The Igbo Network
The Focus of Igbo Worldview
Prof. Donatus I. Nwoga
In spite of the lack of confidence which I appear to exude over this matter, I am consoled and encouraged by the fact that the tradition of attempting generalizations on the Igbo is a long one. As far back as 1789, an Igbo ex-slave wrote his autobiography in London and had it published as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, written. by himself. Olaudah Equiano, who left us with such confusing clues that various scholars have put his birthplace variously as Nsukka, as Ashaka in Aboh Local Government Area in Bendel State, and as lsseke in the lhiala Local Government Area, felt confident enough to put his description in generalistic terms even though he was only twelve when he was captured into transcontinental slavery. He wrote:
Olaudah Equiano, other people have felt free, both in writing and in speech, to
make firm and what they consider incontrovertible statements about the Igbo.
Such stereotypical statements range from the glorifying to the condemning. Dr
James Africanus Horton, an Igbo recaptive in
The Igbo cannot be driven to an act but with kindness they could be made to do anything, even to deny themselves of their comforts. They would not, as a rule, allow anyone to act the superior over them, nor sway their conscience, by coercion, to the performance of any act, whether good or bad, when they have not the inclination to do so. . .
In 1982, a young Igbo man presented a less generous picture when he warned the then Governor of Anambra State to remember that "the Igbo man whom you are governing is good at forgetting those good things his leader has done to him previously should the fellow fail to fulfil any current obligations." In the same manner, Chinua Achebe, in a moment of cynicism, spoke of the "inclination of the Igbo to jettison his traditions (including his history) if he sees personal advancement accruing from such abandonment."
The English woman Sylvia Leith-Ross is rather interesting to mention in this context. She admitted that "the Igbo were cheerful, industrious, honest, very good to their children. They were generous to their own people. . .” But she regretted that "it had apparently never struck them that good manners were pretty things, graceful, becoming, an addition to the pleasantness of life". (African Woman). During the Nigerian civil war, one popular stereotype was embedded in the story which said that if three Nigerians, one Igbo, one Hausa, the other Yoruba found themselves under a ripe coconut, the Hausa would say, "If Allah sends down this coconut, I will eat it", the Yoruba would say, "I will wait here and whoever brings down the coconut, I will share it with him." whereas the Igbo man would look for some implement for bringing down the coconut. A less flattering story was one which the Nigerians were supposed to have been told to use to protect themselves, namely, to shake some money in the ears of any Igbo person who looked dead and never regard that Igbo person dead unless he did not rise at the sound of jingling money.
There are of course limits to the validity of stereotype no matter how carefully constructed. Yet it is to say what I am about to do is to create another stereotype. I intend however, not to characterize a body of external actions, but to interpret the many varied ways in which the Igbo manifest their innermost thoughts and values, in order to synthesize the world view of the Igbo.
0 1.2 THE V ALIDITY OF STEREOTYPE
A methodological question which must be posed and answered at this initial stage in order to avoid misdirection is whether the proposed world view is a synthesis articulated by the people being presented, or it is that of the presenter. In other words, when I say that "A" is part of the world view of the Igbo, do I mean that "A" is what the Igbo articulate as what they think, or do I mean that "A" is what I configure that the Igbo think? Is the explorer looking for the theoretical explanations by the people of their experience or is he formulating the conceptions of agency which he considers as lying behind the patterns of behaviour of the people? Does he seek their "explanatory categories" or their "effective agencies”?
to confront the implications of this question has led to very intensive and
space and time consuming debates as to whether or not African societies could
be considered to have any philosophy and whether traditional thought could be
considered philosophical. The debate has taken dimensions ranging from book
size explorations as in Kwesi Wiredu's Philosophy and ail African Culture (1980)
and Paulin J. Houn-tondji’s African Philosophy:
Myth and Reality (1976), English translation 1983). to numerous essays
asking specifically, "Is There an African Philosophy?” (Ruch. Philip, Oruka,
Onyewuenyi). The pedagogical question has also been raised as to whether
traditional African thought presented enough philosophical challenges to be
incorporated into courses to be taught in a Department of Philosophy in an
African university. The intensity of the discussions, which have occupied many
issues of the
What I am about to share with you then is the picture which I have derived from experience, research and interpretation, of the Igbo understanding of the structure of reality in the world and how this affects the operations of man both in society and within the inner recess of the individual person. I hope the picture I present is such that gives rationality and consistency to the behaviour of the Igbo as a people.
One is aware of the dangers of individualistic approaches to the exploration of the Igbo world view. Some Igbo scholars have already given warnings on this approach. Ụma Eleazụ decried "the present staccato method of one person describing one village and labelling it Igbo". Mark Anikpo called for an exercise "to eliminate arbitrary and selective interpretations of Igbo affairs and thus ensure a better understanding of the Igbo as a civilization in its own right." Personal efforts at interpretation of the Igbo world view continue however till there is visible progress in the setting up of a centre for integrated studies on the Igbo world.
I am starting this exploration with the premise that the Igbo, living in their environment over the ages, have had to respond to their experiences and formulate ways of handling them -understanding events, solving problems, accepting situations, formulating statements encapsulating their own collective experiences towards making these distillations available to future generations. They have had their perceptions and their thoughts. They have generated patterns of folk-life in agriculture and politics, in economics and religion, in technology, in cultural structures and practices. They have evolved folklore, transmitted from generation to generation to give expression to their thoughts and life. These various facets of a people's activities must have rationality and consistency.
discussing the world view of the Igbo, one is trying to synthesize into one the
meaning of life to a people living in a wide territory and in quite distinct
zones and units. One has to retain a consciousness of variations in patterns of
behaviour. This raises the question of IDENTITY. Can one really talk of the
Igbo world view? Are there not enough linguistic and cultural differences
between Agbor and Arochukwu, between Nsukka and Ikwerre, to make nonsense of
any proposition that claims to be descriptive of all the Igbo? Moreover, are
there not enough suggestions about the different migrational histories of
various sections of Igboland to indicate that the so-called Igbo are not really
one people but a progressive amalgam of people, whether they were from
Another issue which one must confront at this stage is that of the passage of time. There certainly would have been internally generated modifications to Igbo thought and behaviour over the ages. Human, social, and environmental factors would have created situations with which established response patterns would not have coped and these would inevitably have led to changes in the nature of the Igbo world view. Moreover, through travel and through other forms of external contact, the Igbo are bound to have been influenced by other peoples towards transformations in their world view. Again an awareness of these factors of change challenges one to a diachronic approach to presentation so that time factors help to establish states of mind at a given time. For example, the opportunity which the present times have given for the predominant attributes of the Igbo to blossom into the ugliness of materialistic indiscipline, and lack of grace and finesse, must not be taken to represent the all-time behaviour of the Igbo. A characteristic which could have been favourable and positive in one phase of the history of a people, which could again be positive and beneficial in another phase, could present the greatest negative consequences in a transitional phase. In practical terms, the attributes which make the Igbo appear vulgar and materialistic at this phase, could be the same attributes that made them achieving and titled people in the past. The present could merely be revealing the impact of new, uncharted times to the chaotic instinct in those who had been restrained by the limiting structures and facilities of the ordered past. And it is important to retain then the diachronic consciousness that transitional people have the handicap of having lost the grace and poetry of their past, without yet acquiring the grace and poetry, or at least the discipline and sanctions of the modern.
0.1.3 LANGUAGE AND WORLD VIEW
Finally, the problem of language, we are engaged in the complex process of speaking about the innermost consciousness of the Igbo in a language, English, which shares neither cultural background nor linguistic systems with the Igbo language. We have therefore to retain a consciousness that we are engaged in a translation exercise with all the tendencies to distortion of thought and emotion which is involved in translation. One is aware, for example, of the misinterpretations inherent in some accepted term equivalences. The Igbo nna m ukwu translates to "master" and one knows that whereas the Igbo expression carries implications of fatherhood, the English equivalent speaks of the slave and owner situation. Whereas akụ nwanyị speaks of the show of wealth and the exchange of benefits which marriage is, "bride-price" concerns itself with marriage as a purchasing of a wife. These translation problems have certainly led to some of the distortions that have existed in the interpretation of Igbo cultural patterns.
More than this, there has been the problem of trying to express in English, patterns and concepts for which that language has no equivalents. Even within the same language we know that synonyms do not mean exactly the same thing, and yet there has not been too much restraint in the use of apparent English equivalents to represent Igbo thought. Perhaps this may not do too much damage where we are dealing with objects and relationships where paraphrases would help. There is no harm in using the phrase "my mother's first daughter" each time one wants to refer to one's ada nne (though an Igbo person can immediately feel the absolute destruction of intimacy involved in that translation). But when we come to some of the key abstract concepts in a people's life where symbolism derived from the environment is at the root of meaning, the difficulties are multiplied many fold. I only mention this here to indicate one of the peculiarities of the present exercise.
The final problem I will refer to here arises from the still predominantly oral use of the Igbo language. Since Igbo is mainly a spoken language, it relies quite heavily on symbolic non-verbal forms of communication. The problem which this poses is that symbolism is the most private part of a people's culture and therefore a language and culture still heavily symbolic will have immense difficulties of inter-cultural communication.
If I may illustrate very briefly the importance and frequency of the use of symbolic non-verbal forms to support the oral statement, I will tell a story. Perhaps the song of the story will be adequate to make the point. A stream had expanded and blocked the return path of a group of girls who had gone to fetch firewood. Each girl sang the following song to put the blame on the girl responsible for the river's anger so that the river contract and let her pass:
Iyi na ọ wụghị mị sịrị
Nganga, owe eh nganga,
Wa Oromoko sịrị
Nganga, owe eh nganga,
Ke nne ya nọ nwee
Nganga, owe eh nganga,
Ke nna ya nọ nwee
Nganga, o.we eh nganga,
Gba wa ụkwụ ọla gam
Nganga, owe eh nganga,
Gbafụgha asụ chịrị
Nganga, owe eh nganga.
There is much that one could say in appreciation of this story in connection with the speaking to a stream and obtaining results, about the prefix wa and its paradoxical effects in conveying both affection and diminution, about the use of nganga both as a meaningless refrain and also as a suggestion of the arrogance that was at the root of the problem of the girls with the stream. What I wish to highlight here is the factor of the use of symbolic non-verbal communication elements to create substantive meaning.
In the name of the girl, the concept of pride is introduced with the implications of iro oko. The lines which convey the girl's movement of her ring-decorated ankle-gba wa ụkwụ ọla gam and the girl's insulting projection of a spray of spittle-gbafụgha asụ, chịrị, depend completely for their meaning on the symbolic implications within the culture of those actions. Thus, if an Igbo woman complains that her husband pulled her along the ground, or flogged her with a broom, the intensity of her reactions could only be explained by the symbolism of those actions.
A language then is not only a means of communication but carries within its vocabulary, its structures, and its contexts, much that is indicative of the meaning of life to a people. A language is to a large extent the embodiment of a people's world view. Thus we have to retain a consciousness of this state of reality as we proceed now to speak of the Igbo world view in the English language.
0.1.4 AN APPROACH TO WORLD VIEW
I do not here pursue the problems of logic and epistemology which predominate in contemporary philosophical discussions. In fact, I am not a philosopher for I do not complete the assignment posed by Kekes when he defined philosophy as "the rational construction and justification of world view". I do construct and present a world view here but I do not defend it except in so far as I show a preference for an open mind to a world view different from what is predominant now in the so-called developed world.
In the construction and presentation of the Igbo world view I will need to pass through the territory of other scholars. I do not plan to generate new speculations in those disciplines. I hope to seek through these areas of learning and glean some clear articulations of ideas congenial to and supportive of the wholistic statement that I am attempting to make. I hope in the end to have proposed a world view that gives coherent, consistent, and adequate explanation of the behaviour observable and
predominant among the Igbo by exploring:
(a) The Igbo perception of the nature of reality.
(b) The ideas of Igbo social Life; and
(c) The Igbo Ideal of the Good Life.
0.2 THE NATURE OF REALITY
A proper understanding of a people's attitudes to and expectations from the various aspects and areas of life depends on an appreciation of their general conception of reality. In seeking to understand this framework of thought, one would try to find answers to questions like: What concepts appear to govern practice in the areas of religion, social organization and other areas of living? Into what categories do the Igbo group their perception and experiences of reality? To what phenomena do the Igbo attribute reality? The great scholar and humanist, the late J. Bronowski, opened a valuable way for these questions when he declared that:
The structure of reality is not self-evident. . . No, we have to tease out the structure from the observational sentences when we make them abstract sentences. How do we do that? Well, we do it essentially by treating nature as, in Leibnitz's phrase, a gigantic cryptogram, a gigantic series of coded messages. And we seek to decode it in such a way that entities emerge which are conserved under various changes and transformations.
How have the Igbo decoded the world in which they live? By what processes do they represent and react to this reality? What realities do they take into account in their thinking processes, in their activities and in their relationships?
The importance of urgency in this exercise in
primary exploration of thought is indicated by the imperceptible manner in
which patterns of thought derived from culture contact, and the language of
contemporary communication, that is English, are driving a wedge into
traditional thought system. Let me give a brief illustration of this. One of my
field workers in my project on "Igbo Religious and Mythical
Literature" collected a statement from a cult priest to the effect that Ahịajọkụ
ọ wụ ji na
Here, I believe, lies the source of much of the problem of understanding Igbo traditional culture and values in the past. Writers have tried to reproduce the language and concepts of one culture within the framework of another cultural thought pattern. Some foreign ethnographers have even done better than some Igbo writers. In the particular case of Ahịajọkụ, Talbot appears to have be conscious of the need to evolve a special vocabulary when he wrote “Ajọkkọ-Ji or Njọkkọji - the king (or Juju) yam, the biggest one of all the crops in which the yam spirit is thought to take up its abode". He also avoided the usual words god, fetish-and used expressions like "genius of the farm", and "farm spirit".
The Igbo, like every other people, have observed their environment and interacted with it. They have embedded their observations and reactions in their language and literature, in their patterns of originations and relationships. It is from these that we now attempt to derive the Igbo conception of the nature of reality.
0.2.1. PATTERNS OF EXPERIENCE
The Igbo have had to live in very close proximity and intimacy with nature. They have had to observe in very close detail the things that have impinged most on their lives. This can be deciphered from the detailed differentiations they have made in the categorization of those things. It is surprising when one begins to look into it, how much our people know about the characteristics and uses of the shrubs and plants and insects of our bushes. They know intimate details about the animals of our forests and hunt them with expertise. A villager's vocabulary of rats can be quite impressive: in one session I was told ofoke, agu oke, obosokoro, okotoko, ohio, odu, oguru/oginya/ọgịnị, oke ogwe, oke okwe, oke nkwụ, oke nkwakpo, adụwa, wisu, wa ọta korokoro. One has only to listen to proverbs sometimes to know how intimately our people know the characteristic behaviour of the elements in the environment. Whatever the meaning of the proverb in context, it is clear that it required intimate observation of the oke nkwụ that is called adụwa for somebody to formulate the proverb that "Adụwa sịrị n'elu nkwụ daa sị ya gbawa ọsọ mgbe faa; sị ya amaghị ihe onye gbufuru ya na nkwụ vu n’obi". (Adụwa the palm rat fell from the palm tree and started running at once, saying that he could not trust the intentions of the man that cut down the bunch that brought him down).
The Igbo then made detailed observations of the elements of their environment and they used this knowledge and lived by it. It is necessary however to distinguish for our purposes here two kinds of observations. During the process of clearing a piece of land a few years ago, I heard one villager exclaim with some enthusiasm: "So this kind of plant is still here!" He described the plant as very useful to farmers who might accidentally cut themselves when they are working in the farm. If any twig or leaf of this shrub was broken off, a chalky juice came out of it which when put on a cut, immediately stopped the bleeding and sealed up the wound. The name of the shrub appropriately was anya sọ ọbara.(literally, the eyes detest blood. Beside this shrub there was a tall grass about which a companion exclaimed “Look at this, too. During those days when we used to wrestle in competition, if you tied it in a knot, and bound it under some cloth on the upper part of your left arm, the legs of your opponent would soon twist under him and you were sure to win the bout”. Whereas my first reaction to the first information was the excitement of discovery, I first reacted to the second informant with a certainty he was ignorant and superstitious. But to the villagers the same level of credibility attached to both statements.
I was told a story one day by a raffia palm wine tapper to the effect that “Ngwọ ji anụ ntị (the raffia- palm has ears and hears). He had planted a raffia palm tree at his farm boundary. When it matured and he started tapping it, his neighbour came and started disputing ownership, claiming that his dead brother had told him that it was his raffia palm. They could not settle the matter by swearing, since the local tradition did not allow swearing over property at farm boundaries or over raffia palms. In both cases it is too easy to make mistakes and the Igbo Community usually prevents its members from killing themselves unnecessarily. What usually happens in the case of disputed raffia palms is that each of the claimants in turn makes his claim and pours libation of palm wine on the ground. The tree hears the claims and on the day of the person who actually owns the tree, it fills the gourd while wasting itself or not producing on the day of the person who does not own it.
In this particular case, though my palm wine tapper was claiming the tree and doing all that the tapper could do to make the tree produce, on the days that he poured the libation the tree carefully avoided the gourd and poured itself on the ground. In his own words, on the second day:
Chi abọwhuo. Mgbe anyị na-abịaruole, ah! ya la-ebi, ańụ la-ebi
ekwo rorororo. Ya alawhu elu hịọọ, na-ata …. M arịruo.Ya wụ ngwọ m jiri
aka m kụọ. Ma Sunday hị ma nị hị si m ekpule hị chịchịrị ; m amaghị sị
nga a ọkọchị dị, ho okomene awha ọkụ. M ewere otoo gbuhemecha ya,
gheme ye ọnụ, kpude ya kpam, chime. Mgbe m na-arịruole, ya ewere
otoo lie udo kpoo; ụfụfụya ewere otoo bịa kụpịa. Sị o-ruole mmịị. M
agaru. Mgbe m kwatụrụ ebele aka, nhe m nọrọ ebe ehị gwa hị sị, “lamanị!”
