+234 8130470539


  • April 27 2017



Charles Ogbuchukwu Okeke, Ph.D.


1. Section A: African Traditional Religion in Brief


1.1       The Meaning of African Traditional Religion

            African traditional Religion is the religion practiced by the various ethnic groups in Africa, not in anyway influenced by Christianity or Islam; It is principally traditional in nature. They are religions that naturally began or sprang in Africa. In Africa, there are many tribes, and each tribe has its own ‘traditional religion’. Religion usually exists in two main clauses, namely historical and  non-historical, otherwise called ‘indigenous religion’. We should not make the mistake of understanding them as religion that has no history and a religion that has history, because, in fact, all religions and everything in the universe have some history.  An historical religion may be considered as that religion which has written documentary records; such religions include Judaism or Islam, which have the Old Testament and the Koran respectively as well as the Christian religion which has the Old and New  Testaments. If any one wants to know about these religions, what the person will do is to pick any of these books and read. These books are  the places where one can find the nature, content, context and expressions of these religions, like worshipping, sacrificial, praying methods, rules, regulations, obligations etc.          Whereas non-historical or indigenous religions like the African traditional religion have no written documentary records. The African traditional religion is largely based on oral traditions, folk-tales, customs, idioms, proverbs, festivals, names, etc as its means of expression. Hence they are described as traditional religions, that is, religions which are passed down from generation to generation of the world. So, the African traditional religions are those religions in African countries which have no formal, written documentary records but are passed to generations from hand to hand (Anusiobi, 1972).

            It should be noted that African traditional religion like other traditional religions are more restricted in their localization and are usually confined to one culture or pattern of life. They are non-proselytizing, that is, they are non-missionary kind of religions. They do not go out to evangelize or convert people like other world religions such as Christianity or Islam, and that is why they are open to welcoming missionaries. They are usually found in the so-called pre-scientific communities of the world.



  1. Terminologies used for the Religion

It is worthwhile naming the various derogatory terms used for the ATR and they include:

  • Primitive: The term primitive comes from the Latin word ‘primus’ meaning first. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the term ‘primitive’ as 'early', 'ancient', 'old fashioned'. The use of the term primitive in describing ATR is only on grounds of ethnic or racial bias. It is a derogatory term and therefore obnoxious. It is offensive to describe ATR unreservedly as primitive (Opata, 1998).
  • Animism: (a) It is a belief that natural objects, natural phenomena and the universe itself possess souls. (b) A belief that natural objects have souls which may exist apart from their material bodies. (c) A doctrine that the soul is the principle of life and health. (d) Belief in spiritual beings or agencies.

Animism is a term from Latin ‘anima’ meaning soul, air, the breath of life, spirit etc. It a vision of the world in virtue of which one believes that there exist in beings or in the forces of nature, living principles and spirits endowed with powers and capable of intervening in human life. The animist cult is the worship or reverence given to these spirits.

  • Idolatry: Idolatry is a worship given to an idol. In general, an idol is an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed. In Greek the word ‘eidolon’ seems to mean an image which is copied from the real thing; a shadow thrown by real existence.
  • Paganism: This is the religion of the soil, that of the peasants. No notion of the Supreme God may be had by such a devotee nor any respect for him. The word in Latin ‘paganus’ means a village dweller or a country man who does not live in a well polished community. The word was primarily used by sociologists to distinguish between civilized or sophisticated people and the uncivilized un –lightened people
  • Heathenism: This is a word derived from ‘health’ and it originally meant a dweller on a health. Health was an abode of criminals and vagabonds usually isolated from the town. Heathen and pagan are synonymous and are used interchangeably by sociologists as sociological terms. The word ‘heathen’ was coined by the westerners to apply to traditional believers whose religion was regarded as inferior to Judaism, Christianity or Islam or any other so-called ‘higher’ religion.
  • Native: The word ‘native’ is derived from a Latin word ‘nativus’ meaning born or come into existence by birth, innate or natural. The word is used derogatively for the Africans who are described by Europeans as backward and uncouth.
  • Savage: This is opposite of civilized. Savagery is wicked and should not be used. No people should be described in this term because they are not technologically advanced. It is true that the word can be applied to anyone without the derogatory sense, but to use it for ATR is unacceptable (Opata, 1998).
  • Totemism: This is another term used to describe ATR. This tag implies an alliance between a human group and often an animal. This alliance is supported by a myth, and comprises certain food taboos. The animal which is the object of this prohibition is called ‘totem’. For example, house boar is a totem in many Igbo and Effik areas. A vegetable could be totemic too. Serpents are held sacred in some African societies. They are thought to be vehicles of spiritual powers either permitting ancestors to rejoin their families and receive offerings or else symbolizing the cycle of life, serving as the temporary abode of the spirit.


