Ever before the white men came with the Christian religion and Western civilization, our great grandfathers in Igboland (in Nigeria, West Africa) knew about reincarnation, which they called in local language, “Ịlọ ụwa” (a return to the world). They knew and also believed in life beyond, which they call “Ala-mụọ”. By “Ala-mụọ”, they mean the inner realms not just the fairyland of folkstories. It is at ‘Ala-mụọ’ that they imagine their noble ancestors to be living and interceding for them before “Chi-na-eke” (the God that creates) and “Ofo-na ọgụ” (Gods operating force) that balances things in nature including the yearly climatic conditions vital for their agriculture. It is at the same “Ala-muo” they believe their dead relations to be residing after physical death and from there would reincarnate probably to those that were their kin in their past life.


In Igboland, our forefathers’ knowledge of life beyond the present one on earth is well understood to be transmigration of human souls through the seven worlds of being. In Igboland, when a good child or wife does quite a good turn to an old father or mother; in many occasions, the elderly ones are heard making such comments as “Ezi Nwam/nwunyem, ịgakwa abụ nwam /nwụnyem, ụwam ụwa asaa” – meaning “my good child/ wife, you will continue to be my child/wife in my seven worlds of being”. This is an indication that our great Igbo ancestors knew and believed in the doctrine of seven rounds and seven races in the evolutionary cycles of mankind, which theosophical teacher, Dr G de Purucker, gave a deep account of in his Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy page 252.


The Igbos conviction on the actual process by which man reincarnates varies. Some hold that man reincarnates with his former body and all its characteristics, of height, strength and complexion, while many are convinced that at death our bodies lies there food for worms; only the deathless spirit of God in the man would reincarnate. The same group holds further that merits and demerits in one’s former life would determine one’s parentage on reincarnation in a new infant body capable of growing and unfolding to adult body. This latter opinion is the one held by the majority of Igbo people.


There are many apparent factors that convince the Igbos in their belief in reincarnation. The reappearance of bodily marks of deceased persons on the body of new born baby is one basis for the Igbos belief in reincarnation. In the circumstance of mentally ill people who were violent in a past life and were constrained wearing handcuffs or ankle restraints for a long time before they died; it is believed that the scar of the wound caused by the handcuffs does appear on the wrists or ankles of some of them upon their reincarnation. It is same with those unfortunate people who perished by fire in a traumatic accident; the scars of burns appear on the body of some such cases upon reincarnation. When marks such as I have pointed out appear on the body of an infant in whose family somebody in the past had such a handcuff or died in a fiery accident; no further proof will be needed to accept that the deceased has come back.


Unexpected fears and phobias do exist in people, especially irrational fears related to fire, water, and sometimes, noise. There are men who dread to associate closely with women and vice-versa. The Igbos believe that such unexpected fears are caused by the pains felt by men who died in a fire, falling from heights, or who died in the hands of a very wicked woman, or an unscrupulous man in their former incarnation. They hold that noise which may recall disaster in previous lives caused by drowning, falls, crashes, or death on the battlefield, can cause such unexplained fears.


The occurrence of a child prodigy is called, “Ebibi-ụwa”, in Igbo language, meaning Nature’s imprint. Those born with their pre-incarnation intellectual and physical abilities are seen as yet another proof for the Igbos belief in reincarnation. In my home town, Umuahia, South Local Government in Abia State, Nigeria, there lived a renowned traditional medicine man called Nna-na-Mgbọrọggụ. Nna-na Mgbọrọgwụ  was very famous in the early 1950s. My own father who was his senior in age, told me then that Nna-na-Mgbọrọgwụ was an exceptional human being. At the age of seven, he went to the bush behind their house and collected herbs which he compounded with other things and used the resultant medicine to cure his father’s uncle from the dreaded disease, tuberculosis.


Tuberculosis at that time was considered such a terrible threat to others in the village, that the poor suffers were ostracized from their own homes to a hut in the bush where such an unfortunate sufferer would be left to die. This young medicine man’s cure of his own uncle was like an advertisement for what was to be his mission in his present lifetime. People started approaching his parents with different health problems which this little boy efficiently managed. He did not go to school because he started the work of traditional medicine man at a very early age. Nna-na-Mgbọrọgwụ is an example of a man who points one’s mind to the possibility of his being a reincarnation of a forefather of his family. “Nna-nna” (fore father) “mgbọrọgwụ” (medicinal roots), when put together it gives the understanding, “our forefather who was medicinal root himself”, or knows all about roots for healing.


Names such as those mentioned below are very common in Igboland. They are a true indication of the Igbos belief in reincarnation. Nna-nna (the father of his father); Nne-nna (the mother of his father); Nne-ji (my brother or sister); Nna-ji (my half brother/half sister); and Nwa-nne Daa (the brother or sister of my mother). None of these names is repeated in the family because they specify the ancestors. Relations in this life pay the child the same high respect they were accustomed to pay to the deceased grandparent or relation of their father. Some people in Igboland are bearing their pre-incarnation names and enjoying the high level of respect due to a grandfather /mother.


Despite the strong influence of Christianity in Igbo cultures and traditions, reincarnation has remained a heart belief of the Igbos which the orthodox religion has found hard to abolish. Before the conveyors of Christian faith, the Igbos already had their own well established and complex religion which was indirectly Theocentric, a sequel to the order of worship. Reincarnation itself is not a virtually conspicuous tradition that attracts outright condemnation or attack from the preachers of Christian faith in Nigeria. Nor does such a belief pose any threat or danger to it, like some barbaric customs of ancient times, e.g. twin killing, human sacrifice, etc. which attracted much concern in Nigeria and thankfully were stopped by the authorities.


The doctrine of reincarnation has been firmly impressed into the psyche of the Igbos despite the acceptance of Christianity by many people because of the persistence of traditional religion amongst the Igbo. Even when there is a measure of adherence to Christian doctrine, certain evidence of reincarnation forces many contemporary Nigerian Christians to think twice about what the Church tells them, and may lead them back to the traditions of their forefathers. . – Igwe Amakulo, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria, West Africa.


If you would like to read more about reincarnation in African belief please read: ‘Reincarnation in traditional African religion’ published in Sunrise magazine, November 1980 or at: http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/africa/af-rook2.htm