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THE CONCETHE CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA (THE IGBO TRADITIONS)PT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA (THE IGBO TRADITIONS)
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THE CONCETHE CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA (THE IGBO TRADITIONS)PT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA (THE IGBO TRADITIONS)

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Every African society has beliefs, ideas and teachings that emphasise the existence of a Supreme Being. These beliefs and ideas although theocentric at any level, are found to be original with the …

Every African society has beliefs, ideas and teachings that emphasise the existence of a Supreme Being. These beliefs and ideas although theocentric at any level, are found to be original with the African; although these may differ from one society to another and from one shrine to another, the underlying concept is one - D. Massiasta, Indigenous African Religion.

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  • 1. THE CONCEPT OF ANOMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA (THE IGBO TRADITIONS) By Chiemeka Utazi Moshi-Kilimanjaro, 2005
  • 2. TABLE OF CONTENTINTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................... 2CHAPTER ONE ............................................................................................................ 4PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT BEING.............................. 4 1.1 MEANING OF OMNIPOTENCE .................................................................... 4 1.2 ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHY ................................................................. 5 1.3 MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY ..................................... 5 1.4 OMNIPOTENT IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF THOMAS AQUINAS ................. 7CHAPTER TWO........................................................................................................... 8THE CONCEPT OF GOD IN AFRICAN .................................................................... 8 2.1 GENERAL CONCEPT OF GOD IN AFRICA.................................................. 8 2.2 GENERAL CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA.................. 8 2.3 THE UNITY IN DIVERSITY OF THE AFRICAN CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD (ONE CONCEPT, DIFFERENT APPROACHES) .................... 9CHAPTER THREE .................................................................................................... 10THE CONCEPT OF “CHI” IN IGBO COSMOLOGY ............................................ 10 3.1 THE IGBO NOTION OF “CHI” ..................................................................... 10 3.3 THE IGBO CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD.................................... 12 3.4 THE CONCEPTION OF CHUKWU- “THE GREAT GOD” IN HIS DIFFERENT ROLES ................................................................................................ 13 3.4 THE CONCEPT OF EZE CHUKWU OKIKE ABIAMA IN UGBENE-AJIMA 15CHAPTER FOUR ....................................................................................................... 17THE CONCEPTION OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN SOME SELECTEDAFRICAN ETHNIC BELIEFS ................................................................................... 17 4.1 THE CONCEPT OF AN ABSOLUTE BEING IN NGONI ............................. 17 4.2 OLODUMARE: OMNIPOTENT GOD IN YORUBA BELIEF ...................... 17 4.3 CONCEPT OF A SUPREME BEING IN ZAMBIA ........................................ 18 4.4 OMNIPOTENT BEING IN NUER—SUDAN ................................................ 19CHAPTER FIVE ......................................................................................................... 205. COMPARISON BETWEEN AFRICAN AND WESTERN CONCEPTION OFAN OMNIPOTENT BEING ....................................................................................... 20 5.1 AFRICAN FOUNDATIONS OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY ............................. 20 5.2 AFRICAN CONCEPT VIS-À-VIS WESTERN CONCEPT ........................... 21CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................ 22BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................................................................................................... 23 INTERNET QUOTED ARTICLES ........................................................................... 25 1
  • 3. INTRODUCTION Philosophy is a discipline that attempts to understand reality in its complex forms,including the metaphysical analysis of God in such concepts as omnipotence. Thephilosophy of omnipotence must then have its origin as early as mankind. That is whycreationists over the centuries say that all the contents of the universe are the creations ofGod. This implies that every single habit of nature or law of nature must have come fromthe supreme order, God. In this, I, with certain considerations have chosen this topic toexpound the African concept of an omnipotent God and to answer to the impression thatAfrica has no original thought as long as the world of philosophy is concerned. I intend totreat African philosophy as an ontological phenomenon, with the concept of omnipotenceas the key reaching the understanding of African metaphysics. African ontology appearsessentially spiritualistic, but this does not imply a denial of the reality of the empirical. Having presented the general concept of omnipotence, we have gone further toshow its understanding in the western thought-pattern beginning with the Greekcosmologists, modern and scholastics and finally, in the contemporary era. To recapitulate, throughout this work, we have sought for an understanding of theSupreme Being in its ultimacy from the African point of view. Attempts are made tohighlight the impact of African metaphysics, particularly, in the light of the Igbo 1traditions as well as some practical results of the Igbo understanding of an OmnipotentBeing and other selected ethnic African groups. The names given to God in Africa inconsideration will be of good help. Chukwu of the Igbo cosmology for instance, as wellas other names from those selected ethnic groups introduce us into knowledge of aSupreme Being, who is the ultimate source of all. This causal relationship is wellexpressed in the Igbo concept of “Chi,” a most intimate metaphysical power of God oncreation. Every African society has beliefs, ideas and teachings that emphasise theexistence of a Supreme Being. These beliefs and ideas although theocentric at any level, 1 Igbo or Ibo as called by the British colonies, is one of the Nigerian major tribes inhabiting south- eastern Nigeria 2