  1. Essential elements of ATR

African traditional religion contains three essential elements of any religion:

  1. Beliefs: This implies what the people believe in, which includes the supernatural beings, namely the Supreme Being, deities, spirit-forces, ancestors, etc. it also includes other beliefs which are manifest in the culture and traditions of the people. This element is  very prominent and present in every religion. In the absence of written documentary record, beliefs are simply memorized.
  2. Rites/Rituals or liturgy: This is very prominent. It can be seen in the worship and religious exercises of the various people. Their whole life is brought under the influence of religion. Rites include how the people perform religious sacrifices, worship, prayers as well as the requirements, that is, the rituals involved.
  3. Laws/norms:   This is also very prominent. Various people have their ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, that is, taboos. There are some taboos common to most Africans while others are not. Laws or norms implies the religious obligations, responsibilities, rules and regulations guiding the people and the religious society. Anyone who goes against the laws or norms faces the corresponding punishment


  1. Section B: IGBO ONTOLOGY


2.1.      Igbo Mystical Beliefs

Here I shall attempt to highlight the main characteristics of Igbo mystical/religious beliefs. Among these major beliefs are:


2.1.1.   The Supreme Being, Divinities, Spirits and Ancestors

            In most African countries, the traditional system of government is that the highest in rank is the king (Igwe, Eze, Oba, etc). The king has some prominent men who act as his agents (ministers in charge of various aspects of the people’s life). In most cases, the common citizen does not go directly to the king for any matter. Instead he goes to one of the agents who will act as an intermediary between the citizen and the king. In the same way the African sees God as the Supreme Being (the king of kings) who has a number of agents (ministers, commissioners) who act as intermediaries between man and God. The agents of God are called divinities and spirits. The divinities are varied in their status and ranks. The Igbo, for instance, recognize five categories of spiritual beings according to their vital ranks:

  1. The Supreme Being (Chukwu, Chineke). He is the creator
  2. The Deities (Mmuo). These are referred to as gods, ambassadors or deans. They include:
  • Anyanwu  (the lord of life and light)
  • Ala, the earth goddess (mother of life and queen of morality)
  • Amadioha or Kamalu or Igwe (God’s orderly and agent of instant justice)
  • Mmuo-mmiri (the divinely appointed temptress)
  • Ahajioku (the lord of agriculture)
  • Agwu-Nsi (the lord of divination and healing)
  1. The spirit-forces (Arusi /Alusi)
  2. The ancestors (Ndi ichie)
  3. Medicine (Ogwu).

These divinities are believed to be emanation from the Supreme Being. They rank before the mortal man, who must live a life of balance with them in order to survive. Thus the spiritual beings together with man and other elements are in continuous and intimate relationship. Only when these beings live in harmonious relationship will cosmic harmony be realized (Madu, 1997). It is likely that some of these divinities are personifications of God’s attributes and natural phenomena or the intellectual fragmentations of God’s activities. But the Africans believe that the divinities are real. Though they are believed to have been created by God, they seem to be independent of God in their actions on earth as a result of the freedom given to them by God.

Some of these deities are recognized by most of the African countries, while some are recognized locally-clans, village divinities, and so on. For instance, Ogwugwu, Idemili, Ngene, Eke, Aro, Okpimodu, Omaliko, among others. In addition to divinities, the Africans believe too in the existence of other numerous beings called spirits. These are believed to be just below the divinities in rank and also exercise influence over man. Some of them are described as good spirits, while others are described as evil or bad spirits. The spirits are not seen or touched by the human being but they can do harm or good to man.


  1. The Supreme Being:

The question may be asked as to whether in the African traditional religion there is a belief in a Supreme Being; and if so, why do Africans worship ‘the gods many and the lords many’ as observed by the early missionaries?

The answer is, of course, ‘yes’. The Africans believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and have names for him but also know his attributes so much that no other race of humankind can beat Africans in recounting the attributes of God. The Mende people of Sierra-Leone call him Ngewo (the Great). The Ashantis of Ghana call him Nyame (Giver of life). In Nigeria, the Yorubas call him Olorun (the owner of the sky). The Igbo call him Chukwu, Chi-ukwu (the Great God), Chineke (the creator), and Osebuluwa (one who uphold the world).

In most African countries God is believed to be the Creator of all things, the almighty, all-knowing, the giver of life and breath, the final judge of all men, and so on. The Africans have a particularly rich nomenclature for God. Each of the names used to refer to God, true to the African system of naming is loaded with meaning. They all tell of something the people believe God to be or possess. Some of them are very compound and complex names whose meanings can be got only through a protracted process of analysis. One of such names is Chukwu (Chi-ukwu). The first half ‘Chi’ means ‘Great’, ‘Large’ or ‘Supreme’. So, Chukwu means the ‘Great source of being’ or the Supreme Being, the uncaused cause, the one that caused beings but was not caused by anything or any other being. A similar name is Orise (God, in Yoruba). Ori means the Essence of Being; Se means the ‘Supreme’. There are other similar ones.


