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God is too great to behold and therefore is assisted by a pantheon of more accessible lesser gods and goddesses. These gods and goddesses are autonomous, yet interdependent. They are personifications of natural phenomena. Thus, West Africans have goddesses of the lands, gods of lightning and thunder; and, goddesses of the streams and rivers. The Yoruba goddess of the waters and love is oshun. The Igbo goddess of the lands is ani,and the Fon goddesses of fertility and harvests is legba.Moreover, the West African world view is reflective of a balance of male and female principles, meaning that when there is a male god, that male god is served by a female priestess. Likewise, when there is a female goddess, a male priest serves the goddess. Underneath the gods and goddess are the oracles. Oracles in West Africa can be both male and female. They are forces that explain the past and predict the future. Ibiniukpabialso known as the Arochukwu Long Juju by the British was an oracle in whose power was felt throughout the Nigerian Niger Delta region. And so powerful was she that the British ordered a series of patrols to attempt to destroy her. Ancestors are the dead, who have come back to life. They represent the never-ending cycle of life. When West Africans pour libation, they do so to invite their ancestors to be present during important times. In many West African nations, ancestors assume the physical form of masquerades or masked spirits.
166 The human West African world is essentially made up of two types of societies—centralized and small-scale societies. Kings and queens (queen mothers) rule over centralized societies; and male and female elders rule over small scale societies. In West Africa men and women take titles to demonstrate their achievement. Warriors in West Africa can be both male and female, including the Amazons warriors from ancient Dahomey kingdom. The work ethic is extremely important in West Africa. All able-bodied men and women work; and as such, there are no stay-at-home West African mothers. Those able-bodied men and women who choose not work in West Africa are considered useless people because they are not contributing to society. So disregarded are they that they feature at the very bottom of societal hierarchy; even more disregarded than West African slaves. Politics in West Africa: The Precolonial EraIn West Africa, religion and politics have always been interconnected. This is reflected in the fact that most West African rulers—kings, queens, and chiefs—have ruled by divine right. Many are able to trace their ancestry back, through oral histories, to a semi-divine figure. The Nigerian Yoruba for instance believe that Oduduwa began life as a deity and then became the first King, or Ooniof Ife.