The making of a legend

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OGBAJI UDOCHUKWU WROTE ON UDENGENE-NWANKWO-UMEH WHO HAILS FROM NDIKELIONWU.

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The making of a legend

  1. 1. PART 1THE IGBOS OF EASTERN NIGERIA The Igbos of Eastern Nigeria speaks dialects of Igbo, a Benue-Congo language of theNiger-Congo family. Before European colonization the Igbo lived in autonomous localcommunities, but by the mid 20th century they had developed a strong sense of ethnic identity.Today they number some 20 million. Many are farmers, but trading, crafts, and wage labour arealso important, and many have become civil servants and business entrepreneurs. Some Igbo still retain local traditional beliefs, while the remainders are Christians (chieflyCatholics and Anglicans). The chief occupation of the igbo tribe is farming (yam, cassava, rice,and vegetables). The fruits of the African oil palm are exported. New social relationships,associated with the development of the capitalist mode of production, are taking shape amongthis group. Igbo, the language of the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria, which belongs to the Kwa groupof the Congo-Kordofanian language family. The rich consonant system of Igbo includes thebifocal obstruents kp and gb, palatalized, labialized, and aspirated consonants (voiced andvoiceless), and nasal fricatives. Vowel harmony, based on the openness and closeness of vowels,operates within the word. Igbo has five phonologic tones. Case relations are signified by wordorder, a single preposition of place, and partly by tones in the noun. In the verb, the person andnumber of the subject are expressed in some forms by a pronominal prefix (―inseparablepronoun‖) and in other forms by a pronoun (―separable pronoun‖). Verbs are marked foraspectual-temporal forms, negation, and moods by prefixes and tones. Word formation isprimarily prefixal. Igbo is a written language and is taught in schools. Subsistence farming characterizes agriculture among traditional Igbo people. The chiefagricultural products include yams and cassava. Other important subsidiary crops includecocoyams, plantains, maize, melons, okra, pumpkins, peppers, gourds, and beans. Palm productsare the main cash crops. The principal exports include palm oil and, to a lesser extent, palmkernels. Trading, local crafts, and wage labor are also important in the Igbo economy. High
  2. 2. literacy rates among the Igbo have helped them obtain jobs as civil servants and businessentrepreneurs since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. There is a sexual division of labor in the traditional setting. Men are mainly responsible foryam cultivation, and women for other crops. Usually, the men clear and prepare the land, planttheir own yams, cut stakes and train the yam vines, build the yam barns, and tie the harvest. Thewomen plant their own varieties of yam and "womens crops," which include cassava, cocoyams,pumpkins, and peppers. They also weed and harvest the yams from the farm. With regard topalm products, the men usually cut the palm fruit and tap and then sell the palm wine. They alsosell palm oil, which the women prepare. In general, women reserve and sell the kernels. Most farmland is controlled by kinship groups. The groups cooperatively cultivatefarmland and make subsequent allocations according to seniority. To this end, rights over the useof land for food cultivation or for building a house depend primarily on agnatic descent, andsecondarily on local residence. It is Igbo custom that a wife must be allocated a piece of land tocultivate for feeding her household.NDIKELIONWU Ndikelionwu, from facts attained the status of a kingdom at the peak of its power in the19th century, the influence of its kings stretching from Ndieniasaa in the present orumba northLocal Government Area to the banks of the River Niger at Onitsha, cutting across much ofAnambra State (Ike, 2000). The town Ndikelionwu is one of the autonomous communities in thepresent Orumba North Local Government of Anambra State, Nigeria. According to Ike, the town assumed a new relevance and significance by opening its gatesto an entirely new and foreign religion-christianity-and committing its human resources to thepropagation of the good news of Jesus Christ far and wide. The town was founded centuries agoby King Ikelionwu Ufele, thus its name NDI-IKELIONWU means people of Ikelionwu.Although at various times before 1908 it is called Umuchukwu or Aro-Ndikelionwu to highlightthe people‘s obedience to God and their linkage to Aro Kingdom respectively. However, the date on which Ndikelionwu was established is not known. Some scholarsplaced it at the second half of the 18th Century while some others placed it at the first half of the
  3. 3. 18th century (1701 and 1750). For detailed account of the origin of Ndikelionwu, see the booktitled Ndikelionwu and the Spread of Christianity, edited by Chukwuemeka Ike (2000) frompages 18-96 .THE LEGEND
  4. 4. PART 4PRACTICES AND RITUALS IN ATRPractices and ritualsThere are more similarities than differences in all African Traditional Religions (Mbiti 1990,100-101). Often, God is worshiped through consultation or communion with lesser deities andancestral spirits. The deities and spirits are honored through libation, sacrifice (of animals,vegetables, or precious metals). The will of God is sought by the believer also throughconsultation of oracular deities, or divination (Mbiti 1992, 68). In many African Traditionalreligions, there is a belief in a cyclical nature of reality. The living stand between their ancestorsand the unborn. African Traditional religions embrace natural phenomena - ebb and tide, waxing
  5. 5. and waning moon, rain and drought - and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture. According toGottlieb and Mbiti: "The environment and nature are infused in every aspect of African Traditional religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightening, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become amenable to control through the cosmology of African people. Natural phenomena are responsible for providing people with their daily needs"(Gottlieb 2006, 261).For example in the Serer religion, one of the most sacred star in the cosmos is called Yoonir the(Star of Sirius) (Kalis, 1997). With a long farming tradition, the Serer high priests and priestesses(Saltigue) deliver yearly sermons at the Xoy Ceremony (divination ceremony) in Fatick beforeYoonirs phase in order to predict winter months and enable farmers to start planting (Gravrand1990, 21).DivinationOne of the most traditional methods of telling fortunes in Africa and Nigeria in particular iscalled casting (or throwing) the bones. Because Africa is a large continent with many tribes andcultures, there is not one single technique. Not all of the "bones" are actually bones; smallobjects may include cowry shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood. Some castingsare done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground (often within acircle) and they fall into one of two categories: Casting marked bones, flat pieces of wood, shells, or leather strips and numerically counting up how they fall-either according to their markings or whether they do or do not touch one another-with mathematically based readings delivered as memorized results based on the chosen criteria. Casting a special set of symbolic bones or an array of selected symbolic articles-as, for instance, using a birds wing bone to symbolize travel, a round stone to symbolize a pregnant womb, and a bird foot to symbolize feeling.
  6. 6. In African society, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are no prohibitionsagainst the practice. Those who tell fortunes for a living are also sought out for their wisdom ascounselors and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.Duality of self and godsMost indigenous African religions have a dualistic concept of the person. In the Igbo language, aperson is said to be composed of a body and a soul. In the Yoruba language, however, thereseems to be a tripartite concept: in addition to body and soul, there is said to exist a "spirit", anindependent entity that mediates or otherwise interacts between the body and the soul. Somereligious systems have a specific devil-like figure (for example, Ekwensu) who is believed to bethe opposite of God.Virtue and viceVirtue in African traditional religion is often connected with the communal aspect of life.Examples include social behaviors such as the respect for parents and elders, appropriatelyraising children, providing hospitality, and being honest, trustworthy and courageous.In some ATRs, morality is associated with obedience or disobedience to God regarding the waya person or a community lives. For the Kikuyu, according to Mbiti, God, acting through thelesser deities, is believed to speak to and be capable of guiding the virtuous person as ones"conscience." But so could the Devil and the messengers. In indigenous African religions, suchas the Azande religion, a person is said to have a good or bad conscience depending on whetherhe does the bidding of the God or the Devil.Religious offices and PriestAfrican indigenous religions, like most indigenous religions, do not have a named and knownfounder. Many do not have a sacred scripture. Often, such religions are oral traditions.In some societies, there are intermediaries between individuals or whole communities andspecific deities. Variously called Dibia, Babalawo, etc., the priest usually presides at the altar ofa particular deity like the chief priest of ―Ngene Eze Dike‖.
