1999s: The Omu of Okpanam, whose name was not recorded, photographed by Northcote Thomas in 1912
The Omu of Okpanam, whose name was not recorded, photographed by Northcote Thomas in 1912. Okpanam is an Enuani Igbo town near Ahaba (Asaba) in Delta State, Nigeria today.
The Omu [awe-mu] are titled women who control markets and are spiritual protectors to the Obi, the king, in Igbo communities west of the Niger River, typically among the Enuani, and in the past in Onicha (Onitsha) and Osomari on the east bank of the Niger River. There is one Omu in each community with the institution.
The Omu work closely with diviners performing rites for the community and are the authorities over the opening of markets and resolving disputes within the market. The Omu depending on the community and period take titles typically reserved for men and also dress like men, as a consequence women who are post-menopausal are preferred for the role because such women in Igbo society could achieve the same status as men. As is custom in most communities, the Omu was not allowed to be married to a man, Omu were known to marry wives to assist them and have children for them.
Colonialism greatly reduced the power of the Omu in the market and over society in general due to gender bias in the indirect rule system, colonialism was also partly the cause of the disappearance of the institution in some Igbo communities. Today there are many Omu who are still active in their roles.Join our Conversation forums