Sunday, September 26, 2010

Throw light on religious life of Ibo society with special reference to their duties.

Human faith in different spiritual powers is regarded as religion which also includes spiritual customs and traditions relating to gods and goddesses. Ibo society also believed that one must have faith in one's ancestors to be blessed with good health, good luck, and many children. Achebe, in 'Things Fall Apart' depicts religious beliefs of the Ibo society in detail. Minute study of the novel reveals that these people did not act contrary to the customs and traditions ackining to their duties.
Every man of the clan was well aware of the ill consequences if he violated the rules of the conduct as provided for in their religious scriptures. The religion of the above society was based on two forms of religion—higher and lower. The belief in the supremacy of God was termed a higher form of religion and the faith in the existence of other gods and goddesses was regarded as lower term. Besides a few like Akunna, Ibo people believed in the worship of the smaller gods, who according to them controlled everything. So they worshipped them to be flourished in their lives and also to be saved from facing calamities. Few of the gods and goddesses whom lgbo people worshipped are as under:—
(a)   Oracles
(b)   Chukwu, the supreme power
(c)   Ani, the goddess of earth
(d)   Chi
(e)   Ekwensu.
(a) Oracles—Oracles were religious shrines that discharged both judicial and messenger's duties from dead relatives and passed them on to the living beings. They explained to curious relatives why a person had died. They warned individuals and whole community about impending dangers and offered advice on ritual matters. A community might consult Oracles if disturbed by a high death rate, or an unduly high rate of twin-births, or successive bad harvests. Oracles also acted as courts of appeal in judicial matters. Individuals might take their dispute to an Oracle if they failed to reconcile their differences. If a man felt that he had been wrongfully accused of a crime, he might take the matter to an Oracle, who might exonerate him or confirm the guilt. Oracles were feared and respected for miles around, one example was that of the Aro Oracle, known to Europeans as the long Juju. The Aro Oracle was consulted by traders from many areas to settle business disputes. Oracles were housed in secret groves, surrounded by thick bush. The home of an Oracle was a forbidden territory. For the Ibo believed that anyone who saw an Oracle would surely die. Only the chief priestess (or priest) ever looked upon the face of the Oracle. Supplicants never approached an Oracle directly. The chief priestess of an Oracle served as the mouthpiece of the deity that dwelt in the shrine. Her words were final in all matters, because the forces she represented were higher than all secular powers. To disobey the orders of the priestess was to disobey the deity she represented. The chief priestess might combine her oracular services with other vocations like trading or farming. She and her agents received gifts of money, foodstuffs, and livestock for their services, and they might demand certain sacrifices as well.
The Ibo believed that their Oracles would offer impartial decisions in judicial matters. So great was the confidence they reposed in their oracles that they would willingly pay large sums of money to consult them and accept whatever verdict they might pronounce. Most of the agents of the oracles travelled far and wide as medicine men, divines, traders and smiths, playing their different roles.
In Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, we find reference of oracle's importance. The oracle of the hills and the caves could not be disobeyed by the inhabitants of the nine villages. If the clan did not abide by what the oracle wished, it used to be cursed and beaten badly. Chiela was the priestess of Agbala, the oracle of the hills and the caves. In ordinary life, she was a widow with two children but she was a different person who prophesied when the spirit of Agbala was upon her. People came from far and near to consult Agbala when they were haunted by misfortune. No one had seen this deity except his priestess Unoka, once went to Agbala to know why he did not have good harvest. It was said that when such a spirit appeared, the man saw it vaguely in the darkness. Some people had seen this spirit flying in the cave.
(b) Chukwu—In every religion, there is one supreme power governing the whole world. Ibo people called this power 'Chukwu'. There were special shrines for his worship. The name of this great power is referred to in a discussion held between Mr. Brown and Akunna, an Ibo. Chukwu made the world and the other gods to serve him as his messengers. Chukwu can be approached through them. Akunna remarked, "We make sacrifices to little gods but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to, we go to Chukwu. It is right to do so.
We approach a great man through his servants but when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope." According to Akunna, everything small or great was made by God. "The tree from which it (piece of wood) came was made by
Chukwu, as indeed, all minor gods were." According to Ibo-mythology, Chukwu lived in the sky. He is origin of all things and controlled everything. The names which the Ibo gave their children expressed these beliefs.
Ibo people had much reverence for Chukwu. They did not know how to approach him but they were sure that he is spirit and those who are devoted to him must worship him in spirit. They, therefore communed with him through the spirits and ancestors.
(c) Ani—One of the chief deities of the Ibo people was Ani, the earth deity, the great mother goddess, and the spirit of fertility. Every lineage and, indeed, every homestead had a shrine dedicated to her. Ani had her own special priestesses, who played leading roles in many aspects of community life. They officiated during all religious ceremonies that concerned Ani and presided over all matters involving crime against the earth goddess. Their presence was vital when matters concerning incest, birth, death and burial were being discussed. The ultimate resting place for all men and women who had led a good life was in the bosom of Ani. On the other hand, all men and women who practised witchcraft or died a shameful death, including those who committed suicides had no place in Ani's abode. Usually their corpse were left unburied in the 'bad bush'.
As referred to in Chapter 5 of "Things Fall Apart" the feast of the New Yam was held every year before the harvest began, to honour the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan. It was an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani played a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And what was more, she was in close communion with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth.
(d) Chi—She was a man's personal god, chi-chi was similar to the Christian concept of a guardian angel. A person's Chi followed him or her throughout life, and could be either benevolent or malignant. A person with a good Chi was always successful in his or her endeavours, while a person with a bad Chi was an unfortunate person, who would labour without reaping.
The Ibo people did not believe that a man's Chi controlled his entire destiny. No matter how 'good' his Chi was, person would achieve success only if he worked hard and led an upright life. They emphasized the importance of hard work in the saying, "If a person says "yes"? that person's Chi says "yes". In addition, the Ibo believed that diviners and other medicine men and women could intervene on behalf of an unfortunate person to change his or her malignant Chi into a benevolent one. Most private prayers, sacrifices, and invocations were directed towards chasing off misfortune and keeping oneself in a state of harmony with one's Chi.
(e) Ekwensu—According to African mythology, he was like a Satan. His prime aim was to lead people astray. Ekwensu had several servants who helped him carry out his evil thoughts. One of them was death itself. The malicious being who would visit a man on the day he enjoyed life the most.
Ekwensu used people to commit crimes against other people and would then turn around and punish the same people as served him. Ekwensu was Chukwu's principal enemy and at the same time his faithful servant. Acting on the powers bestowed on him by Chukwu, he would cause an evil deer to suffer, or die in a strange manner should a man meet with an unexpected misfortune. It was a punishment for some crime he had committed. The crime might have escaped the attention of his neighbours but not the watchful eyes of the higher forces. Until a sinner atoned for a transgression he might not even remember committing he remained in a state of conflict with the higher forces, who would punish him continuously. When a person felt disturbed by certain inexplicable misfortunes, he would approach a diviner, who might recommend that the unseen forces be propitiated. Fear of unconsciously offending the higher beings was responsible for the large number of propitiation rites.
The Ibo also approached the higher forces when they wanted special favours. Should a family want to have many children, it would approach a diviner who might recommend some sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice was an important element in Ibo religious ceremony.

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