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Towards an Understanding of Igbo Traditional Religious Life and Philosophy


Rev. Professor Emmanuel Nlenanya Onwu



Ndi Igbo have suffered the double misfortune of being misunderstood and having a bad press. In spite of their stupendous achievements in every area of human endeavour, particularly in science and technology, religion and education, the Igbo nation has been deliberately and systematically marginalized. At the risk of sounding patriotic and accommodating, Ndi Igbo have suffered the loss of their human rights and dignity but have also shown great courage and determination to survive as a people.


The questions arise. What is it that keeps Ndi Igbo going despite all odds? What is it that makes them behave, act, and move the way they do? What is the power behind the Igbo? Why was Igbo religion in conflict with Christianity? Why do the Igbo love the Christian way of life? The answers to these questions are the main focus of this paper.


These answers definitely are rooted in the traditional religious life and philosophy of Ndi Igbo. It has been rightly observed that the Igbo are a highly religious people. Writing about the Igbo in the early 1900, Major A.G. Leonard in his book The Lower Niger and Its Peoples remarked that:


They are in the strict and natural sense of the word a truly and a deeply religious people, of whom it can be said that they eat religiously, drink religiously, bathe religiously, dress religiously and sin religiously. In a few words, the religion of these as I have all along endeavored to point out is their existence and their existence is their religion.


This observation is not only true of the Igbo but also of other Africans. Professor J.S. Mbiti (1969:1) more than fifty years later in the opening sentence of the very first chapter of his book, African Religions and Philosophy has re-echoed similar statement which summarized the traditional religious attitude of Africans when he said:


Africans are notoriously religious, and each people has its own religious system with a set of beliefs and practices. Religion permeates into all the departments of life so fully that it is not easy or possible always to isolate it. A study of these religious systems is therefore, ultimately a study of the people themselves in all complexities of both traditional and modem life. Religion is the strongest element in traditional background, and exerts probably the greatest influence upon the thinking and living of the people concerned.


Similarly, after observing how religion thoroughly permeated the life of every Igbo, Bishop Shanahan was cited by John P. Jordan (1971:115) as having come to the conclusion that:


The average native (Igbo), was admirably suited by environment and training, for an explanation of life in terms of the spirit; rather than of the flesh. He was no materialist. Indeed nothing was farther from his mind than a materialist philosophy of existence. It made no appeal to him.


In the context of this paper, Igbo religion and philosophy are perceived as two sides of the same coin which Leonard, Shanaham and Mbiti acknowledged. In order to understand and arrive at the meaning of Igbo religion and philosophy, it is not necessary to engage in a definition or analysis of concepts. On this I agree with Kunirum Osia that this is because in Igbo, religious categories are not bound together in a purely ideal order. The categories do not form a system, a bundle of abstractions, as it were. Rather, they define a style of life, and a guide to practical living. Unlike the major world religions, Igbo religion is not codified or formulated into systematic dogmas. It is culturally learned and adopted. It is a tradition. Religion is an intrinsic part of culture. Culture is itself the totality of knowledge and behaviour, ideas and objects that constitute the common heritage of a people in a given society. And as a lifestyle, culture covers every aspect of the society's life in their efforts to relate with their environment, with one another and as well as the ideational elements within the society. Scholars agree that they are layers of culture. Kato (1976:8) had identified the philosophical level of culture as its core. Philosophical not in the sense of abstraction but in the sense of reality -- what is viewed as the real thing that gives answers to life's problem. The philosophical level is the basic thinking or idea of a community. It answers the question as to what gives meaning to life. Close to this hard core of culture is the mythical level, which is made up of the basic beliefs of the people, which gives meaning to life. In a sense, people's culture constitutes their beliefs, customs, ethos, and manners which of course enshrine morality. Whereas, on the one hand, cultural elements can be discerned from the people's religion, the people's religion itself is an intrinsic part of the people's culture in a broader sense. Therefore studying one is by implication studying some of the vital elements of the other. Philosophy is therefore the heart of culture.


Religion and philosophy are therefore concerned with the beliefs and practices of the people. T. U. Nwala (1985:26) in his book Igbo Philosophy argues that the best word or concept which expresses Igbo philosophy is Omenala or Omenanị which literally means that which obtains in the land or community and refers to what accords with the customs and traditions of the Igbo people. For Nwala, Igbo philosophy is the philosophy of Omenala, Omenala referring to the spirit, the underlying principal or idea behind a particular custom/act. The inseparability of the two concepts are similarly recognized by Professor N.S.S. lwe when he argued that the African, Traditional Religion is inseparably interwoven with the traditional African society and culture. This is because African traditional religion is essentially a philosophy and a spiritual way of life, which permeates, pervades and animates the traditional social institution, norms and celebrations. Nwala (1985:112-200) also agreed with the inseparability of Igbo religion and philosophy. He rightly noted that generally a people or an individual may have a philosophy but no religion, but no people or individual may have a religion without a philosophy. Religion and philosophy are intimately related both in the belief and practice content. We must note here that every Igbo ritual act - sacrifice, dance, festival, has a philosophy or idea behind it; it is such an idea that motivates such act. Both involve basic belief, a philosophy, an underlying principle, or an idea, which generate actions and behaviours, which influence individual or group. Therefore it is obvious that a discussion of traditional Igbo religion must involve a discussion of Igbo philosophy. The main justifications rest on:


1)      That Igbo religion and philosophy are centered on Chukwu, the Supreme God and


2)      The fact that the sacred and the secular are held together. In other words, the secular life of the Igbo like all other traditional communities has been inseparable from their religious life. Their cosmology has a deep religious root and their practical life and moral values are interwoven with their religion. The only weakness is that their philosophy has often lacked what Nwala rightly called “critical and analytical content"


The point being emphasized is the appropriateness of the expression Igbo religion and philosophy. Religion and philosophy originated from native African soil (Onyewuenyi, 1993) and therefore indigenous to the Igbo as well. Both are about our way of life, concerned with meaning and explanation.


In other words, the burden of our argument is that one of the challenges of Ndi Igbo in the 21st century is religious. Therefore, our intention is to engage .in a hermeneutical exposition of some aspects of Igbo religion and philosophy from the Igbo African point of view. It is here we find the essence of the reality of Igbo scholarship in the traditional Igbo religion.


I am not, however, ignorant of the propaganda mounted by western writers about the sub-humanity of Africans as a people without history, without religion, (Green, 1964:52) denying them any conception of morality (Basden; 1966:34) and lacking in intellectual and technological accomplishments. I am not unaware of how African religions in general, and Igbo religion in particular suffered neglect, misinterpretations and distortions in the hands of missionaries and colonial government and their agents.


Without any intention to criticize any of these previous writers who had done veritable work in the study of African religions, our position is rather to indicate a positive contribution to the on-going quest for a meaningful and contextual interpretation of some aspects of Igbo religion and philosophy from the African point of view. The work will draw attention to the great potential Igbo religion and philosophy hold out for the unity, peace and progress of the people was well as to argue that Igbo religion and philosophy has been the key to Igbo self-understanding, identity and achievement within the Nigerian State.  We will emphasise within that context that the religious challenge of the 21st  century is for the Igbo to take a leap of faith and be fully restored in their relationship with 'Chukwu' first entered into by Igbo first ancestor and to insist that Christianity and education which act as sources of empowerment remain the only viable option that can equip the Igbo with character and knowledge that can transform us into instruments of change in the 21st century world which is knowledge-based, technology- driven and responsive to environmental concerns. We will begin this study by probing into the origin of the Igbo and their religion.




2.1.      Who are the Igbo?


The puzzle about Igbo origin has been attributed to lack of interest in Igbo studies either from our own people or from outsiders. This problem was compounded by the fact that some Igbo people did not accept others as being ‘lgbo,’ for instance, Mbieri people did not regard the Onitsha people as ‘Igbo’ (Green, 1964:7; Isichei, 1976:19)


Similarly, some groups in Onitsha who traced their root to Benin kingdom used the expression 'nwa onye Igbo’ (an Igbo person) in a spiteful manner to refer to other Igbo people (Onunwa, 1990:2). Most scholars are agreed that there was no real sense of pan-lgbo identity in the pre-colonial period, that the village groups felt a strong sense of local patriotism (Isichei, 1976:19; Talbot, 1926:404). The Igbo studies by C. K. Meeks (1937) and M.M. Green (1964) only helped to perpetuate the bad press the Igbo already had as a lawless and ungovernable people.


We do not intend to go into the old speculative arguments about the theories of Igbo origin and expansion. The people we intend to focus on in this work are found in the South-eastern part of Nigeria and are presently comprised of the people of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and parts of Delta, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom States. The Igbo have common boundaries with the Igala and Idoma on the north, the Ijaw and the Ogoni on the South, the Yako and the Ibibio on the Eastern boundary and the Bini and Warri on the West. The Igbo geographical area are what scholars call a culture area, rural or urban, manifesting distinctive characteristics or traits. Ọnwụejeọgwụ (1975) in his Article "the Igbo Culture Area" identified six basic traits which include: the linguistic, social, political, economic, ritual, and cultural traits.


There are five identifiable sub- culture areas within the Igbo culture area made up of:


(1) Eastern or Cross River Igbo (2) Southern or Owerri Igbo, (3) northern or Onitsha Igbo (4) Western Igbo and (5) North-Eastern Igbo (Forde and Jones, 1950:10) Inspite of the obvious sub cultural differences, the Igbo see themselves as one people and at the same time outsiders see them as a homogeneous entity. They are a unique people. While the Yoruba could find their kins in Burkina Faso and the Hausa could find their kins in Chad and Niger, historians are yet to tell us where- the Igbo could be found other than in the South- eastern part of Nigeria.


In recent times, our scholars have engaged in an exciting and fruitful research into Igbo origin. Their efforts are highly commendable. Professor A.E. Afigbo has ably articulated the scholarly views on Igbo origin in his books Ropes of Sand (1981) and more recent monograph - Igbo Genesis (2000). The weight of scholarly opinion rests mightily on situating Igbo origin within the Negro race generally but particularly in West Africa because of the Kwa language family in which the Yoruba, Edo, Igbo, Igala, Ijo, and Idoma fell. It may sound funny but historians should not snub the Igbo Nri myth which claimed that man's origin started from Igboland when God created Eri and sent him down. The Nri creation myth says that Chukwu the Igbo high God sent down the Igbo ancestor Eri and his wife Nnamaku somewhere in Aguleri. From these two human beings originated the Umueri and Umunri clans of the Igbo. Though the myth did not assert that the rest of Igbo people originated from Eri, many Igbo scholars have come to believe and treat Nri town as the heart of Igbo nationality. Similar myths of creation are found among the Bini and Yoruba. The importance of the Nri myth is not only historical but also religious. The Igbo acknowledged their divine origin and not that they came into existence by chance. It is a figurative expression that has tremendous historical import. In Time Magazine of July; 22, 2002 pages 50-55 and also the Guardian Newspaper of Thursday, September 19, 2002, we find the recent archeological findings of the earliest ancestor of modern homo sapiens named 'Toumai’ (hope of life), with the scientific name sahelanthropus tchadensis (Sahel hominid from Chad) dated about 7 million years old in the Lake Chad region. That man first settled in Africa is no longer an archeological statement, but a historical fact. It has also further disproved the theory of Charles Darwin that man originated from the apes.