  7. 7. HealerPractice of medicine is an important part of indigenous religion. Healers are reputed to haveprofessional knowledge of illness (pathology), surgery, and pharmacology (roots, barks, leavesand herbs). Some of them are also reputed to diagnose and treat mental and psychologicalproblems.The role of a traditional healer is broader in some respects than that of a contemporary medicaldoctor. The healer advises in all aspects of life, including physical, psychological, spiritual,moral, and legal matters. He also understands the significance of ancestral spirits and the realityof witches.RainmakerRainmakers are believed to be capable of bringing about or stopping rain, by manipulating theenvironment meteorologically (e.g., by burning particular kinds of woods, leaves, stems orgrasses or otherwise attempting to influence movement of clouds). They usually come from thepriestly class such as the Saltigues in Serer religion (Kalis 1997, 11-297 and Sarr 1986, 31). TheSaltigues are members of the old families that formed the priestly class, themselves descendantsof the ancient Lamanes, the old Serer kings and landed gentry as well as guardians of Sererreligion through the Pangool (the Serer saints and ancestral spirits) (Kalis, 1997 and Sarr, 1987).The role of the Saltigue, which both men and women can join, was usually non-political but forthe betterment of the land and her people (Sarr, 1987). These high priests and priestesses are notonly responsible for predicting the future weather as in the Xoy ceremony , etc., but also toorganize their thoughts into a single cohesive unit and summon the deities and Pangool to bringrain to the country (Sarr, 1986-1987, 31-38). This role was previously reserved for the ancientLamanes who were ritually killed if they could not bring rain to the country either through theirown powers or the accumulation of charms. It is from this heritage that the Saltigue class sprangout of. They are the hereditary "rain priests". Rainmaking ceremonies takes place only whenthere is drought in Serer country. Sacred ceremonies such as the Cadde and Khangere aredesigned specifically for such events (Galvan 2004, 86-135). There are great hereditary queenand king in south, south part of Niger Delta operating in witness to justice in return to every
  8. 8. unjust as also defend as visiting his tribe and there tribal warrior at every sentimental plan of waragainst his very occupied named tribe call Igoni,or ogoni in today‘s Rivers State. As his shrinemay turn to be protection venue by every president of Nigeria during and after their tenure ofoffice as they all much notice him as gods of Rain and Air under the native umbrella this kingand queen is call Gbenebagha and Naakala as their bitterness may led to anger and war assmallpox and hardship be spread against all their opponent, until spiritual appeal be made bythose enemies, without ceremonial event in place call (garaga) nothing will ever work out forTwenty- five years.Holy places and headquarters of religious activitiesWhile there are human made places (altars, shrines, temples, tombs), very often sacred space islocated in nature (trees, groves, rocks, hills, mountains, caves, etc.). These are some of theimportant centers of religious life: Nri-Igbo, the Point of Sangomar, Ile-Ife, Oyo, Dahomey,Benin City, Ouidah, Nsukka, Akan, Kanem-Bornu, Mali, and Igbo-Ukwu.Liturgy and ritualsRituals often occur according to the life cycle of the year. There are herding and hunting ritualsas well as those marking the rhythm of agriculture and of human life. There are craft rituals, suchas in smithing. There are rituals on building new homes, on the assumption of leadership, etc.IndividualityEach deity has an its own rituals, including choice objects of sacrifice; preference for male orfemale priest-officer; time of day, week, month, or year to make required sacrifice; or specificcostumes for priest and supplicant on ritual occasions.Patronage
  9. 9. Some deities are perpetual patrons of specific trades and guilds. For example, in Haitian Vodou,Ogoun (Ogun among the Yorubas of Nigeria), the deity of metal, is patron of all professions thatuse metals as primary material of craft.LibationThe living often honor ancestors by pouring a libation (paying homage), and thus giving themthe first "taste" of a drink before the living consume it.Magic, witchcraft, and sorceryThese are important, different but related, parts of beliefs about interactions between the naturaland the supernatural, seen and unseen, worlds. Magicians, witches, shamans and sorcerers aresaid to have the skills to bring about or manipulate the relations between the two worlds. Abuseof this ability is widely condemned. Magic, witchcraft, and sorcery are parts of many indigenousreligions. These are not extremely vital to the different deities but they are still necessary.This is an Nsibidi script from Nigeria. It was originally a means of communication among theinitiates of the Secret Society (Diringer 1968, 107)Secret societiesThey are important part of indigenous religion. Among traditional secret societies are huntingsocieties whose members are taught not only the physical methods, but also respect for thespiritual aspect of the hunt and use of honorable magical means to obtain important co-operationfrom the animal hunted.Members are supposed to have been initiated into, and thus have access to, occultic powershidden to non-members. Well known secret societies are Egbo, Nsibidi, Ngbe, Mau Mau,Ogboni, Sangbeto, etc.
  10. 10. PossessionSome spirits and deities are believed to "mount" some of their priests during special rituals. Thepossessed goes into a trance-like state, sometimes accompanied by speaking in "tongues" (i.e.,uttering messages from the spirit that need to be interpreted to the audience). In parts of Africapossession is usually induced by drumming and dancing.MythologyMany indigenous religions, like most religions, have elaborate stories that explain how the worldwas created, how culture and civilization came about, or what happens when a person dies, (e.g.Kalunga Line). Other mythologies are meant to explain or enforce social conventions on issuesrelating to age, gender, class, or religious rituals. Myths are popular methods of education: theycommunicate religious knowledge and morality while amusing or frightening those who hear orread them. Examples of religions with elaborate mythologies include the native religions of theYoruba (see Yoruba mythology) and Serer people (see Serer creation myth).Religious persecution Adherents of African traditional religions had been persecuted, e.g.practitioners of the Bwiti religion by Christian missionaries and French colonial authorities, aswell as some members of the present Gabon government.Misleading TermsIn commending the effort of foreign commentators for their commitment regarding Africanreligious concepts, Dr Awolalu points out that a great number of writers use misleading terms indescribing the peoples beliefs:PrimitiveWebsters Dictionary defines primitive as - Belonging to an early stage of technical development;characterized by simplicity and (often) crudeness; "primitive movies of the 1890s"; "primitiveliving conditions in the Appalachian mountains"
  11. 11. "It should be obvious from the dictionary meaning that this word cannot be appropriate indescribing the religions of Africa or those that practice this religion" (Awolalu, 1976).SavageThe dictionary meaning is pertaining to the forerst or wilderness, wild uncultured, untamedviolent, brutal; uncivilized, untaught, rude, barbarous, and inhuman.Again, Dr Awolalu points out that this word cannot be appropriate in describing the religions ofAfrica or indeed those that practise this religion (Awolalu, 1976).PaganismThe word pagan is from the Latin word paganus meaning peasant, village or country district, italso means one who worships false gods, a heathen. But when the meaning is stretched further itmeans one who is neither a Christian, a Jew nor a Muslim (Awolalu, 1976).Traditions by regionNorth Africa Berber mythology Ancient Egyptian religionWest Africa Akan mythology (Ghana) Ashanti mythology (Ghana) Dahomey (Fon) mythology Efik mythology (Nigeria, Cameroon) Odinani of the Igbo people (Nigeria, Cameroon) Isoko mythology (Nigeria) Serer religion (Senegal, Gambia) Yoruba mythology (Nigeria, Benin)
  12. 12. Central Africa Bushongo mythology (Congo) Bambuti (Pygmy) mythology (Congo) Lugbara mythology (Congo)East Africa Akamba mythology (East Kenya) Dinka mythology (South Sudan) Lotuko mythology (South Sudan) Masai mythology (Kenya, Tanzania) Malagasy mythology (Madagascar)Southern Africa Khoikhoi mythology Lozi mythology (Zambia) Tumbuka mythology (Malawi) Zulu mythology (South Africa)PART 5African Traditional Religion RELIGION is a fundamental, perhaps the most important, influence in the life of mostAfricans; yet it‘s essential principles are too often unknown to foreigners who thus makethemselves constantly liable to misunderstand the African worldview and beliefs. Religion entersinto every aspect of the life of the Africans and it cannot be studied in isolation. Its study has togo hand in hand with the study of the people who practice the religion. When we speak ofAfrican Traditional Religion, we mean the indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the
  13. 13. Africans. It is the religion which resulted from the sustaining faith held by the forebears of thepresent Africans, and which is being practiced today in various forms and various shades andintensities by a very large number of Africans, including individuals who claim to be Muslims orChristians. We need to explain the word ‗traditional‘. This word means indigenous, that which isaboriginal or foundational, handed down from generation to generation, upheld and practiced byAfricans today. This is a heritage from the past, but treated not as a thing of the past but as thatwhich connects the past with the present and the present with eternity. This is not a ―fossil‖religion, a thing of the past or a dead religion. It is a religion that is practiced by living men andwomen. Through modern changes, the traditional religion cannot remain intact but it is by nomeans extinct. The declared adherents of the indigenous religion are very conservative, resistingthe influence of modernism heralded by the colonial era, including the introduction of Islam,Christianity, Western education and improved medical facilities. They cherish their tradition;they worship with sincerity because their worship is quite meaningful to them; they holdtenaciously to their covenant that binds them together. We speak of religion in the singular. Thisis deliberate. We are not unconscious of the fact that Africa is a large continent with multitudesof nations who have complex cultures, innumerable languages and myriads of dialects. But inspite of all these differences, there are many basic similarities in the religious systems—everywhere there is the concept of God (called by different names); there is also the concept ofdivinities and/or spirits as well as beliefs in the ancestral cult. Every locality may and does haveits own local deities, its own festivals, its own name or names for the Supreme Being, but inessence the pattern is the same. There is that noticeable ―Africanness‖ in the whole pattern. Herewe disagree with John Mbiti who chooses to speak of the religion in the plural ―because there areabout one thousand African peoples (tribes), and each has its own religious system..(Mbiti,1969).Peculiarities of the Religion This is a religion that is based mainly on oral transmission. It is not written on paper but inpeople‘s hearts, minds, oral history, rituals, shrines and religious functions. It has no founders orreformers like Gautama the Buddha, Asoka, Christ, or Muhammad. It is not the religion of onehero. It has no missionaries, or even the desire to propagate the religion, or to proselytize.
