Every society has a way that they relate to time and season. And before we start talking about Igbo calendar let us see how Igbo see life. It will help us to understand what a calendar is. The Igbo believe that we are both hundred percent human and spirit (okara mmadu and okara mmuo). By having this understanding we know that we are living in a world that has two worlds-physical and spiritual.
The Igbo man has tried as much as he can to coordinate the two worlds by living in one and operating in the other. This is where our culture, spirituality and tradition are interwoven. The Igbo setting or structure has everything to do with his spiritual belief which includes his calculation about the time-days and months in the full year.
The Igbo months:
The Igbo months starts with seven weeks (Izu asa). Izu means ihe zurueze (something that is complete). An Izu is four market days which has been divided by two and by four. This is the reason anything that is 4 in Igbo cosmology represents something that is complete. So when a kola is broken and it turns into four pieces, it is good to be eaten and if it is less than four it is good for people with certain position or the spirits.
The Igbo believe in Izu (week). It takes four market days to complete an Izu. It takes seven Izu (weeks) to complete a month (ie onwa). It takes 13 complete moon circles to make a year whereas in the Gregorian calendar it takes 12 months. Our counting differs from theirs because of the way we do. We understand the moon and starts counting the day the black moon shows up and the day it will go and it is given few days to circulate and start all over again.
The first month is called onwa mbu (first month) and the first month is when we have left the old month and entering the new year and a new year with expectations and full preparation. After the first month come the second month. Mind you each of these months is 28 days except the 13 month which is 29 days.
The onwa mbu and onwa abuo are very significant. The third month is a special month which ushers us into the preparation for farming. It allows us prepare the fruits that we will plant for the harvest later. Let me come back to our onwa mbu. Our onwa mbu usually comes when the first rain drops after a long period of dryness and which is usually early around second week of February or third week following the white man’s counting.
It is the appearance of the black moon and the first drop of the rain that determines when the New Year begins. I want us to note this. Igbo do not count something according to dates like white man would say for eg 5th December. What they look at is the season. They may tell you that the first Izu in this month may be the afo of that first izu (the date can change) is the actual date. That of this year falls on the 14th of February or 15th.
It may change a little next year not varying markedly. Igbo celebrate season and not just one day. That is in the selection of age grade it is done with just two years separating one age grade from another. They do not all need to be in the same year. The Igbo know that a man you gave two years is almost your age mate. They calculate not only physically but also spiritually.
Now, we have this month called onwa ife eke. We move from onwa ife eke to onwa ano (fourth month) and then to onwa agwu which is the onwa ise (5th month). Once something is ise, it means that it is complete and it has been sealed and stamped and this is why the Igbo after praying with the Ofo they will say isee, meaning it is sealed with authority. Agwu is a confirmation of progress and advancement.
When they say onwa agwu, it is the 5th month meaning that whatever that has been planted has been confirmed. After onwa agwu we have the onwa ife Ajoku which is the sixth month. Mind you that there is symbolism in 3. Three means Ikenga and now we are having two Ikenga’s, the third month which is the first Ikenga and the sixth month which is the second Ikenga.
The Igbo knows what they are doing and it goes with numbers. We are talking about harvest time but the harvest begins towards the ending, which is ending of Ife Ajoku. After Ife Ajoku we have onwa Alomchi (seventh month). It is this month that you commit whatever that is planted into the hands of your Chi and other deities for fruitful harvest before we start celebrating the harvest in onwa ilo mmuo (eight month). Ilo mmuo is the period we usually celebrate yam festival.
After this we have onwa ala or ani, (the ninth month), the land which gave effect to the products. This is the 3rd Ikenga. It takes us to another special month which is onwa okike (tenth month) which we mentioned in ife eke. Now what is okike? Okike is now telling us about the need to create a peaceful atmosphere before heading to the eleventh called onwa aja ala-the land is still being celebrated.
After this we enter onwa ede aja ala (twelfth month). Again, we move on to the onwa uzo alu ose, here preparation is made in the last month. Remember we said that every month runs 28th days except onwa uzo alukwusi that runs 29 days in a year and the reason is that the last days is between the two years, the outgoing and the incoming year.
There are celebrations in the months before getting to the 13 month which is single and on its own and that is why no sacrifices are done on that month until the first month of the new year. No celebration is done on the 13th month which is a month of sober reflection. The twelfth month is the 4th Ikenga.
Market days and their symbolisms:
In the normal counting of our days the first day of the week is Eke followed by Orie, Afor, Nkwo and Nkwo is usually the last called ezumezu ubochi (completeness of the day). Each of the days is dedicated to the spirits that created them-that is the deity. Eke stands for energy, the Sun, the light, fire. Orie represents water. Ocean, clouds. Afor is dedicated to the mother earth just as Afor means or symbolizes afo (belly of the earth, soil).
We have Nkwo representing the air, wind. The market days has a spirit underlying it. Igbo don’t do things at random and has a meaning attached to every action or according to their spiritual experiences. We were the first on earth to establish everything even the calendar. We had it before the white man came.
Today we are in the uzo alukwusi but the West have celebrated their new year and have gone some days into their new year but we have 7 days to ours.
This is the Igbo calendar which we are supposed to understand. This year’s Igbo New Year coincided with the so called Valentine celebration of the church. We should all know and observe the Igbo calendar just like we do the white man’s own.
There are many celebrations that characterize our calendar but the most popular is the new yam festival. The masquerade dances occur at certain periods in the calendar. It is good for us as Igbo to embrace our culture. We count our day not same way like the white man who counts in hours, minutes, 24 hours, but ours is simple.
Counting hours in the day:
In the morning, there is the period the diochi (palm wine tapper) is on duty which falls very early in the morning, from the hours of 3.30 -6.30 am. Then there is the breakfast (igba azi) which falls from 6.30am up to the hours of 12pm. Then there is the uju period, from the hours of 12pm-2.30pm. Oge ehihe (afternoon) takes over from 2.30 pm -4.30 pm when the Sun has gone down before we enter the night. We count only day, and not night and day. Once it is six o’clock for eg on an Eke day we have entered another day, we are no longer in Eke.