Metaphysics of the Ndi-Igbo
Metaphysics, the study of the unseen world, raises questions which put many philosophers into argument and which many philosophers are still searching for a solution to. Issues like reincarnation, existence of God and dreams have really put many great thinkers to work today. We have read and heard the opinions of some great western philosophers on the existence of God and how they get along with it. The question here is, what role do Igbo thinkers play on the issues of metaphysics? I will argue that Igbo thinkers played a big part in wrestling with the problem of reincarnation, existence of God and dreams. First let us take a look at reincarnation.
Reincarnation is coming backing to life in another body after death. The issue of reincarnation has brought much criticism among many philosophers. What were the views of the Igbo thinkers on reincarnation then? On this issue we will find out that Igbo thinkers were trying to apply rationality, though none of them were students of Socrates or Aristotle. For them, without the knowledge of great Greek thinkers, they knew that reincarnation was a problem to be solved, they had interest in searching and solving the mystery of the soul, body and spirit. It shows that Igbo thinkers were searching for the ultimate cause of all things. Let's view reincarnation in the land of the Igbo.
Reincarnation in the land of the Igbo
The ancient Igbo thinker strongly believes in reincarnation. For him our soul is immortal. He believes it is a way to share love with his passed brothers and sisters. He believes that only people who die a good death should be allowed to reincarnate. He thinks that those that didn't die a peaceful death shouldn't reincarnate back to life, e.g. a man who commits suicide should not reincarnate, because it means he was never at peace with himself during his period of life. He also believes that man has right to choose where he wants to reincarnate if he is permitted to come back again to live in another body. Though it wasn't every Igbo thinker who believed in this explanation, an example given was that of yam planting, by saying that when a yam is been planted, it dies and still comes back to life again after some period of weeks. This example may not sound or look very logical but it is. He was trying to find out what life after death looks like and that brought him to reincarnation. This will tell us that it wasn't only western thinkers who were trying to solve the problem of reincarnation.
Existence of God
This is one of the key problems of metaphysics today, whether God does exist. Many philosophers believe, while many don't, that's where the empiricist and the rationalist have a problem and lots of criticism. Let take a look at the African perceptive on the existence of God.
The Igbo thinker took on the challenge in search of existence of God, just like the western philosophers did. This issue divides Igbo thinkers into two types, which correspond to the rationalist and the empiricist. Some thinkers believe that God exists while some do not. For those that believe, though they didn't state it logically on a paper, the way they lived tells what their opinion is on the existence of God.
To view the empirical life on existence of God, the Igbo empiricist believes that whatever really exists should be perceived or experienced. This took them in search of God's existence. Some saw a particular tree, like the mahogany as a god, because they can perceive it, and they worship the trees. Some saw a particular reptile, or mountains, or the sun and thunder as a god, for example, Payton which is mainly known to be an oracle and as a god too. They don't kill or harm it wherever they see it on earth and Payton doesn't harm them, which shows that they experience and perceive the existence of that particular god. They pray and ask the sun for protection. An Igbo empiricist also believes that for every clan there is a god and that each god has a representative who hears and interprets its message.
The African empiricist also believes that, the view on existence of God depends on the individuals, for him there is no general God like that of the rationalist but rather that which you decide to be your God.
Igbo empiricists and sacrifice
Sacrifice is one of the elements that proves their faith in a particular god, in whose existence they believe. Sacrifice helps them to renew their relationship with their god. They made these sacrifices with animals, fruits and birds. Different animals and birds represent different spiritual symbols. These sacrifices are been made in front or inside the shrine of the gods. They make different sacrifices for different purposes; some are to feed the gods, some are to appease the gods if someone goes contrary to the laws, while some are for thanksgiving in appreciation to any good thing the gods may have done for them, e.g. a good year of harvest. They so much believe that presence of the gods within the clan proves the existence of what they believe to be god, that for them any day the god or oracle is not found in the shrine, from that moment it seems not to be existing within the clan any more.
These thinkers believe that they can see their god and for them there is no other God but the one they see and worship. If we take a good look on this philosophy here, we will find out that African thinkers have almost the same view as some ancient western thinkers on 'what you perceive is what is in existence', though they didn't have any written logical argument. However, if we put it in more philosophical, rational terms we will arrive at what their view was.