Hị sị m “wedatama!” “wedatama!” M ewedata ya. Out kọpụ mmịị dam!
The next day belonged to the other claimant. Declan the tapper did exactly what he had done on his own days. The calabash was full. There was no further debate and Declan tapped the tree for the other claimant till it was exhausted. The tree had heard and given judgment.
The Sunday referred to in the quotation above is also a palm-wine tapper who produces very sweet palm wine. Sunday explained his use of ọgwụ ngwọ (the medicine for palm wine). He had to go and learn it from Ikeduru and it consists of eight leaves that have to be boiled in a slim packet for two days. When the leaves are ready for use, they are placed at the point where the tapping incision was made. For two weeks this bundle will keep the tapping point hot and clean, and clear sweet palm wine can then come out of the tree. The effectiveness of this medicine is attested to by all those who take Sunday's palm-wine, that is those who have the taste for palm wine and can distinguish good palm wine from bad. There is certainly a difference between Sunday's palm wine and the wine produced by those who do not use ọgwụ ngwọ or use inferior types of chemicals. How is one to combine two types of information about the raffia palm?
Chief S. U. Chukueggu, Director of the Mbarị Art Centre at Eke Ngụrụ, Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area once produced a piece of sculpture which he called Ajala Eziudo. The sculpture represents a grove of trees, showing mushrooms, skulls, and a god towering above the whole forest. Chukueggu's art is mythical, representing the meeting point between religion and the imagination, the transition from doctrine to social thought. His explanation of the symbolism of the sculpture referred to the contemporary events in Eziudo and what was supposed to have happened when the sacred grove of Ajala Eziudo was cut down. The key tree in the grove was an anụnụede tree. It is reported that the anụnụede tree sent forth some mushrooms which some people of the town ate. Thirteen people were killed by the mushrooms. The story of the anụnụede tree was confirmed by a well-educated Eziudo man who added that two women went to farm in that land and one cut her toe in the farm and that evening the two women died. The story of the anụnụede tree got even more complex. An Ọhafia informant added that the anụnụede tree sometimes goes on a walk and that is when the medicine men who come and wait beside the forest enter the forest and pick up bits and pieces of the anụnụede, strips of bark or dried twigs or leaves, with which they concoct very powerful medicines. These medicines are sometimes used by thieves such that they could blow the powder of it towards your house and you would fall deeply into sleep while they stole even from your bedroom. At other times, with anụnụede medicine you could become invisible to your enemies. And if the diviner tells you to go and offer a sacrifice to the anụnụede tree, your luck will determine whether sacrifice will arrive when the husband anụnụede is awake or the wife anụnụede. The importance of which one accepts your sacrifice is that if it is the man, he will do whatever you request and will not care whether it is for your good or not; but if it is the woman anụnụede that is at home she will make sure that what you ask is good for your home and compound before she fulfils your wishes. An Ichie of Ogbunike independently wrote of brother and sister anụnụede (Ọdụche).
It would fill a whole lecture, such stories about
trees and their "strange" behaviour. I will conclude here about Igbo descriptions
of their experience with the story of Mazi Nwagu Aneke. Mazi Aneke is from Ụmụleri
0.2.2 INTERPRETATIONS OF EXPERIENCE
Various attitudes could be adopted to these kinds of reports from the Igbo experience. The standard and prevalent one combines rejection of such stories as untrue and impossible, and dismissing them as superstitious. The stories are said to be stupid and unscientific and to show the extent of ignorance of our people. The literature of this kind of rejection is too vast and needs not to be repeated here. In truth, a world that is dominated by the mechanistic casuality principle of the western intellectual tradition has no place for such inexplicable phenomena.
The second attitude is to find psychological reasons why people who otherwise are sensible should believe in things like these. In this case, those elements of belief which relate to non-physical agencies and processes are explained as ways by which the people satisfy some crucial psychological needs. For example since the time of Malinowski, British anthropologists have interpreted activities dependent on such beliefs as means of fulfilling functions in other spheres of life. Ritual, for example, was seen as
facilitating some essential activity such as agriculture, fishing or trade by raising morale, enforcing the requisite values or giving organizing power to the magi co-religious specialists. Ritual was also "useful as" a means of enforcing tribal ethics, supporting authority, making possible the re-forming of groups and the assumption of new roles after marriage, peace-making or death (A. I. Richards).
The objects of belief were not taken as realities and were therefore to be explained from their social and psychological usefulness.
From all directions of scholarship, they offer explanations. Whether they are phenomenologists or radical empiricists, whether they are cultural or social anthropologists, intellectualists or fidelists, all they are doing is offering different kinds of interpretations for things they do not believe to be there. For example, a great debate has raged among the philosophers and cultural anthropologists studying the Nigerian belief and logic systems since 1967 when Robin Horton published his long essay on "African Traditional Thought and Western Science". Taking any of the opposing views at random, one may consider the differences between Horton and John Beattie. The crux of this disagreement could be attributed to the fact that Horton approaches thought patterns with an emphasis on logic and epistemology and therefore conceives of modes of thought and beliefs as stages in a continuum of a search for explanation, prediction and control of reality. John Beattie on the other hand is interested in thought patterns as the premises for effective systems for the management of situations and events both physical and otherwise. Beattie then attributes the effectiveness of science to its being based on "experience and hypothesis-testing" while ritual is dependent on the "imputation of a special power to symbolic or dramatic expression itself". It appears to me however that the ideas and expressions used in this particular Horton/Beattie debate proceed naturally from the perceptual framework of the disbelieving anthropologist. In their quest for the most acceptable explanation of how and why people believe in, say, spirit forces, they do not take into account one key possibility, namely, that these forces do exist.
I have argued above mainly relative to European scholars. It is part of the tradition in which most of us have been educated not to give any credence to the kinds of belief systems popular among traditional Igbo people with regard to their environment. In our contemporary fictional writing, there is some carefulness not to be too committed to what might appear irrational. In Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Chapter 9 is devoted to the exposition of the health problems of Okonkwo's daughter Ezinma, and Okonkwọ's intense care for her in spite of his known brusqueness. In the process, we are taken through the concept and practice of the ọgbanje phenomenon in such a manner that we can see the manipulative strategies of the dibịa who came to dig out the iyi-ụwa. On the other hand, when Okonkwọ went into the bush and came back with "a large bundle of grasses and leaves, roots and barks of medicinal trees and shrubs", the novelist presented him as providing a straight-forward treatment which was clearly effective.
In his own novel, The Great Ponds, Elechi Amadi takes us through a very intensive and self-contained series of experiences of sickness, death, and suspense, consequent on an oath which had been sworn over a conflict between two villages. The great god of the area, Ogbunabalị, on whom the oath had been taken, was believed to have sent a terrible sickness, wonjo, on both communities in anger. It is therefore with a shock of realization that one reads the last lines of the novel. In the end, Elechi Amadi wrote, after very many people had died, "it was only the beginning. Wonjo, as the villagers called the Great Influenza of 1918, was to claim a grand total of some twenty million lives all over the world". The shock of realisation not only involves one's sudden extraction from the exclusive interiority of the novel, but also both the discovery that the people's explanation of their predicament is based on ignorance, and that Elechi Amadi did not hold on to the beliefs which he had presented with so much firm competence and involvement.
Part of the cynicism with which the educated African looks at the traditional belief and knowledge systems has to be seen to derive from the way in which some primary carriers of the traditions themselves operated this system. What was one to do with the statement that if one swore a false oath he would die if one found out that there was an attempt to poison the one who swore an oath? Did the people themselves believe that a false oath swearing could lead to death? Because, if they did, what was the need for poison? There is also the question of rainmaking. A dibịa would take money with the claim that he was going to prevent rain from falling when the client was celebrating an event. The dibịa would be seen parading the environs of the venue of the event, wielding a broom and chanting away with a string of irrelevant proverbs. Is that how to stop rain? One would have been tempted to discard rainmaking out of hand but for the discovery that often the dibịa parading the venue is really a finder and that he might not himself be a rain maker. Having taken his finders' fee he has paid the real rain-maker who is in the laboratory doing whatever constitutes the process of rain-making or rain-stopping.
Liberalism, tolerance, pluralism, incline many to find pleasure in the idea of a multiplicity of men and visions; but the equally reputable and enlightened desire for objectivity and universality leads to a desire that at least the world and truth be but one, and not many.
Whatever theoretical stance one takes, the truth is that there has been a multiplicity of men and visions. In the same place and time there have been differences which have been given definition of the concepts of culture and anti-culture. In the same place at different times we have had differences that are reflected in the histories of culture and of knowledge. In different places at the same time, the differences give rise to an area of learning called regional studies. Even more clearly, then, there are differences between cultures in different places at different times and so we study comparative cultural history.
Even if there were to be only one truth, whose truth should it be? The time is auspicious for the African scholar to look with objectivity, and without fear of being described as a primitive steeped in superstition, at the beliefs and practices of his people.
Twenty years ago, this would not have been possible. S. F. Nadel, writing on Malinowski on Magic and Religion, after presenting the tenets of Malinowski on the topics, sums up his own reactions to the attitudes implied in those tenets as follows:
Magic, religion, mythology-they all had to make sense. Malinowski would have claimed that this sense was a scientific one. And there was only one science he considered relevant to social enquiry-biology, more precisely, the biology at the beginning of this century, still strongly evolutionary and telelogical, and dominated by the concept of survival. The conception of a science which, by lay standards. is abstruse and opposed to commonsense, was yet alien to the climate of thought of his day(Man and Culture. my italics).
The science which Nadel referred to is now available to us. The scientists now debate on the language of observation and the language of scientific theory. There have been revolutions in the sciences that make ridiculous the scientific certainties of yesteryears and their philosophical implications. Quantum mechanics was developed in the 1920s and where classical physics had established that "the state of a system is specified by a precise simultal1eous determination of all relevant dynamical variables (position, momentum, energy, etc)", quantum mechanics introduced the uncertainty principle. Philosophers and scientists have fought against it, including Einstein, who, having created his own revolution with the Theory of Relativity, could now say of the Indeterminism in quantum mechanics that "God does not play dice". Whatever decision the scientists arrive at, science has broached the question, and mechanistic certainties are no longer taken for granted as the only approach to reality.
The progression to the study of micro-objects and processes has also generated new theories on the state of nature. Its findings now demand that people, including scientists, should accept new approaches to knowledge. Atomic Theory has exposed the possibility of what it describes as "theoretical entities". Some scientists and philosophers of science still deny the existence of such entities and "regard theoretical assumptions about them as ingeniously contrived fictions, which afford a formally simple and convenient descriptive and predictive account of observable things and events". (Philosophy of Natural Sciences) But, again, the matter has been broached by some of the most meticulous scientists and philosophers of science.
It would appear, then, that the present progress in the sciences invites us to be open to admit the reality, not only of "those things, properties, and processes, whose presence or occurrence can be ascertained by normal human observers" with immediacy, but also those that can be ascertained by "the mediation of special instruments or of interpretative hypotheses or theories".
And now for my hypothesis on the conception of the nature of reality which accords with Igbo life and thought. What I have laboured to say in this section so far is that its validity is not dependent on how much it is close to or different from any other people's view but on how much it explains what the Igbo say and how the Igbo react to the world.
0.2.4. THE STRUCTURE OF REALITY
In order to understand the Igbo world, it is necessary to accept that the Igbo recognize three types of reality, namely, the physical, the spiritual and the abstract.
I put that statement here at the beginning because it is what 1 hope to have established as a major part of my thesis. The first implication of that statement is that the Igbo would not accept that every thing is made of matter. The second implication is that the standard posture of contemporary African metaphysics which divides reality into the physical and the spiritual would be considered inadequate to explain satisfactorily the experience of the Igbo. To put it another way, three forms of being impinge on a person's life-the physical that can be touched, weighed, eaten, that can touch one through the usual sense.; the spiritual which may not he seen or touched except by specially "washed" eyes, but which all the same can affect the shape and nature of physical being, and then the abstract which exists and may affect reality by becoming realized in either of the other forms, physical or spiritual. Each of these forms of being has reality. Each of them is capable of being transformed into the other. The differences exist in the way they are experienced and the kind of impact they have. They are the three tips of the triangle of being which may stand on any side at a given time depending on circumstances. Different permutations of these forms of being take place also at different times depending on circumstances. I hope this becomes clearer as my presentation progresses.
Without going fully into the religious aspect that
will be discussed later, I will use
For the Igbo, the reality of an object emerges or assumes validity at that time when the object is in the process of performing its function. Once, when a group of dancers were at rest entertaining themselves, a well-recognized son of the land met them and offered them some more drinks. In the middle of the drinking, someone broke into song which was taken up to the effect:
Anyị amarana ndị wụ nwoko Nwoko. nwoko,
Anyị amarana ndị wụ nwoko.
Ọ wụghị ọha wụ nwoko.
There is also a variant of the song which goes with it and says:
Anyị amarana ndị wụ nwoko
Anyị amarana ndị wụ ọbọ mma
Ọ wụghị ọha wụ nwoko.
All this reminds one of the scene in Things Fall apart where Okonkwọ, full of his achievement as a man in the community, retorted to a man who had interrupted his discussion that "This meeting is for men". An old man in the meeting commented "Looking at a king's mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother's breast". And Achebe the novelist commented: "Okonkwọ knew how to kill a man's spirit".
I am suggesting that the importance attached to these statements derives, not from the purely metaphorical impact they might have, but from the fact that they come within a cultural context in which such expressions have ontological implications.
The prevalent use of the epithet, ezi, in the description of things when their reality is at issue is, I believe significant. We apply the epithet in quite disparate situations so that it qualifies people--ezi mmadụ, ezi nwanyị, ezi nwoko and so forth; it qualifies things; it even qualifies words so that the concept of truth is represented by ezi okwu, meaning "the real word". What all these uses emphasize is the Igbo attribution of importance to "proper states" of being, to things fulfilling the attributes of their being in order to be considered real.
Lack of understanding of this perspective, this Igbo conception of BEING AS ACTION, could lead to misinterpretations. When in 1923 Basden spied out the shrine of Awnyilli Awra of Ezira he was quite disappointed with some of the shrines he saw on the way where the icons appeared to have been left to rot away. In his book on the Igbo, the only index entry on mentality had to do with this scene from which he assessed that the Igbo did not care for their gods. On the contrary, the Igbo should be recognized as caring very much for their gods-but only as long as those gods are effective. Any god that becomes useless has no right to expect the Igbo to continue to serve him since the essence of godhead is power. By the same token, a priest is a priest while he is in a state to perform the functions of a priest, and if a priest breaks the rules of his god or defiles himself (merụọ/rirụọ agbara ya) he and his god become discarded. When I visited Mazi Ekeh, an Enugu Ezike man, on the day he was celebrating a feast, when it came to time for him to call upon his deity Oheh, he picked up a calabash horn that had been lying on the floor, wiped it clean,
and it became the sacred horn with which he called Oheh. When Mike Ejeagha sings that nkanka nkata adagh abakwonụ n'ife, kalia mbọsị aja he might be complaining but he is stating the fact of Igbo life. An Ọgalanya is an Ọgalanya when it is time for those activities for which the community requires an Ọgalanya but he need not expect that when the kindred are sharing out the meat, they, will give him more than his share. The ontological status of things in Igbo thought is determined and recognized not by any static characteristics that the objects might have but by the action that the object performs.
From this perspective, one may make a fresh assessment of some statements usually made about Igbo ontology and see to what extent they fit into Igbo beliefs. I will take here one statement which gives a certain hierarchical picture of the Igbo world:
According to Igbo ontology, everything that exists has a chi-"a portioned-out-life-principle" given to it by the Supreme chi, which is "Life per se". Though this self-same "portioned-out-life-principle" is given to both man, animals, and plants, it differs, however. in degree. For just as Chukwu is higher than man, man is above the animals and distinguished from them by virtue of the fact that man gets higher degree of this divine life; and the animal is also above the vegetable. Similarly, the latter is distinguished from the inanimate.
One need not comment at this point on the "shared portioned-out-life-principle" and its being given by Chukwu and whether chi may be considered a generic name for the deity in all beings. But the quotation sets up a hierarchy with God at the top and the inanimate objects at the bottom. And that raises two questions as to the compatibility of the statement with Igbo life and belief patterns. First, are there any objects which the Igbo regard as inanimate such that agency cannot be attributed to them? If, as you come out in the morning, you hit your toe against a piece of stone (note that in English you hit toe against a stone), in Igbo you would ask why the stone hit your toe (note that in Igbo the stone hits against your toe).
More importantly, how absolute is the system
of superiority such that one can say that plant life is superior to inanimate
existence, and man superior to both. Should we not really speak of a
parallelism such that each item from each category is recognized for its
special ability rather than postulate an absolute hierarchy of classes of being?
In what Igbo town would the people accept that a man is superior to
No, the hierarchy of Igbo beings cannot be established in static classes. A particular being assumes a particular position in the scale of importance in Igbo estimation on the basis of its exercise of specific powers at that given time.
Another instance of this apparent discrepancy between statement and reality in traditional life occurs at times when the elders might say to two people quarrelling over land that the matter would have to be settled by Amadịọha. The trick that is used, I found, was to bury a series of lodestones on the boundary which the elders, in their wisdom, had decided. Whenever there was lightning, it would be attracted to the stones and dig them out, and the elders would declare that the lightning deity, Amadịọha or Kamalụ had settled the matter.
