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“Uzowulu’s body, I salute you,” he said. Spirits always addressed humans as “bodies.” Uzowulu bent down and touched the earth with his right hand as a sign of submission. (10.17)
To emphasize their superiority and true spirituality, the egwugwu address humans with the inferior term “bodies,” implying that their spirits are not really strong, perhaps because they are trapped inside mortal vessels.
[Tortoise in Ekwefi’s story]: “’There is one important thing which we must not forget,’ he said as they flew on their way. ‘When people are invited to a great feast like this, they take new names for the occasion. Our hosts in the sky will expect us to honor this age-old custom.’
‘None of the birds had heard of this custom but they knew that Tortoise…was a widely-traveled man who knew the customs of different peoples. And so they each took a new name. When they had all taken, Tortoise also took one. He was to be called All of you.’” (11.13-14)
The act of changing one’s name is essentially changing one’s identity. In this case, the act of renaming changes Tortoise and the birds into new beings, ridding themselves of old sins, and making them worthy to sit among the heavenly people of the sky. This is the argument Tortoise uses to convince the birds to take new names, but in reality, he is using language for a much more devious purpose.
The priestess screamed. “Beware, Okonkwo!” she warned. Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!” (11.32)
Speaking here is equated with having authority; thus it is considered disrespectful and insolent for a lowly man to speak when a god speaks.