In fact conventional wisdom ostensibly based on earlier discoveries had placed the origin of man around the Great Rift valley of East Africa, the new Lake Chad findings by Professor Michael Brunet, a paleontologist from the University of Poitiers in France has challenged the current thinking on human origins and also "the migratory patterns of the world. One fact is obvious; the myth of Igbo origin may be taken more serious. This is because the current findings have shifted attention from East Africa to the Lake Chad region which is closer to Nigeria. In the past three decades nobody thought about this, perhaps a little patience may lead to another finding East of the Niger.


Speculations about Igbo ancestry whether it was Eri as in Nri myth Digbo as contained in Nwosu’s Ndi Ichie Akwa Mytholody and Folklore Origins of the Igbo (1983) cannot be historically confirmed.  However, both Igbo myth of origin and archeological discoveries show that Igbo history and culture go far back into human history.






As far as we know, all human societies have possessed beliefs and practices which have come to be grouped and known under the name ‘religion.’ Religion is thus a universal phenomenon. Speculation about which religion would be superior has never been of scholarly interest but rather why religion is found at all in all societies.


The quest for the origins of religion has centered on four main views. The first refers to the psychological theories, which cover a variety of postulations, which 1ocate the origin, of religion in primitive people’s concept of ghosts, the soul and even in the deification of natural phenomena. One of the most enduring strands was that the origin of religions is in fetishism – worship of the animate and inanimate things, which the early Portuguese observed in West Africa. Edward Tylor credited as having constructed the first theory of religion assumed that belief in the existence of the soul stemmed from speculation about such states as dreams, trances and death (Ember, 1977, 246-250). Thus in Tylor’s view religion may have arisen out of an intellectual curiosity concerning mental states and other things not fully understood.  This is the basis of the religious belief which Tylor called 'animism.’ It was Herbert Spencer who modified Tylor’s view by giving prominence to belief in ghosts rather than in souls as the source of religion. Spencer moved the idea further by linking the belief in ghosts to the belief in gods which he also equated with the ghost of ancestors (Nwanunobi 1992: 166-169). It was Crawley’s Idea of the Soul that primitive man’s fear was posited as the root of religion.


In sum, all psychological theories agreed that whatever the origin or purpose, whatever the belief or rituals, religion served to reduce anxiety, and uncertainly which are common to all people. Second Sociological theories suggest that religion stems from society's needs. Emile Durkhein recognized that it is the society not the individual which is the society; not the individual which distinguishes between sacred and profane things. He suggested that a sacred object symbolizes the social fact that society considered something sacred. In other words the sociological theories concentrate on religion as significant to social solidarity and the integration of the relevant society within which the feelings, belief and practices are common.


It was argued that societies from ancient times modeled their cosmology after their own experiences. Aristotle in Politics (1.1.7} tersely stated as follows:


As men imagine gods in human form, so also they suppose their manner of life to be like their own.


Aristotle's view was extended by later scholars who saw a relationship between political sophistication and the nature of a people's cosmology (Nwanunobi, 1992:168). Thus Fuste1 de Coulanges argued that ancestor worship as the origin of religion since in ancient societies before the larger forms of political organizations: the family was the basis of co-operation and survival.


The third suggestion is the combination of the psychological and sociological approaches. This position argued that religion is a response to strain or deprivation which is caused by events in society. Thus, when the society is stable, its efforts and its energy are employed to maintain its equilibrium. But when the stability is threatened either by internal dissension or by outside force, the society many ‘revitalize’ itself by various means. Perhaps this revita1ization is achieved by a new cult, sect, denomination or religion. Aberle (1971: 528-531) has argued that relative deprivation, whether economic or social, is the cause of the stress which generates new religious movements. Wallace {1966:30) suggested that the threat of societal breakdown forces people to examine new ways to survive. It is the hope they gain from the new ways - not deprivation for people can live for centuries in deprivation-which leads them to revitalize their society.


The last view for the origin of religion which anthropologists and psychologists do not like to mention is that of revelation. Revelation is God’s disclosure of himself to man. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 1:1-2, God has in the last days finally and fully revealed himself to humanity. Christ is the full expression of God's revelation, better than anything in the Old Testament, and so the author warns his readers to depend on Christ alone. Igbos believe in God’s revelation to their ancient ancestors, including revealing his name as Chukwu. It is with this conviction we now discuss the origin of Igbo traditional religion.




Our Igbo ancestors were philosophers who were inspired by Chiukwu/Chukwu, the Supreme Being.  In other words, our Igbo ancestors like other ethnic groups received the revelation of God.  Igbo religion is as old as humanity.  It is a well-established fact that religion in Africa in general is at the root of African culture.  Its is the determining principle of African life.  Thus religion is their basic philosophy and philosophy is their religion.


It is for this reason that one comes to the conviction that the Igbo people are born religious. In Igbo world, time and space, objects and persons are made sacred. People born into the Igbo world approximate to the spiritual. Thus people are born with their personal ‘Chi’ or personal god or protective spirit.


The question here is what is the origin of this religious sentiment in the Igbo? In other words what is the origin of Igbo traditional religion? This question has not been a scholarly focus. Many renowned Igbo scholars have written on many aspects of Igbo traditional religion but that question has never attracted their conscious attention.


Professor A. E. Afigbo (1981:9) in his Ropes of Sand first muted the idea of the origin Igbo Traditional religion, and I share his insight on the subject.


The history of the origin of Igbo traditional religion must be sought within Igbo history of origin.  Igbo lived a hazardous wandering life of the hunter and gatherer of wild edible plants. The tradition of Nri disclosed how the Igbo entered a settled 1ife which brought him further development of skills.


The Nri Myth has it that the father of all Nri was Eri. When Eri was sent by Chukwu from the Sky to the earth, he sat on an anti-hill because he saw watery marshy earth.  When Eri complained to God Chukwu, sent an Awka blacksmith with his fiery bellow and charcoal to dry the earth. After the assignment, the Awka blacksmith was given ọfọ as a mark of authority for his smithing profession. While Eri lived, Chukwu fed him and his people with azu-igwe! But this special food ceased after the death of Eri. Nri his first son complained to Chukwu for food. Chukwu ordered Nri to sacrifice his first son and daughter and bury them in separate graves.  Nri complied with it.  Later after three-Igbo-weeks (Izu atọ = 12 days) yam grew from the grave of the son and cocoyam from that of the daughter.  When Nri and his people ate these, they slept for the first time; later still Nri killed a male and female slaves burying them separately. Again, after Izu Ato, an oil palm grew from the grave of the male slave, and a bread fruit tree (ukwa) from that of the female-slave (Afigbo, 1981:41-42). With this new food supply, Nri and his people ate and prospered. Chukwu asked him to distribute the new food items to all people but Nri refused because he bought them at the cost of sacrificing his own children and slave. Nri and; Chukwu made an agreement. According to M. D. W. Jeffreys (1956:123) a tradition has it that:


As a reward for distributing food to the other towns Nri would have the right of cleansing every town of an abomination (nso) or breach, of crowning the  eze at Aguleri, and of tying the Ngulu (ankle cords) when a man takes the title of ozo. Also he and his successor’s would have the privilege of making the Oguji, or yam medicine, each year for ensuring a plentiful supply of yams in all surrounding towns, or in all towns that subjected themselves to the Eze Nri. For this medicine all the surrounding towns would come in and pay tribute and Umunmdri people then could travel unarmed through the world and no one would attack or harm them.


Another tradition claims that because Nri would not sell yam to his neighbours, he then demanded seven fowls, chalk, a pot and goats, with these he made medicine Ifejiọkụ, the yam spirit, which he gave to the applicants. They took this home with the new crops and sacrificed to it. This tradition has some variation but basic facts still remains (Isichei, 1977:22-23; Thomas, 1913:50).


The discovery of yam cultivation formed not only the economic base of Igbo civilization but it also carried tremendous religious import. It was of such great importance that it was given ritual and symbolic expressions in many areas of Igbo life -- (Sacrifice at Nfijoku/ Ifejiọkụ during Yam festival/Iriji). The Nri myth suggested how agriculture and iron technology brought tremendous changes in the life of the Igbo. These changes Afigbo rightly indicated includes (1) the more effective mastery of the land, (2) the growth of population, (3) the elaboration of the archetypal Igbo social institutions (4) the evolution of a cosmological system in which the Earth (Ala, Ani, Ali) then became deified and occupied the central place as the ordainer and guardian of morality, the source of law and customs.


It is significant to note here the emergence of Igbo cosmology from the Nri myth in which Ala {Earth goddess) became the arch-divinity in Igboland. Thus from the myth the Earth (Ala, Ani, Ali) was so important to the Igbo that it became the most vital function of Eze Nri to preside over its worship.


This development accords with the otiose character of Chukwu - the Supreme Being - in Igbo cosmology and the domination of the lgbo world by the Earth goddess. This is not only peculiar to the Igbo; it is a common perception of the Supreme Being as Deus Otiosus in primal religions.


The Nri myth which contains Igbo cosmology also has in it an important dimension of historical truth not yet hitherto recognized, namely, the origin or evolution of Igbo traditional religion (Afigbo, 1981:9). We wish to suggest and maintain based on Nri myth that Igbo traditional religion is going through a three-stage development. The first stage is what we may call the Eri period. This period agrees with Professor Afigbo's periodization in 1983 which he labeled the a-horizon. This first stage is the earliest period of human existence, the probable dynamic age of Chukwu, when God created and dominated the earth, including the Igbo world. The age of pure intuition marked by the over powering awareness of the presence and nearness of Chukwu the creator. The God fed Eri and his people and Eri had intimate contact with Chukwu and worshipped him alone. This was the age of innocence and what existed at period was pure religion. This was because man had not come to need intermediaries between him and his creator. Igbo myths and folklores lend validity to this claim (New; 1985:15-32 Iwuagwu).


'The second stage is the hunting and gathering stage of existence when the Igbo had not fully come to a full appreciation of the value of the land.  This I call the Nri period, when with the coming of agriculture and iron technology the Igbo attention shifted from the sky above to the earth below, with Ala, Ani, Ali displacing 'Chukwu' into a supposedly remote inactivity. This is the supposed period in primal societies including Igbo when 'Chukwu' came to be perceived as the Deus Otiosus the withdrawn God, the absentee landlord.  This period marked the dominance of the Earth goddess in Igbo traditional life and the origin of Igbo traditional religion.  Based on Nri myth, it became the chief function of Eze Nri to preside over the worship, veneration and purification of the Earth through rituals and sacrifices.  Professor Afigbo calls this period the b-horizon marked by recession of pure intuition, the fall of man, the withdrawal of the creator and the domination of man's daily existence by a hose of gods and spirits. At this time the Igbo adopted divinities which appear to work in controlling their world.


The dominance of the Earth goddess in Igbo land at this period is well acknowledged. On this Professor Anene (1966:12-13) stated:


Among the Igbo law and custom were believed to have been handed down from the spirit world from time immemorial from ancestor to ancestor. The spirit world comprised a hierarchy of gods: the most important perhaps was the god of the land-the unseen president of the small localized community. No community is complete without the shrine of the god of the land.


The god of the land in context refers to the Earth goddess whose influence is very great in a society whose economy is primarily agricultural. It is at this stage that the Igbo abandoned the worship of Chineke God to the worship of the created things. The acknowledgement of the High God, the Creator, at the same time as he is dealt with as remote or withdrawn forms the major basis of the concept of deus otiosus or deus remotus or deus absconditus which many writers have given attention to at various times (Pettazzoni, 1954:Horton, 1971 85-108)


Apart from the worship of Ala, other divinities arose in several other communities. Some of the prominent ones included Ibinukpabi of Arọchukwu, Amadiọha (or Kamalụ) also known as the "god of: thunder" whose shrine was at OZUZU (now in Rivers State); the Ogbunworie of Ezumọha, Mbano; Igwekaala of Umunọha (South-Igbo sub-culture area); Agbala of Awka and Ọha Mmiri of Oguta to name a few.


