Igbo Beliefs

This group of people known as the Igbo race, if not properly viewed, would seem as if they are polytheists. But they are not. Thus, they all believe in One God, only that they conceive that that one God, chi ukwu (the great God), the supreme being, has many messengers whose role is to act as intercessors between God and man and between man and God.

The word chi is seen as the vital substance of the beingness of God. It is a kind of dynamic force in every spirit being. Or to put it better, it is the vital force of every being that can be said to have spirit. In this context, as blood is life for the body, so is chi inseparable from the spirit. When an Igbo person speaks about chi, he implies a dynamic concept that inheres in a person, or which a person inherits and which is part of the things that helps or mars the person, and with which a person’s luck is tied together inseparably with his fate.

This idea is specially brought out in some expressions like “O chi m o o o!” (Ah my being o o o!); “Gị na chi gi!” (you and your being); “Chinelo” (the thought of being); “Chinyere” (the gift of being, fate or luck); “Chichebe” (let being protect); “Chijindụ” (on being hangs life); “Chi abụ otu” (beings are not the same); “Chinenye” (being provides); “Chịdịmma” (being is good) and so on. Note should be taken that the last six words are used as names(especially for females).

This explanation is necessary so that we can understand God better as the sum of not only the object of the faith of the Igbo traditional religionist, but also the highest blender of fate and luck. When the Igbo man believes in chi ukwu, it means that he believes in believing in that, which is the sum of his being within which is enclosed all his being, all his fate, and all his luck. Naturally, man fears, believes and worships what he deems more powerful than himself. Therefore, the Igbo belief in God (Chi ukwu) is that He is the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

Chi that is seen as the main substance of living being, is believed to be not only in God, (Chi ukwu), but also in spirits. Even in every man, chi is the living principle in different forms hence “O chi m ooo, and Gị na chi gi, as we have already seen.

. . .Chi has been translated variously as god, soul, spirit, guardian spirit, essential being and portion of divine being. It is important to note that those who understand Chi as the original name of the supreme being also translate Chi respectively as spirit, creator, and God.
[Abanuka, B., (2004), Philosophy and the Igbo World; Onitsha: Spiritan Publications, p.2].

Perhaps because Igbo people hold tenaciously on chi, they believe strongly on luck, fate, determinism and predestination. In all these concepts, he encases all the categories in his belief system. The implication of this is that whatever that happens to him, he believes that it has been willed by God as such, only that it might have been delayed.

Thus for Africans, Destiny understood as the purpose or end to which
anything or person is appointed has two aspects. First, it could be looked at from the viewpoint of the whole of reality and its parts. By the whole of reality, we have in mind the totality of all that exists or can be conceived and their ultimate origin and support. In this regard, the question to be asked is: For what reason, if any, does the whole reality, considered as all that is or that can be conceived and its origin and support exist? With respect to the individual things that exist, one could ask: Do the many individual or particular things that exist do so just as parts of the whole or for themselves only? Or, perhaps, do they exist both for themselves and also as parts of the whole? These are questions which suggest themselves in this connection, and certain ways of looking at them seem available from a critical examination of the Igbo idea of Chi.
[Abanuka, B., (2004), Philosophy and the Igbo World; Nigeria: Spiritan Publications, p.64].

With the above reference, we have seen that the concept chi, is the force which intrinsically binds together all the principles. Note that destiny must not be the end of all things. Destiny rather than being the end of man, can be periodical.It comes as a result of what luck or fate that comes to man. Thus if a person misses a step, and falls down, that is his destiny. He may not have died, or even suffer an injury, but his fall is believed to have been predestined.

This also goes to prove how and why the concept of causes and effects are taken seriously. Thus, the believe is that while certain occurrences (such as death, deformity from birth and natural disasters; seasons of the days and of the years, and some bad lucks and some mishaps) are predetermined, others are the effects of what we did. In this case, while fortune favours us on account of what we did well, we suffer illfatedness on account of the things we did wrongly.

