The word generally used to describe man’s relation to divine or super-human powers and the various organized systems of believe and worship in which these relations have been expressed is religion; belief in the existence of such relations is a general human conviction, common to all people and at all stages of culture.
The word “tradition” here seeks to limit this write-up within that sphere which directly points to man’s relation to divine or super-human powers in Ihiagwa before and after the advent of Christianity. One central theme runs through Ihiagwa people’s concept of man’s destiny which cannot be disputed and this is that at death, while the essential person passes on into another life, it is held responsible for deeds or misdeeds and it is rewarded or punished accordingly by the author of life; thus the saying that as a man sows so he will reap is not lost on our daily life and various performance in the bid to survive. It is strongly believed that death does not write finis to human life. There is in man an element which is immortal, and this sense of immortality gives comfort in privation and misfortune and acts as a revenge on death.
Traditionally the people of Ihiagwa believe that for a man to survive in this world, to be able to live a successful and happy life and upon death to rejoin his ancestors, he must strive at all times to maintain a harmonious relationship with all the forces that impinge on his life and being . According John S. Mbiti ” Religion is the strongest element in traditional background and exerts probably the greatest influence upon the thinking and living of the people concerned”. In Ihiagwa religious permeates into all departments of life so fully that it is not easy or possible always to isolate it. For the people of Ihiagwa, “to be” is to be religious in universe. This is the philosophical understanding behind our myths, customs, traditions, beliefs, morals actions and social relationships. An insight into these religious systems is therefore ultimately a study of the people themselves.
The people of Ihiagwa believes in spirits which are potent forces in human life and some of which are personified as Gods. The spirits are our ancestors and the forces of nature. They are the powers behind storm, rain, rivers, rocks and forests. The people also believe in their ancestors as ever-living and watchful. The ancestors are regardless as having powers which are useful to men. The ancestors where once human, but they have acquired additional powers and men seek to obtain their blessing or avert their anger by due offerings. Some of the spirits to be looked into are Otamiri Ukwu Nwaezeze, Amadioha, Ala, Nwayie and Opara Ogu.
TRADITIONAL RELIGION IN IHIAGWA was written By Obinna Anah, Ozuruoke Compound Iriamogu Village, Ihiagwa (AN EXCERPT FROM THE OHA IHIAGWA CULTURAL MAGAZINE MAIDEN ISSUE Published in 1982 by the Ihiagwa Student Association at UNN)
HISTORY OF IHIAGWA TRADITIONAL RELIGION
Before the advent of the British colonial imperialist in Ihiagwa, Igbo traditional religion have existed before the time of yore in Ihiagwa and Igbo land, and will continue to. Despite all odds it faced from foreign religion, our traditional religion has stood against historical changes. This is of course the beauty of the Ihiagwa people welcoming new things with open arms and at the same time keeping what’s theirs.
In the olden days, the father of OTAMIRI that is CHUKWU had lived with the forefathers’ of the Ihiagwa people and because this God is very powerful, the forefathers’ usually took all their problems to him even the very minor ones that they could solve themselves, the people bothered the God so much that he could no longer contend their disturbance and because of this he decided to leave the people of Ihiagwa. Thus he moved from his OKPU-CHUKWU shrine in Ihiagwa and went to a very far place in Arochukwu and lived and said that it would have to take them a very long time to come and disturb him but that he will leave behind his son OTAMIRI for them.
In the words of the God as narrated by the people I quote “MAKA IHI AGWA UNU, A GA M A HAPU UNUGA BIRI NA -ARO MA NA A GA M A HAPURU UNU OTAMIRI NWAM”
This is translated to mean “BECAUSE OF YOUR ATTITUDE, I WILL LEAVE YOU PEOPLE AND GO AND FIND A NEW ABODE IN AROCHUKWU BUT I WILL LEAVE BEHIND MY SON OTAMIRI FOR YOU PEOPLE”
So when Chukwu left the Ihiagwa people he did not take with him Otamiri his son that is how Otamiri came to have his abode in Ihiagwa.
But even though CHUKWU left his son for Ihiagwa people, they still went in search of him in Arochukwu whenever they had problem despite the fact that the road was too far but all this stopped after OPARAOGU had been upgraded.
