Thoughts Lead To Appreciation
Nestled in Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State is the town of Otampa, vast, fertile, and serene.
This publication profiles the religions of Otampa from the perspective of Echiele clan.
Concept Of God
Ndi Otampa believe in one Almighty Being, Chukwu the Supreme God, Whose other names include Chineke the Creator of all that is manifest and subtle.
Chukwu resides in the sky and is not housed in a sacred domain on earth.
In further distinction of Chukwu from all other worshipped entities, worshippers refrain from rendering sacrifices or libation to Chukwu nor do they attribute spiritual artefacts to Him.
Chukwu has no gender designation and is positioned as the Greatest God ~Chi-ukwu, greater than the Chi.
Chi, while an individualised and personal expression of Chukwu, is the human attempt to perceive Chukwu in physical form with every emphasis to detach the Chi carved with human hands from Chukwu who is beyond human representation.
To access the blessings of Chukwu, the believer treads through any one of the agent Gods, the most popular being Ala.
Ala, African Queen Of The Earth
Ala, the Earth Goddess, as with Chi and Chukwu, is of the unseen. However, unlike Chukwu, Ala has been portrayed in corporal form.
Ala was worshipped fervently by the people of Otampa and indeed various parts of Igboland as the main God, subordinate only to Chukwu.
To fulfil the ordinances of Ala, the faithful respect and comply with omenala, loosely meaning the religion, culture and custom of the land, and more specifically, the tradition of the Earth Queen – the ways of the Goddess Of The Earth.
Aquatic life in certain streams were considered untouchable; no one would harm the fishes, let alone take one home for the dinner table.
In appreciation of Ala, newborns are named for the Queen, such as Alaoma [Ala is elegant, warm and favourable].
Residences were constructed with mud, not just because of the availability of mud as a building material, but in particular as the mud is Ala herself, the caring Mother of all the sons and daughters of Otampa.
Because of the protecting love Ala devotes to her people, no harm comes to a native unless in consequence of the contravention of omenala.
Aru Ala, an abomination is deemed a desecration of the sanctity of Ala once the crime is committed anywhere on earth.
Should a son or daughter of the land experience any misfortune or death attributed to a breach of omenala, the person is said to have stirred a reprehensible and bizarre aftermath on self and family.
The corpse of a violator of social norms is not accorded burial rites, but is swiftly dumped in a forest of abominations, the evil forest.
To evade the wrath of Ala and the repercussion of pestilence and death, the entire family, and sometimes clan, flee to a new location within the homeland.
Who wants to die? Better yet, who wants to live through a slow and painful death?
Enter Other Faiths
The Methodist Church was the first non-ethnic religion to gain ground in Otampa. Other Christian denominations followed the new trend.
Of all the faiths, Abosso Apostolic Faith Church Of Jesus Christ, headquartered in Isuikwuato and founded on 1941 Friday October 24, is the most popular among the inhabitants of Otampa town.
The founder of Abosso Apostolic Church was Patrick Daniel Ezebuiro Ejiofor, known as Okama, an indigene of the neighbouring town of Amaba, also in Isuikwuato.
The circumstances of the Church’s establishment caused uproar not just within the Methodist Church, Ezebuiro’s erstwhile place of worship, but also among the indigenous worshippers of Ala.
Ezebuiro – One Man With A Mission
First, a succinct insight into the private and religious life of Patrick Daniel Ezebuiro Ejiofor:
Born in Amaiyi Ndiohia, Amaba to Olekamma and Odichie Ejiofor of the Methodist Church, Ezebuiro studied mechanical engineering in the United States Of America.
To reach America, nevertheless, Ezebuiro encountered slavery when he was sold by an Arochukwu native in Calabar.
Under his slave master, Ezebuiro learnt to repair engines until his escape to the United States as a stowaway on a colonial ship.
In a dream later affirmed by Bishop W.E Gray, Ezebuiro saw the Church he was to lead.
