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- Name: EARTH DEITY (“ANI”) AND MORALITY IN IGBO WORLD-VIEW: A CASE STUDY OF IGBO ETHICS
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Could it be possible that there are people who have no sense of morality
or of a ‘lower grade of moral consciousnesses?’ And to be specific, could
there be anything like morality in Igbo traditionalism? If there is, in
which sense could it be understood? In other words, what is the
foundation of morality in traditional ethics? These questions indeed gave
rise to this research and the Igbo indeed have a morality which is
centred on their concept of truth and justice – “Ofo”. We have symbolic
and living instruments of this justice and truth.
At times, this morality is moulded up, unsubstantiated, unsystematic,
and uncritically rooted in customs and traditions (omenala). This work is
geared towards unmasking the moral values inherent in the customs
and traditions as raw materials (first-order-activity) for a purely and
systematic philosophizing (second-order-activity) – ethics via Ofoism.
With the concept of “Ofoism”, we shall see the Igbo communal
expression of justice, its dimensions and perspectives. As freedom and
responsibility are pre-suposition of ethics in general, we shall look into
moral responsibility in Igbo communal justice. Thereafter comes our
evaluation of the whole body of work, and immediate conclusion.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.0 General introduction 1.1 Background of the study. 1.2 Statement of the problem. 1.3 Scope of the study 1.4 Purpose of the study. 1.5 Significance of the study. 1.6 Methodology of work. 1.7.0 Introductory discourse and explication of terms. 1.7.1 The Concept of World-View 1.7.2 Igbo – African World-View 1.7.3 The Unity of the Igbo World-View 1.7.4 Justice and truth – The Igbo Concept of Morality. 1.7.5 Truth – The Igbo Concept of Morality. 1.8 The Concept of Earth-Deity (Ala). 1.9 The Instruments of Justice and Truth. 1.9.0 Symbolic Instruments. 1.9.1 Ofo 1.9.2 Ogu 1.9.3 Omu 1.10.0 Living Instruments of Justice and Truth. 1.10.1 The Igbo Ancestral Cult (Ndiichie) 1.10.2 Ozo-titled men. 1.10.3 The Priests 1.11 The Earth – Deity (“Ala”) and Morality. END NOTES
CHAPTER TWO 2.1 Literature Review END NOTES
3.0 Ethics: A Pre-supposition of Igbo Concept of Justice. 3.1 Meaning of ethics. 3.2 Ethics, Morality and Law 3.3 Ethics and Religion. 3.4.0 Justice Related Concepts. 3.4.1 The “good”. 3.4.2 The “value” and “rightness” 3.4.3 “Bad”, “Wrong”, “Evil”. 3.4.4 ”Duty”, “Obligation”, “Responsibility”. END NOTES
4.0 The Notion of Igbo Communal Ethics 4.1 Igbo Communal Expression of Justice. 4.2 Dimensions of Igbo Communal Justice. 4.3 Perspective of Igbo Communal Justice 4.4 Moral Responsibility in Igbo Communal Justice. END NOTES
5.0 EVALUATIONS AND CONCLUSION 5.1 CRITICAL EVALUATION 5.2 CONCLUSION END NOTES
1.1 Background of the Study
Every man tries with utmost care and effort to maintain peace and
order, preserve mutual respect of individual’s goods and rights in every
society (Community). This is achieved through the communal
promulgation of certain rules and regulations; and inculcation of certain
ethical norms and trends. The essence of this venture is to instill
discipline, promote love and order and to uphold every goodness of man
(mma-ndu) in all its ramifications. These ethical norms and principles are
the fruits of man’s reflective activity concerning what is conducive for
Before the movement for the colonization of Africa, there existed some
form of social organization with its own form of “civilization”, norms,
behavioral patterns, and customary laws that serve as guidance to the
members of every society. On this therefore, Chijoke highlights:
This was mostly evident in the so-called primitive communal system where people lived and cherished one another and produced mostly to meet their immediate needs. They were primarily engaged in subsistence farming and exchanged goods and services through barter training. There were no traces of crimes as we know today as the community was closely knit. In fact, there was no need for a “police force” as everyone was a “police” of a sort. People then obeyed and conformed to societal norms and behaviors, not necessarily for fear of sanctions and punishments, but as natural way of life.1
The foundation of Ethics in Traditional African Religion is solidly laid and
rooted in the people’s indigenous religion, beliefs and practices. Bolaji
Idowu (1977:146) writes without reservation, “the Yoruba morality is
certainly the fruit of religion. They do not attempt to separate the two
and it is impossible for them to do so without disastrous consequences.”
Similarly, Aylwad Shorters 1973:62) states thus:
In African Traditional societies, morality is seen to be an intimate relationship with the ontological order of the universe. Any infraction of this order is a contradiction in life itself and brings about a physical disorder which reveals the fault.
Traditional African Religion believes in the existence of gods i.e the
deities and divinities who are believed to be the ministers of God and
are subordinate to him. God, (Chukwu) is conceived like a monarch, an
absolute monarch surrounded by his chiefs (gods) who are at his
service. It is believed that they are the agents that execute his wishes.
Everyone strives to establish cordial relationship of man to man, man to
the deities and the universe as a whole.
The deities and the divinities have been apportioned different
assignments and also empowered by the Supreme Being (Chukwu) to
attend to human problems and needs. They also exercise influence on
the morality of the people. They reward the virtuous and inflict pains
and sufferings on those who step on the law of the cosmic order.
“Igbo ethics”, as we shall examine, will therefore consider the Igbo
traditional background, the nature of Igbo Ethics itself, and its
consistency with other dimensions of Igbo life. We shall make a detailed
account of the principles governing the ethical life of the Igbo. It will
also examine certain topical ethical issues such as the nature of Igbo
moral responsibility, justice, Igbo ethical judgment, concept of evil.
Finally, the work will X-ray the significance of: Igbo ontology and
cosmology. All this will be considered in the light of the prevailing
contemporary discussions on whether the end justifies the means
(African –Igbo dimension).
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Debasement of human morality in various facets of human lives and
increasing rate of crime and corruption, evils and abomination are
commonly reported in the contemporary African religio-socio-political
lives. This raises a strong question with regard to the traditional morality
and ethics. And to be specific, could there be anything like morality in
Igbo traditionalism? If there is, in which sense could it be understood?
In other words, what is the foundation of morality in traditional ethics?
Many Igbo values and heritages have been either utterly denied, or
merely distorted. Some of these values cut across the essential domains
of life; areas, one would expect to belong to man as such, irrespective of his time and culture.2 The spheres of life that suffer most from this
anomaly, or misrepresentation include; law, religion, philosophy,
science, and ethics.
In the case of ethics, the problem seems to be more glaring and serious.
Not only are the Igbo and Africa in general denied having a reflective thought capable,3 of evolving and generating an ethics, but where it is
acknowledged at all, the fruit of such reflective activities is often
misconceived as merely, “religious” in outlook. Some refer to it as
“religious-morality”, “religious ethics”, “traditional ethos”, or “mores”.
Others, in the same camp call it “cultural ethics”, “customary law”, or
simply “primitive behavioral pattern.” How true are these assertions?
The Igbo in their world-view believe so much in the existence of deities,
divinities and so on. Looking into the existence or the reality of these
spiritual beings and their subsequent symbols of operations, how do one
account for morality and what sort of influence do they exercise on man
as a moral free agent? Parallel to this notion is a stereotypical
conception among the traditional Igbo, (ossified by many
Anthropological writings) that Igbo morality is a product of the earth
goddess (‘Ala’). Or, else, that the earth goddess (Ala) is the “guardian” of Igbo morality.4 When did the earth goddess ever formulate the moral
laws as to become its guardian, one would ask? Again, the question of
‘when’ calls to mind the question of ‘where’ and ‘how’ such laws were
handed down to man and through ‘whom’ precisely? Is the earth
goddess (Ala) the guardian of morality in other Igbo communities outside her direct domain and influence?5 In other words, if Igbo –
African ontology, Placid Tempel and some anthropologists claim that
everything has vital force, then, how do we account for human freedom
and autonomy in the interactions and activities of these forces?
