Can you imagine spending the rest of your life engaged in various activities with all the kids you met in kindergarten? Not only through your school years, but as adults, even into retirement?
The Igbo people are an ethnic group from Nigeria. In Igbo village life, there is an important, centuries old custom of age grade groups. These groups are composed of people born within 2-5 years of each other, depending on the village.
Each group is responsible for contributing to village life, with simple chores for the younger groups (at around age 10), with increasing responsibility as they grow older. These groups work together for their community their entire lives.
Age grades become initiated into adulthood after proving themselves to the elders and their community. This used to be defined by defending the community against hostile neighbors, but these days it is in building something that addresses community needs, such as a school, road or better access to water. If the task is deemed successful, the age group gets to chooses a name, and is then accepted into adulthood. The group then becomes part of the decision making in the community. When an age grade becomes elderly, there is a celebration of "retirement", after which that group is no longer required to do labor. These members become the most respected and influential members in the community.
There's a strong sense of kinship within the age grades. It's fairly common for those who have moved away to a city to come back to their village over some weekends and holidays to reunite with their group, and help with the projects. Within each age group, decisions are made by a majority vote. There is an Igbo saying that illustrates how equal all are considered within their group, no matter what station in life they lead outside it: "No man is above his age mate".
Ogbo: Sharing Life in an African Village by Ifeoma Onyefulu. This is a great non fiction book with large colorful photographs. Told from the perspective of a six year old child who describes her various family members (immediate and extended) and their roles in their age groups. This book is a great way to learn about the different responsibilities of each age group, for every generation.
You can find all of our posts with children's books about West Africa here.
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