Pumpjack Book Reviews

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Book Review: African Eschatology: Igbo Perspective

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The book reveals a rich spiritual history with some fascinating implications for how the living and dead interact.

Full disclaimer: Pumpjack Press received a copy of African Eschatology: Igbo Perspective by Aloysius Ezeoba in exchange for an honest review. And we were glad for the chance, because otherwise we may not have stumbled upon it. It’s an intriguing look at an obscure topic, the eschatology of the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Igbo are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, and the book focuses on their traditional beliefs and rituals concerning death — specifically, funeral practices, judgment and the afterlife, and reincarnation.

It’s a quick read, almost like an extended thesis paper, with illuminating details about the various rituals and thought behind them, revealing a rich spiritual history with some fascinating implications for how the living and dead interact.

“A chi in Igbo tradition is a spiritual double or a guardian spirit that everybody in this life has; each person has his or her own chi … This chi is not God but a personal god, or what one may call, in the Christian concept, a guardian angel.”

“…the living do not have the capacity to interact freely and at will with the dead in the spirit world. But the dead have the freedom and the willpower to interact with the living and the dead. In this sense, the dead person enters into a deeper mystical relationship with the entire universe.”

The almost unintended cultural insights (in that, they aren’t necessarily about eschatology) are the most interesting:

“The dog and the tortoise are symbolic of what it means for Africans for one to be focused and resolute. The tortoise, in traditional mythology, is generally regarded as a very cunning animal with the rational dexterity to perform tricks. Thus if somebody is called a tortoise, it means that the person is very tricky. Dogs, in traditional African society, are known by some Africans as an animal that eats faeces … dogs were not regarded as possessing rational dexterity like the tortoise.”

And one of my favorite understatements ever written: “Fortunately today, beheading is no longer in vogue.”

The journey was enjoyable and provided a great deal of information about this narrow range of topics, but clearly there is much more to learn. We hope Ezeoba expands this work into a more detailed look that places the Igbo eschatology inside the larger historical and cultural narrative context of the Igbo.