Igbe is a monotheist religion existing among the Urhobo people of southern Nigeria. It was founded by Ubiesha Etarakpo, a mystic from Kokori in Delta State. Precepts of this movement, which has been argued by scholars to be non-syncretic, is claimed to be in the service of Owheya, called the supreme divine being. For lack of systemic literature, Igbe is assumed by faithful to be steeped in immemorial tradition.  Igbe in Urhobo means dance, and the religion itself is centered on dancing as an act of worship. Worshipers are subdued as a state of ecstasy is attained with the aid of emotional songs.

Record shows the Igbe disparaged as “the white chalk juju” by British colonial officers who understood its beginning as the occasion of a mysterious gifting of one Omonedo with two pieces of white chalks by which he reportedly worked miraculous cures.  Omonedo who led the session of the Igbe cult known to the British chronicler was indeed one of the earliest disciples of the religion’s founder, Ubiesha, who after several personal tragedies had begun to exercise spiritual power in town. Holding white chalks, which forms major part of the Igbe religion, he moved around town. Ubiesha was said to have used this Orhen which was obtained from the earth in curing illnesses.

Although the Igbe religion thinly qualifies as pagan, features of idolatory are missing in the original liturgy as there are no symbols or images except leather fans and white chalks which denotes purity. When licked, it is believed, the soul of men becomes pure. Adherents believe that the holy chalk and the fan solves all human problems, provided inquirers lead a clean and honest life. Members of Igbe believe theirs is a revealed religion and the Orhen, a symbol of Owehya’s purity. Worshipers in certain sects enter the place of worship, Ogwa, bare footed and kiss the earth with their heads three times while kneeling. Witch-smelling is practiced and reincarnation is preached, but the veneration of ancestors, mermaid or animal worship are latter features of Igbe, which does not form the core as much as the act of dancing. There are many branches of Igbe in towns and villages of Edo and Delta states in Nigeria.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer