Odinani (Igbo: ọ̀dị̀nànị̀) comprises the traditional religious practices and cultural beliefs of the Igbo people of southern Nigeria. Odinani has monotheistic and panentheistic attributes, having a single God as the source of all things. Although a pantheon of spirits exists, these are lesser spirits prevalent in Odinani expressly serving as elements of Chineke (or Chukwu), the supreme being or high god. Chineke is a compound word encompassing the concept of chí is the creator (nà) is a verb meaning 'that' while ékè means create. Chineke therefore means the Creator or the God that created all things. The concept of Chúkwú ('supreme chi') was largely propagated by the Aro-Igbo of Arochukwu in eastern Igboland who wielded much spiritual force over the eastern Niger Delta in the 18th century due to their operating of the Ibini Ukpabi oracle.
Lesser spirits known as ágbàrà or álúsí operate below the high god Chineke and are parts of him divided by gender in his mind. These spirits represent natural forces; agbara as a divine force manifests as separate alusi in the Igbo pantheon. A concept of 'the eye of sun or god' (ányá ánwụ́) exists as a feminine solar deity which forms a part of the solar veneration among the Nri-Igbo in northern Igboland. Alusi are mediated by dibia and other priests who do not contact the high god directly. Through áfà, 'divination', the laws and demands of the alusi are communicated to the living. Alusi are venerated in community shrines around roadsides and forests while smaller shrines are located in the household for ancestral veneration. Deceased ancestors live in the spirit world where they can be contacted. Below the alusi are minor and more general spirits known as mmúọ loosely defined by their perceived malevolent or benign natures. These minor spirits are not venerated and are sometimes considered the lost souls of the dead.
The number of people practicing Igbo religion decreased drastically in the 20th century with the influx of Christian missionaries under the auspices of the British colonial government of Nigeria. In some cases Igbo traditional religion was syncretised with Christianity, but in many cases indigenous rites were demonised by Christian missionaries who pointed out the practice of human sacrifice and some other cultural practices that were illegal under the colonial government. Earlier missionaries referred to many indigenous religious practices as juju. Igbo religion is most present today in harvest ceremonies such as new yam festival (ị́wá jí) and masquerading traditions such as mmanwu and Ekpe.
Remnants of Igbo religious rites spread among African descendants in the Caribbean and North America in era of the Atlantic slave trade. Igbo ọ́bị̀à was transferred to the former British Caribbean and Guyana as obeah and aspects of Igbo masquerading traditions can be found among the festivals of the Garifuna people and jonkonnu of the British Caribbean and North Carolina.
Odinani in northern Igbo dialects is the compound of the words ọ̀ dị̀ ('located') + n (nà, 'within') + ànị̀ (the one god) [consisting of anu (E nu) above (the heavens) and Ana, below (the earth)]. Other dialectal variants include odinala, odinana, omenala, omenana, and omenani. The word odinani and all its variations is also associated with the culture and customary laws of the Igbo people. Many of the laws and culture were counterparts with religion such as taboos and laws concerning sacred spaces like a deities sacred forest. Since customary law is recognised in Nigeria, many in Igbo society find themselves syncretising these beliefs with other beliefs and religions.
Odinani could loosely be described as a monotheistic and panentheistic faith with a strong central spiritual force at its head from which all things are believed to spring; however, the contextual diversity of the system may encompass theistic perspectives that derive from a variety of beliefs held within the religion.[note 1] Chukwu as the central deity is classed among the ndi mmuo, 'invisible beings', an ontological category of beings which includes Ala the divine feminine earth force, chi the 'personal deity', ndichie the ancestors, and mmuo the minor spirits. The other ontological category consists of ndi mmadu, 'visible beings', which include ánụ́ animals, ósísí plants, and the final class ùrò which consists of elements, minerals and inanimate beings. Chukwu as the creator of everything visible and invisible and the source of lesser divinities is also referred to as Chineke. Chukwu is genderless and is reached through various spiritual forces mainly under the spirit class of Alusi who are incarnations of the high god; no sacrifices, however, are given to Chukwu and no shrines and altars are erected for him. If an Arushi is assigned to an individual, it becomes a chi, a personal guardian god. The chi manifests as mmuo, spirits, and as a persons spirit is earth bound it chooses sex, type, and lifespan before incarnation in the human world.
