Why Anambra’s move to abolish the Osu caste system is a big deal

Anambra state has set December 28, 2018 to abolish the Osu caste system. The Osu is an age-long caste system that considers a certain sect of people in Igbo land as outcasts or slaves and many generations down-the-line still carry this stigma.

In ancient Igboland, some families were considered to be set aside for the deities of the land (alusi), by the forefathers, for human sacrifice required to cleanse the land of abominations. In those days, such families lived were considered outcasts or slaves, who were discriminated against and not accepted by the mainstream of society. They lived on the outskirts of town and were often linked to slave trade and telling features of dreadlocks, which signified what they were in society. These people were considered Osu.

Prevalent in Anambra, Imo and some areas in Ebonyi states, the Osu caste system discriminates against these families and their many descendants. The Osu are considered as “inferior”, as opposed to others who are considered “freeborn” or “Nwadiala”.

Though Christianity is the predominant religion for the Igbos, many still considered it a taboo in Igboland for a slave and descendant of slaves to be offered or taken for marriage by a free-born. Free-born men and women are expected to investigate the origins and social class of an individual to be certain he/she is not an Osu before contracting marriage. Marriage proceedings have been stopped because investigations discovered either family was a descendant of an osu.

Abolishing this caste system

The Nigerian constitution declares every person free and equal before the law. Therefore, all Nigerians are constitutionally entitled to fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom from discrimination.

The move to abolish the discriminatory Osu caste system is not new. In 1956, the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly passed a law abolishing it, but it was never implemented. Despite grand efforts such as this, it would take a more granular approach and intensified cultural reforms to actually bring the Osu caste system to a permanent halt.

Which is what we have been seeing recently.

According to the Vanguard, the caste system was abolished in Irete in Owerri, Imo State earlier in July.

During the 1019th celebration of the New Yam Festival of Nri Kingdom in September, the Eze Nri Enweleana II, Obidiegwu Onyesoh, also declared the caste system abolished in his community. He set December 28, 2018 as the date for the complete phasing out of the controversial tradition, and urged other major Igbo traditional rulers, to join to phase it out in their various communities.

Now, the Anambra state government has also adopted the date and backed the move to abolish the system completely. In a statement made by the President of Celibacy International Initiative, announcing that the abolition would take place at the Nri Palace in Anambra State on the set date, it was stated that there would be far-reaching consequences for those wishing to continue the obnoxious practise after the symbolic exercise.

This should be an immense thing of joy for those who have experienced any form of discrimination based on the archaic custom.


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