Owing to the fact that Igbo culture is religiously colored and oriented,
could one articulate Igbo moral philosophy (Ethics) as a separate
discipline different from Igbo Traditional Religion? All these questions
and more stand as the statement of the problem. They will at the same
time provide a veritable focus to the overall work as we shall see from
the on set
1.3 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
Anthropologically, the Igbo have five cultural area groups, namely: the
Northern Igbo, the Southern Igbo, the Western Igbo, the Eastern and
the North-Eastern Igbo. All these groups have the common
characteristics that portray them as a unified people, the “Igbo”, in the
midst of few accidental differences as we shall see. Thus, the scope of
this work embraces the Igbo as a whole, irrespective of the above
This is also true of the mission of “Igbo ethics” which, as the (moral)
philosophy of the Igbo aims not really at the “particular”, but at the
abstract “universal” domains. Igbo ethics here, aims not at the specific
and actual Igbo behavioral pattern but at the “oughts’ or the “ideal”
patterns. As an abstraction, it cuts across the Igbo cultural classifications
1.4 PURPOSE OF STUDY
The most cherished common heritage, which characterizes an African in
his being, and mode of life as a whole is communalism, the co-existence
and sharing of life. Apart from giving him a distinctive mark of identity,
as against the west, communalism has remained with him over the
years, being a veritable ‘insurance’ in justice for his life, and properties.
He has been shaped and re-shaped in his visions by this singular factor,
constituting a bed rock of his out-reaching solidarity with a wider society
and humanity as a whole. It is because of its central concern on ‘man’
not as a discrete entity but as a being-in-relation-to-others, it is often
characterized as “African humanism”, or “African brotherhood” in the
words of Nyerere.
So, the purpose of this work is first and foremost to establish the fact
that the Igbo, like other Africans have sense of morality, and possess a
rational ethics. The core of this ethics is justice and truth as reflected in
the communal life of the people and their activities in general. There is
need to undertake this research for the general development of African
Philosophy and authentic African life. The work aims at supplying some
of the answers as it concerns the African (Igbo) moral philosophy.
Above all, the purpose of this work is to create an awareness of the
essential comparative characterizations of African ethics vis-à-vis
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Earlier before now, most Europeans and others were thus poorly
equipped for either the intellectual understanding of African culture,
Igbo not excluded; or for any degree of empathy with the way of life it
represented. African, (African culture, religions, history, philosophy,
morality and artifacts) were denigrated, and distorted. These were
classified according to the grid of western thought and imagination
which was of a negative category of the same.
The significance of this work, just like others of its kind is its reactionary
in form. It is particularly to proof through rational analysis that Africa
and especially Igbo is not exactly as represented by our European
counter-pacts. In this work, therefore, we work out the Igbo traditional
ethics which is not purely dependent on any religion; in stead, founded
on Igbo man’s rational and reflective activity.
1.6 METHODOLOGY OF WORK
The first method is a critical analysis of the Igbo ontology and
cosmology. A critical review will be made on Igbo anthropological,
philosophical and religious literatures, relevant theses, and dissertation
on the Igbo. Here the work will not be expository as such, but an
abstraction of the ethical tendencies of the Igbo, of which justice (Ofo)
is at the centre. It is an abstraction based on what the Igbo aspires to
achieve in their ethical actions, especially in their traditional beliefs.
Oral interviews are also employed to supplement the written materials.
The approach is largely critical, analytical and evaluative aimed at
showing the strong sense of Igbo ethics.
Chapter one, is more of general introduction to the work; it provided the
background of the work.
Chapter Two is geared towards the review of related texts in the context
of the work.
In Chapter three, we try to explore the meaning of ethics in general as
a presupposition of Igbo concept of justice; and its relationship with
morality in general, law and religion.
Also, in Chapter four, we try to give the notion of Igbo communal ethics;
their expression of justice and moral responsibility.
Finally, chapter five is purely a critical evaluation of the work in general
and conclusion thereafter.
1.7.0 INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE AND EXPLICATION OF TERMS.
One might ask: who are the Igbo? We start our write –up by clarifying some
of those key concepts of our interest. The Igbo is a tribe in the African
continent of the world. Geographically, from parts of Delta, Rivers, Cross
River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Kogi, to the whole of Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu
and Ebonyi states are Igbo indigenous settlements. Such belief in the deities
and their activities are easily noted in Igbo traditional societies. Hence, we
shall try to explore rationally this belief and practice in Igbo–African, especially
how these deities influence man in Igbo world in terms of morality.
One cannot overlabor the obvious, that the key words of our interest, namely
Earth-deity, morality and world –view appear to be less philosophical and as
such certain authorities are some books and authors of African Traditional
religion. Here lies the great difficulty in having philosophically authorities to
refer. However, philosophy ought to be a personal, rational, critical and
thorough reflection on reality. Thus, it behooves on us to use the Igbo
culture, religious beliefs, etc as the ‘ philosophems’ or raw material for our
According to J.S Mbiti, “To speak is to speak from somewhere”. An
anthropologist said that every man is a product of his culture. Hence, for us to
appreciate the concept of deities in Igbo world – view in a relational analysis,
we must of course focus on Igbo culture. And according to Ogugua,P. Culture is exclusively a human phenomenon quite complex; uniting and dividing human groups, as different peoples perceive life and reality differently. Culture is the totalization of all, as peoples’ beliefs, mores, arts, customs, etc, learned, shared and equally transmitted from generation to generation, in short; it embodies the manipulation of forces in their environment for better.6
Beyond people’s culture is their world-view or in a more precise manner,
alongside culture is the world view of a people. Let us briefly look into the
meaning of world-view.
1.7.1 THE CONCEPT OF WORLD – VIEW
Various scholars have various definitions of world-view. An author explains it
to mean how the world is conceived, contemplated, perceived… by people who live in it… especially within the ambit of human environment.7 Trying to
compare world-view along side with Cultural anthropology, the same author
That a world-view is a body of beliefs about the universe which are common among members of any society and existentially demonstrated in their value systems such as their philosophy of life, social conduct and morality, folklores, myths, rites and rituals, norms, rules, ideas, cognitive mappings, theologies, etc 8
It refers to the complex of beliefs, habits, laws, customs, and tradition of a people. It includes the overall picture they have about reality, the universe, life
and existence; their attitude to life and to things in general, what they do and think of what life is, what things are worth striving to attain; what is man’s place in the scheme of things; whether or not life has a meaning and purpose.9
We understand world -view from Okafor F. as “the sum total of all the
assumptions entertained by a people. It is a people’s mental map of the
universe. It is the concepts of the world: physical and metaphysical held by a
people…They are the basic notions underlying their cultural, religious and
social activities.” Also Iroegbu (2003:7) stated:
There is a background to every experience. Nothing springs from nowhere. All experiences, including religious ones, have a foundation and springboard, which we may call the mother that gives birth to the experiences. Equally experience itself is also a father of basic tenets, including the metaphysical convictions and religious credo of persons and peoples…That the human being is fundamentally a communal being is a metaphysical conviction that arises from the experience that outside some form of community, no one has ever survived.”
In a way, world-view is usually unique to a person or a group of people. Thus,
a people can use their world-view to explain their attitudinal orientations
towards certain issues peculiar to them alone. So far in our analysis of worldview, Onuoha’s articulations would serve us thus.10
– All world-views are mutually hostile and intolerant. This can explain why
we have various types of religious conflicts in Nigeria. This is because the
various religious traditions are built on their own basic cosmologies.
– All world-views are based on faith. They are based on assumptions that
cannot be proved scientifically. On these assumptions, they dogmatise. The
creed calls for blind faith and emotional response. One can understand the
power of emotions in the lives of man. When strong emotions are aroused,
man finds it hard to listen to the voice of reason. Thus, he can go at any
length to defend his religion even physically in a war with another person who
does not share in his own views.
– All world-views breed a strong sense of self assurance. This is evident
among new converts to a particular faith. It is common to hear a newly
converted born-again saying that he has now seen the light. All along, he
has been in darkness. He is so sure of his new found vocation.
– All world-views are missionary, if not imperialist, in spirit. They proselytize.
This is very evident in the way traditions are handed over from generation to
generation. Also, world-views thrive on propaganda, tracts, and stickers,
brainwashing, schools, colonialism and mere biological procreation.
