N.I.G is a socio-cultural and the umbrella organisation of all Igbo associations in Germany

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ‘NZU’ IN IGBO CULTURE

Rev. Fr. Dr. Tobe Nnnmani, Honrary Member, Igbo Union Freiburg

The Igbo have rich cultural heritage which is fast fading away because of colonial interference and neglect by Igbo people themselves. Nzu (white chalk) is a very useful element in Igbo culture. It is a symbol of wisdom, peace, purity and clean heart. It is also a symbol of mystical powers capable of revealing the spirit world. A symbol is a sign which represents something deeper than the material object associated with it. This means that Nzu which looks very ordinary in itself and could be thrown away as something with little value, represents both spiritual and material realities. There are about seven different uses of Nzu in Igbo culture.

A Traditional Ruler praying with Nzu(Igboniile.com)First, it is used for sacrifice in which it signifies justice, equity and purity. When sacrifices are offered to the gods, kola-nut - oji and white chalk - nzu may be used separately or together. The two may be put together in a broken pot (eju - this is not to be confused with snail which is also eju), calabash, folded palm fronds, leaves or any other container and placed at a cross-road, river-bank or any other appropriate place.

Second, nzu is used as mouth-warmer licked especially by pregnant women to prevent them from vomiting.

Third, nzu is used to welcome visitors in which case, it signifies that the visitor is received with open and clean heart. This means also that both the visitor and the host would never hurt each other in deed or omission or keep malice or be silent if any of them sees or hears of any evil plan against each other. The visitor takes a piece of nzu and draws four or eight parallel lines on the floor according his status in the society, for example, if he is a titled person such as ozo. The ritual of drawing lines in this case, becomes a symbol of covenant - igba ndu - an indication of absolute trust against poisoning and evil plot. Thus, the ritual is an offering to Life and a concrete evidence that one is innocent and calls on the mother goddess Ani as witness to one’s open and clean hands.

Fourth, it can be converted into powdered form and used for decorating important personalities and dancers.

Fifth, it is used by native doctors for it possess mystical powers. When a dibia rubs it in his left eye - it helps him to see the spiritual world and to make divination.

Sixth, it is believed that nzu has some medicinal powers when it is used as body lotion because it soothes and smoothens the body especially if one suffers from chicken-pox or measles.

Finally, it can be used to write on the walls to keep record of events. Nzu is a very important symbol in Igbo culture because it signifies some of the most important and spiritual attributes of Igbo world-view such as purity, clean heart, justice, sincerity, truth and faithfulness. These attributes build and strengthen communal living and peaceful co-existence. These moral values are very much needed in our society today to counter the current moral decadence. Parents and guardians should endeavour to inculcate these veritable moral values in their children and wards.

 

Rev. FR. DR. Tobe Nnnmani

 

 

 REV. FR. DR. TOBE NNAMANI is a member of the Missionaries of St. Paul (MSP) and a senior Lecturer at the National Missionary Seminary of St. Paul, Abuja. He studied German language at the Albert Ludwig’s Universität, Goethe Institut and Sprachenkolleg all in Freiburg. He holds an M.A and Ph.D. in Socio-Political Ethics from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. His research field is Igbo history and culture, the Biafra war and global studies. He has written series of articles in the internet including (Biafra in Retrospect 1-4) and in international Journals. He is the Executive Director of the Peoples’ Creative Empowerment International (PCEI) - an NGO committed to grass- root mobilisation and empowerment of community-based organisations. He has been doing summer holiday parish supply at St. Diony’s Catholic Church, Baden-Baden since 1999.