Beautiful Igala girl from Kogi State, Nigeria
The Igala tribe is among the great Iron-ore technology states that rose to power between 1400 and 1700 AD, alongside with the Benin, Nupe and Oyo empires. They have exercised a considerable influence on the surrounding neighbours. Igala forms a kingdom whose ruler, the Attah, has as his capital Idah on the River Niger. “Igala people are not toddlers. They are goal-getters in every positive sense of the term, never mediocres. In a nutshell, they are typical achievers, movers and shakers of history” (Egbunu 2001).
Igala man from Kogi State
Igala land begins at Adamagu a few kilometres north of Onitsha and continues up to a confluence, from where it protrudes linearly north-eastward along the Benue. It finally terminates at Amagede in Amagede at the eastern boundary, which is demarcated by the Idoma in Oyegede and Otupl and north Nsuka – areas of Enugu Ezeke, Itah Edem, Ururu, Adavi and Ogugu of the Anambra rivers. The two great rivers that divide what became Nigeria, place the confluence as one of the national and cultural regions which brought the Igala into contact with the wide range of people in Nigeria.
Igala elderly woman
The population of Igala land is estimated to be about four million, over 70% of whom are subsistence farmers. The Igala ethnic group is densely populated in their settlements around the major towns such as Idah, Ankpa and Anyigba. They are also found in Edo, Delta, Anambra, Enugu, Nassarawa, Adamawa and Benue States. However, the bulk of them are indisputably found in Idah, Ankpa, Dekina, Omala, Olamaboro, Ofu, Igalamela/Odolu, Ibaji, Bassa (and even Lokoja and Ajaokuta) Local Government Areas of Kogi State (Egbunu 2001,49).
Igala man with Igala traditional tribal mark
Varieties of people from different ethnic origins, speaking different languages live in Igalaland. The dominant group however are the Igala people themselves who are regarded as the most primordial of all identified groups that exist in the area today. Other ethnic groups include the Nupe, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Idoma, Ebira as well as immigrant from the Etsako Local Government Area of Edo State.
Kola nut (obi) of Igala people: http://ayedefilmandphotography.com/
Among the Igala people Kola nut (obi) is very important. It has socio- religious significance and is often eaten in socio-religious gatherings. Without it no traditional marriage can be celebrated in Igala-land. Its breaking and eating symbolize unity, peace, love and acceptance under the protective eyes of Ọjọchamachala (God) and Ibegwu (Ancestors)
Igala women in their traditional dress, USA
In Igala tradition, infants from some parts of the kingdom, like Ankpa receive three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way of identifying each other. However, this practice is becoming less common.
A woman with typical Igala tribal facial marks
Origin of the Name Igala
The first tradition says “Igala” is a derivative of the Yoruba name for antelope (Igala). So these school of though tries to suggest that there were many antelopes during the early migrations into the land giving rise to this name. The Yoruba word “Igala” means Antelope which is Ọchachakolo in Igala language.
This animal is noted for its fast steps. It is a pacesetter and frontliner. Of this animal, the Igala proverb refers, “Ọchachakolo Ẹla ki d’ọgba amomi ẹbun”, (Antelope, an animal at the forefront never drinks unsettled or dirty water). This point looks plausible, considering the fact that so many of the Igala villages were named after animals. For instance, Ojuwo-Ọcha (Antelope hill), Ugwọlawo (Guinea fowl’s bath), Ọbagu (Chimpanzee), etc. It is also related in some quarters that even a German Volkswagen company recognized the nature of this to the extent that they named one of their best cars “Igala Volkswagen” in the 1970s after it. But the second tradition is even far more tenable.
This second tradition is based on two premises:
That the Igalamela (nine Igala clans) are the autochthonous, first occupants of Idah (Igala) native town. About them, oral tradition says that they pushed the Idoma people to their present location in Benue state (from the present Idoma Street in Idah). This Igalamela chiefs are greeted “Onu-Igala” (Igala leader or chief) up till date.
That Etemahi is the leader (head) of the Igalamela royal lineage. “Ete ma hi” in Igala language denotes – “it is from the beginning (the roots) one can cook any edible object well”. An Igala adage goes thus, “Ẹtẹ ma hi ma m’ahi ọgbọ n” (from the beginning they cook and it would not be tasteless).
These are idiomatic expressions suggesting that the Igala race as developed (or tasty) as it is today evolved from this particular thorough roots, Odudu I chanẹ ichanẹ-n (Day break began in the morning, not in the evening).
From the foregoing, we can infer that the word IGALA is a compound word with “Iga” as its root and “Ala” as the qualifying noun. In Igala language, Iga means a partition, blockade, a dividing wall e.g. partition of India in 1947. And the qualifying noun, Ala means “Sheep”. This could imply that the first settlers in Igalaland (the Igalamela) saw themselves as God’s flock or sheep that eventually found their greener pasture in this location. They probably felt it was better to settle here. Whether they came from the Yoruba race or any other larger language group or whether they drove out any group of their earlier inhabitants (such as the Idomas) is not our immediate concern here. They came, they saw it was a fertile ground full of prospects and they settled here from antiquity. Period!
Perhaps, they made Iga-Ala Mẹla that is, making nine “sheep” apportionments, partitions, dividing walls or simply, fences against possible invading troops, as it was common in those days in search of a formidable security. They were then referred to generally as the IGA-ALA people. The name gradually metamorphosed from Iga-ala to IGALA as a result of the combination of the two vowels (a + a). The nomenclature then became IGALA. The name must have come in the figurative sense of people referring to themselves, as the sheep feels shielded and protected under its shepherd.
God (Ọjọ), is often seen by the Igala people as Ọchamachala (owner of the entire universe), Odobọgagwu (the all-powerful one), Anẹ-magẹdọ (the all-courageous one), etc.
Igala Owuna masquerade performing traditional dance
This sense of being protected under God’s shadow was extended into the naming of a certain street, UBI-IGA (behind the partition) in Idah, during the Benin/Igala War in A.D. 1515 – because of the partitioning against foreign invaders. Other parts of Igalaland are not left out in naming villages after their functions. For instance, villages which served as formidable fortresses against foreign invasion at a certain period of history or the other, had such names e.g. Iga-Ebije (iron partition), Iga-Ikẹjẹ (Ikẹjẹ’s wall); Igaliwo (Aliwo’s wall), Iga-Olijo (Adder’s wall), Igagbo (Agbo’s wall); Ig’ọjọ (God’s protective wall), etc. It is interesting to note that the Igas were practically erected in those days for defensive purposes.
According to oral tradition, the Odogo (ancient storey building) in Ata’s palace was used as a hideout. From there the soldiers had a full view far over and across the cliff near the River Niger. By this means they were able to detect enemy troops afar. A river is also believed to have changed its course or totally dried up around Ọkpakpala-Ukwaja. This river also served as another shied against enemies.
From the above, it is obvious that Igala people are people who feel highly secured under God’s umbrella. That is why in times of adversity, they would simply exclaim “Ọjọma” (God knows or God is in control). And if the Antelope Igala origin appeals to the reader more, he/she should know that Igala people are not toddlers. They are fast at achieving their goals. They are goal-getters in every positive sense of the term, never mediocres. In a nutshell they are typically achievers, movers and shakers of history.
The Igalas have an unusually and richly endowed environment. They are within the “middle-belt” of Nigeria which has an advantage of the climate of the drier Savannah vegetation to the north and the wet forest regions to the south.
The area lies within the warm humid climatic zone of Nigeria. There is a distinctive wet season dichotomy. The wet season lasts from about April to the end of September or early October while the dry season lasts from about October to about the end of March or early April. Rainfall can be heavy and the effects of the harmattan can be severe, especially from about November.
The area has an average rain fall of about 50” a year. The lowland riverine areas are flooded seasonally, making it possible for the growing of paddy rice and controlled fish farming in ponds that are owned on individual or clan basis. The lbaji area is the major place awashed by flood. This makes the area very fertile soil more than other place in the land: “The receding floods leave behind a large quantity of fish in ponds and lakes. This facts, plays an important role in the economic and social lives of the people,”
Simply put, the vegetation is mainly deciduous, with the major rivers (Benue and Niger), a few minor ones such as Okula, Ofu, Imabolo, Ubele, Adale, Ogbagana, and many streams in the land. Hence, is Igalaland popularly known as a blessed fishing and arable region.
The most common economic trees are palm trees (ekpe), locust beans (okpehie). mahogany (ago), iroko (uloko), whitewood (uwewe) and raffia palms (ugala). Common plantations are of okra (oro..-aikpele), cashew (agala), banana (ogede). Some of the economic trees mentioned here provide timber for the people and for sale. In the forest regions were also found certain wild animals, such lions (idu), hyenas (olinya), leopards (omolalna or eje), elephants (adagba), bush-pigs (ehi), chimpanzee (ukabu). etc.
This favorable vegetation makes farming and hunting highly profitable. Thus. 90% of the population. practice farming. Both forest and savannah crops thrive on Igala soil very well. Thus, the main forest crops produced are: yams, cassava, maize, melon and groundnut. And they produce such savannah cereals as guinea corn. beans. millet and benniseed. However, due to the shifting cultivation being practiced, bush burning and felling of trees, a good proportion of the forest is being gradually destroyed and wild animals are fast becoming extinct.
Igalaland is blessed with rich natural resources. In the south are swamps where crude oil was prospected some years ago. It is generally believed that oil was discovered at Alade and Odolu. IS The Okabba (Adagio) coalmine is close to Ankpa in the north. The country has benefitted from the coalmine since 1967.
There are many roads in the area. The main ones are Anyigba-ldah, Anyigba-Ankpa, Anyigba-Shintaku. Those of Anyigba-Ajaokuta, Ankpa-Otukpo, Otukpa, Ankpa-Ogobia. Idah· Nsukka and Ejule-Otukpa link the land with neighboring states. Good waterways are possible between Idah-Agenebode-Onitsha and the Shintaku-Lokoja axis of River Niger. These waterways have served as veritable means of transport in the recent past. It encouraged social and economic interactions.
Today, Igala land does not possess any airport. However, air travelers make use of Ajaokuta Steel Company’s airstrip. The Itobe-Ajaokuta Bridge constructed about two decades ago on the River Niger has also turned out to be of tremendous benefit as it has enhanced intra and inter-state links and commercial transactions.
Igala people speak Igala language, which belongs to the Yoruboid languages spoken in North Central Nigeria (Akinkugbe 1976, 1978; Omachonu 2000, 2002) which also forms part of the larger West Benue-Congo phylum (formerly part of Kwa).
As a result of the strong linguistic affinities, Dr. Femi Akinkugbe (University of Lagos) has recently classified Yoruba, Itsekiri and Igala as belonging to what he calls the Proto-Yuroboid sub-group in the main Kwa group.
