ALUSI: A STUDY ON IGBO GODS

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ALUSI

Chukwu’s incarnations in the world (Igbo: uwa) are the Alusi. The Alusi, who are also known as Arushi, Anusi or Arusi in differing dialects all spring from Ala the earth goddess who embodies the workings of the world. There are lesser deities in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo lore, these lesser Alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose. They exist only as long as their purpose does thus many Alusidie off except for the universally served Alusi. The top four Alusi of the Igbo pantheon are Ala, Igwe, Anyanwu, and Amadioha (or Kamalu); other less important Alusi exist after these, some depending on the community. They are, Ogwugwu, Urasi or Ulasi, Ichi, Uchu, Iyi, Agwu etc.

ALA

Ala is the earth goddess who is also responsible for morality and fertility and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb. Ala translates to ‘earth’ in Igbo as she is the ground itself, for this reason taboos and crimes are known as nsọ ala, “desecration of Ala”. As the highest Alusi in the Igbo pantheon, she was among the first to be created by Chukwu almighty. Ala is depicted in Mbari temples of the Owerre-Igbo, but smaller shrines are placed in the public squares of communities and in the homes of her devotees.

AMADIOHA

Amadioha
Alusi of Thunder and Lightning
Associate: Anyanwu
Planet: Sun
Symbol: White ram
Day: Afor
Color: Red

Amadioha (Igbo literal meaning “free will of the people”) is the Alusi (god) of thunder and lightning of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. He is amongst the most popular of Igbo deities and in some parts of Igboland, he is referred to as Amadiora, Kamalu (which is short for Kalu Akanu), Kamanu, or Ofufe. Astrologically, his governing planet is the Sun. His color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Metaphysically, Amadioha represents the collective will of the people. He is often associated with Anyanwu, who is the Igbo god of the Sun. While Anyanwu is more prominent in northern Igboland, Amadioha is more prominent in the southern part. His day is Afo, which is the third market day of the Igbo four day week.

Origins
Shrines to Amadioha still exist in different parts of Igboland, but the main shrine is located at Ogboro Ama Ukwu or Ihiokpu as it is called in Ozuzu in Etche Local Government Area of present day Rivers State, Nigeria. Although it is located there, it is not the patron deity of the people of Ozuzu. In fact, it is said that Ozuzu is the town in which Amadioha “lives” and it serves as it earthly headquarters. It is from there that it spread to other parts of Igboland.

Functions of Amadioha

God of Justice
Amadioha is first and foremost known as a god of justice. He speaks through thunder, and he strikes with lightning. He creates thunder and lightning by casting “thunderstones” down to earth. Persons judged guilty by Amadioha are either killed by lightning (which leaves a black mark on the forehead) or attacked by a swarm of bees. The property of the victim is usually taken by the priests of Amadioha, and the body is left unburied and the victim unmourned, as the punishment is considered to be a righteous one from God. In some parts of Igboland, Amadioha is used as a curse word. Oaths are often sworn to him, which can carry deadly penalties when broken.

The ritual cleansing for Amadioha is very costly and tasking. The deity can only be appeased by transferring the curse to a live goat that is let loose outside of the walls of the community. The ram is a common offering for him. The priestly clan of Amadioha are known as Umuamadi, which translates to children of Amadioha.

God of Love, Peace and Unity
Besides justice, Amadioha is also a god of love, peace and unity, and is prayed for increase of crops, children in the home, and benevolence. Aside the above manifestations of Amadioha, he represents, as different from most African religious world views, a messianic hope for those in critical situations.

Creator God
Amadioha is also considered to be a creator God. In some traditions, human beings were made by him when he sent a bolt of lightning down to strike a silk cotton tree, which split and revealed a man and a woman.

Consort to Ani
Amadioha is often shown as a husband to Ani, who is the Earth mother. In some Igbo traditions, the pair are said to be the firstAlusi to have been created by Chukwu. The two are often honored with Mbari houses, which were made with mudbrick. Amadioha is typically depicted as a fair-skinned, titled gentleman of cool temper who is the patron of “light skinned Igbos” and “men of exalted rank.” While Ani is considered to be the lawmaker of Igbo society (which is known as Odinani), Amadioha is the enforcer and protector of the law.

God of Carvers
In the play, the Other Side of the Mask, the character Jamike refers to Amadioha as “the god of carvers” and identifies him further as “the god that sends lightning to kill the evil spirits who inhabit the trees from which carvers hew their wood.