Chi is the personal spirit of a person ḿmúọ́, in Igbo culture it is this spirit which determines destiny. Hence the saying, onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe ("If a person agrees to a thing, his spirit agrees also"). Culturally, people are seen as the creators or makers of their own destiny. The breath of life is in the heart, óbì. Chi refers to the light and the day in contrast to the dark. The universal chi indirectly in charge of everything is Chukwu who is the supreme being that is beyond the limits of time and space. Chukwu's name is a compound of the words chí + úkwú ('great in size, supreme'). Chi is believed to be a spiritual connection between an individual and the high god and it dictates the trajectory of a person's spiritual journey on earth. Each chi is personal and is in communion with and inseparable from the universal chi of all things. The high god, Chukwu, is believed to assign chi before and at the time of an individuals birth. It is a guardian spirit providing care, guardianship, and providence, in this respect, the concept of chi is analogous to the concept of a guardian angel in Christianity, the daemon in ancient Greek religion, and the genius in ancient Roman religion. Unlike Chukwu who is genderless, chi can be masculine. A dibia can identify a person’s chi through divination (áfà) and advise adherents of ways to placate it. Chukwu is also referred to as Chineke which is a compound of the words chí the divine masculine force and ékè the creative and divisive feminine force. Eke came out of the hands of Chi but are considered one; Chi created the world while Eke divided it incorporating a divisive trickster energy that introduced death and suffering. Chineke is also interpreted as chí ne ké, 'chi the creatrix', and chí nne éké, 'chi the creative mother'. Eke is ones ancestral guardian spirit. Chineke or Chukwu is high up away at the periphery of human life and remains a mystery to the people. Households usually contain a chi shrine which could be focused on a tree. In marriage a woman takes her chi shrine along with all her belongings to her matrimonial home. Around Nkarahia, in southern Igboland, there are the most elaborate chi shrines which are decorated with colourful china plates inset into the clay walls of the chi shrine building; the altars hold sacred emblems, while the polished mud benches hold offerings of china, glass, manillas, and food. As a marker of personal fortune or misfortune, good acts or ill, chi can be described as a focal point for 'personal religion'.
The community of visible interacting beings and the cosmos is referred to as ụ̀wà, which includes all living things íhẹ́ ndi dị́ ńdụ̀, including animals and vegetation and their mineral elements which possess a vital force and are regarded as counterparts to invisible forces in the spirit world. These living things and geomorphological features of the world therefore possess a guardian deity. Igbo cosmology presents a balance between the feminine and masculine, perhaps, with a preponderance of female representation in Igbo lore. In Igbo cosmology, the world was divided into four corners by the high god corresponding to èké órìè àfọ̀ ǹkwọ́ which are the days of the week in the Igbo calendar regarded as market days. The universe is regarded as a composite of bounded spaces in an overlapping hemispherical structure, the total spaces are referred to as élú nà àlà. In one Igbo cosmological theory reported by W.R.G. Morton in the 1950s from an elder in Ibagwa Nike in northern Igboland, Chukwu sees that the sun travels across the world in the day time and then cuts into two in order for the moon to pass on a perpendicular route, and so the world is divided into four parts and four days. The quarterly division of the earth and the days makes the number four sacred (ńsọ́) to the Igbo. The élú nà àlà space is defined by two boundaries: élú ígwé, 'sky's limit' composed of heavenly bodies under the main forces of the 'masculine' sun and 'feminine' moon, and élú àlà, 'earth or lands limit' consisting of the four material elements of fire and air (masculine), and earth and water (feminine).
The pattern of two and four reoccur in Chukwu's creations. The days correspond to the four cardinal points and are its names in Igbo, èké east, órìè west, àfọ̀ north, ǹkwọ́ south. The Nri-Igbo claim the market days to have been introduced to the Igbo by their divine progenitor and king Eri in the 9th century after encountering the days as deities. These alusi are venerated as the primary or as a major deity under Chineke in parts of Igboland. In terms of hierarchy, some communities recognise èké as the head of these alusi, while others prioritise órìè and ǹkwọ́ first after the high god. Market days may have local deities representing the spirits in some places, in many southern Igbo towns Agwu is the patron of Eke, Ogwugwu the patron of Orie, Amadioha the patron of Afo and Ala for Nkwo.
Ofo and ogu is a law of retributive justice. It vindicates anyone that is wrongly accused of a crime as long as their "hands are clean". It is only a person who is on the righteous side of Ogu-na-Ofo that can call its name in prayer, otherwise such a person will face the wrath of Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning). Kola nut is used in ceremonies honour Chukwu, chi, Arushi and ancestors and is used as a method of professing innocence when coupled with libations. The Igbo often make clay altars and shrines of their deities which are sometimes anthropomorphic, the most popular example being the wooden statues of Ikenga. Typically, only men are allowed to make representational figures of supernatural forces.
The Igbo have traditionally believed in reincarnation, ilo-uwa. People are believed to reincarnate into families that they were part of while alive. People can usually reincarnate seven times, giving seven opportunities to enter the spirit world successfully as an ancestor. The person's cycle number on earth is unknown to them. Unlike in Hinduism, humans can only reincarnate as humans. Families hire fortune tellers to reveal the ancestral identity of the child in their former life, the baby is sometimes named after this relative. The personality of the ancestor is not identical to the child's but rather the concept establishes a vital relationship with the child and characteristics of the ancestor. Before a relative dies, it is said that the soon to be deceased relative sometimes give clues of who they will reincarnate as in the family. Once a child is born, he or she is believed to give signs of who they have reincarnated from. This can be through behaviour, physical traits and statements by the child. A diviner can help in detecting who the child has reincarnated from. It is considered an insult if a male is said to have reincarnated as a female. An ancestor may reincarnate as multiple people in which case share a mortal bond; upon the death of one person, it is believed that the others may die a sudden death if they see the corpse.
