The Old Woman of Immense Wisdom: On the Mystical Science Behind the Afa Akpụkpala Oracular System

By Nze Chukwuka Omenigbo Nwafor

“For man, everything he needed, he needs and or he shall need has been provided. With leaves and the like we can perform any action which modern science (western) cannot anticipate of even in the next ten thousand years or more”—Nwankwo Nnabuchi (In Defence of Igbo Belief System, 1987)

Mythical Origin of Akpụkpala as described in “After God is Dibia Vol 1″ page 86

Áfá/Ává/Áhá (pronounced differently from the Āfà for “name”) is an Igbo term that denotes all oracular, divinatory, predictive and clairvoyance practices; only seconded by the much more conversant practice of Amuma or Ibu Amuma – Prophecy. Among the virtually listless variety of divination systems found in Igbo culture, which run well into their hundreds, the primordial Akpụkpala system of divination has surfaced as the most sophisticated, versatile, accurate, enduring and encompassing system thereof; employed successfully since time immemorial in determining and addressing all phenomena.

Rightly so, various questions have been raised by both dedicated scholars and keen enthusiasts of Igbo culture around the world as to the underlying mystery behind the prominently ancient Afa Akpụkpala divination system. Many have attempted to explain and even compare it with the far more recent binary computing system of Western epistemological tradition; an approach that is highly flawed in itself but somewhat aids in lifting the heavy veil of mystery in which the Akpụkpala divination system has been much shrouded in. Indeed, as concerns the profound mystical science undergirding the Akpụkpala divination practice, Prof. Onwuejeogwu (1997) and Prof J. A. Umeh (1999) has in their respective ways, invested great efforts in bringing some of the primary mysteries undergirding the Akpụkpala oracle to academic light. Umeh for instance elucidated that, “this form of divination has its own language which the Igbo people believe to be not only the oldest Igbo language but also indeed the oldest language in the whole world” (Umeh 1999). Quoting Nwankwo Nnabuchi, he maintained that,

“The language of Ikpakpala [Akpụkpala] was based on the original Igbo language which was later modified in the time Amuta [Uga Chi] to accommodate the known innovations. Subsequent to that, there were other modification which gave rise to the loss of a higher percentage of the original concept. This development notwithstanding, its language is still the oldest language in Igbo history. Some people call it the language of Dibias. It is correct because it is the Dibias who still retain some of the earlier culture, practices and religious rites….the study of Ikpukpala shall to an extent reveal a lot about the origins of Igbos (Umeh 1999: 84; emphasis mine).”

divination

Akpụkpala oracle

However, as one would agree, at the time of the penning of Umeh and Onwuejeogwu’s individual monumental works, the likes of Ron Eglash (2005) and Gabriel Oyibo (2002) whose much welcome research revelations are gradually revolutionizing the world of contemporary mathematics and physics were yet to significantly emerge. And even now that they’re here, one still recognizes how incredibly difficult a task it is to initiate a full-fledged scientific exegesis on the Akpụkpala oracle, talk more of fully accomplishing such a project.

Agreeably, perseverance in the face of mounting obstacles is a must, if such colossal tasks are to be accomplished by Africans in this day and time. However, frankly speaking, asides all the ritualized ethics of “discreet practice” embedded in Igbo sacred traditions which even Prof. J. A. Umeh himself confessedly had to override to write his book, asides all that, attempts of elucidating the under-girding mystical principles animating the Akpụkpala oracle naturally embodies a herculean task for anybody since contemporary science is yet to develop any meaningful and somewhat analogous scientific cum epistemic system that can mirror the great mysteries of the Akpụkpala oracle.

Infact, as it appears, the algebraically contrived binary computing system and more recently, quantum computing system is as far as the Western mind can attempt of this feat. But one should be aware that the binary encoding threshold system (Akwu na Obi) as confessedly extracted from the ancient Akpụkpala system by Western seekers merely embodies one of the preliminary, Akashic gateways that an Afa adept (Dibia Afa) has to “pass through” (Ịkwu Afa – literally, jumping into Afa/shifting into the Afa mode of consciousness) before arriving the 5th dimension from where the herculean task of Afa-seeking (Igba Afa) actually takes off and well-extends into an infinity of dimensions or universes.

As such, considering the highly sophisticated methodologies, ritualized speech and mystical knowledge that under-girds the utilization, sustenance and successful application of the Afa Akpụkpala oracle, it becomes highly apparent that the binary computing system as “formulated” by Westerners is but a helpless recourse to mathematical theorization in an attempt to engage a phenomenon that clearly transcends this four dimensional plane of existence (ahịa n’anọ, ụbọchị n’anọ i.e. 4 market holdings = space and 4 diurnal cycles = time). Indeed, what these early Western seekers of African sacred knowledge concocted up as the “binary computing system” is honestly atrocious and pale in comparison to the profound essence embodied in the Akpụkpala oracle.

