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University of Massachusetts Boston

From the SelectedWorks of Chukwuma Azuonye


April 1987
Igbo Folktales and the Idea of Chukwu as Supreme
God of Igbo Religion
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Available at: http://works.bepress.com/chukwuma_azuonye/76
ISSN 07946961
NSUKKAJOURNAL
OF LINGUISTICS
AND AFRICAN LANGUAGES
NUMBER 1, APRIL 1987
Published by the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
NOTES ON THE CONTRIBUTORS
All but one of the contributors to this maiden issue of The Nsukka Journal of Linguistics and
African Languages are members of the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages,
Univerrsity of Nigeria, Nsukka
Mr. B. N. Anasjudu is a Tutor in Applied Linguistics (specialized in Teaching English as a
Second Language).
Dr. Chukwuma Azyonye is a Senior Lecturer in Oral Literature and Stylistics and Acting Head of
Department.
Mrs. Clara Ikeke9nwy is a Lecturer in Phonetics and Phonology.
Mr. Mataebere IwundV is a Senior Lecturer in Sociolinguistics and Psycholinguistics.
Mrs. G. I. Nwaozuzu is a Graduate Assistant in Syntax and Semantics. She also teaches Igbo
Literature.
Dr. P. Akl,ljYQQbi Nwachukwu is a Senior Lecturer in Syntax and Semantics.
Professor Benson Oluikpe is a Professor of Applied and Comparative Linguistics and Dean of
the Faculty of Arts.
Mr. Chibiko Okebalama is a Tutor in Literature and Stylistics.
Dr. Sam VZ9chukwu is a Senior Lecturer in Oral Literature and Stylistics in the Department of
African Languages and Literatures, University of Lagos.
ISSN 0794-6961
Nsukka Journal of L,i.nguistics and African Languages
Number 1,April 1987
IGBD FOLKTALES AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE IDEA OF CHUKWU AS THE
SUPREME GOD OF IGBO RELIGION
Chukwuma Azyonye
Thi s anal ysi s of I gbo f ol kt al es r eveal s ei ght di st i nct phases
i n t he evol ut i on of t he i dea of Chukwu as t he supr eme God of I gbo
r el i gi on. I n t he f i r st phase, dat i ng back t o pr i meval t i mes, t he
I gbo r ecogni zed sever al supr eme nat ur e dei t i es i n var i ous domai ns.
Thi s was f ol l owed by a phase of t he undi sput ed supr emacy of A l ~ ( t he
Ear t h Goddess) as supr eme dei t y. Tr aces of t hat pr i meval domi nance
per si st t i l l t oday i n some par t s of I gbol and. The t hi r d phase was
one of r i val r y over supr emacy bet ween Ear t h and Sky, possi bl y owi ng
t o i nf l uences f r om r el i gi ous t r adi t i ons f ounded on t he bel i ef i n a
supr eme sky- dwel l i ng God. I n t he f our t h and f i f t h phases, t he i dea
of Chukwu as supr eme dei t y was f or mal l y est abl i shed by t he Nr i and
Ar ? r espect i vel y i n suppor t of t hei r hegemoni c- ent er pr i se i n I gbo-
l and. The expl oi t at i veness of t he Ar ? power seems t o have r esul t ed
i n t he debasement of t he i dea of Chukwu as supr eme God i n t he I gbo
mi nd, hence t he sat i r i c and r ej ect i oni st i mages of t he ant hr opo-
mor phi c supr eme God i n var i ous f ol kt al es f r om t he si xt h phase.
The sevent h phase saw t he sel ect i on, adopt i on and adapt at i on of
some of t he numer ous i deas of supr eme God f ounQ bv t he Chr i st i an
mi ssi onar i es i n t hei r ef f or t s t o pr opagat e Chr i st i ani t y i n t he
i di om of t he peopl e. Fi nal l y, i n t he st i l l oriqoi.nq ei ght h phase,
some of t he i deas of t he supr eme God adopt ed and adapt ed by
Chr i st i ani t y f r om I gbo t r adi t i onal sour ces seem t o have been f ed
back i nt o t he I gbo t r adi t i on i n a syncr et i c f or m combi ni ng I gbo and
Hebr ae- Chr i st i an concept s. I t seems cl ear , f r om t hi s paper , t hat
t he I gbo i dea of Chukwu i s not a si ngl e . monol i t hi c i dea but a
compl ex of di f f er ent , even di ver gent i deas, whi ch have emer ged over
t he cent ur i es i n r esponse t o di f f er ent soci o- cul t ur al , pol i t i cal
and economi c si t uat i ons.
Igbo f ol kt al es ar e f ul l of i mages of a char act er cal l ed Chukwu who, t o al l
i nt ent sand pur poses, i s none ot her t han t he supr eme God of I gbo r el i gi on.
But a car ef ul anal ysi s of t hese i mages wi l l r eveal t hat , i n t one and meani ng,
f ueyar e not consi st ent wi t h one anot her . They, i n f act , f al l i nt o t wo br oad,
di amet r i cal l y opposed set s. I n one set , Chukwu i s pr esent ed, i n a posi t i ve
l i ght , as t he supr eme sky- dwel l i ng cr eat or and di spenser of l i f e and deat h;
and, i n some cognat e i mages, he f eat ur es as t he wi t hdr awn hi gh God (Deus
otiosus, deus incertus or deus r emot us) who never t hel ess may be appr oached
t hr oughLnt . er medd. er Les such as t he mi nor gods and czacu Lar pr i est s. I n anot her
br oadset of i mages, Chukwu appear s, i n a negat i ve l i ght , as a st upi d ogr e,
r-
44 Chukwuma AzVonye
a dupe or a capr i ci ous t r i ckst er wi t h a war ped sense of j ust i ce. Consi der ed
i n t he l i ght of t he per t i nent evi dence f r ~ hi st or y, ant hr opol ogy,
ar chaeol ogy, t heol ogy and compar at i ve myt hol ogy, t hese conf l i ct i ng i mages seem
t o r ef er , not j ust t o di f f er ent t heol ogi es, but t o di f f er ent st ages i n t he
evol ut i on of t he i dea of a supr eme God named Chukwu i n t he I gbo Rel i gi ous
exper i ence. The pur pose of t hi s paper i s t o out l i ne, i n t he l i ght of t he
evi dence cont ai ned i n r epr esent at i ve f ol kt al es, what appear s t o be t he mai n
phases of t hi s evol ut i on.
I n pr esent i ng t hi s r econst r uct i on of t he hi st or y of I gbo r el i gi ous t hought ,
i t i s assumed t hr oughout t hat f ol kt al es, l especi al l y myt hs, ar e not onl y a
mi r r or of r eal i t y but a dynami c i nst r ument f or , soci al change. Thus, i n t he
t al es ci t ed i n t hi s paper , we not onl y have a' compl ex of mot i f s expr essi ng and
symbol i zi ng cer t ai n deep- l yi ng f eat ur es of human and t r ans- human exi st ence i n
I gbo cul t ur al hi st or y but al so a number of ot her component s whi ch seem t o have
been del i ber at el y i nf used i nt o t r adi t i onal nar r at i ve pat t er ns i n t he ser vi ce
of t he r el i gi ous and i deol ogi cal posi t i ons of t he domi nant power s of var i ous
hi st or i cal epochs.
Much of t he ar gument of t hi s paper r est s on t he evi dence abl y mar shal l ed
i n Echer ub ( 1979) , Ar az~ ( 1982) and especi al l y NWQga ( 1984) t o t he ef f ect t hat
Chukwu, as supr eme God, i s a r el at i vel y newcomer i n I gbo r el i gi on. Echer uo
( 1979: 20) st at es qui t e emphat i cal l y t hat " t her e i s no capi t al l et t er god among
t he I gbo out si de A l ~ " and t hat " God, among t he I gbo, i s cer t ai nl y not hi ng l i ke
t he God of t he Chr i st i ans" 2; whi ch t i es up wi t h evi dence put f or war d i n, among
ot her sour ces, Thomas ( 1913, 1: 26) , t hat I gbo el der s i nt er vi ewed at t he t ur n of
t he cent ur y f r equent l y sai d " t hat t hey knew not hi ng of Cuku bef or e t he comi ng
of t he whi t e man" . Yet , Chukwu, as supr eme God, i s not , st r i ct l y speaki ng, a
" st r anger " as NW9ga ( 1984) suggest s i n hi s book The Supreme God as Stranger in
Igbo Rel igious Thought. The concept of ChukMU, as Onwuej eogwu ( 1972, 1981) and
Echer uo ( 1979) , among ot her s, r ecogni ze, i s ap i ndi genous cr eat i on of I gbo
t heol ogi ans whi ch was l at er adopt ed and adapt ~d by t he Chr i st i an mi ssi onar i es
and ul t i mat el y f ed back i nt o t he I gbo or al t r adi t i on i n t he bowdl er i zed, al bei t
syncr et i c, f or m i n whi ch i t exi st s t oday. I n t hi s r egar d, I shal l be ar gui ng,
i n t hi s paper , t hat t he r eason why t he conc~pt seems al i en i s t hat i t pr obabl y
emer ged as an apost asy t o an aut ocht honous I gbo r el i gi on, whi ch was pr esumabl y
henot hei st i c at f i r st , r ecogni zi ng a number of supr eme dei t i es each supr eme i n
i t s own speci al domai n ( Chukwuker e, 1983) , but gr adual l y movi ng t o a si t uat i on
i n whi ch A l a, t he Ear t h goddess, seemst o have emer ged as t he supr eme among t he
supr eme dei t i es. Thus, Echer uo ( 1979: 19) st at es qui t e cat egor i cal l y: " i f ever
t her e was a supr eme god among t he I gbo, i t was )UA. A cr i si s i n our
i nst i t ut i ons has obscur ed t hi s f act " .
