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Inter-group relation is not an entirely new field in historiography. Scholars of different backgrounds have expressed divergent views on changes that have occurred in this area of study. Investigations and findings on the theme differ from epoch to epoch. Historically, social, political, cultural and economic considerations, account for changes in the nature and form of inter-group relations in human society. Igbo culture, custom, tradition, and belief systems are dynamic and heterogeneous. Facts of history contribute either to a hostile or harmonious relationship among individuals or groups. The Mbano of Imo State, South-eastern Nigeria appears to enjoy some peaceful and harmonious relationship with their neighbours, through their social interactions and economic relations, especially, through cultural festival, marriage, trade and agriculture, though not without occasional skirmishes. Given the nature of their relationship, this study investigates the factors at play in the society in the face of growing conflict in Igboland and Nigeria at large. Two factors account for the changes in the contour and dynamics of relations between the people. These inter-alia include colonial rule in the area beginning from 1906-1960 and the Nigeria-Biafra war, 1967-1970. The study examines the issues intrinsic in the changes brought by the two episodes to the form of relationship existing between Mbano and its neighbours. It therefore argues that common claim to history, ancestry and cultural ties account largely for the mutual relationship existing between the people, the impact of the two episodes notwithstanding. The work concludes that, in spite of the marked changes wrought on the society mainly through colonial administrative reorganisation, Western education, Christianity and the Nigeria-Biafra war, the people have maintained mutual relationship as people that share common ancestry. They have also continued to emphasize umune as a bond of unity among them and their neighbours. The cordiality of relationship between the people demonstrates the Igbo saying that, indeed, ‘peoples’ neighbours are their brothers/sisters’ -‘agbata obi madu wukwa umunne ha’. The method adopted in the study combines both descriptive and historical narrative. Qualitative research methodology was used in the re-interpretation and analysis of verifiable information collected from different sources. The approach was interdisciplinary and presentation of findings was both chronological and thematic.
Background to the Study
Study of pre-colonial and colonial African society emphasise isolation and the general hostilities of one ethnic group or polity against the other. Existing colonial literature in their assessments of Africa wrongly classified pre-colonial and colonial African indigenous communities as immobile, stagnant and averse to change. It is to be stressed that in pre-colonial Africa, inter-relations were not caste-like or closed. Rather, there existed amalgams of proximate towns and community groups that related through various ways. The fulcrum of this study, Mbano in Igboland, is one case in point. Igboland is a territory in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, surrounded by such landmarks as the Cross River at the foot of the Cameroon Mountain in the east, the Kukuruku Hills in the west, the Benue River, and the great Atlantic Ocean in the Bight of Biafra in the south. Most significantly, Igboland lies on the plain near the delta of the famous Niger River.
Igboland has at its northern and northeastern borders, the Igala and the Idoma; in the west, the Edo; the Ijo in the south and the Ibibio in the east. Igboland includes the present Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo states and some parts of Delta, and a large part of what is today called Rivers State. In fact, Port Harcourt, by the Colonial Land Commission of 1952, was confirmed as in Igboland. These different groups have had one form of interaction or another, especially in the area of economic pursuits, social-cultural and political relations. These relations, which go way back in history, manifest through marriages, cultural festivals and activities, and also wars. The interactions have been peaceful most times and hostile at other times. On inter-group relations, Afigbo argues that different Nigerian ethnic and cultural groups sought through their richly varied traditions of origin and migrations and through accounts of the rise and expansion of their socio political system, to preserve, inter-alia, their perceptions of the relationships which existed between them and their neighbours. In fact, relations among the Igbo have always been based on some factors either relating to common historical origins, ancestry or to a common language, tradition, and custom, religion, belief system, trade and festivals, among others. These factors tend to bind people closely together but can also lead to war. Wars are in themselves a form of inter-group relations. Most communities in Igboland came into contact through different movements, for instance, the Awka-Orlu movement in which people migrated and settled in different areas. The Mbano people and their neighbours, the focus of this research, have benefited in the course of their socio-political, economic and cultural activities. Mbano is found in Imo State. It appears to be the only community that shares boundaries with communities in Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri that constitute the three Geo-political zones of Imo State. Mbano is centrally positioned in Imo state, and is something of the Igbo heart land. The area embraces Isiala and Ehime Mbano local government areas. Geographically, Mbano occupies an expanse of land of more than 205.30 square kilometers. It is located approximately between latitudes 7 and 8 E4. The map below shows the location of the area of study in Imo State.
Map no 1: Map of Imo State showing the area of study separated with a black line.
Mbano consists of Osu, Ehime, Mbama and Ugiri clans. These clans of Mbano and its neigbhours are as indicated in the map no 2
Map No 2: Map of Mbano showing its neighbours.
Map N0 3: Map of Isiala and Ehime Mbano showing their Neighbours
The people are predominantly farmers. They are known for the production of palm wine (mmanya-ngwo), from the raffia tree, and in much smaller quantity, (mmanya-nkwu), palm oil and kernels, cassava, yams, three-leaved yams (una), coco-yams (ede), native plantain (unyere ojii) and so on. They also keep live-stock such as goats, dogs, fowl, and pigs which provide them with a means of livelihood. Agriculture in the area fluctuates between subsistence and commercial production. Mbano people had been adherents of Igbo traditional religion until Christianity began to gain sway among the people. Mbano belief system tallies with those of other Igbo groups. That is, the belief in the sanctity of deities and pantheon of gods. The name Mbano, like Nigeria, is said to be a colonial creation. The area was originally known as Mbasaa. The British colonial rule balkanized Mbasaa through its administrative creations. Mbasaa comprised seven clans namely, Ehime, Osu, Ugiri, Mbama, Isu, Ugboma and Obowo. According to S.A. Ike,
the origin of the name Mbano was during (sic) the British administration of Umuduru Native Court created in 1906. A separate native court was established to serve Obowo, Onitsha Uboma, Etiti clans and their neighbours. The Umuduru Native Court Jurisdiction served four clans; namely Osu, Ehime, Ugiri and Mbama. Thus, it was during the sitting of the court at Umuduru, that the name Mbano, meaning-four clans, naturally began to be used by the warrant chiefs in reference to the court’s jurisdiction.
