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1 Sam 15:23 (NIV) For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
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2 Chronicles 7:14 says:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and thurn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Igbos, if we need God to heal our land, we must then submit to him alone. God is a jealous God and will never share his glory with all these man-made sticks. It is either Christ or the idols.

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Introduction to Igbo Medicine:
Igbo Healers and Agwu Deity in a Therapeutic Society

Patrick Iroegbu

Often folk healing and biomedical approach to health care beliefs and practices comply with a set of professional expectations. In each domain, practitioners undergo intense training ranging from months to years. Igbo healers of Nigeria take training and initiation into the institution of their medical therapeutics seriously. Even though misunderstandings abound when lay people and medical scientists hesitate to study healers in their own terms, it is still a compelling need to understand the processes and cultural demands of becoming a good healer in a therapeutic society. In Igbo, healers are associated with ancestral deities, established and competent agents as well as crave for material and symbolic resources to facilitate the knowledge transmission and ethics of the endogenous medical profession. This research provides a general analysis of the deity of medicine and divination among the Igbo in the neighbourhoods of Mbano, Umuahia, and Owerri areas.

Given strong interests, requests and calls by readers, students and researchers to continue the discussion on “introduction to Igbo medicine” first posted in (Jan. & Feb. 2006), I want to provide some insights on Igbo healers and their deitific resources. This section therefore will discuss Igbo healers, dibia and their medicine deity, called agwu. Some questions to help us explore the topic are: who are Igbo healers? Of what categories and specializations are they lined up with? How do people become healers? How are healers validated as authentic or non-authentic (fake, charlatan)? How is their burden of proof as real healers represented? What forms of initiation and training sessions are experienced by healers? What signs and symptoms manifest as a pattern in the selection and training of healers? Do healers train within and outside Igboland and how are they recognized? What is Igbo medicine deity? How is it perceived and allied with healers and patients in the context of care? Has agwu, the medicine deity a gender perspective for Igbo kinship network or system?
Others related search questions are: how does an agwu shrine set up for a healer/s look like and symbolized in addition to what role it plays in the belief and practice of medical and helpful therapeutics? To be argued, in addition, is this, are Igbo healers genuinely called upon and trained in the complex array of culture, extra-human forces and in their kinship communities and outside the neighborhoods? Attempt is therefore made to outline the various categories and attributes of healers, their installation into the agwu institution and healing office. After the analysis, we come to the conclusion that healers are well formed in their own field. But at the same time, neglect in helping them to come to terms with modernism in their own terms is the current battle between biomedicine and indigenous spheres of medical knowledge – of which its effect is consequently faced by ill-persons.

Who Igbo Healer Is in a Therapeutic Ally
In a therapeutic ally, a healer is someone who cures, or treats illnesses or injuries in order to restore the ill person to continue normal life in society. Therefore, a specialist in healing human forms of illnesses and misfortunes is a healer, a therapeutic expert, a curer, a practitioner, a ritual formulator to close broken boundaries of good health and relationships between individuals and society. To become a healer requires a culturally shared and accepted discipline, ambition, determination, time and resources.
A man or woman trained and certified according to the norms of indigenous medicine and healing system meets the status quo of a healer. A healer or dibia in Igbo parlance of all ramifications; whose call, initiations and trainings ally with Igbo customs and traditions obviously performs the duties of a healer. This includes good mastery of the field forces of the land, water, forest, ancestral sphere and kinship. One is a healer when one is having a good knowledge of all forms of misfortune, their sources, and ways of redressing them. One having proper knowledge and the workings of the deities of the land and their connection to the life-world of the living – is also an important notion attached to being a responsible healer. Such a healer may specialize in divination, herbal and animal and related material resources, bone setting, surgery, rituals with appropriate language skills, and any other domain of expertise as may be needed to support the sick person to recover. An Igbo healer is meant to be knowledgeable in the history of his or her community and neighbours, as well as have deep ancient and modern history of the Igbo in general. He or she will be able to tell what symbols are associated with religion; as well as social, economic and political ideas and practices of the Igbo in comparison with that of Igbo neighbours. Secrets of the ancientness of the Igbo society will be related to his shrine and therefore represent a reality in the pristine and present symbolic archive of the society. True healers embody a deep Igbo medical history as a part of their training repertoires and representations. In essence, the burden of proof of being a healer lies deeply in one’s relationship to the medicine deity – agwu. The various example of burden of proof of a healer will be discussed in another paper as I will focus more on the healer and agwu deity at the moment.
But it is important also to state that Igbo healers skillfully deal with all forms of diseases, misfortunes and disabilities presented to them. Each case of illness is studied, understood and cured following interpretation of kinship relations, social, cultural, economic and political circumstances constructed into the illness situation. The need to deeply study and understand the beliefs and practices of questioning misfortune is therefore important for all healers. By questioning misfortune, I mean trying to unravel the ways in which episodes of curses, for example, are scrutinized, discovered and managed - given the healers' skills and therapeutic approaches appropriate to the society. In other words, exploring how divination is brought to bear on that form of handicapping someone’s capability and its implications on socially approved mental functioning for a normal life challenges a healer to do whatever it takes to heal successfully. Gathering cases and applying them to the themes of healing-work demonstrates to healers a clear impact that curses or mental illness might have on African thought patterns and relationships. This includes but not limited to competitive ways of discovering and fashioning mental disturbance, casting spells, causations and effects as well as the restorations or healing dimensions. Curses and mental illness issues carry spiritual epitaphs, consciences and direct or symbolic effects. Both individuals and groups, old and young people, especially children are big carriers of curses. People in authority, such as titled persons, ordained persons, family and community leaders/elders, and in general any aggrieved persons may resort to cursing as a means to show revenge through aggressive spoken words. Healers try to understand the history of relationships people keep with others close to them in determining causes of illness and the effects of illness in society.

