A Critical Assessment of the Osu Caste System in Igbo Land



1.1 Background of the study

Every period and people throughout human history have had their own troubles, whether natural (earthquakes, floods, etc.) or man-made. Social stratification, discrimination, prejudice, and injustice exist in every society, though they may differ from one to the next. It may manifest itself in a variety of ways, including economic, social, religious, and even political. Individuals, ethnic groups, and countries are all affected. While one group claims superiority over another, some nations claim superiority over another, and it is referred to by various names in various cultures and societies. The caste system is the second system of social stratification in which rank is defined by birth, marriage is limited to members of one’s own caste, and it is a lifetime commitment (Henslin, 2005, Ember et al., 2005). The caste system — the Osu caste system – exists among the Igbo in Nigeria’s south-east zone (Amalu, 2018,). It is said to be as old as Igbo land itself, or as “old as the killing of twin babies, the killing of innocent children for developing first the upper incisor (teeth), the offering of human sacrifices, the problematic ideas of reincarnation, and others which were practiced in the ancient world” (Onwubuariri, 2016). Endogamy is particularly associated with the caste system in Igbo land. According to Beattie (1980). Caste means not only that there are several ‘types’ of individuals, but also that these kinds, which are typically identified by their traditional employment or general origin, are placed in a hierarchical order (Beattie, 1980). Any caste or sub-caste has a specific place on the ladder, with some below it and others above it. In such well-organized civilizations, it is widely believed that each caste or sub-caste should adhere to itself and avoid mingling with other castes, particularly the lower ones. The law of endogamy, which is often (in India) connected with firmly institutionalized conceptions of purity and impurity, aids in maintaining caste separation by expressing the high social value placed on such exclusivity. The osu (outcast) is also a term used to describe people whose parents or themselves were formerly sacrificed as sacrifices to particular shrines and were thereafter considered the property of the gods or ancestor deities represented in the shrines. The osu becomes “virtually hazardous” as a result of their ceremonial status, since physical contact with them entails bodily touch with the powers of the deities who hold them–a risk no man is willing to face. As a result, they are subjected to a number of taboos that must be scrupulously adhered to; no freeborn, for example, cuts an osu’s hair, crosses an osu’s legs, cohabits with an osu, or marries an osu. An osu does not attend gatherings of free men, and even when they are there, they do not have any direct influence over choices.

An osu’s reference group in daily activities, as well as in all of his life achievements, is the community of his fellow osu, not the freeborn; thus, he can marry, choose a wife from an osu community; he can take titles, enjoy the benefits or prestige within the osu community, because no one recognizes the titles outside of it. He isn’t supposed to be in any kind of religious office. In Igbo traditional culture, the exclusion of osu from political position recruitment is therefore plain and unchallenged. An Osu is a man or female consecrated and dedicated to gods in order to satisfy the gods and take away sins, disasters, and ill things that may befall the dedicator, according to Uchendu (1965), Arinze (1978), Obute (1995), and Dike (2002). He is a sacrifice light, as well as a slave or property of the god to whom he is committed. The oru (ohu), a common non-ritual slave, is in a considerably better position than the osu. Of course, circumstances vary from place to place. The oru is the target of several taboos, social exclusion, and one who suffers from a political inferiority complex. Olisa (2002), citing Jones, characterized the oru as an average guy who lacked the support of his relatives. Only a portion of this notion is valid. Some oru were sold by their kinsmen for various reasons, and in this situation, they had truly lost their kinsmen’s support. Many oru, on the other hand, were forcefully taken at first, much to the chagrin of their clan. Both sorts of oru have no relatives in their new status as oru. The important thing to remember about the oru is that he was captured and owned. As the slaves multiply through time and form families, the ownership component melts away, but they still lack land titles and political power.

1.2 Statement of the problem

Since the existence of the Igbo community, the issue of Osu and its associated difficulties have existed (Dike,2002). The issue dates back to the killing of twin babies, the killing of innocent children for the development of the upper incisor (teeth), the offering of human sacrifices, the problematic ideas of reincarnation, and other practices that were once practiced in the ancient Igbo nation and other nations in Nigeria and Africa at large. As a result, the Osu caste structure has evolved over numerous generations. However, since most Igbos see it as an inalienable component of their culture that cannot be readily altered or adjusted, all attempts to remove it have proven futile and illusory. Today, the difficulty created by this system has expanded beyond ordinary social and cultural concerns to include political, economic, and philosophical concerns. According to the complementary point of view, the Igbos are a people who believe in the reciprocal complementary of each individual’s work and aptitude. This may be observed in their aphorism “Agbakota Aka nyuo mmamiri Ogbo ufufu,” which means “the intended aim will be attained if all efforts are brought together.” Igbos also believed in the concept of “Ibu anyi danda,” which essentially means “if everyone joins their efforts, there would be no weight too big for them to lift.” Furthermore, they believe in the mutual oneness of all components that make up the whole or absolute. Thus, their motto “Egbe bere Ugo bere”; and kasomadina: merely demonstrates their belief in the fusion and mutual union of all human beings and their endeavors. Because of its teachings on perceiving certain people as lower, less human, and so on, the Osu caste opposes these ideals, and it becomes a major issue that begs for a sensible solution (Amalu, 2018).