In spite of these exceptions, however, it is the fact that most reports of the 1gbo experience carry genuine expressions of belief. They describe experience as interpreted through the world view of the Igbo. The question now is, what perception of the nature of reality makes rational and consistent meaning of the way in which the Igbo report and interpret their experience?
02.3. RELATIVITY AND UNIVERSALITY
But first, is it possible to have more than one truth as to the nature of reality? Does not all knowledge tend to one, so that any departure from the mainstream of world knowledge, from the body of accepted beliefs, is a deviation, a heresy, or ignorance, rather than an alternative truth?
That the questions above could be framed is an indication of the progress that the world of scholarship has made from the rigid certainties of European ethnocentric dogmatism of a few decades back. The access to liberalism has been generated from the most unlikely source, the same physical sciences that created the mechanistic world view that dominated the philosophy of knowledge.
Extreme relativity would of course be self defeating. Once we accept the externality of reality, we must then acknowledge that progressively humanity will know it more and more exactly till perhaps one day reality will be all known. So one has to accept the concept of an evolutionary progression towards the correct description of reality.
Having said that, one is still free to argue that there is some difference between physical reality to which one may apply with ease the principle of absoluteness of knowledge, and other areas of life. There are the areas of man's relationship to the physical universe, man's relationship with his community and other human beings, man's conception of what makes life worth living. In the consideration of these areas of life there is clearly an easy case to be made for relativity. The conflict between universality and relativity is well stated by Lloyd and Gay in their introduction to the collection of essays entitled Universals of Human Thought.
My thesis that the Igbo give ontological status to three types of reality: the physical, the spiritual and the abstract or conceptual therefore that they will acknowledge effects as derivable from any of those three possible agencies. The physical agent does not require any description or explanation from me. The spiritual agent is also very much in contemporary metaphysical debate. I believe that it is with the abstract agent that I have to struggle for explanation.
Once, a community leader invited a group of friends to rejoice with him and have some drinks over a new car. He brought out a fresh bottle of whisky which was to be opened and used in pouring a libation for the car. He gave the bottle to a prominent person from the eldest quarter of the town. A quarrel began to develop because there was somebody from the eldest kindred of that quarter who insisted that he was the right person to open the drink and pour the libation. The prominent person who received the drink was about to open the bottle when the other elder threatened: Mehena nmai ahi ogu ma gi (If you dare open that bottle, ogu will strike you). I have left ogu untranslated because it would sound stupid in English to say" '" innocence will strike you". Ogu is a concept, an abstract idea. When somebody is innocent of the matter of conflict, he says that he has ogu. If somebody wishes to achieve revenge over some offence which he has received from an opponent, he is supposed to establish that he had not committed a primary offence that provoked his opponent to the present action over which he seeks revenge. If ogu is not on his side, nothing he does in revenge, even if he has medicine from the strongest medicine-man, will have an effect in his favour. Ogu therefore is an active agent in the affairs of the Igbo. Margaret Greene, in 1gbo Village Affairs remarks on how ilu ogu "emphasizes that aspect of Ọfọ in which it is the guardian of the moral code" and adds in a footnote: "Nearly all socially approved rites, both magical and religious, are accompanied by this type of formula, in which help is asked only if the supplicant is innocent. The moral code is thus continually emphasized and upheld." Ogu is here an example of an abstract reality, a concept with agency and therefore with the status of independent existence conferred on it by the Igbo.
research on the shrine of
I will now direct this presentation to looking at the forms in which the three types of reality postulated above manifest themselves in the actual day-to-day life of the Igbo people.
0.2.5. COMPLEMENTARY STATES OF BEING
One thing that is easily decipherable in Igbo speech is the tendency to combine two elements. We speak of ọfọ na ogu, of ikwu na ibe, of mmụọ na mmadụ. One reaction to this tendency would be to dismiss it as a purely rhetorical device. I think however that it goes straight into the nature of Igbo thought about the manifestations of reality.
The initial problem of what to call this approach was presented by the tendency in the philosophical definition of "dualism" to involve an opposition factor, an irreducible contradiction between elements. Contemporary western philosophers have progressively begun to question the absolutism of dualism however and there is now a usable term defined by Elliot Jacques in his study of the forms of time, The subject of his own interest is the epistemological problem of the relationship between reality and the experience of reality, This is outside our immediate interest. The term he developed for his discussion however solves our own problems for it made a useful distinction between dualism and duality:
Dualism refers to the Cartesian view of the world as split irreconcilably between body and mind. Dualities and duals refer to pairs of interconnected and interactive concepts, which mayor may not be opposites, such as figure and ground, or the positive and negative poles of a magnet, or the alternation of the truth values in the and/or conjunctions in truth-table logic (The Forms of Time).
The Igbo see things in complementary dualities. This is evident in the perception of society as made up of ọha na eze, ikwu na ibe, nwoke na nwanyi, and so on, It extends to the perception of each person as having the ordinary personal existence and also the accompanying chi the same way that all beings with agency have their physical existence and their deistic counterpart. This duality extends further into identifying ahụ na mmụọ in the human person and chi na eke in the deistic aspect of human existence. At the medical and abstract powers level, there is ajụ ọgwụ at one pole and ire ọgwụ at the other pole.
The implication of this duality at the cosmological level is that good and bad are seen as co-existing in the same realities, creativity and destructiveness may be achieved by the same agencies. Too much evidence is seen of this phenomenon in the natural environment of the Igbo for it not to become part of the framework of thought. In the realm of deities, this duality is evident in the recognition of ekwensu as that aspect of deity that does the violence, even in a deity that is known for its benevolence. If somebody swears a false oath on a deity, even the gentlest deity, if he is to retain his credibility, has to do the violence of killing the false oath swearer. Violence is, in absolute terms, conceived of as evil and therefore has to be expiated. It is at the ekwensu that the expiatory sacrifice has to be offered when it becomes necessary to purify each deity especially at the time of his festival. So even deity is dualistic in the execution of its functions. Like good mmaị nkwụ, "Ọ sọkata gị ụsọ o nube gị inu, Oh Ọbịageliakụ nne m”
Things not only form and act in dualities, it is also possible for forms of reality to change both within the same type of reality and from one type of reality to another. "No condition is permanent" does not only operate within the social system, but also at the ontological level.
Ukwu day, when the priest of Ala Ụmụamadị Nguru
goes from his house early in the morning to beat the uhie in ọkpu
ala in greeting to his town's deity which he serves, he may not greet nor
be greeted by child or adult, male or female. He is in a state of
transformation till he has beaten the uhie and greeted
Another form of mutation of reality is involved in the activation iwake of icons. When one buys an ikenga carving in the market, or receives his commissioned art piece, what he has is yet a piece of carved wood. But when one has brought the right people to say the right form of words over the carving, Awake Ikenga, the carving takes on the reality of the owner's thrust force with which he confronts the world to struggle out his fate in it. The owner offers periodic sacrifice to his Ikenga, reinforcing it so that his endeavours are more successful. And anybody who, for any reason, defiles or destroys that object, is seen as destroying the thrust force of the owner and whatever the owner does to him will be considered as fully provoked.
A change from one type of reality to another takes place when an abstract concept is given physical form. This is what happens in the making of a variety of deities. A group of people, or rather a community with corporate identity gets together and evolves the concept of a deity that would rescue them from some kind of problem or provide them with a sorely needed good. They invite a "strong" dibia who collects the appropriate objects relevant to the type of deity required and makes one for the people. Occasionally the people killed the dibia so that he could not make the same type of deity for any other community; and clever dibia prepared for their escape before they went on such journeys. Legend has it that that was how Ikwen of Ohafia came into Being. Igbo fiction also presents one such prominent deity, Ulu of Umuaro. Achebe tells us that when "the hired soldiers of Abam used to strike in the dead of night, set fire to houses and carry men, women and children into slavery" the six villages of Umuaro "hired a strong team of medicine-men to install a common deity for them. This deity which the fathers of the six villages made was Ulu. From that day they were never again beaten by an enemy" (Arrow of God).
It is in this tradition of giving concrete form and potency to abstract concepts that one can understand another example of this activity, the tying of ebo as a protective barrier at the entrance to towns, market squares and compounds, at appropriate times. There is a linguistic parallel between the term ebo and what it is supposed to do in the place where it is placed, that is, mboshi onwu, mboshi nfu, (warding off death and loss). Most of the ingredients in the tying of ebo have names which coincide with the symbolic but effective action which they perform. In the shrine of Ala and of other deities, one may also see reifications of such abstractions as iwu, representing the covenant between the priest and the deity that neither is to be vicious to the other without provocation; onumonu, representing the exclamations during dangerous crises and sacrifice of cock is made periodically to this onumonu to ask that one is not killed by sudden exclamations; ike aka, representing that by which the deity is superior to others; okukoro whe by which one hooks off (koo) any elements of guilt that might lie on one; and so on and on.
At the other end of the mutation of reality is the change of nature of concrete movement from one place to another. Ụkwụ or Ụkwụ na ije is also a recognized force that one offers sacrifice after a successful journey. One comes and goes through the door (Ọnụzọ) of one's house or entrance to one's compound. Ọnụzọ is then abstracted and becomes a force that one relates with at the religious level of sacrifice and communion towards the peace and progress of the family and the compound. The ọfọ is a tree that grows in the Igbo forest. It even has a botanical name. If the community of ọfọ holders should knock the ọfọ on the ground against any person who has done some terrible thing in the community, ọfọ is known to kill without failure because of its other-than-physical power.
The Igbo view the world, then, as a multi-dimensional field of action admitting of three types of reality: physical, spiritual, and abstract; they gee objects and people, events and situations as existing and functioning in dualities; they acknowledge that things may not be what they seem and that things may change their nature. To the Igbo, the world presents a mixed outlook where what is good can do damage, where reality has to be sought under the surface of things, where the thoughts, words and actions of people can change things for better and for worse. It is this world view that provides the framework for the goals of Igbo community life and for the hopes and aspirations for the good life of individual Igbo persons.
The extents to which people will regard themselves as forming a community will have different limits in different ecological contexts. People living in areas where craggy hills and deep valleys or thick forests and unaffordable rivers, separate the population into small units are likely to see themselves in their little enclaves as exclusive communities. On the other hand, people living in open plains with easy access to other people are likely to have a more expansive concept of community. Other factors like warfare and defence, violent men with the ambition to rule large kingdoms, ease of travel, violent missionary religions, etc., are all factors that can influence the concept of group action. The organization of society is therefore likely to vary quite vigorously within any large area of discussion. Within the Igbo culture area, for example, we have urban groupings like Abiriba, Ohafia, Igboụzo, and Oguta, while most of Igbo land contains villages of scattered kindred habitations. We have Igbo monarchies derived from whatever historical accidents, while most of Igboland is governed by republican systems. Sociologists and political scientists will point at other differences of a similar nature.
The principle, I think, is that the extent of territory occupied by people who consider themselves corporate units of action, the nature and availability of facilities, the experience of history through contact with neighbours, and such other accidental factors are bound to influence economic, political, and even cultural organization. The differences of structure and custom can be so extreme that while most of Igboland is patrilineal in descent, some sections have matrilineal descent and some others have dual descent systems.
In spite of these differences, however, it is still possible to speak of the predominant goals of communal action in Igboland. It shou1d also be possible to show to what extent the directions of communal life follows from and consolidates the conception of the nature of reality discussed above.
0.3.1. CORPORATE IDENTITY OF COMMUNITY
Every Igbo community sees itself as a corporate unit. Is there any way in which the Igbo approach to this sense of identity differs from the patriotism which is the natural direction in which every community attempts to set its members? I believe we are dealing here with much more than the social recognition of the need of people living together to work together and protect themselves. The first element that impinges on the local case is the ability of the members of a community to trace their origins to the same blood. And that is why, in the thickening and thinning sense of blood relationship which each Igbo person feels with regard to units of social action, there is also a deepening and weakening sense of loyalty and commitment. The rings of concentric circles of blood relationships and therefore of the sense of identity and loyalty are illustrated in the following diagram:
In the hypothetical structure of relationship and identity illustrated above, even if in the Ụmụeke two families are quarrelling, they are expected to be of the same opinion and intention when the issue has to do with conflict with other sections in Ụmụnnanwiri. In the Ụmụezuo context all the people of Ụmụnnanwiri are brothers and sisters. In the Ụmụọkịrịka context, the people of Ụmụezuo are then supposed to have an indestructible solidarity. The system then extends outwards in that fashion, explaining the brotherliness of the Igbo OUTSIDE the Igbo homeland.
The corporateness of the community unit means that somebody belongs to the next higher unit of community on the basis of his membership of the next smaller unit. There is then nobody who does not belong to somebody, with all its implications in group lobbying for situations that should not accommodate such sectional interests. It also has the implication that every child becomes fully human only when it has been formally received into a community, most often by ritual presentation to t he elders of the kindred. And where the people are patrilineal, a problem arises when a girl of the kindred has a baby at home because the child does not belong to the kindred of the mother and nobody knows who the father of this child may be. This group ownership of children is highlighted in the community by various means, not the least of which being the kind of songs accompanying the birth of children. One such song says-
Anyị nụrụ ube nwa gbara bịawa
Anyị nụrụ ube nwa gbara bịawa
Ọ wụghị otu onye nwe nwa
Not too poetic perhaps in its imagery, but it makes the point.
Part of the perception of group identity is the recognition of that the achievement of one person leads to the improved level of existence of the community, at the same time as the crime of one person can lead to abomination and destruction and suffering of the town. It is this sense of corporateness that gives consistency to what should have been contradictory in some Igbo behaviour. There is, for example, the paradox of independence and yet mass support of individuals observed and commented upon by Dr Africanus Horton:
There is not that unity among them that is to be found among other tribes; in fact, everyone likes to be his own master. As a rule, they like to see every African prosper. Among their own tribe, be they so rich, they feel no ill-will toward them. A poor man or women of that tribe, if they meet with a rising young person of the same nationality, are ready to render him the utmost service in their power. They give him gratuitous advice, and "embrace him as their child"; but if he is arrogant and overbearing, they regard him with scorn and disdain wherever he is met. . .
The achievement of the individual raises the existential status of the community. And so widows were willing to bring out their last reserves to contribute to scholarship schemes in the community, irrespective of whose child was going to benefit from the scheme. As long as it was a member of the corporate unit, then it was to the good of all. I cannot resist the temptation here to remark on how fast and disastrously ideas can change. And yet, how the core of the system might survive in the extended context of the Igbo group action outside the Igbo home base.
In its corporateness, the desire of each group is group fulfilment, usually represented, not in the strict warfare of fatal combat, but in the contest for status. The image of the community is of intense interest to the community. And it is that which gives such vigour to corporate satires in the Igbo literary corpus. At a funeral, once, the youths of a town that had come to carry their dead sister felt insulted that the community of in-laws was not forthcoming with their demands. The situation turned into conflict, but of words rather than swords and guns. Any group that put the other to shame was the winner. In the end, the visiting group left in triumph, chanting their prowess:
Eh! lee ndị ọgụ ma a
mba ọgụ o kweere nwoko
Ndị anyị na ha gbara ị nụụrụ ihe m mere ha
mba ọgụ o kweere nwoko.
Alike Obowo ị nụụrụ ihe m mere ha. . . .
Gbucha nwoko chara ya amy ya. . .
Chara ya amụ gweere
mba ọgụ o kweere nwoko.
A town that could boast before others, a town that feels that no other town has anything for which it can be jealous, that is a fulfilled town. And that is what each town aims at in its corporateness. And I insist that this is not because of the better amenities that development entails, but more in the spirit of rivalry. And that is why, no matter how much we appear to regret now the fact of missionary and western influence, we have to acknowledge the enthusiasm with which some of our people lobbied for it. It was something new that appeared to offer new ways of economic and status development and towns sent delegations to headquarters to ensure that the station was in their own territory rather than that of their rival neighbours. And contemporary Abigbo songs still glory that "Ala oyibo ga wụ Nsukka" since the education for which we used to go overseas is now to be obtained at Nsukka, or that, and this is one for which the advantages are not dear to the singing villagers except that it represents something new and bright and progressive, "Supamaketi erule ama anyị".
This rivalry can be seen behind some of the ugly contests during the recent political days. How dare any government give some amenities, like industries, to any local government and not their own? And how come that village became an autonomous community and not their own? And how did the Government not notice that their section of the town descended from the first son of the founder of the town and how could the Government approve that the eze of the town should come from the section descended from the youngest son of the founder? All of which amounts to patriotism, but patriotism not directly related to the total area of community but passing through the filtering barriers of concentric circles of identity.
It is my proposition here that the explanation for the level of reaction and involvement described above can only be found within the context of the raising of the corporate identity of the Igbo community beyond its existence as a social unit unto the ontological level of abstract independent reality. This gives personality and agency to the community as a corporate being with the ability to grow weak or strengthen like a person.
Some of the practices and rituals of various Igbo communities give supporting evidence for this hypothesis. In the Anambra Local Government Area of Anambra State, for example, there is the Ikenga Obodo which is held in very great respect, which is brought out ceremonially once a year (though on occasion it is also brought out for impressive visitors). After all the social and religious functions connected with it have been undergone, the fate of the lkenga during the outing of the year is seen as reflecting the fate of the town for the year. Those therefore whose responsibility it is in a given year to "carry" the Ikenga Obodo for that year take their assignment seriously, knowing how much the vigour and fulfilment of the town during the year is a factor of their vigour and style.
In the Owerri area, the Mbari is also a reflection of how the fate of a community is seen in terms of health and progress as if the community is a person. When a suspicious series of events indicates that the deity of the community requires an Mbarị to be built in his/her honour, the town goes into a great ferment of activities, selecting the appropriate people, getting materials and perhaps hiring additional artists to help with training and design and construction of the Mbarị. Over a long period, the energies of the community are deeply engaged in supporting the activities of the devotees who build the Mbarị. In the end, the Mbarị is celebrated to the great increase in the welfare and health of the community.