Binary code

Binary code

As such, one can rightly assert that, any attempts by African scholars and researchers to utilize such tentative, Western-concocted “information systems” to explain the profound principles and procedures of the great Akpụkpala oracle will merely amount to an innovative boost for the Western epistemological tradition and nothing else; since these are actually plagiarized systems in essence. It is the author’s candid suggestion, that such interested scholars and researchers should engage these original, African mystical systems of knowing from their indigenously conceived and understood perspectives. Secondly, the problem with attempting to utilize even the recently concocted “quantum computing system” in explaining Akpụkpala oracle (QCS was imperfectly plagiarized almost word-for-word from the Dogon “fox-sand-seed-fingerprint” divination system – again the mystical number “4″ is key here) lies in the narrowness of its cosmological scope.

Let us not forget that the Western epistemological tradition whose global hegemony continues to stifle other richer, epistemological traditions from enlightening humanity is still in denial of Ala Mmụọ (the other inter-existing worlds/universes/dimensions). Besides, as with BCS, any careful analysis of QCS (Quantum Computing System) will readily reveal that it is simply the result of Western seekers, once again, extrapolating about 10-15% of the embedded principles found in the mystical “fox-seed-sand-fingerprint” divination system of the generous Dogon people and transforming the same into a mere, quantum-mathematical “information system”. Whereas the original Dogon system is actually post-quantum oriented! And even at that, QCS is virtually still in its theorization stage!

Selection from page 90 of After God is Dibia Vol 1

A selection of Akpụkpala combinations from page 90 of “After God is Dibia Vol 2″ by John Umeh

Quite simply, the point being made here is that the original parent, mystical systems of these concocted forms of “information systems” clearly transcends the “quantifiable” or empirical mode of consciousness which the Western epistemic tradition appears to be trapped in. Infact, as attested by Umeh on this issue, “in a situation where one has to select one meaning out of 823,543 meanings per each Afa seed words the task clearly defies quantification or description” (Umeh 1999). Thus, as the likes of Umeh, Oyibo, Eglash, Afigbo etc. have respectively pointed out, African epistemological systems are mystical in principle and as such are post-empirical, pot-literate and post analytic in nature.

Their profound solution systems, operative bearings, determinative and harmonizing capabilities encompasses but ultimately transcends the empirical scientific system of today’s world. This truth in itself, embodies an insurmountable proof that humanity has known far more advanced civilizations in the past. One is only left in wonder as to how Africans allowed and continue to allow themselves to be convinced by anyone to abandon such a profoundly advanced resource and constitutive element of their super civilization.

Hence, after considering such deep-seated epistemic and academic flaws encountered in candid attempts of elucidating the undergirding mysteries of the Afa Akpụkpala oracle, one is left no choice but to recourse to the original Igbo epistemological system for reference (as Indian scholars still do today). And likewise, since most of the hardcore sacred knowledge embedded in Igbo culture are seldom couched in demotic Igbo, one also has no choice but to recourse to the ritualized oracular tongue of Afa (a sonically distinct, highfrequency meta-language essential for oracular programming, slightly distinct from the original Afa mother-tongue itself known as Ofu Ora) for any precise and articulate presentation of this mystical, Igbo divination system.

"After God is Dibia Vol 2" by John Umeh

“After God is Dibia Vol 2″ by John Umeh

Speaking to this, Umeh has specified that “Afa is a mystery tongue of the Dibia, unknown to all save those admitted to the requisite Afa Mysteries that require the Afa language…It is the very language which the Igbos believe the Gods, Goddesses and other Spirits speak” (Umeh 1999). Infact, he went ahead and defined the Akpụkpala oracle as “a mystic super-computer of limitless capacity as well as limitless retrieval abilities” (Umeh 1999). Further still, he specified that, It is the most scientific of all divination methods as afar as the state of scientific knowledge stands in the world today, and so, those who are obsessed with having scientific explanation even for metaphysical complexities, issues and realities which our present day sciences have not yet developed fully into understanding, can more easily learn and appreciate his form of divination (Umeh 1999: 84).

In conclusion, it should be noted that since one can thus far demonstrate a sense of what the Afa Akpụkpala oracle conceptually and operatively entails, in both the mystical and modern scientific sense, the cogent question for Igbo thinkers, scientists, policy makers, scholars, researchers et. al. is as thus: how will this profound system of inquiry,  learning and harmonization once again advance the Igbo civilization of this day and time? Indeed, the oracle itself is as ever vibrant, competent and productive as always, as aptly captured in one of its mystical appellations as “agadi nwanyi osi asili” literally, “the ever gossiping [informing] old woman”.

The problem is when will the Igbo mind fully awaken to its matchless, God-given genius abilities and take up their Akpụkpala seeds and divine another wondrous civilization into reality as they were highly renowned of in the past. Indeed, whether they will realize this soon enough, or later on with much disappointment and whether they will ever be able to undress their acquired western “intellectual costumes of the mind” and humbly approach the wise, mystical oracular systems of their ancestors for guidance, profound knowledge, wisdom and understanding is entirely up to them.