Igbo rationalists on existence of God
Rationality is arriving to a truth by reasoning. This group strongly believe that God does exist, though they have not experienced or perceived him before. But after taking a look on how beautiful the world is, the sun and the moon, the day and night, rain, winter and summer they were convinced that there is God; or if not God, then there is a supreme being that has supreme influence over every thing on earth. God the almighty in Igbo land is called Chineke, which means God the creator and the supreme being or supreme influence over whatever exists on earth. An ancient Igbo thinker called it 'chi'.
The Igbo rationalist believes that chi is a personal influence and is unique to every individual, it determines the success of every person, on this particular belief we state, they agreed with what Spinoza said, that 'A thing which has been determined to any action was necessarily so determined by God, and that which has not thus determined by God cannot determine itself to action'. He also believes that a man can't challenge his chi, for him chi is a supernatural commitment that cannot be denied. An Igbo adage says that, he who is greater than a man is greater than his chi. To show their belief in God or whatever influence they felt is in control of the world, they were bearing names that told of their belief in God.
Chinaedu------------------God is my protector
Chidimma------------------God is good
Ekene diri chukwu---------Glory be to God.
These names tell that an Igbo rationalist believes that God exists though they can't perceive his presence, unlike the empiricist who perceives the mountain he worships as a god.
The empiricist believes he communicates with his god face to face, and sacrifices lots of things to his god. Most empiricists bear the name of their gods too e.g.
Agbara-------------------God of the land
Amadi oha----------------God of thunder
Agwu---------------------God of the land
Ezeani-------------------Goddess of the land
These are some of the names borne by the empiricist to show that those are the only existing god and nothing more. Igbo thinkers were doing all these things to solve the problem of existence of God. These thinkers really knew what men where facing then and were trying to find a solution to it, but now it seems that all these efforts have been silenced by a particular view of philosophy. If Aristotle, Plato, Descartes and Saint Augustine were seriously trying to solve the problem of existence of God, we should also know that there were other thinkers, who were in the black part of the world, thinking day and night to solve the same problem which the few mentioned great names were trying to solve.
The Igbo thinker was forced by nature to search for the existence of human soul, which he called 'muo'. For him the soul is an infinite substance that proves the existence of man. The Igbo thinker believes that the soul is immortal and that the body can't perform or exist without the soul, which means that he is trying to say that the body is the property of the soul.
For him we cannot see or physically perceive the soul but through our intuitive knowledge we can perceive it individually. He believes that is through our soul that we can reach and communicate in the spiritual realm. For him whatever action a man carries out must be permitted by the soul. The Igbo thinker believes that the relationship between the body and soul is a finite relationship, that is to say that their relationship will always come to a point of separation, which is the death of the body.
He believes that the soul never dies, it only separates itself from body. The Igbo thinker believes that each soul has a particular time made eternally for it to separate from the body, when the body and the soul separate accidentally, he called it an untimely or premature separation, which is called 'onwu ike' in Igbo language, and that keeps the soul restless when it leaves the body or when the body dies. He thinks that the body and the soul should separate peacefully when is time for it to take place.
Ogbanje is an ancient Igbo metaphysical philosophy. Ogbanje is the process whereby the soul is internally influenced by the evil spirit or to have a covenant with the spirit.
For the Igbo thinker dreaming is an act of moving beyond the physical world to an unseen world or spiritual realm. The Igbo thinker believes that dreams are where our soul plays more roles in its existence. When a man is dreaming, his soul appears to have partially separated from the body. For an Igbo thinker that is not sleeping. He believes that when a man is sleeping his body and soul should be at peace. When a man dreams and remembers his dreams when we wakes up, that tells that he wasn't sleeping but rather he moved beyond physical realm. He who has a pure sleep doesn't remember anything when he wakes up. For example, having a nightmare and suddenly waking up and finding yourself sweating because you were running in your dream.
These thinkers believe that whatever happens in our dreams is a preview of what is about to happen in the physical world. They believe that whatever happens in the physical world had already taken place in the spiritual world. They also believe that different dreams or different signs in dreams have different meaning in the physical world. E.g. The Igbo thinker believes that when a man saw a confine in his dream, it tells that death is on the way.
Some times, when an Igbo man hears a dream that makes him upset, he goes to a fortune teller to find out what is the meaning and what the dream represents. For him a dream is a way to get a message from our subconscious. The Igbo thinker sees dreams to be real.
© Cajethan Ndubuisi 2004
[From Philosophy Pathways issue 93. This is the second extract from Cajethan Ndubuisi's essay, 'African Philosophy'. The first, 'Suicide' was published in Philosophy Pathways issue 79.]