Personal Spirit
Amadioha as a personal shrine is a spirit of enterprise that brings wealth. It is also a representative of the head of the household.

Oracle
In precolonial times, the village of Ozuzu turned Amadioha/Kamalu into an oracle called Kamalu Ozuzu. People would travel all over Igboland to visit the oracle in order to settle disputes and for help with crucial decisions. Parties found guilty by the oracle could be sold into slavery.

Proverbs and prayers associated with Amadioha
“Amadioha magbukwa gi” (Amadioha will punish you)

“Chi m le kwee – O wuru si o wuni mere ihea, amadioha magbukwe m” (My god please see- If it is true that I did this thing, let Amadioha Kill me).

ANYANWU

Anyanwu
Igbo deity
Anyanwu (Igbo: Eye of the Sun) is an Igbo deity that is believed to dwell in the sun. Anyanwu was one of the principal spirits for the Igbo, often associated with Agbara, the holy spirit as they both dwelled in the sun. This deity was seen as the perfect image of what a human should be.

Anyanwu is a surname given to people the Ibo, Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria.

IGWE

Igwe is the Alusi of the sky and the husband of Ala. He produces rain to replenish the earth and the earth goddess to aid her productiveness.

 

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OTHER ALUSI

Alusi of Health and Divination
Agwu Nsi, in Odinani, is the Alusi of health and divination. He is one of the concepts that was used by the Igbo to explain and understand good and evil, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, and fortune and misfortune. Belief in Agwu was widespread in Igboland in the past.

EKWENSU

Alusi of Bargains, Chaos, and Change
Symbol: Tortoise

Ekwensu was a Trickster God (Alusi) of the Igbo people who served as the Alusi or God of Bargains and the tortoise. Crafty at trade and negotiations, he was often invoked for guidance in difficult mercantile situations. Like most Trickster Gods, the deity was a force of Chaos and Change, thus in his more violent aspects, Ekwensu was also revered as a God of War and Victory who ruled over the wicked spirits and the chaotic forces of nature. His companion was Death. With the advent of Christianity, the more beneficent aspects of the deity were supplanted by missionaries who came to misrepresent Ekwensu as Satan.

He was the testing force of Chukwu, and along with Ani the Earth goddess, and Igwe, the Sky God, make up the three highestAlusi‘s of the ancient Igbo people. Ekwensu is also the Igbo word for Satan.

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IKENGA

Ikenga
Alusi of Time, Success and Achievement

Planet: Mars
Symbol: Ram’s Horns
Color: Red
Number: 3

Ikenga (Igbo literal meaning “place of strength”) is a horned Alusi (deity) found among the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria. It is one of the most popular symbols of the Igbo people, and the most common cultural artifact. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society. It comprises someone’s Chi (personal god), his Ndichie (ancestors), aka Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice.

Ikenga is specially found among the Northern Igbos of Anambra, Enugu, Delta and some parts of Kogi State. It is exclusively an Igbo symbol. Nevertheless, various peoples of Southern Nigeria have slightly different notions of the components of an individual personality, but all agree that these various aspects can only be affected through ritual and personal effort. Some variants of it are found in Ijaw, Ishan, Isoko, Urhobo and Edo areas. Among the Isoko people, there are three types of personal shrine images: Oma, which represents the “spirit double” that resides in the other world; Obo which symbolizes the right hand and personal endeavor and the lvri which stands for personal determination. In the Urhobo areas it is also regarded as Ivri and in the Edo areas it’s called Ikegobo.

Functions of Ikenga
God of Achievement
Ikenga is a personal god of human endeavor, achievement, success, and victory. Ikenga is grounded in the belief that the power for a man to accomplish things is in his right hand. It also governs over industry, farming, and blacksmithing, and is celebrated every year with an annual Ikenga festival. It is believed by its owners to bring wealth and fortune as well as protection.

God of Time
Two-faced Ikenga is the oldest concept of Ikenga in Igboland. It is a two-faced god, with one face looking at the old year while one face looks at the new year. This is the basis of the oldest and most ancient Igbo calendar. As a god of beginnings, it has the praise name of Ikenga owa ota.