At a less abstract level, there is the tendency for Igbo communities to declare some object, or person, or masquerade, or dance, the pride of the town. What would normally be considered a metaphor-“the pride of the town" is seen from this new perspective to be a statement of reality, for the town is personal enough in Igbo thought to be susceptible to pride and to shame.
A town is not only susceptible to pride and shame; it is susceptible to health and sickness. The annual festival cycles of various communities have much to do with the cleansing and reinvigoration of towns and villages. For most communities in Igboland, the most important of the festivals is centred on the new yam harvest. Some towns may achieve the same results with other festivals. At Isu in Nkwerre Local Government Area, the festival Nta n'ala is not exactly centred on the yam but its
celebration on an Afọ market day in the sixth month of the year is said to be "to thank chi for the crops that have matured towards harvest" (Amadi). In Orodo, the festival is called Egwu Amakụ and the main dish eaten is ụkwa (breadfruit) but again it is held just before the harvest and the blowing of the mpi ọkpu(horn), the symbol of authority, marks the beginning of the Orodo new year (Uzokwe). In most other places in Igboland, however, the festival of renewal is directly connected with the yam harvest (Modum, Kalu, Agada).
Two published stories give an insight into the reasons for the high place which yam occupies in Igbo view. The Afikpo story has to do with Ibiniukpabi asking a woman, Orie Nta Imomo to "plant something under a tree, tie her son to the tree, and set fire to both as a sacrifice to him". First, the woman used a slave and the result was ji abana which is not satisfying. At last she gave up her only son to Ibiniukpabi; and that is how good yam came to be regarded as Amadị in Afikpo. The Nrị story supports the nri claim to have given great benefits to Igboland. It was their king, Ndri, who obtained yam and cocoyam from Chukwu, again through sacrifice of his only son, and a slave.
The new yam harvest not only provides for the return of full feeding after a long period of famine, it also revives the covenant of renewal. From the various practices of various communities, some key elements constitute the annual festival. First, it marks the end of the period of greatest weakness due to hunger. Members of the community invoke the deities with whom they have associated to thank them for preserving them over the famine period. The people feed the deities with part of the harvest. The festival involves the cleansing and purifying of individuals and the community of the evils of the past year. In some communities this purification requires period of peace when people may not make loud noises of disagreement. Sick people would be doing themselves a disservice to die during this period for they would not be properly buried. Ahịajọkụ himself is ritually cleansed though an offering to his ekwensu. The environs of the town are cleaned physically, and also symbolically through the ceremony of ịchụ afọ (chasing away the year). Thirdly, the new yam festival involves' the' communion of both the living and the dead. The ancestors, those who set up the traditions that keep the people going, are invoked and entertained and their help sought for the future. The living members of the same blood line come from wherever their mothers and grand mothers were married to draw from the ancestral hearth new strength from the blood and new sustenance from the physical harvest of yam.
Blood, and the importance with which it is held, is another reflection of, and instigator of, the intense sense of identity of the Igbo and the reality of community existence. Social Anthropologists write about the "locality principle" and the "lineage principle" in the classification of communities. In Igboland, the sense of total identity commitment tends to be equated with the limits of blood relationship. This has led communities that have become linked together for any reason to formulate new myths of relationship and primogenitive in order to instil a deep sense of loyalty in the members of the new unit. Mbaise people living, in towns, for example, pass cola from Oke Ovuru, to Ezinihitte, to Agbaja, to Ahiara, and then to Ekwereazu, on the basis that that is their order of primogeniture. And yet Mbaise was only formed in 1942 at the instigation of the current administrative arrangements. Relations based on blood are so attractive that the Oriental Brothers claim brotherhood with much of their audience: Ma onye anyị kpọrọ aha ma onye anyị na-akpọghị aha, a wụhụ nwa nne m.
Blood is so much at the centre of life, both for the individual and for the community, that one of the greatest taboos is against the shedding of the blood of a member of the community. Even if it should happen by accident, the shedding of the blood of a member of the community on the Earth of the community is an abomination to the Earth and the culprit has to go into exile and have his house and property devastated. If it should have been deliberate, the culprit may never return to the soil of his town. This attitude to blood is shown in most societies in the reaction to woman's menstrual blood and the power that it is supposed to have in the neutralizing of the power of ọgwụ whether of community or of individuals. In Abagana, for example, there is an ụdara ọmụmụ along the way to the stream which women in their menstrual phase may not pass from the right side. Blood is a very powerful force and holds Igbo people in their communities in an identity that has abstract independent status.
The ontological status of Igbo
communities receives its dualistic counterpart in the position of
were raised by superior priestcraft to interfere
with the status of
0.3.2. THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF EVENTS
Parallel to the ontological status which is accorded the identity of communities, there is also evident in Igbo thought and life the granting of ontological status to events. Things that people do, in addition to whatever physical and social results that they produce, set up new identities or beings that have effects of their own. It is in consonance with this belief that the Igbo have set up certain practices and rituals to deal with such realities.
One such recognized reality is called ogbu onughị in some dialects. A combination of certain activities engenders ogbu onughị, all of them related to violence. If a man should go to war and kill another human being, or go hunting and kill any of the animals of great strength; if a deity should pursue and kill somebody who has sworn a false oath on him or her; if a woman should nurse a sick husband or relation who ends up dying in her arms; all these forms of contact with death and violence set in motion a spiritual malaise which attacks the man, deity or woman. The recognition of this phenomenon is embedded in the Igbo rituals for neutralizing ogbu onughị. Both men and deity have to go through the process known as igwa aka. Sometimes this is done for a man after he dies (Ubesie), but most people do it immediately after they return from the event. Failure to "purify the hand" immediately could lead to the man infecting his family, for a woman would be affected by ogbu onughị through contact with her unpurified husband, knowingly or unknowingly. For deities igwa aka is done whenever they have done violence, and also periodically usually during the annual festival. The woman's infection with ogbu onughị is usually through other people's violence. Her purification is through imacha ahu or some other form of ritual bath.
Another concept which shows the social recognition of the ontological independence of the results of words and actions is that of oriko. Oriko arises as a sort of boomerang from a particular sequence of actions and words. For example, somebody goes to his farm in the morning and finds that, during the night, somebody had come and stolen his yams. In frustration and despair of ever finding out who was the culprit, he throws out some curses, praying that some dire tragedies should befall whoever had his yams. If, through some vagaries of fortune, he is given, and eats part of those yams, he becomes a victim of oriko. In another example, a man might have his plate stolen and he goes to a deity and asks that the deity should do some dreadful thing to the person who stole his plate. If that plate should be smuggled to his house and he and his family use it, they will become victims of oriko. The Igbo have established ways of dealing with this oriko. In some communities, whoever injects curses into the environment over the issue of such theft has to start by cancelling himself from its effect and thereby preventing oriko from attacking him. In some areas, there are actual concoctions which are made and eaten as soon as one is involved in this way. Such ọgwụ oriko are specific to the kind of object over which the oriko might arise.
A final illustration is derived from the matrimonial setting. Sometimes, when women have difficult deliveries, it has been found that their confession of contact with men that were not their husbands during the period of their pregnancy, or even since they knew their husbands, has been known to lead to easing of the delivery difficulties. This confession may be made to the elder of the family at any time or to the daughters of the kindred during delivery. Some ritual follows this confession and the woman is thereby released from the abstract force that was set up by her adultery. This ceremony is known as ise ifi or isa ifi (C. U. Ogu, S. O. Onyeidu). Adultery appears to be taken rather seriously in the Igbo tradition as it is supposed to hurt the husband and family. But confession and ritual communion deal successfully with the force that it sets up. In the Ajalli area, under general circumstances, the woman performs the ritual of igwa ekwu and can then cohabit and cook for and eat with the family.
The above examples illustrate the fact that in Igbo thought reverberations are left by actions and that these reverberations acquire the status of independent forces which need to be placated or neutralized for people to be relieved from their effects.
Divination, however, remains the greatest evidence of the ontological status granted to events. Divination is rational only on the basis that there is an abstract field of action occupied by the reverberations from events and that this field contains the actions from past, present, and future. What then is required to obtain access to this world is the right kind of eyes. The process of becoming a diviner is in itself indicative of this belief For the Igbo, the training process is not one of intensive teaching and learning of information, though of course the interpretations of the symbolisms of the divining objects must be acquired, but one of intensive preparation of the appropriate senses to enter the field of events parallel to the physica1. At the centre of the transition to becoming a diviner is the process known as isa anya or iwa anya, (washing, or opening the eyes). In physical terms, very spicy painful juices are dripped into the eyes to symbolize the opening of those senses to new and other experiences. From this perspective, then, divination is not just physical or psychological manipulation of clients but a genuine process of gaining access to the abstract world of events of the past and the future and bringing back information on which one may act with confidence. The eyes that see into the past and future should also see into the present and that is why a genuine diviner is not supposed to ask the client what the problem is with which he has come. Of course, as in most other affairs, there will be charlatans who pretend to knowledge and who trick their customers into fake divination. Even for the genuine diviner, there will be days and occasions when the eyes will be cloudy or reality is hidden behind thick obstructions. But the society does believe that there is a world of events that the trained and opened eyes of the diviner can gain access to.
Another support for the ontological status given to events in 19bo world view is the acceptance of omens: Events that are still to happen may be recognized from the evidence of the state of plants or of birds and animals. Levy-Bruhl, discussing "primitives” and "omens" had to argue as to whether they believed in the birds of omen as predicting or causing events. If it is accepted that events have their independent identities, it becomes easier to understand omens better. There are birds and insects and animals which have special senses for making contact with particular abstract entities and their behaviour then reveals what they know to the trained mind. This is especially true of premonitions of danger and death. In some places, these premonitions are called ushi, in the Nsukka area Usebo. Bees bear a message from Amadịọha. Ogwumaganam -the Chameleon, is not good to see rocking himself in the middle of one's compound. It bodes ill for a village to have a flock of Ugeloma fly in, screaming in vigorous perturbation. These and other omens are possible because events have identities and there is a co-existence of past, present, and future in world of abstract realities.
The importance of the eyes is seen also in other ceremonies that relate to maturing in knowledge and wisdom. In some communities, the ceremony for admitting the young males into the adolescent grade is called ịtụ anya. During the process, there is the actual dripping of hot peppery juices into the eyes of the young people- ịtụ ọgwụ, ịtụ ose, ịtụ ụda n 'anya. Basically however the exercise, even in those areas in which some other activity, involves revelation and the admission into new knowledge of things as they are or are believed to be in the community. There is of course the social implications of the process in that it is like joining a society and the benefits accruing to membership could include joining in the feast prepared when some other initiated person dies, that is, when an initiate dies onye tụrụ anya and the dog is killed for the cleansing of the eyes igbụ nkịta anya. Is it coincidental that the pupils of the eyes are called nkịta-anya (-dogs of the eyes-) in Igbo ?, only those who were initiated may partake of the meat. But the initiation goes beyond the social implications and is believed to open the eyes of the initiates to the deeper realities of life which are not on the surface. In those days one who had not gone through ịtụ anya was not admitted into serious discussions. He was believed to be childish and immature.
It is to be noted, finally, that the Igbo share with other language groups the imagery of vision for understanding. When an Igbo person hands over a matter to another with the statement that "Ọ dighi ụzọ ya hụgha", he is not asking to be led as a physically blind person but asking that issues be explained to him. Indeed, for the Igbo, events have an independence of existence in the abstract sense and generate a new world of realities to which only the developed eyes have access.
0.3.3 BEING AS ACTION AND VARIOUS IGBO CONCEPTS:
Within the same framework that makes it possible for abstract beings to have reality and agency, it is natural that things are what they do. I n the same way, the very concepts with which things are described would have meaning according to their content rather than in independent objective terms. Or rather, objectivity would have to be re-defined so that it relates to the content of the concept rather than to any arbitrary measuring device invented by human beings for their own comfort.
Time in Igbo relates to the content of experience rather to an absolute duration measured by the clock. On the large scale in terms of total life, the age of a person is measured more in terms of achievement than in terms of years of life. It is true that perhaps the absence of time-pieces opened the way to vagueness in time terms, but I believe there is an important factor deriving from the world view of being as action. There is a proverb which says that if a young person washes his hands properly, he will dine with his elders. Another proverb says that each person's morning starts when that person wakes up. These proverbs of course have their meaning in context, but their surface structure is based solidly on the fact of the Igbo approach to time. In popular Igbo parlance, too, the time of day is defined in utilitarian terms with regard to what action if performed at that time of day, like: when the tappers go for the first tapping of the wine, or when the cock crows for the first time in the early morning. And people also speak of the event that took place at the time they were born as a record of their birth-date. It is arguable however that these later record keeping styles are a result of the absence of more exact methods of record keeping.
Space is another concept which even more clearly relates to the content of the concept as against absolute dimensions. Again, one may speak first of the large issue of the meaning of ụwa as the world in Igbo. The various contexts in which ụwa is used indicate that the Igbo speak more in terms of fields of action than of place of action. Space is a field of action, a plane of action, not just a location made up of discrete physical distances and separate physical spaces. Ala mmụọ and alammadu are then planes of spirit action and of human action and these need not be physically separated.
It is this non-separation in physical terms that makes interaction between the various worlds possible so that spirits and their activities impinge on the realities in the human and physical sphere. Spirits can be invited and become present in a location but are not seen because their nature and their sphere are different though they are in the same physical location. On the humorous side of this concept is the story that soon after the Owerri-Onitsha Road was completed there were several accidents on the road due to the fact that the deity of the area just after Irete, not
knowing that human beings had interfered with his usual domain, used to go on his usual walks through the forest. Except that now the forest had been cut in two to make way for the road. The unfortunate drivers that encountered the deity would hit him without seeing him and end up in unexplainable motor accidents. I believe the accidents have stopped since the deity found out where the occasional hits came from.
But back now to the more serious perspective. One notes that distances were estimated on the basis of some action principle, say, how long it would take to cover the journey from one location to another. It is encouraging at this point in the history of thought to find that one need not be forced away from this approach to time and space because of its apparent conflict with the standard western attitudes to the concepts. There has been a growing disagreement since the time of Einstein’s' Relativity Theory about the concepts of absolute time and absolute space in the ranks of the philosophers and physicists of the western world like G. J. Whitrow, Reichenbach, T. S. Kuhn, Grunbaum, and others.
The same principle of content as against structure is apparent in Igbo definitions of such other concepts as beauty, manhood, womanhood, and ultimately personality. Agwa wụ mma, mma nwanyị wụnwa, and other such expressions emphasize the concept of being as action. This idea naturally demands group definitions of what constitutes the essential functioning of each concept as here embodied in song.
Nwanwanyị na-enweghị nwa, ọ naghj ekwu ihe wụ ezi
Eziokwu, ọ naghị hi ekwu l'ezi, ọ naghị ekwu ihe wụ ezi.
Nwanwoko na-enweghị ego, ọ naghị ekwu ihe wụ ezi
Eziokwu, ọ naghị hi ekwu l'ezi, ọ naghị ekwu ihe wụ ezi
Abstractions are thereby formed into culturally sanctioned ideals to which individuals have to aspire.
0.3.4 ABSTRACTIONS IN LANGUAGE AND ART
The tendency to abstraction also influences Igbo perspectives in language and literature, in art and music and drama. The tendency to put what has to be said in as brief and symbolic a form as possible appears to be a key characteristic of Igbo expression and artistry, whether it is in song or speech, in masquerade configuring or in body movement.
For some reasons which have yet to be explored, the Igbo have abstracted certain numbers and given them symbolic significance, In offering kola, multiples of two and four are given and not the odd numbers-thus events demand four, sixteen, sixty-four kola nuts and some multiples of four in between. When kola is split, the number of lobes found in the kola nut has been given symbolic meaning-three is aka dike, four is peace, five is wealth and children, and so forth. Seven appears in speech and in folk tales to represent the limits of distance and suffering so that when one is said to have crossed seven rivers and seven deserts, it is implied that he has reached the limits of the world. In areas of Igboland, offerings in great ritual events are made in multiples of nine. Romanus Egudu has reported on this in connection with Igo odo. The origins and implications of these symbolic numbers still need to be explored.
One of the statements often made to explain why it is necessary to continue to use English in serious discussions in the Igbo area is that the Igbo language is short of vocabulary. In one sense this is correct since the Igbo are in contact with a much larger frame of experience than the origins of the language anticipated. But the history of language shows that the present English language which we use has more than sixty per. cent of its roots from outside the English root system. The Igbo who have been expert at borrowing other people's anything that they find useful will, I believe, not hesitate to take as many words and as quickly as may be necessary to make it possible to give Ahịakọkụ lectures in Igbo in the next five years. There is however another sense in which the assertion that the Igbo language is short of words is wrong. It cannot be claimed justly that Igbo is short of abstractions. The Igbo language has a surprisingly large number of techniques for forming abstract words. From the root -ke (ike), (to divide), it evolves okike, (the act of dividing); eke he who divides), oke (the share obtained from the sharing). The language forms abstract nouns of process, nouns which indicate result of the process, the noun of the action itself, and noun of the agent of the action. Thus, as another illustration, we have -che (wait, preserve); and from that root iche (to wait); nche (he who looks after, or what is used for preserving _ in the nche for palm-wine in the Ngwa area); oche (the seat on which you wait); uche (waiting, as in izu uche-(to buy ambush, that is to pay people to wait for. somebody and beat him up or kill him). Through variety of prefixes and root repetitions the Igbo language can develop a large body of stable vocabulary to contain our experience. The villagers are doing it. High Blood pressure is ọbara mgbala elu, and the electric generating plant is ite ọkụ. More to our purpose, it is clear that the Igbo language is consistent with the Igbo world view in the extent to which it is
interested in viable abstractions.
