THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DEITIES IN THE CONTEMPORARY NSUKKA NORTHERN IGBOLAND

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DEITIES IN THE CONTEMPORARY NSUKKA NORTHERN IGBOLAND

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CHAPTER ONE

1.1       BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

Events in the recent past connected with some deities in Igboland reveal that deities’ regime is not yet over in a society that accepted Christianity and its attendant western civilization about one hundred and fifty years ago. If appearance is taken for reality, deities would have become museum pieces in Igboland judging by outward manifestations of Christianity and civility in the contemporary Igbo public life.

But the “embattled gods” (Kalu; 2003) of Igboland merely retreated and refused to surrender when heavy punches were delivered on them by the forces of change. They have demonstrated in the recent past that they are very much alive, resilient and active operating as it were in a latent manner. The Efuru deity in Idoha in Nsukka cultural zone attracted the attention of the then Anambra State Government and had its shrine destroyed in 1988 because of the activities going on in the shrine which were adjudged inhuman.

In 1994 the most dreaded deity in Nsukka zone Adoro Ero in Alor-Uno, was touched by a crusading para-Christian sect. The deity was sacked in the process but similar attempt at the shrine of the deity in Alor—Agu was ferociously resisted leading to the death of the leader of the group as a result of serious injuries she sustained in the fight.

Similarly in 2002, Christians in Neke, invaded and destroyed the shrines of Ezugwu and Odo deities in what they considered as inhuman and ungodly


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practices in the shrines. The story made waves in the national dailies as human skulls alleged to have been recovered from the shrines where displayed on the pages of the print media. A long and protracted court case ensued as the traditionalists who felt that their right to freedom of worship has been infringed upon took the Christians to court. The state, the church, the police and the judiciary were involved in the imbroglio.

The last of such incidence which attracted national attention was the ‘Ogwugwu Okija shrine saga’. The Nigerian Police acting on a petition she received stormed the site of the shrine, arrested the priests and recovered human skulls and decaying bodies. Nigerians reacted to the discovery with some blames on the failure of the church and the court. The action of the Police was supported by some people while others condemned it.

From the examples above it is obvious that shrines in Igboland have not been abandoned contrary to expectations at the introduction of Christianity. Some deities have had their shrines destroyed but the speed with which they were reconstructed and reconsecrated by the people is eloquent testimony of their significance in their lives. Apart from the waves which their destruction create in the media not much effort has been made to investigate the reasons for their resilience and why they bounce back soon after their ‘destruction’. This work seeks to achieve this.

Before the Igbo came in contact with Western ideologies, the traditional religion permeated all aspects of life. It was carried into all human affairs and


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deities played significant roles. Just as their powers were tapped to enhance life,

they were equally used to deal with perceived enemies. Magical powers were

acquired to ward off evil forces and to hack one’s way through to achievements

and success. This mindset still rules the Igbo, the outward manifestations to the

contrary notwithstanding.

1.2       STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

One  of  the  achievements  of  Christianity  and  Western  Civilization  in

Igboland after more than one hundred and fifty years is the emergence of a

people  who  are not truly Christian  and  not  truly African. The  average  Igbo

Christians have adopted ambivalent lifestyles. They are according to Asogwa

(2008) half Christians and half ‘pagans’. The Christian God and Western style

of  living  are  acknowledged  publicly  in  blissful  moments  while  deities  and

traditional      means are       turned to         secretly          when   life’s   vicissitudes   present

themselves.

Hence, traditional and western worldviews rule the minds of the Igbo. In

view of this Onuh (1996) observes that:

A majority of Igbo Christians are, so to speak double-faced, one face is that of Christianity which hangs on them as a coat… as long as the vicissitudes of life find one on joy and peace, and the other, the traditional face which naturally belongs to them to the core… This face is manifested and projected in life’s crises. Confronted with illness, misfortunes, deaths, and barrenness, the double faced


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Christian adheres to the traditional methods for solution to these life’s problems (p.2).

The vast majority of Igbo Christians  live syncretic life. Syncretism leads to

distorted life, of not having a focus on a particular thing, of being neither here

nor there, of not being sure of where one stands, of being confused.

Christians go to church on Sundays yet patronize deities when real life

situations present themselves for solutions. The business man uses charms to

attract customers; civil servants feel that unless they acquire magical powers

someone else might sit on their promotions. The same goes for lawyers who

believe in using charms to cast spell on one another. The politicians perform all


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