December 23, 2020

Reincarnation in Igboland, real or myth: Ndigbo speak

  • Reincarnation is real — Imo monarch

  • Authentic Igbo culture was anchored on it — Don

  • It’s natural concept that tells second coming — Enugu monarch

  • We have familiar spirit, not reincarnation — Okolo

  • Original Igbo culture anchored on reincarnation — Prof. P. J. Ezeh

  • Reincarnation in Igbo cosmology too real to be doubted — Uzuagu

  • It’s gradually fading away — Igbo leader of thought

  • It is a legendary belief in Igbo land — Obasi

By Anayo Okoli, Dennis Agbo, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Peter Okutu, Chinonso Alozie, Chinedu Adonu, Ikechukwu Odu & Ugochukwu Alaribe

THE concept of reincarnation is an age long tradition that had existed in Igbo land from their forefathers. It has been a strong belief, a way of life more or less, particularly in the olden days.

Even two poems (Abiku translates Ogbanje in Igbo) written by two prominent Nigerian writers, Professors Wole Soyinka and JP Clark, give much credence to the concept of reincarnation.

However, with the advent of Christianity and its growing influence, coupled with growing civilization, the belief seems to be waning, but has not died completely as many still believe that it is real.

The traditional ruler of Ogbor ancient kingdom in Isiala Mbano local government area of Imo state, Eze Matthew Oweni, believes the reincarnation is real. He said that he believes completely in the concept of reincarnation.

Eze Oweni said that his belief in reincarnation was reinforced when his second wife, gave birth to his child who he said was a reincarnated of his biological mother. The baby, he explained has on her body, all the birth marks her late mother had on her body.

“Why I believe that reincarnation is real; I will like to use myself as an example. My biological mother, when she was alive she had some birth marks on her body. When my second wife gave birth, I went to the hospital to see my child, when I got to that hospital I went straight to the bed where the child was lying down and I saw the marks the same way with as my late mother. Immediately, I saw that marks, I said to my new child, Mama are you back­? My new baby smiled at me.

“The smile and marks brought a whole picture of my own late mother. It was a moment full of joy to behold as my mother returned back to me. Let me add that, the story of reincarnation is real in Igbo land and our people should believe it. It happens. We see it one way or the other”, the monarch said.

Another monarch, this time from Enugu State, the traditional ruler of Ogrute autonomous community, Igbo-Eze North council, Enugu State, Igwe Wilfred Ekere said that reincarnation is real. According to him, “our great grandfathers knew and believed in reincarnation before the white men came”.

According to Igwe Ekere, Igbo believe in reincarnation till tomorrow as their knowledge of life beyond the present one on earth is well understood to be a transmigration of human souls. Like the views of the Imo monarch, Eze Matthew Oweni, Igwe Ekere believes that body birth marks of persons who had transited appearing on the body of a new born baby is an evidence to prove that reincarnation is real.

“Reincarnation is real. Religion cannot change the belief. Ever before the white men came with the Christian religion, our great grandfathers knew about reincarnation, which they called in local language, “Ilo uwa”, which translate returning to the world anew. They knew and also believed in life beyond, it is at the same “Ala-muo” , they believe their dead relations to be residing after physical death and from there would reincarnate probably to those that were their kit and kin.

“In Igbo land, our forefathers’ knowledge of life beyond on earth is well understood to be transmigration of human souls. In Igbo land, when a good child or wife does quite a good turn to an old father or mother; on many occasions, the elderly ones make comments such as “my good child, you will continue to be my child in my seven worlds of being”. This is an indication that our great Igbo ancestors knew and believed in the doctrine of seven rounds and seven races in the evolutionary cycles of mankind.

“The actual process by which man reincarnates varies. Some believe that man reincarnates with his former body and all its characteristics such as physical height, strength and complexion; while many are convinced that at death our bodies lies there food for worms; only the deathless spirit of God in the man would reincarnate.

“Other factor that makes the Igbo belief in reincarnation is the reappearance of bodily marks of transited persons on the body of new born babies. Some people will cut finger or ear of dead persons suspected to be Ogbanje before burying them so that when he/she comes back they will know. When such person reincarnates he/she will not have that finger or ear. It is same with people unfortunately killed by fire accident; the scars of burns appear on the body of some such cases upon reincarnation.

“When such marks appear on the body of a new born baby in family where a departed member had birthmarks or those sustained through accidents or any mishap, no further proof is needed to accept that the deceased has come back”, Igwe Ekere said.

On his part, a community leader, Emeka Jonah said that the Igbo believe in reincarnation as a natural concept that tells about the coming back to the world after death.

According to Jonah, some people reincarnate based on the love they have for the family while some reincarnate because of early death. He toed the line that those reincarnated would have same marks, character or uniqueness of the late person.

“Reincarnation is a natural concept which tells about people coming back to the world probably after death. Many people believe in it, while many people do not believe in it.

“In Igbo tradition, reincarnation is a natural believe through which they know when their dead ones have returned to the world, although some faiths don’t believe in it.  But for me, I am a strong believer in reincarnation.

