Religious Studies Project Topics

Christians’ Perceptions of the Subtle Practice of OSU Caste System Among Igbos in South-East Nigeria Chapter One

Christians' Perceptions on the Subtle Practice of OSU Caste System Among Igbos in South-East East Nigeria

Christians’ Perceptions of the Subtle Practice of OSU Caste System Among Igbos in South-East Nigeria

Chapter One

Aim and objectives of the study

The main aim of this study is to examine the Christians perceptions on the subtle practice of Osu caste system among Igbos in South East Nigeria.

The following are the specific objectives of the study:

  1. To examine the historical foundation of Osu-Caste System in South East, Nigeria.
  2. To examine the socio-economic implications of the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government.
  3. To examine the political implications of the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government.
  4. It will also clarify the ambiguous notions and conceptions about the Osu and the cause of the present day subjugation and discrimination against the people who are known as Osu.
  5. To access the Christian views the subtle practice of Osu caste system among Igbos in South East Nigeria.


Literature Review

In as much as the literary or academic works on the Osu-Caste System in Igbo Land are much available, the research work has no specific textbook on the Osu-Caste System in Contemporary Isu Local Government and its contemporary implications. As a result of the dearth of documentation on the aforementioned, most information were based on oral information. However, various materials were reviewed and they provided a general knowledge on the subject of discourse and the necessary information needed for the successful completion of this work, among them is a well-known book on Osu’s study. Igwebuike Romeo Okeke, The ‘Osu’ Concept in Igbo Land: A Study of the Types of Slavery in Igbo-Speaking Area of Nigeria. I.R. Okeke in this book examined the origin and historical background of Osu-Caste System in Igbo land. According to him, the Osus are slaves that have been dedicated to the services of the dedicators deity, whose descendants are also Osu, be the dedicator and individual, extended family or a lineage. Furthermore, he claimed that the concept of Osu is as old as the creation of Igbo race and could only be associated with antiquity.7 The genesis of the Osu institution could therefore be traced back to man’s primitive political evolution when cannibalism, suppression and terrorism were common phenomena in the society.

Rev. G.T. Basden made a similar assertion in his book Among the Igbos of Southern Nigeria. According to him “an Osu is a slave, but one distinct from an ordinary slave who in fact is the property of the god and when devoted to a god, he has no prospect of regaining freedom and he restricts his movements to the vicinity of shrine to which he was attached.”8 What the above assertion simply connotes is that an Osu is nothing but a property of a particular god or gods. It is said that in the early days in Igbo land a particular community will go to a very far land and get a small boy or girl either by buying or kidnapping, after which, they will dedicate the child to a particular deity for the atonement of their sin. There, the slave (Osu) will take the responsibility of taking care of the shrine, performing other functions like running errands for the deity and the chief priest and so forth.

In the words of Jude C. Mgbobukwa in his book titled Alusi Osu and Ohu in Igbo Religious and Social Life. “In Igbo traditional religion, Osu is seen as an accused human being sacrificed to a deity. In the prayer of consecration, he is made to be the absorber of the iniquities, weakness, and problems of the people. He is also made to take on himself the death of the freeborn. Hence the Osu could well be said to be the redeemer of the freeborn.”9

The novel Things Fall Apart written by Chinua Achebe explains that the Osu is a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart as a taboo forever and his children after him. He could neither marry nor be married by a freeborn. An Osu could not attend an assembly of the freeborn and they in turn could not shelter under his roof.10 The work, though not on Isu Local Government will be useful in stating the restrictions of an Osu in Igbo land which South East, Nigeria is part of.

A History of Igbo People by Elizabeth Isiechei shows the status of the Osu before the nineteenth century. According to her, the Osu were originally regarded with respect and honor. In the nineteenth century, their number expanded and their status deteriorated drastically, so they became outcastes, feared and despised.11 The work will be of immense value especially in her examination of the Osu before and after the fall of Nri civilization in Igbo Land.

Victor Dike, in The Osu System in Igbo Land, defines Osu as a people sacrificed to the gods in Igbo community. They assist the high priest of the traditional religion to serve deities of the gods in their shrines.12 For Dike, the Osu-Caste System is a societal institution borne out of a primitive traditional belief system colored by superstition and propagated by ignorance. This work, though not on Isu Local Government, offers insight into the role of an Osu in the Igbo community which Isu is a part.

According to the Osu Bill written by T.O. Elias, S.N. Nwabar, and C.O.