– All world-views provide their devotees with techniques they can
manipulate human society, the spiritual world and the physical world. This,
they do by determining certain “ends” that must be attained, prescribing the
“means” by which such ends are to be reached within the context of the
particular world-view. For instance, the Christian world-view can provide such
techniques as sacraments, rites and ceremonies, while Igbo world-view,
sacrifices can also be prescribed by priests and diviners to placate angry
– All world-views have their members on a routine basis, constructing and
reconstructing the world after their own image. Thus, man is constantly being
manipulated to fit into newly adapted views.
The summary of it all is that a world-view gives ultimate meaning to life and
to a people’s understanding of their role and prospects in life. Thus it can be
said that it gives a sense of direction and purpose to our lives, and enable
people to act purposefully in their existential lives. According to Onuoha, it is our sub-conscious guide through life.11
No wonder Kraft for instance would call it the “central control box” and holds
that it governs the application of the people’s conceptualizations of their
relationship and environment. Let us briefly look into the Igbo African world
1.7.2 IGBO – AFRICAN WORLD VIEW
It is a well established fact of history that there are as many world views as
there are cultures, groups of people. There is the Western world-view; African
world view, the Asiatic world-view, etc. Consequently, world-view is of its very
nature something natural, coeval, and peculiar to man in all cultures.
African world-view is the one that is traditional and peculiar to the pre-modern
Africans. “It comprises their beliefs, attitudes, origin, their nature, structures
of organization and interaction in the world handed down as the sum total of the assumptions entertained from one generation to another.” 12
Beliefs about the physical, the spiritual worlds and their eschatological beliefs
are regarded as world-views. It can in a way be describes as the philosophies
of the Igbo African people. The collective, uncritical and unsubstantiated
outlooks in life of our fore-fathers which are co-eval with them as the Igbo
Africans – in – the – African – universe passed from one generation to the
other are all the products of their world-views.
The universe according to Igbo Cosmology is structured in two main inter
i. Eluigwe – sky.
ii. Elu – uwa (Ala) – the earth
Thus, there are two orders of existence:
i. Ala Mmuo – the spirit world or supernatural order.
ii. Ala mmadu – the human world or the visible order.
Elu-igwe (the sky): This is the celestial zone where celestial bodies such as the
stars (kpakpando), moon(Onwa), Sun(Anyanwu), Cloud (Urukpu), rain
(mmiri), are located. The sky is the home of certain deities such as Amadioha
( the thunder god), the Sun god and a host of other deities, and spirits. The
Supreme Deity, “Chukwu” is also believed to live there, likewise the ancestral spirits.13
Elu Uwa (Earth): This is the earth on which we live. It is the home of man,
animals, birds, plants and a host of other created beings. A host of deities live
on the earth. They are earth deity (“ala”) river deities, mountain deities and
those associated with graves, valleys, farm,e.t.c
Ala muo (the spirit world). This is the place inhabited by spirits, deities,
ancestral spirits and the spirits dwell in woods, bush, forests, seas, rivers, and
mountains and around the villages and compounds, including the shrines, oracles and even the grave yards.14
Also according to the Igbo myth of creation, the creative activity is ascribed to
Chukwu or Chineke i.e God that creates. Accordingly, Chukwu is said to be
the creator of things visible and things invisible. This would help us, says Madu, to gain insight as to the structure of the universe15 and this is that
the universe is broadly divided into two realms, the visible and the invisible
world. These two broad divisions can be extended into three. In fact, it is the
invisible world that can be sub-divided into two – the world of God and the
gods situated somewhere above the firmament and the underworld,
somewhere beneath earth surface. It is said to be the home of the ancestors. So many Igbo scholars have used the three-tier16 structural nomenclature of
Elu-igwe, Ala mmadu, and Ala Mmuo, while others have settled for the twotier17structural arrangement of uwa ana ahu anya (visible world) and Uwa-ana
anaghi ahu anya ( the invisible world). Just like so many African scholars,
Madu states that the visible and the invisible worlds are not mutually excusive, but overlap.18 The invisible world made up of Eluigwe and Ala Mmuo as well
as Ala Mmadu are inhabited by beings. Ejizu notes that Eluigwe (the sky
above) is the abode of the Supreme Being( Chukwu or Chineke) and such
major divinities like Amadioha (god of thunder) and Anyanwu (god of light).
The Earth is regarded as the home of the Earth-goddess (Ala), minor deities,
nature deities and man while the ancestors and myriads of spirit-forces ( good and evil) inhabit the under-world.19
The Igbo people believe so much in deities, gods, divinities and so on. Some
has always raised such questions as pertaining their origin, nature and
relationship with the humans, taking for granted without any doubt that they
really exist. The deities (Mmuo) Onuoha refers to as gods, Ambassadors or Deans.20
On Igbo world-view still, Nwala notes: “Omenala includes major beliefs about
the place of the universe and its nature, the place of the spirits, deities, man
and other beings in the universe, the nature or character of taboos,
regulations, prescriptions and prohibitions as to what is proper in such a universe ….” 21
The influence of Christianity and western tradition has really altered the
understanding of Igbo- African culture and world-views. This is what some
scholars have termed ‘syncretism’ whereby there are mix up of various and
different religions, philosophies or ideas. Consequently, the idea of gods or
deities in Igbo world view came to be regarded as a kind of idolatry especially
from the beliefs of Christianity and the commandment of God whereby no one
should have any other god except him, the God. The question has been
whether the deities are among or are the gods being referred to in the
context? According to Mbamara. C.I,
It is evident that that the deities are not to be included among the fallen Angels who were cast out of heaven at the time of Satan’s rebellion, it nevertheless seems probably that their fall is in some way associated with this rebellion.22
Some Igbo – Africans believe that some of these gods or deities were
originally angels but due to their promotion given to them, they became gods
or deities. Their specific assignment originally was to guide God’s creation
such as rivers, streams, bushes, forests, trees, hills, valley etc, with time they
assumed the ownership of what they were instructed to guide. Some of the
aforementioned latter begin to reflect these gods or deities.
1.7.3 THE UNITY OF THE IGBO WORLD VIEW
The multiplicity of spiritual beings in the traditional African world-view does
not in any way at all reflect the dichotomy found in western metaphysics.
The dichotomy found in European philosophy and theology between the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, the sacred and the profane, do not exist in Igbo traditional religion. Here, as in many other instances, the use of western terminology far from adequately expressing African concepts, distorts them. Mbari houses bear out the essential unity of the Igbo world – view.23
The Igbo world is one, not two. The invisible beings, the deities and the spirits
have no separate world of their own, different from that of human experience.
God as we saw is imagined to live in Ezi Chukwu, God’s compound, far distant
in the outer space, but it is still contained in this world or universe. The
ancestors inhabit Ani mmuo, land of the spirits, which is believed to be inside
the ground where the ancestors lie buried. Igbo divinities are very much
linked with nature and natural phenomenon. Deities are believed to inhabit
certain physical phenomena with which they are associated. Anyanwu, the sun
deity, inhabits the sun, which is also called Anyanwu. Igwe, the sky deity,
inhabits the sky (Igwe). Amadioha, linked with thunder and lightening, is also
a sky deity. Sometimes, the Igbo see the sun or the sky as physical expression
of Chukwu, so that if one were to reproduce the typography of the ‘invisible
world’ by considering the abodes of the deities, it would be a carbon copy of
the visible world.
Just as there is the all-pervading sky above, and the extensive ground below,
so there is Chukwu, the Supreme Being, in the heavens, and Ala, the Earth
mother below. Great and powerful deities such as Anyanwu, Igwe and
Amadioha serve Chukwu above, just as large heavenly bodies decorate the
sky, while Ala, the Earth-mother, presides as queen over the innumerable
deities inhabiting the rivers, the mountains, the caves, the forest, and the
many other spirit forces found on the earth. The ancestors, Ndichie inhabit Ala
mmuo, the spirit-land which is located somewhere in the ground, so they
come under Ala. Similarly man, mmadu, is not a composite being of body and
soul. The body is only the invisible expression of the real person-onye ahu.
