PALM SUNDAY: NDIGBO, CHRISTIANITY & THE SACRED SYMBOLISM OF THE PALM

PALM SUNDAY: NDIGBO, CHRISTIANITY AND THE SACRED SYMBOLISM OF THE PALM

1) The Palm Sunday marks the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where the people greeted him with palms, which signifies victory. Interestingly, ever before Christian missionaries introduced Palm Sunday celebration amongst us, the importance and significance of the palm tree/fronds have long been established in Igboland where it symbolizes peace, fertility, victory, joy, sorrow, sacredness, and so on.

2) In Igboland, the palm tree is as old as the settlement of humans in the area. Fragments of palm kernels found in Igboland date to 2555-130 B.C. Researches conducted by Ezike (1987) at Ogbodu Aba in Udenu, Ezike (1988) at Aku in Igbo-Etiti and Chikwendu (1975) at Ugwuagu Afikpo point to 5000 – 2000 BC. (Cf Agu and Okeagu, Nsukka)

3) Apart from its economic values, the palm also has sacred and symbolic functions in Alaigbo. Its product, palm wine is used in religious and social functions like marriages, initiations, oath-taking, covenants, feasts, burials and so on.

4) In those days in Igboland, after the birth of a child, the umbilical cord of that child is buried at the foot of an oil palm tree which is dedicated to the baby. This demonstrates its (palm tree) fertility/life aymbolism and its long existence and significance among Ndigbo.

5)The tender palm frond “Omu” performs also cultic functions. It is often used to decorate shrines or grooves of oracles. This signifies sacredness and also that entrance into such areas in question are forbidden except for the priests or those he authorised to do so.

6)Despite the multiple significances of “Omu”, any true Igbo is able to decode its significance at any given instance. Thus, among all the Christian feasts and celebrations none moves Ndigbo like the Palm Sunday because the mere presence of the palm, especially when it is held in the hand by so many people at the same time, always awakens their spiritual consciousness. It tells them that the matter in question is a serious one.

Happy Palm Sunday Folks, Rev. Fr. Angelo Chidi Unegbu.

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