Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria


Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria Prof Kenneth Omeje School of Arts & Sciences – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria

Borrowing from the Gods Oracular Deities as
Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of
  • Prof Kenneth Omeje
  • School of Arts Sciences

Outline of Presentation
  • Research objectives
  • Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Nature, Processes and Dynamics of the Credit
  • Challenges in Conducting the Research
  • Moving Forward Time Plan for the Next Phase

Objectives of the Study
  • Investigates the role of oracular deities as
    traditional sources of credit among the Igbo of
    Southeastern Nigeria.
  • The history of the gods and the credit systems
    they operate
  • Structure nature of the credit system
  • How the credit system has changed over time

  • Based on fieldwork data using ethnographic
    methods semi-structured in-depth interview
  • Interviewees project stakeholders
  • - cult priests and their family members,
  • - beneficiaries of cult credits/their families),
  • - strategic informants (local chiefs community
    leaders, titled/untitled elders with ample
    institutional knowledge of the communities),
  • ordinary folks in the village communities
  • Use of non-participant Observation as
    complementary method
  • Document analysis as secondary source of data
  • Data analysis is ongoing but based on qualitative

Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Study is carried out in the Nsukka cultural area
    within the Igbo ethnic group of South-Eastern
  • A cultural area is a geographical delimitation
    characterized by substantially uniform
    environmental and cultural traits.
  • In the case of this study, a cultural area can be
    operationalized as a rough equivalent of a
    sub-ethnic group.

Background of the Ethnographic region
  • The Igbo are about 25 million people and have
    many cultural areas.
  • Nsukka cultural area has a population of over 2
    million people about 70 per cent of the
    population live in typical rural and semi-rural
  • The traditional social structure of the Igbo can
    be practically understood by an in-depth study of
    the classical novels of the legendary African
    writer Chinua Achebe especially, Things Fall
    Apart and Arrow of God.

Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Igbo communities generally have a decentralized
    patriarchal political systems
  • The Igbo are profoundly religious. In modern
    postcolonial history, they are predominantly
    Christians, albeit traditional African Religion
    (ATR) still plays a pervasive role.
  • The vast majority of the people are syncretic
    even though many may not openly admit that they
    have any thing to do with ATR

Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Oracular deities play highly significant roles in
    traditional Igbo social and political systems
  • They are perceived to be omnipotent in powers
    multi-functional in purpose
  • Significantly, oracular deities function as the
    highest appellant court in many Igbo communities
    and are seen as effective in killing disputants
    who invoke them falsely or swear a false oath -
  • Oracular deities have both benevolent
    malevolent powers they are highly venerated and

Origin and Structure of the Credit Divinities
  • Three major deities are studied in this project,
    Iyiakpali in Ugbaike, Ochegi in Orba, and Alumu
    in Amufie
  • Coincidentally, the three are regarded as female
    deities i.e. allegedly originated by spirits
    that appeared in the form of women
  • Oral traditions attribute the origin of the
    deities to about 200 300 years ago
  • Deities originated from the disguised physical
    appearances of the goddesses who used the
    opportunity to impart divine power and favour on
    their unsuspecting benevolent hosts.

Chief Priests account of the Origin of Alumu
  • As I was told, a certain old woman was walking
    along the village path on a rainy day. Terribly
    beaten by the rain, she ran into a compound owned
    by Uroshi, a certain man in the nearby community
    of Uda Ezzeodo, but she was denied accommodation.
    She continued further to Nkpuru Attama (a village
    in our own community) where she was kindly
    received and offered accommodation by a man
    called Adoni Owo. This man made fire to keep his
    rain beaten guest warm. Adonis kind gesture
    impressed the old woman, hence, she promised to
    make him a great man by giving him something to
    augment his living. She offered him a brand new
    stream known as Iyi Alumu (the stream of Alumu)
    till date. This mysterious stream thrives best in
    the dry season when there are no rains. The
    mysterious guest also gave Adoni the Alumu juju
    with a number of clearly spelt out injunctions
    that today form part of the functions of the
    deity. After establishing the stream and handing
    down the deity, the old woman disappeared.

