Palace Watch

Igbo Monarchs Disagree Over Traditional Modes of Worship

His Royal Majesty, Ezeigwe, Professor Chibe Uzzimba of Uzinuzzimba of Uziiland, Igwe Ononankume of Ideatoland, Imo State.

…Modernity has made some traditional rulers in Igbo land abandon our ancestral methods of worship.

His Royal Highness, Eze Geoffrey Chiegene Anika, Umunnawuike II of Atta in Imo State.

… This assumption is wrong, misleading and dangerous. There isn’t much difference between Igbo traditional modes of worship and Christianity.

By Gabriel Omonhinmin

His Royal Majesty, EzeiIgwe Professor Chibe Uzzimba of Uzinuzzimba of Uziiland, Igwe Ononankume of Ideatoland in Imo State, South Eastern Nigeria, is urbane, educated and very knowledgeable in modern/ ancient history and cultures of the world.

What is, however, unsettling about him, is the way and manner he pushes for the revalidation of ancient Igbo history and customs in this modern-day time. His unrepentant belief in the ancient practice of the Igbo people in the 21st century.

In his recent public lectures at home and abroad, His Royal Majesty, EzeiIgwe Professor Chibe Uzzimba of Uzinuzzimba of Uziiland, has continually propagated the need for the revival of the old Igbo customs and tradition. He holds the strong belief that the Igbo people as a race descended directly from heaven. From the great Okwara-Chukwu, EzeNwaa Nwi, who planted and created the cultural arena, which is today known as Idiato Igbo land.

Palace Watch recently met with him in his expansive royal palace, and asked why he still believes the Igbo people’s ancient ways of life are the only way to go?

Igwe Uziimba: I’ll try to begin answering your questions, by highlighting how the Igbo race came into existence. The Igbo people as a race are direct descendants from ‘God in heaven’ which is today known as Chukwu in Igbo language. People, who claim or habour the beliefs that the Ndiigbo originated from Israel or some other unknown places on the planet, are either ignorant or illiterate about Igbo history, culture and tradition.

The people pushing this line of argument are doing so, for selfish reasons. They are pushing their line of thought because it gives them the latitude to practice strange religions in Igbo land. These religious beliefs, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam just to mention a few, have their modes of worship, which is totally at variance with the Igbo man’s modes of worship. They are completely strange to the Igbo people’s culture and beliefs.

In view of the above reasons, I have long resolved to come out of my little space, to help revive the long-forgotten Igbo customs and modes of worship, which is principally through our deities and ancestors. Although this may look bizarre, these modes of worship are more acceptable to God and our ancestors. It is more comfortable to practice.

I’m more determined, henceforth, I will do all within my powers as a traditional ruler to help educate the next generation of Igbo youths about our true values, customs and tradition. Igbo youths need to know more about our traditional ways of life and religion for them to embrace it. This is the only way to liberate them, from the long and undeserving bondages, their grandparents, parents, and Colonial Masters, who invaded our land and robbed our lands of God-given resources, put us all into. The Colonial Masters did this damage while pretending that they were introducing new religion and mode of worship to our forefathers.

Palace Watch: Is it not odd, that after several centuries, you have suddenly woken up from one corner of Igbo land to attempt to fight, what you termed, to be the corruption of the Igbo man’s traditional values and modes of worship. Do you honestly, have the capacity to carry on this fight and succeed?

Igwe Uziimba: There is nothing strange about what I am doing now. The Igbo ancestors are with me in this fight. I call upon them every day, they will surely guide and protect me, while this fight ranges. I am always in pain when I hear some people say, the Igbo man or race originated from Israel or God knows where. I say without any contraction, that nobody alive today or dead, can truly say, how the Igbo race started. Nobody alive today or dead can say the Igbo race started from so and so places! Even our ancestors and forerunners didn’t know and were not able to say how the Igbo race began. The origin of the Igbo people is only known to Chukwu Okike, who created heaven and the earth.

The origin of the Igbo people, instead of being viewed from the academic perspective, should be viewed from its spiritual angle. Because we Igbo people are the most unique set of human beings created out of Nigeria and West Africa as a whole.

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For example, it was the Igbo people, who once created the largest empire in West Africa. That empire before it was Balkanized by the Colonial Masters was then known as the “Empire of Okedulani land.” It was this great empire the white men invaded and later changed to be Alkebulaan land.

Palace Watch Igwe, I must confess, that I find your line of thoughts, not only funny but amusing. It is also very difficult to believe. I am forced with all due respect, Igwe, to ask you whether or not, you are still in touch with modern day Igbo history, customs, traditions, and beliefs.  

Igwe Uzziimba of Uziiland: It is funny you are asking me, whether or not I am still in touch with the history, customs and traditions of my people if you must know, Yes! I’m very much in touch with my people and their ways of life.

Anyhow, you are at liberty to assume whatever you like. The truth will always remain the truth. And I will continue to push them, no matter what people say or believe about me. The problem with the modern day Igbo man, with regard to our history, customs and tradition, tend to emanate from his desire to copy and adapt the cultural values of other people. This is what we try to domestic here willy nilly. To be honest, this attitude has not helped the Igbo man and it is not good for the Igbo man’s growth. Especially when these foreign and strange customs and traditions are domesticated, at the expense of our customs, tradition, and cultural values in Igbo land. It makes us be a group of people, who have no identity. Who is the man or woman in his true senses that does a thing like this, in this modern time and age? None!

The fact that must never be ignored is that when the white missionaries came to Igbo land they met us practising our traditional religion and other cultural values. This we did for centuries, before their invasion. In a deliberate attempt to destroy all these gains, they came peddling all manners of lies!  In the process, they succeeded in brainwashing the minds of our people, into believing all their lies hook line and sinker. Sadly, without our people trying to interrogate all these lies, especially their foreign values, gods and religion. Our people jettison all our aged long cultural beliefs and practices. That is why we are where we are today.

