I’m half Nigerian and half Jamaican…I know crazy mix right (or so I’ve been told). I love my rich mix of culture but growing up I’ve been told “You’re Jamaican because you grew up with your mum” or “You’re Nigerian because your father is Nigerian”. I do believe that your fathers linage is important for any blood line and the bible will tell you this when you see the endless genealogies written in Genesis and Numbers. I just found it funny how when it got to Jesus it changes to his mother. Although he was Joseph’s son, he didn’t actually come from his loins, yet he is suppose to be of the blood line of David. So which is it? Did he come from Mary and if so he is not from the line of David or does he come from Joseph? (I think I’ve already answered my own question). I raised this question because I’m curious as to what we were doing before Christianity.
I recently read a book called “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It immediately got me thinking about my heritage. I’m not a historian but I know that my Jamaican heritage has African roots, but I’ve always wondered which part of Africa and what language did we speak. I know that the slaves that were brought over in the transatlantic slave trade were taken from west Africa in places that we now know as Ghana, Benin and Nigeria. They were a range of tribes such as Mandinka, Akan, Igbo and Yoruba. Unfortunately my search has come to a halt with my mothers side of the family however I do know that my father is Igbo, so this is a good place to start. In “Things Fall Apart” it tells the story of an Igbo man named Okonkwo who is very prominent in his community, he has a warrior spirit and is very proud of his position in his community. The story then goes on to describe the superstitions that the people held about an evil forest but it also talks about who the people worshiped. In Igbo the name of God is Chukwu or Chineke. The word for spirit is Chi and so the name Chukwu (pronounced Chi-ukwu?) translates as the Big Chi, this is the supreme God, the creator of all things. The Igbo traditional belief is that everybody has a chi assigned to them at birth and this concept can be compared to the ideology of a guardian angel in christianity. The name Chineke has a dual meaning and encompasses the male and female aspects of God. Chukwu is also referred to as Chineke which is a compound of the words chí the divine masculine force and ékè the creative and divisive feminine force. When I read this it immediately struck a chord with me because I’ve always thought of God as male and female, having both aspects of yin and yang. Why? Simply because of the scripture “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1v27), and then further down in Genesis it say’s “For this reason a man should leave his father and his mother and they shall become one flesh” (2v24). My theory is that the mystery that the bible talks about is that we return to the oneness we originally was whenever we join together in a relationship. In the Igbo tradition “Eke came out of the hands of Chi but are considered one; Chi created the world while Eke divided it incorporating a divisive trickster energy that introduced death and suffering”Cole, Herbert M. (1982).
Anyway back to the story, the Igbo people worshiped Chineke and underneath the creator were other lesser spirits (or chi), called Agbara or Alusi that are in charge of or represent natural elements such as the sun who is called ányá ánwụ́ , Ala is the female alusi of the earth, and Ahia Njoku who is responsible for yams, an important food in the Igbo diet. They also revered their ancestors known as Ndichie and certain shrines would be made for them.
Then the white missionaries came over with their message of christianity, they already had a few converts from the Igbo tribe, who were seen as outcasts in the community. At first the people thought the missionaries were harmless especially when they asked for a piece of land in the evil forest. The belief of the Igbo people was that once they set up camp there, they would be dead in a few days (the evil forest is where the community discards evil things including dead bodies). When the people saw that the christian missionaries were not dead after a number of days they gained more members to their church. I don’t want to give the whole story away but bottom line was, the traditions and culture of the Igbo people and other tribes were taken over by the British government, under the guise of christian theology and here we are today.
Odinani is the name used to describe the cultural practices and religious beliefs of the Igbo people. It can be seen as monotheistic although some would describe it as polytheistic due to the shrines made to the lesser spirits. A similar practice can be found in Yoruba culture who also have a supreme being as a creator but under the name of Olurun. African spirituality has often been demonised or dismissed as voodoo, hocus pocus or juju, but could it be that these ideologies could be the very foundation of christianity today? From what I read in “Things Fall Apart” Christianity had a beginning, and it began sometime in the 1800’s in Africa, so where did they get it from? What do you think?
Gidi gidi bu ugwu eze. An Igbo proverb which means Unity is strength.