The Igbo Network
Igbo Heritage Comment: The 1988 Ahịajọkụ Lecture (Onugaotu) Colloquium comprises three presentations, 1) IGBO DEITIES, By N. S. S. Iwe, 2) THE IGBO IDEA OF THE SACRED: CONTEMPORARY OBSERVANCES By T. Uzodinma Nwala, and 3) UNDER THE EYES OF THE GODS: SACRALIZATION AND CONTROL OF SOCIAL ORDER IN IGBOLAND By O. U. Kalu
In his seminal work, Sacrifice in Igbo Religion, now fast becoming a classic in the genre, Francis Cardinal Arinze proffered an explanation of the phenomenon of religion among men from the subjective and objective standpoints. In the first sense, it is "the consciousness of one's dependence on a transcendent Being and the tendency to worship Him;" in the second, "religion is the body of truths, laws and rites by which man is subordinated to the transcendent Being." We may note that the use of the passive form of the verb in the second definition introduces an element of involuntarily, suggesting that man may be inserted willy nilly within a religious framework of existence.
Nonetheless, the two aspects of the religious experience are obviously interconnected: it is the subjective consciousness of a greater-than-oneself in the cosmic scheme of things which predisposes to the acceptance of the "truths, laws and rites" by which this awareness is made manifest in behavioural terms, whether by choice or by submission to some external fiat. In other words, the notion of religion comprises from the outset both a psychological and a social dimension. It implies on the one hand the possibility of individual mental states arising out of personal encounters and confrontations with what the German religious historian Rudolf Otto calls the "nouminous" the suffusion of existence and its environmental props with "an atmosphere of the awesome," the mysterious and fascinating. On the other hand, this possibility of a variety of individual mystical states, each in its own way charging the external world with mental and spiritual attributes, creates a permanent need for some kind of regulatory syncretism at the group level, and out of this syncretism emerges a social order in which the varieties of the individual experience of the sacred are transmuted into the requirements of existence and survival in a given environmental setting.
Accordingly, we may characterize religion for our purposes here as a way of life; or more precisely as a system of beliefs authorizing or sanctioni6g a generalized set of observances based on the acknowledgement of an ultimate relationship to a universal principle or essence which is regarded as immanent in nature. The mental concretizations of this universal principle are of course the transcendent Being which we call God, Chukwu, the Deity. The belief in God logically signifies faith in a divinely-ordained order in the world and furnishes a permanent spiritual meaning for existence in the sense of an extra-mundane focus, the ultimate individual and collective consummation in which becomes the object and the justification of existence, and therefore salvation.
Religion is thus essentially a cultural phenomenon. The prescriptions of the Deity i.e., the perceived conditions of spiritual salvation translate into a moral code expressed as the behavioural formulation of the objective requirements of the transcendental order, and justified on this basis. Viewed this way, religion becomes both the aspiration to and the reality of individual and collective communion with the Deity, with the universal principle of existence, the means of ensuring conformance with this principle as interpreted and conceptualized in the particular setting. That is to say, it becomes a mechanism of social control of enculturation into a way of life. It becomes in effect the conscious manipulation of the idea of the supernatural for purely mundane purposes including such purposes as overt or surreptitious suppression of one culture by another.
All these aspects of the phenomenon of religion feature in the three Papers discussing the Igbo Idea of the Sacred presented in this years Ahiajoku (Onugaotu) Colloquium which are herein reproduced.
Rev. Dr Iwe's exegesis of Igbo deities is a good starting point, for it sets out to underline the "mature foundations for our knowledge and recognition of the existence of the creator." Dr Iwe evokes the now fatuous-sounding anxiety of early European colonialists and missionaries as to the ability of Africans "to handle abstract ideas and concepts and to make logical inferences or conclusions from appropriate statements. Dismissing the European conception of "primitive" religion as the spiritual expression of cultures which supposedly have not yet achieved a sharp intellectual distinction between the spiritual and the practical, between the sacred and the profane, he asserts that the awareness of God "is and has been at all times the common heritage of humanity."
Dr Iwe distinguishes clearly between the Igbo conception of the Supreme Being, Chukwu "the creator", and the host of lesser divinities, beneficent or malign, who ere properly seen merely as particular manifestations in time and place of His omnipresence and omnipotence as shaped and fleshed out by the cosmic forces acting on the human perception. For the Igbo, Dr Iwe asserts, the Supreme Being is neither uncertain nor remote but an integral aspect of their communal being; such that "the refinement of public morality in the light of contemporary beliefs" cannot be achieved without a fruitful dialogue between the Igbo theological heritage and the Christian belief structure which has been superimposed on it by recent history.
For Dr Uzodinma Nwala, who discusses contemporary observances in the Igbo idea of the sacred in the next contribution, this necessary dialogue not only has not been fruitful to date, but is unlikely ever to be. It has consisted essentially, he suggests, in a monologue in which Christianity has talked down to traditional religion and has ended by subverting it. What has transpired, therefore, has been "the systematic and uncritical destruction and neglect of traditional religion" in a contest which he say8 should properly be seen as a clash of cultures, "a contest between two theologies."
Dr Nwala thus introduces a nationalistic dimension to religion according to which the latter ought to be regarded as one of the pillars of "the identity of a people" which in turn is "a function of their history and culture. He asserts that modern Christianity as practiced in its original homeland and exported to us, has become, in effect, the soul-less ideology of a materialistic civilization that has lost all essential touch with the divinity. His solution to this dilemma will certainly strike many readers as having the merit of departing boldly from received orthodoxies.
Following this interlude not entirely devoid of certain polemical elements, one might add Professor Kalu in the next presentation affects a more detached sociological approach to the social uses of the idea of the sacred in Igbo tradition "Under the Eyes of the Gods, his eye-catching title, is a disquisition on the sometimes circuitous but more often (end especially in the case of tradition in an acephalous segmentary polity without centralized formal mechanisms of social control) explicit connection between religious precepts and the requirements of social stabilization. His study reveals that the impact of ecology and cultu2al differentiation on the sacralization and control of social order in Igboland has led '.o a remarkable richness of sub-cultural variations in social control devices within the general framework of standard pan-Igbo cultural forms.
What comes across, as other scholars have remarked, is an Igbo moral universe that is thoroughly suffused with sacred symbolism and ritual in a socio-religious system that was deliberately designed to legitimize power, achievement and wealth such as to ensure their acquisition in morally satisfactory ways. Professor Kalu is careful to point out, however, that the Igbo were "not so incurably religious that all modes of social control were clothed in religious garb." Secular modes of control existed. Professor Kalu mentions a plethora of examples, but adds significantly that the inability to harness effectively the resources of the environment produced an emphasis on nature and professional spirits as a sort of wistful anticipation and transcendence, one may surmise, of the as yet inadequately developed human capabilities that could not avail for the time being.
This suggests of course the inevitability of a diminution the powers of the sacred in the face of increasing secularity and modern technology. But perhaps what will chiefly transpire thereby will be a mere substitution of symbols, a replacement of god-based mysticism with the equally mysterious workings mysterious, as with traditional symbolism, to the uninitiated of technological rationality. After all, as Arthur Clarke has enunciated, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
In the past as in the present, and one expects in the future as well, "human leaders," to use Professor Kalu's words "pose as stewards and endeavour to clothe themselves with a divine aura as managers of Chukwu's estates." Which is as good a summary as any of the Igbo traditional conception of the sacred.
N. S. S. IWE
Chineke E: Oh God: My God! These and similar exclamations in Igbo and other languages and cultures have been from time immemorial, the spontaneous and instinctive recourse of the human spirit to the Supreme Being, the Author of its existence, in the face of unanticipated and momentous happenings, whether joyful and catastrophic. Human nature instinctively seeks, asserts and confesses its author, God. It is, therefore, not only by reflection on the nature of the universe that the Africans (including the Igbo) have come to the knowledge of the existence of a Supreme Being, as Mbiti has remarked, but also by instinct and intuition. Here is the significance and implication of the idea of the human spirit as the image of its creator. Philosophical analysis of the existence of God and logical proofs of the same, simply confirm and consolidate the nature foundations for our knowledge and recognition of the existence of the creator. As a consequence, the awareness of God is and has been at all tines the common heritage of humanity.
Fortunately for humanity the erstwhile denigrate of African cultures is more fashionable, and Emil Ludwig's rhetorical question below now strikes one as comic.
"How can the untutored Africans conceive God? . . . How can this be?... Deity is a philosophical concept which savages are incapable of framing."
A ridiculous story was told during the early 1960s about the anxiety and skepticism of the early colonialists and inexperienced missionaries with regard to the ability of the Congolese to handle abstract ideas and concepts and to make logical inferences or conclusions from appropriate statements. In other words, in the first half of this century, serious doubts were expressed by some Western European agents and scholars about the maturity of the mental and psychological faculties of the Africans.
However, modern anthropological studies have demonstrated convincingly that the Igbo and other Africans possessed a culture endowed with a definite concept of the deity, the divine and sacred, the spiritual and religious. Hence the truth of Mbiti's assertion:
"We can say, therefore, that the African view of the universe is profoundly religious. Africans see it as a religious universe, and treat it as such."
