Osu – The Caste System in Igbo Land


I listened to an interactive programme on the radio (102.3FM-Continental Radio) sometime ago, and the discussion was about the prevalent caste system in the south eastern part of Nigeria. It was quite interesting and the various contributions from both the audience and the invited guests made it so. From what each contributor said, the Osu people were dedicated to the gods – for their service. Contrary to negative perceptions concerning this special set of people, I learnt that they were the first set of people to be educated when the missionary people came to the South Eastern part of the country.

According to the history persona, it was quite easy to become an Osu. For instance, if an individual was trying to escape from an adversary, by swearing an allegiance to the society, such a person becomes an Osu. It was also interesting to know that due to the special duties being carried out by the Osus’, they were rewarded with choice lands, property and other valuables. They also had their own schools, markets and other social amenities. It was also interesting to note that only the fairest and the brightest people were members of this special community. I understand that within the South Eastern part of the country, they’re the most prolific and eminent individuals. So, I wonder where all the negative connotations started from.

Why would parents threaten to disown their children for marrying an Osu, who obviously has an illustrious pedigree? Why the unnecessary discrimination? I don’t know all the answers, but I’m of the opinion that this kind of abominable discrimination has got to stop.

7 thoughts on “Osu – The Caste System in Igbo Land

  1. Nan says:

    I’ve read about this Osu issue in a magazine, I vaguely remember the details though, but I think it was cited as an example of slavery, and how Africans discriminate against each other. One does wonder, if they were dedicated to the gods and thought highly of in the society, it sounds contradictory to then ban intermarriage with them…. I don’t know either.

    • January says:

      Yeah, sad isn’t it? Definitely, they were dedicated to the gods just like the Indians dedicate their girls to temple gods. It wasn’t meant as a form of discrimination but overtime, a lot of negative perceptions were passed around and came to stay….

  2. toyin says:

    Osu! i’m Yoruba and I’ve been very curious about the Osu people. I put off asking questions from Ibos a while back though after asking a colleague if he was Osu. His reaction was so negative and caustic and scared me silly.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    • January says:

      Hello Toyin, compliments of the season. Most Igbo people who have not bothered to conduct enough historical research on Osu usually have a negative reaction. I can understand your colleague’s reaction. We live in a society that does not encourage asking questions or digging deep on a particular subject of interest. Trust you had a swell time during the christmas and new year break. Wish you a prosperous 2010.

  3. Don Rupert says:

    Call it evolution if you like. The perception of the Osus among the Igbos changed over time because of shifts in social and religious inclination. The major factor is Christianity. With the advent of christian beliefs, many Igbos began to see traditions that were formally cherished as outlandish. The Osu tradition is one of such. You can also check this article on the subject: http://slyfile.blogspot.com/2009/12/osu-caste-system-in-igboland-among.html

    It offers objective analysis.

    • January says:

      Sly, I actually read your article and I was able to identify your write up with some of the things I heard on radio. Glad to know you’re out of prison. Wish you all the very best in life. thanks for stopping by..

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