In most religions and cultures, there is a strong belief that when someone dies, all his/her contacts with the living seizes to exist.
But for the people of Amalla Egazi, a community in Udenu local government area of Enugu state, such belief seems to not hold much water.
Tucked about seven kilometres away from the council headquarters, Obollo-Afor, Amalla-Egazi seems to be living in a world of its own.
However, WITHIN NIGERIA reporter visited the hilly community recently and interviewed villagers and community leaders who swore to the veracity of the mystic belief that the dead are still alive and well, at least in Amalla. Not only that, that the living visit the abode of the dead regularly, at least once a year to ascertain their condition.
Residents narrate their experience
Located in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, it shares boundaries with neighboring Benue State, and such other more prominent settlements as Enugu-Ezike, Obollo-Afor and Obollo-Eke, Amalla, as it is shortly called seems to be land of the dead.
One of the residents of the Community, Ephraim Ezugwu narrated who was born and has continually lived in the community confirmed the stories of events surrounding the peculiar notoriety of the community.
According to Mr. Ezugwu, the people of Amalla believe strongly in the Igbo mythology that is anchored in the concept of the existence of three different but related worlds of the universe, one that reserved for the Living, the second belonging to the “world of the unborn” and the third to the “world of the dead”.
Explaining further, Mr. Ezugwu, a retired civil servant told WITHIN NIGERIA that the Amalla people still hold unwaveringly to the belief that everyone must pass through these three dimensions.
“In our community, Amalla-Egazi, the dead are considered as contactable.
“Amalla is home to some of the most powerful witch doctors and traditional healers in this South East zone whose exploits include the display of some of Africa’s most potent voodoo shrines which have been preserved from generation to generation.
“Amalla, ‘Land of the Dead’ is believed to be a place where the dead still lives and can be contacted by the living after specific rites are performed by the presiding priests.”
Explaining further, Mr Ezugwu stressed that ” every year, especially in June or July, depending on some circumstances, during Onwa asaa masquerade festival, some of our people spiritually involved in this festival will go to a place called Ogo. This place is in this our community. It is believed that this Ogo houses the dead in this community and even beyond.
“On the day of going to that Ogo, many people in this community and even beyond will come to our market square, the meeting point of those going to Ogo, and tell them to greet their dead ones there. They will tell them to ask their dead ones if there is any thing they will do for them, especially those they believe didn’t die naturally.”
Asked how many days they stay in Ogo before coming back, Mr. Ezugwu narrated that ” they go there by 2pm and come back by 2am if all go well. But if something goes wrong, they will either come back late the following day say by 10am or thereabouts. In that case, some of them will eventually lose their life or have serious spiritual attack. Many of them come back mad or physically deformed. That’s why every year whenever they come back peacefully, there is always big celebration in the community.”
Another resident of the community, Eugene Nwodo equally believed in the myth.
According to Mr. Nwodo, during childbirth, a baby is said to pass through the ‘Land of the Unborn’ into the ‘Land of the Living’ and then transit into the World of the Dead’ after death.
“While the ‘World of the Living’ is the physical part of the three dimensions, the others (Land of the Unborn and the Land of the Dead) are spirit realms.
“Amalla-Egazi, according to Mr. Nwodo, is divided into Amalla Nma (Amalla of the Dead) and Amalla itself (which is the part of the ‘Land for the Living’).”
In his words, “the people believe, that those who died are not without a form of life.
“They are living but dead or could best be described as the ‘living dead’. The Land of the dead in Amalla is populated exclusively by those who had died.
“These ‘living dead’ live their life hereafter inside a sacred hill called Eze Ugwu (King of Hills). People who want to visit their departed loved ones can go to the Eze Ugwu exclusively with the expressed permission of the presiding village priests”.
Mr Nwodo told WITHIN NIGERIA that permission to visit Eze Ugwu to communicate with the dead can only be obtained from designated priests.
“Not all village priests are licensed to perform the necessary rituals”, he explained.
“To embark on the mission of communicating with the dead, the priests must first sanctify the visitor with rituals for the encounter, which first begins with inquiring from the dead if the visitor is allowed to visit.
“Sometimes, they say, the dead loved one may not be interested in seeing the said visitor and any attempt to disregard the warning comes with serious consequences.”
