The Descendants of Slaves in Nigeria Fight for Equality

On a sunny morning in November, 2018, twelve men and two women gathered in a lavishly furnished living room in Oguta, a town in southeastern Nigeria, with the air-conditioning at full blast. They had come to discuss the caste system that persists among the Igbo people in the region. The group’s host, Ignatius Uchechukwu Okororie, a short, sixty-two-year-old retired civil servant, split open a kola nut with his fingernails and ate its flesh; he then passed a metal tray of nuts around the room, for the others to taste. “He who brings kola nut brings life,” he said. The breaking of kola nut, known as iwa oji, is an important Igbo ritual traditionally performed to welcome guests to a gathering. The group in Okororie’s living room were members of a caste called ohu: descendants of slaves who, almost a century ago, were owned by townspeople. They are typically restricted from presiding over such ceremonies. In Okororie’s house, the iwa oji was a small rebellion.

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