Igala worldview as a veritable basis for igala philosophy egbunu, fidelis eleojo

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Igala Worldview as a Veritable Basis for Igala Philosophy” in Anyigba Journal of Arts and Humanities, Vol. 13, No.1, Nov., 2013. Pp.45-70




GSM: 08068515750/ 08059215672

E-mail: frfidele@yahoo.com

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies,

Kogi State University, Anyigba,

Kogi State, Nigeria.

The essay engages the debate in African Philosophy from the modernist perspective and posits that the ontological status of a worldview leaves it as a mere launch pad, raw data or basis for academic philosophy. A panoramic look at the traditional worldview of the Igala people of Kogi State in Nigeria is presented via the historical, descriptive and phenomenological methods as a case study. The physical cum spiritual, visible and invisible, natural and supernatural, sacred and profane natures of the Igala worldview are given some reasonable explication. The hierarchy of being shows the Supreme Being at its apex, followed closely by the divinities, ancestral spirits and other spirits. The human person finds himself/herself at the center. Animate and inanimate objects are placed at the base of the entire hierarchy of being. On the whole, the web-like and interconnected nature of Igala worldview like those of other Africans is profoundly laid bare. The various stages of life and the rituals or ceremonies associated with them (birth, naming, puberty, marriage, death and funeral, festivals and other social institutions) are considered as avenues for attaining ultimate happiness. It is thus submitted here that the people’s worldview remains incontestably the inalienable foundation for any solid academic or rigorous professional philosophy.


This work is aimed at giving a periscopic overview of the principal elements embedded within the nature and characteristic features of Igala worldview. The traditional beliefs and practices of the Igala people in Kogi State in central Nigeria are sourced from the few extant literature available on this all-important subject matter. Besides, the treasures of oral sources such as their myths, legends, folklores, proverbs, wise-sayings, festivals, social institutions, and so forth, are brought into focus as a very reliable means of gathering data. It is expected that this worldview of the Igala ethnic nationality would be a launch-pad, a source of raw data, basis or foundation to any quest to etching out an African philosophy that is particularly analytic, systematic and logical in its content. This study of Igala worldview would in turn be of immense aid to our overall understanding of the African predicaments in general and specifically the Igala social, political, economic, religious and cultural problems since these worldviews invariably stand as the backdrop to the people’s contemporary experiences. The main contention of this study is that there can exist no thorough grasp of authentic philosophy of a group of people, whether of Igala or any African ethno-cultural entity or otherwise, without a reasonable understanding of their worldview.

Conceptual Clarification and Analysis

There are three key concepts that would need to be vividly clarified for our immediate purposes in this work, namely, Igala, African Philosophy and Worldview.

“Igala” refers to the triad of the language, the ethnic group and the territory located on the eastern flank of the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue in Kogi State of Nigeria. The Igala people are found mainly within the middle-belt or central region of Nigeria (Egbunu 7). They attained the status of a kingdom in the mid 17th century A.D. (Ukwede 121) and so are also reputed to have had one of the oldest kingdoms in the West African sub-region (Idakwo 75) and were considered as the ninth largest ethnic group in Nigeria in the early 1960s (Boston 1). This ethnic entity unarguably constitutes the largest group of people in Kogi State today. They are immediate neighbours to the Bassa-Kwomo, Bassa-Nge, Idoma, Igbo, Ebira, Kakanda, Afemai and the Nupe. Historically, they are known to have some long-standing affinity with the Jukun, Yoruba and the Benin kingdoms. Obviously, they are an amalgam of the various ethnic configurations in Nigeria (Ogughua 168) including the Hausa/Fulani and other ethnic groups earlier mentioned which have been somehow assimilated into the Igala mainstream. Igala therefore holds a pride of place as a cultural melting pot majorly due to their centrality of location (Egbunu 8).