2.1.2.   Some Attributes of God in African Traditional Religion

The study of God’s names in ATR gives us insight into what the Africans believe God’s attribute to be. Some of these attributes are:

  1. God is unique:  For the Africans, God is unique. There is nothing that can be compared to him, either in heaven above or on earth beneath, nor even in the waters under the earth. He is, we may say, ‘alone in his class’. This belief in God’s unicity is confirmed by the total or near-total absence of images representing God in ATR. The Africans have made images of divinities of earth, sky, sea, water, river, thunder, lightning, but they have never once felt themselves equal to the task of making image of the Supreme Being, God.
  2. God is transcendent: The concept of God’s unicity evolves that of his transcendence. For the Africans, God means inaccessibility, at least, directly. There is universal belief that God may be reached through the divinities, spirits and ancestors. The Africans also believe God to be impeccably holy, uncontaminated, undefiled in any way. God is the holist of all. But Christianity rejects the belief that God is inaccessible. In fact, Christianity holds the very opposite of this meaning. God is not at all inaccessible. He is every where and in ever man and woman, though not pantheistically, because he still remains clearly distinct from the things of the world and from human being.
  3. God, the Creator: The Africans believe that the world and every thing in it came from

God. However, the Africans believe that God may indeed direct some divinities, spirits to make certain things but the initiative is always his. The divinities do not set about any work of creation without first being commissioned by God to do so. God is the Creator of all things, hence the name Chineke (the Being that creates other being).

  1. The Ruler of all in heaven and on earth: In heaven, God is the ruler and king of all beings.

These do him homage, run errands for him and render him            regular account of their stewardship. On earth, God is the ruler of all. Nothing happens without his authority. He is even believed to be responsible, not only for good things but also for evil things.

The idea of God being responsible for evil things is in opposition to Christian belief. According to Christian belief, the good things of the world originate from God but not definitely the evil things. God permits evil thing to happen but does not cause evil himself.

  1. God, the Judge of men and their actions in the world: God is belied in African traditional

Religion give reward to whom is due, but he is also quick to mete out punishment to whom this is due. Among his instruments (agents) of punishment is a divinity – the thunder/lightning divinity. God sends this divinity (Amadioha or Egbeigwe) to strike down any person who may deserve such penalty as a result of his misdeeds.

The Africans believe that misadventure in an individual is a manifest evidence of his iniquity and consequent chastisement by God. Sin is believed to be the cause of all sickness, hence whenever one is sick, one goes to a diviner to find out which divinity one has offended and the appease him by offering the appropriate sacrifice.

But the Christian believe that the good as well as the bad could be afflicted with misadventure, regardless of their righteousness or perversity. The stories of Job and Saul in the Old Testament are clear examples of this belief. There are many other attributes of God expressed in African traditional religion.


2.2.      The Concept of Chi

            In Igbo religion, Chi (destiny spirit) is one of the three emanations of God. Others are Anyanwu and Agbara (sun spirit and power), and Okike (creator spirit). In some context, these spirits are identified with God, while in other context, they appear independent. Chi is God’s spirit dwelling in man, to guide and protect him and win God’s favor on his behalf.

            The word chi is an indefinite term and, therefore, can be often used to signify God and often a creature. Chi when employed to signify God is usually qualified as ­Chi-ukwu (great God, Mighty God), Chi-neke (God the creator) respectively. In other words, the Supreme Chi. The role of chi is creative or positive as well as executive. Thus he can suggest safe ways to his client and lead him through. He can protect or abandon the client at will, hence the cry Chi m egbuo m! (My Chi has betrayed me!)

            The Igbo believe that God does not do anyone evil, nor does evil come from God. One tracers evil to Ekwensu (devil) - ajo chi (bad chi), akalogoli (the spirit of the dead people who lived bad life on earth and did not reach the land of the ancestors as well as those who were not accorded funeral accordingly especially those who committed suicide, etc.

            To thank the chi for his wardship up to the moment and to gladden his heart over his client for future custody, chi cult becomes necessary. Men have their chi symbol and shrine typified by the presence of the ogbu tree (species of dolichandrone) planted a little away in front of the obi house. Women usually plant oha or ogilisi tree with relics taken from their mother’s shrines. The shrine consists of small earthen mound over which a small roof is built, to shelter it from rain, and a small clay dish okwa chi in which offerings are placed.


2.3.      The Ancestors

            These are African traditional saints who are not really deified; they are rather honored owing to the position they occupy among the African families. They are not worshipped or adored but venerated. They are still regarded as part of the family to which they belonged when alive. Now that they are stripped of the body through death, they become freer and more active in helping the members of the family and the towns of their origin. They approach the different kinds of spirits and divinities interested in the affairs of men and enter into communion with them in view of the good of their living kith and kin. If a correct and befitting burial is not accorded a dead person he may become a wandering ghost, unable to live peacefully after death and therefore a danger to those who remain alive. For one to become an ancestor, the following characteristics must be fulfilled:

  • He must have lived an upright life when on earth according to the reckonings of the people;
  • Died good and natural death at the ripe old age
  • Accorded a befitting burial/funeral rites
  • Must be survived by at least a male child.


