Odinani (Igbo: ọ̀dị̀nànị̀) comprises the traditional
religious practices and cultural beliefs of the
Igbo people of
Odinani has monotheistic and panentheistic
attributes, having a single
God as the source of all things. Although
a pantheon of spirits exists, these are lesser spirits prevalent in
Odinani expressly serving as elements of Chineke (or Chukwu), the
supreme being or high god. Chineke is a compound word encompassing
the concept of chí is the creator (nà) is a verb meaning 'that'
while ékè means create. Chineke therefore means the Creator or the
God that created all things. The concept of Chúkwú ('supreme chi')
was largely propagated by the Aro-Igbo of
Arochukwu in eastern
Igboland who wielded much spiritual force over the eastern Niger Delta
in the 18th century due to their operating of the
Ibini Ukpabi oracle.
Lesser spirits known as ágbàrà or álúsí operate below the high
god Chineke and are parts of him divided by gender in his mind. These
spirits represent natural forces; agbara as a divine force manifests
as separate alusi in the Igbo pantheon. A concept of 'the eye of sun
or god' (ányá ánwụ́) exists as a feminine solar deity which
forms a part of the solar veneration among the
Nri-Igbo in northern
Alusi are mediated by dibia and other priests who do not
contact the high god directly. Through áfà, 'divination', the laws
and demands of the alusi are communicated to the living.
venerated in community shrines around roadsides and forests while
smaller shrines are located in the household for ancestral veneration.
Deceased ancestors live in the spirit world where they can be
contacted. Below the alusi are minor and more general spirits known as
mmúọ loosely defined by their perceived malevolent or benign
natures. These minor spirits are not venerated and are sometimes
considered the lost souls of the dead.
The number of people practicing Igbo religion decreased drastically in
the 20th century with the influx of Christian missionaries under the
auspices of the British colonial government of Nigeria. In some cases
Igbo traditional religion was syncretised with Christianity, but in
many cases indigenous rites were demonised by Christian missionaries
who pointed out the practice of human sacrifice and some other
cultural practices that were illegal under the colonial government.
Earlier missionaries referred to many indigenous religious practices
as juju. Igbo religion is most present today in harvest ceremonies
such as new yam festival (ị́wá jí) and masquerading traditions
such as mmanwu and Ekpe.
Remnants of Igbo religious rites spread among African descendants in
the Caribbean and North America in era of the Atlantic slave trade.
Igbo ọ́bị̀à was transferred to the former
British Caribbean and
Guyana as obeah and aspects of Igbo masquerading traditions can be
found among the festivals of the
Garifuna people and jonkonnu of the
British Caribbean and North Carolina.
3.5 Mmuo and minor forces
4.1.1 Afa divination
4.2 Ancestral veneration
4.3 Kola nut
4.4.2 Uto pyramids
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Odinani in northern Igbo dialects is the compound of the words ọ̀
dị̀ ('located') + n (nà, 'within') + ànị̀ (the one god)
[consisting of anu (E nu) above (the heavens) and Ana, below (the
earth)]. Other dialectal variants include odinala, odinana,
omenala, omenana, and omenani. The word odinani and all its
variations is also associated with the culture and customary laws of
the Igbo people. Many of the laws and culture were counterparts with
religion such as taboos and laws concerning sacred spaces like a
deities sacred forest. Since customary law is recognised in Nigeria,
many in Igbo society find themselves syncretising these beliefs with
other beliefs and religions.
Entrance to the cave of the
Ibini Ukpabi oracle at Arochukwu, 1900s.
Odinani could loosely be described as a monotheistic and panentheistic
faith with a strong central spiritual force at its head from which all
things are believed to spring; however, the contextual diversity of
the system may encompass theistic perspectives that derive from a
variety of beliefs held within the religion.[note
Chukwu as the central deity is classed among the ndi mmuo,
'invisible beings', an ontological category of beings which includes
Ala the divine feminine earth force, chi the 'personal deity', ndichie
the ancestors, and mmuo the minor spirits. The other ontological
category consists of ndi mmadu, 'visible beings', which include
ánụ́ animals, ósísí plants, and the final class ùrò which
consists of elements, minerals and inanimate beings.
Chukwu as the
creator of everything visible and invisible and the source of lesser
divinities is also referred to as Chineke.
