The Igbo people are located primarily in the south-eastern area of Nigeria and Africa’s largest ethnic groups, with a population of approximately 25 million. Although the large majority of Igbo people live in the southeastern part of Nigeria, Igbos are also found in neighboring countries, such as Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Niger.
The migration paths the Igbos people walked to get to their current territory in southeastern Nigeria is still a debated issue. According to one theory, the Igbo people could have migrated to West Africa from as far away as Egypt thousands of years ago.
Traditionally, the Igbos people have placed a great emphasis on land and farming, and this, coupled with their will to work hard, helped shape their mental and spiritual frame of reference, to this day. In this culture, working the land and tilling the soil is seen as making a person closer to the good Earth and nearer to the generous God. It can be said that the Igbos people have developed, through time, an effective religious system that sustains them. This entry looks at their belief system and at their experience during the time of slavery.
The Igbo religious way of life promotes a personal and positive connection with their family and
people, nature, water, the Earth, the sun, the universe, fire, and God/Goddess. According to Igbo cosmology, two worlds exist—spiritual and physical. The two worlds are distinct, although also deeply interrelated and interdependent. The spirit world is inhabited by at least four distinguishable sets of entities.
First are the spirits that have become disconnected from the physical bodies at the time of death, Ndichie (Ancestors). Some of them have reached their destination and lay in the spiritual space of good spirits. Others, in contrast, who have failed to do so sometimes make incursions into the physical world and cause misfortunes among the living. The second set of entities is personal spirits, Chi- (Guardian). The Igbo believe that every human has been endowed with a Chi at the time of their birth.
The Chi is responsible for the source of life and destiny of the individual. The third set of entities is the spirits connected with nature and nonhuman entities, Alusi. Those, such as the Earth, the sky, the sun, and the water, never had physical human bodies. Finally, the fourth set of spirits is evil spirits Ula Chi (“adversary of Chi”), and Akaloglii. The Igbos believe those evil spirits to be humans who became completely wicked and enjoy inflicting pain and grief on humans. Whereas offerings and sacrifices are bestowed to all of the spirits in the Igbo people cosmology to appease them for blessings and protection, evil ones are not granted such an honor. Instead, they are given the least and worthless items to keep them at a distance to prevent havoc in families and the society as a whole.
The Supreme Being in Igbo mythology is addressed as Chukwu or Chineke. Chukwu is a compound word from Chi (“personal guiding spirit”) and ukwu (“big”), which can be translated as “the big or great Chi.” Chineke is also a compound word from Chi (“personal guiding spirit”), na (“who”), and eke (“to share out”), which can be translated as “supreme being who shares.”
The Igbo traditional and ancient religious system is centered around the belief that there is a single, unique, and individual spiritual being who is the foremost provider and on whom, as a result, all living things are ultimately dependent for guidance, blessings, love, protection, support, and so on.
Chukwu is not categorized as either a male or female spiritual entity. This, in turn, allows inclusive spiritual space for both genders, especially for women, who are excluded from the highest pantheon of spiritual force(s) in other religious expressions. Actually, all living entities, known and unknown, seen and unseen, are connected to and are from the same spiritual force. Nothing and no one is given priority or special consideration based solely on superficiality or physical characteristics from the Supreme Being, only those who are positive and perform good deeds that add to the forward progress of humanity.
Cosmology of Igbos
The traditional Igbo people cosmological view of Chukwu is anthropomorphically conceived as a spiritual being that exists in the Heavens high above the sky. Between Chukwu and humans are minor spirits that act as mediators and messengers—for example, Chi (personal guardian spirit), Alai (Earth spirit), Igwe (sky spirit), Anyanwu (sun spirit), and so on. The world is managed and directed through Chukwu’s sons and daughters (the minor spirits).
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The omnipotence and responsibilities of Chukwu are so great that any acknowledgments, honors, and sacrifices are presented to Chukwu’s messengers, and they pass them on to him or her. Chukwu has no temples or priests honoring her or him. However, there are titles and expressions that exalt the Most High, such as Ama amasi amasi (“A being who is somewhat known but remains incomprehensible”), Eze binigwe ogodu ya nakpunani (“The king who lives in the sky, whose clothes touches the ground”), Ogbara nkiti okwu biri n’ onu ja (“The silent one that has the last say”), and Ekekereuwa (“The sharer or creator who brought the world into being”).
New World Slavery
During the West African Enslavement Holocaust, a million or more the Igbos people were captured by warring rival groups who handed them over to enslavers of humans, who forcibly sold them into an unthinkable nightmare when the hate boat arrived in the Western Hemisphere. An oral legend has passed down through time that a group of Igbos was taken to St. Simons Island, Georgia, which linked to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Lands culture, which runs parallel with
the South Carolina and down to the Florida coastlines.
According to the legend, some of the Igbos walked into the water in May 1803, preferring to drown rather than continue life as slaves. As the Igbos walked into the water in front of the White enslavers to free their bodies from bondage, they sang in their motherland’s tongue the following words: Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia Orimiiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina (“The Water Spirit brought us; The Water Spirit will take us home”). According to one oral myth, the Igbos on St. Simons Island did not drown, but actually ascended into the air and flew back (Sankofa) to Igbo land in West Africa to avoid enslavement.
Like other enslaved ethnic groups of West Africans, many Igbos fiercely resisted the monstrosity of enslavement. An Ibo landing dedication and sanctification ceremony was conducted in the summer of 2002 to honor the Igbos’ struggle for freedom, dignity, and achievements in the Western Hemisphere.