by Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga
Ndi Igbo (Igbo people), like other ancient people around the world, created mythology to answer basic questions about how the world was created, where their people came from, and why things are the way they are in the world. However, unlike many unenlightened people today, they were not naive enough to take these stories literally, and understood them to be symbolic.
The following myth deals with the origin of Afa (divination). Although the Yoruba system of Ifa is the most popular, it did NOT originate with them and appears all over West Africa. The Fon people call it Fa. The Urhobos call it Epha. To the Ewe, its also called Afa.
The excerpt is from page 86 of John Umeh’s After God is Dibia Volume 1:
“The Igbos have a very interesting history of the origin of Afa Ugili/Akpukpala. There was a very brilliant Igbo lady who made accurate prophecies and inspired utterances and accurately read the minds of God, spirits, ancestors, men and women, stars, planets and all that exists and saw clear and accurate visions of what was, what is, and what will be. Additionally, she heard, with the help of her mystical third ear, what was, what is, and what will be.
She was consulted on all problems which she solved with precision and complete satisfaction. She lived to a very ripe old age, serving humanity and God with her clear vision and uncanny audition. When she finally died, humanity was thrown into a great wailing, chaos and confusion.
A delegation was therefore sent to Chukwu (God) with a request that He kindly send a replacement or make it possible for all to have the vision and audition of the dead wise old lady sage. God consoled the delegates and sent back, through them, His merciful words of consolation to humanity.
He instructed them on how to bury the old, dead divination sage with a promise that an Ugili, sacred tree, will sprout and grow from her head and that its fruits, when they ripe and fall, should have their shells broken into two and arranged four on each of four strings, which when cast and interpreted will tell with accuracy, what was, what is, and what will be.The delegates left home for the human world with the good news, divine words of consolation and instruction on the new divination system that would replace the uncanny vision and audition of the lady sage of divination. God’s instructions were obeyed to the last letter. The result was as promised”
Unlike other mythologies where women usually are blamed for the downfall of the human race, a woman is seen as being the source of this sacred divination system, and women played very important roles in pre-colonial Igbo society as dibia afa (diviners) and priestesses.
Parables are alot like mythology, but mostly deal with moral lessons rather than answering questions of origins. The following is a parable from the Oraifite community of Igboland. More can be found at this link.
“Many years ago there was a Calabar hunter called Effiong, who lived in the bush, killed plenty of animals, and made much money. Every one in the country knew him, and one of his best friends was a man called Okun, who lived near him.
But Effiong was very extravagant, and spent much money in eating and drinking with every one, until at last he became quite poor, so he had to go out hunting again; but now his good luck seemed to have deserted him, for although he worked hard, and hunted day and night, he could not succeed in killing anything.
One day, as he was very hungry, he went to his friend Okun and borrowed two hundred rods from him, and told him to come to his house on a certain day to get his money, and he told him to bring his gun, loaded, with him.
Now, some time before this Effiong had made friends with a leopard and a bush cat, whom he had met in the forest whilst on one of his hunting expeditions; and he had also made friends with a goat and a cock at a farm where he had stayed for the night.
But though Effiong had borrowed the money from Okun, he could not think how he was to repay it on the day he had promised.
At last, however, he thought of a plan, and on the next day he went to his friend the leopard, and asked him to lend him two hundred rods, promising to return the amount to him on the same day as he had promised to pay Okun; and he also told the leopard, that if he were absent when he came for his money, he could kill anything he saw in the house and eat it.
The leopard was then to wait until the hunter arrived, when he would pay him the money; and to this the leopard agreed. The hunter then went to his friend the goat, and borrowed two hundred rods from him in the same way.
Effiong also went to his friends the bush cat and the cock, and borrowed two hundred rods from each of them on the same conditions, and told each one of them that if he were absent when they arrived, they could kill and eat anything they found about the place.
When the appointed day arrived the hunter spread some corn on the ground, and then went away and left the house deserted. Very early in the morning, soon after he had begun to crow, the cock remembered what the hunter had told him, and walked over to the hunter’s house, but found no one there. On looking round, however, he saw some corn on the, ground, and, being hungry, he commenced to eat.
About this time the bush cat also arrived, and not finding the hunter at home, he, too, looked about, and very soon he espied the cock, who was busy picking up the grains of corn. So the bush cat went up very softly behind and pounced on the cock and killed him at once, and began to eat him.
By this time the goat had come for his money; but not finding his friend, he walked about until he came upon the bush cat, who was so intent upon his meal off the cock, that he did not notice the goat approaching; and the goat, being in rather a bad temper at not getting his money, at once charged at the bush cat and knocked him over, butting him with his horns.
This the bush cat did not like at all, so, as he was not big enough to fight the goat, he picked up the remains of the cock and ran off with it to the bush, and so lost his money, as he did not await the arrival of the hunter.
The goat was thus left master of the situation and started bleating, and this noise attracted the attention of the leopard, who was on his way to receive payment from the hunter. As he got nearer the smell of goat became very strong, and being hungry, for he had not eaten anything for some time, he approached the goat very carefully.
Not seeing any one about he stalked the goat and got nearer and nearer, until he was within springing distance.
The goat, in the meantime, was grazing quietly, quite unsuspicious of any danger, as he was in his friend the hunter’s compound. Now and then he would say Ba!! But most of the time he was busy eating the young grass, and picking up the leaves which had fallen from a tree of which he was very fond.
Suddenly the leopard sprang at the goat, and with one crunch at the neck brought him down. The goat was dead almost at once, and the leopard started on his meal.
It was now about eight o’clock in the morning, and Okun, the hunter’s friend, having had his early morning meal, went out with his gun to receive payment of the two hundred rods he had lent to the hunter.