Chukwu is genderless
and is reached through various spiritual forces mainly under the
spirit class of
Alusi who are incarnations of the high god; no
sacrifices, however, are given to
Chukwu and no shrines and altars are
erected for him. If an Arushi is assigned to an individual, it
becomes a chi, a personal guardian god. The chi manifests as mmuo,
spirits, and as a persons spirit is earth bound it chooses sex, type,
and lifespan before incarnation in the human world.
Interior of a chi shrine at Nkarahia, southern Igboland, 1900s.
Chi is the personal spirit of a person ḿmúọ́, in
Igbo culture it
is this spirit which determines destiny. Hence the saying, onye kwe,
Chi ya ekwe ("If a person agrees to a thing, his spirit agrees also").
Culturally, people are seen as the creators or makers of their own
destiny. The breath of life is in the heart,
óbì. Chi refers to the light and the day in contrast
to the dark. The universal chi indirectly in charge of everything is
Chukwu who is the supreme being that is beyond the limits of time and
space. Chukwu's name is a compound of the words chí + úkwú ('great
in size, supreme'). Chi is believed to be a spiritual connection
between an individual and the high god and it dictates the trajectory
of a person's spiritual journey on earth. Each chi is personal and is
in communion with and inseparable from the universal chi of all
things. The high god, Chukwu, is believed to assign chi before and
at the time of an individuals birth. It is a guardian spirit providing
care, guardianship, and providence, in this respect, the concept of
chi is analogous to the concept of a guardian angel in Christianity,
the daemon in ancient Greek religion, and the genius in ancient Roman
Chukwu who is genderless, chi can be
masculine. A dibia can identify a person’s chi through divination
(áfà) and advices adherents of ways to placate it.
Chukwu is also
referred to as Chineke which is a compound of the words chí the
divine masculine force and ékè the creative and divisive feminine
force. Eke came out of the hands of Chi but are considered one; Chi
created the world while Eke divided it incorporating a divisive
trickster energy that introduced death and suffering. Chineke is
also interpreted as chí ne ké, 'chi the creatrix', and chí nne
éké, 'chi the creative mother'. Eke is ones ancestral guardian
spirit. Chineke or
Chukwu is high up away at the periphery of human
life and remains a mystery to the people. Households usually
contain a chi shrine which could be focused on a tree. In marriage a
woman takes her chi shrine along with all her belongings to her
matrimonial home. Around Nkarahia, in southern Igboland, there are
the most elaborate chi shrines which are decorated with colourful
china plates inset into the clay walls of the chi shrine building; the
altars hold sacred emblems, while the polished mud benches hold
offerings of china, glass, manillas, and food. As a marker of
personal fortune or misfortune, good acts or ill, chi can be described
as a focal point for 'personal religion'.
The community of visible interacting beings and the cosmos is referred
to as ụ̀wà, which includes all living things íhẹ́ ndi dị́
ńdụ̀, including animals and vegetation and their mineral elements
which possess a vital force and are regarded as counterparts to
invisible forces in the spirit world. These living things and
geomorphological features of the world therefore possess a guardian
deity. Igbo cosmology presents a balance between the feminine and
masculine, perhaps, with a preponderance of female representation in
Igbo lore. In Igbo cosmology, the world was divided into four
corners by the high god corresponding to èké órìè àfọ̀
ǹkwọ́ which are the days of the week in the
Igbo calendar regarded
as market days. The universe is regarded as a composite of
bounded spaces in an overlapping hemispherical structure, the total
spaces are referred to as élú nà àlà. In one Igbo
cosmological theory reported by W.R.G. Morton in the 1950s from an
elder in Ibagwa Nike in northern Igboland,
Chukwu sees that the sun
travels across the world in the day time and then cuts into two in
order for the moon to pass on a perpendicular route, and so the world
is divided into four parts and four days. The quarterly division
of the earth and the days makes the number four sacred (ńsọ́) to
the Igbo. The élú nà àlà space is defined by two
boundaries: élú ígwé, 'sky's limit' composed of heavenly bodies
under the main forces of the 'masculine' sun and 'feminine' moon, and
élú àlà, 'earth or lands limit' consisting of the four material
elements of fire and air (masculine), and earth and water
Ogbo Obodo figures for the cult of Nkpetime, near Asaba, 1900s.