On 1940 November 27 in fulfilment of the Bishop’s prophesy, Ezebuiro returned to Isuikwuato to the Methodist Church in Amaba and Otampa headed by Reverend Greenwell.
Ezebuiro’s religious devotion increased with Friday night vigils, until he began to speak in tongues, attributed to the Holy Spirit and reminiscent of the speaking in tongues of the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Ezebuiro’s claim to a baptism of the Holy Ghost created mistrust between him and Reverend Greenwell, who instructed the former to serve under the reverend.
Preferring his own brand of evangelism, Ezebuiro left the Methodist Church and began preaching at the town centre and the market.
Concerned over Ezebuiro’s attraction of new faithful within the Methodist Church, the Church launched a court case against him.
Undeterred, Ezebuiro continued his line of work, expanded to prayer sessions, exorcisms, an anti-omenala movement, banned consumption of pork, dog meat, snails and mushrooms among his congregation, and welcomed polygamists, which increased his appeal among the town dwellers.
For almost 14 years until his demise, Ezebuiro destroyed symbols of dedication to Ala and other spirits, and in defiance of omenala thrived in establishing his Church within forbidden forests, permanently modifying the face of Isuikwuato on the religious map.
Meanwhile, the people of Isuikwuato anticipated the wrath of the Gods on Ezebuiro and his followers.
Time elapsed and when Ndi Isuikwuato realised there was no heavenly penalty on Ezebuiro for the desecrations, people flocked to his Church as new converts.
Otampa And Christianity
However, while the minds embraced the new faith, the hearts were far from convinced for a period of time after conversion.
For though now Christians by profession, Ndi Otampa retained their predilection for the Earth Goddess.
With misgivings towards the pale skin and foreign language of the white men and women who introduced the strange religion, the people were reluctant to send their children and wards to mission-operated schools.
In a trial-and-error experiment, parents and guardians commenced their trust of Europeans by sending only sons and male wards to acquire education from the whites.
Who knew what the British would do to vulnerable and pretty girls of the land!
Islam In Otampa
Natives of Otampa have on own enlightenment voluntarily embraced Islam.
Since Ndi Igbo are averse to any identification with the North of Nigeria, which is incongruously and erroneously perceived as the cradle of Islam, Islam to the people of Otampa is the Religion of the enemy.
A Muslim in Otampa is, however, free to practice own faith without trepidation or intimidation.
Adherents of non-traditional beliefs continue to pose a threat to monuments consecrated to Ala, for those artefacts are often demolished or stolen.
Yet, Ala, Earth Goddess of fertility, morality, and bearer of buried ancestors, and whose consort is Amadioha, the God Of Thunder, remains dear to the heart of believers.
Although other belief systems have overshadowed the ancient time-honoured practices, Ala remains a revered figure in the observations of the people.
Igbo traditional religion remains a vibrant form of socialisation and entertainment, though sections of the ancestral religion have been modified to accommodate the current belief system of Ndi Otampa.
A worthy culture that appears to have eroded is the prohibition of suicide, for there is now an inexplicable high rate of suicide among Ndi Igbo.
The reality is such that in a calamity, one receives a plea: Do not kill yourself.
The cultural worship of Chukwu through Ala is unconsciously acknowledged principally during festivities such as naming and marriage ceremonies, Iwa Ji/ Iri Ji [New Yam Festival], funeral rites, masquerade ceremonies and any occasion depicting masquerades or kola nut.
To the people of Otampa, the Nkwo market day survives as a recognition of Ala, the Queen Of The Earth.
Of the four days in the Igbo week – Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo – the day of Nkwo is the designated market day of Ndi Otampa.
The adoration of the old times is displayed in the enthusiasm with which stories of the guardian snakes, especially avuala/ ajala ~viper are conveyed.
The majestic and graceful eke ogba ~python, the symbol of Ala, is an untouchable messenger of Ala.
If killed even in a state of fear, the eke is granted full burial rites, similar to that of humans.
Plus, on the staff borne by a person of prominence is carved eke ogba, an icon of power and wellbeing.
