The Worship of Lizards and Their Ceremonial Burial by the Umu-Ukwa Tribe of Nigeria

Stephen Nartey September 14, 2022
Monitor lizard/Photo credit: RoundGlass Sustain

It may appear bizarre or probably mysterious to some, that a puny reptile such as the monitor lizard is deified and revered. But not for the Umu-Ukwa tribe of Nigeria.

Inhabitants of this community are not expected to harness the thought of eating the monitor lizards or encourage its killing in any form. 

When one accidentally finds the reptile hurt, it is deemed obligatory to bring the lizard home and nurse its wounds until it is healed, and returned to the wild. If the lizard however dies, the native of this West African community is obliged to buy a coffin, bury the reptile and organize a party to pay obeisance to its spirit to avert a calamity.

The people of Umu-Ukwa have worshiped the monitor lizards since time immemorial because of the spiritual linkage between the reptile and their ancestors. The monitor lizards are considered a god. 

Monitor lizards are one of the species of reptiles found in parts of Africa, Asia and America. These reptiles have long necks, agile tails, well developed limbs and claws. It is a tasty delicacy in some parts of Africa, but, among the Umu-Ukwas, these features represent a taboo. The monitor lizards are referred to as their mother, according to Nigerian’s National Daily. 

Oral history traces this reverence among the Umu-Ukwa for monitor lizards to a discovery among the tribesmen which revealed that their women were barren and unable to take seed. 

This misfortune, however, was reversed after a man from Umu-Ukwa tribe rescued a monitor lizard, brought it home, tended to it and allowed it back into the wild when he was certain of its safety and health. 

According to historians, women in the community began getting pregnant and giving birth after that act of kindness. The tribe believes that the turn in fortune stemmed from some mystical powers of the monitor lizard. 

The traditional proclamation on the reptile has made it a sacred entity in the culture and belief systems of Umu-Ukwa even in these modern times. 

Inhabitants of Umu-Ukwa who blatantly refuse to go to the aid of a monitor lizard that is in danger is believed to be afflicted with strange diseases including greenish patches on their skin. It also blinds the eye of those who ignore the reptile when it’s in danger in some cases. 

In worst case scenario, one risk being hit by leprosy when they knowingly or unknowingly eat the meat of a monitor lizard. 

It is against these reasons indigenes of Umu-Ukwas fear and dare not hurt or kill the reptile but rather, worship it with humility. 

Historians also posit that if a stranger mistakenly kills a monitor lizard, an indigene Umu-Ukwa who chances on the act, must compel the person to organize a befitting burial for the dead reptile like a human. 

It is the expectation that this stranger will buy coffin, drinks, foods and organize a party in honour of the dead monitor lizard. 

Failure to this honour this tradition may lead to one death. 

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: September 14, 2022


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