I t seems t o me t hat t hi s " cr i si s i n our i nst i t ut i ons" dat es f ur t her back
t han Echer uo pl aces i t - t o t he emer gence of apost at i c i deas ar i si ng par t l y
f r om cont act s wi t h cul t ur es wi t h monot hei st i c not i ons of supr eme sky- Gods and
par t l y f r om t he oppor t uni t y whi ch t hi s apost asy of f er ed f or t he cr eat i on and
mai nt enance of pol i t i co- r el i gi ous hegemoni es t hr ough conver si on and spi r i t ual
col oni al i sm. I t woul d t her ef or e seem t hat , af t er cent ur i es of t he pr eemi nence
of A l a as t he supr eme among t he supr eme dei t i es, t he I gbo j oi ned t hei r
nei ghbour s i n t he Ni ger and Benue val l eys i n an ol d west Af r i can t heol ogi cal
45 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
cont r over sy di scussed by Ar mst r ong ( 1982) , wi t h r ef er ence t o t he I dom~, i n an
ar t i cl e ent i t l ed, " I s Ear t h Seni or t o God?" . I n t hi s ar t I cl e, Ar ms tr onq dr aws
at t ent i on t o t he f act t h~t . " The Myt h of t he quar r el bet wet : n God and I \ : ar t has
W t hei r r espect i ve seni or i t y i s ver y wi despr ead i n t he Ni ger and Benue
val l eys" ( p. 12) . I n t he I doma case, as r eveal ed by Ar mst r ong, t r adi t i onal
r i t ual and r el at ed sour ces consi st ent l y asser t t he pr i meval supr emacy of
~r t h over Sky and, by i mpl i cat i on, her supr emacy over al l ot her sky Gods.
~us, i n an I doma sacr i f i ci al l i t ur gy, we hear t he f ~l l owi ng wor ds:
shoul d
They gave ( t he sacr i f i ce)
gi ve i t t o t he west . The
God sai d t hey shoul 9 gi ve
( Ar mst r ong, 1982: 7) ~
t o t he East . The East sai d t h~y
west sai d t he~ shoul d gi ve i t t o
i t t o Ear t h, f i , orEar t h i s seni or
God.
We ar e r emi nded her e of an I gbo pr over b r ecor d~d by Ar ~z~ ( 1982: 3) :
Chukwu s! na oki ka ana ka ya
Anahu er neya i her e
( Chukwu sai d t hat t he supr emacy of An~ over hi m
Does not make hi m ashamed of hi msel f ) . 3
Si mi l ar l y, i n an i nt er vi ew al so r ecor ded by Ar azl } ( 1982: 3) '"it h an i nf or mant
whomhe descr i bes as " a t r adi t i onal I gbo r el i gi oni st " , we ar e t ol d t hat "1n~,
onwhi ch we r est our f eet " seems " t o be gr eat er ( t han Chukwu) " .
At what poi nt t hen di d t he I gbo begi n t o l ook up t o a sky- God, at f i r st
coeval wi t h, but l at er supr eme over t he Ear t h? I t seems t o me t hat t he
i nf l uence of I sl am, whi ch, as Ar mst r ong ( 1982: 13) not es " had been an act i ve
f or ce" i n t he Ni ger and Benue val l eys " f or cent ur i es bef or e t he J i hads i n
Ni ger i a"I cannot be r ul ed out i n t he I gbo ar ea
4
as i n t he pr e- J i had I doma and
I gal aki ngdoms. I n t hi s r espect , i t i s not ewor t hy t hat i t i s among t he Nr i ,
~o ar e not onl y geogr aphi cal l y cl ose, but geneal ogi cal l y af f i l i at ed, t o t he
I gal a, 5 t hat t he concept of t he supr eme sky God, 9hukwu, appear s t o have
or i gi nat ed ( Onwuej eogwu, 1972: 44) . And, as we shal l see pr esent l y, t he Nr i
had good pol i t i cal r easons f or adopt i ng and adapt i ng t he i dea of a supr eme
~y- god i nt o t he aut ocht honous r el i gi ous mat r i x domi nat ed by t he concept of
Chi ( di vi ne f or ce) , Ala ( Ear t h f or ce) and Mm,!q ( ancest r al spi r i t s) . Thi s i s
compar abl e t o t he si t uat i on, whi ch, accor di ng t o Ar mst r ong ( 1982: 13) appear s
t ohava gi ven r i se t o t he emer gence of t he quar r el bet ween Ear t h and Heaven:
I t woul d seem t hat t he Ear t h cul t s and ancest or cul t s wer e basi c
t o t he whol e of West er n Sudan', and t he myt h of t he quar r el bet ween
Ear t h and Heaven r ef l ect s t he new pol i t i cal anami l . ' i t ar y si t uat i on.
I n t he anci ent ear t h- and- ancest or r el i gi ons ( t doma and Tal l ensi ) ,
t he seni or i t y quest i on does not ar i se.
~r di d t he quest i on of seni or i t y ar i se i n t he anci ent r el i gi on of t he I gbo.
I t was onl y when t he hegemoni c pr ogr amme of t he Nr i and ot her equal l y di sposed
I gbopeopl es mat ur ed t hat t he quest i on ar ose. I n pr opagat i ng t he i dea of a
supr emeSky God, Chukwu, f r om whi ch t hei r hegemoni c power and aut hor i t y i s
cl ai medt o der i ve, t hey no doubt pr ovoked t he r eact i on of t he cust odi ans of
t heanci ent , aut ocht honous f ai t h. I t woul d however appear t hat , i n many par t s
of I gbol and, t he new t heol ogy of " I gwe k! ~l ~" ( Sky i s gr eat er t han Ear t h)
46 Chukwuma Az~onye
event ual l y t r i umphed, as i s r ef l ect ed i n t he f ol l owi ng t al e, " I gwe n~ AI~II
( The Sky and t he Ear t h) , r ecor ded by Car nochan and I wuchukwu ( 1963: 55- 56) :
Sky ( I gwe) and Ear t h ( AI 1) wer e st r uggl i ng over t he owner shi p of
a t r ee. I n t he cour se of t he st r uggl e, Sky went home but t ol d
Ear t h t hat she woul d see what woul d happen. When he r et ur ned
t o hi s home, he caused t he r ai ns t o st op f al l i ng and t he sun t o
st op shi ni ng, wher eupon a gr eat dr ought of t he ki nd never seen bef or e
ensued. One day, al l t he bi r ds of t he sky assembl ed and agr eed
t o go t o Sky' s house. At f i r st , t hey t ol d Ndur i ( Cuckoo) t o go
al one. He went . He passed sever al wi l der nesses but at l ast gave
up, sayi ng t hat hi s wi ngs ached sor el y. The bi r ds t hen asked Qk~r f
( spar r ow) t o go. He f l ew and went . When i n t he cour se of hi s
f l i ght he sai d he was t i r ed, Ap~a ( Hor nbi l l ) t ook over f r om hi m.
When he ar r i ved at Sky' s home, he sang, sayi ng,
6
My f at her I gwe, my mot her I gwe ,
Tuma ngwe ngwere;
Ear t h t ol d me t o t el l you t hat you ar e gr eat er ,
T~ ma ngwe ngwere;
Sky t ol d hi m t o si ng what he sang agai n, f or he di d not hear i t wel l .
And so he began and sang agai n, sayi ng,
My f at her I gwe, my mot her I gwe,
Tuma ngwe nqwe re:
Ear t h t ol d me t o t el l you t hat you ar e gr eat er ,
T~ ma ngwe ngwere;
So t hat t he r ai ns wi l l f al l agai n,
T~ ma ngwe ngwere;
So t hat t he sun wi l l shi ne agai n,
T~ ma ngwe ngwere.
When he f i ni shed si ngi ng, Sky t ol d hi m t o wai t a whi l e. He ( Sky) went
i nt o hi s r oom and wr apped up r ai n and sun i n a par cel and gave t o hi m,
t el l i ng hi m not t o unt i e t he par cel unt i l he was on hi s way home.
When he qr r i ved at a cer t ai n wi l der ness, he unt i ed t he par cel .
I mmedi at el y t he r ai ns began beat i ng hi m unt i l t hey t hr ew hi m i nt o t he
cor ner of a f or est . When t he r ai ns r eceded, he unt i ed t he sun. And
when t he sun had f i ni shed beat i ng hi m, he sai d t hat i n no
ci r cumst ances can r ai nf al l ever ki l l an abl e- bodi ed young man.
7
I n addi t i on t o t al es of t hi s ki nd, t her e ar e r ef l ect i ons of t he apost at i c
i dea of t he supr emacy of Sky over Ear t h i n t he names of cul t s such as t he
Or acl e of Igwe-ka-al ~ of Umunneoha, near Ower r i , t he dwel l i ng pl ace of t he
wi t hdr awn hi gh- God, Chukwu A bi~ ma, as suggest ed i n t he f ol l owi ng Mban9 myt h
r ecor ded by Onuoha ( 1984) :
/' . ..