Ezenweke (2008) articulated the roles of the ancestors to include:


  • Unifying families and people, caring for each other, empowering, blessing, rewarding and inspiring;
  • Protecting families and clans from diseases, evil, enemies, and even in wars;
  • Mediating between people and the divinity;
  • Enforcing discipline in case of the breaking social values;
  • Facilitating holistic healing.

Ancestors are believed to manifest in the family, clan and community in various forms. Thus they continue to interact with the living through dreams, appearances, visions, sounds and incarnations through animals such as birds, butterflies, bees, snakes, lions, python, and even, vegetations.

 It is not the ancestors that are believed or thought to have reached the land of the bliss; other men, women, single or married, survived by only female children or by no child at all provided they lived according to the law and customs of the people and are given befitting funerals, also reach the land of the bliss but not ancestors. Such people are also venerated. All such people in all their stages are supposed to be the various masquerades that roam the towns and villages during different traditional feasts and festivals. Thus they are inform of male and/or girl masquerades (agbogho mmuo), formidably, strong ones representing those who died in their prime of youth and so on.    


2.3.1    The Theory of the Universe

At this point, I shall postulate the land of bliss using the Igbo view of the universe. According to this theory, there are two universes: visible and invisible. The visible universe is the earth and other elements like the galaxies, waters; it is the abode of the human, animals, and other inanimate beings; while the invisible universe is the abode of the supernatural beings, which include  the Supreme Being, deities, spirit-forces, ancestors and other invisible forces.

In the invisible universe there are five categories or states of life. One is the abode of the ancestors. It is where only men who are ancestors live. And that is the first category. Here the inhabitants enjoy happiness because there is no suffering of any kind. In the second category the inhabitants are both male and female. They are here receiving some punishment due to the sins they committed while on earth. After purging them for sometime they will now join the ancestors or go to the place befitting them. The other category, which is the third, is where the little children are inhabited. It is also a land of bliss but for the children who did not commit any sin while on earth. They either died prematurely or in the womb and neither because of their own fault met their untimely death.

The fourth category is the abode of women, young boys and girls who died in their youth but lived good moral life while on earth according to the reckonings of the people. They were also accorded befitting burial and funeral ceremonies. They are in the land of bliss but because  one or two characteristic(s) of an ancestors is/are lacking they are not received in the company of the ancestors, though they were accorded befitting burial rites.

Finally, is the fifth category, which is reserved for the wicked spirits. They did not live upright lives while on earth; were not accorded befitting burial rites and so, they are not happy in the next world. They are really suffering, and that is why they come back to the visible universe to torment their kiths and kin, causing accidents and fomenting troubles, etc.       


2.4.      The Concept of Magic

Idowu (1973) quoting E. O . James defines magic as “an attempt on the part of man to tap and control the supernatural resources of the universe for his own benefit. It is a resort to super causation by means of spell and rite” (p. 190). According to Awolalu and Dopamu (1979) “Magic can be defined as an attempt by man to tap and control these supernatural powers or resources of the universe for his own benefit (p. 240). But Amponsah (1979) quoting Galloway, said that “Magic is an attempt on man’s part to compass his ends by mysterious or occult means” (p. 90). From the following definitions it is clear that there are vital forces or supernatural powers in the universe which can be tapped and controlled by man. Magic is, therefore, a manipulation of symbolism as a technique for controlling one’s environment.

            Magic is the act of influencing the course of events by the control of or use of mystical forces believed to infest the universe. It is a positive act performed with the view of manipulating supernatural powers or beings. It is believed that power resides in material substances such as vegetable, human or animal flesh or blood and the substances are manipulated for both good and evil purposes. Magic can be considered as personal or social, as good or harmful. In magic man uses two major techniques:

  • Homeopathic: This works on the principle that like produces like, or on the principle of similarity between the act performed and the result expected. For example, water may be spewed into the air in a ceremonial way to make rainfall.
  • Contagious:    This is based on the belief that things have once joined can affect one another. It is based on the law of contact or contagion. Contagious magic operates on the principle of contiguity. In this principle or practice there is the belief that things which were once in contact with each other will continue to interact even when the contact is broken. Thus a person can use the hair, nails, clothes or rings of another person to harm him. This is based on the principle that any harmful thing done to the objects would definitely affect the person who once had contact with them.


2.3.1.   Functions of Magic

            There are three main functions of magic, though there are more:

1.         Productive function

This concerns with bringing about a good harvest, to increase the food supply, to ensure a successful outcome to creative or productive activity both in terms of human labor and of natural bounty.

2.         Protective function

This is aimed at preventing or removing danger, curing sickness and protecting an individual or community from the vagaries of nature and evil acts of others. It may give confidence to people so as to continue their normal ways of life and activities.

3.         Destructive function

This is known as sorcery and it is usually directed specifically against other people to harm them or their activities. In most cases the fear of this type of magic reduces individual initiative since a successful or wealthy person in an egalitarian society may fear sorcery of those jealous of him.