Agwu Deity for medicine and divination
Agwu deity is associated with a cultural spin on medicine and divination skills. Etymologically, the word agwu is a name of a given deity for medicine and divination. Agwu by itself is derived from agwa, “manner or behaviour”. Specifically, agwu refers to the major deity or god-head of medicine and divination (chi ogwu). Its symbol is a doll-like human being made of wood or covered with clay, also called agwunsi. Agwu is believed to be the ally of men or women determining their destiny and life skills. It is a god of care who directs human affairs while navigating the world. One's chi or tutelary god is often regarded as the same as one's agwu. Affliction of certain illnesses and healing are primarily associated with agwu. Therefore, agwu pertains to the domain of morality and continuity of tradition of caring skills.
A family with a record of healing art is likely to continue this tradition. The god of medicine and divination, agwu, will intrude upon a family member in order to transfer to him or her, the divinatory seeing (visionary power) and healing skills. This is also known as clairvoyance dimension. In the event of refusal, this deity is responsible for pattern of illness or misfortune called ara agwu (deific insanity). The intent of which is temporarily to give time for a rethink to accept a calling to assume a traditional responsibility to discover sources of affliction and to heal them. It can only endure in the case of total arrogance or negligence to listen and accept cultural obligation for health and healing.
Broadly, ara agwu or deital-force related mental episode is mostly a portentous or forewarning insanity and remains to be the kind of ara (insanity) which is mostly misunderstood and misrepresented. For example, while some people say ara agwu is a devilish harassment of human, others note the deity to be nothing good than being spirit of madness. Those who interpret agwu from an overtly Christian perspective tend to depict this over-excitation in very negative terms. In order to be a healer one need not go through ara agwu or deital insanity. Rather the affliction is a punishment given to those who refuse to yield to their election into healing. My infor­mants kept saying that it appears in one's dreams, to call up the person to take up the ancestral healing tradition. A cultural lore, reinforcing this view, states that, “agwu selects with whom to work” (agwu na-awa awa). Informants maintain that it is a very good spirit, which sees to the goodness of people and never fails in healing specific afflictions (oria). But it may also afflict the wrongdoers as a way to punish them and exercise its authority without further question. It is said agwu deity does not approach just anyone but expects those approached to reciprocate their call with respect and on time too.
Put differently, agwu deity has two faces at the same time, the good and the bad. The good is for the innocent and well behaved. It is called, mma agwu evoking good (its health and progress). The other side is evil, and is referred to as njo agwu. Those misrepresenting agwu such as bad healers or offenders are punished severely by agwu. The double-edged sword of agwu (mma ihu abua) does not fixedly make someone prone to penalty if he or she does not behave according to its disciplinary measures, such as when a healer is: (i) not charging too much money in cases which do not allow it; (ii) preparing medicines according to its directives; (iii) listening and carrying out appropriate instructions; (iv) avoiding certain prohibitions, such as not using one’s healing power unduly against others; (v) not sleeping with one's patient/s, or taking other people's wife or husband; (vi) not going to sleep with a woman during her menstrual period; (vii) avoiding certain places like funerals of people whose behaviour in society are ques­tionable; (viii) not defying healing objects with unwashed hands, or petitioning to it with inappropria­te rites or its neglect at all; (ix) being stingy instead of showing compassionate, liberal hands. But one is liable and punished at any contravention that occurs in order to guide against any wrong potentially hampering healthy relationships and environment to come about.

Ara agwu, or its mental affliction, may also besiege someone who willfully breaks or destroys any of its cultic resources. The agwu shrine is found with statuettes in the home of any healer and in many of the patients’ houses. In cases where such shrine items are rebelliously being destroyed or burnt, agwu inflicts untold hardships to the family. It can trigger insanity as well as other forms of misfortune, such as accidents, untimely deaths, loss of money or goods, and social isolation. It can give people troubles that might even lead to their imprisonment, or that bring entire failure if one would choose to oppose to the calling for the role of diviner or healer. For a healer to become truly immersed into the dynamics of healing knowledge and strategies, initiation to the cult of agwu is a cultural duty and essential for the start of the process of learning and applying the skills with due protection in the ecological perspective. The following then will explore and describe how this is carried out to attain the underlying aims.

Initiating to medicine deity: Investiture of the deity of medicine and divination, iru agwu
Investiture implies a process of deifying a healer-to-be. This starts with a possession by agwu deific force whose spirit is associated with the patrilineage of the healer concerned. According to Amadiume (1987:111), possession by the spirit of agwu served not only as a check against social deviation in men, but also ensured succession to certain hereditary positions and professions in the patrilineage. Those in line to succeed fathers or other relatives in the dibia profession are most likely to be more prone to possession by agwu. In all cases, possession by the spirit of agwu warranting the investiture would be symbolized by personal disorder, signs of mental imbalance, and general tendencies towards irresponsibility. A person possessed by agwu falls short of “manliness” (Amadiume 1987:111). While possession related to agwu deity is merely significative, capturative, to link-up with life-world and network of forces, processing of body and mind, ontological, and of scaling a candidate’s destiny, identity and empowerment, the institution of agwu in itself is but a central force to be or not to be a healer within the endogenous perspective.
The word iru means to install, to put the shrine for a beginner, a neophyte, a novice, a learner, an apprentice. For the initiate, it symbolises submission to the agwu deity or engagement into the complex and expensive cultic celebration (ime agwu). A proverb holds that agwu begins with the small, iru and grows to the bigger ceremony, called emume or echichi (asi agwu na-esi n’nta ma riwa). This literally means the initiation into agwu starts with small and inexpensive ceremonies and matures into complex and noble ceremonies. As such, agwu is linked with the status of a dignified human (ogaranya) when it comes to assert itself, namely it begins as it advances to take names in the household. As a matter of extrahuman intervention, good healers adore agwu because of its kindness; one of its empowering and mobilizable virtues being stereotypically let down and misunderstood.

