Stepping Back In Time: Visiting Igbo Ancestors And Their Gods [Part II]
By Iwedi Ojinmah 2 months ago
As we know the Igbo are a deeply religious people. The imprint of Christianity, when compared to the ratio of a population, is amongst the highest in the world.
However, with the advent of the blossoming of Christianity, it is lost to many that this belief in an overseeing spiritual second force influencing our lives has always existed.
It is the famous tradition known as Odinani.
It was there long before we became hunter-gathers and eventually evolved into the 'civilised' society that we are today.
The Igbo have always had their gods to whom they prayed, depending on the event or particular gist of the conversation. While it was not as complex or turbulent as what we saw in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, it was respected and deeply embedded.
These gods or translated as Alusi (Arushi, Anusi or Arusi in differing dialects) are spirits worshipped and served throughout Igbo land extending out of Nigeria and reaching as far as Haiti.
At the top of the pantheon of Igbo gods is the supreme deity known as “Chukwu”, meaning “great in size”. However, there are lesser deities in Odinani, each of whom is responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concepts.
In the Igbo folklore, these lesser Alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their purpose, unique traits, attributes and functions. You can simply call it a religious division of labour.
In this visit with these old traditional gods we shall attempt to spotlight the specific roles they were assigned within the community as well as how Christianity and the passage of time have distorted fact, and in most instances, corrupted that way we look at these deities.
We have selected 10 and in this part two of our series, we will talk about our next two after initially discussing Ikenga and AmadiohaRelated: Imo State Government Makes Igbo Language Compulsory In Schools
Ala is the feminine earth spirit who is responsible for morality, fertility and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb.
She’s in charge of conserving what has been created.
Ala is also the “womb” that holds, nurtures and renews when necessary. Ala is at the head of the Igbo pantheon, maintaining order and carrying out justice against wrongdoers. Ala is the most prominent and worshipped Alusi, almost every Igbo village has a shrine dedicated to her called íhú Ala where major decisions are taken.
Ala is believed to be involved in all aspects of human affairs including festivals and at offerings.
Ala stands for fertility and things that generate life including water, stone and vegetation, colour (àgwà), beauty (mmá) which is connected to goodness in Igbo society, and uniqueness (áfà).
In Igbo cosmology, Ala is the ground itself, and for this reason, taboos and crimes are known as ńsọ́ Ala (‘desecration of Ala’), all land is holy as the embodiment of Ala making her the principal legal sanctioning authority.
There is no European equivalent.
Ekwensu is a trickster of a god who was adept at bargains and trade and praying to Ekwensu was said to guarantee victory in negotiations.
As a force of change and chaos, Ekwensu also represented the spirit of war among the Igbo, invoked during times of conflict and banished during peacetime to avoid his influences inciting bloodshed in the community, warriors set up shrines to Ekwensu to help war efforts.
Among the Christian Igbos, he is sometimes referred to as Satan and is seen as a force which places itself opposite to that of Chukwu. For that reason, he is now considered the epitome of evil and a bad god.
His European equivalent would be Mars in Rome and Ares in Greece though he wore multiple hats and was not just in charge of war.
Next Part III Idemili and Anyanwu
PART I (CLICK HERE)