Chukwu’s incarnations and ministers in the world (ụ̀wà) are the Alusi, supernatural forces that regulate human life. In southern Igbo dialects especially, ágbàrà is the term for these forces. The alusi are regarded as channels to Chukwu. The alusi, who are also known as arushi, anusi, or arusi in differing dialects all spring from Ala the earth spirit who embodies the workings of the world. There are lesser alusi in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo belief, these lesser alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose. Alusi manifest in natural elements and their shrines are usually found in forests in which they are based around specific trees. At shrines, íhú mmúọ́, an object such as a hung piece of cloth or a group of statues are placed at an alusi’s group of trees to focus worship. Deities are described as ‘hot’ and often capricious so that much of the public approach shrines cautiously and are advised to avoid them at most times, priests are entrusted in the maintenance of most shrines. Many of these shrines are by the roadside in rural areas. Tender palm fronds symbolise spiritual power and are objects of sacralisation, shrines are cordoned off with omu to caution the public of the deities presence. Larger clay modelings in honour of an alusi also exist around forests and rivers. Other alusi figures may be found in and around peoples homes and the shrines of dibia, much of these are related to personal chi, cults, and ancestral worship.
Ala (meaning ‘earth’ and ‘land’ in Igbo, also Ájá-ànà) is the feminine earth spirit who is responsible for morality, fertility and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb. Ala is at the head of the Igbo pantheon, maintaining order and carrying out justice against wrongdoers. Ala is the most prominent and worshipped alusi, almost every Igbo village has a shrine dedicated to her called íhú Ala where major decisions are taken. Ala is believed to be involved in all aspects of human affairs including festivals and at offerings. Ala stands for fertility and things that generate life including water, stone and vegetation, colour (àgwà), beauty (mmá) which is connected to goodness in Igbo society, and uniqueness (áfà). She’s a symbol of morality who sanctioned omenala Igbo customs from which these moral and ethical behaviours are upheld in Igbo society. Ala is the ground itself, and for this reason taboos and crimes are known as ńsọ́ Ala (‘desecration of Ala’), all land is holy as the embodiment of Ala making her the principal legal sanctioning authority. Prohibitions include murder, suicide, theft, incest, and abnormalities of birth such as in many places the birth of twins and the killing and eating of pregnant animals, if a slaughtered animal is found to be pregnant sacrifices are made to Ala and the foetus is buried. People who commit suicides are not buried in the ground or given burial rites but cast away in order not to further offend and pollute the land, their ability to become ancestors is therefore nullified. When an individual dies a ‘bad death’ in the society, such as from the effects of divine retributive justice or breaking a taboo, they are not buried in the earth, but are discarded in a forest so as not to offend Ala. As in cases of most alusi, Ala has the ability to be malevolent if perceived to be offended and can cause harm against those who offend her.