As noted, agwu is phonetically related to ogwu (medicine) and agwa (behaviour, manner, and character). These characterizations are conveying its etymological meaning in the idiom of illness and health. The individual is expected to be in good health as a valued way of living, but he or she often falls short of it. In that fact, his or her agwa (character, behaviour) changes, the Igbo say. Then ogwu (medicine) is sorted out, prepared and administered to redress the imbalance, restore the ill to order of character. This way, agwu is said to predominate the events around human health in the moral and physical order of things. To the fact, agwu is the same thing as chi (personal god), but lies essentially with the whole ideological and pragmatic field of medical activities for which healers own it specifically as god of medicine (chi ogwu). Both general chi and agwu are guardian angels. While chi stands by itself as both a personalized and collective guardian angel, such as when the Igbo say chi m (my god) and chi anyi (our god); agwu typically relates to a line of transmission, deconstructive and reconstructive powers in the corporate spirit category concerned with illness and healing. In other words, we can say that chi is concerned with general destiny and fate of which healing is one aspect delegated to agwu, which is a female deity. Categorically, agwu is a female spirit who provides caring knowledge and skills in matters of life disruption, illness and keeping relationships for a cordial social and cultural order.
Agwu in itself is also very significant with Igbo names. Agwu initiates in our understanding ability that can compose kinship names. We can argue here that kinship evolutionary logic related to the Igbo as well as the pattern of name formation in kinship circles first picked along with agwu best moments. Examples of such names are Chiagwu (god of awgu), Nwagwu (child of agwu), Ihuagwu (face of agwu), Nwaekeagwu (child of agwu creator or corresponding market day), Osuagwu (agwu dedicated child), and Iwuagwu (rule of agwu).
Agwu deity should be understood as a fundamental principle of Igbo gender organization, relationship and of selection and guidance of life affairs stemming from the spirit world. We suggest a more kinship based extended study of agwu will be of important anthropological interest. For a start, represented below is a sketch of agwu kinship alignment in assigning relationship of care in matters of family tradition and lineage focus.

The ancestral figures (ndi ichie) constitute the foundation, legitimacy and authenticity of a healing cult being continued through the descendants and heirs of past medical experts. By affiliation to agwu cult, the ancestor provides not only the origin but importantly also the structural links in the way by which the medical system functions in a larger whole of healing arts. It goes to reflect that an indigenous practitioner has three important fields surrounding his or her practice, namely his or her family and lineage, the forest and then the shrine. To show his or her medical dealings derive from a strong base, a practitioner refers to the systematic functioning of these areas or fields. It is the responsibility of the agwu deity to call upon heirs. And at any time someone selected delays more than necessary or refuses entirely to answer to the call, the deity punishes that person by inflicting even more serious illnesses most often insanity, inability to progress, or even incapacity to walk or deformity.
If a healer marries, bears children such as a first son (diokpara) and first daughter (ada), agwu is being represented by the size of the family in the same corporate membership formation. It is such that there will be a husband or male agwu (di or oke agwu), a female agwu (nwunye or nne agwu), a first son agwu (okpara agwu), a first daughter agwu (ada agwu). Other kinship terms refer to women agwu (ndomi agwu) and ohu agwu or enslaved servants or attendants or aids (nwaosu agwu) and so on (see illustration 2 [figure 1] above, indicating the agwu family flows).
There are other symbolic representations in the complex family of agwu which are essential and must be present before this deity is being installed in the house of an apprentice. They include an agwu seat (oche agwu), an agwu dog (nkita agwu), a four-faced figurine (ezumezu agwu), and an icon of strength and personality referring to right hand (ikenga agwu). Significant is that both a male and female principle – gender nexus, that is the culturally ascribed masculine and feminine characteristics must be present so as to domesticate and/or expel away forces in relation to illness and healing.

These agwu dolls are planted into four stands plus a fifth forked stand called ekwe oba. Oba is a name of a tree, which is also important in installing the agwu shrine. When it is installed, the dolls represent the life world of the healer-to-be.
The five significant trees which are essential part of the installation of agwu are: (1) oku; (2) uha; (3) ogirishi, newbouldia laevis; (4) ebube agu, sanseveria; (5) and ekwe oba. We examined one informant’s shrine and we found that several deities or chi such as agwu, ala ezi, ikpo ituaba, olakwuru mmuo na olakwuru madu are sheltered in one single set of shrine status quo stand. These deities or chi are very commonly called on at any moment a healer sets for healing. Ikpo is particularly for guiding against bad spirits (mmuo ojo) and it is strongly called upon in healing insanity and other illnesses deemed to be characteristically deep-seated and devastating.

Planting agwu symbols and attributes
An agwu shrine comprises the most vital live trees and plants representing the layers of the cosmos, along with other important symbols such as pot, machete, and stone, as well as several kola nuts worth about 300-500 naira. Informants, Nze na Ozo Agbaegbu, Iroabuchi and Anwueri describe agwu as God’s creation of Adam and Eve (agwu dika ekere Adam na Eve). Simply because Adam was staying alone, and God (chukwu) created Eve for him to communicate and associate with.
Similarly, the male (oke) and female agwu (nne agwu) always associate together. In setting up the shrine the two must be put together along with other materials that would enhance their co-habitation. The other images are namely oche agwu, nkita agwu, ikenga agwu, odu agwu and ezumezu agwu. The installation ceremony is a very simple one, feasted like other forms of title taking. It is often said that agwu does not bestow an elaborate ceremony unlike ozo title taking. This is because agwu is concerned with illness and health, while ozo is merely a ceremony of title taking that goes with eating, drinking requiring ostentation. The Igbo say in this regard that “one with appetite is not likely to assist the agwu installation but will join in where ozo is being taken” (a si anaghi ahapu ebe a na-eshi ozo gawa ebe a na-aru agwu). Following are the descriptions of the most vital trees and images in the installation as well as the depiction of their attributes.

