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The Igbo People’s Theological Spirituality

This article is strictly on the traditional spirituality(regarded as religion by laymen) of the Igbo people of west Africa known locally as Odinani, although not well known as its Yoruba counterpart. Omenala features concepts quite unique in African tradition.
Anyway this is an introduction of the Igbo spirituality, known as Odinani/Ọdinani, also Ọdinala, Omenala, Omenana, Odinana or Ọmenani depending on the dialect amongst the Igbo people is the traditional cultural spirituality and practices of the Igbo people of West Africa. These terms, as used here in the Igboid language, are synonymous with the traditional Igbo” spiritual system” which was not considered separate from the social norms of ancient or traditional Igbo societies.
Theocentric in nature, spirituality played a huge role in their everyday lives. Although it has largely been supplanted by the enforcement of Christianity by Europeans, the indigenous spiritual system of the Igbo people remains in strong effect among the rural and village populations of the Igbos.
Odinani is a panentheistic faith, having a strong central deity at its head. All things spring from this deity. Although a semi-pantheon exists in the spiritual system, as it does in many indigenous African spirituality, the lesser deities prevalent in Odinani expressly serve as elements of Chukwu the central deity.

Like all spirituality, Odinani is the vehicle used by its practitioners to understand their World (Uwa), or more specifically, the part of the World that affects them, which is to say the dry Land on which the Igbo live and gather sustenance and it is from this that the spirituality acquires its names:”Ọdi”( it is ) na(on/within) “Ani”(the Land or the Earth goddess) in the Northern Igbo dialects and also “O me”(it happens ) na(on/within) “Ala”( the Land or the physical manifestation of the Earth goddess as dry land) as used primarily in the Southern Igbo dialects.
Chukwu, as the central deity and driving force in the cosmos is unknowable, and too great of a power to be approached directly save by the manifestations that exist on the World (the Land, the Skies, and the Sea). Thus, Odinani rarely deals directly with the force that is Chukwu. Many other spirits and forces also exist in Odinani spirituality and folklore.

The origin:
The term‘ọdịnala’also pronounced‘ọdịnani’(depending on dialect) is derived from three Igbo words‘ọdị’–meaning‘it is’;‘na’–meaning ‘on/within’and‘ala’–meaning ‘the Land or the Earth’. Literary, Ọdịnala means ‘it is on the Land or something that is anchored on the Earth or Land’.
In Igbo nation where this word originated, it is also called omenala, omenana, or omenani by some tribes. M.O Ene (2000) presented Igbo culture as:”a dynamic phenomenon that deals with the artifacts and mores by which the Igbo people of west Africa distinguish themselves from other ethnic groups.
“To him, it is a serious mistake to distinguish between Igbo spirituality and culture but he later went further to agree that Igbo spirituality (Ọdịnala) led to Igbo culture (omenala) by stating that:“..if, the Igbo people have no spirituality, then they have no culture….. Spirituality is we, our culture, our way of life”.

Thus, no matter what it may be called, the truth is that 100% of the Igbo people use the word ọdịnala to describe the Igbo traditional spirituality and have differentiated it from omenala; which is culture. There are various definitions of the term‘Ọdịnala’from different Igbo scholars, writers, philosophers and teachers of culture and tradition. The conclusion could be drawn from Dr. Uju Afulezi (2000) and Ene M.O (2003) that“Ọdịnala is the ancient Igbo traditional spirituality”. This definition has some limitations and is subjected to criticism especially, if we can remember that Ọdịnala is anchored on the land (ala). Provided that ala exists, it is the same all over the world.

The basic belief and the teachings of this spirituality (Ọdịnala) hold in any part of the Earth(Ala); hence the Igbo sentence ‘ala wu otu’ which translates ‘the land is the same everywhere’. Thus,Ọdịnala in this veiw is for every world but originated from Igboland.
Ọdịnala is therefore, the ancient spirituality of the people that connect mmadu (human being) to Chukwu (God) through Chi (personal spiritual guardian or providence). It is an ancient sacred science that enables people to exist in peace, love and harmony with Chukwu(God), Chi(personal providence) and Arushi (the supernatural forces) on their way back to eternal.
Like all spirituality,Ọdịnala is the vehicle used by its practitioners (Dibias or priests) and spiritual students (followers of the spirituality) to understand their World (Uwa), or more specifically, the part of the World that affects them, which is to say the dry land on which the people live and gather sustenance. I call it‘a gifted spiritual route’.