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References_____________________________________________________________
1. Umeh, J. A. 1999. After God Is Dibia, Vol. II. London: Karnak House
2. Afigbo, A. E. 2001. Time and Its Measurement in Igbo Culture. Nigerian Heritage: Journal of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. 10, 2001, pages 11-21.
3. Onwuejeogwu, M. A. 1997. Afa Symbolism & Phenomenology in Nri Kingdom and Hegemony. Nigeria: Ethiope Publishing Corporation
4. Eglash, Ron. 2005. African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press
5. Oyibo, G. A. 2002. Grand Unified Theorem: Representation of the Unified Theory or The Theory of Everything. New York: Nova Science Pub. Inc.
6. Griaule, M. and Dieterlen, G. 1986. The Pale Fox. Continuum Foundation.
7. Nielsen, Michael A. and Chuang, Isaac L. 2010. Quantum Computation and Quantum Information: 10th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
8. Nnabuchi, Nwankwo. 1987. In Defence of Igbo Belief System: A Dialectical Approach. Nigeria: Life Paths Print. Press
9. Chimakonam, Jonathan O. 2012. Introducing African Science: Systematic and Philosophical Approach (Studies in African Philosophy, Science, Logic and Mathematics). Indiana: AuthorHouse

Chukwu Bu Ulidereuwa: Odinala, Igbo Antiquity and the Esoteric Roots of Human Expressions

by Nze Izo Omenigbo

“Anyanwu rie asaa kwuru,

Ala ejiri Edeuli kwado ya” 

If the Sun consumes seven and survives,

The Earth will back it with Uli expressions”

—Igbo Mystical Axiom

Igbo Uli

The Expression of the Sacred in Igbo Culture

The nature of expression (divine/sacred, mundane, mystical, occult and aesthetic) in Igbo culture is captured in many well-known Igbo proverbs. The following three examples are very key in this particular sense, “Onye n’akwa nka na adu ihu: the artist/craft-adept often appears to wear a frown in the process of their work”, “Edeala mara mma bu umeala onye dere ya: the beauty of Edeala sacred expression lies in the calmness of its scribe” and “Ube nkiti nwa nnunu bere n’ohia bu izu mmuo gbaara Dibia: the most simple expression of a bird is wisdom to the Dibia—coming from the spirit world”.

In all three axioms, it can be observed that a certain trait appears to be deep rooted in the traditional Igbo mind, and this is the act of often equating mundane observations with spiritual/phenomenal origins/qualities. To the contemporary mind, of course, this will seem ridiculous. However, in many provable ways, this pattern of understanding has been recognized as a major intellectual catalyst in some of the world’s earliest artistic/scribal traditions and societies.

In pre-modern times—contrary to conventional notions—there were at least four existing Igbo scripts, these were Edeala, Uli, Ukara and Nsibiri/Nsibidi. There is no known single origin of the scribal tradition in Igbo culture and most of the available accounts are heavily couched in myths as is the tradition; the better part of which are reserved for the highest initiates. However, some of these mythic narrations (given their heavy roles in the enculturation process of the general society) were often modified by the priests and passed on to the community griots—who later narrated these stories to the young/old of the society.

Court Record written in Nsibidi script

Also, significant of mention is the existence of many other cult symbol scripts, many of which are yet to be written down or even conventionally known. In a nut shell, it’s a well-accepted fact (at least within honest academic circles) that the scribal tradition has its roots in Africa. Yet often than not, there have also been adverse arguments as to whether such preserved/discovered inscriptions are of direct/literal or symbolic orientations; in other words, if they qualify as “writings” as we understand them today. Needless to say, this approach of judgment is highly biased; since strictly speaking, most ancient societies understood human expression—and expression generally—to be symbolic in its primary nature.

Resolvedly, most of the less esoteric cult teachings of the time were expressed through highly complex symbol systems—from which originated some of the mundane writing traditions of the modern world. Therefore any attempt to understand the communicative modes of ancient societies without an initial, dedicated understanding of their worldview—as concisely shown here—is erroneous by default. In the course of this discourse, insights will be drawn from two of such mythic narrations. As well, few snippets will be equally utilized from one of the aforementioned esoteric myths.

 

The Principle of the “First Word” in Igbo Cosmology

The archetypal Igbo society held that words were so potent that one must ensure to count their “teeth with their tongue” before or after any question. It is an advice for one to find out something for oneself, especially when one is indulging in self deceit and is seeking for answers from some other person instead of self-reflection. Usually the person advicing will say “i choro ka m gwa gi ya; were ire gi guo eze gi onu–Do you expect me to tell it to you? Count your teeth with your tongue.” However, in dealing with written expressions, the potency inevitably doubles, since the idea being communicated will now (supposedly) outlive its author. There is also the mystical tradition of “the first word” i.e. okwu izizi. In many ways, this ancient principle encapsulates—in totality—the Igbo cosmic orientation of life in relation to the Divine. The mystery of the first word is well illuminated in the classical Igbo tale about the journey that was undertaken by the Dog (Nkita) and the Tortoise (Mbekwu Nwa Aniga).

Dog and Tortoise

In this tale, it is held that the Dog and the Tortoise were both sent by humans to deliver two important messages to Chukwu; from which will be determined whether human beings will live to achieve immortality or die at a certain age. To the Dog was given the message of immortality, while the Tortoise was given the message of impermanence. As they both set out for Chukwu’s house, the Dog—priding itself with its ability of swiftness—was said to have stopped several times along the way to sleep, scout for bones or even a mating partner, while the persevering Tortoise continued on its path, undistracted. In the end, the classic endurance of the Tortoise led it to Chukwu’s house, long before the Dog—who was outraced during its many short breaks to sleep or explore the road sides.

