The word ofo (ọfọ) has two similar meanings. It can refer to a sacred tree, thought to have been created by God, or to a ritual artefact (called uvuo by the Ijo and ovo by Isoko and Urhobo) usually relating to lineage.
Ofo objects are often given by fathers to senior sons — 'lineage ofo' often called ofo ukwu ('the great ofo'), ofo okpara ('ofo of the eldest'), ofo mbichiriama ('ofo of one who occupies the prime location') — and are said to contain the collective power of the holder’s ancestors. Also created and used are:
- Personal ofo: Ofo nke onwe (of made for all), ofo okolo (ofo of the youth), ofo uwa (ofo marking one's existence), or ofọ ngboto (ofo without adornment).
- Titular ofo: Ofo echichi (given to men of influence or wealth), ofo ozo (ofo for the ozo titled person), ofo onye ishi (ofo for the titled elder).
- Professional ofo: Ofo agwu (ofo belonging to the spirit-force, agwu, for diviners), ọfo nmanka (ofo belonging to the carving-knife, for carvers and scarification markers).
- Institutional ofo: Ofo isi muo (priest ofo), ofo eze (the king's ofo), ofo isi ala (ofo of the head of the community).
Ofo are used in all manner of ceremonies, including:
- Prayer: Ofo serve as a link between the physical and spirit world and are often used when communicating with higher powers.
- Sacrifice: Most sacrifices — whether to household deities or communal divinities — are conducted with the aid of an ofo. It is usually placed in front of the shrine before which the sacrifice is being made.
- Naming rituals: The head of the family holds an ofo above the new child’s head while performing a blessing.
- Taking oath: Should any Igbo need to take an oath, they will swear on an ofo.
When the holder of an ofo dies, it is placed in the ancestral shrine. A new ofo is created for the now-senior son.
Ofo found in variety of forms
- Sacrifice-encrusted stick
- Bundle of twigs
- Composite wooden and iron staff with human head
- Cast metal (bronze or brass)
Sub-type variations (composite ofo):
- 15 - 18 inches in length
- 3 - 4 inches in diameter
- Club shaped staff
- Composite of wooden handle with human head at top of staff
- Iron facial features
- Head surmounted by iron 'halo' blade
- Body decorated with iron strips; crisscross patterns on shaft
- Limbless body
- Openwork ring at base of staff