Oche agwu: In reality, oche agwu is a seat and signifies settling. It is also used to initiate a wife-to-be, particularly at the early visits when she is being married into the family (ije di ohuru). Such initiation allows the seat of agwu to be offered to the new woman to sit down. If she feels approved and does not make fuss or run away, it indicates that her coming is fortunate. If it is otherwise, it means she is not welcome into the family. It is also important for treating women with menstrual problems. The initiation installs a healer into the agwu seat to ensure the productive effect of his healing. The implication here is that for a healer to perform he first has to be properly seated with agwu, hence oche agwu to achieve his art.
Ikenga agwu: A healer uses ikenga – literally let my force go on, to sustain his travels and entrepreneurships by placing his right hand on it before leaving or engaging in enterprises. Doing so helps to keep him on the right, which indicates an intention to be strong and committed in his dealings. The strength of a healer is being on the right course (iju ogu). Elsewhere, the body dimensions of agwu will be fully explored. But it is important to mention that ikenga is a fruitful symbolization of being on the right side by the Igbo – a virtue, which healers and elders appropriate in matters of life, personality, prosperity, health and wellness. Setting a healer’s shrine cannot be said to embody virtuosity and firm characterisation without the force of ikenga agwu. Therefore ikenga along with other symbolic power objects will technically and symbolically ensure that a healer is guaranteed with capacity to will out a “considerable right force” to heal and settle matters of personhood and identity.
Ozo mpata or mbata: Is a symbol of the title that grants the initiate its legitimate seat of healing. As ozo is the highest traditional social title among healers, it is at the same time granted after initiation is completed. Initiatory rites confer on healers the traditional title of nze na ozo. Ozo refers to originality, and indeed to being traditionally affirmed in office and identity. When a healer is called to lay hands on other title-holders-to-be, he acts as a king-maker in line with his own initiation. Ozo mpata signifies legitimacy and authority to carry out the investiture for other healers-to-be. It confers agwu title, endowing one with its authority and significance.
Nkita agwu: The dog (nkita) is perceived as a warrior and trusting being. It pursues away evil spirits and is seen as having a driving power of pursuit until it kills its prey (ochiwa ochigbue). In all cases, a dog is conceived as a spirit (agbara) and hears the foot-marches of intruders which humans cannot easily hear; and whatever that may attack agbara is turned against the wrongdoer/the attacker itself. Therefore the use of dog (nkita) is considered important for the security of the shrine. It is a watchdog so to say. More relevant in this function is the use of a ‘he dog’ (oke nkita). Regarding explanations, a dog sees spirits and consequently reacts. In setting up the agwu shrine for a healer, it is unavoidable to slain a male dog (oke nkita) and use the head in the shrine as one of its most important empowering parts. A dog in this task means to draw out war against intruders and the bad willed. To heal is to give rise to combat against forces in the manner of the compelling combatant virile dog.
Ezumezu agwu: Like ikenga, ezumezu has also been and will further be discussed elsewhere. For now, ezumezu agwu points to somebody who has a complete mastery of all the skills of healing. The cult of agwu is being represented with a doll indicating completeness called ezumezu agwu. It is said to be important in the sense of wholeness, totality, comprehensiveness, embodiment, collective, en ensemble, being complete (izu oke) in healing. With four faces which ezumezu agwu embodies, it is capable of facing issues from four or more dimensional points. A master healer is expected to be a rounded person in his or her expertise in a symbolic sense of ezumezu characterization – in dealing with health and societal order and challenges. (On the one hand, people in community may commonly take chieftaincy titles such as “Ezumezu 1” of a place or field of occupation. On the other hand, cultural events may be named equally as ezumezu festival such as the Igbere people of Abia State and Enugu people of Enugu State). When ezumezu is appropriated in this way, village and town persons attempt to respect the notion of collective gathering and involvement to act and represent their values and identity. In healing, a healer entitled as ezumezu embodies the circle of rites and decorum at a level of cultural mastership and solid moral representation. Ezumezu in human body captures the front, back, left side and right side as well as the top and down of human standing and spaces of contacts and defences.

Oku tree (tree of wealth): Oku here means wealth. A tree known as oku is used to represent this in the installation of agwu. The oku tree is meant to bring wealth, fertility and progress. Thus agwu is embodied in all this.

Uha tree (pterocarpus soyauxii): Is very significant both in setting up agwu and chi shrines. It is

life. Its purpose is to bring harmony, wealth, fertility and progress like the oku tree. However, uha is one of the domesticated trees, whose leaves are used for fufu soup and for rituals related to agwu.
Ogirishi Tree (newbouldia laevis): Is installed for protection against the shrine and its user. If any harm is aimed at it, the tree will persistently resist it. That is, it will hold on resisting (shishighide ya). The tree is also meant for peace and basically holds on any one around it, man or spirit, with strong
resistance. Tree and dog figures conjoin to sustain stability.

Ebube agu (sanseveria): Stands as an awesome plant against trespasses, whose power are beyond words in the installation of the agwu shrine. It brings to the shrine bravery (ebube) comparable with that of a lion (agu), hence the name ebube agu, meaning lion-like intimidation. Thus, ebube agu is a leaf that sustains that prowess of a lion around the agwu shrine. It is meant to be untiring and hypercritical to opposing forces.

Ekwe Oba: Is a yam barn seat (ekwe). Its purpose is to represent a man’s world associated with yam for male (oke) and cocoa yam for female (nne). Altogether, agwu is made for both man and woman, as gender is a matter well defined in the investiture. It also signifies agreement and a seat for obtaining knowledge. Overall, agwu shrine is a force, interrelating healer, patient and the entire community for culturally determined good health and normal life.

Training to heal
According to all healers spoken to and worked with, apprenticeship is an important undertaking, including formal training for efficiency in one way or another before commencing practice. They see it as something expected to make themselves skilful or proficient, as well as to make themselves obedient to orders in line with ancestral alliance and systematic valued repertoral codes. Healers are trained in order to promote their clients’ welfare, growth, harmony, and the continuity of the community of which they are also part.
After selecting a candidate, followed by the installation of the agwu shrine, the potential healer undergoes apprenticeship that may last between 3 to 10 years. During this time the apprentice learns the therapeutic properties of healing plants, the mysteries of nature and the healing arts. He or she also learns about the nightly realm and the sacred forces. The type of selection of a candidate may also determine how he or she is to be trained. A candidate may receive his or her training partly with the spirit world and partly with a master healer. Some link their formation with a master healer after a due and formal spirit transaction, which may last according to needs and capability of the healer to master the art. In other words, both spirit and man interplay in the training pari passu with how a particular trainee is to function. The story in the box discusses and sheds light on this.