The pattern of two and four reoccur in Chukwu's creations. The
days correspond to the four cardinal points and are its names in Igbo,
èké east, órìè west, àfọ̀ north, ǹkwọ́ south. The
Nri-Igbo claim the market days to have been introduced to the Igbo by
their divine progenitor and king Eri in the 9th century after
encountering the days as deities. These alusi are venerated as the
primary or as a major deity under Chineke in parts of Igboland. In
terms of hierarchy, some communities recognise èké as the head of
these alusi, while others prioritise órìè and ǹkwọ́ first after
the high god. Market days may have local deities representing the
spirits in some places, in many southern Igbo towns Agwu is the patron
of Eke, Ogwugwu the patron of Orie,
Amadioha the patron of Afo and Ala
Main article: Ogu na Ofo
Ofo and ogu is a law of retributive justice. It vindicates anyone that
is wrongly accused of a crime as long as their "hands are clean". It
is only a person who is on the righteous side of Ogu-na-Ofo that can
call its name in prayer, otherwise such a person will face the wrath
Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning).
Kola nut is used
in ceremonies honour Chukwu, chi, Arushi and ancestors and is used as
a method of professing innocence when coupled with libations. The Igbo
often make clay altars and shrines of their deities which are
sometimes anthropomorphic, the most popular example being the wooden
statues of Ikenga. Typically, only men are allowed to make
representational figures of supernatural forces.
See also: Igbo name
An Igbo naming ceremony for a child of
Igbuzo heritage in Washington,
D.C. Parents of the child confer with the Diokpa (eldest member of the
family or 'patron') on the names of the child.
The Igbo have traditionally believed in reincarnation, ilo-uwa. People
are believed to reincarnate into families that they were part of while
alive. People can usually reincarnate seven times, giving seven
opportunities to enter the spirit world successfully as an ancestor.
The person's cycle number on earth is unknown to them. Unlike in
Hinduism, humans can only reincarnate as humans. Families hire
fortune tellers to reveal the ancestral identity of the child in their
former life, the baby is sometimes named after this relative. The
personality of the ancestor is not identical to the child's but rather
the concept establishes a vital relationship with the child and
characteristics of the ancestor. Before a relative dies, it is
said that the soon to be deceased relative sometimes give clues of who
they will reincarnate as in the family. Once a child is born, he or
she is believed to give signs of who they have reincarnated from. This
can be through behaviour, physical traits and statements by the child.
A diviner can help in detecting who the child has reincarnated from.
It is considered an insult if a male is said to have reincarnated as a
female. An ancestor may reincarnate as multiple people in which
case share a mortal bond; upon the death of one person, it is believed
that the others may die a sudden death if they see the corpse.
Main article: Ogbanje
An ogbanje is a reincarnating evil spirit that would deliberately
plague a family with misfortune. In folklore, the ogbanje upon being
born by the mother, under a certain amount of time (usually before
puberty), would deliberately die and then come back and repeat the
cycle, causing the family grief. This time period varies between
minutes, hours, days and years. Female circumcision was sometimes
thought to get rid of the evil spirit, whereas finding the evil
spirits Iyi-uwa, which they have dug somewhere secret, would ensure
the ogbanje would never plague the family with misfortune again. The
Iyi-uwa is a stone that the ogbanje's way of coming back to the world
and also a way of finding its targeted family. The stone is deep
enough to not have been planted physically by a child. The iyi-uwa is
dug out by a priest and destroyed. Furthermore, female ogbanje die
during pregnancies along with the baby, male ogbanje die before the
birth of a wife's baby or the baby dies. The child is confirmed to no
longer be an ogbanje after the destruction of the stone or after they
successfully give birth to another baby.
Main article: Alusi
Shrine representation of the alusi Ifejioku.
Chukwu's incarnations and ministers in the world (ụ̀wà) are the
Alusi, supernatural forces that regulate human life. In southern Igbo
dialects especially, ágbàrà is the term for these forces. The alusi
are regarded as channels to Chukwu. The alusi, who are also known as
arushi, anusi, or arusi in differing dialects all spring from Ala the
earth spirit who embodies the workings of the world. There are lesser
alusi in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect
of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo belief, these lesser
alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose.
