Age Grade Traditional Retirement (IGBOTONMA) of Igbere People

by Uche Eke

In ancient Igbere Kingdom and some kingdoms in Abia North and some parts of Igbo land, the Age Grade systems were used in running the society.

It has been reported in many literature that Igbos have no king; though this is not true because the Igbos always have kings. It is just only that  in Igboland the kings decision on most sensitive matters are still subject to the decision of councils. Such councils can also be derived from the Age-Grade system.

So, in Igbere traditional system, as new young people in their late 20s and Early 30s form a new Age-Grade, the Oldest Age-Grade, who are mostly in their late 60s retires traditionally.

The kingdom defense system was run by certain age groups, so also are other functions. Taxes are collected along such age-grade lines as well as other societal work.

In the community, there are general work such as the clearing of Farm roads, building of public toilets, sweeping the civic centers, going to harvest a collectively palm-plantation and so many work that involved the use of Cutlass and hoes. All these are collectively done by all age-grades.

But once a person retires, it means the person has come of age and would need to be exempted from all such works and also to lay down the working tools which is symbolized by a ‘CUTLASS AND A HOE’ literally referred to as ‘Laying down the Cutlass’ ( Igbotonma) which is also referred to as Traditional Retirement.

  • Traditional Retirement is equivalent to thanksgiving. Each Retiree puts a canopy, cook food, bring music and celebrate with friends. And in return, people give gifts, money etc to the Retiree to support them in their new age because they are now expected to work less and not go to distant farm lands.
  • After the retirement, the person ceased to do the general work, and exempted from taxes, fines and so many activities of the kingdom.

At the arrival of Colonialist (usually referred to as ‘Whitemen’), the needs of the kingdoms that practiced age grade system changed as most citizens of the kingdom then started residing outside their traditional home, especially cities created by the ‘whitemen’.

In the city of Aba, the closest of the towns which the arrival of the ‘Whitemen’ helped to develop, Igbere people saw the need for meeting, because Igbere people resided across many streets and faced with different challenges of surviving in a city made of strangers, the important of a collectively organized welfare became necessary. Then in 1930s, the age-grade systems were collectively now to be managed by a new organization called “ Igbere Welfare Union”(IWU)
The IWU meeting was attended by all age-grade and all citizens, whether belonging or not belonging to any age-grade. In the meetings, welfare issues and home matters were addressed collectively by all citizens.

In every new city where there are much citizens of Igbere people there is organization of IWU meetings done at monthly, quarterly, biannually or yearly depending on which part of the world. And at the end of 3 years all sons and daughters of Igbere origin living all over the world come home for the celebration. Invitations are thrown across the world to all kinds of dignitaries.

During the ‘ANNIVERSARY’ the first two days were general gathering being held in a central location (Igbere Secondary School Igbere is usually used for the moment) and Age-Grades Groups sit in their canopies in accordance with their age. The oldest retires; the youngest enters (sometimes being referred to as ‘given birth’).

Also during this general gathering/celebration, a general fund raising is made for the development of the Igbere kingdom and handling of special projects. Special invited dignitaries and great sons of the kingdom who have excelled in various fields are accorded their respects and given opportunity to make contributions. After this general gathering, all Retirees confirm their respective dates for private celebration with their families and friends.

Some of the dignitaries who have attended the IWU celebration (also called ANNIVERSARY) include President Muhammed Buhari; former President Ibrahim Babangida; Late Odimegwu Ojukwu, late Dr. Alex, Governor and the Minister of Labour Chief Chris Ngige, and so many others. The question would be ‘who has not attended IGBERE ANNIVERSARY?’

2017 is another celebration- most importantly the traditional retirement of my sweet loving mother.
So. YOU are specially invited to the ”Igbotonma” (RETIREMENT) ceremony of my mother Madam Ebere Igbokwe Eke (Venue: Olowo-Ibinata Igbere Bende LGA, Abia State; On: 29th December 2017). You all are invited.

My friends from Igbere Secondary School, Government College Umuahia, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, University of Benin Edo State, West Coast University of America, friends on Facebook, Twitter, E-mail & Social Media, Acquaintances, prospective friends and neighbors, old friends that are in contact and those that have not been touch.

You are all highly welcomed and honoured.

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