B. THE IGBO AND THEIR SPIRITUAL (WORLD-VIEW)
Fortunately again for us, the Igbo are very keen and stable participants in this African culture of the divine and the sacred. The Igbo vision, understanding and interpretation of the universe of beings are deeply spiritual and religious, and the following features of Igbo spiritual world-view are clear evidence of this fact.
For the Igbo there is no hostile dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.
Idowu regards chi as the divine essence in man, the inner man, the essential man. In Christian theological terms, chi may be identified as personal guardian spirit or angel. Chi is the ontological basis of the Igbo belief in immortality and this belief is in turn the ground for their belief in reincarnation and religious reverence for deserving ancestors. In this context Ilogu commented as follows:
This belief or desire for immortality is part of the background to the cult of the ancestors through which the dead share in life of the living."
The traditional cult of the Igbo is marked by liberty, variety, relevance and communality.
(b) Variety as a religious factor in Igbo religious practice takes into consideration personal and local circumstances and other natural contingencies and human events such as wars, epidemic, flood, famine, thunder, madness, etc.
(c) Relevance, which Ilogu identified as "Utility", as a feature of Igbo religious cult and attitude, seeks to ensure for them the worship of a divinity whose powers are efficacious and productive of positive and salutary results.
In a sort of enlightened spiritual and religious pragmatism, the Igbo are ever prepared to abandon the worship of any divinity whose relevance to their lives is not sustained. It is this special Igbo attitude to religion that Echeruo, in the first Ahiajoku Lecture incisively characterized as a factor of the crisis of ethnic identity, in spite of the evidence of our religiosity. He went on to say:
"What is equally true is that we are a thoroughly iconoclastic people; that we keep our gods in our hearts and have only an appropriately respectful attitude to the circumstances that surround them. We respect the gods, but as the proverb says, we also expect the gods to respect us. We acknowledge the power of the gods, and cultivate that, power; but when these gods consistently fail to prove themselves powerful, we reserve the right to discard them and seek out new gods."
These insightful observations are clearly indicative of the Igbo traditional quest for relevance and meaning in their culture. However, this search for relevance has led in the past to fanaticism, and as I have remarked elsewhere:
"The danger of irreligiosity is minimal in the culture of the Igbo. However, the 'real danger lies in religious fanaticism and prejudice and all other forms of over-doses of religiosity or practice of religion beyond the bounds of reason.
Certainly it was fanatical to indulge in the following negative traditional practices:
(i) the destruction of twins, considered an adulteration by evil spirits of the sacred spring of human reproduction;
(ii) human sacrifice, especially during the funeral rites of elders and chiefs, to ensure their safe passage and security in the world of spirits beyond.
(iii) the establishment of the osu and ume caste systems, with their unfortunate social consequences.
(iv) the social (especially funerary) discriminations and deprivations visited on members of the society who died during the sacred months, or through such diseases believed to have been inflicted by the evil spirits such as major inflammation .of the scrotum, leprosy, small pox, heart-attack or stroke (i.e., mmba-mmuo), etc.
In all this, our ancestors were ignorant, but had good intentions, namely, to pay respect to the gods and the departed and to the source of human life.
However this erroneous good intention succeeded in institutionalising terror, injustice and cruelty.
One may nevertheless add here, as I had stated elsewhere:
. . . religious extremism and fanaticism are alien to the traditions of the Igbo culture, which substantially upholds freedom and responsibility in religious belief and practice."
(d) Communality is another characteristic feature of Igbo religious tradition. The Igbo sense of solidarity finds deep expression especially in the realm of public morality and religion. The point has been in a striking manner by Ilogu:
"Communality is the essence of the gods. They are the common possessions and guardians of all. No one sins to the gods alone. Punishment for the sin of one man is visited on all. The blessings of the gods are also shared by all."
Thus for the Igbo, morality, religion and God are not merely personal affairs but a matter of social concern and common experience, engendering social rights and responsibilities.
I may summarize this section with a quotation from an earlier work:
"The Igbo as a people possess a culture that is perineated and pervaded by a sense of the divine, the mysterious, the supernatural and of divine providence. Their attachment to God or the deities is almost instinctive and emotional. Appeal to the divine and divine providence colour and characterize personal names, parables and proverbs . . . Such personal names as: chukwudi (There is God); Chukwuma (God knows); Chukwuemeka (God has done great); Chukwukere (God created); Iwuchukwu (God's law or plan); Ikechukwu (God's power); Ikpechukwu (Gods judgment or verdict), which are so common among our people, are constant evidence of their devotion to God."
C. THE IGBO DEITIES
In modern times quite a few Igbo scholars have researched into the area of Igbo deities and their relevance to Igbo life and culture, especially Arinze, Ilogu, Onyioha, Kalu, Metuh and a few others deserve special attention. It would be unnecessary to restate their well-known contributions in this area. However, my intention is to consider here the basis of Igbo theology and subsequently the traditional spatio-temporal focus of the interaction of the Igbo and their God, namely, the shrine.
In the first place, it is necessary to reaffirm the not-too-well appreciated fact', especially since the advent of Christianity among the Igbo, that the Igbo are fundamentally and eminently monotheistic. In other words, they believe in one and only Supreme Spirit, one almighty God. There might be a suspicion here that this writer is trying to attribute to Igbo tradition the subsequent theological achievements of Christianity among modern Igbo. However, this is obviously not so; this is clear from the eye-witness" account of the Missionaries themselves as far back as the first half of the 19th century when Christianity had not penetrated Igbo culture. A German missionary, writing on the Igbo in 1841, confessed that:
"The word 'Tshuku' God, is continually heard. Tshuku is supposed to do everything. Their notions of some of the attributes of the Supreme Being are, in many respects, correct, and their manner of expressing them, striking. 'God made everything: He made both White and Black' is continually on their lips. Some of their parables are descriptive of the perfections of God.
It is evident from the above that the Igbo belief in one Supreme God predated Christianity. It is not a modern theological development arising out of the Christian faith and heritage, as some modern Igbo Scholars would want us to believe. I have in mind here Nwọga's view that the concept of the Supreme Being is an exotic theological importation entirely strange to the Igbo traditional religious heritage. The discussion above shows that this is not quite true.
In the second place the Igbo recognize and believe in a pantheon of divine beings or spirits, Mmụọ, Arụsị. Here is a collage of both good and evil divinities, inferior and subordinate to the Supreme Being, but endowed with special powers in the affairs of human beings and over the material forces of the visible universe. As Idowu rightly cautions:
"We should however observe here that the divinities owe their being and divine authority to Deity and that they are not to be confused with him in any way."
In the third place, there is the Igbo belief in-Chi, or personalized divine providence, a guardian personal spirit (a direct endowment by God to each person) providing the necessary ontological basis for the communion of every human being with his Creator, his ancestors and posterity. As Isichei well observed "the living, the dead, and the unborn form part of a continuum . . . The ancestors watch over the living, and are periodically reincarnated among them.
In the light of the above submissions, the basic elements of Igbo traditional theology may 'be represented geometrically as a triangle with God at the apex, the two sides symbolizing the good and evil divinities while the base-line representing Chi and the Ancestors, as in the following diagram below:
THE SUPREME BEING DEITY
Igbo theology is therefore, essentially a triangular communion of the human spirit with the Supreme Deity and the divine and ancestral spirits in man's search for security, harmony and peace both in this visible universe and in the invisible universe.
Now a brief comment on each of these basic elements of Igbo theology will be appropriate.
1. GOD THE SUPREME BEING:
For the Igbo, God is a person in the full philosophical richness of this word. In this perspective, to be a person means to be a being endowed with intellect and will-power; a centre of consciousness, "of valuation, decision and choice", an autonomous subject of rights and responsibilities. It is in this light that the Igbo perceive God as a person with all the attributes of a divine personality in the transcendental, absolute and eminent degree. Though the Igbo see God as transcendental in His being and perfection, they believe strongly in his immanence in creation. We agree with Idowu that:
"In African thought, Deity is absolutely essential and cannot be disregarded; the notion of a god as so transcendent that he is not immanent is alien to African belief ... Africans are explicit about the divine rulership and absolute control of the universe."
The major names by which the Igbo identify the Supreme Being illustrate this point:
i. Chukwu (Chi-Ukwu) The "Great Source Being or Spirit". "The Great One from whom being originates." Here is the Great Chi, from whom all human beings derive their personal Chi or guardian spirit.
ii. Chineke The creator spirit Here is God's name as the creator and Uncaused Cause of the Universe.
iii. Osebụlụwa Here is God's name as the Lord, Sustainer and Foundation of the universe.
iv. Ọbasị-bi-n'igwe God who lives in Heaven.
v. Eze di n'igwe God the Lord of Heaven.
vii. Amọ ama amacha amacha: Here is God's name in His infinite capacity and incomprehensibility vis-a-vis the limited cognitive capacity of mortal man.
These selectively itemized Igbo names for God portray His transcendence, pre-eminence and creative power; His immanence and unique sovereignty over the universe.
B. SOME IGBO THEOPHORIC NAMES:
The theophoric personal names given to children at birth are also a clear index of the Igbo concept of -God. Here are some examples:
i. Chukwudi God exists
ii. Chukwuma God knows
iii. Uchechukwu God's Will
iv. Amara Chi God's Grace
v. Chukwuemeka (Olisaemeka) - God has been benevolent
vi. Nwachukwu Child of God
vii. Ngozichukwu God's blessing
viii. Ifeanyịchukwu (Iheanyichukwu) Nothing is impossible with God.
