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Could it be possible that there are people who have no sense of morality or of a ‘lower grade of moral consciousnesses?’ And to be specific, could there be anything like morality in Igbo traditionalism? If there is, in which sense could it be understood? In other words, what is the foundation of morality in traditional ethics? These questions indeed gave rise to this research and the Igbo indeed have a morality which is centred on their concept of truth and justice – “Ofo”. We have symbolic and living instruments of this justice and truth.

At times, this morality is moulded up, unsubstantiated, unsystematic, and uncritically rooted in customs and traditions (omenala). This work is geared towards unmasking the moral values inherent in the customs and traditions as raw materials (first-order-activity) for a purely and systematic philosophizing (second-order-activity) – ethics via Ofoism.

With the concept of “Ofoism”, we shall see the Igbo communal expression of justice, its dimensions and perspectives. As freedom and responsibility are pre-suposition of ethics in general, we shall look into moral responsibility in Igbo communal justice. Thereafter comes our evaluation of the whole body of work, and immediate conclusion.


1.1                     Background of the Study

Every man tries with utmost care and effort to maintain peace and order, preserve mutual respect of individual’s goods and rights in every society (Community). This is achieved through the communal promulgation of certain rules and regulations; and inculcation of certain ethical norms and trends. The essence of this venture is to instill discipline, promote love and order and to uphold every goodness of man (mma-ndu) in all its ramifications. These ethical norms and principles are the fruits of man’s reflective activity concerning what is conducive for human welfare.

Before the movement for the colonization of Africa, there existed some form of social organization with its own form of “civilization”, norms, behavioral patterns, and customary laws that serve as guidance to the members of every society. On this therefore, Chijoke highlights:

This was mostly evident in the so-called primitive communal system where people lived and cherished one another and produced mostly to meet their immediate needs. They were primarily engaged in subsistence farming and exchanged goods and services through barter training. There were no traces of crimes as we know today as the community was closely knit. In fact, there was no need for a “police force” as everyone was a “police” of a sort. People then obeyed and conformed to societal norms and behaviors, not necessarily for fear of sanctions and punishments, but as natural way of life.1

The foundation of Ethics in Traditional African Religion is solidly laid and rooted in the people’s indigenous religion, beliefs and practices. Bolaji Idowu (1977:146) writes without reservation, “the Yoruba morality is certainly the fruit of religion. They do not attempt to separate the two and it is impossible for them to do so without disastrous consequences.” Similarly, Aylwad Shorters 1973:62) states thus:

In African Traditional societies, morality is seen to be an intimate relationship with the ontological order of the universe. Any infraction of this order is a contradiction in life itself and brings about a physical disorder which reveals the fault.

Traditional African Religion believes in the existence of gods i.e the deities and divinities who are believed to be the ministers of God and are subordinate to him. God, (Chukwu) is conceived like a monarch, an absolute monarch surrounded by his chiefs (gods) who are at his service. It is believed that they are the agents that execute his wishes. Everyone strives to establish cordial relationship of man to man, man to the deities and the universe as a whole.

The deities and the divinities have been apportioned different assignments and also empowered by the Supreme Being (Chukwu) to attend to human problems and needs. They also exercise influence on the morality of the people. They reward the virtuous and inflict pains and sufferings on those who step on the law of the cosmic order.

“Igbo ethics”, as we shall examine, will therefore consider the Igbo traditional background, the nature of Igbo Ethics itself, and its consistency with other dimensions of Igbo life. We shall make a detailed account of the principles governing the ethical life of the Igbo. It will also examine certain topical ethical issues such as the nature of Igbo moral responsibility, justice, Igbo ethical judgment, concept of evil. Finally, the work will X-ray the significance of: Igbo ontology and cosmology. All this will be considered in the light of the prevailing contemporary discussions on whether the end justifies the means (African –Igbo dimension).


Debasement of human morality in various facets of human lives and increasing rate of crime and corruption, evils and abomination are commonly reported in the contemporary African religio-socio-political lives. This raises a strong question with regard to the traditional morality and ethics. And to be specific, could there be anything like morality in Igbo traditionalism? If there is, in which sense could it be understood? In other words, what is the foundation of morality in traditional ethics?

Many Igbo values and heritages have been either utterly denied, or merely distorted. Some of these values cut across the essential domains of life; areas, one would expect to belong to man as such, irrespective of his time and culture.2 The spheres of life that suffer most from this anomaly, or misrepresentation include; law, religion, philosophy, science, and ethics.

In the case of ethics, the problem seems to be more glaring and serious. Not only are the Igbo and Africa in general denied having a reflective thought capable,3 of evolving and generating an ethics, but where it is acknowledged at all, the fruit of such reflective activities is often misconceived as merely, “religious” in outlook. Some refer to it as “religious-morality”, “religious ethics”, “traditional ethos”, or “mores”. Others, in the same camp call it “cultural ethics”, “customary law”, or simply “primitive behavioral pattern.” How true are these assertions?