2.4.      The Sorcery

            This is an element of bad magic. According to Awolalu and Dopamu (1979) “Sorcery consists of associating oneself with supernatural powers to effect destructive and anti-social ends” (p. 247). In most cases sorcery, though a form of magic is termed ‘black magic.’  Sorcery involves harming people over long distance or by personal contacts. Most often the sorcerer does not act on his own behalf but offers his services for a fee to a client who is seeking to right a wrong believed was done him by the person who is to be the victim of the sorcerer.

            Mostly sorcery is performed secretly and for a sorcerer to work, he will necessary obtain something belonging to the victim. Sorcery is hazardous. Sorcerers are enemies of the society and are very much feared by the people. Usually people take care to avoid them and rarely eat or drink in their homes. The presence of a sorcerer in any gathering makes people uneasy. Sometimes sorcerers do not require tangible relics like hairs, nails or cloths to operate, but they can utilize man’s shadow, urine or foot prints.

            As the enemies of the society, they are not usually mourned or properly buried when they die but often thrown into the bad bush (ajo ofia).


2.5.      The Witchcraft (Amusu)

            Belief in witchcraft is found in most human communities around the world. A witch is one believed to bring evil effect upon others through mystical powers or forces. Witchcraft itself is a manifestation of the mystical forces which a person inherited or acquired in various ways. Witches are believed to be able to leave their bodies during sleep and go on nocturnal (night) visitations in the company of other witches and then return to their bodies.

During this visitation they are believed to meet in groups or guilds to enjoy feast made up of human beings. It is also believed that they meet on top of tall and huge trees. It is equally believed that after leaving their bodies the witches turn themselves into animals, insects or birds and travel to their destinations hence people are always afraid of seeing nocturnal animals, birds or insects in their houses. It is also believed that whatever happens to the animal, birds or insects into which the witch has turned during the nocturnal mission happens to the person as well.

There are many traditional beliefs as to how one becomes a witch. One of the beliefs is that witch could be inherited through a witch mother passing the spirit of witchcraft to her daughter. Secondly, some believe that membership of witchcraft is inborn. Others believe that witchcraft is an infection that could be taken with food, hence mothers usually advise their children never to accept edible things from unknown persons.

            Witches are of two types, namely, the nocturnal malignant and nauseating creature, which is usually referred to as black witch, while the other is the white witch, which people usually accept to be benevolent. The black witch is so wicked and dangerous that it capable of attacking ethereal or spiritual bodies of their victims extracting and devouring their spiritual bodies during sleep. This is described as spiritual cannibalism.


2.5.1    Differences Between Witchcraft and Sorcerer

1.         Witches are mostly women while sorcerers are mostly men

2.         The sorcerers use magical apparatus to operate while witches use no apparatus but have psychic malevolent power.

3.         Sorcerer possesses his magical power through learning and apprenticeship while the witch inherits the psychic power through food or by other means.

4.         The sorcerer is usually conscious of his actions. He acts deliberately for specific reasons which may include jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, enmity, malice or spite but the witch may not be conscious of what she is doing. His exercise is often automatic and spontaneous.

5.         The sorcerers do not usually turn into animals to attend but witches travel through animals.

6.         The knowledge of bad magic is not sorcery. It is the actual practice of bad magic that is sorcery. Thus a magician or medicine man may have the knowledge of sorcery and use that knowledge to achieve his selfish ends. In this case he has become a sorcerer, yet people may go to him to procure good medicine.

7.         One is a sorcerer when one uses bad magic; he may cease to be a sorcerer when he repents and works no evil magic. But a witch is hard to repent and hard to be cured of witchcraft. When one has possessed the psychic power it is hard to be freed from it. Chinua Achebe (1973) in Things Fall Apart tells a story of how Ezinma, the daughter of Okonkwo, was dodging the particular spot where she buried her iyi-uwa (bond of commitment) (p. 73).

8.         The witch usually operates at night while the sorcerer can work both at night and in the day time. The witches have to sleep at night before their souls could travel off their bodies whereas the sorcerer sometimes have to keep vigil in order to perform his work of killing the enemy.

9.         The activities of the witches are normally spiritual and are connected with the soul but sorcerer’s activities can be physical. Thus a person can be deformed with insanity, elephantiasis of the leg, and so on.

10.       A client can approach a sorcerer and engage his services or buy destructive magic medicine to harm his enemy but witches are not approached for such.

11.       It is believed that some witches especially the white witches could be used to protect children but sorcery is totally evil and wicked and destructive.

Sorcery and witches are both agents of evil. They could be used to cause death, illness of various type, misfortunes, diseases, unsuccessfulness in enterprise, barrenness and all other evils. Though good magic is sought to counter the effect of both sorcery and witches.


2.6.      Medicine and Charms (Ogwu)

            Medicine means any substance that is used in treating or preventing diseases or illness. According to Metuh (1981) “Making medicine is called igwo ogwu. This same term translate the making of every kind of medicine whether made to secure good luck or offensive medicine” (p. 97). Furthermore Metuh (1981) stated that, “There is hardly any distinction made between medicine as pharmaceutical preparation and medicine as charm or purveyor of mystical powers” (p. 55). Based on the above definitions, one can now see that names for charms and medicines are identical at least in Igbo traditional society. Their uses are also very common.