An ogbanje is a reincarnating evil spirit that would deliberately plague a family with misfortune. In folklore, the ogbanje upon being born by the mother, under a certain amount of time (usually before puberty), would deliberately die and then come back and repeat the cycle, causing the family grief. This time period varies between minutes, hours, days and years. Female circumcision was sometimes thought to get rid of the evil spirit, whereas finding the evil spirits Iyi-uwa, which they have dug somewhere secret, would ensure the ogbanje would never plague the family with misfortune again. The Iyi-uwa is a stone that the ogbanje's way of coming back to the world and also a way of finding its targeted family. The stone is deep enough to not have been planted physically by a child. The iyi-uwa is dug out by a priest and destroyed. Furthermore, female ogbanje die during pregnancies along with the baby, male ogbanje die before the birth of a wife's baby or the baby dies. The child is confirmed to no longer be an ogbanje after the destruction of the stone or after they successfully give birth to another baby.
Chukwu's incarnations and ministers in the world (ụ̀wà) are the Alusi, supernatural forces that regulate human life. In southern Igbo dialects especially, ágbàrà is the term for these forces. The alusi are regarded as channels to Chukwu. The alusi, who are also known as arushi, anusi, or arusi in differing dialects all spring from Ala the earth spirit who embodies the workings of the world. There are lesser alusi in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo belief, these lesser alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose. Alusi manifest in natural elements and their shrines are usually found in forests in which they are based around specific trees. At shrines, íhú mmúọ́, an object such as a hung piece of cloth or a group of statues are placed at an alusi's group of trees to focus worship. Deities are described as 'hot' and often capricious so that much of the public approach shrines cautiously and are advised to avoid them at most times, priests are entrusted in the maintenance of most shrines. Many of these shrines are by the roadside in rural areas. Tender palm fronds symbolise spiritual power and are objects of sacralisation, shrines are cordoned off with omu to caution the public of the deities presence. Larger clay modelings in honour of an alusi also exist around forests and rivers. Other alusi figures may be found in and around peoples homes and the shrines of dibia, much of these are related to personal chi, cults, and ancestral worship.
|Mabri: Art as Process in Igboland by Herbert M. Cole, a description of mbari|
Ala (meaning 'earth' and 'land' in Igbo, also Ájá-ànà) is the feminine earth spirit who is responsible for morality, fertility and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb. Ala is at the head of the Igbo pantheon, maintaining order and carrying out justice against wrongdoers. Ala is the most prominent and worshipped alusi, almost every Igbo village has a shrine dedicated to her called íhú Ala where major decisions are taken. Ala is believed to be involved in all aspects of human affairs including festivals and at offerings. Ala stands for fertility and things that generate life including water, stone and vegetation, colour (àgwà), beauty (mmá) which is connected to goodness in Igbo society, and uniqueness (áfà). She's a symbol of morality who sanctioned omenala Igbo customs from which these moral and ethical behaviours are upheld in Igbo society. Ala is the ground itself, and for this reason taboos and crimes are known as ńsọ́ Ala ('desecration of Ala'), all land is holy as the embodiment of Ala making her the principal legal sanctioning authority. Prohibitions include murder, suicide, theft, incest, and abnormalities of birth such as in many places the birth of twins and the killing and eating of pregnant animals, if a slaughtered animal is found to be pregnant sacrifices are made to Ala and the foetus is buried. People who commit suicides are not buried in the ground or given burial rites but cast away in order not to further offend and pollute the land, their ability to become ancestors is therefore nullified. When an individual dies a 'bad death' in the society, such as from the effects of divine retributive justice or breaking a taboo, they are not buried in the earth, but are discarded in a forest so as not to offend Ala. As in cases of most alusi, Ala has the ability to be malevolent if perceived to be offended and can cause harm against those who offend her.
Within the earth's spherical limit, in a cosmological sense, is a designation of the 'earth's bosom' within, ímé àlà, a hemispherical base to the earth with an opening or 'mouth' at its highest point, ónụ́ àlà. This is composed of mainly deep dark sea water (ohimiri). Ime ala is considered as the underworld. Ala in addition to embodying nature, is the cosmic base on which the vault of heaven, ígwé, rests. As the foundation of all existence, children's umbilical cords are saved and symbolically buried under a tree to mark the child's first sharing of family owned lands; this tree could either be an oil palm, bread-fruit tree, raffia palm, or plantain tree depending on the cultural region. In some places, such as Nri, the royal python, éké, is considered a sacred and tame agent of Ala and a harbinger of good fortune when found in a home. The python is referred to as nne 'mother' in areas where the python is revered, it is a symbol of female beauty and gentleness. Killing of the python is expressly forbidden in these places and sanctions are taken against the killer including the funding of expensive human sized burials that are given to slain pythons.