Chukwu’s incarnations in the world (uwa) are the Alusi. The Alusi, who are also known as Arushi, Anusi or Arusi amongst the igboid dialects all spring from Ala the earth goddess who embodies the workings of the world.
There are lesser deities in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo lore, these lesser Alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose. They exist only as long as their purpose does thus many Alusi die off except for the universally served Alusi. The top four Alusi of the Igbo pantheon are Ala, Igwe, Anyanwu, and Amadioha (or Kamalu); other less important Alusi exist after these, some depending on the community.

Ala (also known as Ani, Ana, Ale, and Ali in varying Igboid dialects) is the female Alusi (deity) of the earth, morality, death, and fertility in Odinani. She is the most important Alusi in the Igbo pantheon. In Odinani, Ala rules over the underworld which holds the deceased ancestors in her womb. Her name literally translates to ‘Ground’ in the Igboid language, denoting her powers over the earth and her status as the ground itself. Ala is considered the highest Alusi in the Igbo pantheon and was the first Alusi created by Chukwu, God almighty. Ala’s husband is Amadioha, the sky god. As the goddess of morality, Ala is involved in judging human actions and is in charge of Igbo law and customs known as ‘Omenala’.
Taboos and crimes among Igbo communities that are against the standard of Ala are called nsọAla. All ground is considered ‘Holy land’ as it is Ala herself. With human fertility, Ala is credited for the productivity of land. Ala’s messenger and living agent on earth is the python (éké), it is and animal especially revered in many Igbo communities. In Odinani art, Ala’s image is mostly depicted in clay Mbari temples.

It is said that if a person commits a taboo in a community, that they have also desecrated or insulted Ala as the abomination (called ajo njo or Aru Ala, Alu Ani) was committed on her earth. Ala is also responsible for many aspects of Igbo society, and guardianship of women and children in general. It is also believed that she can be Chukwu’s wife or daughter. She is often depicted with a small child in her arms and her symbol is the crescent moon. It is believed that the souls of the dead reside in her sacred womb. All in the community have to respect Ala as everybody lives on ala, the earth. It was sometimes believed that Ala could swallow you up into the underground.

Alusi of Thunder and Lightening.
Amadioha literal means “free will of the people” is the Alusi (god) of thunder and lightning of the Igbo people of west Africa. He is amongst the most popular of Igbo deities and in some parts of Igboland, he is referred to as Amadiora, Kamalu (which is short for Kalu Akanu), Kamanu, or Ofufe.
Astrologically,his governing planet is the Sun. His color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Metaphysically,Amadioha represents the collective will of the people. He is often associated with Anyanwu, who is the Igbo god of the Sun. While Anyanwu is more prominent in northern Igboland, Amadioha is more prominent in the southern part. His day is Afo, which is the second market day of the Igbo four day week.

Shrines to Amadioha still exist in different parts of Igboland, but the main shrine is located at Ozuzu in Ahoada Local Government Area of present day Rivers State, Nigeria. Although it is located there, it is not the patron deity of the people of Ozuzu. In fact, it is said that Ozuzu is the town in which Amadioha lives and it serves as it earthly headquarters. It is from there that it spread to other parts of Igboland.

Functions of Amadioha
-God of Justice-
Amadioha is first and foremost known as a god of justice. He speaks through thunder, and he strikes with lightning. He creates thunder and lightning by casting “thunderstones”down to earth. Persons judged guilty by Amadioha are either killed by lightning (which leaves a black mark on the forehead) or attacked by a swarm of bees. The property of the victim is usually taken by the priests of Amadioha, and the body is left unburied and the victim unmourned, as the punishment is considered to be a righteous one from God. In some parts of Igboland, Amadioha is used as a curse word. Oaths are often sworn to him, which carries deadly penalties when broken.
The ritual cleansing for Amadioha is very costly and tasking. The deity can only be appeased by transferring the curse to a live goat that is let loose outside of the walls of the community. The ram is a common offering for him. The priestly clan of Amadioha are known as Umuamadi, which translates to children of Amadioha.