The above sample of Igbo theophoric names signify among, other things, the Igbo concept of God as a living Being immanent and present in the lives and activities of human beings (His creatures). A thorough examination of the Igbo idiom and characteristic myths establish as much. For instance, two common Igbo sayings, namely: Chukwu Muanya mgbe nile (God is ever vigilant); Onweghi ihe gbara Chineke anya gharị(nothing is incomprehensible to God, in His infinite wisdom) strikingly establish the essential, dynamic and definitive traditional Igbo concept of the Supreme Being.
In summary, we may assert that for the Igbo, the Supreme Being is not a Deus incognitus (an unknown God), not a Deus incertus et remotus (an uncertain and remote God), Deus absconditus (a hidden or absentee God). He is a Supreme Being high above His creatures in nature but present among, and in communion with them in action and influence.
The Igbo regard the Supreme Being as altogether good, merciful, just and benevolent. They do appeal and pray to Him directly, on special occasions (of joy, sorrow, calamity or distress) or at the commencement of the day, or on taking certain initiatives or in public deliberations. Such direct appeals and prayers are made through incantations, libations, invocations; but rarely through direct sacrifice. Because of His transcendence and dignity the Igbo prefer to worship Him indirectly through the minor deities. As Arinze pointed out, the Igbo "think it more courteous and more within man's range to appeal to the spirits to obtain request from God. But the Igbo need no one to tell them that without God, not even the strongest 'alusi' (spirit) can do anything."
II. THE DIVINITIES
Igbo religious and rituals observances are focused on the pantheon of divinities or intermediary spirits, whom they believe control the forces of the visible universe for good or for bad. Because of the belief in their significant, though subordinate power and influence in the affairs of human beings, prayers and sacrifices are often offered to appease them or to attract their blessings. There are a few major Igbo divinities. According to Ilogu:
"Next to Chineke - is a pantheon of gods: Anyanwụ (the sun god); Igwe (the sky god), Amadị-ọha (the god of thunder and lightning) and ala (the earth goddess)."
These gods with a small "g" are mere divinities or spirits, with powers derived from God. Thus, it would be wrong to espouse the view put forward by Idowu that these divinities are not creatures because they are derived divinities. This view is wrong because it is logically impossible for two Supreme Beings to exist. Therefore the lgbo divinities are created spiritual functionaries presiding over the natural elements of the universe (such as water, the, the land, the sky, etc.) and acting as intermediaries in man's relationship with the Supreme Being.
Now a few words on the common and major divinities of the Igbo:
"One divinity, however, was beyond
the capriciousness of Igbo men: that divinity is neither Igwe, nor even Chukwu,
but A la, the goddess of the earth. She was the one deity which no man or woman
and no community could afford to offend, much less discard. If ever there was a
supreme god among the Igbo it was
From the reflections here on
ii. Ahịajọkụ (Ifejiọkụ). This is the god of yam and farm work. Igbo traditional society is basically a farming community, and yam is perhaps their most highly valued crop. Eminence in this profession, as measured by the quality and quantity of yams produced annually, is the basis for the award of special cultural rank and title. It was inevitable that this vital sphere of Igbo life and culture should be presided over by a special divinity hence the role of Ahiajoku among the Igbo as the guarantor and custodian of soil fertility and good harvest. As a consequence, in the words of Arinze:
"The yam spirit receives his special cult before and after the planting season. The New Yam Festival is one of the most widespread in Igboland."
One may add here that in the traditional
Igbo family, new yams are never eaten until a ritual sacrifice of a cock or any
other animal has been offered to the divinity. It must be mentioned also that
in some Igbo communities where crop farming is not the central activity,
appropriate divinities are worshipped for success and security as, say, in fish
farming, where a body of water is culturally significant. This is the case With
the Igbo communities along the River Niger, the
iii. Anyanwụ (the sun god): The cult of this divinity is more important in the Northern Igbo sub-cultural area around Nsukka and Oboloafor. Anyanwu is regarded as a benevolent divinity and prayers are offered to it for good health.
iv. Igwe (the god of the sky): Its role is to send the rain to irrigate the earth. In Igbo mythology, he is the husband of A la, the earth goddess in union with whom the earth is rendered fertile and productive. The cult of this divinity is not widespread in Igboland.
v. Amadịọha (the god of thunder and lightning). It is regarded in Igboland as a divinity of vengeance against the wicked and the evildoers. Victims of Amadịọha are as a rule not given a normal burial, and their possessions, especially movable property and personal effects, are either ritually alienated or publicly cast away as refuse. Some call Amadịọha God's Minister of Justice. Another name for Amadịọha is Kamalụ (or kalụ), especially around the south-eastern Igbo areas as Ohafia, Bende, Abiriba and Arochukwu. The above account of these major divinities, demonstrates the cultic pragmatism of the Igbo. It was the height of spiritual arrogance and personal and social indiscretion, and was believed to be tantamount to suicide to rashly ignore these powerful intermediary spirits by appealing to God directly, if according to the diviners circumstances dictate otherwise. These divinities were therefore worshipped, and sacrifices were made and shrines built to supplicate and appease them, as the circumstances of the devotees and. events required.
III. CHI AND ANCESTORS
The third element in the triangular conception of Igbo theology comprises chi or the hum in personal participation in the divine ordering of the universe by the Supreme Being. Arinze sees chi in Igbo belief as the spirit, or genius or spiritual-double with which God has endowed every sentient being. For Ilogu, chi in Igbo belief is the divine particle in man by which he shares in the Supreme Being and the basis of man's immortality and communion with the ancestors. For Idowu, as earlier mentioned, chi is the "inner man the "essential person" and "this is usually conceived (of) as something which man obtains from deity himself and ultimately, the account of how man uses his talent must be rendered before deity." For Metuh, chi is characterized as the immanent presence of God in man or man's guardian angel in life.
Briefly stated therefore, this rather elusive concept of chi in Igbo theology can be practically characterized under two complementary perspectives, namely: transcendence and immanence-transcendentally chi is the divinely endowed spirit of God which functions as a guardian spirit, personal to each human being; immanently, chi is man's spiritual self and materially a part of the structure and potentials of the human personality. In ethical terms, chi is man's conscience. For spiritual balance and ethical sanity, and for a successful and peaceful life there must be a harmonious co-operation between transcendental chi and immanent chi; in other words, between conscience and the voice of God in man. If eventually man must give account of himself according to his chi, this will certainly be according to the manner in which his conscience perceived he voice of God as his personal guide. The Igbo man ordinarily regards chi as his guardian spirit, on whose nature and potency his fate and fortunes hang. Hence in Igbo traditional religious ritual, domestic altars or shrines are erected for the supplication of chi.
From the point of view of Igbo theology, chi is of critical and strategic importance in man's communion with the Supreme Being and the ancestors. For man to enjoy blessed immortality, he must ensure that in close co-operation with his chi, he lives an ethically sound life. To be in conflict with his chi is to court disaster in this life and ignominy and sorrow in the next. In summary, therefore chi must be seen as the spark of the divine in man, his guardian spirit, the basis and pledge of his immortality and reincarnation, and his avenue of communion with his ancestors and posterity.
As mentioned earlier, in Igbo traditional theology, life is a continuum mediated through immortality and reincarnation. This is the conceptual background underlying the cult of the ancestors as the invisible custodians of public morality. We must agree with Arinze that the Igbo family is not made up of only those members who are still alive and that the invisible ancestors, or the "living dead" members are very much a part of it.
IV. THE SHRINES
The shrine is primarily a religious institution and an essential element of ritual sacrifice among the Igbo. It is the spacio-temporal element of Igbo traditional religion and the most visible symbol of the cult and worship of any deity. Physically, it is essentially a place set apart, harbouring ritual objects and symbols (such as the remains of animals, pots, coins, feathers, knives, plants, etc,) and dedicated to a divinity, or ancestor for official and solemn worship. The chi shrines are entirely personal, the domestic shrines are for the spiritual and ritual needs of the family, while the communal shrines are for worship by the community or kindred. The personal and domestic shrines are usually small and simple in design and structure and have correspondingly minor cult status. On the other hand, the communal shrines (such as the Mbarị in the Owerri areas of Igboland) are usually large in size and range from relatively simple structures to sophisticated constructions with awe-inspiring cult objects and decorations.
It should be mentioned that cultic observances at the shrines are always undertaken with due recognition of the pivotal role of the diviner and the appropriate priest.
