the igbo, the japanese, shame, justice, and inbreeding

i was thinking about the idea of genetic pacification, specifically via the state or some authority eliminating the most violent individuals from a population (like by execution as frost and harpending propose happened in medieval europe — see also here), and i got to wondering how other societies have meted out justice to violent offenders.

so, like hermione granger, i went to the library (heh! — no, really i just googled it) and found a few interesting things. one of them is that in traditional igbo society, the punishment for murder was left in the hands of the culprit(!) [pg. 285]:

“[T]he Igbo believe that there are both divine and man-made laws, but that the greatest penalties are reserved for breaches of divine law. Thus, a murderer would not be put on trial, because if the evidence were clear and convincing no earthly court could have jurisdiction. Indeed, the penalty prescribed by Igbo tradition is that the murderer is expected to hang himself…. [A]ny Igbo guilty of breaking a divine law would be required to do penance personally to be restored to the good favor of the gods.”

now you might think that leaving enforcement of the death penalty up to the criminal is a really bad idea — and maybe it is — but i was thinking that it might work in a shame culture. an especially strong shame culture. certainly worked in japan (at least among certain classes), which admittedly is the poster child of shame cultures.

couldn’t figure out whether or not igbo society is a shame culture, although most societies lean more toward shame than guilt. however, i do know that igbos — igbo slaves in the new world — had a reputation for committing suicide [pgs. 52-53 and 127-128 – links added by me]:

“Suicide as an ethnic or cultural ‘trait’ is usually associated with Bight of Biafra imports, especially Igbos, in the Americas. As Daniel Littlefield contends, the principle reason why they were among the least desirable of African slave imports was due to the perception among American planters that Igbo or Calabar slaves had ‘a deplorable penchant for committing suicide.’ More recently, Michael Gomez has summarized the historical and contemporary view of Igbos, noting that ‘the sources are therefore unanimous in ascribing to the Igbo greater self-destructive tendencies….’

“Biafran imports were often much cheaper than other Africans. In 1755, Igbo slaves sold in Charleston for only £270 while Africans from other regions cost £300. Henry Laurens — the noted slave merchant of colonial South Carolina — claimed in 1755 that very few Calabar Africans could be sold in the Charleston slave market when others were available. He then recommended the importation of a ‘few fine Negro Men, not Callabars.’ In a letter to Richard Oswald dated May 17, 1756, Laurens also noted that ‘slaves from the River Gambia are preferr’d to all others with us save the Gold Coast, but there must not be a Callabar among them.’

“Much of this prejudice against Igbos and others from the Bight of Biafra was due to their alleged propensity to commit suicide. Guerard complained, ‘As to bite Slaves, I protest against them at any Rate there has been so many instances of their Distroying themselves that none but the Lower sort of People will Medle with them.’ South Carolina planters who did purchase Calabar slaves were advised to buy only ‘young People from 15 to 20’ who were typically ‘not accustom’d to destroy themselves’ like their older compatriots. Based on this assumption, Henry Laurens advised that Bigt of Biafra slaves under the age of fourteen should be the only Africans from that region purchased by Low Country planters. In another assessment by ship captain John Adams, who made ten visits to the Niger River delta between 1786 and 1800, the Ibgo were considered to be ‘naturally timid and desponding, and their despair on being sent on board a ship is often such that they use every stratagem to effect the commission of suicide, and which they would often accomplish, unless narrowly watched.'”

can’t say as i blame them.

the usual explanation offered today for why slaves from the bight so often committed suicide is the belief, widely shared by peoples in west africa, in spiritual transmigration — when you die, you get to go to where your friends and family are — where your living friends and family here on earth still are. so, maybe death was not viewed as a bad solution for a biafran captive who was dragged halfway across the world. in their minds, they’d get to go home. alternatively, maybe they just didn’t want to be slaves. ooorrr…maybe there was an element of shame involved, but that’s pure speculation on my part. would be interesting to find out, though.

no idea if violence is lower among the igbo than other west african groups. need to find out. interesting that they were described as “naturally timid” though.