What subsists after death is not part of man or the soul, but the person.
Unlike the soul, the person after death is imagined to be of the same stature,
age and status as the living person. In the same way, God has not created
two worlds; one visible and the other invisible; rather both visible and invisible
beings co-exist and interact in the one world which God has created. The
evaluation of beings is not based in whether they are visible or invisible,
material or spiritual. The spiritual beings are not necessarily all good, or the
most powerful. When man dies he goes to the spirit-land, Ala mmuo, but
reaching it is not man’s final end. Man’s world goes in a cycle. An Ancestor in
the spirit-land wants to be reincarnated and reappear again and again, thus enjoying both the visible and invisible worlds.24
1.7.4 JUSTICE AND TRUTH (THE IGBO CONCEPT OF MORALITY)
Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and a student of Plato made great contributions
in his works. He is of the view that man is a zoon politikon (political animal)
that is ordained by nature. The state exists for man’s good life. He regarded
justice, the most noble virtue and maintained that justice summed up all
virtue in life, he stated: “The just man is apt to apportion share, he afforded
that neither the Morning Star, (Lucifer) nor the Evening Star (Hesperus) could compared in beauty with the queen of all virtue.25 For him also justice denotes
conformity with the law since this produces and preserves the happiness of
In our society today, we observe among human beings a certain kind of
interaction, which goes to show that “no man is an island, man by nature is a
political Animal” which implies that man is a social being. A ‘social being’ is a
being living in a society and interacts with his fellow man and in this human
interaction and socialization, peace and harmony are very essential for a more
In the same vain, the Igbo notion of morality is justice. One finds out that
justice is the foundation of their morality. We are going to look in detail the
Igbo conception of justice in the subsequent chapter.
1.7.5 TRUTH – THE IGBO CONCEPT OF MORALITY
Truth is another concept liked to justice in Igbo morality. Often, they are used
interchangeably. Truth just like many other terms lacks the generally accepted
definition. Nevertheless, for something to be truth, it has to do with the fact,
the reality about something. It is opposed to that which has been invented or
guessed. To qualify anything to be truth, such must have the quality or state
of being based on fact. It must conform to reality or to a person’s inner
conviction and knowledge.
Among the Igbo, the word truth is represented with two words: ‘Ezi’ and
‘okwu’ – Ezi-okwu. Etymologically, ‘Ezi’ means true, goodness, kindness e.t.c.
Thus, to say in Igbo , “O bu ezie” means simply, it is true; it is in accordance
to; or in agreement with fact’. ‘Okwu’ on the other hand means spoken word,
speech, statement; preposition e.t.c. The conflation of the two words, ‘Ezi
okwu’ simply reads ‘true word’. Thus, when the Igbo say that this is the truth
– ‘O bu ezi- okwu’; it means that such word, statement or proposition is in agreement with or in accordance to what is fact. It is true.26
In Igbo parlance, the word, truth (Eziokwu) is not just a spoken word. It has
much to bear also on the person’s character or behavior. When one is referred
to as being truthful, honest – ‘Onye eziokwu’ – such a person is taken to be a
good man (Ezigbo mmadu). Otakpor was clear on this when he asserted:
A man who is unable to bear the truth is not a man…not a person – “O buro mmadu”. To say that a ‘man’ is not a man or that he is not a person is not merely an indication of derogation from masculinity or personhood. It is a subtle way of saying that, that man has lost brilliance, power, authority, reputation, authenticity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem, e.t.c 27
Our discussion so far stresses the fact that the Igbo place serious value on
truth, a serious indication of their sense of morality. This value has greater
propensity when referred to a person. It means the disposition to be open to
the truth. It also means readiness to conform one’s action to the known truth
especially in his dealings with others. When this is observed of a person, such
a person is said to be a person of truth. It means accepting the truth as they
are, – “ inabata ezi okwu na ndu ya”. Not only that, his conduct must be in
accordance to truth – eziokwu. It shows a person whose life and actions are in
conformity with good thoughts and words. To be truthful also requires the
conformity of the spoken word with the internal thought and knowledge.
The Igbo hold so much that the Earth-Deity is the metaphysical foundation of
their justice and truth. What or who is the Earth-Deity? Let us briefly look into
the concept, Earth-Deity.
1.8 THE CONCEPT OF EARTH DEITY.
Among the deities of African Traditional Religion, is the Earth-Deity (Ala). The
Earth-Deity (Ala) is conceived as the queen of the under-world and the
custodian of the laws of the society or the community which is believed to
have come from God. Geoffrey Parrinder has this to say:
The Earth Deity, Ala (Ale, or Ane) is the most important, public and private divinity of the Igbo of Nigeria, she is more important than any of the sky gods. Ala is the owner of all men, alive and dead. As queen of the under-world, she is connected with the cult of the ancestors. She is also responsible for public morality, and offences against the law are crimes against Ala who makes the law by whom oaths are sworn.28
The cult of ancestors is also recognized in the defense of morality. In the
service of Ala, they are also custodians of morality in Traditional African
societies. Hence, the Igbo people say: “Okenye adighi ano n’ulo na ewu a muo
n’ogbiri” (An elder does not stay in the house, and something goes wrong).
The ancestors, that is, the living-deads according to J.S. Mbiti reward
commendable actions and punish heavily those who infringe the moral code of
the land. In their wrath, they visit the offenders with misfortunes until the
appropriate rituals are performed to appease them and cleanse the land.
Harris and Sawyer (1968:112) writing on this says: “Ancestors visit with
punishment all those who maltreat helpless and defenseless people like
children and the physically handicapped.”
As said earlier, the Igbo believe so much in deities. One of these deities is
Ala, the earth goddess. The concept of Ala is believed to have originated in
Chukwu (Supreme Deity). Ala is regarded as the wife of Igwe(the Sky), a son
of Chukwu. Analogically, the Igwe as the husband fertilizes the Ala regarded
as the wife through rain. Thus, this is the reason Ala is regarded in most
places as a woman, hence, the earth goddess.
According to Kalu Ogbaa in Gods, Oracles and Divination,
Ani is the earth goddess in charge of morality. She also controls the fertility of people, animals and plants and serves as symbolic womb for the dead before they are reborn. The Ibo, who traditionally were farmers, held Ani in high regard because they depended on her for food. Ani is the daughter of Chukwu, the creator of the world and of all other gods. Agbala, the oracle of the Hills and Caves is the voice or messenger
of Ani, although Agbala is a male, he is strongly associated with the female earth; his name can also mean, “woman” and he is served by a priestess.29
In the bounties of his traditional knowledge and wisdom, Ezenwadeyi portrays
the relationship between man and Ala.
“ For Ezenwadeyi, man lives between the spirit of the firmament and the spirit of the earth (Ala). This is proved from the phenomenon of dying. The breath is life. If the dying man breaths in an upward movement of the body (i.e upwards), he goes back to Chukwu in the firmament of heaven. When he breathes out in a downward movement of the body (i.e Downwards), he comes back to life on Ana. In the case of death, the earth(Ana) is dug and the part of man supplied by Ana, is given back to that Spirit (Ana). We are properties of both spirits, Chukwu and Ana.30
What could be the relationship between Ala and Chukwu? It was in the
context of this cosmogony, which we are going to hear Ezenwadeyi. His
philosophy is reproduced here in its original Ihembosi dialect of the Igbo
language which was translated by Arazu thus:
Ina aghotakwa Have you understood N’asi kwa n’ Ana that it is said that Ana Di n’enu? Is also above? Ojili bulu mmili zochaa That is why after rain-fall, O mia n’ Ana The water soaks through into Ana. Nge nu omili ami n’ Ana, After soaking through into Ala, K’ohugharikwara, the process is reversed, Odukata dukata, and in the passage of time, Anwu a pu, kpoo, the sun comes out and shines, Kpochasichaa, shines to its satisfaction, Ebekw’ebe, and all of a sudden, Ogbuo nnukwu it flashes like a big Fagham! FAHAM!( i.e lightening!) Odu k’oku a It presents itself like this fire here, Kpuchikwa! And covers it again! An’ asi n’obu and it is said that the Nga Chukwu no. fiery manifestation is a view of Chukwu’s abode. Any n’ asi And we conclude N’ oj’abu ezie! That it may be true! Nde sin a mmile And some say that the rain Nu hughlikwala water has reversed its process Ehughali, and gone into the sky, Ligorokwa n’enu, were and begins to fall again Zochikwa ozo, dika otua just as it is raining now On’ezo uduhu. Obu ihe ojiri that is why we are not Gba any ghari. the wiser.