The epic lyric, which brings out the belief in causes and effects, brings about the issue of Mbe Nwalịga (the wise tortoise), which was seen dead, but the cause of the death which must be ascertained, since something must have been the cause of its death. The full analysis of the fate of mbe goes thus: To the question what happened to mbe nwaliga?, is the following explanation given:
... we say that the breadfruit seed fell on the tortoise Nwaliga. and to bring the poem to its best, we sing that the blacksmith made the gun, and the gun killed the kite, the kite carried the chick, and the chick ate the termite, the termite ate the walking stick, the walking stick broke the breadfruit, and the breadfruit fell on the tortoise. Of course the end result of tortoise is death.
(Ekegbo, N. R., ([2008], Angels, Unseen Reality; Nigeria: Ploughman publishers).

Human destiny is thus one of the concepts that suggest caution to every person as it foretells retribution. However, there are certain situations we cannot transcend with our human efforts alone. That is why Eze (2001:460) notes that therefore, ... after our death there must needs be another life and another justice, a perfect one, in which retribution will be made to all according to their deeds; and those who have fulfilled the will of the Creator revealed through the light of reason and have observed the law of their nature will be rewarded.
(Eze, C. E., African Philosophy; Massachusetts: Blackwell pub).

Here however, the big question which often resurges from the mind of every believer is, “what lies behind the curtain?” Destiny talks about the end which was before time predestined. But the anxiety in human mind is, “what is the post destination like, suppose there is anything like that?” We know that destiny is the end predestination, the propelling force. But what happens after the destined end has come? And this brings one to the concept of life after.

Here is where the orthodox believer believes that there is something it views as mmụọ(mmadụ), which is similar to spirit. This mmụọ receives the reward that is due for it on account of what it has done when it was still encased in its (human) body. In the medium of this belief, karma is believed to play its role after the death of the individual. Thus the belief is that a person’s soul, that is mmuọ mmadụ, is unconditionally entitled to reward or punishment on account of how the person lived in his visible, mortal body.

Punishment comes on its own to see that the person’s soul will not go to rest and enjoy in the company of its ancestors, who are on their own part are already at rest, see and influence the life and activities of those who are still living their mortal life. On the other hand, a soul enjoys the good fellowship of its ancestors if it was righteous when it was in its mortal body. The soul that has not gone and settled with the ancestors is believed to be wandering about aimlessly, sometimes visible, disturbing the living.

Another reason which will make the spirit of the dead to be wondering, often disturbing the living is, if the living (relative/s), have not settled any scores they have with the dead person. These scores can be in form of debt owed the dead person, if the dead person was killed, if a decent (traditional) burial ceremony has not been given to him, if there are things that were required to be put right by the deceased but it was not possible for him to finish it before he was caught by the strong hand of death, and finally, if there is any demand that the ancestors made of him that has to do with the living.

The African Traditional Religion believes that while the soul of any deceased continues to wonder in the universe without rest until everything about it is put right, the good ancestors are living at peace and serenity. In this state of existence, they are happy receiving the praises and honour due for them from those who are yet to die. In their condition too, they have some influences over the living, who on their part, seek the mediation of their prayers, call on them to partake in eating kola during ceremonies, and pour libations to them.
We must note that spirit and ancestor worship contains certain elements of truth. Its instinct is fulfilled in the cult of the Angels and saints. Moreover, it must be pointed out that the pegans generally do not believe that it is the dumb images as such that they are worshipping. Their belief is that there are some invisible spirits or powers superior to mortal man which actually or virtually reside in these images and receive worship through them.
(Okoye, G. M. P., [1965], Our Strange Gods; Nigeria: Ude’s Publishing Co., p.16).

one thing that is very clear about this believe is that the believer believes in one God, the supreme being (Chi ukwu), prays through the deities, that is the intermediaries whom you may like to call His ministers, (which include the god of thunder, the god of water, the god of vegetation etc). Yet, finally the believer honours the good deceased and calls them to mind as occasion demands, as a way of strengthening the string that binds them with those-the dead.

