by Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga
Last week, I had the luxury of seeing the movie Thor. I was very excited to see the movie for a number of different reasons. For one, I am a very big fan of superheroes, and love to watch both animated and live action movies and television series based off them. Secondly, I also happen to be a huge fan of mythology (In particular, Graeco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Hindu and of course , the various ones of Africa) and I think that one of the best ways to understand a peoples culture and values is to read their mythology. So since this movie was a mixture of two of the things I love most, it was at the top of the list for on my “movies to watch” list.
The comic book character Thor was based off the Norse God of Thunder by the same name. According to Stan Lee, he had been looking for a hero that could compete with the Hulk, and he figured that since no man could, he would have to use a god…literally. So he adapted various characters from the mythology of the Nordic and Germanic people into comic book characters.
Thor was said to rule over thunder, lightning, and storms. He was associated with oak trees, strength, destruction, fertility, healing, and was seen by his worshipers as the protector of mankind against the Jötunn, a race of malevolent nature spirits. The day of the week Thursday actually stems from his sacred day, and literally means “Thor’s day.” He carried a large hammer called Mjölnir which is still worn today as a pendant by many European neo-pagans.
But the most compelling reason that I was drawn to see this movie (more so than most of the other superhero films that were coming out this year such as Captain America and the Green Lantern was the fact that Thor reminds me ALOT of another God of Thunder that also happens to be one of my favorites: Amadioha.
Amadioha is one of the most popular of the Igbo deities. In fact, right after water spirits, the gods of thunder and lightning like Shango, Siete Rayos, Nzaji, etc seem to be the most well known and liked of all the deities all over Africa and its diaspora. Although he is usually referred to as Amadioha, that is not really a name, but one of his many epithets, which also include Igwe, Ofufe, and Igwekaala. The proper name of this entity would actually be Kamalu, or Kalu Akanu, and that’s the name that I use personally when referring to him.
Much of what is said about the other gods of thunder and lightning can be said about Amadioha: They serve as agents of justice, they are associated with war and aggression, and their colors tend to be red and white. People who have been accused of crimes go to their shrines to declare their innocence, less they be struck by lightning.
Unlike his fellow thunder and lightning deities, Amadioha doesn’t carry an object of power like Thor carries his hammer or like his second cousin Shango carries his axe. If he did carry something, I would assume it would be an Ogu stick, seeing as though its the symbol of justice. The ram is sacred to alot of the African thunder and lightning gods, both as a sacrifice and as a symbol. In fact, Amadioha at times appears to people in the form of a large white ram.
Even though the vast majority of Igbo people profess to be Bible believing Christians, belief in Amadioha still remains strong. I remember a conversation I had with a traditional ruler a few years ago while he was visiting the states about when he described an evening when he went outside during a storm and saw his the grass near his compound on fire, but not burning. Afterwards, a white ram appeared out of nowhere. When it was all over, it was like nothing had happened.
Amadioha is also still used to curse people or threaten them. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard the phrase “thunder fire you!” or “Amadioha magbukwa gi!” (Amadioha will punish you!) Just the other day, I read an article where one of the priests of Amadioha proclaimed that the deity would punish any of the candidates if they dared try to rig the Governorship or House of Assembly polls in Nigeria. I personally would have more confidence in elected officials in Nigeria if they had to swear oaths at Amadioha’s shrine instead of swearing them on the Bible or Koran, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.
Although I was raised as a Christian, I was always very curious about what my ancestors believed and practiced. So I took it upon myself to actually research it. When I read about the Igbo deities, Amadioha was one that really stuck out to me for some odd reason. That affinity towards him never went away, and to this day, he’s one of my favorite of the Igbo Alusi.
When I was in the early days of my traditional practice, I was trying to figure out how I would make shrines and alters for the different deities. I asked some elders for images of the different Alusi and the response I got was one of amusement. They explained to me that trying to find an image of a Mmuo (spirit) was like trying to find an image of the wind, and that each picture or carving that you’ve ever seen of any of them is just an artistic representation of an invisible force.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the times, most of the shrines to the different forces of nature weren’t carvings or images at all, but rather plants, trees, or simple combination of rocks and wood. For example, one examples of a traditional shrine to Amadioha would be a log resting on two large bamboo posts. I didn’t get the lessons at first, but one day it hit me: My ancestors were very artistic in the way they created their shrines, and the spirits that they represented would always appear to my ancestors in ways that they could recognize them. So I asked myself, how would I want them to appear to me? I’m a young man growing up in the age of Youtube, Facebook and Iphones. What would a supernatural being look like to me? Perhaps a superhero? A superhero representation for Amadioha was the first one that came to mind. It was pretty easy too:
Steel (also known as the Man of Steel) is a comic book character in the DC universe. His alter ego is Dr. John Henry Irons, a brilliant weapons engineer who creates a high powered suit of armor to fight crime after Superman gets killed by Doomsday. This character was inspired by the legendary African American folkhero John Henry. He is very similar to Marvel’s Iron Man. Although he has no superpowers, but his suit grants him flight, enhanced strength, and endurance.
Steel was the image that I decided to use to represent Amadioha for my shrine. If he were to appear to me in a vision or dream, that is how he would look like, combined with the abilities of Thor. What I did was very similar to what alot of enslaved Africand did in Santeria, Voodoo and Palo Mayombe when they placed pictures of Catholic Saints to represent their deities in order to avoid religious persecution. However, since I could never see myself using images of my enemy to represent my deities, I choose to use comic book characters instead.
After I made one for Amadioha, I started making similar shrines for other Alusi, using various comic book characters. If one went into my room and didn’t know any better, you would think I was just obsessed with comic books and nothing more 🙂 Another comic book character I used to represent an Alusi was The Human Torch. He is the image I use to represent Anyanwu, which is the spirit of the Sun. I will go in depth in the near future on the process of syncretism and how one can start to create shrines and images that work for them.
While we are on the topic of symbolism, lets break down what Amadioha really means. Metaphysically, Amadioha represents the collective will of the people. An analysis of his name says so much. The name is a combination of Amadi and Oha. The first word, Amadi, is a name given to freeborn males. Oha is a concept that deals with the power community. Traditionally, Igbo communities were not ruled by monarchs, and made their decision by using Ohas (community assemblies). Whatever they agreed on, the community was responsible for enforcing. From my understanding, the Oha title is also supposed to be the last highest level of the Ozo title system. And its one that is virtually impossible to get, because it belongs to the people! So as the rules are made by the Earth Mother Ani (who metaphysically represents the unity of the people), they are enforced by Amadioha (their collective willpower) through lightning and thunder.
In other words, the Amadioha shrine, along with the other similar ones in Africa were said to be an indigenous form of weather manipulation. Besides being used to bring rain (which exists in just about EVERY society in the form of a rain dance/prayer…even until today!), it also was used to enforce the rules and regulations that were made by the community. While people have conspiracy theories about alleged government weather warfare programs like HAARP, some Africans in the bush might have claimed to be successful in doing naturally what modern scientists have attempted to do with machines. The power of Amadioha really makes me wonder what else Africans could do if they decided to come together. It also brings a whole new meaning to the phrase: “The Power to the People!”