THE RETURN OF IGBO YOUTHS TO THE RELIGION OF THEIR ANCESTORS, BY DONS EZE
The growing trend in most communities in Igboland, these days, is the situation where some young boys and girls have taken to “idol worshipping”. In virtually every corner of Igboland, you will see different kinds of shrines, big and small, often decorated with white and red cloths, with some young boys and girls acting as their chief priests. They call themselves “Eze-nwanyi” or “Eze-nwoke”.
Adherents of this old religious order will tell people that they have decided to go back to their roots, to the religion of their ancestors, because Christianity had failed, and that those who brought the Christian religion had destroyed the fabric of society, or the value system of the people. These young boys and girls, who ironically were products of the same Christian religion, and who often bear Christian names, are mainly school dropouts, jobless and failed artisans or traders.
This development is posing a serious challenge to Christianity in Igboland, because the propagators of this traditional religion, are leading many people astray. They tell people that in spite of the many years of Christianity, the religion had not been able to lift them out of poverty. Rather, it had continued to pauperize the people. The only way out therefore, according to them, will be a return to the religion of their ancestors, so they could invoke their spirits to rescue them from the delibilitating situation they currently found themselves.
Interestingly, the propagators of this old religious order are fast winning new converts as many people are seen flock to their shrines each time they have functions, and they fully partake in their activities. A lot of people visit these shrines with material items like cows, goats, fowls, and even cash, to seek solution to their various problems such as marriage partnerships, protection from enemies, and in particular, to seek for wealth and prosperity.
Some people have been wondering and asking whether this backward integration, a journey to the past, the return to the religion of the ancestors, will be the way out of the present situation in Igboland? Others, however, ask about the main ingredients or benefits of this traditional religion, which these young boys and girls are hankering for, and drawing people to its side?
Before the coming of Christianity to Igboland, and by extension to the African Continent, about one hundred and fifty years ago, Africa was said to be in darkness. Africa was then known as the “Dark Continent”. It is not that the Sun was not shining on Africa, rather that the minds of most people in Africa were in the dark.
At that time, many people were living in ignorance, and as such, did not have a clear picture of the universe, its contents, and its surroundings. The people had based their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the environment around them on speculations, conjectures, myths, folklores, or what they were told or heard from their forefathers. There was no emperical evidence to substantiate or justify those claims, no past records to rely upon, and no scientific proof to authenticate the reports.
As a result, there were several injustices, crimes, and evil practices committed or perpetrated by the people against themselves in the name of culture and religion. Twins were killed. So also were children who came out from their mothers’ wombs with their legs, rather than with their heads, or children who first caught their upper teeth before their lower teeth, etc. The Igbo ancestors at that time, had thought that what they were doing was good, because they based them on culture and religion.
During that time also, the relationship between various individuals in society with their neighbours was more or less hostile, due to ignorance, prejudices, biases, suspicions, mistrusts, misconceptions and misunderstandings by the people. Most people were living like in the Hobbesian state of nature when life was nasty, short and brutish – the war of all against all. That was why there were many inter-personal and communal conflicts in those days.
As part of their culture and religion, the primordial Igbo, or the African, did not accord respect to the equality of the human person. Women had no say, and so, were relegated to the background. While some individuals, either as a result of accident of birth or position, were considered to be more human, and sometimes even treated as gods, others, who due to no fault of their own, were treated as less than human beings. For instance, when a king died, he would not be buried alone. They must hunt for human heads to accompany him to the grave.
The Igbo ancestors had a very hazy understanding of the Maker or Controller of the Universe. While at the back of their minds, they knew and recognized that there is a Supreme Deity, called CHI-UKWU, who made Heaven and Earth, they however created a multiplicity of gods or deities by gathering stones and carved objects, around some strange beings like trees, hills, streams or rivers, etc., and decorated them with pieces of cloths. Being objects of their immediate perception, they worshipped and venerated these works of their hands, while abandoning the Supreme Deity, CHI-UKWU, or relegated Him to the inner most part of their minds.
