Tag Archives: Omenala

Finding God in Nature

Standard
Finding God in Nature

“To understand the nature of God, look for God in nature” – Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga

Every week, billions of people all around the world attend religious ceremonies in their respective buildings.  Muslims go to their mosques, Christians go to their churches, Jews to their synagogues, Hindus to their Mandirs, and so on and so on.

National Mosque of Nigeria

Believers of these different faiths gather for prayer and worship, fellowship with fellow believers, and to get a chance to hear text that they consider to be the “Word of God”.  These sites are considered to be sacred places. They often are seen as the literal house of the God or gods which they are dedicated to.

Hindu Temple in New Delhi

Hindu Temple in New Delhi

Within these structures, elaborate murals, shrines, scultpures are put up to represent different gods, angels, and saints. Followers of these faiths will often go to these places to speak to these representations in hopes of getting them to intercede in their lives.

Statue of St. Peter

Within these “Houses of God”, people will hear stories about the divine revelations and experiences of their prophets, saints, and holy men and women. But the most ironic thing about these stories is that most of the people described in them did not have their spiritual awakenings, revelations or experiences in a temple or building of any kind. In fact, most of them had their spiritual experiences in nature. Don’t believe me? Consider the following examples:

Moses

Moses experiences God through a burning bush

Moses experiences God through a burning bush

Considered to be the most important prophet in Judaism, Moses had his first experience when he heard a voice speaking to him through a bush that was on fire, yet was not burning.  His second divine revelation from God came to him on a mountaintop.

Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai

Gautama Buddha

Buddha under Bodhi tree

After trying different paths to find an end to human suffering, Siddhārtha Gautama decided to meditate under a Bodhi tree. After 49 days of non stop meditation, he reached Enlightenment, and became a Buddha, which means an “Awakened One.” Those that follow his teachings today call themselves Buddhists.

Jesus Christ

The man known as Jesus Christ is said to have begun his ministry when the spirit of God descended upon him during a baptism ritual performed by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. He then spent the next forty days and forty nights fasting and praying, not in a temple, not in a synagogue, but in the wilderness.

Jesus in the wilderness

According to the scriptures, he remained in the wilderness throughout his ministry,  and  did the vast majority of his preaching in nature, including the famous sermon on the mount.

Sermon on the Mount

Prophet Muhammad

“When Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] was nearly forty, he had been wont to pass long hours in retirement meditating and speculating over all aspects of creation around him. This meditative temperament helped to widen the mental gap between him and his compatriots. He used to provide himself with Sawiq (barley porridge) and water and then directly head for the hills and ravines in the neighbourhood of Makkah. One of these in particular was his favourite resort — a cave named Hira’, in the Mount An-Nour. It was only two miles from Makkah, a small cave 4 yards long and 1.75 yard wide. He would always go there and invite wayfarers to share him his modest provision. He used to devote most of his time, and Ramadan in particular, to worship and meditation on the universe around him.” [Rahmat Al-lil’alameen 1/47; Ibn Hisham 1/235,236; Fi Zilal Al-Qur’an 29/166]

Cave in Hira where the Prophet Muhammad received the Koran

“When he was forty, the age of complete perfection at which Prophets were always ordered to disclose their Message, signs of his Prophethood started to appear and twinkle on the horizons of life; they were the true visions he used to experience for six months. The period of Prophethood was 23 years; so the period of these six months of true visions constituted an integral part of the forty-six parts of Prophethood. In Ramadan, in his third year of solitude in the cave of Hira’, Allâh’s Will desired His mercy to flow on earth and Muhammad [pbuh] was honoured with Prophethood, and the light of Revelation burst upon him with some verses of the Noble Qur’ân.” [Fath Al-Bari 1/27]

So here you have the founders of four of the major religions in the world receiving divine revelation in nature, and yet today, their followers are literally stick themselves inside in large boxes of sticks, stones, glass and metal.  Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Its not only religious people that have become delusional, its also people who proclaim to be scientists as well. Ancient scientists used to learn about nature by actually being a part of it. Sitting around watching the heavenly bodies in the sky, and seeing how different things interacted in nature. Nowadays, they are stuck behind computer screens or locked away in laboratories. The interesting thing is that most of their “theories” and “laws” stem from people like Sir Issac Newton, who “discovered” gravity after an apple fell on his head while he was sitting under a tree. I guess you can call him the Buddha of Physics.

