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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #50 of 52: Can There Be an African Psychology? | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #52 of 52: An Introduction to Real Self-Therapy »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #51 of 52: A Synopsis of Igbo Religion – Transcendent, Creative and Immanent God

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- The Igbos of Southeast Nigeria believed that there is one transcendent God. That one God, however, has many attributes and functions; each of the functions is often given a name, as if it represented a different God.

The transcendent God is called CHUKWU. Literally, this can be interpreted as big God, since Ukwu means big and Chi means God.

Chukwu takes on a creative function and is called CHINEKE, literally, God the creator. It is said that God, as Chineke, created CHI. Chi is the individual’s soul, the spirit in the individual, his real self, the Christ in him.

(Chi can be construed as the immanent God, the God in the temporal universe, and the God in us. This is probably equivalent to the Christian concept of Holy Spirit. If you recall, Christians believe that God has three selves, all of whom share one self: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is called the Holy Trinity/Triune. It is said that God created his Son; that in heaven is God and his Son. Then God the Son rebelled against his father and seem to have separated from him and came to live on earth. God the father (the transcendent God) came to earth as God the Holy Spirit (immanent God), to remind his Son (collective humanity) to return to heaven, to remember his real self as the Son of God. God is love and always loves, so his Son is love. To remember his true self is to be a loving and forgiving person. Thus, in effect, God came to earth with his Son. God the father, God the Son, (each of us/all of us), and God the Holy Spirit are the same God, according to Christian theology. See the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart etc.)

The Son of God, Chi, is said to be like God. Both are spirit and are creative. However, it is Chineke that created Chi, not the other way around. God extended his one self to his Son, not the Son to him. The whole produced the part, not the part the whole. God created us; we did not create God or create ourselves. This is a critical point, for it means that though God and his children are of the same essence, that God the father is greater than God the Son and that the later must obey the will of the former, not the other way around. It is misguided pride and arrogance to see ones self as self created or to believe that one created God and created other human beings. Therefore, one must worship God. One must see God as ones superior and worship him. It is the pursuit of self creation that is said to lead the Son of God, us, to separate from God and invent this world. When we accept that God created us, obey his will, which is love, love all people, we return to being in God/heaven/state of oneness.

Igbo people believe that there is God in each of them, Chi. They, in fact, pray to this personal God, ask him questions and ask him to guide them.

(Before the traditional Igbo person goes to sleep at night, he, generally, kneels by his bedside and prays to his Chi and accounts to him how he spent his day and asks him to forgive him for his errors during the day. No Igbo goes to sleep without thanking his Chi for what he did for him during the day. Igbos try very hard to be right with their Chi, for they believe that if one offends ones Chi, meruala/ sacrilege, that one is punished with sufferings and misfortunes.)

Igbos generally give themselves names that imply that they are the children of God, such as Nwachukwu (child of God), Chukwuemeka (God does great things for us), Kelechi (thank or praise God), Obinna (heart or will of the father, in this case, the father referred to is God, hence heart or will of God), Ozodiobichi (there is another idea, child, in the mind of God) and so on.


Whereas the above synopsis represents Igbo conception of God, however, Igbos believe that God takes many guises, including coming to the world to help them. Thus, every Igbo town, village and kindred has it own God, indeed, most Igbo activities have their own gods. Let us illustrate how this phenomenon works in real life.

In Imo state of Nigeria is a town called Umuohiagu. Umuohiagu is a typical Igbo town. It is divided into four villages. One of the villages is Umuorisha. The village is divided into kindred units. One of the kindred units of Umuorisha is Umuamadi.
Each of these units has a god. Umuohiagu has a goddess called Ala-Umuohiagu. (Ala means land; the people were farmers hence their god is a woman, for women are associated with fertility and harvest; generally, Igbo towns have goddesses, Ala, as their chief god.)

Umuorisha has its own God, also a goddess called Ala-Umuorisha. Umuamadi has its own god called Amadioha hence Umuamadi. (Umu means children of …each town, village and kindred is started by a specific person hence the people are referred to as his children, such as the children of Orisha, Umuorisha, the children of Amadi, hence Umuamadi. It should be noted that the god Amadi is a male god; it is also called the sun god, thunder god etc; it is a god for all the town of Umuohiagu, not just for the kindred that bears its name.)

Each Igbo activity has its own god. Igbos were primarily farmers. There is a god of farming called Ajoku. There are other gods in the Igbo pantheon of gods.

