Ndigbo: The Jews of Afrika
Beliefs are an essential part of any religion. They show the way people think about the universe and their attitude towards life itself. The traditional Igbo society has its belief system and an elaborate religious worship organised around it. However, the beliefs have not been systematised into a body of dogma- a pointer to its misunderstanding. God is real to the Igbo society and his reality to them is expressed in the names they adopt or give their children .It is note worthy that one can reconstruct some of their beliefs about God through a careful examination of the names they bear. Lets us examine a few of the names in order to highlight the belief system.
Chukwudiebube: God is great.The Igbo's believe that God is so great that he has no comparison. While they acknowledge the existence of other deities, yet they cannot be compared to the great God. A conviction that is further explained by a practice which enables the Igbo ereit alters for other deities but non for the supreme being. The issue in this case is that the great God can not live in a man-made house. Despite the proliferation of sculpture among the Yoruba and the Igbo it has clearly been felt that the heavenly God can no more be depicted in visible form than he can be enclosed in a building for worship.
Chibuzo: The Igbos believe firmly that God has to be given pre-eminence in everything . The name also express the peoples expectation even as they venture into daily activities of life.They pray God to go first before them in any venture while they follow. They have the firm belief that when God precedes, victory is assured.
Chijioke: God holds gifts. This expresses the conviction that God is the custodian of all gifts and he gives to people as he wills. Consequent upon this belief, highly skilled persons often set up altars for deities through whom God makes his gifts available to such people. For example renowned farmers have altars for the earth goddess believed to be the deity through whom the fertility of the soil is made possible.
Chinenye: God gives as he wills. It underscores the fact that God determines who possess which gift.
Chukwuma: This name endorses the omniscience of God. The people firmly believe that God knows every thing that happens in life both good and bad.
The supreme being is also conceived of in different roles. In his creative role, he is called Chineke, Chi-okike (chi means god, okike that creates).To distinguish him from other minor gods, he is called Chukwu the great God. Apart from the intrinsic attributes, God is conceived in Africa to have eternal attributes such as being self-existent, the first and the last, invisible, incomprehensible, mysterious, and immutable. This observation is true for the Igbo society of Nigeria. Expression like amama amachaghi amacha (he that is known and can not be fully known )expresses the incomprehensibility of God among the people. God is also conceived as possessing moral attributes. Moral attributes like kindness, love, comfort, faithfulness, goodness, holiness, justice, anger, will etc. are applied to God. However, the Igbo, do not have a detailed moral vocabulary. This situation find explanation in the fact that for the Igbos-the custodian of morality in the earth goddess Ala,and the ancestral spirits of the departed fore bearers of the lineage. It is paradoxical that while the Igbos have a very firm belief in God ,attention is paid to the lesser divinities and the spirits. The supreme God is thought of as being too remote to have any dealings with men. This does not mean that God is totally absent in the daily affairs of the people.
In Igbo society, it is believed that the heaven and the earth were close to a touching range in the timeless past. But among the original inhabitants of the earth, there was a woman who habitually return late from farm and cooks late at nights. When the Supreme being is sleeping the woman will be pounding yam in the mortar. In course of the rising and falling of the pistil, the tip of the pistil will be touching the sky thereby disturbing the supreme being in his sleep. When the supreme being could no longer bear this disturbance, he decided to retreat farther into the remote sky hence, the transcendence of his abode from the earth.
Besides the Supreme God ,there are other minor gods or divinities sometimes described as kind hospitable, and industrious, at other times, they are conceived of as fraudulent, treacherous, unmerciful and envious. They are in general subject to human passions and weaknesses. They can be controlled, manipulated and infact ,used to further human interests.
The organisation and power structure of these nature gods mirror Igbo social structure. Like the latter, the nature gods are not conceived of as forming a hierarchical pantheon.There is no seniority or authority implied in the conception of these minor deities. Though some gods are conceived of as being more uncompromising and more wicked than others, yet this trait does not make them rank higher or lower than the other deities. It is the Igbo practice to appeal to one god or to a number of gods simultaneously without any consideration of their rank or status . The Igbo demands from their gods effective service and effective protection. If they fail, in this duty, they are always threatened with starvation and desertion Giving effective protection, the Igbo are faithful to their gods.
