Like all other traditional religions, most African ancient regions have multiple gods, who are often grouped together in family relationships. Nearly every culture recognizes a supreme god, an all-powerful creator who is usually associated with the sky.
Ala is an important goddess of the Igbo people of the eastern Nigeria, whom they regarded as the mother of all things. She is the daughter of the great god Chuku and the literal meaning of her name in the Igbo language is the ground or the earth, which denotes her powers over the earth and her status as the ground itself. She is the mother goddess of the earth, ruler of the Underworld, guardian of the harvest and goddess of fertility for both people and animals. Also known as Ale, Ani, Ana, Alla, and Ane, she is the most important Alusi or spirits that are worshiped by the Igbo as the female deity of the earth, morality, death, and fertility in Odinani traditional religious practices and cultural beliefs of the Igbo people.
According to the Igbo people, Ala is the goddess of the earth, the mother of both the fertile earth and the empty field after the harvest. She represents the full cycle of earth’s seasons from birth to death, gently reminding us that spring is transitory. Ala, the mother of all is present at the beginning of the cycle of life, making children grow in their mother’s womb, and at the end of the cycle, she receives the souls of the dead into her own womb, known as the pocket of Ala.
As the Goddess of morality, Ala is involved in judging human actions and is in charge of Igbo law and customs known as ‘Omenala’. Her laws emphasize moral values, like kindness and honesty. Army ants, who serve the Goddess, attack those who break such rules. But first, they appear in nightmares so that the wrongdoer might rectify his or her behavior. She is the protector of women and children and sacrifices are offered to her if someone breaks a taboo or is seeking fertility of the womb or soil for a great harvest. The Igbo people believe that, the python (éké in Igbo) is the living agent of Ala on earth, which is revered by the community. It is also believed that if the goddess is angry, she not only convinces her husband Amadioha, the sky god, to deprive the people of rain but also causes natural disasters.
According to Ibo tradition, Ala sends a sign such as a snake or a bee's nest to tell her priests where to build a Mbari. The construction of the temple is considered as a secret act and can take years together to complete. However, after the construction, the Mbari is left alone to be perished, as new houses must continually be produced, which ensures that the Mbari tradition will be carried on by younger members of the group.
Ala is worshiped at her shrine, in large square houses with open sides, at the centre of a village. These structures, called Mbari, contain a mud statue of Ala, painted in bright colours. The statue depicts the goddess with a long torso and long thick neck, which are considered to be the signs of beauty among the Igbo people. Her symbols are yams and the crescent moon. Usually, the statue of Ala is surrounded by other deities and animals. People offer sacrifices to the goddess at planting, first fruits, and harvest.