  • 4. are found to be original with the African; although these may differ from one society toanother and from one shrine to another, the underlying concept is one. 2 Finally, we will have a comparison between the African and Westernphilosophical thought based on where each has originated and on the intrinsic andextrinsic influences they have on each other. Therefore, we bring the light of Africanmetaphysical thought to the blind mind, which thought it to be only a fragment of westernimagination. 2 D. Massiasta, “Indigenous African Religion,” ttp://www.hypertextile.net/blakhud/ind- reli/ind01.htm, 1994 3
  • 5. CHAPTER ONE PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT BEING1.1 MEANING OF OMNIPOTENCE The word, omnipotence is a word naturally of Greek origin, “Omnis”--- whichmeans all and “potens”--- which means capable of making or producing; are joinedtogether as a word to form omnipotence. 3 Omnipotence as it is, connotes „having within‟or a „maximal power.‟ Divine omnipotence is a divine operative attribute, an activepotency, or power, for acting ad extra, distinguished from passive potency. Somephilosophers like Descartes assert to it the ability to do absolutely anything; but mosttheists understood it as involving vast powers yet with limitations of ability. 4 Hence, thisparadox has raised many puzzles as to whether God can do that which is logicallyimpossible like sin or lie. But, we are not going to concern ourselves here with theseparadoxes. By this maximal power, it means that God has dominion over all thingsoutside of himself, which he caused and preserves in being. Hence, the term omnipotenceextends only to those things with inherent possibility of existence, i.e., withoutcontradiction. The sense of infinite power attributed to God originates from the wonder ofcreation and more, the order and regularity of things in the universe. The Greek mindhowever, never seems to have conceived of God‟s absolute power except in terms of theimposition on man‟s intellectual and creative activity as in Platonic world of forms. 5 In modern and contemporary minds, God‟s absolute power is that, considered inisolation, without any reference to the decrease of his divine will. God‟s absolute poweris seen as identical to his essence and therefore, inexhaustible. 6 That is why Kierkegard,would assert that no one man can ever make another entirely free, for the power-holderwould always be bound by the very power that he holds. 7 Hence, it is only God, who is 3 G. Roxburhg, “Omnipotence,” New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. x (Washington: The Catholic University of America, 1967), 688. 4 Robert Audi, ed., Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), 240. 5 Avery R. Dulles, Introduction to Metaphysics (New York: Sheed &Ward, 1955), 209. 6 Francis J. Klauder, The Wonder of God (Newton: Don Bosco College, 1983), 101-103. 7 Cornelio Fabro, God in Exile: Modern Atheism, trans. and ed., Arthur Gibson (New York: Newman Press, 1968), 52-53. 4
  • 6. absolutely powerful and whose power equals his essence can allow what is created to befree and independent. The notion of omnipotence holds the same root from man‟sinquisition from ancient to the contemporary era. It is merely primarily a search for thesource, the cause of all things.1.2 ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHY The cosmologic reality in the Greek thought, definitely has an order, whichbrought about the sense of wonder in its regularity. This brought in the question about thearché of the natural world. That is the various orderly arrangements within the naturalworld, not itself anything more than common sense. 8 However, this paved a remarkableadvance on common sense to intuit that there are reasons for the regularity of things inthe universe, and that different sorts of regularity or patterns in nature are linked by acommon underlying principle. So the wondering mind begins to ask, „what rules or lawgovern these patterns and regularity.‟ Although the Greek answers vary from one material to another Cosmo geneticnatural power, the underlying belief is a supreme hand, an overpowering being, whodisposes and regulates things and whom all things flow from his order. For instance,although Thales attributed this being to water, water for Thales is not only a god but alsothe supreme god. In Heraclitus‟ and Parmenides‟ reality, it is clear that the “Supreme andCosmo genetic god are one and divine power.”9 Aristotle himself infers obviously as aconjecture, that all things are full of gods. Typically enough, in the Platonic ideal, he expresses the need of some divinepowers, which take care of his own life and destiny. In Aristotelian interpretation, it is theprime mover, the supreme power of the universe. 101.3 MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY Most often nowadays, science tends to have the answer to all human problemsand inquisitions. Although it can tell the cause, its mystery is yet beyond all scientificreach. Take for instance the case of Tsunami disaster, of 26 th December, 2004, popular 8 L. P. Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1990), 14. 9 Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (London: Oxford University Press, 1941), 2-3. 10 William J. Kalt and Ronald J. Wilkins, The Religions of Man (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1967), 36. 5