It is estimated that nearly 4 million people speak Igala, primarily in Kogi State, Delta State and Edo State. Dialects include Ebu, Idah, Ankpa, Dekina, Ogugu, Ibaji, Ife. The Agatu, Idoma, and Bassa people use Igala for primary school.
Although one may argue that Igala is unlikely to be so endangered in the proper sense of the word considering the number of its native speakers and linguistic researches available in the language (Armstrong 1951, 1965; Omachonu 2000, 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008; Atadoga 2007; Ejeba 2009; Ikani 2010), one of the aspects always identified as being so seriously endangered in the use and study of the language is the numeral system (See Etu 1999, Ocheja 2001). This is because children nowadays rarely know how to count in Igala. Even adults, mix up Igala with Hausa and English when they count money and other objects in the language. A similar scenario was pointed out by Atóyèbí (n.d.) of the numeral system of Ọkọ which he described as the most endangered aspect of the language because the act of counting in Ọkọ, according to him, has been left to older members of the community with the younger generation preferring to express numerals in the English language
The actual origin of the Igala people is not quite known. Different people present many versions of legends of immigration There are claims, for instance, that the Igala people came from the Jukun (Kwarara/a), some says Benin, others Yoruba. Yet, others feel they migrated from Mecca (Southern Yemen) or Mali.
In the past, the reigning Atta, His Royal Majesty. Agabaidu (Dr.) Aliyu O. Obaje, had. for instance, explained: "the !gala came from Southern Yemen, passed through Ethiopia (where there is an ethnic group called the Gala) and through the (medieval times} Empire of Mali, to Jukun land; then finally, to our present location." In another instance, the Atta said that the Igala "came from the Arab country of Yemen and were in the present Nigeria at the same time as the founding fathers of the Yorubas, the Jukuns and the Beriberis or Kanuris Bornu. He also maintains that the earlier migration into Igalaland was at "about the 12th century A.D.... led by Amina, a Zaria princess and warrior. who fought her way to Idah ... with Hausa and Nupe followers.
Certain traditions even hold that the Igala are of Fulani origin, simply because of the similarities in their physical features. It IS clear that Fulanis do not speak a Kwa language. And owing to the linguistic affinity, others affirm the Yoruba connections. For Byng Halt notes that, "It is not surprising that within a short period of arrival in Igala land, a Yoruba is well acquainted with the language.” He attributes the ease in learning the language to the closeness of the two languages. Armstrong sticks to this same view when he said: "the most definite historical statement that can be made about Igala is that . they had a common origin with the Yoruba and that the separation took place long enough ago to allow for their fairly considerable linguistic differences. There is a whole corpus of oral traditions on the origin of the Igala people.
While this study did not engage .in any detailed criticism of the diverse opinions on the Igala origins. it gave a thorough look: at certain .inescapable facts, These intricate issues were pin-pointed in order to allow us take a solid stand.
The view that Princess Amina of Zaria led the very first migration into Igalaland in the 12th century does not hold water. This is because Queen Amina was a 14th C figure and history has it that the Igala people were already settled in this area and were relating socio-culturally with the Igbos right from the ,7th and 9th century A.D. Moreover, the obvious absence of a legend relating to this princess and warrior .in Igalaland is a clear indication that it might not be true afterall that she actually reached Igala land. Stories on Igala Benin war and Igala-Jukun war, for instance. are very popular. The near dead silence on an Amina war leaves room for great doubts. Niven argues against the presupposition that she died at 'Atagara' (that is ldah) when he said: "she died at Atagara, probably a place iii the Gongola valley then under Kwararafa, not Idah. which is now known as Atagara.'
The linking of the Igala with Yemen In Arabia is another highly speculative opinion. This story was probably a device of the Muslims to Islamise Igala people. The people of Igala had long settled before the Galas entered Ethiopia. because tradition has it that it was only in the century A.D, that the Gala migration to Ethiopia took place. In addition, it is quite improbable that the Semite Galas would metamorphose into Negroes of the contemporary Igalaland overnight. The similarity in name is thereby merely coincidental.
The Mali connection remains baseless too because the similarities between the words "Mela" (nine of them) of Igala-Mela (the nine Igala kingmakers) is in no way attributable to “9” as originating from Mali. To the Igala mind, "nine" simply symbolizes perfectness.
Likewise, the supposition that the Igalas came out of the Fulanis, carries no weight, since "no tradition in Igala supports it. History attests to the fact that the Fulanis were still in the region of Senegal by the time the Igala were already having a "centralized state system ... in the 12" century.
That the Igala have a traditional link with the Benin kingdom is indubitable. There abound theories for instance, that support a Benin origin of Igala kingship. However, there was already in existence indigenous Igala people with their kingship systems before the arrival of the Benin kings. But it must be understood that at some stage of Igala history, the Benin people wielded some power of influence over them. The difference in their system of government alone is enough reason to prove that it is never true to say the entire Igala originated from Benin.
The tradition, which holds that the Igala has the same origin with the Yoruba seem to be a plausible one. This humble submission is based on the fact that the Igala language has a lot in common with the Yoruba. Okwoli supports this view when he said: "When people speak the same language. or related languages, there is every reason to believe that they have common origin or have met somewhere.
The Jukun link with the Igala is another very strong tradition that immediately calls for serious attention. Stories about the Jukun origin of Igala kingship, for instance, cannot be waved aside. That there were certain Jukun immigrants who came among the Igalas at some stage of the development of the Igala kingdom is quite evident It is even a common knowledge that the present ruling dynasty is Jukun.
Ultimately, therefore, there is no single account of the origin of the Iga1a people, which is unassailable However, one may agree with Boston that the different tradition "probably correspond to different phases of history in which the Yoruba link may be the most ancient, followed by the Benin connection, and most recently. some form of Jukun suzerainty'. In order not to continue swimming in this shark-infested waters of legends and traditions, we concluded that the Igala kingdom originated from within their immediate vicinity, namely. West Africa. As a matter of fact, before the advent of the colonial masters, about seven very prominent black. kingdoms were noticeable in the forest belt, thus, Ashanti, Dahomey. ]fe, Oyo, Bini, Igala and Jukun(Apa) kingdoms.
The social organization is essentially kin-based. The nuclear family is the smallest social unit but this is inseparably tied to the extended family system involving the linage and the clan. All members of these extra nuclear-family units regard one another as “brothers” or “sisters”. A number of agnatic families combine to form a clan and number of them may constitute a hamlet or even village. Often the members of such hamlets or villages trace their origin to common apical ancestors. The sociological arrangement is, itself a factor that promotes unity and peace among the people.
The political organization is concerned on the monarchy, headed by a paramount king, the Attah-Igala, who is regarded as the father of all Igala people. Attahs of old wielded a lot of power and authority and established a very powerful kingdom possibly dating to about the 8th or 9th century AD. At its apogee, perhaps in the 16th century, the Igala kingdom did extend far and wide to include parts of Igboland (Nsukka Area) to the south Koton-karfe (including and beyond area of north Kogi) to the north; part of western Idoma land to the east (including Igumake) and parts of Etsakor in the west.
OGUGU IN FOCUS: HRM, Agaba Idu, AMEH OBONI II storms Oguguland tomorrow as part of the 2014 Royal Tour. Amoma Ogugu me Kwane k'ojane Igala ki'nyogba Efuredo, Ufedo kpai Udama!
Influences of the Igala, operating from the headquarters at Idah, were also felt at Nri-Igbo-Ukwu and Onitsha in Anambra state; among the Nembe and Kalabari on the Atlantic cost; as Asaba and among Nupe in present day Niger state where an Igala prince, tosede or Edgi is acclaimed to have established the Nupe kingdom. Wars were fought, peace treaties were concluded, tributes were paid and trade organized with these and other people. Wars for instance were fought with the Jukun of Kwararafa in present-day southern Taraba State and with the Bini during the reign of Oba Esigie 1 in (1515, 1516 AD) as recorded in Portuguese in Lisbon today.
The glorious era of Igala kingdom was disrupted with the effective colonization by the British of the area now known as Nigeria from about 1890, with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorates in 1914 (by Col. Frederick Lugard) the British policy of what is now known as Nigeria, where established monarchs were used to rule their own people “indirectly”. Thus the power of the kings and chiefs was gradually eroded until they become puppets in the hand of the British. There was resistance here and there, for instance in Opobo (by Jaja), in Itsekiri land (by Nana), in Benin (by Overanwen), in Sokoto (by Sultan Attahiru) and in Igalaland (by Prince Atabo Ijomi later, Ata-Igala from 1919 to 1926); but in essence, the traditional rulers lost the battle.
Native administrators were established (somewhat along geo-ethnic lines) and the monarchs were made tutelary heads of the administrations, while the British acted as the real administrators and decision makers. In this vein, the Igala native authority was administered as part of Kabba province so even after the independence in 1960.
HRM, AMEH OBONI II, Agaba Idu, Ata Igala.
With coming of the military in 1966, and with state creation in 1967, Igalaland became the eastern part of a Kwara State (initially named Central Western State) when a twelve state structure was created. When a new nineteen-state structure was later created out of the 12 in February 1976, Igalaland was carved out of Kwara and merged as the Western part of a new Benue State. In August 1991, itinerant Igala found themselves in a new state, Kogi which is where they are now.
Idah remained the cultural headquarters of Igalaland and the political capital of Idah Local government Area. In 1968, Igalaland was split into three administrative units for the sake of conveniences. The units – Idah, Ankpa and Dekina were administered as local governments, later (in 1976). Dekina division was itself split into Dekina and Bassa, again local government areas were carved out of Ankpa while Ofu was carved out of Idah. Today, Igalaland harbours nine local governments out of the 21 local governments in Kogi State.
Igala man in his traditional groom dress
The Igala Traditional Council
There used to be one Igala traditional council headed by the Attah. Later, with the creation of autonomous local government area, and Ankpa traditional council headed by Eje was created. A Bassa Komo, Bassa Nge and the Ebira Mozum Districts with its headquarters at Oguma was also recognized. Dekina and Idah remained under the umbrella of the Igala traditional council headed by the Attah-Igala. In the present dispensation, each local government council in Kogi state has its own council of Chiefs and everyone recognizes the pre-eminence of their respective premier monarchs – the Attah-Igala, the Ohinoyi-Ebira and the Obaro of Kabba.
The Igala Monarch
The Igala Monarchy, one of the oldest and one of the most formidable in the central Nigerian area is central around the person and office of the Attah-Igala who is regarded and treated as the father of all Igala people. The remoteness of the Attah institution has not been properly determined historically but oral tradition and archaeological records point to dates around the 8th and 9th century AD.
HRM, AMEH OBONI II, Agaba Idu, Ata Igala.
The possible influence of the Igala kingship on Nri and Igbo Ukwu cultures, the latter of which has been dated to about 8th and 9th century AD by Professor C. Thurstan Shaw, shows that if Igala monarch influenced Igbo Ukwu’s at that period, it could be suggested that origins and history of Igala culture may well pre-date the 8th or 9th century AD (Shaw, C.T. 1970, Igbo Ukwu, Faber, London).