O bu ihe anyi jiri that is why we conclude Si, na Chukwu na Ana, n’abu that Chukwu and Ana are too great and Ha ihe ka anyi powerful, more than we can guess. Onye sin a Chukwu whoever claims that Chukwu Na Ana akaha ya, and Ana are not great beyond his Ken, What else would upset the balance of his scale of greatness? Nkaa bu Ana, Behold Ana, Nkaa bu chukwu! Behold Chukwu! O bu Ha ka ihe They both are the greatest Nine di n’uwa! In the universe!
At this stage, one sees the dichotomy in the explication of the Reality by the
poor informant. It was Arazu who tried to extricate the old man and get him
off this dualism in the Supreme being. He suggested to him that Chukwu and
Ani could be but one individual entity. To his utmost chagrin, the old man
refused bluntly and continued:
O bu ihe nna anyi ha it is just what our ancestors Kporo, k’anyi n’esokwanu na akpo invoked, that we in our turn Anyi ga akpogharabe ihu? Must invoke. We must not do a mis-invocation. Asi, “Chukwu na Ana” The invocation is “Chukwu and Ana” Maka enweha ihe for nothing else Ozo e je ekwugharia, may be invented or manufactured
Hugharia, were si ka akpoo, in human speech to replace the invocation of “Chukwu and Ana” Karia “Chukwu na Ana” Obu “Chukwu na Ana” it is the same “Chukwu and Ana” Ahu k’ekwupuru, who are invoked first, Were kwubezie before all others and sundry Obodo ngo,kwube obodo mbana are mentioned in invocations. Nga ahu k’ejere with the two as principle Kpokwunye na asi na nkaa bu and origin, we begin to invoke Agwu; nkaa bu Ubu; others like: Agwu, Ubu Nkaa bu ulasi Ulasi, Aho, Nkaa bu Aho; Nkaa bu Ekwensu; Ekwensu, etc. Nka bu Osighu n’ Osighu ya. Obu n’okpulu Chukwu They are all under the supremacy of Chukwu; K’anochaha: They are all under the supremacy N’okpulu Ana of Ana; Each and everyone of us are under the supremacy of Ana, N’okpulu Chukwu and under that of Chukwu at the same time. Anyi tu anya n’enu when we look up to heaven Zi, anyi asi n’obu we proclaim that it is Chukwu ka anyi Chukwu to whom we raise up N’ewejere aka, our hands, N’enu n’eti fuuuah! In the sky shining so bright now!… Anyi bu eghu we are the goats Chukwu na Ana of Chukwu and Ana, Mmadu nine! Each and everyone of us!
We now come to the question thrown to Ezenwadeyi to steer him out of dualism: Ma Chukwu na Ana ahu The said Chukwu and Ana Njizim nke ka ibe ya? Which is the greater?
This question took Ezenwadeyi by surprise. He argued with himself for a while:
Anyi soo Ana, anyi ja If we try to avoid Ana Aligoro enu? Could we climb heavenwards? K’obu anyi soo Enu, If we try to avoid Heaven, Anyi j’eme ihe ozo? What else could we do? O bu Ana k’anyi We are constrained to declare Ja asi n’obu ya ka, that Ana is the greater, Anaa anyi zobara ukwu. This Ana on which our feet rests. Ma asikwasa n’Ana ahu but it is also said that the same N’odukwasa n’enu. Ana exists in the heavens. Ma anyi amaha; but we are not the wiser Anyi no n’ihe agwara anyi whatever we are told Anyi ana asuhapu anya. We continue to look at it and wonder.
It would astound the Christians the above view of the speaker. It might
appear so stupid and incomprehensible how one would ascribe supremacy of
Ana over Chukwu. For Arazu, That this traditional religionist believed strongly in the supremacy of the two, to him ultimate spiritual principles complementing each other in man’s experience, is beyond reasonable doubt. Each spiritual principle is manifested in a visible material entity. Chukwu is symbolized by the heavens (Igwe) and is, therefore by metonymy, Igwe. Ana is symbolized by the earth ( Ana) and is therefore, by metonymy, Ana. Ana affects man more directly than Igwe. It gives man support here and now, physically and through the law of gravitation. It must be from this point of view that Ezenwadeyi concluded that the Spirit, Ana, must be greater than the sky Spirit.
The diasporian jews (Igbos who have been polluted due to their encounter
with the Hamitics and Japhetans (European) cultures copies both good and
bad as their own medium of worship. Prior to the Western pollution – the
Igbo’s worshiped “Ana” land and “Aja-ana”. ‘Ana’ as they claimed is the footstool of God.32
According to Nwadinigwe, (1999:31-36)
The actual truth is that the “Ana” proceeded forth from the ELOHIM, when He said: Let the dried land appear, Thus, when the Igbos in pouring libation; throws the kola e.t.c to the ground and it goes to the ELOHIM who is the originator of the land. Therefore, anything thrown to the “Ana” goes to the ELOHIM of Israel who called forth the land out of the water that covereth the world in the beginning.
The author went forward to analyze the supremacy of Ana. Through biblical
exegesis, he arrived that ‘Ana’ has biblical origin. Thus, he said:
The supremacy of “Ana” was originally endowed by God when he said to Cain: the voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” as quoted in my book: The origin of Igbo. These, is spiritually emphasizing on the sacredness of “Ana”. Little wonder then, when he said when you till the ground, it shall no longer yield you any of its produce. Be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth. Little wonder then the Igbo actualize these in the worship of God – ELOHIM through the “Ana”. “Ana” is also regarded as Mother- Earth before the ELOHIM and a male child to the descendant of Adam in Igbo cosmology…33
The anthropologists D. Forde and G.I Jones, whilst documenting their
research findings in Igbo land writes about Ala thus:
Ala, earth spirit is the most prominent deity and is regarded as the queen of the underworld and the owner of man whether dead or alive. She is the source and judge of human morality and accordingly exercises the main ritual sanctions in disputes and offences. The priests of Ala are guardians of public morality.34
Obviously, the Igbo regard the soil, the land or the earth with utmost
importance. This is because it is in land that the ancestors are buried and
wherein their souls and bodies rest. Life springs from the soil. On the soul grows yam and cocoyam (ji na ede), vegetables and fruits.35
The earth Spirit, Ala, as the mother of the Igbo people, is characterized by
sacredness. To commit evil as taboo or abomination (nso ala) is to pollute the
peaceful and sacred spirit of the Earth Deity. In traditional Igbo society, land
is not sold as it be belongs to the community and not to any individual.
Recently, if one sells a portion of land, he divides the money and give the
greater percentage to the community (Umunna) In this way, justice, peace,
and unity is maintained and the earth mother is appeased.
Some scholars of Igbo culture maintained that the reason land is not sold is
that such act is disrespect to earth godess. Uchendu writes “The Igbo feel ashamed and guilty to have to sell land”36.
The Earth-Spirit, Ala, as the mother of the Igbo people, is characterized by
sacredness and peacefulness. Man being made from the clay of the earth,
also carries the sacredness of this Earth-Spirit. Every organic and inorganic
reality always returns into the womb of the earth, and the ancestors play
some roles with regard to this in Ala.
Generally, in Igbo land, the “Cult of Ala” is very common, as each of the
hamlets or villages composing a village group, has a shrine and a priest of Ala
(Ezeani), but there is always communal shrine, namely, that of the particular hamlet or village which originally occupied the locality.37
According to an informant, David Ilegbune, the Chief Priest of Ala in Ugbene,
in Awka North Local Government Area:
“Ani is the second in command in existence. Ani is neither man nor woman categorically, but we often use the feminine gender to refer it because of its nature and operations. However, one would say that she is a personality of God( God in the generic form not in the proper usage of the ignorant westerners) because, she is not like the divinities (Arusi); in stead the divinities serve under her and are within her authority. The symbol of Ani is the Ofo (Ofo-Ani),no more, no less. No one goes to her with Charms and amulets. The occultists, witches and wizards do not go to her because she detests them all…
1.9 THE INSTRUMENTS OF JUSTICE AND TRUTH.
We are going to divide Igbo instruments of justice into two, namely: The
Symbolic instruments and the Living instruments of justice. Let us now briefly
look into some of the symbolic instruments of justice in Igbo traditional
1.9.0 SYMBOLIC INSTRUMENTS
Justice has many symbolic instruments in Igbo-land and some of them are as
follow: Ofo, Omu, Ogu and Nzu.