The organizers of these cults were diviners, priest, medicine men, traders and other ritual experts as well as men of note in the community who considered their life, political and economic interests threatened. Quite often people go to these divinities to take oath. Their origin in most of those communities is unknown, they do not have documentary history but they were believed to have been brought by their respective ancestors many of whom were unknown to them. Some of them are said to have taken their origin from outside Igbo territory and especially from Igbo neighbours such as Efik, Ibibio Yako and Ekoi. (Onunwa, 1990:11, 21, 31).


Two of the prominent Oracular divinities - Ibinukpabi of Arọchukwu and Ogbunworie of Ezumuọha were destroyed by the British in 1901/02 and 1910 respectively, but their influence still linger. At the moment there are severa1 millions of deities and divinities in Igbo land.


In this second stage, however, it is obvious that something definitely went wrong. It is the stage that Igbo ancestors abandoned the worship of God the Creator to the worship of the created things - Ala and other divinities. At this point, the created being becomes so powerful that it took the place of 'Chukwu' in Igbo traditional life. Ikeji or Iri ji (yam festival) which Ndi Igbo celebrate with fanfare is part of the ritual that goes with the worship of the yam spirit (Ifejiọkụ; Ahiajọkụ).  Many rituals and sacrifices accompany this celebration even in our time. Loss of contact with 'chukwu' generated insecurity and fear which necessitated the development of seeking help from powerful deities for protection and for doing evil.


Thus there came a great gap, a lacuna in Igbo spirituality. As the Nri myth would tend to suggest there arose a broken link between chukwu and Igbo ancestors, a broken link that has to be restored.


The development gained impetus in the third stage of development of Igbo traditional religious life. This period Prof.. Afigbo called the c-horizon but which we now refer to as the Arọ Era. The Arọ Era is what Professor Afig designated in his Ropes of Sand as the era of Arọchukwu Ascendancy with its Ibinukpabi Oracle - their famous Long Juju. The era, which we regard as "the most tragic" for the Igbo race because of the evils of slave trade and slavery. A lot has been written about it. It is obvious that Eze Arọ one of the highly recognized kingship stools in Igbo land pre-date the existence of Ibinukpabi Oracle. It is an Oracle, which no Arọ person would like to discuss. However, it is generally believed to have been imported from a small Ibibio shrine (Isichei, 1976:59). The influence of the oracle in Igbo land was like a harmattan fire. It is believed to have conferred so much prestige and authority on the Arọ to such an extent that in 1896 an Arọ person proudly announced to a white man at Aba in "broken English" that he was an 'Arọ man' and a 'God boy' (Isichei, 1976:59). Scholars agreed that the oracle rested on a deliberate deception. The Arọ civilization of the period was extremely idolatrous, materialistic and dehumanizing. The Arọ civilization generated trade in which the Igbo were commodities of trade. The slave trade bred a disregard for human life. It is reported that in Nsukka ten human slaves sold for a horse and in Uburu in the 1880's a horse was exchanged for four to six adult human slaves (Isichei, 1978:47). Professor Ọnwụejeọgwụ indicated that Ibinukpabi supported slave trade, which brought into Igboland depopulation due to instigated wars, family disorganization, ritual cannibalism and human sacrifices (1987:56). Thus Arọ at this period combined slave trade and manipulation of the oracle by a highly intelligent group or kinsmen for their religious and economic interests. Thus fear of insecurity, constant wars, headhunting at this period led many Igbo resort to seeking the protection of divinities and deities most of which were imported.


Similarly there emerged highly developed secret societies as a new (p.12) instrument of social control. This is not to say that secret society was absent in Igbo land but it became prominent. The Arọ brought secret societies from Efik-Ibibio areas into Igbo land, such as Ekpe, Okonko, Obong, Akang. The Arọ made great use of them and because of their influence cult houses were erected for them at the village centers of several Igbo communities, for effective control of communities. They also made use of nsibidi sign for communication which made the need for initiation quite attractive. Thus it was common to hear that the need to belong to a secret cult would enable one pass through the road (ka ewere ya ga n'uzo). In effect, this period brought about the multiplication of deities or divinities for security.


In sum, according to Igbo myth Igbo religion in its purest form originated as a direct revelation of 'Chukwu, 'Chineke' to the Igbo earliest ancestor. In course of time, the subsequent earliest Igbo ancestors lost touch with the original revelation, and turned their back on 'Chukwu' but focused on the worship of created things -- Ala/Anị (the Earth goddess) not as creator but as their sustainer and protector.  This leads to the theory of the origin of Igbo traditional religion as a combination of psychological and sociological needs for their protection and survival.


Thus in their various studies Basden, (1938), Meek, (1943), Forde and Jones, (1962), Ilogu (1973), and other numerous researches conducted on Igbo traditional religion in the department of religion, all agree that the idea of 'Chukwu,' Chineke,' is central to Igbo traditional belief and life. We agree with Nwanunobi (1992) that the overwhelming situation is such that even though there is a belief in the Supreme God in Igbo traditional religion, the brand of belief is characterized as polytheistic. It is a type of polytheism in which the High God, 'Chukwu' presides over the lesser gods often perceived as intermediaries in the cosmic hierarchy. The Earth goddess was the arch-divinity with omenala as its governing moral code which regulates human relationship with the land according to what obtains in the land or community.


Having therefore examined rather briefly the origin of Igbo man and his traditional religion let us then inquire into how the Igbo man perceived his world, his person, his vision and his mission.




Igbo world-view is significant in understanding the Igbo man and his identity, his vision and his mission in the world.


The Igbo traditional understanding of the world and reality as a whole is religious and holistic. The universe is conceived of a cyclical order as the seasons of the year, the sun, the moon, the stars and natural events in general repeat themselves in an interminable way. Mircea Elide calls this repetitive order in nature as the "myth of eternal return" (1959). This ordered succession symbolized harmony, persistence and dynamism. This order must not be disrupted in the Universe in which the different levels of space as perceived are inhabited.


A critical look at the Igbo world -- view would throw light on the rationale for man's insistence on maintaining the delicate balance or cordial relationship between him and the spirit beings in the spirit world as well as ensure the maximum success of his life on earth.


3.1.      GOD AND gods IN IGBO


As a matter of fact, Igbo religious philosophy (religion and philosophy) begins with his conception of the Supreme God variously called Chiukwu, Chukwu, Chineke (Obasi di n'elu). The Supreme Being is the primal being.


Though the Igbo traditional religious thought cannot lay any special claim as to a clearer and more comprehensive perception of the nature of the Supreme God than any other group of mankind, yet there are numerous references and attributes which the Igbo use to express their keen awareness of the supreme reality and ultimate explanation of all the things. Philosophically in this regard, the Supreme Being is conceived under two major principles - (1) the principle of creation (Chi-Okike) (Chineke) (2) the principle of Absoluteness (Chi-Ukwu) (Chiukwu).


Both principles are implied in the principles of (i) divinity and (ii) absolute dependence, which are expressed in the conception of "Chi" or personal god (Nwala, 1985:115-116). In creation, Chukwu or Chineke is the creator of all things including man whom he endows with his nature and his destiny. This nature and destiny are referred to as 'uwa' and 'chi' which every person possess. The principle of creation (Okike) (Chineke) shows man's divine origin.


The second principle - the principle of absoluteness means absolute/perfect in power and might in everything. Here he is Chi-Ukwu (the Great God Chukwu), his other names such as Chukwuka (God is supreme), Onyekachukwu (who is greater than God), Ifeanyịchukwu (Nothing is beyond God's power) Chukwunweike (In God rests all strength) also express this principle of abso1uteness. On the basis of this principle, the Igbo invoke the ultimate power and protection of the Supreme Being especially when all else has failed them.


Generally Chukwu's power is constantly sought in oral prayers. The principle of absolute dependence earlier referred to shows the source of man's nonexistence and welfare.


This keen awareness of God is also expressed in the Igbo traditional ritual of Igbo Ọfọ by the elders. Ọfọ symbol itself is a clear expression of the concept of the Supreme Being's authority, justice and-truth. The belief in the Supreme Being among the Igbo has been strongly attested to by many other foreign writers like O'Connell, Schon and Crowther, Talbot, Basden, Meek and others.


Thus the concept of the Supreme God as a 'loan god' introduced by the missionaries as a "stranger" in Igbo religious thought (Nwoga, 1984) is definitely unfounded and irrelevant. The Supreme God is seen as the chief guest of honour at every Igbo traditional religious festival or ritual, the ultimate recipient of sacrifices even though there is no elaborate cult for him in Igbo land.


As a matter of fact Archival records showed that early Christian missionaries to Igbo land drew abundantly from Igbo terminologies including the idea and name for the Supreme God, in their preachings and translations (CMS, 1862). Moreover, research works by some Igbo scholars like R.A. Arazu, S.N Ezeanya, E,C. Ilogu , E. Ikenga-Metuh and E.I. Ejizu have also proved that the generalization that 'Chukwu' was not acknowledged in public cults among the Igbo, is also an over-simplification. Public altars and rituals in honour of Chukwu, though not elaborate, did exist in certain traditional Igbo sub-cultural units as Ihembosi, Okija, Ihiala, Aji, Nsukka and Ututu (Akum, 1983), (Ezeanya 1969:39-40).




However, the stronger belief in and pre-occupation with the divinities and deities, and patron spirits, are manifestly the most striking feature of Igbo traditional religion.


No matter what other writers say, polytheism (which means belief in or worship of many gods) is practised among the traditional Igbo. But it does no imply that all the local deities are of equal importance and power to the people. Although a lot of local variation exist in names, categories and details of belief in and worship of these divinities, a number of them are believed to be major divinities and are widely acknowledged. These include: Anyanwu (the sungod), Igwekaala (the sky god), Ala (Earth goddess), and Amadiọha/Kamalu (the god of thunder and lightning); others include Ahiajọkụ (god of agriculture), Ikenga (god of fortune and industry) and Agwunsi (god of divination and healing). Many other deities which constitute the Igbo pantheon are major deities to individual communities. For instance Ebumiri of Umunumu in Mbano, Ọfọ Itu in the Mbaise, Idemili in Uga, Aguata, Haba in Agulu, Nnagwurugwu of Isu in Arọchukwu, and Ọha Mmiri of Oguta and many, many others.


Of all the divinities Ala-the Earth goddess is generally worshipped in Igbo land as the arch-divinity and seen as the goddess of fertility and guardian of Igbo morality, a power which controls - divinities and a force which brings fortune and economic prosperity. There are numerous other lesser deities which constitute the dominant feature of Igbo religious cult. Many of these we personifications of natural forces and phenomena while others are man-made for the people's survival and well being. This indicates the extent of the influence of ecology on Igbo religion. In addition, there exists myriads of lesser deities which are good or bad spirits which besiege the Igbo religious horizon. These spiritual entities inhabit physical realities like streams, forests, hills and animals.  Some want to reincarnate in those to be born, others make life uncomfortable for the living causing calamities, barrenness, diseases and untimely death. Caught up in the midst of physical insecurity (which could also come from his fellows witches and sorceries) the Igbo resort to divination, sacrifices, traditional medicine and protective charms or amulets in order to cope with the uncertainties of life. They also resort to the ancestral spirits and some of the deities for protection and progress.