Besides justice, Amadioha is also a god of love, peace and unity, and is prayed for increase of crops, children in the home, and benevolence. Aside the above manifestations of Amadioha, he represents, as different from most African spiritual world views, a messianic hope for those in critical situations.
Amadioha is also considered to be a creator God. In some traditions, human beings were made by him when he sent a bolt of lightning down to strike a silk cotton tree, which split and revealed a man and a woman.
Amadioha is often shown as a husband to Ani, who is the Earth mother. In Igbo traditions, the pair are said to be the first Alusi to have been created by Chukwu. The two are often honored with Mbari houses, which were made with mudbrick. Amadioha is typically depicted as a fair-skinned, titled gentleman of cool temper who is the patron of”light skinned Igbos and men of exalted rank. While Ani is considered to be the lawmaker of Igbo society (which is known as Odinani), Amadioha is the enforcer and protector of the law.

In the play, the Other Side of the Mask, the character Jamike refers to Amadioha as “the god of carvers” and identifies him further as “the god that sends lightning to kill the evil spirits who inhabit the trees from which carvers hew their wood.
Amadioha as a personal shrine is a spirit of enterprise that brings wealth. He is also a representative of the head of the household
In precolonial times, the village of Ozuzu turned Amadioha/Kamalu into an oracle called Kamalu Ozuzu. People would travel all over Igboland to visit the oracle in order to settle disputes and for help with crucial decisions. Parties found guilty by the oracle will be banish.

(Alusi of Time, Success and Achievement)
Ikenga (literal means “place of strength”) is a horned Alusi deity found among the Igbo people in west Africa. It is one of the most popular symbols of the Igbo people, and the most common cultural artifact.

Astrologically,Ikenga’s governing planet is Mars and its sacred number is 3. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society. It comprises someone’s Chi (personal god), his Ndichie (ancestors), aka Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice.

Ikenga is specially found among the Northern Igbos of Anambra, Enugu, Delta and some parts of Kogi State. However, its not an exclusively Igbo symbol. The various peoples of Southern Nigeria have slightly different notions of the components of an individual personality, but all agree that these various aspects can only be affected through ritual and personal effort. Some variants of it are found in Ijaw, Ishan, Isoko, Urhobo and Edo areas. Among the Isoko people, there are three types of personal shrine images: Oma, which represents the”spirit double”that resides in the other world; Obo which symbolizes the right hand and personal endeavor and the lvri which stands for personal determination. In the Urhobo areas it is also regarded as Ivri and in the Edo areas its called Ikegobo.

Ikenga is a personal god of human endeavor, achievement, success, and victory. Ikenga is grounded in the belief that the power for a man to accomplish things is in his right hand. It also governs over industry, farming, and blacksmithing, and is celebrated every year with an annual Ikenga festival. It is believed by its owners to bring wealth and fortune as well as protection.

Two-faced Ikenga is the oldest concept of Ikenga in Igboland. It is a two-faced god, with one face looking at the old year while one face looks at the new year. This is the basis of the oldest and most ancient Igbo calendar. As a god of beginnings, it has the praise name of Ikenga owa ota.

Ikenga requires consecration before usage. Normally, an Ikenga is consecrated in the presence of one’s kinsmen or agemates by lineage head. Offerings of things like yam, cock, wine, kolanuts and alligator pepper are sacrificed to it. Consecrations are often more elaborate and occasionally less depending on the financial strength of the owner. If the owner is devoted, he feeds his Ikenga on a daily basis with Kola and wine and periodically, especially before an important undertaking, he offers sacrificial blood of a cock or ram to induce the spirit to help him succeed. Afterward, the owner also offers thanksgiving to his Ikenga for making him to achieve success. Success as believed, solely depends on their personal Chi, represented by Ikenga and the support of kinsmen.

There are three types of Ikenga: ikenga madu (human), ikenga alusi (spirit), and ntu aga (divination objects). The first is a fully developed human figure with horns, seated on a stool. The second is a cylinder with horns. The divination objects are small and simple and come in different shapes.