            However, Ifeanyi (1989) defines charm as simply “an object believed to have occult powers” (p. 61). In Igbo language, charms and medicines are generally called ogwu. Ogwu in general can be prepared from roots, herbs, or plants having some real or imaginary powers to give solution to a variety of human problems and sickness.

            Ogwu as a pharmaceutical preparation can be used to cure different types of sickness beginning from headache (isi owuwa) to diarrhea (afo osisa) to mental sickness (okiri mgbawa isi) among others. There are also Igbo pharmaceutical preparations used by traditional orthopaedic doctors or bone setters. On the other hand, ogwu used as charms can be used for various purposes such as making people to disappear from one position to another, to lie in thorns, to send curses or harm people or even to kill a person even from a distance, and to protect a person.

            Charms or medicine can be dangerous or destructive depending on their preparation and use. Their powers are believed to be inherent in nature so that anyone who knows their make-up can tap them. These charms and medicines are not only prepared from herbs and plants. They can be mixed up or prepared from other objects such as animal parts to give solutions to a variety of human problems and sickness. It is believed that these charms and medicine work in conjunction with certain invocations. In fact, Metuh (1970) says, “It is the ritual invocations which give dynamism to the mixture and trigger it into action” (p. 213).

            Medicines and charms are both prepared by medicine men. There are good and bad medicines as well as protective and aggressive or destructive charms. Good or protective medicines are socially approved, usually used to cure diseases and ward off misfortunes, while bad medicines and charms are applied to socially disapproved goals, usually used to bring some injuries or misfortunes to people.

People use medicines prepared for protection of their individual persons as well as for the protection of their families and kindred. Protective medicines can also be used to protect

the infection of diseases of one kind or the other. This kind of medicine is either eaten or inserted into the body in form of inoculation. Some others are smeared all over the body in form of a lotion. Good deals of the protective medicines are either placed at the entrance of the house or in a corner of the compound. It can also be hung in the ceiling of the room. There are others that can be buried in the floor of the house or in a comfortable part of the compound.


  1. Section C: Sacrifice In Igbo Religion


3.1.      Types of Sacrifice 

            The African recognizes that he is not the master of the world. There are superior powers such as the invisible spirits, the ancestors and other spirit forces. Some of these spirits are regarded as good or bad, benevolent or wicked. The African believe that the invisible universe is in action around him and that his term of life is short if he happens to fall foul of its denizens. He feels that it is up to him to propitiate these spirits and to treat them with courtesy and reverence. That was the fundamental reason he has such penchant for sacrifice in all its many forms.

            In treating sacrifice here, we will divide it into four types, using Igbo sub-culture approach, namely Purification or Expiatory (Ikpu Aru/Alu), Exorcism (Ichu Aja), Propitiatory (Imegha Mmuo) and Consecratory sacrifices.


3.1.1    Purification or Expiatory (Ikpu Aru /Alu)

            This type of sacrifice is offered to cleanse the pollutions arising from a breach of sacred prohibitions of the mother earth. In Igbo land, there are major pollutions which the Igbo would call abomination because they threaten the community as a whole. Example of this major pollution or abomination is murder. There are also minor pollutions which may affect only the offender and his immediate kindred, example, adultery. Purification of both pollutions is called ikpu aru.

            Purification for minor pollution is performed by a diviner and things used are according to the prescription of the diviner. The diviner uses an egg and a chicken or a white fowl. He weaves it round the culprit’s head a number of times with some invocations of the ancestors and the earth goddess to forgive the offender. The sacrificial victim is later thrown away into the evil forest with the belief that the pollution has gone inside the egg.

            Purification rite for major abomination is performed by a special priest from Nri. The ordinary victim is a sheep. The earth spirit and ancestors are invoked to forgive the offender. Sometime the offender is required to say out his offence aloud before the shrine and to smear his body with ashes. The Nri priest takes a greater part of the victim together with a fat fee.

            Public purification sacrifice in an Igbo town or village used to assume special solemnity in the sacrifice of escape-goats


3.1.2    Exorcism (Ichu Aja)     

            This sacrifice is usually undertaken after a series of misfortune which has defiled natural explanations, a prolonged illness which has defiled all cures, or many death deaths in quick succession in a family. The step is to consult a diviner who would in most cases recommend this sacrifice. The spirits to whom this sacrifice is offered are evil spirits of the dead, that is,  akalogoli. The characteristic feature of this sacrifice is that it is offered without joy. In other words, it is regarded as joyless sacrifice.

            It is performed either by a diviner or head of a family as the case may be. The sacrificial ingredients include less valuable things like cowries, chicken, pieces of yam, lizard, eggs or egg-shells, kolanuts, pieces of cloths, fowls,  miscarried young goats or cows. The offering demands no more space than a wooden platter, a fragment of a broken earthen pot, a boat shaped container woven from palm leaf tendril. The container is dropped at a place prescribed by the diviner especially place where roads joined. This sacrifice is offered to escape from the evil designs and activities of malignant spirits.


