Cultural Timeless

Everything About The Igbo Calendar System X-rayed

As the Igbo calendar system is relegated to the background, bet the only day you can remember from the calendar is ‘Eke’ market day which for some unknown reason is the most popular of all the Igbo market days. 

Oguafo Igbo is the traditional calendar system of the Igbo people that has been in use before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar.  

Like everything in the Igbo system, the calendar has its origins in paying reverence to the spirits and deities in Igboland, some names or days in the calendar are dedicated to certain deities and gods. According to Igbo mythology, the calendar was inspired by spirits. But more than anything commerce played a greater role in creating the calendar, as each community has a day assigned for the opening of their market, a testament to the trading culture of the people, one of the reasons the calendar is still in use.

The Igbo calendar has 13 months in a year, 7 weeks in a month, and 4 days in a week plus an extra day at the end of the year. The four market days in the Igbo calendar correspond with the four cardinal points Afọ corresponds to the north, Nkwọ to south, Eke to the east, and Orie to west.

The Nri-Igbo yearly counting festival known as Igu Aro marked March 10, 2012, as the beginning of the 1013th year of the Nri calendar.

The Iguafo Igbo System

According to Igbo mythology, the mythical founder of the Igbo race ‘Nri’ embarked on a journey to resolve the mystery of time, during his quest he came across the spirits that govern each day and he counted them and they were four, hence the four Igbo markets days which somehow corresponds with the four cardinal points. The four market days are:

  1. Eke
  2. Orie
  3. Afor
  4. Nkwo

These four market days make up one week(Izu) in the Iguafo Igbo, in turn, the seven weeks make one month(Onwa). While there are four days, they come in alternate cycles of “major” and “minor”, giving a longer eight-day cycle.

During the earlier days, children were named after the weekdays they were born on, names like Mgbeke, Mgborie, Nwankwo etc were very common.

An example of a month: Ọnwa Mbụ

Eke Orie Afọ Nkwọ
1 2
3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26
27 28

In the Iguafo system, a month has 28 days, with 13 months in a year. In the last month of the year, a day is added. For each month in the Igbo calendar, there is a representation or significance in the Igbo cultural or religious life.

No. Months (Ọnwa) Gregorian equivalent
1 Ọnwa Mbụ (February–March)
2 Ọnwa Abụo (March–April)
3 Ọnwa Ife Eke (April–May)
4 Ọnwa Anọ (May–June)
5 Ọnwa Agwụ (June–July)
6 Ọnwa Ifejiọkụ (July–August)
7 Ọnwa Alọm Chi (August to early September)
8 Ọnwa Ilo Mmụọ (Late September)
9 Ọnwa Ana (October)
10 Ọnwa Okike (Early November)
11 Ọnwa Ajana (Late November)
12 Ọnwa Ede Ajana (Late November to December)
13 Ọnwa Ụzọ Alụsị (January to early February

Bride Price In Igboland X-Rayed, State By State

Months and significance

The months below are in line with the Nri-Igbo calendar which may differ from other Igbo calendars in meaning, ceremonies, and significance across various communities.

Ọnwa Mbụ

The Igbo new year officially starts from the third week of February which is the first month in Iguafo Igbo. The Nri-Igbo calendar year corresponding to the Gregorian year of 2012 was initially slated, to begin with the annual year-counting festival known as Igu Aro on February 18 (an Nkwọ day on the third week of February), but was postponed to March 10 due to local government elections in Anambra State where the Nri kingdom is located. The Igu Aro festival which was held in March marked the lunar year as the 1013th recorded year of the Nri calendar.

Ọnwa Abụo

This is a month in Igbo land devoted to cleaning and farming

Ọnwa Ife Eke

It is known as the Ugani period meaning ‘hunger period’ among Igbo people, it is a fasting period in reverence to the goddess Ani. it is marked by wrestling in some communities.

Ọnwa Anọ

This is one of the most important months, this is when the planting of yam seeds starts which is considered the king of crops in Igboland. It is also the month for the Ekeleke dance festival which dwells on the sustenance of belief in the gods and optimism.

Ọnwa Agwu

The month is named after Alusi Agwu, therefore the month is dedicated to worshipping the Alusi by its followers. Onwa Agwu is also the traditional start of the year, at this time adult masquerades like Igochi na mmanwu comes out.

Ọnwa Ifejiọkụ

This is a major month in the Igbo calendar, it is the month when rituals for the New Yam Festival are performed. Onwa Ifejioku is dedicated to the yam deities Ifejioku and Njoku Ji. 

Ọnwa Alọm Chi

This is the month that yams are harvested and also a month dedicated to women. It is a month of prayer and meditation for the womenfolk and reconnecting with the ancestors. 

The month is named after Alom Chi, a shrine that a woman builds in honor of her ancestors. Onwa Alom Chi is dedicated to paying reverence to womanhood.

Ọnwa Ilo Mmụọ

It is a month for the festival of Onwa Asato(Eight-Month)

Ọnwa Ana

Just as the name goes, this month is dedicated to the Igbo earth goddess ‘Ana’ or ‘Ala’. In this month, rituals are commenced in honor of her.

Ọnwa Okike

Okike ritual takes place this month.

Ọnwa Ajana

Okike ritual continues into this month.

Ọnwa Ede Ajana

Ritual Ends

Ọnwa Ụzọ Alụsị

This is a month of offering to the Alusi for thanksgiving and other needs.

The significance of each month shows that the Igbo calendar is not just for tracking time rather it connotes spiritual implication. The sacredness of the Igbo calendar made it imperative that the traditional timekeepers be the priests or Dibia.

It is important to note that the calendar is neither universal nor synchronized, so various groups will be at different stages of the week or even year. However, the four-eight day cycle serves to synchronize the inter-village market days, and substantial parts (for example the Kingdom of Nri) do share the same year-start.

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