Igbo parties and what they say about your social status
There is no doubt about it: Igbo people know how to party! No matter the reason for a gathering, an Igbo celebration is always fun. You get to dress up, meet with friends, drink, eat and dance together.
But not everyone is given the same treatment when attending an event. It seems the higher your social status, the more privileges you are given during an occasion.
But what indicators show that you are highly recognized within the Igbo community? I have put together some points that show that you are highly appreciated within your community when attending an occasion:
#1 You are invited
This might sound strange, but in Igbo culture, it is quite common for people to attend an event, even if they are not invited. Therefore, getting a printed invitation is not for everyone.
But beyond receiving a physical invitation, there are two more things that show that you are a special guest: If the host consults you in advance about when to fix the date of the celebration, just to make sure you will attend and/or if he personally delivers the invitation with a bottle of hot drink. Then, you are really the VIP of the party.
#2 You can park close to the event location
I do not know how it is in the bigger cities, but parking space is scarce whenever there is an event in Isuofia. Therefore, parking spaces close to the location are reserved for special guests only. So if security people allow you to park close by, you know that you are highly appreciated.
Because everybody else has to find a space on their own, even if it means parking far away and trekking under the hot sun to get to the party.
#3 You are announced by the MC upon entering a venue
There is no big Igbo party without an MC (Master of Ceremony). He* will entertain the guests during the music breaks, guide them through the ceremony, and introduce special guests that join the party over the microphone.
So do not be surprised if your name is announced upon entering the gate. It is just a way of showing appreciation (and also an opportunity for the MC to make some extra cash, as you are expected to drop some notes for his service when leaving).
* I have personally never seen a woman being the MC of an event, but this could obviously also be a “she.”
# 4 You are sitting in the VIP section
Even though they might look different, VIP sections are often part of bigger events. They are usually set up in a separate tent with fans or air conditioning and come with waiters who serve drinks and food.
And if there is no separate tent, there are still different classes of seats. There are, for example, those soft, plastic chairs without armrests that can only carry a heavy-weight person when used double. These are usually set up further away from the main happening or right next to the generator.
There are stronger, more wide chairs with armrests for the more prestigious guests, set up under canopies.
PS: The first time I entered a VIP tent at a burial, I felt like coming to downtown Gouanghzou (at least the way I would imagine it). The chairs, the lamps, the tables, everything was made in China - even the toothpicks). But nobody seemed to care much about it. What mattered was that they were sitting inside a tent with air conditioning, fans, and waiters who would serve drinks and food as much as one's heart desired.
#5 Ndi Ogene play for you
Whenever there is a group of Ogene players at an event, you can easily tell who is rich or well respected. Though the group will be making rounds performing for all guests, they will usually perform longer for those that are respected because chances are high that they will get more money from them.
#6 You are served palm wine
Countless variants of beer, schnaps, and red wine are available in South-Eastern Nigeria. But no drink is valued more than freshly tapped palm wine. It is of high social and cultural value but has become increasingly expensive as urbanization has reduced production. So instead of being the standard drink to serve at events, “Nkwu enu” is mostly reserved for special guests.
Alternatively, hot drinks or foreign wine can be served to show appreciation to VIP guests.
# 7 You are drinking bottled water
Sachet water (so-called “pure water”) is usually seen as less trustworthy than bottled water. Even though I do not agree with that assumption (I drink Rock-Tama sachet water anytime I am in Isuofia), valued guests are usually served water in bottles rather than sachets during events.
#8 You are served more than one piece of meat
If you are served food without meat (or fish), you are probably not attending an Igbo party. “A meal without meat is not a meal” - at least, that is what I think most Igbos would say. Even though I do know one Igbo vegetarian, he definitely is a big exception.
But meat is expensive. So while most visitors will get one or at highest two pieces of meat, a special guest can easily be served a full plate of meat on the side.
# 9 You get the most expensive souvenir
It is common for guests to carry home a gift or a souvenir from an Igbo event. This can be anything from a customized plate to a tray or an umbrella.
Usually, the more respected you are, the bigger the souvenir you get, as it is a way for the host to thank you for your contribution to the event.
I know this "classification" of guests might seem pretty unfair to a foreigner, but while writing this article, I realized that in Switzerland, for example, we are even worse.
At our parties, not everybody is welcome! We make our events so exclusive that only those with an invitation are allowed to join. We do not even bother about the non-VIPs!
So looking at it from this perspective, I think that at least in Ala Igbo, everybody can join and have a good time!
Last but not least
I decided always to end my blog posts with an Igbo proverb or quote and a song (not necessarily Igbo) that speaks to my heart. Feel free to share your favorite proverbs or a song you are currently listening to!
Igbo quote of the week: "Onye wetere oji wetere ndu" - He who brings kola nut, brings life.
My song this week: Flavour, Phyno - Doings
This blog is neither scientific research nor a social study; rather, it is written with much appreciation for the Igbo culture, from the subjective perspective of the author, based on personal experience. Generalizations are to be read with care, as no truth is true for everyone. And most importantly, this blog is to be read with a smile and a pinch of salt (or pepper in this context).