  14. 14. However, the adherents are loyal worshippers and, probably because of this, Africans who havetheir roots in the indigenous religion, find it difficult to sever connection with it.Foreign Theorists and Investigators Before we had foreign investigators to give the world an idea of what the religious beliefsof the Africans looked like, there were theorists who have never been in Africa but who regardedit as the ―Dark Continent‖ where people had no idea of God and where the Devil in all hisabysmal, grotesque and forbidden features, armed to the teeth and with horns complete, heldsway (Idowu, 1973). These theorists had fantastic tales to tell about Africa. And one such talewas recorded in a Berlin journal which Leo Frobenius read before he ever visited Africa to seethings for himself. Among other things it said: Before the introduction of genuine faith and higher standards of culture by the Arabs, the natives had neither political organization nor strictly speaking any religion ....Therefore, in examining the pre-Muhammadan conditions of the negro races, to confine ourselves to the description of their crude fetishism, their brutal and often cannibal customs, their vulgar and repulsive idols and their squalid homes ( Frobenius1913, X11).And similar to this was the dialogue that took place between Edwin Smith, who had gone out asa missionary to Africa, and Emil Ludwig, an eminent biographer. When Ludwig got to know thatEdwin Smith was in Africa as a missionary he was surprised; and in his surprise he asked, ―Howcan the untutored Africans comprehend God? Deity is a philosophical concept which savages areincapable of framing‖ (Smith 1966, 1). These two quotations show the ignorance, prejudice and pride of these theorists. They didnot know, and they never confessed their ignorance about, Africa and the Africans. HenceProfessor Idowu aptly describes this period as the ―period of ignorance and false certainty‖ in thestudy of African Traditional Religion (Idowu 1973, 88). But, as a contrast to these theorists, wehave genuine seekers after truth that showed their doubts as to whether there could be any peopleanywhere in the world who were totally devoid of culture and religion, especially with particularreference to the knowledge of the living God. Prominent among such people were Andrew Lang,Archbishop N. Soderblom (Oman 1931, 485), and Father Schmidt of Vienna (Pritchard 1965,103ff). Father Schmidt, for example, maintains:
  15. 15. …the belief in, and worship of, one supreme deity is universal among all really primitive peoples-the high God is found among them all, not indeed everywhere in the same form or with the same vigour, but still everywhere prominently enough to make his dominant position indubitable.He is by no means a late development or traceable to Christian missionary influences. FatherSchmidt had earlier been working among the Pigmies of the Congo in Central Africa. Suchrevelations and declarations succeeded in changing the attitude of the Western world concerningthe religious beliefs of the so-called pre-literate peoples of the world. At least, they raised doubtsin the minds of those who might earlier have accepted the statements of the stay at homeinvestigators and curio collectors. Thus, while there were some Western scholars attempting towrite off Africa as a spiritual desert, ―there were, undoubtedly, a few who had the uneasy feelingthat the story of a spiritual vacuum for a whole continent of peoples could not be entirely true((Idowu 1973, 92).‖ While some scholars admitted that the whole of Africa could not be aspiritual vacuum, they raised doubt as to whether the God that the Africans believed in was the―real God‖ or their own God. They started coining expressions like ―a high god‖, or ―a SupremeGod‖. A. C. Bouquet, for example, seemed to be expressing the Western mind when he said,―Such a High God hardly differs from the Supreme Being of the 18th century Deists and it isabsurd to equate him with the Deity of the Lord‘s Prayer‖(Bouquet 1933, 106). Here we see thatBouquet is propounding a theory of many Supreme Beings in order to place the African God at alower level than the Deity that he (Bouquet) met in Jesus Christ. This is an intellectual attitudecomplete with racial pride and prejudice. But, thank God, there came on the scene a number of investigators who were interested infinding out the truth about religion in Africa. Even here, we should remark that not all of themtook the trouble to make thorough investigations—some of them did their research part-time, e.g.the Colonial Civil Servants, the missionaries, the explorers and so on. Others wereanthropologists and sociologists who examined religion just by the way. And yet others were
  16. 16. theologians and trained researchers. Several of them did their investigations as best as they couldamong the peoples whose languages most of them did not understand. Even when interpreterswere used, one could not be sure that the interpretation would be accurate. Among themissionaries could be mentioned T. B. Freeman, T. J. Bowen, R. H. Stone (Stone, 1899) and N.Baudin (Baudin, 1885) and of the explorers, R. F. Burton (Burton, 1863) and T. J. Hutchinson(Hutchinso, 1858). The noticeable fault among the missionaries was that they were particularly subjective,and they could not see anything good in African Traditional Religion. The impression they hadof it was that it was not worth knowing at all and they expected that the religion would soonperish. But they were proved wrong. The anthropologists were much less inhibited by thedogmas of Christianity than the missionaries. By and large they had a much better perception ofAfrican Traditional Religion and they saw the relevance of the system of beliefs for Africantraditional society. The most prominent were R. S. Rattray (Rattray, 1927), P. A. Talbot (Talbot,1926), A. B. Ellis (Ellis, 1894), and S. S. Farrow (Farrow, 1926). The most successful of themall, perhaps, was R. S. Rattray whose extensive study of the Ashanti in present Ghana was basedon informed knowledge of their language and the willingness to learn from the people byactually participating in some festivals. One might also give credit to Farrow and Frobenius whodid thorough research among the Yoruba of South West Nigeria. Leo Frobenius refutes the statement made in the journal that he read in Berlin in 1891(cited above) and said: I have gone to the Atlantic again and again ....I traversed the regionssouth of the Sahara, that barrier to the outside world…. But I have failed to find it governed bythe insensible fetish. I failed to find power expressed in degenerate bestiality alone….Idiscovered the souls of these peoples, and found that they were more than humanity‟ s burnt-outhusks…( Frobenius, op. cit., xiv). In addition to these eminent men who have attempted asystematic study of African religion should be mentioned the most recent ones like S. F. Nagelwho did pioneering work on the Nupe Religion (Nadel, 1954) and E. G. Parrinder who hasproduced several works on African Traditional Religion ( Parrinder, 1954). Whatever weaknesses and faults may be noticeable in the works of these foreigninvestigators and writers, Africans have to give credit to them for their ability to work under hardconditions and to express their thoughts in writings which the present generation of Africans can
  17. 17. read, examine and improve upon. In actual fact, some of these early investigators were morecareful than some modern ones who appear to know too much theoretical off-the-spotanthropology and sociology, and who just pick from the researches of other people or rush toAfrica during the summer flight, interview one or two people and then rush back to producevolumes.Misleading Terms While we commend the effort of the foreign investigators for committing to writing theirinvestigations about African Traditional Religion, we need to point out that a great number ofthem used misleading term in describing the people‟ s beliefs. Among such terms can bementioned; primitive, savage, fetishism, juju, heathenism, paganism, animism, idolatry, andpolytheism. We need to examine some of these words and bring out their connotations.(i) Primitive: The New Webster Encylopedic Dictionary defines primitive as pertaining to thebeginning or origin; original; first; old fashioned; characterized by the simplicity of old times.‟ Itshould be obvious from the dictionary meaning that this word cannot be appropriate indescribing the religion of Africa or those who practise that religion. In what sense can wedescribe the people as old fashioned or describe their religion as simple? The idea behind the useof such an expression is engendered by racial pride. The Western scholar making theinvestigation wanted to distinguish between his society (which is regarded as civilized) and theother society which is not civilized but old-fashioned-just because such a society does not haveor adopt the same norm as that of the investigator. Anthropologists and sociologists like to justifytheir use of the word on the ground that the culture is adjudged to be that which is original in thehistory of the human race. African Traditional Religion has been evolving; there is in it theelement of continuity as well as discontinuity. Since it is a religion practised by living personstoday, changes are to be expected. Thus, strictly speaking, religion in its pristine form is nolonger in existence. Every aspect of it cannot be described as original. Whatever happens, the useof the word primitive by Western scholars is derogatory and, therefore, obnoxious.(ii) Savage: The dictionary meaning is: „pertaining to the forest or wilderness; wild; uncultured;untamed violent; brutal; uncivilized; untaught; rude; barbarous; inhuman.‟ In one word,savagery is the opposite of civilization. Our remarks are the same as we indicated under
  18. 18. primitive. We should also add that there is an element of savagery in every one of us and itshould not be made the exclusive trait of a particular people.(iii) Fetishism: Earlier in this paper, we came across Frobenius who claimed to have read aBerlin journal where it was stated that Africa was a place dominated by crude fetishism. Whatdoes fetish mean? Linguists claim that the word is of Portuguese origin. The early Portuguesewho came to Africa saw that the Africans used to wear charms and amulets and so they gave thename feitico to such things. This is the same word as the French fetiche. The dictionary meaningof fetish is any „object, animate or inanimate, natural or artificial, regarded by some uncivilizedraces with a feeling of awe, as having mysterious power residing in it or as being therepresentative or habitation of a deity‟ ; hence fetishism is the worship of, or emotionalattachment to, inanimate objects. But Rattray corrected this wrong notion of the early investigators when he said: Fetishesmay form part of an emblem of god, but fetish and god are in themselves distinct, and are soregarded by the Ashanti; the main power, or the most important spirit in a god comes directly orindirectly from Nyame, the Supreme God, whereas the power or spirit in a fetish comes fromplants or trees, and sometimes directly or indirectly from fairies, forest monsters, witches, orfrom some sort of unholy contact with death; a god is the god of the many, the family the clan, orthe nation. A fetish is generally personal to its owner (Rattray 1923, 24ff). We see, then, that itwould be quite wrong to describe the religion of Africa as fetishism. There may be an element ofthis in the day-to-day life of the Africans, but it is incorrect to describe it all as fetishism. Many writers used the word indiscriminately. Prayers said during worship by Africanshave been described as fetish prayers; the functionaries of a cult have been described as fetishpriests; herbs prepared by African priests have been labelled fetish herbs, and not medicalpreparations, however efficacious such herbs may be; and taking an oath has been described asundergoing fetish. This is ludicrous. Parrinder has remarked that the word fetish is a mostambiguous word, and the time has come for all serious writers and speakers to abandon itcompletely and finally (Parrinder 1954, 16).(iv) Juju: The word juju is French in origin and it means a little doll or toy. Its application toAfrican deities has been perpetuated by English writers. For example, P. A. Talbot in his Life inSouthern Nigera devoted three chapters to Juju among the Ibibio people and discussed the
  19. 19. various divinities among them. How can divinities, however minor, be described as toys?Africans are not so low in intelligence as to be incapable of distinguishing between an emblem orsymbol of worship and a doll or toy. Juju is, therefore, one of the misleading and derogatoryterms used by investigators out of either sheer prejudice or ignorance.(v) Paganism and Heathenism: We choose to treat paganism and heathenism together becausethe meanings applied to them are similar, if not identical. The word pagan is from the Latin wordpaganus meaning peasant, village or country district; it also means one who worships false gods;a heathen. But when the meaning is stretched further it means one who is neither a Christian, aJew nor a Muslim. Heath, on the other hand, is a vast track of land; and a heathen is one whoinhabits a heath or possesses the characteristics of a heath dweller. A heathen, according to theNew Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary, is a pagan; one who worships idols or does notacknowledge the true God; a rude, barbarous and irreligious person.‟ These words are notcorrect in describing the indigenous religion of Africa because the people are religious and theydo believe in the Supreme Being. If the only religious people are the adherents of Christianity,Judaism and Islam, then the other entire world religions become either heathen or pagan, and so,uncivilized! Presumably these terms are used in an attempt to distinguish between enlightenmentand barbarity. What has this to do with religion? We think such terms are more sociological thanreligious.(vi) Animism: The great advocate of the theory of animism was E. Tylor in his PrimitiveCulture. Many writers still describe the African Traditional Religion as animistic. This meansattributing a living soul to inanimate objects and natural phenomena. From our own study of theAfrican Traditional Religion, we find there are unmistakably elements of animism. For example,the Iroko tree is not an ordinary tree; it is believed to be inhabited by a spirit; the Oshun River (inWestern Nigeria) is believed to be more than an ordinary river because the spirit (Oshun) dwellsin it and this makes the river efficacious in many respects, especially during barrenness.Lightning and thunder are manifestations of the thunder god. But when we have said this, wealso need to add that it would be wrong to categorize the whole religion as animism. Everyreligion has some belief in the existence of the spirit. Even Christianity sees ―God as Spirit, andthey that worship are to worship in spirit and truth‖. In other words, animism is a part definitionof every religion. But to say that the African Traditional Religion is animistic would not becorrect.
