My name is Chíkà. I love my name.
If you want to get an idea of what it means, you can look it up here on Wikipedia.
It’s made of two words in Igbo language: chí (‘God, universe, originator’) and kà (‘supreme, greater, superior’), therefore my name means, God is supreme.
Igbo, like many African languages, is described as tonal. That means, you need to pay attention to your pitch. There are different pitches and the pitch affects the meaning of the word. Chíkà is pronounced with two syllables. To properly pronounce chí, you raise your pitch up (the way you raise your pitch when you’re asking a question). Then for kà, you bring your pitch down. (Diacritics in Igbo are different from diacritics in a language like French where the markings dictate how an accented letter is stressed.)
My name appears in other languages, too.
In Spanish, “chica” is an affectionate term for “little girl.”
In Japanese, “Chika” (ちか, チカ) is a feminine name with several meanings. It’s commonly used to mean something that is brilliant, wise, or energetic. There’s a Wikipedia post for this, too.
But I’m named after the Igbo meaning (because I am Igbo) and the Wikipedia post doesn’t even tell half the story of what my name means. Today, “Chi” is simplified to mean, God/god, in line with the contemporary Judeo-Christian understanding of God. The overwhelming majority of Igbo people are Christians. But that translations sucks out much of the depth and nuance of the traditional Igbo meaning of the word.
And the concept of “chi” existed before the modern day Westernized approach of Christianity came to Igboland.
This paper attempts to show that the concept of chi gives the Igbo speaking people of Nigeria a central, unifying theme that integrates the various fields of their thought. The author argues that chi is inextricably linked with eke, a complementary spiritual force, and both are associated with the act of “natural creation.” Thus, chi constitutes the foundation of Igbo intelligence, providing a “satisfactory” explanatory model for the diversities of human personality and the broad category of causation. In the light of this, the author rejects the “established” idea that Chineke denotes God in the monotheistic sense of the revealed religions. Rather, he suggests that a view of chi and eke as inseparable dual divinity fits in with Igbo way of “thinking” as a whole. In any case the emphasis is on the crucial interpretative role chi plays in Igbo religious thought and philosophy. Read here.
Among Igbo cultural aficionados, the “chi” concept stirs lively conversation. Check out this interesting discussion on “chi” on Nairaland.
Igbo thinkers like the iconic Igbo writer, Chinua Achebe, say that “chi” is central to the Igbo view of the world, cosmology and psychology. Achebe wrote this:
“There are two clearly distinct meanings of the word chi in Igbo. The first is often translated as god, guardian angel, personal spirit, soul, spirit-double etc. The second meaning is day or daylight but it most commonly used for those transitional periods between day and night or night and day.”
“Chi” is a complex, abstract ideology. “Chi” is understood as a divine force that inhabits every person, so some Igbo thinkers translate “chi” as “soul.” Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato deeply contemplated on the idea of “soul.”
But some experts in Igbo spirituality say that “soul” is not the most accurate translation for “chi.” They go even further to say that “chi” is one of the four spiritual ingredients that actually make up the human soul, which according to Igbo odinani (belief system), is part of the spiritual chambers of the human heart or “obi.”
The other elements are “Eke,” “Mmuo” and “Onyeuwa.”
Chi: the divine force of Chukwu/God in you.
Eke: a composition of the creative physical organic matter that forms you.
Onyeuwa: the part of your soul that has a mission on Earth and therefore reincarnates to return to Earth when you die. It’s believed that when you die, the other three elements split apart but the onyeuwa comes back to be reborn.
Mmuo: the part of you that becomes a spirit/ghost when you die; a collection of your memories, personality, desires. When your loved one dies and you see them, you’re seeing their mmuo.
VIDEO: 4 Elements of the Human Soul – Igbo Mythology (reincarnation, purpose, divinity, spirit bonds, more)
These 4 elements (chi, eke, onyeuwa, mmuo) are believed to be represented in the kola nut “oji” – a tropical fruit that the Igbo people hold sacred.
I like this definition of Chi:
“Chi is the god within you. It is the life force that connects you with the universe and the people around you and the element of yourself that is beyond reality. Chi is beyond space and time and creates from an infinite well of power, wisdom and ability.”
Here’s another definition:
“Chi is the personal spiritual guardian of a person. Chi as a personal providence is a divine agent assigned to each human from cradle to the coffin. Chukwu will assign one’s Chi before and at the time of birth, which remains with the person for the rest of his/her lives on Earth (Uwa).”
In Igbo cosmology, every human being is a microcosm of the universe. So, the human has a divine guiding force, “chi” just as nature has a divine guiding force, “Chukwu.” Chukwu is the supreme chi – God.
“Chi as the lower force of Chukwu is the only means through which one can get connected. One spiritual law here is that “No one reaches Chukwu directly or gets favor directly from the same supreme force except through Chi.”
It is said that to know Chukwu, you need to know your chi.
When I was a kid, I used to go by my English name in school: Sandra. That’s the name that my mother introduced me with out in public and all my classmates knew me as Sandra. But when I was 14, I started to really explore my Nigerian-ness, my Igbo background and I began to embrace my name and from the ninth grade onwards I began introducing myself as Chika. (I didn’t really know about the strict tonal pronunciation until years later!)
I love my name. Say it loud! I’m Chíkà and I’m proud!