Igbo family compound


Visitors enter the 'Life in West Africa' section of the museum through a decorative portal befitting a titled Igbo elder to face one of the highlights of this gallery - the recreation of part of an Igbo family compound.

Igbo domestic architecture

The family unit is still very important in Igbo culture in Africa and this is expressed in the architecture of the compound. In earlier times a titled elder usually had more than one wife, so his compound included several buildings. The most important was the obi, or meeting house. This was the symbolic centre of the compound, where the head of the family kept his personal altars and where he entertained his guests. Other houses were used by the man's wives and children.

The compound was encircled by an earthen boundary wall broken only by an entrance decorated to reflect the wealth and status of its owner.

During important community festivals, or when the family head takes a title, the women paint the compound walls and houses with various designs. The designs are decorative but many also have specific meanings.

The Igbo compound at the International Slavery Museum

Recreation of an Igbo compound in the museum

The recreation of the family compound includes part of a titled man's meeting house (obi) and a woman's house. The meeting house has a decorative wooden door and a carved wooden panel that screens a shrine within. The houses are partially thatched using traditional palm frond panels made in southeast Nigeria.

All of the carved wooden items and furnishings for the compound were made by craftspeople in south eastern Nigeria in 2007. Much of the wall area of the compound is decorated with bold and colourful designs traditionally painted by Igbo women for special occasions.