  20. 20. (vii) Idolatry: Idol means false god; and so idolatry is the worshipping of false gods or thatwhich is not real. The word idol is used to describe the object which is an emblem of that whichis worshipped by the Africans. The object may be a piece of wood or of iron or a stone. Theseobjects are symbolic. Each of them has a meaning beyond itself, and therefore is not an end initself. It is only a means to an end. If, for example, a piece of wood representing Obatala (aYoruba deity) is eaten by termites, the worshippers of Obatala will not feel that their god hasbeen destroyed by the termites, because the piece of wood is only a symbol, serving as a visibleor concrete embodiment of that which is symbolized.Symbolic representation is not peculiar to African Traditional Religion. It is found in mostreligions. It is used principally to aid man‘s perception and concentration and to remind theworshipper of the divine presence. If this is the object of the symbol, it must be wrong todescribe it as an idol. But experience shows that material representation often becomes a dangerin religion when the worshippers make the emblems an end in themselves. In this way, thedifference between the material object and the reality represented by it becomes obscured.African Traditional Religion is not essentially idolatrous, but it has a tendency to become so ifthe cult and the symbols of the divinities are so emphasized as to exclude the Supreme Being. The various divinities that are represented are in fact technically representatives orservants of the Supreme Being. It needs to be emphasized that the Supreme Being cannot berepresented like the divinities. We must also point out that, to the Africans, the material hasmeaning only in terms of the spiritual. It is the spiritual that gives meaning and importance to thevisible material object. The symbols or emblems may fall into disuse or crumble or be replaced,but the spiritual entity represented never changes.(viii) Polytheism: ―In West Africa,‖ said Parrinder, ―men believe in great pantheons of godswhich are as diverse as the gods of the Greeks or the Hindus. Many of these gods are theexpression of the forces of nature, which men fear or try to propitiate: These gods generally havetheir own temples and priests, and their worshippers cannot justly be called animists, butpolytheists, since they worship a variety of gods.‖ Here, while Parrinder was trying to discouragethe use of the term animism in connection with the religion of Africa, he created another problemby suggesting the term polytheism. We can understand what the problems are. In a properpolytheism, the gods are all of the same rank and file. The difference between that type ofpolytheism and the structure of African Traditional Religion is that in Africa the Supreme Being
  21. 21. is not of the rank and file of the divinities. The origin of the divinities can be traced; thedivinities can be represented; they are limited in their power; they came into being by the powerof the Supreme Being who is unique, wholly other and faultless and who owes His existence tono one. The Africans do not and cannot represent Him in the form of an image as they can dowith the divinities. Parrinder made this mistake because in his West African Religion he claimedthat the Supreme God or Creator is ―sometimes above the gods, sometimes first among equals(Parrinder 1949, 26, 1969 edition, 12)‖. This is not correct. The Yoruba, for example, never rankthe Supreme Being, Olodimave with the divinities (orisa), neither do the Edo confuseOsanobuwa with the divinities (ebo). The truth of the matter is that Africans hold the SupremeBeing as a venerable majesty who has several servants (the divinities) under Him to carry out Hisdesires. He is in a class by Himself. This is why it is not appropriate to describe the religion aspolytheistic.Modified Monotheism Can we find a precise term for this religion which believes in the Supreme Being underwhom subordinate divinities serve His will? Present eminent African scholars, like Professor E.Bolaji Idown and Professor John Mbiti, have emphasized the fact that the world of the Africansis a theocratic one, ruled and governed by the decree of the Supreme Being. In order toadminister the world, however, the Deity has brought into being divinities who are His ministersor functionaries. These divinities act like intermediaries between men and God. The SupremeBeing is given different names by different groups of people. When we examine the names, wegain a greater insight into the peoples‟ concept of God, as they are descriptive of His characterand attributes. For example, among the Yoruba, He is called Olodumare. By meaning andconnotation, this name signifies that the Supreme Being is unique, that His majesty issuperlative, that He is unchanging and ever reliable. He is also called Olorun (the owner ofHeaven) and Eleda (the Creator) by the same people. The Edo call Him Osanobuwa, and thismeans ―God who is the ―Source and Sustainer of the World‖. The Ibo call Him Chükwu, that isthe Great Chi or the Great Source of life and of being. The Nupe call Him Soko, the Great One;He who dwells in Heaven; and they also designate him Tso-Ci meaning the Owner of us, the Oneto whom we belong. The Ewe-speaking people speak of Him as Nana Buluku (Ancient of Days),and this suggests His eternity. In Ghana, He is called Onyame, the Great and Shining One who ishigh and above all. ―In very precise language‖ says Professor Mbiti ―The Bacongo describe the
  22. 22. self-existence of God when they say, that „He is made by no other, no one beyond Him is (Mbiti,170)‖. We see, then, that the greatest emphasis is on the Supreme Being. The ultimacy, whereveryou go in Africa, is accorded to God. This is why we are convinced that the religion ismonotheistic. But the monotheism may need some modification; hence Professor Bolaji Idowuhas suggested diffused monotheism because ―here we have a monotheism in which there existother powers which derive from Deity such being and authority that they can be treated, forpractical purposes, almost as ends in themselves‖27Summary African Traditional Religion cannot easily be studied by non-Africans. The best interpreterof African Religion is the African with a disciplined mind and the requisite technical tools. Andwe agree with Professor Idowu that the purpose of the study should be: … to discover whatAfricans actually know, actually believe, and actually think about Deity and the supersensibleworld. There s a whole world of difference between this and what any investigators, at home orfrom abroad, prescribe through preconceived notions that Africans should know, believe andthink. It is also to find out how their beliefs have inspired their worldviews and moulded culturesin general. PART 111 A REFLECTION ON THE INSTRUMENTSTHE OJA (FLUTE) The Oja flute is often used with Igbo drums such as the (log drum) Ekwe, (vessel drum)Udu and/or the Igba. This unique whistle talks while the drummers are playing. Duringmasquerade dances in Igboland, the Oja flutist leads the drumming and praise music and dance.An Oja master (OKWU-OJA) like Udengene Nwankwo-Ume can produce several soundsdirectly analogous with spoken or sung words. Dancers also move to the tune of the Oja flute asif it were a drum or other rhythmic instrument. If an important person enters the performancespace, the Oja flutist may use this instrument to announce the name of such person. The Oja fluteis also played at home without other instruments, or in the evening as a serenade accompaniment
  23. 23. while strolling with a friend or life partner. This is one of the major qualities of UdengeneNwankwo-Ume which he was known for all over Anambra State and beyond. He can use hisflute to command any masquerade no matter the size or technicality in dancing step. He is agifted fellow. He uses his OJA to command young men in ceremonies during IDA-IYA,masquerades, both big and small and even uses it to maintain peace and keep occasion movingwith the bluez type of whistling (ICE-WATER).Ekwe (ordinary ekwe)Ekwe (ikoro)IKORO
  24. 24. A sacred, big wooden drum that is kept within the community square. It is only beaten insituations of extreme emergency such as death of an elder (Ndi-Ichie) or war. The sound of theIkoro is unique, very deafening and resonates very far. When the Ikoro sounds, every adult maleof the community abandons whatever he is doing and heads straight to the community square.Every male is taught to discern the sound of the Ikoro from other sounds. Udengene‘s Ikorosounds on selected days of worship. The EKWE (Silt-drum) is a tree trunk, hollowed throughout its length from tworectangular cavities at its ends and a horizontal slit that connects the cavities. The size of the slit-drum depends on its use and significance. Its significance includes use as musical instrument atcoronation, cultural events and rituals. The different sounds of the drum summon the citizens atthe monarchs palaces, or town squares. The strong rhythm of the slit-drum, gave special signalsfor inundation, meetings, announcements of fire, theft and other emergencies. There are two types of hardwood (yellow or red). Played with either a plain straight woodstick or a rubber-tipped short beater similar to a large balafon or Alo (long gong-bell) mallet.Larger Ekwes are usually played with two sticks, while smaller ones are usually played with onlyone stick. The Ube wood that is used for carving Yellow Ekwe log drums is also called "whitewood," but not because the yellow outer part of the drum is the woods natural color... instead,the drums shell is painted with a yellow powder (that prior to being applied to the drum shell isdiluted in water). The Red Ekwe is carved from a naturally-red wood called "Orji" in the Igbolanguage. This wood is more expensive than the "white" wood used in the Yellow Ekwe bothbecause of its beautiful intense (and very natural) red color and its ability to resist insect(termite/worm) damage. Udengene uses his Ekwe most of the time to call his gods. Whenever he visited his shrine,it is believed that the gods were sleeping; he hits his Ekwe in a given style, calling them bynames for some minutes before pouring libations or feeding them. Ekwe is a musical instrumenttoo in Ndikelionwu. The masquerades use it during performances.
