MESSIANIC HOPES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT: THE IMPACT OF
NATHAN’S PROPHECY ON DYNASTIC MESSIANISM (2 SAM 7: 1-17)
Charles Okeke, Ph.D.
Sometimes it is claimed that the people of Israel right from the beginning of their history expected the messiah, that is, they had futuristic hopes of the messiah who will inaugurate eschatology. Others do not hold the same view. They rather claimed that the community began to entertain these messianic hopes, that is, hopes that had futuristic orientation, expecting a messiah that would come in the future and inaugurate eschatology, only when the community of Israel became disenchanted with the monarchy. They began to talk about the coming of the one who would inaugurate the eschatological era (Amos 9:11). With the inauguration of Davidic kingdom, the hopes of the community of the people of Israel were pinned not simply on the kingship but on Davidic kingship, that is, on his dynasty. That is the stage of “Davidic dynasty”. This paper sought to discuss the role which David’s dynasty played in the messianic hopes of the Israelite community as presented by the Yahwist, and the Yahwist’s dependence on Nathan’s prophecy. In discussing this, the paper looked at the concept of the king and messiah in Old Testament; Royal Messianism: Davidic dynasty with reference to Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Sam 7:1-17 as well as the exegesis of the text; kingship of David: his political and religious achievements at the period of his reign; finally, Davidic dynasty in rapport with the Yahwist theology of history.
The Concept of the King and Messiah in Old Testament
Etymologically, the Hebrew word Meshiah (anointed) is a designation of the king of Israel and the priest. The word, in Greek, means Christos; whereas in English, it means Christ. The term Messiah in Old Testament is not used as a title in the sense we are using it today. In Old Testament, it is applied to the king. The king was messiah because he was physically anointed. His office was looked upon as a sacred office. He was expected to fulfill the promise of salvation which according to tradition God had made to his people. For this reason, the hopes of the people were proved to be placed not on someone who belongs to the future, but on someone who belongs to the contemporary era.
The prophets themselves looked upon the kingship as a means of divine blessing (Hosea 10:15, 13: 9-11). In these texts, the prophet threatens the people with punishment. He says that God has deprived them of the king. So, as far as the king is concerned, kingship is a means of divine blessing. God takes care of his people through the king. If the prophet was not looking upon the kingship in this term, he would not have described the punishment in terms of depriving the people of kingship.
The king, therefore, was looked upon as holding an office through which God conveys his blessings on his people. That is why the king was expected to realize the promise of salvation which according to tradition God had made to his people.
Davidic Messianism: Nathan’s Prophecy and Exegesis of 2 Sam 2:1-17.
The first literary record of the messianic character of the Davidic dynasty is found in the prophecy of Nathan in 2Sam 7:1-17.
Once the king had settled into his palace and Yahweh had granted him rest1, from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan2, Look I am living in a cedar-wood place, while the ark of God is under awnings; ‘Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do whatever you have in mind3’ for Yahweh is with you’. But that very night, the word of Yahweh came to Nathan4: ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Yahweh says this: are you to build me a temple5 for me to live in? I have never lived in a house from the day when I brought6 the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have kept traveling with a tent for shelter. In all my travels with all the Israelites, did I say to any of the judges of Israel7’ whom I had commanded to shepherd my people Israel: why do you not build me a cedar-wood temple?” This is what you must say to my servant David8, “Yahweh Sabaoth says this: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you wherever you went; I have9, got rid of all your enemies for you. I am going to make your fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth, I am going to provide a place for my people Israel10, I shall plant them there, and there they will live and never be disturbed again; nor will they be oppressed by the wicked any more, as they were in former times. Ever11 since the time when I instituted judges to govern my people Israel; and I shall grant you rest from all your enemies. Yahweh furthermore tells you that he will make you a dynasty. And when your days are over and you fall asleep with your12 ancestors, I shall appoint your heir, your own son to succeed you and I shall make his sovereignty secure13. He will build a temple for my name and I shall make his royal throne secure forever. I shall be a father to him and he a son to me, if he14 does wrong, I shall punish him with a rod such as men use, with blows such as mankind gives. But my faithful love will never be withdrawn from him as I15 withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your dynasty and your16 sovereignty will ever stand firm before me and your throne be ever secure.” Nathan related all these words and this whole revelation to David.
Exegesis of the Text
Now the basis for which the community pinned their hopes on the dynasty was on divine oracle. That is, on the promise made by Nathan to David. But this promise is preserved in three forms, namely, 2Sam 7:5-16; 1Chron 17:4-14, and the Royal Psalm 89:20-38.
In 2Sam 7, we see that in the first part, the king was already sitting in his palace and Yahweh had granted him rest from all the enemies surrounding him. Now, the concept of rest or peace from enemies is a Deutronomic idea (Dt 12:10, 25:19, and Josh 22:4, 23:1; 1Kg 5:18). In this context, “rest” is security from enemies and peace from wars. In v.11 we see that the dynasty would continue into the future. In vv12-13, the term “heir” has collective connotation. Many scholars assume that v.13 is a later addition by the redactor. It did not belong to the original prophecy in order to refer to Solomon.
In v.16 it was promised to David that his dynasty will last forever. This implies a long and definite period of time. We notice that the Greek as well as the Hebrew concept of eternity implies longevity, that is, a definite period, not definitive. In the same v.16, David was promised a continued existence of present order which is linked to the erection of a fixed and permanent place for the worship of Yahweh. And that is why there is no eschatology in the oracle, because eschatology in the technical sense implies the end of the present order and inauguration of the last stage in the realization of God’s plan of salvation.
In Ps 89:20-38, for instance, the following elements may be distinguished: the election of David by Yahweh; promise of victory and wide dominion; adoption of David and his successors as sons; covenant of Yahweh with David and his house; promise of an eternal dynasty – not conditioned on the fidelity of the successors of David to Yahweh. This oracle is also echoed in 2Sam 23:1-7, Ps 132:11-18. The oracle does not speak of any individual successor, nor does it look into the eschatological future. It is a simple assurance that the dynast will endure as the chosen human agent of the salvation, which Yahweh wrought in history. Even in Ps 89:30, the oracle talks about his descendant. Note that the salvation to be accomplished by David and his house does not go beyond political salvation to be envisaged by the king (Brown, 197).
However, Nathan’s prophecy has without doubt played an important role in shaping the Old Testament theology. For instance, in the book of Immanuel: Isaiah 6-9, the Davidic monarchy appears as a savior in more grandiose terms than in the royal Psalms. The birth of an heir to the throne (Is 7:10) is a pledge that Yahweh is with the kingdom; and the king is saluted in Is 9:1-6 as the agent of Yahweh’s victories who will inaugurate a kingdom of justice and righteousness. His superhuman qualities are seen in the four titles: Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:5). A similar passage is seen in 11:1-9. Here the king receives the spirit which fills him with the six virtues of the ruler: Wisdom and Insight; Counsel and Power; Knowledge and Fear of God (.2), although these texts do not express messianic hope in a strict sense.
In Micah 5:1-5, a contemporary of Isaiah, expression was made of a new David coming from Bethlehem, as restoration of the unity of Israel and Judah, under the new David. So it is clear that the text refers to a king of the Davidic line, who will save his people (Mckenzie, 1965). In exilic and post-exilic prophets such as Jeremiah 23:5ff; Ezekiel 34:23, 37:24ff, there appears the conception of the messiah as a ‘returning David’. This signifies the restoration of the fallen dynasty and kingdom through a king who will exhibit the traits of the ideal king, which David was thought to have been (Mckenzie, 1965).
David Kingship: His Political and Religious Achievements
David, the youngest son of Jesse began his career as an aide at the court of Saul, Israel’s king, and became a close friend of Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the husband of Saul’s daughter, Michal (1Sam 18”27). Born in Bethlehem, he became second of the Israelite king (after Saul), reigning from c.1000 to c. 962 B.C, he established a united kingdom over all Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital. In Jewish tradition he became the ideal king, the founder of an enduring dynasty, around whose figure and reign clustered messianic expectations of the people of Israel. Since he was a symbol of fulfillment in the future, the New Testament writers emphasized that Jesus was of his lineage (Heb 1:5). As the king of Israel, David succeeded where King Saul had failed and attained a unique place in Israel’s history and tradition. 2Sam 9-20 and 1Kg 11-22 provide the primary source for knowledge of his reign and of the succession.
For centuries before David’s rise to kingship, Israelite had been together in loose confederacies. The northern confederacy, with its centre at Shechem, was dominated by the tribe of Ephraim (Mckenzie, 1965). David had to face the problem of winning consent for and establishing the legitimacy of his office, for it was an important novelty in the social structures and tradition of Israel, on the model of Ancient Near Eastern kingship.
David’s position in the tribal units that made up Judah was secure, for he had united them and had risen to authority over Judah through adroit use of the indigenous social and political instruments of its clan structures, therefore, Judah accepted his legitimacy and never disowned his dynasty. He sought to win the consent of all Israel, first, by the decisively successful war against the Philistines, which made the whole land secure and then by establishing the city of Jerusalem as the centre both of Israel’s political power and of its worship.
In making Jerusalem his capital and transferring the Ark of the Covenant there, he was proclaiming unity. The covenant established the idea of unity and David made it a reality. That was the most important achievement in his forty years as king of Israel (1kg 12:16). On the political level, this effort was not enough, for the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon, but on the religious and cultic level it did eventually succeed, for Jerusalem became the holy city for all Jews, and the messiah “the anointed one” of the house of David, a sign of the relationship between God of Israel and his people.
In 2Sam 8:1-14, we are given a brief résumé of David’s successes in foreign policy. After the victory over Philistine, v. 1, he subjugated the neigbhouring states of Moab v. 2, Ammon 10:1-11, 12:26-31 and Edom vv 13ff in Transjordan and extended his power northwards by subjugating the Aramea states of Zobah vv. 3ff, and Damascus vv 5ff, and accepting tribute from the king of Hamath vv. 9ff. Thus his power extended from the River Euphrates to the frontier of Egypt (1Kg 5:1), and thus comprised a greater empire than ever existed in this area beforehand or afterwards (Rendtorff, 1985). Afterwards, the Canaanites and Philistines who presumably accepted David’s God as well as the Edomites, etc, were brought into alliance in marriage.
On religious tradition of Israel, David played a very decisive role in reforming the religious worship of the Israelite community. His house became a primary symbol of the bond between God and the nation; the king was the mediator between the deity and his people. As sated earlier, at one time in their history, the community of Israel became disenchanted in the monarchy; they began to wait for a messiah, a new mediator of the power of God that would redeem the people and its land. By designating Jesus as the son of David, Christianity dramatized its conviction that this hope had been fulfilled. David lived in the memory of his people in a double way: as the great founder of their political power and as the symbol of a central facet of their religious faith.
From 2Sam 5-8, we see how David achieved this status for himself, his house and his city. When he took Jerusalem, he assumed the rule over its inhabitants and their institutions with the cult centred on Mt. Zion. The previous (Jebusite) ruler had been both king and high priest, and played the role of mediator between the city and its deity. There was no precedent for such a mediative and priestly role of kings in Israelite religion or of walled cities as the seat of government and worship. Apparently, David took over the Jebusite cult on Zion and adapted it to his own and Israelite use (2Sam 5:6-12). So beginning with David and throughout the entire period of monarchy, Israel’s worship on Zion gave a central place to the king, not simply as officiant but substantively, as the figure, who in his office and person embodied the relationship between God and the nation (Gwinn, 1985).
Israel’s God was named Yahweh. David made this name the supreme name for deity in Jerusalem, to indicate his conquest of the city. All former names and titles became attributes or titles of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the conqueror, for instance, ‘El Elyon’ (God Most High). While the Israelite name for God displaced all others, the substance of the worship remained similar: Yahweh had created the world and ruled the nations; he had established kingship as the sign and means of his universal rule; and Zion was the seat of his chosen king, David, his anointed. Yahweh himself was enthroned on Zion, and his king sits at his right hand as his regent (Gwinn, 1985).
Having adopted the ancient cult of Jerusalem as a means of giving sacral significance to his royal status and having renamed it the cult of Yahweh, by whose power he had conquered, David also made an important move to make the new shrine and its worship relate to the pre-monarchic experience of Israel. He brought the ark to Jerusalem and established it as the central object of the cult (2Sam 6). According to tradition, the ark had traveled with Israel in the wilderness and led the way into the land (Ex. 26:33, 40:21; Nb 9:15, 17:22, 18:2; Dt 10:1-5; Josh 7:6) (Gwinn, 1985). The ark was carried into battle to demonstrate that Yahweh fought for Israel. So close was the connection that it could be addressed as Yahweh (1Sam 4:22; Nb 10:35) (De Vaux, 1988). It was carried in the wilderness to show he traveled with his people. It was carried in procession in the pilgrimages that were features of the annual feasts. The ark was a sign and even the embodiment of Yahweh’s presence.
David’s adaptation of the Zion cult, with its understanding of kingship as the substance and means of the presence of God on earth, was to have momentous consequences for the religious history of mankind. Because of it Jerusalem became the holy city and David became the prototype of an awaited messiah. As symbol of the messiah, the return of David, or the coming of David’s ‘son’ stood for the reassertion of the divine rule and presence in history: to judge, to redeem, to renew. David thus became the symbol of a fulfillment in the future final peace (Gwinn, 1985).
Davidic Dynasty: The Yahwist’s Theology of History.
From the point of view of the Yahwist, owing to the promise made by Nathan to David, we shall see the role which David’s dynasty played in giving rest to the community of God, the Israelite.
The role of the Yahwist’s theology of history was apparent in the Davidic messianism. According to the Yahwist, when God called Abraham, he was called precisely so that he would be a mediator of universal blessing. The content of the promise is that God will make him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, and make his name a blessing. His descendants then will be the mediators of a universal blessing (Gen 12:1-3, 18-19, 22:15-18, 2:4, 28:14; Nb 24:9). So, God made him promise of blessings. It is not the occupation of the land but the promise that the people would be the mediator of a blessing to the nations. According to the Yahwist, the rest of the history of Israel is meant to reach this promise. And this promise was brought about in the history of Israel by David.
The Yahwist looked upon David as a channel of divine blessing not only for Israel but also for the nations that were subjected to him. It seems that the Yahwist depended on the promise made by Nathan to David because relying on this prophecy, the Yahwist felt the other nations that were subjected to David were on a par with Israel. That is, if Israel was to derive a divine blessing through the Davidic dynasty the other nations that had been conquered should also enjoy the blessing through Israel. This is what the Yahwist meant when he said that Abraham would become the mediator of a blessing to the nations.
The books of Amos 9:11-12; Ps 72:17 suggest that other nations were on a par with Israel, in fact consecrated to Yahweh as Israel. In Gen 13, we see Lot and Abraham separated. Lot chose all the Jordan plain (Moab and Amon), Abraham chose Canaan. After they had parted company, God promised to give Abraham and his descendants all the land within sight forever (Gen 13:14-15). This promise was realized at the time of David. It was David that conquered the Assyrians for the community of Israel. In the blessing given to Esau and Jacob by their father Isaac (Gen 27:27-29, 38-40), also before their birth (Gen 25:23), there was a promise that the elder shall serve the younger. Esau therefore represents the Edomites (Gen 25:30). And Edomites were defeated at the time of David (2Sam 8:13). In the blessing of Jacob on Judah in Gen 49, it was said that Judah will gain supremacy over the other tribes of Israel. This supremacy was realized for the first time in the time of David. In Nb 24:15ff, we see the prophecy of Balaam. The text refers to David; hence he was the only king that defeated the nations mentioned in the text.
So, based on these facts, the Yahwist narrates that God chose Abraham for the realization of the order which was accomplished by David. Because of this, therefore, once Prophet Nathan conveyed the prophecy, the community began to pin their hopes on David and his successors as one who will realize the promises of blessing, which according to tradition God made to his people. Now there is an ideology in this prophecy. God said to David through the prophet:
When your days are over, and you fall asleep with your ancestors, I shall appoint your heir, your own son to succeed you…I shall be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does wrong, I shall punish him with a rod such as men use, with blows such as mankind gives. But my faithful love will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul (2Sam 7: 12-15).
This ideology implies that even if individual kings, that is, successors of David misbehave, God will punish them, but the promise made to David will continue. God will not withdraw his promise, hence it is everlasting promise. After the fall of the monarchy, when the community of Israel became disenchanted with the monarchy, the people still pinned their hopes on the dynasty for the realization of the promise of salvation. Even in the periods of threat in 735 B.C and 701 B.C, particularly in 735 B.C, during the reign of Ahaz, when the dynasty was under threat from without by Ephraim and Syria, and from within, because the two nations wanted to overthrow Ahaz, the king of Judah, because he failed to join them in anti-coalition against Assyria, Ahaz was childless, he had no heir to succeed him, people still pinned their hopes on the dynasty. At that stage, the prophet Isaiah emerged. He preached the continued existence of the dynasty relying on the prophecy of Nathan. He made it clear that on one hand, the threat of the two nations invading Judah will come to nothing, while on the other hand, dealing with problem from within, he promised the king, Ahaz and his wife a son – Immanuel (Is 7) – God is with us, which means a pledge of salvation. The conception and birth of the child, therefore, are a pledge of salvation.
Nathan’s prophecy depicted David and his successors as channels of God’s blessing to the people of Israel. Through Davidic dynasty the community expected the fulfillment of God’s promises which according to tradition God had made to his people. They, therefore, pinned their hopes on the dynasty. This expectation was very much successful that even when the dynasty lost its political power, Nathan’s prophecy still retained its relevance for future generations. They were confident that Yahweh would fulfill his promises if not in a contemporary figure, such as Zerubbabel, then in a future messianic figure.
Nathan’s prophecy gave hope to Davidic dynasty. This hope was a concrete one hence the dynasty survived up to four hundred years. It was a hope for peace and justice which not only the community of the people of God enjoyed but also other nations subjected to David and his dynasty. They received the blessings through the dynasty (Amos 9:11). The Christian community found the fulfillment of this messianic hope in Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:32; Heb 1:5). He is the one, Messiah, who has inaugurated the eschatology. He did it once and for all.
Brown, R. E. (1997). The new Jerome biblical commentary. London: Chapman.
De Vaux, R. (1988). Ancient Israel: its life and institution. London: Darton Longman and Tod.
Gwinn, R. P. (1985). The new encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 3.
Mckenzie, J. L. (1985). Dictionary of the bible. Chicago: Calvert House.
Rendtorff, R. (1985). The old testament: An introduction. London: SCM.
JUDEO - IGBO TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS CONCEPTION OF SIN: SOCIO - RELIGIOUS IMPLICATIONS ON IGBO SOCIETY
Charles Okeke, Ph.D.
Department of Christian Religious Studies
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
The word sin is more of a religious term than ordinary. It is basically an action of defiance. That is, an action through which one deviates from the correct way or through which one misses the mark. This paper looked at how the Jews of the Old and New Testament periods understood the concept of sin in their society. Comparatively it looked at the concept of sin in Igbo traditional religion as well as the implications of sin on the religious society of the traditional Igbo man and woman. Since the traditional Igbo had no written record about the origin of sin, this paper looked at the origin of sin from Biblical point of view. Following the story of fall in Genesis 3, it became evident that sin originated from the fall of man. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, became a struggle, and dramatic, between good and evil, between light and darkness, and everyone feels as though bound by chains. The Jews see sin as a rebellion against God. In Igbo traditional religion, sin is aj? ihe, ihe ?j?? (literally, it means bad thing), ns? an? (abomination). The community abhors it. It is ar? (taboo) to commit ns? (prohibitions). The traditional Igbo sees ar? as norms, the breaches of which whether voluntary or involuntary unleash some mystical sanctions not only on the individual but also on the entire society. In both religions, that is Jewish and Igbo traditional religions, sin degrades, dehumanizes and pollutes the society.
Sin in Igbo society is not separated from the religion of the people. That is, any sin committed by an individual affects both social and religious life of the people. In other words, it has both social and religious dimensions; and also, it affects the individual who committed the sin. It is believed that sin affects the society as well as the individual, and above all, the deity, who is believed to have been offended. The traditional Igbo believe that he is not free as the spirit is always watching and monitoring his actions here in the physical world. Any violation of the law of the land or any sin committed by individual, deliberately or un-deliberately, is regarded as an offence against the earth deity, ns? an? (abomination) and other deities, as the case may be. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Any sin committed offends the supernatural forces which include the supreme deity, deities, spirit-forces and the ancestors, and every effort must be made by the individual or the community to appease the spirit of the deity or cleanse the land to avoid the anger of the deity. Sin, also, affects the community. The people believe that spirit of the deity that is offended or whose taboo is violated visits both the offender, and in some cases, the community with punishment. This explains the reason the community abhors sin and ensures that an appeasement or expiation to the spirit of the deity is carried out once sin is committed.
The above is also true of the Jewish society as described in the Bible. The punishment due to the individual offender in Gen. 3 was extended to the entire humankind, which is death. And in the Decalogue, the covenant formulation was somewhat restricted. The punishment due to the iniquity of the father is to be visited upon the children, up to the fourth generation. And to avoid God’s wrath, David had to appease the anger of God in Psalm 51, when the prophet Nathan came to rebuke him for taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. In Ps 51:18-19, David pleaded for the restoration of Jerusalem which met its fate due to the sins of the nation.
From the above background, one observes that sin is a grievous offence against the supernatural beings. Sin degrades the society and pollutes it. It is in this line that the researcher wants to make a comparative study of sin among the Jewish and Igbo traditional religions and establish its implications on the society, with reference to Igbo traditional society.
This study is comparative. And it adopts descriptive method. It focuses on Judeo-Igbo traditional conception of sin. The study is very significant as it will highlight the triple injuries associated with sin. Also, it will establish the implications or effects of sin on society. Sin truncates the society and brings disharmony between the visible and invisible world (?w? ? n?-?h? ?ny? n? ?w? ? n??gh? ?h? ?ny?). It breaks relationship between the spiritual and physical and other elements. But once man reconciles with the supernatural being through sacrifice and other forms of appeasement harmonious relationship will reestablish.
Concept of Sin among the Jews
Following the story of fall in Genesis 3, one would see that sin became evident from the fall of man. Sin is committed through breaking of law. The Jews are a chosen people of God. God in his love and care gave them laws to keep in order to remain always with him. Violation of these laws became sin among them. The violation of God’s commandments brings disunity between God and the Israelites. One of the grievous sins among the Israelites which grieve God so much is the worship of other gods. In Exodus 20:4-5, he warned the people, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness or anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God”. Here God regards himself as a jealous God. He hates being mixed with any other god or abandoning him to worship another god.