Alusi manifest in natural elements and their shrines are usually found
in forests in which they are based around specific trees. At shrines,
íhú mmúọ́, an object such as a hung piece of cloth or a group of
statues are placed at an alusi's group of trees to focus worship.
Deities are described as 'hot' and often capricious so that much of
the public approach shrines cautiously and are advised to avoid them
at most times, priests are entrusted in the maintenance of most
shrines. Many of these shrines are by the roadside in rural areas.
Tender palm fronds symbolise spiritual power and are objects of
sacralisation, shrines are cordoned off with omu to caution the public
of the deities presence. Larger clay modelings in honour of an
alusi also exist around forests and rivers. Other alusi figures may be
found in and around peoples homes and the shrines of dibia, much of
these are related to personal chi, cults, and ancestral worship.
Main article: Ala (Odinani)
Mabri: Art as Process in
Igboland by Herbert M. Cole, a description
Ala (meaning 'earth' and 'land' in Igbo, also Ájá-ànà) is
the feminine earth spirit who is responsible for morality, fertility
and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb.
Ala is at the head of the Igbo pantheon, maintaining order and
carrying out justice against wrongdoers. Ala is the most prominent and
worshipped alusi, almost every Igbo village has a shrine dedicated
to her called íhú Ala where major decisions are taken. Ala is
believed to be involved in all aspects of human affairs including
festivals and at offerings. Ala stands for fertility and things that
generate life including water, stone and vegetation, colour (àgwà),
beauty (mmá) which is connected to goodness in Igbo society, and
uniqueness (áfà). She's a symbol of morality who sanctioned
omenala Igbo customs from which these moral and ethical behaviours are
upheld in Igbo society. Ala is the ground itself, and for this
reason taboos and crimes are known as ńsọ́ Ala ('desecration of
Ala'), all land is holy as the embodiment of Ala making her the
principal legal sanctioning authority. Prohibitions include
murder, suicide, theft, incest, and abnormalities of birth such as in
many places the birth of twins and the killing and eating of pregnant
animals, if a slaughtered animal is found to be pregnant sacrifices
are made to Ala and the foetus is buried. People who commit
suicides are not buried in the ground or given burial rites but cast
away in order not to further offend and pollute the land, their
ability to become ancestors is therefore nullified. When an
individual dies a 'bad death' in the society, such as from the effects
of divine retributive justice or breaking a taboo, they are not buried
in the earth, but are discarded in a forest so as not to offend Ala.
As in cases of most alusi, Ala has the ability to be malevolent if
perceived to be offended and can cause harm against those who offend
The royal python is revered as an agent of Ala.
Within the earth's spherical limit, in a cosmological sense, is a
designation of the 'earth's bosom' within, ímé àlà, a
hemispherical base to the earth with an opening or 'mouth' at its
highest point, ónụ́ àlà. This is composed of mainly deep dark
sea water (ohimiri). Ime ala is considered as the underworld.
Ala in addition to embodying nature, is the cosmic base on which the
vault of heaven, ígwé, rests. As the foundation of all
existence, children's umbilical cords are saved and symbolically
buried under a tree to mark the child's first sharing of family owned
lands; this tree could either be an oil palm, bread-fruit tree, raffia
palm, or plantain tree depending on the cultural region. In some
places, such as Nri, the royal python, éké, is considered a sacred
and tame agent of Ala and a harbinger of good fortune when found in a
home. The python is referred to as nne 'mother' in areas where the
python is revered, it is a symbol of female beauty and gentleness.
Killing of the python is expressly forbidden in these places and
sanctions are taken against the killer including the funding of
expensive human sized burials that are given to slain
Main article: Amadioha
Amadioha (from ámádí + ọ̀hà, 'free will of the people' in Igbo)
Alusi of justice, thunder, lightning and the sky. He is
referred to as
Amadioha in southern Igboland, Kamalu, Kamanu, Kalu
among the Aro and other Cross River Igbo people,
Igwe among the Isuama
Igbo and in northwestern Igboland, and Ofufe in certain parts of
Igboland. His governing planet is the Sun. His
color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Metaphysically,
Amadioha represents the collective will of the people and he is often
associated with Anyanwu. He is the expression of divine justice
and wrath against taboos and crimes; in oaths he is sworn by and
strikes down those who swear falsely with thunder and lightning.