Akpangbo which came under the title ‘Law of Eastern Nigeria’, “an Osu is more or less like the untouchables of India and probable in worse position. Osu was regarded as a degraded human being not fit for the companionship and association of decent and reputable men and women in the society, an outcaste fits only to be sacrificed to the propitiation of the gods. An Osu initially was as it were, an animal sacrificed to a local deity or idol.13

Furthermore, Igwebuike quoting Rev. Arazu in his book The Osu Concept in Igbo Land see the Osu as “a living sacrifice, something or someone totally dedicated to divinity, only natural dead can terminate its existence on this side of reality.”14 What Arazu meant in this view is that whenever one becomes an Osu he/she will forever live as an Osu. Put differently, there is no means of changing an Osu to a freeborn.

Also Mesembe Edet in his work title Outline of Oriental Philosophy, said thus “among the Igbo of Nigeria, some customs distinguished between ‘the son of the soil or freeborn’ and the ‘Osu’. The Osu does not enjoy the same right which the other members of the community who are recognized as freeborn or true sons and daughters of the land do enjoy. The Osu is an Out-Caste just like the outcaste of the Hindu society, they are discriminated against. Marriage to an Osu is a taboo and like the Hindu system, one cannot change his Osu status.”15 The above words of Edet tried to show some of the social implication inherent in the Osu-Caste System which is tantamount to that of the Hindu or Indian Caste System.

Other literature includes, an article in “The Leader Newspaper, Sunday November 20th, 2016, title The Osu-Caste System: The Unfortunate Apartheid in Igbo Land by Izuazu Eugene C.16, Osu-Caste in Igbo Land an article in “Vanguard Newspaper, Monday 25th October, 2010 by Tony Uchenna17, and Information of Current Treatment of Osu-Caste by the Igbo Tribe; Nigeria-Research and Compiled by The Refugee Documentation Center of Ireland on 26th and 27th September, 2012.18 Johnson Iberim and 9 Others of Nkwerre Isu Clan, “Intelligent Report on a Partition

Applying for an Enquiry into the Status of the Osu Community, Okigwi District”.19 These literatures while noting that the 1958 Osu Abolition Law legally abolished they system, work-and-descent based discrimination, remains concerned about persistent allegations that members of the Osu still subjected to social exclusion, segregation and mistreatment, as well as discrimination in employment and marriage.



Research Methodology

In the process of carry out this work, the researcher made use of different methodological approaches ranging from:

Primary Source:

Primary sources which were utilized in the course of the research were conducted oral interviews and archives materials. Oral interviews were conducted with experienced individuals which includes traditional ruler, and elders of Isu Local Government. Also, National Archives Enugu was visited in other to get materials on the topic and place of study.

Secondary Sources (Written Sources):

The secondary sources which were consulted in the course of this research are basically books, articles, journals and paper. This information that were obtained help to provide historical analysis of the topic.

Tertiary Sources (Written Sources):

The tertiary sources which were also consulted in the course of this research were basically reference sources such as dictionary and others. This information that were obtained help to provide meanings and contemporary implication among young persons.


  • Francis Onwubauriri, “Appraising the Osu-Caste System in Igbo Land within the Context of Complementary Reflection”, African Philosophy and General Issues in Philosophy, November 14, 2007, retrieve from on 5 January, 2017 p.3.
  • T. Basden, Among the Igbos of Southern Nigeria. London: Frank and Cass, 1996, p.250.
  • Nwachukwu, J.O. “The Osu Caste System” In Sunday Time.March 10, 1985.
  • C. Uchendu, The Igbos of the Southern Nigeria. New York: Holt Rinechart and Winston, 1956, p.13.
  • Nwachukwu, J.O. “The Osu Caste System”.
  • C. Amens, Laws of Eastern Nigeria, section 6, 1963 Vol.1. (Enugu: Government Press), 1964.
  • Igwebuike Romeo Okeke, The ‘Osu’ Concept in Igbo Land: A Study of the Types of Slavery in Igbo-Speaking Areas of Nigeria. Eungu: Access Publishing Limited, 1986, p.8-9.
  • T. Basden, Among the Igbos of Southern Nigeria, p.252.
  • Jude .C. Mgbobukwa, Alusi Osu and Ohu in Igbo Religious and Social Life. Nsukka: Fulludu Publishing Company, 1996, p.6.
  • Achebe, Things Fall Apart. London: Doubbleday, 1959, p.158.
  • Isichei, A History of the Igbo People. London and Basingstoke: The Macmillian Press. Ltd, 1975, p.47.
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