Ijele are beautifully crafted headdresses worn in many parts of Igboland, but now we will explore commonalities in the varieties worn by Onitsha chiefs and kings. These "great crowns" are worn for the annual New Yam Harvest festival (ofala), when chiefs and kings assemble with their people in the royal palace square. Ijele are integral to the festive emergence of the king from his normal life of palatial seclusion. Each Ijele is handcrafted using vibrant local bird feathers and features obvious, yet powerful symbolism. This photograph from 1960 features a headdress worn during a post-harvest celebration.
The clustered feathers and branching on this spectacular crowns suggest birds perching on a tree, and symbolize a tree, an implication made quite explicit in the Onitsha people's prime metaphors for leadership: the leader is a "mighty tree," (oke osisi) that gives birds perching on its outstretched arms and shoulders, a safe abode.
An upraised hand, rendered in green, is visible. The color-coding of this emblem implies that the structure personifies a tree. Green in Onitsha is called akwukwo-ndu, literally, "leaves of life”. The frontal pair of black-background, multifaceted "eyes," produce a startling effect. The eyes allude to multiplied capacities for seeing that a tree may provide; its superior position allows it to "watch over" the whole community.
Around the periphery of the flat disk base, coiled decorations suggest an encircling snake. In Onitsha this implies the python, denizen of rivers and messenger of mother earth.#Igbohistory#nzukobrand#nzuko