The Igbo belief in the ancestors is a clear expression of the people's faith in "after-life" even though perceived in the context of external return to the earth again in reincarnation. And it is believed that one's status in the after-life depends entirely on one's status here on earth since the spirit- world is a mirror of the human world with same topography and similar organization. The motion of judgment which everyone is afraid of is clearly spelt out by the Igbo belief in reincarnation.


Seen from the anthropological perspective, Igbo traditional religion, as evident from the pantheon of spirits and deities acknowledged in worship in various localities, is a religion of structure, inextricably bound up with the total structure of Igbo traditional life. For the Igbo, man's existence, his welfare and destiny are totally caught up the general behaviour of the forces above, under and around him, Igbo believe that the more man can control nature and the force, the more he is able to enjoy protection, longevity, progress, success and peace with God, the divinities and the ancestors. This perception of his world-view and control methods is borne out of the conviction about the constant interaction between the world of the spirit d the world of men. Igbo religion relies heavily on divination in this regard.


3.2.1.  Divination: Igbo religion relies on a diviner or divination to provide answers to problems and puzzles of daily life-experiences. Divination therefore becomes the mechanism for connecting observed effects to causes that lie beyond the powers of common sense to comprehend.


In other words, the essence of divination in Igbo religion is the provision for resolving one difficulty or the other that the individual or the community encounters as he attempts to understand the world around him. The diviner (dibiaafa/Igba aja) is thus a busy person among the adherent of the Igbo religion. He is consulted for practically all problems, sicknesses and failure in business or failure to have a male child, boundary disputes, sudden death, etc. After determining the cause of the problem, the diviner then prescribes remedies which more often than not are sacrifices to be made to the ancestors or to the spirits believed to be angry about something. The centrality of Igbo religion is defined by divination. It offers a lot of attraction to many Christians who have not yet committed their lives to Christ. In other words, Divination is therefore a common key that unlocks the door into the interpretation of various aspects of Igbo religion. It plays an important role in the Igbo belief in reincarnation.


3.2.2.  Reincarnation: Reincarnation is one of the Igbo beliefs that have persisted in spite of the influence of westernization or christianity. The issue of reincarnation is a problematic one in Igbo thought and life, Damian Opata's Essays on Igbo World View (1998) argues that it is to be understood around two principal Igbo concepts: ilua uwa and Ogbanje. Both involve some kind of re-embodied existence after having lived and died in the world. This is better understood in the Igbo conceptualization of two types of existence uwa mgbede and uwa Ututu. The ogbanje phenomenon is the repetitive coming and going of people especially of children into one's family. It is an undesirable thing in a family. The principle of reincarnation is seen as a positive one because it is believed that only people who have lived well and died well are the only person entitled to reincarnate or re-embody themselves in a beneficent manner. Thus it is common experience through divination to identify who reincarnated a new born baby. This is the work of a diviner. In Igbo a diviner is dibiaafa (ogbaaja), and could be a medicine man or a priest. Some of them undergo special training in the use of herbs, in clairvoyance, divination and reincarnation.


The concept of reincarnation makes meaningful the Igbo belief of life after death. Since the biblical concept of resurrection is not clearly understood by many, in traditional Igbo setting, the concept of reincarnation assures an Igbo that his attempt to lead a good life here on earth, obey the deities and the ancestors are not in vain. Death is not the end of life. There is another life after death and the most practical way to make it meaningful is the belief in reincarnation which includes physical resemblance, character traits, oracular pronouncements all of which point to the fact that the dead are somewhere waiting for their return to the world of time and space. The notion of judgment which people fear is so clearly spelt out by reincarnation belief. This implication of judgment also brings in the moral and ethnical implications of the belief. Thus it becomes obvious that death and reincarnation explain quite a lot about the Igbo realization of a meaningful existence. Within the concept are woven some principles of existence, some deep and lasting motivation for decent living among the Igbo, motivation based on everlasting and transcendent reward. It is the idea of living well among the Igbo that constitutes for them an authentic existence such that it could be said that to have died well is to have lived well.




Inspite of the Igbo concept of 'Chukwu', the Igbo world remains homo-eccentric. In other words, although 'Chukwu' is the foundation of Igbo religion and philosophy, yet Igbo world and Igbo philosophy is focused on man.


Igbo philosophy begins with his conception of life (Ndụ). Life is the consciousness of 'being' or existing. Man (mma ndụ) is made up of "life' (Ndụ), intellect (Uche) and body (ahu). When there is no life in a person he is ozu (corpse). It is the sole function of life to hold body and intellect firmly in their positions and sustains them. As far as life is doing this, man is said to be living a human life and is capable of showing the act of knowledge. Thus the source or origin of human knowledge is life. This life comes from God (chinwendụ).


For the Igbo like the others life is simply a gift (Ndụ bụ onyinye). Thus according to the Igbo, "life is a gift owned by God and is given to somebody" or "some thing by God only." Hence the Igbo say that "Ndụ bụ Onyinye Chukwu" (Life is the gift of God).


To mention God in an epistemological treatise like this is definitely disapproved of by some philosophers. But the Igbo people do not have any apology to render to any of such people because their sense of God is deeply rooted in our Igbo philosophy. For the Igbo, philosophy without God who is the first philosopher is no philosophy. That is why it is unthinkable for the Igbo to have a religion without philosophy. As Fr. J.J.C. Akunne (1995) rightly put it:


For us Igbo philosophy without God is like a house without a roof. To philosophize whether there is God or not and to marshal out argument for or against it is the most absurd thing any lgbo man is expected to do.


A basic question has been asked as to what a human being is for the Igbo in regard to the origin of human knowledge.


Greek philosophers' positions have varied. For instance, the Rationalists concluded that human knowledge originated from reason alone. The Empiricists asserted that human knowledge originated from experience, while the Kantians maintain that some human knowledge originated from reason, and some in experience and others in their necessity. With the fact established that Greek philosophy originated from African philosophy (Onyewuenyi, 1993) tremendous contributions have come from other African thinkers. Using the theory of Ndụakpunyereuchenaahụ, it is rightly argued that knowledge originated from life. Man has within him the gift of life which carries within itself essentially the gift of knowledge. As a man starts developing in the womb, the intellect and body become the effects of this development, which reaches its high point in man's 'awareness' which is the human knowledge. This is what the concept of Ndụakpunyeruchenaahụ is all about (Akunne, 1995). This life which is enclosed with intellect and body is what we call human being, Mma Ndụ (the goodness/beauty of life). It is this concept which brings out what a human being is for the Igbo in regard to the origin of human knowledge.


For the Igbo, God is life (Chi bụ ndụ) and God owns life (Chinwendụ). Since we have life we have a share in God. This lifeness of the life in us makes our morality which has eschatological under-tone meaningful. This is because for the Africans to be is to live, and therefore, one continues to live even after death when he continues to live in another form. This is where the Greek philosophers failed. They fai1ed to recognize the inseparability of the intellect and body. They separated intellect and body respectively and gave them independent existence. For the Igbo, this proves the fact that not only that life continues after death but also that it is the same person when alive in this untranscendental world is responsible for all his/her good and bad action done in this world. In other, words a person starts life in the transcendental world following the occurrence of death, it is the person who is now living on this earthly world that will continue to live the transcendental world with his full identity. His life will be the same life because life is not affected by the action of death. Because life is not affected, it carries the implication of one's action in our mundane world into that of our transcendental world, acquiring a new form of intellect and body. In other words, in Igbo thought and life, man finds ultimate meaning in transcendence even though it is a homo-centric world.




Igbo philosophy is life-affirming because it centered on human being. Igbo people usually say Ndụ bụ Isi (Life first). It has been observed that the overall conceptualization of the kolanut among the Igbo is that it is a life affirming principle. Kolanut presentation, ritual, breaking and sharing is significant in Igbo land. The ritual invocation will include Chukwu, ancestors, the clan deities, the spirit forces especially the market days. Finally the invocation would normally end with an affirmation of life:


Ndi ebe anyị

anyị ga adị

anyị goro ka anyị dịrị

ọ bụghị ka anyị nwụọ

(Our people

we shall live

we have prayed for life

not for death).

This final affirmation of life is significant because one of the first statements surrounding kolanut breaking ritual in Igbo land is:


Onye wetara ọji wetara ndụ       (He who brings kola brings life).


Among the Igbo, everything that is, has a life and to be alive is the aspiration of every living thing. Ọji (kolanut) is life because he who brings it brings life in the dual sense (1) that signifies welcome and friendship and (2) that the prayer for good and long life which precede its breaking and eating would be accepted by the ancestors. From the biological point of view, the kolanut is also life affirming. Paul E. Lovejoy (1980:2) listed forty medicinal uses of kolanut, collected at the beginning of the 20th century, and included relief from hunger, fatigue and thirst as important properties along with cures from headaches and sexual impotence. This list is interesting because the medicinal uses noted is all life affirming. Of special importance is the fact that it could be used as cure for sexual importance. For the Igbo, nothing can be more life affirming than this very fact. In other words, kolanut in Igbo world view touches on the principal essence of existence: being alive and sustaining it.


This principle of life affirmation as constituting the essence of the kola is also supported by the Igbo myth surrounding he emergence of the four Igbo market days. It is aid that four enigmatic people once visited a place. They would neither eat nor talk. But by mere coincidence, some one gave them a piece of kolanut to eat. To the surprise of all assembled, the people suddenly were given to speech in which they revealed their names as Orie (Oye), Eke, Nkwọ and Afọ. By this singular act, the kola is said to have gained significance not only as the food of the spirits, but also something that gives life. This is because somebody who can neither talk nor eat anything is as good as dead. It is only something that can give life that worked the wonder of giving back life even to the spirits. This is the basis of the Igbo saying:


Onye wetara ọjị wetara ndụ.


Apart from being an affirmation of life, it is also a symbol of continuity, of the entire life process as a continuum. Kolanut ritual is always a feature of the Igbo society, in social functions and ceremonies, which has resisted westernization and Christianity.


In addition, numerous researches conducted on ritual practices that have to do with consecration of time, space, animate and inanimate objects have also confirmed this affirmation of the life principle in Igbo cosmology. The ritual practice of itu aka (ritual offering of food to the spirits in general in Agukwu Nri, or itu aka ezi (ritual throwing of food outside for the spirits) as in Ututu, Arọchukwu, Ezza/Izzi are highly illuminating because they also show the purpose for such a practice. For instance, the research conducted by Anthony Ekwunife, of the department of religion, University of Nigeria shows that in Ovoko, Nsukka; the ritual of itu aka is aimed at giving the spirits their share. In Ngwa, the purpose is thanksgiving offering - an acknowledgement of favours from the spirits. In Arọchukwu and Ututu, the aim is that of sanctification of food (and it is called igo nri), so that it becomes a vehicle for communion with the spirits. Thus the whole ritual is designed to effect communion with the spirits through the agency of the celebrant and food. The ritual words of itu aka or igo nri shows the dependence of the human life on the transcendent life of the invisible spirit world. The practice as Ekwunife rightly noted is a way of inserting the participants to the source of their spiritual life - the transcendence. The word Isee is a definite symbolic word in the Igbo language and culture. A human being has five fingers, five toes. Among the Igbo the number five has great symbolic significance. If a kola nut is broken and it has five lobes it means good luck to the sharer. It also refers to stability. Thus isee reflect axiomatic values, five definite realization on which the life of every Igbo rests. They are: life, children, wealth, peace and love (Ekwunife, 1990).




