THE DUALITY MYTH by Onyeji Nnaji
Copied from the book, Cosmic Chain by Onyeji Nnaji
African myth is multifaceted to be understood at just one attempt. No African myth is understood from one direction. It is dully interwoven, just like the didactic of folklore. The involvement of both human and non-human characters makes its understanding very difficult. The same reason makes it relatively unreal to an ignoble fellow. The reason is that, in Africa, nature speaks. And the speech of nature can be demonstrated by anything found in the African society. We have a world where the wind, the stars, the sun, moon, water, trees, birds and even land speaks. The expectation on the analyst of nature language is to understand the medium through which these nature characters communicate. This is the sole reason why certain nature element is retained by a society as her totemic tool. Some of these nature elements relevant in African mythological studies and the views they represent in the different African oral traditions is the concept of duplicity.
Among the Igbo, mythology cuts across all facets of the Igbo life and belief system, even the meaning assigned to concepts. The Igbo ideology and philosophical composition is the nature. Nature is the mother of pluralism. To the Igbo pluralists, the insistence on nature existing side-by-side is not a philosophical claim; instead it is realized as a true assertion. This assertion further gave rise to the duality myth which is dominant in the Igbo philosophical concept. From the pluralists’ point of view, humanity is in two forms inhabiting a relatively different ecosystem. This idea is explained in various ways. Greater among this belief bothers on the relationship amidst man and his chi (guardian spirit) among other forms of duality. The Igbo pluralists employed duality concept to give meaning to the multifaceted complexities about man and his cosmology and assign interpretations to the self-deification that has become paramount in the life of every Igbo person.
In addressing the question of duality, one needs to gain a better knowledge of the way the Igbo see their chi and the manner or magnitude of relationship the Igbo tend to establish with external forces by identifying themselves with these forces. To the Igbo thinkers, chi has a greater role to play in justifying whether a person is going to be successful or not. This duo relationship is explained in two ways. The first bothers on the relationship between man and his guardian spirit. The other bothers on the relationship between man and his chi who chooses to manifest itself via distinct creatures different from man. This second idea looks similar to totem, but in the Igbo cosmology totem exists as a set of paradigm different from the former. The former is closely related to the avatar concept. It may not be prominent in all the Igbo society like totem. A clear understanding of this can be deduced from Nkalaha mythology.
(i) Animated Duplicity:
Life is understood as the product of duplicity when a deeper investigation is carried out into the mythical imperative of the Nkalaha people. This duplication of spirit can take place between persons; on another instance it takes place between a human and an animal. The inhabitants believe that certain animals are made by nature to exist as the dual component of human beings. The animals favoured by this pair are not to be harmed as harming them would directly or indirectly affect the life of the person whose spirit they represent. Researches had proven this myth true following the inferences drawn from different sample cases. These cases, to me and others who were witnesses to the events associated with this belief, are more pragmatic or empirical compared to the mere explanation of it as a myth. To witnesses, this aspect of duality was taken more factual. Some of the animals found in this position are fish (shark, particularly cat fish), antelope and lions. There are other animals not mentioned here which the inhabitants associate themselves with.
As a child, we were taught to believe and accept the efficacies of the manifestations of certain principles that, though appeared real to us in a relatively confused way, co-occur side-by-side with us. The extent of our understanding of it was thunderously ostensible, and because the activities that assigned impetus to the realization of this belief were chiefly felt by us, we needn’t go any far to give explanations to them. We did not need external interpretations because our health conditions were the start point for their realisations. Our knowledge of duality became obvious whenever we had pains in the throat. Sickness like this does not require drugs or herbs. All we did was to get a fishing hook, put it in a cup of water and allow it to stay a few hours. After that we removed the hook and drink the water. Now, our healing which turns out very fast compelled us to believe even untutored that our Agwo had been wounded by a fishing hook. An Agwo in a simple explanation is “the self of another self existing in a different ecosystem whose activity affects the other self interchangeably”. That was the interpretations of our parents. What we did not know was the relationship between us and the fish which dwell in the water. Ask a confused man, the easiest answer he gives you is that this were superstitions, or of course myth. But we knew it was not superstitious. Call it myth; then it is apparent that such a myth is empirical.
As a child I do not think any critical point exists anywhere that may revert this belief that my Agwo had been wounded by a fishing hook. Another point which our belief had enshrined on us is the idea of the connectivity which the rational exchange between a person and his animation establishes and maintains. It became clear to us through various instances that our Agwo felt alike with us. It fell sick anytime we were sick and recuperated as rapid as we did in our own ecosystem. The fact that this Agwo was connected to us through the channel strange to us gave us the impetus to believe that it is a spirit. Of course, to us, anything beyond physical was spiritual; and so we believe about our Agwo. At such a position, it is apparent that one’s Agwo exercises control over his existence in a manner that if one’s Agwo dies the referent person also dies. But if one dies his Agwo does not die immediately. There is however an exceptional condition when the animation dies together with him at the same moment. Such condition is discussed in the subheading, Soul Mutation. Otherwise, when a person dies his animation will still live pending when it would be caught during fishing. Remarkably, the animation of the dead always falls into the hands of the deceased person’s relation. When this is done the decease’s spirit leaves this planet earth, pending when he may return via reincarnation.