  • 7. news carry peoples‟ wonder and response to this catastrophe and always the question is,“where is God” or “God, where are you?” An investigation shows that, it is clearlybeyond human power to explain the omnipotence of God. Although we so much dependon scientific data for solutions, even the scientists would in their own effort say, “Godhelp us,” thus, being aware of the limits of human power. In fact, J. Edwards, an American idealist, sees the universe as existing only withinthe divine fiat.11 He maintained that there is no quasi-independent material substance,which exercises real and complete authority than God; and he attributes causal activity tothis and calls it, “the supreme dictatorial order,” on which the order and regularity ofthings are dependent. Herder also emphasised that man‟s continuity with his physicalenvironment fills him with a sense of awe. 12 Recognising his lower form of being, man iscompletely dependent on a supreme being of omnipotency, whose latent power movesman to action. Emmanuel Kant on his effort to solve the problem of human freedomleaned on an ultimate being whom he termed the unconditioned condition of allconditions, the originator of all things and from whom all things must proceed. 13Although Kant shows an indifference attitude towards God, he could not possibly denythe manifestations of his absolute power, for he says that if there is any being that isabsolute, then the power of that being must be absolutely beyond all human activities andeven beyond space and time. Thomas Hobbes on the other hand in his material analysis of the contingentnessof the world asserts that even the annihilation of the body cannot result from a naturalprocess but is an effect of divine power (omnipotence). He identified the unity in thedifferent causal chains of the divine omnipotence. Hobbes‟ conception of natural law isequally dependent on the idea that God is the overall ruler, who recognises his existencein obeying his natural word, the laws of nature.14 Hence, Hobbes holds that God has theright to do absolutely everything, because he is all-powerful. Leibniz also remarked on 11 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. Viii (New York: Image Books Doubleday, 1994), 256. 12 Copleston, Vol. Vi , 174. 13 John Watson, The Philosophy of Kant Explained, ed. Folcroft Library (Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1978), 372. 14 Tom Sorell, ed., Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 77-80. 6
  • 8. Hobbes‟ state of law, maintaining that the word of God by right commands all things. 15Nevertheless, the concept underlying God‟s omnipotence in this era, which still holds upto date is that God reigns over men and punishes those that break his laws. And this rightof God over all is to be derived from his irresistible power according to Hobbes, whosays that irresistible power rules by nature.1.4 OMNIPOTENT IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF THOMAS AQUINAS Aquinas in his argument on the power of God says that no reality in the universecan be, and be what it is, had God not caused it. In other words, everything that existsexists as constituents to the omnipotent creator‟s practical wisdom and choice. ForAquinas, all the attributes of God cannot be separated from one another. One is realbecause the other is real. The real reality of a thing is its essence; hence, the omnipotenceof God follows from His essence. Aquinas argues that everything possesses a power ofactivity appropriate to its way of being. “Hence God, who is pure actuality unmixed withpotentiality, has active power infinitely beyond all things.” 16 Consequently, Aquinas maintains that so long as everything is possible itself, itwould be a contradiction to say that they are impossible to God. God is almighty becauseevidently, he can do all things possible in themselves. 17 In other words God‟s power caneffect anything, which is intrinsically possible. According to Aquinas, God is omnipotentbecause he is Being itself, hence, His dominion is infinite. From the above statement, wecould understand the stream of Aquinas‟ thought, that God in Hisomnipotence, cannot even effect all. This means powerlessness on God‟s part. God isabsolutely powerful yet has ordinate power. Conclusively, God‟s all-powerfulnessdepends on His infinite actuality or essence, i.e. on His selection and wish to act. 18 15 Nicholas Jolley, ed., Cambridge Companion to Leibniz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 414. 16 Mary T. Clark, ed., An Aquinas Reader (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972), 143. 17 Thomas Aquinas, On the Power of God, trans., English Dominican Fathers, (Maryland: The New Man Press, 1952), 39-41. 18 Bede Ishika, Theodicy: Natural Theology (Moshi: Unpublished, Bph Thesis, 2550), Ag-11-12, n. 8.6. 7
  • 9. CHAPTER TWO THE CONCEPT OF GOD IN AFRICAN2.1 GENERAL CONCEPT OF GOD IN AFRICA It is an established fact that there is the concept of God in traditional Africansocieties. According to Mbiti, “all African people believe in God.” 19 Although this beliefis taken for granted, it is at the centre of African religion and dominates all its culture. Inthe Igbo tradition, for example, the idea of a creator God is focal to the Igbo theology.They believe in a Supreme God, a high God, who governs the universe. Thus, the African intellectual thought of God and theological assent about God isvery descriptive in its way. This conception and discourse of the supremacy of God,definitely has been shaped and defined by ancient African philosophical thought-patterns.However, the African traditional culture has given God an ethnocentric character that isAfrica. Africa has its own ancient heritages and cultures, which its central hegemony intimeless time has dominated even the philosophical traditions of the so-called western.20 The underlying African concept of God, as omnipotent, roots down into theconcept of creation. In the ancient African‟s striving to understand the human nature andthe nature of creation entirely, overwhelmed with the awe of creation, the African wasable to think and see (understand) that there is a creator, greater than all creatures, ofwhom in his overabundant greatness created things so great. Flowing from this, theAfrican developed the liturgical pattern of worship that is African, for he (the African)believes in that creator as the master of all things.212.2 GENERAL CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN AFRICA It can be clearly understood that the concept of God as the all powerful oromnipotent stems from the wonders of creation and in the explanations of observableevents, extended bodies existing beyond the confines of space, which possibly are the 19 John, S., Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Nairobi: Heinemann, 1989), 40. 20 Robert E. Hood, “Must God Remain Greek?” In Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, ed., African Philosophy (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 462-463. 21 Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, ed., African Philosophy, 457 8