The Igbo in their world-view believe so much in the existence of deities, divinities and so on. Looking into the existence or the reality of these spiritual beings and their subsequent symbols of operations, how do one account for morality and what sort of influence do they exercise on man as a moral free agent? Parallel to this notion is a stereotypical conception among the traditional Igbo, (ossified by many

Anthropological writings) that Igbo morality is a product of the earth goddess (‘Ala’). Or, else, that the earth goddess (Ala) is the “guardian” of Igbo morality.4 When did the earth goddess ever formulate the moral laws as to become its guardian, one would ask? Again, the question of ‘when’ calls to mind the question of ‘where’ and ‘how’ such laws were handed down to man and through ‘whom’ precisely? Is the earth goddess (Ala) the guardian of morality in other Igbo communities outside her direct domain and influence?5 In other words, if Igbo – African ontology, Placid Tempel and some anthropologists claim that everything has vital force, then, how do we account for human freedom and autonomy in the interactions and activities of these forces?

Owing to the fact that Igbo culture is religiously colored and oriented, could one articulate Igbo moral philosophy (Ethics) as a separate discipline different from Igbo Traditional Religion? All these questions and more stand as the statement of the problem. They will at the same time provide a veritable focus to the overall work as we shall see from the on set


Anthropologically, the Igbo have five cultural area groups, namely: the Northern Igbo, the Southern Igbo, the Western Igbo, the Eastern and the North-Eastern Igbo. All these groups have the common characteristics that portray them as a unified people, the “Igbo”, in the midst of few accidental differences as we shall see. Thus, the scope of this work embraces the Igbo as a whole, irrespective of the above divisions.

This is also true of the mission of “Igbo ethics” which, as the (moral) philosophy of the Igbo aims not really at the “particular”, but at the abstract “universal” domains. Igbo ethics here, aims not at the specific and actual Igbo behavioral pattern but at the “oughts’ or the “ideal” patterns. As an abstraction, it cuts across the Igbo cultural classifications and groupings.


The most cherished common heritage, which characterizes an African in his being, and mode of life as a whole is communalism, the co-existence and sharing of life. Apart from giving him a distinctive mark of identity, as against the west, communalism has remained with him over the years, being a veritable ‘insurance’ in justice for his life, and properties. He has been shaped and re-shaped in his visions by this singular factor, constituting a bed rock of his out-reaching solidarity with a wider society and humanity as a whole. It is because of its central concern on ‘man’ not as a discrete entity but as a being-in-relation-to-others, it is often characterized as “African humanism”, or “African brotherhood” in the words of Nyerere.

So, the purpose of this work is first and foremost to establish the fact that the Igbo, like other Africans have sense of morality, and possess a rational ethics. The core of this ethics is justice and truth as reflected in the communal life of the people and their activities in general. There is need to undertake this research for the general development of African Philosophy and authentic African life. The work aims at supplying some of the answers as it concerns the African (Igbo) moral philosophy. Above all, the purpose of this work is to create an awareness of the

essential comparative characterizations of African ethics vis-à-vis western paratypes.


Earlier before now, most Europeans and others were thus poorly equipped for either the intellectual understanding of African culture, Igbo not excluded; or for any degree of empathy with the way of life it represented. African, (African culture, religions, history, philosophy, morality and artifacts) were denigrated, and distorted. These were classified according to the grid of western thought and imagination which was of a negative category of the same.

The significance of this work, just like others of its kind is its reactionary in form. It is particularly to proof through rational analysis that Africa and especially Igbo is not exactly as represented by our European counter-pacts. In this work, therefore, we work out the Igbo traditional ethics which is not purely dependent on any religion; in stead, founded on Igbo man’s rational and reflective activity.


The first method is a critical analysis of the Igbo ontology and cosmology. A critical review will be made on Igbo anthropological, philosophical and religious literatures, relevant theses, and dissertation on the Igbo. Here the work will not be expository as such, but an abstraction of the ethical tendencies of the Igbo, of which justice (Ofo) is at the centre. It is an abstraction based on what the Igbo aspires to achieve in their ethical actions, especially in their traditional beliefs.

Oral interviews are also employed to supplement the written materials. The approach is largely critical, analytical and evaluative aimed at showing the strong sense of Igbo ethics.

Chapter one, is more of general introduction to the work; it provided the background of the work.

Chapter Two is geared towards the review of related texts in the context of the work.

In Chapter three, we try to explore the meaning of ethics in general as a presupposition of Igbo concept of justice; and its relationship with morality in general, law and religion.

Also, in Chapter four, we try to give the notion of Igbo communal ethics; their expression of justice and moral responsibility.

Finally, chapter five is purely a critical evaluation of the work in general and conclusion thereafter.


One might ask: who are the Igbo? We start our write –up by clarifying some of those key concepts of our interest. The Igbo is a tribe in the African continent of the world. Geographically, from parts of Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Kogi, to the whole of Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states are Igbo indigenous settlements. Such belief in the deities and their activities are easily noted in Igbo traditional societies. Hence, we shall try to explore rationally this belief and practice in Igbo–African, especially how these deities influence man in Igbo world in terms of morality.

One cannot overlabor the obvious, that the key words of our interest, namely Earth-deity, morality and world –view appear to be less philosophical and as

such certain authorities are some books and authors of African Traditional religion. Here lies the great difficulty in having philosophically authorities to refer. However, philosophy ought to be a personal, rational, critical and thorough reflection on reality. Thus, it behooves on us to use the Igbo

culture, religious beliefs, etc as the ‘ philosophems’ or raw material for our philosophical study.

According to J.S Mbiti, “To speak is to speak from somewhere”. An anthropologist said that every man is a product of his culture. Hence, for us to appreciate the concept of deities in Igbo world – view in a relational analysis, we must of course focus on Igbo culture. And according to Ogugua,P.

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