The problem of reincarnation some may claim is antiquated but it has not been solved. It is not healthy to discard a problem because of the difficulty around its solution. No problem can be solved by discarding it. Problems need solution for the better understanding and growth of human race. Like every other problem being raised at the course of life, reincarnation remains crucial.
This follows from the fact that problem of reincarnation is engendered by the quest for meaning of life. Those who believe in reincarnation must first of all believe in life after death. The believe in life after death engenders the believe in reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation could be an attempt to solve the problem of the continuity of life after death.
That is, if there is afterlife, how does it work. Some believe the soul of the deceased will reincarnate or in other words, will take another body to continue existing in this physical world. The implication is, there is no spiritual abode for those who have died that is why their spirits need to reincarnate.
However, coming to the Igbo phenomenology of death as expounded I expounded in my “Kolanutology,” life does not have an end, it can only be transformed. Does this transformation means reincarnation? If so, the notion of ancestry would be a contradiction.
How can you be dropping kola nut and pouring palm wine to an ancestor who has already reincarnated and maybe playing with other children in the field. You see, it is a problem begging for solution. Another problem incurred by this belief is the problem of identity. If you say that Okeke reincarnated in his grand son Emeka, does it mean that Okeke is now Emeka.
If such is the case, that means, Emeka is Okeke and there is no need to be mentioning Okeke again as a separate entity since Okeke is now Emeka. Our fathers like my father said this is not so, that Okeke is not Emeka in that sense.
Then in what sense is Emeka Okeke if Emeka will be playing in the field and Emeka’s father will continue to invoke Okeke to come and take Kolanut to Ndichie? I think Emeka who is now Okeke should be called to come and take the Kolanut. If such is believed to be true, then life continues to move in a cycle in this world and no being is engendered with different and new purposes because ancient people are still existing in the name of reincarnation.
Outside the illogicality of this belief, the problem of memory cantered this belief. Memory is a faculty of the soul. Without the memory, life would be an impossible adventure. Memory cannot be separated from living things because it makes life possible and meaningful. Nevertheless, if Emeka is now Okeke, he should know that he is Okeke without being told.
He should be able to recall some of the important things that happened in his previous life. But such is not the case. Most often, Emeka would be told that he is Okeke, he would contend against it just like John the Baptist denied been Elijah. This shows that even if Emeka is Okeke, it is not in the sense of reincarnation- Okeke’s soul taking Emeka’s body to continue to exist in the physical world of being.
It must be noted that at times, something happen to show there is a kind of connectedness between Okeke and Emeka. At times, it is physical resemblance while at times, it is psychological or if you like, behavioural. But if the evidence of reincarnation ends in physical inheritance like scars or psychological or behavioural resemblance, then what is seen as reincarnation can be solved by genetics.
But I saw something beyond genetics in the issue of human succession. It must be noted that three things make a man: body, soul and spirit.
The body is the material aspect of man with which he negotiates with the material world. It is obvious that without the body, man maybe unable to live in this physical world of matter and energy. Without the body, there can be no material inventions and innovations. From the body, we talk about the soul which is the center of individual’s identity.
The person of a person is the soul. The soul is the center of every individual and it is capable of surviving beyond this physical world. It must be noted that the body is not adequate in fostering the uniqueness of an individual. Chibuike is not Ebuka in the sense that they may have physical resemblance but such cannot be said about the soul. Frankly speaking, some of us have mistaken one person for another person.
You must have seen someone and greeted him as your friend without knowing that he is not, except when he reacted weird, showing that he is not the person you think he is. This shows that the body can mislead us due to the incapacity of matter to adequately foster individuation or human uniqueness. But have you seen anyone mistaken another person for himself? Such is not done because you are the embodiment of yourself which is centralized in the soul.
No one can see or feel your soul except you. That is why it is good to live as yourself and not another. If you follow others to do what they are doing, remember you will suffer it alone. No one can feel your pain the same way you are feeling it. People can follow you to your bedroom, toilet and bathroom but they cannot follow you to your heart or soul. This is the center of your personality. Whatever is happening there is between you and yourself.