Case 1: Training through transaction with spirits

Osondu, a healer reported his training as a diviner thus, “To begin I stayed in the forest without proper food for eight days and nights with strange forces that took me away. I came back bringing with me some divination objects. The correctness of my divinations, side to side the fact that I was acclaimed by the community as a successful dibia who sees clear and deeply beyond this world, built up my standing promptly. But until I started training with a master healer who initiated me into other zones of knowledge and practical fieldwork and socialisation, I was rather limited with the experience of herbs and roots. I testify that I was too busy interacting with spirits during my disappearance to focus much attention on the fieldwork which the experience of roots and herbs required.

We deduce from this account that training involves some form of fieldwork without which efficiency would be lacking. In whichever manner, training exposes to seeing forces, interacting with elements of life, and doing forms of socialization and healing by words and practice.
The art of ritual and herbal healing can be inherited or acquired especially in families renown for a particular therapy. At the early age the heir embarks upon apprenticeship, which may last till his adulthood. Our meeting with the son of Nze na Ozo Agbaegbu of Umueze 11 of Ehime Mbano, is enlightening in this. The 14-year-old boy sees his training as a legacy to grow up with while further going to school at the same time. He witnessed to this when he talked about some of his realisations. For example, he was proud of his status and the income from it, which allowed him to pay by himself his school fees. Similarly, another informant spoke of his son in America who trained with him before proceeding for further studies to specialise in western psychiatry in view of rejoining him and eventually taking over his art soon after his studies. Yet acquisition of different skills or methods or knowing certain herbs and roots and their uses may also be obtained at any time a healer deems it fit or as it may be necessitated by trouble-shooting events. The apprentices moreover, learn the verbal arts, hence the art of clairvoyance combined.
The expenses involved in learning entails an agreed fee to be paid, called ego eje asa nye ogwu (literally meaning a fee to share and transmit body of medical knowledge), as well as for providing required materials essential for addressing cases of affliction.

Sharing spaces and regenerative forces by a master healer with the apprentice in the environment is a condition that makes knowledge transmission possible. Why, because, the world of healers is unique to each of them, and yet they share so much in common with their fellow citizens. Healers sometimes look strange and feared or suspected. To enter into the world of healers presupposes codes of compliance; and the building of trust (okwukwe, ntukwasi obi) is very much emphasised. Belief (nkweta), and secrecy are by and large a crucial and incisive requirement for one to be informed about it genially and authentically. Indigenous medical knowledge retains the tradition of secrecy since it is said to involve filiations and ancestry heritage, discipline, sorcery, and since it also provides a source of income. An apprentice needs to be composed and vigilant to adapt to the disciplinary controls in order to gain healing knowledge. This regards in particular the knowledge about herbs and roots, the recipes, the incantations, prohibitions, and invocation (ikpo agbara na muo) to the deities, spirits. It also fits into place the art of linking-up the human condition with the extrahuman forces (such as thunder, water spirits, and the earth). People wanting to obtain information from a healer are made to abide by strict oath and payment in some cases. Being a stranger may pose a problem until trust has been established and roundly assured. An apprentice who is prepared to understand a healer and his art has no better choice than comply. Else he or she trails on shrouded truths and layering of facts. A healer no doubt might see a learner as threat to his survival due to competition. But this is forestalled by intimate subjective understanding, which training to master healing spaces and regenerative forces do entail. Psychological imaging of who comes to a healer to learn also applies to what and how much the unreciprocated image-out of the healer may cause in the long run.
Entailing sharing, offering, and compliance, the training to heal is mainly appropriated and maximized. To establish the master-initiate rapport to share with a healer’s contradictory spaces and identities is not all that easy. The effort to establish rapport, win confidence, and gain access to all forms of sacred healing possibilities shows that the matter of secrecy is not easily played out. Anyway, when confidential efforts are made to be successful, the understanding of healing tradition gains a core primal grip. We did undergo some of the processes of trust building that gave us deeper insight on how things are organised and carried out. By so doing, secrecy was made clear to us as an important tradition.
Understanding the information presented by healers in the training sessions show how much the healers monopolise extensive knowledge of territorial medical and symbolic traditions, resources and healing ideals. An apprentice is compelled to grasp the healers and their art in their complex components (cf. Balick and Cox 1997:44). The following scholarly-apprenticed experiences are illustrative in themselves. In other words, entering into a trust relationship is achieved through related forms of ritual enactment, namely commensality, placing bare feet on stone and earth, blood rites, black power or ifu onunu ceremony, sealing of alliance with ofo and ogu to legitimize (Ejizu 1986). Initiatory information shows that familiarity with the extrahuman forces’ world is where the core of the institution and practice of Igbo medicine lies. There is a constant representation of extrahuman forces providing the necessary resources of inspiration, direction, know-how, guidance and support required for the skills and practice. Meanwhile, I want to leave out detailing the stages involved in creating trust between a novice and a master healer. But I need to sound a strong note that learning to heal will not occur until all forms of confidence building rites are carried out. Due to the intense regard and risk in dealing with the complex forces involved in training, revelation, and empowerment to heal meaningfully, healers value and consider a safe ground initiated through confidence and good-faith so important in their relationship with their mentees and even with consults and visitors alike.
In the following, I will outline the processes of activating the visionary skill of the apprentice in becoming an initiated healer.