Amadioha shrines exist around Igboland, his main shrine is located at
Ozuzu in the riverine Igbo region in northern Rivers State. While
Anyanwu is more prominent in northern Igboland,
Amadioha is more
prominent in the south. His day is Afo, which is the second market
day. In mbari houses
Amadioha is depicted beside Ala as her
Main article: Ikenga
A miniature abstract cylindrical
Ikenga (literally 'place of strength') is an alusi and a cult figure
of the right hand and success found among the northern Igbo people. He
is an icon of meditation exclusive to men and owners of the sculpture
dedicate and refer to it as their 'right hand' which is considered
instrumental to personal power and success.
Ikenga is a source
of encoded knowledge unraveled through psychological principles. The
Ikenga comprises someone's chi ('personal god'), his ndichie
Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual
activation through prayer and sacrifice. Igbo cultures value of
resourcefulness and individualism in society utilises the concept of
Ikenga to regulate the relationship between individuality and family
relations and obligations, as well as free will and industriousness
balanced with destiny decided persons chi.
Ikenga acts as a physical
medium to the consciousness and emphasises individual initiative
through reflection and meditation. Success validates the Ikenga
and the sculptures act as visual representation of a persons inner
success, people give offerings in thanks to the
Ikenga after providing
energy to overcome any unwanted pre-life choices. These choices
are at the hands of the persons earth bound spirit, mmuo, who chooses
sex, type, and lifespan before incarnation. The successful Ikenga
influenced the saying of well being 'íkéǹgàm kwụ̀ ọ̀tọ́
ta ta' meaning that 'my
Ikenga stands upright today'. During
festivals of Ogbalido or olili
Ikenga ('feast of Ikenga') sculptures
of him may be paraded around a village or displayed at the village
centre if too monumental to transport. When a person does not
become successful with hard work the
Ikenga has 'fallen' and is seen
as a sign of danger, if meditation and cajoling the
Ikenga fails, the
sculpture is 'thrown down' and broken which spiritually kills the
Ikenga; a new one is carved to replace it.
Ikenga figures are common cultural artefacts ranging for six inches to
6 feet high and can be humanistic or highly stylised. There
are anthropomorphic, architectonic, and abstract cylindrical Ikenga
Ikenga is a symbol of success and personal
Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and
occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society.
At burials, a mans
Ikenga is broken into two with one piece buried
with him and the other destroyed.
Main article: Ekwensu
Alusi was adept at bargains and trade, and praying to
said to guarantee victory in negotiations. As a force of change and
Ekwensu also represented the spirit of war among the Igbo,
invoked during times of conflict and banished during peacetime to
avoid his influences inciting bloodshed in the community, warriors set
up shrines to
Ekwensu to help war efforts. This is based upon the
finding of old shrines dedicated to the worship of the spirit as
well as the recounting of old oral stories which depict the character
Ekwensu was a bringer of violence and possessed people
Ekwensu holds the propensity of bringing misfortune
and is regarded as an evil spirit in this sense. Among the
Ekwensu is representative of
Satan and is seen as a
force which places itself opposite to that of Chukwu. Ekwensu
festivals are held in some Igbo towns where military success is
celebrated and wealth is flaunted.
Mmuo and minor forces
Mmuo is a broad class of minor spirits or divinities manifesting in
natural elements under the class of elder divinities with major cults.
Feminine mmuo inhabit earth and water and masculine mmuo inhabit fire
and air. This class can be broken down by the alusi, serviceable
mmuo, agwu are related to unusual and deranged human behaviours, these
spirits interact with human in a capricious nature that often makes
them dangerous. Other cult deities exist around
as Njoku Ji, yam and fire deity overseeing agriculture, Idemili, 'the
pillar of water', the female alusi based in
Idemili North and South
who holds up the waters, and Mkpataku the 'bringer of wealth' or
'coming in of wealth'. In addition to minor spirits there are
evil wondering spirits of wrong doers called ogbonuke.