Moreover, among the Jews, sin is related to law. Therefore, sin, to the Jews, is disobedience to religious laws. Religion itself permeates all aspects of their life. The people see sin as a rebellion against God, and enmity between God and man. For this reason, sin is treated in three-fold way: act, attitude, and state. Example of sin of act or action is murder; hypocrisy is an attitude of sin, and being unsafe is a state one finds oneself after sinning. Sequel to this, man also has triple state of being: body, soul and spirit. Man separates from God through these states. This is clearly evident in Paul’s letter to Galatians, “for flesh desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. And since these are against one another, you may not do whatever you want. Now the works of the flesh are manifest; they are: fornication, lust, homosexuality, self-indulgence, the serving of idols, drug use, hostility, contentiousness, jealousy, wrath, quarrels, dissensions, divisions, envy, murder, inebriation, carousing, and similar things” (Gal. 5: 16-22).
All the sins Paul listed above are sins of the flesh. They separate individuals from God, for God is spirit, and only desires life in the spirit. In the covenant formulation, its scope was somewhat restricted. According to the Decalogue, the iniquity of the father is to be visited upon children, to the third and to the fourth generations (Ex. 20:5). However, Deuteronomy 24:16, provides a humanitarian rule against the blood purges which the Hebrews occasionally witnessed, “The fathers shall not be put to death on behalf of the sons, nor the sons on behalf of the fathers, but each one shall die for his own sin”. This is because of the love God has for his people. He, sometimes, relents from his punishment against the people of Israel due to their sin. Immediately, the people turn to him, he hears and helps them. This is why the Psalmist prays, “Against you only have I sinned, and I have done evil before your eyes. And so, you are justified in your words, and you will prevail when you give judgment” (Ps 51:6).
Thus, the sinner becomes particularly aware of his deep sinfulness in the awesome presence of the holy God. This particular awareness is evident in Isaiah when he cried out, “We have all gone astray like sheep; each one has turned aside to his own way. And the Lord has placed all our iniquity upon him” (Is 53:6).
In the Old Testament, the ‘Apodictic’ laws, that is, the ten ‘thou shall not’ and the ‘Casuistic’ laws, that is, the ’if’ or ‘when’, formed the guideline to every Jew. Violation of these laws is a sin against God. That was why the Major Prophets were furious with the kings who did what was wrong in the sight of the Lord. Example was Ahab, who was known as a sinful king. He did what was abomination in the sight of the Lord by marrying a foreign wife who introduced idol worship in Israel. He added another sin to the first by consenting to the killing of Naboth and took his vineyard. God sent Prophet Elijah to inform him of the consequences of his sin (1 kgs 21:1ff).
The Gentiles, on the other hand, are sinners by definition simply because they are not Jews. The Jews strictly avoid them. Their understanding is that, to mix with the Gentiles is to mix with sinners. But Jesus, in the New Testament, made it known to them that the Gentiles were also children of God and that the kingdom was also for them. In his contact with the Gentiles, the Jews frowned at Jesus for mixing with sinners and they sought to kill him. This is evident in Mark 2: 15-16: the scribes and the Pharisees, seeing that he ate with tax collectors and sinners, said to his disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
From the above backdrop one can have clear picture of sin among the Jews. At this juncture, then, this study will focus on how the traditional Igbo conceive sin.
Concept of Sin in Igbo traditional Religion
In Igbo traditional religion, sin is called ihe ?j??, aj? ihe, nj? or ns? an?. It is always in the negative sense. It is an abominable act with corresponding taboos, hence the community abhors it. The concept of sin is understood differently from ns?, that is, prohibitions. This is because, prohibitions are not sin if they are not yet committed. Prohibitions are things to be avoided. It is ar? (taboo) to commit ns?. Okeke (2012) captures it very well thus, “The traditional Igbo see ar? as norms, the breaches of which, whether voluntary or involuntary unleash some mystical sanctions not only on the individual but also on the entire society” (p. 19).
In Igbo traditional religion, sin is both a generic and adjectival term. It is generic in the sense that it refers to all types of ihe ?j?, while it is an adjective that qualifies the particular sin committed. On the other hand, sin is understood differently from profanities. One should not make the mistake of understanding profanity as ihe r?r? ar?, ihe ?j??, nj? or ar?. Hence a woman who is menstruating cannot be said to be profane, neither can she be said to have committed a sin.
However, the word ns? according to Metuh (1985) may mean two different correlated things: one negative and one positive. Ns? means literally, ‘avoidance’ or ‘prohibition’, that is, what one must avoid, or what one is prohibited to do. This is the negative sense. In some other context, the same word ns? means ‘holy’. This is the positive sense. Nevertheless, it is ns? and ar? to commit sin, which is abomination in Igbo society. Ns? and ar? are meant for everybody irrespective of age, sex or status (Okeke, 2012).
In Igboland, sins are grouped into major and minor. The major sins include sexual intercourse with a blood relation, cutting yam’s tendril (omeji), leaving a goat or other animal to birth in tethers, murder, etc. Minor sins include sexual intercourse with non-relative, having sex in the bush with one’s wife, or on the bare ground, eating animal prohibited by custom, etc. (Okeke, 2012). The Igbo believe that any taboo committed would either ruin the life and property of the guilty person and his family or the entire community unless the pollution is cleansed. Sometimes, open confession is required of the guilty person. Some also confess their guilt even at the point of death.
Biblical Origin of Sin
The Biblical origin of sin takes a narrative form. Thus, chapters 1 to 11 of the book of Genesis brought out the fact about humankind. Chapters 1 and 2 tell the story of God’s creative activities. Thus, God created all things, including man and woman, and saw that all things he had made were very good (Gen. 1:31). God established a relationship with man. But man deviated from this original relationship. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness. Man finds that he is unable to overcome the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though bound by chains (Flannery, 1981).
In chapter 4 of Genesis, sin started its expansion in the world from Adam’s original sin. Thus, Cain murdered his brother Abel. Sin reached the proportion such that God had to send a great flood that covered the earth – a symbol of the chaos and destruction which sin has brought to creation. In chapter 11, human folly reached its peak. Thus, man tried again to become God’s equal by building a tower to reach the heavens. This rejection of God spills over into man’s rejection of his fellow man. There is now division and complete lack of communication among nations.
In 2Esdras, Adam was blamed for introducing sin into the world, “O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an eternal age has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death.” So, our first parents disobeyed the instruction given to them by God, “From every tree of paradise, you shall eat. But from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in whatever day you will eat from it, you will die a death” (Gen. 2: 16-17). Thus, they were forbidden from eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The “knowledge of good and evil” simply means moral knowledge. The point at which a child can discriminate between good and evil, he becomes morally responsible for his action. But we cannot immediately assume that before the fall, they had knowledge of good and evil, for in Hebrew, knowledge implies intimacy. What perhaps threatened them was the experiential knowledge. But here, the question of obedience is raised and the possibility of disobedience now exists.
Socio-Religious Implications of Sin on Igbo Society
It is strongly believed in every culture that every sin has its consequences. One may hide a taboo broken, but an untreated case may be unearthened by future misfortune (Okeke, 2012). Ikemelu (2005) affirms that “Every culture has inbuilt consequences and repercussions for fouling or desecrating it, whether secretly or publicly committed. It is not, therefore, an enactment or sentence to say evil shall overtake those who foul custom and tradition, sooner or later; it is merely stating a fiat accompli” (p. 8). Every sin offends the spiritual beings: the Supreme God, deities, spirit forces and the ancestors, and that explains the reason for cleansing the sin committed. Man therefore makes every effort not to annoy any of the spirits. These spirits observes Arinze (2008) “are God’s agents, his messengers, and it is they who more or less run the world” (p. 92). According to Madu (1997), “These spirits interfere in (man’s) daily lives, and the Igbos cannot afford to push them aside” (p. 6). “And for this man to survive, he must live a life of balance with the spiritual beings” (p. 47).
Sin in Igbo religion as in Judaism, has a relationship with traditional laws. The Igbo are very conscious of the laws of their land as being handed over by their predecessors. But because most of the peoples’ life aspects are connected with the earth-goddess (An?), any violation of the law of the land is regarded as an act against the earth goddess, who the people also regard as the mother of life and queen of morality (Okeke, 2012). Hence the laws have two dimensions: social and religious dimensions. In other words: socio-religious laws. Anybody who is guilty of the laws of the land whether social or religious is said to have committed ns? an?, which is abomination to the land.
Any taboo committed offends the gods and even human beings. Ignorance is no excuse. Any deviation from this order is treated with all seriousness, since the Igbo believe that violation of taboos does not incur punishment to the offender alone but to the entire community especially when the taboo is not cleansed and on time. This was depicted in Achebe (1958) in the case of Okonkwo/Ojiugo. Okonkwo committed ns? an? by beating his youngest wife, Ojiugo during the week of peace. Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess (An?) says to him, “The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish” (p. 22). Ezeani then listed out the items which Okonkwo would bring in order to appease the earth goddess. He says, “You will bring to the shrine of An? tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries” (p. 22).
Individual or personal sin against the mother earth can also be a disobedience to the voice of the oracles and elders and can bring calamity to the guilty person. Thus, in Achebe (1958), Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in Umuofia told Okonkwo that the oracle of the Hills and caves pronounced that Ikemefuna whom the people of Umuofia brought from Mbano as a recompense for their daughter they killed would also be killed. He advised Okonkwo to have no hands in the killing of the boy Ikemefuna. Thus, Ezeudu says to Okonkwo, “That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death. Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The oracle of the Hills and caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the customs, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father” (p. 40).
But Okonkwo later ignored this advice and killed the boy. His punishment came during the burial of Ezeudu. Okonkwo’s gun exploded and killed Ezeudu’s sixteen year old son. He was to go on exile for seven years. The earth goddess can hold the whole community to suffer when offended by sending punishment such as draught, famine, epidemics, death, etc. The abomination is termed a sacrilege. It is the duty of the priests, and the custodians of the customs and traditions of the land to see that these customs and traditions are upheld by members of the community. When any sacrilegious act is committed, it is their duty to enforce the law on the individual to avoid the wrath of the earth goddess.
An abominable act emanates from a person’s internal being. He is quite conscious of the abomination he has committed. This is why no excuse is acceptable for any nso an?. The kind and gravity of punishment to befall the culprit depends on the gravity of the offence and will be determined by the custodians of tradition. In some cases, the help of diviners is sought, or if the sin relates to a particular deity, the priest of that deity will be consulted to determine the type of punishment or appeasement the individual will perform to avoid the wrath of the spirit he has offended.
Ns? and ar? are among the beliefs that influence the traditional Igbo. Metuh (1987) describes ns? and ar? as “ritual or religious offences believed to disrupt relationship with the supernatural forces” (p. 240). They have to be avoided, shunned, because committing them tantamount to violation of the moral norms guiding the society (Okeke, 2012). Ikemelu (2005) confirms this when he says, “Both ns? and ar? disorganize, pollute, defame, indignify, dehumanize, demonize, immortalize and destroy the sacredness of man and society. Both may occur by omission or misbehaviour or misdeed, hence they may also be termed or described as nso an? and al?l?man?” (p. 14).
This study has gone a long way in establishing the meaning and origin of sin in the world. In doing this descriptive method was adopted, and survey was made through the passages on God’s creative activities in Genesis 1-2, and then followed by narratives on the expansion of sin in Gen. 4. Thus, Cain committed the sin of murder by killing his brother Abel. Murder is a terrible sin against God. In Gen 11, it was observed that sin had reached its peak. Thus in trying to reach the heaven to be like God, men built a high tower in Babel, but then the resultant effect of their desire followed. God scattered their language such that no one could understand the other anymore. Confusion had to set in.
Furthermore, effort was made to examine the concept of sin among the Jews vis-à-vis Igbo traditional religion. It was found that sin generally means the same thing in both societies; the difference is that among the Jews, sin affects God and, therefore, he punishes the offender, while the Igbo believe that the earth goddess is the custodian of morality and so, every sin committed whether personal or communal affects the earth (An?). She is the one who inflicts punishment on the offender especially when the sin is not appeased or appeased but late. For the Jews, ‘the fear of God is the first thing’ while for the Igbo, it is the fear of An?.
Every sin has both social and religious effects on the individual and community at large. It degrades a person, dehumanizes and pollutes the society. For this reason, it should be avoided. It is not an exaggeration to state that every sin committed whether in secret or in public has painful effects on the offender and by extension, the community. It is based on this that the following recommendations are made:
1. Every sin contains a triple injury: an injury against God, oneself and others. If this is the case, human being should consciously avoid sin, especially deliberate sin in order to avoid the punishment that follows.
2. Whatever that may warrant the occasion of sin should be avoided.
3. Parents and those who are custodians of customs and traditions should spell out to members of the family and community at large what it implies to commit sin.
4. The priests and other religious personnel should not relent in teaching and inculcating moral values in the minds of people because sin creeps in where there is moral laxity.
5 Since sin degrades, dehumanizes and pollutes the society, the sinner should not be tolerated in the society, but should be exposed and handed over to the agency whose responsibility is to correct such a person in the acceptable way of the community.
Achebe, C. (1958). Things fall apart. London: Heinemann
Arinze, F. A. (2008). Sacrifice in Igbo traditional religion. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Flannery, A. (Ed). (1981). Vatican II The post conciliar and post conciliar documents: Pastoral constitution of the church in the modern world. (1965). 903-1014.
Ikemelu, A. (2005). Tumtum gemgem: A valedictory testimony. Nnobi: RexCharles & Patrick.
Madu, J. E. (1997). Fundamentals of religious studies. Calabar: Franedoh.
Metuh, E. I. (1985). African religious in western conceptual schemes: Studies in Igbo religion. Bodija: Pastoral Institute.
Metuh, E. I. (1987). Comparative studies of African traditional religions. Onitsha: Imico.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The phenomenology of sacred trees in traditional Igbo society: A theological dialogue. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
SOCIO-RELIGIOUS IMPLICATIONS OF SUICIDE IN IGBO TRADITIONAL SOCIETY: A CASE STUDY OF CENTRAL SUB-CULTURAL AREA
Charles Okeke, Ph.D
Department of Christian Religious Studies,
Nwafor Orizu College of Education,
+234 (0) 8032603078
Termination of life in Igbo society and beyond is certainly not new yet the trend is fast gaining momentum and as the world grows in science and technological discoveries it seems that people are also going nuclear in getting ways of punctuating and terminating their lives. The Igbo are known for cherishing and enhancement of life. Life, for the Igbo, is the highest good. For this reason they can go at any length to sustain, promote and enhance this life. This explains why they promote the medicine men and talisman, and take all sorts of concoctions, all in a bid to sustain life. But what interests the researcher here is the mystery behind the reason the same Igbo who cherish life will turn around and deliberately waste away the same life. It is this backdrop that spurs the researcher into investigating the concept of suicide among Igbo of central sub-cultural zone and its implications on social and religious lives of the people.
One of the ethical or socio-moral challenges facing the global society is suicide. It is believed that suicide is not only a social matter; it is also both moral and psychological matter. In today’s world one hears about suicide committed by one or two persons in one place or the other. The reasons for the waste of human life vary. If it is not psychological, it is frustration; if it is not emotional, it is depression; if it is not rejection by the family, friends or society, it is discrimination and so on.
Suicide has indeed become a global ethical issue. This study intends to explore the concept of suicide and its implications on society. The methodology used is descriptive, and the scope is Igbo of Nigeria. It intends to look at the types and causes of suicide among the traditional Igbo, its implications on religious and social lives of the people.
Since Igboland is a large area, the study will adopt culture area method of interpretation. The reason for this method is to avoid falling victim to the error of over-generalization, hence what obtains in one subculture may not be the same in another subculture. Therefore, this study will concentrate on central sub-cultural area of Igboland. This area includes Awka to Onitsha to Ihiala axis. This means all the surrounding towns, villages and communities in this area.
The Concept of Suicide
The operative word suicide has so generally used that it now creates a lot of confusion trying to distinguish between what it is and what it is not. To this end, there is the need to establish the meaning of suicide and in doing this; the researcher shall critically analyze some texts that have tried to define the concept.
Hornby (1974) sees the word suicide as self-murder. Looking at this definition, self-murder is a compound word. And the word self murder is made up of two lexical terms: self and murder. Self suggests the absence of a second or a third person, while murder suggests unlawful killing of a human being or human beings. When the two words are synthesized, suicide then means an unlawful killing of oneself. The problem created by this definition is that it suggests that, there is a legal or lawful type of killing of oneself. If so then, the question is: which type of murder or killing is lawful? And which type is unlawful? This same problem is created by Peschke (1996) as he tries to define suicide as “unlawful killing of oneself”.
On his part, Menninger (1938) asserts that “when one considers many different conceptual treatments on suicide, it becomes reasonably clear that there are several fundamentally independent but related dimensions that are included in different combinations and to varying degree in most, if not all of the definitions”. This assertion goes to show that many authors are equally aware that it is not very easy to come by the definition of suicide. He, therefore, gave some dimensions or approaches to look at what one could term to be suicide. Some of such dimensions are to see suicide as:
1. The initiation of an act that leads to the death of the initiator, that is, where the person takes an action which leads to his death.
2. The willing of an act that leads to the death of the willer.
3. The willing of self destruction.
4. The loss of will, that is, the loss of the will power to live.
5. The motivation to be dead or to die which leads to the initiation of an act that leads to the death of the motivator.
A close look at these dimensions reveals that most of them over-lap and the inclusion of some words like initiation in the first dimension; willing and willer in the second dimension; motivation and motivator in the fifth dimension, and so on, makes the attempt to define suicide with the help of these dimensions difficult.
In numbers 1 and 2, initiation of an act that leads to the death of the initiator and the willing of an act that leads to the death of the willer, tend to over-lap. Hence, they suggest that the victim here takes the step towards what led to his death. I will state that the definition of suicide will be unnecessarily broad if we accept these as pre-conditions for suicide. This will then mean that a vehicle driver who died in a motor accident committed suicide. Since he initiated it, by making the move or the first step.
Durkheim (1976) defines suicide as “all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of himself which he knows will produce this result”. This definition shows that suicide is different from risk or accident. According to Durkheim, the death here is intentional and the intender knows fully well that his action will directly or indirectly lead to his/her death. Durkheim cites two examples, one of a soldier who courts death in a war to save his nation and the martyr who fights to save his religion. I will state that the death of these two classes of people and the likes cannot be considered as suicide. Rather any death in which the victim is the cause whether directly or indirectly is considered as suicide.
The question here is: what can be said about the death of Christ? Will it be considered a suicide? Well, if we consider the circumstances surrounding the death of Christ like that of the soldier, the martyr and the likes, one will rather see the death of Christ as sacrifice rather than suicide.
Helen-Hemingway (1984) sees suicide as “the act of taking ones own life voluntarily or intentionally.” This definition intends to emphasize that for any case of self-killing to be termed suicide, the victim must not be forced to it. In this case, a person who, for instance, poisoned himself voluntarily has committed suicide, while the fellow who poisoned himself without having the knowledge of the effect will not be said to have committed suicide, but his action is accidental. Helen-Heminway (1984) stretches the definition further to include any person who attempts to take or has the tendency to take his own life, or with a notion that may bring about his own self-destruction.
The definition by Helen-Hemingway is very close to reality but the problem is, how can one know when suicide is intentional or voluntary? Here the contribution of Douglas (1970) becomes necessary. He suggests that emphasis be placed on the instrument and mode of the self-destruction to determine whether it is voluntary and intentional or not. For instance, if someone leaves a suicide note on the table, bolts his door from inside and hangs himself, the bolting of the door, the note and mode of self murder makes it abundantly clear that his action is voluntary and intentional, thus an indisputable case of suicide. If on the other hand, we cannot find any evidence to prove the case, Helen-Hemingway (1984) suggests that “we can rightly depend on what the experts like medical practitioners or any judicial verdict establishes on whether a self ruin is a suicide or not.”
Having tried to explore what some experts have said about suicide, I will at this juncture define suicide as “a voluntary and intentional act of effecting one’s own death especially by a person who is capable of discretion, sound in mind and reason”. This definition is buttressed by Merriam-Webster (2006) who defines suicide as “the act of or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind”.
Concept of Suicide in Central Igbo
In Igboland, especially in the area understudy, suicide is understood as the application of any artificial means to effect death of one’s self. This is self-killing. Suicide is regarded as abomination against the spirit of the earth goddess, in other words, the earth abhors it (ns? an?). Once committed an appeasement must be made to the spirit of the earth goddess to avoid exterminating the family or the community as the case may be. And the only people capable of cleansing the abomination are the Nri priests (Okeke, 2012). These are empowered to carry out such cleansing or appeasement throughout the Igboland. This is because suicide is regarded by the Igbo as a very serious or grievous offence. Like murder, suicide is one of the major crimes in Igboland.
Suicide is grouped into two: fatal and non-fatal. Non-fatal suicide include all attempted and all actions which are injurious or dangerous to one’s health such as alcoholism and drug addiction. Fatal suicide or the suicide proper is grouped into three. They are altruistic, egoistic and anomic suicide.
Altruistic suicide occurs when an individual dies as a result of love he has or commitment for his community. Egoistic suicide on the other hand, results when an individual decides to take his own life basically because of an issue which is purely of his interest and not of the society or his community. Anomic suicide results from the society’s failure to regulate and control its citizens, so that people find it easy to take away their lives without any intervention.
In all these cases, the egoistic suicide seems to be the most grievous and seems to go without the saying that anyone in Igboland who involves himself in it has a case to answer before the living and the dead.
The Igbo of central sub-cultural area view suicide as bad death (?nw? ?j??), a miserable and ignominious death (?nw? ihere). For the people of this area, suicide is suicide; there is no distinction between one particular type and the other; and the people do not bother about the cause of the suicide. What is clear is that suicide has occurred and the death must be treated as that. Whoever dies as a result of suicide is neither buried nor given a befitting funeral. The corpse is thrown into bad bush (aj? ?f?a).
Causes and Modes of Suicide in Central Sub-cultural Igbo
One popular Igbo says “echiche mmadu chere wee gbuo onwe ya, O chei ya so otu abal?” meaning that the taught which drove a person to commit suicide was not hatched only over a night. This assertion suggests that suicide is a result of old and long standing grievances by someone against oneself. This could be correct in some cases, but not in all. Hence, the adage is more concerned with the time and duration of planning a suicide, not more of the cause.