  • 10. cause of all things. God is seen in Africa as an absolute creator yet not outside the worldbecause his supremeness is the absolute ground of all reality. 22 Consequently, the African ontological structure is hierarchical of higher andlower entities. The higher being with the supernatural powers, are held as the ultimatesource of all things. All the actions of the world are a decision of this being. Success andfailure, sickness, death, eclipse etc, all these do not just happen without the supernaturalcause of the Supreme Being.2.3 THE UNITY IN DIVERSITY OF THE AFRICAN CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD (ONE CONCEPT, DIFFERENT APPROACHES) The underlying concept of a supreme being most powerful in activity and thecause of all things, the protector is seen in most ethnic cultures as realistically andaccurately absolute. From place to place, the idea of an omnipotent or supreme being isconceived in various African cultural settings in its various cultural elements andexpressions yet of one reality. Nevertheless, the ways of expressing the concept of powerin various African cultures are concrete and observable in practice. Furthermore, the ritualistic manifestations of an omnipotent being apparentlydifferently are based on the same religious beliefs and proceed from one common mentalstructure, the structure of symmetrical integration of ultimate power. 23 The sense ofwonder and inquisition, the question about birth and death, sunrise and sunset, thunderand rain, growth, planes and mountains inspire the black man‟s search for an ultimatereality despite the place and environment. Despite the diversities that mark the variousapproaches of different cultural conception of an omnipotent being, there is afundamental unity of belief. These approaches may differ geographically or linguisticallyor even the attitudes, but each group identifies herself to a supreme being with anultimate and absolute power, who creates and preserves what He has created. 22 Molefi Kete Asante and Abu S. Abarry, eds., African Intellectual Heritage (Philadelphia: Temple Unversity Press, 1996), 299-300. 23 Secretaratus ProNon-Christianis, Meeting the African Religions (Rome: Libreria Editrice Ancora, 1968), 7 as cited in Laurenti Magesa, African Religion (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 15. 9
  • 11. CHAPTER THREE THE CONCEPT OF “CHI” IN IGBO COSMOLOGY3.1 THE IGBO NOTION OF “CHI” The origin of the belief in God in Igbo society cannot be explained. This does notmean that the Igbos (Igbo people) are so intellectually impoverished as to be lacking in asophisticated conception of the Supreme Being. A philosophical indication about thebelief in God must have started from the timeless time as long as the Igbos exist. This isbecause in different Igbo societies, there are myths of their origin but there is no knownmyth about the origin of the belief in God. At best the myth about God that is common inthe Igbo society is that which accounts for a powerful person. However, possible explanations as to the origin of the belief in Chi could be frompeoples‟ reflection concerning the universe, or peoples‟ realisation of their ownlimitations and weaknesses. Some explanations may be from the wonders of the “powersof the weather, storms, thunder and lightening.” 24 The Igbo conception of Chi is throughreflection on nature itself, hence, operatio agentis est in operato, „the doer is recognisedin what he has done.‟ God is real to the Igbo society and His reality to them is expressedin the names they adopt or give their children, Chiemeka, could literally be interpreted assuch, as God has done favour. Chi in Igbo tradition generally connotes two concepts. In other words, there aretwo clear distinct meanings of the word “Chi” of the Igbo, God or gods and day. Thelatter also means the transitional periods between day and night or night and day, thus wespeak of chiofufo—day-break, chiojiji—nightfall or even mgbachi—for the potent hourof noon that splits the day in two, a time favoured in folklore by intinerant spirits andfeared by children.25 The former is often translated as „the God,‟ or sometimes asguardian Angel, personal spirit, soul, and spirit-double—ogbanje, etc. There is a strongIgbo belief that the spirits of ones ancestors keep a constant watch over him. The livingshows appreciation for the dead and pray to them for future well-being. But here we are 24 P.H. Coetzee and APJ Roux, eds., The African Philosophy Reader (New York: routledge, 1998), 140-141. 25 Chinua Achebe, “Chi” in Igbo Cosmology,” Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, ed., 67. 10
  • 12. chiefly concerned with the concept so central in Igbo psychology, so elusive yet soenigmatic, „the chi,‟ God. It is note worthy that the Igbo belief in chi can be reconstructively describedthrough a careful examination of the names they have given to God. According to OluOguibe, “the concept of one omnipotent, formidable force Chi Ukwu (Supreme Spirit)was not pan-Igbo neither was it accidental.” 26 The fact remains that prior to thedomination of western philosophy, the Igbo had long established concept of one source ofsupreme power under which all deities operate. The name is a matter of semantics ofnomenclature or of politics of linguistic correctness; the philosophy underlying theconcept is power and wonder.3.2 THE DEISTIC CONCEPTS OF “CHI” IN IGBO SOCIETY The Nri (father of Igbo people), who migrated from the east (Hebrew) must haveintroduced a theological hegemony in Igboland. 27 It turned out that their expansionismwas both political and religious. 