Osu Caste System: All Your Questions Answered

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The Osu Caste system brought slavery
Silhouette human hands raising and broken chains at night background

The Osu caste system in Nigeria is an ancient and obnoxious system that doesn’t seem to go away fully even with the introduction of modernization, Christianity, human right education, and civilization. It has treated human beings that have the same blood running through their veins as outcasts.

In this piece, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the Osu caste system

1. How did the system start?

In Igbo tradition, there are two classes of people- we have the Nwadiala which literally translates to the ‘free born’ or sons of the soil, and the Osu which means outcasts, slaves, or strangers

It all started when people worshipped a deity that made laws that the people must abide by, if they want to be happy in their land. An Osu is anyone who went contrary to these laws. Some were given as slaves. Others were used as human sacrifices during festivals.

The Osu system was also fed by ostracization, because anybody that refused to obey laws were immediately banished.

2. Effects of the Osu caste system:

This led to lots of discrimination that is still ongoing, even till today. They weren’t allowed to interact with free people.
These people lives in abandoned buildings and shrines because of their status.

Osus were not allowed to carry out rituals (such as breaking kola) in the community, because people were scared that they would bring disgrace.

A lot of people meted out unfair punishment to Osus as follows:

Parents drugging and poisoning their children for fear that they would bring bad luck to them, membership dismissal in social clubs, obstruction of marriage ceremonies, banishment, expulsion, and denial or removal of chieftaincy titles.

This unfair and inhumane treatment led to the relocation of so many Osus to other countries, abort marriages, and commit various crimes against humanity.

What are the consequences of this system?

3. Consequences of this system

People enslaved by the Osu caste system faced the following:

a. Stigmatisation:

These people faced constant stigmatisation and discrimination from their own.

b. Emotional and verbal abuse:

These people were emotionally and verbally abused. Many children lost their self-esteem and pride, because they were suffering from something they didn’t commit.

c. Marriage obstruction:

The Osu caste system came in the way of many love relationships that could have resulted in healthy marriages. Many of them fled the villages because they couldn’t face the rejection and handle the pain.

d. Slavery:

Their father’s land enslaved them and forced them to work unfairly.

e. Death:

A lot of them died during sacrifices and ritual rites because of this status.

4. Responses to this unfair system

Lots of human right experts claim that these people have been denied of their freedom from discrimination.

A lot of Igbo communities have abolished the rule since 1952. Igbo legislators in the Enugu House of Assembly dismissed the common practice of the Osu Caste System and meted out punishments for people who still treat others based on it for instance.

Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe is one of the traditional rulers fighting for the abolishment of the Osu culture. He is the current Obi of Onitsha.

Abolishment will restore human dignity, conflict, fights, promote dialogue and inter-relationships, and bring peace.

Do you have other experiences about the Osu caste system that you wish to share? Please well to leave a comment below.

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