Causes of suicide differ from culture to culture. Even among the same culture, as long as there are individual differences, the cause of suicide in one person may not be the same in another person. People’s temperament differs just as their problems differ. This explains the reason people say mkp?mkp? nd? ka mkp?mkp? ?nw? mma. This means that a shattered life is better than death. In this case, people prefer to live their life no matter the condition than to die a miserable death. Other people would prefer to die than to live a miserable life. This is depicted in the adage “Kama nd? anya ghe oghe, ?nw? were ?t?t? b?a”, meaning that rather than to live a hopeless life, death in youth age is preferred. Such life of hopelessness in reality is not preferred by anyone. And this goes to suggest that a hopeless life is surely a cause of suicide.
An intensive study on the cause of suicide conducted by Meer (1976) reveals that in most cases of suicide, the victim first of all feels frustrated, depressed and then suicide proper. Her research is in tandem with the causes of suicide in central sub-cultural area of Igboland. The causes of suicide in this area include: mental illness, depression, failure in life to achieve a target, unable to achieve one’s expectations, fear of authority, fear of certain illness, fear of people, inferiority complex and shyness, unusual biological features, demotion or retrenchment, unemployment, infertility, broken heart or infidelity, loss of kith or kin, strained marital life, scandals, unwanted pregnancy, demonic control or possession, fear of old age burden, constant beating by parents or husband, among others.
On the mode which suicide cases take in this area, it is generally by hanging and drowning. But even drowning is not taken seriously as hanging, except if the fellow had earlier indicated his intention to take away his life through that means, otherwise it could be explained away. Only hanging which is self-betraying is viewed with all seriousness. However, within the limit of the peoples’ civilization, some other mode could be noted. Such other modes include: jumping from heights such as bridge into the river, poisoning oneself, setting oneself ablaze, though this mode is rare; drugging oneself by taking over dose of drugs.
However, no matter the cause of suicide, the implication of the victim’s action as a social crime is a major concern to all especially to members of his immediate family.
Social Implications of Suicide in Central Sub-cultural Igbo
In central sub-cultural Igbo, like in most other parts of Igboland, suicide is viewed as a taboo with a far reaching implication. It is seen as a social crime against oneself, one’s family, the land and community; and above all, against the divinity. It is a crime and evil (ar? and ns? an?) against the earth goddess. The earth abhors it (? b? ihe an? na-as? ns?). The penalty for any type of suicide is always grave but grievous when it is by hanging. It is an abomination which goes with a corresponding taboo.
Thus by committing suicide especially by hanging the individual automatically loses all rights and privileges as a native, kinsman and even as a human being. Thus, he or she loses the honour and respect accorded to a human being. He is denied the sympathy done to a person who died a natural death. It is a taboo to see the corpse and worst still to touch it. Anyone who sees him in that hanging position spites at him rather than weeping for him. The person either walks away silently or raises alarm to warn people from coming to see the corpse. Walking away silently is even seen as evil intention; the best thing to do is to raise alarm so that people do not contaminate their sight and person. The bush, road or house where the hanging is done, is abandoned by all until the priest from Nri is invited to perform the expiatory sacrifice and bring down the corpse for burial. This is because no one is permitted to touch the corpse except the stranger, particularly, Nri priest. The corpse is buried or thrown into aj? ?f?a (bad bush) without funerals.
Achebe (1958) captures this situation very well as he gives a picture of what could be the answer if any Igbo man is asked “why can’t you take him down yourself?” as the white man asked Obierika and his group. They replied, “It is against our custom. It is abomination for a man to take his own life. It is offence against the earth and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clan’s men. His body is evil and only strangers can touch it”.
By suicide, it is taken that the victim has cut off his relationship with the living and the dead and certainly he cannot be admitted in the company of the ancestors. His spirit is believed to wander about; hence he is not at rest and peace in the land of the dead.
The religious implication meant here is the effect of suicide on the members of the public with regard to their religious belief and practices. The public here refers to two classes: the passers-by and the natives. Thus the passers-by who unfortunately have come into contact with the impunity are required by cultic laws to participate in the expiatory sacrifice called ij? ?k?k? anya. This means wiping out the evil which anyone who saw the corpse whether accidentally or deliberately is believed to have been contaminated with.
The people are so religious that a ritual of cleansing must be performed in order to become clean again. In this ritual all those whether passers-by or natives are required one after another, to hold a chick brought for the sacrifice, on the legs, wave it on his head, rub it on his two eyes, repeat whatever the priest says and hand the chick to the priest who leaves it to wander away with the ar? (evil or crime).
It is believed that everybody shares with the infliction that might result from any failure to appease the gods, also share from the shame as people from other towns will mock whoever comes from the place of the victim. Because of this, the community gets aggrieved and demands from the family of the victim a guilt offering and internal cleansing of the land and appeasement of the offended.
In the course of this study, it was found that any act or incident that involves self-killing is a tragedy; it is atrocious and a taboo. Suicide or self-killing as established in this study is any act of deliberately or intentionally taking one’s own life. It is a crime against the land. There are many ways through which people commit suicide but the most agonizing way is hanging and it is viewed and treated as a serious matter by the community. The family of the victim must appease the spirit of the earth-goddess through sacrifice and anybody who saw the corpse whether accidentally or not must join in the cleansing in order to be clean again and restore relationship with the divinity and community.
In the central sub-cultural area of Igboland, suicide fetches sanction for the deceased; it attracts mockery and shame to his family. By suicide, the supernatural powers, that is, the divinities, ancestors and other spirit forces are believed to have been offended, therefore, efforts must be made to escape their wrath, and this is through expiatory sacrifice.
Contribution to Knowledge
This study is made in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland. It is designed to explore the understanding of suicide among traditional people of this area. It is very clear that traditional Igbo view suicide as a crime and abomination against their gods, meaning that taking one’s life is not permitted by any human and spiritual agents.
Thus, if suicide is condemned and unacceptable despite the mode and the cause among the traditional Igbo, the contemporary Igbo man and woman and even beyond ought to condemn it as well. The contemporary society ought not to celebrate it through the classification given to it. It must be condemned in its entirety no matter the cause and the mode.
This study has heightened the more, the religious inclination of the traditional Igbo. Igbo man and woman are religiously inclined so much that anything that offends their belief is never tolerated or accepted in their midst.
Thus the white missionaries and their trade counterparts who came to Igboland with their so-called superior religion will through this study come to realize that the traditional Igbo do not shy away from their religious beliefs. In fact, the people eat and drink religion (Mbiti, 1990).
Furthermore, students and teachers of religion will through this study enrich their knowledge and widen their scope of understanding about the true nature of the traditional Igbo with regard to their strong belief in their religion and its practices. In fact, they are custodians of faith. This means that they believe and practice what they believe in.
Suicide as a serious crime should be avoided. People should not resort to it as a means of protest or a means of showing out their anger or displeasure especially when they are faced with life difficulties or disappointments.
It is striking that the traditional Igbo make ever effort to appease the supernatural beings through sacrifices and cleansing whenever suicide is committed. The contemporary society should learn from this, by begging God who is the author of life to forgive both the victim and anyone who might be the cause of the suicide committed by another. This way, harmonious relationship is restored between the living, the dead and the creator of life.
Efforts must be made to see that people are accommodated and accepted in the life condition. Instead of insulting or cajoling or despising a person who finds himself in a critical condition, efforts should be made to help him out either by counseling or financial help. This way, we become our brother’s keeper.
Public lectures, seminars, workshops should constantly be organized both in public places, schools, market places and so; and jingles made in the media on the evil of suicide. This will make people who contemplate committing the evil act not to engage in such.
Priests and other religious leaders should use the power of pulpit to educate their congregation on the fact that no one has the right to take away his life or life of another. We are simply custodians of life, like care-givers. Life belongs to God, and to him alone. We are answerable before him on what and how we use the life given to us here on earth.
Achebe, C. (1958). Things fall apart. London: Heinemann
Douglas, J. D. (1970). The social meaning of suicide. London: Princeton.
Durkheim, E. (1976). The elementary forms of religious life. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Helen-Hemingway, B. (1984). Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: The University Press.
Hornby, A. S. (1974). Oxford advanced learners dictionary of current English. London: Oxford University Press.
Mbiti, J. S. (1990). African traditional religion. London: Heinemann.
Meer, F. (1976). Race and suicide in South Africa. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Menninger, K. (1938). Man against himself. New York: Brace.
Merriam-Webster (2006). Webster’s new explorer encyclopedic dictionary. Springfield, MA: Federal Street.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub- cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Peschke, K. H. (1996). Christian ethics: Moral theology in the light of Vatican II. (vol. 1). Bangalore: St. Paul.
BELIEF IN LIFE AFTER DEATH IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION Vis-à-Vis CHRISTIAN RELIGION: A CASE STUDY OF CENTRAL SUBCULTURAL ZONE OF IGBOLAND
Charles Okeke, Ph.D.
Department of Christian Religious Studies,
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe,
Anambra State, Nigeria.
+234 (0) 8032603078
Every religion that is worth being a religion believes in the life after death. African traditional religion is one of the religions of the world that believe that there is life hereafter. Adherents of African traditional religion believe that death is not the end of one’s life; it is not annihilation, rather it is transition of life. But is this belief the same as the Christian belief in the life after death? Can we say that there is the concept of eschatology in African traditional religion? Traditional Africans believe in the existence of two worlds, namely visible and invisible worlds. The visible world is occupied by human beings and other elements, while the invisible world is occupied by supernatural beings, namely the Supreme Being (God), deities, spirit-forces and ancestors. The traditional Africans believe that among the spirit-forces are the wicked and benevolent ones. Where one goes after death depends on moral life of the person when he was on earth. And for one to enjoy the life of bliss in the next world one must have the necessary characteristics, and above all, must be accorded a befitting burial after death. This paper is set to explore these factors.
In this comparative study, the researcher will use a culture area approach/method of interpretation. In using culture area approach, we endeavour to locate the place or places where certain things and beliefs are found. It is based on this that the researcher will limit the scope of this study to Igbo of Nigeria, with particular reference to central sub-cultural zone or area of Igboland comprising Awka – Onitsha – Ihiala – Owerri axis. The reason for this delimitation is that the researcher is Igbo, and so, he is at home with the culture and belief of the people. Secondly, the approach is pertinent to avoid falling victim to the error of over-generalization. For instance, a particular practice or belief that obtains in a particular sub-culture area, may not be known at another sub-culture, so that it would be an overgeneralization to say that the particular belief under consideration is a common belief in Igboland.
A brief survey of Igboland is pertinent so as to enable the interesting readers have the scope of the area understudy.
A Brief Survey of Igbo Physical Location and Origin
Geographically viewed, the Igbo people are located in South-eastern Nigeria, approximately between the parallels of 6 and 8 east longitudes and 5 and 7 north latitude. Igboland is bounded on the north by Igala and Tiv tribes; on the south by the Ijaw and Ogoni regions; on the east by the Ibibio, Efik and Yoko people; on the west by Bini and Isoko provinces. The climate is completely tropical. The annual temperature is generally 80 ? f, and varies between 5 and 10 ? f.
Igboland has two main seasons: the dry season which begins in November and ends in March, and the wet season which begins late in March and ends early November. There is the much desired August Break which is usually a two to three-week rainless period in July/August. The annual rainfall varies from about 105 inches in the south to 60 inches in the north (Forde, 1962).
The origin of the Igbo people is not yet unanimously and conclusively traceable because of lack of documentary records by the Igbo fore-bears. Various writers such as Prof. Onwuejeogwu, an Igbo anthropologist and ethnographer have established that the first Igbo settlers east of the Niger were there before 100 B.C. Some attribute the origin of either the entire or some particular Igbo people to foreign countries or to some ethnic groups in Nigeria. Archdeacon G. T. Basden who worked among the Igbo and studied them in great detail for over thirty years (1900-35) seemed to be of the opinion that either the Igbo are of Semitic (Hebrew) origin, or have in the long past had close affinity with the Hebrews.
Among other things, Basden (1966) declares, “To anybody contemplating residence in Igbo country, particularly those likely to be associated with native Affairs, I would recommend a careful study of Levitical laws. In many ways, the affinity between the native law and the Mosaic system is remarkable” (p. 11).
Belief in Life after Death
The traditional people of the central Igbo believe in life after death. Although the arrival of Christianity modernized the beliefs of the people, it did not essentially revolutionalize their basic beliefs. For instance, the people believe that they need to live a moral life on earth by observing both social and religious rules and norms in order to earn a good life after death. The people believe that death is a natural rhythm of life, yet every human death is thought to have some external causes. This is why at any death, the relatives would want to know the cause of the death of their member. They would go to any length to ascertain the ‘what’ (ness) and not the ‘how’ (ness) of the death. This includes going to a medicine man for investigation.
It is pertinent to know that among the people of the central Igbo, there is a belief that those who lived good life while on earth and died a natural death, and thereafter, accorded a befitting burial, normally partake in the offerings with their kiths and kin who are still living; those are regarded as ancestors. Arinze (1970) calls them “Nd? ichie” (our forefathers) (p. 19). It is believed that the ancestors are much more in active relationship with the living, receiving individually or collectively their sacrifices and homage. It is also believed that the ancestors are able to influence the lives and activities of their relations on earth, hence they can bring fortune or misfortune on them and at the same time protect them against the evil machinations of the wicked people, depending on how the living regard and remember them.
The people believe that the dead has supernatural powers and for this reason, they prepare for death. They do this by ensuring that they live exemplary lives so that when they die, they would be accorded a befitting burial, and so, join the ancestors since these are among the qualities for ancestorship.
The people’s world view with regard to life after death is that when a person dies, the person is not actually dead but has gone to the land of bliss to join his ancestors from where they will be interacting, interceding and protecting their families on earth. Arinze (1970) clarifies this thus, “The Igbo family is not made up of only those who are still living in the flesh. The unseen ancestors are part of the family and are very interested in it. This can be said of most African people, but in varying degree. The Igbo invite them to the family meal, for according to Igbo etiquette, it is impolite to refuse another person an invitation to a meal taken in his presence” (p. 19).
The Igbo people believe in life after death, and that explains the reason they accord their dead ones burial rites so as not to be rejected in the spirit world. Traditionalists believe that the spirit of the deceased go to live in another place called the spirit world. Okeke (2012) captures it well. According to him, “The people of the central Igbo believe that after a successful career on earth, one happily gathers with his forefathers in the land of the living-dead and continues the interminable cycle of life. Failure to carry out all the burial rites on the deceased means that he would be ostracized by his community in the world of the living dead. Thus, he would become a roaming malevolent spirit” (p. 98). This is buttressed by Okafor (1996) as he says, “The Igbo people believe that it is funeral rite that enables the spirit of the dead to reach the spirit land. Without funeral ceremonies, Igbo people believe that the deceased wander the earth restlessly and cause havoc on those responsible” (p. 12).
In some areas of Igboland, immediately somebody dies, there is a wild outburst of wailing in the case of a close relative, and sometimes, it speedily develops into a form of frenzy. The bereaved woman rushes forth from the death chamber beating her breast and runs through the village wailing her loss at the top of her voice. While she does this some villagers will console her by telling her that this world is not good for him, that is, for the deceased, that he has gone to the land of his father from where he will protect them. So they will calm the bereaved woman.
Mbiti (1969) says that “death is a departure and not a complete annihilation of a person.” (p. 158). Furthermore, he submitted that “many Africans believe that their beloved ones who are dead do not actually leave them but hover around and protect them” (p. 158). At this juncture, researcher shall examine the concept of death among the traditional Igbo of central sub-cultural area.
The Concept of Death among Traditional Igbo of Central Sub-cultural Area
With regard to death (?nw?) the Igbo distinguish three types of death, namely natural death (?nw? chi), bad/shameful death (?nw? ?j??) and death brought about by a human agent (?nw? akamer?). Natural death is any death that occurs in ripe age as a natural conclusion to life, or results from sickness judged normally by the traditional society. This is a kind of death every traditional Igbo looks forward to. This kind of death is regarded as a blessing from God and a reward for fidelity to tradition (?menala). A person who died as a result of natural death (?nw? chi) is given a befitting burial with full funeral rites according to Igbo custom and tradition (Okafor, 1996).
Bad/shameful death (?nw? ?j??) is a death resulting from sickness like the small pox, or distention of the abdomen, or death at specific periods such as women during childbirth (Okafor, 1996). This type of death is regarded as bad death. It is believed to be a punishment from God or the gods for some unexpiated crime such as public or occult, committed by the deceased. This type of death also includes death that results from abortion, drowning, lightning, murder, fire, suicide and so on. The victims of this type of death are not given any burial or funeral. In most cases, they are thrown into the bad bush (aj? ?f?a).
Death brought about by a human agent (?nw? akamer?) is death caused by human agency like poisoning, deliberate murder, manslaughter or abortion. In some Igboland, this type of death is regarded as ?nw? chi (natural death), if the victim dies at the ripe age, otherwise, it is ?nw? ?j?? (bad death) and the earth pollution has to be cleansed (Okafor, 1996).
In central Igbo, those who died as a result of bad death and death brought about by human agency are denied burial. Their spirits are believed to wander about restlessly because they are not received in the company of the ancestors.
The questions that need to be examined at this juncture are: Who are the ancestors? What are their roles among the living in the visible world?
These are Igbo traditional saints who are not really deified; they are rather honoured owing to the position they occupy among the Igbo families. They are the Igbo sons who have lived to a mature age before they died. An ancestor must have been survived by at least one son; must have lived a good moral life according to the reckonings of the people; must haven been given a befitting burial ceremony (Okeke, 2012). Metuh (1985) explains that “when a person dies everything must be made possible to ensure that he reaches home, for a person who has died a good death. This is only possible when all the appropriate funeral rites have been completed” (p. 119). However, it is not only the ancestors that are thought to have reached the land of bliss; other men and women, single or married, survived by only female children or by no child at all provided they have lived according to the law and customs of the people and are given befitting funerals, also reach the land of the bliss but are not ancestors. They are spirits who have gone before us. Anusiobi (1975) affirms that “All such people in all their stages are supposed to be various masquerades that roam the towns and villages during different traditional feast. One sees boy masqueraders, girl masqueraders (agb?gh? mm??); formidably strong ones representing those who died in their prime of youth and so on” (p. 44).
The ancestors are still regarded as part of the family to which they belonged when they were alive. Now that they are stripped of the body through death, they become freer and more active in helping the members of the family and the towns of their origin. They approach the different kinds of sprits and divinities interested in the affairs of men and enter into communion with them in view of the good of their living kith and kin (Okeke, 2012). Ezenweke (2008) quoting Mbiti (1969) articulated the roles of the ancestors thus:
To the central Igbo, death is not merely joining the ancestors but a final place of rest where a person stays and forgets all the sufferings of the world. Thus the Igbo say onye nw?r? o zuru ike (In death one finds rest), ezumike ad?gh? n’uwa nkea (there is no rest in this world). For this therefore, rest is a passage of rest.
The Igbo of central zone also regard death as a thing of joy. Apart from ?nw? ?j?? (bad death) and ?nw? akamer? (death resulting from human agents), natural death is longed for, though the people pray for long life during traditional prayers.
Another question that needs to be clarified is: who are these divinities or deities that the ancestors mediate or intercede with on behalf of their living kith and kin?
The Igbo believe in the existence of the divinities and other spirit-forces who are below the Supreme Being (God). In Igbo ontology, there are five categories of spiritual beings according to their hierarchical ranks. They are:
At the hierarchical structure of these beings, man is at the lowest level. For man to survive he must do everything possible not to annoy any of them; he must live a life of balance with them. When any of them is offended by man he must appease the particular divinity he has offended through sacrifice lest he strikes. This is the reason the ancestors intervene by way of mediating between man and spirit; they calm the anger of gods.
These divinities could also be invoked to protect life and property; to punish or even kill one’s enemies. They can sometimes act irritably. For instance, Igwe or Amadi?ha (God’s orderly and of instant justice) expresses power and anger through the thunder bolts and lightening and anybody killed cannot be mourned. His body or corpse will be thrown into the bad bush (aj? ?f?a).
Okeke (2008) maintains that “calling on all these spirits demonstrates the unity and multiplicity of spiritual beings in the world-view of the Igbo of the central sub-cultural zone. The supremacy and universal lordship of God is not compromised by the belief in other beings that are seen as the emanations of God, his messengers or creatures. God and the spirits are believed to live in one family community in which each has its specific role” (p. 101).
Life after Death in the Christian Context
The advent of the Christian missionaries with their doctrine in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland has brought a tremendous change in the understanding of life after death among the people. Thus, Christian tradition distinguishes between two types of death, namely spiritual death and natural or biological death. Spiritual death is one living in sin. This type of death brings about eternal alienation from God, if one fails to reconcile with God before the biological death. And in some cases, one who lives in sin is said to be spiritually dead. This type of death is also exemplified by the fall of Adam (Gen. 3:1-13).
Biological death is the end of biological life often described as the separation of soul from the body. This means that the principle of life, which is the soul in human being assumes a different elevation or form. This means that immediately upon his death, man attains a new existence, which is spiritual form, while his body lies in the grave, and decomposes or is cremated.
The Christian message portrays death or dying in Christ as a participation in the boundless, overflow of God’s saving power in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The end of a Christian is not his death but a transformation into a new life.
Paul stresses that Christian death is a desirable event. In fact, a Christian should long to pass through biological death which brings him face to face with Christ, for “we know that when our earthly dwelling, our body here on earth, is destroyed, we may count on a building from God, a heavenly dwelling not built by human hands that lasts forever. Therefore we groan and long to put on this heavenly dwelling, because being clothed we will not be found naked. As long as we are in this tent, we indeed moan our unbearable fate, because we do not want this clothing to be removed from us; we would rather put the other over it, that the mortal body may be absorbed by true life. (2Cor. 5:1-4).
For the Christians, to die is based on the fidelity and promise of Christ, who says, “My sheep listen to my voice and I know them; they follow me and I give them eternal life. They shall never perish and no one will ever steal them from me. My father who has given them to me is greater than anyone and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (Jn. 10:27-29).
Moreover, while the traditional Igbo of central subcultural zone view eschatological life in the context of joining the ancestors in the land of bliss from where the deceased plays the various intercessory roles, the Christian doctrine distinguishes two types of eschatology, namely individual and general eschatology. Individual eschatology deals with the end of every person, consisting of the four last things, namely death, particular judgment, paradise and hell. General eschatology deals with the end of humankind and the universe, when there will be parousia, that is, Christ coming in his glory to judge both the living and the dead; resurrection of the dead, renewal of the world (Okeke, 2014). This understanding of life after death is lacking in African traditional religion.