When he got close to the house he heard a crunching sound, and, being a hunter himself, he approached very cautiously, and looking over the fence saw the leopard only a few yards off busily engaged eating the goat. He took careful aim at the leopard and fired, whereupon the leopard rolled over dead.
The death of the leopard meant that four of the hunter’s creditors were now disposed of, as the bush cat had killed the cock, the goat had driven the bush cat away (who thus forfeited his claim), and in his turn the goat had been killed by the leopard, who had just been slain by Okun.
This meant a saving of eight hundred rods to Effiong; but he was not content with this, and directly he heard the report of the gun he ran out from where he had been hiding all the time, and found the leopard lying dead with Okun standing over it.
Then in very strong language Effiong began to upbraid his friend, and asked him why he had killed his old friend the leopard, that nothing would satisfy him but that he should report the whole matter to the king, who would no doubt deal with him as he thought fit.
When Effiong said this Okun was frightened, and begged him not to say anything more about the matter, as the king would be angry; but the hunter was obdurate, and refused to listen to him; and at last Okun said, “If you will allow the whole thing to drop and will say no more about it, I will make you a present of the two hundred rods you borrowed from me.”
This was just what Effiong wanted, but still he did not give in at once; eventually, however, he agreed, and told Okun he might go, and that he would bury the body of his friend the leopard.
Directly Okun had gone, instead of burying the body Effiong dragged it inside the house and skinned it very carefully. The skin he put out to dry in the sun, and covered it with wood ash, and the body he ate.
When the skin was well cured the hunter took it to a distant market, where he sold it for much money. And now, whenever a bush cat sees a cock he always kills it, and does so by right, as he takes the cock in part payment of the two hundred rods which the hunter never paid him.
MORAL: Never lend money to people (who cannot pay it back), because if they cannot pay they will try to kill you or get rid of you in some way, either by poison or by setting bad Ju Ju’s for you.”
Ute ikpe ekpere (prayers)
Prayer has always been a central part of Igbo life. It served as a direct link to ala mmuo (the spirit land). The following is an excerpt from pages 199-200 of Traditional Igbo Beliefs and Practices by IK Ogbukagu. A morning prayer of this nature was done every day by the head of each household while offering oji (kola nut) to the different divinities.
“A kpopu uzo, a kpopu onu
The dawning of a new day marks the beginning of a routine struggling for the means of human and other beings existence
Ubosi kpatalu nu nya likalie
The day that fetches more benefits than others deserves to have more of those items of benefit
Uchu adi agba mma ekwu
The pen kinfe routinely deployed for splitting of kolanuts because of the nature of its assignment is always assured of early morning breakfast
O bu n’igwe , O bu n’ana, chedo anyi
God who lives in heaven and on earth, please protect our interest
God you destroy and regenerate lives
O sibe, O dika a ma elisi
God bestows gifts as though these benevolence would remain endless
E lisie, o dika a ma eweta ozo
He allows or rescinds these gifts as he considers appropriate or expedient
Taa oji a n’otu ka anyi taa ya n’ibe n’ibe
Almighty God, take this kolanut in whole, while we take it in cotyledons
Oru mmuo na nnu mmo bianu taa oji
All classes of spirit/elementals, especially the good ones, please have your own share of this nut
Ichie ukwu na ichi nta
Titled and non-titled ancestors to join us in this exercise
Ndi mvu na ndi egede
The primordial and other ancestors of the spirit world also to join
A nalu nwata ife o ji ama mma mma ya aluru
When a child is deprived of what he loves he subsequently is made miserable
Ana, ndi afulu anya na ndi afuro anya, nke na enwero okpa ibe ya kwota ya n’azu
This land, indigines dead and alive; among the dead;the deformed and the crippled helped by others also are invited to join
Unu ekwena ka oji dalue ana, ma o bu ka nwa-ngwele gbaa aji
(Almighty God) do not allow this kolanut to drop from my hand or subject us to any misfortune today
Ofo nn m nyiba m alo, e welu m aka abo bulu ya
I will at all costs endeavor to protect all the heritages handed over to me by my father
Mmuo na anoro ya, mmadu ebulu oche ya
If an oracle vacates its seat, a human being takes over
Izuzugbe nzugbe, anunu gbe
All (spirits/ancestors) are enjoined to rally and then fully participate in these early morning prayers
O sii nwata, jide nkakwu, ya ga-ekunye mmili o ga-eji kwo aka
Anyone who makes a child commit a crime will have to bear the consequence of his action
Oso chuka nwata, o gbanaa ikwu nne ya
A child who has a serious disagreement with his fraternal household may op to move over and settle with his maternal relatives
Nee ubosi taata dozie ya ka o di ka ibe ya
God bless today as you did with other days
Ndi ilo ezuana anyi n’uzo
We earnestly pray we do not fall prey to the evil plans of our enemies
O bialu egbu anyi gbue onwe ya
Wicked plans designed to harm the innocent are to have boomerang effect
Ile oma ka ejuna ji agan’ogwu
We achieve much progress by being good, kind and gentile
Ife any ga-eli bia, nke ga eli anyi abiana
We pray for the good things of life and abhor evil tendencies
Izu gbajulugwo o kaalu nti
Secrets and malevolent plants at some point in time, may be revealed
Ututu tutauta ife
May today be blessed with blessed with lots of good luck
Onye welu ututu tutuba otutujue akpa
If you start early enough to toil, you will achieve a lot by the end of the day”
As you can see, Igbo prayers were a combination of affirmations, praises, proverbs, and requests. There were not wish lists or the marathon sessions of begging that are prominent in some traditions today. Most importantly, Igbo prayer was almost always never done empty handed, and placed a good deal of responsibility on the part of the person doing the prayer to follow it up with the right actions and deeds that would lead to its fulfillment.