Hence, Mbekwu Nwa Aniga (the Tortoise) delivered its message of “Death for the Humans” and thus was the mystery of death introduced into human life. Of course, the Dog did arrive later on—totally convinced that it was the first to reach Chukwu’s house, only to be told that “Chukwu and the Spirit World” does not accept second “Words”. Hence originated the Igbo mystical phrase “okwu izizi erugo be Chukwu: the first word has reached God’s house”.

From this particular tale, a great deal of Igbo cosmological principles dealing with expressions—can be illuminated.  Firstly, there is the duality of life as represented by the two choice animals. The principle of duality remains a core aspect of Igbo life and spiritual practices till this very day. And then there is the principle of pre-duality or unified existence. In other words, creation: although dual in nature proceeds from a unified point of One. Hence, the Dog was told that Chukwu and the Spirit World do not accept the second “Word”. The second word here symbolizes physical creation, realized in the sacred number Two.

Also, there is the principle of Uncontrolled Motion/Chaos and Controlled Motion/Order. Both principles were symbolized in the specific choice of animals used in the narration; where the Dog’s undisciplined swiftness stood for chaotic motion and the disciplined fortitude of the Tortoise stood for ordered motion. Both principles were further made potent in their meanings by the messages that both animals were meant to deliver. In the case of the Dog (embodied chaos) the message was immortality (unending spiritual enlightenment), while for the Tortoise (embodied order) the message was impermanence (interrupted spiritual enlightenment).

Chaos Star

The Spiritual and Aesthetic Potency of Human Expressions

As the Dog was late to reach Chukwu’s house, it then resulted that human life (as a mortal opportunity for spiritual learning) will be eternally teased with the mystical potency of Ndu Ebi-Ebi (Everlasting Life/Immortality). Just as the delivered message of the Tortoise meant that human beings (indeed all creations) will be forever bound to the physical responsibility of observing/maintaining Divine order.

This dual expression most likely gave rise to such classical Igbo thoughts as “okirikiri k’eji ari ukwu ose: the pepper tree is only climbed by means of cautious encirclement” and “nwayo-nwayo k’eji aracha ofe di oku: a hot soup can only be consumed gently”. Furthermore, the Dog symbolism is equally characteristic of the archetypal Ego (the precarious pride that originated with the Dog’s knowledge of its swift abilities). While the Tortoise in this sense, symbolizes the Super Ego (the self-regulating aspect of us that strives for perfection and orderliness). Although, this last feature is essentially interpretational, the instructional nature of the original tale however supports its validity.

In a sense then, it can be observed that the Igbo worldview fundamentally perceives human expressions/expressions generally as a holistic exercise. Indeed, the greater implication of this conviction is that no expression of creation/life is devoid of meaning and no human expression is devoid of sense; regardless of how “senseless” that expression might seem. This notion is well established by another ancient Igbo principle (stemming from another mythic account) which holds that Chukwu created the world using two words, Ọm and Om.

“Om” written in Devanāgari

These two Divine expressions, according to ancient Igbo mystics, became “The Two Sacred Words” i.e. Okwu abuo Chukwu ji were ke uwa”. Again, the basic notion here is duality—but specifically this time; duality dealing with the two Igbo mystical principles of Akwu na Obi (Stillness and Motion). It is remarkable to note that these two principles unified, remains one of the most utilized and infinitely explored of all Igbo mystery teachings. The “Two Sacred Words” as explored in another Igbo mystery cult is also held as the “Two Primordial Sounds”. In this respect, it expresses one of the most esoterically studied of all Divine expressions i.e. sound. In Igbo mystery circles, the naturally produced human-sound (phonetically molded continuously from birth, eventually condensed into a specific lingual form as the child matures) is held to be a mystery of its own. Hence, the ancients explored it in a separate, dedicated cult where its latent creative powers were synthesized for use in invocations, spiritual chants and several forms of oracular practices.

It can therefore be noted that the mystical/occult potencies of human expressions (in a very broad and in-depth sense) have always occupied a place of great significance in Igbo mystery traditions as well as, Igbo culture proper. In this sense, ancient Igbo mystics, after much in-depth observations, were able to ascertain that our voiced expressions do not merely stem from some innate human tendencies to communicate archetypal emotions, as is conventionally held today. But rather, every word we utter and each syllabic expression thereof is actually a released potency. The same goes for aesthetic/artistic expressions; as all forms of human articulations are essentially generated from one point of activity in the mind and charged forth with spiritual potency—at the point of release, whether consciously meant or otherwise.

It is for this great reason that another ancient Igbo axiom maintains that “okwu Igbo/uke bu n’ilu n’ilu: the Igbo language/cult communication is expressed through aphorisms”. Suffice it to say that the ancients well-considered the potency of their expressions/language (indeed the Igbo language in this case) apparently too heavy for any mere direct conveyance of ideas; given the possibility of unanticipated manifestations resulting from careless utterances. Hence, their language/voiced expressions had to be communicated by means of proverbs and indirect insinuations, colored once in a while by plain riddles and chants. Remarkably, this pattern of communication is still observed by the Afa, Mmonwu, Ekpe and Agwu cults (some other Igbo cults inclusive) till today.

