There is an Igbo saying re-echoed in a song by a popular Igbo highlife group:
“Onye ukwu siri na ya ji Ọfọ, onye nta siri na ya ji Ọfọ. Mana Ọfọ maara onye ji ya”, meaning, “Both the high and the low claim to be upright (to hold the Ọfọ, but only the Ọfọ knows who wields it”
In the works of Horton and Henderson, there are some Igbo who claim to know at least two trees found in Chukwu's compound: Ọjị (kola acuminata). Nuts of the kola (containing two or more lobes) are used in prayer to commune with Chi/ Chukwu and the spirits; it is a symbol of hospitality. The second tree is the Ọfọ (detarium senegalense)-a tree which is sacred to the Igbo.
It is from this Ọfọ tree or from Ogirisi/Ogilisi (newbouldia laevis), another tree of religious significance among the Igbos that the Ọfọ as an object of religious worship is made.
Ọfọ is an ever present tool in the worship of the gods. As a religious item, Ọfọ is nothing but a movable altar for sacrifice, but it differed from all other altars by being universal, that is to say, it could be used for sacrifice to any god. Any god for which there was no special altar could be sacrificed to on the Ọfọ.
When a piece is consecrated, it becomes an object of worship, an intermediary at prayer, and above all the highest symbol of honesty and truthfulness; politically it is used to assert parental authority and to determine hierarchy in an extended family, village-group or clan. Many authors have noted Ọfọ as symbolic of justice, authority, and most commonly "truth". We have previously written about how an Ofor is made.
It is held by heads of families and kindreds, and priests of the various deities. According to Ifesieh, Ọfọ is of the following kinds:
i. Ọfọ-Nri-eri – held by the first Igbo sacred and ritual – symbolic persons and sons.
ii. Ọfọ-Ọkpala - For one of the sacred persons in Ora-Eri who takes part in installation of Nri.
iii. Ọfọ-Ala - For the mother earth in every community or for each town.
iv. Ọfọ-Ụmụnna - For agnatic and cognates concerned.
v. Ọfọ-Obodo - For each town in Igboland
vi. Ọfọ-Ibenne - For those who have consanguine ties.
vii. Ọfọ-Ọkụ - For livestock, agriculture etc.
Ọfọ meant truth. Because it was the altar of all gods, it was a very holy instrument and anybody holding it must act rightly. Ọfọ was a witness of the agreement of man with the gods to act righteously at all times. One broke the argument at one’s peril.
The common expression “Eji'm ọfọ”, meant, “I speak to you, or I act towards you, with Ọfọ in my hand”. It was a mighty oath, and meant that if what the wielder had done was wicked or deceitful may the gods visit him with instant punishment or death. “Jide ọfọ!” was a powerful evocation implying “do what is right, or else suffer the consequences!”. There is also “Ọfọ ma” meaning “Ọfọ knows its bearer” which implies that “the gods know the one who acts in truth and in good faith” and yet another “Ọfọ egbu” meaning may Ọfọ no kill (me) which is a prayer imploring that the wielder not find the requirements of the Ọfọ- truth and honesty- impossible as to go against it and invite death upon self. All these expressions are common Igbo names.
It is the practice in some Igbo communities that when a man dies, the last rite before he was put in the ground involves his Ọfọ to be put into his hands, and taken from his hands, and put into the hands of his eldest son – the inheritor of his Obi – to guard truth in his father’s compound.
Search for Ofor names on Igbo Names Website
Horton, W.R.G. (1956) 'God, Man, and the Land in a Northern Ibo Village-Group,' Africa. 26:17-26.
Henderson, R.N. (1972) The King in Every Man. Evolutionary Trends in Onitsha Ibo Society and Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.
E. Elochukwu Uzukwu (1982) Igbo World and Ultimate Reality and Meaning. Grand Seminaire Regional, Brazzaville, Rép. Pop. du Congo. 5:188-209.
Ifesieh, E.I (1989). Religion at the Grass Root (Studies in Igbo Religion). Enugu: Snaap Press, p. 140.
Ozo Amanke Okafor (1992) 'Awka People'
Jacinta Uchenna Ikegwu (2012) Ofo as a Global Cultural Resource and Its Significance in Igbo Culture Area. Ikenga: International Journal of Institute of African Studies vol. 14 No 1