“African Philosophy” refers to the systematic reflection, inquiry and explanation on the empirical and meta-empirical realities, predicaments or challenges that the African context presents. It is aimed at unraveling the mystery associated with the life of the African person. This is undertaken within the confines of the geographical entity of the African continent (i.e. in Africa by Africans or in Africa by expatriates adequately disposed). It could also be an exercise carried out by Africans in diaspora or by any individual who has so disposed him/herself appropriately from any corner of the world for genuine reflection in this light.

“Worldview” which is the term that forms the nucleus of this study shall not only be defined but at one and the same breath be given a deeper analysis. It is defined by different authors in varied ways. Ifesieh sees it as “how the world is conceived, contemplated, perceived, viewed and observed by people who live in it” (18). This is especially true in relation to the ambit of human environment or other factors. Furthermore, Ifesieh stresses that it means

a body of beliefs about the universe which are existentially demonstrated in the value systems, such as their philosophy of life, social conduct and morality, folklores, myths, rites and rituals, norms, rules, ideas, cognitive mappings, theologies, etc (20).

For Mbaegbu, a worldview means “the sum-total of all the assumptions entertained by a people. It is a people’s mental map of the universe” (1). That seems why Achebe also sees it in its comprehensive light as embracing the totality of a people’s assumptions (10) which gives them a sort of sub-conscious guide through life since it is not learnt but rather caught, it invariably somehow imposes itself on the young through the society (Onuoha 11). Nwala defines it in relation to the complex beliefs, habits, laws, customs and traditions and especially “the overall picture they have about reality” including what things are worth striving to attain and what mankind’s place is in the schema of things (24). It is quite instructive that such values learnt from the worldviews enhance ethical behavior and morality. Okafor sees it as people’s concepts of the world: physical and metaphysical. That is, the basic notions underlying their cultural, religious and social activities (3). It therefore involves both the natural and supernatural spheres. Kraft seems to have summarized it all when he describes it as the central systematization of conceptions of reality to which members of the culture assert (largely unconsciously) and from which stems their value system (53). It is also seen as their basic model of reality (54). Redfield beautifully refers to it as being akin to the “central control box” of a plane. It is said to lie at the very heart of culture, touching, interacting with and strongly influencing every other aspect of the culture. It is likened to an engine room of an industry, power house of a bank or propeller of an helicopter. Put differently, it is the thread that runs through their blood stream, what makes people who they are in their peculiarity and uniqueness. It is the underlying affinity running through the beliefs, customs, value systems and socio-political institutions and practices of various African societies (Gyekye 192). It forms the basis of their folk-philosophy and life in general. As it were, it is the way in which a people make sense of their surrounding, of their life and of the universe (Ani 4), a product of their lived experience (Jones 30), the universe, orientation and interpretative reference point that they share (Karanja 6). Ejizu (in Mbaegbu 2) observes that it is significant in predicting “space-time events which occur around” mankind.

From the above definitions, we may surmise therefore that a people’s worldview embraces the totality of their beliefs and practices owing to their particular experience of reality in their contextual situation. It is basically what defines their thought-pattern which in turn rules, guides or controls their social, cultural spiritual, political, economic, and other dimensions of life.

In Kraft’s (56-57) framework, five major functions are ascribed to a worldview, namely, the explanatory function of how and why things got to be as they are and how and why they continue or change; evaluational function of judging and validating basic institutions, values and goals of the society; the psychological re-inforcement function especially in times of anxiety or crisis when they offer encouragement or stimulus unto positive action; the integrative function – helping people to conceptualize, understand and/or interpret as to what it should be like; and finally, the adaptational function of alteration of conceptual restructuring owing to a slight or drastic shift in the perception of some members. In this respect, different worldview assumptions lead to different conclusions. Such functions inadvertently help humanity to become more understanding and more amenable among themselves and thereby it enhances peace and harmony in the universe of mutual relationship and interconnectedness.

