Ndigbo have a saying that, ‘Oji ọfọ ga ana’. Translated, this means that he or she that lives by the pious virtues need not be afraid of any harm or danger coming to the person.
Ọfọ is not just a piece of wood that can be seen in the home of a titled Igbo man, or the home of an Igbo man that is revered in his community. It is much more, and represents a lot. In the wider Igbo society, any Igbo man that has come of age, has joined his community’s age grade system (Ịpụta ọgbọ), or ‘Iwa akwa’ can have an Ọfọ.
Many, in place of the elephant tusk now clutch Ọfọ at events. This signifies their subscription to upholding the truth at all times. Mr Kelechi Deca however cautions against abuse of Ọfọ. “The problem with the Ọfọ clutching trend is that majority of those showing off the Ọfọ symbols are men whose words can’t stand any test of truth. Many of the vampires whose hands are stained, thus making a mess of the whole thing”.
Onye ọbụna welu Ile ya gụọ eze ya ọnụ. (Let each search his or her conscience).
Unlike what many assume, “There is nothing fetish about Ọfọ”, says Dr. Raman Asuzu Okoye (Akajiofor Igbo). Continuing, Dr. Okoye said that ‘Ọfọ in ancient Igbo cosmology signifies subscription to equity, justice and good conscience”.
Dr. Onyebuchi James Ile in his submission argues that Ọfọ is part and parcel of the Igbo being. According to him, “In the Igbo cosmological view, every first – born male child, the ‘diokpala’ or ‘diokpara’ holds the Ọfọ of the family, just as the oldest in the ‘Umunna’ (kindred) does”.
Not many Igbo people are aware of this.
It will seem that Nri people of Anambra State, Nigeria who have been acknowledged by several sources as being the cradle and ancestral home of Ndigbo are the promoters of, and originators of Ọfọ belief system. This is why in Igboland, the saying that ‘Nri ji ọfọ’ is commonly expressed.
Dr. Okoye gives further credence and background to this and says that, “Yes, ọfọ resides with Ndị Nri who then give it out to other Igbo communities. For example, in Igboland, during an Ezeship or Igweship coronation, the community must come to Nri to receive Ọfọ”.
Ọfọ is taken from a sacred tree that grows in Igboland. It sprouts by itself and is not planted. It is regarded as a good omen from the gods wherever Ọfọ trees sprout. The trees are revered and treated with care. The seeds and leaves are not only medicinal and can be used for treatment of many ailments by traditional medicine men. The seeds are also used as soup thickeners by women.
It is from the ọfọ tree branches that small pieces are cut out which are held by men as Ọfọ.
The efficacy of Ọfọ, while not dependent on the size, stops at the hands of wicked and evil people. There are certain rules (nsọ) to handling Ọfọ, any unclean person should not handle it as it won’t work.
This is why Ndigbo say that, ‘Nwoke na nwanyị siri na fa ji ọfọ ma na sọ ọfọ ma onye ji ya’, (Men and women all claim to hold Ọfọ, but Ọfọ knows who is holding it).
Reverend Father Adika Okoli, popularly known as ‘Mmonwu chili Father’ (Masquerade that became a Reverend Father), however argues that a clear distinction should be made between the different senses of Ọfọ and which is meant in Igbo proverbs. He makes a distinction between Ọfọ as prayers or blessings; ‘Igọ Ọfọ’, a dimension he says is reflected in the saying ‘Ọfọ soro ibe ya lee’, and Ọfọ (the staff) that men hold.
There is usually an accompanying object to Ọfọ. This is called Ogu, a piece of Ọfọ tied with fresh palm fronds. You will often hear Ndigbo say ‘Ọfọ na Ogu’. Ogu is not as potent as Ọfọ, it is a percusor, a warning which is unleashed first as warning before Ọfọ is unleashed.
Ndigbo believe that Ọfọ is biblical too. Many liken it to the commanding staff of high priests, for example Aaron in the Bible.
The efficacy of Ọfọ also finds expression, and condemnation at the same time in some Igbo names, for example Ọfọegbu (I’m shielded from the potency or strike of Ọfọ/I shall not be killed by Ọfọ. This pre-supposes that the claimant is innocent and not guilty of evil deeds), Ọfọmata (Let Ọfọ find out/Let Ọfọ decide), Ọfọkansi (Ọfọ is superior to nsi-all forms of evil deeds directed at someone), Ọfọma (Ọfọ knows) etc.
In conclusion, Ndigbo are always charged to only partake in what ‘Ọfọ has killed’ and not ‘what has killed Ọfọ’. This is so because according to Sir Ralph Ọbụmnaemeh Ekpeh, Eze Enugwu-Ukwu na Igwe Umunri, “What has killed Ọfọ has killed the truth”.
‘Ka ọfọ solu ibe ya le! Isee!’
Lolo Ijeoma Njoku Obinwannem News Writer / Nov 30, 2021