Amadioha (from ámádí + ọ̀hà, 'free will of the people' in Igbo) is the Alusi of justice, thunder, lightning and the sky. He is referred to as Amadioha in southern Igboland, Kamalu, Kamanu, Kalu among the Aro and other Cross River Igbo people, Igwe among the Isuama Igbo and in northwestern Igboland, and Ofufe in certain parts of Igboland. His governing planet is the Sun. His color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Metaphysically, Amadioha represents the collective will of the people and he is often associated with Anyanwu. He is the expression of divine justice and wrath against taboos and crimes; in oaths he is sworn by and strikes down those who swear falsely with thunder and lightning. Amadioha shrines exist around Igboland, his main shrine is located at Ozuzu in the riverine Igbo region in northern Rivers State. While Anyanwu is more prominent in northern Igboland, Amadioha is more prominent in the south. His day is Afo, which is the second market day. In mbari houses Amadioha is depicted beside Ala as her consort.
Ikenga (literally 'place of strength') is an alusi and a cult figure of the right hand and success found among the northern Igbo people. He is an icon of meditation exclusive to men and owners of the sculpture dedicate and refer to it as their 'right hand' which is considered instrumental to personal power and success. Ikenga is a source of encoded knowledge unraveled through psychological principles. The image of Ikenga comprises someone's chi ('personal god'), his ndichie (ancestors), aka Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice. Igbo cultures value of resourcefulness and individualism in society utilises the concept of Ikenga to regulate the relationship between individuality and family relations and obligations, as well as free will and industriousness balanced with destiny decided persons chi. Ikenga acts as a physical medium to the consciousness and emphasises individual initiative through reflection and meditation. Success validates the Ikenga and the sculptures act as visual representation of a persons inner success, people give offerings in thanks to the Ikenga after providing energy to overcome any unwanted pre-life choices. These choices are at the hands of the persons earth bound spirit, mmuo, who chooses sex, type, and lifespan before incarnation. The successful Ikenga influenced the saying of well being 'íkéǹgàm kwụ̀ ọ̀tọ́ ta ta' meaning that 'my Ikenga stands upright today'. During festivals of Ogbalido or olili Ikenga ('feast of Ikenga') sculptures of him may be paraded around a village or displayed at the village centre if too monumental to transport. When a person does not become successful with hard work the Ikenga has 'fallen' and is seen as a sign of danger, if meditation and cajoling the Ikenga fails, the sculpture is 'thrown down' and broken which spiritually kills the Ikenga; a new one is carved to replace it.
Ikenga figures are common cultural artefacts ranging for six inches to 6 feet high and can be humanistic or highly stylised. There are anthropomorphic, architectonic, and abstract cylindrical Ikenga sculptures. Ikenga is a symbol of success and personal achievement. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society. At burials, a mans Ikenga is broken into two with one piece buried with him and the other destroyed.
This Alusi was adept at bargains and trade, and praying to Ekwensu was said to guarantee victory in negotiations. As a force of change and chaos, Ekwensu also represented the spirit of war among the Igbo, invoked during times of conflict and banished during peacetime to avoid his influences inciting bloodshed in the community, warriors set up shrines to Ekwensu to help war efforts. This is based upon the finding of old shrines dedicated to the worship of the spirit as well as the recounting of old oral stories which depict the character of Ekwensu. Ekwensu was a bringer of violence and possessed people with anger. Ekwensu holds the propensity of bringing misfortune and is regarded as an evil spirit in this sense. Among the Christian Igbo Ekwensu is representative of Satan and is seen as a force which places itself opposite to that of Chukwu. Ekwensu festivals are held in some Igbo towns where military success is celebrated and wealth is flaunted.
Mmuo is a broad class of minor spirits or divinities manifesting in natural elements under the class of elder divinities with major cults. Feminine mmuo inhabit earth and water and masculine mmuo inhabit fire and air. This class can be broken down by the alusi, serviceable mmuo, agwu are related to unusual and deranged human behaviours, these spirits interact with human in a capricious nature that often makes them dangerous. Other cult deities exist around Igboland such as Njoku Ji, yam and fire deity overseeing agriculture, Idemili, 'the pillar of water', the female alusi based in Idemili North and South who holds up the waters, and Mkpataku the 'bringer of wealth' or 'coming in of wealth'. In addition to minor spirits there are evil wondering spirits of wrong doers called ogbonuke.
Dibia are the mystic mediators between the human world and the spirit world and act as healers, scribes, teachers, diviners and advisors of people in the community. They are usually consulted at the shrine of a communities major deity. Dibia is a compound of the words di ('professional, master, husband') + ọ́bị̀à ('doctoring, sciences'). The dibia are believed to be destined for spiritual work. The dibia sees the spiritual world at any time and interprets what messages being sent and sees the spiritual problems of living people. They are given the power by the spirit world to identify any alusi by name and the possible ways of placating and negotiating with the deity. Dibia are thought to be revealed to possess the power over one of three elements namely water (and large bodies of water), fire and vegetation. Dibia whose elements are vegetation can go on to become herbalists by their supposed instinctual knowledge of the health benefits of certain plants they are instinctually drawn to, fire element dibia can handle fire unscathed during their initiation, and water element dibia do not drown. Dibia can partially enter the spirit world and communicate this by rubbing chalk on one half of their face. Dibia and obia practices were transported to the British Caribbean during the slave trade and became known as obeah.