List of Deities in Ihiagwa
THE OTAMIRI DEITY
The origin of the Otamiri deity dates back to the Chukwu bi na Aro. The river God is also know as “Otamiri Ukwu Nwaezeze”. He is the all in all, the bearer of lesser Gods, and has the most elaborate system of worship. He has eight priests (called Ohas) to his service from the eight villages of Ihiagwa and a messenger (called Oga Mbo Mbo i.e. he who goes always). The royal python which we respect as our sacred taboo are at his disposal. The river God owns the largest and most fearful and almost impenetrable forest – Okeohia (the greatest forest) – as his place of abode and shrine. The sacred royal pythons breed here. Their presence indicates the presence of the all powerful Otamiri from whom our traditional poilitical set-up arose. Otamiri Ukwu Nwaezeze is the bearer of the thunder God (Amadioha), The War God (Opara Ogu), and the lesser divinities. His wife is Nwanyie, the most beautiful. She is the giver of beauty, fertility, life and productivity, the appeaser and the comforter. Her abode, now gone, consist of large and very tall rain forest trees; these symbolise fertility and productivity. The shrine of Nwayie was situated at the South-eastern end of our market – Nkwo-Ukwu. Worship and sacrifice to the great river God is both complicating and complex. The worship when it starts heralds the farming season. This deity is the Chief Deity of the Ihiagwa people. The OTAMIRI DEITY has a close link with the long supreme diety of Arochukwu i.e. the famous and very powerful CHUKWU BI NA ARO. THE OTAMIRI DEITY IS THE FIRST SON OF CHUKWU and this deity has it’s shrine in the Iriamogu village of Ihiagwa autonomous community, while it’s Chief Priest is the Ezeario but at the moment there is no traditional chief priest for this deity
In the ancient times, the people of Ihiagwa said that the Chukwu had lived with them in Ihiagwa and it’s shrine was at a place called “OKPU-CHUKWU” in Ihiagwa
Otamiri is the Chief deity of the Ihiagwa people. His Priest is the Ezeario and he could be from Iriamogu or Ibuzo villages.
The Oha Otamiri is also the Oha of Ihiagwa i.e. those elderly men chosen from each village of the Ihiagwa autonomous community. Otamiri as earlier said is the chief deity of the Ihiagwa people, while the Oha Otamiri is the Oha’s i.e. the elders from the different village units of the Ihiagwa autonomous community.
Amongst the Oha Otamiri is the Ezeario who is the head of the Oha’s.This Ezeario could either be from the Iriamogu village i.e. The Akufor family to be precise or he could be from the Osunkwo family in Ibuzo Village. The Ezeario is vested on an individual by reincarnation. That is to say that any Ezeario is a reincarnate of the previous Ezeario.
The Otamiri chooses his Priest by reincarnation and it is rotated between the Ibuzo and Iriamogu villages.
The wife of Otamiri the chief deity of Ihiagwa people, the most beautiful. She is the giver of beauty, fertility, life and productivity, the appeaser and the comforter. Her abode, now gone, consist of large and very tall rain forest trees; these symbolise fertility and productivity. The shrine of Nwayie was situated at the South-eastern end of our market – Nkwo-Ukwu Ihiagwa. Her Priest is mainly from the Umuokwo village of the Ihiagwa autonomous community.
THE OPARAOGU DEITY
This is the first son of the Otamiri deity, He is also the chief security officer of his father and also fights war against the enemies of his father and also enemies of the people of Ihiagwa autonomous community. Hence the name OPARAOGU literally meaning WARRIOR.
It is worth mentioning that Oparaogu does not only protect the people of Ihiagwa but also the people from those communities where Otamiri also flows through such as Egbu, Owerri, Nekede, Eziobodo, Olokwu Umuisi, Mgbirichi, Umuagwo and Ozuzu in Etche Rivers state Nigeria.
Oparaogu chooses his traditional Chief priests’ him self and this is by reincarnation. The first chief priest of Oparaogu was a man he met in the forest, during those warring days of the Ihiagwa people and ever since then all his servants has been all reincarnates of that first man. At the Moment, the current traditional Chief priest of Oparaogu who is also an OZO title holder (one of the greatest titles in Igbo land), and a king maker ( one of the people that crowns the king) is an indigene of Mboke in Ihiagwa autonomous community, is in the person Chief/Duru Emmanuel Chibuzor Uzoma.
It is also worth mentioning that Oparaogu has it’s abode abinitio, in the Mboke village of the Ihiagwa autonomous community. This is because according to the people, in those warring days of the Ihiagwa people, It was the MBOKE people that usually led the whole community to war and on one of such warring conquests, that a particular man from Mboke met Oparaogu in the bush and solicited his help. Oparaogu agreed to help him in the war which they won and thereafter followed the man home to his house in Mboke and lived with him and hence forth said that it is any body from that man’s lineage and also a reincarnate of that man that will serve him, and be his traditional chief priest.
At the end of every Igbo calendar year, i.e. June, the Chief Priest of Otamiri usually embarks on a yearly pilgrimage to the Oparaogu deity. This yearly pilgrimage is called the Onunu Oparaogu Otamiri pilgrimage/ festival. This pilgrimage usually precedes the iri ji ohuru i.e. the New yam festival in Igbo land Owerri senatorial zone to be precise. This is because it is after traditional Chief Priest of Oparaogu must have come back from this journey that every community in the Owerri senatorial zone will be free to choose their own date for the New yam festival.