47
I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
Tr ul y, i n t he ol den days, Chukwu Ab~am~ was l i vi ng at t hi s our pl ace.
Our peopl e wer e gi vi ng hi m al l due r espect , of f er i ng hi m di f f er ent
ki nds of sacr i f i ce and gi vi ng hj m gi f t s of al l ki nds. And he was
sol vi ng di f f er ent pr obl ems f or our peopl e accor di ng t o t he needs of
each suppl i cant . . . I n t hose ol den days, Chukwu was l i vi ng at
Umuel emmai , i n t hose ol den days . . . That was t he t i me when ever y
r gbo man bel i eved t ~at Chukwu was mor e cl ose t han he i s now. I n
t hose ol den days ever yone who l ost hi s ki t chen kni f e woul d go t o
Chukwu t o enqui r e why i t was l ost ; ever yone who l ost hi s t appi ng
kni f e woul d go t o Chukwu t o enqui r e why and how i t was l ost ;
anybody who l ost hi s t appi ng r ope woul d go t o i nqui r e f r om Chukwu
why i t was l ost . And he woul d he t ol d why. Anot her t hi ng was t hat ,
i n t hose days, anybody whose wi f e di d not gi ve bi r t h, t he husband
woul d go t o Chukwu Ab}am~ i n hi s house t o f i nd out why hi s wi f e
had not gi ven bi r t h t o a chi l d . . .
9
md so on. Al t hough Chukwu Abt ~ma oper at ed t hr ough mi ddl emen cal l ed t he
awakal a pr i est s, he event ual l y f ound hi msel f unabl e t o cope wi t h t he i ncessant
demands and compl ai nt s of men, and so he wi t hdr ew f r om qm~el emma~ t o t he
I gweka~l ~ shr i ne i n TJ m\ l nne9ha, wher e he cont i nued t o r ecei ve t he l i t i gat i ons
and suppl i cat i ons of men t hr ough hi s pr i est s.
The above t al e appear s however t o be a r at i onal i zat i on of a l at er phase
of t he evol ut i on of t he concept of Chukwu, t he Sky God supr eme over t he Ear t h,
a phase t o whi ch we shal l r et ur n pr esent l y. what is i mpor t ant at t hi s st age
i s t o r ecogni ze t he connect i on bet ween t he i dea of Igwe-ka-~ l ~ and t he i dea of
Chukwu, and t he cr i si s i n I gbo r el i gi ous consci ousness whi ch t hey si gni f y.
Accor di ng t o Echer uo (1-79:19-20),
Igwe-ka-~ l ~ was si mpl y not onl y a devi l i sh sect but a her et i cal one.
I t s ver y name was a dar i ng - consci ousl y dar i ng - chal l enge t o t he
- , "
supr eme dei t y of t he I gbo peopl e. The cul t pl aced Igwe above A l a, and
cl ai med hi m as supr eme. To pr opose t hat was i n i t sel f an abomi nat i on,
t hat i s t o say, a def i l ement of t he Ear t h, imeru al a. I n shor t ,
Umunne<; . r aand Igwe-ka-~ l amust be seen i n t he hi st or y of our
i nst i t ut i ons as a phenomenon whi ch came cl osest t o set t i ng up a god
cul t above t hat of A l ~ her sel f , t he ul t i mat e sanct i on t o mor al s.
per haps what Echer uo shoul d have sai d her e i s t hat Igwe ka ~1~ of
Umunneoha i s one of sever al si mi l ar i nst i t ut i ons whi ch emer ged, i n t he cour se
of I gbo hi st or y, as a consequence of t he, ~i - t nspi r ed asser t i on of t he supr emacy
of t he heavenl y Chukwu over t he ear t h- f or ce, A l ~ . Anot her i nst i t ut i on of t he
same ki nd i s t he or acl e of Chukwu Ukpabi a, popul ar l y known as t he Long J uj u or
10 <,
I bi ni ukpaabi , of Ar ochukwu, whi ch, as Echer uo (1979:20) obser ves, " succeeded"
wher e. " Igwe ka iUa f ai l ed" . For Echer uo, t he success of " t he Chukwu cul t of
Ar ochukwu" wher e Igwe ka al a f ai l ed, " was made possi bl e by t hr ee consi der at i ons,
namel y, t he i nt egr at i on of Chi i nt o t hi s r el i gi ous syst em, i t s avoi dance of
conf l i ct wi t h A l ~ and, f i nal l y, i t s deci si ve separ at i on of Ek~ and Chi jn the
Igbo met aphysi cs" (1979:20). I n pur sui t of t hi s t hesi s, Echer uo (1979:21) goes
i nt oa f ai r l y det ai l ed expl anat i on of t h concept of Chi, whi ch he descr i bes
as " pr obabl y one of t he most compl ex t heol ogi cal concept s ever devi sed t o
expl ai n t he uni ver se" . He t hen pr oposes a r econst r uct i on of how t he Ar o cul t
48 Chukwwaa Azyony- e
seems t o have ar r i ved at t he concept of Chukwu:
What t he Ar o cul t of Chukwu di d wa~ t o bui l d ~n ( t he) t hor oughl y
I gbo f oundat i on ( i . e. ~e concept of Chi) and t o pr opose a
uni ver sal chi par al l el t o ( t hough mor e power f ul t han) t he
i ndi vi dual Chi. That i dea bl ended beaut i f ul l y i nt o t he I gbo wor l d
vi ew. Chi was separ at ed f r om Chi Ukwu whi ch t hen became t he
s~ndar d I gbo name f or The Al mi ght y. And yet , ) u~ was ,
undi st ur bed; i n f act , i t was t hr ough Chukwu t hat 41~coul d best be
appeased; and t he pr i est s and char l at ans who pr opagat ed Chukwu' s
power s knew t hey had t he goodwi l l of A l ~ wor ki ng f or t hem.
Chukwu sur vi ved; Igwe ka A l l di d not .
Ther e i s l i t t l e doubt i n my mi nd t hat , i n i t s gener al out l i nes, t hi s i s
a f ai r l y cr edi bl e r econst r uct i on of t he or i gi ns of t he i dea. of Chukwu i n I gbo
r el i gi on. But Echer uo appear s t o be mi st aken bot h i n hi s asser t i on t hat t he
i dea was or i gi nat ed by t he Ar o and i n t he suggest i on t hat Ar o t heol ogy
succeded wher e si mi l ar t heol ogi es f ai l ed. As we have al r eady pr oposed above,
t he concept of Chukwu i n I gbo r el i gi on was or i gi nat ed by t he Nr i whose pol i t i co-
r el i gi ous hegemony based on t he supr emacy of Chukwu pr eceeded t hat of t he Ar o. 11
As Qn~ej e9~ ( 1972: 44) specul at es,
I t i s ver y pr obabl e t hat aut ocht honous I gbo c' ul t ur e of ; t he pr e- Nr i
per i od had not devel oped t he concept of ' Chukwu' . Nr i peopl e
devel op~d t he concept of ' Chukwu' and a t heocr at i c monar chy t hat
cont r ol l ed t he ' ear t h f or ce' by t he use of of o.
Chukwu ( f r omchi ukwu) i s t he cr eat or of al l t hi ngs, wi t h f our
mani f est at i ons of hi s exi st ence. Fi r st , Chukwu is A nyanwil , i n a
symbol i c meani ng of l i t he sun" ; as t he sun' s l i ght i s ever ywher e so
i s Chukwu' s pr esence ever ywher e mani f est ed; as t he sun, so i s Chukwu
al l power f ul , and as t he sun' s l i ght r eveal s t hi ngs so i s Chukwu
t he sour ce of knowl edge. Secondl y, Chukwu i s A gMl l , t hef er t i l i t y
of t he ear t h and t he bei ngs t hat i nhabi t i t . Thi r dl y, Chukwu i s
concei ved as Chi, or t he power i n l i vi ng bei ngs enabl i ng t hem t o
pr ocr eat e f r om gener at i on t o gener at i on. Four t hl y, Chukwu i s okl k~ ,
cr eat or of ever yt hi ng vi si bl e and i nvi si bl e and of t he l aws t hat
gover n t hem. These l aws ar e nei t her good nor bad, but si mpl y enabl e
t hi ngs t o wor k. Good and evi l ar e t he pr oduct s of i nvi si bl e bei ngs
or f or ces, al Vsj.A l ~ sl , t he i nvi si bl e cr eat i ons of Chukwu, ar e
t he ' bei ngs' or ' f or ces' t hat mani pul at e t he hi dden l aws t o shower
good and evi l ont o t he vi si bl e . wor l d of men. The Nr i di st i ngui sh f our
I t i s al so t r ue t o say t hat Nr i t heol ogy succeded even mor e t han t hat of t he Ar o, '
and t hi s i s because of t he ver y pr agmat i c way i n whi ch i t not onl y subsumes t he
age- ol d I gbo concept of chi as di vi ne f or ce and cosmi c l i ght
12
but al so i n t he
way i t accommodat es and r econci l es t he conf l i ct i ng cl ai ms of ~ l ~ ( Ear t h) and
Igwe ( Sky) by pr esent i ng t hem bot h as mani f est at i ons of t he new supr eme God and
as coeval and equal l y si gni f i cant spi r i t ual f or ces (al ~ s4)cr eat ed by Chukwu t o
oper at e " t he hi dden l aws of good and evi l " i n t he uni ver se. As summed up i n
9f l ~ej e?~ ( 1983: 4) :
t ypes, .