The name of divination in Igbo derives from ígbá áfà or áhà meaning 'to name' coming from the diviners skill in rooting out problems hence naming them. The dibia or ogba afa, 'interpreter of afa', is considered a master of esoteric knowledge and wisdom and igba afa is a way in which people can find out the cause of such things as misfortunes. The diviner interprets codes from àlà mmuọ the unseen by throwing divination seeds, cowries, and beads, or observing a divination board sometimes called osho which can be used in pronouncing curses on the evil. In this way the diviner is endowed with special sight. it is related the sciences of homeopathic medicine known as ọ́gwụ̀, a practitioner consciously picks to either of these abilities. Animals that are special in divination and sacrifice include a white he-goat, a white ram, a tortoise and male wall gecko. These animals are prized for their rarity, price and therefore the journey taken to obtain. Chameleons and rats are used for more stronger medicines and deadly poisons, and antidotes can include lambs, small chickens, eggs, and oils. Nzu is used in rites from birth to death and is used to mark sacred buildings and spaces. Agwu Nsi is the Igbo patron deity of health and divination and is related to insanity, confusion, and unusual human behaviour which is linked to possession of Agwu by the diviner. Agwu can be manifested by other alusi so that there could be images of a divination Ikenga or Ikenga Agwu for instance.
Ndebunze, or Ndichie, are the deceased ancestors who are considered to be in the spirit world, àlà mmúọ́. In Odinani, it is believed that the dead ancestors are invisible members of the community; their role in the community, in conjunction with Ala, is to protect the community from epidemics and strife such as famine and smallpox. Ancestors helped chi look after men. Shrines for the ancestors in Igbo society were made in the central house, or òbí or òbú, of the patriarch of a housing compound. The patriarchal head of the household is in charge of venerating the patriarchal ancestors through libations and offerings, through this the living maintain contact with the dead. Only a patriarch whose father is dead, and therefore in the spirit world where they await reincarnation into the community, were able to venerate ancestors. Female ancestors were called upon by matriarchs. At the funeral of a mans father there is a hierarchy in Igbo culture of animals that will be killed and eaten in his honor. Usually this depended on the rarity and price of the animal, so a goat or a sheep were common and relatively cheaper, and therefore carried less prestige, while a cow is considered a great honor, and a horse the most exceptional. Horses cannot be given for women. Horses were more common among the northeastern Igbo due to tsetse fly zone that Igboland is situated in and renders it an unsuitable climate for horses. Horse heads are traditionally decorated and kept in a reliquary and at shrines.
A number of major masking institutions exist around Igboland that honour ancestors and reflect the spirit world in the land of the living. Young women, for example, are incarnated in the society through the àgbọ́ghọ̀ mmúọ́ masking tradition in which mean represent ideal and benevolent spirits of maidens of the spirit world in the form of feminine masks. These masks are performed at festivals at agricultural cycles and at funerals of prominent individuals in the society.
Kola nut (ọ́jị̀, or ọ́jị̀ Ìgbò) offerings and prayers (ị́gọ́ ọ́jị̀, 'kola nut blessing', ị́wá ọ́jị̀, 'kola nut breaking') can be performed personally between one and his spirit or in a group in a form of a prayer or chant. The saluter addresses their personal god or chi as well as alusi and their ancestors. These kola nuts are held in a special round bowl called ọ́kwá with a compartment at the centre of the bowl for condiments for the kola nut such as alligator pepper (or capsicum cayene, ósẹ̀ ọ́jị́) and ground peanuts. The bowl and kola nut rite is used to welcome visitors into a household. After the prayer, the ceremony ends with the saluter sharing pieces of the kola with the group, known as ị́ké ọ́jị̀. The kola is supposed to cut by hand, but more recently knives have become acceptable. When the cola has three cotyledons, or parts, it is considered an ọ́jị̀ ìkéǹgà in some northern communities (going by other names in communities Ikenga doesn't operate) and is considered a sign of great luck, bravery and nobility. O wetalu oji wetalu ndu — 'one who brings kola brings life' is a popular saying that points to the auspiciousness of the kola rite.
Among a small area of the Urata-Igbo cultural area, near Owerri, there is a tradition of building votive monument houses called ḿbàrí primarily dedicated to the ágbàrà Àlà specific to the community and sometimes other community deities. The name joins the word ḿbà ('nation, town, society') + rí ('eat') in reference to the 'festival of life' held after its completion. These votive shrines are typically designed with four columns and a central volt, around the columns are modelled deities, spirits, and depictions of human life, the entire building built out of clay from termite mounds symbolically named jí ('yam') by the initiated spirit workers called ńdí m̀gbè. Ndi mgbe are secluded from the community for a couple of months during the rites of building the mbari to a deity. Mbari are requested by a deity who the diviner tells the community feels neglected and cannot feel pride in the face of other deities in the spirit world. A string of unusual and unfortunate events befalling the community is linked to the aggrieved deity. An mbari is commissioned and artists are chosen. After the completion of the mbari the spirit workers are reincorporated into the community and a feast is held for the opening of the mbari house where elders and the community come to exhibit the critique the expensive mbari. The mbari house is not a source of worship and is left to dilapidate, being reabsorbed by nature in symbolic sense related to Ala.
|Pyramids Nsude village shrine, Abaja, Northern Igbo by G. I. Jones, 1930s|
Before the twentieth century, circular stepped pyramids were built in reverence of Ala at the town of Nsude in northern Igboland. In total ten clay/mud pyramidal structures were still existing in 1935. The base section of a pyramid was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala/Uto who was believed to live at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction.
