Tag Archives: Igbo names

Amadioha: The Igbo God of Thunder and Lightning

Standard

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.

thor-movie-posters-05

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.

The Mighty Thor

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.

Hammer of Thor

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.

Artist’s depiction of 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.

Amadioha

Amadioha in the form of a 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.

What tends to happen when folks swear on the Bible/Quran

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.

Wind Blowing

Wind Blowing

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:

The Man of Steel (John Henry Irons)

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.

The Human Torch

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!”

Black Power!!!

Advertisements

The Transmission of Odinani & Omenala in Pre-Colonial and Modern Society (Part 1)

Standard

by Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga

A good portion of the people of the world today attribute their beliefs and practices from one or more texts that they consider to be sacred. These “holy books”, as they are called, contain the cosmogony, proverbs, traditions, mythology, laws, customs, and other characteristics of a group of people, and are often considered to be either the “Word of God(s)” or the words of men that were “divinely inspired.”

“Holy” Book

Ndi Igbo (Igbo people) on the other hand, did not limit the transmission of their Odinani and Omenala on scriptures written by men. The reason for it is simple. When a group of people is able to see the Divine in everything, they do not place limits on how they transmit their points of view (the fundamental definition of a cosmogony is how a people see the world). While the transmission of Odinani and Omenala are found in every walk of Igbo life, this series of articles will only focus on some of the main avenues, which include: aha (names), ilu (proverbs), egwu (music), ukabuilu (parables), ifuru (mythology), okwa nka(art), and kentoaja(rituals)/mmemme (festivals). Modern additions such as literature, movies, poetry, and comic books/graphic novels will also be discussed.

(Aha) Names

Alot of information could be gathered from an Igbo name, as each one carries some significance and meaning. From an Igbo name, one could gather information such as the market day someone was born (Okafor means a male born on Afor day), their clan (Nwaneri means a descendant of Eri), the profession of their father (Ezeana means the descendant of a priest of Ani), as well as the circumstances around their birth (Ijeagha refers to a child born during war). Besides these things, alot of Igbo philosophy is apparent in many names. Take for example, the meanings of these names:

Afulukwe: “Seeing is believing”

Akobundu: “Wisdom is Life”

Azikiwe: “To turn one’s back is better than getting angry”

Chibueze: “God is King”

Ezinne: “Good Mother”

Jideofor: “Hold on to righteousness”

Nneka: “Mother is Supreme”

Nkeiruka: “The future is greater”

Nwachukwu: “Child of God”

Onyemobi: Who knows the heart?

Onwuasoanya: “Death respects no one”

Tabansi: “Have the patience (of a vulture)”

A more extensive list of Igbo names and their meanings can be found at this site as well as this one.

People were not the only things that were given special names, the Igbo Alusi (spiritual forces) were also given names that revealed alot about them and their functions in the society:

Chukwu: “The Big God” (the sum total of everything)

Amadioha: “Freewill of the people”

Anyanwu: “Eye of the Sun”

Idemilli: “Pillar of water”

Ikenga: “Place of strength”

More time will be spent in future posts explaining the meaning of the names of the Alusi as well as their attributes.

Ilu (Proverbs)

An Igbo proverb about proverbs states: “Ilu bu mmanu e ji eri okwu” (Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten). There are not many things that can teach you alot about a group in such a concise manner as a proverb, and Ndi Igbo (Igbo people) are amongst the most prolific in the world at producing them. In fact, I would go as far as to say that its probably impossible to have a full conversation with an elder Igbo person without hearing at least one. It makes you wonder whether ancient Igbos spoke in nothing but proverbs like Yoda.  Here are a couple that  give a taste of Igbo philosophy:

Eze mbe si na nsogbu bu nke ya, ya jiri kworo ya n’azu” (The tortoise said that trouble is its own; that’s why it carries trouble on its back)

Explanation:  One should try and shoulder one’s own burden

Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe” (If a woman decides to make the soup watery, the husband will learn to dent the fufu before dipping it into the soup)
Explanation: One should learn to change tactics to suit a situation.

