Ibo beliefs in
Self, Soul, and Afterlife
In the traditions and customs of the Ibo tribes of Nigeria, death and the afterlife play a large role. They believed in worshipping spirits, in karma, in two souls, and in elaborate funeral ceremonies (including pilgrimages, feasts, dances, plays, and other rituals) that last for several years.
First of all, the Ibo tribes believed that one is always being watched or being guarded by the spirit of his ancestors. The living shows appreciation to their ancestors and pray to them so that the living has a good future. Before the Ibo tribes eat any meals, one takes a bite of his food and tosses it to the ground, calling out the names of his ancestors and every eight days (the "Fene Bene"), the chief of the tribe sets out food and drink for the spirits. A goat is sacrificed and the blood is sprinkled in front of images or clay pillars every seven years. This is which represent the ancestors ("Nduen Fobara"). One can also pray to the spirits at special shrines to ask for help in emergencies (if, for example, a loved one dies with no apparent cause or if a man has continual bad luck). In the Ibo tribe, it's a big offense to talk bad about the ancestors. If a man refuses to apologize, the family of the dead retaliates by speaking against the dead of the man's family. If the man does apologize, they all must perform a special ceremony of atonement.
The Ibo tribesmen believed that every man has two souls -- the eternal ego (the Ibo "Maw") and the life force that dies with the body (the Ibo "Nkpuruk-Obi"). If the soul does not return, however, the body perishes as well. The eternal soul leaves the body on the last breath and takes the form of a ghost, shadow, or reflection. Because of this reason, the living considered it dangerous to step on a shadow. To prevent this, they often use mirrors so that the evil spirits will strike the mirror "image of the soul" and not the actual soul of a living man.
As in the tribes of the living, there is a hierarchy in the ghost realm, too. There is a Ghost King (the Ibo "Eze Ala Maw"); and a ghost messenger (the Ibo "Onwu") that appears as a skeleton and brings death upon a person by hitting him at the neck with a large staff. Asasaba, a ferryman, brings good souls across the river of death to be reincarnated into trees, animals or other living things.
Even though there are different kinds of ethnic groups, they all believe that there are different forms of reincarnation for good and bad souls, and they all believe in karma (the rewards or punishments in present life for doings in a past life). For example, a good Ibo will take the shape of a cow, elephant, or leopard, while a good Bakama soul will be reborn into a tree, whereas the Amuneke believe that only evil souls are doomed to become plants.
Back to the Main Page