Constructions of Belonging

Constructions of Belonging

Igbo Communities and the Nigerian State in the Twentieth Century

Axel Harneit-Sievers


University of Rochester Press



Applies new approaches to the study of a small, densely populated region of West Africa, integrating them into a regional history that analyzes interactions between localities and the modern state.
Constructions of Belonging provides a history of local communities living in Southeastern Nigeria since the late nineteenth century, examining the processes that have defined, changed, and re-produced these communities. Harneit-Sievers explores both the meanings and the uses that the community members have given to their particular areas, while also looking at the processes that have shaped local communities, and have made them work and continue to be relevant, in a world dominated by the modern territorial state and by worldwide flows of people, goods, and ideas.

Axel Harneit-Sievers is a Research Fellow at the Center for Modern Oriental Studies, and Director of the Nigeria Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Lagos.


July 2006
14 black and white, 10 line illustrations
399 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
ISBN: 9781580461672
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC SOC001000, HIS001000
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Table of Contents

The Igbo Local Community: Historical and Anthropological Approaches
Trans-local Connections and Precolonial Spheres of Influence: Nri "Hegemony" and Arochukwu
Drawing Boundaries, Making Chiefs: The Colonial State
"Town People" and "Church People": The Impact of Christianity
Making a Larger Community: Igbo Ethnicity
Federalism and Fear: Impact of Postcolonial State and Society since the 1970s
Institutionalizing Community I: Town Unions
Institutionalizing Community II: Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communit
Reconceptualizing Community: Local Histories
The Politics of Competition and Fragmentation: Umuopara and Ohuhu
"History" as Politics by Other Means: Enugwu-Ukwu in Umunri Clan
Post-slavery and Marginalization: Nike
Conclusion: Making the Igbo "Town" in the Twentieth Century


Anyone wanting sources on the Igbo and the intellectual and cultural context of these works, and hard to find information about their authors, will find this book invaluable. However one delimits this region . . . tracing the continuities from precolonial to the present is a worthy and immensely difficult scholarly task. This work, drawing on multidisciplinary studies, is a brilliant contribution to Igno and Nigerian studies. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORICAL STUDIES (Michael D. Levin)

In this major contribution to African studies, the author, an Igbo expert, traces the course of local communities in southeastern Nigeria from the pre-colonial period through colonial times, and the post-colonial era to the present. The author brilliantly explains how these communities adjusted again and again with surprising vitality to the changes attempted by British colonial governments and the modern Nigerian state, arguing convincingly that despite urbanization, Christianity, and modernity, the many hundreds of local Igbo communities have thrived in a population of some fifteen million today. The author systemically explains how these communities have exhibited flexibility to changing external forces as active participants and not merely as reactors to new conditions. Harneit-Sievers skillfully combines anthropology, history, religion, and politics to provide the long view of how a people sharing a major African culture have lived in social cooperation over time in the changing African world. --Simon Ottenberg, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of Washington

Informed by a profound reading of social theory, historian Axel Harneit-Sievers -- who knows the Igbo inside-out -- integrates the best elements of apparently conflicting modes of analysis, avoiding the customary pitfalls in the scholarly discourse about the Igbo. The result is a book -- as sophisticated as it is accessible -- that paints a candid portrait of a complicated people negotiating tremendous challenges during a period of dizzying changes. --G. Ugo Nwokeji, Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora History, University of California, Berkeley

An exhaustive study that covers virtually everything that is of significance in Igbo ethnography and development. The author is to be congratulated for producing what is likely to be the most comprehensive and authoritative work on Igbo identity for some time to come. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

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