Madu bu chi ibe ya” (Man is God to his fellow Man)
Explanation: God works through human beings

Onye ahala nwanne ya” (Never leave your brothers and sisters behind)
Self explanatory

Aku m diri Ubani” (My wealth lies in the good in my community and what I do to bring it forth)
Self explanatory

Ebuno jị ibi éjé ogụ” (The ram goes into a fight head first)
Explanation: One must plunge into a venture in order to succeed.

E gbuo dike n’ogu uno, e ruo n’ogu agu e lote ya” (Kill a warrior during skirmishes at home, and you will remember him when fighting enemies)
Explanation: Don’t destroy your leaders.

Ugo chara  acha adi(ghi) echu echu” (A mature eagle feather will ever remain pure)
Explanation: One well trained will stand the test of time.

Ome nta ome imo, ya gwuo-nu ala lia onwe ya!” (A man who believes that he can do everything, let him dig a grave and bury himself!)
Explanation: Its not wise to believe that one is without limitations

Amara akagh ngburu oke madu.  Akaa anugh ngburu onye ogbede” (Knowing (the truth) but not telling it is what kills old men.  Hearing (the truth) but not heeding it is what kills young men.)
Self explanatory

Egbe belu-Ugo belu. Nke si ibe ya ebena, nku tije ya” (Let the kite (type of bird) perch and the hawk perch, and if one rejects the perching of the other, may his wings be broken)
Explanation: Live your life and let others life their lives

More Igbo proverbs can be found here and here.

Egwu (Music)

Ndi Igbo, much like other African peoples, had a soundtrack for every occasion in their life. They had songs for children being born, songs for marriage, and for when people were being laid to rest. They had songs for work and for play. They had songs to prepare for war, songs to celebrate or call for peace, and songs to show discontent.

One such way of showing discontent through song was demonstrated through the act of “sitting on a man”, which Igbo women used to protest a man who they had felt that wronged them. “Sitting on a man” or a woman, boycotts and strikes were the women’s main weapons. To “sit on” or “make war on” a man involved gathering at his compound, sometimes late at night, dancing, singing scurrilous songs which detailed the women’s grievances against him and often called his manhood into question, banging on his hut with the pestles women used for pounding yams, and perhaps demolishing his hut or plastering it with mud and roughing him up a bit. A man might be sanctioned in this way for mistreating his wife, for violating the women’s market rules, or for letting his cows eat the women’s crops. The women would stay at his hut throughout the day, and late into the night, if necessary, until he repented and promised to mend his ways.Although this could hardly have been a pleasant experience for the offending man, it was considered legitimate and no man would consider intervening. (van Allen, Judith. “Sitting on a Man”: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women. Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines, Vol. 6)

Songs dedicated to the birth of children were a bit more positive than the ones that dealt with “sitting on a man.” These songs, which were referred to as omumu nwa songs are sung by groups of women after a successful childbirth. It is also usually accompanied by a dance. Below are two contrasting examples:

Uha (Lies)

Ye-ye-ye-yeo mumuo ma (Ye-ye-ye-ye good childbirth)

Uha-a aha we uha, uha (Lies, they are telling lies, lies)

Omumu otuotuo oluilu (Childbirth sweet and bitter)

Uha-a aha we uha, uha (Lies, they are telling lies, lies)

Omumuo ririu darao cha (Childbirth eater of ripened udara fruit)

Uha-a aha we uha, uha (Lies, they are telling lies, lies)

Aha we uha ekwu we r’ezi (Whether they are lying or telling the truth)

Uha-a aha we uha, uha. (Lies, they are telling lies, lies)

According to the article, “The Birth Song as a Medium for Communicating Woman’s Maternal Destiny in the Traditional Community” by Grace Okere: “This song is an expression of joyful disbelief by the mother of a woman who has successfully and safely delivered her child. They must be telling lies, she sings, although she wishes and knows that they are telling the truth. Apart from the rhythmic effect of the repetitive refrain, “uha-a aha we uha, uha” (“lies, they are telling lies, lies”), the song exploits the literary devices of paradox and imagery to effectively communicate meaning. Childbirth is paradoxically said to be “sweet and bitter.” This is so because it can bring boundless joy to the household into which a pregnant woman safely bears a child. On the other hand, it is “bitter” if the woman dies in childbirth. Then, there would be no songs of joy but sorrow and tears. Childbirth is also personified as “eater of ripened udara fruit.” This is an apt image used to communicate the fact that childbirth can kill a woman in her prime. This euphemistically expresses the sorrowful side of childbirth, when a woman dies in the process. The song brings out the antithetical qualities of childbirth- it is sweet but can be bitter, good but can send a young woman to an early grave” (Okereke, Grace Eche. “The Birth Song as a Medium for Communicating Woman’s Maternal Destiny in the Traditional Community” Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, No. 3, Women as Oral Artists (Autumn, 1994), pp. 19-32)