But as we have seen, there are other elements [besides monotheistic ones] which tend towards polytheism or pantheism. What, we may ask, accounts for these different tendencies? As Evans-Pritchard and Peel suggest, they do not derive so much from different observers' standpoints as from the different standpoints within the religious systems themselves This, of course, does not mean that African religions consist of conflicting “systems” (monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, totemism), which lack any inherent unity. Rather, the totality of elements in each religious system can be viewed from different internal perspectives according to different contextual alignments. What is misleading is to seize upon one perspective or tendency and make it the dominant framework. This may satisfy the observer's own theological preferences, e.g., monotheism, but only at the expense of over-systematizing the contextual diversity of African religious thought.
Ray, Benjamin C. (1976). African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community. Prentice-Hall. p. 53. ISBN 0130186228.
Afro-American religion (also known as African diasporic religions) are a number of related religions that developed in the Americas in various nations of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the southern United States. They derive from traditional African religions with some influence from other religious traditions, notably Christianity.Agwu Nsi
Agwu Nsi (known as Agwo Nsi in the Americas) is the Alusi of divination.Akan religion
Akan religion comprises the traditional beliefs and religious practices of the Akan people of Ghana and eastern Ivory Coast. Akan religion is referred to as Akom (from the Twi word okom, meaning "prophecy"). Although most Akan people have identified as Christians since the early 20th century, Akan religion remains practiced by some, and is often syncretized with Christianity. The Akan have many subgroups (including the Ashanti, the Akuapem, the Wassa, the Abron, the Anyi, and the Baoulé, among others), so the religion varies greatly by region and subgroup.
Similar to other traditional religions of West and Central Africa such as West African Vodun, Yoruba religion, or Odinani, Akan cosmology consists of a senior god who generally does not interact with humans and many gods who assist humans.
Anansi the Spider is a folk hero, who is prominent in Ashanti folktales, where he is depicted as a trickster. In other aspects of Akan spirituality, Anansi is also sometimes considered both a trickster and a deity associated with wisdom, responsible for creating the first inanimate humans, according to the scholar Anthony Ephirim-Donkor.. This is similar to Legba, who is also both a trickster and a deity in West African Vodun.Ala (odinani)
Ala (also known as Ani, Ana, Ale, and Ali in varying Igbo dialects) is the female Alusi (deity) of the earth, morality, fertility and creativity in Odinani. She is the most important Alusi in the Igbo pantheon. In Odinani, Ala rules over the underworld, and holds the deceased ancestors in her womb. Her name literally translates to 'Ground' in the Igbo language, denoting her powers over the earth and her status as the ground itself. Ala is considered the highest Alusi in the Igbo pantheon. Ala's husband is Amadioha, the sky deity.
As the goddess of morality, Ala is involved in judging human actions and is in charge of Igbo law and customs known as 'Omenala'. Taboos and crimes among Igbo communities that are against the standard of Ala are called nsọ Ala. All ground is considered 'Holy land' as it is Ala herself. With human fertility, Ala is credited for the productivity of the land. Ala's messenger and living agent on earth is the python (Igbo: éké), which is especially revered in many Igbo communities. In art, Ala is often represented as a regal figure seated on a throne, surrounded by her family. In the past, such figures took the form of life-size mud sculptures in special festive shrines dedicated to the deity and known as Mbari.Alusi
Alusi or Alushi (also spelled Arusi or Arushi) are spirits that are worshiped and served in the Igbo religion. There are many different Alusi and each has its own purpose and function.Chukwu
Chukwu is the supreme being of the Igbo religion. In the Igbo pantheon, Chukwu is the source of all other Igbo deities, and is responsible for assigning them their different tasks. The Igbo people believe that all things come from Chukwu, who brings the rains necessary for plants to grow and controls everything on Earth and the spiritual world. They believe Chukwu to be an undefinable omnipotent and omnipresent supreme deity that encompasses everything in space and space itself.
Linguistic studies suggest that the name "Chukwu" is a portmanteau of the Igbo words "Chi" ("spiritual being") and "Ukwu" ("great in size").Ekwensu
Ekwensu is a Trickster God of the Igbo people who serve as the Alusi or God of Bargains and the tortoise. Crafty at trade and negotiations, he is often invoked for guidance in difficult mercantile situations. The deity was a force of Chaos and Change, thus in his more violent aspects, Ekwensu was also revered as a God of War and Victory who ruled over the wicked spirits and the chaotic forces of nature. He is perceived as a spirit of violence that incites people to perform violent acts. Ekwensu is said to be interested only in accomplishing evil deeds in the world. His companion was Death.