Consecration of Ikenga
Ikenga requires consecration before usage. Normally, an Ikenga is consecrated in the presence of one’s kinsmen or agemates by lineage head. Offerings of things like yam, cock, wine, kolanuts and alligator pepper are sacrificed to it. Consecrations are often more elaborate and occasionally less depending on the financial strength of the owner. If the owner is devoted, he feeds his Ikenga on a daily basis with Kola and wine and periodically, especially before an important undertaking, he offers sacrificial blood of a cock or ram to induce the spirit to help him succeed. Afterward, the owner also offers thanksgiving to his Ikenga for helping him achieve success. Success as believed, solely depends on their personal Chi, represented by Ikenga and the support of kinsmen.

IKENGA MYTHOLOGY

According to Ndi Ichie Akwa Mythology and Folklore Origins of the Igbos, Ikenga was the son of Ngwu, and was a bold warrior and fantastic wrestler. He was reputed with the ability of flying from one Iroko tree to another. He was the first living man in living memory to earn the title Ogba-aka ari Oji which meant a climber of iroko tree without the aid of strings. Ikenga lead the Nkwo nation in the first and famous river of sea battle ever undertaken by any nation in the Oji country. Mermaids came to fight for the Edo people and many Ododo warriors rode on the backs of mammoth sharks and crocodiles. Edo herbalists had the power to conjure large stones to fly and ram on the buildings of the Nkwo nations to destruction. The war was intense and lasted one month. For the first time, the use of green foliage camouflage was introduced by Ikenga and his warriors so that they appeared as floating bushes on the seas, until they came close enough on their targets to rout the Edo and Ododo enemies.

Many of the will-o-wisps sent by Edo country were destroyed. When the Edo and Odo warriors saw that they were being defeated and were forced to retreat back to their territories they made a final desperate lunge to grab the only Ndi Ichi Akwa in Ngwu’s possession. Ikenga rallied around his father’s palace to repulse Ododo and Edo stalwarts. Many casualties were sustained by both sides until Ikenga came face to face with the four eyed monster called Ajikwu akpu isi who had six horns.

Ajikwu akpu isi belowed out his fearsome shriek which thundered through the jungle in repeated echos that the verdue quivered in ominous pulses. The monster roused his fierce rage by scampering round his position as a means of revving up his momentum and sharpening a deadly attacking pulse. The vibrations burgeoned into a nauseating earthquake in the area. He mixed his excrement with urine and splashed the corrosive mixture in Ikenga’s direction. Ikenga used his ekpeke shield and in a series of athletic diving and feigning withered the ferocious onslaught. In the same split second however Ajikwu akpu isi had charged towards Ikenga as he snorted and roared. Ikenga sprang onto an overhead tree branch like a huge cat and somersaulted round it to suspend atop on his hands like an acrobatic gymnast.

As Ajikwu akpu isi thundered underneath in his charge, but missed Ikenga’s backside by centimeters, Ikenga flung himself on the top horns of the monster. The two combatants hurtled through jungle flora and fauna in mortal battle. Ikenga mustered the last gram of strength in a titanic muscle flex as he twisted the neck of the beast which broke with such nerve shattering crack. There were few groans and whimperings followed by death thrubs and ghostly silence pervaded the vast jungle. The Edo and Ododo warriors were stupefied by the incredible spectacle and in a momentary recovery they retreated in disarray.

TYPES

There are three types of Ikenga: ikenga madu (human), ikenga alusi (spirit), and ntu aga (divination objects). The first is a fully developed human figure with horns, seated on a stool. The second is a cylinder with horns. The divination objects are small and simple and come in different shapes.

Warrior Ikenga
The most famous type of ikenga is probably the “warrior,” depicting a well-developed human figure with horns and a fierce expression. It is seated on a stool, holding objects in both hands. The right hand holds a knife with a pronounced handle and a slightly curved blade, the left hand a tusk or more often, a severed human head with eyes, nose, and mouth bulging out of the concave face. The warrior ikenga corresponds to the stage in life when men are expected to demonstrate their military prowess. Owned by many of the younger members of the age grade, it depicts the ideal young man: robust, wearing the warrior’s grass skirt, and holding a knife and a severed human head. This pose used to be seen in warrior groups when they performed dances.

