‘EKPERE’ IS NOT THE IGBO TRANSLATION FOR PRAYERS
These days, every Igbo Christian believes that ‘Ekpere’ means prayer; some Christians have even taken it as a name. However, there are indications that Ekpere is possibly an accepted term for prayers but neither the right word for prayers nor the closest alternative.
Prayer is one thing our ancestors never played with. Igbo ethnic group – being a community governed by religion before the advent of the white man – had a worship system that made every individual a priest. The symbol of the priesthood is known as Ikenga, and every man had his own Ikenga. For that reason, I could generalize by saying that all our ancestors woke every morning to pray, and their priests prayed also to the gods of the shrine. Prayer wasn’t a novel thing; but these men of old never interpreted the word ‘Ekpere’ to mean prayer.
The Igbo word ‘Ekpere’ was derived from noun: Ikpe – which means ‘Report’. That is why traditional Court – which existed in Igbo land in time immemorial – is known as ‘Ulo Ikpe’.
In Igbo linguistics, Ikpe Ikpe (both words sound differently) means to decide a case, and when you threaten to report someone to the police, for instance, you simply say: m ga EKPERE ya police. (I will report to the police.)
*** Children always say: m ga EKPERE ya mama anyi (I will report to my mother.) ***
This word ‘Ekpere’, which is commonly used, finds its way in our everyday informal communication for a different meaning entirely – not as a translation for Prayer.
On the above premise, I will like to state clearly that during the rituals of breaking of kola, the word Ekpere is employed. The elders introduce it in the midst of blessings by saying ‘Ekpere anyi na ekpere unu bu…’ (Our ‘good wishes/confession’ for you is…). Could this simply signify that Ekpere is synonymous to Prayers or does the word ‘Ekpere’ has a multi-meaning in Igbo land?
The answer is no. Ekpere remains Reporting/Talking to.
Prayer is Thanksgiving, Supplications, Confession of sins, Re-dedication and many more. It’s not just talking to.
There is a word commonly used by the traditionalist is igọ (pronounced as igor). Among every Igbo word, none has its spiritual connotation. Igọ has all the attributes of Structured religious Prayers, but for some reasons – which we will profile – it was jettisoned.
Among the Igbos, Praying before a deity is still known as ‘Igọlu Alusi’ and watered down to ‘Ikpelu Alusi’ (the latter simply means reporting to the deity). However, family sanctification remained unadulterated: when a man wishes to sanctify his household, the ancient and the present term used is ‘Igọ ofor’ (meaning intercession). And the prayers rendered before the ritual of the breaking of kola nut in Igbo land, till tomorrow, is called ‘igọ orji’ (praying over the kola).
*** To the Igbo men of old, the word ‘Igọ’ embodied the communication between God and mortals. My eldest Aunt for an example, her name was Onyeagọm – meaning, who will intercede for me. ***
To worship in a traditional way is still known as ‘Igoo mmou – worshipping the spirits’ but Christianity found it so hard to use ‘Igoo Chukwu – worshipping God’. They accepted the term ‘Ikpelu Chukwu – reporting to God’.
Possibly, because of the general use of the word ‘igoo’ among the Igbo traditional worshippers, the white man found such a deep spiritual word not worthy to be a substitute for prayers. For this reason, the once spiritual term was outcast among the people, and the new religion converted it into something unclean.
(Traditionalists till this day are known as ‘ndi Ọgọ mmou – people that pray through the spirits’. The ‘Ọgọ’ is derived from ‘Igọ’)
Ekpere (which simply means to report) is far lighter in meaning than Igọ (which means intercession, devotion and invocation). Igọ is unacceptable by the church and this most spiritual and sacred word in Igbo terminology is reduced to a word that is perceived as unholy.
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