Igbo traditional religion is based on the belief that there is one Creator God, also called Chineke or Chukwu. The word that is used for God in Igbo is Chi. It is a reference to the individual spark of divinity that exists within everyone. The collective spirit of everyone and everything is known as Chukwu. It is a contraction of two words: Chi (God) and Ukwu (great or large in size). Literally, Chi-Ukwu or Chukwu means the Great God or the Great Spirit.
The Creator can be approached through numerous other deities and spirits in the form of natural objects, most commonly through Ala, the Goddess of Earth or Amadioha, the God of thunder. There is also the belief that ancestors protect their living descendants and are responsible for rain, harvest, health and children. However, the western influence, Christianity, has taken a dominant role in modern Igboland.
Lastly, whereas, Omenala are customs and traditions, Odinani is the “study of the sacred sciences of nature; both inner (human nature) and outer (the world as we know it).” In essence, Omenala is what is done, and Odinani is part of the reason why its done.
Your ancestors built many ancient civilizations such as the Ugwelle (6000 BCE), Afikpo (3000 BCE), Nsukka (3000 BCE), UmuEri/UmuNri dynasties (500 BCE), Igbo Ukwu (900 CE), and etc. You developed sophisticated architecture such as the Nsude pyramids in Agbaja, Mbari structures, and etc. Igbos developed writing scripts such as Uli, Aniocha writing systems, Nsidibi, Ikwu, and many more. The level of knowledge and scientific (especially metaphysics) discoveries and practices done by the Igbo Civilizations is most likely beyond our imagination. You have a long history of achievements. Now, you are no one. You are just an obscurity like Odumchi, taking part in petty squabbles and living your day like you hardly care for life.
Agbala (f): Agbala is the priestess of Ala. In addition to leading the community’s ritual sacrifices to Ala, she is in charge of executing punishments against individuals who commit acts the community considers immoral (such as murder, witchcraft, and perjury). These and similar crimes are believed to be transgressions against the earth goddess.
Agwu (m/f): Agwu (Agwusi, Agwu) is a trickster God, similar to the Akan god Ananse and the Yoruba god Esu. The trickster is considered capable of being either sex at anytime, or neither sex at all. Respected and feared, Agwu is capable of sowing confusion in the mind of even the clearest reasoner. Agwu, however, can also clarify confusion, even when it is caused by human stupidity, the finite capacity of the human mind, or the evil actions of other persons or gods. If it pleases Agwu to protect or “work with” a thinker, unparalleled lucidity may be attained. But if it pleases the god to sow confusion in someone’s mind, there is nothing anyone can do about it—except work with Agwu to lift the curse or devise a technique of information gathering that overcomes the external confusion wrought by Agwu. Agwu is most dreaded by Dibia whose success as diviners depends on clarity of mind. Dibia are therefore taught ritual sacrifices that they must make to Agwu at the beginning of every divination session. Agwu is thus the patron deity of diviners.
Agwu Nsi (m): Agwi Nsi is the God of health and divination, and medicine men. He is used by the Igbo to explain and understand good and evil, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, and fortune and misfortune.
Ahia Njoku (f): Ahia Njoku (also known as Ifejioku) is a goddess responsible for yams, which were an important ingredient in the Igbo diet, and the women who care for them. In many parts of igboland, rituals are made in honor of the yam deity. Ahanjoku festival is celebrated a full moon before the new yam festival.
Ala (f): Ala (Ale, Ali, Ana, Ani) is the Goddess of the earth, morality, fertility and creativity in Odinani. Ala is considered the highest Alusi (deity) in the Igbo pantheon, as she was the first Alusi created by Chukwu the Creator God. Her name literally translates to ‘Ground’ in the Igbo language, denoting her powers over the earth and her status as the ground itself. All ground is considered ‘Holy land’ as it is Ala herself. The water that flows in and out of her represents the fountain of life and fertility she gives. With human fertility, Ala is credited for the productivity of the land. In Odinani, Ani rules over the underworld which holds the deceased ancestors in her womb. It is believed that in her stomach is were the dead and the living reside. Ala uses the snake as one of Her messengers. 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 nsọ Ala. Ala’s messenger and living agent on earth is the python (Igbo: éké), which is especially revered in many Igbo communities. In art, Ala is often represented as a regal figure seated on a throne, surrounded by her family. In the past, such figures took the form of life-size mud sculptures in special festive shrines dedicated to the deity and known as Mbari. Ala’s husband is Amadioha, the sky God.