Furthermore, in Central subcultural zone of Igboland, when a person dies, a ritual of sand casting is done by members of his family and other relations. Each person will caste a small quantity of sand into the grave of the deceased person with shovel. This ritual implies bidding a farewell to him, and it marks the final aspect of burial rites before the commencement of funerals. This ritual of sand casting is very important as other rituals lest the ancestors will deem the burial rite of the deceased person as incomplete. Besides, before the grave is sand-filled, the important objects that will aid the deceased person in his spiritual journey will also be caste into the grave and buried with him. Such objects include cooking utensils with which he will be cooking in the next world, clothes which he will be wearing, money for making purchases among other things that are deemed necessary.
With the advent of Christianity, inculturation which is a meeting point between tradition and Christianity has changed this traditional understanding. Though the deceased is no longer buried with the physical objects, sand casting is still very effective. Today the people of central Igbo are about 95% Christians. These Christians still maintain the ritual of sand casting but with the understanding that one is made out of sand and through sand one will return to one’s creator. Again, Christ has redeemed all things in him both human beings and other elements, therefore, sand casting is a way of begging God to redeem the deceased through Christ.
The traditional Igbo of central subcultural zone strongly believe that life exists after death for both the wicked and good people. When a wicked person dies he is not received among the ancestors. This is because after death he would not enjoy the rights and privileges, which must be accorded a good person who lived a good moral life according to the reckonings of the community, survived by at least a son, lived up to ripe age and died a natural death (?nw? chi).
It is believed that the wicked ones who are now spirits often appear among the living in this world to torment the members of their family, sometimes by stoning them or by causing them havoc. This is because they are not happy in the invisible world, while the good ones enjoy peaceful bliss. Rather than cause havoc they protect their family members. People long for good ones to reincarnate in their family, that is, to be born into their family. This type of reincarnation (repeater) is called ?n? ?wa. It is only the ancestors that take this form of reincarnation.
Furthermore, those who died as a result of human agency (?nw? akamer?) like poisoning or accident as well as those who died from bad sickness (?nw? oj??) like small pox, or inexplicable diseases are denied burial rites. It is believed that their souls wander about looking for someone to harm. This is because they are not at peace in the next world.
Contributions to Knowledge
Awolalu and Dopamu (1978) adequately stated that “belief in ancestors supplies strong sanctions for public morality. They are guardians of traditional morality. They demand a high sense of respect for the traditional law and custom.” In line with this statement, one can observe that ancestors are a powerful force to reckon with in traditional Igbo society; they are dreaded by the traditional Igbo man and woman. Just as the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so the fear of annoying the ancestors instills fear, respect and other virtues in human beings. One therefore strives to live a virtuous life, to avoid attracting the punishment of the ancestor.
The ancestors are regarded as guardians and protectors of morality, people are afraid not to annoy them by ensuring that they live the life worthy of emulation. In traditional Igbo society, people abhor lies, abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, terrorism and other forms of life that are inimical to human existence. In those days, people are their brother’s keeper, community life is at the paramount, everyone is accepted and valued in the community and life is not just the highest good, it is existence itself. Today the reverse is the case; people tend to live individually, and sanctity of life seems to be of no value; the implication is that people live as if there is no life after death.
Traditional Igbo society like other traditional African societies, abhors atheism; worship of the supernatural beings is a sine qua non; no one exempts him/herself from worship, sacrifice or prayer especially community religious exercises. The people see these as obligations. Belief in life after death spurs everyone to moral actions. The contemporary society has turned away from God and man sets himself as the absolute measure of all things ( Nwosu, 1986) or debases himself to the point of despair (Gaudium et Spes, no. 12).
African traditional religion can bequeath the above way of life to the contemporary society.
Anusiobi, H. M. N.(1975). Igbo religiousness its virtues and limitations in the light of Christianity. Reome: Teresianum.
Arinze, F. A.(1975). Sacrifice in Ibo religion. Ibadan: University Press.
Awolalu, J. O. & Dopamu, A. P. (1978). West African traditional religion. Ilorin: Onibonoje.
Basden, G. T. (1966). Niger Ibos. London: FranK Case.
Ezenweke, E. O. (2008). The cult of ancestors: a focal point for prayers in African traditional communities. Journal of religion and humanities, 1, 46-60.
Flannery, A. (Ed.). Vatican II. (1975). Councilor & post councilor documents, vol. I & II. New York: Costello.
Forde, D. & Jones, G. I. (1962). The Ibo and Ibibio speaking peoples of south-eastern Nigeria. London: International African Institute.
Mbiti, J. S. (1969). African religions and philosophy. London: Whitestable.
Metuh, E.I. (1985). African religion in Western conceptual schemes: Studies in Igbo religion. Ibadan: Clavarianum.
Nwosu, R. A. (1986). The church and inter-tribal harmony: A study in Nigerian perspective. Rome: Lateranensis.
Okafor, S. (1996). Death, burial and widowhood in the Catholic diocese of Awka: Guidelines and directories. Awka: Retreat Pastoral Centre.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub- cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Okeke, C. (2014). The Christian doctrine and belief. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE: A STRONG TOOL FOR ETHNIC HARMONY IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA.
Charles Okeke, Ph.D
Department of Christian Religious Studies
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
Religion is one of the phenomena that influences, to a larger extent, the political, economic and cultural lives of Nigerians. It also plays an essential role among the ethnic groups in Nigeria and their affairs. In Nigeria, there are more than two hundred and fifty ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own traditional religious beliefs and practices, though there are three major religions in the country. These are Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion and these religions have their roles in sustaining democratic governance in Nigeria. Often, intolerance and fanaticism among the adherents of each of these religions have become an ill-wind that blows no good to this country. Bigotry, hostility, senseless destruction of human lives and public amenities in this country today have been traced to religious fanaticism and intolerance. And these have also been a threat to peace and the unity of this country. This paper, therefore, is geared towards highlighting the importance of dialogue among various religious groups in Nigeria as a veritable tool for ethnic harmony.
What is Interreligious Dialogue?
To answer this question, we shall firstly establish what it is not. Here, Arinze’s view will suffice. According to him, interreligious dialogue is not the same as the study of various religions and a comparison of them, although such a discipline is important and useful.
Interreligious dialogue is never a debate between followers of various religions, no matter how friendly. In dialogue encounters, one is not trying to prove oneself right and the other believer wrong. Interreligious dialogue is not the same as ecumenism. Ecumenism refers to all initiatives: prayers, meetings, dialogue, common project, etc. to promote the reunion of Christians in one Church according to the will of Christ, the Founder. Ecumenism is, therefore, only among Christian religious communities or churches. Interreligious dialogue, on the other hand, refers to relations between Christians and other believers such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and followers of Traditional Religions, etc. It does not aim at bringing about the unity of all religions. Interreligious dialogue is not an effort to persuade the other person to embrace one’s own religion.
Arinze (1997) defines it as “a meeting of people of differing religions, in an atmosphere of freedom and openness, in order to listen to the other, to try to understand that person’s religion, and hopefully to seek possibilities of collaboration” (p. 5).
In interreligious dialogue, listening is very important. It is one of the first acts of dialogue. It is also hoped that the other partner will reciprocate, because reciprocity should be marked by a two-way and not one-way movement. Reciprocity is in the nature of dialogue. There is give and take. Dialogue implies both reciprocity and communication.
Mbuy (2007) sees dialogue from three perspectives. First, from the perspective of the human level. Here, dialogue means reciprocal communication leading to a common goal or to interpersonal communion. Second is what he calls ‘the spirit of dialogue’. At this level, dialogue is an attitude of respect and friendship. Third, from the perspective or context of religious plurality. In this context, dialogue means all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faith which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment. Dialogue in this context includes witness and exploration of respective religious convictions.
Forms of Interreligious Dialogue
Arinze (1997) enumerated four major forms or types of religious dialogue: dialogue of life, dialogue of action, dialogue of discourse, and dialogue of religious experience.
Dialogue of Life
This form of interreligious dialogue is mostly within the reach of anyone. It is at the level of the ordinary relational situations of daily life: family, school, place of work, place of recreational or social contact, village meetings, politics, trade or commerce. When neighbours of differing religions share their projects and hopes, concerns, joys and sorrows, they are engaging in dialogue of life. They do not necessarily discuss religions.
Dialogue of Action
In this form of dialogue, Christians and followers of other religions cooperate for promoting human development and human freedom in all their forms. At this level, Christians and other believers can come together and build or have common or joint projects for human advancement. This includes establishing a camp for the refugees and migrants, promoting rights and dignity of all peoples, working together to ensure that the dignity and respect for human families are upheld, working jointly in such organizations as the Red Cross, NGOs, among others, to rescue men, women and children from famine, poverty, diseases, hunger, etc. They can equally establish joint projects like a clinic or hospital, or run a leprosy centre for the advancement and preservation of human life.
Dialogue of Discourse
This type of dialogue is for specialists. It involves the meeting of experts in Christianity and other religions to exchange information on their respective religious beliefs and heritage. They listen to one another in order to understand the religion of the other deeply. In an effort to understand the other’s religion, they try to share and articulate the areas of divergence with regard to beliefs and practices. This type of dialogue, in its nature, can be called a dialogue of theological discourse or theological exchange.
Dialogue of Religious Experience
This refers to sharing of spiritual experience between religious groups. Thus people who are deeply rooted in their own religious traditions come together to share experiences in meditation, prayer, contemplation, faith and its expression, various ways of searching for God as the Absolute or ways of living the monastic life and mystical life or experience.
This form of dialogue is not meant for those who are ordinarily committed to spiritual progress rather those who are above ordinary spiritual religious practice such as the monks and nuns. Examples of this type of dialogue are some Trappist monks and Benedictines who have carefully planned inter-monastic exchanges with Buddhist counterparts. This form of experience includes several weeks stay in the monastery of the other in silence and in sharing of what is possible and advisable.
The Importance of Interreligious Dialogue in Nigeria
Madu (2008) submitted that “the mysteries of existence as well as so many other existential unanswered problems sooner or later force man to ask questions about the unknown problems. Of course, man as a curious being cannot just stare at these so called mysteries and be content with the status quo (p. 1). People notice that the answer to the mysteries of life can be found in religion. Hence, Mbuy (2007) stated that “God has been in constant dialogue with humanity. All religions wish to lead their adherents to God. Therefore, all religions must constantly be in dialogue, for this reason, interreligious dialogue is a necessity” (p. 37). When one considers the four major forms of religious dialogue mentioned and deliberated above, one can conclude that interreligious dialogue is very important. It is not only when religious conflict occurs that people come together to dialogue. Interreligious dialogue is an on-going affair, as a result, in Nigeria, Christians, Muslims and the adherents of Traditional Religions can come together for joint theological exchange. They can discuss on the challenges of the Bible and the Qur’an, justice and peace in our society, among others (Okeke, 2012). They can equally discuss the possibility of inculturation.
Moreover, the chronicle of various religious disturbances in Nigeria as articulated in Ejim (2009) and Ewaoche, Onyekonwu and Onwosi (2012) including religious intolerance, unhealthy rivalry, religious fanaticism and extremism, hypocrisy, inter-and intra-religious crisis, religious pluralism, high illiteracy rate, verbal attack, poverty and unemployment, among other factors that cause religious violence in Nigeria is an indication that interreligious dialogue in Nigeria is a necessity. It is not a doubt that when religious violence occurs people’s properties are destroyed and people are displaced (Asalu, 2005).
Furthermore, Nigeria, since her independence in 1960, has been a nation characterized by political and religious turbulence. Christian-Muslim relationship in Nigeria has recorded a history of bitter experiences. This is evident in the instances of religious riots that have taken place across the federation. From 1980 till date, Nigeria has witnessed various religious conflicts like the Kano Maitasine group (1980); Bulunkutu-Maiduguri (1982); Jimeta-Gongola (1984); Gombe (1985); Danfodio University, Sokoto (1986); University of Zaria-Kaduna (1987); Bayero University, Kano (1989); Katsina, Bauchi and Kano riots (1991); Jalingo (1992) among others (Enemuo 2014).
These religious crises claimed many lives and properties. Since 1999, more than fourteen thousand Nigerians have been killed, hundreds of thousands displaced, and many churches and mosques destroyed. Today, many of Boko Haram’s most deadly and prominent church service attacks occur in cities with problematic Muslim-Christian relations and histories of sectarian violence: Bauchi, Jos and Kaduna (Enemuo, 2014). These religious conflicts, no doubt, disrupt the social, economic, political and religious lives of Nigerians. They also affect the academic life of students. For this, therefore, interreligious dialogue is a sine qua non.
Interreligious Dialogue as a Panacea for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria
At this juncture, I want to affirm that the option for ethnic harmony in Nigeria is peace. It is an essential principle of common societal life. Peace is the reliable option that can save Nigeria from the shackles of injustice, marginalization, tribalism, conflicts, corruption, selfishness, poverty, among others. Peace can be achieved through dialogue.
Dialogue is very important in Nigeria, which is considered the most populous on the African continent; a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, dominated by Islam and Christianity. As far as peaceful co-existence is concerned, and as far as religious tolerance is concerned, also as far as ethnic harmony is concerned, there is no doubt that the best forum to promote relationship among religious groups in Nigeria, is through sound interreligious dialogue. Nigerian political and religious leaders should recognize the need for constant dialogue and negotiation. The target of interreligious dialogue is peaceful coexistence and universal brotherhood (Enemuo, 2014).
There is no doubt that religious crises have far reaching implications on the political, cultural, social and economic lives of Nigerians. It is high time the adherents of the three major religions in Nigeria, namely Christianity, Islam and Traditional religions emphasized their teachings on morality and good living as criteria for one to have happiness of life here-after. One cannot deny that the adherents of these three religions have made some irritating remarks against the social and cultural lives of the people of Nigeria. They have caused a series of upheavals, threat to unity of this country, destruction of lives and properties, which have not done any good to the progress of this country. The resultant effect is disharmony among ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Solidarity is a very urgent priority in Nigeria. It should be the driving force of this country. It is a virtue, which is indispensable for renewing the face of this country in order to achieve peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups. Solidarity is an ideal by which each individual is welcomed, respected, accepted and defended because he or she is created in the image of God. This virtue is very much needed in order to promote the common good of Nigeria and her citizens. That makes it imperative that we, Nigerians, must learn to grow, live and relate in solidarity.
A dialogue of theological exchange is also very necessary in that those whom we consider experts in their respective religions, and who are factual and exact in stating their beliefs, would make it clear that the other people believe in one God as they do. When the theological form of dialogue is carried out by experts in various religions, they would be in a better position to separate the essential elements from non-essentials, the values from the shadows, then tolerance would be easier, instead of suspicion of one another, violence and destruction of human lives and properties. Ethnic harmony would, therefore, be achieved.
Arinze, F. A. (1997). Meeting other believers. Herefordshire: Gracewing.
Asalu, C. V. (2005). Religion and society: A sociologica l philosophical analysis. Onitsha: Abbot.
Ejim, U. V. (2009). Moral and educational implications of Christian-moslem religious violence in higher institutions: A case study of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. Unpublished B.A (Ed). Nsukka: UNN.
Enemuo, E. (2014). Peace through dialogue and solidarity. The torch. 147, 32-33.
Ewaoche, D., Onyekonwu, C., and Onwosi, V. (2012). Implications of religious fanaticism and intolerance in Nigeria: A case study of Anambra state. Unpublished NCE project. Nsugbe: Nwafor Orizu College of Education.
Madu, J. E. (2008). Research: Basis and meaning. (Ed). Madu, J. E. A handbook on research and teaching in religious studies. (pp. 1-22). Nkpor: Globe.
Mbuy, T. (2007). The challenge of African traditional religion to Christian faith in contemporary Africa. Lagos: Liking.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The phenomenology of sacred trees in traditional Igbo society: A theological dialogue. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: A TOOL FOR CHARACTER AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT.
Charles Okeke, Ph.D
Department of Christian Religious Studies
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
Christian religious education is pivotal to character and skills development. It is a type of education that tries to achieve the integral development of the individual. It moulds the character, inculcates discipline and morals in the individual. It brings peace and progress to the nation, promotes social harmony and cohesion, personal sacrifice, service mentality and integrity that make for individual and national development. Religious education is relevant to national and individual development, for no nation or individual can develop without discipline and moral. This paper looked at the role of religious education in forming the character and skills of individuals.
There is no doubting the fact that our society is today filtered with all kinds of nefarious activities as a result of moral decadence. Thus kidnapping, cyber crime, robbery of all kinds, child-trafficking, sexual immorality, cultism, thuggery, examination malpractices among others are in the increase day by day in our society. When one looks at these social problems, one would, wonder the effect of religious education being imparted in the students in our various schools because students are also the ones who make up the society. One would wonder if religious education has any positive or negative effect on character formation of individuals.
However, despite the above backdrop, religious education has a place in the character formation and skill development of individuals. It is important to make this type of education compulsory for students at all levels of learning. Instead of designing it as a departmental programme in tertiary institutions, it is suggested that it be introduced as a general course for all students. This is because every individual needs moral and morality is embedded in religious education. Ekpunobi (1982) held this view whens he opined that, “The fallen moral standards in our society should move us to think more about meaningful teaching of religion in our schools”. Cox (1966) was even more pragmatic in his submission, as he reiterated that, the goals of teaching religion in schools should “seem adequate to the teacher, worthwhile to the children and useful to the community”.
The above views submitted by Ekpunobi and Cox indicate the fact that religious education is a sine qua non at all levels of our learning. The aim of this paper therefore is to determine the place of religious education in character formation and skills development of individuals.
To embark on this excursus it is important to define the key concepts that will help us as the study progresses. Thus, the following concepts will need to be defined: Religion, education, character, skill, and religious education.
The term religion is difficult to define. Both now and in the past there has not been a broad consensus definition of the term. Different authorities have attempted to define religion yet there is no universally acceptable definition of the term. In line with this, Oduyeye (1987) stated that “religion can be better explained than defined”. Asalu (2005) noted that “the object of religion is for the most part invisible and spiritual beings and are not subject to scientific observations as such and are conceived in different ways by different people”. The information given by Asalu is a fact if we consider that some people give worship to cosmic objects or impersonal power; even, some religions have no object of worship at all (Okeke, 2008).
However, despite the differences, Okeke (2008) noted that the commonly acceptable definition is that “religion is a relationship between man and the sacred”. Asalu (2005) opined that religion is “an encounter between man and a transcendent deity conceived as a personal being capable of communication with man”. Going further, Okeke (2008) noted that “religion is a rapport with a being that transcends man and the world of experience and contains the acts in which such a rapport is translated as belief, prayer, sacrifice, love or fear, etc”.
Ewelukwa (2011) defined education as ”the instruction or training by which people learn to develop and use their mental, moral and physical power”. This definition offered by Ewelukwa is a restricted sense of education. Okeke (2011) offers another restricted meaning of education. According to him, “education is a life-long process, involving activities, which are directed to the formation of the human person: body and soul”. But broadly considered, Okeke (2007) stated that “education embraces such activities as: teaching, information, training, in various disciplines, instruction on the art of living, initiation into formative culture”. Okeke (2011) made a remarkable submission on the role of education in character formation thus “in education properly conceived, both intellectual, that is, cognitive, affective and technical, that is, psycho-motor formations are necessary, yet they are insufficient if moral formation is neglected, hence the three domains of education must stand on the ground of spiritual or religious education, without which education has no foundation”.
The word character can be seen as mental qualities that make one person or race different from others (Hornby, 1989). It is a distinctive differentiating mark. The word also denotes the essential qualities and personality traits of a factional or real individual. It is a composite of good moral qualities typical of moral excellence and firmness blended with resolution, self discipline, high ethics, force and judgement.
Character also depicts emotional, moral, psycho-attitudinal reaction of a person which sometimes manifests physically from the individual. Character can be positive or negative depending on the mood of the individual acting.
The word skill, according to Hornby (1989) is “an ability to do something expertly and well”. Skill also means an experience gained through training or learning. Thus “skill acquisition”, is, to acquire or gain experience or new knowledge on a particular kind of thing through training or learning.
Christian Religious Education
Christian religious education is component of the holistic-oriented education, by means of which the student is led towards progressive habitualization for social duties towards the community to which he belongs and in which he has a share (Okeke, 2011). Generally, Christian religious education is to lead the students towards the acquisition of human and Christian values which are indispensable for living an integral life (Okpaloka, 1983). Simply put, the purpose of Christian religious education is to effect integral formation. This integral human formation includes holistic, developmental, social and personal harmony (Okeke, 2011).
In line with the above, Sinistero (1970) stated that Christian religious education “guides the intellect to construct for itself correctly its entire microcosm, its values, its ends and what it ought-to-be; all this being a unique training by means of which it is formed to exercise free choice”.
Christian Religious Education And Character Development
Christian religious education aims at making man a homo agens, a logical consequence of a homo sapiens, for as the saying goes, knowledge breeds action, and man can only act to the measure and extent to which he knows and is informed (Okeke, 2011). Okeke (2011) further stated that “the whole process of the formation of a homo sapiens and a homo agens is characteristically developmental, and so the purpose of Christian religious education is anchored on the gradual development of the student to attain human and moral maturity”. Christian religious education seeks to assist every person in developing his or her unique capabilities and talents, so that each one, having received a solid formation, may as a good citizen, contribute to the welfare and further development of the community (John Paul II, 1980).
Christian religious education, in its developmental function seeks to help the human person to progressively attain real development and liberation, which will always be self-development and self-liberation. And in this process of development, it is truth which will make him free and help him to grow. Truth comes through the acquisition of knowledge, gained through research and through continuous effort, dedication and creativity (Okeke, 2011). Human life is not only developmental, it is also social. Christian religious education, therefore, concerns itself also with the formation of the human person to attain social harmony, in consonance with his nature as a social being (Okeke, 2011).
In the light of the above, Christian religious education aims at inculcating in the students the sense of not only moral virtues but also social virtues and as well fosters the students in social living. It also seeks to guide human being in the evolving dynamism through which he shapes himself as a human person, armed with strength of judgement and moral virtues (Okeke, 2011).
Christian Religious Education and Skills Development
As has been gleaned above, the word skill is understood in two senses. First, it is an ability to do something expertly and well. Second, it is an experience gained through training or learning. The question that requires an answer in this context is: what is the role of Christian religious education in skills development of a person?
The importance of Christian religious education in skill development cannot be over-emphasized. Christian religious education is a discipline that deals with man’s morals and integrity within the society. In the course of interacting with his physical and social environment he comes across certain problems and challenges in his efforts to attain an orderly, more meaningful and purposeful life (Okebukola and Kosoko-oyedeko, 2007). Anyacho (1994) emphasized that the general purpose of Christian religious education is “to help learners inculcate moral uprightness, social justice, well meaningful environment through the acquisition of relevant knowledge, practical skill, etc”. Skill development is an important aspect of Christian religious education for both formandee and formator, that is, the learners and the teacher.