Oral tradition state that some Attahs whose period of reign cannot be determined chronologically reigned over “Igalaland” for quite some time. These include Agenepoje, Abutu-Eje and Ebole Jonu. This is however a very shady period of Igala monarchial history, the length and remoteness of which are yet to be ascertained.
The Special Jumm'at Prayer led by the Chief Imam of the palace, Alh. Idrisu Liman... HRM, AMEH OBONI II now resumes office for the day's tasks.
But after the proto-dynastic period, emerged a period where oral tradition is much more reliable, that is the period of Ayegba Oma Idoko who is the founder of the present quadrilinear dynasty. Thus the descendants of Ayegba headed by Akwumabi, Akogwu and Ocholi have produced the Attah Igala in succession to one another over the years. Later however, the genealogy of the Akwumabi dynasty was split into two, headed by Ame-Acho and Itodo Aduga, thereby creating a four dynasty structure as shown in the scheme below (note the figures after each name show the tenure-ship from Ayegba Oma Idoko.
HRM, AMEH OBONI II, Agaba Idu blesses the Royal Palace Singers before proceeding for the day's job... Achebe!!!
The Atta’s scope of influence
With Atta Ayegba Om’Idoko, the kingdom was zoned in the 17th cetltury A.D. into smaller units in order to decentralize authority. Then in 1905 the British created the districts. These districts comprised Ankpa, Dekina, Egwume., Ejema, Imane. Iga, Ika, Ogwugwu, Ojokwu. Atabaka (Okpo), Biraidu (Abocho), Ife (Abejukolo). Odu, Iyale, Emekwutu, Okenyi, Ojokiti, As these districts were formed and “trustworthy relatives and followers” were sent to rule, these were given the ‘traditional titles of “Onu” (the principal person or chief).
Some Igala tradition holds that an Atta gave the Nupes a Kingdom, He bestowed the rule of Nupe country to Edegi (Tsoede), one of the sons he had from a Nupe mother. He gave riches of various types to him and gave him different insignia of kingship: a bronze Canoe, twelve Nupe slaves. the bronze Okakachi (Trumpet) which are still being used by Northern Nigerian ~.state drums hung with brass belts and heavy iron chains and fetters which were endowed with strong magic power …, Tsoede or Edegi then became the ruler of the Nupe people and took the title of Etsu (King) and the Nupe kingdom became an ally to Igala.
The Igala are patrilineal and authority in the family or clan resides in the men. Patilineality among the people inexplicably entails virolocal residence in which the woman moves into her husband’s household among his paternal kinsmen, or sometimes his maternal kinsmen. The basic family unit is the nuclear family, made up of a husband, his wife and their children, as well as attached kin but rarely did you find this type of arrangement for the traditional Igala society was basically polygamous.
Prof. Doris Laraba Obieje (Nee Adejoh) now the 2nd Female Professor (known) in Igalaland after Prof. Jummai Ogbadu. Doris is a Professor of African French Literature, currently at the Great Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
As farmers, the need for more hands on the farm meant that men married more wives so that they could raise more children whose help was badly needed on the farm. Besides, in some parts polygamy was a status thing and reflection of a man’s wealth. The more prevalent was the compound family in which you had a man, his wives and children. The nuclear and compound families are, in real sense, units of the wider and longer-lasting patilineal joint family which typically comprises two or more generations of brothers and sons, and their wives and children. In this way Igala families are long-lasting and self-perpetuating as the death of a member makes no difference to its overall structure. It can last over several generations with a membership of up to 100 or more.
An Igala lineage comprises several extended families- the wives and offspring of brothers as well as wives and offspring of the father of these brothers and all the relations of the brothers of ones father.
The clan is made up of several patrilineal related extended families or lineages and has numerous functions, including common name, and identity, exogamous marriages, property ownership, mutual economic and political support and protection from a rival or aggressor among others. As kin who have claim to a common ancestry, they recognize various ritual prohibitions, such as taboos on certain foods, totem etc, that give them a sense of unity and distinctiveness from others.
The concept of kinship flourishes well among the Igala. It has helped to construct groups that have lasted for generations and in which the close-knit ties of kinship provides powerful links through the notion of common “blood”. And by claiming exclusive ancestry these groups can claim exclusive rights to clan and lineage property. This kind of kin relationship also provides for individual members a sense of personal identity and security. In traditional Igala society, kinship relationship plays important roles in the lives of the people by determining what land they could farm, whom they could marry, or have sexual relationship with, and their status in the community. It also means much more than blood ties or family or household. It includes a network of responsibilities, and support in which individual families are expected to fill certain roles and obligation.
Among the Igala generic terms such as ‘uncle’, ‘aunt’ or ‘grandparents’ are often not sufficient to describe family relationship, rather very specific terms such as my “maternal uncle” or “maternal aunt” are used to clearly differentiate between patrilineal and matrilineal kin. Lineal relationships, which refer to those between grandparents and grand children, are well cherished. Relationships with uncles and aunts, cousin and nephews and nieces are essentially treated as those biological relatives. The Igala enjoys robust relationship among the maternal kin. As a “daughter” he/she is loved, protected and enjoys lot of privileges but the right of inheritance is only with the paternal clan. Kinship relationships and obligations toward lineal, collateral and affina l kins (i.e between parent –in-law, children-in-law and sibling-in-law as well as with partrilineal and martrilineal kin) are related to lines of descent, to residence, to inheritance of property, to marriage etc.
Igala newly wedded couple dancing at Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria
Incest taboo refers to any cultural or norm that prohibit practices of sexual relation between relatives. Relations with clan members are permissible where no traceable genealogical relations exist, but members of different clans cannot have sexual relationship if there exists blood ties. The restrictions on marriage and sexual relation amongst kin in Igalaland is based on normative sense of decency and the unequivocal belief in the sanctity of blood ties. There are rules, though not written concerning appropriate and inappropriate sexual relation. Incest, which is sexual intercourse between individual related in certain degrees of kinship, is prohibited. If a man conducts inappropriate sexual relationship with a kin, it is believed that both will suffer severe afflictions from which they would not recover until they confess and the gods are properly appeased through sacrifice. It could also result in barrenness. Both would lose respect among the people as people will no longer take them seriously. In the past young girls involved in such acts hardly ever marry.
Dance crest "ojegu" from the Igala people of Nigeria | Wood with polychrome paint || The Igalas principal cult "egu" is connected with the ancestors who are remembered during yam harvest. The "egu" (spirit of the dead) is represented by masks and headdresses called "ojegu".
Among the Igala, people relate to one another in different ways, and sometimes distantly, are classified as sibling, and other who are just as closely related genetically are not considered family because they are patrilineal and children belong in the father’s clan. As a consequence of patrilineality relations between brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son, uncle/niece etc are considered incestuous, though in certain matrilineal society father/daughter may not be such a problem. Sexual relation between a man and his mother’s sister and mother’s sister’ daughter are considered incestuos. Similarly, a man and his father’s sister cannot have a flirtatious relationship, have sex and marry, not even with his father’s sister’s daughter.
Helmet mask "ojuegu" from the Igala people of Nigeria | Wood
According to Professor Emmy Idegu, Igala cosmology hinges on three worlds – efi’le (the world of the living), ef’ojegwu (the world of the dead) and the space inhabited by the supreme being (odoba ogagwu, ojochamachala). A typical Igala person believes in “Ojo” (God) as the Supreme Being. The concept of God is therefore not foreign to the Igala mind. The belief in Ojo-ochamachala (Almighty God who is regarded as Alpha and Omega) precedes the advent of the missionaries. God (Ojo), the Supreme Being is also known by his attributes as creator, as the immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, unique, transcendent judge and King. They also believe in divinities and spirits.
Okega carving, Igala people, Nigeria, 19th C.
The traditional Igala person believes in divinities or deities who are said to be next in hierarchy to the Supreme Being. Such are personified in certain natural forces and phenomena, especially in rivers, lakes, trees, the wind, deserts, stones, hills e.g. Aijenu (Water Spirits), Ikpakacha (spirit husband), Ane (earth goddess), Ichekpa (fairies or bush babies), Ejima (twins), Egbunu (goodluck), etc. In their order of ranking, the next is belief in deified ancestors (Ibegu). This refers to the spirits of elderly members of one’s family, lineage or society that died non-violent or non-evil death and have promising offsprings. The Igala person believes too in mysterious powers, which come in various forms such as incantations (ache), medicine (ogwu), magic (ifamfam) and witchcraft (ochu, ogbe).
Three basic elements of worship are easily identifiable, namely, Sacrifice, Music/ dancing and Prayer; certain people are regarded as Sacred e.g. family heads (elders) village heads or town leaders i.e. the traditional rulers, who most often act as chief priests before traditional shrines; they also believe in Oracles or divination e.g. Ifa-anwa (by seeds), ifa-ebutu (by use of sand), ifa eyo-oko (by cowries), Ifa-omi (by water).
While making these sacrifices, as earlier mentioned, certain victims or materials are used for sacrifice. These include, food Stuffs or Crops (amewn egbaru) e.g. maize (akpa, igbala), yam (uchu), kolanut (obi), beans (egwa), rice (ochikapa), beniseed (igogo) etc; birds, e.g. hens (ajuwe), chicks (ebune), cocks (aiko), pigeon (oketebe); Animals e.g. She-goats (ewo-ole), she-goats (obuko), ram (okolo), cow (okuno), tortoise (abedo or aneje), agama -lizard (abuta-oko); and some liquid substances e.g. cold water (omi eruru), local liquor (burukutu), gin (kai-kai),and palm-oil (ekpo oje). Other items also employed could be articles of clothing, pieces of white, red or black cloths, money, especially coins or cowries, red feather (uloko), alligator pepper (ata), etc.
It is noteworthy at this juncture that there exists other aspects of the culture which posses certain dynamics or key values that are hinged on some of the above practices. Among them are: Child-bearing and the male-child Phenomenon (fecundity or fertility cults); Naming ceremonies, circumcisions (amonoji); widowhood practices redolent with so much oppression, deprivation, discrimination, rejection, humiliation, abuse and injustice; “ikpakachi” (spirit husbands), high bride price, arrangee-marriages, levirate marriage (oya-ogwu); second burial (ubi) rites; masquerade cults; coronation and initiation of traditional rulers etc.; the issue of caste system or descendants of slaves (amoma adu); use of charms; incisions, oath-taking, rain-making, or reincarnation rites; traditional festivals; etc.
Some of the cultural or traditional practices mentioned above have gone extinct in some areas of the land, but are still so prevalent in many other places. However, there are many other practices which may not be directly related to traditional religion but which are values which need to be cultivated, cherished or modified with all sense of commitment. Such values include the use of Igala proverbs, myths, legends, language, sculpture, greetings, (including tribal marks, tattooing, body decoration), cuisines, discipline, dressing and agriculture.