Ndi Igbo (Igbo people), much like other African peoples, did not limit God to  a physical structure or even one piece of land. They recognized the Divine in all of nature.  I recall hearing a story about how when some of the European missionaries came to Alaigbo (Igboland), they had requested some land to build “God’s house”, to the amusement of the Igbo elders that they had spoken to. These same Europeans who claimed that their God was omnipresent truly did not believe it, for if they had, they would not have condemned the Igbo traditions which truly placed God in everything.

Contrary to popular belief, Igbos DID NOT worship or pray to “idols” or wooden sculptures. The idea of Africans worshiping or praying to an object that they created is downright insulting. The ironic thing is that the people who perpetuate this myth spend a good amount of time doing the same thing that they have historically condemned others for:

Offerings to a Statue of Mother Mary

Instead of worship, Igbos entered into communion with Spirit. Divine experiences were not limited to special prophets or holy men or saints, but could be  had by everyone. The vast majority of  places for public communion in traditional Igbo Omenala (custom and tradition) were either at trees or groves of trees. These trees were representations of divine forces, but were not the divine forces themselves.  The following are some examples:

Agwu deity represented by Ogilishi tree

Ngwu deity represented by Ngwu tree

Both examples taken from Ngü Arö Öka The Öka Lunar Calendar, 2010 -2021 by Nevbechi Emma Anizoba.

The pouring of libation at the shrine of Onye ama-ama in Amaeke

Sacred Grove of Ihu Nne Chukwu at Obiene

The use of trees as connections to the spirit world is illustrated beautifully in the “Tree of Souls” in the film, Avatar, where the Na’vi would go there in order to commune with the spirit of their planet, Eywa.

Tree of Souls in Avatar

This use of trees as places of communion with Spirit carried onto the Diaspora. Ayiti (Haiti) was one place where alot of Igbos ended up during the Maafa (African Hellacaust). Here we see a picture of Haitian Vodouisants (Practioners of Voodoo) having a ceremony at a sacred Mapou tree:

Voodoo Ritual at Mapou Tree

Two hundred years ago, their ancestors gathered together in a sacred grove in the Bwa Kayiman woods and declared that they would no longer be enslaved by the white people or their god.

Voodoo Ritual at Bwa Kayiman Woods

Even in North America, the significance of trees as sacred communal places has not dissappeared from the lives of Africans in America. Below are some pictures of the special trees of some of the black fraternities and sororities:

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Tree

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Tree

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Tree

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Tree

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Tree

What’s significant about the black fraternities and sororities in America is that they also trace part of their lineage to the Ekpe society of southeastern Nigeria, but that is a conversation for another day.

Besides trees, caves also were used as sacred places. Two of the great oracles of Alaigbo (Igboland) were found in caves, including the Ibini Ukpabi oracle of Arochukwu (also known as the Long Juju) as well as the Agbala oracle of Awka. Below is a picture of a shrine in the Ibini Ukpabi cave:

Ibini Ukpabi Oracle

Of all, the most famous public places of African communion with Spirit have always been bodies of water. Rivers, lakes and streams have always been viewed as extremely sacred all over the continent, as evident by the number and popularity of water divinities (Yemaya, Oshun, Auset, Het-Heru, Nommo, Mami Wata, etc).

Those who visited these sacred waters would go for spiritual cleansing, purification, and healing, to become one with Spirit, for initiations and for a variety of other reasons. Water is perhaps the easiest medium to go into a state of trance , in order to connect with Spirit as well as ancestors.  If you want to learn how to connect with Ezenwanyi, the Divine Igbo mother water goddess, click here. Below is a picture of a Voodoo bathing ritual in Haiti:

Voodoo Bathing Ritual

I hope you have enjoyed all this information that has been presented to you. If you want to get a deeper understanding of the concepts mentioned above, the most effective way for you to do that would be to simply go outside. Whether you go a park, or a stream or even your backyard, you will gain a far deeper insight into what God is from simply getting back to Nature and being still then you would from reading any book or blog. Yagazie (May we prosper).