This song offers a very different perspective:

Ah Nwa (The War of Childbirth)
Aha nwas u r’abalii si, osur ‘ogorowu (If the war of childbirth happens  in the night, it happens in the afternoon)
Niyi aso egwu, oha era (Do not be afraid owners of breast )
Aha nwaa yie jebekwae je (The war of childbirth we must go)
Ejem eje, ala m ala (I will go, I will return)
Aha nwaa yie jebekwae je (The war of childbirth we must go)
Ma m’eje aha nwa (If I don’t fight the war of childbirth)
Mbia ji agbu enyi nkwu? (Shall I use rope to climb palm tree?)
Aha nwaa yie jebekwae je (The war of childbirth we must go)
Ma m’eje aha nwa (If I don’t fight the war of childbirth)
Mbia ji egbe eje ogu e-e? (Shall I use gun to fight e-e?)
Aha nwaa yie jebekwae je (The war of childbirth we must go)
Aha nwa bu ogu egbe ndi iyom (The war of childbirth  is the gunfight of women)
Aha nwaa yie jebekwae je. (The war of childbirth we must go.)

Regarding this song, Okereke states that: “a stylistic analysis of the song reveals a rich exploitation of literary devices like metaphor and imagery, rhetorical questions and reversal of word order. All these combine to generate a solemn effect on the audience, especially the women themselves. The epithet “oha era,” literally meaning “owners of breast,”is a synecdochic expression used to praise women and challenge them to action in matters of grave importance affecting them or the entire community. By aptly using the image of war to describe childbirth, the song brings out the physical  strength and valor required of women in parturition . It also brings out the suffering and danger of losing one’s life during childbirth as in war.The women’s courage, confidence, and determination to achieve victory in this “war” are brought out in the repetitive emphasis  of and resolve in the words” I will go, I will return.” This determination and certain victory derive from the fact that most women throughout history have fought the war of childbirth and have returned victorious-alive with their babies. This positive mental attitude can go a long way in aiding a woman’s safe delivery.

The reversal of the word order in the refrain,”ahan wa ayi ejebekwa eje” (“the war of childbirth we must go”) gives the song a militant rhythm, which raises it to the status of a war song. This befits the war situation of childbirth….The rhetorical questions “If I don’t fight the war of childbirth/ShalI l use rope to climb palm tree?/ …/ Shall I use gun to fight e -e?,” not only spur woman to victory, but further reinforce woman’s view of her relevance in the traditional community as being anchored on childbearing. The double metaphor in the expression ” the war of childbirth is the gunfight of women” shows how highly women value this duty, and how they see it as their “crowning glory,” as the greatest of all their achievements. Like men in war, childbirth is the arena in which women prove their worth and valor; it is the achievement that will etch a notch on a woman’s bow of honor, just as the number of human heads a man brought home from battle determined the number of notches in his bow in the old days o f inter-ethnic wars. (Okereke, Grace Eche. “The Birth Song as a Medium for Communicating Woman’s Maternal Destiny in the Traditional Community” Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, No. 3, Women as Oral Artists (Autumn, 1994), pp. 19-32)

Igbo musicians

It is my opinion that music is the most effective and efficient way of transmitting a culture. From this single tool, you can transmit a language, history, proverbs, mythology, dances, rituals and much much more. Music is perhaps the one thing that people of African descent have not regressed on, in fact, its the one area that I believe we have even outdone our ancestors in. Despite the abominable state that we have found ourselves in worldwide , nobody can say that we are not the best in the world at making music. If we are to create the new systems that can meet the needs of our people and elevate us to a higher level, music must play a critical role in their development and implementation.