49 I GBO FOLKT~ES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
of al usi: t hose di r ect l y est abl i shed by Chukwu such as ana and Igwe;
t hose est abl i shed by Er i such as Ifejioku, eke, oye, afo, nkwo;
t hose est abl i shed by t he ancest or s such as idemil i, uda, ar o; and
t hat cal l ed agwg whi ch i s an ambi val ent super nat ur al associ at ed
wi t h afa.
What we have her e i s a ca~ef ul appor t i onment of pr act i cal l y ever yt hi ng
of si gni f i cance i n anci ent I gbo r el i gi on under t he supr eme power of Chukwu i n
sucha way as t o suggest a har moni ous coexi st ence of al l i n t he i nt er est of
man. Thi s t heol o9X went down wel l wi t h t he I gbo as can be at t est ed t o by
t he ext ent and endur i ng i nf l uence of t he Nr i hegemony whi ch i t was, i n t he
f i r st pl ace, cr eat ed t o suppor t . And, i n f act , whi l e t he subsequent Ar o
t heol ogy appear s t o have f al l en i nt o r i di cul e and r ej ect i on, as evi denced by
t he t al es t o be consi der ed l at er ( bel ow) , t he basi c l i neament s of t he Nr i
weol ogy t oget her wi t h i t ~ cognat e myt hs have sur vi ved i n t he I gbo t r adi t i on
up t i l l t he pr esent day.
The Nr i myt hs r ef er r ed t o above const i t ut e t he mai n body of I gbo f ol kt al es
i nwhi ch we have posi t i ve i mages of Chukwu, as supr eme God. I t i s however
easy t o r ecogni ze t he hegemoni c or i ent at i on of t hese t al es i n t hei r r at i onal i -
zat i on of t he numer ous cl ai ms of Nr i pr i est - ki ngs ( t he Eze Nri) t o power and
aut hor i t y i n t he I gbo wor l d.
To begi n wi t h, some of t he t al es pr esent t he Eze Nr i ki ngshi p as a
sacer dot al i nst i t ut i on or dai ned by Chukwu. I n a t al e r emi ni scent of t he
Yor uba myt h of t he descent of Oduduwa ( t he f oundi ng f at her of t he Yor uba) f r om
heaven, 13 Chukwu i s pr esent ed as sendi ng Er i ( t he f oundi ng f at her of t he Nr i )
and hi s wi f e, Namuku, f r om heaven, " t o t ake possessi on of t he l and" , as Af i gbo
(1981: 43) put s i t . As i n t he cognat e Yor uba myt h, t he ear t h was " sof t " and
" wat er l ogged" when Er i descended:
Chukwu sent a smi t h, .
who dr i ed i t wi t h char coal and bel l ows . . .
The descendant s of t he Smi t h
Made hoes, kni ves and car vi ng t ool s.
The i chi mar ks wer e made on
The f ace of Eze Nr i ' s son and daught er .
The a~t i st s ar e cal l ed Di oka
( <?nW1! - ~j e, ?gwt ; , 1981 : 67)
Her e, cl ear l y, i s a myt h r at i onal i zi ng Nr i cont r ol of ear l y I gbo t echnol ogy
andt he speci al r i t ual t i es bet ween t he Nr i pr i est - ki ngs and t he cel ebr at ed
smi t hs of Awka, a r el at i onshi p whi ch i s mi r r or ed mor e cl ear l y i n a- ver si on of
t he same my- t h r ecor ded by Thomas ( 1913, 1: 51) . Af t er r ecei vi ng yams f or t he
f i r st t i me, f r om Chukwu,
The Ezenr i sent a message ( t o Chukwu) t hat t he gr ound was t oo wet ,
and he was t ol d t hat he must send: t o t he Awka peopl e; t hey t ook
t hei r bl acksmi t hs' bel l ow and bl e~ t i l l t he gr ound was dr y. When
t he yams wer e f ul l gr own, t he Ezenr i shar ed t hem out . The Awka peopl e
made Qt-" n and Nr i peopl e t ook 9tt;>n and put al ose and ajana ever ywher e.
-
50 Chukwuma Az~onye
Rel at ed t o t hi s i s anot her myt h whi ch at t r i but es, t o t he Eze Nr i , t he
or i gi nal domest i cat i on of yam and t he r evol ut i on i n I gbo agr i cul t ur e whi ch t hi s
ci vi l i zi ng i nf l uence br ought about . I n one ver si on of t he myt h, Chukwu gi ves
yam di r ect l y t o Eze Nr i and Eze Adama soon af t er t hei r descent f r om heaven:
Ezenr i and Ezedama came f r om heaven and r est ed on an ant heap; al l
was wat er . Cuku asked ~ho was si t t i ng t her e and t hey answer ed,
" We ar e t he ki ngs of Nr i and Adama" . Ther eupon Cuku and t he ki ngs
t al ked. Af t er some conver sat i on Cuku gave t hem each a pi ece of yam;
yams wer e at t hat t i me unknown t o man, f or human bei ngs wal ked i n
t he bush l i ke ani mal s.
Af t e' r eat i ng hi s por t i on, Ezedama went t o ask f or mor e; Cuku
gave hi m anot her pi ece and i nst r uct ed Ezedama t o t el l Ezenr i t o
send hi s el dest son and daught er . The Ezenr i sent t hem and Cuku
t ol d t hem t o br i ng a bi g pot , whi ch he sent back agai n. The Ezenr i
was t o pl ant t hi s pot wher ever he chose and no one was t o l ook i nt o
t he pot f or t wel ve days; when t hey l ooked i n and saw yams gr owi ng
t hey went t o Cuku and t ol d hi m, and Cuku sai d, " pl ant t hem, put
st i cks, and l i f t t he r unner s. "
I n anot her ver si on of t he myt h, yam and cocoyam ar e pr esent ed as t he r espect i ve
of f shoot s of t he heads of t he son and daught er of Eze Nr i chopped of f and
bur i ed by t he ki ng i n obedi ence t o t he commandment of Chukwu, a mot i f r emi ni s-
cent of Yahweh' s i nst r uct i on t o Abr aham t o sacr i f i ce hi s bel oved son, I saac t o
hi m:
No one coul d sl eep at f i r st , but one day a chi l d- ki ng went t o Cuku' s
pl ace f or f i r ewood. Cuku t ook a pi ece of yam and gave i t t o t he chi l d
and when i t got home i t l ay down and sl ept . I t s par ent s t hought i t
was dead and l ament ed but when i t woke i t expl ai ned mat t er s t o i t s
f at her , t he chi l d was sent f or mor e yams; ( i t ) br ought some home and
t he ki ng and hi s wi f e bot h at e. The ki ng t hen r esol ved t o go and
f et ch yams f r om Cuku; Cuku t hen made a bar gai n wi t h t he ki ng t hat he
was t o mar k hi s son wi t h t he ici mar ks and cut of f t he heads of bot h
hi s son and hi s daught er and t hen bur y t hem i n hi s gar den; a mal e
sl ave was al so t o be ki l l ed and a f emal e sl ave, and gar dens wer e t o
be made wi t h t hei r heads. He was t o wai t t wel ve days and t hen go
and l ook, and i n t wel ve days yams had spr ung f r om t he heads of t he
~en and koko- yams f r om t he women; f r om t he el der son had spr ung pal m
and coconut and al l bi g t r ees, and f r om t he daught er cor n and al l
pl ant s.
;,
,
Adaka i s t he head of al l t he yams, Mgbul i chi of al l t he koko
yams. I r oko i s t he ki ng of al l t he t r ees, coconut t he chi l d of t he
ki ng; t her ef or e i r oko and coconut must be bur i ed l i ke men, or ' at
any r at e r ecei ve t he same sacr i f i ces.
Then peopl e pl ant ed yams and at e and al l ' Sl ept , al l count r i es
came t o ' beg t he ki ng f or yams but he sai d he coul d not sel l , t hey had
t o br i ng seven f owl s, a pot , chal k, and goat s. The ki ng made medi ci ne
wi t h i t and t hey t ook i t t o t hei r l ands and sacr i f i ced Fvej i oko;
51 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
t he ki ng t ol d t hem he coul dn' t sel l but onl y gi ve yams f or t hey
wer e hi s chi l dr en; t hey, on t he ot her hand~ wer e t o gi ve yams
t o Nr i men when t hey saw t hem; i f peopl e r ef use t o do t hi s t he
Nr i man put s down yt 9n and t akes i t away and t he yams f ol l ow hi m;
t o get yams agai n t he man m~st br i ng f owl s, et c. , t o t he ki ng.
The medi ci ne whi ch t he ki ng makes i s cal l ed opiti; yams and
koko yams ar e cooked, but i f a man eat s he must not l i ck hi s
f i nger s; each t akes a piece of yam and t hr ows i t on someone el se;
af t er t hi s al l go home and pl ant yams ( Thomas, 1913, 1: 137- 138) .