Advertisements

Introduction to Odinani

Standard

by Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga

Who are the Igbo people

Ndi Igbo (the Igbo people) are a West African ethnic group who trace their homeland to an area of what is  now known as southeastern Nigeria. They are known for their rich, vibrant culture and history, and they have been the subject of many world renowned works of both fiction and non-fiction including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Ifi Amadium’s Male Daughters and Female Sons as well as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

There have been Ndi Igbo occupying their present location for over 8000 years, and they have left behind such artifacts as the Igbo Ukwu scuptures, which are the earliest of their kind found in West Africa, as well as the Nsude pyramids which resemble some of the step pyramids of ancient Egypt and Sudan. For a large portion of its history, Alaigbo (Igboland) did not have a central authority, and within it existed many states including the medieval Nri kingdom and the more recent Onitsha and Arochukwu kingdoms, although the Arochukwu confederacy did have a considerable influence over Alaigbo for a few hundred years.

Nsude pyramids

The Maafa (Transatlantic Slave Trade) removed hundreds of thousands of Igbos from Alaigbo, placing them in significant concentrations in colonies that would eventually become the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, as well as the United States. These Ndi Igbo did not come empty handed, but carried with them their Omenala (customs and traditions), their Odinani (spiritual sciences), and their unbreakable wills. Their descendants helped play  key roles in such slave uprisings as the Nat Turner Rebellion as well as the Haitian Revolution.

The Maafa was the beginning of the colonization process of Alaigbo by the British, which they resisted through numerous battles such as the Anglo-Aro Wars, the Ekumeku rebellions, the Aba Women’s riots and culminating in the Biafran War. It was not until 1970 that Alaigbo was under the total control of  the (neo)colonial state of Nigeria. As a result of slavery and colonization, the lifestyles and practices of the majority of Ndi Igbo and their descendants has dramatically changed.

What are Omenala & Odinani?

Historians like to perpetuate the idea that Africans who ended up in the so called New World lost their African culture, which stems from the fact that most Diaspora Africans do not speak the exact same languages of their ancestors, eat the exact same foods, or practice the exact same spiritual systems. However, just because something is not exactly what it was previously does not mean it is has become “lost.” Customs and traditions, like everything else, can go through transformations and adaptations, especially when they are carried to a new environment and people undergo new experiences.

There are also many voluntary African immigrants that now live in North America. These people do not live the same way that they did in Africa, and their children do not have all of the same practices and ways of thinking that they have. The food eaten is often different, the clothing worn is different, and the language might not be passed from one generation to the next. However, you can still analyze them and make a conclusion about where they came from without too many problems. If so much can be changed in just one generation from a voluntary immigration, how much would be transformed from many generations after an involuntary one?

"Other African Americans"

Even when historians admit that some African cultural practices were retained, they will systematically ignore (either directly or indirectly) the Omenala of the Ndi Igbo, especially as it pertains to their descendants in the United States. Historians will admit that Ndi Igbo did come to the “New World” but seldom ever speak on the practices that are derived from them. Rather, they attempt to paint the majority of the Diaspora as being either Yoruba or Akan.

The reality is that the majority of the Diaspora was not Yoruba or Akan, and the Ndi Igbo comprised a significant portion of it. Secondly, the practices of a people in the Diaspora are not always a signifier of who they trace their ancestry from. There are many Africans of Igbo descent in the Diaspora that practice the Yoruba religions because of the fact that the strong central organization of that particular system, as well as the ones of the Bakongo and Fon/Ewe, made them more apt  to flourish in the Diaspora.

Likewise, there are people of Igbo descent in Africa that practice the Roman religion called Catholicism or the British religion called Anglicanism, but neither of these groups of Igbos are from Rome or Britain. Furthermore, the idea that the traditional religions are dead in Alaigbo or in the rest of Africa is more misleading propaganda that people fail to double check on. If the traditional religions are really dead then why do all the African “traditional healers”, “medicine men”, diviners and priests still have so much clientele, even in predominately Christian or Islamic nations? As embellishing as Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) can be at times in its portrayal of Nigerian life, this is one thing that they are not exaggerating. The fact is that regardless of what imported tradition an Igbo (or any other African) may practice, when it begins to fail them, they will go back to the Omenala of their forefathers and foremothers that provided results.

The Re-Awakening of Omenala & Odinani


Today, with the advent of DNA testing that allows people to trace their ancestry, more and more Africans in the Diaspora are uncovering their Igbo genetic heritage, and seeking to learn more about the Omenala of their Egwugwu (ancestors). However, a careful analysis will reveal that they don’t have to visit Alaigbo to discover them, as they are literally right in front of their faces in the traditions and habits that they already know and cherish.
Likewise, Nollywood is helping to spark a renaissance in interest in the Omenala of Ndi Igbo within Africa, by producing alot of films that take place in pre-colonial Alaigbo. These movies often feature Igbo language, traditional attire, make-up, and other things pertinent to Omenala. Authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) are helping to build the Igbo renaissance in the literary field by picking up the torch originally carried by people like Chinua Achebe.