a further thought i had is that perhaps long-term inbreeding can amplify shame in populations. the japanese used to marry their cousins (although i don’t know how far back that practice went) and they have an extremely strong shame culture. the arabs, too — long-term inbreeders and there’s a lot of shame there, too (family honor, etc.). perhaps shame is a sort-of familial altruism, i guess is what i’m trying to say. dunno. Further Research is Required TM.

in the wake of chanda chisala’s post over at, several people asked me so what about the igbo? are they inbreeders or what?

i haven’t read much about the igbo, but what i do know is that they avoid all cousin marriage. don’t know how far back this goes — whether it’s pre-the introduction of christianity there or not. might be. might not be. they do practice polygamy, though, especially traditionally, which ought to narrow the genetic relatedness between individuals in the population in a way similar to cousin marriage, but…well, more on polygamy another day.

very interestingly, in their traditional society, the igbo had a “quasi-democratic republican system of government” — that’s if wikipedia is to be believed. the igbo also had non-kinship based trading associations or “houses” [pg. 137]:

“In order to exploit the rapidly expanding trade [with the newly arrived europeans] and now having the resources to do so, the delta peoples living in single settlements on the rivers and islands surrounded by protective intricate waterways developed systems of governance for their own city-states. City-states are well known in history, and many have in common a maritime presence. In Europe there were the famous Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. In East Africa there were the coastal Swahili city-states of Mombasa, Malindi, and Kilwa among others. On the coast of West Africa there were the city-states of the Niger Delta whose citizens devised the means to adminster law and order, justice, and to make war and peace in order to promote their commerce. Each delta city-state, like those of the Greeks, had its own distinct methods of governing. Some had kings elected by the heads of wealthy and prominent families — Bonny, New Calabar, and Warri. Others were like small republics, ruled by the members of political organizations not unlike senates — Brass and those on the Cross River in Old Calabar — Creek Town, Henshaw Town, Duke Town, and Obutong. In the city-states of Old Calabar the *ekpe* or Leopard Association of wealthy men, mostly merchants, ruled the town principally to insure the flow of peaceful trade. Anyone was free to join the *ekpe* if they could afford the exorbitant entry fee that insured that those in power represented only the interests of the wealthy merchants. They regulated the terms of trade with the Europeans and made the rules by which the community was governed by its constituent organizations, known as the ‘house system.’

“Traditional African societies were based on the clans and lineages of large families that were not always the most effective means to carry on business. Rather than the family firm, the house was a cooperative commercial trading company run not by kinship but by the ability of the head of the house, his immediate family, and a host of assistants, servants, and even slaves whose status in the company depended on their success in promoting its trade rather than kinship ties or social privilege.”

the ability to form strong, functioning non-kinship based associations like that usually goes along with long-term outbreeding, in my experience.

well, that’s all i’ve got for you for now.

i finally have admitted to myself — and now i will to you, too, dear readers — that i am too unwell at the moment to write my (what will be a lengthy!) response to prof. macdonald or, unfortunately, to work on my promised (threatened!) medieval manorialism series. am having difficulties putting two coherent thoughts together these days. (yeah, yeah — more so than usual! (~_^) ) so, i’ll just have to leave those on the back burner for now and get to them when i can. i’m due to have some medical tests done in the next few weeks, so hopefully after that, i can get myself sorted out and back in working order. in the meantime, i’ll do some more flakey posts like this which just involve me rambling some of my random thoughts.

more soon! (^_^)

previously: quick review of frost and harpending on the genetic pacification of europeans and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. igbo yam festival…in dublin, ireland!)



  1. What a coincidence! I’ve just posted this at Another Blog:

    I had an Igbo (we then said “Ibo”) classmate at university. He eventually went home to take part in the Biafra war. We presumed he was killed: his regular letters to his best friend in the class suddenly stopped just after a bombing raid


  2. @dearieme – ” If it’s a problem with your bowels, let me point you to this diet sheet.”

    oh, thank you! (^_^) yes, that is exactly the problem. ugh. (>.<)

    i've been on the FODMAP diet for the last 6 weeks, and I’m actually feeling much better than i was, so i am getting better/sorting it out, thankfully!

    there appears to be a lot of overlap between the low FODMAP diet and the low fibre one you’re on. wonder what’s actually working here? no one seems to know anything about ibs, least of all teh scientists. (>.<) (if you want to read some lousy scientific studies, have a look at some ibs-related ones. oh, vey!)


