The idea of representation or symbolism is at the heart of all religious and cultural practices globally. This is because most belief systems are abstract in nature and in need of symbols to transmit the truth taught by the votaries of the religions to their adherents. Symbols could be seen in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism and other religions. Symbols could be concrete, verbal or expressive action. The difference in symbols creates a sense of value to specific adherents’ who belong to a particular religion or culture.
Generally symbols enable people to understand the world through various forms such as; gestures, signs, objects, signals, and words etc. These symbols convey or pass required information to an individual or a community without any utterance. Symbols as a mode of communication offers a visual representation of ideas.
The world is filled with different representation of ideas in other words symbols, these symbols can be affiliated to different religious or non-religious groups, it can be used to illustrate the essence of divinity and also it can be used to illustrate instructions, for instance, the stop sign, the gender signs used in public restrooms, the engagement or wedding rings, the peace sign etc.
The representation of ideals in other words symbols can be illustrated through forms of solidarity for instance the clutched fist is a symbol for feminist group and most recent BLM(Black Lives Matter).Another form of solidarity is through erected statues, for instance the erected statue of Prof. Dora Akunyili in Agulu Anambra state could be a symbol for female empowerment etc.
While different cultures and religious groups have varying symbols, symbols in Igbo Spirituality is unique to Ndi-Igbo. Symbols used in Igbo Spirituality gives meaning and influences our lives as Umu-Chukwu.
Representation or Symbolism in Igbo Spirituality is the representation of divinity through human capabilities. The human desire to give credence to abstractions led to the creation of symbols as a way to understand and give meaning to our spiritual beliefs and practices which to an Ofeke (A non-dibia) sees as idolatry or devil worship. The status of these symbols was ascribed or given to it by man, in that case whatever meaning a symbol holds was given to it by those living within that settlement, it can mean something entirely different to others existing outside that culture.
Representation or Symbolism in Igbo Spirituality can be illustrated under two aspects of existence which is the physical aspect and the metaphysical aspect of human existence.
The physical aspect of Symbolism in Igbo Spirituality includes physical principals that were instituted by our ancestors in accordance to the law of popular opinion for a particular purpose which in return became an integral part of Igbo spiritualism. These principals can also be referred to as avatars which represent a certain concept (Muo or otherwise) within the Igbo cosmology. These concepts include:
- Alusi : Alusi to Ndi-Igbo is the principle custodian of fairness and equity. Upon the institution of these principles a certain agreement was reached and laws known as Nso are devised to supercharge the potency of these concept. These principles were instituted for a particular purpose, such as to command obedience in regard to the laws of the community and land(Nso Obodo na Nso Ala). Alusi in some community is referred to as Alu-kwusi while in other community its referred to as Ebe-Alu-Si.
- Ihu Agwu: Agwu in Igbo spirituality is known as the energy of wisdom and creativity. This energy is also referred to as the mind of God and in Christendom its known as the holy spirit. Ihu Agwu (Face of Agwu) is the physical representation of Agwu energy which is usually owned and instituted by a Dibia, Ezenwaanyi or anyone that is born with the Agwu spirit through the process of Iru-Agwu.
- Dibia : Dibia is a mediator between the human world and the spirit world who is also a master of knowledge and wisdom. To be a dibia one must be born with spirit of Agwu also known as Agwu dibia or could be an ofeke that understudied with a dibia . Dibia in Igbo Spirituality falls under different specification which include; dibia afa, dibia mgborogwu ,dibia mmiri ,dibia ara etc. A dibia to Ndi-Igbo isn’t just a person tasked with the gift of sight or service but an individual whose integrity, compassion and kindness is next to none.
- Okwa Chi and Ikenga Chi: The concept of Chi in Igbo spirituality is referred to as the personal God (Chi) of an individual who has being commissioned or created by God to carter for the well-being of the individual(In essence you are your Chi’s responsibility). We Igbos believe that there is an element of God in nature, hence the admiration, reverence and worship. Okwa Chi to Ndi-Igbo is a concise clay pot filled with herbs (such as Ijite) and sand from your mothers paternal home with an effigy of your Chi and its Ikenga. Okwa Chi becomes the symbol of one’s Chi after the process of IDO CHI.
Ikenga Chi: Beside every Chi figurine is the effigy of a horned image known as Ikenga. Ikenga signifies a warrior in human shape, with horns and fierce expression, its also believed that Ikenga is very powerful to handle spiritual battles. Ikenga to most is a masculine energy bequeathed to only men some others argue that the Ikenga energy is an essence within everything individual. The combination of Chi and Ikenga makes up the spiritual essence of every soul with an Igbo origin.
P.S- The masculinization of Chukwu is a recent phenomenon. In Igbo Cosmology Chukwu/Chineke are seen as two pods in a beans but within the earth sphere the God energy is seen as feminine (Eke). The masculine ascription of God was as a result of Colonialism and tribal wars,as a result men had to fight so many wars to ward off invaders ,thus Ikenga began to assume a masculine identity in these periods.
Women in Igbo precolonial society had both economic and political power ALSO READ
- Obi ndi Ichie:In Igbo cosmology Obi is the representation of Chukwu’s home before the “The Great Sorrow” (Odashi) which led to the death of Komosu and unavoidably the creation of the earth. Obi in Igbo spirituality is the spiritual home of our ancestors’, it’s also a communal abode for settling disputes. Symbolically each family’s Obi servers as a barrier against forces that seek to cause mayhem on its kin and kith. Its equally a sanctuary consecrated for family rituals and prayers (Igo Ofo).
- Ofo : Ofo to Ndi-Igbo is the symbol of authority that is either carried by an Akajiofo or an initiated Dibia. Ofo in most sublime cases is given to the head of a household or to the oldest man in every Umunna. Ofo in every kindred is a sign of authority, tranquility and justice. Any oath taken on an Ofo is more effective than the conventional justice system.
- Nzu, Oji,Edo, Alligator pepper and Kolanut etc: These items in Igbo spirituality are instruments used for prayers which is referred to as Igo Ofo or Igo Oji in Igbo language. Like I said Ndi-Igbo believe that there is a Chi element within every and anything created by God. By using these elements, we are in inviting God and it’s principals to be one with us and heed to our prayers. Just like the bible, holy water, oil etc has sentimental values to the Christians so does these natural element.
Each of these instruments has its meaning and what it represents during the process of Igo-ofo. The Igbo process of praying or communicating with an individual’s spiritual forces is quite unique and seemed like a Q & A session. The usage of adages (Ilu)is highly encouraged as its assumed that we are already in communication with our ancestors streaching back to the first generations(Ndi Mbu) (To be continued in the next article)
Representation or Symbolism in Igbo Spirituality gives meaning to our shared experience. From our exploration, the relationship between symbolism and us (Ndi-Igbo) is our experience. Our experience gives credence to these symbols and our spoken words affirms it. An Igbo adage says “Awo anaghi agbaa oso ehihe na efu” which means “There isn’t no smoke without fire”.