The priests who acted as the intermediaries, or who ministered to these deities, determined the mode of their worships and what these deities would require as sacrifices that should be offered to them. Sometimes, it could be animals, properties, or even human beings, and these priests greatly profited from the sacrifices.
In those days, you could see a large community of human beings – male and female, young and old, who were said to have been offered to these idols or deities. These people belonged to those deities, and no one would dare near or touch any of them, except the priests who owned them. On the social plane, these people were regarded and treated as “outcasts,” and they would not have any interaction or relationship with any “free born”.
These were some of the sordid things done in the past by our ancestors in the name of culture and religion, and what these young boys and girls in the villages are hankering for and asking us to join them.
When the Whitemen came with their Christian religion, they considered this form of culture and religious worship as evil, and proceeded to abolish them. They fought against the killing of twins, against human sacrifices, social segregation, maltreatment and marginalization of women, etc.
They began to educate the human mind, because they believed that most of these evil practices, stemmed from lack of knowledge, or ignorance. They taught the people how to worship the true God, the Supreme Deity, and asked them not to worship the works made by man.
These were some of the reasons why Christianity was easily accepted by the people, apart from the fact that the traditional religion has multiplicity of gods, without codification, each with its own chief priest, who did not receive any previous training, but behaved in different ways.
Even though, initially, there was hasty generalization, when those who brought Christianity wanted to throw away the baby with the bathwater by proclaiming everything they met on ground as evil and satanic that must be destroyed. But this was later corrected by sifting the wheat out from the chaff through the acceptance and integration of some decent traditional cultural practices, with the new religion.
That is why culture is said to be dynamic, and not static. You take what is good from other people’s culture and integrate it with what is good in your own culture, and leave out the bad ones. That is how society grows. No society grows in a static, or isolationist culture.
Now, when you consider what these young boys and girls in the villages who are priding themselves as champions of traditional religion are doing, you will discover that they are not into any genuine religious worship. Rather, majority, if not all of them, are involved in occult practices, ritual killings, fake promises, fortune tellings, etc, all aimed at how to make quick money. A lot of people even believe that many of these young boys and girls are working hand in hand with Fulani herdsmen to kidnap innocent villagers for ransom.
Pitiably, many people have fallen victim to their antics and diabolical acts. A lot of people have been duped, hypnotized, kidnapped, killed, and infested with different kinds of poisonous diseases like Acha-ele, and they will turn round to claim that they know how to cure these ailments, and asked to be paid to that effect.
Worse still, unlike the ancestors who they claim to be imitating, these young boys and girls have no moral. The ancestors knew and observed what they called “nso ala”, taboo or abomination. But these young boys and girls who claim to be practising traditional religion, do not know and observe anything like that. They do everything with impunity. They kill their fathers, mothers, children, girl friends, boy friends, etc., and use them for rituals, so far money is involved.
In those days, before any of the ancestors could perform or send any poisonous substance or charm to harm anybody, they would first send warning messages through any of the person’s relatives. But these days, nobody cares. Many innocent people have been cut down for committing no crimes, through different kinds of diabolical means, due to greed, envy and jealousy. We blame television opera, Nollywood, for giving prominence to this fetish religion, because what they are doing is fetishism, and not any traditional religion.
It will therefore not be out of place to suggest that both the government and security agencies should take serious look at the activities of these young boys and girls in the villages who claim to be practising traditional religion before everything gets out of hand. We believe that they are not staying in the villages for nothing. There must have been something up their sleeves. That was how Boko Haram started in the North. Some young boys came out to say that they no longer want Western education, that Western education is evil.Nobody is against freedom of religious worship. But where, at every corner of the street, you see one idol or the other, with their owners doing practically nothing, but living very big, or in opulence, it becomes suspicious, which should be investigated.