  25. 25. Igba (drum) These drums often accompany many other instruments. Traditionally, the deeper shelledIgba are played with the hand, while the shorter drums are played with a curved stick. In anensemble these drums often lead, and are used to "talk" by the talking drummers. To tune thedrum, the player will use a strong object to whack the pegs around the drum in order to restore itsbest tone. The Agbogho Mmonwu masquerade, oji-onu masquerade and some other dancing andmasquerade groups uses IGBA. Its was this igba that changes the dancing steps while the Okwu-Oja (Fluitist) dictates the tune and gives sign with the sound of the fluit when the steps willchange. Certain trees/timber of this region was noted for unique properties, and drum carvers knowwhich varieties make the best drums. Some varieties (e.g. Orji, used in Ekwe log drums) areunique to the forests of this area; we do not have exactly the same species elsewhere, hence thenames of some of these mixed-color drum woods are known only to Igbos who harvest them.
  26. 26. UduThe UduUDU drum is a pot drum made of clay and played with either the hand or a foam paddle. Thesmaller and medium sized Udu drums have a hole on the side of the drum that is cupped with thehand allowing control over the drums pitch as the other hand strikes the mouth of the pot tocreate the tone. The larger Udu drums do not have holes on the side and are, instead, played bystriking the mouth of the pot with a large foam paddle. These larger Udu sometimes serve as bassfor other instruments, while the smaller Udu back the larger, deeper Udu up with more melodictones. These drums are sometimes played in churches in Igboland. These musical tools are usedprimarily by masquerade, dance, and musical groups in special human activities like; rituals,spiritual and cultural events as well as births of new born and funerals. Today, they are also usedto accompany church choirs. OGENE - "Gong" The OGENE (Gong) is the most important metal instrument among the Igbo people. They were made originally in bronze but, in modern time, are mainly made of common metal as a bulging surface in elliptical shaped rim, and tapering like a frustum to its handle. It is hit about its rim by a stick to produce different tunes. The Ogene (gong) accompanies dances, songs, religious and secular ceremonies, and its tunes have been developed to transmit messages by a sort of
  27. 27. lyric prose.Alusi, also known as Arusi or Arushi, are deities that are worshiped and served in the religionof the Igbo people. There are lists of many different Alusi and each has its own purpose. Whenthere is no longer need for the deity it is discarded.AncestorsThe Igbo world is divided into several interconnected realms, principal among them being therealm of the living, the realm of the dead or of the ancestors, and the realm of the unborn.Individuals who led an honorable life and received a proper burial proceeded to the ancestralrealm to take their place among the ancestors or Ndichie, who are not the same as the Alusi.From there they kept a watchful eye on the clan and visited their loved ones among the livingwith blessings such as fertility, good health, longevity and prosperity. In gratitude the livingoffered sacrifices to them at the family hearth, and sought their counsel.Alusi worshipEach major deity had a priest in every town that honored it, and the priest was assisted by agroup of acolytes and devotees.Children and AlusiChildren are still considered the greatest blessing of all and this is reflected in popular namessuch as Nwakaego; a child is worth more than money or Akuakanwa; no wealth is worthier thana child, or Nwabuugwu; a child is the greatest honor. In a small part of Igboland (Imo and Abiastates- Mba-area), women who successfully deliver ten children are rewarded with specialcelebrations and rites that honor their hips. Infertility is considered a particularly harshmisfortune. The Igbo believe that it is children who perpetuate the race, and in order to do sochildren are expected to continue Igbo tradition and ways.List of Alusi
  28. 28. Deities or Alusi include Ahia Njoku, the goddess of yams, and Amadioha (or Amadiora) the godof thunder and lightning. In addition to them there are: Igwekaala: sky god, Ala: earth goddess and goddess of fertility. Ikenga: god of fortune and industry, Anyanwu: (literally:"eye of the sun" sun goddess) Idemmili: mother goddess of villages through which the Idemili river flows (Oba, Obosi, Ogidi, Oraifite, Ojoto etc.) Agwu: god of medicine men, god of divination and healing Arobinagu: forest god, Aro (Aro-chukwu): god of judgment (also seen as the Supreme gods "Chukwus" agent of judgment.) Njoku Ji: god of Yam Ogbunabali (literally: [he who] kills by/at night): an Igbo god of death Agbala: goddess of the hills and caves or the holy/perfect spirit in Nri Eke: god/governor of the eastern sky (Heaven). Also the patron of Eke Markets and days. Oye: god/governor of the western sky (Heaven). Also the patron of Oye Markets and days. Afo: god/governor of the northern sky (Heaven). Also the patron of Afo Markets and days. AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOME ITEMS
  29. 29. The Palm Frond (Omu Nkwu)Omu Nkwu is a sacred leaf in Igbo societies. It is a yellowish green and tender. It conveys amessage of sacredness and secrecy. This medium is symbolic and used mostly for adjudicationpurposes and sanctions. For instance, it is placed on a disputed spot in which the elders have notpassed judgement. The placing of the frond warns those concerned as well as everybody to keepoff the spot until a decision regarding its ownership is reached. It can also be used to indicate asacred and secret place such as a shrine or cult house. In Ndikelionwu, we use Omu Nkwuduring Ikeji Festival. It denotes a sacred area for non members of the masquerade group.Udengene uses it during his usual worship for some other functions.
  30. 30. A TYPICAL LOOK OF OBODO NGENE IN THE EARLY DAYS (Guarded with OGIRISI) The Ogirisi is a sacred tree found in groves or shrines. Its wood is used for the productionof the Ofo Staff. The leaf signifies Royalty, Unity, and Strength. The tree is planted onborders of farm lands as demarcation as well as on the end of a grave to indicate the position ofthe coffin head. Women use Ogirisi to mobilize for a cause. The Aba Women‘s War epitomizedthe effective use of this medium for mobilization. The success of the war/revolt can be traced tothe unique method of mobilization across boundary. Since the leaf in traditional Igbo societieshas intrinsic symbolic interpretation, it is difficult for an outsider to understand what such
  31. 31. "ordinary" leaf means when extended, although the message is easily understood by therecipient.
  32. 32. THE NEW YAM FESTIVAL UDENGENE been a farmer, he is always amongst the first indigenous farmers whoharvests his yam from his farm. He celebrates the new-yam festival with other indigenes ofNdikelionwu immediately the Eze finishes with the royal ceremony. The New Yam festival ofthe people of Ndikelionwu (Igbo: Iwa ji) is an annual harvest festival by the people held at theend of the rainy season in early September. The Iri ji festival (literally ―new yam eating") ispracticed throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana) and other African countriesand beyond symbolizing, the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle.The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities togetheras essentially agrarian and dependent on yam. Yams are the first crop to be harvested, and are the most important crop of the region. Theevening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous years crop) areconsumed or discarded. The next day, only dishes of yam are served, as the festival is symbolicof the abundance of the produce. Traditionally, the role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man in thecommunity or the king (eze). This man also offers the yams to god, deities and ancestors. It isbelieved that their position bestows the privilege of being intermediaries between theircommunities and the gods of the land. The rituals are meant to express the gratitude of thecommunity to the gods for making the harvest possible, and they are widely followed despitemore modern changes due to the influence of Christianity in the area. The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is sharedwith friends and well-wishers. A variety of festivities mark the eating of new yam. Folk dances,masquerades, parades, and parties create an experience that some participants characterize as"art"; the colorful festival is a spectacle of exhibited joy, thanks, and community display. Palm oil (mmanu nri) is used to eat the yam. Iri ji also shares some similarities with theAsian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are based on the cycles of the moon and are essentiallycommunity harvest festival.
  33. 33. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NEW YAM IN NDIKELIONWUThe New Yam Festival. Across Igboland and among the Igbo of Nigeria in the diaspora, the month of August andor September, as it is now, is gladdened with the celebration of New Yam called iwa ji and iri jiohuru. This is best pictured in the framing of the ceremony by Chinua Achebe‘s work as far backas in the 1950s. As Chinua Achebe‘s Things Fall Apart (1958) describes: ―The pounded yamdish placed in front of the partakers of the festival was as big as a mountain. People had to eattheir way through it all night and it was only during the following day when the pounded yam―mountain‖ had gone down that people on one side recognized and greeted their family memberson the other side of the dish for the first time." This brief submission explains the significance of the celebration of new yam festival inIgbo society and among the Igbo wherever they may live outside of Igboland. It answers thequestion, what is new yam festival and why is new yam such an important ceremony and identityof the Igbo of Nigeria? Why are Igbo children particularly ritually cleansed before partaking inthe eating of new yam? The essay adopts a straightforward approach drawing from experienceand participation in new yam festivities at home and in diaspora. New yam festival in Igboland of Nigeria or among the Igbo and their friends in Diaspora isalways marked with pomp and pageantry. The occasion of ―Otite, Iwa Ji or Iri-ji Ohuru‖ or newyam eating festival is a cultural feast with its deep significance. The individual agrariancommunities or subsistence agricultural population groups, have their days for this augustoccasion during which a range of festivities mark the eating of new yam. To the Igbo, therefore,the day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season. Yam culture is momentous withhoe-knife life to manage the planting and tending of tuberous requirements. Yam farmers inNdikelionwu town of Igboland know this well. The ―IWA JI‖ (to break new yam) is observed as a public function on certain appointeddays of the year. It is the feast of new yam; the breaking of the yam; and harvest is followed bythanksgiving. An offering is put forward and the people pray for renewed life as they eat the newyam. An offering is made to the spirits of the field with special reference to the presiding deity ofthe yam crop. In the olden days, fowls offered as sacrifice must be carried to the farm and slain
  34. 34. there, with the blood being sprinkled on the farm. Yam is cut into some sizes and thrown to thegods and earth with prayers for protection and benevolence. When the ceremony is completed,everything is taken home; the yams are laid up before the ―Alusi‖ (deity) together with all thefarming implements, while the fowls boiled and prepared with yam for soup (ji awii, ji mmirioku) are eaten at the subsequent feast. Everyone is allowed to partake in this and those who arenot immediately around are kept portions of the commensal meal. Another significant aspect of the ritual not discussed by writers in this field is thepreparation of children to partake in the eating and celebrating of the new yam - called ritualbody wash, imacha ahu iri ji mmiri (consequently, ji mmiri, connotes fresh yam, new yam). Thebelief is that to take in a new thing into the body, it is important to cleanse the body and in thiscase a new yam deserves a clean body achieved through dedication and purification ritual. As achild, my own grandfather, a ritual expert and healer, never allowed all the children in ourvillage to mark new yam festival without first of all gathering us together and counselling us onthe importance of Ahiajoku, yam productivity and its diverse gender sensitivity, social andcultural miracle. He would lay on the ground some fresh grass and some leaves of ogirishi(newbouldia laevis) and other requirements such as omu (young palm tendril). These areemployed to create a ritual space and contact with the earth and Ahiajoku to wash and protect thebody. One at a time, each child is made to stand in front of this ritual ground and the ritual expertwould render a powerful incantation or prayer while passing around the head and throat a bunchof the materials asking the child to spit out saliva on the ground. Across the body the expert alsosoftly brushes materials as he prays for the good health of the chap to be fit to eat the new yamand celebrate the occasion peacefully. Parents took it upon themselves to present their children tothe therapist to undergo the cleaning of the body and enacting accord of order and health in theenduring Igbo new yam festival setting.