Christian religious education inculcates in the students skills which include intellectual and manipulative; examples of the skills include thinking or reasoning critically, solving problems, finding information (research skills), giving direction (Okebukola and Kosoko-oyedeko, 2007). Unfortunately, the goals of Christian religious education have been implemented in all levels of education for many years now without success in terms of inculcating the values and skills of good citizenship, and this explains the reason for increase in crime in our society as enunciated in the introductory part of this study. Besides acquisition of knowledge there are other practical ways through which skills can be developed and improved. Using teachers and students as an example. These practical ways include:
1. Ability to stand before the audience courageously. A teacher, for instance, should be able to stand confidently before his students and adequately disseminate information, no matter the age and intellectual capacity of his students.
2. He should be able to use and manifest adequately various skills like set- induction, verbal and non-verbal cues in his contact with the learners.
3. Good physical conduct before the audience is very important. Ability to dress well and neatly; use of polite language and modest or prudent in relating with others can contribute to one’s self-confidence and earn him respect.
Other skills that need to develop include writing neatly, correctly and clearly on
the chalkboard important information in a logical and orderly manner; making use of information and Communication Technology. According to Lillian (2002), “Development of Information and Communication Technology has turned the world into global village”. The teacher can also use the computer, I-pad and other communication gadgets like the internet to communicate on-line with the students.
Maintaining good relationship with students is a very good skill. A teacher should work for the improvement of individual students. He should be fair and firm in decision. The methodology of teaching in schools today is constantly changing. As a result of this, the teacher should be abreast with the current method of teaching Christian religious education (Okebukola & Kosoko-oyedeko, 2007).
Furthermore, another way of skills development as maintained by Nebo (2015) is “to ensure that teachers are better trained, that they are given more opportunity to improve themselves, acquire more skills, more didactic teaching skills and then do more research”. On the part of the students, Nebo (2015) was of the opinion that they should be “encouraged, challenged, go to the internet, go to google, download information, come to class, challenge (your) teacher”.
Information can also be borrowed from other source. In accordance with this Nebo (2015) encourages both students and teachers thus, “we have MIV, Havard university, Californian Institute of Technology, they now have open webs and universities can get (these) materials free of charge and use the same materials that the best universities are using in the world, to teach (your) own students”.
Human development is pivotal to every other development. Education is the fundamental means of human development which in turn is the foundation of national development (Okeke, 2015). Christian religious education prepares people to be useful and reliable citizens. The role of Christian religious education is to help one adopt moral character that will benefit both the individual and society. Both school, home, church and society contribute in character formation and development of a person. Walberg and Haertel (1997) were of the view that “character emerges from the more general individual environment, interactions from which students construct their sense of themselves”. There is no simplistic formula or model for building character. Schools contribute to character development to the extent to which they constitute environment conducive to more general, social and emotional development, and more specifically moral environments in which students are treated fairly and with respect, and which convey and enact through teacher behavior and school policy a general climate in which morality is valued.
This study depicts Christian religious education as a veritable tool for character and skills development. In other words, it helps to model the character and skills of individual. But this depends to a large extent the attention given to it by both the learner and the facilitator or teacher. For instance, in a situation where the course is not effectively taught it will make no impact on the behavior of the learner. As a result, Christian religious education teacher should adopt effective method of teaching. A teacher with good qualities and teaching methods effect a positive change in the student. Students look at a such teacher as a model and try to copy the teacher consciously or unconsciously.
Ineffective teaching of Christian religious education brings about fall in moral standards in the society and therefore rise in crime rate. To shun this, parents, teachers and other stakeholders should try to uphold the tenets of morality so that the young ones can copy and adapt.
Character and skills development have to do with conscious efforts made by an individual in order to acquire the knowledge. Learning is a permanent change in behavior. Where the parties, that is, the teacher and learner are not directly involved, it becomes obvious that neither character nor skills can be developed because learning has not taken place.
Anyacho, E. O. (1994). Essential themes in the study of religion. Markurdi: Onaivi.
Asalu, V. C. (2005). Religion and society: A sociological/philosophical analysis. Onitsha: abbot.
Cox, E. (1966). Changing aims in religious education. London: Routledge & Kegan.
Ewelukwa, R. N. (2011). Religious education: A tool for national development. Unpublished paper presented at the 5th biennial national conference of the school of arts & social sciences. Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe.
Ekpunobi, E. (1982). A handbook for teaching of religion and morals in schools and colleges. Kaduna: Baraka.
Hornby, A. S. (ed.). (1989). Oxford advanced learners dictionary of current English. London: Oxford.
John Paul II (1980). Address to UNESCO. Vatican City: AAS 72.
Lillian, R.A. (2002). Information and communication technology (ICT) necessary for national development. Nigeria journal of computer literacy 3 (1).
Oduyeye, M. (1987). Religious education for teacher training colleges. Ibadan: Heinemann.
Okebukola, A. O. O. & Kosoko-oyedeko, G. A. (2007). Skills improvement in the teaching of Christian religious studies. The national journal of contemporary issues in religion, arts & social studies. 27-30, 6, 2.
Okeke, C. (2007). A survey on the role of religious education in senior secondary schools in Onitsha north local government of Anambra state. Unpublished PGDE Project. Kaduna: NTI.
Okeke, C. O. (2008). Philosophy of religion: an introduction and interpretation. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Okeke, C. O. (2011). The role of Christian religious education in integral human development. Journal of arts & social sciences. 88-102, 4, 1.
Okeke, H. P. O. (2015). The influence of Christian values on national development. The immapost voice. 49-52, 13.
Okpaloka, P. (1989). The role of the Church in Nigerian education in the light of Vatican council II and the 1983 code of canon law. Rome: Domenici-Pecheux.
Sinistero, V. (1970). Il Vaticano Ii e l’edicazione con la dichiarazione sull’educazione Christiana, genesi, testo, commento. Torino: Leumann.
Walberg, H. & Haertel, G. (1997). Psychology and educational practice. Berkeley: Maccarchan.
THE CONCEPT OF PRAYER IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION: A CASE STUDY OF IGBO OF NIGERIA
Charles Okeke, Ph.D
Department of Christian Religious Studies
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
This paper on prayer of Igbo traditional religion is an analysis of the Igbo traditional concept of prayer, showing the originality of prayer in the Igbo man’s life. Many people including Christians have questioned the origin of prayers. Others have also doubted the efficacy of prayers. Better living conditions with the aid of science and technology undoubtedly have hastened these questions and doubts. Modern man is tending greatly towards the denial of the efficacy of prayers and seek solutions to all his problems in science and technological means. Consequently, man’s need for prayers is being de-emphasized in contemporary society. And because of these and other preceding questions such as, “Did our great grand parents who followed the traditional religion pray at all”? What brought about prayer? Is prayer a Christian invention? It, therefore, became necessary to make a study on this topic.
Meaning of Prayer to the Traditional Igbo
Prayer is one of the components of religious worship. Through prayer human beings interact and link themselves with the supernatural beings. Prayer is thus a connecting link between the two worlds: the natural world and the spiritual world. Gove (1976) defines prayer as “a solemn and humble approach to Divinity in word or thought usually involving beseeching, petition, confession, praise or thanksgiving” (p. 1782).
African traditional prayers generally include praise, thanksgiving, a declaration of the state of affairs in which the prayers are offered, and request. According to Mbiti (1982) “Such prayers always have concrete intentions, and people do not ‘beat about the bush’ when saying their prayers” (p. 55).
The traditional Africans have since ancient time recognized prayer as a powerful force to achieve their daily needs. They request such things as: good health, healing, protection from danger, safety in travelling or some other undertaking, security, prosperity, preservation of life, peace and various benefits for individuals. For the community at large, people may ask for rain, peace, the cessation of epidemics and dangers to the community, success in war or raids, the acceptance of sacrifices and offerings, and fertility for people, animals and crops (Mbiti, 1982).
Thus prayer forms part and parcel of the African life. It is through prayer that the people enter into communion and communication with God. In prayer, the Igbo man and woman, for instance, recognize and appeal to the supernatural beings in humility. They recognize that they are inferior before the Supernatural Being. They believe that their prayers are answered by the supernatural whether said in public, as a community or in private as individuals. They also demonstrate their belief in prayers in the names they give to children like Iheanyichukwu (nothing is impossible to God), Chibuzo or Chinedu or Chukwudubem (God leads). This appellation sums up the Igbo man’s belief in the strength of the Supernatural Being.
It is on the above notion that Gbenda (2006) says that “prayer is based on the conviction of the supplicant that there exists the transcendent or unmoved mover who is capable of influencing all the departments of life and who has a relationship with man” (p. 65). Thus in prayer man attracts the attention of the supernatural. Hence, Heiler (1958) says that “prayer is the outpouring of one’s mind and soul to God, ‘a going out of one’s self, a pilgrimage of the spirit in the presence of God” (p. 358).
Mbiti (1975) stated that “prayer is a means of renewing contact between people and God, or between people and the invisible world” (p. 57). Prayer encourages the relationship between man and the supernatural. It makes man to feel free from all anxieties, fears and worries. Mbiti (1975) says that “prayer strengthens the links between man and God” (p. 57). It makes man to feel somehow protected and secure and creates harmony between the spiritual and physical world. These prayers more than any aspect of religion contain most intensive expression of African traditional spirituality (Mbiti, 1975).
The Igbo is noted to be deeply religious. And one of the principal factors that manifest this deeply religious nature is his inclination to prayer (Obiagwu, 2000). Prayer forms an integral part of Igbo religion. Many prayers said in Igbo go with sacrifices and offerings. When praying, different positions are assumed. Some people stand up while some sit down and prayers go with oji (kola) or ofo (detarium senegalense) or nzu (white chalk). On some occasions, prayers go with the three objects. In Igboland, the breaking of oji and the use of nzu, normally accompany the traditional Morning Prayer. Oji and nzu are usually presented first before approaching God and the deities to signify the worshipper’s goodwill and friendliness between him and the invisible power. Nzu usually comes before the oji, though each compliments the other. Writing on prayer, Arinze (1970) says that, “prayer is generally accompanied by the eating of kolanut as an expression of goodwill and as a sensible manifestation of a desire for communion” (p. 28).
Whenever an Igbo is praying, especially in the morning, certain preparations are to be made or presumed. After he must have sat down, he washes his hands; the next thing he does is to draw some parallel lines on the ground with nzu (white chalk) and passes it to others around. When this is done, then comes the prayer with the breaking of the kolanut. Whenever prayer is to be offered, ofo is a necessity. The family head offering the prayer holds ofo staff in his hand, which serves as a mediator between the spirits of this world and the underworld.
Prayers in Igbo land are usually said communally than individually. Arinze (1970) puts it thus, “Besides the traditional morning prayers, public prayer is almost invariably bound up with sacrifice. Individual prayer is not a normal thing except in the form of ejaculations to God, the spirits and the ancestors” (p. 23). While the family head “pater familia” often says the morning prayer, ejaculatory prayers are uttered by people of all ages and by both sexes at any time and at any place and as often as occasion demands them. For instance, when a child sneezes, the mother or any person around spontaneously says ndu gi! (your health). This prayer is a complete prayer asking for protection of life. There are no special prayers said by children, rather they join in the community or family prayers (Obiagwu, 2000).
Generally, after breaking of the kola nut, bits of it are thrown outside, believing to be offered to the spirits, while the people around consume the other pieces. The better part of the kolanut, that is, the obi oji (the heart of the kola) is believed to be given to the spirits and certain words are uttered such as Ani welu ihe di gi mma ka I taa obi oji (Let the earth take what is good and eat). The minor deities like udo, ogwugwu and so on, are also invoked in prayers. It is believed that the Igbo invoke these deities because none claims to know what they have in mind.
Prayer means a lot to the Igbo like other Africans. He prays because it is through prayer that he appeals for the goodwill of Chukwu (Supreme God) and other spiritual beings who guarantee his protection and guidance. And through prayer he harmonizes the relationship between him and other beings: animate and inanimate.
Origin of Prayer in Man’s Life
Okafor (2001) stated that “God desires above all things that his creatures worship him. For this reason he created them with the spirit of worship so as to satisfy the divine desire to be worshipped. As a matter of fact, there is a yawning vacuum in the heart of every man which only God can fill” (p. 1).
Man recognizes that he is not master of this world. There are superior powers, invisible spirits, the ancestors, and there are also human spirits of wicked deceased people (Arinze, 2008). For faced with the mysteries of existence, he cannot but posit the existence of forces outside himself who can give answers to those mysteries or wonders (Madu, 2004). Some of these powers are regarded as kind and reasonable, and others are regarded as severe, bad, wicked and capricious. Man, therefore, having found himself in the midst of these forces, he cannot but relate with them in order to incure their friendship and protection. Madu (2004) attested to this succinctly, “Man, finding himself in this midst of forces, both good and malevolent, and to which he must relate to maintain a cosmic equilibrium in the ontological hierarchy, he felt that it was up to him to incure their friendship with their concomitant patronage” (p. 121).
Man, therefore, felt the need to propitiate these beings through prayers and sacrifices. He felt that it was up to him to propitiate them and to treat them with courtesy and deference. That was the fundamental reason why he had such a penchant for sacrifice in all its forms (Arinze, 2008). The above statement shows why man accepts his inferior position in the ontological hierarchy and his ability to influence and manipulate these beings to his own advantage.
Secondly, man realizes how weak and limited his powers and knowledge were particularly in the face of death, calamity and the forces of nature such as thunderstorms, earthquakes, mighty rivers and great forests. This idea made it necessary for him to depend on the one who was more powerful than he is. Hence, he felt he needed help of this one in his experiences of limitation and powerlessness. This is one other possible ways that led to origin of prayer in man’s life.
Again, prayer may have been developed by man as he wonders and reflects on the origin of the universe. Mbiti (1982) is of the opinion that “African peoples believe the universe to have been created. This presupposes that there was a creator of the universe…by using their imaginations they reached the conclusion that there must have been someone who originated it and this is someone they may have considered to be God” (p. 5).
In the same way, people reflected on the enormity and continuity of the earth and the heavens. It seemed to them that the universe must have someone who looks after it, keeps it and sustains it. They concluded that the creator of the universe must be the one who keeps and sustains it. Without him there could have been no universe. It therefore, became imperative on man to formulate a belief on the creator and placate him through sacrifices and prayers.
It is also very likely that man came to develop his relationship with God through the link between heaven and earth. Man is at the centre of the universe; he stands on the earth but looks up to the heavens as well. In looking towards the sky, he forms his beliefs in God, which began to make sense and consequently fit into his continued attempts to understand and explain the visible and the invisible world of which he is at the centre.
Perspectives of Igbo Prayer
Ekwunife (2007) describes prayer as “a spiritual means through which the religious man interiorly and externally communicates with God and all supra-sensible beings of his invisible world” (p. 6). He further says, “It is a religious spiritual outreach of the temporal religious man to the transcendent Being and his agents” (p. 6). Man is naturally homo religious and an intelligent being; he is, of necessity, bound not only to think of his ontological source, God, but also to encounter him in dialogue. Ifesieh (1988) says that, “prayer brings out the most interior life of religion to action. For in it, next to sacrifice, are the fundamental acts of adoration, worship, reverence and veneration of God through which Christians as well as practitioners of Igbo traditional religion manifest their strong belief in God” (p. 73).
Arinze (1986) describes prayer as “an important exercise of the virtue of religion. It is a practical recognition of our dependence on God. It is an acknowledgement that our existence and ability to do good comes from God, and cut off from God we can achieve nothing” (p. 73).
The above definitions show that man depends on God for virtually everything. Man is aware that his existence comes from God; therefore, it is imperative on him to recognize the one from whom his existence comes. Man shows this recognition through prayer, sacrifices and worships.
To the religious man, without prayer, life is useless. It is on this line that scholars like Ifesieh (1989) outlined sixteen ways through which the traditional Igbo perceive prayer. For the traditional Igbo, prayer means Aririo (begging or petition); Inye-ekele (giving thanks); Ekpere (praying or conversing, talking with God); Igwa-Chukwu-okwu (telling God something or telling God a word); Ikpa-Nkata (conversation); Ikpesara-Chukwu (narrating or reporting what has happened to God); Itogheru-Chukwu-obi (unveiling one’s heart to God); Itoghesi-obi (opening one’s heart to God); Igba-Chukwu-Izu (consulting with God in one’s private capacity); Ikpoku-Chukwu (invoking God); Ibeku-Chukwu (crying onto God); Ikpo/Ikpoku elu (calling on the above); Ikpoku ihe ahughi anya (calling on the real unseen believed reality); Isara-Elu-Aka (spreading one’s hand to God as One who understands all human problems); Ita-Chukwu-Aru na Nti (biting the ears of God or persistent worry on God); Tukoru-Chi-aka (to cross one’s hands in surrender before God) (pp. 103-107). The above detailed Igbo traditional perspectives of prayer by Ifesieh are meant to show how deep the traditional Igbo man’s attachment to his spiritual exercise was.
Writing about prayer, Collins (2001) suggested that there are three intimacies involved in every prayer, “intimacy with one’s deepest self; intimacy with others especially with close friends and intimacy with God” (p. 51). He went on to reflect on how these various intimacies are associated with several disclosures. Collins (2001) enumerates those disclosures as, “self-awareness; acknowledging spiritual desires; acknowledging feelings; understanding desires and feelings; love of friendship; friendship with God; self-disclosure to God; disclosing anger; and disclosing fear” (p. 52).
The above suggests why Rahner (1958) describes prayer simply as “opening of the heart to God” (p. 10). In prayer, a new awareness of God is created. With this new awareness, Rahner (1958) says, “comes deep and lasting peace – a calm which is not deceptive, a confidence without fear, a security that needs no reassurance, a power that lives in powerless, a life that springs up in the shadow of death” (p. 17). Further more, Rahner (1958) echoes:
We find our happiness, our strength, our power to face all sorrow, in the thought that God is with us and that we are his. In this peace, our heart learns to commune silently with God in a living union with him. The dry formulas of prayer on dry lips, are replaced by that silent communion of heart with heart which comes with the sense of God’s nearness to us and our utter, loving dependence on him. (p. 17).
Thus the colloquy of the heart with God in prayer cannot be expressed in words, because it is a silent reaching out towards God with reverential fear and sublime trust. It is a complete silence oblation of self, and an entire surrender to God. On this note, Mbiti (1975) rightly observed that “prayers help to remove personal and communal anxieties, fears, frustrations and worries. They also help to cultivate man’s dependence on God and increase his spiritual outreach” (p. 50).
Prayer as Thanksgiving
There is a general belief in Igbo that when one’s good deeds are recognized he is encouraged to do more. Hence, the saying, etoo onye na nke o melu o meekwa ozo (when a person is praised for what he did, he does more). The idea of thanksgiving in prayers portrays the recognition of God’s goodness to man and the subsequent expression of man’s gratitude to God for the goodness shown. Onah (2008) and Ugwu (2008) were of the same opinion when they said that “Thanksgiving is a prayer of appreciation and it enables us appreciate God for his mercies unto us. It is a heart-felt gratitude to God in appreciation of his favours and it is all about thanking him for his blessings to us. It is a prayer offered to God in recognition of his love for and protection over us” (p. 68).
As man always invokes God and the spirits at different times especially in times of need and frustration, so he thanks them when the going is well or when a request is granted. Arinze (1970) puts it succinctly, “When the Ibo pagan has obtained his heart’s requests, he often makes a sacrifice of thanksgiving which is always mixed up with hope for future protection” (p. 42).
The above also depicts Igbo man’s attitude to prayer. In Igbo, thanksgiving is ekele or inye-ekele. The two words similarly mean the same thing. That is, thanksgiving. It is a heart-felt gratitude of the whole person in recognition of the favour granted to him, primarily from God and secondarily through contingent beings, hence, the desire to reciprocate (Ifesieh, 1989).
The Igbo man does not say his prayers without expressing gratitude to God for his favours to him. This is most strongly manifested in his invocations where he calls on the ancestors and other spirits to come and partake of the kola which he is sharing with other people around. That is a pure sign of gratitude and recognition of the role of these spiritual beings in the affairs of men.
Prayer as Sacrifice
It is necessary that clarifications and explanation of sacrifice is made, that way, we will understand the concept of various sacrifices offered by traditional Igbo. Madu (2004) distinguishes two senses of sacrifice: the popular or personal sense and the ritual sense. According to him, ”In the popular sense, sacrifice means a renunciation for a motive; for instance, a widow sacrificing all she has for the training of her only son. Ritual sacrifice has its strict and proper sense only in public religious worship” (p. 123).
Sacrifice in ritual sense, is “the act of the virtue of religion which is in the genus of oblation” (Madu, 2004). The generic term in Igbo is “aja”. Hence, the proverb “ichu aja n’elu ini – offering sacrifice on top of the grave (i.e. when it is too late)” (Madu, 2004). The term itself seems to refer to the consecrated offering to the spirits. However, used with the verb “ichu” (drive away), it refers to the exorcist sacrifice to drive away evil spirits. In fact, in most cases, it is the verb that determines the type of sacrifice as is evident in these four terms which refer to the different sacrifices offered by the Igbo: Igo Mmuo, Imegha Mmuo, Ichu aja and Ikpu alu. Igo Mmuo (literally, consecrating spirits) refers to consecratory sacrifice, Imegha or Ilo Mmuo (placating or appeasing the spirits) are the expiatory sacrifices. The deities are appeased either when they are feasted or when an expiation is made for offences against them. Ichu aja (driving away offering) refers to the exorcist sacrificial rites designed to drive away (Ichu) the evil spirits. Arinze (1970) calls this “the joyless sacrifice to evil spirits” (p. 56). While Ikpu alu/aru (dragging abomination) is purificatory sacrifices. Alu/aru literary means “pollution”. The Igbo believe that breaches of ‘Nso ala’ (prohibition of the Earth-Mother) brings about a state of pollution which may only be removed by purification rites (ikpu alu/aru) (Metuh, 1985).
In African traditional religion, a distinction is always made between the practice of making sacrifices and offerings. Sacrifices involve the shedding of blood of human beings, animals or birds. Offerings do not involve blood but concern the giving of all other things, such as foodstuff, water, milk, honey or money (Mbiti, 1975). In ATR, when blood shed is involved in making sacrifice, it means that human or animal life is being given back to God, who in fact, is the ultimate source of all life. However, not in all cases that human being is killed in sacrifice. Metuh (1985) attested to this as he says,
The Igbo had the practice of consecrating some animals or human beings as sacrifices to a deity, without killing them. Such victims after the sacrificial ritual are allowed to live or wander around the neighbourhood of the premises of the god, as its property. The immolation or ritual killing of the victim is symbolically expressed by either making a deep cut on the animal to let some of its blood to drip on the altar, or slicing off a tiny bit of its body as token offering to the deity; if the victim is a human being, he becomes an Osu (slave of a god). (p. 62).