The most famous type of ikenga is probably the”warrior,”depicting a well-developed human figure with horns and a fierce expression. It is seated on a stool, holding objects in both hands. The right hand holds a knife with a pronounced handle and a slightly curved blade, the left hand a tusk or more often, a severed human head with eyes, nose, and mouth bulging out of the concave face.
The warrior ikenga corresponds to the stage in life when men are expected to demonstrate their military prowess. Owned by younger members of the age grade, it depicts the ideal young man: robust, wearing the warrior’s grass skirt, and holding a knife and a severed human head. This pose used to be seen in warrior groups when they performed dances.
The knife is always held in the right hand, called aka Ikenga (the Ikenga hand), and the Ikenga is also called a shrine to the right hand. In recent times the overt violent element of the severed head and knife has been replaced by metaphorical way as symbols of aggression. The most characteristic of all the iconographic elements of the Ikenga, the horns (opi), also carries this lii, also carries this connotation. The Igbo proverb says,”The ram goes into a fight head first”(Ebuno jịibi éjé ogụ); that is, one must plunge into a venture in order to succeed.

A second major ikenga type, an elaboration of the warrior form, has a superstructure with human or animal images, or both. The seated figure often displays a tusk in the left hand and a staff in the right. In many examples, ichi marks are represented on the face. Some of these figures, especially the very large ones, often are more than a meter high, do not belong to an individual but to an age set or a lineage segment. These community Ikenga figures stand for group rather than individual achievements and prestige, and demonstrate continuity between the individual and society. They are related to the display figures known as ogonachomma (“the eagle seeks out beauty”) and display a great deal of artistic inventiveness.

In the simpler examples of this group, the superstructure on a disk base supports animal figures. Other large Ikenga have very intricate superstructuresconsisting of two horns that circle the sides of the head and continue upward to form another circle terminating in snake heads. Pointed protrusions occur on the lower part of the horns. Above the head are four ram heads and one or more leopards at the top. The motifs on the community Ikenga tend to have complex head dress signifying collective ownership. The motifs also depicts what the community is known for, for instance whether they are known as warriors, hunters, traders or predominantly farmers.
During the annual festival, all male born during the previous year are brought before the community Ikenga and thus are validated as community numbers.

The elaborate Ikenga figures, especially those with superstructures, seem to correspond to the more advanced, title-taking stages in a man’s life. The three-legged stool, known as the Awka stool, was reserved for one of the highest rank of the title system, the ozo title. The staff indicates authority, and comes in a complex hierarchy, from a simple wooden one to a rod of forged iron with brass rings. The most common type represented in Ikenga is the nsuagiligi, distinguished by openwork on the shaft. The tusk, okike, held in the left hand, is used as a trumpet, odu. It alludes to the elephant, a widespread symbol for power and leadership. A stool and tusk, though not a staff, were often carried for persons of high title by a young boy or a girl.

Most of the elaborate Ikenga bear the ichi scarification pattern, consisting of parallel vertical lines on the forehead and temples. Scarification was a professional specialization of experts from the Awka community. The ichi marks were used to distinguish the highest-rankingmembers of the title societies, as well as sons and daughters of the nobility. A superstructure usually also consists of references to animals. One prominent animal used on the titleholder Ikenga figures is the leopard, agu, the king of the animals and an emblem of the political authority of a titled man. The horns of the ram or other animals, found on all ikenga figures, signify power and aggression. Many elaborate examples display a whole figure of a ram, or at least a full head. Snakes, birds, and turtles may also be included on the Ikenga.

Numerous Ikenga, both the warrior and the titled person’s types, have a row of pointed projections flanking the head, usually three or another odd number on each side. Ikenga in the southern Igbo area have three knobs on a horizontal bar. Besides being associated with Ikenga, the number three is also associated with males throughout West Africa. These projections may stand for nzu, cone-shaped pieces of chalk used in rituals. This native chalk, suggesting purity and protection, is sometimes applied to the eyes and temples. High-ranking people need magical protection because they are often objects of envy, which is commonly expressed by witchcraft.

End of part one

By Ejike Iloduba
Telephone 2348032289203, 2348023753032
Co-founder of Pan African Liberation Movement – palm


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