“Reincarnation usually occurs when somebody dies as a result of what we sometimes refer to as untimely death and the person comes back to the immediate family or to any member of the family. Sometimes somebody will reincarnate as a result of love for the family he or she reincarnated into.

“For someone to show you that he or she reincarnated, he or she will have a unique marks, resemblance, illness or character of the person that reincarnated. For example my late grandfather who had an accident that affected his left leg which made the leg to bend outward, when reincarnated through my younger brother, apart from resembling our grandfather, he is the only person among the numerous first grand children that has that unique bend on his left leg.

“Somebody may also reincarnate as a result of what we refer to as Ogbanje, Abiku, spirit or evil child, back to the family. In the ancient days, when a child is suspected to be Ogbanje died, the parents would give the body a unique mark. Some parents would go as far as cutting off one of the toes or fingers of the child just to monitor his/her reincarnation. And some will reincarnate later with the mark given to him or her during his/her first coming to the family”, Jonah explained.

According a respected community leader and a title holder in his native Ifitedunu in Dunukofia council of Anambra State, Chief Ozor Anakwe, our ancient people believe that there is reincarnation, some did not believe in it.

And those who believe that it is not real said that it was those husbands and wives who have issue of genotype, the SS and SS, as their genotype and when they have children they die because of the sickness resulting from SS genotype. On the hand, the other group believe that if somebody dies, the person may come back in the sense that if God say that you will stay in this world for 100 years, and the person dies as a result of some circumstances, or maybe, he was killed accidentally before the 100 years God designed for him, he/she will come back to the world to complete the years. These are different theories.

However, in my own personal opinion, I do not believe in reincarnation, even though some Igbo strongly believe in it, particularly the traditional and cultural ones, but among the many educated Igbo they do not believe in it.

For those who believe in cultural and traditional matters, like I believe in culture and tradition, until they tell me how they how they come about the believe, who, where and when they have seen a dead man or woman’s spirit telling them that he or she is coming back in the world, I will not believe in reincarnation because am yet to convinced that it is real.

“My forefather and my father did not tell me that there is reincarnation, I therefore believe in what I see. I believe that there is resemblance because myself, I resemble my grandfather, my mother’s father, and incidentally when I was 55 years my mother’s brother died. We went to dig his grave, we saw the skeleton of my grandfather complete intact not broken, very white from head to toe and I resemble him in stature. My mother was saying that I was a reincarnation of her father but to me I know that I was created by God and I do not know the day I will die. I believe I was born like the same way my siblings were born.

“I believe I resemble the man because of the skeleton I saw that was completely intact and my stature, if there is reincarnation, why should his skeleton remain after my 55 years, many years ago. He should have come with my skeleton. I believe in resemblance but no to reincarnation; to me it there is nothing like that”, Anaekwe said.

Speaking on the reality of reincarnation, an Nsukka based ace photographer, Mr. Simeon Ugwuagbo, said: “Yes, it is real, there is reincarnation. Taking myself as an example, I am a reincarnate of my grandfather, Aguma. I was told that he was very friendly with women, that he fetched even firewood for his wives and did a lot for his two wives that included my mother. He didn’t have a mind of hurting anybody but swore while he was alive that in his next world he would pay women back in their own coin. I was told I am his reincarnate and I don’t care much about women.

“Another instance is my second daughter. She is a reincarnate of my mother. The reincarnation could come from generations of your mother or father, which is why the Igbo are always cautious in marriages. That is why they always make inquiries of either the girl or the man before marriage. You see instances where a man is not a thief and the wife is not a thief as well, yet their child could become a thief because the child could be a reincarnation of a thief in a linage past. It is the same thing as one being promiscuous, it comes from linage.

“Sometimes, it manifests physically such as in cleanliness such as my grandmother; she can take her bath several times in a day. Such behavior could manifest in any of her descendants several years after. I don’t know about science or scientific prove of it but it is not all churches that agree there is reincarnation.

“In the olden days, when a child is delivered, the native doctors or clairvoyants would be consulted to know whose reincarnation the child is. When a women is about to marry, the clairvoyant will equally be consulted to know if the marriage will work out and if her children will leave after births or die shortly after. It is just like the Igbo marry only on Orie and Nkwo market days. All these things are traditions”, Ugwuagbo explained.

In his opinion, an industrialist and President General of Small Scale Industrialist Awada, Onitsha, Chief Johnson Okolo, said the belief in reincarnation “a false belief, it is not real”. He said exists is “familiar spirit”.

“Familiar spirit is a kind of god every community have that is taking care of them; this god in that community can use any person’s face to do anything and by so doing our people will say it is reincarnation.

“Some time, you somebody and he die after many years, and the gods of that area will use the face the person that existed or was born before the new person that is said to have resembled him. May be the person had a wound before and another person may be born with the similar wound the former person had, when such thing happen our people will call it reincarnation.