Despite contemporary interpretations, Ekwensu was not originally regarded as the devil. With the rise of Christianity, the more beneficent aspects of the deity were supplanted by missionaries who came to represent Ekwensu as Satan.He was the testing force of Chukwu, and along with Ani the Earth goddess, and Igwe, the Sky God, make up the three highest Arusi's of the ancient Igbo people. During the colonial enslavement-missionary period Ekwensu was transcribed to become the Igbo word for Satan.Ezema Nru
Ezema Nru is an one of four sub-communities that made up the old autonomous community of Nru Nsukka in Nigeria. It is adjacent to the three other sub-communities: Edem Nru, Umuoyo Nru and Iheagu. It also shares a border with Eha Alumona.
The community of Ezema is part of Igboland, a cultural region of Southeastern Nigeria, and is dominated by Igbo-speaking peoples. Politically, it is part of Nru Nsukka in the town of Nsukka, Enugu state.Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as oneself would wish to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures.The Golden Rule can be considered an ethic of reciprocity in some religions, although other religions treat it differently. The maxim may appear as either a positive or negative injunction governing conduct:
One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (positive or directive form).
One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form).
What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathic or responsive form).The idea dates at least to the early Confucian times (551–479 BC) according to Rushworth Kidder, who identifies that this concept appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and "the rest of the world's major religions". The concept of the Rule is codified in the Code of Hammurabi stele and tablets, 1754-1790 BC. 143 leaders encompassing the world's major faiths endorsed the Golden Rule as part of the 1993 "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic", including the Baha'i Faith, Brahmanism, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Indigenous, Interfaith, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American, Neo-Pagan, Sikhism, Taoism, Theosophist, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian. According to Greg M. Epstein, " 'do unto others' ... is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely", but belief in God is not necessary to endorse it. Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be "found in some form in almost every ethical tradition".Yet, as with any historically prominent maxim, the Golden Rule is not without its controversy (as seen in the Criticism section below).Ifá
Ifá is a Yoruba religion and system of divination. Its literary corpus is the Odu Ifá. Orunmila is identified as the Grand Priest, as he is who revealed divinity and prophecy to the world. Babalawos or Iyanifas use either the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm or kola nuts called Ikin, on the wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.
Ifá is practiced throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Canary Islands, in the form of a complex religious system, and plays a critical role in the traditions of Santería, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodou, and other Afro-American faiths, as well as in some traditional African religions.Igbo-Ukwu
Igbo-Ukwu (Igbo: Great Igbo) is a town in the Nigerian state of Anambra in the southeastern part of the country. The town comprises three quarters namely Obiuno, Ihite, and Ngo with several villages within each quarter and thirty-six(36) administrative wards.Igbo people
The Igbo people (English: ; also Ibo, formerly also Iboe, Ebo, Eboe,Eboans, Heebo;
natively Ṇ́dị́ Ìgbò [ìɡ͡bò] (listen)) are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. There has been much speculation about the origins of the Igbo people, as it is unknown how exactly the group came to form. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa.The Igbo language is a part of the Niger-Congo language family. It is divided into numerous regional dialects, and somewhat mutually intelligible with the larger "Igboid" cluster.
The Igbo homeland straddles the lower Niger River, east and south of the Edoid and Idomoid groups, and west of the Ibibioid (Cross River) cluster.
In rural Nigeria, Igbo people work mostly as craftsmen, farmers and traders. The most important crop is the yam. Other staple crops include cassava and taro.Before British colonial rule in the 20th century, the Igbo were a politically fragmented group, with a number of centralized chiefdoms such as Nri, Arochukwu, Agbor and Onitsha.Frederick Lugard introduced the Eze system of "Warrant Chiefs". Unaffected by the Fulani War and the resulting spread of Islam in Nigeria in the 19th century, they became overwhelmingly Christian under colonization. In the wake of decolonisation, the Igbo
developed a strong sense of ethnic identity.
During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–1970 the Igbo territories seceded as the short-lived Republic of Biafra. MASSOB, a sectarian organization formed in 1999, continues a non-violent struggle for an independent Igbo state.Small ethnic Igbo populations are found in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, as well as outside Africa.Kingdom of Nri
The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo: Ọ̀ràézè Ǹrì) was a medieval polity. The kingdom existed as a sphere of religious and political influence over a third of Igboland, and was administered by a priest-king called an Eze Nri. The Eze Nri managed trade and diplomacy on behalf of the Nri people, a subgroup of the Igbo-speaking people, and possessed divine authority in religious matters.
The kingdom was a haven for all those who had been rejected in their communities and also a place where slaves were set free from their bondage. Nri expanded through converts gaining neighboring communities' allegiance, not by force.
Nri's royal founder, Eri, is said to be a 'sky being' that came down to earth and then established civilization. One of the better-known remnants of the Nri civilization is manifested in the igbo ukwu artifacts.
Nri's culture permanently influenced the Northern and Western Igbo, especially through religion and taboos.