We have seen that inspite of the remarkable awareness of spiritual forces, the Igbo like the other Africans, place man at the center of the universe, yet there is the irony that his destiny is determined by the 'chi' variously interpreted as his 'personal god' or guardian angel. In creation, Chineke, the Supreme Being brings man into being, at the same time endows him his nature and destiny. This nature and destiny are spoken of as 'uwa' and the personal 'chi' which every human being possesses. Thus if any person does something characteristics of him/her, the Igbo say ọ bụ etu ụwa ya dị (i.e. it is how his/her nature is}. The idea of 'chi' explains the elements of luck, fortune, destiny or fate unique to an individual. The Igbo say of a lucky man ọ bụ onye chi ọma.


Igbo mythology is replete with examples illustrating the fact that the "

Supreme Being used to be very close to human beings but later withdrew to the sky because a woman used to poke her pestle in the sky while pounding her foofoo late in the night.


This incessant disturbance made God to withdraw. It is this that probably gave rise to the concept of deus otiosus - the withdrawn God, a concept that at God does not enmesh himself in human affairs. It has also been suggested that it could be that it is this withdrawal of God that gave rise to the Igbo expressions:


Mmadụ bụ chukwu a na afụ anya n'ụwa

(A human being is the god that is seen in the world).

Madụ bụ chi ibe ya

(A human being is a god to another person).


Both expressions imply that human beings also can play vital roles it influencing the destiny of others. This is the point D.I. Nwoga tried to make in his very much misunderstood book, The Supreme God as Stranger in Igbo Religious Thought.


T.U. Nwala (1985:46) tried to summarize the concept of destiny among the Igbo by citing two Igbo Sayings to the effect that Whatever befalls a man is - ihe ya na chi ya kpara (What he settles with his chi) but onye kwe chi ya ekwe, (If a man wills, his peronal 'Chi' wills also) provides him an escape route from the clutches of fatalism. Thus the element of fatalism, where man is left to the mercy of destiny is mitigated by ascribing some will power and initiative to man. One can influence one's 'chi' by brave or good conduct and this knocks the horn out of fatalism in Igbo philosophy.


It is here that we find the traditional Igbo escape from this apparent fatalism through the basic principle of onye kwe chi ya ekwe. The Igbo believe that if a man is at peace with his god and his ancestors his harvest will be good or bad depending on the strength of his arm. What is implied as Nwala rightly indicated is that the efficacy of the human will depend on a sound moral life because that is the only way he can be at peace with his god and his ancestors. 'Chi' is like a personal guide which pilots a man's prospects and determines his fortune.


For the Igbo three principles are operative in the shaping of a person's life. We have already pointed to the principle of onye kwe chi ya ekwe, the other two are: (1) akara aka and (2) lfe si na chi.


Akara aka literally refers to lines inscripted on a person's palm.


Among the Igbo it is believed that what one would be in life is already inscripted on the person's palm. What can hinder the actualization of what is inscripted are incorrect reading and misinterpretation as well as lack of sustained personal effort. The principle of lfe si na chi implies things that are already predetermined from birth for somebody. However in both principles we observe that: (I) what comes to people are predetermined and so no escape and (2) the relationship between chi and personal effort in the total shaping of a person's life and (3) the principle of onye kwe chi ya ekwe is a normative paradigm in the conduct of one's affairs in life. It is a manifestation of optimism and dynamism so evident in the Igbo attempt at self actualization and achievement orientation.


Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart brought out the working of the 'chi' principle in Igbo life. Unoka had gone to the oracle to find out why he still had poor harvest inspite of the prescribed sacrifices he offered to the gods, and he was also in good standing with his 'chi'. The oracles confirmed that Unoka was in good standing with his 'chi' but insisted that he should go home and work harder because mere offering of sacrifice would not make him reap bounteous harvests. Thus having a good 'chi' must be accompanied by being industrious. On the other hand, it is said of Okonkwọ that he is an example of one who said 'yes' to his 'chi' but his 'chi' refused to give assent to his affirmation. The explanation is that no one can go beyond his 'chi.'


As a matter of fact the Igbo does not give up or get discouraged. The principles of akara aka, lfe si na chi and onye kwe chi ya ekwe serve as ideology of consolation, encouragement, and determination. In Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Okonkwọ contributed to his own fate. He was consumed by his personal ambition. He failed to understand the basic Igbo philosophy of complementary dualities and consequent accommodationists principle inherent in that philosophy. This suggests that saying 'yes' must be understood within the framework of the dominant world view of the people. The Igbo hardly ever resign to fate, they hardly give up in a struggle which they set their minds on. This is supported by their wisdom sayings:


Otụ egwu mgbagbu adịghị eje ọgụ

(If you are afraid of death you won't go to war).

di ochi anagị akwụsị ịrị enu akwụ maka na ọ dara n'enu ya

(A palm wine tapper does not stop tapping because he fell from a palm wine tree).

ebe ọkụ nyụrụ achịsa ọwa

(Surrender comes only after one had tried all one could).


This is also why the traditional Igbo consult diviners and move from one sacrifice to one deity to the other in the hope that some how they would succeed. A world-view as this makes a people rugged and does not encourage the doctrine of fatalism. The Igbo like other Africans pays high premium on life and would therefore go to any length to preserve it.


The Igbo world is principally a world of interacting realities the spiritual and the physical, each impinging on the other. It is both the world of spiritual beings and the world of man and other animate and inanimate beings. But man's existence, his welfare, and destiny are totally caught up with the general behaviour of forces above, around, and underneath him. And while deploying the power of his reason, and utilizing his mental and physical skills to better his lot, man expends as much energy and ingenuity in trying to sustain the delicate balance between the various orders of his world view in order to ensure the continued welfare of his life and that of his family. This in brief outline is the Igbo cosmology whose ideas and ideals infuse meaning and coherence into the entire gamut of Igbo religious life and philosophy. We now focus on the dominant religious and philosophical ideas derivable from this Igbo world view to understand how they have served as key to Igbo self understanding and identity.




The relevance of the foregoing Igbo perception of their world to the emotional and psychological levels of the traditional life of the Igbo is of great significance to the argument of this paper. This is because in the daily life of the Igbo, their values and attitudes which they aspire to and exhibit are the direct off-shoot of their dominant religious and philosophical ideas. These ideas include:




Igbo world is principally anthropocentric. It is for this understanding the Igbo say Ndụ bụ isi (life first). Because of the heavy accent which the traditional Igbo place on human life, they go to any length in order to preserve it. As a matter of fact the traditional Igbo attitude to the divinities and ancestors appears on many occasions to be primarily manipulative, as the Igboman moves from shrine to shrine for definite material satisfaction bordering on life, off-spring and health. Igbo traditional prayers {Igọ ọfọ) and sacrifices to the deities are mainly petitionary for the welfare of man. Even when sacrifices are made to malevolent spirits, the only reason for doing so is to ward them off from causing harm. Igbo constantly resort to divination, traditional medicine, magic, the use of protective charms or amulets and initiation into secret cults in order to cope with the uncertainties of life, for protection and progress. Childlessness was considered a threat to life among the Igbo as it hits the very root of that traditional primary value, life.


Thus Igbo traditional religion provides for the people a viable system by which they seek to explain, to predict, and to control all space and time event for the preservation of life. In traditional Igbo society, human life was considered sacred. That it cannot be taken away with impunity. Suicide is considered a most abominable crime against the human society and so any person guilty of suicide is denied formal burial. In most cases when human beings were killed (twin killing and human sacrifice) the traditional Igbo saw such as a fulfillment of convinced religious obligation and for the good of the land. For them, sacrifice was different from killing a fellow human being, for which life must go for life. Nevertheless, the Igbo respect life more than any other ethnic group in Nigeria, because the Igbo respect life, kolanut breaking will always remain for them a celebration of life. Emenanjo (2001) lent emphasis on the great respect the Igbo have for life when he said that in the philosophy of Igbo knowledge the:


rural Igbo had very great respect for Ndụ because it comes from God. It is greater than money or wealth. It cannot be foundered by a blacksmith. All things are only useful if they have life.


Let me remind you that it was not a mere coincidence when under the Igbo war commander Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Biafra (the Igbo) fought a thirty months gruesome war from 1967 to 1970 to preserve the life of the Igbo people. Let me remind you that it was not mere accident when the great Zik of Africa along with other notable Igbo leaders (Dr. Ojike, Dr. Mbadiwe, Dr. Okpara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, etc) of blessed memory unanimously agreed that "To Restore the Dignity of Man" was to be the motto of the first indigenous University, the University of Nigeria. That motto represents the finest formulation of the finest Igbo minds, the collective affirmation of Igbo faith in the worth and dignity of man. It remains for the Igbo a vision; a mission and a commitment.




The traditional dominant Igbo orientation to the ultimate is their great respect for morality and so dreaded the consequences in-built in committing any offence against the Supreme Being, the ancestors, local divinities and deities. We have earlier indicated that part of what the traditional Igbo were known for is that they were a very spiritual people. That is the philosophical understanding behind their morals, customs, traditions, beliefs, and myths. The ultimate which a traditional Igbo person cherishes is to live a good and worthy life here on earth, die and receive full and proper burial rites and finally rejoin his ancestors who lived well and died a good death. This could only be achieved within a decent moral order.


This perception of Igbo cosmology meant that the moral order must be maintained so that they can live in peace and have abundant life. The Igbo ancestors constructed a number of socio-cultural controls. The first was to emphasize characters. Character refers to moral uprightness, peace with the gods and peace with human beings. Purity among the Igbo was seen as essential in blocking the anger of the gods or the ruin of evil spirits, this is the implication of onye aka ya di ocha. Hence seasonal festival included purification rites.


They devised elaborate system of moral codes known as omenala or omenani, which regulate the behaviour of the people including their social, economic, and political lives. Omenala is believed to have been handed down from Ala (the Earth goddess) through Ndi Ichie (the ancestors) and so literally means action in accordance with the stipulation of the land. Omenala in Igboland contain prohibitions which regulate human behaviour, maintain purity and sustain community life. These prohibitions are known as Nso Ala (taboos). They also involve seasonal celebrations like Iri ji/Ahiajoku and Igo Arọ. Ndi Igbo explain some aspects of their life- experiences, namely, natural disaster and calamity, as resulting from pollution of the land somewhere along the line by which harmony between man, nature/environment and the spirit would have become broken. Hence the essence of Igbo morality was primarily to keep the harmony, well- being and effective co-existence of members of the 'community' made up of the living, the dead ancestors and children yet unborn.


The implication is that among the Igbo omenala is communal rather than individual. Every Igbo is born into a community where the person shares in the community life, spirit and collective responsibility. Thus the concept of a man as a person who co-exists with others gives rise to the idea of collective responsibility, inter-dependence and humane living which is an important aspect of Igbo social and religious life. As Chieka Ifemesia (1978:70) rightly argued that interdependence is a fundamental principle of Igbo philosophy of life because ‘a tree does not make a forest.’ The Igbo ideology of interdependence recognizes that unity is strength – ọha/Igwe bụ Ike, it among others promotes discipline, reduces crime, and humanizes relations.  Igbo religion recognizes personal/individual salvation, but it exists mainly for the preservation of the collective life (umunna/ikwunne) and of the community (ọha).  Respect for religious philosophy which inspires them to look up to future with hope and expectation for a good reward here and hereafter.