28 The Igbos personalise gods, but this does not obliteratethe concept of the God who assigns duties to other deities. The concept of “Chi” stemsfrom the sense of wonder that they begin to assign different deities to the differentunexplainable things of natures. Amadioha—god of thunder or lightening, Ikuku—thegod-air, Mmuo mmiri—the god of water, literarily means the spirit of water; Ani—theearth-god, wondering at the vastness of the earth and its products, they cannot but be thespirit within it. Agbara or Anyanwu—the god-Sun from whom life radiates the worldthrough its emitting light. But these concepts of different “chi” are rooted more in destinythan in different “gods” struggling to assign different characteristics to children born ofone woman. All these lay the deistic concepts, which underlay the concept of an ultimatereality, “Chi,” (Chukwu) the supreme God, which is one. Chi is an aura of the Creator(Chineke). Chukwu in his causative attribute is called Chineke, that is Chi na eke,meaning, „the God, who creates.‟ Chi is also a guiding spirit that guides and guards 26 Chikwendu Igwe, Traditional Igbo Religion http://www.shef.ac.uk/~bsp98coi/index.html, 10/3/05. 27 Igbo cultural setting or the land, where the Igbos dwell. 28 Northcote W. Thomas, Igbo-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria (London: Harrison and Sons, 1913), Reprinted (New York: Negro University Press, 1969), 50. 11
  • 13. without actually participating in piloting the affairs of humans. 29 Hence, there is no suchthing as absolutism in Igbo traditional belief. The saying, „Onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe’ spellsit out: when one believes, the gods cannot do otherwise. Thus, power so complete andperfect, even in the hands of Chi, is abhorrent to the Igbo imagination. The almighty God,Chukwu, in His benevolence character still depends on man‟s agreement in order to act.There is a coherent belief among the Igbos that even a person‟s chi has no absolute powerover his life. In dying, one has to willingly submit his spirit to his chi before it is taken.This is because the Igbos believe in life after death. Well, this is another stream ofphilosophy, which would take us away from our main strand to the Igbo concept ofnaturism, animism and manism.3.3 THE IGBO CONCEPT OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD It is most interesting to know that the Igbo concept of Chukwu, the omnipotentGod is as the Greek conception of Zeus. But before we embark on this powerful God, it isgood to know the connection between the two meanings of Chi given above. The idea ofthe day as chi stems from an invitation of this God, whose power radiates the wholeworld like the sunlight from the face of the Sun, bringing down creation, showers ofblessings, protection etc. Hence, the origin of the concept of God as the almighty is in thewonder of creation, the power to give life and sustain it. Life radiates from the solarsystem and is sustained by it; consequently, this Supreme Being of the Igbo must descendfrom the solar realm. This has a profound implication for it is well known in Igbocosmology that the supreme Deity, Chukwu Himself, is in close communion with the sun.Chukwu is a name from two Igbo words as expressed already, “Chi,” which means theGod and “Ukwu,” meaning the almighty, joined together to mean Chukwu—the almightyGod or God almighty. 30 As I have emphasised above, there is a dual concept of Chi in Igbo, in factnothing is absolute, for wherever something stands; something stands besides it. Thus thestatement, “I am the way, the truth and the life” of Christian theology would be simply 29 Chikwendu Igwe, 10/3/05. 30 Anonymous, The Traditional Igbo Society: An appraisal of the basic beliefs and practices, as cited in E.M.Uka, ed., The Concept of God: Readings in African Traditional Religions (Bern: PeterLang, 1991), http://www.shef.ac.uk/~bsp98coi/seminar.html, 17/2/05 12
  • 14. absurd or blasphemous in Igbo hegemony. It is complex to know that a man may worshipa deity to perfection yet be killed by another; such is the concept of duality in Igboconcept of chi, but amongst these, the Chukwu holds the overall power and control overother multiple-headed spirits and the whole universe at large. This could also be betterunderstood in the proverb: „no matter how many divinities sit together planning, it willcome to nothing unless Chukwu Himself approves it.‟ Ultimately, with all due respect,Chukwu or Chineke refer to a supernatural force beyond any human approach. Hence, weadvance a concept, the concept of “one big God,” the omnipotent, the Chukwu. Since the ancient Igbos (Igbo people) did not have the construction of a rigid andwell-argued classical philosophical system of thought to explain their ideas of theuniverse, God and the place of man, in other words, the wonders of the universal order,God, man and meaning, they necessarily see the need of expressing them in metaphoricmyths, poetries and religious awe. Thus, anyone who wishes to understand the classicalphilosophical construction of the universal order and regularity in the Igbo metaphysicalthought must do it along with Igbo proverbs, folktales, proper names, religious rituals andfestivals, i.e. the Igbo culture. Chukwu- the great God. The Igbos believe that Chukwu is so great and has nocomparison. They acknowledge the existence of other chi(s), deities, but none of them isconceived as the Chukwu. They are messengers of Chukwu and cannot be compared toHis greatness. The mightiness of Chukwu is well explained in the Igbo conviction that noaltars should be erected for Chukwu while there are for the chi(s). This metaphysicalstructure is well expressed in Emmanuel Edeh‟s, terminology, that despite theproliferation of sculpture between or among the Igbos, the place of Chukwu can no morebe depicted in visible form than he can be enclosed in a building for worship. 313.4 THE CONCEPTION OF CHUKWU- “THE GREAT GOD” IN HIS DIFFERENT ROLES In the Igbo ontology, the omnipotent being is also conceived of in His differentroles. As in his causative role, He is called Chineke, meaning the God who creates or theGod of creation. In Ugbene-Ajima linguistic dialect, a town among the Igbo tribe, the 31 Emmanuel M. P. Edeh, Towards an Igbo Metaphysics (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985), 128-133. 13