Necessity of ritual eye wash, Itu anya
Apart from the processes of entering into trust between the master and his apprentice necessary for transmission of knowledge, skill and experience, there exists an important ritual during the apprenticeship called, ritual eyewash (igba okwe or itu anya). The aim is to open the eyes of the apprentice, making him or her become as clairvoyant as possible to see things beyond ordinary vision and act meaningfully and accordingly. Igba okwe goes with the throwing of seeds, and itu anya with putting drops of medicine and animal blood into the eye with incantations to activate and potentialise or empower the apprentice. That is to capacitate the eyes (iwake). Diviner-initiates are mostly concerned, although all healers undergo it. If a healer were to be a diviner, the degree of eyewash is more intensive and rigorous. A diviner would have this eyewash as a mark of his ethereal call (itu anya na-awa awa).
Ritual eyewash takes an apprentice to seven places or spaces in order to be fully initiated for effectiveness. Such places are namely (1) the local stream (iyi) for immersion for a number of times and are further complicated with a turn to search and recover an alligator pepper thrown into the water (flowing stream or river). The rigorous stages help a candidate to be acquainted with things of the river (ihe si na mmiri). (2) Next is a woman’s kitchen (usekwu nwanyi), where he or she is exposed to the importance and implications of the hearth (usekwe) in connection with the feminine and family matters. (3) Sexuality and women (agbatukwu nwanyi) is another significant domain a healer-apprentice’s notice is appealed to. Insight of what it entails in the culture and implications in illness and care are emphasised as an important boundary between life giving, illness and death. (4) Next is the latrine or toilet area, human bodily discharge or waste. It is not pleasant a matter but so important in illness and healing. An apprentice’s attention is equally drawn to the implications, such as the danger of poisoning and the parody or farce of contamination. (5) Another high up place is the market (ime ahia). Like other institutionalised spaces, the market as said before is essential for proper briefing on its place in the culture. The market forces that intermingle within it and for what missions, the role it plays in medical resources and healing, as well as the notion it conveys about ara in the collective transactional analysis of behaviour are instructed. (6) An additional important place is the forest (n’ nkpa, ikpa, oke ohia) belonging to the extensive wild zone of forces. A healer-apprentice is made to understand the bases of domestic and forest forces and materials and how to deal with them. (7) Finally, the frame of one’s matrilineal sphere (umune or umerenne) is referred to. The matriliny is important since in Igbo a person is owned by two lineages – his patrikin and matrikin. At death both must be present much like in all other important events in life. Transfer of initiatory medical knowledge may also come from both the patrikin and matrikin. Healing is therefore an important process that brings the whole field of double filiation into unity and mutual support. And this mutual support is very obvious at the very stage of ending the apprenticeship.
Ordinary members of community may as well undergo a rite of passage of eyewash (itu anya). Doing so brings initiates into a virile status or oke madu being a measure of strong-bodied persons displaying endurance in life before or after marriage. It may also result from disturbance in one’s life-world requiring ritual solution. Altogether, the pattern is described as agwu cultic eyewash (itu anya agwu) in order to relate well with the deity and be guided by it accordingly. It may also be to appease agwu from disturbing an initiate with rites of pacification in this form. This is referring to the eyewash of masculinity and freeborn status (itu anya nwadiala). That of becoming a healer is called the eyewash for roots (itu anya mgborogwu) and for a diviner, it is divining eyewash (itu anya afa). Women are exempted from the predominant masculine activities and involving rigorous ceremony and lasting three weeks duration of ritual eye-wash. Of the long three weeks (izu ato), counted on a four-day basis per week, each ceremony is to take place after the other during four days’ gap of the week.

Performing itu anya ritual
As itu anya is important for healers, an apprentice should pass through it and encompass its values. The activity begins and ends on a market day of orie. For a healer more particularly, it is organised for his personal medical initiation. And for the lay person, especially young boys, it serves the purpose of the rite of masculinity (nwadiala turu anya), that is a free-born fully initiated and capable of seeing good and bad in their right perspectives. It enables one to see and understand the transformation of beliefs into cultural practices that critically guide life and matters in living. Performance begins with the gathering of necessary materials such as the agwu figurines called ikpo, resembling a lion’s leg with teeth carved into it. Two of them are bought from herbalists or carvers in the market. Other items are white and yellow chalk substance (ode and nzu), yams, kola nuts, alligator pepper, and the horn of agwu (odu agwu). Elders and a capable dibia will initiate the candidate within the ambience of traditional music and the dance rhythm to the music which is also taught to the candidates.
A healer performing this initiation bears the name dibia anya odo, implying that his eyes are painted with odo substance (yellowish chalk substance). It denotes him as a peace mediator in rituals. With his kola nuts and other vital materials, he begins the ceremony on orie market day. With the aid of the ritual guardian/s of the candidate/s, he sees to it that a candidate is properly dressed and rubbed, masked or painted with white chalk substance (nzu) across his body and a yellowish chalk substance (odo) on his eyes. No dresses are worn except shorts or pants and no footwear is accepted either. A pair of agwu figurine (ikpo agwu) is worn across both shoulders stretching in alternate sides down the chest or waist permitted by a long rope with which it is hung. The hair may or may not be scrapped, as the choice is left to the candidate. But he is better asked to barb. Full psychological preparations are necessary since after the session a candidate goes into seclusion.


First Stage: Seclusion period, Ngbazo
This is a sacred period for the candidate, who is not expected to talk or eat with anybody or bath. He stays at a place, just in his home or may take a walk around it for a short moment in particular for easing himself and then retires. All communions are expected to be with his agwu. In fear, danger, indecision, or distraction, he beckons on his agwu. He may for instance, alarmingly say, Oh my agwu! (agwu meeh!). To avoid talking except with his master or guardian, a candidate may put young palm leaf (omu) in his mouth being indicative of sacredness. It also indicates a style of restriction, that is, someone who is strictly designated not to be spoken to in his sacred moment of immersion.
Seclusion is an essential critical moment, which demands that the initiate’s mind and whole person be focused on the agwu’s virtues of creativity, protective capacities and action as the ultimate reality in his life and tasks ahead. He is devoted to the condition of an immanent or immersed rebirth with agwu. It is a credible moment of desire, of utmost order and of knowledge. Specifically, in the terms of Kpaferer (1997:149), seclusion is conceived of as a place and moment of calm, of order, of contemplation, of knowledge and truth, and also of regenerative fruition. It suggests a path of intentional consciousness toward a full marriage and title to agwu. This act of projection towards agwu is dynamic and stands as the initiating force in developing further dynamism in the candidate over how to commune with his agwu in facing challenges ahead. Moreover, the orientation is an act of consciousness into the ordering of life especially the ill person’s.
By immersing into the reflexivity of agwu conveyance and caring, one of the active wishes and forward looking towards the goals of healthy mind in a healthy body deepens. Thus, seclusion provides a systematic period of consummation of the entire agwu sacerdotality, purity of purpose and the potential secret space essential in healing. However, like a pure bride for a perfect gift and one of re-creative potency, a candidate then consummates all that there is to rebuild life and world order.