“Sometimes the gods come to young children who do not know anything, they will tell you to call him the name of a person that existed about 100 year before he was born, some people will say it is reincarnation, but the truth is that it is the god of that land, that is the familiar spirit of that land that is at work.

“Sometimes when you go to a traditional medicine man, a very good herbalist, he can call your family spirit who will reveal a lot of things about you and your family and when you visit such good herbalist or traditional medicine man, he will tell you everything about you and your forefather you do not know and when you go home and ask, you will confirm that what he told you is the truth and you will believe him that he has told you the truth not knowing that it is the same familiar spirit that is at work in collaboration with the traditional medicine man who invoked it”, Okolo said.

In the opinion of a professor of anthropology and the Head of Department, Sociology and Anthropology of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, P- J. Ezeh, the authentic Igbo culture was anchored on the concept of reincarnation.

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Prof. Ezeh also said that some religious tenets such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism and other metaphysical movements are equally hinged on the concept. He also explained that the afterlife in the Christian sense didn’t make any meaning to the early Igbo society.

He further explained that the original Igbo culture believed that a society was replenished by people who lived culturally-decent lives, and that at biological death, the essence of the person who died was transferred to another person coming into life afterwards.

He also said that everybody was believed to have reincarnated in the traditional Igbo society, pointing out that a family source of the famous poet and ex-Biafran warlord, Christopher Okigbo has it that he was a reincarnate of his grandfather who also died at the battlefield during a war.

“The original Igbo socio-cultural existence was hinged firmly on the concept of reincarnation. After the contact with Christianity, people began to believe in being rewarded with heaven or hell when they died; depending on how justly or otherwise the person lived his life. The Igbo traditional belief system didn’t recognize this afterlife idea in the Christian sense of it. They believed that anyone who lived a culturally decent life, died to reunite with the forebears through reincarnation. The belief was that the society was replenished by people who lived well through strict adherence to the things that were tabooed and approved by the society.

“Any death which didn’t reunite the traditional Igbo society with the ancestors was termed a bad death. Reincarnation is largely believed in Igbo societies and many stories of reincarnated humans abound”, prof. Eze argued.

In his contribution, a renowned traditionalist, Chief Emeka Joe Uzuagu, said that the concept of reincarnation in Igbo cosmology is too practical to be doubted.

According to him, most families who sold out any member of their household during slave trade normally encountered the bitter pills of reincarnation because the person sold out most often came back to the original family to torment them through untimely death.

“There was a family in Anambra State who sold out their daughter during slave trade. She was later seen by a community member in another far away village. Some members of the family traced, captured her and resold her to a more distant land. It happened that the daughter, as a way to pay back the family for their cruelty on her, reincarnated to the family and continued to die at infancy stage.

“This continued until the family sought the services of a diviner who told them that the person they sold into slavery was aggrieved. The diviner asked them to appease her spirit to stop the untimely deaths in their family. This, they did by organizing a funeral ceremony for her. They equally performed other rituals as prescribed by the diviner and the untimely deaths stopped in their family.

“This is just an instance of many other manifestations of reincarnation in Igbo society”, he said.

An Igbo leader of thought and an academic, who spoke from Abakiliki, Dr. Desmond Amatobi noted that the concept was gradually fading away due to civilization, but said that “belief remains that beloved ancestors will always return to keep company with relations”.

“Although this concept is gradually fading in the face of phenomenal growth in civilization and religion, the underlying belief remains that beloved ancestors will always return to keep company with relations.

“However, whether real or not, it served and to some extent still serves its purpose; reassurance to the bereaved that their deceased relation would still be around with them.

“The belief guided the living to live good lives; else they will be buried in the evil forest from where they will never be able to come back to the world of the living”, he said.

But a clergyman, Pastor Promise Izuogu said that such belief or practice was alien to Christians.

“Well, the issue of reincarnation is a mystery in Igbo land. It is taken seriously depending on the belief system of a people. For us in the Christian community, we do not associate ourselves with such concept.

“If you believe it, it will be to you that way. I don’t believe in it. God is our creator and he has not stopped creating. Anyway it is a confusing occurrence. It may be true but that’s not a system of belief for the Christendom”.

A political leader in Ebonyi State, Chief Jerry Obasi says reincarnation is a strong belief among the Igbo people in Nigeria. He said thjat reincarnation is as true as life itself, stressing that it is in all the Scriptures of all religions.

“The Igbo believe in reincarnation; It is part of Igbo cultural and traditional existence and cosmology. Sometimes, people are born to resemble one of their grand fathers or great grand fathers. The resemblance can be in any part of the body; facial marks, body size, behaviours, colour, attitude. The Igbo believe in reincarnation, it is a legendary belief in Igbo land. In Igbo land, it is believed that one doesn’t die and go like that. Death isn’t the end of life.

“For instance, a person may die and because he didn’t complete his journey, he can reincarnate through another person, especially one of his grand children. The new person reincarnated will continue the process .This is especially in a case where the person dies with un-fulfillment death through accident or another manner. This is why it is believed that the living has a link with his ancestors”.

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