  • 15. almighty God is generally addressed as Ezechitoke Abiama, or Eze-chita-okike Abiama,which is in other words, could be Eze Chukwu Okike Abiama, meaning, the King GodAlmighty, —king of the creating phenomenon, who causes all by Himself. Chukwu andChineke is one and the same God, called Chukwu when designating roles and Chinekewhen seen as the creator. The mightiness of Chukwu is seen in the wonders of creation.Thus, Chukwu is seen in opus Dei ad extra in (His creation) as the subsistent Being,Being-itself. Yet He is Chukwu distinguished from other smaller deities. The Igbos use“He” clearly for Chukwu, for “in her political institution, no woman can hold a supremepower.”32 Probably, the concept of the sun as the central power of the universe, whoselight gives life and hope to the world is an ideology inherited from the hegemonistictraditional concept of the mightiness of the heavenly bodies, of which the sun isconsidered as the centre. The role and power of Chukwu cannot be alternated, however, itis shrouded in mystery and metaphor. Eze-igwe—king of heaven. Eze bi n’igwe ogodo yan’akpu n’ala—the king who lives in heaven with His garments on earth—this is an idiomexpressing God as a heavenly king who participates in the affairs of the world. 33 The Igbos are not deistic in their notion of Chukwu. They call the creating Chi,Oseburuwa in His activeness in the world. Oseburuwa ontologically means, He(Chukwu), who supports the word. It is also good to know that Oseburuwa does notsupport the world directly but through other deities, chi(s), the most intimatemetaphysical presence of the creator in the creatures. “Were the creating Chi to releaseHis hold, the world would relapse into „nothingness.‟” 34 The name Oseburuwa naturally indicates a God, who sets the world and supportsor directs it to the realisation of a plan. Here is a notion, which also suggests that theproprietor and sovereign master of the universe, Chukwu, is also seen as a Father. He, itis, who sends the rain, warning men of its coming in roaring voice of the thunder andstops it when He wills, without anyone to reproach Him. He makes the forest green and 32 M. O. Ené, “Chi-Chukwu Names,” 1997, http://www.kwenu.com/afamefune/chukwu_names.htm, updated, 27/12/2004. 33 Emmanuel Edeh, 121. 34 C. Obiego, Igbo Idea of Life and Death in Relation to Christian God (Ph. D. Dissertation, Pontifical Urban University de Propaganda Fide, 1971), 113-122, as cited in Edeh M. P., 130. 14
  • 16. the rivers flow. 35 He is the master and commander of the universal order. The entireuniverse is dependent of Him. He is the „Oseburuwa-Chukwu.‟ As in Yoruba cosmological thought, Olodumare, the supreme God, sent the godObatala on a mission of creation. The role of Chukwu in Igbo is to delegate power by thesupreme overlord to lesser or smaller divinities, specific and individual agent, chi, apersonified and unique manifestation of His Being (Chukwu), in relation to man. Thesignificant of the supreme God, Chukwu, might connote the same essence as the westernor Christian God. Okasi-akasi— is another expression, meaning, Greatest of the greatest. Finally, the root of it all lies in the belief of the fundamental worth andindependent of every man and his rights and a rejection of absolutism that mightendanger those values. What more, Chukwu himself in all his power has not made theworld by fiat, and the exercise of this super power is limited to man‟s (Chukwu cannotact without due consultation with man). The Igbos believe that we humans are creaturesof subsistent dependence, we are able to act because there are some powers supporting usfrom a supernatural realm, yet inabsolute.3.4 THE CONCEPT OF EZE CHUKWU OKIKE ABIAMA IN UGBENE- AJIMA Eze Chukwu Okike Abiama, or Eze Chitoke Abiama, as in the Ugbene-Ajimatraditional spiritual belief and mythology, is the indefinable, absolute God of creation.Eze Chukwu Okike Abiama is the creator of all things, and the people of Ugbene-Ajimabelieve that all good comes from Abiama. He is the creator and brings the rains thatmakes the plants grow. To distinguish the supreme God, Chukwu, as the creator ofeverything, he is called Eze Chukwu Okike Abiama, or Eze Chitoke Abiama. There are also minor gods, who are generally subject to human passions andweaknesses. They may be kind, hospitable, and industrious; at other times they aretreacherous, unmerciful, and envious. They are Ala or Eja Anyi, the earth goddess. She isassociated with fertility, both of human beings and of the land. Anyanwu is the sun godwho makes crops and trees grow. Igwe is the sky god, while Agbara is the god ofthunder, the source of rain and the defender of his people in justice. 35 Bede Ishika, Theodicy, TTh. 1, 5. 15
  • 17. In addition to their gods, the Igbo believe in a variety of spirits whose good willdepends on treating them well. Forests and rivers at the edge of cultivated land are said tobe occupied by these spirits. The attitude of the Ugbene-Ajima people toward their deitiesand spirits is not one of fear but one of friendship. 16
  • 18. CHAPTER FOUR THE CONCEPTION OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD IN SOME SELECTED AFRICAN ETHNIC BELIEFS4.1 THE CONCEPT OF AN ABSOLUTE BEING IN NGONI Ngoni is one of the major tribes of the southern part of Tanzania. Among theWangoni (the people of Ngoni), the explanation of life and all things is based on theconcept of the absolute being, “Chapanga,” with the idea that He is the source of allthings and His existence is unexplainable. Chapanga is a perfect being above the skyendowed with supernatural powers that transcends all human limitations. Chapanga isunderstood as a super power, who gives order to all that happens in the universe. He isnot only a general commander but also is fully immanent in the world. As in the Igboconception of power control in Chukwu, here is another rigid construction of anomnipotent power that, whatever happens under the sun, if Chapanga does not assist,nothing good comes out of it. 36 The aspect of human value is not as well neglected; theorder of seniority is strictly observed and high respect is given to the elders for it isbelieved that orders from Chapanga come through the elders and superiors. We can aswell see the Christian underlying notion of hierarchy and religious reverence forsuperiors. Moral orders and norms of moral conduct, creation and sustenance, are equallyfounded on Chapanga.4.2 OLODUMARE: OMNIPOTENT GOD IN YORUBA BELIEF Yoruba is an ethnic group in the southwest of Nigeria. As in the Igbo cosmology,the Yoruba religious concept is animistic with the worship of numerous gods asmediators between man and the Supreme Being, “Olodumare,” which literarily meansowner of the heavens or heavenly places. The metaphysical Olodumare is betterexplained in mythological tradition, which held that Olorun only existed in the form of“ashe,” a generative force or energy of life of the universe. The vast expanse of theuniverse is further evidence for the veracity of the supremacy of Olodumare. 