The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Igbo Art in Social Context

by Herbert M. Cole
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mbari figures of Amadiaoha and his wife (sometimes called Ala, the Earth deity) in the mbari to Ala at Umugote Orishaeze. Artists: Nnaji (left figure) and Ezem (right), 1966. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.


Amadioha, god of thunder and lightening, and considered the light-skinned "sky father," is the conceptual opposite and fertilizer, by means of rainfall, of Ala, dark Earth mother. The Igbo rely on the gods of nature and other nearby, accessible phenomena, which they reach through prayer and sacrifice. They pray as well to a remote high god, Chukwu, (lit., great god) and creator, Chineke (lit., god and creation), but mostly only petitions to nearby deities are thought to be effective. Invented on the model of humankind, gods also form couples and families, and one of the most important desires is for a large family with many children--desires that are manifest in public shrines (see page nine of this essay) and mbari houses.

In this image Amadioha is seen as a titled man, who also wears the status symbols of Western dress, while his wife wears more traditional, conservative body patterns. The latter reflect the desire of many Igbo men that their wives stay at home, caring for the hearth and children, leaving competition and worldly struggle to the men. Thus even the gods must compete for their places in the sun, as people do.