International Journal of
Sociology and Anthropology

  • Abbreviation: Int. J. Sociol. Anthropol.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2006-988X
  • DOI: 10.5897/IJSA
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 305

Full Length Research Paper

Definitional ceremonies in Igbo Religion: A test of Robin Horton’s Theory

Chinwe M. A. Nwoye
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Dodoma, Dodoma, Tanzania. 
Email: [email protected]

  •  Accepted: 01 March 2012
  •  Published: 30 April 2012



This study was initiated against the background of a challenge posed by Horton (1995), in which he concluded that despite the enormous output in terms of research and writings in the area of African Indigenous Religion, previous scholars have not been able to respond adequately to three chief questions focusing on the basic tenets of the religion whose answers are important for a proper understanding of the substance of African Indigenous Religion. These questions, according to him, are: What are the focal objects or the key spiritual agencies of African religious thought? What are the attitudes of the African worshippers to the spiritual agencies indigenous to their religion? What constitute the fundamental aims of African indigenous religious life? Inspired by this challenge, the researcher undertook the study of four definitional ceremonies in Igbo Indigenous Religion to gather data for responding to these questions. In this regard, two communities, Nri and Ihiala, among the Igbo culture area of Anambra State, Nigeria, were chosen for the study. The Culture Area Methodology (CAM) as well as the Participant Observation Method (POM) were the principal design of the study. A select group of elders from the two communities were interviewed for the study. The major findings show that: “Igbo Indigenous Religion is a religion of many faiths or the type of religion in which the Supreme Being is recognized and worshipped alongside other gods, spirits and ancestors”; “the attitude of the Igbo worshippers to the spiritual agencies of their religion is egalitarian, and multi-partial, or rotational in its sensitivity to the respect and worship accorded to the various agencies; each agency is assumed to count in the economy of the welfare of the people”; “Igbo Indigenous Religion is grounded on the Igbo worldview and assumption that attendance to the gods and ancestors of the religion bring good results, while neglect leads to chastisement, bad harvest, physical illness, and various other sanctions on the offenders”; and “there are multiple goals to Igbo Indigenous Religion, almost all of them this-worldly and other (ancestral) worldly centered.” The study equally discovered that orientation to meliorism is a major aspect of Igbo Indigenous Religion. These findings corroborate Horton’s theory of African Indigenous Religion as entailing a quest for achieving control of events in the current world, and for making an investment for eventual citizenship in the world of the ancestors; and therefore, essentially a pragmatic religion. Implications of the study were closely examined and a number of recommendations for further studies were made.


Key words: Igbo, Nigeria, African/Igbo indigenous religion, definitional ceremony, rituals, ceremonies.