The concept of justice in Igbo ontological life would not be holistic without
highlighting their ontological commitment to Ofo. Ofo could be seen as an
expression of Igbo concept of justice. Ofo is a particular and extra-ordinary
kind of plant botanically known as Deuterium Singlenese. It is believed that
this plant was specially made by the Supreme Being (Chukwu). Ofo could be
made and consecrated for a lineage or community (umunna) or a town
(obodo, often refered as Ofo-Ala which is handled by the Chief Priest of Ala,
‘Ezeala’ or Ofo-Obodo, which is handled by the eldest of the town). A man
(not woman) could also have Ofo , consecrated for him by the “Akajiofo” (Ofo
holders) of his group. A man’s Ofo is powerful only if he acts uprightly. Thus,
the Igbo adage, “O ji Ofo ga-ana” (He who holds Ofo (the upright) shall be
About Ofo, Dukor highlights: The concept of Ofo among the Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria is not only an ontological and mystical experience but also a symbol of justice practically manifesting as authority, honesty and truth”38
One sees therefore that Ofo is not only a symbol of justice but also a symbol
of truth, a symbol of authority and a symbol of honesty. This underlying
statement portrays the characterizations and the attributes of justice. In the
concept of justice (Ofo) is the concept of life and truth, authority and
righteousness. All these are the essential attributes of Ofo in its ontological
We observe too that there are so many categorization of Ofo. Thus, Umeogu
…I will immediately make at once to observe that Ofo is no Ofo that is not this Ofo or that Ofo. And, that what Ofo is, by way of its name unconceals the function thereincontext. Thus, Ofo – Okolo more or less representing personal Chi or Agu is used for personal prayers in all truth, to the gods, so that the gods with their power and wisdom may keep its “Okolo” owner whole and full.39
By this categorization of Ofo, namely: Ofo-Okeke, Ofo-Umunna, Ofo-Ozo, Ofo
Ana e.t.c, we can assess the truthfulness of Umeogu in this statement, “Ofo is
no Ofo that is not this Ofo or that Ofo.” Ofo-Umunna, signifying the presence
and authority of the ancestors (who dwell in the presence of high spirits in the
service of God) and some relevant spirit-forces, is used to make for order,
equal-laws, prosperity, e.t.c in kindred meetings and all convocations of such
ilk. Ofo-ozo, a titular Ofo, symbolizing the scepter and truth of the kingly-spirit
in force of it, is used by the title he holds and, to discharge his office in
relation to it. Ofo-Ana, which represents the power and presence of the Earth
Goddess, is used by Ala priests to care for the land and to remove evil abominations. And all that!40
From what has been said, one will readily discern that Ofo in its various gaits
and many guises is used inter alia, to mean justice, truth, fullness, wholeness,
authority, scepter, presence, power, spirit-force, innocence.
Again about Ofo, Nnabuchi writes:
The Ofo in Igbo is called Aka-otule. Ofo can be defined as the symbol of divine spark, of truth, and justice and honesty which arbitrate and judges matters and issues authoritatively. Its universal appeal could be found in its cultural, religious and social manifestations among different people. It is what the Greeks call logos, what the Christians call word, the Indians call Akashibani, e.t.c.41
The concept of Ofo means different things to different persons or groups
among the Igbo. Generally, there are five different meanings to it. Ofo is:
1. A Symbol of justice and truth. 2 A symbol of spiritual authority and instrument of power. 3 A Proof of innocence. 4 A system of elevation into membership of the customary bench (judges) 5 A tree known as Ofo (Detarium elastica Detarium Senegalese.42
Ofo, I must say connotes physical and metaphysical import, an instrument and
symbol. Thus, Dukor says: “It is the symbol of communication with the
spiritual reality: the ancestors, the gods, divinities, forces and the Supreme God.”43
When the Traditional Igbo man holds his “Ofo” in a prayerful mood, he is in
active contact with his ancestors who carry on existence on the other side of
the coin of life. Of all the trees in the forest, the Ofo is the one that most
resembles the structure of man’s bones. The branches have joints like man’s
limbs and fall off the tree like parts of human skeleton. A new Ofo is given to
man at some initiation ceremony. One inherits an Ofo of the ancestors on
becoming the oldest man in the family, in the kindred, in the clan, in the
village, village group, or town, Certain Deity shrines have Ofo which
generations of priests use in turn for invoking the god of the shrine.
According to Arazu, the “Ofo” is not a god. It is used to make contact with the
ancestors and other benevolent spirits. It is used to speak authoritatively and
without fear, to the living, the dead and the gods. Tradition has conferred on
the Ofo a holiness that removes every part of the tree from profane use. The
branches and trunk are not put to domestic use. Nobody climbs the Ofo tree.
The branches fall off on their own. Imported and other pieces of wood are
used here in Igboland for Christian religions worship, as beads and crosses.
Fanatical Christians haveoften thrown away or burnt the “Ofo” of the family,
the clan or of the ancestors to demonstrate religious zeal. They hold the “Ofo”
phenomenon in Igbo religious culture as idolatrous. Generations of Igbos, by
utilizing the “Ofo” for prayers, have not only given the tree a very significant
place in religious worship but have made it a dynamic instrument for
awakening in the Igbo soul the stored-up devotional and mystical
achievements of the group soul of the race, which lies dormant in the
individual’s subconscious. The European Christian Missionary could not
appreciate the dynamic and spiritual value of the Ofo as a sacred symbol.
Ofo is indeed an important symbol of the ancestors. The lineage Ofo, is the
outward symbol of the presence of the ancestors and must therefore be
displayed when the living are assembled for important family discussion. In
very serious and controversial issues which could threaten the peace and
solidarity of the clan, the Okpala or head of the family may decide to impose a
decision with the Ofo, in which case, he may hit the ground four times with it
and say, ‘Anyone who disobeys this decision, may this Ofo kill him,’ and all present respond simultaneously “Ihaa,” (let it be so)’44
Finally, what else are we to say about Ofo? Ofo and Ogu are the symbol of
law, authority and justice. Thus Ejizu writes:
The Igbo believe in the concept of Ofo and Ogu which is like the law of retributive justice. It is believed that Ofo and Ogu will vindicate anyone that is wrongly accused of a crime as long as their “hands” are clean. It is only the one who is on the side of Ogu and Ofo that can call its name in prayer,otherwise, such a person will face the wrath of Amadioha (god of thunder and lightening)45
Finally, some of the Igbo axiomatic expressions about Ofo are as follow:
1. Ofo bu eziokwu na ikwuba aka oto. 2. Ofo bu nti ndi mmuo. 3. O ji Ofo ga- ana. 4. Ofo na eziokwu yi. 5. Ofo ma onye ji ya. 6. Ofo na Mmuo yi. 7. Ome ihe jide Ofo. 8. Osisi e ji buo Ofo abughi Ofo. 9. Okwu bu Ofo. 10. Ofo ka dibia.
Ogu is another instrument of justice and truth. It is often used in line with
Ofo. And so, an Igbo would say: “Eji m ogu, eji m Ofo”. The above proposition
shows completeness. It indicates that the person in question is assured of his
honesty, truthfulness, and uprightness. Such a person is said to be just in his
dealings especially at that case at hand.
Ogu, when prepared becomes like Ofo, a symbol of justice and truth. It is
used for covenant (Igba-ndu) between two or more persons especially when
one is suspecting the other. The covenant normally goes thus: Let justice
thrives between us, whoever plan evil for another, let his evil plans befall him.
Again, whoever sees evil that will befall the other and refuses to indicate, let it
fall on him or her in stead. It is taken for granted that oneness, peace and
unity is established.