Second Stage: Picking a medical object from the cooking pot, ima achu oku or Isi ite oku
Following the next orie market day, a pot of medical concoction is prepared. It contains all sorts of objects, such as egg (akwa), roots (mgborogwu) and snail (ejula). The pot boils for four days, and turns really red. Young boys undergoing this initiation would be lined up so that each will dip his hand inside and pick out an object from it. Each tries to succeed. In the event of failure, the unsuccessful candidate is mocked and called names such as “un-cooking cocoa yam” (ede mgburu), referring to cocoa yam that cannot cook or “one lacking potency” (enweghi ike omumu), as well as one being labelled to be “cold and un-sharp handed” (enweghi aka nkoro). From then onwards the latter will be kept at the back of the line-up during the remaining period of the initiation. If any would pick out an important root, it signifies that he has a talent for becoming a healer. He would be encouraged to proceed with the apprenticeship. The ceremony serves for talent hunting as well, in which participants possessing healing talents are discovered early enough and advised accordingly. A healer-apprentice must, however, succeed in picking out an object from the boiling pot. Whatever he picks out is important in view of interpreting opportunities for him in the healing career. A candidate therefore tries to pick out something more relevant and most probably an important root, which will accord him special respect among other healers. References are often made to what one picked out from the pot when healers gather and tell stories or give account of their lives to other people. The sense of dealing with hot pot particularly is very significant all through one’s life and career as it does in being able to cool problems down.

Third Stage: Immersion in water and crossing young palm leaf: Ida mmiri and Ikpu omu
A candidate is led to the river by his guard/s and the dibia, and is kept at the low-level point. Two bamboo sticks are positioned across the river being tied and led across with young palm leaves (omu). At this low level where the candidate is staying, the dibia prepares a water stand with medicine enhancing it to rise in height well enough. As it continues to rise, the state of mind or mood (onodi mmuo) of the initiate moves in response to the water level. As this is continued, the candidate keeps calling on his agwu saying: Oh my agwu! (agwu meeh!, agwu meeh!) whenever he is gripped with fear or being writhing in pains. The candidate stays in this flowing and rising stream, which may cover him up, while the ritual expert departs. He will carefully go to the upper side of the stream from where he will introduce a good quantity of alligator pepper (ose oji) with incantations. At this moment, the candidate is immersed into the water called ida mmiri and is literally referring to eyewash in the water. Asking the candidate to search desperately and recover, at least, one alligator pepper follows this. If he does this successfully, he stands up with it and hands it over. Doing this is vital because in healing alligator pepper is always useful, giving the practitioner that power for clairvoyance with water forces. This over, he will be led out from the water during which the dibia does not necessary talk to the candidate directly but through the elders, who may be healers also guarding. The expert concentrates rather on performing the rites. This is because, the specialist or dibia anya odo is specially perceived as the master of ceremony who can do or undo, rectify or destroy. He is left alone to wrap up the ritual most credibly.
Now the youngest palm leaf (omu) separating the ritual specialist and the candidate, here inter-plays with the dynamics of the upper and the lower stream, rising and falling, immersion and re-emergence in the representation of transmission of power. When the alligator pepper crosses this omu and is collected by the candidate, a fulfilment of transfer of force is said to take place. To take this force home as accomplished, the candidate is led out of the stream, making the omu phase to come to an end. It also signifies final departure and separation of powers at which the specialist and the candidate may now go home and live their ways. For the young boys’ initiation, this stage serves as searching for the secrets in roots and herbs as well as the sacred (ibo ebi). However, a healer-candidate faces ibo ebi in a more intricate and considerable detail as something having a deeper significance.

Fourth Stage: Eye focusing on the sun, itu oba anyanwu
This is the final stimulation part of the eye-washing ritual (itu anya) performed on the first orie market day, when the sun (anyanwu) is high. Banana leaves (akwukwo unere) are cut and spread on the ground near the boiling pot and the candidate lies down on it for the agwu with his face raised upward to the sun (ita anyanwu). A piece of cloth is worn (ije akwa n’ukwu) and moreso a young palm leaf (omu) is tied around the waist. Blood of a fowl (obara oke okpa) is put in aboshi and ogirishi leaf funnel, and directly made into the eyes and nostrils.
The mixture administered into the eyes and nostrils in the lying position of the candidate hurts with effect, making the aspirant behave somehow wildly. Sneezing follows with water dropping from the seasoned eyes. A candidate sees stars! Strange things are experienced through the sense of sight, which has been crucially washed, first with water and now with light from the sun in which the eyes are directly sensitised. The systematic focusing and stimulation of the eyes in the sun reveals the world-to-be in view of what life will become for the candidate, showing also how he can cope. By so doing, he becomes strongly linked to his agwu, which reveals things to him in continuous vision of life force.

Washing the divining eyes, itu anya afa
A diviner-apprentice rather takes special eyewash, which is different from the general one, described above, for all healers. A good healer sometimes undergoes this as well since it is understood that such a healer should be capable of carrying out divination for minor cases while referring difficult ones to a specialist in divination.
Itu anya afa lasts for seven days (abali asaa). And each is carried out according to the type of divination one is to practice. As example, in glass water and alligator pepper divination (details will be given in the following chapter), an informant states that for seven days beginning from the first to the last, he received each morning or evening eye drops (ntuntu anya) of a special concoction for washing the eyes. The giving of this eye drop as in above with ogirishi leaf funnel or similar medicinal leaf is referred to also as washing the eyes (itu anya). The apprentice is given this continuously for seven days, while staying in seclusion right inside the compound.
After the seventh day, the initiator will invite other healers and common members of society to feast together. On this occasion, senior healers may offer the initiate gifts of roots and other things to divine, and to show to the public that he has acquired such a skill.