Truth is a noble value in all human culture including the Igbo. Though an important religious and philosophical idea, it has received little attention from scholars. Nze C., (1994.4) has rightly suggested two Igbo words descriptive of truth: eziokwu and ezigbo. Eziokwu is used to represent utterances while ezigbo is used ontologically or materially for substance and entity to mean good, true or genuine. Damian Opata (1998:73-80) in addition referred to the Igbo expressions for truth: ihe mere eme meaning 'what really happened.' The Igbo words signifying falsehood or untruth or lie are, okwu asi and asi


In Igbo community onye okwu asi or onye asi are used judgmentally for someone who cannot be trusted, believed or relied upon. Other related Igbo words are used, for instance asiri or onye ogba asiri refer to gossip, rumour mongering or someone who goes about spreading rumours saying what is true or untrue. Such a person is dangerous and that is why Mike Ejeagha's minstrel maintains that asiri brings misunderstanding among friends and causes instability in family. Chidi Osuagwu's study on truth in Igbo land is very illuminating. He points out that the Igbo word for truth is ezi. Ezi means correct, order, positive, proper rectitude, genuine, upright or valid. When ezi is used to qualify okwu which is Igbo word for 'word' or statement then the word eziokwu becomes what is valid, positive, genuine and truthful. Truth is paramount in Igbo life. Ezi is from the root word zi. From this root, Igbo language generates such words like izi, to show, imezi, to rectify, to correct; ikozi, to explain correctly, to teach; igbazi, to strengthen, ihazi, to arrange, to organize idozi, to order, to arrange, idazi, to fall into place, igozi, to bless, iduzi, to lead aright, ikwazi, to mend, to arrange properly; this word-study is significant and it is deliberately done to emphasize that in Igbo 'truth' is order.


In Igbo igha means to scatter. This word links up all chaotic processes as the Igbo see it. Such include aghara, commotion, disorder. Agha means 'war', ighasa, to scatter, to spread out; ghaghagha, chaotically bad and igha, to scatter, spread, to lie; onyeaghara, troublemaker, madman. Thus igha means 'to lie'. To lie in Igbo mind is to cause a thought scattering, a mental disorder. From the above it can be deduced that falsehood is disorder; a disorientation. The traditional Igbo pictured falsehood as simulated disorder, disarray or chaos- generating expression. A liar in Igbo is basically a chaos - generator. Just like eziokwu is okwu dabara adaba, ordered train of thought, falsehood is okwu nadabaghi adaba -- a disordered thought. Thus the Igbo picture of ezi is the ordered, the truth, whereas 'ugha' is falsehood. In an ugha system only guesses can be made, while the order in an ezi system allows for prediction. Truth is synonymous with order hence its predictability. Falsehood is disorder, amplifying unpredictability. For the Igbo, the notion of truth is so central and important that there are a number of ways in which it is characterized. Among the Igbo it is said:


Eziokwu dika ehihie (efifie). Truth is like noonday


This stresses the fact that truth is self-evident and there is nothing anybody can do to destroy it. That is why the Igbo say:


Anaghị eli eziokwu n'ala

Truth cannot be buried in the ground


This asserts the indestructible character of truth. You cannot suppress it even though the Igbo also say:


Eziokwu na'elu ilu

Truth is bitter.


All traditional societies have a strong moral orientation in their conception of truth. Truth sustains relationships with God, the deities and their fellow men. Truth is paramount in Igbo life and they believe it is what gives life to any society.


Traditional Igbo society is built on truth and the basis of this is trust which is primarily dependent on the ability of the individual members to tell the truth to one another. It is the basis of our faith in God and in people. Truth is the foundation of any Igbo community. The greater the tendency to lie in a society, the greater will be the social disorder which no doubt increases the tendency to lie. Thus I share Osuagwu's insight when he said that:


"A truth - telling society would be a highly ordered society." "A better ordering of society would enhance the tendency of its members to tell the truth."


The Igbo use the ọfọ symbol to designate truth and justice as a principle of life. The Igbo say:


Ọfọ ka ide ji awa ala

Truth and justice are the content of life

Oji ọfọ anaghị atọ n'ije

The man of truth is never stranded in a journey


In these sayings, the Igbo are emphasizing the centrality of truth in human relationship, organization and morality. This is further made obvious in the Igbo saying:


Ezi okwu bụ ndụ

Truth is life


The philosophy of the Igbo founding fathers of the University of Nigeria shows that in order to restore the dignity of man and protect life you must seek the truth, teach the truth and preserve the truth.


The commitment to Truth is a fundamental Igbo philosophy without which there would be neither regard nor respect for human life and dignity.




It is important to notice that the history of Igbo origin as legend has it, reveals that the word 'Igbo' refers to 'forest-dwellers'. We are aware that at this time the primitive Igbo lived a hazardous wandering life of the hunter-gatherer of wild edible plants. The Nri myth which preserved for us how agriculture came meant that the Igbo became 'farmers' who had to be directly dependent on the land for their livelihood. Definitely these kinds of job descriptions will require among other qualities - strength and intelligence.


The implications that right from the Igbo genesis, the Igbo man was born into a tough world that demanded him to be rugged, courageous, fearless, determined and hardworking to survive. Thus I will agree with D.I. Nwoga (1984:48) who said:


…the .most prominent aspect of 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.


Luckily enough, this Igbo nature of hard work had been acknowledged right from the pre-colonial period. It is reported of Igbo slaves in Haiti that they were


… excellent for work in the fields yet difficult to manage. They kept a strong sense of their Igbo identity and gave help, care and instructions to new arrivals from Igbo land. (Isichei, 1976:44; Herskovit, 1931:20-21; Uchendu, 1965:37).


Even in the New World Igbo slaves were outstanding for their hard work and intelligence. Igbo slaves became much more productive than the other slaves, by exhibiting higher degree of intelligence, honesty and craftiness. Nwosu (1983:7) argued that the Igbo slaves showed an uncommly greater degree of brotherly 1ove among themselves, which was lacking also in slaves of other nationalities. This discovery made the American Masters of Igbo slaves to become more productive, and wealthier than their counter-parts in Cuba and South America, Igbo slaves there became more expensive than others.


Admittedly, this Igbo achievement orientation as an important aspect of Igbo life is one area in which the Igbo have been badly misunderstood and misrepresented.


Many non-Igbo use it and argue that the Igbo are materialistic.


Interestingly enough on this kind of accusation (Jordan, 1971:115) reported that Bishop Shanaham who had worked in Igbo land for years had come to the conclusion that:


The average native was admirably suited by environment and training, for an explanation of life in terms of the spirit, rather than of the flesh. He was no materialist. Indeed nothing was farther from his mind than a materialistic philosophy of existence. It made no appeal to him.


This was several years ago and I wish to categorically state that the Igbo do not cherish money more than the other ethnic groups. In fact, if money has today become an Igbo problem, it is a problem which Nigeria created for them. So it is a Nigerian problem.


This achievement orientation has been found in their industry, courage, determination and in itinerancy in search of adequate means of livelihood in all nooks and crannies of the world, in all human endeavours. The dynamism of the Igbo is found in their history and in the psychological structure of the Igbo man and his society. In other words, it is a reflection of the Igbo perception of 'self.'


First, the Igbo is afraid of failure in life. He believes that nature has endowed him with the ability to subdue his world and succeed and therefore had to do just that. Definitely the mandate to control the land is a mandate to be successful. This position is well-supported and articulated by Afigbo (1974) when he said:


It is thus quite clear that the Igbo saw failure in his world as a terrible calamity which implied damnation and so did every thing possible to avoid it. It is this fear of failure, this drive to succeed here, and attain the status of Ogaranya (a rich man) which he could carry across to the next world, which helped him to account for the economic drive of the Igbo man, as for the high score and prestige set on hard work, resourcefulness, foresight, and rugged individualism.


Second, the Igbo is not prepared to attribute any failure to his personal 'chi.'  Thus the Igbo saying that onye kwe chi ya ekwe locates the Igbo in the context of determination and faith to succeed.  It is for this reason he has to get all forces on his side.  The achievement orientation finds the Igbo in reverence of Ikenga, the cult of strength, a symbol for personal achievement, heroism and success.


The Igbo people love to be rewarded and recognized after having worked hard.  Thus recognition for achievement is well entrenched in Igbo life.  For instance, far from despising manual labour, the Igbo esteem the successful farmer.  Some parts of Igbo land award them the titles of Eze ji (King of yam), Oko ji (yam planter).  There is an Igbo saying:


egbuwa ọfịa a hụ akụ

When you clear the forest you see wealth.


The Igbo people believe so much in the dignity of labour (work) probably more than any other ethnic groups in Nigeria, and it is for this same reason, the Igbo are also hated. Everywhere in Nigeria you find the Igbo working for his livelihood.  It is a new phenomenon seeing an ‘Igbo’ begging for alms. We know as Oluadah Eouiano wrote centuries ago, that begging was unknown to the Igbo society.  The only circumstance that begging was probably accepted was rather than being a thief (Onye arịrịọ ka onye oshi mma). Stealing was a terrible crime in traditional Igbo society and its punishment could be death, at times.


Creating wealth is based on hard work and intelligence.  It is just recently we started seeing people who do ‘nothing’ but we find them building ‘estates.’  It is only recently we find people who do nothing and yet become leaders.  In traditional Igbo society, you can’t lead without your being an accomplished person, having something doing.  We have what is called the British pride, the American pride; we also have from time immemorial what is known as the ‘Igbo pride’ which some historians refer to as ‘Igbo identity’.  Precisely, handworker as an important philosophical Igbo idea is centered on Igbo pride.  This ‘Igbo pride’ is that Igbo spirit, that Igboness in every Igbo person, that courage, that determination, that fearlessness, that self-confidence in every Igbo person.  He knows that he is not judged by what his father or relations have but rather by what he is able to achieve by himself for his community.




The traditional Igbo had a deep sense of community.  The popular sentiment among the Igbo, as found in most other Africans is as J.S. Mbiti (1969:108) puts it:


“I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.”


Individual existence and freedom are appreciated, but they are delicately balanced with the underlying philosophy of life-in-community.


This life-in-community is captured by the Igbo concept of Umunna/Umunne/Ikwunne. Part of Igbo problem is using foreign concepts to define Igbo life and thought.  Umunna is a spiritual idea embedded in Igbo origin.  The concept of democracy (ọha, umunnakwuru) which is contained in the Igbo philosophy of republicanism is deeply rooted in Igbo life and thought as embodied in the Ummuna concept.  Before taking any decision, the Igbo have the tradition of gathering together to discuss matters of interest in order to arrive at a consensus and agreement.  This is call in Igbo Igba izu (consultation).  This is the basis of Igbo republicanism which E.G. Ekwuru (199:134) calls the Consensus philosophy, but referred to as Unanimity by T.U. Nwala (1985:168).  Thus modern democracy is not after all foreign to the Igbo because it has its root in Igbo origin and thought.  The Igbo life did not start with colonization rather before the advent of the Europeans Igbo already had a philosophy, established structure of government, education and technology.


According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary, republic is defined as an affair, interest, a state or nation in which the supreme power is rested in the whole voting community which elects indirectly or directly, representative to exercise the power; a group whose number are regarded as having a certain equality or common aims, pursuits, ect. in other words, republicanism is a system with clear pattern of organization and a mode of behaviour.