Mbano, according to records, had appeared extensively in British colonial records before it was recognized as Mbano Federated Native Authority in 19456. Mbano was carved out of Mbasaa for easy administration by the British and most probably, due to the fact that the people constituting the Mbano Federated Native Authority are closely related. As traditions of origin of Mbano indicate, the people migrated from the general area of Orlu and settled in their present location. Some neighbours of Mbano also share in this common ancestral origin and belong to the larger Isu-ama clan of Igboland. Hence, it is not uncommon to hear an Mbano elder say “anyi shi uzo orlu bia-ebea”, “we came here from Orlu area”. An Eziama Mbaise elder would say; “we migrated from Mbano area”. The same is said of Amaimo Ikeduru or by Inyishi elder. Adiele Afigbo appears to support this view stating that,
the tradition of the Isu-ama Igbo (meaning the Isu who had gone abroad –made up of Mbama, Mbieri, Ikeduru, Osu, Ehime, Uboma, Ugiri and Mbaise) of the Ohuhu Ngwa and of many Cross River Igbo groups indicate that they migrated eastwards from the general area of Orlu. To many communities in this group of Igbo-speaking peoples Ama-igbo in Orlu is a sacred and revered spot. The name itself means the street, meeting place or headquarters of the Igbo.
The saying that Mbano and its neighbours share a lot in common is a fact of history. Mbano and its neighbours fall within Afigbo’s description. The neighbours of Mbano are as follows: Ahiazu Mbaise on the West, Ikeduru/Mbaitolu on the South, Okwelle-Onuimu on the North and Agbaja-Isu in Nwangele on the eastern end, in Orlu zone. The contiguous communities that form neighbours of Mbano are, Eziama in Ekwereazu Mbaise, Inyishi, Amaimo, Atta and Umudim in Ikeduru, Etiti, Abajah Isu, Ogwa, and Okwelle in Onuimo. The boundaries which supposedly divide Mbano and its neighbours are no ‘Berlin walls’ that could prevent interaction. There were considerable mutually interactive relationship and contact between them. Boundaries are said to be a thing of the heart; so it is with Mbano and its neighbours. Some border villages in Mbano easily cross these boundaries for different purposes. These include trade, religious, cultural and educational activities, among many others. The relationships and interactions have been largely symbiotic and peaceful, though minor skirmishes and disagreements do occur occasionally. Most of these communities live in such close proximity that enables neighbours fetch amber from one another to make fire. For instance, a person from Umueze11 can do so from his Eziama Mbaise neighbour. This is also applicable between an Oka person and his Inyishi Ikeduru neighbour. The same close relationship exists between Amaraku and Agbaja-Isu, and between Osu Mbano and their Okwelle-Onuimo neighbours. The people cooperate and interact through other ways: exchange of labour- igba onwo oru, youth activities, isusu contribution, cultural festivals such as traditional wrestling (ekere mgba), Ibo ama, mbom uzo, ikpo oku, nta and the new yam festival (ekweji/aruru/awa or ahajioku), dances like the Alija dance, ubo ogazi, nkwa otele, nkwa inwakiriinwa, masquerades (nmanwu), marriages and numerous other activities. Despite the mutuality existing between Mbano and its neighbours, there were occasional periods of misunderstanding arising from these activities. In some occasions, they led to conflict and skirmishes between the people. According to Marcel Ibe, in the 1950s, there was a boundary dispute between Osu and Okwelle that led to crisis that lasted till the colonial government intervened and settled the matter by placing the disputed portion of land under government control.” Before then the crisis had claimed many lives. Other sources of conflict between Mbano and its neighbours include marriages, burial rites, and cultural festivals, among others. Religious conflict has often arisen from the siting of churches. Such churches were usually near shrines or community sacred forest. In recent times, the pursuit of various political interests has been another harbinger of conflict. The creation of autonomous communities in Imo State has divided neighbours, leaving a backlog of unresolved conflict situations between individuals and communities. These conflict situations seem to be introducing new elements in the relationship and interaction between Mbano and its neighbours. Mbano, like most other Igbo communities, was organized on kinship, non-monarchical principle. The people do not have a centralized polity; rather, they have many autonomous communities, each with its own traditional ruler. Some of these institutions are the off-shoot of colonial warrant chief creation. Besides, colonial boundary adjustments and administrative reorganisations placed Mbano in the midst of numerous neighbours who hitherto had been their kin. Chidi Onwubuariri stated that,
Atta community now in Ikeduru Owerri zone used to be the head community for the Nta festival that heralds the ekweji for Mbama and Ugiri clans. Inyishi also used to be part of Ugiri clan in Mbano. Today colonial rule placed Atta and Inyishi administratively under Old Owerri District and they are today neighbours of Ugiri and Mbama clans in Mbano.
These colonial situations contributed to the ever-changing nature of intra/inter group relations prevalent in the society today. The dialects of Mbano people and those of their neighbours are almost the same, with only minor differences in pronunciation and accent. Each of the groups in the course of their interaction has affected the other through its actions. As Adiele Afigbo observes, inter-group relationship properly understood pre-supposes contact and intera
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