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Traditionally, long-distance communication in Igbo society was facilitated by the ikoro, hefty slitted gongs fashioned from the hollowed trunks of large trees. The ikoro, a type of “talking drum”, is normally positioned at strategic and acoustically-favorable locations in communities, usually at hilltops, arenas, or public squares, and when struck with short wooden sticks, produces deep, low notes that can travel for several miles.

In a manner similar to a phonetic version of the western telegraph, the ikoro allows experienced drummers in two separate villages or locations to communicate and share information through the use of coded messages and notes. In the event of danger or emergency, a large ikoro war gong placed at a community’s main cultural or political center would be struck to quickly summon and assemble an entire populace. With the proliferation of inter-communal warfare, Abam and Ohafia raids, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Igbo hinterland in the 18th and 19th centuries, there became a stringent need for a fast-alert system in war-ravished regions.

To protect themselves from Abam and Ohafia warriors, who were dreaded for collecting human skulls as battle trophies, communities in the Ngwa-Obowu axis formed alliances, rapidly militarized, and developed an unparalleled defense strategy, at the heart of which lay the ikoro. When enemy troops were sighted near an allied community, the said community’s ikoro would be sounded to alarm its neighbors, who would in turn sound their own and warn other villages of the alliance. These messages, intelligible only to elders and warriors, would detail enemy troop movements and positions, and within a short period, an armed coalition force would be fielded to repel the invaders. To this day, despite technological advances, ikoro are still a crucial component of village life in Igboland.



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