Truth And Chaos In Igbo Philosophy

F.O.C. Njoku


  1. The Concept of Truth in the Igbo World
  2. Falsity in Igbo World.
  3. Truth and Falsity in a Thermodynamic System.
  4. Ana-Atutu as a Synthesis of Ekwuru and Osuagwu.
  5. Notes.
  6. Academic Tools

1. The Concept of Truth in the Igbo World

Chidi Osuagwu seems to have a better understanding of the Igbo world. It is good to respond that truth and justice order the Igbo universe. But Osuagwu does not either address the problem of chaos as an original constituent element of the Igbo world; he was more interested in attributing the social chaos that has disrupted Igbo world of late to a latecomer and an outsider, that is, Igbo’s contact with a nation of prevaricators.1 Osuagwu believes that the concept of truth in Igbo is dynamic; hence truth (ezi) is analogous to “thermodynamic order and predictability.”2 It is conceived and defined operationally and externalized with the physical symbol of the uzi tree. Uzi is the most erect tree in Igbo cosmology or world. Truth (ezi) means “correct ordered, positive, proper, array, rectitude, genuine, upright or valid,”3 that, which corresponds to what is said of it becomes eziokwu – truth. The root word of ezi is zi, from which other words, like “izi, to show, to direct, Onyeozi, directed-one, messenger, Ikuzi, to straighten, to beat into shape; Imezi, to rectify, to do right”4 come. What is true is as straight or unbending, as the uzi tree, which is naturally straight or ziziriri.

According to Osuagwu, truth is defined operationally because one can grasp its point of departure and end. Like the uzi tree, one can easily fix one’s guess to it. It is so because truth is correspondence of what is said to the thing of which something is said; hence non-operation concepts have no head. No wonder Osuagwu argues, “this epistemological restriction makes operational conception of fundamental ideas among the traditional Igbo a functional necessity of life.”5

2. Falsity in Igbo World

Truth (eziokwu) is contrasted with that which is bent or in disarray, rascality – agharigha, that is falsehood or falsity. The Igbo root word for falsehood is “Igha, to scatter, links up all chaotic processes as the Igbo see it.”6 Thus, Igha is to turn something that is ziziriri (straight) into disosrder – that is, put in a way that it is not. The physical symbol of falsehood then is agharigha or avaghara, that is, disorder, or something turned inside out, represented by the symbol of a kind of fowl whose feathers are turned inside out – avaghara.

Furthermore, Osuagwu attempts to illustrate truth and falsehood with thermodynamic system. Truth and falsehood in the binary partition system are mutually exclusive, that is “what is located in one half is excluded from the other half in the thermodynamically structured encasement.”7 While truth engenders predictability, falsehood perpetrates unpredictability, and “the first magnitude separation of truth from falsehood is exactly one quartum unit as represented by the coefficient of quantum partition, 2.7”8

3. Truth and Falsity in a Thermodynamic System

One notices that Osuagwu’s partition of separation of truth and falsehood is within the same thermodynamically structured encasement. Since he represents Igbo world as simply circular, there seems to be a struggle or friction between truth and falsehood in the same closed system. If, as he claims, that one of the partitions (falsehood in Igbo) is an infiltration of a nation of liars that has subverted Igbo world, the partitioning would not have been within the self or system itself; that is, a conflict of two worlds in me or in the Igbo world. Why then is the truth-falsehood division made in the same thermodynamically structured single world?

Furthermore, as Osuagwu points out, the Igbo conception of truth is operational and correspondent to the reality referred therein, that is what one says has to be corroborated with a set of facts that is independent of the speech-act with which the designation is made. Thus, one tells truth or lies according as what one says corresponds to something outside or comparably straight like the uzi tree. Truth implies correspondence and predictability, which means that the standard of truth is not oneself, but something outside of oneself; truth as a quality or predicate of reality refers to something out there. Thus, Osuagwu’s closed system of many randomly moving thought particles cannot account for epistemological operational predictability demanded by Igbo concept of truth. The truth of the self or world lies outside of it. Osuagwu could not take care of this point, and in fact, the logic of his thesis would not have made room for it. Why? Since he located falsehood outside of the self or Igbo world, he is forced to confine it outside – to a nation of liars. To remain inside, Osuagwu will have difficulties maintaining thermodynamically structured entities who must engage outside entities without losing energy.

4. Ana-Atutu as a Synthesis of Ekwuru and Osuagwu

One insists that chaos is a fundamental ground for the coming into being of Igbo world: uwa kuwala n’aka Chukwu or uwa mebiri nambo- the world broke from Chukwu’s hand or the world spoilt from the beginning; the mission of the Igbo is not to create a world where chaos is absent but find a living in the midst of chaos, being guided, however, by the principles of truth and justice. Igbo world is in disarray, but it is guided by truth and justice, yet the life-struggle continues: uwa ndi Igbo yagharayagha, ofo na ogu n’edu ya, ma aga na-atutu.

The dialectics of the present reading of Igbo world can be outlined:

The thesis by Ekwuru:
Uwa ndi Igbo yagharayagha.
(Igbo world is in disarray).

The antithesis by Osuagwu:
Uwa ndi Igbo yagharayagha, ofo na ogu na-edu ya.
(Igbo world is in disarray, but it is ordered by truth and justice)

The present writer supplies the synthesis:
Uwa ndi Igbo yagharayagha, ofo na ogu na-edu ya, ma Igbo ga n’atutu.
(Igbo world is in disarray, it is ordered by truth and justice, but Igbo person must continue the struggle of existence).

In fact, I do not accept Ekwuru’s ambiguous claim about the chaos in Igbo; I think the synthesis can be stated that – Igbo ga n’atutu, that is, the Igbo’s existential struggle goes on. Whereas Ekwuru laments the chaos he has come to observe, which means he seems to be observing what was not there; one claims that the world is chaotic. The observation of the chaos or the present lament about it is not the most interesting part. The most significant bit is the vocation to make a living in a chaotic universe, in the midst of existential struggle, ironies and weariness presented by the world. That is the Igbo person’s mission; hence Igbo ga n’atutu! Both in living and in the organization of society, of community, the Igbo person, is always striving at discernment as to how best or feasible to adapt both in terms of conducts or rules. The life of the Igbo person is a journey through conflicts, that is, a life of ana atutu. The Igbo person is an Ana-Atutu creature: an existential gatherer in the theatre of being.

It is difficult to translate ana-atutu in English, it is a concept, I think, that is exemplified in every aspect of the Igbo life, which summarized his existential philosophy and attitude to norms, which legal attitude I will later characterize as legal coherentism.9 Ana-atutu is a way of life, of gathering and seeking meaning in a seemingly chaotic universe, of seeking stability in a seemingly moving or chaotic world.



  1. Chidi Osuagwu, World Struggle for a Just World; Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu –Ojukwu 70th Birthday Lecture (Owerri, African World Communication, 2003), 13.
  2. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology (Owerri: African World Communications, 2003), 1
  3. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 3
  4. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 3
  5. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 2
  6. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 5
  7. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 9-12
  8. Chidi Osuagwu, Truth and Chaos: Dynamics of Truth within Igbo Cosmology, 13
  9. I have taken up Igbo tradition in another book I have called Igbo Philosophy of Law: An African Exercise in Legal Coherentism. It is a book that articulates Igbo jurisprudence from the same principles of Igbo cosmology and ontology from which the present book rationalizes Igbo philosophy of identity.

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