THE ETHICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE IGBO SHRINE
i. The shrine among the Igbo is of special moral and social importance and significance, apart from its fundamental and primary religious and cult role. As already stated, the shrine is invariably in every community acknowledged as the institutional embodiment and custodian of public morality and order. A few illustrations will suffice here. Any infringement of any of the major prohibitions of the Igbo moral code (by the commission of such abominations as suicide, induced abortion, incest, stealing of yams, etc.) is considered a pollution of the community and a dangerous alienation of the community from peaceful and safe communion with the divinities. In such an eventuality, only the performance of the appropriate rites at the appropriate communal shrine will purify the culprit and the land, appease the divinities and ancestors, and restore the community to spiritual harmony and peace. Thus the shrine as an institution inculcates a personal awareness of the social dimensions and gravity of serious moral lapses, and serves thereby as a useful moral deterrent and educator of conscience. This ethical role of the shrine is generally less well appreciated than the more usual social function.
ii. In any dispute involving rival claims to land or any other property, or even in the case of disputed responsibility for a given pregnancy, the rival claimants may be required to appear publicly before the community shrine to swear before the authority of the shrine and its divinity, in support of their claims. In the Etiti area, the rival claimants along with their immediate nuclear families will be required to swear standing with their feet placed in the ritual basket of Amadịọha, the local deity.
iii. Solemn occasions of local community festivities and celebrations are usually preceded and concluded by the observance of relevant rites at the shrines of the local deities by the elders and priests.
iv. For the chief priests and the elders and custodians, the shrine is the focus of periodic social interactions and planning for the harmony and progress of the community. Indeed, it may be said that; the shrine is to the Igbo traditional religion what the altar is to the Christian church.
In this paper, I have sought to portray the basis of the Igbo religious world-view and its theology. I have also highlighted the shrine as the spatio-temporal focus and visible symbol of the communion of the Igbo with the invisible ' universe of God, the divinities and venerable ancestors, the ethical significance of the shrine for public order and peace was briefly illustrated.
Though the overwhelming majority of the Igbo have converted to Christianity for well over a century now, our discussion here should not be regarded as an irrelevant exercise in theological history. The development of the spirituality of the modern Igbo, along with the refinement of public morality in the light of contemporary beliefs, is a continuing task for our religious leaders. It is a task that Christianity cannot fully achieve without fruitful dialogue with the Igbo theological heritage, and without a sincere recognition of the positive elements of the later. The following may be numbered among such elements:
i. The essential transcendence and dynamic immanence of the Supreme Being, God;
ii. The immortality of the human spirit and the ethical implications thereof;
iii. The integrated vision of the universe of God, the spirits and man;
iv. Chi as the foundation of religious 1iberty in all its dimensions and implications, and of personal conscience;
v. The communality of religion;
vi. The altar as social and cult symbol;
vii. The social dimensions of sin and the need for an appropriate theology of sin as a moral and social, pollution.
The above seven concepts constitute the main theological legacy of the Igbo concept of the deities.
THE IGBO IDEA OF THE SACRED:
T. UZODINMA NWALA
Certain authorities have identified the concept of the sacred or holy as the essence of religion. Among other key religious concepts are mystery, power, divinity, and transcendence.
These concepts have been variously used to define religion. Thus Francis Arinze defines religion as:
"the consciousness of one's dependence on a transcendent being and the tendency to worship him."
Objectively, he says religion "is the body of truths, laws and rites (ritual) by which men is subordinated to the transcendent Being."
We have qualified this definition by adding that the consciousness may be of transcendent Beings rather than one transcendent Being. It is for this that the religion of a people may be classified as either monotheistic or polytheistic. In the one case, a Being is acknowledged as the only true God, while in the other, there are several gods. Polytheism, however, is historically prior to Monotheism. Virtually all societies began their religious journey from polytheism. Cardinal Arinze's definition was given from a Christian perspective. And Christianity is one of the newer forms of religion among the Igbo.
Religion is a form of social consciousness found among all people of the world. It is a historical and cultural fact. .Religious ideas and beliefs are by definition non-scientific. Religion reflects one form of a people's understanding of the realities of life, society and nature.
Several types of religion have existed in human history. Thus, we find traditional religion (which was polytheistic and animist), Confucianism, Taoism, Shinroism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Godianism, and so many other religions that have sprouted and continue to sprout to this day. Many of these religions took their names either from the object of religious consciousness, or from the founder of the religion. Godianism, for example, is said to be a modern rendering of the most primitive and natural form of religion which recognizes no human medium and directly communes and transacts with God. But, at the same time, it subordinates polytheism to monotheism by transforming the Supreme Being into the only God. Other gods become his agents, according to the theology of Godianism. The development from polytheism to monotheism is a logical and historical process.
As science and technology expand the frontiers of human knowledge, the gods disappear from familiar natural objects and phenomena. Even then we are left with the "inexplicable," though its horizon continues to get progressively narrower. In the end we are left with the mystery of being, life and creation. We shall still be left with the transcendent, the unknown Being, who emerges in our thought as the Absolute, the Supreme Being, whom we analogically continue to clothe with our human at tributes.
Forms of religiosity may differ, but all traditional societies practice one form of religion or another. The Igbo are traditionally a deeply religious people. Arthur Leonard once wrote about them that
"they (Igbo) are... a truly religious people of whom it can be said as it has been said of the Hindu that they eat religiously, bathe religiously, dress religiously, sin religiously... (the) religion of these natives is their existence and their existence is their religion. "
This observation is true of every human society in so far as the dominant ideology has a religious character, as does happen among traditional communities. We see this in the case of the Igbo in their daily lives, in their social ritual, in the numerous monuments and shrines that dot every compound.
As soon as you approach the typical religious object, isi evuo gi (you are overawed). Is it the shrine, th0 evil forest, the cave, the river, the tomb of the ancestors! These evoked feelings of dread and reverence. The moral code was hallowed.
Today, the picture is different.
Ụmụaka atụtụrụla ada kpọ ya ebi.
Nwanyị nnabe ọghọla mbe na-ezi okwu.
Onye olu dị nma agafela ọkpụala Ngwa na-aghayi anya n'azụ.
Onye efu abala nime nkpa, ma isi atagh ya chịikịrịrị.
Onye eze mmụọ ga saghara nwunye ya nọ-asọ ịba ya.
In short the sacred has indeed become the profaned. Like the Greek
The forces responsible for the apparent demise or progressive disappearances of our traditional gods, our deities and venerable ancestors, followed in the wake of our colonial conquest by Europeans, although it is arguable that without our colonial experience the same process would have come about eventually. Mankind's intellectual, scientific and technological development is not the monopoly of any race or culture. Sooner or later, the religious phase in mankind's intellectual, scientific and technological development, as Augusto Comte observed, was bound to yield to a dominant metaphysical and then a scientific phase. Another way of putting it is to say that the forces of modernity would have set in sooner or later.
The historical forces which can be held responsible for the fate of our traditional religion include:
The process was of desacralization and secularization which Max Weber called the process of increasing rationalization of life.
The same process can be looked at from the perspective of the modern industrialization and commercialization of life. Everything is now the subject or object of business. Everything is vendible. Nothing is sacred any longer. The sacred Long Juju of Arochukwu had been converted into a business outfit, an instrument of garnering' or extorting wealth from people even before colonialism. The defeat of the Igbo by British colonial forces may be seen as the victory of one religion over another, the defeat of one god (the traditional) by another, namely, the whiteman's god.
Perhaps we can best understand what has happened to out traditional religion from the perspective of mans world getting transformed as his productive forces improve.
As we probe and understand more of the laws of nature, we have less need for superstitions and mysticism. As we improve on our instruments of production and can explore and turn inside out the caves, the burial grounds and evil forests and, in their place, build our cathedrals and mansions; as we cross the mountains, rivers and seas with our technologies, build our tunnels, our bridges and flyovers; as we fly high into the skies, we push the gods farther into distant horizons, away from familiar terrain. But wherever the gods may be, the important thing is that we can deal with our environment, without offending them, or violating taboos.
Whichever way we look at it, the once powerful and dreaded deities
and gods Amadịọha/Kamalụ,
Igwe-ka-Ala. Ibina-Ukpabi (Long Juju),
"The Contemporary of Cicero (the
Roman Orator) practiced rites in the sacrifices, at funerals, and in the
ceremony of marriage. These rites were older than his time, and what proves it
is that they did not correspond to his religious belief. But if we examine the
rites which he observed or the formulas which he recited, we find the marks of
what men believed fifteen or twenty centuries earlier." The
In the same way, there is hardly any rite of our modern Christian religion which does not have counterpart in traditional religion. Indeed, traditional religion has captured modern Christianity. Both the older denominations and the newer sects are now completing as to which can be seen as tae most indigenous in approach and which best projects the native spirit in its appeals. Those Christian priests who ran foul of their orthodox faith when they advocated a synthesis of the Western and traditional elements in religion, must now feel vindicated as they watch recent developments in our religious observances.
The greatest negative impact of Western colonialism on our society was the attempt to uproot and destroy the entire fabric of our culture and our religion which was dubbed pagan, and to impose indiscriminately Western religion on our society. Our people were weak and so easily succumbed to the force of imposed Western religion and as a result acquired a colonial mentality. Sometime ago, I was invited by a student organization to deliver a lecture as one of the activities to mark the now famous OJI EZINIHITTE, which the student organization was hosting. The traditional ruler of the community was present. The students presented kola to their guests and we called on the traditional ruler to bless the kola (ịgọ ọfọ) in keeping with tradition. The man asked us to close our eyes which seemed odd. More offensive was that he proceeded to offer a Christian prayer invoking the Spirit of Jesus Christ and his Mother Mary. As soon as he sat down the attention of all was drawn to this incident which some considered all the more unpardonable in that the traditional ruler was hosting a traditional event, the most typical in the area.