Karanja (14-16) outlines three constituent parts of worldview, viz: axiology – (science of values), epistemology (study of knowledge) and logic (analysis and systemization) (Dixon 131). Additionally, four more key components were introduced by another group of thinkers, thus, the Cosmological assumption which is based on an interdependent and interconnected edifice (Azibo 424); the Ontological assumption which has to do with the nature of reality or being, that is spiritual/energy force. In this sense, Spirit is not separate from matter. While the spiritual being gives force and energy to matter, material beings give form to spirit (Richards 210); teleological assumption gives a sense of directedness, of definite ends, of definite purpose by way of the sense of commitment and extended investment (Banks 266) which calls for functional and relevant education; Black ideology is also stressed. That there is every need to be guided by this ideology which entails an interpretative framework of the social world with a moral commitment to change it (Alkalimat 174).

According to Madu (3), worldviews are essentially religious. This is based on the premises that all worldviews consider essentially the origin of the universe, its movement and the final destiny of man. As such, people base answers to the mysteries of their existence, value systems and attitudinal orientations on this. Such ideas are expressed concretely in actions, ceremonies, rituals, myths, taboos, proverbs, metaphors, fables, riddles, other forms of folklores. Oguejiofor (17) buttresses this point when he asserted that a people’s worldview is usually discernible from their rituals, festivals, folklores, etc. Due to the peculiar nature of a people’s worldview, we can identify a people with a particular culture, personality, identity, religion, philosophy or theology. For instance, we can talk of Igala culture in the same token as we refer to Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Tiv, Ibibio or Efik culture in Nigeria or even African, Asian, American or British Culture at the intercontinental level.

Using the Igala cultural environment as a case study, therefore, we shall endeavour to catch salient glimpses on how and why Igala people perceive things they way they do. In Achebe’s (1) parlance, a worldview is the lens through which man, in a given culture views his world. In this case, worldview is likened to a lens. It is therefore a cultural lens (whether Igala, Idoma, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, etc.), it enables one to see only an aspect or perspective of the world. This can also be likened to the pragmatic experience of the proverbial six blind men who went to feel an elephant. Each of them had to describe it in a different mode, yet each one was giving a true description in accordance with his own perception (flat, large, wall-like, snaky, etc) depending on which angle or aspect. In the same vein, every worldview gives meaning to the people’s existence. It is thereby true to assert that if one were to be in a different socio-cultural, political or economic environment, things would be perceived differently.

A Cursory Look at the Nature of Igala Worldview

The world around the Igala people forms the raw data for the people’s reflection and their worldview. Such elemental forces as the sky, the cloud, the sun, the moon, the stars, the air they breathe, the wind that blows, thunder blast or rainfall, lightening and other experiences of man form the points of reflection. The worldview of the Igala people is therefore their endeavour to reflect, interpret and offer meanings to their perceptions of the universe. And this has to do with their beliefs, assumptions, myths, legends, proverbs, rituals, symbols, festivals, ceremonies, social and cultural institutions.

Okwoli’s seminal work on Igala Traditional Religion relates worldview to “the sentiments with which they organize their life” (1). A brief summary of our personal understanding of the Igala worldview is very pertinent at this juncture. The Igala person like every other African look at the universe in a religious way (Mbiti 36). Consequent upon this basic belief that the universe is created and sustained by God, they interpret their life experience from that viewpoint. Igala people classify the universe into two broad divisions: the visible and the invisible realms. The invisible world is made up of the Supreme Being God (Ọjọ), the ancestors (Ibegwu), divinities and deities (Amẹbọ). Heaven (Efojale) is said to be occupied by the Supreme Being. The world of the dead (Efọjegwu) is said to be occupied by the Anscestors, while the earth (Efilẹ) is peopled by living men and women (Amonẹ ilẹ) along with the lower animals (Amẹla), plants (Amoli kpai egbe) and other inanimate objects.