I n bot h t al es, i t i s easy t o see t he key el ement s of t he hegemoni c
pr opaganda whi ch gave bi r t h t o t hem. As or i gi nat or s and cont r ol l er s of what
Af i gbo ( 1981 : 50) descr i bes as Ear t h For ce (,h~), Yam f or ce d:f~ji9kij.) and t he
associ at ed r i t ual st af f (Ofoi, Nr i pr i est s ar r ogat ed t o t hemsel ves - t he
r esponsi bi l i t y of pr epar i ng' " yam medi ci ne, 9gw~ Ji, at t he r i ght season f or
' ensur i ng a pl ent i f ul suppl y of yams i n al l suxzound Lnq t owns or i n t owns
t hat subj ect ed t hemsel ves t o t he eze Nr i " ( See Af i gbo, 1981 : 52) . By t he same
t oken, t he Nr i pr i est cl ai med t he r i t ual r esponsi bi l i t y of r emovi ng nso ~nl
or ai g ( abomi nat i on) ever ywher e i n I gbol and t hat acqui esced t o t hei r r el i gi ous
myt h and hegemony.
I n ot her Nr i r el i gi ous myt hs, Chukwu i s por t r ayed as t he sour ce of t he
f our - day I gbo week (izu) speci al l y r eveal ed by hi m t o t he Eze Nr i :
Chukwu sent st r ange vi si t or s t o Eze Nr i .
They came, f our st r anger s wi t h basket s.
They r ef used t o di scl ose t hei r names.
I n t he ni ght , ' Eze Nr i di scover ed t hei r names
By sendi ng r at s i nt o t hei r basket s . . .
I n t he mor ni ng Eze cal l ed t hem:
Eke! Oye! 9f 9! Nkw9!
Eze' s wi sdom was pr ai sed.
And t hey sai d: o" Have f our mar ket s and f our days.
Cal l t hem Eke, Oye, Af 9, Nkw9" .
They vani shed
( 9nw~ej e9g~, 1981: 66) .
The r el at i onshi p bet ween t hi s myt h and Nr i cl ai ms . . t o t he cont r ol of
commer ci cl act i vi t y i n t he anci ent I gbo wor l d i s under scor ed i n t he cl osi ng
par agr aph of anot her ver si on of t he same myt h r ecor ded by Thomas ( 1913, 1: 138) :
Cuku sent t he days of t he week: _ f our t hi ngs l i ke women car r i ed
basket s and came t o t he ki ng' s house; nei t her ki ng nor doct or s knew
what t hey wer e, but t hey sai d t hat i f t he ki ng di d not sl eep he
woul d see at ni ght ; a r at came out and went i nsi de t he basket ,
cal l ed Eke eke, what i s i nsi de your basket , and so on f or t he ot her
days; t he ki ng r emember ed t he f our names and when t he f our t hi ngs
st ood i n a r ow he cal l ed t hem by t ~~i r names.
I f a woman cannot go t o t he mar ket she goes t o t he ki ng' s pl ace,
put s her basket down and t akes i t home agai n. Nr i peopl e make
52 Chukwuma Az~onye
mar ket s by pl ant i ng ogl isi wood.
ot her t al es f r om Nr i r el i gi ous myt hol ogy asser t t he r i ght of Nr i pr i est s
t o of f i ci at e i n t he t i t l e- t aki ng an, dcor onat i on cer emoni es of ot her I gbo . .
communi t i es or r ef er t o t he wel l - known r ol e of t he Nr i as peace- maker s i n
I gbol and. As Onwuej eogwu ( 1972: 48) st at es, " The power and aut hor i t y of Eze
Nr i wer e based on t he bel i ef and r ecogni t i on of many I gbo set t l ement s t hat
Eze Nr i had spi r i t ual aut hor i t y over t hem" , and t hi s bel i ef and r ecogni t i on
i n t ur n appear s t o have r est ed on t he f ai t h whi ch t he myt hs l i nkt ng t he Eze
Nr i i nst i t ut i on wi t h t he new supr eme God, Chukwu, seems t o have el i ci t ed
t hr oughout a wi de ar ea of I gbol and. As Af i gbo ( 1981: 61) obser ves,
Nr i pr i est s moved f r om ' one cer ner of t he gl obe t o anot her '
(el uwa dum) spr eadi ng t he gospel . t hat t hey came f r om t he sky
and t hat Chukwu had empower ed t hem t o cr own ki ngs, make yam
medi ci ne, r emove nS9, cont r ol agr i cul t ur al cal endar and make
peace i n r et ur n f or gi vi ng yam and ot her f ood cr ops t o al l peopl es.
Thi s Nr i mi ssi onar y act i vi t y r esul t ed i n t he f i r st I gbo exper i ence of r el i gi ous
col oni al i sm. Consequent l y, t he Nr i t own emer ged as t he " Hol y Ci t y" of t he
I gbo ( Af i gbo, 1981) and t he sacr ed cr adl e of I gbo cul t ur e compar abl e t o I f e
i n Yor uba consci ousness.
Once upon a t i me, Mb~ went
Chukwu went i nt o t he r oom,
hi m, sayi ng; " Br eak kol a" .
t hought ver y har d.
t o Chukwu' s house as was t he cust om.
br ought a pi ece of st or i e, gave i t t o
Mb~ l ooked up and l ooked down and
As has been poi nt ed out , Nr i myt hol ogy managed t o pr opagat e t he i dea of
a gr eat Sky God, Chukwu, wi t hout chal l engi ng or dest r oyi ng t he sanct i t y and
aut hor i t y of A l a and ot her basi c component s of aut ocht honous I gbo r el i gi on.
Thi s st r at egy was ul t i mat el y copi ed by t he Ar o, as poi nt ed out by Echer uo
( 1979: 20) , i n t he devel opment of t hei r l ocal dei t y (Ibl ni~ kpaabf)' whi ch t hey
had der i ved f r om t he aut ocht honous I bi bi o cul t of Ibritam,l ~ i nt o t he sanct uar y
and or acl e of Chukwu, t he power base of t hei r t heocr at i c hegemony. But t he
Ar o wer e l ess successf ul t han t he Nr i . Lacki ng t he t act and paci f i c
t emper ament of t he Nr i , t he shr ewd but vi ol ent l y expl oi t at i ve and sl ave-
t r af f i cki ng Ar o pr i est s f ai l ed t o el i ci t uni ver sal accept ance of t he Chukwu
of t hei r or acl e. The f r audul ent and devi l i sh aspect s of t he cul t soon became
wi del y appar ent despi t e at t empt s by Ar o mi ssi onar i es t o pai nt a gl or i ous
i mage of i t s i ndwel l i ng God. I t seems t o me t hat i t i s out of t hi s awar eness
of t he negat i ve f eat ur es of t he Chuk~ of t he Ar o cul t t hat a l ar ge cycl e of
t al es r i di cul i ng t he i dea of Chukwu wer e cr eat ed.
The most br azen of t hese count er myt hs i n whi ch t he f al se cl ai ms of t he . - ,
Ar o ' Supr eme God' ar e debunked, ar e t hose whi ch por t r ay Chukwu as a st upi d
ogr e or as a t r i ckst er t r i cked i n hi s at t empt t o i nf l i ct mi ndl ess cr uel t y on
peopl e. I n one of t he most popul ar of t he t al es i n t hi s cycl e of count er myt hs'
( Ogbal u, 1972: 1- 4) , Chukwu i s easi l y out wi t t ed by Mbe {Tor t oi se}, t he I gbo
t r i ckst er her o:
53 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
Then he ( Mb~) went out si de, pr epar ed a l ar ge pad, car neback t o
Chukwu' s house and sai d t o hi m, " Take t hi s pad and car r y t he Ear t h
( AI ~)wi t h i t . " Chukwu cr i ed out al oud t o Mb~ and asked hi m, " Can
a man car r y t he Ear t h?" Wher eupon, Mb~ cr i ed out al oud t o hi m
and asked hi m, " Can a man br eak a pi ece of st one, i s i t kol anut ?h
Chukwu l ooked up and t ol d. Mb~ t hat he woul d send f or hi m agai n
on hi s r et ur n j our ney f r om wher e he was goi ng. Mb~ agr eed, l ef t
and cont i naed on hi s j our ney.
Not i ce t he i mpl i cat i ons of t he domi nant mot i f s i n t hi s t al e: Mbe' s mock-
pi l gr i mage t o t he Cukwu or acl e; t he i mpossi bl e t ask pr oposed by t he di m- wi t t ed
ogr e, Chukwu, i n t ot al di sr egar d of cust omar y I gbo " kol a hospi t al i t y" , 15
and t he i dea of t he super i or i t y of Ear t h
16
over Chukwu, who, i n f act ,
i r oni cal l y r ecogni zes hi msel f as a puny mor t al ( " man" ) i n t he f ace of Al a:
Mmad~ 9na-ebu al a ebu?
( Can a man car r y t he Ear t h?)
