Igbos' Metaphysical and Parapsychologial View of Sneezing.
Traditionally, among Igbos, sneezing (uzhere/uzere) is not taken as a mere physiological occurrence, except when it owes to catarrh (ọzụkwu/azụzụ) or inhalation of dust or fume or the aroma of a peppery spice, etc. Igbos give it a metaphysical and parapsychological interpretation. It's believed that when a person sneezes, someone in another location must have mentioned his/her name or thought about him/her. Thus, the average Igbo man and woman would, upon sneezing, ask rhetorically "onye kpọwa m?" (Who's calling me?).
My observation ascribes veracity to this claim, even though it may sound amusing to some ears. I have witnessed several instances where, after one had sneezed, a relation or friend later informed one that he/she mentioned one's name at exactly the time the sneezing occurred. How does one explain the coincidence? Should it be dismissed with a wave of the hand? It's up to scientists to investigate this claim or, in line with their customary disdainful attitude to any claim by Africans, dismiss it peremptorily. Nonetheless, I hold firmly to my view that there's some truth in the claim. Haven't psychologists recognized telepathy, hypnosis, mesmerism, etc, as real phenomena?
Again, Igbos have a unique response to sneezing. Whenever anybody sneezed, his/her kith and kin around always responded thus "ndụ gị" (life to you). Hardly did any parent or elderly relation fail to say so whenever their relation, especially a child or other younger relation, sneezed in their presence. To some extent, it's still obtainable today in our villages. The response owes to the metaphysical interpretation of sneezing, and is meant to neutralize any negative pronouncement by whoever mentioned the name or thought about the person who sneezed.
Today, however, the response from many of us (the so-called enlightened ones, especially christians), whenever a relation or friend sneezes in our presence, is "bless you." Interestingly, we say so without specifying who would confer the blessing. If we must use the white man's words in responding to sneezing by our kith and kin, shouldn't we say "GOD bless you"? Let us know whose blessing to expect, to avoid someone invoking the devil's "blessing" on people. For me, I will continue to say "ndụ gị" whenever a relation or friend sneezes in my presence. And I have done so thrice today.