3.1.3    Propitiatory Sacrifice (Imegha Mmuo)

            This sacrifice is usually undertaken to please a god or spirits.  It is made either to dispose the gods or assist man to achieve some of his aspirations. It includes offerings made to ancestral  cult annually during some festivals organized for them. It is offered according to the instruction of a diviner. The traditional morning prayer is included in this category because in it, there is element of sacrifice like offering of kolanut. Sacrifice for thanksgiving, petition and peace can be categorized under this.

            The general thing is that this sacrifice is offered with joy. It is for the ancestors, the eldest in the family offers it. The blood of the victim is sprinkled on the cult while the flesh is cooked and eaten by all present. The priest of a shrine is responsible for the sacrifice. The blood is also sprinkled on the shrine or cult and the flesh cooked and eaten. However in some shrines like that of the sacred Ngwu, the victim, normally, a fowl, is roasted with some tubers of yam and eaten without oil by the people present. Women sacrifice is usually communal.




3.1.4    Consecratory (Ido Nso)

            The Igbo have the practice of consecrating some animals to a deity without killing them. Such victims after the sacrificial rituals are allowed to wander around the premises of the neighborhood. These victims also include human beings whom after the rituals are called osu. The immolation of the victim is symbolically expressed by either making a deep cut on the animal to let some its blood drop on the altar, or slicing off a tiny of its body as token offering to the deity. The scar thereafter remains as a mark that it is the property of the deity. The dedication or sacrificial ceremony which takes place at the shrine is performed by the priest of the deity in the presence of the titled men of the community; with the ofo, he consecrates the victim by invoking the ancestors to receive the gifts and protect them.

            Someone can give a domestic animal to a god for a favour received from the god or to pay a vow. It is believed that anybody that kills or wounds the animal either deliberately or undeliberately invites the wrath of the deity.


Section 4:  Worship in Igbo Religion


4.1.      The Meaning of Worship

Worship means a prayer or service or other rites, showing reverence or devotion to a deity. Boyle (1981) put it this way, “Worship is the praise, thanksgiving and acknowledgement given to God by believing individuals and communities through actions and words” (p. 1340). During worship some prayers are said, rituals are performed, sacrifices and offerings are made to the deity. What characterizes worship most is that the worshipper must have strong faith in the efficacy of the sacrifice, which he offers with such interior conviction and sincerity. Hence the individual believes that when everything is done properly, his sacrifice will bring its effect. He also believes that the spirits and ancestors are bound to grant his request when he had offered his victim.

            Furthermore, worship, particularly communal worship, is in form of celebrations in what the community regards as the intervention of the deity into an existing bad situation. Or, it could be in form of pleading with the deity to give blessing or avert an imminent danger threatening the community.


4.1.2.   Who Performs the Worship

            The priest of the particular deities performs worship. The people believe in the importance of the choice of a devoted and powerful priest to a deity. Hence the saying onye bu mmuo adighi ike, mmuo o na-ebu adighikwa ike  (when the chief priest of a deity is not powerful, the deity itself cannot be powerful). (Arinze, 1970; Okeke, 2012). This adage suggests that the chief priest plays a vital role in enhancing the power of the deity. It is he that advertises the hidden powers of the deity, including the speed anger with which it kills. He carries about the fame of the deity far and wide and portrays the deity in such a way that people would begin to see it as powerful.

            In most cases, the priest does not live in the same vicinity where the shrine of the deity is situated. Consequently, the offerings to the deity are taken to the shrine, while the priest goes to the place to offer the sacrifice (Arinze, 1970).


4.1.3    Types of Worship

            The true major types of worship as classified by Ezeanya, which seems to be most appropriate are: Indirect and Direct worship.


Indirect Worship

            This is a sacrificial worship given to God through the minor divinities such as ala, udo, eke, ogwugwu, among others. During these sacrifices God may be mentioned and his help invoked explicitly. But among the Igbo, for instance, whether God is mentioned or not, he is believed to be the ultimate recipient of all sacrifices to the divinities for they are all believed to be his messengers who act as intermediaries between him and man.

            The adherents of ATR are of the opinion that there is no need worrying God directly. They believe it is more convenient to approach him through the known intermediaries .


Direct Worship

            Until very recently people are of the opinion that there is no direct worship of the Supreme Being in African religion. But recent researches have revealed that direct cult abound in Igbo religion, for instance. In the direct worship, God is invoked first before the other gods. This type of worship is fairly widespread in parts of Nsukka, Awka, Afikpo and Ihembosi. Metuh (1981) identifies four types of direct sacrifice, namely The rites of Igba mkpu Chukwu, (celebrating God’s mound), this is common practice in Ihembosi; Aja Eze Enu (sacrifice to God, king of heaven), this is seen in Afikpo and Nsukka areas; Iruma Chukwu (Installing the altar of God), this is common among the Oguta Igbo group; and Ikpalu Chukwu (making a sacrificial boat for God on marriage), this is commonly seen in Awgu division (p. 129).