  35. 35. PART VDEBATING IGBO CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY: A CRITICAL INDIGENOUS VIEWIntroductionSince the 1970s the dynamics of conversion have been a focal point of research with regard to theimpact of Christianity on traditional African societies. Much of the scholarly debate about the matter hasconcentrated on West Africa. Such academic authorities as Elizabeth Isichei, Robin Horton, and CarolineIfeka-Moller provided different theories about the relative importance of various factors. Within thegenre of the novel, West African writers like the Igbos Chinua Achebe, John Munonye, and T. Obinkaramadded their voices to the debate through their fictional reconstructions of the confrontation ofmissionary Christianity and traditional cultures. That of Onuora Nzekwu is explored in this chapter.DISPUTING THE FACTORS UNDERLYING THE IGBO RELIGIOUS METAMORPHOSISThe conversion of much of the expansive and internally diverse Igbo tribein southern and south-eastern Nigeria to Christianity during the firstfew decades of the twentieth century after stiffly resisting the intrusionof missionaries before 1900 is one of many dramatic chapters in thehistory of the church in Africa. Indeed, the rate of conversion during athirty-year period after 1900 is especially remarkable. As one historianof Christianity in Igboland has pointed out, fewer than 1 000 Igbos mayhave converted during the latter half of the nineteenth century, but thecensus of 1931 indicated that in a total population of 3 172 789 Igbosno fewer than 347 427 (ca. 11 per cent) identified themselves as Christians.Of the latter, the 94 049 Catholics constituted a plurality of 27 per cent.2To be sure, some critics have contended that little depth of commit-
  36. 36. ment to Christian doctrines accompanied this breadth of nominal changeand membership in various mission-sponsored churches. They have alsounderscored their perception that traditional Igbo religious beliefs andpractices remained strong in the ranks of the converted. Perhaps noobserver put it more succinctly than Onuora Nzekwu (b. 1928), whosenovels of the 1960s made him one of the principal founders of post-colonial Nigerian literature. In his debut work of 1961, Wand of noblewood, Nzekwu voices his perceptions of the survival of traditionalreligion through an urbanised Igbo:Go among the grown-ups who profess Christianity. The moment theycan afford it they become polygamists and take ozo and other tradi-tional titles. When they think it will do them good they consultfortune-tellers, make charms and wear them, and do a thousand andone other things which to their tens of African priests, who them-selves mimic their white brother clerics, are purely “idolatrous andun-Christian”.3Other internal observers of Igbo life have dissented. Catholic novelistT. Obinkaram Echewa (b. 1940) has not veiled the fact that traditionalbeliefs and practices remained strong among rural converts to Christi-anity, but he has also pointed out that if measured by such indexes as
  37. 37. attendance at Mass during the 1940s, large numbers of Igbos in hishome area evinced great loyalty to the church. Reflecting on the en-trenchment of Catholicism while he was growing up during the 1940sand 1950s, he has declared that “Catholic missions around Aba weregenerally very successful”. Echewa’s memory of the popularity of worshipseems particularly acute:I can remember that at Christ the King Church in Aba Sunday Masswas every hour on the hour from 5 a.m. until noon, and if you didn’tarrive half an hour ahead of time to stand in line, you probably wouldnot get in!4In any case, missiologists, historians, and other scholars have longdebated the relative importance of various factors which brought aboutthe acceptance of Christianity. They have variously attributed it to interalia a general desire on the part of the Igbos to cope with rapidly cul-tural change by appropriating at least some of the ways of their co-lonisers and capitulation to the material inveiglements of missionaries.Such explanations tend to beg the question of why missions were moresuccessful amongst the Igbos than elsewhere.Onuora Nzekwu, Wand of noble wood (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1961),
  38. 38. p. 76.Frederick Hale private archives, T. Obinkaram Echewa files, T. Obinkaram Echewa(West Chester, Pennsylvania) to Professor F.A. Hale, 5 January 1996.One of the first scholars in Nigeria to attempt an explanation of therapid conversion of so many of her ethnic fellows after 1900 was thehistorian Elizabeth Isichei. In her analysis of “The Growth of Christi-anity in Igboland” in her magisterial A history of the Igbo people, this NewZealander who was married to an Igbo took a multicausal approachto the general phenomenon. Isichei found in educational endeavours “thekey factor” which brought about this change and placed this into thecontext of British imperial expansion into Igbo country. The literacygained through attendance at mission schools gave participants a greatsocial and economic advantage, because both the colonial administrationand the schools themselves provided opportunities for remunerativeemployment. She explained,The same emphasis on competitive achievement which had led theIgbo to struggle to accumulate the wealth to take a title, or to growsufficiently numerous and excellent yams for a yam title, was easilytransposed to education.Apart from mission schools, she pointed in general terms to the
  39. 39. work of medical missions, the improvement of communications, andurbanisation in loosening individuals’ bonds to local religious practicesas significant catalysts in easing the transition from tribal religion toChristianity.5During the 1970s both Isichei and other scholars of religion debatedthe reasons why some Igbos converted to Christianity while others didnot. Isichei asserted cautiously that “Igbo responses were largely con-ditioned by sociological factors”. She did not deny that religious con-version was also an “emotional or spiritual reality” but assumed thatas an historian she was empirically equipped to deal only with externaldeterminants in analysing it. Isichei pointed out inter alia that the nine-teenth and early twentieth centuries were an “age of anxiety” in Igbo-land owing to the intrusion of British culture and eventual conquest andasserted that in the resulting cauldron of social and cultural instabilityvery few men considered becoming Christians who were happily inte-grated in their society unless they felt that society to be threatened.Consequently, missionaries2006:2
  40. 40. Isichei, A history of the Igbo people, pp. 167-169.118Haledrew their converts mainly from the rejects of Igbo society — thoselike slaves, or accused witches, who had no prospect of happiness inIgbo society and therefore nothing to lose by attaching themselves toanother one.6Isichei did not take upon herself the unenviable task of adducingevidence to substantiate these generalisations.Professor Robin Horton, a philosopher at the University of Ife, coun-tered Isichei with weapons from the arsenal of his own discipline.Decrying the domination of anthropological methodology in the fieldof religious studies, he declared thata number of philosophers and philosophically minded social scientistshave recently been calling for a return to the intellectualist approachwhich takes systems of traditional religious belief at their face value– i.e. as theoretical systems intended for the explanation, prediction,
  41. 41. and control of space-time events.Venturing a step further, Horton insisted provocatively that “intel-lectualism is in fact the only real starter in this field,” particularlywith regard to “studies of religious variation and change”. He did notdirectly address the mass conversion of Igbos, choosing instead torely heavily on J.D.Y. Peel’s recent study of Aladura: a religious move-ment among the Yoruba of western Nigeria for his principal example ofan African group who supposedly demonstrated his theory.7 In brief,Horton believed that all people are “shaken and discomfited whenconfronted with the bearers of alien belief-systems”, a generalisationhe thought particularly operative in colonised Africa. Christian mis-sionaries, despite what Horton questionably regarded as a profoundtrend towards otherworldliness as opposed to a dual this- and other-worldliness during the past three centuries, brought to African peoplesa religion which was both transcendent in its understanding of ulti-mate realities and concerned with the here and now. This struck a chordwith the cosmology of Africans before the onset of evangelism, as “mostAfrican traditional religion does in fact have a dual nature”; i.e. itsgods are “theoretical entities” and, in tandem with religious rituals, tovenerate them is “to apply theory to the control of the world”, but at
  42. 42. Elizabeth Isichei, “Seven varieties of ambiguity: some patterns of Igbo responseto Christian Missions”, Journal of Religion in Africa (1970), p. 209.London: Oxford University Press for International African Institute, 1968.Debating Igbo conversion to Christianity119Acta Theologicathe same time “the gods are people, and their rituals an extension tothe field of purely human social relationships”. Horton argued thatif the missionaries had come in with a straight other-worldly creed,the Yoruba and many other African peoples would have rejected them.Instead, they proclaimed to colonised nations “the promise of a newsource of strength which would enable people to live in and cope witha new world”.8Caroline Ifeka-Moller, an Africanist at the University of Birmingham,challenged Horton’s theory as inoperable with regard to the Igbo duringthe years 1921-1966. She pointed out that he had postulated a uni-
  43. 43. tary concept of African belief in divinity. This, however, hardly fittedIgbos’ perceptions of the gods, which, as ethnographers and others hadpointed out since early in the twentieth century, varied widely fromone region to another with some Igbos not recognising a supreme godwhile others believed in one that they variously regarded as male orfemale. Ifeka-Moller also thought the intellectualist approach was sus-pect because it failed to take into consideration the geographical vari-ation in rates of conversion to Christianity. The census of 1953, takenafter two generations of ambitious missionary endeavours amongstthe Igbos, indicated that in the province of Onitsha only 26 per cent ofthe population was classified as Christian, whereas in southerly Calabarprovince, where there was much greater imperialist economic activity,this figure had climbed to 77 per cent. Ifeka-Moller argued cogently thatconversion to mission Christianity in eastern Nigeria was most inevidence throughout our period in and around certain communitiesof the oil-palm belt. Villages which experienced intensive changewent over rapidly, and in large numbers, to the mission churches andthen to the Aladuras. Mass conversion was a consequence of these socialchanges: incorporation into the new world economy, the impositionof new political roles under the colonial system, and a growing real-ization among the inhabitants of these communities that they had