The second step, Mr. Nwodo said, is that “a visit to the land of the dead must have a reasonable purpose.”
For instance, a visitor may want to inquire of something from the dead. In most cases, the visitors’ most common purpose is to ascertain the cause of death of loved ones.
“However, visits to Eze Ugwu are only for specific days in the Igbo market day calendar. If the visitor’s reason for the visit is to inquire about the cause of death, it is required that the visitor go to Eze Ugwu with a valuable personal item of the dead relative which they will deposit at a designated spot and which will be picked up by the relative before any communication is established.
“And one of the cardinal rules of the encounter between the living and the dead is that there must not be any open display of emotions such as crying.
“The living do not cry in the Land of the Dead. It is believed that the dead could become agitated, disappear or even bring harm to the visitor if there is any form of crying.
“Another interesting feature of the visit is that the visitor may likely see the images of some living persons who are close to death and dying. Most importantly, every aspect of the encounter must be confidential.
“Visitors to Eze Ugwu are not allowed to relay whatever they witnessed during the visit to anyone for whatever reason, or the consequence may be dire and punishable by death. The land of the dead is home to both the dead and those close to death” Mr. Nwodo narrated.
When asked if he had visited the “Land of the Dead”, Mr Nwodo responded in the affirmative but refused to provide any details to avoid violation of the rules of the spiritual encounter.
In any case, a 62-year old Mrs. Susan Agu who lost her son in a rather controversial circumstances a couple of years ago. Mrs. Agu lives in the university town of Nsukka, home of one of Nigeria’s foremost universities, which was about an hour’s drive from Amalla.
She told our reporter that she was so heart broken when her son died that she was determined to find out the cause of death of her son whom she described as the “jewel of my life”.
After observing all the protocol, she was able to reconnect with her dead son who not only divulged the identity of those behind his untimely death but was unwilling to allow her to return to the land of the living.
However, since she was inoculated against death, she was able to free herself and return home after handing two items – a torch lamp and a machete – to her son.
“The torch lamp” Mrs. Agu explained, “was to find his killers and the the machete for revenge against his killers.
“ The most difficult part of the encounter with my son was that he did not want me to to return to the home alive. But for the amulet and charms given to me by the priests, I will not be here to tell this story.
“However, I have no regrets in spite of a season of nightmares, bad dreams and traumas that I have had to deal with for over 10 years now. And there are several other sides of the story that I cannot talk about because of the oath I took”.
Opposition to the belief/myth in Amalla-Egazi
However, with the coming of Christianity in the community, strong opposition in the belief has erupted in the community.
In 2005 some group of christians from Catholic parish in the community under Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria CCRN, invaded Ogo, the abode of the dead ones.
The invasion, WITHIN NIGERIA was told was to prove a point that the belief was just a hoax.
According to one of the residents of the community, Josephine Ugwu who spoke to our reporter, the incident almost degenerated into religious war in the community.
“It was a terrible incident which nobody wants to experience again in this community. In 2005, some religious fanatics in our Catholic parish invaded the Ogo abode. The funny thing is that nobody is forced to believe in this mythology. It is a personal thing. These christians went there and spent about three days in the name of holding a crusade there. They said they want to prove a point that there is nothing like Ogo or place of the dead in Amalla-Egazi community.
“After the invasion, the traditionalists on their own, invaded the house of those christians, destroying their houses. It took the intervention of the then Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Dr. Francis Okobo to quell the seeming war.”
By and large, despite this growing opposition to this belief, it has continued to hold in the community.
“As a matter of fact, this belief came before Christianity in our community. So, there is no amount of opposition that can change it. I have had the personal experience and I have to tell you that it is real,” declared Lawrence Eze, one of the community dwellers.
In any case, in an interview with Dr. C.C Opata of the Department of History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), he confirmed the narration of the communication between the living and the dead. He compared that the ‘Land of the Dead’ in Amalla to the ancient Egyptian concept of ‘Amana’ which translates to underworld heaven otherwise called Duat. His opinion was backed by similar information in the book titled: “Eden in Summer on the Niger: Archaeological, Linguistic and Genetic Evidence by Professor Catherine Obianuju Acholonu.