Ikenga, The Igbo Influence on Benin Arts and Language | By Bàbá Ifeanyi

Ikenga (Igbo: literally means “𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗴𝘁𝗵 𝗼𝗳 𝗺𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁” ) is a horned Alusi found among the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria. It is one of the most powerful symbols of the Igbo people and the most common cultural artifact. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society.

It comprises someone’s Chi (personal god), his Ndichie (ancestors), aka Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice
Ikenga is exclusively an Igbo symbol.

Nevertheless, due to cultural borrowing common during precolonial times, various peoples of Southern Nigeria use it also. Some variants of it are found in Ijaw, Ishan, Isoko, Urhobo and Edo areas.

Among the Isoko people, there are three types of personal shrine images: Oma, which represents the “spirit double” that resides in the other world. Obo symbolizes the right hand and personal endeavor and the lvri which stands for personal determination. In the Urhobo areas, it is also regarded as Ivri and in the Edo areas it’s called Ikegobo.

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Before the 15th century AD, Igbos residing in Idu and Agbor heavily influenced Benin and her arts culturally. For instance, the borrowing of Igbo words like ogbe,ukwu, Ego,ugbo, ugo, Nkita is still in use today in Benin with limited linguistic use as compared to the igbos who own it.

Igbo groups are still in Edo state today like oligie, Ake, igbanke, idumuodin, ottah, Owa, Ebelle, Idumuoka (awka descendants) some bear titles such as okaigun, depicting they are descendants of Awka from Anambra.

In places such as Igueben in Edo, a number of communities were founded by Igbo migrants (Awka blacksmithers among others) who contributed their smithing skills. Another Igbo community in Edo/ Benin is Amahor which has ancestral links with Igbos.

All in the heart of Benin city today are evidence of the extent of Igbo penetration into Benin vicinity before the Portuguese came. Igbos were widely spread and have lived in Idu for centuries, which later became Benin in the 15th century.

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Many Igbos can only recall the time in which they left their original residence in Benin. That was a time of hostilities by Benin people from the 14-16th centuries. It’s customary for Igbos of old to trace their way back home (east) when faced with hostilities. This practice has persisted till modern times. Even, prior to the 1967 civil war following the massacres in the North.

The concept of aka Ikenga(strength of movement) was also introduced to Benin by Nri Priests/Dibias. As customary, the Itinerant native doctors, Priests were frequently consulted by Igbos residing east and west of the Niger, and those living in Idu were not exempted. It was at this instance that the concept was introduced to the non-igbos within the vicinity of Idu, in this case, the Benin people. Its origin is dated 900AD introduced by Nris. This prompted Benin to produce Alter of the hand called Ikegobo which is the same meaning as it is in Igbo.

Ikenga, The Igbo Influence on Benin Arts and Language | By Bàbá Ifeanyi

Note: Other words in Benin bearing the “Ike” prefix don’t have the same meaning as it applies to Ikegobo. That is, means it’s an intrusive one in Benin. “Ike” is an Igbo word for strength and doesn’t mean the same in Benin. However “Obo” means hand in Benin, which means the concept of Ikegobo was an intrusive one in Benin. Some linguistic forms were borrowed by Benin people with exact meaning as it applies to Igbos.

For instance ugbo (farm), ugo (Eagle), ogbe (quarters or settlement). These do not have the linguistic complexity in Benin as compared to igbos who are the true owners of such words.

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Lastly, Ikenga bearing Ichi scarifications as inspired by the 900AD igbo ukwu bronze arts has been in existence for close to 600 years among the Igbos before its introduction in Benin by 16th century.

Note: The earliest bronze work found in Benin is 13th-century non-Benin style dwarf artifacts which are in no way compared to Igbo ukwu in antiquity.

Ikenga, The Igbo Influence on Benin Arts and Language | By Bàbá Ifeanyi


According to M.D.W Jeffreys, there are three types of Ikenga: ikenga mmadụ (human), ikenga alusi (spirit), and ntu aga (divination objects). The first is a fully developed human figure with horns, seated on a stool. The second is a cylinder with horns. The divination objects are small and simple and come in different shapes.

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– Symbol of Achievement

Ikenga is a personal embodiment of human endeavor, achievement, success, and victory. Ikenga is grounded in the belief that the power for a man to accomplish things is in his right hand. Also, it governs over the industry, farming, and blacksmithing. It is celebrated every year with an annual Ikenga festival. It is believed by its owners to bring wealth and fortune as well as protection.

– god of Time

Two-faced Ikenga is the oldest concept of Ikenga in Igboland. It is a two-faced god, with one face looking at the old year while one face looks at the new year. This is the basis of the oldest and most ancient Igbo calendar. As a god of beginnings, it has the praise name of Ikenga owa ota.

Ikenga, The Igbo Influence on Benin Arts and Language | By Bàbá Ifeanyi

𝗠𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗲𝗹𝗮𝗯𝗼𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗶𝗸𝗲𝗻𝗴𝗮 𝗯𝗲𝗮𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗰𝗵𝗶 𝘀𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗽𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻. C𝗼𝗻𝘀𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝗳 𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗹 𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘁𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹 𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀 𝗼𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗲𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲𝘀.𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗶𝘁 𝗵𝗮𝘀 𝗯𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗶𝗻 𝘂𝘀𝗲 𝗮𝗺𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗴𝗯𝗼𝘀 𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗯𝗲𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲 900𝗔𝗗 𝗮𝘀 𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝘆 𝘀𝗮𝗺𝗲 𝗶𝗰𝗵𝗶 𝘀𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗼𝗻 𝗶𝗴𝗯𝗼 𝘂𝗸𝘄𝘂 𝗯𝗿𝗼𝗻𝘇𝗲 𝗽𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗻𝘁.

𝗜𝗰𝗵𝗶 𝘀𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗮 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗳𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝗶𝗮𝗹𝗶𝘇𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝘁𝘀 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗔𝘄𝗸𝗮 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝘂𝗻𝗶𝘁𝘆. 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗰𝗵𝗶 𝗺𝗮𝗿𝗸𝘀 𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘂𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗵𝗶𝗴𝗵𝗲𝘀𝘁-𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗺𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘁𝗶𝘁𝗹𝗲 𝘀𝗼𝗰𝗶𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗲𝘀, 𝗮𝘀 𝘄𝗲𝗹𝗹 𝗮𝘀 𝘀𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗮𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗻𝗼𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘆.

Ikenga, The Igbo Influence on Benin Arts and Language | By Bàbá Ifeanyi


  2. Interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, 1789.
  3. The Lower Niger and its tribes, by Major Arthur Glyn Leonard, 1906
  4. Exploring voyage up the rivers of kwora and Benue by William Balfour Baikie 1854.
  5. Benin factor in the Western Niger Igbo history by Emmanuel Nwafor Mordi, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Department of History and International Studies, Delta State University, Abraka(part of the conclusion)

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