We, the Igbos, are known all over the world as a people who are ardent in matters of our traditional religion and worship. I clearly remember how, a few years back, the catholic congregation in my hometown – Abagana – sparked serious trouble with the local people by pulling down a local religious shrine in the name of ridding the town of evil spirits and demons. If not for the timely intervention by well-meaning people of Anambra state, I’m sure the incident I’m trying to reference here would have degenerated and became drastic as well as an international news item.
To shed more light on what Igbo traditional religion and worship entails, an eminent Igbo scholar, Arinze F. A., in his book titled: “Sacrifice in Igbo Religion” published in 1978 by University Press Ibadan pointed out that the subjects of worship in Igbo culture and tradition are of three (3) levels which are; Chukwu/Chineke, Ndiichie, and Arusi.
We, Igbos, believe that Chukwu is greater than all spirits and beings both visible and invisible to the physical eyes. The various names we have given Chukwu reflect the level of faith and confidence we repose in Him. For instance; Chukwu which is a shortened form of “Chi Ukwu” implies “Great Being.” While, Chineke means “The Being that creates.” We don’t believe anyone can accurately describe Chukwu or make his perfect image that is why in all of Igboland, there is no shrine where an image of Chukwu is carved or painted. In fact, in Igbo traditional religious system, it is a taboo to attempt producing an image of Chukwu.
When we talk about Ndiichie in Igbo traditional religion and worship, we are referring only to the spirits of our holy ancestors and not the spirits of all of our departed ancestors. The ancestors we regard as Ndiichie are those that lived their lives on earth according to the Laws of Chukwu – they are the saints or the kind of souls the christians refer to as saints.
Our belief concerning how we should relate with Ndiichie is reflected in many ways. For instance; we, Igbos, first call on Ndiichie when we want to say prayers with a kolanut in hand. We also make libations to them when we want to drink alcoholic drinks in formal traditional events and ceremonies in Igbo land.
We believe Ndiichie fight spiritually on our behalf to protect us from harm and negative attacks. They help facilitate childbearing and survival of any particular lineage, they provide spiritual guidance to those still on earth, and they also mediate between Chukwu and us.
We communicate with Ndiichie through dreams, through apparitions, and through the eyes of holy spiritual seers.
Arusis are elemental beings. The 4 basic elements of land, water, fire, and wind have elemental gods and goddesses who are in charge of everything that concerns them. That is, the formation, development and transformation of land, water, fire, and wind anywhere on earth which makes earthly existence possible. In Igbo traditional religion and worship, these gods and goddesses are lower than Ndiichie but are very powerful and unswerving in their activities such that any man who misapplies their effects will die within a short time.
Some of these Arusis have shrines where they can be approached from, and also they possess material things like servants, trees, animals, piece of land etc mainly because they are more closely connected to the earth than the other two subjects of worship in Igbo traditional religious system.
Written by Dunu Okigbo