Omu is the yellow tender leaf of the palm found. It is the most delicate part
of the palm tree. In isolation, Omu signifies nothing. Its symbolism depends
on how, when, and what is being used for. It is most conspicuous in rituals,
sacrifices and sacred occasions. It symbolizes holiness, sacredness and justice.
For instance, when Omu is stretched round a plot of land, it means that it
should not be tempered with. When Omu is tied round a tree, it indicates
sacredness. African Traditional Priests sometimes when carrying out some
functions put Omu in their mouth, tie it round their west and hands and then
rub themselves with nzu (white chalk) signifying cleanliness and justice.
Finally, Nzu (white chalk) signifies cleanliness, justness and open-heartedness.
Nzu sometimes is used as kola. It is used in prayer.
1.10.0 LIVING INSTRUMENTS OF JUSTICE AND TRUTH
For the Igbo, the nearer a being is to the Supreme Being, the admirable is his
justice and truthful life. Those who are closer to the Spirit-World and to the
ancestors are believed to be more just because they are taught to participate
more in the ideal justice. There are three group who are believed to enjoy
special proximity to the Earth-Deity. They are: the Ndiichie( Ancestral cult),
the Ozo-titled men(elders) and the traditional Priests.
1.10.1 THE IGBO ANCESTRAL CULT (NDIICHIE)
Our discourse on Earth–Deity; Justice and truth, would be incomplete without
mentioning the ancestral cult. We shall not however dwell so much on it.
Since Ala is the custodian of traditional morality, the ancestors themselves are
corroborators of the same. On this Metuh highlights:
The ancestors are thus symbols of peace, unity and prosperity in the family. At the same time, as protectors of traditional laws and customs, Omenani and the welfare of their families, the ancestors may punish any offender. Sometimes, ancestors might even demand the death of a member of their family whose conduct threatens its survival.46
According to an informant, Ikwue Anikwue: “sometimes when a person is
seriously sick, he is said to be pleading his case before God and Ajana – O no
ikpe be Chukwu na Ajana. His accusers are the ancestors. If he recovers, he is
said to have won his case against his accusers. Hence, during such sickness, he will be calling on the ancestors to leave him alone.”47
From Anikwue’s words, it would seem that the Ndichie have no rights over the
life of the living. If so, the right to take away the life of the penitent is seen as
the prerogative right of Chukwu, God, and Ajana, Earth Deity. The Ndichie
therefore content themselves with accusing him before God and the Earth
Deity and asking for his death. This is intriguing evidence of how the Igbo
organize the beings in their world-view: the Ala, the Ofo, Ndichie and men
under Chukwu, the Almighty Creator and Providence.
1.10.2 OZO-TITLED MEN
These are elders that have taken the title of Ozo. They are also regarded as
living instrument of truth and justice. This is because they are supposed to be
nearer to the ancestors and to the gods. On account of their age, they
participate more in the justice, truth and wisdom of the ancestors and the
gods. They are more just and trustworthy than the ordinary men. They are
supposed to conserve and observe the wisdom of the ancestors which is
contained in the Omenani. In this sense, they are closer to Ala, the Earth
Deity and to their ancestors, the living-dead. By their knowledge and wisdom,
they are believed to be just and truthful. Thus, an Igbo adage says: Onu
gbara aji, adighi asi asi – A bearded mouth doesn’t tell lies.
1.10.3 THE PRIESTS
What is said above about the elders and the Ndiichie also hold
for the priests. That of the priests is taken more serious because they
mediate between the people and the gods. Thus, they are believed to have
direct contact with the gods and so should be like them in the matter of
morality. The traditional priests also perform some legislative function in
Igboland. They are the depositories of traditional customs, taboos, knowledge,
and theology and so on. They also interpret the laws, customs and beliefs of
the people through myths, folklores and legends. They interpret and enforce
these laws with their authority.
1.11 THE EARTH- DEITY AND MORALITY.
Ala is a famous Deity in-charge of morality in traditional Igbo society. Thus, Meek writes: Ala “is the most powerful and important deity after the Supreme Being ‘Chukwu’. She is the Earth goddess, who exercises very great influence on Igbo morality; as is the divine female principle who guards the ‘Omenala’ (customs of the land) believed to have been handed down to the ancestors from the time immemorial.”48
The cult of Ala is one of the most powerful integrating forces in Igbo society
and it is believed that the Supreme Deity bestows on her the defense of
human morality. Ala is the main legal sanction. Ala, the earth goddess is
believed to share in the justice of the Supreme God(Chukwu) in great
measure, being nearest to Him. Laws are made in her name and oaths are
sworn through her. The Igbo believe that Ala cares and loves her children, and the laws issued by her are for their well-being and happiness.49
People worship the Earth-Deity because they see in her, the sustainer of life,
champion of justice and defender of the weak or innocent. Respect and fear
of the laws of Ala make people fair in their dealings with others, for Ala as the
custodian of morality and the giver of ‘omenala’ demands good deeds and
prohibits evil, which is termed ‘Nso-Ala.’ The Igbo word for crime – ‘Alu’ or
‘Nso Ala’ simply means ‘offence against the land’ or ‘desecration of the earth’.
Every law is maintained and sustained through punishments and rewards. Ala
has her ways of punishing and rewarding her children. Her punishments
serve as deterrent for the evil perpetrators. People learnt their lessons through
her punishments. However, as god of justice, Ala does not punish so easily,
but waits till the offender has been acquitted and proves incorrigible.
It is evident and obvious, I must state that morality in traditional Igbo
society is built on two hinges, namely: Omenala and Justice. Linguistically and
etymologically, ome-na-ala comes from “ome” which means “as it is done”. It
is the third person, impersonal form of the word “Ime” which means “to do”.
“to obtain”. “Na” is a preposition which means “in” or “ and” “Ala” otherwise called “ana” or “ani” is a noun , which means land, earth, ground.50 Omenala
as a word therefore means in the Igbo language “ that which obtains in the
land”, “ as it is done in the land’, “ the law and custom of the people of the
It appears so difficult tracing the origin of omenala, however it has been
generally shown that the body of omenala is often, if not always, linked with the ancestral cult or worship by the Igbo.51 This cult is surrounded with the
earth-spirit known as “Ala”. It is believed that the ancestors in times out of
mind, after settling in an area, received laws from Chukwu(the great God)
through “ Ala” (the Earth- Spirit) which they passed onto their descendants as
the tradition and custom of land to be observed. Therefore, omenala is used
to refer to this traditions and customs. During the era of unwritten tradition,
Omenala was the unwritten traditional law and custom. Unlike other cultures
with a literary tradition, the ancient Igbo left no written records of their
remote past to their descendants. In stead of a written tradition, oral tradition
prevailed and is only today being gradually replaced with Western literalism.
The ancestors handed over by word of mouth from generation to generation
after them the contents of their experiences, laws, customs, world-view,
moral, history and philosophy.
Igbo jurisprudence is based on the influence of the “omenala” tht no aspect of traditional life escapes it.52 Accordingly, an author remarks thus:
As soon as a child is born into the community of “umunna” (brethren), his life is affected by the intricate network of these restrictions and all that they represent. Immediately a child is able to speak and understand issues, he is exposed daily to the do’s and don’ts of the society and his parents drum it into his ears, through fables, told in the night and around the fire side and through exposure to various forms of rituals and other observances, the gravity of committing abominable acts”53
In his observations, Dr T Anunobi adds: “All the traditional Ibo people may be
summed up as people observing the “omenaala”. Whoseover observes the
omenala faithfully, that is, according to the practice of the proper ancestral dead.”54As a result of the Igbo’s reverence for Ala, law and order was
guaranteed in traditional Igbo society and legal sanctions were imposed on
the people from the world of the sacred. Heinous social crimes were forbidden
and major offences against native law and custom were punishable under the
sanction of Ala. Some of these crimes included “homicide, kidnapping, poisoning (and) stealing.”55
Death or banishment was not considered enough punishment for some of the
above crimes, and in certain cases, an offender was denied ground for burial
and thrown into evil forest, one of the greatest social humiliations and
condemnations a native of Igboland could suffer. Such a soul found no rest
among the ancestors. This concept might be compared to the Christian’s idea of hell.56 In Igbo society; the action of an individual could bring punishment on
the whole community. In this case, the whole community was bound to make
propitiatory and expiatory sacrifices through the priests of Ala, to avoid
reprisal on the entire community for wrong-doing. In this manner, social
responsibility for the evil actions of an individual was enacted and peer
pressure became an instrument to uphold accepted codes of conduct; a
similar concept was portrayed by Protagoras in Greek philosophy.
