The concept of human person in African ontology: a critical reflection on the Igbo notion of man
Edward Uzoma Ezedike
African Research Review
This paper is a critical reflection on the concept of human person in African ontology. The topic is situated within the context of the Igbo traditional society of the south eastern Nigeria. In this society, man (a generic term for human beings) is seen as a being who is simultaneously material and immaterial, whose personhood should be adequately understood in terms of his moral and metaphysical composition. The objective of this study is to revive the primordial conception of the human person
... among the Igbos with a new appreciation of his/her dignity and inherent value in the modern mind. The main thesis of this paper is that the set of values ascribed to human beings in the Igbo traditional society are universalizable. It recommended the adoption of some relevant aspects of this African experience as a panacea to the rising desecration of the sanctity of human life across the globe. A being who is simultaneously spirit and body, closed and open, existent and yet to be achieved, or if you prefer it, the paradox of a being in a state of tension between the two principles of his composition, between himself and his fellows, between himself and his God (p.114). Both ethical and metaphysical reflections on man cannot but terminate in a profound respect for the human person. Indeed, as we explore his being, the more does man appear paradoxical, mysterious, and in one word sacred. What is at stake in our civilization is whether man shall remain or re-become a sacred being. In our modem world torn asunder by materialism and materialistic values, a breathless age where people seem to be constantly racing towards the next material plum, it is important that we rehearse the primordial affirmation of the truth about the worth and dignity of human life. To do this, we have situated our work within the context of the Igbo traditional society of Nigeria. The Igbo Notion of Man Mmadu is the Igbo name for human being. It makes no particular reference to sex. The etymological meaning of this word is very interesting. MMA-DU is really a sentence, let there be goodness or, better still, let goodness be. MMA means goodness, order, beauty and peace, depending on the context in which it is used. DU is the imperative of DE or DU meaning to be. So, the word is MMADU and should be pronounced MMA, DU, let there be goodness, order, beauty and peace (Esomonu, 1982, p.121). This reminds one of the descriptions which Shakespeare puts on the lips of Hamlet: A piece of work, that is noble in reason infinite in faculties, in form and moving, express and admirable, in action like an angel, in apprehension like a god, (lie beauty of the world, the paragon of animal (Act 2, scene 2).