I n t he r est of t he t al e, i t becomes cl ear er and mor e speci f i c t hat t he st upi d
t ask mast er pr esent ed her e i s no ot her t han t he God of t he Ar o Or acl e" Chukwu
Ukpab! a:
On hi s way back f r om- hi s j our ney, Mb~ r et ur ned t o Chukwu' s house and
gr eet ed hi m: " Chukwu l J kpab- f a,I have compl et ed my j our ney and I am
on my way back home. " Then Chukwu qave hi m some money and asked hi m
t o go and buy pal m- wi ne f or hi m. But he t ol d hi m t o ensur e t hdt he
nei t her put t he wi ne i n a pot nor i n a cal abash; t hat he nei t her came
t hr ough a bush nor a r oad when br i ngi ng t he wi ne; t hat he nei t her
came i n t he mor ni ng nor i n t he af t er noon nor i n t he eveni ng; and
. t hat t he wi ne cont ai ner shoul d nei t her be f ul l nor shor t of bei ng
f ul l .
Mb~ t ook t he money and went home. Whey he r et ur ned t o hi s house,
he t hought ver y har d and hi t at what t o do. He bought wi ne and
put i t i nt o a f ood mor t ar . Then, i n t he mi ddl e of t he ni ght , he
t ook t he wi ne and passi ng kpum kpum t hr ough a wat er - t unnel ,
ent er ed and sai d: " Chukwu Ukpab: ! - a, I have bought t he wi ne and
her e am I wi t h i t . " Then Chukwu asked hi m, " Di d I not ask you not
t o come i n t he mor ni ng?- ' " But t . f uer epl i ed, " I s t hi s mor ni ng? I s
t hi s af t er noon?"
Agai n, Chukwu asked hi m, " Di d I not t el l you nei t her t o pass
t hr ough a bush nor t hr ough a r oad whi l e Gomi ng?" To whi ch Mb~
r epl i ed, " DJ . dI come t hr ough t he bush or t hr ough a r oad? Was i t
not t hr ough a wat er t unnel t hat I came wi t h t he wi ne?" Then Chukwu
asked agai n, ~" D. i dI not t el l you t hat t he wi ne cont ai ner shoul d be
nei t her f ul l nqr shor t of bei ng f ul l ?" I n r esponse t o t hi s, Mb~
pushed t he mor t ar i n whi ch he put t he wi ne t o one si de , i nsuch a
way t hat t he wi ne t ouched t he edge of t he mor t ar on one si de and
appear ed hal f - f ul l on anot her si de. And he t ol d Chukwu, " Thi s wi ne
i n t he mor t ar , i s i t f ul l or shor t of bei ng f ul l ?" At t hi s,
54 Chukwuma Az~onye
Chukwu st ar ed vacant l y and shook hi s head t hi nki ng: i t i s sai d t hat
pr i de goes bef or e a f al l . When a per son' s cup i s f ul l , i t mi ght
over f l ow.
So when t hese t hi ngs passed by, Chukwugave Mb~ a cock and a hen
and t ol d hi m t hat bef or e a year r an out t he cock woul d l ay eggs
whi l e t he hen woul d cr ow. Mbe t ook t he t wo f owl s and went home.
One day, he came out t o t he mi ddl e of t he mar ket and hi t t i ng
hi msel f on t he head wi t h a cl ub, began t o cr y gent l y, gent l y,
sayi ng t hat he was i n deep wat er s. Peopl e asked hi m, " Mbedi ogu,
what i s t he mat t er wi t h you?" Mbe r epl i ed and sai d, " My f at her
has di ed i n chi l dbi r t h and my mot her has been ki l l ed on t he
war f r ont whi l e f i ght i ng. " At t hi s, Chukwu cr i ed al oud at hi m,
aski ng hi m, , " Does a man gi ve bi r t h? Do women go t o war ?" And Mbe
r et or t ed, sayi ng, " Does a cock l ay eggs? Does a hen cr ow?"
We ar e of cour se deal i ng her e wi t h a common t al e- t ype i n whi ch t he name of
Chukwu Vkpab: ! - ahas been subst i t ut ed f or t he names of ot her st upi d ogr es.
The same i s t r ue of ot her t al es, such as t he f ol l owi ng, " The Two BOyS" r ecor ded-
by Thomas ( 1918: 86) . Her e Chukwu i s subj ect ed t o a t nor ough- goi ng r i di cul e i n
a ser i es of encount er s whi ch seem t o have no ot her appar ent pur pose t han t o
under mi ne any cl ai ms t o di vi ne omni pot ence or omni sci ence whi ch may be
ar r ogat ed t o any bei ng of t hat name:
A woman concei ved of t en, but t he chi l dr en di ed.
doct or and he di vi ned. She concei ved and bor e
and cal l ed hi m Amacami f owa ( A) . Then she bor e
cal l ed hi m Amacagai f eowa ( B) . 17
She asked a
a l i vi ng chi l d
anot her boy and
She f el l si ck; t he boys sai d, " Let us get f i r ewood f or her . " B went
t o t he back of Cuku' s house and cut wood. Cuku sai d, = " Who i s t hat ?"
" I , An, he r epl i ed; " Al l r i ght ; t he wood shal l st op i n t he gr ound,
t he axe i n t he wood, and t he hand_on t he axe. " sai d cuku. And
i t was so. B near l y di ed. Then Cuku cal l ed and sai d, " Wood come
out of t he gr ound, axe out of t he wood, and hand " f r om t he axe" ,
and i t was so. A came and quar r el l ed; he t ook t he axe and cut
f i r ewood i n t he back of Cuku' s house. Cuku cal l ed. " I , A," he
answer ed. " Al l r i ght , " sai d Cuku, " t he wood shal l st op i n t he gr ound,
and t he axe i n t he wood, and t he hand on t he axe" . A cal l ed out t ~
Cuku, " May you swel l , may you f i l l - t he house and come out si de t oo. "
So Cuku swel l ed and coul d not speak. A coul d not move.
A boy i n anot her house i n Cuku' s pl ace asked who was br eaki ng wood
i n t he back of hi s f at her ' s house. A sai d, "I;" He sai d, " Let t he
wood come out of t he gr ound, t he axe out of t he wood, and t he hand
of f t he axe. " And i t was so. A t hen cal l ed out , " Let Cuku dr y, et c. "
So Cuku r ecover ed.
Cuku went t o A' S house and sai d he woul d come up f or A t o shave hi s
head. A t ook a skul l , t ook cor n l eaves of f and put t he cor n i n a
cal abash. Cuku came; A sai d he was wor ki ng; Cuku sai d he woul d shel l
55 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
cor n i f A woul d shave hi s head.
A shaved t he head and Cuku r ubbed hi s hana over hi s head and sai d,
" Why di d you shave al l my head; put i t back. " A sai d, " Take t he
cor n cob and put t he seeds back" . Cuku coul d not do i t , so he
went .
Cuku gave A a r ound basket t o f et ch wat er ; A t ook cassava, spr ead
i t , and put a ci r cl e r ound i t , and t ol d CUku t o car r y i t i n. when
i t r ai ned.
Rai n f el l when A went t o t he wat er ; cuku t r i ed t o car r y t he
cassava and gr ound, but coul d not . A coul d not car r y t he wat er ,
so he washed and went home. Cuku asked, " Why i s t her e no wat er ?"
A asked, " Whyi s: t he cassava not car r i ed i n?" " Di d you ever see
a i nan car r y l and or i hi s head?" r epl i ed CUku. " Di d you ever see
a basket f or wat er ?" answer ed A.
Cuku cal l ed A and B; he gave B. one cow and A one bul l . " Keep
. t hem f or seven year s, and each year you ' wi l l have one cal f , "
he sai d. ~hey di d so, but A got no cal ves. B went and Cuku asked
i or 1\. " Ahas s t r anger at l ' i ome, " sai d B. " Al l r i ght , " Cuku and
Bshar ed t he cows~ B went home.
A t ook t he bul l and went t o Cuku ar i d sai d i t got no cal ves, " Take
t he bul l back, " but Cuku woul d not t ake i t . B t hr ew i t i nt o t he
house and went .
I n ot her t al es, t he i dea of Chukwu as t he God of cr eat i on i s debunked by
means of mot i f s whi ch quest i on hi s sense of j ust i ce and f ai r pl ay. I n t he
common I gbo myt h of how deat h came i r i t ot he wor l d (See Egudu, 1973;:23 and
ugochukwu, et ai, 1977: 20) , i t i s i ndeed r i di cul ous t hat t he so- cal l ed
omni sci ent cr eat or bases hi s di ci si on t hat humans shoul d be subj ect t o deat h
mer el y on t he chance f ai l ur e of t he human messenger ~" bbg , . .t o r ea. ch hi s house
i n t i me. Thi s capr i ci ous i ncapaci t y of Chukwu t oar r i {, e at f ai r deci si ons i s
st r essed i n t he f ol l owi ng ver si on of t he Ohaf i a I Dyt h, " I f e Meenl Chi nek~
Kwer e A na- egbu An~" ( Why God Or dai ned t he Ki l 11ngof Ar i i mal s" ) :
Bi g beast s and smal l beast s
They came t oget her
They went and asked God Cr eat or - t hat - moul ded- man- and- ~oul ded- spi r i t s:
" You , .0 l or d t hat moul ded us .
5 Ani mal s wi t h f l esh and hl oQd
Humans wi t h f l esh and bl ood
They ( humans) have begun t o ki l l and eat t he f l esh of our ki nd
Let t hem ki l l us no mor e
We ar e one"
10 God asked t hem: " What ar e you peopl e sayi ng?"
They once agai n t . oLd t hei r st or y
He sai d he had hear d
56 Chukwuma Az~onye
He summoned humans: I I Haveyou hear d what ani mal s have sai d about you?
