Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Retrieving Ebo as Spirit: The Foundation of Authentic Christian Pneumatology among the Igala, Nigeria

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Retrieving Ebo as Spirit: The Foundation of Authentic Christian Pneumatology among the Igala, Nigeria

Article excerpt


Ebo is divine Spirit. It is the creative and sustaining principle with which the Supreme Being-Ojo creates and re-creates the Igala universe. It is through ebo as spirit, that Ojo reveals God's self through the earth deity-ane, the ancestors-ibegwu and other nature spirits. Therefore, as spiritual beings ebo have autonomous iconic existence apart from its physical representation in Idols, effigies and artifacts-ode. Through symbolic-ritual actions, ebo makes Ojo accessible and Beneficent to the human through the ministry of healing and charisma. In the 1920s, while recognizing the positive influence of the ebo-ibegwu cult among the Igala, the Ajokodo Bible translated the spirit as ibegwu. During the later missionary era, ebo was diminished and demonized. As a result, ebo lost its spirit connotation and dangerously become a synonym of idol-ode. On account of this pejorative association the 1970 translation of the Igala bible translated divine spirit as afu-wind, instead of ebo-ibegwu.

The appreciation of ebo as spirit has enormous implication for Igala Christian Pneumatology-science of the spirit and the Holy Spirit. The conception of any authentic Igala Pnuematology must first confront the reality ebo as divine spirits in the Igala spirit-world. In essence, the appropriation of the word afu for spirit constitutes not only an escapism, but a monumental hindrance to theological inculturation.

In this essay, I argue that there is an aspect of ebo as spirit of the divine obtainable only ritual action- worship, that is fundamentally lacking in the concept of afu as spirit. In that, among the Igala, afu has no cultic, or ritual significance. My take in this essay can be stated as follows: Unless we know what is spirit within the Igala world we cannot claim to know what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of the Igala Christian.

Key words: Ebo-, Ode; Afu; Spirit; Igala Pnuematology; Igala worldview


To the West African Igala, ebo means spirit; and ode means fetish effigy or idol. Ebo is the divine supernatural vital force and the power of the Supreme Being Ojo operating in the Igala world through the particular and participatory activities of humans collaborating with principal divinities and deities. Ukwedeh meticulously outlines the rule of ebo as nature spirits commissioned by the Supreme Being Ojo (Ukwedeh, 1987). As divine principle, ebo connects the Supreme Being-Ojo, the ancestral spirit ibegwu through the reincarnated human spirit ojo and the earth deity-ane (Boston, 1971, p.200). Within the Igala worldview, the Supreme Being Ojo has no direct cult and as such ebo serves both an ontological and phenomenological function. As ontological principle of creation, ebo connects Ojo the creator to both the created world symbolized by earth-ane and the ancestral reincarnate human spirit-ojo. In the phenomenological sphere, ebo manifests the divine outpouring of intuition and inspiration of the Supreme Being. It is the basic participatory character of the human in the divine, without which the glimpse into the hallowed and holy becomes an illusion. Plainly put, ebo is the gateway to mystical experience and consciousness of the divine presence in the Igala world, creating the pathway for healing and wholeness through destiny-okai and charisma.

Generally, ebo is intrinsically linked to the anthropocentric conception of salvation-salvation from below-meaning that, it denotes the issues of human condition as it unfolds itself in the day-to-day realities and activities of the Igala from birth through death to the here-after. In the words of Sydney R. Seton, '"Ebbo" in the case is the household god... is supposed to contain a spirit, specially sent by Ojo to look after that particular man and his family. It corresponds roughly to the idea of a guardian angel and patron saint combined" (Seton, 1930, p. 150). As spirit, therefore, ebo occupies a higher position above the humans and function as protector and guardian of society. …

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