THE NAMES AND ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AMONG THE IGALA: A SOCIO-THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION
This work dwells on the names and attributes of God (Ọjọ) among the Igala people of north-central Nigeria. It is an endeavour to unravel the proper meaning of Ọjọ, the Igala personal name for the Supreme Being. Other descriptive/attributive names of God are also brought into cognizance. The socio-theological import of the use of theophoric names for children, and as embedded in wise-sayings and proverbs, which are means by which the Igala person expresses his/her understanding of God are also dully examined. The research aims at bringing to the fore the socio-theological understanding of God as reflected in these expressions.
Ọjọ as the Name of God
In his article, “What is in a Name? The Philosophy of Naming in Igbo Culture,” Ekwunife (1996, 2) opines that “scholars on African culture and religion rightly observe that for Africans, names are not mere labels, rather, they are pregnant with meanings.” This is also quite true in respect of the Igala people. The names and titles they give God are of deep meanings. Such names have meanings that portray what people think about him (Egbunu, 2009, 74). Most of these names are as old in origin as the Igala race itself.
As Mbiti (1975, 42) stresses in relation to many African language groups, “The personal names for God are very ancient, and in many cases their meanings are no longer known or easily traceable through language analysis.” The Igbo (of southeastern Nigeria) linguistic group, for example, is faced with a great deal of controversies in tracing the personal names of God. For example, there is argument as to which of Chineke, Chukwu, Chi, Osebuluwa is original to the language (Metu 1999, 46-57; Njoku 2009, 16-25; Abanuka 2004, 1-43; Iroegbu 1995, 359; Oguejiofor 1996, 5). The Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria simply refer to God as Olodumare or Olurun (Idowu 1996, 1-2; Awolalu 1979, 3-12) while the Tiv of north-central Nigeria call him Aondo. The Idoma, also of north-central Nigeria, call him Owoicho. For the Bassa Nge (also of north-central Nigeria), God is Soko while for Bini people of the southwestern Nigeria, God is Osenubua. There are a thousand-and-one names for God in different African languages. Some are simply personal names while others are descriptive attributes of God (Mbiti 1975, 43). These names indicate how profoundly rich African peoples are with ideas on God.
Among the Igala, God is given various names, foremost among which is the three-letter word Ọjọ, the meaning of which seems a bit obscure. Ọjọ, unlike the other titles and names of God to be examined later, is a bi-syllabic word within which is embedded everything about God’s nature and activities. It is significant to note that this name is not an attribute. It is simply a nomenclature by which the Supreme Being is known and called by the Igala people from time immemorial. Ọjọ - a sharp word of light and double vowels (Ọ-Ọ) on both sides of a single consonant (j) – can be spelt only in one way, Ọjọ. Thus, quite unlike many other African languages whose names for God are derived from compound names or attributes, this name is God’s direct name. In a nutshell, he does not derive his name from anything else but all other beings or creatures derive their names from him.
In our bid to unravel its meaning, we discovered a lot of nuances in its layers of meaning in relation to other expressions in the language. Thus, Ọjọ which means principally, the Creator, Owner and Sustainer of all that exist both in heaven and on earth, or Supreme Being, could also be related to certain expressions derivable from the Igala language. As a matter of fact, there is a sense in which one may say that phrases such as the following are connected to the activities of God:
Okwujọ – equality (in God’s sight, all humans are equal); Ichẹ chejọ – it was made and kept (in the mind of God existed all that were created); Ichẹjọ – it’s complete, perfect in totality (in God alone is found perfection); Ọjọ duu – everyday, both night and day (God is ever ready, active and watchful); Ọjọ nwa – Day break (in God is the dawning of all good things); Own jọ – God is He who is ever there, who exists in many ways in nature itself, and is pre-existent. In another sense, God is one who is more than any multitude or crowd. Put differently, the sense expressed here is the fact that Ọjọ chawuli (God is spirit) in which case the air and wind are often used as metaphors when people see or feel the effect of the air, but they do not see the air or wind itself (Mbiti 1975, 53).
In the name Ọjọ, therefore, the preexistence of God is manifest. His existence is also taken for granted by the Igala. There is no coherent Igala legend or myth on the origin of Ọjọ. Any attempt at forging one is self-contradictory. The Igala people believe that He has neither a beginning nor end, but that He is self-existent. He is just there from nowhere and to nowhere as such. He owes His being to nobody and is answerable to nobody else.
Embedded within the meaning of the name Ọjọ in Igala language is the idea that he is the self-existing Being and the source of all things. He is constant, unchanging, stable and reliable, incomparable and unsurpassable in majesty and excellence. And hardly is there any symbolic representation of the Supreme Being among Igala people. What Idowu (1996, 33) observed on God in Yoruba culture is very much applicable in the Igala case: Ọjọ is “perfect in superlative qualities.” Certain attributes of Ọjọ are directly connected to the meaning of Ọjọ as explained above. Thus, He is called Ọjọ-Odobọgagwu, which means, incomprehensible, unpredictable and all-surpassing Being. This name is a combination of four words which are major attributes of God, namely Ọjọ, Odoba, Oga and gwu. Having given some clarification on Ọjọ thus far, we will now simply turn to the other three attributes. Odoba is a combination of Odo (habitation) and ba (short form of bailo which means frightfulness). Rendered fully in Igala, it is expressed as Odown abailo (His presence is awesome). Oga means giant, leader, ruler or head; while gwu means ‘seated’ or ‘enthroned.’ Odobọgagwu therefore means that God is depicted as the head, ruler most powerful and incomparable one. Thus, Odobọgagwu holds the Igala understanding that all reality in its totality is ruled by God who apportions to each person his/her destiny. All this goes to show that the Igala person conceives of God as an absolutely perfect Being. We may now dwell on some of his basic attributes so as to bring to the fore salient points on His nature.
The Basic Attributes of God
Iroegbu’s (1995, 115) categorizes God’s attributes into the entitative, operative and transcendent. According to him, the entitative attributes, describe God as simplicity par excellence, without limit or frontiers, unique, invisible, unchangeable, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, impassible, all-good, all-merciful, etc. Operatively, He is seen as being of infinite intelligence, voluntareity and the uncaused cause (as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas would have it). In His transcendental attributes, God is manifest in His qualities of distinctiveness, exemplarity, order or beauty in their perfect form. In Igala perspective, this is similar to referring to God superlatively in many ways such as Ọjọ-ọdẹ ma (the Master of all existent beings); Ọjọ-otemeje (Great God); Ọjọ-Ọgbẹkugbẹku (Supreme); and Ọjọ-Ọdafẹ onu inmi (Master of life).
As the attributes try to portray, it is He who owns human breath and He gives breath. This is in line with the myth that says that in the dim past, God who is “Abucha ki n’ọda ama” (the potter who fashions the clay as he so pleases), in His creative ability, breathed into the hollow image of man which He had fashioned from “ebutu” (dust). Thus, He created both the beautiful (abo) and the ugly (ikaga). He it was who created the different sorts of human beings, the ejima (twins), ọdi (dwarf), ẹnẹfu (albino), abuke (hunchback), adọwọ/dẹrẹ (the lame), ẹnọlọ (the handicapped), ajalu (dumb), ajeti (deaf), afeju (the blind), etc.
God is called Ọjọ - ọchamachala (Ọmachala) in so far as He is the one who has no equal, namesake or rival. The whole world is His flowing garment. He is limitless and capable of doing anything He pleases. He is also called Ọjọ-olichoke (nebua), that is, God is like the umbrella tree for the entire humankind and, of course, bigger than any mountain. His decisions for mankind are quite perfectly good and unalterable.
God is Ọjọ-achọna (architect) since He is known as the creator, artist and great builder or designer par excellence. In this same vein, He is referred to as Ọjọ-abucha (Ki n’oda ama) – the potter and designer of human destiny. He is Ọjọ-olugbọna (agejefu kia g’ọdọda) in so far as He sees both inside and outside simultaneously. To Him, nothing is hidden. He has an all-seeing eye. In this light, He is also Ọjọ-agefu (kilẹ agalu) who sees or knows all human intentions while the world specializes on the external.
God is also known as Ọjọ-agbẹnẹ – the one who saves; Ọjọ anẹ m’agẹdo – the one who has no iota of fear; Ọjọ-onu – God who is the king; Ọjọ kin’ilẹ – the Creator of the universe; Ọjọ ohimini lẹi lẹi – whose ways are so deep and unimaginable. He is, as a matter of fact, larger than life and mightier than all the oceans in the world combined. The list is simply inexhaustible (Egbunu 2009, 74-75).
In analyzing the meaning of the attributes of God, the name in itself, Ọjọ, without any epithet, carries with it a lot of significance. However, the epithet or appellation specifically defines concretely the idea being bandied. It is most often, self-explanatory. It is noteworthy that Ọjọ is the more ancient and common name used by everybody in the land. But in addressing the superlative greatness of the Supreme Being in different circumstances, other appellations are employed or added. For instance, Ọjọ Ondu (or odu) means God, the Master. It could be said to be an abbreviated form of Ọjọ Onu-ibo-duu (God, the overall king or what a typical Igala means when he/she exclaims “Ọjọ Odu-mi-onu!” (“God, my master and king”). Such attributes are inexhaustive. Some of them are found within names given to children and even in innumerable wise-sayings. Here, we present a simple taxonomy of such names.
Theophoric Names and Proverbs Reflecting Attributes and Activities of God
In certain circumstances, Igala parents give theophoric names to their children which also reflect their understanding of God. An individual may bear one or more of such names. Some examples might be necessary at this juncture. Ọjọ-ninmi, for instance, denotes God as the author of life. This reminds parents and relatives of the saving grace which sustains the life of such a child. It is also explainable in relation to death. That God the giver of life is the only one who is capable of restoring it in times of chronic ill-health. That is why the name Ọjọchogwu is also given to other children depicting God himself as medicine or remedy to every ailment. This same God can also decide to take this life when and if he so pleases. Ọjọtule is yet another name which is also very meaningful. In this sense, God is greater than all. No matter what humans may conceive mischievously, only God’s designs must take preeminence. His verdicts are final. God is seen here to be ever triumphant or victorious. He is often referred to as Ọjọ anachẹ (He who is able) and Ọjọ agbẹnẹ (whereby the name, Ọjọgbanẹ holds a lot of significance). That is, he is savior at one and the same time. The name Ọjọ dọmọ which means God exists, and that he really exists, captures the idea of total resignation to God in the face of challenges of life. It is explainable in view of the fact that God never sleeps (Ọjọ alolu n). This expresses God’s care, ever-abiding presence and guidance (Ọjọchide, Ọjọago). Also related to this is the symbolism of Ọjọ oli abẹnga (God who is symbolically referred to as a fork-stick or great support). He is very much in control and his glory (Ọjima Ọjọ) reigns supreme over all the earth. Ọjọ agefu is yet another name that has deeper meanings. This especially connotes the fact that God searches the mind of man even when humans judge from the externals. It is a way of stating categorically that clear conscience fears no accusation. It is God who really possesses the truth (Ọjọ nọgecha). In this case, while we live in a world filled with so much falsehood, God is seen as the only one who can be relied upon to reveal the truth and who keeps his covenant ever in mind. He also directs his chosen ones to the truth (Ọjọ anonẹ le). Ọjọma emphasizes the fact that God knows everything and that nothing is ever hidden from the all-seeing eyes of God. He is all-knowing and wisdom personified (Ọjọnuma). Ọjọgbene has to do with the questioning mind of man when faced with the vicissitudes of life. If men were capable of asking God the multitude of questions in their minds, which would require God’s immediate response, such questions would have flooded the divine throne. EleỌjọ is yet another name which holds a lot of significance in the Igala understanding. Children are seen as God’s gifts par excellence. It is God who actually owns children (Ọjọnẹ, Ọjọnọma, Ọjọduwa, Ọjọka, Eikọjọnwa). And it is he who is seen as their creator (Ọjọnyi and Ọjọchọna). It is with this mindset therefore, that children are not expected to be rejected or despised. They are rather supposed to be well-catered for and nurtured unto maturity.