They have come t o pl ead wi t h me t hat you shoul d ki l l t hem no mor e.
15 What you shoul d do i s t hi s,
Let t he ani mal s be ki l l ed, o~e of each ki nd, one of each ki nd
When each has been r oast ed, season i t wi t h sal t , cook i t and st or e i t
Let each be r oast ed ~ ~
Tnt i l t he day I shal l come and j udge t he case bet ween you - i n t hr ee
nkwo days ahead -
20 That i s when I shal l come and j udge t he case bet ween you
Bet ween you. humans and ani mal s"
Humans f ound Ant el opei
They f ound Ant el ope
Roast ed i t , st r i pped i t of i t s ski n.
25 Thev went on my l i t t l e- pl amel ess- ones, t hey
ki l l ed ever y ki nd of ani mal wi t hout except i on
They r oast ed t hem, seasoned t hem wi t h sal t , r oast ed,
Ever y ki nd of ani mal i n t he wor l d wi t hout except i on
They ki l l ed t hem, one of each ki nd, one of each ki nd
I t went on unt i l t he t hi r d nkwo day, bi g beast s and
smal l beast s gat her ed t oget her .
30 They sent and cal l ed God, Cr eat or - t hat - moul ded- man- and- moul ded spi r i t s
HE came
God, cr eat or - t hat - moul ded- l nan- and- moul ded- spi r i t s, he came.
He sat apar t by hi msel f asked t hem: " What ar e you peopl e t al ki ng about ?"
They ( ani mal s) sai d; l i See, humans, t hey ki l l us
mer ci l essl y, al l wi ~hout except i on.
35 When t hey ki l l us, t hey eat qur f l esh
We ar e of f l esh and bl ood, t hey ar e of f l esh and bl ood
I t was you t hat cr eat ed one ki nd cr eat ed t he ot her ki nd
Br ay, t el l t hem t o ki l l us no mor e.
He ( God) sai d t hat t hey shoul d be ser ved wi t h col a
40 Thei r compl ai nt was i n or der
Ant el ope- meat was gi ven t o Ant el ope, Ant el ope at e
ochi chi - meat was gi ven t o Ant el ope, Ant el ope at e
They r oast ed Leopar d- meat and gave i t t o Leopar d, Leopar d at e
Unyo- meat was gi ven t o Unyo, Unyo at e
45 Al l wi t hout except i on, t hei r meat was gi ven t o t hem, t hey at e
God, cr eat or - t hat - moul ded- man- and- moul ded- spi r i t s asked t hem:
" What you have j ust eat en, wer e t hey sweet i n your mout hs,
Or not ?
They sai d i t was al l sweet i n t hei r mout hs ( Az\ l onye, 1985) .
I t i s no doubt possi bl e t o l ook at t hi s t al e . f r oma humani st per spect i ve as
an i mage of t he ant hr opomor phi c God seen excl usi vel y i n t er ms of t he
57 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
per t i nence of . hi s act i ons t o human i nt er est s: ' Chukwu i s on t he si de of man
i n whose i mage he was cr eat ed' . But we ar e deal i ng her e wi t h an i r oni c and
sat i r i c i mage of a so- cal l ed supr eme cr eat or who cannot even be t aken
ser i ousl y by hi s own so- cal l ed cr eat i ons, as i n t he f ol l owi ng t al e about
" Chukwu and t he Bi r ds" , t r ansl at ed f r om Thomas ( 1913, I I I : 53- 54) i n whi ch t he
bi r d, Obel e ( t he gr eat or Hor nbi l l ) , i s cl ear l y amused by Chukwu' s pr et ensi on
t o t he power of cr eat i on: .
Chukwu cr eat ed. var i ous ki nds of bi r ds; and he t ol d t hem t o come
so t hat he woul d gi ve t hem wi ngs, gi ve t hem t ai l s ar t d gi ve t hem
t hei r char act er i st i c cr i es. They came, t ook t hei r shar es and each
of t hem l ef t and went home. Obel e cai ne l ast and5&. i d: " Fat her ,
Chukwu, gi ve me' my own shar e and l et me go. " . But he ( Chukwu) sai d
t o hi m, " Wher e di d you go al l t hi s whi l e t hat you.wer er i ' t abl e .
t o come i n t i me, at t he t i me your f el l ow bi r ds came? See what has
happened now: t he whi t eness t hat woul d have become. your s i s no
l onger your s. " And he sai d t o hi m~ " Al l r i ght ~ ouc; , f at her , ' I am
goi ng. " And he bur st i nt o l aught er . As he was l aughi ng, Chukwu
sai d t o hi m: " Obel e, ar e you l aughi ng, l aughi ng . a~t _me, at me who
am Chukwu? Chukwu i s al l - knowi ng' ! " And he sai d ~- hi m, " No!
I t i s not you I am l aughi ng at . " But he sai d t o hi l D, " Laugh on
and go, l aughi ng wi l l ki l l you. " And so Obel e weht on l aughi ng.
I n ot her t al es, Chukwu mer el y occupi es mot i f emi c sl ot s i n var i ous t a! e-
t ypes usual l y occupi ed by char act er s syI Dbol i zi ng var i ~\ 18 vi ces. I n " Tor t oi se
andCuku" ( Thomas 1918 : 57) ; f or exampl e. he oc( ; upi es~ ' Sl ot whi ch i n ot her
oi cot ypes of t he same t al e i s usual i y occupf . ed by t he be' ar t l ess usur er - a
f ol k shyl ock - cal l ed Umezur i ke
18
who ' woul d exact even t he l ast dr op of bl ood
f r omhis unf or t una t e debt or s. And i n " Ewu Chukwu" ( Chukwu f s Goat ) , ot her wi se
t i t l ed " God and t he TWo Br ot her s" ( Basden, 1921 ; 431; Ugochukwu et aI , 1977: 162;
andNwaozuzu, 1985: Appendi x) , Chukwu t akes t he pl ace usual l y occupi ed by a
hear t l ess spi r i t or - hag who dwe l ls under wat . er and t . hr ouqh whose t empt at i ons
t he i nnocent i s r ewar ded and t he wi cked puni shed j ust as t he t empt at i ons of
t heDevi l
19
expose i nnocence and vi ce i n man. ..
.: t t seems t o me t hat t he voi ces of di ssent whi ch cl : i eat edt he above t al es
i nwhi ch negat i ve i mages of Chukwu ar e pr esent ed wer e, st i l l ver y act i ve about
t het i me of t he ar r i val of Eur opean Chr i st i an Mi ssi onar i es on t he shor es of
I gbol and i n t he 19t h Cent ur y, f or what t he mi ssi onar i es came up agai nst
aoount ed t o a spi r i t ual no- man' s- l and i n whi c~ one evi dence of bel i ef i n a
supr emebei ng cal l ed Chukwu was qui ckl y count er ed by anot her bl unt l y denyi ng
anyknowl edge of such a God. The unset t l ed nat ur e of . t he I gbo r el i gi ous scene
at t hat t i me i s evi denced by t he numer ous mut ual l y i nconsi st ent t er ms f or . t he
I gbosupr eme God and Devi l r ecor ded by S.W Koel l e i n hi s Polyglotta Africana
( 1854) . As summed up i n Gr een ( 1967) and Nwoga ( 1984) , t he names f or God
i ncl udeDsuku ( Chukwu) , Agbara, and Dsigogike ( Chukwu oki ke) whi l e t he names
f or devi l i ncl ude Igwe, Amadiol1a, Iguakala ( I gwekaal a) and Onyi giri . I t was
i ndeeda si t uat i on i n whi ch one man' s supr eme God was anot her man' s Devi l .
Nat ur al l y, i t was a si t uat i on whi ch l ent i t sel f t o al i en r el i gi ous mani pul a-
t i onand conver si on.
58 Chukwuma Az~onye
The Chr i st i an mi ssi ons wer e r at her oppor t uni st i c i n t hi s r egar d.
Recogni zi ng t he Nr i - Ar 9 apost asi es and t hei r t heol ogi cal t er mi nol ogy as
oper at i ng on t he same hegemoni c pr i nci pl es as t hei r own, t hey qui ckl y adopt ed
and adapt ed t hem and made t hem t he basi s of t hei r evangel i sm i n I gbol and.
Thi s devel opment whi ch, wi t h t he spr ead of Chr i st i ani t y, muf f l ed much of t he
pr evai l i ng t r adi t i onal i st r ej ect i oni st opi ni on cr eat ed r oom f or t he mechani sm
wher eby t he new Chr i st i an i dea of Chukwu as supr eme God was f ed back i nt o t he
I gbo or al t r adi t i on f r om wher e many a schol ar , i n r ecent year s, has r et r i eved
i t as posi t i ve t r adi t i onal evi dence of t he ki nd pr esent ed i n Ugonna ( 1984:
16- 17) :
Fr om t he begi nni ng God ( i . e. Chukwu) has exi st ed. At f i r st he was
al one i n heaven but l at er cr eat ed i nnumer abl e spi r i t s who l i ved wi t h
hi m. Ti me passed. Lat er he cr eat ed uwa ( t he wor l d) , at f i r st a
mass of f or ml ess dust whi ch i n cour se of t i me compr essed i nt o f i r m
ear t h. Then Chukwu caused wat er t o cover t he whol e ear t h and l at er
t hi s wat er subsi ded and gat her ed i n hol l ows, and wet ear t h appear ed.