Generally, sacrifice is primarily a ritual prayer. It allows man to achieve communion with God through the mediation of the offering. God is the giver of absolute life which paradoxically involves also death. Creatures of God are bearers of divine life and death. Through consecration and immolation, they allow man to pass from the human to the divine realm to achieve communion with God who is the source and plenitude of life (Metuh, 1985).
God created man and conserves him. He is the final end of man. By sacrifice, man acknowledges God’s power and his supreme dominion and excellence and offers him adoration and worships him in humility. But man also receives innumerable gifts from God and wishes to thank him. He alone is the creator of man and the last end of man. The Igbo offer sacrifice to him and the lesser divinities, spirits and ancestors. Nevertheless, the Igbo believe that God is the recipient of all sacrifices. Arinze (2008) sees sacrifice as “an act of external and public worship, made up of oblation and immolation that signify the interior disposition with which the individual or community acknowledges God’s infinite excellence and avows his subjection to God” (p. 63).
In fact, sacrifice is an act of humility and absolute dependence by man on the higher powers. In offering sacrifice, human being expresses his dependence and loyalty to the supernatural being, human being entrusts his very self and existence to his creator and enters into communion and relationship with God. This way, he is assured of protection, patronage and guidance. And all fears, anxieties, worries, and so on are removed from him.
Prayer as Offering
The word “offering” can be understood in two senses: popular and religious senses. In popular sense, offering designates letting something go for the sake of another, which is a value. For instance, someone letting something and accepting another either for a higher or for a lesser value. Or, paying a homage to a person. In religious sense, offering involves a kind of worship or sacrifice to the invisible spirits. In this sense, it is a means of expressing sacrifice, which is prayer. In other words, it is sacrifice, which is translated into a gift to the God or gods. The primary religious meaning of offering according to Metuh (1985) is that offering is “a confession of faith, a participation and cooperation in divine life” (p. 68).
Generally, offerings do not involve blood; rather it concerns the giving of all other tangible things. In other words, in offerings, blood is not shed as in sacrifice. Offerings are prayers made in faith in order to alleviate sufferings or to obtain something from the gods. In Igbo religion like in other African religion, an individual or a community may decide to offer something to the gods in order to appease them and attract their friendship. Okodo (2008) gave a good picture of offering in Igbo religion. According to him,
A village or a community or a family may suffer one problem or another, which if divined might necessitate the offering of a goat or a cow to the gods. The problem, which can be frequent deaths or any other thing, might have been caused by kidnapping of people, burying people alive or any other abomination against the land. The gods that were angered by the abomination are besought to stop visiting the people with wrath. They will beseech with the offering. In some cases the gods take the offering and get appeased. (p. 123).
Offering is one good way by which the Igbo man prays. The word nru in Igbo is always taken in the religious sense. It is a homage, which materializes in an offering. But it is not enough by itself to denote sacrifice, for it can end up at pure oblation without any species of immolation, and according to the common definition of sacrifice, immolation must be added to oblation (Arinze, 2008). Metuh (1985) attested to this fact as he says, “The Igbo ‘Living sacrifices’ demonstrate that immolation is an essential element in sacrifices” (p. 69). This remark by Metuh suggests that offerings accompanied with blood, a ritual killing or offering demonstrate that immolation of the victim is very important element in African traditional religious sacrifices. As per what happens to the offering, Metuh (1985) says that “something must be done to the offering to show that it has been removed from human use and given to God” (p. 69).
Nru, therefore, is a sacrificial homage or offering which the offerer pays to the gods. It is another way in which the traditional Igbo pray. Paying homage or worship in Igbo is called iru mmuo (to do homage to the spirits) ife mmuo, imeya mmuo, imegha alusi or imeya okposi (to worship the spirits). All these denote sacrificial offerings to the spirits, though they should not be understood to mean sacrifice in the strict sense. They are a sort of devotion which a person gives to the spirit in order to attract their attention.
Prayer as Communion with God
Ekwunife (2007) says that prayer is “a spiritual faith search-light and communication with the source of human existence” (p. 7). This statement by Ekwunife is a clear indication that prayer is a means of communion with God. By communicating with God man comes closer to the source of all things. Thus prayer is a means of renewing contact between people and God or between people and the invisible world. Mbiti (1982) was right when he says, “People turn to God generally when trouble comes. They need at such times to restore their peace, happiness and sense of security. If nothing is done, they fear that things will get worse” (p. 54).
Through prayer, man cultivates a spiritual outlook on life. He reminds himself that he is both body and spirit, and that he needs to look after both of these in order to have full integrity. Without this spiritual direction or orientation, man would feel lost in the universe, and life would seem to have no meaning. Prayer, therefore, is a means of linking the spiritual and physical worlds, putting the invisible into touch with the visible. Prayer helps people to feel that there is still a relationship between God and man, and that communication between them is still possible. In praying, people are addressing themselves to the invisible world. They do not see God, but they believe that he is present with them. This underscores why Mbiti (1982) describes prayer as “an act of pouring out the soul of the individual or community” (p. 57). Corroborating this idea, Green (1978) says, “The feelings with all their mystery and ambiguity, become central to prayer. This presents the pray-er with a whole host of problems, not only because our feelings are ambivalent but because the object of our love is, in the case of prayer, One whom we cannot see or hear or touch in the ordinary way. He is the transcendent, the all-holy One, totally beyond our sensible grasp” (p. 26).
The above suggests why the traditional Igbo man does not shy to invoke the Supreme Being, the ancestors, the divinities and certain cosmic powers in prayer. There is no doubt that in prayer the Igbo man seeks some degree of personal relationship with these spiritual beings. He indulges in anthropomorphism and allows himself good measure of liberty in the spontaneous expression of his trust, dependence and loyalty.
Igbo traditional prayers further reveal the Igbo perception of themselves and the cosmic order. The idea of prayer itself is an acknowledgement of Igbo man’s contingent nature and of his limitation in time and space. Through his individual prayer which often has a communitarian link, the Igbo affirms his personal identity as well as his group solidarity. But above all he opens up himself with all his life desires and his cosmos in humility to the higher world of spiritual being. He constantly invokes his ancestors in prayer in an effort to bring together the living and the dead in order to make a united outreach towards the spiritual realm (Metuh, 1985), to communicate with the spiritual thereby bringing together the physical and the spiritual (Anyanwu, 1999).
Also, the Igbo man is very much aware of the fleeing nature of his existence. He is concerned with both his physical and spiritual welfare. He wants to be in harmony with the world in which he is living, therefore, it is imperative on him to commune with the powers higher than himself in order to attain both his physical and spiritual goal.
From the above backdrop, we can deduce that in praying, man gets as close as he can to God, since he speaks to him directly. As a matter of fact, prayer is not only a communication but also a communion with God. In praying, man unites himself with the transcendent. Prayer is a necessity for a religious man. It is an aspect of religious inclination that brings man in communion with the invisible power.
The Spirituality of Igbo Prayers
Spirituality is a great value of Igbo religiosity. Spirituality comes out especially through prayers, invocations, rituals, offerings and sacrifices and generally, the people’s beliefs. Metuh (1985) was correct when he says, “Prayer as a living communion of the religious man with God, contains not only people’s religious beliefs but also their spirituality” (p. 148). These spiritual exercises are the outpouring of a person’s or community’s soul and spirit in the direction of the divine, the spiritual realm and its values. These values work to cultivate the area of persons that communicate with or strives towards the spiritual realm, and satisfy spiritual hunger or thirst. And so, man has to be in constant communion with the spiritual.
In general, the traditional Igbo consider the universe to be in two interlocking parts: the visible and the invisible (uwa ana ahu anya and uwa anaghi ahu anya) (Madu, 1997). Human beings live on the visible level, while God and spiritual beings exist on the invisible level. There is a link between the two worlds. God and spiritual beings make their presence felt on the visible or physical level; and the human beings project themselves into the spiritual level. Spiritual beings explain the ontological space between human beings and God. In other words, there is ontological link between the created and uncreated beings. Everything is linked like a web. Man is linked to the spiritual beings and spiritual beings are linked to man and man is linked to his fellow man and all the other elements.
Prayer helps to keep alive the link between the visible and invisible worlds, between man and God, spirits and ancestors. According to Ekwunife (2007), “Prayer is a spiritual means through which the religious man interiorly and externally communicates with God and supra-sensible beings of his invisible world. It is a religious spiritual outreach of the temporal religious man to the transcendent Being and his agents” (p. 6). Hence, prayer establishes a relationship of communication between the individual and divine being.
With reference to communal prayer, Mbiti (1975) rightly observes that “communal prayer (also) helps to cement together the members of the group in one intention, for one purpose and in one act of worship” (p. 57). This is because when people come together to participate in public or community prayer and to present their common need to the Supernatural Being, the sense of community consciousness is promoted. Each person identifies himself not as individual but as a member of the community. This also brings about harmonious living among the members of the community.
In communal prayer people feel a union with one another, usually they request for harmony in their community at the end of the prayer. In the view of Arinze (1970) “Most prayers conclude with a petition for harmony and mutual love in the community, e.g. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch; whichever says that the other will not perch let its wing break off” (p. 106). Moreover, Life is very important to Igbo man and woman that is why they will do every thing to preserve and enhance it. This explains why they visit the shrines to meet the beings greater than man. They want the protection of these beings. But these beings can be reached through prayers.
The people usually offer their prayers with kolanuts. The priest leads the people in prayer. He would intercede for them while praying with the kolanuts. He would bless and break the kolanut and gives a part of it to the spirit and chews the rest. This practice will be accompanied with libation by pouring out some quantity of palm wine to the gods. Amponsah (1975) says that “the pouring of libation is necessary act because it is a process which tends to keep us closer to our ancestors and to the gods.” (p. 49).
In line with this view, Obiagwu (2000) stated that “the practice of throwing out some part of the kolanut and pouring out some quantity of the wine during prayer is a profound manifestation of the sincerity of the invitation to the spirits and ancestors to partake in the meal or drink” (p. 49).
The priest would also offer the food cooked with chicken or other animal victim to the gods before eating his share. Other participants would also join in the eating since it is a communal prayer. Common prayer binds the partakers together and makes them feel one. The more a person or a community prays the more he increases his dependence on spiritual beings and the more he brings himself higher to spiritual living and thinks less about material things. Mbiti (1975) rightly observes that “prayers help to remove personal and communal anxieties, fears, frustrations and worries. They also help to cultivate man’s dependence on God and increase his spiritual outreach” (p. 50). Thus prayer acts as a healing balm/therapy against spiritual and physical forces.
The Igbo ask for many things in prayer. The following intentions feature prominently in Igbo prayer: children, health, long life, food, wealth, protection against one’s enemies and so on. Metuh (1985) stated that “this petition is repeated in different forms of the prayers” (p. 147). However, one observes that all these petitions revolve around sustainability of life as Metuh (1985) submitted, “the theme of life runs through almost all the prayers” (p. 147). This is because Ndu bu isi (life is the primary thing). All other things stand or fall with life. Thus the Igbo pray Onye wetere oji, wetere ndu (who brings kola, brings life).
Obiagwu (2000) submitted that “For the Igbo life is the greatest and most precious gift from God. Life is not just to exist; it is the full dynamic existence” (p. 40). Metuh (1985) corroborated this view when he stated that “Life, for the Igbo, means fullness of being – long life, health, renown and a bright future, not just bare survival” (p. 148). Therefore, the Igbo cherishes life and jealously guards, enhances and preserves it. Thus he prays for long life. In his morning prayers (igo oji ututu), the family head prays for life, for good health, for recovery from sickness and against death. He also asks for other worldly things for his family. His prayers of petition are full of life and prosperity.
Igbo names also depict the great value and respect the Igbo has for life. Thus the Igbo names his son Nduka (Life is greater), Ndubia (May life come), Nwamaka (What a beauty to have a child), Ifeyinwa (There is nothing like a child). Life is also sacred and belongs to God, hence names like Chinwendu (Life belongs to God) and Chikwendu (If God agrees to life).
The Igbo, therefore, goes at any length to preserve life. Anything that goes contrary to life is regarded as wicked and evil. To take away life in any unapproved form is a serious crime. People who happen to commit suicide for any reason are not buried or mourned and there is no funeral rites performed for them and they are thrown away into the forest as a sign of rejection by the living and the gods. It is believed that they will not reach the abode of the ancestors. Their spirits wander about and are classified as akalogeli (a group of evil spirit). The Igbo culture also forbids abortion, euthanasia, murder and all other crimes that tamper with life and dignity of human person. It is strongly believed that it is a sin against the earth’s spirit to take away life and such a crime is punishable by either ostracization or tit for tat.
In prayer, man sometimes discovers his weaknesses and inadequacies on the one hand, and God’s all-powerful and all-knowing on the other. He, therefore, takes refuge in God’s hands, where he is assured of maximum security. In Igbo prayer, purity and cleanliness of heart are cultivated before approaching God (Itu ogu). This is because the Igbo believe that God is holy, pure and clean. The Igbo pray, perform sacrifices and other rituals of worship in trust, faith and confidence, believing that God is there and the spiritual realm is there for him, therefore, he moves in word towards the spiritual realities. A spiritual element of struggle, wrestling, desperation and sorrow may express themselves in prayer, depending on the person’s relationship with God and other spiritual beings.
The Igbo believes that he is not master of the universe. He never crowns himself head of the universe. Basden (1966) confirms this when he says, “The insufficiency of man and his consequent inability to walk uprightly is recognized by the Ibo” (p. 59). God is the creator; he preserves and protects him. He recognizes God’s supreme dominion. Arinze (2008) captures the Igbo man’s belief in God’s supremacy thus “The Igbo recognizes God’s supreme dominion and knows that no spirit can do anything if Chukwu (Supreme God) decides otherwise, even if the blood of victim keeps flowing” (p. 86). He, therefore, thank him through prayers, sacrifices and offerings. The Igbo man equally placates the other spirits and ancestors so as to continue enjoying their patronage, protection and fortunes and as well maintaining cordial relationship with his fellow men.
During prayers it is the spiritual aspect of man that communicates with God and this brings about temporal withdrawal from worldly things. Prayer provides a channel through which man presents his needs and problems to the object of worship.
Prayer is not only used to alleviate anxieties but also to inculcate social integration and sense of collective responsibility. When people come together to present their common problems and needs to their object of worship, they see themselves as members of a particular community not as individuals.
Prayer also helps in promoting harmony in the society. People recognize themselves as one people with the same intention when they come together to pray as a community. Through prayer they recognize the principle of live and let live, which guides the behavior of every individual towards another within the society. This is explained in the popular Igbo saying: “Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch…”
Prayer also helps to reduce anxieties, worries, frustrations and so on. The Igbo man knows that his continued existence in the universe depends on his relationship with the invisible spirits and the ancestors, he is at the centre of everything, and therefore, he needs their continued assistance. He will do everything to continue to enjoy this privilege. This explains why he will do everything to stand in equilibrium with the spirits and his neighbours.
1. It is observed that the proliferation of churches and exodus to other cultural areas, have seriously affected the Igbo traditional prayers. Therefore, effort should be made to teach people their traditional religion.
2. The Igbo should be encouraged to protect their tradition instead of shying away from it.
3. It is seriously and strongly recommended that the Igbo should be presenting and praying with kolanut at the gatherings/meetings that involve them because sharing and eating kolanut symbolizes communion between the living and the dead.
4. The Igbo should specify at least once every year when they should gather to honour their relatives who lived well and have departed this world.
5. For the Igbo life is supreme. Respect for human life, preservation and enhancement of life is at the heart of every Igbo man and woman, therefore, the Igbo should not encourage the modern illegal way of eliminating life especially abortion and euthanasia.
6. The idea of community as the milieu to grow caters for social nature of the Igbo. Africans have such an acute sense of solidarity and community life that life is meaningless without others. The Igbo should, therefore, adopt the original sense of community life where everybody is his brother’s keeper. The Igbo should not adopt or allow individualism to creep into their life-system.
Amponsah, K. (1975). Topics on west African traditional religion. Capecoast: Mfanfsiman.
Arinze, F. A. (1970). Sacrifice in Ibo religion. Ibadan: University Press.
Arinze, F. A. (1986). Alone with God. Onitsha: Archdiocesan Secretariat.
Arinze, F. A. (2008). Sacrifice in Igbo traditional religion. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Anyanwu, H. O. (1999). African traditional religion from the grassroots. Owerri: Lasen.
Basden, G. T. (1966). Niger Ibos. London: Seeley.
Collins, P. (2001). Prayer in practice. New York: Orbis.
Ekwunife, A. N. O. (2007). What will be, will be why pray. Lagos: Hoscon.
Gbenda, J. S. (2006). African religion and Christianity in a changing world: A comparative approach. Nsukka: Chuks.
Gove, P. B. (1976). Websters third new international dictionary. New York: G & C. Merriam.
Green, T. H. (1978). When the well runs dry. Prayer beyond the beginnings. Indiana: Ave Maria.
Heiler, F. (1958). Prayer a study in the history and psychology of religion. London: Oxford.
Ifesieh, E. I. (1989). Religion at the grassroots (studies in Igbo religion). Enugu: Fourth
Madu, J. E. (1997). Fundamentals of religious studies. Calabar: Franedoh.
Madu, J. E. (2004). Honest to African cultural heritage. Onitsha: Coskan.
Mbiti, J. (1975). African religions and philosophy. London: SPCK.
Mbiti, J. (1975). The prayers of African religion. London: SPCk.
Mbiti, J. (1982). Introduction to African religion. Ibadan: Heinemann.
Metuh, E. I. (1981). God and man. Great Britain: Camelot.
Metuh, E. I. (1985). African religion in western conceptual schemes: Studies in Igbo religion. Ibadan: Claverianum.
Obiagwu, M. C. (2000). Healthcare of the sick among the Igbos of Nigeria vis-à-vis the healing ministry of the church and the pastoral challenges of today. Rome: Camillianum.
Okafor, B. N. (2001). The philosophy of religion. Obosi: Olu
Okodo, I. (2008). Igbo man’s belief in prayer for the betterment of life. Journal of Religion and Human Relations, 1, 117-124.
Onah, N. G. & Ugwu, C. T. O. (2008). Prayer as panacea for human problems. Journal of Religion and Human Relations, 1, 64-73.
Rahner, K. (1958). On prayer. Newark: Benedictine Monks.
THE CHALLENGES OF AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION IN SUSTAINING
DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA
CHARLES OKEKE, Ph.D
Dept of Christian Religious Studies
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe
Religion is one of the phenomenon that play essential roles in the lives of Nigerians. It influences to a larger extent, the political, economic, social and cultural lives and affairs of Nigerians. In Nigeria, there are three major religions that evidently impact on the people. They are Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religion and these religions have their roles in sustaining democratic governance in Nigeria. This paper, therefore, is geared towards highlighting the roles of African traditional religion in the Nigerian democratic setting.
African Traditional Religion and Concept of Democracy
In Africa there are many tribes and each of these tribes has its own traditional religion. Religion normally exists in two main clauses: the historical and the non-historical, otherwise called indigenous religion. However, there should not be a mistake of understanding these clauses as religions that have history and religions that have no history because, in fact, all religions and everything in the universe have some history.
A historical religion may be considered as that religion which has written documentary records. Such religions include Christianity and Islam, while non-historical religions have no written documentary records. These include African traditional religions. The actual difference is that records of the African traditional religions and other traditional religions are largely based on oral traditions, folk-tales, customs, proverbs, festivals, idioms, legends, names, myths, prayers among others. Hence they are described as religions which are passed down from generation to generation of the world. On this note, Oborji (2005) was correct when he says, “ATRs are not “Book” religions nor are they formulated into a set of dogmas. Every member grows assimilating whatever ideas and practices that are held in his/her family and community” (p. 10). Besides, African traditional religions have no founders or reformers, so that the beliefs among the different communities would differ greatly especially as each group would incorporate its national heroes (Mbiti, 1990).
African traditional religions are more restricted in their localization and are usually confined to one culture or pattern of life. They are non-proselytizing. The most characteristic feature of African traditional religions is their absorbing character. In other words, they are open to assimilate any religions that come their way. The whole life from the cradle to the grave, even beyond the grave is the tie which binds man to the unseen powers. Another characteristic feature of ATRs is domination of the minds of the Africans by the spiritual. The reality of the spiritual world is vivid to the African mind. The strange stone or rock, the over-hanging mountain, the gigantic tree and other elements in the universe or natural phenomena attract the attention of the African and impress on his mind the existence of an invisible spirit in the object of his perception. In dreams he sees some of his relatives in the appearance of human forms. He cannot shake off the belief that they are not still alive.
Generally, in African traditional religions, there is a belief in the hierarchy of spiritual beings (Okeke, 2012). Thus the Africans believe in the existence of the Supreme Being. He is the creator of the universe and everything in it. Oborji (2005) maintains that “many translations of the Africans’ names for God suggest that God is the Creator, Almighty in heaven” (p. 11). Africans also believe in the existence of the lesser deities. According to Metuh (1987), “The deities of a group other than one’s are sometimes believed to be hostile and dangerous” (p. 17).
Besides, the traditional African believe in the existence of other spirit forces such as the ancestors, agwu, that is, one of the spirits believed to, among other things, populate the universe. But these spiritual beings are not of equal importance and power to the Supreme Being. They are rather regarded as mediators through whom the human being makes supplication to the Supreme Being. Moreover, the traditional African prays and worship because he is aware that he is a creature who is in relationship to other beings whose protection he enjoys and who are the source of his life on whom he depends. According to Okeke (2012), “The beings in the universe exist for the sake of human being. Their work, among other things, is to protect and enhance the fullness of human life” (p. 44).
Man’s main relationship with these spiritual beings is through the veneration of the ancestors and sacrifices. Thus, the deities and ancestors are the medium through which the traditional African approaches God. This explains the reason for many shrines everywhere in the traditional society for the deities and less for the Supreme Being. At the hierarchical structure of these beings, man is at the lowest level. For him to survive, he must live a life of balance with the spiritual beings (Okeke, 2012) and eschew from his life and activities all forms of social evils and abominations.