Similarly, the Igala have proverbs which bring out profoundly the nature and attributes of God. Some of them are discussed here: Ọjọ akajọ ọkpakpa – God is a just Judge; Ọjọ atẹnẹ achi (kial’ẹnẹ ọkpẹ) – God removes one’s calico and clothes one with the shroud or linen; meaning, it is God who decides man’s fate; Ọjọ akpẹnẹ adu makọ– God is the one who does not take no for an answer; it also means no one can question or challenge God; Ọjọ akabẹlẹ kiachabalẹ – God is the one who promises and fulfils; Ọjọ mali ẹwn kalu ajẹn yanwan – Providence rises before the Sun; (tomorrow takes care of itself); Abọjọ nyẹnẹ onwu ẹnẹ adẹ – No man can really change his destiny; Ọjọ ki nyabo onwu nyikaga – God created both the beautiful and ugly; Ẹnẹ ọgẹcha Ọjọ atọbi – The just triumphs; Ifitumi ki ma fi r Ọjọ – Nothing puzzles God. Or, with God, all things are possible; Ma bi’ọjọ ọlan – God is blameless; Ọjọ achodudu alon – The morning does not last whole day long. A variation of this is: A stitch in time, saves nine; Ọjọ adonẹ jonu – Human elevation is of God; Ọjọ ajogwu kebutu makwu – God’s battle raises no dust; Ọjọ kidu ki ma nwan Ch’ọjọ eche onwu iche – There is always light at the end of the tunnel; Ọjọ kidẹnyọ wa, Ọjọ mugbo kẹnyọ dẹ – The God who originates good fortunes knows how to bring them to fulfillment; Onẹ akọla ina diba w’ọjọ – Don’t be self-conceited; give God his sway; Onuchẹ Ọjọ ya ma ọna ulẹn – One in the service of God is protected; Abu nacho, abu na ma, eikibọ dọwọ ọjọ – No matter how skillful you are, you depend on God for perfection; Ẹwn duu maja nw’ọjọn – Nothing is hidden from God; Ọjọ kọbọ hiugba onwu omi alọ – it is when it is the turn of the unfortunate person that abnormalities abound.; Ọjọ kuma bucha onwu ma nyucha alu – There is time for everything. Variation: A stitch in time saves nine; or make hay while the sun shines; Ọjọ mu nwa r’ochu imudone – When a witch is exposed, she turns into a plaything; Ọjọ n’ọmẹmẹlẹ – God determines all goodness; Ẹla ki ma n’otiyi n, Ọjọ anachichi-wn – The tailless animal has God for its most pressing needs; Ẹnẹ ku ma kọ, Ọjọ mugba – The rejected stone has become acceptable to God. Variation: the rejected stone has become the headstone of the corner; Ẹwn ki defu akele ki kp’ọcha, Ọjọ ki jẹ kijẹ – May our good wishes be fulfilled; Ọjọ ohimini – lẹu lẹu, abu echohimini kia dabu? – Oceanic God, the inexhaustible God; Ọjọ alolu ẹnẹ anọma – If God sleeps, who caters for His children; Ọjọ amẹnẹ ki ma n’ikwu – God who catches criminals without using rope. Variation: God works in mysterious ways; or He writes straight on crooked lines; Ọjọ chema taki ch’ala igba – God knows why the sheep is bereft of horns; Ọjọ ch’ogwu ta kogwu ch’ọjẹ ọga – God is the architect of the medicine that heals. Variation: we care but God cures; Ọjọ gbanẹ ta k’ogwu ch’ọga – When God desires to sustain someone, medicine becomes efficacious; Ọjọ d’Abẹdo timoto ta ki ajadu ibẹchi – When someone’s luck begins to shine, it would seem like skillfulness; Ọjọ gw’ata tak’ata gw’ọma – It’s when God favours the father that it tinkles down to the children; Ọjọ jọ y’agbogwun – When death beckons, medicine is no remedy; Ọjọ kare m’onu ẹwẹ onwu ma m’ọya ufẹdọ – It is in the day of adversity you know who really cares; Imabẹn ẹmẹnẹ ki ayọn – If all is well with you, you hardly know your enemies; Ọjọ kate malu komi le ki w’efu unọba – Certain secrets are known to God alone; Ọjọ kẹ gbei onẹ onwu ẹgbei ola wẹ – One good turn deserves another; Ọjọ ki jẹ kẹ lekwu neke kponẹn – A mere death-wish cannot kill; Ọjọ ki makwu ma r’akwu bọ – better cry to God who knows the depth of human predicaments.
As can be readily gleaned from the above proverbs God’s nature dovetails into His activities but His attributes are clearly manifested in all of them. In a very brief manner, we shall pinpoint some aspects of the above investigation with which have social and theological implications.
A cursory reflection on the above names or attributes of God which are replete in the various forms of proverbs and appellations in the day-to-day life of an Igala, draws home many crucial points.
As a matter of fact, all those attributes which express his omnipotence, supposedly address the overarching nature of the existence of Ọjọ as the Supreme Being. This explains why the typical Igala would see God as being relatively remote. It is with this singular mindset that the Igala, like many other Africans (Mbiti 1982, 40; Metuh 1999, 20; Awolalu 1979, 16; Idowu 1996, 40) approach God through lesser divinities such as their localized gods/goddesses, ancestors, spirits, etc. Such deities, including natural or supernatural phenomena are often considered as intermediaries, agents or messengers of the Supreme Deity. When prayers, invocations, incantations, sacrifices and offerings are being made to appease such divinities or gods, they are done with the understanding that the Almighty God (Odobọgawu) is being appeased or worshiped. When and if, for instance, the people are in need of bumper harvest, blessings of the womb, job opportunities, victory over enemies, progress in all ramifications, peace with neighbours, it is this self-same God (Ọjọ) who is approached through the divinities/ancestors. Even Igala festivals such as Ibegwu, Anẹ, Ọgani, Egbe, etc which are celebrated according to their different local seasons, are tokens of gratitude to God (Ọjọ) the Supreme Being, for the gift of life and one another, also as means of purification of the people and the land. Or rather, as the case may be, such festivals are celebrated as avenues for breakthroughs and/or divine favours. They are also done with the mindset of not only worshiping Ọjọ through such deified ancestors or spirits, but with the aim of practically seeking God’s intervention in human affairs (Egbunu 2001, 33; Egbunu 2010, 41). Ultimately, Ọjọ owns the human breath. When he decrees death, there is no appeal, and when he gives life, no human can take it. This explains why even the medicine man calls on God Almighty before ever he takes any step in the process of healing the sick or delivering the tormented person.
Besides, it is believed among the Igala that the destiny of every person is allotted to him or her by the Supreme Being. In this case, the doctrine of predeterminism or predestination is understood in its moderate sense that God predetermines every person’s destiny in life through the type of Okai (spirit guardian) designated unto him or her. This, however, does not preclude anyone from being personally responsible for whatever action or inaction his life is involved in, for good or ill. The human person is said to be responsible for whichever direction his life assumes. In other worlds, every individual shall be accountable on the day of reckoning in the life-after-life. This would either be in relation to how such a person would reincarnate or the mode of existence that would be meted out to such a fellow in the hereafter.
Among the Igala, there is a profound respect for human life. Human life is held as sacred from birth to death. As such, even the soul of the “unborn” child is never toyed with, lest one be made to face the wrath of the ancestors/divinities. Ọjọ is considered as the just Judge before whom every being amounts to nothing. Put differently, none is greater than God the Supreme Deity. This alone holds the secret behind Igala exercise of great patience, endurance and resilience in the face of all forms of awkward challenges of life.
The Supreme Being (Ọjọ) is said to have created everything in the universe including man. To Him, therefore, every being must be subservient. It is believed that He is unquestionable and as such, He alone possesses the reason for creating things and people differently. Discrimination, subjugation, oppression or arbitrary treatment of fellow humans on the basis of inequality is thereby not only seriously frowned at and highly detested but punishable by God in the hereafter. Killing of twins or triplets, dwarfs, albinos, and the like, is totally abhorred. So it is also that it is recognized profoundly that humans are made male and female. In this light, every gender is treated with utmost regard. While men are expected to accord women due respect, bearing in mind the socio-cultural import of role-sharing and role differentiation, the women are also expected not only to reciprocate but to play the complementary role. The “Live and let’s live” principle in the relational setting of a typical African (Egbunu 2009, 132) setting is given pride of place. It is by this token that unnecessary violence in the society and threat to the life of fellow humans, is to say the least, highly reprehensible.
Apparently, this study has been able to unveil to some reasonable extent that the Igala people are very rich in their ideas about God. The nature, image and names of God in Igala tradition and culture are of great significance. Their thoughts on God are completely embedded in their beliefs and customs. The name which they give God, whether as a description or as personal names belie their understanding of Him. Their proverbs, parable and anthropomorphic images convey some outstanding message that God is superlatively greater than anything that can be thought of or imagined. The résumé lies in the fact that Igala people generally conceive of God as an absolutely perfect Being. And it is this “Ọjọ” the Supreme Being that explains the reality of every other being. It seems plausible therefore to believe that “Ọjọ” among the Igala people is a mysterious Being whose being alone solves the puzzle of the existence of every other being in the entire universe. Little wonder then that the social life of a typical Igala person is so much so coloured and shaped by his/her theological understanding of the inalienable place of God in human existence.