Injunctions handed down by Alumu, According to
the Chief Priest
  • to kill anybody who steals if consulted
  • to kill any man who would have sexual affair with
    another mans wife
  • to save victims of food charming and to
    conversely kill the wicked culprit
  • to protect Amufie land and the inhabitants (this
    is why the deitys shrines are located at the
    boundaries of Amufie and its neighbours to repel
    our enemies).
  • Credit facility was not part of the original
    agenda of any of the deities it ostensibly
    emerged by default.

Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • The credit system appears to be an offshoot of
    the well-established social control, criminal
    justice livelihood support functions of the
  • Primarily, the gods are consulted or petitioned
    to help solve various social problems e.g.
    theft and land dispute, allegations of
    extra-marital sex, witchcraft, fraud, food
    charming, incest and so forth.
  • Most petitioners and clients to the gods are
    locals from the Nsukka cultural area where the
    deities are also well known and dreaded.

Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • It is widely believed that the deity administers
    instantaneous capital punishment by magical means
    or mysterious circumstances on transgressors and
  • As is the custom, when a death is attributed to
    the retribution of a local deity in Igboland, all
    the properties of the deceased victim are
    voluntarily surrendered by his family as
    appeasement to the deity.

Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • Over the years, the deities have amassed
    tremendous wealth, especially moveable and
    immoveable properties, through their alleged
    retributive killing of offenders.
  • The cult priests expediently volunteered to put
    the material wealth of the deities to credit
    utility and under terms that are more
    client-friendly when compared to the modern
    capital market.
  • The deities mostly lease out confiscated assets
    like wheel barrows, bicycles, motor cycles, and
    tracks of land to clients and tenants who make
    agreed returns in both cash and kind.

Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • The deities hire/lease out their assets to needy
    locals to enable them earn a living
  • Some have been able to set up micro-businesses in
    the process.
  • The deities reportedly have houses and cars used
    for commercial transportation to raise funds.
  • The hiring leasing of assets are integral part
    of the deities credit system,
  • The monies realized from all the above activities
    are, among other things, used for money-lending
    and for procuring sacrificial items for the

The Personnel Structure of the Credit System
  • Each local deity is headed by a chief priest
    locally known as Attama office of the chief
    priest is held for life but the position is not
  • The chief priest has a number of assistant
  • The deity belongs to an entire autonomous
    community but there is perceptibly a nucleus of
    immediate stakeholders or owners
  • - These are certain village(s) or clan(s) within
    the community whose forefathers are more closely
    associated with the origin of the deities

Emerging Findings from the FieldworkDominant
Types Reasons for Borrowing
  • Non-financial capital (wheel barrow, motorcycle,
    bicycle, land leasing, tree crops on deitys
  • - For livelihood support
  • Financial capital liquid cash for
  • - Funeral obligations for deceased relatives
  • - Marriage ceremony
  • - Settling an embarrassing debt
  • - Setting up or recapitalizing a micro-business
  • - Paying school fees (university level)

Who is Eligible to Borrow?
  • Everybody is in theory eligible to borrow
  • In practice, most borrowers are
  • local community members known to the chief priest
  • people from the Nsukka cultural area introduced
    to the deity by someone known to the chief
  • Everyone sourcing a credit must be known by the
    chief priest or introduced by someone known to
    the chief priest.
  • Most locals regard the deity as a lender of last

Borrowing Procedure (Financial Capital)
  • Ascertain the requirements from the chief priest,
    including an indication on whether the deity has
    the amount needed.
  • Requirements more or less include presentation
  • - Two tubers of yam (a local staple food)
  • - Two gallons of palm wine (30 - 40 litres)
  • - Two pieces of kolanut (a local nut with strong
    ritualistic value)
  • - A guarantor if client is not known to the chief
  • All transactions are conducted in the deitys
  • The chief priest prays over the items, part of
    which are used as holy communion between

Borrowing Procedure (Financial Capital)
  • The client is asked by the chief priest to
    present his request to the deity
  • A standard request presentation usually entails
    telling the deity what you want (how much), why
    you need the cash, when you expect to pay back
  • Some voluntarily include a pledge or vow to the
    deity (usually in livestock) which they offer to
    redeem on debt repayment.
  • The chief priest counts out the money from a clay
    pot or coffer in the shrine
  • - the custom of the Iyiakpali deity is that the
    client deeps his hand into the coffer to count
    out how much he has requested

