Stepping Back In Time: Visiting Igbo Ancestors And Their Gods [Part V]
By Iwedi Ojinmah 12 days 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 final part of our series, we will talk about our next two after initially discussing Ikenga, Amadioha, Ala, Ekwensu, Anyanwu, Idemili, Njoku JI and Agwu Nsi Related: Stepping Back In Time: Visiting Igbo Ancestors And Their Gods [Part IV] .
Chi After Chukwu and Ala, is the most important divinity in the Igbo religious worldview is Chi, the spirit believed to inhabit each individual.
Chi is said to be the fractal representation of Chukwu that resides in each person. This is why so many Igbo names start with the word Chi.
Chukwu may be translated as “The Great Chi” as well as “The Great Spirit.” Because every person’s Chi descends directly from the Great God, all humans share in a divine character. This participation in the divine is symbolized in Ikenga, a statue that every adult may enshrine in his or her compound as a reminder that in everyday thought and action, one’s spirit must constantly be elevated toward God.
Some call Chi the “soul” of the person, but it is equally possible that the correct translation is “mind,” because another word, obi, best approximates the English meaning of “soul.”
There is no European equivalent
Mbari loosely associated with Ala is Mbari, the divine guardian of a ritual form of the art central to the Igbo religious existence.
The character of the deity Mbari, who is considered a close associate, if not a divine messenger or personal aspect, of Ala, is best explained by describing the artistic ritual that also bears her name. Mbari art is considered a feminine endeavour—unlike other religious rituals that are, for example, associated with war or hunting. Mbari is a ritual of peace and art and an expression of the love of play, including the satiric and comic, and the love of the beautiful.
Only adult Igbo can participate in Mbari, which involves several months of seclusion, during which the participants devote all their time to creating artworks. These works may be made with materials such as wood, cloth, and ink, but rarely clay.
The results are sculptures that represent the full range of the experience and imagination of each artist: daily objects such as tables and chairs and people from various professions.
The goal of Mbari artists seems to be a re-creation of the everyday experience of an average person in the wider community. Thus, a Mbari house might contain an assembly of objects arranged to look like a miniature imaginary Igbo society.
The purpose of Mbari is primarily to show off the talents of artists: their capacity for observation and reflection and their aesthetic appreciation of the beautiful. At the end of the months of seclusion, the Mbari house is opened to the public for view. Like visitors to a museum, people are supposed to feel a sense of recognition in the artistic—sometimes caricatured—rendition of their everyday communal lives. In return, the visitors shower the artists with gifts, parties, and recognition.
Unlike museums, however, Mbari houses are destroyed—or left to deteriorate unattended—at the end of each season.
The Earth goddess Ala, who is also the god of fertility, is regarded as the divine patron of Mbari. Mbari artists must return to the beginning and renew creativity each year because—as in the cycle of nature—they regard art as highly creative but also improvisational. Thus, it seems that the Igbo valued the spontaneity of the artist and the technical processes of creativity more than the objects created.