PERSONHOOD (ONẸ) IN IGALA WORLDVIEW: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPRAISAL
Journal of Cross-Cultural Communication Vol. 9, No. 3, 2013, pp. 30-38
PERSONHOOD (ONẸ) IN IGALA WORLDVIEW: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPRAISAL
EGBUNU, FIDELIS ELEOJO
Phone Number: 08068515750 & 08059215672
E-Mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES, KOGI STATE UNIVERSITY, ANYIGBA, NIGERIA
Personhood in Igala worldview dwells on the centrality of the human person in the universe. The Igala understanding is employed as a launch-pad unto the general African perspective on this all-important discourse. Using the hermeneutical, descriptive and analytical methods, the people’s worldview is sieved from some of their traditional and cultural beliefs and practices as the Western classical philosophical ideas and some basic African thoughts are brought to bear on our subject matter. While attempting to posit a sound basis on the Igala ontology of Being in line with certain yardsticks, they proposed in defining the human person, the concept of solidarity and communal living is presented as a crucial desideratum in any meaningful reflection in this respect.
This paper is a modest attempt at considering the concept of personhood in African Philosophy with the Igala worldview in focus. Naturally, a few pertinent questions such as, who or what is a person (onẹ) in the Igala understanding? What does personhood (onẹ) entail in the African, nay, Igala worldview? What is the philosophical basis of Personhood? How do Africans generally see the human person in relation to the community? What is the Igala ontology of Being? Is it every type of human being that is considered to be a person? Or rather, are there certain qualities or characteristic yardsticks associated with a “person”, as such? What are those yardsticks? Does this particular conception of personhood in Africa have a corollary on a general basis?
In the course of proffering solutions to these posers, the relationship between the community (Udama) and Personhood (onẹ) shall be largely explored, using the analytic method. This is expected to lead us to a fuller understanding of personhood in our context.
ONẸ ECHE (PERSONHOOD, WHO AND WHAT IT ENTAILS)
The concept of a “person” (onẹ) in Igala mind-set has different layers of meaning. First, “onẹ” literally translated in Igala means person or human being. That is, anybody identified as a human being in contradistinction with animate or inanimate objects.
Second, is “onẹ” as one who has come of age. This is in relation to physical maturity or psychological well-being.
Third, is “onẹ” in relation to some traditions whereby certain individuals in the society are considered “free-born” (amọma onẹ i.e. literally offsprings of “persons”) in relation to other sets or groups of people termed descendant of slaves (amọma-adu) in specific areas of Igala land.
Fourth, is the description of “onẹ” as a fellow possessing many virtuous or forward-looking qualities. It denotes the exhibition of a couple of such positive or promising characteristics which his relatives, friends, acquaintances or neighbors would be generally proud of. Qualities such as ability to live amicably with others, being amiable, harmonious living, peaceableness, tolerance, patience, gentleness, loveability, trustworthiness, transparency, truthfulness, courage, temperance, modesty, intelligence, kindness, generosity, compassion, dynamism, resourcefulness, progressiveness and a generally attractive and magnetic life are considered as the yardsticks.
This very last category of personhood in Igala understanding which entails virtuous living in all its ramifications is largely our point of reference in this paper. As it were, the aforementioned characteristics readily bring to mind the need for unity, co-operation, togetherness, etc.
The varying layers or degrees of Igala worldview of “onẹ” simply implies why a typical Igala would exclaim, “ẹfonẹ li ib’ema” (knowing somebody goes deeper than ordinary sighting). In other words, “it is not all that glitters that is gold” or better put, “you cannot judge a book by its cover.” It is in this respect that even though one’s physical stature or status or name may contribute to defining who one is, one may not judge the quality of a person just by such mere considerations. In Igala worldview, for instance, it is believed that “odu ch’ajamu onẹ” (name is the bridle and bit for controlling a person), a name can make or mar a person’s entire life. It is in this sense that a typical Igala would hold that “odu nyọ tọkọ le” (good name is to be preferred to money).
It is of utmost significance that it is the society or community that gives name (odu) to a child before that particular human person assumes his God-given space in the community. Obi (2008, 199) in his Philosophy of Names harped on the fact that even though a name “moulds” and “cuts” one’s “separate identity” the person may not necessarily be reduced to the name since, reducing a person to the status of a name appears degrading as names are not conscious of themselves. In a nutshell, the human person is not confined to behaving in line with his name. He has the capability of choosing to have his behaviour at variance with his name. However, as it is often stressed, “without it, a child remains a nonentity since his name defines his personality in a community” (Ekwunife nd., 37), “names are part and parcel of those elements of African culture that go to make African personhood unique.” (Umorem, 1973), they are capable of fashioning out his unique identity (Iwundu 1994, 57; Ehusani 1997, 131).
This carries with it a lot of social implications. In the course of searching for a marriage partner or business partner, for instance, it is not just the mere appellation that matters in considering his or her suitability, the person as such (in totality) is brought into focus. The family background, the person’s social habits or traits, economic status, religious tenets, political leaning, emotional maturity, educational background, and much even much more, form part of the yardsticks. There is a sense in which whoever is considered as not being a person in the above light is denied marriage-partner, land or some business connections. It is noteworthy too, that unmarried and childless adults are said not to be full persons. We shall at this juncture pry into the classical philosophical basis of personhood.
PHILOSOPHICAL BASIS OF PERSONHOOD
Personhood is a derivation from the word “person” which literally means “an individual human being” (Chambers Dictionary 1999, 1033). It denotes the condition or state of being a person. Runes (1997, 229) defines person in Max Scheler’s terms as “The concrete unity of acts. Individual person, and total person, with the former not occupying a preferential position.”
In Scholasticism, Boethius (475-525 AD) defines “person” as “an individual substance of rational nature” (Runes 1997, 229). It refers to the individual as a material being. Matter provides the principle of individuation. The soul on its own is not a person. Among the material beings, man in his composite being is known as person because he possesses the rational nature. He is endowed with dignity and rights and he is the highest of the material beings.
The doctrine of the human being as an explicit theme of philosophical reflection developed gradually through the ages. Most often, the era of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy is mainly known for being “cosmocentric”, the period of Christian Medieval philosophy as “theocentric” and the age of modern and contemporary philosophy was tagged “anthropocentric” (Onah 2005, 161).
Even though earlier philosophers concentrated on the study of the physical world and God, and not man, the human being was always at the centre of the philosophical enterprise, though indirectly (Onah 2005, 161).
It is worthy of note that even though the words, “personhood”, “person” or “personalism” are relatively modern, the philosophy had existed as attempts at interpreting the “self” as a part of human experience. These elements of “Person” are traceable in the philosophy of a couple of philosophers, such as, Heraclitus (536-470 BC) in his statement “man’s own character is his daemon”; Anaxagoras (500-430 BC) in his Cosmogony while emphasizing that the mind “regulated all things, what they were to be, what they were and what they are” the force which arranges and guides, giving an anthropocentric trend; Protagoras (480-410 BC) in his famous saying that “man is the measure of all things” while stressing the personalistic character of knowledge.
The philosophy of persons found its highest point in Socrates (409-399 BC) in Greek philosophy, in his recognition of the soul or self as the center from which all actions of man emanated. Plato (427-347 BC) acknowledged the person in his doctrine of the soul. However, he turned the direction towards dominance by the abstract idea; Aristotle (384-322 BC) insisted that only the concrete and individual could be real.
In the Christian Medieval Era, St. Augustine (354-430 A.D) held that thought, and therefore the thinker, was the most certain of all things. These personalistic concepts were better expressed in the work of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D) who adapted the definition of Boethius, when he affirmed that the human person is “subsistent substance of rational nature”. This was followed by an entire array of philosophers in France, Germany, England, and America. The most prominent among Philosophers in France was Descartes, who stood gallantly with all others against Positivism, Materialism and Naturalism under different cloaks. Their counterparts in Germany also developed personalistic philosophies with Schleirmacher (1768-1834) taking the lead; in England also appeared many theistic personalists such as Bishop Berkeley (1710-1796); in America were others too, such as Bowne, G.T. (1842-1921), J.W. Buckhan (1864…). Then, other later Personalistic Movements that sprang up (Runes 1997, 230).
As a matter of fact, “personhood is seen as an ultimate fact” (Mautner 2000, 418) in opposition to the Naturalist reduction of the person to physical processes. Also against the backdrop of the idealist submission that the person is merely a transitory, less-than-real manifestation of the absolute.
In Heidegger’s (Runes 1997, 242) conception of (Dasein),
the sort of being that I manifest is not that of a thing-with-properties. It is a range of possible ways to be. I define the individual I become by projecting myself into those possibilities which I choose, or which I allow to be chosen, or which I allow to be chosen for me. Who I become is a matter of how I act in the contexts in which I find myself. My existence is always an issue for me, and I determine by my actions what it will be…
It is in this vein, Heidegger sees a human being as being essentially a res cogitans – a thinking thing and that there is nothing which we have more immediate access to than our own mind and its contents. This would carry a lot of implications for our understanding of a person. The human person, therefore, lives in a way that is genuinely self-determining and self-revising.
Kierkegaard (Runes 1997, 295), the quintessential existentialist’s view is also very relevant here, according to him, existence is not just “being there” but living passionately, choosing one’s own existence and committing oneself to a certain way of life. He decries a situation whereby a person would just form part of an anonymous ‘public’ in which conformity and ‘being reasonable’ are the rule, then passion and commitment the exceptions. He compares existence with “riding a wild stallion, and “so-called existence” with falling asleep in a hay wagon.
Riccards di San Vittore sees Person as “an individual being, endowed with a spiritual nature that is also incommunicable” (Brugger and Baker 1972, 302). In other words, that “man exists and subsists only through the existence and subsistence of his spiritual soul”.
Omeregbe (1999, 36) makes a list of six major attributes of a person. The human person is seen to be “rational, moral, free, social, capable of interpersonal relationship and possesses individuality because “there is nothing like a collective person”.
The word, “existence” employed in a couple of definitions above “already opens up the modern anthropological concept of a person in relation” (Brugger and Baker 1972, 302). Here, the concepts of community, communalism (Ujamaa) and “Udama” (Solidarity) in Igala are seen as being quite interrelated. This is what Beller (2001, 30) refers to as “concept of person as “relationality”. This brings us to the next sub-topic.
AFRICAN PERSONHOOD AND COMMUNITY LIVING
This concept of person as “relationality” as indicated above connotes a situation whereby the “person exists only by self-accomplishment in another person, in view of other persons” (Beller 2001, 30). For our purposes here, the symbiotic relationship between the person and the community is very crucial in our treatment of the anthropological connection.
The “I-you” relationship takes the back seat in this respect, as the “We” relationship takes pre-eminence. Cardinal Wojtyla’s (in Beller 2001, 31) essay on “Person, Subject and Communion” in relation to inculturation brings home this point, “The communion of “We” is this human plural form in which the person accomplishes itself to the highest degree as a subject”. Okere (1996, 151) in relation to the Ibo culture opines that the “self” is congenitally communitarian self, incapable of being, existing and really unthinkable except in the complex of relations of the community. It is a web of relations. The human person lives out his perfection in relation and personhood is therefore attained in relation. As Menkiti (2011, 173) succinctly puts it, “The African emphasized the rituals of incorporation and the overarching necessity of learning the social rules by which the community lives, so that what was initially biologically given can come to attain social selfhood.” That shows that personhood is attainable in relation to the level of participation in the communal life. Here, the message of the aphorism that “nobody is an island” is brought home more forcefully. There exists the primacy of the category of becoming over that of Being as in Hegelian mode of thought so that we can infer that some are more persons than others in the course of attaining certain qualities.
