Burning palm flower [man burying akalogoli charm to ward off evil spirits]. Photo: Northcote Thomas, early 1910s.

Akalogoli, perhaps from the Igbo terms akala, sign or mark, and ogoli, a wastrel, is a malicious, evil, or tricky spirit, said to be the roaming spectre of ne’er-do-wells. In Igbo and some other neighbouring cultures, people who had a ‘bad death’, sometimes referred to as ọnwụ ike (hard death), such as through suicide, execution from a crime or a mysterious illness, weren’t given proper burials and their bodies were often times thrown into a part of the wilderness that was off limits to people (readers of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart might recognise this as ‘the evil forest’), in such cases the persons spirit could not make it through the Igbo traditional cycle of life and death into the afterlife as an ancestor and/or a child waiting to be reborn, so in this case the individual is said to have been left on earth, often becoming either violent spirits or tricky poltergeists who often caused nuisances such as making items in a home go missing, frightening people or distressing relatives, or waking people up at night. In Igbo lore, spirits often disdain earth or soil, including owummiri (mami wota) who hovers above the ground when walking, so throwing earth on malicious spirits is said to ward them off.

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