The kingdom appears to have passed its peak in the 18th century, encroached upon by the rise of the Benin and Igala kingdom, and later the Atlantic slave trade, but it appears to have maintained its authority well into the 16th century, and remnants of the eze hierarchy persisted until the establishment of Colonial Nigeria in 1911 and represents one of the traditional states within modern Nigeria.Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in one god. A narrower definition of monotheism is the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world.A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, and both inclusive monotheism and pluriform (panentheistic) monotheism which, while recognising various distinct gods, postulate some underlying unity.Monotheism is distinguished from henotheism, a religious system in which the believer worships one god without denying that others may worship different gods with equal validity, and monolatrism, the recognition of the existence of many gods but with the consistent worship of only one deity. The term "monolatry" was perhaps first used by Julius Wellhausen.The broader definition of monotheism characterizes the traditions of Bábism, the Bahá'í Faith, Balinese Hinduism, Cao Dai (Caodaiism), Cheondoism (Cheondogyo), Christianity, Deism, Eckankar, Hindu sects such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, Islam, Judaism, Mandaeism, Rastafari, Seicho no Ie, Sikhism, Tengrism (Tangrism), Tenrikyo (Tenriism), Yazidism, and Zoroastrianism, and elements of pre-monotheistic thought are found in early religions such as Atenism, ancient Chinese religion, and Yahwism.Ngwa
The Ngwa (Ṅgwà IPA: [ŋɡʷa]), an Igbo group, constitute the largest and most populous sub-ethnicity, or clan, in southeastern Nigeria. They occupy an area of about 1,328 square kilometres (513 sq mi), although some accounts read at least 2,300 km2 (900 square miles). In 1979, their population was held at an estimate of approximately 1.5 million people. Their ethnonym Ngwa is used to describe the people, their indigenous territory, and their native tongue. King Josaiah Ndubuisi Wachuku, who died on Friday 2 June 1950, was Eze, paramount chief and servant leader head of the Ngwa people during British colonial times. The Ngwa land is divided in the modern day into different lands, examples are ; Obingwa, Abangwa, Isialangwa, Osisiomangwa, etc. It is widely spread that during the Nigerian Civil war, the Ngwa people ate each other to survive, although the validity of this information is yet to be verified.
It is said that during the Nigerian Civil war, the Ngwa people suffered a lot like every other person who is of Igbo origin. The children suffered from kwashiorkor which came from malnutrition and the adults struggled to survive. In the struggle for survival, parents were reported to have caught and killed strangers who came into their home. The struggle for healthy eating continued until a chief reported to be ; Josiah Duruem Nwangwa began to collect supplies from various organisations , making his home a relief station.Obeah
Obeah (sometimes spelled Obi, Obeah, Obeya, or Obia) is a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies. Obeah is difficult to define, as it is not a single, unified set of practices; the word "Obeah" was historically not often used to describe one's own practices. Diana Paton has contended that what constitutes Obeah in Jamaica has been constructed by white society, particularly law enforcement. Accordingly, different Afro-Caribbean communities use their own terminology to describe the practice, such as "science", among the Jamaican Windward Maroons. Obeah is similar to other Afro-American religions such as Palo, Haitian Vodou, Santería, and Hoodoo in that it includes communication with ancestors and spirits and healing rituals. Nevertheless, it differs from religions like Vodou and Santeria in that there is no explicit canon of gods or deities that is worshipped, and the practice is generally an individual action rather than part of a collective ceremony or offering. It differs from Myal in that Myal focuses more on the connection of humans and spirits. By some early colonial authorities they differed in that Obeah was viewed as nefarious while Myal was a more positive influence.Variants of Obeah are practiced in the Bahamas and in the Caribbean nations of Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St.Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Virgin Islands, as well as by the Igbo people of Nigeria. In some cases, aspects of these folk religions have survived through syncretism with Christian symbolism and practice introduced by European colonials and slave owners.Ogbanje
An Ọgbanje (strictly "Ọgbanje" and cannot be substituted with "Ọbanje", the "gb" forms a single consonant in the Igbo language) is a term in Odinani (Igbo: ọ̀dị̀nànị̀) (or ) for what was believed to be an evil spirit that would deliberately plague a family with misfortune. Its literal translation in the Igbo language is "children who come and go". It was believed that within a certain amount of time from birth (usually not past puberty), the Ọgbanje would deliberately die and then come back and repeat the cycle causing the family grief. Female circumcision was sometimes thought to get rid of the evil spirit, whereas finding the evil spirits Iyi-ụwa, which they had dug somewhere secret, would ensure the Ọgbanje would never plague the family with misfortune again. The Iyi-ụwa was the Ọgbanje's way of coming back to the world and also a way of finding its targeted family. The dead child would be cut or mutilated so he or she would not return. Some ọgbanje, however, were said to return, bearing the physical scars of the mutilation.Belief in Ọgbanje in Igboland is not as strong as it was before although there are still some believers. Sometimes the word Ọgbanje has been used as a synonym for a rude or stubborn child. Sickle cell anaemia might have contributed to this belief, as the inheritance of the disease within families may have led people to conclude that the children involved were all from the same malevolent spirit.The word ọgbanje is often translated as changeling, due to the similarities they share with the fairy changelings of Celtic and broader European mythology. Both serve as mythological ways of understanding what were once unknown diseases that often claimed the lives of children (such as SIDS and sickle cell disease).