By Alloysius Duru
MAN naturally is a social animal that interacts as well as try to adapt to his environment. However because man's nature is influenced by his desires for survival, dominance and control over his environment, this leads to issues of conflict among them. Such conflicts could attain the dangerous dimension of taking of lives, physical and spiritual injuries or material destruction. This can be at individual or group levels or even to communal proportion. The need therefore for conflict resolution of these prevalent issues, to avoid destructions and mistrust among peoples, and which can be of a permanent basis, to ensure peace and security of lives and properties, gave rise to the concept of Igba ndu in Igboland.
What is Igba Ndu
The concept Igba ndu literarily means to bond life, Igba stands for bond or tie while ndu means life in Igbo language. However the concept of Igba ndu is better understood as a covenant between individuals or groups. The Igbos are predominantly associated with the Igba ndu, however other groups outside their boarders also have their own concept for covenant or oath taking. The Igbos are found in the south eastern and parts of the south-south geopolitical delineation of present day Nigeria and they are a very industrious, energetic, and enterprising people that speak the Igbo language. They are basically skilled in merchandising, and indulge in agriculture and other economic activities. By the nature of their activities and interactions, there is a high level of socio-economic interaction among them and even beyond their boarders, hence such interactions can and most times give room for mutual and peaceful co-existence as well as mistrust and conflict. Hence the need to institute an idea which can help sustain peaceful co-existence of a lasting time led to Igba ndu. This practice emanated not only out of fear of the unknown, especially with the knowledge that man is inherently wicked, hence to check on the wiles of men, covenants or Igba ndu is entered into to help safeguard the life and confidence of the parties that have entered into the agreement. Another reason for the Igba ndu is as a result of man's desire to maintain peace, orderliness and harmonious living among themselves, hence where such is existing there is the need to consolidate such harmony among peoples.
The concept of Igba ndu is tied to the knowledge of the existence of a supreme being or deities who are very powerful as to intervene in the affairs of men when they are invited and thus dispense justice to defaulters who break the covenant entered. For any Igba ndu to be potent, in most cases it is tied to a deity or god. In Igboland, there are many deities that are involved, depending on the people concerned. Prominent deities such as, Igwe ka ala, Amadioha, Ibinokpabi, Ahiajioku etc, are some of the deities called upon to witness such covenants. The parties to the covenant while swearing will pronounce punishments which the gods are to excise on the defaulters.
Types of Igba Ndu
There are different types of Igba Ndu just as we have different types of agreements among peoples. The types of Igba ndu can be known in terms of the number of people involved or the type of agreement entered into. For influence, there is Igba ndu that can exists between two individuals, within a family or between two different neighboring communities. Igba ndu can also exist between an individual and a deity. In Igba ndu issues involved range from love, disputes between individuals or communities, trading or business concerns to agreements with the gods for protection or favour by individuals or groups etc. in undertaking Igba ndu certain people are involved; apart from the people concerned, the gods or deities are invoked, the departed ancestors are also involved, elders especially titled men, native doctors or Oha dibias, as well as chief priest of the community, is dependent on the people type of Igba ndu to be entered.
For instance where there is between lovers, only the two lovers and some times dibia are physically involved but the gods and ancestors are called upon as witnesses. Where the Igba ndu involves family or community a larger group of people mentioned are involved and the gods and the ancestors' role is to witness and dispense justice to defaulters or uphold the one that conforms to the covenant.
The dibias are to prepare the relevant concoction as well as make the necessary pronouncements/incantations that make the covenant potent. The chief priests invoke the gods and ancestors as well as participate in the preparation of necessary materials for the covenant ceremony. In some cases, the parties concerned are to come with their witness. These witnesses will attest to the facts of the covenant if anything should happen afterwards.
