Retrieving Ẹbọ as Spirit: The Foundation of Authentic Christian Pneumatology Among the Igala, Nigeria

Martin Ahiaba


Ẹbọ is divine Spirit. It is the creative and sustaining principle with which the Supreme Being—Ọjọ creates and re-creates the Igala universe. It is through ẹbọ as spirit, that Ọjọ reveals God’s self through the earth deity—anẹ, the ancestors—ibegwu and other nature spirits. Therefore, as spiritual beings ẹbọ have autonomous iconic existence apart from its physical representation in Idols, effigies and artifacts—ode. Through symbolic-ritual actions, ẹbọ makes Ọjọ accessible and beneficiary to the human through the ministry of healing and charisma. In the 1920s, while recognizing the positive influence of the ẹbọ—ibegwu cult among the Igala, the Ajokodo Bible translated the spirit as ibegwu. During the later missionary era, ẹbọ was diminished and demonized. As a result, ẹbọ 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 ẹbọ—ibegwu.
The appreciation of ẹbọ 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 ẹbọ 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 ẹbọ 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 cult, 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.


Ẹbọ; Ode; Afu; Spirit; Igala Pnuematology; Igala worldview

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