A dibia from the early 20th century with tools of his practice
including bells and a miniature
Dibia are the mystic mediators between the human world and the spirit
world and act as healers, scribes, teachers, diviners and advisors of
people in the community. They are usually consulted at the shrine of a
communities major deity. Dibia is a compound of the words di
('professional, master, husband') + ọ́bị̀à ('doctoring,
sciences'). The dibia are believed to be destined for spiritual
work. The dibia sees the spiritual world at any time and interprets
what messages being sent and sees the spiritual problems of living
people. They are given the power by the spirit world to identify any
alusi by name and the possible ways of placating and negotiating with
the deity. Dibia are thought to be revealed to possess the power over
one of three elements namely water (and large bodies of water), fire
and vegetation. Dibia whose elements are vegetation can go on to
become herbalists by their supposed instinctual knowledge of the
health benefits of certain plants they are instinctually drawn to,
fire element dibia can handle fire unscathed during their initiation,
and water element dibia do not drown. Dibia can partially enter the
spirit world and communicate this by rubbing chalk on one half of
their face. Dibia and obia practices were transported to the
British Caribbean during the slave trade and became known as
The name of divination in Igbo derives from ígbá áfà or áhà
meaning 'to name' coming from the diviners skill in rooting out
problems hence naming them. The dibia or ogba afa, 'interpreter of
afa', is considered a master of esoteric knowledge and wisdom and igba
afa is a way in which people can find out the cause of such things as
misfortunes. The diviner interprets codes from àlà mmuọ the unseen
by throwing divination seeds, cowries, and
beads,[self-published source] or observing a divination board
sometimes called osho which can be used in pronouncing curses on the
evil. In this way the diviner is endowed with special sight.
it is related the sciences of homeopathic medicine known as
ọ́gwụ̀, a practitioner consciously picks to either of these
abilities. Animals that are special in divination and sacrifice
include a white he-goat, a white ram, a tortoise and male wall gecko.
These animals are prized for their rarity, price and therefore the
journey taken to obtain. Chameleons and rats are used for more
stronger medicines and deadly poisons, and antidotes can include
lambs, small chickens, eggs, and oils. Nzu is used in rites from
birth to death and is used to mark sacred buildings and spaces.
Agwu Nsi is the Igbo patron deity of health and divination and is
related to insanity, confusion, and unusual human behaviour which is
linked to possession of Agwu by the diviner. Agwu can
be manifested by other alusi so that there could be images of a
Ikenga Agwu for instance.
A male ancestral figure.
Ndebunze, or Ndichie, are the deceased ancestors who are considered to
be in the spirit world, àlà mmúọ́. In Odinani, it is
believed that the dead ancestors are invisible members of the
community; their role in the community, in conjunction with Ala, is to
protect the community from epidemics and strife such as famine and
smallpox. Ancestors helped chi look after men. Shrines for the
ancestors in Igbo society were made in the central house, or òbí or
òbú, of the patriarch of a housing compound. The patriarchal head of
the household is in charge of venerating the patriarchal ancestors
through libations and offerings, through this the living maintain
contact with the dead. Only a patriarch whose father is dead, and
therefore in the spirit world where they await reincarnation into the
community, were able to venerate ancestors. Female ancestors
were called upon by matriarchs. At the funeral of a mans father there
is a hierarchy in
Igbo culture of animals that will be killed and
eaten in his honor. Usually this depended on the rarity and price of
the animal, so a goat or a sheep were common and relatively cheaper,
and therefore carried less prestige, while a cow is considered a great
honor, and a horse the most exceptional. Horses cannot be given for
women. Horses were more common among the northeastern Igbo due to
tsetse fly zone that
Igboland is situated in and renders it an
unsuitable climate for horses. Horse heads are traditionally
decorated and kept in a reliquary and at shrines.
A number of major masking institutions exist around
honour ancestors and reflect the spirit world in the land of the
living. Young women, for example, are incarnated in the society
through the àgbọ́ghọ̀ mmúọ́ masking tradition in which mean
represent ideal and benevolent spirits of maidens of the spirit world
in the form of feminine masks. These masks are performed at festivals
at agricultural cycles and at funerals of prominent individuals in the
An ókwá ọ́jị̀ bowl in the Chazen Museum of Art, Wisconsin.