The concept of democracy in this paper may be a bit problematic to conceptualize if we want to distil the various existing schools of thought on the subject. This paper is convinced that the overall import of any form of government is its ability to effect a change and enhance the capability of the people it governs, to manage and control and promote national development, whether social, economic, political and otherwise. On this note, our conceptualization of democracy must be in line with our lived reality and whatever structures that would sustain democratic governance in Nigeria must reflect our peculiar environment. Thus, democracy can be viewed from two perspectives: ideology and politics.
Democracy as ideology is the philosophy of governance which sets high premium on the basic freedom or fundamental human rights of citizens, the rule of law, the property, the free flow of information and the right choice between alternative political positions (Mabogunje and Obasanjo, 1992), while democracy as politics is concerned with the institutions and processes of governance that tend to foster consensus while simultaneously promoting, sustaining respect for the ideology of democracy (Salami, 2008).
Democracy as a system of government originated from the Greeks. In a democracy, political sovereignty is vested on the electorate or the people. This is why Nwankwo (2002) defines democracy as “a system which gives periodic opportunities for the masses to choose their leaders” (p. 32). From a layman’s point of view, democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Onyisi (2012) affirms that “democracy means individual participation in the decisions that affects one’s life” (p. 46). The bad form of democracy is what Nwankwo (2002) calls “mobocracy” (p. 33). According to Nwankwo (2002), mobocracy means government formed through mob-action means by unorganized group of people who have no objectives or direction clearly mapped out” (p. 33).
Besides the fundamental human rights, which are directly tied to the persons at the helm of affairs at the local, state and federal levels, one of the major ingredients of survival of democracy in any nation is peace. Without peace no meaningful development can be achieved and no harmonious living can be experienced. This is why this paper will like to deliberate on the essence of peace in African traditional religion and societies vis-à-vis the need for peace in democratic governance.
The Meaning of Peace in African traditional Societies
Peace is very often taken as the absence of open war or conflict. This is perhaps because war is arguably the most antithetical condition to peace of any kind. In African world, peace is valued and cherished even in the presence of many tribal conflicts. The traditional African cherishes harmony. Oguejofor (2005) sees harmony as “living in accord with various spheres or levels of reality” (p. 82). Therefore, to obtain peace, one must live in accordance with right principles in his relationship with the supernatural, the deities and other spirit-forces, ancestors and one’s fellow human beings as well as with other elements in the universe. These elements like plants, animals are not just subjected to man’s whims and caprices. They are not to be abused as mere objects; hence they are given a certain level of difference by the creator, and in some case deified. It is in this line that Senghor (1967) speaks of African who “does not begin by distinguishing himself from the object, the tree or stone, man or animal or social events. He does not keep it at a distance” (p. 29).
Traditional African has a strong sense of understanding the universe. For him, there is no strict dichotomy between heaven and earth, the world of the ancestors and the world of man. The spirit world is the guarantor of earthly existence and it is imperative on human beings to maintain harmonious existence with these beings. Any infringement of this obligation on the part of human being is believed to set off a chain reaction of disorder in earthly affairs: personal, familial, communal, national and so on (Oguejiofor, 2005). Such calamities are regarded as the foundation of the absence of peace. Thus they are not often viewed as having natural causes. War, on the other hand, is not isolated from the African reality or world-view as absence of peace. Thus, Ferguson (1978) writes that “a number of African tribes see war as a national calamity sent by God in punishment or retribution for some offence committed by the community or its representatives” (p. 16).
In African world view, the universe occupies a special importance. One cannot live at peace or a fulfilled life without adequate material means. Thus he has to live a long and morally upright life blessed with children, good or natural death and accorded a befitting burial and funeral. In this case, African traditional religions differ from some religions such as Christianity in which the adherents can live a miserable life here on earth to enjoy eternal bliss in the hereafter. African traditional religions have no conception of goodies in the sky after one’s death. Part of the goodies of life must extend to earthly life since there is no dichotomy between this worldly and the other worldly. With this conception, peace is not viewed as merely the absence of internecine organized wars. Thus the war to live a fulfilled life here on earth is necessary, otherwise, life is viewed as precarious (Kalu, 1978) and harmony must be sought with the natural and supernatural forces, which impinge on human life. The evil spirit must be appeased and warded off and the infringement of the spiritual/temporal order must be expiated.
To put it succinctly, the promotion of life and enhancement of it is the cardinal principle of African traditional morality and life. The goal of all moral conduct is therefore the fullness of life. In Africa, human life is considered full when it is marked by spiritual, material and social blessings; when the network of relations with the spiritual, human and material beings is as it should be. And this is the meaning of peace in African traditional religions.
Thus a peaceful harmonious existence as enunciated by Oguejior (2005) “must include adequate material means to live noble and worthy life and to die a dignified death in order to live in peace with the ancestors and be qualified to await reincarnation and live out another cycle of life” (p. 83).
Thus in traditional African societies, peace is not an abstract, theoretical concept, but rather a down-to-earth and practical concept. Peace is conceived not in relation to conflict and war, but in relation to order, harmony and equilibrium. Onah (2005) maintains that peace in traditional Africa is “a religious value in that the order, harmony and equilibrium in the universe and society is (sic) believed to be divinely established and the obligation to maintain them is religious. It is also a moral value since good conduct is required of human beings if the order, harmony and equilibrium are to be maintained” (p. 47).
Any action that is capable of hindering another from attaining peace or the fullness of life is considered a breach of peace. This means that a selfish or unjust person, even when he is not violent, is anti-social, though possessing the material things, yet does not live in harmony with other members of the community, is therefore, regarded by the Africans as an enemy of peace.
The Need for Peace in Democratic Governance
For Nigerians to enjoy the “dividends of democracy” (using political jargon), there is the need for a peaceful environment. For any government policies to succeed and thrive there must be an enabling environment. Looking around, one sees that there are many factors that suggest that we are far from having a peaceful environment as a nation. For example, in Nigeria today, political violence is on the increase. A number of politically motivated killings have taken place across the country since the emergence of the present democratic dispensation. Ejikeme (2008) listed few of these killings as “the assassination of Bola Ige on December 23, 2001, that of Harry Marshal on March 05, 2003, that of Aminosoari Dikibo (February 14, 2004) and that of Anthony Williams in July 27, 2007” (p. 32).
Moreover, violent crimes have become daily occurrence in Nigerian society. Hardly does a day pass without one hearing or reading of one crime or the other. The most common being armed robbery, kidnapping, raping of the weaker sex especially minor; boko-harram, among others. All these forms of crime evidently cripple meaningful development in Nigeria. They are signs of absence of peace in the country. Religious intolerance seems to be on the increase too. Love is lost between adherents of one religion and another. This too does not promote peaceful democratic governance. Whatever happens in Nigeria today is considered from religious view point.
Further still, in Nigeria today, ethnicity, nepotism, tribalism, god-fatherism and institutionalized corruption have become the bane of development. In traditional African societies, all these are seen as crime and abomination. In those days there is a sense of reverence to the sacred. People are afraid of committing crime (Okeke, 2012). Once crime is committed certain rituals must be performed to calm the anger of the spirit and ward off the impending calamities that would befall the individual as well as the community (Okeke, 2012).
Among the traditional Africans, the stress on community life is on togetherness, on communion, on respect for traditions and on unquestioning acceptance of what the ancestors have practiced, sanctioned and established as the way things are done (Okeke, 2012). With this in mind, the events in Nigerian society where members of the same family, clan, community or ethnic group exploit one another and engage in communal clash and abduct their fellow community members, and all sorts of crimes and wars are waged against one another, are a big challenge to the basis of this claim on democratic governance in Nigeria.
The Way Forward
The question that begs for answer at this point is, what can the present Nigerian society including the democratic government in Nigeria learn from the African traditional religion and culture? How one answers this question determines the extent one sees the challenge of African traditional religions on democratic dispensation in the country. Needless to say that the atrocities committed against mankind in God’s name and in the name of politics in this country are on record. However, a good and healthy placement of religion in the social polity of this country will always ensure that the inevitable qualities of religion are harnessed, while a bad one turns religion not only into an opium according to Karl Marx, but also a time bomb (Ejikeme, 2008).
It is therefore, the opinion of this paper that when religion is properly channeled, it could be used as an instrument of peaceful democratic governance. African traditional religions contain many values. Thus peace and harmonious coexistence can invariably lead to peaceful democratic governance. In fact, the ethics of African traditional religions demands the individual to be his brother’s keeper. African traditional religions totally forbid any type of social or personal crime. The religion teaches obedience to constituted authority and recommends punishment for offenders. It also teaches peace, love, honesty, healthy living, respect for the elder, dignity of human person, righteousness, humility, fear of God, community consciousness, among others.
African traditional religions abhor murder, homicide, kidnapping, rape and other forms of sexual crimes, corruption, bribery, disobedience to parents, and all types of illegal killings such as euthanasia or mercy killing, abortion and contraception. African traditional religions hold human life in high esteem; thus, human life is sacred and blood must not unnecessarily be wasted. Freedom of worship is allowed and other religions are highly tolerated. When all these values are imbibed by the democratic government, then peaceful democratic governance becomes possible.
This paper examined the challenges of African traditional religions in sustaining democratic governance in Nigeria. It looked at the democratic governance in Nigeria from the prospective of African traditional religions and culture and established that for any democracy to survive and achieve its objective peace is a sine-qua-non. Without peace there will be no meaningful development.
Peace is one of the values African traditional religions can bequeath the world, especially the Nigeria democracy. The result of harmonious living is peace. Harmony is a fundamental category in African traditional religion and thought. No attempt is ever made to cancel out differences; rather all effort is devoted to finding a way in which differences can continue to harmoniously co-exist. In personal life, as Onah (2005) rightly says, “such a harmony consists in the ability to reconcile one’s desires with one’s means, coordinate one’s thoughts, sentiment and their verbal expressions and discharge one’s religious and social duties. One who is able to do this will experience inner peace. In the community, harmony entails smooth relationships between persons and other beings” (p. 48).
In line with the above, Onah (2005) asks a pertinent question: is it possible to globalize some African moral and religious values or are we resigned to a unidirectional globalization of values, especially non-values from a very limited segment of the globe?
This paper is of the view that the rest of the world and in particular the contemporary Nigerian democracy/society should learn these values from African traditional religions and then humanity will be enriched.
To achieve meaningful democratic governance in Nigeria, the following recommendations are necessary:
1. We must recognize the social and moral values of religion. They are indispensable assets for peace and nation to progress and develop.
2. For a democratic governance to be effective there is need for peace to reign. Government and other stakeholders as well as individuals must provide enabling environment for everyone to practice his/her religion freely. In other words, religious freedom must be practiced by everyone.
3. Interreligious dialogue is also a necessity. There is need for periodical dialogue between stakeholders of various religions in Nigeria. This will enable adherents of one religion or another to understand, tolerate and respect the religious doctrine and belief of the other.
4. The religious leaders must ensure that their congregation is not indoctrinated and that fundamentalism is not allowed or encouraged among their faithful.
5. Every hand must be on deck to fight corruption and the evil of corruption in our country.
6. Everybody must imbibe the tenets of his/her religion and live in his/her life the moral principles which religion teaches.
7. A course on interreligious dialogue should be introduced in all levels of our educational learning. This will help adherents of one religion and another to understand the other’s religious doctrine, and therefore, tolerate one another.
Ejikeme, O. (2008). Peaceful democratic governance in Nigeria: the religious education perspective. (Ed). Adebayo, R. I., Folorunsho, M. A. and Oyeneye, I. O. Religion and democratic governance in Nigeria. (pp 30-36). Ondo: NASRED.
Ferguson, J. (1978). War and peace in world religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kalu, O. (1978). African cultural development. Enugu: Forth Dimension.
Mabugonje, A. and Obasanjo, O. (1992). Elements of democracy. Abeokuta: AIF.
Mbiti, J. S. (1990). African traditional religion. Oxford: Heinemann.
Metuh, I. E. (1987). Comparative studies in African traditional religion. Onitsha: Imico.
Nwankwo, B. C. (2002). Authority in government: Nigeria and world politics. Onitsha: Abbot.
Oborji, F. A. (2005). Towards a Christian theology of African religion: Issues of interpretation and mission. Kenya: AMECEA.
Oguejiofor, J. O. (2005). Resources for peace in African proverbs and myths. Resources for peace in traditional religions. (pp. 81-91). Vatican: Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Okeke, C. O. (2012) The phenomenology of sacred trees in traditional Igbo society: A theological dialogue. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Okeke, C. O. (2012). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Onah, G. I. (2005). The meaning of peace in African traditional religion and culture. Resources for peace in traditional religions. (pp. 39-58). Vatican: Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Onyisi, F. C. (2012). Science & art of politics: A compendium. Nimo: Rex Charles & Patrick.
Salami, E. F. K. (2008). Religion: A veritable tool for the promotion of an enduring democracy and good governance in Nigeria. (Ed). Adebayo, R. I., Folorunsho, M. A. and Oyeneye, I. O. Religion and democratic governance in Nigeria. Ondo: NASRED.
UNDERSTANDING IGBO VERSUS AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION.
Charles Ogbuchukwu Okeke, Ph.D.
1. Section A: African Traditional Religion in Brief
1.1 The Meaning of African Traditional Religion
African traditional Religion is the religion practiced by the various ethnic groups in Africa, not in anyway influenced by Christianity or Islam; It is principally traditional in nature. They are religions that naturally began or sprang in Africa. In Africa, there are many tribes, and each tribe has its own ‘traditional religion’. Religion usually exists in two main clauses, namely historical and non-historical, otherwise called ‘indigenous religion’. We should not make the mistake of understanding them as religion that has no history and a religion that has history, because, in fact, all religions and everything in the universe have some history. An historical religion may be considered as that religion which has written documentary records; such religions include Judaism or Islam, which have the Old Testament and the Koran respectively as well as the Christian religion which has the Old and New Testaments. If any one wants to know about these religions, what the person will do is to pick any of these books and read. These books are the places where one can find the nature, content, context and expressions of these religions, like worshipping, sacrificial, praying methods, rules, regulations, obligations etc. Whereas non-historical or indigenous religions like the African traditional religion have no written documentary records. The African traditional religion is largely based on oral traditions, folk-tales, customs, idioms, proverbs, festivals, names, etc as its means of expression. Hence they are described as traditional religions, that is, religions which are passed down from generation to generation of the world. So, the African traditional religions are those religions in African countries which have no formal, written documentary records but are passed to generations from hand to hand (Anusiobi, 1972).
It should be noted that African traditional religion like other traditional religions are more restricted in their localization and are usually confined to one culture or pattern of life. They are non-proselytizing, that is, they are non-missionary kind of religions. They do not go out to evangelize or convert people like other world religions such as Christianity or Islam, and that is why they are open to welcoming missionaries. They are usually found in the so-called pre-scientific communities of the world.
It is worthwhile naming the various derogatory terms used for the ATR and they include:
Animism is a term from Latin ‘anima’ meaning soul, air, the breath of life, spirit etc. It a vision of the world in virtue of which one believes that there exist in beings or in the forces of nature, living principles and spirits endowed with powers and capable of intervening in human life. The animist cult is the worship or reverence given to these spirits.
African traditional religion contains three essential elements of any religion:
2.1. Igbo Mystical Beliefs
Here I shall attempt to highlight the main characteristics of Igbo mystical/religious beliefs. Among these major beliefs are:
2.1.1. The Supreme Being, Divinities, Spirits and Ancestors
In most African countries, the traditional system of government is that the highest in rank is the king (Igwe, Eze, Oba, etc). The king has some prominent men who act as his agents (ministers in charge of various aspects of the people’s life). In most cases, the common citizen does not go directly to the king for any matter. Instead he goes to one of the agents who will act as an intermediary between the citizen and the king. In the same way the African sees God as the Supreme Being (the king of kings) who has a number of agents (ministers, commissioners) who act as intermediaries between man and God. The agents of God are called divinities and spirits. The divinities are varied in their status and ranks. The Igbo, for instance, recognize five categories of spiritual beings according to their vital ranks:
These divinities are believed to be emanation from the Supreme Being. They rank before the mortal man, who must live a life of balance with them in order to survive. Thus the spiritual beings together with man and other elements are in continuous and intimate relationship. Only when these beings live in harmonious relationship will cosmic harmony be realized (Madu, 1997). It is likely that some of these divinities are personifications of God’s attributes and natural phenomena or the intellectual fragmentations of God’s activities. But the Africans believe that the divinities are real. Though they are believed to have been created by God, they seem to be independent of God in their actions on earth as a result of the freedom given to them by God.
Some of these deities are recognized by most of the African countries, while some are recognized locally-clans, village divinities, and so on. For instance, Ogwugwu, Idemili, Ngene, Eke, Aro, Okpimodu, Omaliko, among others. In addition to divinities, the Africans believe too in the existence of other numerous beings called spirits. These are believed to be just below the divinities in rank and also exercise influence over man. Some of them are described as good spirits, while others are described as evil or bad spirits. The spirits are not seen or touched by the human being but they can do harm or good to man.
The question may be asked as to whether in the African traditional religion there is a belief in a Supreme Being; and if so, why do Africans worship ‘the gods many and the lords many’ as observed by the early missionaries?
The answer is, of course, ‘yes’. The Africans believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and have names for him but also know his attributes so much that no other race of humankind can beat Africans in recounting the attributes of God. The Mende people of Sierra-Leone call him Ngewo (the Great). The Ashantis of Ghana call him Nyame (Giver of life). In Nigeria, the Yorubas call him Olorun (the owner of the sky). The Igbo call him Chukwu, Chi-ukwu (the Great God), Chineke (the creator), and Osebuluwa (one who uphold the world).
In most African countries God is believed to be the Creator of all things, the almighty, all-knowing, the giver of life and breath, the final judge of all men, and so on. The Africans have a particularly rich nomenclature for God. Each of the names used to refer to God, true to the African system of naming is loaded with meaning. They all tell of something the people believe God to be or possess. Some of them are very compound and complex names whose meanings can be got only through a protracted process of analysis. One of such names is Chukwu (Chi-ukwu). The first half ‘Chi’ means ‘Great’, ‘Large’ or ‘Supreme’. So, Chukwu means the ‘Great source of being’ or the Supreme Being, the uncaused cause, the one that caused beings but was not caused by anything or any other being. A similar name is Orise (God, in Yoruba). Ori means the Essence of Being; Se means the ‘Supreme’. There are other similar ones.
2.1.2. Some Attributes of God in African Traditional Religion
The study of God’s names in ATR gives us insight into what the Africans believe God’s attribute to be. Some of these attributes are:
God. However, the Africans believe that God may indeed direct some divinities, spirits to make certain things but the initiative is always his. The divinities do not set about any work of creation without first being commissioned by God to do so. God is the Creator of all things, hence the name Chineke (the Being that creates other being).
These do him homage, run errands for him and render him regular account of their stewardship. On earth, God is the ruler of all. Nothing happens without his authority. He is even believed to be responsible, not only for good things but also for evil things.
The idea of God being responsible for evil things is in opposition to Christian belief. According to Christian belief, the good things of the world originate from God but not definitely the evil things. God permits evil thing to happen but does not cause evil himself.
Religion give reward to whom is due, but he is also quick to mete out punishment to whom this is due. Among his instruments (agents) of punishment is a divinity – the thunder/lightning divinity. God sends this divinity (Amadioha or Egbeigwe) to strike down any person who may deserve such penalty as a result of his misdeeds.
The Africans believe that misadventure in an individual is a manifest evidence of his iniquity and consequent chastisement by God. Sin is believed to be the cause of all sickness, hence whenever one is sick, one goes to a diviner to find out which divinity one has offended and the appease him by offering the appropriate sacrifice.
But the Christian believe that the good as well as the bad could be afflicted with misadventure, regardless of their righteousness or perversity. The stories of Job and Saul in the Old Testament are clear examples of this belief. There are many other attributes of God expressed in African traditional religion.
2.2. The Concept of Chi
In Igbo religion, Chi (destiny spirit) is one of the three emanations of God. Others are Anyanwu and Agbara (sun spirit and power), and Okike (creator spirit). In some context, these spirits are identified with God, while in other context, they appear independent. Chi is God’s spirit dwelling in man, to guide and protect him and win God’s favor on his behalf.
The word chi is an indefinite term and, therefore, can be often used to signify God and often a creature. Chi when employed to signify God is usually qualified as Chi-ukwu (great God, Mighty God), Chi-neke (God the creator) respectively. In other words, the Supreme Chi. The role of chi is creative or positive as well as executive. Thus he can suggest safe ways to his client and lead him through. He can protect or abandon the client at will, hence the cry Chi m egbuo m! (My Chi has betrayed me!)
The Igbo believe that God does not do anyone evil, nor does evil come from God. One tracers evil to Ekwensu (devil) - ajo chi (bad chi), akalogoli (the spirit of the dead people who lived bad life on earth and did not reach the land of the ancestors as well as those who were not accorded funeral accordingly especially those who committed suicide, etc.
To thank the chi for his wardship up to the moment and to gladden his heart over his client for future custody, chi cult becomes necessary. Men have their chi symbol and shrine typified by the presence of the ogbu tree (species of dolichandrone) planted a little away in front of the obi house. Women usually plant oha or ogilisi tree with relics taken from their mother’s shrines. The shrine consists of small earthen mound over which a small roof is built, to shelter it from rain, and a small clay dish okwa chi in which offerings are placed.
2.3. The Ancestors
These are African traditional saints who are not really deified; they are rather honored owing to the position they occupy among the African families. They are not worshipped or adored but venerated. They are still regarded as part of the family to which they belonged when alive. Now that they are stripped of the body through death, they become freer and more active in helping the members of the family and the towns of their origin. They approach the different kinds of spirits and divinities interested in the affairs of men and enter into communion with them in view of the good of their living kith and kin. If a correct and befitting burial is not accorded a dead person he may become a wandering ghost, unable to live peacefully after death and therefore a danger to those who remain alive. For one to become an ancestor, the following characteristics must be fulfilled:
Ezenweke (2008) articulated the roles of the ancestors to include:
Ancestors are believed to manifest in the family, clan and community in various forms. Thus they continue to interact with the living through dreams, appearances, visions, sounds and incarnations through animals such as birds, butterflies, bees, snakes, lions, python, and even, vegetations.
It is not the ancestors that are believed or thought to have reached the land of the bliss; other men, women, single or married, survived by only female children or by no child at all provided they lived according to the law and customs of the people and are given befitting funerals, also reach the land of the bliss but not ancestors. Such people are also venerated. All such people in all their stages are supposed to be the various masquerades that roam the towns and villages during different traditional feasts and festivals. Thus they are inform of male and/or girl masquerades (agbogho mmuo), formidably, strong ones representing those who died in their prime of youth and so on.