Parallel to the idea of Chukwu as a masculine deity associated with the Sun is the idea that the Moon is feminine and closely associated with the goddess Ala—Earth. While Chukwu is in charge of creation, Ala is in charge of conserving that which is created. While Chukwu is the giver of the moral law, Ala is the enforcer of the law. Ala is also the “womb” that holds and nurtures and renews when necessary. Chukwu and Ala are meant to represent the differences and complement between the sexes in Igbo culture. This principle of duality extends to minor gods as well. Some of these deities are “male” gods associated with masculine rituals such as circumcision or with male-dominated professions such as iron smithing and carving. Others are “female” deities, such as those associated with protecting vegetable traders and cloth weavers—who in the Igbo traditional world tended to be dominated by women.
Amadioha (m): Amadioha is the God of thunder and lightning. He is also known as Kalu Akanu, Kamalu, Kamanu, Ofufe. Amadioha means “free will of the people”. [A-madhi-oha] He represents the collective will of the people. Amadioha is among the most popular of Igbo Alusi. He is often associated with Anyanwu, who is the God of the Sun. His day is Afo, which is the second market day of the Igbo four day week. His (skin) color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Similar to the god Shango in the Yoruba religion, Amadioha is the God of thunder and lightning. He is therefore considered “Owner of the Sky.” Amadioha is presumed to be a gentle deity who gets violent only when provoked. 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. “Amadioha magbukwa gi” – Amadioha will punish you. 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. Some Igbo use Amadioha as a curse word. Oaths are often sworn to him, which can carry deadly penalties when broken. The God can only be appeased by transferring the curse to a live goat that is let loose outside of the walls of the community. [Scapegoat] 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. In some traditions, Amadioha is also considered to be a creator god. 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. 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 some 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.
Anyanwu (f): Anyanwu is an Alusi believed to dwell in the Sun. Anyanwu means “Eye of the Sun” (Anya = Eye, Anwu = Light or Sun). Some people call Her Anya Oku meaning Eyes of the Fire or Eye of the Light. She is a messenger, visionary and worker. Anyanwu carries two staffs symbolizing Fire and Light.
Anyanwu was seen as the perfect image of what a human should be.
Chi: After Chukwu and Ala, the most important divinity is Chi, the spirit believed to inhabit each individual. Chi is said to be the fractal representation of Chukwu that resides in each person. In fact, 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 the divine character. This participation in the divine is symbolized in the 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.”
Chukwu (-): Transcending the multiplicity of gods is a high god called Chukwu (or Chi Ukwu), whose name may be translated as “The Great Spirit.” Chukwu is an all-powerful, allknowing divinity, the maker of the cosmos as well as all the minor gods that make up the Igbo pantheon. Chukwu is not believed to have human attributes, but is often referred to as “He.” Chukwu is believed to inhabit the sky and is often associated with the Sun, which is believed to be God’s “eye” on the Earth. The central relationship between Chukwu and the Sun is evident in the people’s cosmology and traditional prayers. According to Chinua Achebe,
“Among the Igbo of Awka a man who arrives at a point in his life when he needs to set up a shrine to his chi [personal god] will invite a priest to perform a ritual of bringing down the spirit from the face of the Sun at daybreak. Thereafter, it is represented physically in the man’s compound until the day of his death when the shrine must be destroyed.”
In various prayers the Sun is called “The Face of God,” “The Great Carrier of Sacrifice to the Almighty,” and “The Single Eye of God”. Chukwu is also often referred to as Chineke—a shorter version of “Chi-na-eke,” the God who creates—suggesting that Chukwu is the creator of Nature, in its spiritual and physical aspects. Chukwu came into existence in the late 1600s after Arochukwu was founded. At first only the Aro and their close neighbors worshipped Chukwu, but soon the concept of Chukwu (as a great god) spread throughout all of Igboland and by 1900, Chukwu was common knowledge. However, Chukwu does not really equal the Aro god, any superior god could mean Chukwu – literally meaning “the Great God”. Basically everyone had the concept of Chukwu, but it was never the same god. Everyone prior to that had a deity of their own. The Ibini Ukpabi Shrine is were the God Chukwu was installed.