It is also interesting to note that even the non-human naming tradition also followed this principle in the past. So that animals, trees, mountains, rivers and other forms of creation were not merely named through direct articulations of their perceivable essences. Rather, it was through a metaphorical intellection of their place in the greater scale of life that their names were articulated. For instance, the Chameleon (in Igbo culture) didn’t get its name from its immediate perceivable characteristic of rapid coloration. Instead, its name “Ogwumagana” literally translates as “If it sinks, I shall not step”. Hence, the name metaphorically denotes the ancient belief among the Igbo that the Chameleon was created at a time when the Earth was still wet. Thus it literally had to enquire from Ala (The Earth Goddess) before making each step, lest it sinks.

Also interesting is the fact that the Chameleon is sacred to Ogwugwu, an Igbo fertility Goddess. The name “Ogwugwu” also denotes a hole or the act of digging. Remarkably, conventional science has been able to determine that matter is basically a hole dug by sub-atomic propellants in space (ether). Therefore, the obvious connection between the Chameleon and this Goddess—as was long established by ancient Igbo mystics—not only preceded modern scientific thought, but unlike the latter, was more clearly expressed and aptly symbolized; so much so that even a youngster could grasp the concept. This tradition, so obeyed, extended even into the designation/articulation of numerical principles, planetary bodies and highly abstract undertakings such as astronomical calibrations.

Furthermore, the aesthetic principle of expression in Igbo culture is also embodied in the aforementioned Uli body-painting/inscribing tradition. The Edeuli or Uli, for short, is a sacred, linear-oriented body-inscribing aesthetic employed by women in pre-contemporary Igbo society. It’s highly attractive and intricately executed expressions were regarded deeply by women and young girls—even beyond the Igbo cultural area. Among other things, it is also a key feature of the Ala (Earth Goddess) cult.

Uli mystical writing (from “Afterr God is Dibia”)

Conclusively, as the name of this discuss states, “Chukwu bu Ulidereuwa: God embodies the Divine Script through which all creation was expressed”. In other words, the expressive nature of Chukwu as the primal aesthetist, as the most accomplished author that will ever be, as the first and original artist of all creative forms that ever was, is and will ever exist—is here underscored. From the ongoing, it is not only made clear that the tradition of expression in Igbo culture is apparently complex in both scope and depth, but also, the inexhaustible nature of indigenous knowledge preserved in Igbo culture is equally made evident here.

The Ecotheology of Ahobinagu: An Igbo Deity of Wildlife and Forestry

by Nze Izo Omenigbo

“Uzu amaro akpu ogene, ya nee egbe anya n’odu” (A blacksmith who does not know how to fashion a twin gong—should observe the kite’s tail) —Igbo Proverb

A Primal Birth

Quite plainly, Ahobinagu or Obinagu is identifiable as the Igbo Alusi (Deity) that is spiritually inherent in the flora, fauna and extensive wildlife of the forest. A brief etymological assessment of the word itself reveals Obinagu as an essentially aggregated Deity. In other words, it is a spirit-guild of the countless, highly diversified essences immanent in the ecosystem of forest life. However, this definition should not–by any means–be seen as a cementing point of the obviously far more complex nature of this Deity. Perhaps, a very convenient way to comprehend the nature of this unique Alusi is to picture a host of spirits, each embodying a specifically assigned purpose in its nature, but all sharing one great cognitive head. Also, the somewhat similar image of an octopus might come to mind. But surely, an octopus is no contestable match for Obinagu, any day.

Okpo Masquerade from Calabar, Nigeria

For a credible theogonical account (Deific Birth) of this Alusi, it is only right to refer to one of the two well-known and comprehensive cosmogonies of the Igbo world. In one of these ancient creation stories (or unified field theories as they’re branded today), both the known and unperceivable dimensions of the universe (Uwa) were considered to be in a unified state of rest at one time. A state simply referred to as “the primal house” in this cosmogony. In this immensely unifying house—once existed the “secret project” of Chi-Ukwu, the colossal God. However, given the very curios nature of Chi-Ukwu’s wife—Komosu, this “secret project” was consequently made known when she bravely ventured to peep into Chi-Ukwu’s coveted Obi or sacred enclave, which was located right in the middle of the larger “primal house”.

Subsequently, beautiful Komosu was martyred by the impact of the immense primal energy that escaped from this private enclave, and thus—the known world was born! In other words, it is essentially in this great outburst of dynamic manifestation that the basic building blocks of life were seeded or brought into being. However, as the Divine being that she is, Komosu consequently reincarnated back on Earth, as Ala, the Igbo Earth Goddess.

The Big Bang

So, following a brief analysis, it becomes rather logical that the very earliest “seeds” to have possibly emerged from Komosu’s initial mischance should be the immanent spirits/essences, incarnated in the infinity of created life across the universe, especially as is observable here on Earth. In this sense, the Alusi known as Obinagu is principally one of such primal incarnations. Moreover, as an indispensible ally of Ala, it is only proper that Obinagu should share one of the Earth Goddess’s imperative attributes, namely, an eco-system.