Here we find that the republican idea recognizes individual worth and input. People who deliberate and take decisions that arc of common interests, Ndi Igbo live and still live in units of villages, and clans called Umunna. The relationships among them are so close from the family to the clan level including the age grades system. Similar close relationships are found in the Eastern and Western Igbo. Power resided with Umunna or Ọha. People to represent each unit are chosen on the basis of age, ability and character. There is consensus, constant consultation covering every aspects of their lives from individual to group levels - including marriage, education, funeral. It is common to hear such expressions like:


Ihe anyị kpara akpa

Something discussed/agreed

Igwebụike/ọha bụ ike

Umunna is strength


Umunna agreed


In Igbo republicanism, individuals and groups of individuals up to the clan level aspired to relevance, had rights and responsibilities, worked harder to better their lots and welfare and contributed to policies (Nwajiuba, 2001:19-25). Igbo republicanism is hinged on people's rights and founded on forthrightness, hard work, truth, and character.


The democratic spirit in Igbo checks any possible excesses arising from seniority, status and achievement. This is further strengthened by the Igbo principle of equality and equivalence which Prof. Afigbo rightly says is fundamental in Igbo democracy.


Ndi Igbo don't worship people; they don't even have sanctions against rude people. They respect people. In fact, there is great respect to the elders in an Igbo society but they allow people express themselves. Ndi Igbo do not tolerate of acts of rudeness to their elders. Osagie Jacobs's generalization and insults against Ndi Igbo in his (This day, September 17, 2002 page 11) where he claimed that Igbo do not respect the elders, and that they respect money not age is unfortunate. Osagie himself knows that he is dishonest, rude and crude, how because of one person he has the guts to insult a whole race. Igbo people respect their elders, but they resent oppression and authoritarianism. It is reported that during the slave trade period Igbo slaves who were constantly starved by their European masters organized a revolt to resent their starvation. They had to be fed by force. They refused to be treated as sub-humans.


In modern times it could be seen that Nigerian colonial Politics had remained passive until the arrival of the lgbo intellectuals on the scene in the person of Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Mr. Mbonu Ojike, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, etc. Igbo republicanism does not mean the freedom to insult, maltreat or abuse people because of one's position. It should be noted that the Igbo expressions like:



I na-enye m nri

Igbo enwe-eze


were not in traditional Igbo thought. They have become Igbo expressions in the mouth of those who harbour envy, hatred and jealousy for others, those who do not appreciate 'excellence,' people influence by the Hebrew saying: "a prophet has no honour in his own community." They served a colonial interest of destabilizing Igbo unity.


I have become personally worried that even our Igbo intellectuals are accepting the expression - Igbo enwe eze - as reflecting traditional Igbo situation. It does not and it is arrant nonsense. It has its origin in the early colonial European writers who spoke about the Igbo in particular as people without any universal conception of God (CI), and without history. We must take note of the fact that Igbo history did not start with the advent of the white man. The man who denied that you had a history could not possibly come to believe you had a 'king’ or 'chief' which ever title you may prefer.


The truth which historians have agreed on is that all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, it is only the Igbo that really resisted the white man, not months but several years. Igbo historians have also agreed that the Europeans had a basic dislike for the Igbo whom they found ungovernable and what was worse irreverent in their attitude to members of the 'master race' (Afigbo, 1981:2). Put simply, they hated the Igbo. This is what informed their introduction of the indirect  rule in Eastern Nigeria. This colonialist created the warrant chiefs. These chiefs were installed to serve the interest of those who established them (Nwajiuba 2001:25): 1), to assist them hold down the Igbo 2), to serve their economic interest including collection of taxes and settlement of local cases. The colonialists distrusted the original Igbo chiefs. Thus the colonialists used the Indirect rule to remove and destroy the legitimacy of Igbo rulers and them imposed their own subjects who ruled in their stead.


We must not forget the fact that right from time in Igbo history there is what we call 'Igbo pride.' The Igbo saw himself from time as a superior race. King Jaja of Opobo treated the European traders and administrators as his inferiors. They latter feared him and tricked him to go aboard the British warship for friendly discussion but was carried away into exile where he died. Do we not know the implication of the fact that he died in exile, he died with the history of his people in his memory. The Arọchukwu people and most Igbo royal princes never removed their hats or stood up or prostrated for the British colonialists unlike most other subservient African tribes. Specifically in 1896 at Aba an Aio man refused to remove his hat for a white man (Isichei, 1976:59) (Leonard, 1966:191), because he felt he was superior to the white man. Have we even bothered to ask why up till today 'Eze Nri' is not listed among the first class chiefs in Igbo1and (along with Eze Arọ, Oguta, Nnewi and, Obi Of Onitsha). Nri model. Of kingship which controlled many parts of the Igbo land for several centuries was finally liquidated by the British imperialists to exploit the Igbo (slave trade). The truth of the matter in our view is that the Igbo enweEze concept was introduced into the Igbo psychic, and in practice by installing warrant chiefs in order to destabilize the Igbo society and make it impossible for them to retain their 'Igboness,' their uniqueness, their industry, their confidence and their pride/identity as a people.


You will realize that this concept is introduced into our 'Culture,' the very essence of a people. It has succeeded to work like magic in the Igbo nation which presently is the most destabilized and disunited ethnic group in the world. It brought the culture of disrespect and greed as well as that of falsehood thereby destroying every evidence of a well laid down functional leadership pattern prior to the advent of the white man. How else could we explain that our people in government could not be united to promote Igbo cause. We saw what happened in the period of Shagari government. It was a near impossibility for the vice president and the governor to work together to promote Igbo interest. It is what is happening today. Today many of our state governors are in conflict with our people in government at the federal level. Does it happen elsewhere?


Indirect rule is not yet over. Igbo land still remains its testing grounds. This sys em was and is still the basic instrument being employed to destabilize the Igbo race, incapacitate and frustrate any plan of the Igbo people to form a common force where together they can challenge the ills done to them. There is hope. This ray of hope comes from the Arọchukwu example. The modern Arọ understand the- Igbo enwe eze concept as an instrument of destabilization. They are the only community in Abia state that has up till today rejected the creation of autonomous communities. They know that creating many autonomous communities is creating many autonomous troubles and it will destroy their kingship institution and traditions, which is centered on Eze Arọ as an institution, and not as a person.


Let me ask you, who is afraid of Igbo unity? The Igbo people say: Igwe bụ ike = unity/strength is power. We know even as the Igbo Bible puts it, that divided we fall, but united we stand. Igbo enwe eze concept is strange to Igbo psyche and history of the origin. It should be discarded, forgotten and formal education at reorientation of every Igbo undertaken. A family regarded as the smallest unit in a locality has the 'father' as the head, how much more a village, a clan and a tribe. Let the issue of Igbo enwe eze be laid to rest. We Igbo people are not crabs; we are men and women with great propensity for leadership and followership we do not need to invoke the expression to support our philosophy of republicanism for self-reliance. Nor as a way of checking the excesses of any Igbo leader.


Lastly, Igbo republicanism goes with the consensus philosophy of Igbo-kwenu. Emeka G. Ekwuru (1999:134) has drawn attention to the importance of Igbo-kwenu in his recent book. In Igbo 1and it represents constituting symbol of the gathering of Umunna, which allows for the full deliberative and consultative participation of every adult for decision-making. It not only recognizes the freedom and right of each individual but more importantly it awakens the Igboness in every Igbo person. I agree with Emeka Ekwuru that Igbo-kwenu in the Igbo land underscores a social formula of action, a call to order and unity and collective will vital in all Igbo relationships to fashion its destiny as a people. There was a time when we hear - Igbo kwe - Enyim Mba Enyi - we see with our eyes Igbo solidarity, the clearest expression of Umunna. W need to recover that time and to offer to our country the best that is in us, because we have what it takes to move Nigeria forward.




Igbo scholars agreed that the Igbo world is principally a world of two interacting realities - the material and the spiritual, each impinging on the other. In this world, the material mirrors the spiritual in the different degrees. The Igbo believe in a life thereafter like many other Africans and also that the status achieved now in this life can be carried over to the next world.  Thus though homo-centric in practice, yet the Igbo find ultimate meaning in transcendence. In other words, the Igbo see existence as future-oriented. This is the implication of the word 'Nkiruka' - future is greater.


As we indicate, reincarnation is the central Igbo concept which captures this Igbo sense of the future. This is related to the idea of death. Every Igbo believes that death is a necessity. The traditional Igbo believes that when you live well you die well in a good old age. Though Igbo myths, folklore and rituals, they believe that at death they rejoin their ancestors. In other works, their expectation of future is a rejoining of their ancestors whose abode is underneath the earth, the supposedly land of the dead. The world underneath is the abode of the ancestors and evil spirits. Ala Mmuo. On the other hand, christians look upwards - elu-igwe - the abode of 'Chukwu' and they believe that when they die they go to God in heaven the sky. Chukwu is the foundation of Igbo religious philosophy. Even though the people make sacrifices to the other gods who quite often fail them, Ndi Igbo still believe that Chukwu, Chineke is the last port of call.


I makwa na Chukwu no


Don't you know there is God?


This is a saying referring to people who think they can do anything and that God will not see them or they believe they will go free. Their concept of God in terms of his creative power and absoluteness, the source of man's origin dependence and protection when all others have failed is original in Igbo thought. The irony is why Igbo man inspite of this noble conception preferred to worship the spirit of the earth, and to also look downwards in rejoining the ancestors, instead of looking upwards in returning to his 'Chukwu' his maker. It is important that Igbo myth established the fact that originally Igbo ancestors had acknowledged that God created them and had maintained contact with him, a contact which was broken because they now moved away from God and focused on a created thing (the earth) as their god with elaborate sacrifices and worship.


The coming of christianity into Igbo land in 1841 was rightly perceived as a civilizing mission. It meant the introduction into the relatively stable Igbo traditional religious framework of an alternative view of the world, a rival cosmology and a different way of understand the place of Igbo man in particular in creation.  This encounter marked the beginning of the restoration of the broken link and what has been the developmental implication of either looking downwards to rejoining our ancestors or looking upwards to returning to Chukwu on Igbo man and his society.




Chinua Achebe (1958:123-125) gave us the first Igbo description of the impact of that encounter between Igbo traditional religion and christianity when Obierika said:


How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us. White man is very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.


The above words articulate the sentiments expressed by an Igbo elder after realizing how the new religion (Christianity) had gone in terms of winning converts and dividing the members of the clan. And it is true that henceforth things were never the same for the Igbo.


The question that comes to mind is whether the Igbo did misunderstand him? If the missionary had not posed as quiet and peaceable, could the Igbo have been less tolerant with him? How exactly did the missionary manage to win some Igbo over into christianity? In Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Nneka wasted no time in joining the Christian when she became pregnant because she has been losing her children through ogbanje. The outcasts in Mbanta flocked the church. Christianity offered freedom from evil spirits and oppression. There was the case of Nwoye who was shocked because twins were thrown away into the forest to die and about Ikemefuna who was killed for sacrifice by his father Okonkwo. We remember how Ndi Igbo gave out the shrines of their various gods to Christian missionaries who cleared those sites, erected churches and nothing happened to them contrary to the expectations from the people, their gods and shrines. The Igbo are not sufficiently stupid to hang on to those failed shrines and gods, even if they had not completely imbibed christianity. The gods were dead and the people became convinced that the white man's God was very powerful. There were those who failed at this time to become part of this dynamic process and they lost out. The priestess of Agbala in Umuofia spitefully called the christians the excrement of the clan and the 'new faith' was a mad dog that had come eat it up (Achebe, 1958:101). Thus when the colonials and missionaries wanted the chiefs and the chief priests to surrender their children for education, these principal Igbo chiefs who were custodians of true Igbo history refused for fear of being treacherously enslaved. Rather less privileged people like the 'osu' caste, outcasts and personal servants regarded as 'worthless and empty' men as described by Achebe were given to the Europeans for education. When this class of people became educated they had no enthusiasm to engage in the collation and preservation of Igbo history in view of their past shameful family background. This negative motivation or social resentment even led many of these educated elites to join in the colonialist propaganda that the Igbo had no common history (Nwosu; 1983:6). Thus christianity and Igbo are weighted for what they are worth and a choice is made accordingly.