It is also the case that Igbo literature tends towards the didactic and thereby the use of symbols and abstractions. Most of the canon of Igbo fiction is centred on the tortoise. The physical characteristics of the tortoise are naturally accommodated in the stories but the tortoise really represents a concept and it is this concept that is called up whenever the tortoise is figured in the stories. Other stories are told and there can be no gainsaying that they are told for the fun of language usage, patterns of behaviour and style of narration, suspense, and all the elements that make for mental and emotional and imaginative excitement. At the end, however it is usually possible to say that "that story is about humility", "that story teaches us that. . .". Moral abstractions tend to give focus to the narrations. The story of Obiadi warns parents against "izugbu mmadụ maka a hụrụ nanas, ya na-emezi isi ike” , ". The story of Ọmalinze teaches us that "ụwa na-eme ntụgharị. . . Ọ bụrụ na ụbọchị adịrịghị mmadụ mma taa, ọ dịrị ya echi”.
The tendency to abstraction is not only found in the goal of the story. It is also seen in the form of literature which tends to find the best formulation of an idea and stay with it, admitting variations but mainly around the central form. The most prominent form of this type of encapsulation is course in the proverb. The proverb represents somebody's observation at some point in time encapsulated in a form of words that, for their succinctness and imagery, have been found attractive and memorable. This form of words is then found applicable in a variety of situations in which the meaning, when extracted makes a valuable and poignant comment. Proverbs, I am reminded I have said before, "are not atrophied capsules of traditional wisdom but living vehicles of situational statement." The point being made here is that Igbo literature, perhaps like most oral literatures, tends to formulate permanent images rather than give extensive analyses of the topics and themes. When, for example, women in a dancing group chose dance names, they try as much as possible to fit a whole history into a few words –
Ụgbọ ten m na-eji agụ oge
Nkwụ opere ahịaghị ike
Ụwa ji ama ka Sunday
Ụha ọcha alaghị ahịa
Nwanwanyị silva goldu, etc
Each of these names tells the story of the woman's experience or appearance. If you are impressed with the name, you may then seek explanation, and once you have it, each time you hear the name you will remember what it says and means.
The tendency to abstract encapsulation of statement is most evident in masquerade performance. Studies of Igbo masquerades (Ugonna, Enekwe, Odita, Onyeneke, Amankulor, Ottenberg) emphasize various aspects of the performance-music, art, drama, social control, social structure, and so on. They are all agreed also that each masquerade tends to represent one concept and that all aspects of the masking -costume, music, movement, speech if any, highlight the concept. The work done by Horton on Kalabari masquerades and some current work being done by Chike Aniakor in Igboland give deep insights into the system of representation.
In my own experience, this symbolism can be temporarily hidden from most of the audience, but it is clearly there for those who can understand. During the Ụzọ iyi festival in 1973, the masquerade gallery contained a set of ugly masquerades called ntoromafọ. They came from two or three sections of the town and their competition appeared to be of which one would be most outrageously ugly. The mask face was most significantly indicative of a leprous eaten-up face with lost nose, largely rotten mouth, with exposed half-destroyed teeth, and tongue lolling out. In the middle of the figure was a grossly distended stomach below which was hanging, outside the clothes, pendulous oversized genitals. Each was a really horrible figure that spoke through its nose, unashamedly trying to court the prettiest girls that came to the masquerade festival. It was clear that its vulgar sexuality and bloated rottenness gave to the observers, especially the women, the experience of shocked horror. At the same time, there were observers that hid behind others in fascinated revulsion, giggling at the bestial but unashamed exuberance of the ntoromafọ. In spite of the apparent ease with which the audience reacted to the masquerade however, there were not many who were willing to risk any verbalization of the symbolic significance of the mask. Ultimately, it turned out that the mask had a historical background, being a representation of somebody who had contracted decay through sexual excess. More significantly, however, the masquerade was presented as a periodic reification of the concept of punishment for excess. In each masquerade festival, each masquerade has its symbolic meaning the exploration of which would lead to valuable insights into the life of the people and their world view. The Odo Achi in the series of masquerades in Aku in the Nsukka area, for example, represents the peak of ancestral authority and its various decisions and proclamations are taken very seriously in the community.
In the visual arts, there is the same tendency to abstraction which results in the establishment of certain key motifs in body designs and mural decorations. The direction of artistic effort is not to reproduce the reality of the object in its static characteristics but to recapture the action and meaning of the persons and situations of life. Geoffrey Parrinder saw this tendency as characteristic of African Art when he wrote that "most African Art aims at expressing feeling, not by copying faces and bodies, but by emphasizing muscles, power, facial character and mystery" African Mythology. In the actualization of this artistic tendency, however, it has been pointed out by other Art scholars who have been more comparative that Igbo Art subjects adopt more vigorously dynamic postures than, say, Yoruba Art subjects which show more repose in their postures. Mbarị Art Centres are centre-pieces of very dramatic art embodying symbolic and satirical recreations of the events and people in the communities of the period of their creation (Ulli Beier, Herbert Cole).
In music, themes turn into motifs which are identifiable with occasions. Motifs are characters which belong to the funeral of successful men and of fulfilled elderly women, specific to the funeral of those who did "strong" things and for the returning of a woman's body to her kindred land for burial. Wrestling music is identifiable and the music for success and failure is also clear to those educated in their traditions. In my younger days, during the ekpe dance, one looked forward to the music of the nwanyị arụ masquerade which was very enchanting in sound-
Nwanyị arụ abịamana, idigiridi
Idigiridi giridi, digiridi.
Till one heard this special rhythm one was not ready to leave the dance grounds for the day.
Dance steps are also another area of symbolic action. It was \he dance steps of some Igbo women which (Sylvia Leith-Ross) observed that made her speculate that the Igbo must have had a long history of civilization which had given way to the corrupt state in which the white men met the Igbo of this century. I must admit that most of the symbolism of Igbo dance movements still have to be explored, But there are certainly dance movements that one cannot but suspect were abstracted from general body movement in order to recreate certain ideas.
0.3.5. STRUCTURE OF SOCIAL LIFE
I will conclude this section by indicating briefly the implications of the micro issues raised above at the macro revel of the management of physical, social and religious action of the Igbo people.
For the Igbo, nothing is purely physical or merely spiritual or abstract. Things exist as combinations of elements. When somebody is sick, the Igbo do not fail to recognize that there are physical causes to the illness. That is why the 1gbo have scoured their environment and found out that most of the leaves, roots, and barks in the forests and bushes of Igboland contain medicines that can cure all the illnesses in Igboland. But, beyond the physical elements of the illness they also see the counterparts of the illness that could have been caused by the actions and wishes of other people, the abstract entities that could have been interjected by others with whom he has had differences of opinion or will. This attention to the forces set up by people, or by the ancestors, or by deities, makes it impossible for Igbo people to accept that anybody could die, even by a publicly recognized motor accident, without its being something produced by others which one has to go and "find out", So that in a case of sickness, infertility, failure of examinations, when an Igbo man says he is going to find out, he is not going to the laboratory, or to the psychiatrist or the gynaecologist only. He is more importantly going to find out the influence that is causing the undesirable result.
In the same way, when somebody is going to cultivate his farm, he must, of course, know the signs in the sky and on the earth which indicate the appropriate time, which indicate the state of the soil; he must use the right seeds; he must put in his best efforts. But beyond these, he must also ensure that the spirits of his ancestors, his chi, and the earth are propitious for his best knowledge and endeavours to yield fruit. Neither factor goes without the other in Igbo thought. As the priestess screamed at the lazy Ụnọka of Achebe's Things Fall Apart, "…. when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm," This is a wholistic rather than a magical perspective on the workings of reality.
With regard to the structure of religion, the principle of dualities and the concept of being as action predispose the Igbo to the acceptance of a wide range of deities and being forces. There is between these deities, not a hierarchy of being as such but a hierarchy of function, which makes it possible for a deity that is very powerful in one area of Igboland, to be completely disregarded in another community. Which also makes it possible for a deity that is very powerful at one time, to become discarded at another time or conversely for a deity that was thought to have disappeared, to return and start asking for sacrifices. This later idea is graphically represented in the Mkpor proverb that emechapụta Nwangwụ ọ waba n'afa. Never mind that the proverb is usually used in the context of what happens when an ugly unpersonable girl gets married to a man that prunes her up and she begins to look glamorous. The surface statement of the proverb affirms the changeable status of deities on the basis of how much power they continue to wield.
Another aspect of religion is that the nature and importance of deity depends on whether one is talking about the individual or about a community, The religion of the individual centres on his or her chi and for this religion the individual is his own priest. At the town and community level are ala and any other deity that the people have found necessary and useful, derived from either the natural environment of rivers (Idemili, Wiyi, Idoto, Nwangene, etc.) and hills; or made by "dibias" (Ibinụkpabi, Igwekala, Udo, Ogwugwu, Obịlịkpa); or acknowledged from physical phenomena, like Amadịọha Eze Elu, Abalị Ujuchị, Igwe. The worship of these other deities would be under the control of priests who look after them on behalf of their communities or on behalf of the deities themselves, Members of the community associate with these other deities, not out of choice, but because of some problem which they are causing in their lives, or some good which they believe the deities can provide for them. Then they would go to Chukwu of Arochukwu, or Ekwuruocho, or Igwekala of Ụmụnneọha, or Agbala. of Awka, or Ọnyịlịọra of Ezira, or any oracle that is very strong at the time in order to attract children-(yata ọmụmụ), and this can even be more specific-yata nwoko if there have been too many female children in the family. They could also go to attract wealth, or to solve any other kind of problem-too many children dying, property getting lost inexplicably (igbochi ọnwụ na nfu). When the particular problem is solved or their request is obtained, the Igbo leave the deity alone with his priest because mmụọ na mmadụ anaghị akpakọ. There are of course other forces that I have not mentioned, but they fit into the scheme of those forces, powers, and neighbours that the Igbo recognize their presence in the environment. The Igbo ensure that they keep in good terms with these powers and forces and use those that are required for the welfare of man.
A final factor which I will mention with regard to
religion is the democratic nature of the Igbo approach to the deities. The Igbo
do not go into the dangerous role of deciding between the deities which of them
may be senior to the others. More importantly, they do not refuse to
acknowledge the deity of any deity that is proclaimed deity. An old man in
Ukehe whose morning prayer was recorded in my project on "Igbo Religious
Literature", Ani Nwatuejide showed wisdom in his concluding invocation.
After calling on deities of town, of farm and home, after calling the spirits
of trees (like ọjị, ụkwa, etc.), after calling on the
ancestors of his line, concluded: A magịm ndị dị,
ndụ ma ndị nwụrụ ọnwụ, bikonu,
arịọ m ụnụ, chịrị' nụ ọjị
tama nụ (I don't
know all the living, not to speak of all the dead, so please all of you accept
my kola nut and eat). By that formula he had included all those who might have
felt offended because their names had been omitted. In the same way while we
may be laughing at the non-Christian villager who concludes his kola prayers
with: N'aha Jesu Christi Onye nwe anyi (Through Christ Our Lord), the
villager is engaged in the serious business of saving himself from blame and
punishment by accommodating a new and obviously strong deity brought in by the
At the social level, the world view I have explored above should give theoretical support to some of the characteristics that mark Igbo social life. The ontological status of community identity, for example, would give some explanation as to why there is a near instinctive rejection of opposition within the community. There is violent resentment against those who say anything that might be construed as reducing the sense of group solidarity (Opposition appears to be seen in terms of sickness, as if a part of the body started fighting against the rest of the body). The principle of government among the Igbo is one of consensus rather than the oppression of the minority by the majority. And this consensus is achieved at the expense of long and tedious discussion as every person has to have a chance to make his or her contribution. As Mazi Njaka once put it: "To the Igbo, a Government that does not afford him an opportunity to participate actively is not parademocratic and cannot be countenanced." (Igbo Political Culture).
Within this ontological unity, there is
the paradox of highlighted duality. Complementarity becomes the principle of
social justice rather than equality. There is an acknowledgement, as in
the Abigbo Mbaise song that oke amadị nwe egbe anyị nwe igu. But
there is crisis when there is justified complaint that anarakwala anyị
Within this context, there is a balance between the claims of community and the claims of individualism. The individual is a member of the community and it is this community that sets the goals that have acceptability within that community. It is the community that sets up reward and punishment systems. To a large extent, the individual in Igboland is subsumed within the requirements of the community. At the end of Achebe's Arrow of God, the people can absorb the tragedy of Ezeụlụ within the framework of his having been punished for his arrogance in thinking that he could hold to any decisions that defied the general wishes of his people. He should have known that nobody ever won a case against his community. The proverb which says that "a gbakọọ a gbakọọ kwaịgha nwanwa n'ohu, ọ naghị awa n'afa" is another indication of the strength of community in its corporateness. In all these aspects, the individual is subjected to the community. But, as in all that I have proposed as relevant to the Igbo world view, we have to see things in dualities and acknowledge that the strength of the Igbo Community is dependent on the extent to which it promotes the individuality of the person and encourages the individuals in the community to achieve self-fulfilment. It is in the nature of the goals and aspirations, and the ways that Igbo traditions have established for the fulfilment of the Igbo, that we must now seek the fullness of the Igbo world view.
0.4 "NKA NA NZERE": THE IDEAL OF THE GOOD LIFE
Ultimately the world view of the Igbo is concretized in what the Igbo individual senses as the attitude of the external realities of nature and society to him. Does the world confront him with hope or despair? Is the Igbo person the plaything of the gods or does he determine his own fate? Does society overwhelm the individual or can each person have his freedom for fulfilment? What does the Igbo world view provide for the individual as aids to the achievement of recognized goals? And how does the Igbo person assess success or failure in life? In sum, what constitutes the good life in the thought of the Igbo? Answers to these questions would represent the fullness of the Igbo world view.
The various attempts made so far to summarize the outlook of the environment to the Igbo have differed in their main thrust. In one summary, the Igbo world is "a world of moving equilibrium. . . .that is constantly threatened, and sometimes actually disturbed by natural and social calamities" (Uchendu); in another it is seen as "a moral order in which man's well-being or failure could be determined by the inscrutable will of the gods", one therefore in which "human existence, in spite of occasional joys, was perceived as being precarious) (Kalu). On the one hand, somebody has suggested that the Igbo see their world as "a universe marked by harmony and unity , a Universe which favours the continuity, augmentation, and full realization of life" (Uzukwu); on the other, another has described the Igbo perception of the world as probabilistic such that life is seen as a journey through a market place in which humanity may be divided into winners and losers. (Chidi Osuagwu).
My thesis is that the Igbo see the world as operating ,with a system of intrinsic dualities such that good and evil can come from the same universe. Basically, the world confronts every Igbo person with both moral evil and moral good, with existential creativity as well as natural destructiveness. It is through this maze of a world of dualities that the Igbo person has to move, with his wits around him, in the pursuit of the goals of life. The philosopher mad man put it brilliantly: ụwa wụ mgbanwe mgbanwe.
The cosmological framework combines with the social environment to establish the context of the Igbo person's quest for fulfilment. As described above, this social environment completely envelopes the individual and sets the limits to the exercise of his independence, it prescribes acceptable goals of achievement for the individual, but it also provides systems and facilities to aid the individual on his pursuit of fulfilment and assigns rewards for the fulfilled. To that extent, it also provides the individual with spurs and restraints just like the cosmological environment. The specificity of the Igbo world view is in the kinds of goals that have been set for Igbo men and women and the paths they are encouraged to travel and the tools they are allowed to use on their way to those goals.
Writing about life in
` If the people were tough and resilient, it was because the land gave them no opportunity to be otherwise, those who were faint in heart or lacking a fanatical streak of endurance did not stay long in the Great Northwest". (Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds).
In the same way, one may search for and speak of the character type favoured by the Igbo environment and people.
The ontological system which I have been struggling to present applies also to the Igbo identification and assessment of personality. This means that validity of existence and the status of achievement is influenced by two factors. The first factor is that there is a basic concept of humanity. One has first to be a human being. And in the tradition of Igbo assignment of being to action, it is not everything that looks like a human being that is a human being. And so, the question, when somebody is seen to behave in a certain way: Ihe ọ wụkwadị mmadụ; ka ọwụ anụ ọhịa? has meaning in ontological terms, not just in the assessment of behaviour. And in a similar manner. the expression ezigbo mmadụ does not have moral implications only, but also ontological implications.
The Igbo person is principally an IDENTITY. The reflexive pronouns-oneself, himself, myself, yourself, are not merely compliments to emphasize statement but they are based on the pronoun, self which a dictionary goes into great strains to define as "an identical person, personality, ego: a side of one's personality: what one is: personality: identity: . . " When the Igbo person uses onwe m, I believe we are dealing not in imagery but in primary statement of reality. For the Igbo, it is this identity that is made manifest in the biological, social and religious activities in which the individual engages or in which he is involved. That identity has a reality of its own which has characteristics that cohere to it. The biological processes are essential to the person. He has to eat and drink and keep the body from harm. Religious activities invigorate the person, supplying him with help from deities and unseen external forces and also protecting the person from the dangerous activities of spirits. But though the person is dependent on these activities, they do not define the person. There is still the person whose valour is aided and abetted but not subsumed under these other activities. That is the identity that sickens and/or strengthens to determine the status of the person. Initiatory rites act on that identity to release it for heightened performance of the person. Ima ọgwụ refers to the strengthening of this personal identity and is quite a different thing from religion. Religion involves interaction with deities. Ima ọgwụ is more internal to the person, invigorating the inner forces of the person in his interaction with both men and spirits and deities. In masquerade performance, it is this identity that is transformed.