Gwarama Masquerade from Burkina Faso

Given the discovery of what must’ve seemed an incredible bond, the ancient Igbos most likely proceeded to place Obinagu in the readily acknowledged position which it continues to inhabit today in the larger Igbo Cosmo-theological system. In a more summative analysis of this multifaceted Deity—then, one can briefly consider Obinagu as partly serving as a well-realized “Spiritual Locus” of the Earth Deity within the intricate natural network of the forest. Hence, the dual meaning of the name: Obi-n’agu (I) That which lives in the forest (II) The heart of the forest.

Atam Masquerader from Alok Village, Nigeria

 

An Inherent Operative Synchronicity

In the many Igbo traditions where this Deity is highly revered, such as in Udi—Enugwu State, there are many associated activities that are considered sacred to it. One of such is the Egwu Obinagu, which literally means, Obinagu music. This sacred music is also known as Igede Obinagu, in other parts of Udi. It is essentially flute music (Egwu Oja). But the accompaniment of other wooden Igbo musical instruments is not entirely forbidden. However, the use of metallic musical instruments such as Ogene (twin gong) appears to be excluded from that opportunity.

Various Igbo Ogene

Indeed, if one would only stop to consider the profound and unrelenting reverence that ancient Igbos had for nature, then the much deeper mysteries behind the resource-specific instrumental selection of Egwu Obinagu will become evident. An important remark is the fact that the Oja (flute) is an instrument that is totally carved out of wood. And wood itself being a resource that can only be naturally acquired from the forest—strikes a note of great importance, in relation to the forest Deity itself. Hence, the reason for excluding the Ogene and other metal-honed musical instruments in the accepted implements for making the Obinagu sacred music.

Oja (flute)

It is also important to point out that the primal resident spirits that inhabit the various streams and springs that course through forests—are not left out in this intricate synchronicity of spiritual forces, which in turn aggregates into Obinagu. This becomes further obvious, following a recognition of the indispensible union between water and the boundless, naturally-laid network of trees, herbs and shrubs—all layered out in profound harmony, with the rest organic/inorganic presences in Earth’s ecosystem.

Nnabo Dance Group from Akpabuyo Village, Cross River, Nigeria,

Indeed, life feels itself and in return, it progresses to express what it feels through nature. However, beyond the overt, mundane and maneuverable aspect of a Deity such as Obinagu, there exists a core spiritual dynamic to nature that has continued to escape contemporary awareness. Yet this simple core can be appreciated once again through the grasp of a very ancient language. This language is no other than the sacred cosmic language, Afa. The amazing thing is that we’re told by the ancients that humanity once spoke in Afa. And even at that time, it was considered a sacred tongue, just as it’s still considered today. In other words, according to Igbo mythic account, if humanity had once regarded the language of Afa a sacred one, then surely, we must’ve—at one time—also viewed ourselves, the speakers of this language—as sacred beings.

We’re also told that among other things, Afa is also fundamentally a language of nature; a language of the gods. However, since nature is also our only viable means of interfacing with the gods—through Afa, then Afa is also a cosmic language, because all the higher Deities are principally cosmic beings. Now one might ask, what then is the basis of such a language and how did it come to be spoken by man? Well, the simple secret is that Afa language was patterned after the brilliant, vibratory harmony that is found in nature. And since it is held to be life’s very first language—spoken by the gods themselves—then it was destined that humanity should inherit this cosmic tongue from the gods, just as it inherited other wonderful gifts of civilization from them.

We don’t know how we came to forget or lose the ability of this divine tongue. But a very mystifying fact about Afa is that it is a language that can only be understood by nature; which means that we once spoke and communicated with nature, much like we do with ourselves today. Interesting isn’t it? Well, actually not all of us have lost this ability. Our Ndi Dibia still retain it and in fact, they still employ a great deal of it in their work. Notice that Afa proves to be an all-encompassing and all-knowing language—as a result of its ability to interface with all of nature, hence interfacing with all of life. At this juncture, the spirituality of nature and the bonding nature of spirituality is made evident, as one makes the connection to the earlier stated harmonic-essence that is fundamental of the Obinagu Deity.

Atiya Traditional Dance

Now whether in Igboland or elsewhere in the world, we might have succeeded in convincing ourselves that there are certain, extant members of creation that are strictly known as plants. However, the truth is that, at one time, man himself was also a plant in the garden of nature! Specifically, we were once “man-plants” or what is known as Akwu. A linguistic variation of this name is still used for the palm-tree in Igboland today. Moreover, the palm-tree is also considered sacred all over Africa, especially in its aspect as the tree of life. So, in contrast to the ‘exceptionist’ perception of most people today—in respect to the place of man in nature, Afa tells us that we once viewed ourselves as merely members of the colossal, cosmic organism known as life, whose outer ornament is the awe-inspiring nature.

