Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The sainthood of Ndi-ichie

    Religion has always been a part of humanity and plays a pivotal role in social organization. The world over, diffrent cultures and societies were/are aware of the presence of an unfathomable supernatural force beyond human comprehension, which kneaded and knitted the earth. As such, they sought to reverence and communicate with this supernatural force through pratices, rituals and dogmas sanctified my myths, hence the birth of religion.
If all cultures had displayed a collectivity of ideas towards the existence of this unseen force which seemed (as at that time) to direct the affairs of mortals in a pre-determined fashion, then the question of the superiority of a religion of a particular faith seeing God as its exclusive property should not arise. Such stance becomes worrisome with the apparent similarities that exists amongst religions of the world. The sainthood in Christianity and the Ndi-ichie of igbo traditional religion are one of such from the plethora of similarities that exists between world religions.
Sainthood is the veneration of exceptional individuals for their works in the christian faith. 'Holy' men and women who through exemplary lives on earth went into heaven to be with other saints. The word in itself is a transalation from the Greek word 'Hagos' which means to 'set apart one'. In the new testament the word is used to describe those who believed in Christ and adhered to his teachings and philosophies. Saint Paul often addressed his epistles to saints of a particular city (see Ephesians 1:1&2; Corinthians 1:1).
As Christianity spread, the operationalization of the term began to change thus becoming applied to people who were/are venerated after deaths s saints. This led the catholic church to create a process called canonization through whichvenerable people could be recognized as saints.
The Ndi-ichie occupy a very high place in igbo cosmology. They are esteemed individuals held in high regard who have gone to be with the gods and ancestors. The igbos believed that one became an 'iche' at death through a life of hardwork, honesty, resourcefulness, sound moral standings and other virtues. Like the saints of christianity, Ndi-ichie are in constant communion with the living ones on earth continually interceding on their behalf to God(s). They also offer advis to their descendants and appeal to Alusi on their behalf. This is no different from what the catholics do when they pray offer prayers to the saints for guidiance and interception. Thus while the African says the God of my forefathers, the Christian says the 'God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.'
Furthermore both act as signposts for behavioural conditioning in their respective religions. The Saints and Ndi-ichie are not only models for imitation, but also are parables unto others. By extolling virtues such as service, hardwork, humility, forgiveness et al, the sanctity of Ndi-ichie (or sainthood) inspires people to emulate such lifestyles while as mortals with the hope of having a place with -the- God(s) and ancestors (heaven) upon their transition to the spirit world.
Finally, both like every other element of sainthood in other religions are hinged upon the belief of life after death. The emphasis of the indestructibility of the soul and the recurring debate of the origins of human existence seek answers in the conceptualization of sainthood. The are temporary buffers to the permanent shock of the unanswered question of death. Both sainthood and ndi-ichie are diffrent points along the continuum of ancestral veneration. They are not any different from Arahat in Buddhism, Rsi and Guru in Hinduism or the Wali in Sufism.

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