The Traditional Life Of The Igala Tribe (Final Part)

Good morning,dear readers. This would be the last of this series on the traditional life of the igala tribe and it would aptly discuss the leaders in the igala traditional set-up.


Igala traditional religion is regarded as an important phenomenon in the lives of the people and as a result, there are very special people who have immense knowledge of the religion. These people lead others in activities connected with the traditional religion. These religious leaders serve as a link between the almighty God, Ojo, the spirits and the ancestors on one hand and the generality of the people on the other.
Some of these religious leaders are professional medicine-men. Others might become religious leaders because of inheritance. Examples of this groups of leaders are priests. The office of the priesthood of certain gods and goddesses is held by a particular family in the community.
Some religious leaders are political or traditional rulers. Examples of such leaders include the Atta of Igala, chiefs (the onus), the clans and the family heads. These religious leaders are the custodians of religious knowledge and practices.

Diviners: Many diviners in Igala are also medicine-men. Diviners can be of male or female sexes. The task of the diviner is to find out what has gone wrong, to find out the angry spirit or ancestor, to find out the witch, the sorcerer or sorceress who had made one sick e.t.c. They can tell what the angry gods, spirit or ancestors want. They can tell the necessary sacrifices to be made in order to salvage the situation. The diviners in Igala use Ifa divination system for their work.

Priests (Atama): In Igala, a priest may be a man or a woman (priestess), He or she speaks to the gods and spirits for himself or herself and other worshippers. It is also his/her duty to pray and offer sacrifices to the gods or spirits on behalf of the people. He/she is in charge of the temple, or shrine or the symbol of the god or spirit. Some priests are diviners or medicine-men; and have a good knowledge of the traditional religion.
Most priests observe certain taboos with regard to sex or food. They are expected to maintain a very high level of moral behavior. Most priests in Igala have no special dress but the priest or priestesses of some gods or spirits (Atama ebo) wear white or black gowns. Others put on red gowns. Some of them plait their hair like women while others shave theirs, leaving only the top central portion. They are regarded as sacred persons. As a result, they are feared and respected so much in the community.
In the homes of some priests (atama ebo), one might mistake the priest to be traditional rulers or titled persons (ajofe). This is because their attire look very much like that of a titled person. Their sitting rooms are designed like the one of a titled ruler. They equally have sets of drums like that of the titled rulers too. In their own case, they use the drums for their gods or spirits.

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Medicine-men: Medicine-men are important religious leaders in Igala land. Their works include healing the sick, prevention of illness or diseases, protecting individuals and the society against enemies. In Igala, some medicine-men are super-human. The belief in their medicine-charm, magic or sorcery is very strong. The functions of a herbalist, medicine-man and a sorcerer overlap. It is difficult to find a medicine-man who has no knowledge of magic.
Some medicine-men are priests to certain spirits. They pray for their communities, take the lead in public worship and other religious rituals. Some medicine-men are also diviners. As a diviner, he listens to people`s troubles, and gives them advice. As a herbalist, he heals the sick and as a medicine-man, his charms drive away witches and bad spirits and protect people from danger.
Rain-makers: All rain-makers in Igala are medicine-men. They have supernatural powers. They are friends of the society and are regarded as great religious leaders.
In some Igala communities, the office of the rain-maker is mostly hereditary; the son of the rain-maker takes the trade when the father dies. In some cases, the profession is not; a person may be called to do it through dreams or through the knowledge and training he has acquired from another rain-maker. In communities where they exist, rain-makers are so much respected. Since they are medicine-men, they are also priests to the rain-making spirits which they worship.

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Performers of rituals: Performers of rituals are those men who are in charge of performing all sorts of rituals in the society. These men do not get any special training for doing the job, but they know it by observation of previous holders of the position and by participating in it. They know the prayers, procedures and actions connected with the rituals they perform. The other religious leaders are also performers of rituals. In the past, Atta’s eunuchs performs rituals in connection with purification and cleansing in the palace. The uterine kin, (omonobule) performs the purification and cleansing rituals on his mother’s family. The other kinds of rituals which exist in Igala are oath-taking rituals. This is performed by the people concerned or by the priest of the spirit, the circumcision rituals which are performed by some elders, rituals for building a new house. This is performed by the head of the family. There are many other rituals and ceremonies in Igala traditional religion and rituals performers are very important. It is through rituals that these religious leaders communicate something of religious significance, through actions , words and symbols to all the members of the community.

The traditional rulers in igala are very important religious leaders in the community. These traditional leaders include the Atta of Igala (the Igala king), the district heads (the onus), the village heads, the clan heads or the family heads.
The Atta of Igala: The Atta of Igala in the past was a semi-divine being and his body was regarded as sacred. As a religious leader, he was the link between the people, God and all the spirits. The Atta was a priest-king and was in charge of Igala national land shrine at Erane in Idah. He was also in charge of other shrines at Otutubatu Amagede in Ife and other shrines. As a religious leader, he fixes the dates for important national Igala festivals like the Ocho, Egwu and Ogaganyi.

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THE district-heads: The district-heads are also religious leaders. They are in charge of the various shrines. (e.g) Ane shrines in their districts. They also control the various festivals connected with the land-spirit, the ancestral spirits (Egwu) and other community gods or spirits.

The village-heads: The village-heads are religious leaders. Like the district-heads, they are in charge of the ane-shrines (land-shrines) and other place of religious worship in their village. They also controlled the egwu festivals or other festivals in honour of the ancestors.
The clan or the family-heads: Apart from being the political leaders of their clans or their families, the clan or the family-heads are also religious leaders. They are the priests of the clans or families. The priesthood of the clan or family does not descend from father to son, but from one clan or family-head to the next senior person in the clan or family.

We so much appreciate the time you have spent in following this research work up till now. Do keep an eye on our platform as we would be bringing to you another thoughtful community research work soonest. Yet again, we all from Informationhood can’t thank you enough.

The Author

Emmanuel Chinaza

Hi! This is Emmanuel Chinaza. A seasoned content writer on all things necessary(it just helps that creativity spurs me on) . An optimist who is very willing to take risks, a big fan of Marcelo Biesla. With my pen, i just might change the world and lest i forget, nothing beats a plate of pounded cassava and Egusi soup!

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