The second factor has to with the actual use one has made of the humanity which is his or hers. With the concepts of mutability of reality and of proper states of being, just being alive is not enough. "No condition is permanent” and people are to be assessed within the framework of reality not being made of static characteristics but of what beings do.
0.4.1 The EQUIPMENT FOR ACHIEVEMENT
Before I actually suggest the definition of achievement in the Igbo world view, I will suggest the direction of that definition through the exploration of those elements which the Igbo consider necessary towards fulfilment. Three elements appear prominent in this regard. The first of these is not within the control of the individual the chi that guides the person and determines his fortune. The other two are within each person's control, the thrust he makes into the world --lkenga, and the manipulative ability to adjust to the fortunes and tracks of life-Akọ na uche.
The important place which chi holds in the life of the Igbo person has been the subject of several studies. Disagreements abound as to various facets of the chi, the exact interpretation of the nature and function of chi, the source of the chi, the manner of representation of the chi. the relationship between the chi and Chineke and Chukwu, and so forth. My own recent explorations of these issues are to be found in my monograph on The Supreme God as Stranger in Igbo Religious Thought. What is agreed however is that every Igbo person has his or her chi and that the achievement of each person is limited to the destiny which each person is tied to with that chi. Success and failure are within the competence of the chi and, as Achebe has pointed out, “chi is more concerned with success or failure than with righteousness and wickedness”. To a large extent, we have now, as a people, begun to transfer the responsibilities which were exercised by the individual chi and eke of the Igbo world to a central Chiukwu similar to the Christian God but the consciousness of the individual chi still persists in the statements heard in song and life. Stephen Osadebe warns us not to gloat over the poor:
Ọ fụlụ nwa ogbenye n’ ụwa
Ọ bido mụbazianị ya amụ
Ọ bụzi ngị bụ chi kelụ mmadụ n'enu ụwa
Onye mazi isi ga-echi eze echi.
Many of the incidents in Flora Nwapa's novel, Idu, are dependent on an understanding of the peculiar providential relationship between an individual and his chi. Above all, the Igbo person has very easy access to psychological satisfaction in his failure of achievement with many proverbs and songs that put the blame squarely on the chi. One recent song with a lilting tune says:
Anọrọlam ele chi m lee
Onye ụwa la-ara ahụ ọ ragha ya la chi ye
Owe aya mma aya mma
Another song advises people to be aware of the influence of chi before they attach blame to failure in life:
Onye meme ma chi ya ekweghị
Onye ejile ụwa kọọ ya ọnụ.
The Igbo are careful however not to give a loophole to the lazy to get away with blaming their chi. The proverb says that onye kwe chi ya ekwe. Any appearance of contradiction should be taken in the context of the recognized dualities of Igbo thought-we are dealing with the extremes of the continuum of reality. Even then, it should be clear that even if somebody has a good chi, if he folds his hands and puts them between his thighs, no chi can save him from a worthless life. And so the Igbo insist on a second ingredient to a fulfilled life: the thrust which man makes into his environment.
The Ikenga is the most prominent and important of a group of forces which the Igbo abstract and reify, to which they attribute agency and power in the individual's achievement of success in his life's endeavours. The women have ekwu, the men have ọfọ, ụfọ, ọbọ, odi, and if they are titled, they also have alọ and otosi. If they are traders, they may also have mbatakụ and ụkwụ-na-ije. All these have to be seen however for what they are, representations which reinforce the actual input which the person makes to the status of his life. In other words, they are so many ways of reinforcing the demand which the Igbo world view makes on the Igbo consciousness to be always struggling and working. The same philosopher mad man declared that Ụwa wụ ndọlị ndọlị.
I believe the most prominent aspect of the Igbo concept of man is that of a struggler for survival, a hard and determined person in confrontation with the environment to force out of it a means of sustenance, And so we have statements like "nwoko ezughị ike", nwoko anọghị ọkpọrọ", "kama nwoko nọrọ ọkpọrọ ya arụọ ataghị eze" (" A man does not rest”,” A man does not stay idle", "Rather than a man being idle, he will cultivate inedible yam".) Though the following statement is made as a joke, it does expose the extent of activity expected of women: “mere kee mere kee, anaghị ekwe nwanyị gbaa ahụọnụ”
Blind struggle is not enough, however. As Ezinihitte Mbaise people say, “ịdọbise akwara awụghị ikesi ọgba ike”. In the Igbo perception of life as not having either a benevolent or a malicious intentionality, since things happen in the ineluctable fulfilment of their dualistic existence, man must learn to make his way to achievement. The ability to manipulate one's world and the events in it becomes consequently a prime factor for success. And the quality which the Igbo see as most important for this manipulation is QUICKNESS OF MIND. With it, one can adjust quickly and intelligently to situations in life.
To achieve intelligent adjustment, the first thing is to be intelligent. And the Igbo start early to instil consciousness of this need for intelligence in the children. The chief means of doing this is through stories of the trickster tortoise. No story telling session is complete in which the mbe/nnabe/mbekwu-nwa-anịga does not feature, and when he features, he is using his quick brain to outwit one animal or the other. There are far too many stories of this type for illustration to be needed here. The tortoise is of course largely symbolic of human persons in these stories. His position in ritual as the most common animal for cleansing the earth, his mythological age, and the fact that his carapace is also used for the beating of invocation rhythms to the gods of the clans by the diviners, all these show the high respect in which the tortoise is held in ordinary life. It is this actual position in life and ritual that gives greater poignancy to the stories in which he becomes the object of immense fun and games.
It is important to note here that the Igbo do make a distinction between different kinds of intelligence. Some tortoise stories are used to show the difference between wisdom, and cleverness "akọ/uche" which are praiseworthy on the one hand, and on the other trickery and treachery aghụghọ which deserve punishment as over-cleverness. In the story of "Ewi na Mbe" the tortoise, after a successful trick against the squirrel, ends up being boiled to death in his wife's soup pot through the squirrel's cleverness and we are told at the end of the story that "onye aghụghụ nwụọ, onye aghụghọ elie ya", One positive side, tortoise stories are used mainly to teach that one can survive very great odds if he is quick witted and intelligent. When the tortoise uses his brain to work out his salvation in difficult circumstances, he is gloriously successful. But tortoise stories also warn about the limits of clever manipulation in the pursuit of selfish, short-term gains. For when, as is often the case, tortoise tries to cheat to satisfy his long throat, he is caught and punished.
Mike Ejeagha has been able to transfer the tortoise motif into the modern context in one of his most interesting ballads. The tortoise tricks the elephant into becoming the gift with which the tortoise marries the daughter of the king by playing on the vain ambitions of the elephant. The elephant was to come along to be the chairman at the king's Ọfala festival: Ọ bụkwa enyi ga-abụ isi oche / Enyi na-aga na anyị so gị n'azụ, gwogwogwom gwo. Ejeagha concludes Ya bụ ị na-edugakwa mmadụ ozi, uche gị dịkwa ya.
Outside the tortoise cycle of stories, the Igbo also teach the importance of intelligence through dilemma stories. In dilemma stories moral problems are set to which there are no definitive answers. Through them, a growing mind is made to realize that there are situations in life when one cannot depend on memory for approved answers but one has to work out, on the basis of extant principles, the best or most efficient position to adopt under those circumstances. You are travelling with your wife, your mother and your mother-in-law. All of them are blind in one eye. You pick up two eyes, healthy and bright. How would you share these eyes out? Hopeful1y, you give one without hesitation to your wife. But who is to get the other eye? If you give it to your mother you lose your wife. If you give it to your mother-in-law you lose your mother. What is an Igbo man to do in such a circumstance? This kind of dilemma story provides entertainment and much money to Igbo minstrels, like the ekere-na-udu performers of Ngwaland and the nkwa-udu performers of Mbaise from whom you have to buy answers to their puzzles and dilemmas-even if the answers are only valid for that occasion.
Another type of teaching story uses test motifs. These are stories like those of Nwa-evule-akọ who has to survive by being one step ahead all the time of the tasks he has to perform for the tiger and the dibịa, and the dangers he has to encounter. A very significant story in this context is the one recorded by Northcote Thomas in the Awka area in the first decade of this century. In this story, a boy called Amachamifeụwa outsmarts Chukwu who comes to him for a haircut. While the boy was shaving Chukwu's head he gave Chukwu some corn to remove the seeds from the cob for him. When, after the shaving, Chukwu demanded that his hair should be returned to its state on his head, you can imagine Amachamifeụwa's answer.
Stories of the effects of stupidity also abound to warn the Igbo person of what happens if he allows himself to be outsmarted. Nza ended up using the bones of the ovu to blow as a flute. Over the same flute, the kite Egbe ended up setting fire to his mother's house and burning her to death, which is why, up till today, wherever there is a bush fire, the Egbe, may still be seen, hovering around and looking for his mother.
Intelligence, cleverness, quickness of wit are aspects of what the Igbo person needs for adjusting himself to, and thereby manipulating changing circumstances -and circumstances are always changing. This change is not only the progression of different situations and events. It equally also involves the ontological status of things, since things are not always what they seem or what they were. The Igbo person is supposed to be regularly conscious of the difference between appearance and reality and to react to the potential deception before it takes place. Inability to adjust to changes usually leads to tragedy.
The negative result of this preparedness for things changing often and being different from their appearance is the irreverent pragmatism of the Igbo and their lack of patience. In social management, there is the constant consciousness of the possibility of one person taking others for a ride, something which must be avoided. In divination, though they have firm faith in its possibilities, they will also not allow the dibịa to impose on them. Thus, they will say that dibịa na-akụwanye okoliko mbe, adịghị afụwanye ndị mmụọ (The dibịa that knocks the tortoise shell loudest does not necessarily see the spirits clearest). Though the Igbo are full of ceremony, they quickly become impatient if the ceremony begins to be taken too seriously. Their egalitarian instincts will not allow them to allow anybody to take up too much of their time. Each person also wants to be heard and to contribute his own activity to the total of the experience. This is partly the reason that the Igbo performer has to be very sharp with his activity, whether it is in action or in speech. Whether the masquerade is beautiful or powerful, the quicker he performs and leaves the scene, the better for him and for the continued success of such performance. For the Igbo, mmụọ nọka n' ọgbọ ogbodu ekpoo ya aja. This cynicism enters into practically all spheres of life so that the best politicians need not expect that the Igbo will continue to respect and follow them if they stay on the political arena for too long. Each person develops the ability to disapprove of what is good, purely on the basis that there has been too long a presence of that good thing. The belief is that you get the best out of a masquerade festival by moving your vantage point regularly. And life is like a masquerade show and even the best figures are only one out of many possible figures and there is nothing that has not been seen before. Ife wụka, o wue izu n'abọ. O nweghị ihe anya hụrụ gbaa mme.
On the positive side, the Igbo inclination to intelligent adjustment has given rise to the vast travelling propensity of the Igbo, and their belief that travelling gives more wisdom in a shorter period than age. The lecherous exponent of the advantages of travel is nwamkpi, the he goat who visited his maternal kindred and returned with the advanced level information of how beautiful and sexy it is to lift his upper lip. The outstanding Igbo poet, the late Christopher Okigbo, immortalized nwamkpi's discovery excellently, though cryptically, in the lines
Emigrant with air-borne nose,
The Igbo will go anywhere and live anywhere and will add the habits and dress styles of those people to their own on the principle that it is what is new that enhances what exists. The distressing prevalence of these new items often hides a surprising degree of continuity of the old goals and characteristics. The Igbo appear to engage in the process of addition, not replacement. Or rather, the Igbo change the dress that covers the same old body of goals and aspirations surrounding the core motivation of excelling other individuals and other communities.
The tragedy of the two great characters of Igbo fiction, created by our great writer Chinua Achebe, depends to the largest extent on the fact or of intelligent adjustment or failure of adjustment. Okonkwọ of Things fall Apart took the Igbo principle of manliness to its limit and neglected other societal requirements of always acting in concert with your people. More than other members of his community, he failed to adjust to the coming of the white man. In the end, he had to commit suicide. The great thinker, Ezeụlụ of Arrow of God, adjusted to the coming of the white man. But he failed to adjust to the balance which the Igbo people consider absolutely essential between the demands of the deities for which they have established certain procedures, and the demands of the community which require certain processes to be concluded at established times. He became blind to the balance between materialism and religion and ended up in the lonely grandeur of a mad man.
The ability to adjust enjoins on the Igbo person limits to the expression of emotion. A man must be ready to take pain and suffering and bear it without complaint and in silence. Even if a man has plans for removing or revenging injury done to him, he must keep it within himself: Ihe dike na-eme dị ya n'obi. There is something which in my dialect is called ịta mpirima. It covers both patience and endurance in the silent bearing of pain. There are convenient goals served by this ability to hold in both pain and plans: community secrets, especially in the context of group rivalries and warfare, had to be preserved. It was for this that during the initiation process of young men, they were made to undergo very drastic and painful experiences at which they must not flinch, and secrets were given to them which they were enjoined under pain of dire consequences never to divulge. For the individual, though this ability to bear pain without showing it, to make plans without divulging them, became requisite qualities for the manipulation of experience with manly dignity.
0.4.2. COMMUNITY AIDS TO ACHIEVEMENT
Communities make intense contributions towards equipping the individual for his struggle with life. One of the ways in which this is done is through satires and praise songs.
In the Igbo context, those who need praise have often to compose their own songs and sing their own praises because there are rather few professional singers and they would rather sing of more important things like life and death, than about other human beings. The Igbo access to sycophancy is a recent phenomenon. In spite of this, there is a literary corpus of what I would rather call SALUTATION POETRY in Igbo. These are declamatory verses composed and performed by those who have achieved high success, or performed by others in their honour. The careers in which such success is achieved range from farming (which is the most prominent source of traditional success), to trading palm-wine tapping, poetic and masquerade performance, and a host of other areas of activity.
Romanus Egudu has reproduced some of these 'salutation poems in our anthology called Poetic Heritage. An example which makes farming very attractive is the praise which an Ọzọ title holder broadcasts himself:
A bụ m
Egbulie m ugwu
Ọ pa ji eche anị
Mma na- asụ ọffịa
Ọha dị iwe
Ọffịa dị akụ
Ọffịa dị ugonodu
Ọffịa dị egwu
Agụụ egbugh onye ji ọgụ
(I am: / One who tills hills/ One who with yams challenges soil/ Knife that clears bushes/ Barn that is wide / Bush that is wide / Bush that yields wealth/ Bush that is colossal/ Bush that is fearful/ Hoe-user is never touched by hunger.)
Salutation poetry has cultural utility in the sense that the praise poems "speak of socially accepted good things the group referred to has achieved" and "if one is praised because of the good things he did he will strive to do more" (R. O. Maduakor).
poetry is even more socially regenerative because of the impact which it can
have on people in a shame culture in which it is believed that mmevọ
ọgalanya ka ogbugbu ya (it is
worse to disgrace a man of standing than it is to kill him). Uchendu
suggested, and I have every cause to support, that the Igbo person's most
control arises, not from
the consciousness of sin, but from the consciousness of shame. My grandfather
once caught a woman of the village stealing cassava from his farm. The story
has it that the woman's
cry was "Kaa, Nwọga, emevọdịlam.
It is the resulting reduction
in the estimate of the human person that gives satire its inherent
destructiveness and that is why satire is ritualized in some communities and restricted to
the cleansing period before the eating of the new yam. Alternatively, a special
cycle of ceremonies is established for satirical songs and people are
restricted from singing the songs after the period is over. In Afikpo, for
example, there is a festival of caricature songs and dances known as ite mbe celebrated in October during which "evil
deeds and humorous events that happened In the village during the .course of
the year arc caricatured in songs and dramatized in dance steps" (Anụ
Magazine). In Igbere, in
the Bende area of
In an earlier section I have discussed the social implications of ritual and initiatory systems. In addition to those values, there is the fact that it is during those ceremonies and rituals that the key concepts of the communities are transferred to the younger generations. The main role of the initiatory activities is to help to invigorate the Igbo person to substantiate his status, and to generally encourage the community towards pursuit of fulfilment. Here, I will explore the effect of ritual on the individual and its contribution to his achievement of the goal of self-realization.
The adolescent rituals are directed specifically at preparing young people for their roles in life. For young men the rituals kill them to them life of children and "open their eyes" to the life of meaningful participation in the affairs of the community. In some places, as I have indicated earlier, the initiation is called itụ anya and actually involves, both in name and in action, the use of drugs injected into the eyes as part of the awakening. In other places, it is ima mmụọ... The opening of the eyes is more symbolic but the process does give the young ones access to new knowledge. In all cases, the initiates are tied, for the rest of their lives, to keep secrets from all those who have not gone through the same initiation process.
The young women also go through
initiation processes which prepare them for their role as married women and
mothers. The initiatory processes differ from place to place: emume ụdara in Ohafia, ime nwa
ụdara in Ndizuogu, oriri
It is through the adult initiatory rites, however, that the community equips the Igbo person for the fullest realization of human potential. These ceremonies do have an explicit dose of social value. For example, once you have been initiated, you begin to share in the proceeds of other such initiations. Belonging to the title society is therefore some form of life insurance. Though social advantages may begin to take prime value in some people's consciousness, it is clear from the processes of such initiations that the rituals are expected to wake up in the initiates new levels of awareness of the extra dimensions of their humanity. The cynical Igbo yet believed that man was both animal and spirit and that the fuller the spirit in man was activated the higher would be the status of the identity of the man.