37 36 Denis Mlimira, African and Western Philosophy: The Concept of Absolute Being in the Ngoni Tribe (Morogoro: Salvatorianum, 1998), 110-112. 37 Idowu E. B., Olodumare, God in Yoruba Belief (London: Longman Group Ltd, 1977), 36. 17
  • 19. There is a story on how about one thousand gods conspired against Olodumare onthe issue of governing the universe. He withdrew and everything was in shambles; thenthese divinities were forced on their folly, acknowledging the absolute sovereignty andsupremacy of Olodumare over all. Evidently, the reality of Olodumare is expressed andsupported by the cosmological mythology on the dual nature of the universe and thesupremacy of Olodumare Himself in the hierarchy of beings. 38 Olodumare conceived, asthe apex in the hierarchy of beings in the spiritual realm, is the source of beings, theowner and giver of life and the most perfect of all beings. He controls the world events,both above and below and without Him nothing worthwhile would be accomplished. Justas in the Igbo concept, Olodumare does not absolutise omnipotence as he sometimesdepends on other divinities too in order to act.4.3 CONCEPT OF A SUPREME BEING IN ZAMBIA The concept of God as the Supreme Being in the Zambian (Bemba tribe inparticular) traditional religion comes from the overwhelming understanding of God‟smanifestations in creation. First of all the creation of man, and all that exist in theuniverse is attributed to this Supreme Being, the highest of all that is. This being isdesignated or denoted by some names according to the manifestations of its powers; like“Mlungu,” meaning, one who is above all. 39 The Bemba, believed that there was a god,who was Chief of all created things and source of all. This is because they conceive of theuniverse as consisting of the interaction of ultimate divine forces and this also forms thebasis of their moral ethical consciousness. The work of the supreme God, Mlungu, issame as that of a father, stemming from the conception of a human person as commonmanifestation of god‟s power over creation. They conceive of creation as the same asgiving birth. So he, who created the universe, is all and the same time its father, hence theconception of God as, “he who is father of all.” 40 The Bemba and other tribes in Zambianconsider the father as one with supreme power, thus, considering Mlungu; the unmovedmover, the pinnacle, where every creature is endowed with its own force of life. This is aclear cause-effect relationship flowing all directions to maintain life. He is seen as the sky 38 Segun Gbadegesin, African Philosophy (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), 87-92. 39 S Kapita Mwewa, Traditional Zambian Eschatology and Ethics confronting the Advent of Christianity (Undisclosed, 1977), 1-2. 40 Laurenti Magesa, African Religion (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 57. 18
  • 20. that sees and knows everything. He has neither competitor nor lord over him. He isunique, and that is why the Lala (a tribe in Zambia) call him, “Mutala-Jyakwe,” he whodoes his own will, or called by the Bemba, “Mutala-Kayebele,” he who is advised by hisown heart because he is above all. The supreme God is the invincible, believed to be thewarrior,41 who overlooks everything from His abode.424.4 OMNIPOTENT BEING IN NUER—SUDAN The Nuer is one of the major tribes of south Sudan. Their concept of anomnipotent God as in many other African cultures stem from the unexplainable wondersin creation. Their experiences like thundering lightening, rain, the sun, growth andchange led them to identify the mechanics behind these things as the “Kwoth.” TheKwoth is the one with the absolute power and is referred to as the spirit above theheavens, on which holds the nut of the universe. He is usually associated with things (likecauses of some effects as thunder, lightening etc) unexplainable by ordinary humanthinking. The kingdom of Kwoth is also hierarchical. Although there are other powerfulspirits under whose work is to carry out the commands of Kwoth like creation,nourishment, etc, Kwoth is the supreme power, who directs the actions of these spirits. The Kwoth is the all powerful, to whom all problems and solutions are nothidden. All prayers are thus expressed to Kwoth especially when human ordinarysolutions proved failures. The concept of Kwoth refers to the one and only one, whosesupremacy determines all things.43 41 S. Kapita, 6-9. 42 Clive Killon-Malone, Zambian Humanism, Religion and Social Morality (Ndola: Missionary Press, 1989), 22-23. 43 A. Shorter, African Christian Philosophy (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1975), 80-81. 19
