimination. The Osus are made to live separately from the freeborn and live close to shrines and marketplaces. They are not allowed to have any forms of relations with the Nwadialas.
They even may not break kola nuts at meetings or pour a libation or pray to God on behalf of a freeborn at any community gathering.

An Osu cannot marry a free born. It is because of this that there are tons of investigation in Igboland when marriages are announced. Elders from both sides travel and conduct investigations to inquire about the social status of the family.

Osu system in Igboland today
Since modernisation in Igboland, people have criticised the Osu Caste System for defying the basic human rights. A couple of scholars have likened the Osu system to slavery and that it should be abolished.

However, it is still practised in some parts of Igboland, such as Oba in Anambra state. The maltreatment meted out to the Osu has forced many of them to migrate to other countries, abandon marriages and commit crimes against humanity in Igboland.

Abolishing this system will restore the dignity of human beings, promote peaceful relationships and reduce conflicts in society.

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