Understanding Chi and Chineke

Understanding Chi and Chineke

In the piece on Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki and Adams Oshiomhole, I used the word “chi”. In my context, ‘chi” is your personal god. This is consistent with what real scholars have written. In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe wrote, “At most one could say that his chi or personal god was good”, ‘When Okonkwo was young, he won the title of “greatest wrestler in all the land,” and the others didn’t attribute that to his personal strength or hard work, but to his chi.’ (See more references below)

That chi is different from Chineke which is the Almighty God, Jehova, God, Chukwu Abiama,  Chukwu Okike, God of Abraham, in the modern Christian Igbo Nation. If you substitute chi with Chineke in my piece, you get tripped. Like I explained, living in the village and observing tradition, humans can become “chi” to others.

Igbos name Nnabuchi – my father is my god. We name Nwabuchi – my child is my god. Practically, in the domain of Edo politics, Adams could be chi to Obaseki.

Note that I did not use “Chineke”. Yes, Nwabuchi cannot mean “my child is my God Almighty”. Humans are chi to people but never Chineke. If you have read the 1978 report of the first Igbo Convention, led by venerable Igbo Scholar, Prof FC Ogbalu, and the 1983 convention with support from  Prof Tony Ubesie – the author of Isi akwu dara n’ala and Ukwa ruo oge ya o daa – you will see that chi is personal.

More so, the writings in Okike which Achebe edited, the use of chi is not at the same level as Chineke.  Chinua Achebe consistently used chi in small caps when referring to chi, the personal god .  The chi influenced Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Achebe was disconnecting it from the Almighty God (Chineke) which if you go back to the Igbo Bible has been used in Upper Case; the Anglican Church put efforts in 1913 to standardize things when it produced the Union Igbo Bible.

 

Things Fall Apart

Chi

In the Igbo society, an individual’s “chi” was its personal god. The chi was thought to have influenced their every daily life, either for the better or the worst, and helped to determine a person’s “destiny.” As it was thought to have been the job of the chi to protect them, everyone had a statue to honor their chi.

Quotes In Book

“That was not luck. At most one could say that his chi or personal god was good.” Pg. 27

When Okonkwo was young, he won the title of “greatest wrestler in all the land,” and the others didn’t attribute that to his personal strength or hard work, but to his chi.

“He had been cast out of his clan like a fish onto a dry, sandy beach, panting. Clearly his person god, or chi was not made for great things.” Pg. 131

After being cast out of his clan, Okonkwo is related to a fish out of water, doomed by a chi that “was not made for great things.”

” The saying of the elders was not true– if a man said yea his chi also affirmed.Here was a man whose chi said despite his own affirmation” Pg.131

A person’s chi does not always agree to what the person may think is right, and the chi acts upon it’s own will.

 

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4 thoughts on “Understanding Chi and Chineke

  1. Igbo language is quite sophisticated, you must pay great attention to details, else misinterpretation and misrepresentation abound.

    When you want to show your conviction to achieve something profound, you hear, ‘Onye kwere, chi ya ekwere’, translated as ‘If you believe, your god will back you’. It’s very easy to misrepresent the ‘chi’ with ‘Chi’, because the minds are largely ‘christinanised’ these days, so the ‘chi’ has been greatly suppressed, only the ‘Chi’ seems to be in operation.

    The more tricky one is ‘Onye bute chi ya uzo, ogbagburu onwe ya na oso’ (if you go ahead of your god, you will run endlessly’, for Christians, the big ‘Chi’ is in play here, but it can also apply for small chi, in this case representing a guardian or mentor.

    The issue of God and gods are well known, the only confusion is when contextualizing the usage, if you are not thoughtful enough, you Keep interchanging both, making them appear as one and the same, but they are not. You are god, and I am god too, the gods are there, but God is on his own level, the Supreme Being.

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    1. I just read this and I agree in a sense. But the Igbo did not have the idea of Capital and small letters to distinguish chi in our traditional religion. That came with writing. Originally, Chi is personal god who the Christians may refer to as our guardian angel so as not to agree with Igbo traditional concept of smaller gods. I do think that capital Chi as you discussed is a short form of writing Chineke or Chukwu.Hence Chi okike is same as Chukwu okike. Chinedu is same as Chukwu na edu, Chibuzo is Chukwu bu Uzo etc.

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  2. Very interesting contribution but have you notice in Igbo worldview, there is no word for ”gods”. CHI BU CHI. Ndi Igbo don’t say ”CHIs” as in plural. The root word ”KE” has dual meaning as in ”creating” and ”sharing” hence CHI NA EKE points to CHI who creates and CHI who shares. Again CHI NA EKE may be pointing to deep mystical reality of dual nature of creative force as reflected by masculine and feminine nature of human-MALE and FEMALE.

    As the IGBOs will opine IFE KWURU IFE AKWUDEBE YA. I think CHI UKWU is the name Ndi Igbo in our ancient cosmology calls THE ALMIGHTY GOD and being beyond human imagination hence we say CHI UKWU is AMA AMA AMASI AMASI, OMIMI NA INE OMIMI.

    Ndi IGBO sees CHI as the CHI UKWUs creative force for each person hence we say ofu nne na omu mana ofu CHI adi eke.

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