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Author explains humans’ relation to God

John Tierney | Thursday, March 26, 2009

Human beings cannot be understood without understanding their relationship with God, according to Igbo novelist and poet Chinua Achebe, who delivered his second lecture of a three-part series titled “The Igbo and their Perception of God, Human Beings and Creation” Wednesday.

“Chi [the creator] gives each one of us a meaning,” Achebe, the author of the 1958 novel “Things Fall Apart,” said.

It is impossible to generalize the relationship between God and humans, according to Achebe. “God reveals himself in as many ways as there are us,” he said.

The personal nature of religion manifests itself in the blending of Christianity with traditional Igbo religion, according to Achebe, who added a Christian conclusion to a traditional prayer.

“It’s something that is happening in Nigeria in the Igbo language,” Achebe said. “Some people don’t like it-they think their religions and their prayers should stand apart.”

“But there’s no point in making rules,” Achebe continued. “It’s people who make prayers.”

The primary Igbo deity, Chukwu, whose name literally means “Great Creator,” is the god who receives the least amount of praise, Achebe said.

“There are many deities for the Igbo, but Chukwu is infinitely greater and different from the others,” he said. “The others may be powerful and may be troublesome and may demand to be at peace with shrines and worshipers which Chukwu does not generally have.

“In Igbo cosmology, Chukwu has a primary function that he does and that is creation,” Achebe said. “Making people, making the world, making us.”

The Igbo word for “create” is “ke,” according to Achebe. “There is a second meaning of ‘ke’ – to share, to distribute, to allow.” Achebe said.

Because of the second meaning of “ke,” Chukwu “is also creating the attributes,” Achebe said. “A person is only made when he has received their share of human attributes.”

The perception of death is an important way to understand the relationship between humanity and the divine in the Igbo culture, Achebe said.

“It shows the complexity of how the Igbo people comprehend the complexity of God’s presence,” he said. “Death is part of this complexity.”

“When a person dies, the Igbo search for the dead among the living,” Achebe said.

The young people in the village play what Achebe described as a game of hide-and-seek in search for the dead person.

“An aged group goes around town singing calling on their member to come out from hiding and join them,” Achebe said. “They pretend they no longer know where their friend is, that he is playing games.”

These searches last through the night, until at dawn, the villagers are forced to concede that their friend did pass away.

These customs are manifestations of the Igbo believe that “death has a place in the Igbo land,” according to Achebe.

“It is Chukwu who made death,” Achebe said. “The Igbo believe that the world of living and world of the dead are connected in circular and unending manner. The finality of death is not known to the Igbo.”

Achebe understands that there are “people who want nothing to do with death, who want to resurrect those who died,” he said. “They think they are doing something which god approves.”

However, for the Igbo, death is not an evil. “The Igbo people would say it is god who made death,” Achebe said. “He wants us to appreciate the value of just the sheer complexity of things around us.”

Achebe will present his third lecture, on “Creation,” Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Jordan Auditorium of Mendoza College of Business.