The general belief about the divinities is that they are created by God to perform specific roles. There are believed to be intermediaries between God and man ,a means to an end not ends in themselves.Their powers are limited to the performance of specific functions assigned to them by God. None of them enjoys unlimited powers ascribed to God.
These minor deities claimed an enormous part of the daily lives of the people. The belief was that these gods could be manipulated in order to protect them and serve their interests. If the gods performed these duties, they were rewarded with the continuing faith of the tribe. Different regions of Igboland have varying versions of these minor deities.
Ala - the earth-goddess, the spirit of fertility (of man and the productivity of the land).
Igwe - the sky-god. This god was not appealed to for rain however, that was the full-time profession of the rain-makers, Igbo tribesmen who were thought to be able to call and dismiss rain.
Imo miri - the spirit of the river. The Igbo believe that a big river has a spiritual aspect; it is forbidden to fish in such deified rivers.
Mbatuku- the spirit of wealth.
Agwo - a spirit envious of other's wealth, always in need of servitors.
Aha njuku or Ifejioku - the yam spirit.
Ikoro - the drum spirit.
Ekwu - the hearth spirit, which is woman's domestic spirit.
Man n His Gods...
Many Igbo names and proverbs see man as a direct creature of God. The following common personal names reflect Igbo ideas of God as man's creator:
Madueke-man does not create, Onyeneke-who creates except God, Chukwukere-God created.
Man is the greatest of all created beings. Though he is not the strongest, he is able by his intelligence to outwit those physically more powerful. Man's power is both physical and mental and the co ordination of the two makes him a full man).Man is dependent on God and on powers greater than himself and so religion is essential to his well-being because it shows him how to remain in fullest communion. The power of man may grow or die. But by maintaining harmonious relationship through rituals, man contributes to the strengthening of his life force.
Much of Igbo religion consists of rituals to maintain or restore this harmony.
Central in Igbo concept of man is the Chi. One of the most striking doctrines of the Ibo is that every human being has associated with his personality genius, or spirit-double know as chi. Chi links man with God, Eke links him with the ancestors, while Obi or breath links him with the entire universe of life forces.
Chi is associated with a child from the moment of its conception. Igbo beliefs say that at conception, God assigns a chi to each person, and places before the chi several parcels of fortunes. Whichever the chi chooses, becomes the destiny of the child entrusted to his care. This parcel of destiny (chi) contains the total luck or misfortunes the child will have in life. Chi has therefore two ambivalent conceptions:the parcel of destiny ,and the guardian spiritwho chooses the destiny parcel. Thus, a lucky man is called "Onye chi oma"-someone who has a good chi and the unfortunate man is called "onye chi ojoo"-someone who has a bad chi. Hence, one can appreciate the ubiquity of chi in the Igbo man's daily life and life cycle in secular and sacred activities man's abilities, faults, misfortunes(sickness, adversity, death) are ascribed to his chi.
The goal of a man's life is to achieve his (akara chi) the destiny imprinted on his palms. This quest affects the social behaviour or attitude of the Igbo. Underlying Igbo social organisation is an individualistic principle clearly institutionalised in the concept of chi which is a pronounced aspects of Igbo religion.
It is noteworthy that there is a kind of ambivalence in Igbo concept of chi. On one hand a man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. But the chi's role is not absolute for on the other hand an Igbo proverbs says when a man says yes, his chi echoes with him. In other words, chi determines a man's destiny and a man wills his destiny by manipulating his chi.
The ambivalence to the concept of chi by the Igbo raises the problem of predestination and human responsibility.
Thus Igbo view of predestination unlike the western concept of predestination does not imply that what is predestined by God must come to pass irrespective of whatever the individual does rather, it is like an award by God to the individual and held in trust for him by his chi. The responsibility of obtaining the benefits of the award rests on him. He can get all the award or may loose a good part of it, depending on how hard he worked and how skilfully he managed his affairs under the guidance of his chi. But try as he would, he cannot get anything that is not included in the award.