The communitarian spirit of the Igbo made people swear their honesty by
Ala, but they could also, as was often the case, gather together in the village
as an extended family to impose a curse or blessing through the Ala on
offenders or peacemakers correspondingly. Even in the present day, in Igbo
villages, elders advise younger one to avoid deeds, considered as ‘Nso Ala’, as these may bring the wrath of Ala on the community.57
Nzomiwu has noted in his thesis:
One very readily sees how Igbo religion sustains and enriches the Igbo sense of justice. Igbo belief in the Earth goddess enhances and enforces social justice. Whether one acts out of fear or love of the Ala, who is a ‘merciful mother’, the result is the same, namely the effecting of social justice within the community.58
Although other minor deities can be harsh in their judgment and punishment,
the earth goddess was the opposite as she was slow to punish.
She is supposed to see the thoughts of all and thus can measure the depth of the malice of each action. In this way, her judgments and punishments are considered as proper…The Earth goddess can thus give life or destroy it, she
loves immensely, but it is true also that nobody can hurt more than she. Her justice is believed to be next to that of Chukwu, because she, like Chukwu, weighs all the circumstances surrounding an action.59
There are so many deities and divinities under the umbrella of Ala- deity in
executing social and moral justice. According to Uchendu,
Minor deities may not take action against an Igbo without asking Ala to warn her children, but no spirit can intercede or intervene when Ala herself has decided to punish. But she does not punish in haste, she gives many signals of her displeasure.60
1. J.O.Chijioke, “Shrine/Deities in the Dispensation of Justice” in Essence – African Philosophy and Pathology of Godhead and Traditionalism, Vol 2, 2005, P. 177. 2. Here the statement of Franz Boas comes to mind. “In the main, the mental characteristics of man are the same all over the world.” (C.f; Boas, F; The Mind of the Primitive Man, New York: Macmillian & Co.Press, 1927, P. 104). 3. I.A.Correia has ascribed to the Igbo “the lowest grade of moral consciousness” (C.f. I.A Correia, “Le Sens Moral Chez Ibos La Nigeria,” quoted by Ekei, J.C in Justice in Communalism, Lagos, Realm Communicaations Ltd, 2001, P.9) 4. (C.f E Ilogu, “Christianity and Igbo Culture”, New York, Nok Publishers, 1974, pp 35-36.) 5. “Ajani Cult (of earth goddess, Ala”) is not found sometimes in some Igbo communities and in many towns in Aguata L.G.A, e.g Uga. “Ajani” cult is non-existent. Udo cult is prominent instead. 6. P.I. Ogugua, “Undestanding Deities in Igbo African World: A religio-philosophical Perspective” in “Essence,” Ibid P. 64. 7. E.I. Ifesiah, Religion at the Grass Roots: Studies in Igbo Religion, Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1989, P. 18 8. Ibid; p.20 9. T. Nwala; Igbo Philosophy, Lagos: Latern Book, 1989, p.18 10. E.Onuoha, Four Contrasting World-Views, Enugu: Empress Publishing Co.Ltd; 1987, P.56-60 11. Ibid; P.11 12. C.C.Mbaegbu, “Nature and Concept of God in Igbo World-View”, in Unizik Journal of Arts and Humanities, Vol. V, (March, 2004, P.129) 13. P.E.Onuoha ; A Quest for Moral Conscience in Igbo Culture, Enugu, 2006, P.20. 14. Ibid. 15. J.E.Madu; Fundamentals of Religious Studies, Calabar: Franedoh Publishers (Nigeria Ltd, 1996, P.5) 16. See C.I Ejizu, “Continuity and Discontinuity of Igbo Traditional Religion” in E.I .Metuh(ed) The Gods in Retreat, Enugu, Fourth Dimension Publisher, 1986, P.134. Also see C.C Achebe, The World of the Ogbanje Op. Cit, P.11. 17. See Madubuko, L. “Igbo World-View” in Bigard Theological Studies (B.T.S) Vol. 14, No 2, July – Dec; Enugu,1994, P.7 18. E.J.Madu, Op. Cit, P.5 19. C.I.Ejizu, Op. Cit, P. 136. 20. E.Onuoha Op. Cit PP 28-29 21. T. Nwala; Ibid. P.27 22. C.C. Mbamara; “Creation of Deity in African Clinical and Social Settings: An Epistemological Inquiry” in Essence, Ibid. P.37 23. E.I. Metuh, God and Man in African Religion, Enugu: Snaap Press, 1981, P.80 24. Metuh, Op.Cit; P. 80-81 25. Quoted in Stumpf,S.E. Philosophy: History and Problem, New York: McGraw-Hill Company, P.162, 1994. 26. Otakpor, Nwoye(ed), “Eziokwu bu Ndu,” Ibadan, Hope Publication, p.15. 27. Ibid. 28. Parrinder, 1974:26 29. C.f. www.wikipedia Free Encyclopedia 30. R.Arazu; Our Religion: Past and Present, Awka: Martin King Press,2005, P. 114 31. Ibid 32. Nwadinigwe, 1999.1:36 33. P.J.O Nwadinigwe, “Umu-Nshi Royal Stool: From 558BC to Date,” 2000, P.19 34. D.Forde & G.I. Jones (Quoted in O.F Ike and N.N Edozie.) Ibid. P.49
35. Ibid. P. 50 36. V.C. Uchendu; The Igbo of South Eastern Nigeria; Holt, Rinehart & whinstone, New York, London, 1965, P.96 37. N.M. Okolo; “The Igbo Belief in Man’s Continued Existence After Death – Its influence on the Society”; Unpubl. Thesis (Rome), 1971, P.39 38. M. Dukor; The Concept of Justice in African Philosophy, in “Perspective On African Communalism,” Ike, Odumegwu.(ed); U.S.A, 2007, P. 65 39. B. Umeogu; Principa Logica, Mid-field Publishers, (Onitsha), 1996, P. 159. 40. Ibid. 41. N.Nnabuchi; Ofo: Igbo Symbol of Authority in “Ogirisi – Igbo Annual Lecture;” Department of Philosophy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, 2002, P. 22 42. Ibid. P. 24 43. M. Dukor; Op. Cit. P. 66 44. E. Ilogu; Ofo; A Religious and Political Symbol, Nigeria Magazine (Sept. 1964 ), P. 234 45. C.I Ejizu,; Ofo: Igbo Ritual Symbol, P. 26 46. E.I Metuh; Op.Cit P. 124 47. Tape recorder interview of Ikwue Anikwue, elder of Amanuke, Awka Division. Ajana is the local name for Ala ( Earth Deity) 48. C.K. Meek; Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe, Oxford University Press, London, 1937, P.25. 49. O.F Ike & N.N. Edozie; Op. Cit. P. 52 50. C.C. Obiego C.C; Igbo idea of God In “Lucerna;” Vol .1, No.1 (July – Dec.,1978) published by Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Chuka Company Ltd, p. 28 51. Ibid. 52. C.C.Osuji; The Concept of Salvation in Igbo Traditional Religion, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis,(Rome, 1977), Pontifical Urban University, Theology faculty, P. 22 53. M.N.S Olisa; Taboos in Igbo Religion and Society; in West African Religion, Unpubl. Department of Religion, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, No.11, Jan., 1972, P. 11 54. T.Anunobi; “The Spirituality of Death”, Unpubl Thesis , (Rome, 1975), P. 39, (Gregorian University) C.f also C.C. Osuji; Op.Cit .P.25 55. C.K. Meek; Ibid. P. 25 56. O.F. Ike& N.N Edozie, Ibid; P.53 57. Ibid 58. Ibid. 59. Ibid 60. V.C . Uchendu, Ibid; P.46