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Much Ado About Totemism In Igboland

Culture evolves and undergoes various alterations over the generations. This changing nature cuts across various aspects like dressing and traditional rites. Yet, one of the few things that have remained unique over time is the value and influence of natural creatures on man.

In Igboland, certain items are revered and considered sacred to the community. This is what guides the belief of totemism, a system where humans are said to have a mystical relationship with a spirit-being. Because of this, religious taboos and laws have controlled the socio-political activities of Igbo communities.

16-foot Ijele mask in the lobby of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Photo Disney Parks

The Igbos generally revere certain plants and animals, but this varies depending on the part of Igboland. In Eha-Amufu in Enugu, Ebe (the spirit of the river) controls the fish in that particular river. The big fishes are the counterparts of the principal men of the village-group and so, when a villager dies, a fish dies, and vice versa. It is also a taboo to fish in that river.

Likewise, the deification of pythons is common in Idemili, Anambra State. It is generally believed that the pythons are representatives of the gods of Idemili. In the Afikpo area of Ebonyi state, the Oziza group deifies crabs and so, the indigenes cannot eat or kill crabs. This list also includes animals like tortoise, monkey, crocodiles, alligators, butterflies and snails.


Plants are also part of this cultural practice. There are tons of trees, some marked using red or white clothes or others left empty but still with huge significance. These trees are regarded as spirits, mediums or curative elements. The okosisi (Iroko tree) is one of these trees. Others include ogirisi, ofo, oji, udara and akpu. There are sacred groves and other trees, including the sycamore and the baobab, used for religious purposes or associated with God and other spiritual beings.

The 21st century has seen a lot of changes. There are a lot of human activities responsible for causing environmental changes which may, in turn, hurt animal and plant species. These activities, not limited to deforestation and hunting, have affected the observance of these totem animals.

While the locals who have utmost reverence for these plants and animals have kept them from being endangered and going extinct, there is still a lot of work to be done to create a balance in the ecosystem. A notable means for the preservation of some of the distinct animals from extinction is by maintaining a viable and ultra-modern game reserve as a tourist attraction. This will, in turn, create revenue, thus killing two birds with one stone.

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