Kola nut (ọ́jị̀, or ọ́jị̀ Ìgbò) offerings and prayers
(ị́gọ́ ọ́jị̀, 'kola nut blessing', ị́wá ọ́jị̀,
'kola nut breaking') can be performed personally between one and his
spirit or in a group in a form of a prayer or chant. The saluter
addresses their personal god or chi as well as alusi and their
ancestors. These kola nuts are held in a special round bowl called
ọ́kwá with a compartment at the centre of the bowl for condiments
for the kola nut such as alligator pepper (or capsicum cayene,
ósẹ̀ ọ́jị́) and ground peanuts. The bowl and kola nut
rite is used to welcome visitors into a household. After
the prayer, the ceremony ends with the saluter sharing pieces of the
kola with the group, known as ị́ké ọ́jị̀. The kola is
supposed to cut by hand, but more recently knives have become
acceptable. When the cola has three cotyledons, or parts, it is
considered an ọ́jị̀ ìkéǹgà in some northern communities
(going by other names in communities
Ikenga doesn't operate) and is
considered a sign of great luck, bravery and nobility. O wetalu oji
wetalu ndu — 'one who brings kola brings life' is a popular saying
that points to the auspiciousness of the kola rite.
Scene in an mbari house, 1904.
Among a small area of the Urata-Igbo cultural area, near Owerri, there
is a tradition of building votive monument houses called ḿbàrí
primarily dedicated to the ágbàrà Àlà specific to the community
and sometimes other community deities. The name joins the word ḿbà
('nation, town, society') + rí ('eat') in reference to the 'festival
of life' held after its completion. These votive shrines are typically
designed with four columns and a central volt, around the columns are
modelled deities, spirits, and depictions of human life, the entire
building built out of clay from termite mounds symbolically named jí
('yam') by the initiated spirit workers called ńdí m̀gbè. Ndi mgbe
are secluded from the community for a couple of months during the
rites of building the mbari to a deity. Mbari are requested by a deity
who the diviner tells the community feels neglected and cannot feel
pride in the face of other deities in the spirit world. A string of
unusual and unfortunate events befalling the community is linked to
the aggrieved deity. An mbari is commissioned and artists are chosen.
After the completion of the mbari the spirit workers are
reincorporated into the community and a feast is held for the opening
of the mbari house where elders and the community come to exhibit the
critique the expensive mbari. The mbari house is not a source of
worship and is left to dilapidate, being reabsorbed by nature in
symbolic sense related to Ala.
Pyramids Nsude village shrine, Abaja, Northern Igbo by G. I. Jones,
Before the twentieth century, circular stepped pyramids were built in
reverence of Ala at the town of Nsude in northern Igboland. In total
ten clay/mud pyramidal structures were still existing in 1935. The
base section of a pyramid was 60 ft. in circumference and
3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference.
Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures
were temples for the god Ala/Uto who was believed to live at the top.
A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The
structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because
it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its
toll requiring periodic reconstruction.
^ Benjamin Ray says of the position of African religions:
But as we have seen, there are other elements [besides monotheistic
ones] which tend towards polytheism or pantheism. What, we may ask,
accounts for these different tendencies? As Evans-Pritchard and Peel
suggest, they do not derive so much from different observers'
standpoints as from the different standpoints within the religious
systems themselves This, of course, does not mean that African
religions consist of conflicting “systems” (monotheism,
polytheism, pantheism, totemism), which lack any inherent unity.
Rather, the totality of elements in each religious system can be
viewed from different internal perspectives according to different
contextual alignments. What is misleading is to seize upon one
perspective or tendency and make it the dominant framework. This may
satisfy the observer's own theological preferences, e.g., monotheism,
but only at the expense of over-systematizing the contextual diversity
of African religious thought.
Ray, Benjamin C. (1976). African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and
Community. Prentice-Hall. p. 53. ISBN 0130186228.
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An insight guide to Igboland's Culture,
Religion and Language
G. I. Jones Photographic Archive: Southeastern Nigerian Art &
Ogu na Ofo
Nze na Ozo
Kingdom of Nri
Atlantic slave trade
1966 anti-Igbo pogrom
Rulers of Nri
United States (Dallas–Fort Worth)
New Yam Festival
Names - SPILC
Major religious groups
Major religious groups and religious denominations
Eastern Catholic Churches
Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
Nation of Islam
Fon and Ewe
Apostasy / Disaffiliation
National religiosity levels
Irreligion by country
Separation of church and state
New religious movements
Religions and spiritual traditions
Loa (Fon and Ewe)