Ibégwu cultural Practice Among Igala People

Ancient Igala

By location, the Igala people are predominant in the Eastern part of Kogi State. They share boundaries with the Idoma people of Benue state as well as the Igbo people of Anambra. They are known for their ancestral inclination and fetish cultural practices. Some of these cultural practices are sadly extinct while some are still hitherto in practice.

Amongst the notable cultural practices of the Igala is the Ibégwu practice. This is like an anti-fidelity trap. By literal definition, Ibégwu means “land of the dead where spirits dwell in”. Thus, the Ibégwu is believed to be a kind of spirit that haunts a spouse who commits infidelity.

Though the origin of this practice is not clearly known but it is certain that the practice predates the advent of Islam and Christianity. The Ibegwe serves as a way through which the ancestors of the Igala people watch over their progeny to prevent them from committing adultery and mischief. The potency of this practice is highly believed in by the people of the Igala kingdom. This, therefore, increases the rate of fidelity amongst married women of Igala extraction. 

It is believed that the Ibégwu, which is the god of the spirits, will visit a household where there is a cheating spouse, basically a woman. Since the tradition of the Igala people permits polygyny, men are not seen as cheating because of the assumption of him trying to get another wife.

When Ibégwu visits a household, it will inflict upon them an uncommon sickness that will be very difficult to cure. The way it strikes is incomprehensible as at times, it affects the man while at other times, it is the woman that is affected. Though the reason why men are also affected by this illness at times is not clearly known, it is presumed that a man’s irresponsibility to this home is the reason behind his wife’s infidelity. A woman will surely bear the brunt of her inadequacies when she cheats out of fun or dissatisfaction. 

To discover when Ibégwu is working, the man, his legs start swelling up which can be likened to elephantiasis disease. This immediately attracts the attention of the elders who then recommend that the Ibégwu shrine be visited immediately. While at the shrine, atonement will be made for the sin committed by the cheating wife. For the woman, her stomach begins to swell causing her to groan in pain. For her to be cured, she first must confess. When there is no confession, the situation gets aggravated and leads to death. 

Although this tradition has started receiving criticism from the Abrahamic religion of Islam and Christianity, the tradition is still sacredly upheld in the Igala land. This has also contributed to the fidelity of the Igala women when they get married.

YUSUF Adeniyi Jamiu

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