Minor Ekpe Masquerade with Mango Leaves from Calabar South, Nigeria,

For the keen-eyed observer, a plethora of clues abound in Igbo life and culture to substantiate the mystic remnants of Igbo antiquity, in respect to nature and how ancient Igbo societies related to nature. One of the most obvious of these is the Igbo word for name: Afa (pronounced differently). Already, one can sense the overt etymological relationship between Afa, the name and Afa, the tongue. Still, it becomes even more obvious when we consider that in Igbo culture (indeed in many African cultures) one’s name is believed to embody their existential lot or destiny in a given life-time—in addition to serving as their natural compass. In other words, one’s Afa (name) essentially becomes a dual conception; especially in the Igbo sense.  Firstly, as their sacred individual ‘code’ for assessing nature’s existential allotment for them (destiny) and then, as their divinely-accorded compass for identifying their place amidst nature (distinction). Hence, without even recognizing it, one’s name is essentially their own unique cryptogram; their cosmic code for relating to Chukwu and the gods. And even more, one’s name is their first Afa (divination).

Without diving too deep into the mystical dimensions of this fact, it can be observed that humanity actually has no choice but to recognize its sacredness once again—as part of the divine ornamentation that is nature. Therefore, as privileged and responsible members of this endless festivity of life, our role is precisely that of caretakers and not squanderers. Furthermore, in relation to this inherent role of custodianship, another sublime parallel exists here between man and Obinagu—as the custodian Deity of natural life in the forest. However, in the end, it appears that even more responsibility is expected of man as Mma Ndu, the crown of creation.

Ekong Ikon Ukom Masquerades from Calabar, Nigeria

Igbo Antiquity and Ecotheology

Regarding the sheer, immense reverence that ancient Igbo societies had for their natural environment, the opening axiom of this discourse makes it even clearer with its instructional diction—recommending that humanity should turn to nature for her absolute wisdom. In fact, it is arguably only out of such similar, passionate and overwhelming reverence that the ancient Igbos went as far as condemning the conception of twins, which they innocently considered an undoing of a primal modus in their cosmology of the human reproductive system—in relation to the  larger paradigm of nature. All this were done in their honest efforts of preserving the essentialities of what they considered as highly sacred, the Earth.

Ani, the Earth Mother

However, they also came to realize in the end, out of ensuing wisdom that “When something stands, another thing stands beside it”. Curiously, till this very day, this monumental amendment (termination of the twin taboo) along with its many theological and cosmological triumphs—remains one of many such profound turning points in Odinala and Igbo culture in general, that have managed to pass by without any epically recognized or institutionalized celebration of it, for unaccountable reasons.

At this point, it is also highly important to point out that even at the time when this act was still practiced, the twins were not exactly killed—in the literal sense of that word—but were merely taken to the very thickest parts of the forest, where they were plausibly left in the care of Ala and the forest Deity. An observable reason for this decision being that—instead of having to bear the more recognizable karma that comes with conventionally taking a life, one would rather have the fate of such children determined by the Deities themselves.

Yaie Masquerade from Burkina Faso

Still, what is far deeply inherent here is that, in this monumental case of theological defeat, the operative synchronicity of Obinagu and Ala is made even more evident, as one recognizes the explicit irony behind the act of handing over these children to two Deities whom were both considered as Divine Nurturers. At this point, we can imagine the outright perplexity that must’ve overwhelmed the ancients. However, in their infinite wisdom, they would guiltily return back home—only to mourn these same children and offer copious sacrifices to appease Ala for the mind-boggling act that had just transpired.

Carnival in Haiti

Essentially, the very multi-faceted and primal status enjoyed by Obinagu, as a custodian Alusi of the forest is almost unquantifiable. However, one only needs to be reminded of the highly agrarian nature of Igbo society prior this age to make the connection. Hence, given the very predictable preference for well-nurtured wildlife and agricultural yields at the time, there surely couldn’t have been a better role for this Deity.

Ekpo Masquerade from Calabar, Nigeria

The Imperative Need for Re-Consecration

The Deities (in their aspects as Gods and Goddesses) are profoundly influential by nature, and countless in number. However, since the  very beginning of time, humanity as Mma-ndu (the crown of creation) have unarguably enjoyed a God-given right to explore, harness and negotiate the potentialities of these various incarnated forces. But just as even the most mundane of life’s activity requires a procedural edict/code of conduct, so does the consecration of these higher forces require a spiritually sound arena to be made very effective.

Obinagu, for instance, cannot be “aligned” or brought into operation in a naturally deprived environment, because it is a Deity that operates simultaneously with nature herself, in the capacity of its custodian. Also, the mere knowledge of the esoteric operatives used in sacred science is not necessarily enough to potentiate a Deity. Just as an actual car will require a competent mechanical engineer to be present from its creation process to the manufacturing process—so as to ensure optimal performance in the finished product—in the same way, a potential Deity requires a competent Dibia Ogwu to be present from its creation (or negotiatory process, depending on the Deific hierarchy) to the erection and final dedication process. More importantly, a very spiritually disciplined mind/population is also imperative for such universal principles to be brought down—in the first place—to earthly dimensions and even more, to make them abide for a very long time. This is the inherent strength and genius of ancient Igbo societies. The discipline of their time should be a strong fascination for any clear minded Igbo person today.