I must qualify that statement about access to spirituality. In the tradition of thought in dualities, there is a mean beyond which spirituality becomes a handicap in the status of the person within the community. Those for example who become possessed at specific festival times, like ndị amụma are looked upon with suspicion, people do not like to go too close to those who see beyond present things into the future and the past without the help of divination like ndị na-ahụ ahụ. Both those who have been dedicated to deities as ritual slaves and some of the more mysterious dibịas have low social status. Beyond a certain point then, contact with the spirit world leads to one being reduced in human status. But within the appropriate limits, the access to the extra-physical dimensions of the human potential which people arrive at as a result of mature initiatory rituals, increases their stature as fulfilled members of the community.
0.4.3 THE TRAGIC LIFE
In spite of aids from inheritance and training, in spite of whatever help might come from the society, there are those whose lives fail. For the Igbo, life, NDỤ, has an absolute positive value. This does not give credibility to some of the over-rating of the value of life involved in taking some names too literally out of context, names like ndụbụisi and ndụkakụ. There is a point in life when the Igbo believe that one were better dead than alive. That point in time defines the tragic life.
The fullness of tragedy will emerge as the opposite of the fulfilled life which will be presented later. Some brief specific comments will define the concept and its implications here. It is not poverty that is tragic. In line with the world view we have been exploring, it takes more than the mere physical absence of some good to make life not worth living.
Poverty is soul-killing because it makes the Igbo man depend on another, requires him to subject his identity to that of another. This explains why when an Igboman goes borrowing, he has to weave a long tale about what circumstances have led to his temporary handicap, circumstances which will soon be over and he will repay the loan. This story is necessary to save the faces both of the borrower and that of the lender-the lender cannot enjoy the loss of face of another man if he is a genuine Igbo person. Not to be self supporting makes poverty a terrible situation. But still, the essence of tragedy is in the personality it prescribes for the person before others, and becomes reality when that person becomes the object of ARỊRỊ/ALỊLỊ.
The regular response to the enquiry as to what is the worst thing that can happen to an Igbo person is arịrị. With its three down tones, arịrị means something worse than disgrace. It involves action which denies human status to somebody by not taking him into account in matters, even those that concern him. Because of the Igbo person's regard for his individual identity, arịrị will provoke the most vicious reactions in the Igbo person. And so elelịan nwa ite, ya agbọnyụọ ọkụ. And the Igboman will proclaim when he senses that he has been that terribly insulted that ma ya agbaghị ọbara, ya agbaa mmiri (If he has no blood to shed, he will shed water). Stephen Osadebe's worst lament is Alịlị egbuonụ m n'enu ụwa/A ga m agaba na be Olisa je bili.
Arịrị is a strong motivation for action in Igbo literature. It explains the action of the tortoise who when he had been captured by the tiger, requested and obtained permission to step down back on earth. He took the opportunity of touching the ground again to scatter the sand and the grass, saying: "Now, it will at least look as if there had been a struggle here between one man and another". One acknowledges the rationale behind the annoyance of the chicken that complained that when other beasts are killed their heads are given to elders and- first sons to eat but when chickens are killed people go looking for small kids to eat their heads". Ile arịrị made it possible for a man to come into another man's house and beat his wife as if she had no husband-which led the woman, impersonated by the Abigbo singers, to complain: Mị na di m kwụrụ ije egbuo m ilu m ga-ịkọrọ onye ihe m whụrụ? Ike fụrụ ya la bed ị mụrụ m nwa… Onye adịghị ka ibe, akwa la-agụ ya.
Indeed to be valued at below the human level is the worst thing that can happen to an Igbo person. Even in the scheme of punishment this is taken into account. The slave is a human being and a human limit is put to his punishment. This is the background to the proverb that says that Agama ahịa hụ ohu n’anwụ, a jụọ “onye ma ke o mere”: a lọma ahịa hụkwa ohu n’anwụ ajụma “Ọ wụkwa nwa mmadụ ka emeghe ihe a”
The Igbo person is in a tragic condition when
he cannot achieve physical well-being; the deities, including his chi, have
deserted him: he cannot rally any forces or persons to help him; and he has to
continue to live without hope with other human beings looking down at him. In
his lament for a fellow, the Omambala minstrel
Uru uh uh une eh
Ka ma adị ndụ na-ekili ndụ anya ọnwụ aka ya mma
Onye ọ bụ je zulu ike ụwa n’ofu nị nị
Ọ bụlụ na mmadụ ga-abụ ubịam chi gị bịa gbue gị ka ị naa
Na ndụ ada-atọrọ ụbịam ụtọ, na amalị m amalị
Onye bụ ụbịam na-fụjụ anya kwada, ive enu na-eme eme
Ogbenye fụsịa ive dị ya mma ọ na-ekili ya n’anya
Ogbenye fụsịa ive na-atọ ụtọ ọ na-eno ọnụ mmili
Kedụ ka aga-esi kwazi nwanyị ụkwụ warily awarị
Ewe eh, Dimkpa dị na afụfụ
Ee ee e mh mh
Onye nwụrụ ka o zulu ike n’enu ụwa.
0.4.4 THE ORDINARY LIFE OF FULFILMENT
What the Igbo person expects as his right and due reward for hard work is the ordinary life of fulfilment. “Fulfilment” is used here to highlight the relativity of achievement. People have different destinies and cannot expect the same levels of success. The first element of the fulfilment relates to the Igboman’s sense of self-hood. The Igbo person who is independent and lives in his own house with his wife and children and looks after them with any measure of satisfaction considers himself as much a man as any other. His identity is not subject to the will of other identities. In support of easy retention of the sense of self-hood, the Igbo have a system of beliefs that acknowledges that there are limits to the capacity of the individual to determine his achievement.
These beliefs depend on the key concept of the individuality of each person’s chi and eke may be recalled here in an aphorism which says that mgbalị wụ iriju afọ: ụba si la eke.
The bulk of the population of Igboland is made up of people fulfilled to the limit of their Eke. They are to be found at the village meetings, refusing to have anybody for any reason put clever tricks over them. Within the limits of individual variations, they are neither optimists nor pessimist. They do not depend on the goodwill, nor do they feel overwhelmed by the ill-will of deity or man. It is or was such people who confronted the forests and hewed out home and farm from them. The dynamic and dualist world challenged the Igbo person to make choices and intelligent decisions, to persist in hard work, so as to constrain this world to serve his goals. He confronts that challenge with the will to win, to fulfil the destiny that is his lot.
I have deliberately mixed my tenses above for there is the question of determining to what extent the Igboman being described still exists or could exist. We shall comment on that question in the conclusion where we hope to discuss briefly the Igbo world view and modernity. Meanwhile, though the above picture represents what the Igboman will expect, there is still to be described what the Igboman would wish, what on his death bed he would pray for his next incarnation by ibi ebibi-what constitutes the fullness of fulfilment within the Igbo consciousness.
0.4.5 NKA NA NZERE: THE FULLNESS OF FULFILMENT
Through initiations, training and ritual observances, the Igbo instil into members of the community the ideal of personal identity. This ideal involves mental and moral ability, it involves dedicated use of physical strength, bravery and restraint, it involves developed contact with the innate extra-physical powers of the human being, finally it involves the nature of, and one's access to, one's deity. With a fairly competent combination of these one should have a respectable and satisfied. The hope of every Igbo person, whether during a given life time, or if it fails in this then in the next life time, is to have these elements combined in their fullness.
There was once a man who was very young when his prosperous and numerous families fell into the hands of enemies. Many were slaughtered; many others were sold into slavery. He survived and ran into exile. While living in exile, Chukwuọcha developed strength of body and character and kept in close contact with information as to what was going on in his home community. After many years, when he was already fully adult and married, his opportunity came during a war between his people and some strangers. He returned and fought so bravely that the whole town had to rally together and bring him back to his home.
The return set him many assignments, the first being not to be killed like his kindred had been. Then he set about recapturing all the lands that had been looted in his absence. Using his intelligence and his knowledge of the traditions, he lived for a short time in each location and moved on to the next. Since nobody now could have access to where he lived before because it was now okpu ụlọ, his land increased. He also needed people so he married wives and he went to Amadịọha at Ozuzu to ask for male children.
His first child was a daughter that he simply called Nwada. His next child was a son. The name, Ụzụ egbugh, indicated how boldly he stood against enemies, calling all their efforts against him mere sounds of boast that cannot kill a man. The next child, a daughter was called Chi egeghi ụka onye iro m. Progressively other children came and were named, depending on the state of the family and in this case showing the growing fortunes of Chukwuọcha: Nwanyichukwu, Ojini na-ere, Amara
egbule m, Ọgụledo, Egeghe ihe ọnụ kwughe. All this while, the fortunes of Chukwuọcha had improved to the position where he was a respected man in the community, his yam harvest had prospered to the level where he had taken a double yam-master title eze ji and he was on to take the Ọkọnkọ title. He looked around him and saw that he had achieved and when he had another son he called him Ọha jụm ni. (What more could be world ask of him which he still had to achieve?)
Chukwuọcha was a fully achieved man. With patient endurance, hard work, intelligent avoidance of abominable things, with favour from the deities and his fellow human beings he had obtained those things which make life full-wives, children, prosperity and dignity. Other fulfilled Igbo people would declare their fulfilment in similar names-Asị m mee ole? Ole fọrọ, and the ridiculously boastful one-A ga m ịdọdụ igwe? More recent names are even more boastful: O mee ọkachie, A kwaa akwụrụ, etc. These names are in the tradition of recognizing the fullness of achievement and giving expression to the state of reality as revealed by action.
The two words that I have used as the keys to my exploration here, NKA and NZERE need to be discussed a little developed here. Nka derives from the -ka root. The dualities of Igbo thought make possible a positive and a negative interpretation of Nka. On the positive side is the idea that the object is hard and ripe (like earth that is firm and solid, like the coconut that is ready for eating). On the negative side, it means _old and tattered (like over-used cloth-akwa kara aka, like a case that is dismissed). Even when used with regard to human beings, it would be disrespectful to say of a woman, for example, Ọ koala, implying thereby that she is too mature for tricks-.as in the pidgin expression "i don old!" But it is the positive implication of nka that everybody hopes for-to reach a ripe old age. Hence a town could abstract the wish and reify it in the force Isi-ka-nka.
NZERE has even more intensely distant poles. Ihe ana-eze eze are things that should be avoided with a measure of revulsion because they are taboo. In a community in which superhuman forces are prevalent, whether the deities or in the abstracted forces in man and in the environment, there is a large number of things, conditions and people to be abhorred, avoided and run away from. To go through life successfully, one must always be careful to avoid contact with such things, especially abominations (zeere arụ). At the other end of the: spectrum of meaning of the -ze root is the positive element, the respect given to an object or a person that is distanced by beauty, worth or achievement.
A younger colleague at the
Among the Mbaise Igbo, when a man or woman or both have achieved a ripe old age, and have children and grandchildren, they have merited a ceremony called 1gba Ọnyịma. During this ceremony, the children and all their dependents come" and make them presents of livestock, food and symbolic representations of the feelings they have towards them. Some of these things the celebrants have to share in three places, one going to their maternal kindred, the second going to their paternal kindred, and the third being retained by the celebrant. In a world view which recognizes the power of abstract forces, presence at such a ceremony can have a positive effect. During this ceremony, friends and colleagues come and make presents to the celebrants and make bodily contact with them in order that the good fortune evident in their achieving the status involved in having ọnyịma celebrated for them should pass on to the givers. The greeting that is most common at the ọnyịma ceremony is KARUO, ZERUO. That greeting is often to be met too when titled people meet and greet one another. It is a wish that one should arrive at mature old age and the fullness of dignity. In those concepts, NKA NA NZERE lies the focus of the Igbo world view.
0.5 IGBO W'ORLD VIEW AND CONTEMPORARY LIVING
The study of world view has not been too keenly taken up in scholarship because, for a long time, the kind of knowledge which the subject is supposed to generate has been taken for granted in the developed world. From the vantage point of established civilizations, western scholars have concentrated more on specific topics related to their lives--literature, political science, religion, art, science and technology, and so forth. Even philosophy which was the basic thought integrating study has declined mainly to logic and epistemology. World view studies have tended therefore to be reserved to anthropologists who studied “primitive" societies. Looking at such primitive societies emphasis has tended to be placed mainly on the religious elements. The essays in the premier work which gave impetus to the subject, African Worlds (1955), leaned heavily on the religious topics in spite of its general definition of "world outlook" as relating to "the intricate interdependence between a traditional pattern of livelihood, an accepted configuration of social relations, and dogmas concerning the nature of the world and the place of men in it". A recent review of the topic, while advocating for the expansion of the perspective of the subject beyond "the level of the mystical", then goes ahead to define world view in terms of a "space-time framework for the conduct of social life" (J. P. Kiernan). It would appear that in western scholarship some aspect must be paramount in a hierarchy of aspects. A thing must be defined in terms of its most prominent tendency. The democratic principle of letting all aspects operate equally in a people's way of life is not allowed full recognition.
The study of world view is important however in our context where we have to reconstruct a totalistic framework with which to understand our traditions and our behaviour, our characteristics and tendencies. The approach which I have adopted in this exploration of the Igbo world view has emphasized the abstract background of thought with regard to basic and micro realities, but the activities dependent on this view have been from the totality of Igbo life. I can only justify it on the basis that such knowledge is valuable in itself at the same time as it forms the basis for the explanation of other realities of the Igbo way of life. With more people participating in such an exercise, we can go beyond the ethnology and agree on the framework stabilizing reactions to statements like Ndị Igbo, dị ka anyị maara, bụ ndị na-adịghị azụ ahịa uru adịghị (Osuagwu). We can then make valid choices between "the Igbo are ultra democratic and highly individualistic" (Forde and Jones) and "Igbo political institutions were designed to combine popular participation with weighting for experience and ability" (lsichei). Is it true that Igbo enweghị eze? Is the individual made for society or the society for the individual? Who and what are the Igbo such that it is valid to ask when somebody is seen not to struggle hard Onye a ọ wụkwadị onye Igbo? And we are speaking here not only of static characteristics as existing but of the dynamic sources that govern reaction in a progressive sense.
In defining such a world view, the essential programme is not to assert what is peculiar or different but to reveal what is consistent and explanatory. What makes a people's world view cannot be defined in individual units but in a combination of elements. Even if people share many characteristics, as they are bound to do since we are dealing with the common human species, it is in the nature of their combinations that we have their specific identities. As the scientists tell us, there is a limited number of elements but through their combinations in different elements and different ratios, we have a near infinity of different objects. Moreover, there are bound to be differences between different areas of the subject world view but with the concepts of centre and periphery it is possible to give an overview of what constitutes the core of the people's world.
Looking at our people, we are tempted to discard them and some of their practices as ignorant and superstitious; we consider their actions as the results of wishful misapplications of hope and charlatanism. Often, our doubts are supported by the naiveté of the beliefs and practices. But we should make distinctions between results of
1. excesses of irrationality within popular behaviour. There is no doubt that the so-called magico-religious perspective tends to such excesses which are deplorable;
2. our misapplication of logic, such that what we think is in the area of belief or superstition is really in the field of mechanistic causality only we did not know; and
3. differences between what is acceptable and what is not on the basis of vision of reality. The mechanistic vision of reality has, on the basis of technological achievements, tended to extend its efficacy to areas that are not accessible to such mechanistic causality in the human, social and religious aspects of life.
We are called upon to open our eyes and look again at the actions and traditions of our people and see whether perhaps there is not a more authentic and homogeneous direction from which it can be better understood.
A post-graduate student of the English Department at Nsukka, Mr Nathan Nkala produced a very revealing thesis for his M.A. in Literature, based on a survey of the festivals of his town, Ụmụawụlụ in the Awka Local Government Area. Many rituals are shown to centre on the New Yam Festival which, itself, is at the centre of the ritual year. During the year, various deities have been served. Rituals that men perform and those that women perform have been undertaken to placate the appropriate beings and strengthen town and people. Now the yam is being harvested and the fullness of life is about to return.
First, each man who has a household, who has farmed and is expecting a harvest, calls down FEJIỌKỤ and refreshes a shrine to him by the yam barn. This is followed by the offering of yams to AKALOGOLI and AGWỤ in order to avoid their jealous ill-will. The next celebration is carried out by the household head again, this time it is iwa okike during which the man celebrated his Okike, "a man's personal being force". Finally, there is the Ịgọ Ọjị Obu Nshi Ji.
Ịgị Ọjị Obu Nshi Ji marks the actual festival of the eating of the new yam. During the ceremony which now takes place for the whole kindred in the obu of the kindred ancestor, before the ancestral shrine and the icons of the ancestors, the head of the lineage officiates. All the males of the kindred attend and participate in the rituals. The lineage head calls on the deities with whom the people associate, starting with
Anyanwụ na Agbala
Ebulu Ụkpabj, nwoko owholowho anya.
Nọ na ngụ igwe emezu ụwa anya.
and informs them of the reason for the gathering. Then he calls on the ancestors of the kindred by name, praising them and asking them for help and protection. He is not restrained in the praise of those ancestors, like
Nyịlụ uke nyịa okike
Filu akwụkwọ ite ji shịlụ
Anya saa, anya gbadaa: . .
He even threatens that if they should not watch the generations that they have started, they may starve, and so they should all answer
Zazuọnu ka eze azụ
Maka na mmetụkọ mmetụkọ ka egbe ji ekwu okwu.
The man then calls on FEJIỌKỤ and asks that he allow them to eat him without distress and ill-will. The constant refrain to all these prayers and pleadings is Ọ yaha aghọ anyị, Ọ yaha enụ anyi. Finally, running, around the compound with a cock that has been turned into the scapegoat, evil is driven away with the shouts of-
Ekwensu mee! Ekwensu mee! Gbatịa, Jetịa!
Everybody follows the example of the leader and runs around with the scapegoat cock. The cock is sacrificed at the shrine of the ancestors and the new yams now become available for the festival or revival and fullness. All the forces, the spirits of both the deities and the ancestors, the social community, the yam and its dualistic counterpart, Ahịajọkụ, have been invited and treated in the appropriate manner. The human community now feels safe and happy and ready to confront the future with confidence.