We have already seen that the Igbo Traditional Religion believe in the God whom it calls chi ukwu (the great or big God). Chi ukwu is as good as an expression or a phrase, which has its meaning clearly within the expression. What we have done about the name is just splitting the word, Chi ukwu, so as to analyze the concept, Chukwu better.

The Igbos call God Chukwu (the word which looses only the alphabet “I”, if he does not prefer to use it as the phrase “Chi ukwu”, but which is however being used only during analyses). Sometimes he uses the synonym Chineke (which means the chi that creates, i.e. the creator). For the believer, Chukwu or Chineke is the creator, the unmoved mover, who causes everything but remains the same. He is both the creator and source of everything. He is the beginning and end of all that are. For Metuh (1981:31),
We can draw the conclusion that the prefix Chi evokes the Igbo belief that each person’s Chi receives his destiny from God, who is Chukwu-the great Chi. Chineke reminds us that creation is an essential attribute of God. Another essential – the continuing sustenance of the world by God – is well portrayed in the names of Osebruwa and Agbala-ji-igwe, ‘the powerful and kindly being who is carrying the world’. From the interpretation of the imagery employed in these names, one is already in a position to draw up a list of His attributes”.
(Metuh, I. M., [1981:31]; God and Man in African Religion; Great Britain: The Camelot press).

The way the Igbo people awesomely believe, rever, and worship this God, Chukwu, (who is also called Chineke or Osebruwa), can be seen from their effort to have Him in mind always so as to be in terms with Him by the avoidance of doing what will tend to alienate them from Him; hence, much dos and don’ts in the culture of the people within which the sense of sacred is given further meaning.

One of the ways through which the name of the Supreme being, Chukwu (Chi ukwu) is called, and through which His omnipotence is shown, is in some names of the people to which God’s name is expressly attached or implicitly implied. Some of such names are:
Chukwuma = God knows.
Chukwuraa = Let God leave (His hands).
Chukwuka = God is greater.
Chukwuchebe = Let God protect.
Ozichukwu = God’s message.
Nwachukwu = God’s child.
Ọdịraachukwu(mma) = Once it pleases God.
Okechukwu = God’s portion.
Ọlụchukwu = God’s handiwork.
Eberechukwu = God’s mercy.
Ụzọchukwu = God’s way.
Ebubechukwu = God’s glory.
Raarụchukwu = Leave for God.
Nkachukwu = God’s art.
Onyinyechukwu = God’s gift, among others.

However, there are no known attachment of Chineke or Osebruwa to names of the people. Rather, the use of these latter come in every context, where the invocation and appellation of God is not only necessary, but inevitable. Such contexts include during the blessing and breaking of kolanut, during prayers over a new born child, prayers during worships, prayers during cultural activities, and similar gatherings. During these occasions, it is common to hear such expressions as,
Chukwu abịama = God the only.
Chukwu okike = God the creator.
Chineke nke igwe = Heavenly God.
Chineke Nna = God the Father.
Osebruwa Nna = God the Father.
Ezi Chineke = Good God, etc.
Osebruwa Chineke = Almighty God, (God the Almighty).

All the above are invocations of God. And they are used during prayers by priests and elders during special gatherings.

No need to spare this religion of the fact that it revers idols, or rather, the fact that it worships with sacred images. However, as the believers in the unseen one, the worshippers believe that the one god is invisible, all knowing, all powerful and all present, although He remains unseen with the mortal eyes, hence the attribute “Ọ nọ nso eru aka”, (near but cannot be reached). The believe therefore, is that there must be mediators that have to act as the bridge between God and man. This sacred images therefore are seen as the images of the messengers of God.Africans believe much in images. Therefore the carved images, which are strategically located, remind the people that they are there to intercede for them before God. The images represent the unseen lesser gods or the ministers of God.

The sense of the sacred of the Igbo people influences the rate of their acceptance of other religions. The Igbo traditional religion is a religion claded with wonderful sense of morality. This informs why the issue of abomination or arụ is taken very serious.

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