The spiritual system of Ndi Igbo of the Nigerian Igbo people (Igbo: pronounced “EE-Bow”) is one of the oldest on earth predating Islam and Christianity. The ancient spirituality of the Ndi Igbo, like most other traditional African spiritual systems, has been misunderstood and demonized by modern culture. Evangelical churches, with the help of Nollywood movies, have helped to paint a negative picture of traditional Igbo spirituality that dates back to the arrival of the Europeans in Alaigbo (Igboland).
The basis of Igbo Spirituality is the concept of “Chi.” Similar to the “Ori” of the Yoruba, and the “Ka” of Ancient Egyptians, Chi was the fundamental force of creation. Everyone and everything has a Chi. Unlike the Chi of China, Chi in Igbo culture is not only apart of the creator, but it is your higherself, as well as your etherial balancing polarity.
Ndi Igbo, like other Africans, worshiped one Creator, who is known by many names: Obasi Dielu (The Supreme God), Chi di ebere (God the merciful), Odenigwe (The Ruler of Heavens), etc. The two most popular names for Supreme Being used in Alaigbo were Chukwu and Chineke. The dominant name, Chukwu, which is a combination of the Igbo words “Chi” and “Ukwu”, literally meaning “The Big Chi” shows that Igbos believed that the Supreme Being was omnipresent and all-pervading. Chineke, which most people translate as “God the Creator” actually has a deeper meaning. Chi is the masculine aspect of God and Eke is the feminine aspect. Ndi Igbo knew that it took male and female to create life, so the Creator of everything would have to encompass both parts.
Because Ndi Igbo believed that everything in it had a Chi, they also gave names to the Chi found in nature (the Alusi). The Alusi of the sky was known as Igwe. The Alusi of the yams (the most important crop of Ndi Igbo) was called Ahiajoku. The Alusi of the Sun was called Anyanwu. The most important of the forces of Nature was Ani, which was the feminine force that presided over the Earth. The Alusi were not limited to natural forces; metaphysical and supernatural forces and principles also had their own names and attributes. Ikenga was the Alusi of strength and Agwu was the Alusi of wisdom and healing. Each Alusi had its invididual personality and function, but they all were still parts of Chukwu. All of these are archetypes that represent the spirit of the creator in every part of nature. Igbos believe there is a Godly force in the rocks and trees that which distinguishes rock from tree creates the illusion of separation from the totality, but fundamentally they are all still apart of the creator.
The Ndiichie (esteemed ancestor spirits) also held a high place in traditional Igbo society. Elders have always been revered in Igbo society, and even more so after they passed onto Be Mmuo (the land of the spirits). The Nddichie would often be consulted to offer advice to their descendants and appeal to the Alusi on their behalf. Ndi Igbo have never worshiped their ancestors, only venerated them, which is no different then what Catholics do to their saints or what every country does to its national heroes. Respect and honor for the Nddichie was shown in one way by pouring of libations while chanting incantations. Ndi Igbo believed in the concept of reincarnation, and felt that the Nddiichie often reincarnated back on Earth. In fact, all Mmadu (human beings) were believed to reincarnate seven or eight times, and that depending on your karma, one either ascends or descends into another spiritual plane.
The negative aspect of African indigenous spirituality is often the focal point in pop culture, Nollywood movies, and the source of condemnation by Christianity. In Christianity, the spirit world is divided into heaven and hell. As we all know the good people go to heaven with all the good spirits and the bad people go to hell with all the bad spirits. Christians pray to Jesus and God while Satanist prey to Satan. In many African cosmologies, the spirit world is not divided between good and evil. It is rather the next plane of existence, you go there whether you are good or bad. You have the free choice to follow the path of good or if you are overcome with hatred you may pursue a more dark path to feed your ego (ie; getting even with someone). When people commune with the spirit world they are calling upon their ancestors, they may ask for good things such as prosperity for their family, guidance, and protection, etc but if they ask for bad things such as revenge against a transgressor there are karmic consequences that come along with wanting to inflict harm on another person. If you chose a righteous path of high morality you will benefit from it but if you chose to have a sinister relationship with the spirit world then it will hold you back from evolving into your highest self. No judgement is passed to get to the spirit world, so people take with them all the characteristics of their Ego both good and bad into the after life. Regardless of whether on subscribes to these beliefs, the similarities of African spirituality is likened to that of many pre colonial Pagen/nature based cosmologies around the world.
The personal relationship between God and Man in Igbo spirituality is as close as it can get. Ndi Igbo people did not believe that they were separate from their Creator, and felt that the Chi that resides within them is what kept them connected. Igbo people felt that their Chi was unique and personal and served as a guide and protector to them. A person’s destiny was also guided by their Chi. Those with a strong Chi would have prosperity, good health and good fortune. When something didn’t work out in their favor or when a decision was made that takes one off the path of their true nature, it is said that they would suffer because their Chi did not agree with their decision.
Even though the Igbo are largely Christian now, their traditional spiritual beliefs still live on. Along with these beliefs, a fundamental part of Igbo philosophy was “Biri Ka’m Biri” (live and let live). Ndi Igbo did not believe in fighting wars over religion. In their view, everybody should be able to commune with the Creator as they see fit regardless of whether they were apart of Igbo culture or not. If there is any lesson from Igbo spirituality that we must not forget, it is this one.