Some of the lies they told our people, were that the Igbo traditional ways of life, cultural beliefs and practices are barbaric, devilish and satanic. This we all know today is not correct. Any surprise, therefore, that majority of the traditional rulers in Igbo land as we speak, are either, Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and the new craze in town Pentecostalism. While negligible few practice Islam? The white missionaries and Arabian Mullahs almost made the Igbo man to lose his identity completely.

For example, before the incursion of the white missionaries into Igbo land, our people had a way of selecting and enthroning their traditional rulers. That system worked perfectly well then. The strict adherence to the tenets of our forefathers then was the reason(s), the Igbo traditional rulers were never known to misbehave or partake in evil, no matter the pressure they were going through. Our traditional rulers then as expected were loyal to our people, our customs, ancestors and gods. Have you ever bothered to ask around, how many traditional rulers in present day Igbo land, ascended their throne, with an “Offo”?

Offo is the only recognized symbol of chieftaincy titles in Igbo land. Government staff of office which is today the norm is nothing to an average Igbo man or woman who is at home with our cultural values.  Most people, who claimed to be traditional rulers in Igbo land today, are nothing but glorified traditional rulers. Their thrones are nothing, but a creation of the government of the day. This is not supposed to be the way to go.

Some of the empires created for these Igbo traditional rulers are today known all over Igbo land as Autonomous Communities.  Any surprise, therefore, that majority of our traditional rulers in Igbo land, are not schooled in Igbo culture, traditional practices and values, not to talk of beliefs.

In response to all these allegations and claims, His Royal Highness, Eze Geoffrey Chiegene Anika, Umunnawuike II of Atta in Imo State, in his submission expressed disgust over some of these claims. He said, it is wrong and misleading for His Royal Majesty EzeiIgwe Professor Chibe Uzzimba of Uzinuzzimba of Uziiland, Igwe Ononankume of Ideatoland to claim that most traditional rulers in Igbo land have abandoned our ancestral ways of worship. That is not the truth.

His Royal Highness Eze Geoffrey Chiegene Anika explained that traditional Igbo culture emphasizes values such as community, family and respect for elders, life, and hospitality. Most of these customs have not changed so much, as we speak today. Except some of these cultural values come into strong confrontation with the western influence through globalization.

You may want to ask, what some of the Igbo traditions or customs are. The traditional Igbo religion includes belief in a creator god (Chukwu or Chineke), an earth goddess (Ala) and numerous other deities and spirits as well as a belief in an ancestor, who protects their living descendants. The revelation of the will of the deities is usually sought by divination and oracles.

Now, let us take this argument a step further, in accordance with the way and manner the late Chinua Achebe portrayed the Igbo people in his book ‘Things Fall Apart’. Achebe describes Igbo culture as encompassing polytheistic religion, father-son inheritance, farming traditions, and belief in evil spirits.

What makes the Igbo culture unique, however, is the fact that the Igbo culture is socially and culturally diverse, consisting of many subgroups. Although Igbo people live in scattered groups of villages, they all speak one language. The Igbos have one common traditional story of their origins.

He added, from what I can deduce from this Igwe’s submission, is that he is trying to suggest that all Igbo traditional rulers revert to the ancient savagery in the name of customs and tradition. This I must confess, is not healthy for us as Igbo people, especially at this point and time of our development. He wants Igbo traditional rulers to go back to the ways our ancestors used to worship God through our various deities. Instead of practising Christianity and other modern religious modes of worship, he wanted us to go the way of our ancestors, where they worship God through deities and shrines. His wish is no longer practicable in these modern times, I must say.

As you well know, Christian religious practices are not too different from the ancient Igbo traditional modes of worship or religion. As far as I know, nothing much has changed in the modes and methods, we serve God in Igbo land. Before the arrival of the Christian missionary and Christianity in Igbo land, the Igbo people served the All-Mighty God, through their various deities. They then used instruments such as Ofo, Shrine such as the Okija shrine and what have you, as the medium to reach the Almighty God. During those periods, the Igbo traditional religion was known to use phrases like ‘Chuku-Bini-Gwe “God in Heaven or our heavenly father.” As it were, Ofos and the other deities were the earthly gods we had then.

When Christianity was brought to Igbo land by the White Missionaries, the Igbo man discovered while they worshipped God through their deities, the white man also worshipped God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Both religious practices bore some similarities. With time, the Igbo man finally decided to discard their deities and embraced Christianity and our Lord Jesus Christ. Even at that, the Igbo man still retains a substantial portion of his religion and customs. The Igbo man has not changed his ways of entertaining his visitors. As you can personally attest to, the use of Kola Nuts in our cultural practices is still very prominent. Kola nuts still play a significant role in the way and manner we entertain our guests. Despite the strong Christian beliefs of today, the Igbo man’s ways of seeking justice when wrongs are done have not changed.

People who deliberately go out of their way to wrong and offend other people, still get punished by our ancestral spirits, once it is invoked. I am a traditional ruler; I sit on my throne daily here. I see these things happen here in my palace every day. If I may ask, ‘must we revert to some of the long-forgotten and harmful customs and traditions, which are offensive to modern day ways of life, to show that we are truly Igbo people? I honestly don’t think this is necessary now.

Even though the majority of the Igbo people are now practising Christianity and other forms of religion, we still have a sizable number of Igbo men and women who are involved in traditional Igbo worship or religion. It is all a matter of individual choice. It is, therefore, wrong to harbour the erroneous beliefs that the majority of Igbo Monarchs have abandoned their ancestral ways of life. This is not true and this man should therefore be ignored.”

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