E
And so on, we f i nd si mi l ar evi dence der i vi ng f r om t he f eedback of Chr i st i an I
t heol ogy i nt o t he I gbo or al t r adi t i on i n t he wor ks of such Chr i st i an t heol ogi ans
as Ar i nze ( 1970) and I l ogu ( 1974) , among many ot her s. E
I ndeed, t he si t uat i on i n t he I gbo or al t r adi t i on, t oday, i s such t hat a S
r esear cher - ar med wi t h a t ape- r ecor der and ot her i nst r ument s of f i el d r esear ch
- can r ecor d a most bewi l der i ng r ange of t al e- t ypes and mot i f s pr esent i ng a 1
much wi der var i et y of di f f er ent i mages of Chukwu t han we have consi der ed i n
t hi s paper . Even t oday, new i mages of Chukwu, as t he I gbo supr eme God ar e
bei ng added t o t he exi st i ng st ock by i ndi vi dual myt h- maker s and var i ous gr oups.
A case i n poi nt i s t he gi ant si amese t wi n i mage of Chukwu combi ni ng a
mascul i ne " Mmuo" aspect wi t h a f emi ni ne " AgwU" aspect , r ecent l y i nt r oduced
by T. N. C. NWo~~ i n hi s f asci nat i ng NdiIchie A kwa Mythol ogy and Fol kl ore 1
Origins of the Igbos ( 1983) . And t her e wi l l be many mor e such i mages i n t he
f ut ur e. I t i s however hoped t hat t he par adi gm pr esent ed i n t hi s papez: wi l l
cont r i but e, t o a cer t ai n ext ent , t o t he si f t i ng and cat egor i zat i on of such 1
dat a, pl aci ng each i n i t s pr oper hi st or i cal posi t i on and r ecogni zi ng t he
soci o- psychol ogi cal r eal i t i es behi nd t hei r comi ng i nt o bei ng.
1
NOTES
1.
I n t J . ol . i s ar t i cl e, t he t er m " f ol kt al e" i s used i n i t s wi dest possi bl e sense
as def i ned i n Thompson ( 1946: 4) " t o i ncl ude al l f or ms of pr ose nar r at i ve,
wr i t t en or or al , whi ch have come t o be handed down t hr ough t he year s" .
The " f ai r y t al e" of t he Eur opean t r adi t i on comes under t he I gbo akuko
if0 whi l e t he " myt hs" and " l egends" of t he Eur opean t r adi t i on come
under t he I gbo ak~ k~ if~ rb ( or ak~ k9 okl k~ ) and ak~ k9 mgb~ ka ( or ak~ k9
ndi Odogwu/dike). A wi der umbr el l a t er m f o~ myt hS, l egends and ot her
t ai es t ol d as t r ue ( i . e. hi st or i cal nar r at i ves) i s ak~ k9 aid ( l i t .
st or i es of t he l and or t he ear t h) . For t he sour ce of some of t hese t er ms,
see Nwaozuzu ( 1982) .
1~
59 I GBO FOLKTALES AND THE I DEA OF CHUKWU
2. Echer uo i s her e r ef er r i ng t o an ear l i er phase of I gbo r el i gi on bef or e
t he Chr i st i an mut at i on of t he r gbo concept of Chukwu was f ed back i nt o
t he I gbo or al t r adi t i on.
3. The t r ansl at i on i s mi ne.
4. The f act t hat t he Ni ger i an J i had of Usman dan Fodi o di d not r each
I gbol and shoul d not be t aken as f ool pr oof evi dence t hat i sl ami c
t heol ogi cal i nf l uences may not have been f el t i n t he I gbo cul t ur e ar ea
t hr ough peacef ul commer ci al and si mi l ar cont act s i n t he Ni ger and Benue
val l eys. Ther e i s mat t er f or f ur t her r esear ch her e.
5. For evi dence of Nr i - I gal a geneal ogi cal r el at i ons
see Onwuej eogwu ( 1981) .
6. The si mul t aneous r ef er ence t o Sky- gods as " f at her " and "mot.he s " appear s
t o be a common mot i f i n west Af r i can t r adi t i onal r el i gi ons.
7. The t r ansl at i on i s mi ne.
8. For a possi bl e expl anat i on of A biama, See Nwoga ( 1984: 59- 60) .
9. The col l ect or ' s or i gi nal t r ansl at i on has been dr ast i cal l y modi f i ed by me.
10. I n di scussi ng t he Chukwu or acl e i n t hi s ar t i cl e, I have dr awn f r eel y
f r om a 5- par t Radi o t al k, " Ar o Ci vi l i zat i on' whi ch I br oadcast over t he
Voi ce of Bi af r a i n 1968. Thi s r econst r uct i on of t he r i se of t he Chukwu
or acl e i s based on or al evi dence r ecor ded f or me by Mi ss Lovet t Okor oj i
f r om t wo Ar o i nf or mant s.
11. Thi s f ol l ows f r om Af i gbo' s ( 1981: 15- 16) per i odi zat i on of ear l y I gbo
hi st or y i nt o an " Er i Per i od" f ol l owed by " t he Er a of Ar o Ascendancy" .
12. The i dea of chi as " cosmi c l i ght " or sunl i ght i s i mpl i ci t i n t he I gbo
descr i pt i on of day- br eak as " Chi of uf o" See al so Achebe ( 1975) f or
f ur t her not es on t hi s i dea.
13. See Kemi At anda I l or i , " The Yor ubas: Myt h of Or i gi n" ' ; The A frican
Guardian ( Mar ch 11, 1986: 46- 48) .
14. I n a t r adi t i on di scussed i n AZ\ l onye ( 1968) , t he cul t of Chukwu i s
por t r ayed as a spoi l of war .
15. Agai n and agai n, i n I gbo f ol kt al es and songs, Chukwu appear s as an
i nhospi t abl e monst er who woul d r at her of f er deat h t o hi s st r anded
unexpect ed guest s t han char i t y. Thus, i n a popul ar song r ecor ded by
Ogbal u ( 1974: 172- 173) , Mb~ ( Tor t oi se) ar r i ves at Chukwu' s door whi l e
pur sui ng a l ost pal mf r ui t . As he knocks at t he door , t he f ol l owi ng
di al ogue cul mi nat i ng i n Mbe' s deat h, ensues:
Chukwu sai d t o hi m
" Whosoever knocked at t hat door ,
60 Chukwuma Azyonye
May hi s hands st i ck t o t he door l "
Mb~ sai d t o hi m,
" Whosoever spoke t hose wor ds,
May hi s wor ds st i ck t o hi s mout h! "
And so i t was t hat f or one pal m f r ui t ,
Mb~ was put t o deat h!
( The r ef r ai n af t er each l i ne i s " Aj a Mbene! " ) .
16. We have si mi l ar subt l e i nsi nuat i ons of t he over r i di ng supr emacy of t he
Ear t h i n many ot her t al es and songs. For exampl e, i n t he ver si on of
t he popul ar cumul at i ve bal l ad, ' ' ' ' Nwakat i mkp<; >r 9" ( r ecor ded by Ugochukwu,
et al , 1977: 134) , t her e i s a chai n of act i ons and r eact i ons i n whi ch
one super i or f or ce over comes anot her : t he br eadf r ui t t hat ki l l s
Nwakat i mkpor o i s cut by a Wooden Spear ; t he Wooden Spear i s eat en by
Ter mi t es; t he Ter mi t es ar e e( l t enby a Fowl : t he Fowl i s sei zed by a Ki t e;
t he Ki t e i s shot by a Gun: t he Gun i s cut i nt o pi eces by a Mat chet ;
t he Mat chet i s r educed t o shr apnel by t he Bl acksmi t h; t he Bl acksmi t h i s
bur nt t o deat h by Fi r e; t he. Fi r e i s put of f by Wat er : and t he Wat er i s
sucked up by t he Ear t h, t he ul t i i 119t eas summed up i n t he l i nes:
Gi ni ga- emer e mal a nvnwa?
Hm NwakatimkP9r9~
o nwegh~ i he ga- eme al a
Hm NwakatimkP9r9!
17. The possi bl e gl osses f or t hese
ever yt hi ng of t hi s wor l d?) f or
know ever yt hi ng of t hi s wor l d
names ar e A machamifeuwa {Do I know
Amacami f owa, and A machagomifeuwa ( I
~or Amacagai f eowa) .
now
I
18. The st or y of t he f ol k usur er , Umezur i ke, occur s i n t he or al t r adi t i on of
1sui kwuat 9, I mo St at e.
19. Si gni f i cant l y, i n t hi s r espect , an i nf or mant i nt er vi ewed by me, i n Mar ch
1973, af t er an Omabe per f or mance at Nsukka descr i bes Chukwu as " Lusi f i a' "
( Le. Luci f er ) i n pur sui t of hi s ar gument t hat " Chukwu abaka" ( Le.
Chukwu exi st s i n many di f f er ent f or ms, i ncl udi ng, i n ot her wor ds, t he
di abol i c f or m) .
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