Those who decry the systematic and uncritical destruction and neglect of traditional religion and culture, do so not solely from the point of view of cultural nationalism or from a metaphysical or epistemological point of view. The identity of a people, as has often been maintained, is a function of their history and culture. Any nation and any people without such an identity deriving from their history and culture lack the basic ingredients of stability in national character.
Any contest between Christianity and traditional religion is a contest between one culture and another, between one set of superstitions and another. Chinụa Achebe has also demonstrated that it is a contest between two theologies.
We recall the incident in Things Fall Apart about a theological debate between Mr. Brown and Mr. Akunna:
"Whenever Mr. Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his Obi talking through an interpreter about religion. Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learnt more about their different beliefs."
"You say that there is one Supreme Being who made heaven and earth'" said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown's visits. We also believe in him and call him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.
"To this Mr. Brown retorted that there are no other gods and that what Akunna and his men call gods are pieces of carved wood. But Mr. Akunna said that both the wood and the gods are made by God as his messengers and through whom he could be approached.
"As to whether Akunna's men give all the worship to false god which they have created, Mr. Akunna said that is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope
"Explaining why they appear to pay more attention to the smaller gods, Mr. Akunna said, we worry them more because we are afraid of their master. Our fathers know that Chukwu was the name "Chukwuka" Chukwu is supreme!
"When Mr. Brown told Akunna that in his religion . . . Chukwu is a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do his will," Mr. Akunna replied, 'but we must fear Him when we are not doing His will and who is to tell His will? It is too great to be known."
As I observed in Igbo Philosophy,
"There could be no better comparative analysis of the theology of the two religions Christianity and traditional Igbo religion. Today, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the traditional Igbo possesses a religion or not. His religion is no longer seen as that of paganism and devil-worship; nor is his culture any longer the devil's work, nor even are his ancestors any longer held to dwell in hell as was hitherto the fashionable view among Christian religious leaders. "
Moreover the Christian world-view and traditional world-view share common basic characteristics, both being transcendental, mystical, authoritarian, ritualistic, and held as sacred, based on faith full of myths and festivities, as well as having a code of conduct.
The authorities of the Roman Catholic Church had several decades
ago recognized the authenticity of traditional religion. Consequently, during
"advocated for norms and rules for adapting the liturgy to the genius and traditions of the people."
The difference between Christian and traditional religions is more of a cultural difference. The Christian world-view, theology, ritual and moral codes are embedded in a different cultural and historical reality. In fact when we eliminate the more astounding superstitions of traditional religion, we shall have a religion purer and more authentic than contemporary Christianity. Christianity has ceased to be the religion of Christ:
"It is now the religion of Western Capitalist society. It now sees the world in the eyes of the industrial capitalist society and defends it even though it may verbally criticise it.' Igbo Philosophy, p. 236.
In the eyes of the modern Christian, the world is nothing but a
stock exchange and the Christian, no less than the Moslem, in
"the god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of the world. The bill of exchange is the Jew's actual god." Writings of the Young Marx, p. 206.
And he went on to state that:
"Christianity arose out of Judaism, it has again dissolved itself into Judaism." p. 247.
Our traditional religion is not quite down and out. Its original influence may have waned quite tremendously owing to forces which we have examined above. The transference of allegiance from traditional religion to Christianity was made easier because they share certain common articles of faith, a common ritual and common codes. Their world-views,, logic and morals, as stated above, have common characteristics. Indeed, Marx was right when he observed that any two religions are "different' stages in the evolution of the human spirit, as different snake skins shed by history" and we must recognize man as the snake 'that wore them . . ." If the adherents of these religions see them for what they are, "they will no longer find themselves in religious antagonism but only in a critical, scientific, and human relationship..." The snake that wore the skins called religion can, if it likes, try putting them on again, though one skin mode is not exactly like the other.
As to whether traditional religion and its gods, the ancestors are surviving or reincarnating, we can only refer to the facts as they manifest themselves today, namely, that the forces of modernity, of Christianity, secularization, science and technology have not succeeded in rooting them out completely. This is because that religion was not a separate and autonomous aspect of life. It was part of the totality of man's existence and sprang from the social and material conditions of his life. It was part of the meaning which life has taken. And since what was put in its place (i.e., Christianity) was itself a religion, with the essential elements faith, the sacred, the supernatural, myths, ritual, moral codes, etc. then what we find today is an adaptation of the social and cultural practices of traditional religion.
This is why such deep-seated beliefs embedded in the religious practices of the people belief in life as a continuous process (with adjunct beliefs in reincarnation, life-after-death and importance of male issue, polygamy, ancestor veneration, divination, title-taking, masquerade, secret societies, traditional medicine, religious healing, etc. are still surviving in one form or the other.
The call for a synthesis of traditional religion and Christianity which was made by well-meaning clerics (for example, Canon Ilogu) has gone beyond the realm of logic. It is now a cultural fact. Christianity is fast adapting itself and giving 0very cultural element a Christian garb, a development which leads to cultural bastardization. The Aladura sects are strongest in this process of synthesis and transformation. The orthodox religious denominations and sects are fast adopting the Aladura forms of religious expression in order to remain relevant to the peoples' cultural sensibilities.
The religion that has been strongest in trying to capture the spirit and practice of traditional religion is the Godian Religion which began as neo-traditional religion. The advocates have best heeded Canon Ilogu's advice and have gone on to systematize the theology of traditional religion by providing it with a philosophical base, a creed, enlarging the corpus of Saints to include venerable local deities and the ancestors.
Godianism takes its standpoint from traditional religion, whereas the thousands of Christian sects which spring up almost daily and in every backyard take their standpoint from Christianity. They lack a cultural philosophy and merely eclectically adapt African and European elements as it suits them. Some of them still remain hostile to traditional culture.
Godianism began as a nationalist and protest movement, as a rejection of Western colonialism and its imported religion. It soon developed into:
"a bold and unique effort 'to give traditional religion a systematic interpretation in the face of Christian and Islamic influences and in the face of the realities of the modern age".
It has become the evidence of the creative genius of the modern African it tries to incorporate certain Christian structures in its worship and theological expression.
As we observed, the problems which face the modern African in general and the Igboman in particular are larger than religious domination. These problems are largely moral, economic and political. And in the face of the persistence of these problems, religion, be it Traditional, Christian, Islamic or even Aladura or Godian, has proved utterly impotent. It is even more important today as it ceases to be a sacred affair but the worship of mammon, of private property and wealth rather than God. These problems hinge on the sorry fact of inequity in our society, the death of democracy and democratic norms at national, state and local levels. Today the battle for democracy, for social justice and equality rages in our society in and outside the walls of churches and temples.
Whether it is a matter of who selects the priest (the Superior priest or the Congregation); or a matter of the right of women to be agents of the divine as well; whether it is in Igboland, the Christian or Muslim worlds; or at the Ụmụahia or Aba Presbyterian Church or at Sokoto, the battle for democracy rages. Someone will continue to defend the principle of democracy whether it is the -right .of nine feudal kingmakers to select the Sultan without external interference or the right of the bourgeois State authorities to determine who governs the people, still without consulting the people, the battle for democracy will continue. This is the altar before which religion will survive or die as a social institution.
UNDER THE EYES OF THE GODS: SACRALIZATION
AND CONTROL OF SOCIAL ORDER IN IGBOLAND
O. U. KALU
I. HOLY MUSING:
Recent social commentary draws attention to the diminished powers of the sacred in the face of secularity and modern technology. Curiously this is used to explain moral decline: when people knew that the eyes of the gods peered down at them, moral standards were higher. In those days, the holy musing continued to swear by the ọfọ stick was more portentous than contemporary oaths by the Bible.
However, this paper is not designed to trace the diminishing path of the idea of the holy in contemporary Igbo life. The interest, at one level, is in the connection between religion and social control. To what extent did the Igbo people use religion to stabilize social order? Did they deliberately sacralize the instruments of social control, rejecting the efficacy of secular agents?
At another level, it would be useful to examine the impact of ecology and cultural differentiation in Igboland on modes of social control. The assumption is that the Igbo have identifiable subcultures based on cultural variations and ecologies. Social control devices betray the moorings of a society as men struggle to survive in their ecosystems. Did various culture areas design control modes suitable to the imperatives of their culture theatres?
At a third remove, it is suggested that while there are pa n-Igbo cultural forms which bind, studies could reveal a richness in sub-cultural variations.
Talbot, Daryll-Forde and Jones, Onwuejeogwu and Afigbo have drawn attention to the culture-area approach in Igbo studies.[zz]
Igbo culture areas are often divided into the following:
II. DEFINING SOCIAL CONTROL:
First, the terminology must be explained. Much of the literature tends to deal with this process in the context of the discussion on deviance.[aaa] Deviance elicits the use of force or coercion to prevent the breakdown of law and order. Thus, Beattie speaks of the use of force because:
"to maintain an orderly system of social relationship people have to be subjected to some degree of compulsion; they cannot, all the time, do exactly as they like. For often, self-interest may incite behaviour incompatible with the common good, and so it is that in every society some rules, some kind of constraint on people's behaviour, are acknowledged and, on the whole, adhered to.[bbb]
The point of departure and, therefore, contribution of this paper, is to argue that emphasis on coercion alone is not enough and the study of customs is too generalized. It is postulated, instead, that a society controls the behaviour of its members in four different but coordinated ways. First, it enunciates and inculcates acceptable values. This process is evident in the socialization modes -enculturation. Secondly, the society endeavours to restrain members from flouting those values. Thirdly, the society punishes those who break acceptable norms and values, and fourthly, it rewards those who affirm these norms and values. The totality of these processes constitutes social control which is the means by which a society preserves itself from social and moral chaos and extinction.