Amount Borrowed, Period Interest Rate
(Financial Capital)
  • Amount borrowed range b/w 5,000 60,000 Naira
    (about 42 - 500 using current exchange rate)
  • Those interviewed so far borrowed b/w 1999 and
    2008 (mostly b/w 2003 2008). Only a few have
    borrowed more than once.
  • All have repaid (repayment averagely occurred
    within one year)
  • All sampled borrowers are coincidentally males
  • Interest rate is averagely 2 of credit per month

Borrowing Procedure (Non-Financial Capital)
  • The borrowing procedure for non-financial capital
    is more affective and ordinary
  • A client can make his request with just two
    pieces of kolanut.
  • Hiring of facilities like wheel barrow and
    motorcycle for livelihood support is usually
    offered at the prevailing commercial rate
  • Leasing of land and tree crops is done with the
    understanding that the client presents a
    reasonable part of the harvest to the deity as a
    token of appreciation.

Issues of Collateral Debt Recovery (Financial
  • No collateral is required for any credit
  • It is generally believed that the deity recovers
    its money magically by afflicting ultimately
    killing defaulters
  • There are legends about defaulters the deity
    killed and confiscated their properties in
    immemorial past
  • Everyone who has borrowed in contemporary history
    has promptly paid back for fear of the deitys

Debt Rescheduling and Recovery (Financial Capital)
  • Debt can be easily rescheduled by presenting
    recommended edible items to the deity and
    entering into a plea.
  • None of the respondents ever rescheduled his
  • If one dies with an unsettled debt, it is
    incumbent on his family to repay the money
    otherwise the deity is entitled to inherit or
    acquire all the deceaseds properties.

Safekeeping of Valuables
  • In addition to credit sourcing, people known to
    the chief priest do keep valuables (mostly money)
    with the deity for safety
  • The money is wrapped and kept in the shrine no
    interest is charged but a token of appreciation
    in cash or kind is welcome
  • Locals consider the deitys shrine the safest
    place to keep any valuables

Estimating the Assets of the Deities
  • The financial assets of the deity are obviously
    limited given that all the monies of the 3
    deities are kept in a clay pot in their principal
  • The liquidity of the deity largely depends on the
    managerial entrepreneurial acumen of the chief
  • The non-financial capital of the deities,
    especially farmlands are quite extensive
  • The deities reportedly have lands immovable
    assets both within their communities and
    elsewhere in the larger Nsukka cultural area.
  • None of the chief priests and other respondents
    could estimate how much assets the deities have.

Theorizing the Problematic Using Robert Mertons
Typology for Analyzing Traditional Social
  • Social structure are constructed to perform
    identifiable necessary functions structural
  • Manifest Function intended consequences of
    social institution (usually tangible positive)
    functions that make for the persistent of a given
    system. Everyone is aware of it through
    observation expectation.
  • Latent Function unintended consequences of
    social institution/action. These are difficult to
    recognize, especially to the external observer.
    Sociological analysis should help identify this.
  • - Latent functions can affect a designated system
    functionally, dysfunctionally or probably have
    non-functional consequences (functional

Theorizing the Problematic Using Robert Mertons
Typology for Analyzing Traditional Social
  • Dysfunctions intended negative functions - they
    can be manifest or latent.
  • Functional alternatives certain social
    institutions can perform overlapping functions
    this vitiates the explanatory power of structural

Challenges in Conducting the Research
  • Logistical difficulties in tracing borrowers
  • Sensitivity of the research subject, leading to
    great reluctance of almost everyone to disclose
  • Limitations of fieldwork data collection in rainy
  • Ascendancy of new chief priests in two project
    communities following the recent death of their
  • Growing incidents of insecurity in south-eastern
    Nigeria (widespread kidnapping of people for a
  • Substitution of one of the originally proposed
    communities due to logistical constraints

Moving Forward Time Plan for the Next Phase
  • Completing the fieldwork (about 60 of set target
    already achieved) Jan. 2010
  • Completing the data interpretation analysis
    April 2010
  • Preparation submission of final project report
    May 2010
  • Developing 2 publishable papers from the project
    June - Aug. 2010
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