God exists as spirit (afu, awuli) in the form of air or wind which blows at will. He rides on the winds. He is said to be as omnipresent as the air, omniscient with His all-seeing eyes and omnipotent (Since he is generally referred to as Odobọgagwu). The sun (olu) is believed to be the eye of God in the day and the moon (ochu) is the eye in the night. The stars (amilawo) are said to be the rays of His presence. The rains (omi-elọ) is said to be His spittle. It brings good luck and fruitfulness upon the earth. His voice is thunder (akpabana), lightning (ọmamanya) is his torchlight and the ear is said to be the sky (ojale). So He hears any silent whisper from any part of the world (Egbunu 53-57). It is also believed that “idẹ kw’igbele” (he has been there from all eternity). He has neither beginning nor end. And He it is who endows humans with good fortunes (ọlafẹ) when He so desires.

Igala ontology of being shows first and foremost, the Supreme Being and Creator (Ọjọ) at the apex of the hierarchy of beings. He is said to be living in the sky and therefore somewhat remote. There exist no temples or shrines dedicated to the worship of the Creator in the land (Egbunu 54). This is not only because the people find the transcendence of God so perplexing or because He is not harmful, as Ikenga-Metuh (21) would maintain, or rather just because of tradition, His perfect nature, awesome nature or goodness, as Arinze (55) would put it. But it is principally owing to their belief that He is everywhere and can be called upon at any place. Shrines or temples are dedicated only to the lesser gods or deities. And He is believed to have kept some divinities who act as vice-regents or assistants and is therefore at one and the same time considered immanent or as close to the people as the land (anẹ). He is most often referred to as “Ọjọ anẹ magẹdọ” (God who is like the land which never lacks courage to receive the burdens of humanity) or “Ọjọ ki ninmi” (God who owns human breath). In Him exists the cosmic order since He (Ọjọ) governs the entire universe, every person and community with all the institutions. And He is said to be the source of all the religious oriented ceremonies. The rites of passage are seen as means of dealing with life crises. For instance, life cycle (birth, naming, circumcision, puberty rites, betrothal and marriage, death and funeral rites); the ecological and temporal cycle (planting, harvesting, seasonal changes, New Year and certain festivals) and in the ascension of individuals to high office (traditional chieftaincy rites, traditional priesthood, etc.)

Powers which are believed to emanate from the mystical realm are manifested through the various forms of spirits (amafu ojoji-ojoji) which are broadly subdivided into benevolent (afu ẹnyọ) and malevolent (afu ẹbiẹnẹ) spirits. Thus, some of these spirits which can naturally take possession of either humans or other phenomena or objects such as hills, rivers, valleys, trees, forests, stones, etc are said to have the capability of either helping or harming the people and their environment. It is also believed that human beings can also possess such hidden mysteries or powers (vital forces) by either direct heritage or learning. Traditional priests (amatama), diviners (amabifa), rainmakers (ama jomi/fomi), witches and wizards (amajochu), medicine men (amadogwu), witchdoctors (amachogwu), etc are considered as people who could control such cosmic or vital forces for the good of humanity or for evil ends.

According to Okwoli, for the Igala,

The spirit world is like human world. It has rivers, streams, hills and towns like the human world. The spirit world has the same pattern of social organization like the human world. The ancestors who live in the spirit world are referred to as the living-dead (2).