Thus, as Bottomore suggests, we must distinguish between the types of social control and the agency or means of social control. The types of social control are predicated upon the goals of a society: to preserve and nurture life. Thus, core values are derived from the need to (a) maintain moral and religious order, which are embedded in the worldview and in religious beliefs and practices; (b) preserve the social order or the person to person relationships, whether male-female (adult, adolescent, child), family (nuclear, extended, parent, child, sibling), or communal (ward, village, clan, environs, strangers in a widening concentric pattern); (c) sustain the economic order. Here, land as a resource looms large, while the ecology determines the dominant economic life. Here, too, man's relationship to nature is articulated; (d) root a firm political order. Each goal of the society demands certain characterized values which the society will inculcate in her citizens, restrain them from flouting, punish them 1or breaking and reward them for upholding creditably.
The specific agents of socialization are the family (nuclear and extended), formal and informal modes of education, age-grade (peer groups) and secret societies. Restraining instruments include joking relationships, gossip, public opinion, praise and blame, ridicule, satire (some of which is clothed in proverbs), music, dance, pantomime and religious taboos. Punitive agents consist of routinized and non-routinized social structures as well as the political structures. These enforce negative sanctions. But the society props up social order with positive measures which reinforce and affirm major values with prizes, titles and other accolades.
III. THE RELIGIOUS FACTOR IN SOCIAL ORDER:
Obviously, all modes of social control are not religious. Therefore, there is the need to spell out the specific role of religion, which Durkheim defines as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things. Religion is so central to human society that the enforcement of religious norms is a type of social control. Similarly, religious ritual is used to inculcate, restrain, punish and reward behaviour in society: thus, religion is also an agent, means or instrument of social control.
This complexity, especially in the Igbo case, arises from the fact that world-views are predominantly religious in orientation. Secular world-views such as Marxism and existentialism place man at the centre of the universe and work from a background of godlessness. But Igbo traditional societies perceived their world as created by Chukwu, who is manifested in a variety of ways: as Anyanwu, the Sun, his power, knowledge and omnipresence are revealed; as Agbala, he is manifested in the fertility of the earth, animals and human beings; as Chi, he empowers and strengthens human beings; as Okike, he is manifested in the creation of everything visible and invisible, which ia a never-ending process.
In the three-dimensional perception of space and the cyclical perception of time, the human world, Uwa, is dominated by. the Earth-goddess (Ala/Ani). Human beings share Uwa with a number of patron deities, human spirits, nature deities as well as a number of evil spirits, especially ogbanje, agwu and akalogoli. The third tier is the spirit world where ancestral spirits dominate and through which they pass to reincarnation. Evil spirits also inhabit this region, including those spirits who cannot reincarnate because they died in a strange manner, from such things as thunder, or inexplicable diseases such as smallpox, or who were not given second or third burials. They float in the nether world, appearing once in a while in the human world to frighten the living. Their restlessness haunts their progeny in the human world.
The implication of this spiritualized world-view is that the gap between the profane and the religious in human existence is attenuated. Moral order is sacralized and human affairs in the journey from birth to death and reincarnation are infused with religious meaning. Thus, the preservation of a religious moral order becomes the goal of social control techniques while religious ritual is used as an instrument of social order.
Let us examine more closely the sacralization of the agents of social control. In the family, the Diokpala (head of the lineage) as well as the paterfamilias (head of household) become quasi-priests, who hold the ofo na ogu, and pour libation, to the "living-dead ancestors. Through their priestly functions, they preserve the family (nuclear and extended), dispense justice, serve the lineage shrine and keep the memory of the ancestors alive. Age is crucial in African social relations because age, wisdom, proximity to the land of the spirits and closer contact with the ancestors go together. But the family heads are obeyed not just because of their age, but because of their priestly powers.
Thus, the communal leader and his advisers gather as priests. The consecration ritual at the installation of communal leaders depicts the sacredness of the position. There was no secular theory of obligation; the communal leader spoke as the voice of the spirits of the land. The relationship of the individual to these family, lineage and communal leaders was hedged with taboos. Thus, one could not call one's father, mother, an old avuncular figure, a titled councilor, or chief of a community by his first name or treat them disrespectfully. Neither did these figures carry themselves without dignity. Nka na nzere (old age with dignity) constituted a core Igbo social value.
Once in a while, the spirits of ancestors came as guests to the human world. Diviners saw them and mortals saw them in lonely afternoons or in the darkness of the night or even bumped into them, with dire consequences. Epiphanies were a part of religious experience, though once often than not masquerades represented the visit of the ancestral spirits. The Omabe among the savannah north-eastern Igbo people, mmanwu among the south-western Igbo people, mmono and a host of secret societies (obon, akang, ekpe, ebiabu) among the Cross River Igbo all signify the incursion of the spirit world into the life of the living with profound ethical implications. The seasonal factor in these appearances merely reflects the predominant concerns of the community at various points in the agricultural cycle.
The role played by masquerades and secret societies needs greater
clarification. Some masquerades, such as omabe,
were directly connected with ethical control. When sojourning among the living,
they probed human conduct and morals, and their return to the spirit world
would leave the community tense and expectant thus providing a compelling
reason to observe moral codes. Less significant masquerades appear in the
intervening period as reminders and signals. Some masquerades such as Ikenga, in the northwest, and Ite Odo and Ite Nsi in
Among the eastern and Cross River Igbo, there is a masquerade called ekpe, which comes out at the climax of the new year festival. It is more related to the Ifejioku, god of yam. When it severs a goat's head in a single strike the community is assured of a good farming year. A burlesque figure called udu performs at the same time and runs an unedited social commentary as it leads children, like a pied-piper, around the village.
Another set of masquerades, the Mmanwu,
is linked to secret societies and its manifestations are personifications of
dangerous spirits who punish both overt and covert offences. These are more
powerful in communities where secret societies are a part of the political
system. Otherwise, their wild behaviour during the seasonal appearances could
become dysfunctional. In the south and
The sacralization of the familial agents of socialization led inevitably to the sacralization of the rites of passage as well on the first place, the naming ceremony in most of Igboland is not a casual matter; diviners are consulted to identify which progenitor has reincarnated and this will guide the choice of a name. The ceremony, therefore, takes the form of a welcoming reception. In certain culture areas, a first son takes the name of his paternal grandfather, while a first daughter takes the name of her paternal grandmother. Thus, naming ceremonies become a means of preserving the memory of progenitors by clothing the ritual with religious garb and awe.
Similarly, puberty rites became elaborate religious affairs. The ceremonies associated with initiation rites such as the Isiji in Afikpo, and Erusi Edda, among the Edda of southeastern Igboland, combine several functions: a rite of passage into adolescence or early manhood, an educative experience, inculcation of survival values, a symbolic rebirth, and a means of communal cohesion and identity. In the case of the Erusi Edda, the climax was to survive the ordeal of the journey and to come face to face with the great shrine of the community. This carried immense psychological, moral and religious meaning. Other secret societies may not have had the same powerful religious meaning, but they all clothed the rites of passage with mystery and awe, served as a means of sex differentiation and sometimes provided entertainment and recreation for an agrarian population.
Religion not only suffused the world-view and sacralized the agents of socialization, but it was used to restrict or deter individuals from flouting sacred values. For instance, folk-tales moralized on how the spirits could punish offenders and reward honesty, frugality, respect for elders, temperance and humility. Children, thus, grew up with stories which inculcated those values, especially as the stories usually included songs and choruses which involved participation and imprinted the message.
Similarly, the Igbo restrained individual behaviour by means of a wide range of taboos. Taboos are like the red light which restricts movement. They are invariably expressed in religious terms, and they serve to co-ordinate the relationships among various hierarchies of humans, and between human beings and the animal world and the world of nature.
Onwuejeogwu argued that taboo symbolic codes among the Nri of northwestern Igboland derived from six sources:
(a)The symbols related to humans, such as twins.
(b)The symbols related to animals, such as pythons.
(c) The symbols related to things, such as "Do not touch this object."
(d)The symbols related to periods, such as "Do not come out in the night."'
(e)The symbols related to action, such as sacrifice for purification.
(f) The symbols related to speech, such as "Do not talk or say;" and we should add
(g)The symbols related to places, such as "Do not enter," such places are usually cordoned off with ọmụ (tender palm frond).[ccc]
Taboos were used to educate and thereby restrict human beings in their social interactions, relationships to animals, nature, periods of the year, decorum of speech and ritual process. Particularly significant is the symbol of the ọmụ, the tender palm frond for sacralization and restraining purposes. For instance, if a delegation was sent to a neighbouring community, it carried an ọmụ twig to confer a sort of diplomatic immunity on the members. If goods were heaped in a place, an ọmụ twig placed on the heap ensured that no one would dare to touch it. If a grave or a building was encircled or cordoned off with ọmụ, it became a sanctuary. Or, at least, it forced one to pause and ascertain which restrictions were in force; it could related to sex, colour of clothes, or social status.