  44. 44. failed to obtain the rewards promised by acceptance of these radicalchanges. Christianity promised a new kind of power, the power ofthe white man, which people could use to discover the secret of histechnological superiority.9Robin Horton, “African conversion”, Africa, 41(2) (April 1971), pp. 94-97, 107.Caroline Ifeka-Moller, “White power: social-structural factors in conversion toChristianity, Eastern Nigeria, 1921-1966”, Canadian Journal of African Studies,8(1) (1974), pp. 56-61.2006:2120HaleOther scholars, both in Nigeria and overseas, added their voicesto the debate during the next two decades. E.A. Ayandele, a Baptisthistorian at the University of Ibadan, for example, wrote in 1973 thatafter the expansion of British imperialism at the turn of the centurythe “blissful insularity” of Igbo culture ended abruptly. The might ofcolonialism was immeasurably more apparent than were means of stop-
  45. 45. ping either it or the waves of Anglican, Roman Catholic, and othermissionaries who followed it its wake. Ayandele did not compromisehis metaphors in describing the religio-cultural impact of missionaryChristianity:With the systematic destruction of the Long Juju by the British in-vaders between 1900 and 1902[,] the Bible rolled through Igbolandlike a Juggernaut, crushing the gods to atoms.Indigenous means seemed entirely ineffective in checking thisassault, sothe Igboman in the first decade [of the twentieth century] was in noway disposed to invoke the already discredited traditional religion tohalt the white man’s religious intrusion into his world and invasionof his being.Instead, Ayandele asserted,he anxiously sought the aid of the missionary whom he looked to forenactment of expected miracles — the establishment of the schooland transformation of his children away from the indigenous world
  46. 46. into “book” people, the emerging new élite leaders who in the colo-nial setting were to share authority in Church and State.The desire for education naturally played a key rôle in this accultu-ration, which Ayandele saw as a vital component of Igbo self-initiative.He also regarded medical missions as particularly significant in effect-ing conversions.10The eminent Igbo church historian Ogbu U. Kalu swam against aswift current of what he termed “nationalist historiography” in 1990by stressing the primacy of the white missionary factor in the conver-sion of the Igbos. Bemoaning a perceived tendency of African historiansto “suppress awkward facts”, Kalu argued that, beginning in the10 E.A. Ayandele, “The collapse of ‘pagandom’ in Igboland”, Journal of the HistoricalSociety of Nigeria, 7(1) (December 1973), pp. 125-139.Debating Igbo conversion to Christianity121Acta Theologica
  47. 47. 1950s and especially in the wake of independence in the 1960s, Nigerianand other scholars elsewhere on the continent had overplayed their handsin seeking to reverse the previous domination of “missionary historio-graphy” (i.e. that written by missionaries and their sponsors) with itsemphasis on the importance of foreign, and usually European, agentsin the successful evangelisation of Igboland early in the twentieth cen-tury. Essential pillars of this new nationalist school were, first, an em-phasis on the rôle of indigenous evangelists and catechists, and, se-condly, a depiction of foreign missionaries as agents of imperialismwhose versions of Christianity had pernicious effects on African culture.As a corollary to the second emphasis, some African historians had glo-rified indigenes who had resisted the intrusion of missionary Christi-anity. Kalu contended that, in general, those missions which had thelargest number of and best equipped white missionaries had been themost effective in converting Igbos to the Christian faith. He enumer-ated such factors as fascination with the exotic (i.e. white people andtheir ways), the inveiglements of material goods, missionary ties tocolonial governments, popular Igbo demands for mission schools atwhich they could learn English, and local distrust of black missionarypersonnel as particularly significant dimensions of this.11In his novel Blade among the boys (1962), Nzekwu incorporates andamalgamates themes on which he had touched in Wand of noble wood
  48. 48. with others in a more detailed study of the turbulent confluence ofRoman Catholicism and Igbo traditional religion. Here the meetingof the two streams becomes a maelstrom in which the central character,a young Igbo named Patrick Ikenga, nearly drowns spiritually andmorally when both social pressures and attractions of the two faithsplace him into the dilemma of training for the Catholic priesthood andthe position of okpala, or traditional family priest, after the death ofhis father. In exploring this personal enigma, which is a microcosmicrepresentation of the larger clash of two religions in a rapidly trans-forming colonial society, Nzekwu again takes to task foreign mis-sionaries for failing to accommodate indigenous beliefs and practices.2006:211 Ogbu U. Kalu, “Color and conversion: the white missionary factor in the Christi-anization of Igboland, 1857-1967”, Missiology: An International Review, 18(1)(January 1990), pp. 61-74.122Hale
  49. 49. The protagonist has much in common with the author, although theextent to which Blade among the boys is autobiographical is not readilyascertained. Like Nzekwu, Ikenga is an Igbo born away from the tribalstronghold in south-eastern Nigeria, namely at Kafanchan in the Hausa-dominated north. This fictional character enters the world at that rail-way junction in 1927, a year before Nzekwu’s own birth. The fact thatthe place is a crossroads of tribes and civilisations is in itself symbolicand pertinent to the larger theme of religious conflict. Nzekwu empha-sises that at Kafanchanthere were Fulani, Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, Tiv, Itsekiri, Efik, Ibibio andtheir sub-tribes. Religious groups already established there includedthe Church Missionary Society, the Roman Catholic, the Sudan Inte-rior Mission, the St Paul’s African Church, the Faith Tabernacle, theJehovah [sic] Witness[es], and, of course, Islam (p. 10).In terms of both tribal and religious pluralism, in other words,Kafanchan, is nearly Nigeria in miniature — at least on the surface.Through the eyes of the young Patrick, social harmony neverthelessprevails amongst these religious and ethnic factions that employmenton the railway has temporarily thrown together:
  50. 50. He was yet to learn that the membership of each of these groupslived peacefully together because the distance from their home townshad developed in them a sense of oneness (p. 10).Beneath the veneer of tranquillity in polyglot Kafanchan, however,intrusive discord prevails and even pits child against child, not leastin terms of Protestant and Roman Catholic youths unwittingly con-tinuing centuries-old religious battles imported from Europe. Theirmutual recriminations and taunting are childish reflections of theirparents’ clashes:Roman Catholics would not, for example, patronize bazaars organizedby other churches, nor would they enter Protestant church buildingsunder any circumstances, not even when their friends died and afuneral was on (p. 13).Meanwhile, Nzekwu insists, Christians in Kafanchan from the SouthernProvinces “lived very peacefully with the hill tribe ‘pagans’, and theHausas and Fulani Moslems”, while maintaining religious tensionsin their own ranks (p. 13). This foresages the pivotal theme of mis-sionary Christianity as a disruptive element that runs like a scarlet thread
  51. 51. Debating Igbo conversion to Christianity123Acta Theologicathrough the plot of Blade among the boys as Patrick strives for spiritualmaturity despite pressures that compel him to run the gauntlet betweenthe disharmonious demands of Roman Catholicism on the one handand those of his ancestral religion on the other.The cast of central characters neatly embodies much of the spec-trum of responses to missionary Catholicism that has brought the gospelto the Igbos since late in the nineteenth century. On the surface, at least,Patrick’s parents, John and Veronica Ikenga, are devout Catholics, par-ticularly the latter, who ischairman of the St. Mary’s Women’s Society to which every marriedwoman belonged; a member of the Legion of Mary; and Presidentof the Christian Women’s Association (p. 8).Given this explicitly religious factor in his family of origin, Patrickbecomes an altar boy at seven and finds himself fascinated by the Latin
  52. 52. Mass and other trappings of Roman Catholic worship and piety. Uponwitnessing a confirmation when apparently not yet ten years of age,the lad expresses to his parents his desire to become a priest and takesconfidence in their affirmation of his pre-pubescent sense of vocation(p. 10). A fissure soon emerges in the foundation of familial solidarity,however. In December 1937, only a fortnight before his unexpecteddeath, John Ikenga begins to express misgivings about his son’s priestlyambitions. His opposition springs from his conviction of the necessityof maintaining the family line. In a tense conversation with his wife,he insists that he should not allow the devil to instil in him oppositionto clerical vocations but adds,It is unwise to let our only son become a celibate. You should bedesirous of having grandchildren to ensure that our names live afterwe are gone (p. 16).Shortly after the death of his father, the bereaved Patrick and hismother move to the village of Ado near the important Igbo town ofEnugu, a rural locale where decades of Catholic missionary endeavourshave failed to uproot tribal spiritual traditions. Emblematic of these,mother and son are immediately thrust into eight days of funeral rituals.The second seed in Patrick’s dicotyledonous religious makeup thereby
  53. 53. begins to germinate. “He enjoyed every minute of the funeral as longas it lasted”, reveals Nzekwu of the bereaved youth’s tractable mind.2006:2124HaleWhile the funeral according to Christian rites forced him to concen-trate his mind on the hopelessness of the future without his father,the traditional system took his mind away from his loss, diverted itto other interesting things and made him forget his predicament(pp. 18-19).At this critical early juncture of his narrative, Nzekwu introducesPatrick’s uncle, Ononye, to represent intransigent adherence to tra-ditional Igbo religion. When Patrick falls ill with malaria, his localkinsmen attempt to cure him through sacrifices to their ancestors, ta-lismans, and the services of an herbalist. His mother, with the endorse-ment of a few like-minded villagers, appeals to her brother-in-law forpermission to take the youth to a hospital. Ononye, who has been elected
  54. 54. to serve as a sort of regent okpala until Patrick attains his majority, andother members of the old guard refuse, however. Nzekwu uses this in-cident to juxtapose two fundamentally different emergent mindsetsamongst the Igbos during the 1930s:It was significant that all those who suggested taking Patrick to thehospital had had education at mission schools where they learnt (whocared very much about practice?) the rudiments of Christianity andhad been baptized (p. 23).Rather than using this opportunity to argue in favour of the secularbenefits of missions, however, Nzekwu exploits it to illustrate how manyIgbos have taken advantage of missionary endeavours to advance theirown worldly agendas. He frames his perception of their responses toChristian proclamation in terms of a categorical indictment:But while the mission authorities looked upon education as a usefulguide to baptism, synonymous with conversion, the converts regardedattendance at church services and catechism classes and baptism asconditions they must fulfil if the mission authorities were to teachthem the three R’s, their primary objective. In other words, the questfor education had made necessary their accepting the Christian faith.