The knife is always held in the right hand, called aka ikenga (the ikenga hand), and the ikenga is also called a shrine to the right hand. In recent times the overt violent element of the severed head and knife has been replaced by metaphorical way as symbols of aggression. The most characteristic of all the iconographic elements of the ikenga, the horns (opi), also carries this lii, also carries this connotation. The Igbo proverb says, “The ram goes into a fight head first” (Ebune jị isi éjé ogụ); that is, one must plunge into a venture in order to succeed.

Community Ikenga
A second major ikenga type, an elaboration of the warrior form, has a superstructure with human or animal images, or both. The seated figure often displays a tusk in the left hand and a staff in the right. In many examples, ichi marks are represented on the face. Some of these figures, especially the very large ones, often are more than a meter high, do not belong to an individual but to an age set or a lineage segment.[7] These community Ikenga figures stand for group rather than individual achievements and prestige, and demonstrate continuity between the individual and society.[8] They are related to the display figures known as Ugo n’acho mma (“the eagle seeks out beauty”) and display a great deal of artistic inventiveness.

In the simpler examples of this group, the superstructure on a disk base supports animal figures. Other large Ikenga have very intricate superstructures consisting of two horns that circle the sides of the head and continue upward to form another circle terminating in snake heads. Pointed protrusions occur on the lower part of the horns. Above the head are four ram heads and one or more leopards at the top.[7] The motifs on the community Ikenga tend to have complex head dress signifying collective ownership. The motifs also depicts what the community is known for, for instance whether they are known as warriors, hunters, traders or predominantly farmers. During the annual festival, all male born during the previous year are brought before the community Ikenga and thus are validated as community numbers.

Titleholder’s Ikenga
The elaborate ikenga figures, especially those with superstructures, seem to correspond to the more advanced, title-taking stages in a man’s life. The three-legged stool, known as the Awka stool, was reserved for one of the highest rank of the title system, the ozo title. The staff indicates authority, and comes in a complex hierarchy, from a simple wooden one to a rod of forged iron with brass rings. The most common type represented in ikenga is the nsuagilign, distinguished by openwork on theshaft. The tusk, okike, held in the left hand, is used as a trumpet, odu. It alludes to the elephant, a widespread symbol for power and leadership. A stool and tusk, though not a staff, were often carried for persons of high title by a young boy or a girl.

Most of the elaborate ikenga bear the ichi scarification pattern, consisting of parallel vertical lines on the forehead and temples. Scarification was a professional specialization of experts from the Awka community. The ichi marks were used to distinguish the highest-ranking members of the title societies, as well as sons and daughters of the nobility. A superstructure usually also consists of references to animals. One prominent animal used on the titleholder ikenga figures is the leopard, agu, the king of the animals and an emblem of the political authority of a titled man. The horns of the ram or other animals, found on all ikenga figures, signify power and aggression. Many elaborate examples display a whole figure of a ram, or at least a full head. Snakes, birds, and turtles may also be included on the ikenga.

Numerous ikenga, both the warrior and the titled person’s types, have a row of pointed projections flanking the head, usually three or another odd number on each side. Ikenga in the southern Igbo area have three knobs on a horizontal bar. Besides being associated with Ikenga, the number three is also associated with males throughout West Africa. These projections may stand for nzu, cone-shaped pieces of chalk used in rituals. This native chalk, suggesting purity and protection, is sometimes applied to the eyes and temples. High-ranking people need magical protection because they are often objects of envy, which is commonly expressed by witchcraft.

PROVERBS AND PRAYERS ASSOCIATED WITH IKENGA

“Ikenga chim nyelum, taa oji” (Ikenga, gift of my chi, participate in the offering)
“Ikengam kwalu otu, njee mge ona mmuo” (As long as my Ikenga is active I can wrestle in the land of the dead)
“Ikenga adigh ile, azilaa ya nku” (An Ikenga that is inactive, cut it for firewood)

NDEBUNZE

Ndebunze, or Ndichie, are the deceased ancestors deified into Alusi. In Odinani, it is believed that the dead ancestors are invisible members of the community; their role in the community, in conjunction with Ala, is to protect the community from epidemics and strife such as famine and small pox.

NJOKU JI

Njoku Ji
Alusi of Yam

Njoku Ji is the guardian deity of the yam for the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. In parts of Igboland there are still annual rituals in honor of the yam deity known as Ifejioku In some parts children who were dedicated to the service of the deity were named Njoku. As adults such children were expected to become prosperous yam farmers which made them into nobility.

WORDS: kelechi Anabaraonye

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