Forest Whitaker & Danny Glover reclaim their Igbo heritage

This blog was motivated in part by  the developing Igbo Renaissance, and the growing need to reclaim the Omenala of the Igbo both in the Diaspora and the Motherland.  However, simply reclaiming and reviving Omenala is a drop in the bucket. The most vital thing is to reawaken the Odinani. Whereas Omenala can be paraphrased as “what you do”, the Odinani is “why you do it.” This fundamental relationship is the key to not only reviving old traditions and practices, but creating new and better ones that can raise the state of our people wherever they may be.

The vast majority of the people in the world today have beliefs, practices and traditions that they uphold but lack understanding about. Consider yourself as an example. Why do you feel the way you feel about certain things? Why do you believe what you believe? Who defined your values? Who is the one that designed your lifestyle? Have you ever thought about these things?

Likewise, when it comes to conditions  in society or in the world as a whole, people often don’t think about the root causes of things; why things are the way that they are. They simply just accept definitions given to them by their religious leaders, social scientists or politicians. What we call religions today are not much more than the deification of a culture of a people. People can’t tell the difference between their cultural practices and the principles that caused them to come into existance.

Odinani was the means through which the Ndi Igbo sought to understand their natural environment. In pre-colonial times, their worldview was limited to their village and their surrounding villages, so their definition of Odinani would have been “laws of the land.” However, with the dramatic expansion of the Igbo worldview that came with colonization by the Europeans, a more appropriate translation of Odinani would be the laws of the Earth, or the laws of Nature. We know this today as science.

Observation

According to Webster’s Dictionary, science is defined as “a systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” By this definition, Ndi Igbo, much like other African people, were scientists in the true sense of the word. They were master observers, able to pick up the minutest of details as well as things right in plain view that often go overlooked by most people. Ndi Igbo were also practical people who adopted traditions after they had been tested and found to produce results that could be reproduced. They did not have time for theories that had not been demonstrated or for blind faith in anything. However, there were two major differences between their view of science and the Western view. Those are, the fact that they did not separate the spiritual from the physical, and that they were also intelligent enough to never claim to have discovered anything.

Ndi Igbo knew what scientists are now finding out: that all matter in the universe is energy, that vibrates at certain frequencies. What we call the physical world is matter that is vibrating at a lower frequency. When the frequency increases, things can become inpercievable to us, even though they are still there. An example of this would be radio and television waves.  Matter at a  higher vibration is what the ancients called spirit. The understanding of the science of spirit is what we would call metaphysics, which is defined as “the theoretical or first principles of a particular discipline.” In other words, metaphysics is the first cause of everything in the physical.

Although Ndi Igbo, as well as other African people have produced their own Leonardo DaVinci’s, Issac  Newtons, Albert Einsteins, etc, these African people did not take credit for finding out about things that have always existed, as Europeans have a very nasty habit of doing. The very notion that an individual “discovers” anything in nature, be it a place (especially one that is already inhabited), a thing, or a concept, implies that no other people that lived before knew it, or that that individual has some type  of “ownership” over it. Ndi Igbo, like other Africans, acknowledged that they did not discover anything, they simply became aware of something that had already been there. Every other year, a new “discovery” by the Europeans renders their old “discoveries” null and void, which goes to show that they are not “discovering” anything at all, but simply uncovering a “bigger piece of the pie.” In regards to Odinani, one good way to describe it would be as a process of becoming aware, of ones self, and of reality.

In conclusion, I would like to say that if Omenala were a play, Odinani would be the script. If Omenala were a software program, Odinani would be the source code. If Omenala would be the actions one takes in response to the changing seasons, then Odinani would be the cyclical  nature of the seasons themselves. The customs, traditions, and rituals that you have will change depending on season or environment, but the laws of nature themselves remain the same. And as you read the articles written by different authors, and view the different symbols and works of art that are posted and deciphered, you should be aware that nothing that is being shared should be considered true unless you can research it, observe it, and prove it true to yourself. Yagazie (May we prosper).