Reincarnation – Wanted And Undesirables
Etched deep in the omenala, traditional religious belief, of Ndi Otampa is the certainty of ilo-uwa ~reincarnation.
No recent religious practice has effaced belief in the return of a loved deceased family member to this world in another human form within the same family.
Remarkably, I am alone among my siblings in my not being ascribed to a deceased ancestor, as I rejected such an attribution when I was 13 years old.
Preparing for my junior national examinations, I sat in the lounge reading occasionally glancing in scepticism at the rest of my family as they discussed reincarnation.
Soon enough, my elder sister invited me to join the conversation, as she was keen to hear my views.
You want to know what I think of reincarnation?
Well, first of all, there is no such thing as reincarnation. In fact, the word itself does not exist. When one is dead, one does not re-enter this world. Make the most of your life because you will not come back to finish anything you did not do now.
Just think of the discontent that generated, as my sister attempted to shut me down, but I was not finished.
My mother commenced appointing ancestral names to each of her children, invariably linking each child to her family lineage.
My turn arrived for me to be connected to my ancestors by birth and name, and my mum point to me.
I raised my hand in objection.
Mum! Do not give me the name of your dead relations. I am not dead yet. When I am dead, you will know.
The fallout of ilo-uwa is ogbanje, the recurring ilo-uwa not of a loved one but of a dreaded malevolent who traumatises the family.
At the age of five, with all of my psychologically independence, I narrowly missed being branded ogbanje.
The expanded background was my outspokenness and the specific incidence was my physiological immune system that shielded me from falling ill, even when the entire family came down with the same infection.
Just think of my dread when I overheard my mother confide to her mum that she did not understand what kind of child this is, indicating to me.
I heaved a sigh of pleasant relief on hearing my grandmother’s rebuff, exonerating me of any cruel propensity.
Omenala In Spirit
The following is a list of some spiritual names once held in awe, but which are nowadays of mundane usage.
Igwe, the sky God, and IgwekaAla, a God to rival Ala, among adversaries of Ala faithfuls, have become traditional chieftaincy titles.
In addition, Igwe is employed interchangeably with Eze.
It is worth observing that igwe literally means sky, and IgwekaAla = the sky is greater than the land, or better, the sky God is greater than Ala, the Earth Queen.
Ikenga, the spirit of success in adversity, has been associated as a moniker for one who forges ahead despite egregious opposition.
Agbala, the Holy Spirit consulted through the dibia, has undergone transformation to become a person’s first name.
Just think of my astonishment on hearing someone addressed as Agbala, prompting my grandmother to allay my concerns.
Amadioha, the God Of Thunder is invoked each time one curses: Thunder strike you! Or more colloquially: Thunder fire you!
Ichie, from Ndi Ichie a reference to ancestral worship of ancestral spirits, is also a soubriquet for a wise elder.
In contrast to his portrayal as Shaytan ~Satan, Ekwensu, the advocate of military prowess, commercial transactions, and affluence, is both an astute business negotiator and an inciter of courage, anger and victory during anarchy.
Ala, the Goddess reigns because of her indestructibility, for no matter how one interacts with the earth, even trampling her, she remains fertile, sacred, and unperturbed.
One of the critical aspects of omenala, Igbo religion, that persists is belief that one’s destiny lies in one’s hands.
Onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe. [When one approves, one’s Chi concurs.]
Agbedo, Chris Uchenna. Deities And Spirits In Igboland: The Elugwu-Ezike Cultural Perspective
Ala (Odinani) – Wikipedia | https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ala_(odinani)
Are There Experts On Traditional Igbo Religion? – Nairaland | http://www.nairaland.com/894542/there-experts-traditional-igbo-religion/
Eluoma – Wikipedia | https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eluoma
Nmah, P. E. Spirituality In Abosso Apostolic Faith Church Of Jesus Christ Nigeria: A Factor For Evangelism
Nwoye, Chinwe M. A. Igbo Cultural And Religious Worldview: An Insider’s Perspective
Odinani – Wikipedia | https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odinani
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