Step 3: Ikenga

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“Ikenga m kwalu otu, njee mge ona mmuo”

(As long as my Ikenga is active I can wrestle in the land of the spirits)

Welcome back to the 13 steps. In Step one, you learned how ncheta (remembrance) is the basis for all the other steps. In Step two, you learned on the power of your potential & kinetic energies (Chi na Eke) and how important it is to make sure they are kept in harmony with one another. Now we will again return to a common experience that nearly all humans share. Unlike the first 2 steps, you should have quite a  few memories of this one. 

Do you recall the various things you wanted to be as a child? If you were anything like me, that list included alot of things through various ages. And do you remember what you did once you decided to be something? Well, you began in what is now called “make believe.” Without being coached or trained, you and your various playmates could pretend to be whatever you wanted and engage in any activity your minds could muster. You likely pretended to fight battles or engage in space exploration. Maybe you pretended to be a director and used dolls and toys as actors. The key takeaway here my brothers and sisters, is that you used the power of your imagination to create the reality you desired, even if it was a temporary thing.

Now today, if you happened to stumble upon the “self help” section in any bookstore, or undergo any form of coaching or training, you will likely be told about something called “creative visualization.” A very simple definition of it would be utilizing the power of your imagination as an aide to getting better results in your life. Countless people have used it to beat addictions, overcome their fears, as well as acquire new skills. Sound familiar? It’s once again a reminder of how you need to remember things as an adult that you did naturally as a child, isn’t it?

Now remembering the lessons from “Step Two” and Eke have been with you as long as you’ve been on this planet, even if you’re not as in sync with them as you once were. And as I said in that lesson, Igbo culture (along with many others) left a number of reminders for you of the various things you came into the world knowing. The one reminder we will cover today is the one that goes by the name “Ikenga.” 

This figure is shared amongst the Urhobo, Edo, and Igala, but the Igbo version is the most well known. Just like Chi na Eke, an entire series of books would be needed to properly expound upon Ikenga. One popular definition of Ikenga is “place of strength.” However,  for the purpose of this step, we will say that Ikenga is a symbol of achievement, especially through the use of your right hand. On a sidenote, it goes without saying that for most human beings, their right hand is their dominant one. For the 10% of you for which that’s not the case, just apply this same rationale to the hand that is your dominant one for this step. 

The first aspect of Ikenga we will discuss is its appearance. They come in various shapes and sizes, but one key aspect is horns, typically that of a ram, which is prizes for its aggressiveness. Just like the ram, Igbos believe that  one must plunge into a venture in order to succeed. Contrary to misinformation by Igbo Christians, Ikenga, much like other sacred objects, was not an item of worship but a visible representation of things that were invisible. In this case, Ikenga represents your divine self image. In other words, a self image based on your Chi (your unlimited potential), working in unison with your Eke (your limited kinetic energy). Ikenga is thus said to be a gift or symbol of one’s Chi. Anyone who has either achieved consistent success or studied/coached those who have, is aware of how critical having a healthy self image actually is. With an unhealthy self image, your numerous self doubts will usually defeat you before you even get started. Even if you do happen to achieve success despite a negative self image, you will likely be the victim of your own self-sabotage.

Ebune jị isi éjé ogụ” (The ram goes into a fight head first)

Ikengas were not limited to individuals, but communities could also have them (sometimes called Ikeoha). These communal Ikengas were representations of the achievements and ideals of a community. The Ikenga of the United States of America holds a torch in her right hand, and stands tall in Liberty Island in New York Harbor. 

The second aspect of Ikenga we will discuss would be its adaptability, meaning its ability to change. Young men would typically get an Ikenga carved when they began their various vocations. In some ways, you could say it would be very similar to receiving a diploma in today’s world. However, an  Ikenga was not permanent, and it could evolve as the owner’s roles changed. A young man whose main task was defending his village would receive a warrior’s Ikenga holding a sword, whereas when that same man became a more accomplished elder, he would now have a title holder’s Ikenga holding a sacred staff. Alternatively, if a man chose a profession that didn’t bring him much success, he could throw away the Ikenga (self image) that was not helping him and choose a new Ikenga (and possibly a new profession) that did. 

“Ikenga adighi ile, azilaa ya nku” (An Ikenga that is ineffective, cut it for firewood)

The third aspect is persistence. Once an Ikenga was established, a routine was established to straighten it. Regular offerings of kolanut, alligator pepper, and libations were made to it, often during the igo ofu ututu (traditional morning prayer). To the uninitiated, it would appear that the Ikenga itself is being worshipped, but I want to reveal a secret to you: If one makes a prayer, whether spoken out loud or silently, your mind cannot help but create a mental picture of whatever choice of words you use. For example, if I mention a pink elephant, you can’t help but imagine one. The same applies to things like positive thinking, affirmations, proverbs, etc. What would happen if you constantly reminded yourself of your goals? Regularly repeated words of encouragement and positivity? And returning back to your childhood, how powerful could your imagination be when if it focused on a long term goal? And even more so when you also dedicate yourself to constant practice and honing of your skills? 

“Ikenga chim nyelum, taa oji” (Ikenga, gift of my chi, participate in the offering)

So in summary, an Ikenga is a divinely based self image, that changes as needed, and is fed/reinforced by persistence and dedication. And here’s a final thought my brothers and sisters. One thing about dedication is that you must accept that you’re typically not going to be very good at most things at the beginning. In fact, you’re very likely to be quite bad. However if you stick with it and learn from your mistakes, not only will you improve, you will likely become quite good.

At some point you did not have the ability to read these words at all, but through repetition and practice over time, you gained that ability didn’t you? The same applies to just about everything you now have the ability to do (walk, talk, drive, write, etc). So instead of saying that you cannot do something, you should say you haven’t done it yet.  The former may or may not be true, but the later definitely is. With a harmonized Chi na Eke (as well as working in conjunction with others), the only real limit in this universe you probably have is time. So if that’s the case, why are you limiting yourself?

Step 3: I choose a divinely based self image that helps me creates the results I want and can change it when it no longer does so. 

Action item: Create an Ikenga. You can draw it, or just write a description of it. Make sure to mention it in your daily prayer from step 2. Include the type of life you want to create as well as some of the goals you want to achieve. And stay tuned for step 4, which is coming out on the next new moon, November 15. Yagazie (It shall be well with you).

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