Objects needed for Igba Ndu
In understanding the Igba ndu, some items are required; these items are dependent on the type of Igba ndu. Such items as kola nut, palm wine, hot drink, ofo staff, blood, plantain stalk, cockrel, kaolin (nzu), fresh palm frond, snail, yam etc other none material objects and the incantation made by the priest or dibias, which can not be interpreted, it is privy to the dibias only. In the case of two lovers who want to undertake the Igba ndu, both partners can use a kolanut and dip it into their blood and then make a declaration as to their intention as well as what will befall anyone of them that breaks the covenant, they can call on a deity they believed in as witness, including their ancestors and Ala (the goddess of the earth). After which they eat the kolanut. In the event of a land dispute between either individuals or community the Igba ndu is more elaborate as the group concerned will invite witnesses, elders, the chief priest and dibias. In most cases, the covenant is administered in the shrine after the necessary items have been prepared and incantation made to invoke the ancestors and gods to witness it. In this type, the people concerned are to swear not to harm each other in any way either physically or spiritually any one who goes against the covenant the gods and ancestors will dispense justice. In other instance, a hole is dug and plantain stalk used to cross the hole, the people concerned will be made to cross the makeshift bridge, with a declaration that whosoever breaks the covenant will fall into the pit which signifies endless problems
Essence of Igba Ndu in Igboland
The role Igba ndu plays in Igbo society can be best appreciated from the axiom of social control. It is important as it tries to eliminate deep seated hatred and calm frayed nerves especially on issues concerning land disputes, and other communal or individual squabbles. The process of Igba ndu ensures that the parties to a dispute settle such disputes amicably without physical or spiritual attacks on each other.
Igba ndu is also very important as it strengthens the unity that exists between the individuals, groups or communities.
It also plays the role of adjudication as it is the final processes of arbitration in which parties concerned, witnesses, ancestors and the gods are involved in the process of ensuring peaceful coexistence, hence when administered it becomes the final process of peaceful resolution as partied concerned have involved the spiritual world to adjudicate on their behalf.
Thus any default is punished by the gods.
Igba ndu checks the incidence of witch craft or spiritual or physical attacks, then puts a check to the activities of the wicked against the just in the society.
Penalties for default and the process of appeasement
Igba ndu is a serious covenant that carries a very severe punishment on the defaulter. This punishment if not quickly addressed or appeased will result in a family or generational curse or stigma. A defaulter is known when mysterious occurrence begins to affect his life, such as death, infertility, sickness etc. the penalties for a defaulter is an outcome of the covenant entered into as well as the reaction of the deity in which the covenant is administered. In addition to this is the curse, which is also placed on the defaulter. The penalties also defer in terms of the type of Igba ndu entered into. For instance, in the case of two lovers, the penalty for defaulter, where one breaks the covenant and abandons the relationship could be either madness, barrenness, inability to hold down any relationship or even death. Igba ndu where a deity like the Amadioha is involved has a very disastrous penalty for the defaulter. This can either be stricken down by thunder, mysterious illness that defies medical solution etc. the process of appeasement by the defaulter is tedious, this is so as people will not want to associate with such a person for fear of reprisal attack on them from the gods. It is only when a clearance is gotten from the gods through divination on how to appease the deity and also on how to re integrate the person into the society before he or she is allowed access to people. The gods will determine the items for appeasement, which most times are enormous. It is the chief priest of the deity and the dibias that handle such appeasement rites. Also the person will do rites that will allow him access to people (oriko). In some societies, items of appeasement include, cockerel, palmwine, local bull, ram, tortoise, cowry, yam, palm oil etc.
Igba Ndu in contemporary times
The influence of religions has had its impact on the appreciation and promotion of our rich cultural attributes including Igba Ndu.
However, there are some few who still believe in the efficacy and powers of our deities. These few have tenaciously held on to the cultural practice such as the Igba Ndu and other aspects of our cultures that recognize our deities in societal control. Though they are few but yet they have been able to ensure that these practices do not fizzle away into oblivious.
Duru discussed this topic with the National Museum Study Group, Port Harcourt recently