The Igbos had a high priest for each of their gods. These priests come from specific families. That is, priesthood is inherited. In Umuohiagu, for example, only persons from Umuamadi can be the priests of Amadioha. The priest of the god of farming, Ajoku comes from specific families; such families are generally called Njoku or Osuji.

In Umuohiagu, the Osuji-Njoku family produces the priests of Amadioha and Ajoku.


Whereas certain persons inherit the priesthood of Igbo gods and perform all ceremonies related to worshipping god, there is another class of persons that perform spiritual function for the Igbos. These persons can be referred to as Shamans. The Igbos call them Dibia. (Duru is the term for male and lolo term for female dibia. A highly evolved debia is called Duruji, equivalent to Hindu concept of enlightened, illuminated person. Please notice the suffix, Ji, at the end of the word duru; in Hinduism the same suffix is applied to spiritually evolved persons, such as Ghandiji, Shankaraji etc.) These persons perform healing functions for the people.

Dibias are selected differently from the manner Ndi isi muo (high priests) are selected. As noted, high priests are selected from certain families. Dibias, on the other hand, are selected from any family. The process, however, is not random. The elders of the village observe all children. In time, they conclude that certain children are highly evolved, spiritually. This decision is made before the child is twelve years old. Apparently, there is something about such children and their behaviors that lead the elders to conclude that they are Onye agwu isi (literally, persons possessed by the gods). These children are prevailed upon to under go certain grueling initiation processes, after which they become dibia. They then become the spiritual psychotherapists of the people. They also provide herbal medicine healing for the people.


Igbos believe that human beings are, at root, spirit (chi). They see human beings as spirits that chose to come to the world to play, (Igwu egwu). People are spirits enjoying a Game of hide and go seek in the realm of space, time and matter. They are spirit that purposely choose to forget their spirit-hood and take on the identity of being material beings, and come to earth. The objective of the game is to see whether one can remember ones true identity while still on earth. When the individual remembers his real self, his spirit-ness and his oneness with God, Chi as the extension of Chukwu, the game is over for him and he returns to God. It may take several life times before one remembers ones true identity. There is, however, no hurry, for it is, after all, a game, a self chosen game and one can come to the world over and over again, for millions of years and play until one set up events that would enable one to remember ones true self. When the true self is remembered, one exits the game, leaves the temporal world and returns to the permanent world, and regains the awareness of unified spirit self. (God and his children are said to be unified spirit…only spirit can unify, matter separates; God and his children, Unified Spirit Self, Unified Mind, Chukwu, are said to be eternal, permanent, changeless and all knowing.)


When people have had enough of our world, play acting, they die. Igbos believe that upon physical death that the spirit in people, Chi, returns to being with his father, Chukwu, and other persons who had died. These “dead persons” are said to rejoin the ancestors and live in a spirit place, spirit land, called Alamua. (Ala for land, Muo for spirit.)


Igbos believe in reincarnation. Thus Chi, spirit, can manifest in the temporal world for however many times it desires.

When a child is born in Igbo land, Alaigbo, the parents consult a dibia to find out whom, in their community, died and reincarnated as their present child? What ancestor has returned to the people through this child, they want to know. (Obinna, for example, is said to be reincarnated Chukwuemeka Eugene Osuji, his father’s brother.)

Igbos do not believe in the oriental concept of karma, a concept that most people associate with reincarnation. To the Igbos, those who do evil in this world are punished in this world and that is all there is to it. Traditional Igbos did not have a concept of HELL.

(Contemporary Igbos, however, are Christian. As such, they have accepted Christian concepts into their metaphysics. They have accepted the idea of heaven and hell, albeit in attenuated forms. Indeed, they have invented Satan and devils. Satan is called Ekwesu and hell is called Okumuo…where one is burned; Oku is fire, Muo is spirit; in effect, okumuo is a place where errant spirits are burned, as in Christian notion that hell is a fiery place where sinful persons are burned forever and ever.)


When a child is born in Alaigbo (Igbo land) the elders circumcise him or her (on the 8th day). On the 28th day, a month, a naming ceremony is held. At that ceremony, the village high priest names the child. During that ceremony, the priest welcomes the child into the kindred, village and town. To do so, he usually traces the child’s genealogy for as far back as he could; sometimes he goes as far back as several hundred years.

For example, he would say: we, the people of Umuamadi, Umuorisha, Umuohiagu, welcome you to our fold and name you Obinna. Obinna (meaning his father’s heart/will, God’s heart/will), you are the son of Ozodiobi, who is the son of Ohaegbulam, who is the son of Osuji, who is the son of Njoku, who is the son of Opara, who is the son of Orisha, who is the son of Ohiagu, who is the son of Onyeayalanwanneya and so on and so on.