Moreover, the spirit is another aspect of the individual. It is the center of individual’s destiny and capacity. You can do this or that is dependent on the spirit you have. If you have a weak spirit, you can only do or perform small and insignificant task but if you have strong spirit, you can perform big and significant task. Obviously, the souls of men are equal in the sense that we are humans and free humans are such.
There are areas that this equality manifests, in life and death. This equality of individuals is seen in the soul. But we are also seeing inequality when it comes to human endowments. No wonder Thomas Aquinas says that we are naturally equal in liberty but not by endowment. The Igbos say that “isi n’ isi ha bu n’ onu na mmade ka Ibeya. Agwo niile ji buru ofu mana enwere Eke nwe ohia.” All heads are equal is on the lips, one is greater than the other. All snakes are the same but there is python who owns the bush.
Nonetheless, this inequality we are talking about can only be seen in the spirit. The spirit of men are not equal and it manifests in destiny and capacity. No matter how you see it, just note that some are greater than you and you are greater than some. It is not by effort, it is by Grace.
With these in place, I wish to continue on the problem of reincarnation. To follow the literally meaning of reincarnation which is “rebirth” will be confusing because the question will always be; the rebirth of what? If it means the rebirth of the person of Okeke which is the soul of Okeke, then something must be noted. It simply implied that Okeke left the spiritual world to return to this physical world.
Okeke cannot be in the spiritual world and at the same time in the physical world. It is a contradiction because logically, one cannot be here and there at the same time. But this is not what the Igbos and Jews believed. If so, throwing Kolanut and pouring libation for one who is dead and must have returned to be in the market or field at the moment the ritual is being performed is futile.
The Igbos believed that Okeke who reincarnated in Emeka is still in the spiritual abode of the ancestors. This is why they still throw Kolanut and pour libation for the dead ancestors. Could you conclude that it is futile? No it is not. The problem of reincarnation is in the term and not in the idea. The term reincarnation is confusing. Let’s rush to the true meaning of reincarnation as biblically and traditionally sanctioned before the day falls on us.
Reincarnation simply means the replication of human spirit. It is an inspiration from already existed human spirit. It is not the rebirth of the person or the soul of the person. Reincarnation is closer to influence or inheritance than rebirth. When you say that Okeke reincarnated in Emeka, it simply means that Okeke influences Emeka through his spirit. That is, Emeka inherited the spirit of Okeke. Okeke and Emeka do not have the same destiny but through this spiritual connection, their lives will have some resemblances.
Yet, they are not the same individual. The Bible says in Malachi 3:23: “Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome Day of Yahweh comes.” And Jesus when asked confirmed that John the Baptist was Elijah (Matt 11: 12-14). The question now is, in what sense is John Elijah because John himself denied been Elijah? Let’s look at what the Bible has to say. Luke 1:17: “With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.”
Eventually, John is Elijah in the sense that he inherited the spirit and power of Elijah. He is not the person of Elijah. If not so, why did Elijah had to appear on the mountain with Moses (Matt 17:3) instead of John the Baptist? They are different individuals but with the same spirit and power. Finally, reincarnation is a reality that is greatly misconceived. The person or the soul of an individual cannot be replicated but his spirit can.
That’s why some scholars believed that Newton is Galileo, coincidentally, Newton was born the same year Galileo died. The Igbo people the same way believe that one can inherit the spirit of an ancestor which manifests in the life and destiny of the individual. More than one person can inherit the spirit of an ancestor. It is believed that only the spirit of one who lived accomplished life can be inherited and not that of a nonentity.
It must be noted that one who inherited the spirit of an ancestor maybe greater or lesser than the ancestor. This shows that he is not the same person with that ancestor. Also, he enjoys protection and guidance from the ancestor. He can get knowledge or wisdom from him through intuition. In other words, he is always inspired by the ancestor.
Ewezugachukwu Solomon Nwankwo