Igbo Dibia

In fact, one of the utmost advantages of deific consecration to man is that, unlike modern scientific results and its technological triumphs that often waiver in their abilities, mystical/spiritual potencies (whether they come in the form of a massive “Esere-Ese/spiritual inscription”, a massive pyramid or even in the form of a simple tree-post) are still essentially non-third dimensional in their potency. Hence, they’re essentially predisposed to influence (positively) or mercilessly interfere with anything below their dimensions of origin; just as one cannot help but experience the inevitable presence of rain and sunshine here on earth, regardless of their personal opinions about these two perceivable forces of nature, whose origins are well beyond the third dimension.

So, in consecrating or aligning these Deities, we automatically implore them to oversee and influence our third dimensional experiences. But in other to be able to operate these higher forces (especially the more manipulative lesser deities), a sacred state of being is imperative. In other words, Igboland has to be re-consecrated once again, because our Deities cannot do much for us collectively at this point, until we jointly reinstitute our traditional ethics and re-consecrate the land for them to be able to co-inhabit it with us.

Fortunately, considerable efforts are been made towards this agenda, at this point in time. But there is no denying the intensity of the task ahead. Nonetheless, it is only common sense that Igbos all over the world should begin to see themselves as returning prodigals, in the most productive sense of that expression. Because eventually, one cannot grow too far from their roots, anyway.

—Nze Izo Omenigbo—

"Gaia's Child" by Esther Johnson

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Including excerpted sections from “Sacred Earth: The Divinities of Odinala”

(A work in the making)

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Nkele Egede: In Praise of the First Ones

Nkele Egede

(Igbo Translation)

Lekwe anyanwu biara uwa,

Ihe ebi-ebi ka o Jiri choo ya mma.

Mmadu Jizi maka nke-a hu ya na-anya.

Aja-Ala, Nne mbu buru anyi n’afo izizi,

Anyi echeta gi.

Igwe na mmiri,

Ndi mbu lere anyi omugwo,

Ndi mbu biara abia na ogodo uwa.

Anyi echeta unu.

Ikuku na Okpoko, ndi mbu fere efe,

Ndi obu-akika-na-enwu-oku n’isi,

Ndi mbu lara agu n’asaa na mmiri n’asaa,

Were nu nke ru-ru unu.

Debe nu Chim na Chi uwam.

Uwam biara, lekwem.

 
 

In Praise of the First Ones

 (English Translation)

Now behold the Magnificent Sun,

The One who came forth and blessed the world with eternal light.

Oh—how endless our adoration.

Behold too, the motherly Earth,

From whose primal womb we’ve all emerged and continue to emerge,

How endless our appreciation.

Behold now, the very ancient Sky and primal Waters.

The most graceful ones who first suckled and guided us,

The manifest ones who first embraced the visible world.

How endless our adoration.

Behold the sacred Spirit that is Breath and its chosen bird, Okpoko.

Behold both earliest of all adventurers; inventors of the art of flight.

Behold them, the non-flammable head-bearers of Light—

Primal navigators of the Seven Wilderness and Seven Seas.

Oh—ancient ones of renown, how endless my appreciation.

Guide now, my Chi and the Chi of my Destiny.

Great manifested world, bear me well.

—Nze Omenigbo Izo

(Excerpted from “The Transfiguration of Izo and Other Mystical Feats: Poems”)


Ogolo Mmuo (Maiden Spirit)

by Nze Omenigbo Izo

"Igbo Woman" by Arteyez

I: Invocation 

Ogolo Mmuo!!

The river-sides have gathered basins of sun.

Descend now, unnoticed, in your ethereal flush

My bright-faced maiden, revisit once again—

And possess the idle wind with your buoyant vigor.

Bring with you, all the gleam of your wonder realm

Come—blind our eyes with your shimmering beauty,

My vibrant one, rip your way through our red earth

And leave behind your unique dance trails for all to see.

With your frail, measured landings—never out-done,

Impact our fertile ground with unaging beatitude.

Possess the trees Ogolo—the eyes and ears that seek you

Out from the dark. Loosen our stiffened, mortality

With your enchanting aura, my gleaming one.  salvage

Please descend, for the river sides have gathered—

Sufficient sun; enough to fill up your rain-pouch,

My queen. Descend and I, seated by the ant-hill,

Untiring, Shall be waiting for you, Ogolo.

"Igbo Grace"

II: Manifest

The Maiden’s Dance

Faster than thunder through plantain-leaves

Follow those legs, famous for their tedious,

Penetrance of varied human soils.

Swiftly, stately—with few ascensions,

Ogolo, you rejuvenate the staid-struck

Pulsation of  an eager-earth—circling,

Through and through, endless…

With eyes that are life transient,

While doubt-shattering,

You induce in all soul: your distant home’s allure

Dream-rich and serene,

Like deep-flowing agrarian pastures…

I stare on as those sprite fingers,

Finely weave into the dread-troubled wind,

Unfettered tranquil—unbroken at all times,

Like the eternal reach of pure bliss.

Indeed Ogolo, the rain-chap does hold to himself,

Far greater feats—that to mere mortal life,

Will remain eternal yearnings.

Igbo maiden spirit maskers near Akwa, Nigeria 1935