So, within the world of the spirits, Igala people have the Ancestors (Abegwu or Ibegwu literarily meaning, people of the yonder or of the other world) who are said to be the spirit of the departed relatives who merited to join their forebears. Those who attain this stage must possess certain qualities, including, ripe old age, good death and not any type of disgraceful death, must have married and given birth to children, and must have enjoyed good funeral rites, etc. These qualities do not preclude good personal life. It is worthy of note at this point that children are not only considered as wealth, but more importantly, they ensure the continuity of the family and an assurance that at death, their parents will be incorporated into the ancestral spirit world by virtue of proper funerary rites. Without the proper funeral ceremony, the spirit of the dead may be denied entrance into the ancestral spirit world (Imasogie 65). This group of spirits are said to be keeping watchful eyes on their relatives from whom they expect seasonal offerings. Such sacrifices are made in order to appease them for good-health, bumper harvest, success in business, victory in war, peace in the land, progress in other spheres of life, etc. during the various festivals (Ibegwu, Okula, Anẹ, Ọgbadu, Egbe, etc) the ancestors, the land, river-goddesses, and so forth are appeased for various reasons (Miachi 121, Adegbe 19, Ukwede 155). Masquerades of various forms also appear to either perform certain purificatory or reconciliatory rituals. They also serve entertainment or social control purposes. Okwoli (2-3) also relates how powerful chiefs were buried with valuables including slaves and wives in the remote past of Igala history. He went further to point out how Igala traditional chieftaincy/rulership was rooted in the religion of the people. The Igala paramount ruler or king (Ata), his senior chief (Achadu and Ẹjẹ), councilors, village heads (Am’onu), clan heads (abogujo ọlọpu) or elders represented and derived their authority from the spirit world. As a matter of fact, they are seen as the link between the society, ancestors and the Supreme Being. It is in this respect that the Ata-Igala is singularly referred to as a Divine King (Miachi 121, Parrinder 67, Egbunu 13). It must be stressed at least, in passing that among the Igala, elders are literally respected with utmost reverence because they are considered as the custodians of tradition, culture and reservoir of wisdom of the community. As it is often said, the words of our elders are strictly considered words of wisdom (alu ogujo ma gbulu omi ẹka). It is also strictly believed that “what an elder sees while lying down, a young fellow might climb nine ladders or tip-toe nine times over without seeing it”. This explains why the typical Igala can never greet an elder without stooping low, bowing reverently or kneeling to show deep respect. Elders are necessarily catered for and given utmost care by the children or wards even when the elder in question is being severely affected by sickness or senility. An old person is never to be treated with disdain, lest the wrath of the ancestors be visited on the individual or person involved. Besides, life in general is never to be treated with levity in the Igala worldview. That is why even the yet-to-be-born (or the unborn) are treated with all the sacredness they deserve. Therefore, abortion, euthanasia, murder, and the like, are totally reprehensible to the Igala person.

The above assertions readily imply that the human person is seen as the center of the universe. Entire creation is seen as being there to serve human purpose, whether it is to good ends or evil. This idea of the human person as the center-piece of creation is buttressed by Mbiti when he observed that “it is as if the whole world exists for the sake of mankind” (38). Therefore, African people look for the usefulness (or otherwise) of the universe in relation to humanity. This means both what the world can do for the human person and how he/she can use the world for his/her own good. Mbiti (39) went further to posit that some part of creation are used for building, others for fire; some for physical uses, others for religious uses and some for magical purposes. The human person is considered as “the crown of God’s creation” (Ikenga-Metuh 167). The story on the creation of the human person is told and retold as the central theme of African creation myths. The Igala tradition gives three principal accounts of creation, thus:

First Account

From time immemorial (akwiko igbele igbele), God Almighty (Ọjọ ọchamachala) was the only one existing (onwu katete dọmọ i). He observed that everywhere was without shape and it was extremely dark (ilẹ chẹ chubi, ẹchubi jijii). He decided to open wide his eyes and there came lightning which brought forth the sun (olu) and the moon (ochu) with the stars (am’ilawo). The sun became his eye during the day and the moon, his eye in the night, while the stars represent the rays of his presence. He then spat upon the expansive atmosphere (ọkọtọwulu) and it formed the earth surface, comprising the land and the seas. And throwing some of his hairs down upon the earth and the seas, it formed all the trees and uncountable number of species of living things (amẹnwu inmi chakaa – all breathing things) i.e. all land, sea and air animals and all the trees and plants. God saw that he needed somebody to help manage or take care of all that he had created. So, He took clay and molded the first man and breathed upon his forehead. This became the first man called Atinalọ (Ata ẹnẹ ọlọ – father from the sky). And when God saw that man was feeling too lonely, He molded the woman and told the man to breath upon her head and it became the first woman called “Ayibo” (Aye-iboduu i.e. mother of all). This man and the woman came together and gave birth to the whole human race (Oral Interview, Akubo Idakwoji of Egwume – Aged 85 years, 01/07/83).

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