According to Beller (2001, 31), for Wojtyla,
Even if the human person pre-exists in itself in dignity and does not become a person for what it does, its rank as being, its dignity, lies actually in the capacity to transcend itself, to fulfill itself in relationship with other people. The communion, the “We” overcomes the “I-you” reciprocal relationship.
Besides, “what matters to them is a common good so great and so important that they may reappraise their own desires and needs in acting by mutual consent”.
In the same light, Nwoko (1985, 23) elucidates on how in the African ambience man is seen as,
a family being. He is born and bred in the family; he lives, moves, marries and dies within the family of the living and the dead. This family within which man’s being oscillates already embodies the spiritual root on the basis of the conviction that all members of the family belong to one ancestry, which traces back to God. Human beings are connected as family beings, and all families trace back to God.
Against this backdrop, Nwoko arrives at the concept of “Universal Consanguinity” for “all men sharing a common blood despite colour, race, religion (Njoku 2002, 280). This is what Mulago meant when in no uncertain terms he averred:
by the fact that we are born in a family, a class in a tribe we are plunged in a specific vital current, which “incorporates”, moulds and orients us to live in a way of this community, modifies “ontically” all our being… in that way the family, the clan, the tribe, are a whole of which each member is only a part. The same blood, the same life partaken by all and received from the first ancestor, founder of the clan, flows in all the veins (Cited in Beller 2001, 36).
In a certain manner, it is the community that initiates one into personhood through some initiation, either formerly or informally. Naming ceremonies, circumcision, initiation into adulthood and especially into womanhood, marriage ceremonies and a host of other ceremonies form particular examples or instances of initiation into personhood at some stages of the African life. The crux of this matter lies essentially in the fact that the African as a human being, culturally speaking is formed or initiated and receives his “ontology” and “being” from the community (Maritain 1948, 72). To the African mind, the concept of separate beings is entirely foreign. As Ansah (2011, 5) expresses it, “Africans hold that created beings preserve a bond with one another, an intimate ontological relationship”. We may need to step down on this issue by specifically treating Igala Ontology of Being.
IGALA ONTOLOGY OF BEING
As Heidegger would put it, the knowledge of the human being (Dasein) is the key to the knowledge of Being as such. This is owing to the fact that the human being is the only being capable of asking the question of Being (Onah 2005, 160).
In the Igala Ontology of Being, the human person is said to be made up of the “ Anọla” (Body) and “inmi”(Soul). The latter, which is easily equiperated with life (ọlai) is often translated as breath and most often rendered as “afu” (air). Therefore, a typical Igala person holds the notion that God created the human person; he filled him with “afu” (air, spirit or breath) which is life in itself. It is likened to the manner vulcanizers pump air into a deflated tyre or blowing of air into a ball or balloon. This invisible part of the human being is described in terms of a “vital force”. In which case, the spirit is said to have sway, control over or rule over the entire physical body, even the “ẹdọ” (heart) which is said to have the capability of working as the seat of love, functions along with the “ọkọtọ” (brains) which is the seat of decisions. The heart and the brain are said to be working hand in hand with the spirit of man to bring about “ibe” (thinking).
Another element of the vital force in man is said to be the “Ẹbiẹ” (blood), which makes the link with the ancestors (consanguinary affinity) through the nuclear and extended family line possible. So that, when an Igala person says, “anọla akọla nwu-i” (he is being spoken to by his body) what it means is that “Ẹbiẹ” speaks (idiomatically the blood in his veins makes him feel). This happens especially when something negative has occurred to a family member and there is some kind of premonition. In this respect, the “Ẹbiẹ” (blood) and “anọla” (body) are inextricably related as one. Invariably, to talk of a living body is to refer to an active living flow of blood.
The “Ẹdọ” (heart) which pumps blood is seen as the engine-room of life, courage, zeal, fervour, determination, candour, kindness, generosity, love, attentiveness, compassion, forgiveness, conversion, change, etc. The heart works with the “afu” (breath) in man to determine one’s level of social, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, economic, cultural and other spheres of life. Central to this whole array of functionality is that the “afu” (spirit, air, breath or soul) is what gives life. When the Creator takes the “afu” or “inmi” (breath) back, the body becomes helpless, motionless or inactive and man ceases to be a person because he is physically dead. However, the soul of a person is said to be immortal or indestructible.
There is also a sense in which an Igala person may assert that someone is “okwu onẹ” (dead person) without the physical death occurring. In this case, it could mean social, spiritual or some other form of death. An indecisive person or a hardened criminal, for instance, could be considered dead in the Igala worldview. It is the spirit (afu) of a man which works in conjunction with the heart and brain and precipitates the action. The “ọkai” (sense of agreement) of the person then works with forces surrounding the destiny of the person to lead to the execution of whatever has been contemplated.
Armed-robbers, Kidnappers, ritualists, murderers are by every standard considered less-human metaphysically. This is owing to their anti-social activities.
The “abiku” (born-to-die babies or ogbanje) children, witches and wizards (ochu), sorcerers (inacha) are considered far less-human too and are in their own different category.
In this respect, the human entity who is not part of the integrally healthy and positive human community is only referred to sarcastically as an “ẹnwu-i” (an “it”).
That goes to explain how the Igala person abhors deviant attitudes with passion or livid hatred. This is significant in relation to Igala general attitude to morals. Life gives back to you what you offer it. In other words, the entire atmosphere of the Igala traditional society seems to radiate the belief that One good turn deserves another. It is even most significant considering the fact that even a corpse (okwu) under normal circumstances is not referred to as an “it” – in the Igala worldview. At funerals, you could hear, “ẹnẹ kidachi-tẹ-i” (this person lying here) out of respect, even though he is no longer fully “onẹ” because he is obviously lifeless. This seems to be what Ansah (2011, 2) was alluding to when he noted that “Africans speak of what lives on after death as “the man himself”, “himself”, or it is “the little man”.
There is a sense in which the living is often said to be in communion with not only the living but “he lives, moves, marries and dies within the family of the living and the dead” (Nwoko 1985, 279). That is why when Mbiti says “I am because we are” it refers to an additive collective we” (Menkiti 2011, 179). As Richard Bell (2002, 60) rightly expressed it, “Africans do not think themselves as discrete individuals but rather understand themselves as part of a community”.
As Mbiti (1969, 108) in his inversion of the famous “Cogito ergo sum” of Descartes stated it, “I am because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.” And he earlier explained:
The individual owes his existence to other people… He is simply part of the whole… Whatever happens to the individual happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: “I am, because we are; and since we are therefore I am”.
This is very central in the African view of man. For the Igala “ikẹrẹ bimọ ikẹrẹb’eju, ikẹrẹbeju ila ikẹrẹbimọ”(what affects the nose equally affects the eye and vice versa). It is in this spirit parents can easily “dẹwn kpalugba” (offer up their needs) in order to satisfy their children. This is because in the spirit of sacrifice, the Igala parent is ready to offer anything within his/her reach in cash or kind so as to remove shame or embarassment from the family. As it is often said, “Igala tene achukatan” (the Igala person abhors embarrassment or literally, anything that entails removal of their crown or destiny). As it were, the capacity for moral personality in the society largely has to do with the ability to stand against anything which has to do with blattant breaking of acceptable moral norms or values.
From all indications therefore, personhood is attained in direct proportion as one participates in communal life, through the discharge of the various obligations defined by one’s status (Menkiti, 176). We shall now explore what the “Udama” solidarity entails in Igala worldview.
“UDAMA” CONCEPT OF SOLIDARITY
The term, “Udama” in Igala language is etymologically a derivation from its verbal form, “dama” which means “altogether”, to bring two or more things to one position, to gather objects of different kinds together. It could also be viewed from the noun “ama” in Igala which incidentally means “clay” used in molding earthen-ware pots or vessels. Therefore, “dama” is the short form of “du ama” which literally denotes “take” (du) clay (ama). This would then mean to create oneness or unity. Du (take) ma (gum) could also be implied in which case it would mean “take and gum.” In these three senses of the meaning of “Udama” it is to be understood that the “U” that appears before the word “dama” is only for the sake of smoothness in pronunciation. As a rule, every typical Igala noun takes a vowel. In a nutshell, the word “udama” means the state of togetherness, wholeness or unity. It could also be rendered variously as reconciliation, at-one-ment, meeting, etc.
Among the Igala, there is that strong notion of “Udama Ch’ukpahiu” (unity is power). Togetherness is seen as a great source of strength or power. As it is often expressed in proverbs, “alu ma mujọn ya fufon” (if the lips do not come together, there can never be successful whistling); “oli katete adago amud’okon” (a tree cannot make a forest); “ọmọwọ katete any’oji adina-n” (no single finger can bring lice from the hair); “Oli ọwọ katete aneke gba’nẹn” (a single broomstick can never sweep the floor); “ẹma titọ jugbo katete-n yaw u wowon” (if you do not urinate on one spot it would not foam); “ana du domi komi dud u wẹ onwu ch’anade” (it’s rendering of helping hands from both sides that make in-lawship thrive. Variation: Love is reciprocal); “ọwọ awọtọ agw’awohi, awohi lagwawọtọ” (the right washes the left hand and the left washes the right hand or true love is never onesided; one good turn deserves another). Whether some of the assertions or allusions made in the proverbs rendered above lack plausibility in certain situations is not our point of concern here. It is only necessary to note at this point that these ideas form a good part of the Igala understanding in relation to community life or co-operation.
This explains why in the Igala socio-political milieu, forming of associations and co-operatives (ọja eche) is very prevalent among the different age grades. Even up till the present generation, one needs only take a cursory look at the society, either at the clan, hamlet, village or township levels to observe how they often gather under trees or village huts (atakpa) or halls to hold meetings at frequent intervals. At such fora birds of the same feather flock together. Like-minds or age-groups gather to rub minds. Most often they are people of same sex or occasionally of mixed sex gathering under the same umbrella to trash personal issues, teething societal matters and share ideas on how to make progress. Every so often, they gather meager sums of money and take turns in hosting such meetings which also aid them in putting resources together to cater for their needs.
In fact, from childhood, children of the same age group consciously or naturally meet under the moonlight to share stories, myths, legends, folk-tales, fairy-tales, folk-songs, proverbs and wise sayings. Therein they learn societal mores and norms, play different games, including hide and seek, etc. Within this atmosphere, they get to know the dos and donts of the land. An adult mingling with such little children would be very absurd. This would be tantamount to “ogijo ki a tido aka nugba” (an elder who dances to the tune of ordinary play cans or tins). For the elderly ones are only expected to dance to the tune of real drum-beats. Again, “ogijo ki joji ajuwẹn” (an elder ought not habitually eat the head of the fowl) for among the traditional Igala, the head of the chicken is meant for children. In other words, a reasonable adult is not expected to stoop too low. It is within the context of such moonlight exercises, children learn traditional dancing steps with their peers and mimick their parents and generally the elders in the society, either for good or bad. They learn techniques of agreeing and disagreeing; develop certain skills of leadership and basic skills in home keeping, as the case may be.