The first son of the Otamiri, Oparaogu has his abode in the Mboke village in the Ihiagwa. He also chooses his Chief Priest by reincarnation and the Priest must be from the Mboke village. At the moment, Mr Emmanuel Uzoma is the Chief Priest of Oparaogu and he is from the Mboke village in Ihiagwa.
This is the God of the land and His shrine is in between the Iriamogu and Ibuzo villages. The earth God is the great mother Goddess, the spirit of fertility and life. She is both the spirit of the earth and also the queen of the under-world, rulling the ancestors who are buried in it. She is the giver and administrator of moral laws. Oaths are sworn in her name and she is invoked in law-making.
The spirit world has been and will always remain with us for life. Life is a creative process. Each person must find the source of his own creative energy and allow it to flow throughout his life leaving his imprint on whatever he does.
Incestious practices and poisoning , mishaps such as giving birth to abnormal children, falling off a tree, etc are offences against Ala and must be purged by sacrifices to her. Ala receives special offerings at the time of planting, at the first fruits and at full harvest. On special occasions public sacrifice may be made if a diviner has declared that the Goddess needs special propitiation. Even with the changing times, the importance of Ala spirit is great to farmers and in connection with burial and ancestral rites. No community is complete without a shrine of the God of the earth.
The God of thunder is believed to be the second son of Otamiri coming after the war God (Opara Ogu). The worship of the God of thunder is more prominent. Opara Ogu has a specific function – war, trouble – while the thunder God has many and varied functions. The powerful tornadoes which bring the longed – for rain make the spirit of storm important in the life of our people. Amadioha – the noble man of the people. He is one of the important Gods and has a shrine dedicated to him and a priest to his name. Amadioha is seen in lightening and heard in the thunder clasps. He is the God of love, peace and unity. He is punishes sorcerers, witches and those who break his laws. Since he sends rain he is also a giver of prosperity. Prayers are made to him both for increase of crops and for children in the home. Offerings are made to him for his benevolence. All offerings and sacrifices are made after a diviner has directed that such offering be made. Amadioha is In every village.
THE ONUNU OPARAOGU OTAMIRI PILGRIMAGE
This is a yearly pilgrimage embarked upon by the traditional Chief priest of the Oparaogu deity and also the Oha Otamiri’s in Ihiagwa.
During this pilgrimage, there is usually a four day non-farming and an eight days of incessant rainfall otherwise called the MGBADA IHIAGWA, after which the traditional chief priest must have come back.
This journey is usually began by the traditional chief priest of Oparaogu who goes by night on the afor market day .Yes it has to be by night because Oparaogu is a very powerful deity and this is usually called NIGHT journey. Also the traditional chief priest has to go first before the Oha Otmiri’s so as clear the way for them. The Oha Otamiri’s goes by day and on the nkwo market day. This is the reason why the local market of the Ihiagwa people is on an NKWO MARKET DAY and called NKWOUKWU IHIAGWA and also the Nkwo is also a day of rest for the Ihiagwa people when they are forbidden to farm.
It is wise to mention the fact that any body who must embark on the Onunu pilgrimage must be free of guilt in all it’s ramifications since the deity Opararogu does is not a god of evil. The Traditional chief priest of Oparaogu usually warns them about this on his return because after he must have returned that they are allowed to go.
This Onunu Oparaogu pilgrimage/festival marks the end the igbo calendar year and the beginning of the new year/new yam festival in Igbo land. It is after the Oha Otamiri’s must have come back, and announced their return that every community in the Owerri senatorial zone is free to chose their new yam festival date and also other festivals such as the ORU OWERRI.
Hence that is the reason why the Ihiagwa people are called the AGUZIEAFORS i.e calendar keepers.
IJE TAMIRI IN IHIAGWA TOWN By Kenneth Ahamefula Ajoku (AN EXCERPT FROM THE OHA IHIAGWA CULTURAL MAGAZINE MAIDEN ISSUE Published in 1982 by the Ihiagwa Student Association at UNN)
The people of Ihiagwa are of Oratta Clan in Owerri, Capital of Imo State of Nigeria. They are made up of eight villages, namely, Iriamogu, Mboke, Umuokwo, Umuezawula, Nkaramoche, Ishiuzo, Umuelem and Umuchima. The first 6 villages are collectively called DINDI whereas the last 2 villages are called Chimelem. The town shares borders with Nekede by the North, Amaezeobibi by the East, Obinze by the West, Eziobodo/Okolochi by the South.