The Igbos, until their encounter with Europeans, were farmers. They farmed such crops as yams, coco-yams, cassava, corn/maize, groundnuts/peanuts, okra, chili peppers and assorted fruits and vegetables (like ugu, okasi, nturukpa, oha etc). Their chief crop is Yam (Ji).

The Igbos practiced rotational farming. They would farm a piece of land and then leave it to lay fallow for four years before they farmed it again.

They practiced slash and burn use of land. They cut their bush in March and burned it in early April.

The rains usually come in April (wet or rainy season, spring) and they plant their crops. It generally rains between April and October and then the dry season begins (November to March).

The Igbos have two seasons, rainy and dry. However, it does get cold during the months of December and January, cold enough for folks to heat their houses with burning wood and wear sweaters while outside. This cold season is called Hammattan. It is generally breezy and dusty, with wind blowing sand from the Sahara desert to as far south as Igbo land on the Atlantic Coast of West Africa. (Igbo land is in what is called Equatorial forest, on the Guinea Coast).

Yam, cassava, corn and other crops are planted in late April to early May. Corn is harvested a couple of months later and eaten without much ado. In August, the first yams are harvested. But before this yam is eaten much ado is made. An Igbo land wide ceremony, called Ahanjoku, is held.

This ceremony is probably the most important one in all of Igbo land (Alaigbo). All the people in a village cook food, from the new yam and bring it to their obiriama (public house) and gather to eat it. The yam priest, called Njoku or Osuji blesses the food and goes through an elaborate ritual, thanking their gods for blessing them with good harvest and then the merriment begins.

Ahanjoku day is generally characterized by eating, drinking and joy. It is something to be seen, for one does not have artistic powers to describe the ceremony. The New Yam festival and the naming of a child ceremony has to be seen to be known. The child naming ceremony, like Ahanjoku, brings all the members of the clan to the child’s house and food and wine are had and the entire day is devoted to merriment, welcoming a new soul, Chi, to the kinfolks.


The Igbos have four days in their week: Eke, Ore, Afo and Nkwo. Persons born on each of those days are often given names symbolizing that they were born on those days, such as: Nkwocha, a fair skinned (ocha is fair complexioned) child born on Nkwo day; Okorie, Okoye, Okoroafo, Ekeji, Okoroeke, Nwafo etc. Igbos from different parts of Igbo land pronounce these week days a bit differently, thus, Okere in Owerri, Okoye in Onisha, Okoronkwo in Owerri, Okonkwo in Onitsha etc.

The Igbo calendar, like in the West, is twelve months. The first day of the New Year is a holiday and is a day of great ceremony in Igbo land. (Those of them, which is practically all of them, who are Christians now have added Christian holy days like Christmas, Easter etc to their holidays.)


Christian missionaries penetrated Igbo land during the nineteenth century. They, more or less, told the people that their religion was primitive. They worked very hard to destroy Igbo and African religions. Today, most Igbos are Christians.

During the era of missionary activities, European missionaries divided Igbo land and assigned sections to different religious denominations. Thus in Igbo land some persons are Catholic, others Protestants (of the various sects, Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal etc).

The Holy Ghost fathers, mostly Irish, came to Umuohiagu in 1906 and established their Catholic Christian religion there. The first Catholic Church and school were built in the town in that year. Thus, most people in that town go to St Michael’s Catholic school and Church. Some of them proceed to the town’s Catholic secondary school. A very few go to University at Owerri, sixteen miles from Umuohiagu. (Owerri is the state, Imo State of Nigeria, capital.)

These days, very few Igbos practice their traditional religions. In fact, some of them are ashamed of their religious past. They are more likely to identify with Christianity and proudly tell you that they are Catholics or Anglicans etc.

(These days, religious syncretism has taken place whereby imported European Christianity mixed up with traditional African religions to give rise to a synthesis of both in new religions. These new Africa religions are found all over urban Africa. In Igbo land, they are generally of the Pentecostal variety and some of them are called Cherubim and Seraphim Churches; in Yoruba land, they are called Aladura. These Churches have different names in the Congo, South Africa or Kenya. They all combine African religious worship styles with European Christianity. They are similar to what obtains in black American Christian churches: the dancing and loud singing to their gods. Black American churches manifest these people’s religious carry over from Africa.)

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:49 AM


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