28 November 2009
In Igbo culture, the natives worship in whatever way they believe or have been taught. Some Igbo people follow the traditional beliefs of the Igbo culture, but not all follow because of exposure to different religious cultures. Some Igbo people follow the belief system of Christianity because they have been introduced to the religion by missionary activity. Other Igbo people follow Roman Catholic beliefs. In addition, even with the exposure to other religions, a large portion of the Igbo people stay true to their traditional Igbo religious culture. With the Igbo people, even though they may have different beliefs, they follow their religion of choice with commitment and respect.
Populating villages in southeastern Nigeria, the Igbo people live their lives as profound religious people. The Igbo people are Nigeria’s second largest population. In regards to their religion, the Igbo people live steadfast in their belief systems. Whether they follow Christianity, Catholicism, Islamic or traditional Igbo religious beliefs, they follow whichever they believe firmly and with committed conviction. The predominant religions of the Igbo people are Christianity and their traditional native religions of the Igbo villages.
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The Igbo people have had exposure to other religious beliefs such as Christianity through visitations from missionaries, and as a result, a large portion of the Igbo people has been converted to other beliefs. According to Indigenous Religions written by Ann Marie B. Marty, “Africa has been visited by waves of Christian missionaries from Europe and the United States in the past several centuries.” The traveling missionaries taught Christianity, but some of Igbo people did not agree with the approach of these missionaries and saw them as corrupt people. The missionaries had the mindset of introducing their Christian worldviews and according to website www.codewit
.com, “The missionaries saw themselves as social and religious reformers.” The missionaries had positive results in their missions and made achievements that aided in changing the lives of the Igbo people. Some of these changes were “They abolished slave trade and slavery, human sacrifices and twin killing, introduced education, built hospitals and charity homes,” stated Reverend Professor Emmanuel Nlenanya Onwu. The Christian people were able to achieve the things the Igbo traditional religion could never achieve because of the structure on which it was built.
Even though the Christian Missionaries had good intentions regarding helping the Igbo people, not all of the Igbo agreed with the approach of these missionaries. The reason being is the missionaries were thought to be ignorant in regards to traditional Igbo religion. In the book, Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, he explains that the missionaries told the Igbo people they worshiped false idols which were deceiving them into killing their people and murdering innocent children. This would cause confusion for the Igbo people considering they were being told that the traditional religion they were taught was wrong and evil, instead of good. But that was not the case for all Igbo people. Some accepted what they were being taught better than others and turned from the traditional religion, which they had been raised on and converted becoming new Christian people. The majority of Igbo people are Christian and it has been estimated that the Igbo people have the largest group of Christians in the entire continent of Africa.
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Though Christianity is widely spread through the Igbo people, there are still those who stayed true to the traditional religious beliefs of the Igbo. “In native African religion, the guide for correct belief and action is tradition”. Traditional Igbo religion can be thought of as complex in its ways and different levels. In the Igbo religion, the focus is on the many gods, spirits and ancestors that are very sacred and holy to its followers. Igbo religion also involves what is known as an oracle. Oracles are what the people seek when they are searching for wise counsel or prophetic opinion. The Igbo people would consult the oracle, which was a god called Agbala, as a way of communicating with their gods. Igbo religion also consists of festivals and sacrifices that are highly important in the Igbo religion.
The multiple gods of the Igbo religion each serve different purposes, each of these gods are very different and the Igbo people had gods for each natural occurrence. In the Igbo villages, there would be a being to represent the symbolic gods. For example, in the book, “Things Fall Apart,” the author shares for his readers about the priest of the village being the “priest of the earth goddess, Ani.” Ore superior to these other gods, there is a main god called Chukwu, who is the god of life. An Igbo person would maintain some sort of shrine or separate hut for the symbols of their many gods and ancestral spirits.
There are also various spiritual matters that the priest and priestesses take part in. There are festivals that are held and there are symbolic of the power that the gods possess. The festival known as the New Yam Festival is where the Igbo people offered yams up to the almighty gods and ancestors. The yams were the first crop harvested and they were to be given to the gods before distributed amongst others. This was a way of giving thanks for the Igbo.
The wisdom of traditional Igbo religion has been passed from generation to generation through stories or myths and proverbs. Proverbs are used frequently in Igbo culture; proverbs are old sayings that are a collection of teachings. Using proverbs is a way of teaching others of the traditional religion. Elder people use proverbs when teaching someone of a younger age about their heritage. There are many Igbo proverbs that are significant to the rituals that the Igbo people perform. “He who brings kola brings life,” is a proverb from the book “Things Fall Apart.” This proverb is significant because in Igbo culture, they break kola nuts with one another then they pray to their ancestors after breaking the nut. This is a good example of an Igbo ritual, which is very common and important to the Igbo. Therefore in using proverbs, Igbo parents teach spiritual lessons to their children and are role models to them.
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An Igbo person’s religion is there way of life so the religious beliefs they learn are what they live by. Whether Christianity or traditional Igbo religion, no matter what religion, it serves a purpose in their lives and they are able to find guidance for life through religious beliefs. Religion is passed on from generation to generation in Igbo families, so everyone becomes accustomed to the religion chosen by their family. The Igbo stay faithful to their religious ways of life and live by the doctrinal standards of the religion with a consistency that is maintained in their communities.
Overall the Igbo religion is similar to many of the religions common to the United States. One of the similarities is the celebration of festivals which is like our celebration of religious holidays like Christmas, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, and Kwanza. They also believe in the importance of passing down the history of the religions to the children of their culture by telling stories or sharing proverbs which is common practice for many religions, like Christianity and Judaism. The Igbo people’s religious lives also have an influence on the way they live and often dictate their morals and standards whether it be religions they have conformed to due to outside influences or native to their land, they are a people of conviction.
Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Anchor Books A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York 1959
Bahr, Ann Marie. “Indigenous Religions” Philadelphia, Chelsea House Publishers, 2005
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Chike, Egbufoama, “The Igbo Idea of God”, Codewit.com, Codewit Global Network,
10 Jan.2009. 19 Nov.2009
Every Culture, www.every culture.com, Advameg Inc. 2009, n.d. 19 Nov.2009
Family Culture, www.familyculture.com City Talents, Inc 1997-2002
Igbo Religion from Encyclopedia of Religion, Macmillan Reference USA, Gale Group