2.3.1 The Theory of the Universe
At this point, I shall postulate the land of bliss using the Igbo view of the universe. According to this theory, there are two universes: visible and invisible. The visible universe is the earth and other elements like the galaxies, waters; it is the abode of the human, animals, and other inanimate beings; while the invisible universe is the abode of the supernatural beings, which include the Supreme Being, deities, spirit-forces, ancestors and other invisible forces.
In the invisible universe there are five categories or states of life. One is the abode of the ancestors. It is where only men who are ancestors live. And that is the first category. Here the inhabitants enjoy happiness because there is no suffering of any kind. In the second category the inhabitants are both male and female. They are here receiving some punishment due to the sins they committed while on earth. After purging them for sometime they will now join the ancestors or go to the place befitting them. The other category, which is the third, is where the little children are inhabited. It is also a land of bliss but for the children who did not commit any sin while on earth. They either died prematurely or in the womb and neither because of their own fault met their untimely death.
The fourth category is the abode of women, young boys and girls who died in their youth but lived good moral life while on earth according to the reckonings of the people. They were also accorded befitting burial and funeral ceremonies. They are in the land of bliss but because one or two characteristic(s) of an ancestors is/are lacking they are not received in the company of the ancestors, though they were accorded befitting burial rites.
Finally, is the fifth category, which is reserved for the wicked spirits. They did not live upright lives while on earth; were not accorded befitting burial rites and so, they are not happy in the next world. They are really suffering, and that is why they come back to the visible universe to torment their kiths and kin, causing accidents and fomenting troubles, etc.
2.4. The Concept of Magic
Idowu (1973) quoting E. O . James defines magic as “an attempt on the part of man to tap and control the supernatural resources of the universe for his own benefit. It is a resort to super causation by means of spell and rite” (p. 190). According to Awolalu and Dopamu (1979) “Magic can be defined as an attempt by man to tap and control these supernatural powers or resources of the universe for his own benefit (p. 240). But Amponsah (1979) quoting Galloway, said that “Magic is an attempt on man’s part to compass his ends by mysterious or occult means” (p. 90). From the following definitions it is clear that there are vital forces or supernatural powers in the universe which can be tapped and controlled by man. Magic is, therefore, a manipulation of symbolism as a technique for controlling one’s environment.
Magic is the act of influencing the course of events by the control of or use of mystical forces believed to infest the universe. It is a positive act performed with the view of manipulating supernatural powers or beings. It is believed that power resides in material substances such as vegetable, human or animal flesh or blood and the substances are manipulated for both good and evil purposes. Magic can be considered as personal or social, as good or harmful. In magic man uses two major techniques:
2.3.1. Functions of Magic
There are three main functions of magic, though there are more:
1. Productive function
This concerns with bringing about a good harvest, to increase the food supply, to ensure a successful outcome to creative or productive activity both in terms of human labor and of natural bounty.
2. Protective function
This is aimed at preventing or removing danger, curing sickness and protecting an individual or community from the vagaries of nature and evil acts of others. It may give confidence to people so as to continue their normal ways of life and activities.
3. Destructive function
This is known as sorcery and it is usually directed specifically against other people to harm them or their activities. In most cases the fear of this type of magic reduces individual initiative since a successful or wealthy person in an egalitarian society may fear sorcery of those jealous of him.
2.4. The Sorcery
This is an element of bad magic. According to Awolalu and Dopamu (1979) “Sorcery consists of associating oneself with supernatural powers to effect destructive and anti-social ends” (p. 247). In most cases sorcery, though a form of magic is termed ‘black magic.’ Sorcery involves harming people over long distance or by personal contacts. Most often the sorcerer does not act on his own behalf but offers his services for a fee to a client who is seeking to right a wrong believed was done him by the person who is to be the victim of the sorcerer.
Mostly sorcery is performed secretly and for a sorcerer to work, he will necessary obtain something belonging to the victim. Sorcery is hazardous. Sorcerers are enemies of the society and are very much feared by the people. Usually people take care to avoid them and rarely eat or drink in their homes. The presence of a sorcerer in any gathering makes people uneasy. Sometimes sorcerers do not require tangible relics like hairs, nails or cloths to operate, but they can utilize man’s shadow, urine or foot prints.
As the enemies of the society, they are not usually mourned or properly buried when they die but often thrown into the bad bush (ajo ofia).
2.5. The Witchcraft (Amusu)
Belief in witchcraft is found in most human communities around the world. A witch is one believed to bring evil effect upon others through mystical powers or forces. Witchcraft itself is a manifestation of the mystical forces which a person inherited or acquired in various ways. Witches are believed to be able to leave their bodies during sleep and go on nocturnal (night) visitations in the company of other witches and then return to their bodies.
During this visitation they are believed to meet in groups or guilds to enjoy feast made up of human beings. It is also believed that they meet on top of tall and huge trees. It is equally believed that after leaving their bodies the witches turn themselves into animals, insects or birds and travel to their destinations hence people are always afraid of seeing nocturnal animals, birds or insects in their houses. It is also believed that whatever happens to the animal, birds or insects into which the witch has turned during the nocturnal mission happens to the person as well.
There are many traditional beliefs as to how one becomes a witch. One of the beliefs is that witch could be inherited through a witch mother passing the spirit of witchcraft to her daughter. Secondly, some believe that membership of witchcraft is inborn. Others believe that witchcraft is an infection that could be taken with food, hence mothers usually advise their children never to accept edible things from unknown persons.
Witches are of two types, namely, the nocturnal malignant and nauseating creature, which is usually referred to as black witch, while the other is the white witch, which people usually accept to be benevolent. The black witch is so wicked and dangerous that it capable of attacking ethereal or spiritual bodies of their victims extracting and devouring their spiritual bodies during sleep. This is described as spiritual cannibalism.
2.5.1 Differences Between Witchcraft and Sorcerer
1. Witches are mostly women while sorcerers are mostly men
2. The sorcerers use magical apparatus to operate while witches use no apparatus but have psychic malevolent power.
3. Sorcerer possesses his magical power through learning and apprenticeship while the witch inherits the psychic power through food or by other means.
4. The sorcerer is usually conscious of his actions. He acts deliberately for specific reasons which may include jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, enmity, malice or spite but the witch may not be conscious of what she is doing. His exercise is often automatic and spontaneous.
5. The sorcerers do not usually turn into animals to attend but witches travel through animals.
6. The knowledge of bad magic is not sorcery. It is the actual practice of bad magic that is sorcery. Thus a magician or medicine man may have the knowledge of sorcery and use that knowledge to achieve his selfish ends. In this case he has become a sorcerer, yet people may go to him to procure good medicine.
7. One is a sorcerer when one uses bad magic; he may cease to be a sorcerer when he repents and works no evil magic. But a witch is hard to repent and hard to be cured of witchcraft. When one has possessed the psychic power it is hard to be freed from it. Chinua Achebe (1973) in Things Fall Apart tells a story of how Ezinma, the daughter of Okonkwo, was dodging the particular spot where she buried her iyi-uwa (bond of commitment) (p. 73).
8. The witch usually operates at night while the sorcerer can work both at night and in the day time. The witches have to sleep at night before their souls could travel off their bodies whereas the sorcerer sometimes have to keep vigil in order to perform his work of killing the enemy.
9. The activities of the witches are normally spiritual and are connected with the soul but sorcerer’s activities can be physical. Thus a person can be deformed with insanity, elephantiasis of the leg, and so on.
10. A client can approach a sorcerer and engage his services or buy destructive magic medicine to harm his enemy but witches are not approached for such.
11. It is believed that some witches especially the white witches could be used to protect children but sorcery is totally evil and wicked and destructive.
Sorcery and witches are both agents of evil. They could be used to cause death, illness of various type, misfortunes, diseases, unsuccessfulness in enterprise, barrenness and all other evils. Though good magic is sought to counter the effect of both sorcery and witches.
2.6. Medicine and Charms (Ogwu)
Medicine means any substance that is used in treating or preventing diseases or illness. According to Metuh (1981) “Making medicine is called igwo ogwu. This same term translate the making of every kind of medicine whether made to secure good luck or offensive medicine” (p. 97). Furthermore Metuh (1981) stated that, “There is hardly any distinction made between medicine as pharmaceutical preparation and medicine as charm or purveyor of mystical powers” (p. 55). Based on the above definitions, one can now see that names for charms and medicines are identical at least in Igbo traditional society. Their uses are also very common.
However, Ifeanyi (1989) defines charm as simply “an object believed to have occult powers” (p. 61). In Igbo language, charms and medicines are generally called ogwu. Ogwu in general can be prepared from roots, herbs, or plants having some real or imaginary powers to give solution to a variety of human problems and sickness.
Ogwu as a pharmaceutical preparation can be used to cure different types of sickness beginning from headache (isi owuwa) to diarrhea (afo osisa) to mental sickness (okiri mgbawa isi) among others. There are also Igbo pharmaceutical preparations used by traditional orthopaedic doctors or bone setters. On the other hand, ogwu used as charms can be used for various purposes such as making people to disappear from one position to another, to lie in thorns, to send curses or harm people or even to kill a person even from a distance, and to protect a person.
Charms or medicine can be dangerous or destructive depending on their preparation and use. Their powers are believed to be inherent in nature so that anyone who knows their make-up can tap them. These charms and medicines are not only prepared from herbs and plants. They can be mixed up or prepared from other objects such as animal parts to give solutions to a variety of human problems and sickness. It is believed that these charms and medicine work in conjunction with certain invocations. In fact, Metuh (1970) says, “It is the ritual invocations which give dynamism to the mixture and trigger it into action” (p. 213).
Medicines and charms are both prepared by medicine men. There are good and bad medicines as well as protective and aggressive or destructive charms. Good or protective medicines are socially approved, usually used to cure diseases and ward off misfortunes, while bad medicines and charms are applied to socially disapproved goals, usually used to bring some injuries or misfortunes to people.
People use medicines prepared for protection of their individual persons as well as for the protection of their families and kindred. Protective medicines can also be used to protect
the infection of diseases of one kind or the other. This kind of medicine is either eaten or inserted into the body in form of inoculation. Some others are smeared all over the body in form of a lotion. Good deals of the protective medicines are either placed at the entrance of the house or in a corner of the compound. It can also be hung in the ceiling of the room. There are others that can be buried in the floor of the house or in a comfortable part of the compound.
3.1. Types of Sacrifice
The African recognizes that he is not the master of the world. There are superior powers such as the invisible spirits, the ancestors and other spirit forces. Some of these spirits are regarded as good or bad, benevolent or wicked. The African believe that the invisible universe is in action around him and that his term of life is short if he happens to fall foul of its denizens. He feels that it is up to him to propitiate these spirits and to treat them with courtesy and reverence. That was the fundamental reason he has such penchant for sacrifice in all its many forms.
In treating sacrifice here, we will divide it into four types, using Igbo sub-culture approach, namely Purification or Expiatory (Ikpu Aru/Alu), Exorcism (Ichu Aja), Propitiatory (Imegha Mmuo) and Consecratory sacrifices.
3.1.1 Purification or Expiatory (Ikpu Aru /Alu)
This type of sacrifice is offered to cleanse the pollutions arising from a breach of sacred prohibitions of the mother earth. In Igbo land, there are major pollutions which the Igbo would call abomination because they threaten the community as a whole. Example of this major pollution or abomination is murder. There are also minor pollutions which may affect only the offender and his immediate kindred, example, adultery. Purification of both pollutions is called ikpu aru.
Purification for minor pollution is performed by a diviner and things used are according to the prescription of the diviner. The diviner uses an egg and a chicken or a white fowl. He weaves it round the culprit’s head a number of times with some invocations of the ancestors and the earth goddess to forgive the offender. The sacrificial victim is later thrown away into the evil forest with the belief that the pollution has gone inside the egg.
Purification rite for major abomination is performed by a special priest from Nri. The ordinary victim is a sheep. The earth spirit and ancestors are invoked to forgive the offender. Sometime the offender is required to say out his offence aloud before the shrine and to smear his body with ashes. The Nri priest takes a greater part of the victim together with a fat fee.
Public purification sacrifice in an Igbo town or village used to assume special solemnity in the sacrifice of escape-goats
3.1.2 Exorcism (Ichu Aja)
This sacrifice is usually undertaken after a series of misfortune which has defiled natural explanations, a prolonged illness which has defiled all cures, or many death deaths in quick succession in a family. The step is to consult a diviner who would in most cases recommend this sacrifice. The spirits to whom this sacrifice is offered are evil spirits of the dead, that is, akalogoli. The characteristic feature of this sacrifice is that it is offered without joy. In other words, it is regarded as joyless sacrifice.
It is performed either by a diviner or head of a family as the case may be. The sacrificial ingredients include less valuable things like cowries, chicken, pieces of yam, lizard, eggs or egg-shells, kolanuts, pieces of cloths, fowls, miscarried young goats or cows. The offering demands no more space than a wooden platter, a fragment of a broken earthen pot, a boat shaped container woven from palm leaf tendril. The container is dropped at a place prescribed by the diviner especially place where roads joined. This sacrifice is offered to escape from the evil designs and activities of malignant spirits.
3.1.3 Propitiatory Sacrifice (Imegha Mmuo)
This sacrifice is usually undertaken to please a god or spirits. It is made either to dispose the gods or assist man to achieve some of his aspirations. It includes offerings made to ancestral cult annually during some festivals organized for them. It is offered according to the instruction of a diviner. The traditional morning prayer is included in this category because in it, there is element of sacrifice like offering of kolanut. Sacrifice for thanksgiving, petition and peace can be categorized under this.
The general thing is that this sacrifice is offered with joy. It is for the ancestors, the eldest in the family offers it. The blood of the victim is sprinkled on the cult while the flesh is cooked and eaten by all present. The priest of a shrine is responsible for the sacrifice. The blood is also sprinkled on the shrine or cult and the flesh cooked and eaten. However in some shrines like that of the sacred Ngwu, the victim, normally, a fowl, is roasted with some tubers of yam and eaten without oil by the people present. Women sacrifice is usually communal.
3.1.4 Consecratory (Ido Nso)
The Igbo have the practice of consecrating some animals to a deity without killing them. Such victims after the sacrificial rituals are allowed to wander around the premises of the neighborhood. These victims also include human beings whom after the rituals are called osu. The immolation of the victim is symbolically expressed by either making a deep cut on the animal to let some its blood drop on the altar, or slicing off a tiny of its body as token offering to the deity. The scar thereafter remains as a mark that it is the property of the deity. The dedication or sacrificial ceremony which takes place at the shrine is performed by the priest of the deity in the presence of the titled men of the community; with the ofo, he consecrates the victim by invoking the ancestors to receive the gifts and protect them.
Someone can give a domestic animal to a god for a favour received from the god or to pay a vow. It is believed that anybody that kills or wounds the animal either deliberately or undeliberately invites the wrath of the deity.
Section 4: Worship in Igbo Religion
4.1. The Meaning of Worship
Worship means a prayer or service or other rites, showing reverence or devotion to a deity. Boyle (1981) put it this way, “Worship is the praise, thanksgiving and acknowledgement given to God by believing individuals and communities through actions and words” (p. 1340). During worship some prayers are said, rituals are performed, sacrifices and offerings are made to the deity. What characterizes worship most is that the worshipper must have strong faith in the efficacy of the sacrifice, which he offers with such interior conviction and sincerity. Hence the individual believes that when everything is done properly, his sacrifice will bring its effect. He also believes that the spirits and ancestors are bound to grant his request when he had offered his victim.
Furthermore, worship, particularly communal worship, is in form of celebrations in what the community regards as the intervention of the deity into an existing bad situation. Or, it could be in form of pleading with the deity to give blessing or avert an imminent danger threatening the community.
4.1.2. Who Performs the Worship
The priest of the particular deities performs worship. The people believe in the importance of the choice of a devoted and powerful priest to a deity. Hence the saying onye bu mmuo adighi ike, mmuo o na-ebu adighikwa ike (when the chief priest of a deity is not powerful, the deity itself cannot be powerful). (Arinze, 1970; Okeke, 2012). This adage suggests that the chief priest plays a vital role in enhancing the power of the deity. It is he that advertises the hidden powers of the deity, including the speed anger with which it kills. He carries about the fame of the deity far and wide and portrays the deity in such a way that people would begin to see it as powerful.
In most cases, the priest does not live in the same vicinity where the shrine of the deity is situated. Consequently, the offerings to the deity are taken to the shrine, while the priest goes to the place to offer the sacrifice (Arinze, 1970).
4.1.3 Types of Worship
The true major types of worship as classified by Ezeanya, which seems to be most appropriate are: Indirect and Direct worship.
This is a sacrificial worship given to God through the minor divinities such as ala, udo, eke, ogwugwu, among others. During these sacrifices God may be mentioned and his help invoked explicitly. But among the Igbo, for instance, whether God is mentioned or not, he is believed to be the ultimate recipient of all sacrifices to the divinities for they are all believed to be his messengers who act as intermediaries between him and man.
The adherents of ATR are of the opinion that there is no need worrying God directly. They believe it is more convenient to approach him through the known intermediaries .
Until very recently people are of the opinion that there is no direct worship of the Supreme Being in African religion. But recent researches have revealed that direct cult abound in Igbo religion, for instance. In the direct worship, God is invoked first before the other gods. This type of worship is fairly widespread in parts of Nsukka, Awka, Afikpo and Ihembosi. Metuh (1981) identifies four types of direct sacrifice, namely The rites of Igba mkpu Chukwu, (celebrating God’s mound), this is common practice in Ihembosi; Aja Eze Enu (sacrifice to God, king of heaven), this is seen in Afikpo and Nsukka areas; Iruma Chukwu (Installing the altar of God), this is common among the Oguta Igbo group; and Ikpalu Chukwu (making a sacrificial boat for God on marriage), this is commonly seen in Awgu division (p. 129).
With these findings, the Igbo believe that through worship man is able to restore the lost original link with God and as such they worship him either directly or indirectly.
The Role of Traditional Religion in Nation Building
ATR can offer much to the modern world but we shall limit ourselves to four significant ways:
1. Religion is Life
In Africa, religion is lived, not studied or speculated. Even the main tenets of ATR are part of a way of life for the people. They are not meant to be seen as a set of doctrines to be learned and taught. There is no dichotomy between what the people believe traditionally and what they live daily. They live, and are influenced in their action, by what they believe. Religion is the source and inspiration of all culture. It is the culture centre and therefore gives meaning to African life.
In contrast, contemporary man tends to see religion and life as if they were too separate entities, each deserving of attention at appropriate times. Hence today we find many Christians, for instance, who confess one thing but live the very opposite of what they believe. They are either nominal Christians or live a double life, one Christian and the other cultural. ATR does not admit of such duplicity because it is presumed in the tribe that every member is under the guidance and protection of God and the ancestor. Culture is the covenant which unites the living and the dead and inspires all actions. Therefore, it is this symbiosis of culture and religion that Africa traditional religion can offer as a great value to enrich and enhance the nation.
2 African Religious world-view
The contemporary society has made astronomical advance in the field of science and technology. So one would have expected that modern man would have the best quality of life. Yet at no time in history have we seen such abundance of wealth and still hunger and extreme need plague a huge number of people. At no time also has humanity achieve such material progress like today, yet so many find little or no meaning in life. We have seen horrendous wars and continue to live under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. So contemporary man hovers between hope and anxiety. He may have a heightened sense of success but there is also an uneasy feeling of failure.
In the midst of this confusion there is the temptation to drift into absurdity. This is just the moment when the typically African religious outlook will help to put things into proper perspective. Africans have a very profound religious sense. They can contribute a lot to the enhancement of respect for life in general and human life in particular, property and environment.
3. Community Consciousness
Africans have such an acute sense of solidarity and community life that life is meaningless without others. In traditional Africa, everyone is included in society. No one is excluded from human existence and societal benefits. Everyone is presented to the ancestors during sacrifice. Everyone learns to share the little that is available with others. This contrast sharply with a world where individualism is almost becoming a dogma, and agreed has quietly institutionalized itself. Yet we need each other because each person has value and is a gift. Egoism and selfishness are rife in our world today because people refuse to think about others. The world’s resources are not meant for a privileged few but were given by God for the good of all humanity. We are born to be and share with others. We may be different as individuals and performing different functions and enjoy different status but we all share equality in dignity as persons.
Furthermore, we are not saved as individuals with no relationship, but in and through the community. Although each person bears responsibility for his acts, he is either punished or rewarded depending on his behavior towards others.
4 Respect for Human Life
The so called contemporary world will probably go down in history as the one civilization that has violated fundamental human rights most and treated human life with shocking levity. With the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, humanity should have learnt a lesson of what our human intelligence can do. Yet rather than abate our appetite for war, we seem to have refueled our craze for the accumulation of atomic, bacteriological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. What is even more frightening is the fact that these weapons are today in the hands of some of the world’s most irresponsible and unfeeling terrorists, leaders and regimes. So we can expect more disasters like the one at the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, and consequent reprisals like the American-led mission in Afghanistan in the month following. Or when we are not fighting terrorists, then we think of the gory sights in the Rwandan fratricide, the horror in Freetown and the senseless murders all over the world as well as the Boko Haram menace in Nigeria.
Human life seems to have lost its sacredness and awe. Even some women in Africa, who are seen as the source, protector and transmitter of life, are now arguing in favor of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. All these contradict a civilization which claims to have reached beyond the skies. However, in the midst of all this madness, the authentic African love and respect for human life, has much to offer. ATR can bring back to the world, the lost sense of the sacredness and meaning of life.
Achebe, C. (1973). Things fall apart. Ibadan: Heinemann.
Amponsah, K. (1975). Topics on West African traditional religion. Cape coast: Mfanfsiman.
Anusiobi, H. M. N. (1972). Igbo religiousness its virtues and limitations in the light of Christianity. Rome: Terasianum.
Arinze, F. A. (1970). Sacrifice in Ibo religion. Ibadan: University Press.
Awolalu, J. O. & Dopamu, A. P. (1979). West African traditional religion. Ilorin: Onibonoje.
Boyle, A. O. (1981). New Catholic encyclopedia. Washington: Jack Heraty.
Ezenweke, E. O. (2008). The cult of ancestors: A focal point for prayers in African traditional communities. Journal of religion and human relations, I, 46-60.
Idowu, E. B. (1973). African traditional religion: A definition. London: SCM.
Madu, J. E. (1997). Fundamentals of religious studies. Calabar: Franedoh.
Metuh, E. I. (1981). God and man. Great Britain: Camelot.
Okeke, C. O. (1912). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen’s.
Opata, F. A (1998). Essay on Igbo world-view. Enugu: AP Express.