  55. 55. Their desire to demonstrate that they belonged to the new genera-tion of literate gentlemen had made them attend the hospitals, a by-product of Christianity, and speak to Ononye words of wisdom inwhich they themselves had little faith, for the old order still had afirm grip on them (p. 23).The young Patrick is already cognizant that the perception of theCatholic priests at Kafanchan of his pious parents as model Christiansdiffered from what he knew of his father. Again, Nzekwu casts aside allsubtlety in describing the limits of popular orthodoxy and orthopraxis:Debating Igbo conversion to Christianity125Acta TheologicaHad the priests gone behind the scenes[,] they would have discoveredthat neither John Ikenga’s brand of Christianity, nor those of manyothers he knew, was the model they preached each Sunday from thealtar. They could have discovered for themselves the numerous charmsJohn Ikenga hid behind photographs hanging on the walls of their
  56. 56. parlour. His was quite a different brand of Christianity — a Christi-anity that allowed for the limitations of his upbringing in tradition-al surroundings, a Christianity that accommodated some principlesand practices of his tribal religion. For one thing, he never coulddrop the primary aim of tribal worship: to reinforce life by means ofprayers, sacrifices and sympathetic magic (p. 29).Only much later in the narrative, as we shall see, does Nzekwu re-veal unambiguously that Veronica Ikenga, despite much initial evidenceto the contrary, is also ultimately captive to a pivotal Igbo belief.After his recovery in March 1938, Patrick is placed in the custodyof an uncle, Andrew Ikenga, a lapsed Roman Catholic in Zaria. Thisrelative’s concubine makes life miserable for the youth whose presenceshe clearly resents, both before and after the three move to Kano, andeven physically abuses him to the point that he must be briefly hos-pitalised. His uncle proves to be authoritarian, insisting that he unne-cessarily repeat standards at school. Patrick nevertheless presses aheadin his faith, and on his own initiative he receives the sacrament of con-firmation. His daily piety and continuing desire to enter the Catholicpriesthood earns him the derision of his uncle’s mistress, who mocks himand convinces the neighbours in their compound to call him “FatherPatrick”. His spiritual mettle having passed this early test, the pious
  57. 57. youth returns to Ado to complete his primary education in the hope ofbeing admitted to Holy Trinity College after standard six. Nzekwu’sauthorial intrusion as Patrick boards a train en route to Ado again em-phasises the relative poverty of a morally debased missionary Christi-anity when confronted by a deeply entrenched Igbo religion:Had he known it he was coming home to a situation that was going totest his Christian faith severely. He was returning to become anothertarget over which indigenous traditional religion, which time alonehad equipped with a powerful influence in all spheres of life, battledwith Christianity, imported only less than a century before, with itsarmy of missionaries whose weapons — philanthropism and entreaty— had been discarded for compulsion and indifference (p. 42).Patrick’s entry into adolescence and his return to Ado herald a periodin which his introduction to the ways of his forefathers is accelerated.2006:2126Hale
  58. 58. His uncle Ononye stresses the gravity of such religio-cultural main-tenance in the face of what he perceives as a dangerous incursion offoreign religion and expresses his determination to resist the latter asa threat to Igbo identity:“These children,” Ononye commented, turning round on his seat, “arethe links that will carry our traditions, which distinguish us from allother peoples, to future generations. If, because the school authorities‘put the water of God’ on them, they fail to take part in our rituals,time will come when when we can no longer identify one man fromanother. And if, as we do believe, the dead do see and have power, Iwill be one of those who will rise from the dead to take revenge onthose who let our traditions die away” (pp. 52-53).At the feet of this determined uncle, Patrick is taught “a litany ofthe ancestral spirits of the Ikenga lineage” (p. 49) and also learns aboutiyi, or cultic emblems of various gods, and aja, or sacrifices made to wardoff evil spirits. Such customs as the pouring of libations and breaking ofcola nut also come to the fore. Adhering to a prevalent custom of earlypostcolonial Nigerian fiction, Nzekwu dwells on these and other ele-ments of the youth’s education to insert relatively detailed didactic
  59. 59. sections into his text, presumably with non-Igbo readers in mind. Withinthe context of the plot, they serve to underscore the depth of abidingdevotion to tribal tradition still prevalent amongst the Igbo during the1940s, notwithstanding decades of Roman Catholic and other mis-sionary endeavours. Still faithful to his vision of becoming a Catholicpriest, Patrick hears a student from Holy Trinity College seek to bridgethe cleft by voicing the commonly heard argument that beneath a veneerof religious differences the two faiths in question are quite similar, notleast with regard to mutual emphasis on monotheism. “He is the onewe all worship”, asserts this student.The only difference is that in the Church our prayers are directed toHim through foreign saints but here we approach Him through ourancestors who are our own saints (p. 51).Yet nothing evolves on this arguably infirm foundation of religiouscommonality.Patrick’s preparation to become the family okpala places his devoutCatholic mother Veronica into an awkward dilemma. On the one hand,she accepts the tribal practice of having such a titular head of the familyand understands that it is her son’s lot to accede to that position. Ve-
  60. 60. Debating Igbo conversion to Christianity127Acta Theologicaronica wishes that the position could somehow be divided, an impos-sibility given the pervasive nature of tribal religion in traditional lifegenerally. Nzekwu spells out her stance explicitly:In Mrs Veronica Ikenga’s opinion there was nothing wrong with thepolitical, social and judicial functions attached to the headship …What she hated were the religious duties that lineage heads werecalled upon to perform.Her hostility to them proceeds directly from Biblical teaching: “Thesefunctions were anti-Christian; they went against the first command-ment. That was why she hated the office” (p. 81). Yet she holds herpeace and never expresses to Patrick her opposition to what she appa-rently perceives as his inexorable progress towards permanent ensnare-ment in tradition.Having set his protagonist on this path, Nzekwu proceeds to lambast
  61. 61. the educational endeavours of Catholic missionaries by exploring Patrick’sencounter with it. Indeed, much of the last 100 pages of Blade amongthe boys is given to this critique. Nzekwu first returns to the theme ofsectarian narrow-mindedness by sending Patrick to the Catholic MissionCentral School, where the young pupil encounters a stock character inthe headmaster, Father O’Brien. This divine exploits the relative dearthof educational institutions in the area to inveigle children to convert.Mounting a table outdoors after a large number of prospective pupilsgather in the hope of enrolling, he segregates the children accordingto their religious affiliation and announces,You non-Catholics … you’ll go and try other schools in town. We havea very limited number of places, so I am not going to consider any ofyou for admission. If however you are keen on coming to this school,then become a Catholic and come back for admission next year (p. 84).Patrick clears the denominational bar, but his ongoing de facto de-tachment to the folkways of the Igbos continue to create tension forhim. Only a fortnight after his admission to Catholic Mission CentralSchool, he performs with other young musicians at a traditional funeral,thus arousing the ire of Father O’Brien, who warns his charges againstparticipation in “idolatrous” rituals. To Patrick, such criticism seems
  62. 62. exaggerated. He argues in vain to the headmaster that the only idola-trous rituals involved had been performed before he and his colleaguesarrived to play. His presentation of his case only earns him a beating.2006:2128HaleThis incident sets up a pivotal if implausible dialogue in whichOnonye lectures his chastised nephew on the incompatibility of Igbotraditional religion and Catholicism before haranguing him on theshortcomings of missionary strategy. The alien purveyors of the gospel,he laments, have been condescending and ignorant. Consequently, Ononyecomplains,Christianity and our traditional way of life have been in conflict rightfrom the very first day her missionaries stepped on our soil. TheChristian missionaries hve always criticized our customs and calledus “bush men.” They have called us “pagans” and “heathens”, wordswhich I am told mean people without a religion.
  63. 63. Such appellations were patently ridiculous, he tells his nephew:Yet in the few months you have been home you have seen and heardenough to realize that we do have a religion.He allows that the first missionaries in the area were “very nicepeople” but insists that the Igbos actually “found them and their ser-mons unattractive and boring”. Whether Ononye is here relating hisown experience or conveying oral tradition is unclear. In any case, hedeclares categorically that the Igbos attended Mass or other mission-ary functions only becauseat the end of each religious service or lecture, they distributed dresses,bottles of kerosene, heads of tobacco and items of household use tous (p. 86).What particularly irks Ononye, given his concern about the futureviability of Igbo traditions, is the missionary practice of focusing onAfrican children as a means of gaining a bridgehead for the church.He accuses foreign missionaries of subterfuge in this regard. Unableto win the older generation to Christianity,

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