Was all that activity a stupid waste of time, provoked by ignorance and superstition? In any case, that ceremony gave religious support to the types of individualism. It gave ritual support to the position, both of each man in his household and the kindred elder in his larger lineage. His command and authority meant something because a world and its people depended on him. He could confront other men on an equal footing because he was priest and protector of his own people. On his welfare and progress also depended the welfare of his kindred so they owed him a special kind of allegiance. Is there nothing to learn from such people and their lives and beliefs?
Beyond merely understanding the past and our own traditions, there is the more practical advantage that decision making for a people in the present requires knowledge of what motivates such people. One can therefore anticipate what directions of planning will attract the greatest co-operative enthusiasm from those people. One can plan on what characteristics of the people to use and what aspects of their way of life must be sacrificed for the new and dynamic developments which must be. I will now briefly suggest some of the continuing issues of contiguity between the Igbo world view and contemporary living.
At the social level a major change in our circumstances is that in the less blood related, more complex and more heterogeneous context of our living, we have now a one-to-one relationship to both the social and the phenomenal reality. We are no longer cushioned, or some people say muddled, by the systems set up by tradition to mediate between the individual and the experience of the world. We do not have, unless we go to the village, the depth of ancestral history and sense of spiritual protection derived from the founding fathers of the kindred whose blood flows in us. Neither our neighbours where we live, nor our colleagues at work, share the same psychic and blood relationship. Neither the God nor the saints of our new religions have historical or time sanctioned intensity of relationship with us. When the Hebrew said in the Psalms that the hand of the Lord had saved him and his generations in the past, the history of the Jews justified his statement. What does the Igbo person mean when he reads the same passage in the Psalms? These separations from the fountains of our traditions, I believe, have helped to release the Igbo into the superficiality of aggressive materialism. There is no going back to the past but a recognition of what is lost can engender a search for viable alternatives adequate for the present.
Our study reveals to us that there was a dominant concept of the individuality of the person and his dignity as a human person such that every effort was made in the past to establish a context of government by consensus. Leadership was not encouraged to succumb to the temptation to tyranny, and if it did, there was always some Igbo person who would become “Eji ndụ eme gịnị" and put an end to the tyranny even if it cost him his own life. Mike Ejiagha has just released a new Akụkọ n' Egwu about the dog and Anịkọtụlụkpa. The dog refuses to stay in his home and have the cloth removed from his waist by another man no matter how highly placed. He ended up defeating Anịkọtụlụkpa, but that was a bonus. Before be left to fight the tyrant he warned his wife to look after his family if he should die in the effort. The aspect of consensus went through both government and religion and the Igbo did not quarrel as to whose deity was the supreme. That was a quarrel which the deities could fight for themselves. The Igbo used the deities as the need arose.
As a group, Igbo communities, respected the specific qualities of the members of their groups and found the best way to use individual talents. We are called upon, I believe, as a group to develop the best strategies to accommodate and use the individuality which is characteristic of our people to our best advantage. I think, for example, that any attempt to build a strict hierarchical structure of the type necessary for the management of large political structures will not lead to any Igbo success. It is perhaps necessary to curb the extent of individualism for the Igbo to cope with the modern world. Must the messenger in the office assert his individuality by not taking immediate orders from his superior officer? And must the extensions of individualism which allow Igbo persons to seek redress to the last limits of the multiple chains of protection continue to create lack of disciplinary immediacy in the present.
All the same, such a quality as individuality is not to be taken as mainly negative. It is individualism that makes each man strike out on his own and make new fortunes and status in spite of whatever was his origins. It is not only in government that this individualism should make us realize that the Igbo may be led and not governed, we can take it further into the economic sphere where, beyond the individual achievements for which the Igbo are now famous, they can add groupings based on the indispensability of each individual in the group. This requires, not the combination of funds, but the combination of talents and expertise. Each person's contribution can only be made by him for the welfare of the total organization, otherwise the tortoise archetype into which perhaps every Igbo person has been trained will take over and the bigger will eat the smaller fish and grow. Igbo society operated a sophisticated system of checks and balances. Whereas the men of the kindred appeared to take all the decisions, there was ọha ndịom that has to accept the decisions otherwise they were not valid. If ọha ndịom is provoked into disagreement, then the community is not at peace till the matter is given a more acceptable turn. For each person there was the patrilineal kindred. But if the person had any serious problems with that kindred his maternal kindred became involved. If there are problems in the family which the men folk are reluctant to solve or over which they are proving incapable, the daughters of the family the ụmụ ada come home and their decision is final. Perhaps we have not in the present given enough attention to the place of women in the community. In general, we might be forgetting the great virtues of complementarity.
At the larger political level, our traditions explain the predominant ethnic chauvinism with which we unfortunately confront national and political issues. From the tradition of expanding rings of identity and loyalty, however, one should be able to draw out strategies for the more intensive establishment of nationalism.
At the personal level, one cannot but wonder whether we still retain the aggressive dignity and the independence of our forefathers who cut down the forests with their bare hands and made them yield them a living, who made and unmade gods and achieved accommodation with those they could not control. One wonders whether they are real Igbo who can now cringe and crawl before uncreative and oppressive leadership for individual and short term gains.
There is no doubt that part of the problem is the loss of group initiatory rites. There is now no ritually instilled consciousness of what one may do and not do, or rites that bring out the full powers that are contained in a human being. When there itụ anya as part of the initiation activities, a pot was set on the boil into which had been put all sorts of things ranging from succulent goat and cow meat to toads and millipedes. The initiate had to dip his hand quickly into the boiling pot and, extracting whatever came to his hand, he had to throw it immediately into his mouth and chew and swallow. Life came out from such a ritual as a pot of uncertainties into which entered with bravery and manly fortitude to take whatever came from it. If we no longer require rituals, what substitute have we put in their place?
The sense of self which the Igboman had must not also be taken out of context. No work was too hard not to be attempted, no job was too menial to be used in the struggle with the world for achievement. One did not develop independence in the sense of refusing to do anything that had to be done because of dignity. Dignity was achieved as a reward and it was after one had taken certain titles that it was possible to be choosy about the employment. Moreover, it is easy to exaggerate the implications of the individualism and forget that there was a finely tuned balance between the individual and the community.
The discussion has emphasized the goals of individual achievement. But that the goal can be so firmly defined marks the limitation of individualism. In Igbo society the individual does not have the freedom to choose his own goals. He has a freedom of choice as to means. It is this freedom that encouraged the Igbo to rally quickly to any new methods likely to lead to the required ideal of fulfilment. In the stable context of traditional society, the spiritual and psychic sanctions restrained how one pursued the goals, what he may do, who he may hurt or not hurt what other people's rights he must safeguard or trample upon in his progress towards the ideal. The unit of value judgement was also the community. There was no question of the individual setting himself value judgements with regard to acts and persons. But every individual
was part of the making of the acceptable values. The Igbo community had every few absolute values. The ones acknowledged as absolute related only to those most crucial aspects that involved life itself. The dynamism of the Igbo value system was not in the recognition of individual value choices, but in everybody contributing from his experience to the pragmatic adjustment of communal values.
Finally, and briefly, how valid was this world view? How sensible it is in this period of the twentieth century in some of the things to which the Igbo attributed reality. More particularly, is it possible that there are those abstract beings that the Igbo found useful as agents in the management of their lives, both individually and as communities ? Do the objects that we handle, the plants and trees with which our environment is populated, do they have realities beyond the physics and chemistry of their existence?
The movement towards the "purely Intellectual" approach, towards the perception of nature, reality, situations, manifestations of an "inanimate, impersonal" world, is inevitable. Yet it must be seen as a consequence of the crowding, non-homogenous environment of modern life. It is also a progressive paring off of elements of humanity to accommodate the modern context, which also is a reduction in the scope of reaction and interaction with the environment. This is true of the larger poetical structures. It is also true of the perception of reality. The world has made incredible technological developments based on the mechanistic approach to reality. But is it the only reality?
What then is the rational attitude to the belief in the agency of natural objects and the powers exercised by the so-called extra-physical force both those found in the environment and those generated by human processes? What justification is there for attributing rationality to people who can believe in such non-mechanistic causality?
A recent writer in the Daily Star, Onoimi Iyida was very sarcastic about what he called "back-door entry into African science". He was reacting to a newspaper report that British doctors were now using magnetic beads to cure neoroblastoma, tumours of the lungs and breasts. Onoimi asked why it is that African scientists refused to learn this magnetism and superior technology from our traditional medicine. In tradition, he claimed, children were cured from convulsion by being given a “harnessed monkey bone to wear and the convulsion is magnetized off the child and he becomes free". He also referred to the treatment of women in whose wombs umbilical cords remained after delivery. "She is given a bead. She puts it in the mouth and the chord is dislodged".
Our first finding then is that, perhaps, some of what we have been discarding as based on abstract and superstitious principles are actually based on intelligent and programmed observation, if not from experimentation to which we now have no access in our oral traditions. Fortunately, there are young scholars in the pharmaceutical sciences like Drs Cletus Aguwa and Maurice Iwu who are pursuing the totalistic approach to our traditions of health sciences. There is also the fact of rain-making to which some young physical scientists like Mr Obinabo are paying scientific attention.
We cannot discard the abstract realities which our people use without further investigation. Some people hear sounds that are not there. That is no reason, however, why we should accept the evidence of the deaf about the absence of sound. Because the radio has been made available to us we now knew that if you have the right equipment, you can tune in to the atmosphere and receive broadcasts. Perhaps there is a world beyond physics and chemistry. Our ancestors believed in such a world. Perhaps, if we are to make an original contribution to the progress of the world, it will be through discovering this world and its system of operation. Then we can turn the abstract into a comprehensible reality and extend what is available to man for the management of his world.
Meanwhile, I wish for each of us a mature old age and all the dignity that comes from the realization of the humanity and spirituality in each of us.
Ọha na Eze, onye na chi ye
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A CITATION ON 1984 AHỊAJỌKỤ LECTURE
Chairman, 1984 Ahịajọkụ Lecture Planning Committee
The Ahịajọkụ Lectures started with the search for Igbo identity when in his maiden Lecture in 1979 Professor M. J. C. Echeruo shared thoughts and reflections with us Igbos on the Matter of Identity. He agreed with the views of many that centuries of slave trade and colonization disorganised the Igbo man and uprooted him from his pristine culture. He however identified lingering hopes of survival of the Igbo since in his views he was uprooted without being transplanted. In his calling "Ohanaeze me me nụ", he recognized the immense role the Ahịajọkụ Lecture Festival will play on the onerous search for Igbo identity and Igbo cultural revival.
In 1980 a world famous agronomist and an eminent Igbo scholar, Professor B. N. Okigbo in his erudite and uncompromising exposé took us to the farms and bushes of Igboland and revealed the wonders, the wealth and the systematic exploitation of the 'promised land' of the Igbos.
Professor A. E. Afigbo transported his audience to an age that may, never come back to the Igbo; "The Age of Innocence". In the present "age of wickedness" only nostalgia for what was noble can point the way to regeneration and cultural reconstruction.
A new dimension in the search for Igbo identity was added in 1982 when another academic juggernaut, Professor A, O. Anya introduced one more theme-the scientific approach to which the search for Igbo Civilization may be directed, as identified by Professor Onwuejiogwu. His was on the Ecology and Socio-biology of Igbo cultural and political development.
The age of five witnessed a doddering period in the life of Ahịajọkụ Lecture. Like any organism it developed a curable disease which denied us this annual ritual in 1983. Happily the Military Administration of Imo State Government through its agency in the area of culture-the Culture Division of the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, readily provided a cure.
Today we are here again all attention,
ears aching to hear, mind eager to digest the expositions and reflections of
yet another Igbo son on the wonders of Igbo civilization. Professor Donatus Ibe
Nwoga, Dean of Arts at the
If you suddenly see something like a shadow around you, please don't hit it hard, for we are not alone. The spirits of our fore-fathers are also here. They are keeping a watchful eye over their off-spring as they increase and multiply to fill the earth.
The theme today is on Igbo Cosmology, a lofty topic indeed and one that has generated much anxiety and intuitive concern in every right thinking Igbo man and people who are interested in the Igbo. No topic can be more appropriate especially at this time of our national development when the nation is working hard towards the discipline of her citizens. This is more so if we realize that many of our problems of life-style, social and economic development are generated by an inadequate consciousness of our people's system of relationship, work values, organization and technology, their concepts of achievement and failure and of ultimate relationship at the cosmological and metaphysical levels. Today our worthy lecturer will no doubt put us and the future generation in the right frame of mind.
For the sake of clarity our lecturer will focus attention on two areas of Igbo Cosmology namely:-Nka na Nzere, meaning old age and reverence. The past years have witnessed unbridled spate of irreverence to our elders, our ancestors and our God. "Is that the Igbo way"? one may ask. Today we shall be treated to this subject of profound interest and significance to our people and civilization.
At the age of six, the Ahịajọkụ Lecture spirit is already mature and restless and is urging all its high priests, you and me, to reach out for greater heights in the consolidation and propagation of the culture and civilization of the Igbo. Today is harvest day. Let us all prick our ears and open our hearts to attend to the great teacher of today as he unravels and spins out the looms of the cosmology of the Igbo.
May the Festival of Ahịajọkụ prosper and last for all time.
CITATION ON PROFESSOR DONATUS IBEAKWADALAM NWOGA
1984 AHỊAJỌKỤ LECTURER
BY PROFESSOR ROMANUS N. EGUDU
We have as our Ahịajọkụ lecturer today a professional educator, a social servant, an Igbo scholar, an Ahịajọkụ votary: namely, Professor Donatus lbeakwadalam Nwoga.
Professor Nwoga had taught and served
mankind for thirty-two (32) out of a total of fifty-one (51) years of his life
so far. He had taught at St. Peter Claver's Junior Seminary, Okpala; Holy Ghost
Teacher's College, Umuahia; and Christ the
Professor Nwoga's university teaching experience is climaxed by his most effective leadership. Currently the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he was also formerly Dean of the same Faculty, Head of English Department, Director of General Studies Division, and Director of the Institute of African Studies of the same institution. One major characteristic of Professor Nwoga's leadership is his accessibility. To his staff followership he is a ready colleague and companion: to the students he is a loving father and friend; to the oppressed and distressed he is a defender and guardian. Like the Ahịajọkụ titular crop, the yam, Professor Nwoga can rightly be described as "Ọ dị uru, ọ dịghị Ọkpụkpụ": flesh with no bone; softness with no hardness; gentleness with no harshness; sweetness with no bitterness; and that is to sat, that one who is led by Professor Nwoga is under the leadership of humaneness itself.
It is thus natural and proper that the services of this humane and humble friend of humanity should be demanded by the greater society outside the university community. And this must have accounted for his roles as Secretary of the Planning and Management Committee of the former Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (1970); member of the Board of the former East-Central State Broadcasting Corporation (1974-76); member of the former East-Central State Library Board (1975-76); and former member of Imo State Library Board (1977-79).
This devoted teaching and serving man is also luminous scholar, whose educational background had been a logically marvellous preparation for the epic height he has attained in scholarship today. For example, he passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination in Division One, with exemption from matriculation in 1950; he passed the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level Examinations in English Literature, Latin and Ancient History at a sitting, with exemption from Inter B.A. of the University of London In 1955; and in ]960, when he obtained his Bachelor's degree from the Queen's University of Belfast, he won in the same breath the highly coveted "High Graham Mitchell Bursary" for the pursuit of the M.A. degree which he accomplished in 1962; and within the three following years, he combined full-time teaching at the University of Nigeria with dogged working for the PhD degree of the University of London and obtained it in ]965. These early academic feats could only foretell the emergence of a high-ranking scholar, such as Professor Nwoga has most meritoriously become with seven books and about forty journal articles to his authorial credit.
But, what has made Professor Nwoga appear to be a providentially "ready-made" major actor in this Ahịajọkụ "drama", which we are celebrating today, is not so much the fact of his being a great scholar generally, as that of his being an Igbo scholar and therefore an Ahịajọkụ votary in a very special way. It was indeed twenty-four years ago; when Professor Nwoga was in a foreign land studying for his M.A. degree, that the spirit of Ahịajọkụ Lecture with its focus on Igbo culture and Igbo world-view first twinkled inside his research self, but it got quickly suppressed. His first proposal for the Master's thesis was "Translation of Chaucer into Igbo", but because none of his professors could supervise the project, he dropped it. But even then the spirit did not die, for just four years later (1964), Professor Nwoga published a paper titled "The Chi offended" which became a prodigious event that pointed the way to the bulk of his subsequent publications. Thus after some scholarly sojourn into Shakespeare, the short story, and African and West African literature generally, Professor Nwoga concentrated his research and publication efforts filially on Igbo oral literature, Igbo culture, Igbo social life, Igbo dialectology, Igbo language education, Igbo religion and Igbo philosophy. Any serious scholar of Igbo language, culture and thought should therefore have reason enough to say of Professor Nwoga as T. S. Eliot had said of Ezra Pound: "II miglior fabbro del parlo materno" (the better craftsman of the mother tongue).
It is this international teacher and scholar, this pace-setter in Igbo literary scholarship, this ardent devotee to the cause of Igbo literature and Igbo thought and world view, this humble man, Professor Donatus Ibeakwadalam Nwoga, that I have the singular honour and pleasure of calling upon today to perform as chief celebrant in this 1984 Ahịajọkụ lecture service. And I confidently say: “hear ye him”.
Romanus N. Egudu
Professor of English
Prepared for Online Publishing by Dr. Chidi Okorie - Igbo Heritage Foundation