Trees depict a great degree of prominence in Igbo society as symbols of life and channels to the earth. They are conduits to the earth force; often at the centre of shrines and sacred places
In Igbo culture, a child’s umbilical cord is buried with a newly planted fruit tree (ili alo); this becomes the child’s “tree of life” (nkwu alo) which secures lands, confirms the child’s blood relation to the patrilineage, and forms a bond between the child and the Mother-Earth , Ala.
Many settlements were named after plants and trees, such as Achara/Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris)
in Ihechiowa, Abia State; Uga (Anacystrophyllum opacum) in Aguata, Anambra State; and Ahiara (Giant leaf grass) in Mbaise, Imo State. Many of these settlements started at the base of large trees or with some of these plants as their main natural feature.
There are so many trees with spiritual significance in the Igboland. The Ogirisi, often used for the deceased; the Abosi, the Ngwu tree, which is a symbol of wisdom (where the term Okongwu comes from), and from which Okpesi ancestor statues are sometimes carved; not excluding the Agba tree, the Ogbu (fig tree) often used for the living, and so on.
Akpụ is a sacred silk-cotton tree which is a way to the unseen world of ancestors and spirits. It is where spirits of children stay. Sitting under the tree is said to increase the chances of pregnancy. This is different from ‘cassava plant’ which was introduced by Europeans from the Americas in the last 500 years. In towns like Igboukwu, people refer the Akpụ tree as the oghomgbo (bullet shield); in the ancient times, it is believed that any warrior that hugs the Akpụ tree before going to war, would come back unscathed.
Ọ́jì, most commonly known by the Yoruba name “Iroko,” is a very gigantic tree considered to have mystical powers. The Ọji used to be planted near shrines to give the same impression as a cathedral. Ọji stands as a metaphor for strength, nobility, and resilience. Its wood is used for titled men’s stools, compound doors, gates, and large ikoro slit drums as well as other important ritual items.
Ọjì is about 186 feet in height, and is adored by the Igbo people. The latter bear names after the Ọji tree because of what it represents. Names like Ọji, Nwoji, and the likes, are all testament to the true significance of the tree to the Igbo people.
The achi is noted for its size and the amount of shade it provides. It has similar symbol to the Ọji (iroko) tree in terms of spirituality and ritual, but it is mostly prized for its fruit. Like many large trees, it houses spirits and is a portal for the ancestors. It is a symbol of resilience, strength and virility. The achi seeds is used for cooking and it’s still highly prized in the modern Igbo society.
Uburu, or ubulu, is a totemic tree which was central to many Igbo settlements and has lent its name to several such as Ubulu-Uku (Igbo: ’the big ubulu’) in p.d. Delta State where the tree is revered and the original one which the town is named after still stands in the middle of this town from where the first families spread out from hundreds of years ago.
The Ọfọ is the tree from which the staff of justice of the same name is hewn from, it is generally forbidden to cut or place a knife against a living ofo tree or use its branches for firewood. So, the Ọfọ branches had to naturally fall off in order to be used as a staff of justice, such sticks would have to be consecrated through a ritual known as isa ofo.
The ofo serves as a connection between the living and the ancestors and the spirit world. A family’s ofo staff is entrusted in the care of a first son of the family whose father has transitioned, additionally there are ofo for organisations and deities. These trees also serve as shrines.
Ifesinachi Nnabugwu reporting, Obinwannem News