1.3 Objective of the study

The primary objective of the study is as follows

  1. To identify the practices of  Osu caste system
  2. To examine the effect of Osu caste system on citizens civil right.
  3. To ascertain the social implication of Osu caste system
  4. To examine the measures that can be used to ameliorate the Osu caste system
  5. To examine the abolition attempt of the Osu caste system

1.4 Research hypotheses

The following hypothesis have been formulated for the study

H01: Osu caste system does not have any social implications.

H02: Osu caste system does not have  an effect on citizens civil right.

1.5 Research methodology

Research methodology deals with the different ways or methods the researcher applied in order to carry out the research as well as the instrument used for gathering the data.  There are several research methodologies appropriate for answering the research questions. The type of research methodology used in this research to gather data and relevant information is the historical research and the study will adopt descriptive method of data collection. This will involve the collection of materials from primary and secondary sources, such as books, journal articles, magazines, internet sources, interviews, international and national conference proceedings, published and unpublished articles.

1.6 Organization of the study

To achieve the purpose of this research. The study is divided into five inter-connected chapters, ranging from chapter one to five.

In this chapter one the researcher has been able to give an introduction to the work, state the problem that necessitate this study, outline the questions this work seek to answer as well as the objectives it hopes to achieve. The scope and limitations of this study were outlined as well as the methodology that was used for the study.

Chapter two deals with literature review,  practices of  Osu caste system. Chapter three discuss the social implication of Osu caste system. Chapter four delves into the abolition attempt of the Osu caste system, etc. while chapter five deals with the summary, recommendations and conclusion.

1.7 Significance of the study

This study examines  the Osu Caste System in Igbo Land, Nigeria.

The study will be beneficial to the people of igbo origin as it will shed more light to the harm been done to an Osu person and it will also make them see reasons why this archaic tradition should not be allowed to continue.

His study will be of benefit to the academic community as it will contribute to the existing literature on the Osu caste system and also serve as a guide to student who might want to further in the study.

1.8 Scope of the study

This study examines  the Osu Caste System in Igbo Land, Nigeria. The study will also identify the practices of  Osu caste system. The study will further examine the effect of Osu caste system on citizens civil right. More so the study will ascertain the social implication of Osu caste system. Furthermore the study examine the measures that can be used to ameliorate the Osu caste system. Finally, the study will examine the abolition attempt of the Osu caste system. Hence this study will be delimited to Anambra state.

1.9 Limitation of the study

This study was constrained by a number of factors which are as follows:

Just like any other research, ranging from unavailability of needed accurate materials on the topic under study, inability to get data

Financial constraint , was faced by  the researcher ,in getting relevant materials  and  in printing and collation of questionnaires

Time factor: time factor pose another constraint since having to shuttle between writing of the research and also engaging in other academic work making it uneasy for the researcher

1.8       Definition of terms

Osu caste system: an ancient practice in Igboland that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu.


Amalu, N. S., 2018. Indigenous symbols and their communicative implications for conflict management and peace building amongst the Igbo, Nigeria 1900-2016. International Journal of Integrative Humanism. Ghana. 8(1): 107-116.

Arinze, F.A. (1978). Sacrifice in Igbo religion. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.

Beattie, J. (1980). Other cultures: Aims, methods and achievements in social anthropology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Dike, V. (2002). The osu caste system in Igboland: a challenge for Nigerian democracy. Texas: Morris.

Henslin, J., 2005. Sociology: A Down to earth approach. Pearson Publisher, Boston,639pp.

Obute, N. (March 20,1995). The gods are to blame. Newswatch, 15.Olisa, M.S.O. (2002). Igbo traditional socio-political system. In G.E. K. Ofomata (Ed.). Asurvey of the Igbo nation (pp. 218–233). Ibadan: African First.

Onwubuariri, F., 2016. “Appraising the Osu caste system in Igboland within the context of complementary reflection” IGWEBUIKE: An African Journal of Arts and Humanities, 2 (4):54-93.

Uchendu, V.C (1965). The Igbo of southeast Nigeria. London: Holt Rinehart Nigeria and Winston.



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