As an ancient community, Ihiagwa has from the time operated some vital socio-cultural functions In the Oratta Clan. The cultural prominence of Ihiagwa town stems from the fact that it is the only town that performs the yearly historic visit to the premier deity the Otamiri – OTAMIRI being the eminent deity associated with the origin of Ihiagwa town (The origin of Ihiagwa town is discussed somewhere else on this website.) visitation to Otamiri called “IJE OT ATAMIRI”, is
i. The pivot upon which an other traditional functions of Ihiagwa town hinges:
ii. Bestows Ihiagwa town with the sole right of counting the calendar year for the whole World – telling the world when any traditional function is to start or to end.
We may be tempted to ask why it is only the Ihiagwa people that visit Otamiri. Well, the mythology ran thus: Once upon a time Otamiri asked the people of Ihiagwa and Nekede to come and meet him, each coming with an ‘OVU’ bird, so as to make a covenant with them. The people of Ihiagwa wisely understood the message and went very early in the morning on the appointed day to meet Otamiri. On the other hand, the people of Nekede went wild into the bush searching for where they can catch an ‘OVU’ bird. Before Nekede people’s arrival to Otamiri the deity had already made a covenant with Ihiagwa people and asked Nekede to go and receive his (the deity’s) message from Ihiagwa people. Since then Nekede and the entire world come to Ihiagwa to receive annual messages passed down from Otamiri.
‘Ije Otamiri’ is performed by Otamiri priest called ‘OHAS’ (Oha-Otamiri). There are eight ohas and one ‘OSU.OTAMIRI’ that pertake in the journey (at present there are no more OSU OTAMIRI). The head of the Ohas is called “EZE ARIO’. The Ohas are selected from the the following kindreds by the eminent deity himself:- AKU, UMUEZEAWULU, NKRAMOCHE, IRIAMOGU, MBOKE, UMUELEKWEREM, UMUADAMOCHE AND UMUDURUBA. The Osu-OTAMIRI are in the past alternatively presented by Umuokwo and Mboke kindreds.
Ije Otamiri usually comes up between January and February. According to the people, “UKUTU mia, afo agbaa”. When it is time to visit Otamiri, the Ohas will go about the town searchinn for a stray he-goat’ (Mkpi). On catching one they tie it at ‘Oliri Mkpi’ within Iriamogu village before proceeding for their journey which takes off in the night of an ‘Nkwo-Ukwu’ market day. Amongst the numerous items with which the ohas visit Otamiri include ‘Oku Akpuru’ and ‘abo Nkikara’ (ie. worn-out basket). On their arrival the ohas perform rituals to the deity who in turn issues decrees that will guide the religious, social and political Iife of the people for that year. The Otamiri rightly forecasts to the people through the ohas the impending dangers and good things ahead of the year and the necessary precautions to be undertaken. Meanwhile, as the Ohas are with the Otamiri, there is a place called ‘Ofo-Ugwu Ihiagwa’ in Nkaramoche village at which an initiated person can hear all the discussions between the ohas and Otamiri. The ‘Ofo Ugwu’ is fenced in an ‘Obi’ house with a live cock and burning fire. As soon as the Ohas return from the journey, the cock dies on its’ own.
The Ohas are taken as the most upright people within the town. This is because any oha that did a bad thing within the past year is killed by Otamiri dufing the journey and he never comes back. On the safe return ‘of the ohas, therefore, they are joyously greeted with gun-shots. The he-goat tied at Oliri Mkpi is now killed and prepared by those ohas from Chimelem who never taste any part of it. After the preparation, it is left for only the ohas from Dindi to eat. However, the Chimelem ohas are usually compensated by Otamiri by giving them ‘Ntelogu Otarniri’ to eat. The origin of this distinction as to who eats what is not yet known.
After the reception the ohas deliver the messages from Otamiri, in front of the shrine of ‘Nwanyie na Ogba-Egbe’ (Nwanyie being the Wife of Otamiri and “ogba-egbe their son) where Ihiagwa people and the entire world are gathered waiting anxiously to hear the decrees from Otamiri.”
‘Ikuba Ite Oru’ is the usual expression whenever the Otamiri message is delivered. After delivering the message, the ohas immediately proceed to the houses “of.’Messrs Adiele Nwosu ‘ (then head priest of Nwanyie), Osuji Agoziem and Nnoduo’ – all of Umuokwo villages – for entertainment. They do not enter into any other house except those of the above three people before returning to their respective homes.
The foregoing is just but an eye view of the, annual historic and pivotal traditional function in Ihiagwa. Much still has to be written on Ije Otamiri; and it is a very big challenge to every Ihiagwa indigene, especially our sociologist’s and-historians to document every aspect of our culture.