The Igbo calendar (Igbo: Ògụ́àfọ̀ Ị̀gbò) is the traditional calendar system of the Igbo people which has 13 months in a year (afo), 7 weeks in a month (onwa), and 4 days of Igbo market days (afor,nkwo,eke and orie) in a week (izu) plus an extra day at the end of the year, in the last month. The name of these months was reported by Onwuejeogwu (1981).

Such a calendar was presented by Onasanya (2009) in his The Urgency of Now!: Building a True Nigerian Nation. Many parts of this calendar are named for or dedicated to certain spirits (Igbo: Mmuo) and deities (Igbo: Alusi) in Igbo mythology. Some of the spirits and deities were believed to have given the Igbo people knowledge of time. The days, also known as market day, also correspond to the four cardinal points, north, south, east, west.

Although worship and spirit honoring was a very big part in the creation and development of the Igbo calendar system, commerce also played a major role in creating the Igbo calendar. This was emphasized in Igbo mythology itself. An example of this is the Igbo market days of which each community has a day assigned to open its markets, this way the Igbo calendar is still in use.

Some Igbo communities have tried to adjust the thirteen month calendar to twelve months, in line with the Gregorian calendar.

The calendar is neither universal nor synchronized, so various groups will be at different stages of the week, or even year. Nonetheless the four-eight day cycle serves to synchronize the inter-village market days, and substantial parts (for example the Kingdom of Nri) do share the same year-start.

Market Days

Igbos generally have four market days, namely: eke, orie, afor and nkwo. The market days according to the Igbo calendar follow each other sequentially as shown below:

  1. Eke
  2. Orie
  3. Afor
  4. Nkwo

In various parts of Igboland, each community has a market named after the aforementioned four market days, e.g., Eke market, Afor market.

System

In the traditional Igbo calendar a week (Igbo: Izu) has 4 days (Igbo: Ubochi) (Eke, Orie, Afọ, Nkwọ), seven weeks make one month (Igbo: Ọnwa), a month has 28 days and there are 13 months a year. In the last month, an extra day is added. The traditional time keepers in Igboland are the priests or Dibia.

No.Months (Ọnwa)Gregorian equivalent
1Ọnwa Mbụ(February–March)
2Ọnwa Abụo(March–April)
3Ọnwa Ife Eke(April–May)
4Ọnwa Anọ(May–June)
5Ọnwa Agwụ(June–July)
6Ọnwa Ifejiọkụ(July–August)
7Ọnwa Alọm Chi(August to early September)
8Ọnwa Ilo Mmụọ(Late September)
9Ọnwa Ana(October)
10Ọnwa Okike(Early November)
11Ọnwa Ajana(Late November)
12Ọnwa Ede Ajana(Late November to December)
13Ọnwa Ụzọ Alụsị(January to early February)

The names of the days have their roots in the mythology of the Kingdom of Nri. Eri, the sky-descended founder of the Nri kingdom, had gone on to break the mystery of time and on his journey he had saluted and counted the four days by the names of the spirits that governed them, hence the names of the spirits eke, orie, afọ and nkwọ became those of the days of the week. The days also correspond to the four cardinal points, Afọ corresponds to north, Nkwọ to south, Eke to east, and Orie to west. These spirits, who were fishmongers, were sent down by Chukwu (Great God) in order to establish markets throughout Igboland which they did by selling fish.

While there are four days, they come in alternate cycles of "major" and "minor", giving a longer eight day cycle.[4]

An example of a month: Ọnwa Mbụ

EkeOrieAfọNkwọ
12
3456
78910
11121314
15161718
19202122
23242526
2728

Use

The Igbo calendar is not universal, and is described as "not something written down and followed ... rather it is observed in the mind of the people."

Naming after dates

Newborn babies are sometimes named after the day they were born on, though this is no longer commonly used. Names such as Mgbeke (maiden [born] on the day of Eke), Mgborie (maiden [born] on the Orie day) and so on were common among the Igbo people. For males Mgbo is replaced by Oko (Igbo: Male child [of]) or Nwa (Igbo: Child [of]). An example of this is Nwankwo Kanu, a popular footballer.[5]


Months and meanings

The following months are in reference to the Nri-Igbo calendar of the Nri kingdom which may differ from other Igbo calendars in terms of naming, rituals, and ceremonies surrounding the months.

Ọnwa Mbụ

The first month starts from the third week of February making it the Igbo new year. The Nri-Igbo calendar year corresponding to the Gregorian year of 2012 was initially slated to begin with the annual year-counting festival known as Igu Aro on February 18 (an Nkwọ day on the third week of February), but was postponed to March 10 due to local government elections in Anambra State where the Nri kingdom is located. The Igu Aro festival which was held in March marked the lunar year as the 1013th recorded year of the Nri calendar.[6]

Ọnwa Abụo

This month is dedicated to cleaning and farming.

Ọnwa Ife Eke

Is described as the hunger period. It is the period in which all must starve in sacrificial harmony to the goddess Ani of the Earth.

Ọnwa Anọ

Ọnwa Anọ is when the planting of seed yams start.

Ọnwa Agwụ

Ịgọchi na mmanwụ come out in this month which are adult masquerades. Ọnwa Agwu is the traditional start of the year. The Alusi Agwu, of which the month is named after is venerated by the Dibia (priests), of which Agwu is specifically worshipped by, in this month.

Ọnwa Ifejiọkụ

This month is dedicated to the yam deity ifejioku and Njoku Ji and yam rituals are performed in this month for the New Yam Festival.

Ọnwa Alọm Chi

This month sees the harvesting of the yam.

Ọnwa Ilo Mmụọ

A festival called Önwa Asatọ (Igbo: Eighth Month) is held in this month.

Ọnwa Ana

Ana (or Ala) is the Igbo earth goddess and rituals for this deity commence in this month, hence it is named after her.

Ọnwa Okike

Okike ritual takes place in this month.

Ọnwa Ajana

Okike ritual also takes place in Ọnwa Ajana.

Ọnwa Ede Ajana

Ritual Ends

Ọnwa Ụzọ Alụsị

The last month sees the offering to the Alusi.

Festivals

Two major festivals are the new year festival (Igu Aro), due around 18 February, the planting season when the king, the Eze Nri in the Nri area, tells the Igbo to go and sow their seed after the next rainfall, and the Harvest festival (Emume Ọnwa-asatọ) in the eighth month.

The Nri-Igbo yearly counting festival known as Igu Aro marked 10 March 2012 as the beginning of the 1013th year of the Nri calendar. The festival was delayed due to other events.

Imöka is celebrated on the 20th day of the second month.