Society and Culture

The significant of time in Igbo culture

Time in Igbo thought have both perceptual and conceptual aspects; by “perceptual” I mean not outward perceptions, but rather the internal ones, namely, the feelings of the body’s pulsating beat. Hence, it is more understandable to talk of experiential time. Though the Igbo conception of time is centered on subjectivity; it acquires a sort of objectivity, rough but effectual, so far as it is shared by more persons than one. When two persons swing their axes in concerted rhythm while chopping wood or swing and dance in rhythmic harmony, they are objectifying their directly enjoyed time experience in a manner suited to their purpose. Thus, as human societies become more cosmopolitan, both their sizes and their increasing differentiation of functions tend to weaken the collective sense of time.
This is the case with the contemporary Igbo societies. The contemporary Igbo societies are made up of people of varied professions. While the former can afford reckon time through, say, the position of the sun and the length of they shadows, the teacher or the civil servant used to be precise. He has to be at his offices or school at 8:00 AM . There was a time when landowners measured the length of land that they sold by throwing a stone. Where the stone landed marked the end of the plot. Admittently, to say for instance, “I will meet you when the sun is down”, or to ask someone, ‘Will you return during the New Yam Festival?’ does not make for the most efficient social arrangements, especially on a large scale. This has recalled in conflicts and miscommunications. Land boundaries have been sources of feud among families and even villages. Meetings or social gatherings are never started as scheduled because the members conceive time differently. For example, the meeting holds by, say, 3:00 PM ; while, for others, it holds in the afternoon. This tendency to attend meeting late is now rationalizes under the syndrome of “African time”. These conflicts are gradually being resolved through the acquisition of Western education. It is now commonplace to see traders measure cloth with the rule. Watches are now part of dressing; in appreciation that time can be accurately measurable space units. Yet, a more sophisticated traditional Igbo still arranges meeting, by such directives as, “When the water in the pot has sunk to the third line” for directing when to add condiments in a meal preparation. The results are more accurate; a small step has been taken towards a “scientific” worldview. The Igbo idea of time has thus been tidied up by putting it into spatial dress.


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