  3. @jayman – “Well hopefully we get you to full working and spirited order soon! Feel better.”

    @grey – “get well”

    @bob – “Get well soon, from a lurker”

    @m.m. – “get well soon”

    thanks! (^_^) thankfully, i am already feeling better (than several weeks ago — see above), just not 100% yet. but i’m getting there! (^_^)


  4. My consultant gastro-enterologist was helpfully frank, chick. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you; it’s not an infection. You had a colonoscopy less than a year ago so we needn’t fear cancer. I’ll just treat you symptomatically.” And he handed me the diet sheet.

    Maybe it’s because I’m oldish now, but I find consultants (British jargon for senior hospital specialist doctor) are getting franker. A couple of years ago my cardiologist volunteered his views on choosing the best way to die.


  5. “wonder what’s actually working here?”

    in my ignorant, amateur but massively big-headed way i’d say it might be low efficiency at processing certain types of food leaving the residue to sit around and ferment (or some other internal chemical process) in the gut – so not exactly an allergy but related to non-ancestral foods in a different way.

    so east Asian person eats some rice and processes it 100% in a unit of time while a westerner eats the same but only processes 90% of it in the same time period leaving the other 10% to turn into rotgut saki in the belly.


  6. I hope you do get better and it is not just because I am selfish and don’t like the idea of linkfest fasts. I am sure that you have covered it but have you cut out dairy? I have lost my lactose tolerance and it took me forever to figure it out because dairy had always been a huge part of my diet and the loss was uneven and sporadic.


  7. @austmann – “A big fan of your blog, hope your IBS calms down. A week ago I came across a case study about balancing serotonin/dopamine levels in a Crohn’s patient that sounds promising….”

    thanks! (^_^)

    yes, i’ve read about the possible ibs-serotonin connection, too. (here, for example.) i tried tryptophan a bit, which works for some people, but it made me so sleepy, i could barely stay awake. =/ i’m thinking i’ll give it another go, but try to deliver it to my microbes down in my colon by using enteric coated tablets. i’ll let you know if that works!


  8. Kool, fingers crossed. Got the 5-htp, but still waitng on the L-tyrosine, which I belive will do the trick for me. I’m definately low on dopamine. Popped some Wellbutrin, and got better. The serotonin/dopamine ratio probably differs from person to person so by trying long enough and with high enough doses one can find the right level and ratio. And if it is genetic, one just continue the regime, it’s affordable. Fecal transplant works too, wrong microbiota releases toxins that attacks the lining where the serotine is produced(enterocromaffin cells) which reduces the production or something. Haven’t understood the whole thing yet, but this whole shebang started when antibiotics, refrigerators, and refined carbohydrates were introduced and this must favour some bacteria over others, just like obese people got bacteria that are more efficient supporting the uptake of nutrients so it gets stored as fat.

    Well that was a little bit off topic. I knew a Igbo woman in Oslo some years ago. She ran a bar, and was decently bright, a strict tiger mum(caused a lot of problems with the child welfare women) and an institution for the decent Nigerians there.(Not the cocaine-prostitution mafiatypes) Unfortunately she was that African history week conspiracy type, and we kind of clashed one night I had too many beers, but it was interesting as long as it lasted. It’s funny that you get realer conversations about HBD with Africans than the North-Europeans. They were really impressed with my tribal recognition skills, and we agreed on that Somalis weren’t black and that the Norwegian so called experts that were talking about the Arab spring and democracy with sparkling eyes were crazy. Also they agreed that aid was idiotic and destroyed the balance between the tribes. They informed me that all the Nigerian prostitutes here were from a bush tribe that is despised by the others. Nigeria is a really interesting country with incredibly many tribes. They experienced a golden age of music in the late 70’s and early 80’s before the coup in 83, check out Bongos Ikwue and the groovies (polyrhytmthing going on the background?)


  9. igbos are not timid. only people that said we are timid are people that don’t know Igbos well


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