Therefore the advent of christianity in Igbo land had meant the introduction of a christian world view. Admittedly, christianity made tremendous achievements. They abolished slave trade and slavery, human sacrifices and twin killing, introduced education, built hospitals and charity homes. They destroyed some level of superstition, increased human knowledge that brought about improved human welfare. Igbo traditional religion was incapable of achieving this because it was static as well as looking downwards. Through education and christian religion it was possible for the Igbo to re-shape their faith and world view. Nevertheless syncretistic practices among many Igbo christian show that Igbo traditional religion is still alive. But this encounter with christianity means it will ever be the same again.


The early missionaries saw themselves as social and religious reformers. However, while they tried in their own way to achieve their mission goal, which was the conversion of Africans into christianity, their approach and attitude did not produce a wholesome result. They thought by condemning African religious beliefs and practices, social and political means of control. That they would produce 'a new man' born in a new faith; but this 'newman' produced became a split personality - who could neither totally return to the old nor firmly be rooted in the new. This was made worse by the fact that most of the missionaries were not only ignorant of the Igbo people but also lacked adequate knowledge of the content of the christian message. For instance, one of the listeners in Achebe's This Fall Apart asked the missionary thus:


If we leave our gods and follow your god, who will protect us from the anger of our neglected gods and ancestors? In response, the missionary nastily said angrily: Your gods are not alive and cannot do you any harm. They are pieces of wood and stone.


The impatience and unwillingness of the white missionary to educate the traditional Igbo on WHO JESUS IS and WHAT HE CAN DO for them in relation to their gods marked the beginning of a false start in communicating the christian message to the Igbo. It was a brand of christianity, which did not affect all facets of Igbo life. It was that failure which gave rise to ambivalent christianity in Igboland whereby most Igbo christians resort to their local deities, ancestors, medicine men, divination, sacrifices and use of charms or amulets to seek for solution and protection in their crises moments. Nevertheless the Christian message has continued to challenge Igbo man and his environment.


It is important that we be reminded that the various ethnic groups in the world have their traditional religions as an answer to the reality of their existence. The Philistines, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans, all indulged in idolatrous worship. The Arabs used to worship many spirits (Jinns). Stonehenge in southern England is a living evidence of Druidism, which was the heathen worship of the early inhabitants of the United Kingdom. Human sacrifice was a part of Druid worship and was only abolished in the Roman period, (Kato, 1985:33).


Whatever rationalization we may try to make, the worship of God in traditional Africa and the primitive nations of the world is idolatrous. Idolatry is worshipping God in pictures, and this was thought to be normal, not sin, since in their view, God is always represented in visual symbols, and so there must always be pictures, idols and statues in their shrines or places of worship. True worship must be spiritual, not material and idolatrous. Pictures designed to encapsulate divinity necessarily diminish God's honour, and transcendence and sovereignty. It is impossible to capture God's power and majesty in a visual image and all attempts to do so deteriorate into magic, superstition and idolatry. Images in worship destroy the human spirits; distort God's spiritual identity and they promote the lie of idolatry. The depravity evident in African traditional religion is evident among all peoples of the earth (Psalm 14:2-3). Traditional Igbo ancestor turned away from 'Chukwu' and set up his gods, with Ala as the arch-divinity. The Igbo myth of origin as shown by Nri myth reveals how Nri sacrificed his first son and first daughter. We don't know why Nri could not be patient to be fed by 'Chukwu' as he fed his father Eri and his people. As with Adam the Igbo man's ancestry to search for answers (about his welfare) away from God broke the link between him and 'Chukwu.'


It is important to observe that while pagan worship was a part of the religion of the peoples of the world, they could still change to other religions of their choice. Most Arabs accepted Islam and became Muslims. The British no longer claimed Druidism as their religion, but Christianity. It was the white missionaries who brought the church to Igbo land. Why should this not be the case in Igbo land?




The question that is being asked today is that of Igbo traditional religion in relation to Christianity. The question has become more urgent today following the explosion of christianity in Africa where the population is more than 300 million people.


The great Apostle Paul categorically points to the fact that the worship of the pagan gods is a distortion of God's revelation in nature (Rom. 1:18-23). In Acts 17:16-34 he told the people of Athens that the 'Unknown God' they worship is Jesus Christ. In the book of Hebrews 1:1, Paul disclosed that the God who spoke to our forefathers in various ways had now spoken in the last days by his son Jesus Christ. The incarnation has made all people savable.


The Igbo people are1ucky people. Our great grand ancestor 'Eri' in Nri myth knew God - "Chukwu". 'Chukwu' has offered the last and final revelation in Jesus Christ, and he is the only foundation for humanity, there is no other. (1 Corth 3: 11), and every veil which had hitherto covered people is destroyed and taken away by him for us to have freedom (2 Cor3:16-18). We are told in the book of Proverbs 16:25 that:


There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death.


In acts 14:8-18 Paul made it clear to the people of Lystra that God had never left himself without a witness and had also in time past let all nations go their own way and then wed them in the words of Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 12:21) to turn from their useless idols that can do them neither good nor rescue them but to turn to the living God who made heaven, and earth and sea and everything in them. It is Jehovah who alone is both God and Saviour (Isaiah 43:11-13).


The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God himself does not give his glory to another or his praise to idols (Isaiah 42:8) Isaiah 42:17. And whenever people pour libation to other gods, Jehovah's anger is always provoked (Jeremiah 7:19-19). Thus in Exodus 20:3-5, God commanded:


You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven, above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them ---


Nri thought he was right in his worship of the Earth goddess and his sacrifices. He saw the created beings as intermediaries. He became a captive of Satan and lost his freedom. In Igbo traditional religion, the concept of Deus Otiosus is explained by appeal to the lesser gods and the ancestors as intermediaries (middlemen). On this the Bible declared in John 14:6: Jesus answered I am the way, the truth and the life.


No one comes to the father except through me.


Similarly in reacting to the great tendency of elaborate sacrifices in Igbo traditional life, Christ offered himself as sacrifice once for all (Heb. 10:10, 14). Salvation is found only in Jesus (Acts 4:12, John 3:16). Jesus is the only foundation for humanity. The foundation laid by Igbo ancestry in their purest contact with 'Chukwu' has yielded fruit right from the time the first missionary set foot on Igbo soil. Christianity is not a white man's religion. It is the religion of those who have accepted faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Igbo christians have joined the list of noble African church leaders like Origen, Athanacius, Tertullian and Augustine. Recently Reverend Father Tansi is canonized as Saint in the Roman Catholic Church and again Cardinal Arinze is the first black to be elevated to the 4th powerful position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and by this he can even become a Pope. Great developments can come to Igbo land and Nigeria, if we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus Christ alone is the answer to Igbo spiritual and material needs. According to Acts 17:28, we hear:


For in him we live and Move and have our being.


In him alone we find satisfaction and meaning for our life in this world and hereafter. This kind of choice, faith commitment has tremendous developmental implication for us as a people and as a nation. No one can deny that looking upwards to Chukwu has been more beneficial than looking downwards to our ancestors. They were men who lived and died in their time. Where we are today has been the fruit of Christianity and western education.


The 21st century challenges the Igbo to take a leap of faith and be properly restored in our relationship with God first entered into by Igbo earliest ancestor, A.O. Anya {2002) recently has rightly drawn attention to the demand of the 21st century marked by a transition from a resource-driven economy, society and culture to the new and emerging economy and culture which is knowledge-based, technology driven and responsive to environmental concerns. Igbo Christianity and spirituality must respond to this new demand. Because we must not allow our culture to retard our development as a people, we must let our culture be judged and transformed by the word of God as contained in the Bible. The Bible makes it clear that people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) this we can avoid by engaging in aggressive education of ourselves and our people. Igbo religion can accelerate economic development of the Igbo nation, and the nation at large. This education can emphasize knowledge and character formation that comes through changing our general orientation in terms of values and attitudes, knowledge that would include acquiring skills and idea that can change the mind.  You change man and his environment when you succeed in the mind. Ignorance is one of our destructive hindering forces in our society. With sound knowledge of God, man and society, we will appreciate the danger of superstition, idolatry, caste system and sacrifices to their idols and with good character formation whereby we imbibe christian values, we become major resource for economic and spiritual growth which will minimize corruption, improve human relations and increase our productive capacity for personal growth and social development. This religious demand of the 21st century demands risk, choice and commitment. Risk because once you put your hand on the plough there is no more looking backwards. Choice because it is a matter of life or death. Commitment because it involves vision and mission. The dominant Igbo religious and philosophical ideas require those three dimensions, which constitute Igbo man's identity, vision and mission rooted in our faith in Chukwu who not only creates but sustains and protects. Christianity and education which act as source of empowerment will equip us with character and knowledge that- can transform us into agents of change in our time.


5.2.      CONCLUSION


We have argued that our Igbo religion and philosophy is embedded in our world view.  We observed among other things that the Igbo had a clear concept of ‘Chukwu’ from the Igbo genesis but was distorted by idolatrous and polytheistic tendency thereby disrupting the original cordial relationship between the earliest Igbo ancestor and ‘Chukwu.’ We indicated that the Igbo cosmology is expressed in our respect for human life and dignity, respect for morality, our commitment to truth, our achievement orientation centred on hard work, courage and determination, our deep sense of republicanism with its democratic values which also not only recognizes the uniqueness of the individual but affirms the importance of Umunna/Ikwunne and insist on our faith in ‘Chukwu’ as the foundation of Igbo life and thought.


We argued that these dominant religious and philosophical ideas constitute the key to Igbo self-understanding and identity as well as providing the Igbo their vision and mission in the world.  We call for the restoration of the broken link started with the advent of Christianity into Igbo land and urge all Igbo to be fully united with one another and be restored back to ‘Chukwu’ their creator through Jesus Christ the one and only Universal Intermediary of humanity which is vital for the full realization of our capacity which is our ‘Igboness’ in national development which the Igbo enemies would want to destroy for their own advantage.  We observed that the religious and philosophical challenge of the 21st century portrays Christianity and education as the only viable option, which act as source of empowerment will equip the Igbo with character and knowledge, which can transform us into instruments of change in our time.


NDI IGBO NDEWO Nu.  We are not here to sing the praise of a people, but we see a people who have the capacity to change their world.

Nke a Bụ Ụzọ Ndụ Na Eziokwu

Igbo, Chukwu Gọzie Ụnụ

Ọha na Eze mma nụ

Igbo mma mma nụ

Naijira mma mma nu


Rev. Professor Emmanuel Nlenanya Ọnwụ

Department of Religion

University of Nigeria


4th Nov., 2002



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