The Igbo word which encapsulates all these notions is nsọ, which could mean holy, sacred, to be avoided, forbidden, restricted, or abominated. This last sense is more forceful when qualified with anị/alị/ala (earth, home god, fatherland). It becomes an act which the community would regard as not just detestable but an offence or sin against the Earth Divinity, Ana/Ala/Ali. The earth sustains life and this elevates the earth goddess into peat prominence, and since the offences are committed on the earth, abominations are usually affronts to her. Thus, theft, murder, sexual offences, abusive language and allegations, and so on are nsọ. They are taboo. Offenders would propitiate the earth goddess, and the cost of the propitiatory rites could serve as a deterrence. Taboos and cleansing rituals are religious, because they underprop a religious worldview. Ordinary life could not be secular in such contexts, especially when the gods frequently intruded into the human world as masquerades.
Religion was used to restrict behaviour in many other ways, either directly or indirectly. Medicine, magic, divination, oath-taking, cursing, and blood pacts were rather direct modes. Indirectly, the fear of witchcraft, sorcery and poisoning kept the populace alert to moral misdemeanours.
To explain further: medicinemen (ndi dibia) were very important people in the community. Some of them served as curator-priests to shrines; others engaged in healing, while some provided amulets (ekike) which could be used to protect property, and self. Thus, someone could engage a medicineman to prepare ekike to ward off thieves from his farm and homestead, to keep his wife faithful, to protect himself and his household from harm, and to ensure his safe journey. His ekike would either kill or prevent the culprit from escaping from the scene of crime. This is quite different from using magic to acquire extra strength or success in business enterprise and such like. Quite often, ekike ritual was delivered as a curse which specified the desired goal as well as the manner of punishments.
The custodial medicinemen also supervised oath-taking, either in their homes or in shrines iri arụsị/ịta alusi. This could be undertaken to restrict individually from cheating or harming others, or from breaking agreements. For instance, in eastern and central Igboland, where bride price can be exorbitant, a betrothed girl may be made to swear on an ancestral grave that she would not change her mind after the prospective groom has spent much money on her. But oath-taking could be a means of detection and adjudication, the diviner, dibia ịgba afa, being asked to detect offences theft, adultery and so on, by subjecting suspects to a ritual oath. The fear of a recourse to such means was an effective deterrent. Similarly, the ọfọ stick could be used to swear an oath with deadly consequences for the offender. Ọfọ was like a double-edged sword it restrained the judge from a willful miscarriage of justice, and the defendants from perjuring themselves.
The blood pact is most common among the itinerant commercial
communities such as Arondizuogu and Nkwerre-Orlu in
The fear of witchcraft and sorcery restricted individuals in their association, visiting, movement, drinking and eating habits. Frequency of witchcraft accusations rose with heightened socio-economic stress, and, at such times, unofficial curfews on movement at night would go into force by self-restraint. The incidence also appears to have been higher among Igbo communities bordering on riverine non-Igbo areas.
Often, when the incidence of poisoning and accusations of witchcraft become intolerable, the community would organize a mass oath-taking where everybody drank from a medicineman's brow in the open market place. It was believed that witches, sorcerers and those who poisoned others would die or confess after drinking the potage. Such cleansing rituals reunited the community and warded off prospective mischief makers.
The sacralization of authority has been alluded to in connection with the family. For the ruler of a community, the entire populace constituted his family; he was also their priest, a being with dual personality. The Igbo political system varied greatly. We may identify the following types:
with a monarchical state system (
(2) Those in which the village chiefs ruled with titled people (nze or ọzọ/ichie) as advisers, often consulting the people and the women (ụmụada) and using some secret societies as enforcement agencies.
(3) Those in which the village chiefs ruled with representatives of family heads and members of a key secret society.
(4) Those in which the village chiefs ruled with representatives of the authochtonous families and with the oldest age grade. The next two age grades acted as the executive arm while the populace and women shared in decision making.
There are more subtle variations on the four types, but the point is that the enforcement of discipline being, to a .very large extent, located in the political system, the sacralization of authority meant that punitive social control was religious. The democratic core of the Igbo political system is that in all the polities, women and the populace featured prominently. Even in the monarchical system, one aspect of the ritual of coronation was designed to teach the king that he owned the people and the people owned him. Provisions were made for consulting the people. Tables 1.1 and 1.2 based on a Cross River Igbo political structure, is a typology of offences, enforcement agencies and types of punishment.
The central question is whether various culture areas of Igboland reacted differently to the same offence and the explanation of such differences. All Igbo communities draw a distinction between offences which were abominations or were ritually evil, and others which were practically evil but not abominations. Some abominable offences were major and other minor, but all abominations required purificatory sacrifices. Secondly, all Igbo communities punished witchcrafts, sorcery and sometimes murder with ostracism. But attitudes to these offences sometimes differed:
(a)Communal offences fines and confiscation of the property of obstinate offenders;
(b)Economic Land matters: Pines and dispossession of trade goods; fines and restitution money; fines,' repayment agriculture; some communities considered theft of agricultural goods as an abomination, and added a fine for purificatory sacrifice. Others, in rich food-producing areas, merely fined and disgraced the culprit. Availability of arable land determined the posture.
(c) Sexual offences most Igbo communities regarded them as serious abominations, except in the mid-west and some parts of the northwest.
(d)Communal peace was generally enforced with fines.
Detection techniques also varied. Central and southern Igboland
placed enormous emphasis on oracles. The northeast and northwest communities
possessed centres of potent medicine making, while, in the east and
Similarly, enforcement or executive agencies varied according to
political rather than cultural variations. The evidence is that the monarchical
groups utilized some secret societies to enforce sanctions. For instance the
Aro used the Ekpe secret society.
They could operate in the day time. In Oguta, the Oshereji society helped the Obieze (king's court) to execute
decisions. The non-monarchical polities utilized secret societies. In eastern
and southern Igboland, the ọkọnkọ
society was prominent. In northwest Igboland, various types of mmanwu were utilized. Mmo Afia dealt with adultery and witchcraft
and ensured that witches were banished; Mmụọ
Ulagha took care of those who constituted themselves into nuisance figures
in public places and roads; Mmụọ
Onyekulu appeared at night to ridicule character defects and misdemeanours.
The only difference is that certain secret societies were well organized and
integrated into the political system, as with the riverine Okuka people who
have developed the sekiapu and the sekinini, or the Ekoi, Efik, Qua and
Efut have done with the Egbo, and the
Ibibio with the Ekpo. In others, the
connection was looser and more informal. In the
Affirmative social control was also clothed in religious language, symbolism and meaning; these are very perceptible in the ritual of investiture, title-taking or other conferments of authority. We shall briefly classify rewards in Igboland into the following types:
1.1. Titles ascribed by community to an individual by virtue of birth.
l.2. Titles ascribed by virtue of role in cabinet or advisory role.
2.1. Titles ascribed as a reward for contribution to the development of the community.
2.2. Titles such as nze, ozo, ogbuefi, odu (for female), ezeji (igwa nnu).
2.3. Titles earned by bravery such as ikeọgụ.
2.4. Titles depicting various grades in ekpe secret society.
2.5. Cap, feather and chalking performed with the accompaniment of the Big Drum (Ilu. ikoro).
There are no chieftaincy titles connected with this. It may be imagined that since the ascriptive roles are tied to birth, they are not rewards. On the contrary, they are images of aristocracy and give the beneficiaries the right to govern. Religious rituals are used to emphasize accession to these authority roles. In some cases, a candidate could be denied a title on the grounds of moral or physical deficiency.
The achieved rewards point to salient values. The simplest forms are the congratulatory capping of beneficiaries with the award of a cap and brave bird's feather (ugo) chalking of palms, chest, eyes and toes. The areas chalked relate to personality cults: the hand, face, tongue, feet and, in the case of women, the umbilicus.
In most of Igboland, the ozo
and nze are expensive titles which
turn the individuals to quasi-priests whose lines are hedged with taboos. They
emphasize honesty, virtue, courage and wealth. The houses of ndi nze become sanctuaries. They
participate in fearlessly dispensing justice. In the
Individuals labour assiduously until they can perform igwa nnu, (i.e. tying over four hundred yams in the barn), which ends with a sacrifice to ifejioku, the god of yam, or a shrine built at the back of the yam barn (oba). The celebrant entertains guests with only yams. Encouragement is thereby given to the sustaining economic mode of the community.
The question may be asked whether anyone could meet the requirements and yet be disallowed from taking the title. In traditional Igbo societies, only the morally upright would be allowed to perform the various rites. Genealogies were examined to establish that there were no moral taints. The ọfọ, ogu, otisi and ikenga were powerful symbols of Igbo values.
As Geertz had argued sacred symbols function
"to synthesize a people's ethos the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood and their worldview the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are, their comprehensive ideas of order.[fff]
Religion legitimized power, achievement and wealth when acquired in morally satisfactory ways. The society frowned upon the immoral accession to power and wealth and insisted upon a just and humane exercise of these benefits. Wealth and power had to be enjoyed with moral responsibility.