  • 21. CHAPTER FIVE 5. COMPARISON BETWEEN AFRICAN AND WESTERN CONCEPTION OF AN OMNIPOTENT BEING5.1 AFRICAN FOUNDATIONS OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY One thing I find that is commonly true objectively among African and Greekconcepts of God as the omnipotent being, is the consistency in the philosophicalpresentation of the theory of creation and the nature of the basic elements. The Greeksconceive water, air, fire and earth as the ultimate basic elements of reality, the SupremeBeing and the God through which all things are created and preserved. In the Greekconcept, it is clear that what characterises their idea of this reality, is the underground ofthe religious belief interpretations. Borrowed from African religious-political hierarchy,the Greek contemporaries of African philosophers conceived before time of the universalreality, the ultimate reality expressed philosophically in the basic cultural African setting. Talking precisely of the Igbo metaphysicians for instance, who knew absolutelynothing of the western or Greek thought, they defined this concept in their owncircumstantial language underlying the same reality. Africa as a whole has no one definedculture, or even belief system; but the consensual African relationship does not limit itselfto the sub-Saharan Africa. The now baptised Greek or western philosophy is beyondreasonable doubt taped from African hegemony and their conceptual structure. That iswhy those ideas (in Igbo metaphysics) as Mmuo mmiri—literarily, the water spirit seen asthe god-water, Aja-ala or Ani (earth)—the earth spirit or god, Ikuku—the air (itself asspirit) and Agbara—god of lightening and thunder, are the concepts, which fashion thebasis and account for the same stream of thought between the ancient Africans andGreeks. These form the foundation of modern and contemporary concept of God as theomnipotent being, called Chukwu in Igbo tradition44 and the Greek form of the unmovedmover. 44 Henry Olela, “African Foundations of Greek Philosophy,” Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, ed., 46- 47. 20
  • 22. 5.2 AFRICAN CONCEPT VIS-À-VIS WESTERN CONCEPT The concept of God generally, which mounts to the different attributes we foundin God, is the effect of reflection on human experiences that raises some fundamentalquestions. Thus our concept of omnipotence is a reflective look at man‟s existence andthe world around him, which fills man with wonde,r whether Africa or Greek. This“wonder” is what both Plato and Aristotle tell us is the beginning of philosophy. 45 As the early philosophers, Africa and Greek observed the world around them,they were filled with wonder, amazed by the diversity and unity of things in the universe.Wonders shall never end. Every human being has the fear of a supreme power, which isbeyond scientific explanations. The wonder of change and continuity of things, seasonsof the year, the heavenly bodies and their orderly arrangement, the starry sky asexclaimed in Kant‟s, „two things fill me with wonder, the starry sky above and the morallaw within‟ all these infused into man the awe of a supreme reality. 46 Wisdom and power command great respect among Africans as well as in theWest. The concept of superiority and power and the brevity of human existence; sopowerful today, whether thought of in African traditional setting or in the Westernculture, man is merely a breath that tomorrow, he is no more. In a nutshell, this realityhas brought in man the awareness of a supreme power, an omnipotent, to be feared. These philosophies concerning power and supremacy of God reflects the samereality in both African and Greek cultural heritage. The African contemporaries ofThales, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, etc instead of subjectively keeping theirthoughts strictly, rather made them explicitly, a “community thought.” 47 That is why wecannot talk of African scholastic origin of the concept of God as omnipotent instead; ithas a mythological existence as the people of Africa themselves. The names given toGod, religious practices and ways of expressions might differ between African andWestern but the objectivity of the truth behind the concept remains vivid; that there is abeing, God who is „supreme and above all beings in power and might.‟ 45 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 982 b.10, cited in Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed., Great Books of the Western World (London: William Benton, 1952), 500. 46 Joseph I Omoregbe, “African Philosophy: Yesterday and Today,” Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, ed., 3-7. 47 Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy and African Culture (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), 46-47. 21
  • 23. CONCLUSION Whatever is African is African and as such, must show its traditional negritude inits Africanity. Clearly, unlike many individualist cultures, the Africans have not lost sightof the concept underlying person and power as the primordial basis of an individual beingand freedom. This totality of being (person) is what is symbolised by the African culture.But this culture as we saw, is symbolic of the Absolute Being, the omnipotent God. Theunderstanding of this concept would help us to know that wisdom and power commandgreat respect among Africans as well as in the West; in fact, among humanity. My understanding of this concept however, must be a fact, which has aconsiderable influence on the way I present my work as a son of the soil, a typical Igboand an African child. That is why the extension of this work embraced the generalconcept of omnipotence to show that mankind, throughout the ages have never beenwithout the sense of power and order. Pointing to the African understanding of personand power, we could definitely understand that Africa was never so intellectuallyimpoverished as to lack in philosophical concepts, as God, person and power, as thoughtby some western apathetic thinkers. Streaming through this concept of the omnipotent Being in Africa in the light ofthe Igbo metaphysical thought-pattern and other selected ethnic African groups, I hopethat my way of approach to this same reality have brought to the reader‟s awareness, anobjective and analytic view of understanding the African stream of thought in suchphilosophical approaches as omnipotence. Moreover, I do not claim that the features found in the Western culture and theAfrican traditional and metaphysical setting is solely African, neither is it otherwise.Since humanity is one, the exchange of experiences and thoughts among people mustcontribute to the moulding of some general concepts, such as, omnipotence. Hoping for good, the purpose of this booklet was to point out one thing, theunderlying concept of a supreme and ultimate reality, the omnipotent God, whichcharacterises the basis of human cultural and intellectual experiences, man and his God. 22
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