The destruction of an Agwo depends on the person it represents. The case with fish is particularly restricted to the relations. The instances sampled in Nnamani (2007) and Nnaji (2013) shows that a person can as well destroy his Agwo unknowingly. Nnaji shows a case where Martine Eze caught his personal Agwo unknowingly and sold it to a hotel keeper at Nigercem, in the early 1970s. Martine died in the evening of the same day. From his lamentation before death, it was uncovered that it was the moment when the buyer was attempting to cut the fish into preservative sizes. Fish animation appears relatively peculiar compared to other forms of animation; but they all toe the same line of destruction. The only difference is that it is usually very rare to kill land animals that serve the purpose of animation. Wild animals like lion, leopard and antelope are not usually killed except by the people they represent or their partners, for couples. Usually, they stay away from the sight of hunters. The only time they are seen (still very rare) is when the person’s chi attempts to draw an end to the person’s existence. In this case it appears for the owner to kill it himself. Before this situation occurs, the concerned person must have had premonitions characterized by sudden weakness or lose of strength that should serve as a sign to him that something wrong is about to happen to him. Such a situation is referred to as Agbara by the Igbo. Agbara happens in a way to forewarn the person. Sometimes it could be a tremor or a clear revelation in the dream. The death of Onoja Oboni is a good example.
Onoja’s animation was a lion; for so reasoned he was also called Odumu (lion). By this reason, Onoja was forbidden from hunting or killing a lion. So, on the day Onoja met his animation for the first time, he also met his death. He was looking for his hunting dog when fate brought him to the scene where little lions were feasting on his dog. Seeing they were baby lions, he turned to retreat, but it was too late. The mother lion jumped on him and his strength left him immediately. He fought to save his head from the lion’s claw which was already on his head, but she persisted. When it was becoming clear to him that it was prepared to kill him, Onoja used his spear and killed the mother lion. Hunters have better information of animations. There had been also a situation where a hunter went out to hunt animals and the first thing he found was a pregnant antelope in labour. He thought of killing it, but his body suddenly felt somewhat weak. He suspected something dangerous and held his gun. Rather than kill the antelope which could not run, he cut grasses and took to the antelope to eat. Till he got to the animal, it did not shift from her position. According to the hunter, “he was surprise to return home and found that the wife was in labour about the same time he met the antelope in the forest”.
Animation is a general idea of life explicable in every people’s myth. It does not matter whether the inheritors of such myth want to accept or associate themselves with the mystery surrounding this fact or not, it still exists among them and exercises control over their spiritual affairs. The people in the riverine areas, no doubt, have their animations as fish. The simple analogy to justify the existence of animation is just an interrogative. “Does all the death that man passes through come because it is his rightful time to die?” If so, then there is no fate. Where otherwise, what are the unknown causes of those unnatural deaths? The succeeding discussions will clarify us better about this.
(ii) Cohabitation Duality
Aside the philosophical conception that pairs man with other animates inhabiting different ecosystem, Africa also believe that this pair of beings could take place between two humans. This should not be misunderstood as reincarnation for they are both different things altogether. This form of animation speaks of two or more people sharing the same spirit existing in different places; sometimes they live in the same society. Originally, this idea was misconstrued by ancient philosophers who believed that the parties should not see each other otherwise which they may die. This was the major reason why twins were killed in Africa. They were believed to share a same chi and probably would not survive as the tendency for them to die remained very large.
Cohabitation duality holds that there are two or more people on the planet earth. These people are believed to live in different places because nature made them not to come in contact as their contact could lead to the death of one or the two. That is to say that you have your duplicate, I have my own duplicate, or we may respectively the duplicates of other people existing somewhere else. These different pairs are connected to the other, such that the act of one affects the other. This is the mystery. This linkage which is not physical is the problem point. Have you for once seen someone you knew somewhere else by surprise, and wished to reckon with him or her only to discover that he could not answer you when you called the name you knew him with? How do you feel moving closer to him to find by surprise that he said he is not the person you mean? If the person had died you will of course conclude that you have seen a ghost. It may not be a ghost in many of the cases; it is the person in another body who had and is living as his pair.
Traditional philosophy or what we otherwise call ancient metaphysis later found that the tendency for these paired partners to live in the same environment without being negatively affected abides. What was and still is not given up is the fact that the paired persons shared a same spirit. In that concern it may be taken that the parties must have shared identical soul. As the traditional philosophers claim, there is what appears to be soul division among the parties at the time of making. By this reason they maintain a same spirit representative as chi; one’s guardian spirit presides over their affairs and speaks for them both in the world of the unseen. This is the connection they maintain. And because they share identical soul manned by a same spirit, the thought of one indirectly affects the other. This is an aspect of mind control that insists on the belief that some of the actions of man are not directly nursed by him; the thought of his pair sometimes causes him to act.
Africa is not alone in this belief. The Chinese have a similar belief. The only difference is that Chinese believed that one person can have as many pairs as possible. And for him to be freely disconnected to them, the rest of the pairs will have to dies. This is the belief that was enacted in the Jet Li’s movie of The One. In The One, Jet Li was duplicated into several persons. Each of his pairs kept causing havocs. To end the whole thing Li decided to eliminate all the pairs wherever he could find them until there would just be one existing. The one existing finally would be free of the perpetual havoc caused by others. Those who have seen the movie, The One, by Jet Li would remember the scene shown below.
As we learn to see life through the prism of me and mine versus you and yours, the greed, hatred, delusion, and suffering that have characterized the human experience for millennia grow steadily, until it seems impossible to bridge the gaping chasms that divide us from each other. Even our relationship with nature is often characterized by conquest, control, or callous disregard where harmony and balance prevailed in earlier times. Aimless and alone as the self we think we are, we become seekers for that which we intuit to be missing. Spurred by our yearning for wholeness, we set off on our quest to find what really is.
The shared objective of all the great wisdom traditions from Africa and other world beyond is clear: all strive to penetrate the conditioning and habituation that blinds us to our true nature. Whether these paths are called mysticism, the way of non-duality, or esoteric spirituality, they find unity where conventional religions see only division and separation. Though separated by centuries, if not millennia, and embedded in cultures that have little in common on the surface, they declare with extraordinary consensus that the world is a seamless whole.