Ale and the Burial of the Dead

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Everything comes from Ale (Ala), the earth goddess, the spirit of fertility; she is mother and god. She was the daughter of Chi (Chuku), the supreme being, originator of gods and creator of men and beasts. Though he created humans' souls, Chi is a distant god; it is Ale, the mother of Igbo people, who is close to them. Ale is the most cherished and important of the gods; she made the earth, then assured that the peoples of the earth would live under her protection. Also the queen of the underworld, she rules the ancestors who are buried in the earth. She is goddess of the earth, responsible for the place where humans live and plant their crops. She is goddess of fertility, making the seed in the womb grow into a child, and she gives it life, then remains with it during its life, accepting it when life has ended.

When the earth first emerged out of chaos, Ale decreed that when any man died he should be buried there. From her womb, she bore the earth. When the dead are buried, they turn to earth; the people believe that they are of one body with Ale. The mother of a big bird called Ogbu-ghu, the hornbill, died. In those days, Ale was not present, so Ogbu-ghu could find no place to bury his dead mother. As he flew about, he carried her body on his back, making a grave for her on his head (this is why the hornbill has a mound on his head to this day). Ogbu-ghu flew over the water, seeking a resting place for his mother, but he found none. Then he saw a woman and a man, both very big. They were swimming in the water, creating something: land began to appear. When this land had become expansive, Ale was heard crying out, “When a man dies, let him be buried here.” And she stretched her own body over the land. Ogbu-ghu had found a burial place for his mother. See also: Chuku.

Subjects: Religion.

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