IV. SECULAR MODES OF SOCIAL CONTROL:
The Igbo were, however, not so incurably religious that all modes of social control were clothed in religious garb. Certain secular agents such as age grades served to socialize young folk into the society's mores. Many folk-tales, proverbs, idiom, dance, and music had no religious dimension, but were educative techniques and entertainment.
Similarly, individuals were restrained from breaking traditional morals through a joking relationship among peers, ridicule, satire, gossip and pantomime, which had no religious connotation. All punishments wore not ritualized; neither were all praise names and pr e1.se songs of a religious nature. Decorative art adorned the homes of the wealthy without any religious import. The age grade, for instance, was a social organizational system utilized for labour mobilization and development projects. However, it must be emphasized that secularism was accentuated by western education, colonization and modernization. In the traditional Igbo world, leaders deliberately manipulated sacrality to cover even mundane aspects of life, because there was no secular theory of obligation. Religious awe was a good cudgel to control the societys morals. The gods were truly the policemen.
V. LARGER SIGNIFICANCE:
Social control techniques betray a community's understanding of the nature and use of power as well as the community's goals and basic character. From this perspective, Chieka Ifemesia's emphasis on the humane conception and use of power in traditional Igboland has been substantiated by this study. The community may use religion to legitimize power, but it was hardly a capricious usage. Rather, it was a covenantal relationship: One's chi was a caring, personal god providing generation, nurture, protection, guidance and success, but requiring obedience and discipline. The bond was like that between an obedient, trusting child and a responsible, stern but compassionate parent.
This was the same relationship between the earth goddess (
Sometimes, scholars question whether chi, ala, or Ndichie are agents of Chukwu in the enforcement of morality. Onwuejeogwu cleverly avoids the problem by suggesting that Chukwu manifests himself in various forms. Jacobson provides clues in his Treasures of Darkness.[ggg] He argues that certain root metaphors for divinity had socio-economic correlates. Thus, at the stage of food gathering, low-level technology and need for food, powers and processes immanent in nature were worshipped as divine, and were imagined as powers willing to assume concrete form as phenomena. The inability to harness the resources of the environment produced ns emphasis on nature and professional spirits. With the rise of states and empires, these gods, now imagined in human terms, became august and transcendent rulers over the cosmos which they had created.
Certain Igbo myths refer to this changing political economy with the story of why Chukwu, who was very close to human beings, went to the sky. Human leaders pose as stewards and endeavour to clothe themselves with a divine aura as managers of Chukwu's estates. But enlarged scale and sophistication produced a re assertion of the individual symbolized by a reassertion of personal religion with chi and nna ochie as curbs on imperial pretensions of kings and chiefs (obi, igwe, eze) who pretend to be earthly gods and priests of ala. Thus, there is an historical dimension to the flowering of arch image; there is also a socio-economic correlate, and there is no conflict between the imaging of Chukwu and the various divinities and spirits. Chukwu, as the guardian of morality is a favourite of state systems. He is perceived differently, not necessarily as remote and hidden, as in other socio-economic and historical times. But at all times, since the world-view is religious, gods act as policemen to maintain the moral and social order.
Table 1.1: Political Organization in a
EZIE the chief
I II NDI NWO ALỊ(reps of families from the original founder)
NDI ICHIN (elders based on age the oldest age grades).
I II UKE NKPA (the next age grade to Ndi Ichin)
UKE NKPA or UKE JI OGO (the next age grade to Uke Akpan)
II I EZIE NDI INYOM (Leader of the women)
ICHIN NDI INYOM (Elderly women)
II II NDE IKPERIKPE (the next age grade who carries the drum for the women)
III I NZUKO OGO
III II UMU NKPARAWA
TABLE 1.2: PATTERN OF
PUNITIVE SOCIAL CONTROL IN OHAFIA,
*OGBERE A Dance in the market place, holding a specimen of the stolen good; a dance of shame.
 See J.
S. Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion,
 E. Smith,
ed. African Ideas of God, Edinburgh House Press, 1950, p.1. See also E. B.
Idowu, African Traditional Religion;: A Definition,
 See E. B. Idowu, c p. cit., pp. 140ss.
 J. S. Mbiti, op. cit., p. 32.
Isichei, A History of the Igbo People,
 See. E.
C. Ilogu, Christianity and Igbo Culture,
 See E. B. Idowu, op, cit., pp. 150 160 and 177.
 E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 41.
 Ibid., p. 18.
 Ibid., p. 18.
 Ahiajoku Lecture Owerri: Ministry of Information, 1979, p. 18.
 N. S.
S. Iwe, Socio-Ethical Issues in
 See E. Isichei, op. cit., p. 26; P. A. Arinze, Sacrifice in Igbo Religion, Ibadan University Press, 1978, pp. 88 90.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., pp. 91 92; E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., pp. 22, 51 and 125.
 See E. Isichei, op. cit., p. 26.
 N. S.,S. Iwe, op. cit., p. 146.
 E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 18.
 Ibid., pp. 123 127.
 N. S. S. Iwe, op. cit., p. 146; See also E. Ikenga Metu, God and Man in African Religion, A Case Study of the Igbo of Nigeria, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1981, pp. 49 82.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., passim; E. C. Ilogu, K. O. K. Onyioha, African Godianism, A Revolutionary Religion for Mankind Through Direct Communication with God, London Owerri: Conch Magazine Publishers Limited, 1980; Ogbu U. Kalu (ed.) Readings in African Humanities African Cultural Development, Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978, pp. 37 44; "The Gods in Retreat: Models for Interpreting Religious Change in Africa," published in The Gods in Retreat Continuity and Change in African Religions, (ed. by Ikenga Metu) Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1986; Emefie Ikenga Metu, God and Man in African Religion A Case Study of the Igbo of Nigeria, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1981, passim; African Religions in Western Conceptual Schemes, Ibadan: Pastoral Institute Bodija, 1985, passim.
 See Arinze, op. cit., p. 9; E. B. Idowu, op. cit., pp. 161 2; E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 34.
Journals of the Rev. James Frederick Schon and Mr Samuel Crowther... in 1841 (
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., pp. 9 12.
 See D. I. Nwoga, The Supreme God as Stronger in Igbo Thought, Owerri: Hawk Press, 1984, passim: One must here point out that, though, Christian influence is not the origin of Igbo belief in a Supreme God, Christianity has contributed to the clarification and development of this belief (its enrichment).
 E. B. Idowu, op. cit., p. 159: See also E. I. Metuh, African Religions in Western Conceptual Schemes. pp. 29 30.
 E. Isichei, op. cit., pp. 25 26; See also E. I. Metuh, God and Man in African Religion, pp. 92 97.
 See R.
S. Peters, Ethics and Education,
 E. B. Idowu, op. cit., p. 160.
 See F. A. Arinze op. cit., p. 9; J. Awolalu and P. Dopamu, West African Traditional Religion Ibadan: Onibonoje Press Limited, 1979, p. 40; E. I. Metuh, God and Man in African Religion, pp. 32 41.
 See E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 34.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., pp. 9 10.
 See E. B. Idowu, op, cit., pp. 146 147.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., p. 10; also see K. O. K. Onyioha, op. cit., pp. 44 45.
 F. A. Arinze, op. cit., pp. 10 11.
 E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 34; See also E. I. Metuh, God and Man in African Religion, pp. 54 55.
 See E. B. Idowu, p. 169.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., p. 15; See also E. I. Metuh, op. hic. cit., pp. 66 67.
 Cf. E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., pp. 123 127.
 Ibid., pp. 127-9.
 Ahiajoku Lecture, 1979, p. 18.
 F. A. Arinze, op. cit., p. 16.
 Cf. E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 35.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., p. 16.
 See T.
N. O. Ouarcoopome, West African Traditional Religion,
 Cf. E. C. Ilogu, op. cit., p. 40 41.
 E. B. Idowu, op. cit., p. 60.
 See E. I. Metuh, op. hic. cit., pp. 68 69.
 Ibid., p. 69.
 See F. A. Arinze, op. cit., pp. 17 18.
 Ibid., p. 97.
 See E.
P. Modum, "Gods as Guests; Music and Festivals in African Traditional
Societies" pub. In
[zz] See, A. E. Afigbo, "Igbo Subculture areas: Rise and Development," in Ground Work of Igbo History, A. E. Afigbo (ed.) (forthcoming) for a good summary.
[aaa] T. Schapera, "Malinowskis Theories of Law," in R. Firth (ed.), Man in Culture. For discussion, See T. B. Bottomore, Sociology (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1962), p. 230.
[bbb] John Beattie, Other Cultures (New York: Free Press, 1964), p. 139.
Onwuejeogwu, An Igbo Civilization,
[ddd] See C.
C. Ifem6sia, Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo
Ekejiuba, "Aro Worldview: An Analysis of the Cosmological Ideas of
Arochukwu People of
[fff] Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System: in M. Berton (ed.) Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (London: Tavistock Publications, 1977), pp. 1 46.
[ggg] Thorkild Jacobson, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976). See, D. I. Nwoga God as Stranger in lgbo Religious Thought Mbaise, 1985, 1985), Ch. 3.