Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Frederick Douglas Held Ofo and Ogu

One Onyigbo who descended from our enslaved ancestors in the Caribbean asked me to explain what Ndigbo mean by Ofo and Ogu. I said:

Briefly put, Ogu na Ofo, or more commonly Ofo na Ogu are symbols of innocence and righteousness. Whenever some kind of danger approaches, it is common to hear the expression, 'ejikwa m ogu' or 'o ji ofo ga-ana' or ejikwam ofo na ogu (usually said with a slow motion shrug of the shoulders and sometimes accompanied with the snapping of the thumb and middle fingers on both hands) meaning, I hold ogu or the one holding ofo will escape harm or I am innocent and righteous. You do not pray to ofo and ogu, rather you proclaim them prophetically to express your confidence that nothing wrong will happen to you because your hands are clean. To understand this sense of courage that has seen the Igbo migrate to all corners of the earth with the confidence that nothing evil will befall the innocent, think about the Igbo belief in Chi or personal god. While some cultures believe that evil people or witches are capable of harming someone else (Europeans killed nine million people believed to be witches but the igbo would say that even if you are a witch, are you my Chi?), the Igbo strongly believe that no one can harm us unless our Chi is in agreement with the plan and provided that we hold ofo and ogu. This is very similar to the Jewish belief that God is with them and no one could harm them unless it is the wish of God, provided that they are righteous.

For the Igbo, Ofo and Ogu are represented with a branch from the ofo tree, a kind of bean-tree whose beans are ground and used to spice soups or ofo soup. When a woman has a new baby, some of the visitors might come with ill intentions as in King Herod wanting to go and greet the baby king with the intention to kill him. So many nursing mothers will place a piece of the ofo branch by the door through which all visitors come to see the new born and it is believed that all bad intentions will not go past the ofo symbol. No weapon fashioned against the innocent will prevail!

If you read the autobiography of Frederick Douglas, you will be struck by a passage in which he fought with the overseer who was trying to beat him. After the fight, an old African gave him a piece of wood to keep with him and told him that so long as he had that piece of wood with him, no one was ever going to beat him again and no one ever beat him after that! That was probably the ofo or ogu and we can safely say that Frederick Douglas jikwa ofo na ogu.

Du Bois also talked about this aspect of African religion when he talked about Obeah as an adjective derived from Obi or heart. As you know, the Obeah man in the Caribbean is the bush doctor who knows the herbs that could heal the sick. However, evil geniuses try to use this technology to harm others because if you know how to heal with drugs, you can turn the same drugs into poisons for evil purposes. Moreover, some people are believed to have the ability to harm or heal just by using their heart or Obi to will ill or good towards others. We still say that someone has ajo obi or bad heart towards another, meaning that they wish the person ill. Given that our people are blessed with the prophetic tongue, we should be careful what we wish for others and try to always wish everyone the best hence the Igbo have rarely retaliated after all the mass killings of the Igbo around Nigeria - they usually returned to the slaughter fields to render commercial services to those who would want to kill them because of the belief that o ji ofo ga-ana.

Confession: I was born into the priesthood of Ngu - the Goddess of Good Fortune. My father taught me a few herbs for healing the sick and I watched him minister to needy clients who came to appease Ngu so that they might have better fortune in their endeavors (similar to Catholics praying through their patron saints). I used to share the sacrificial chicken with a sense of guilt because the Catholic church taught us that it was sinful to eat sacrificial offerings. So I used to pray for my parents to convert and become Church people or Ndi Uka but my father used to reassure me that there was no cause for alarm because the same God we worship at the church was the same God, Chukwu, that he worshiped at the shrine. I fled from that priesthood and ended up in Sociology which is defined as a priesthood of society. I also developed new healing technologies that were revealed to me and you can sample them in my book, ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine (, which a colleague is using to teach African Studies this semester. I am still seeking grants for large-scale clinical trials that would convince the medical experts that even though my techniques are cost-free, they do work and should be made more available to the rich and the poor alike who rely on prescription drugs with side-effects. Mine uses no herbs or drugs but uses the body to heal itself miraculously! It must be God-sent.

Biko Agozino


Max Dashu said...

Great article. I saw your post on H-Slavery and looked it up to share on Suppressed Histories page on Facebook. That's how i found your blog. Thanks!

Odozi Obodo said...

Thanks Max for sharing and for your support. The book mentioned in the article is available here:


Anonymous said...

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Abortion-rights advocates plan to challenge both measures, contending they are unconstitutional violations of the Roe ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.

visionvoiceandviews said...

Biko, Nkele wu ya. I found this very educating. Jide kwa nke iji. Gan na iru!

Odozi Obodo said...

Ofuzo, Okwuluoha, Thanks for appreciating the recovery of our long lost ancestors. It is a miracle that we survived to tell the tale.