Youngsters in their adolescence stage were often seen with their peer groups. The male-folk of same age group had their circumcision organized together and were termed the “onoji”. This group would traditionally be offered gifts by passers-by in respect of their coming of age. They were often hailed as “abokele” (men) for attaining manhood. People of this age-group were often seen organizing “adakpọ” or “ailo” which literally means “group work”. They were able to set aside reasonable time to help one another in their father’s farms, in building mud houses, raising roofs or in other energy-sapping or highly-engaging jobs. This often gave them some sense of healthy competition and by this token, they could weigh who was stronger and even know who is more endowed and energetic in one field of endeavour or the other. In the same token, the young ladies also organized themselves into groups seasonally, either in harvesting crops in their parents’ farms, fetching of water or fire woods, in preparing palm-oil or cracking of palm kernel. It could also be in cooking for a large crowd at traditional marriage ceremonies, burials or land festivals. In such gatherings, certain traditional songs, such as, “ugbo ch’anukwu-o, odokuta chanukwu igbele” (the natural habitat of the young ladies is the grinding mill) and “godo godo onobulẹ atẹgwu oli noro” (climbing of tree is an odd and abominable deed for a woman) were sung in order to draw home some salient message on pristine customs, values and mores of the society. Igala men and women believed in playing complementary roles in their society. Allowing women to do hard jobs was often considered a taboo so as to encourage men to be readily available to help out. One therefore notices some form of solidarity while still creating room for some role differentiation, not by any means paving way for any form of ill-treatment of the women or inferiority complex.
In both sexes, there is often an under-girding principle of checks and balances and tendency towards uniformity as peer-groups are readily available to help each other in times of need. This is owing to the traditional Igala feeling that “ule j’onẹ meji” (it takes two to tango). Literally, a long and arduous journey is made shorter and easier by the sheer fact of traveling with other good companions. In other words, “eju we-e akponẹ” (loneliness is not only boring but it kills). The above assertions do not mean that the Igala person does not and can not operate alone, but companionship is most often the preferred option and it is most cherished.
This is what partly informs the forming of co-operative societies, associations, unions as earlier observed. By this, it means they assert their solidarity and communal nature of life even in diaspora. In so doing, they support each other; sew same colour, quality and style of dress or outfits. They grow up with this attitude and every activity of theirs is virtually permeated with this spirit of solidarity.
That explains why even in adulthood, as married men or women, they are able to continue to render help to each other. It is actually with this background that they see themselves as one in the positive sense of it without undue sense of discrimination. And so, the good wind blowing in the typical Igala traditional atmosphere seems to be echoing and re-echoing,
Your husband is our husband
Your wife is our wife
Your daughter is our daughter
Your son is our son
Your father is our father
Your mother is our mother
Your farm is our farm
Your problem is our problem
Your joy is our joy
Your pain is our pain
Your promotion is our promotion
Your demotion is our demotion
Who hurts you hurts us
Who fights you fights us
Who derides you derides us
Who insults you insults us
Who bewitches you bewitches us
Who pursues you pursues us
Our wife therefore must be cared for whether you are alive or dead
Our children must be catered for whether you are dead or alive
Our elders must be loved and protected whether you are alive or dead.
Come to think of it, the Udama concept of solidarity or communal living, stands in direct contrast to the individualism of the west and all forms of discriminatory attitudes. No gainsaying, the fact that it is akin to what Julius Nyerere of Tanzania dubbed Ujamaa. Onwubiko’s (1999, 10) commentary is quite applicable here too, it:
Builds community and is opposed to all forms of discrimination. But it does not eradicate distinctions. It respects stability, statuses and therefore upholds hierarchy.
However, even though the extended family dimension of “Udama” cannot obviously be said to belong to a totally classless society which was the focus of Nyerere, solidarity is patently stressed. The Igala is innately most hospitable to guests, newcomers, foreigners, strangers, but he reserves different levels of respect for different degrees of personages. This is not unconnected to what probably informs the different modes of dressing or regalia for those in the royal families, the various types of tribal marks, drumbeats (tunes) or greetings in relation to position in the family, place of origin, nature and background of one’s extended or nuclear family.
In the traditional Igala society, the naming of a child is made by consulting the “ifa” divination or oracle so as to ascertain who incarnated a particular child from the lineage. In which case it is hoped the the world of the dead (ancestors) is relates with the living in order to offer support in their daily struggles. In certain cases, a child could be named Iye-i (this woman) or Iyemi (my mother), Atayi (my father). Or as the case may be. Okwọ (grand-father), Omehi (aunt), ọmẹnyi (uncle), ọmaye (my brother or sister), etc. These are simply ascriptions meant to bring to memory the relationship of the beloved relative who is said to have incarnated. It could also happen that direct appellations or names by which such people were known while here on earth, are given to such children e.g. Ajine, Ataguba, Ochoniya, Ameloko, Itodo, Adigo, Iganya, Inikpi, Ocheja, Edime, Oboni, etc.
It can be said without any fear of contradiction that in the Igala traditional society, everybody is involved in the training of a child. The child belongs to the entire society. As it is often said, “ichonẹ katete an’ọma-n” (it is not only an individual that raises a child) or “ichẹnẹ kibiọma katete anẹn” (it is not only the parent of a child that raises him). That is why in the traditional Igala environment, virtually everybody takes responsibility in spanking a child who is red-herring. Anybody can feed a child who is hungry; anyone can train a child who has no sponsor; anyone can clothe a child that is naked or wretched-looking; anyone can shelter a child that is homeless; and adoption of children by one’s relations or friends is a common practice. That such practices are prevalent does not mean there are no undergirding principles or rules. Everything may not be alright in certain situations in relation to the above, yet this is by and large, practicable and life-enhancing in many quarters.
In marriage, partners could be given based on the co-operation, unity or harmony which is existent among parents, relatives or their ancestors in the immediate or distant past. And when the ceremony is being celebrated, very close relatives are not only expected to be on-ground but to partake in the benefits accruing from the giving of their child (especially in the case of daughter) in marriage. For instance, they have to share in the kolanut and drinks being offered. This is because, according to the Igala mind, “akojẹ own n’ako jadu” (to partake in eating implies togetherness also in salvaging situations). This denotes sharing in good times and in bad. With such a ceremony, each family would have to be solidly behind the other in times of need even at burials or second-burial ceremonies, they would have to show solidarity. Food items, masquerades and entertainment or traditional outfits are organized with the in-laws. And it is believed that by making the dead happy, the departed would also ensure the living are blessed through bumper harvest, peace in the family, bearing of good children, safety in their journies, all-round protection and security.
UDAMA VIS-À-VIS THE UJAMAA CONCEPT OF NYERERE
The full expression of the concept of “Udama” is “udama chukpahiu” (unity is power or strength) as it relates to not only the nuclear or extended family but the larger society. It is more about solidarity. On the other hand, the full rendering of Julius Nyerere’s concept of Ujamaa is “uhuru n’ujamaa” which literally means familyhood. In the traditional African family, Nyerere sees mutual respect, co-operation and togetherness. And the fact that family solidarity did not allow anyone to live below a certain level as they held many things in common, and everyone had the obligation to work for the common good (Iroegbu and Izibili 2004, 179). In this vein, Nyerere brings into focus the famous principle that man is the centre of the universe or rather that “the purpose of society is man”.
The thrust of “Udama” concept of Igala Solidarity is not so much that of community consciousness. It is more about familial solidarity which prevailed in the pristine African society. It is true that in the traditional African society, the individual is somehow subsumed in the life of the community that “without the community, the individual has no existence.” As Onwubiko (1999, 15) graphically puts it,
It is the wealth of the community and in the community that makes individuals rich and not the wealth of individuals that make the community rich.
In other words, the identity of the individuals is protected within the identity of the community… thereby depicting the community as the custodians of the individual (Onwubiko 1991, 18).
In the Igala ambience, for instance, the land and its wealth may belong to the clan or the family but certain individuals are made custodians of the land and all that accrues from it. Thereby, unlike the ujamaa of Nyerere those custodians can rightly claim ownership, until when they must have leased it out or shared it with others. It is a life based on “live and let’s live” ideology (Ome and Amam 2004, 434). Like Ujamaa-communlalism , its basis is the extended family, but it goes further in such an expansive and elastic manner as to embrace not only the immediate society but the entire human race. The Igala Possesses such an attitude that stands in direct opposition to individualism that it is so manifest in his hospitality to guests as earlier stressed. To an Igala mind, “eju ononojo ma jọmẹ ubi nwu mara” (you owe while the guest is before you with the hope of paying debts afterwards); again, “ẹwn ki lola anya ruk ẹn” (anything soft is divisible). Does that not prove the large-heartedness of the Igala person? The typical Igala is ready to sacrifice anything in order to please others.
EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION
Putting “Udama” concept of Igala Solidarity side by side its other African corollary, the Ujamaa (concept of communalism of Nyerere), it is glaring that the Igala Concept of personhood (Onẹ) is practically based on the community-living spirit of the Igala people and especially their sense of solidarity and communion.
The “Udama” concept of solidarity may mean unity, harmony, concord and promotion of dignity as well as efficiency and increased productivity and human dignity (Iroegbu and Izibili 2004, 180) as enunciated also on Ujamaa communalism. But the idea of equality is not all that pronounced in the Igala mind-set as in Ujamaa communalism. As the traditional Igala belief holds, “ọm’ ọwọ cho kwujọn” (the fingers are not equal) or as it is expressed in George Orwel’s Animal Farm, “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. In the same token, certain persons are from royal families while others are subjects and others are experts in one field of endeavor or the other and are recognized and highly respected.
It is also worthy of note that Udama solidarity is practicable wherever one is located unlike the Ujamaa which entails quitting one’s usual habitat to adapt to new villages constructed by the government.
The Udama concept of solidarity of the Igala does not have the capacity of raising so much dust at the international level and therefore no threat, unlike the Ujamaa which is formalized and seen as a threat to the Western forces. However, the basic principles by which this Udama solidarity is to be worked out neatly remains a strenuous and arduous task before the Igala race.
At the center of the concept of Personhood (onẹ) in Igala philosophy is the “Udama” interconnectedness. The “onẹ-ẹness” (personhood) of the Igala person is defined in relation to his humane relationship with others in the society where he finds himself. “Udama” could be said to be the perfect expression of personhood in the Igala worldview. The ability to find his feet in such a healthy and integral manner in the community therefore forms the basic standard for judging a person’s level of personhood.
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