Ekwensu (m): EKWENSU is A God of War, an Alusi (Deity) of Bargains, and a Trickster. Feared as much as Chukwu is respected, Ekwensu is the Igbo Evil Spirit, much like that of the Devil in other religions. Many people mistake him as Ajo Mmuo (Devill or Evil Spirit) because the white European missionaries that invaded our land mistook Ekwensu as Satan. When they couldn’t defeat us they tried to know what kind of power our ancestors had that killed their British armies when the Igbo people refuse to surrender and to be colonized by them. It was after the missionaries demonized it and our people destroyed it that was when they could cheat and defeat us. Ekwensu is the father of all magics, his tricky lifestyle and cunning ways are the reason he is called a Tortoise. When his at war, he seems to be playful and laughs a lot. He is fond of breaking rules, boasting, and playing tricks on both humans and gods. Because of his massive vengeance ability, Ekwensu is well feared and avoided, only summoned when the situation is more than the people can handle. He doesn’t harm or affiliate pains nor cause trouble to people like Ajo mmuo. But possession by Ekwensu can lead a person to commit acts of great evil against Chukwu or against humanity. Whenever an unfathomable act of evil is committed by someone considered incapable of such a crime, possession by Ekwensu is a common explanation. Without excusing the person’s conduct, this attribution of the origins of such criminal depravity to a superhuman power allows the Igbo to acknowledge that there are some levels of inhumanity most humans cannot reach on their own—a polar opposite to acts of good so astonishing that they are considered “miraculous.” His Companion is Ogbunabali.
Idemili (f): Idemili is a River or Sea Goddess of the Nnobi in Anambra state in Igboland. IDEMILI is also known as Eke Mili meaning “Python of the Sea”. A story relates that when a child is born in Idemili, the short python crawls to the place where the baby is kept and curls around the child harmlessly to the admiration of the parents of the little child. It was also gathered that the visit of the snake to people’s homes could mean different thing as the snake is said to have the power to bring good or bad tidings. If, for instance, a noble person is about to pass on, a python could visit a relation of the person by dying in the house of the person.
Ikenga: Ikenga is a horned Alusi (deity). Ikenga (meaning “place of strength”) is one of the most powerful symbols of the Igbo people and the most common cultural artifact. It 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), Ikenga (as right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice. Ikenga is exclusively an Igbo symbol. 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. The two-faced Ikenga is the oldest concept of Ikenga. It is a two-faced god of Time, 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.
Mbari: Mbari is the divine guardian of a ritual form of art. Mbari art is considered a feminine endeavor—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. 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. 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. Mbari is considered a close associate, if not a divine messenger or personal aspect, of Earth Goddess Ala, who is also the god of fertility. 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. Some of the Mbari art objects, especially masks, have been rescued from destruction and are used in rituals from one year to the other.
Mmo: The Igbos never believed in hell, but in spirits known as mmo (or maw). As in the tribes of the living, there is a hierarchy in the ghost realm, too. There is a Ghost King, the Ijaw “Nduen-Ama Yana-Gbaw” or the Ibo “Eze Ala Maw”; a ghost messenger, the Ijaw “Ffe” or the Ibo “Onwu” who appears as a skeleton who brings death upon a person by striking him at the base of the skull with a large staff; and a ferryman “Asasaba” who brings good souls across the river of death to be reincarnated. Ancestors who have done good deeds in their lifetime and died in a proper manner, were elevated to become one with the spirits and did not undergo rebirth again. They live in a world that mirrors the living world. These ancestors are the ones who are worshipped and offered sacrifices. There are also wandering spirits attributed to dead relatives whose funeral may not have been properly performed or altogether neglected. These mmo do not necessarily belong to anyone in particular, but are believed to roam around either to protect people or to cause mischief to individuals. Unable to “cross over” to ani mmo, land of the dead or land of the spirits, the mmo have no choice but to hover around in limbo between this world and the next, unable to find rest. Depending on their characters when they were inhabiting human bodies, these homeless spirits are either benevolent or malevolent, but they are always unhappy because of their wandering state. It is believed that Chukwu may also send unwelcome spirits to rebuke or torment individuals who have committed evil acts or to protect the innocent. A spirit may also find a “home” by possessing or occupying a non-human entity such as a tree, snake, or river. This belief has led some scholars to falsely characterize the Igbo traditional religion as animistic.
Njoku ji: children who were dedicated to the service of Ifejioku, the guardian deity of the yam. Such children were expected to be prosperous when they become adult.
Ogbunabali (m): Literally meaning “one who kills at night” is a traditional Ikwerre Death deity. His name has already described his functions: He kills his victims at night. His victims are criminals and those who have committed an unspeakable taboo. He is the companion of Ekwunsu.