OSU CASTE SYSTEM: THE BARBARIC AND ARCHAIC PRACTICE IN IGBO LAND

by - February 19, 2018

I came across the issue of 'Osu' in a novel I read several years ago by Chinua Achebe; titled No Longer At Ease. If my memory serves me well, the protagonist of the novel Obi(who happens to be the grand son of Okonkwo Adi, the same one dipicted in Things Fall Apart as a 'hard man') was warned by his kinsmen and parents to break off his relationship with his girlfriend(Clara Okeke)because of a certain stigmatisation placed on people like his love interest ,which is being referred to as The Osu Caste System; because it is an abomination for a free born to intermarry someone considered inferior. I was surprised by such absurd reason, and my young mind then couldn't comprehend how such archaic culture could/should serve as a stumbling stone to a beautiful relationship that could eventually lead to a prospective marriage. It didn't make any sense to me and in my curious and angry state, I took it upon myself to make some research.



According to wikipaedia; The Osu caste system is an ancient practice in Igbo land that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu (Igbo:outcast). Osus are dedicated to the deities (Alusi) of Igbo land; they are considered as inferior beings, living sacrifice, an outcast, untouchable and sub-human and are usually separated from Nwadiala or Diala (Igbo:real/freeborn). The origin of  the Osu caste system can be traced back to the era when deities were believed to ask for human sacrifice during festivals in order to clean the land from abomination thus leading to the purchase of a slave by the people. The Osus are not allowed to have any relationship with the real born, they are only permitted to marry each other. They are also seen as unclean and are not allowed to break kola or make prayers on behalf of the real born because it is believed that they will bring calamity upon the society. They are actually dedicated to the gods and are very much expected to take their predicament in good faith.


History has it that the Whites came to Africa several centuries ago and captured black people, taking them across the globe and selling them to the highest bidder in order to work on their plantations and other business outlets they had;breaking off any form of resistance that was put up against such act by our fore fathers. Of course, so many lives were lost during this period, and those who survived were sold off as mere commodities. Several years later different articles are still written till date,criticising such barbaric act.  The impact of the slave trade in Africa as a whole cannot be overemphasised.  But, isn't the same thing we were not comfortable with as at then that is repeating itself now? But in this case, no one is being sold off. The whites considered we blacks as inferior beings then (racism is still very much prevalent till date) and in the Igbo society, the Dialas(real borns) are still very much considered as superior beings to the Osus even in this present dispensation.


But what exactly does real born means?is there anything like fake born? A slave was birthed same way a president was birthed, so what makes one birth valid and better than the other? In the African society, anything termed as ridiculous, is always backed up by the culture card. Culture is that one thing we Africans respect so much just for the selfish purpose of it (the issue of bride price) or for establishing a certain social status (just like the issue of Osu Caste System).Isn't it laughable that with our level of education, exposure and spirituality(how religious we are), the issue of Osu Caste System is still in place? Why are the respected authorities quiet about this? Why are the religious figures we have in this country not educating people about this menace, that it is totally wrong to ostracise a certain number of people because of an archaic culture that was put in place by our ancestors ? The pen is mightier than the sword, but why are our respected writers not creating enough awareness about this? Or isn't it disturbing enough that in this Aquarius age, such barbaric act is still very potent and active?


The consequences of flouting the strict order that has been put in place is really worrisome. If a real born should intermarry an Osu, foremost; the person and every member of his/her family would be ostracised by his/her community.  The person will automatically become an Osu and will be termed as unclean by his/her community. It is believed that there are also some spiritual implications attached to it, like untimely death, great misfortunes, fatal accidents etc. Which will always be manifested even if the person in question relocates to another country.The person might even be disowned by his/her family members, because of the shame the whole brouhaha would bring.

With all these consequences listed above, is it really worth it to go ahead to intermarry an Osu? In my own honest opinion, it is definitely a big yes; because love is such a beautiful thing which should never be thwarted by an archaic culture which to me has no place or significance in this present dispensation.


So our leaders have failed us in this aspect, so also for our religious figures and other respected authorities.  But it is actually the youths that are at the receiving end of this barbaric practice.  Someone I know or someone you know has had to break off a relationship because of this unjust act. I don't think there is anything more painful than losing the love of your life because of a tradition which has no relevance in any aspect . Also, the psychological trauma that comes with having to deal with being treated as an outcast and not being able to hold any position of power is really disturbing.  To me, it is simply a redefined modern day slavery. Although, in the year 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and banned slavery but it is very disheartening to know that some places in Igbo land are still discriminating against those considered as inferior beings.

This should serve as a wake up call to all  the youths, to unite as one; irrespective of their tribes and kick against this barbaric and archaic practice. The power lies in the hands of the youths, because they are much more affected than their older counterparts. No human being is superior to another, we all are created equally in the image of God. As a result of this, this stifling restriction and bondage should be totally abolished. I believe in the power of the youths. Also, each and everyone of us has a role to play, by educating people about the danger of the Osu Caste System.

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