Defending and hunting the secret, ibo ebi
The nerve to hunt and defend the secret (ibo ebi) follows immediately the eyewash. This final celebration emphasises the fact that a healer is both cause hunter and defender. It allows a candidate to be given a round calabash container (ebi) of a special nature. Its mouth is concave and small. It is usually found in a big forest and its leaf looks like that of a coconut. It has a green colour and when cut open, its content is of white chalk (nzu) with paw-paw-like seed arrangement. There is a divining-container (ebi afa) standing for where divining objects are put.

Apart from hunting and defending the secrets surrounding the causes of misfortune, illness and death, ibo ebi also signifies the patterns to testing and defending the healing power of the newly initiated. Engaging in this battle, adaptation and survival, healers and kinsfolk that are gathered will observe the newly initiated healer have his power and skill tested and defended. A medicine (trouble) will have to be buried for him to discover and deal with it. It is like giving him sorcery, misfortune, an important part that creates problem in human health. As a healer, he will first defend for himself what he has to solve for others in daily life. The medicine in question is referred to as igba uta, iku aka, iti uja, iku ogwu, and igba igwe (literally, these are terms associated with violent attacks in view of competition for superiority). Igba uta is famous as a test of medical power and so a candidate’s leaders help him to ensure that he succeeds. By all means, it is a crucial test of ending his apprenticeship and to impress with his acquired healing skill. It portrays a moment of heart pounding, a point he will not be throwing party in his mind; but a moment to charging out energetic ambulance feast of his social and medical skills aimed to achieve rescue and restoration.
As informants pointed out, a healer needs more than a firm connection and relationship with the forces. He needs at the same time, as the ebi rite shows, a “helping hand” in especially channelling the ability and curative powers of roots, herbs and other resources to cure his patients and deal with problems in society requiring his intervention.
With the ebi in hand, (acting like a sensor) he moves around, looking for the buried medicine or source of an activated trouble. The directional force of ebi draws him muscularly (ibu aka) close to and indicates the point where the medicine is buried. It represents a collective force of his new skill. While he is struggling with the forceful movement of the medicine the ebi contains, aggressors try to stop him from getting through; depicting apparently what obtains in daily life. When he finally succeeds, a collective shout of hurrah echoes! It reflects a moment when an important goal is scored in a soccer contest for victory! And he is immediately hugged by his lead master, congratulated and offered various gifts by healers, kinsmen and friends. This then rounds up a candidate's initiation rites. It is meant to summon, at the same time, up many spirits and extrahuman agencies to assist him in the responsibilities ahead.

He is dedicated with libation and collective blessing with ofo stamped on the ground. At this point full authority is blessed and the instruments, which would help and provide him more understanding and means to healing, are elucidated. As it also marks a performance of a communal feast to end the long preparation to becoming a healer, it wins for the beginner the importance of social certification and recognition. Among all his invited public witness to the final graduation ceremony marked with eating and drinking together, it constitutes his public declaration of solidarity and responsibility for the promotion of the health and wellbeing of the community. In the joyful response and participation by the community, it serves for the novice as a clear indication of their support and recognition of his new role. It also affirms the legitimacy of the extrahuman forces around their lives in which the new healer has emerged to handle in ways believed and practised among them. By playing host to the community, the healer is as it were paying back a debt and reciprocating the favours he has received from the primal life-source.
A communal celebration as in the ebi rite is always a big event. In concert, it finalises the according of acceptance of one as a healer. Its kind of occasion brings out psycho-cultural values of prayers and sacrifice to guardian spirits in an elaborated form. As membership into the association of healers is for the trained and qualified healers, such ceremony helps to differentiate well-formed healers from the quacks. In other words, only well-constituted healers perform such a public celebration, which is meant to dissolve grudges in commensality or commensal sharing. Communal participation is believed to symbolise a relationship of debt and reciprocity, of sacred bond and a recreation of sentiments of profound cultural, social, and religious significance all of which music and dance in the session draws their appeal and social promise among participants.

We have argued here that becoming a healer highlights the difficult relationship between the healer and the biomedical primary cum community health care. Clearly, it has been our concern not to think of indigenous healing as a profession that is frozen in time. It is an activity that must be looked at as lastingly constituting an integral part of a larger cultural whole. Healing produced by healers is not bereft of dynamic style but full of creativity in response to circumstances and people’s seeking therapy satisfaction. Healers are developing a demanding role given the fact that they are increasingly being called upon by many people, which indicates their important place in society to promote national or community health. There has to be ways in which the mutual suspicion between western-trained doctors and healers can be overcome so as to work together and solve health problems. A way proposed is to support healers and their associations with effective policy and leadership and take into consideration their culturally provided habitus, rationale and techniques to operate within well-defined association where they are most effective to improve the health care at the base. The description also shows how healers are formed based on family and ancestral allegiances. A healer, it is revealed, is unable to refuse his or her call without consequences to be faced. As a tradition of cultural dynamism, the healing office is a destiny marked by important identity symbols of call to duty. At rather low costs, for the community, specialised knowledge is being transmitted and fostered through sharing inter-subjectivity and specialised training. Ritual beliefs and practices such as in the stages of initiation into agwu institution and collegiality are important aspects of building up professional ethics which healers must conform – to be recognized and authenticated as genuine masters of the culture and its forces of therapeutic ally.

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Patrick IROEGBU (Ph.D) is a Social and Cultural (Medical) Anthropologist and lectures Anthropology in Canada. He is the author of Marrying Wealth, Marrying Poverty: Gender and Bridewealth Power in a Changing African Society: The Igbo of Nigeria (2007). He equally co-ordinates the Kpim Book Series Project of Father-Prof. Pantaleon Foundation based at Owerri, Nigeria. Research interests include gender and development, migration, race and ethnic relation issues, as well as Igbo Medicine, Social Mental Health and Cultural Studies. Contact by e-mail:

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