            With these findings, the Igbo believe that through worship man is able to restore the lost original link with God and as such they worship him either directly or indirectly.


The Role of Traditional Religion in Nation Building

            ATR can offer much to the modern world but we shall limit ourselves to four significant ways:

1.         Religion is Life

            In Africa, religion is lived, not studied or speculated. Even the main tenets of ATR are part of a way of life for the people. They are not meant to be seen as a set of doctrines to be learned and taught. There is no dichotomy between what the people believe traditionally and what they live daily. They live, and are influenced in their action, by what they believe. Religion is the source and inspiration of all culture. It is the culture centre and therefore gives meaning to African life.

In contrast, contemporary man tends to see religion and life as if they were too separate entities, each deserving of attention at appropriate times. Hence today we find many Christians, for instance, who confess one thing but live the very opposite of what they believe. They are either nominal Christians or live a double life, one Christian and the other cultural. ATR does not admit of such duplicity because it is presumed in the tribe that every member is under the guidance and protection of God and the ancestor. Culture is the covenant which unites the living and the dead and inspires all actions. Therefore, it is this symbiosis of culture and religion that Africa traditional religion can offer as a great value to enrich and enhance the nation.


2          African Religious world-view

            The contemporary society has made astronomical advance in the field of science and technology. So one would have expected that modern man would have the best quality of life. Yet at no time in history have we seen such abundance of wealth and still hunger and extreme need plague a huge number of people. At no time also has humanity achieve such material progress like today, yet so many find little or no meaning in life. We have seen horrendous wars and continue to live under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. So contemporary man hovers between hope and anxiety. He may have a heightened sense of success but there is also an uneasy feeling of failure.

            In the midst of this confusion there is the temptation to drift into absurdity. This is just the moment when the typically African religious outlook will help to put things into proper perspective. Africans have a very profound religious sense. They can contribute a lot to the enhancement of respect for life in general and human life in particular, property and environment.


3.         Community Consciousness

Africans have such an acute sense of solidarity and community life that life is meaningless without others. In traditional Africa, everyone is included in society. No one is excluded from human existence and societal benefits. Everyone is presented to the ancestors during sacrifice. Everyone learns to share the little that is available with others. This contrast sharply with a world where individualism is almost becoming a dogma, and agreed has quietly institutionalized itself. Yet we need each other because each person has value and is a gift.             Egoism and selfishness are rife in our world today because people refuse to think about others. The world’s resources are not meant for a privileged few but were given by God for the good of all humanity. We are born to be and share with others. We may be different as individuals and performing different functions and enjoy different status but we all share equality in dignity as persons.

Furthermore, we are not saved as individuals with no relationship, but in and through the community. Although each person bears responsibility for his acts, he is either punished or rewarded depending on his behavior towards others.


4          Respect for Human Life

            The so called contemporary world will probably go down in history as the one civilization that has violated fundamental human rights most and treated human life with shocking levity. With the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, humanity should have learnt a lesson of what our human intelligence can do. Yet rather than abate our appetite for war, we seem to have refueled our craze for the accumulation of atomic, bacteriological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. What is even more frightening is the fact that these weapons are today in the hands of some of the world’s most irresponsible and unfeeling terrorists, leaders and regimes. So we can expect more disasters like the one at the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, and consequent reprisals like the American-led mission in Afghanistan in the month following. Or when we are not fighting terrorists, then we think of the gory sights in the Rwandan fratricide, the horror in Freetown and the senseless murders all over the world as well as the Boko Haram menace in Nigeria.

            Human life seems to have lost its sacredness and awe. Even some women in Africa, who are seen as the source, protector and transmitter of life, are now arguing in favor of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. All these contradict a civilization which claims to have reached beyond the skies. However, in the midst of all this madness, the authentic African love and respect for human life, has much to offer. ATR can bring back to the world, the lost sense of the sacredness and meaning of life.



Achebe, C. (1973). Things fall apart. Ibadan: Heinemann.


Amponsah, K. (1975). Topics on West African traditional religion. Cape coast: Mfanfsiman.


Anusiobi, H. M. N. (1972). Igbo religiousness its virtues and limitations in the light of        Christianity. Rome: Terasianum.


Arinze, F. A. (1970). Sacrifice in Ibo religion. Ibadan: University Press.


Awolalu, J. O. & Dopamu, A. P. (1979). West African traditional religion. Ilorin: Onibonoje.


Boyle, A. O. (1981). New Catholic encyclopedia. Washington: Jack Heraty.


Ezenweke, E. O. (2008). The cult of ancestors: A focal point for prayers in African traditional       communities. Journal of religion and human relations, I, 46-60.


Idowu, E. B. (1973). African traditional religion: A definition. London: SCM.


Madu, J. E. (1997). Fundamentals of religious studies. Calabar: Franedoh.


Metuh, E. I. (1981). God and man. Great Britain: Camelot.


Okeke, C. O. (1912). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub-cultural zone of             Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.    


Opata, F. A (1998). Essay on Igbo world-view. Enugu: AP Express.