borrowing from the gods oracular deities as traditional sources of credit among the igbo of nigeria l.
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Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria. Prof Kenneth Omeje School of Arts & Sciences UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY (USIU) NAIROBI, KENYA. Outline of Presentation. Research objectives Background of the Ethnographic region

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borrowing from the gods oracular deities as traditional sources of credit among the igbo of nigeria
Borrowing from the Gods: Oracular Deities as Traditional Sources of Credit among the Igbo of Nigeria

Prof Kenneth Omeje

School of Arts & Sciences

UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY (USIU)

NAIROBI, KENYA

outline of presentation
Outline of Presentation
  • Research objectives
  • Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Nature, Processes and Dynamics of the Credit System
  • Challenges in Conducting the Research
  • Moving Forward: Time Plan for the Next Phase
objectives of the study
Objectives of the Study
  • Investigates the role of oracular deities as traditional sources of credit among the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria.
  • The history of the gods and the credit systems they operate
  • Structure & nature of the credit system
  • How the credit system has changed over time
methodology
Methodology
  • Based on fieldwork data using ethnographic methods – semi-structured [in-depth] interview
  • Interviewees: project stakeholders

- cult priests and their family members,

- beneficiaries of cult credits/their families),

- strategic informants (local chiefs & community leaders, titled/untitled elders with ample institutional knowledge of the communities),

  • ordinary folks in the village communities
  • Use of non-participant Observation as complementary method
  • Document analysis as secondary source of data
  • Data analysis is ongoing but based on qualitative method
background of the ethnographic region
Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Study is carried out in the Nsukka cultural area within the Igbo ethnic group of South-Eastern Nigeria.
  • A cultural area is a geographical delimitation characterized by substantially uniform environmental and cultural traits.
  • In the case of this study, a cultural area can be operationalized as a rough equivalent of a sub-ethnic group.
background of the ethnographic region7
Background of the Ethnographic region
  • The Igbo are about 25 million people and have many cultural areas.
  • Nsukka cultural area has a population of over 2 million people; about 70 per cent of the population live in typical rural and semi-rural areas
  • The traditional social structure of the Igbo can be practically understood by an in-depth study of the classical novels of the legendary African writer Chinua Achebe [especially, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God].
background of the ethnographic region8
Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Igbo communities generally have a decentralized patriarchal political systems
  • The Igbo are profoundly religious. In modern postcolonial history, they are predominantly Christians, albeit traditional African Religion (ATR) still plays a pervasive role.
  • The vast majority of the people are syncretic even though many may not openly admit that they have any thing to do with ATR
background of the ethnographic region9
Background of the Ethnographic region
  • Oracular deities play highly significant roles in traditional Igbo social and political systems
  • They areperceived to be omnipotent in powers & multi-functional in purpose
  • Significantly, oracular deities function as the highest appellant court in many Igbo communities and are seen as effective in killing disputants who invoke them falsely or swear a false oath - perjury.
  • Oracular deities have both benevolent & malevolent powers; they are highly venerated and feared.
origin and structure of the credit divinities
Origin and Structure of the Credit Divinities
  • Three major deities are studied in this project, Iyiakpali in Ugbaike, Ochegi in Orba, and Alumu in Amufie
  • Coincidentally, the three are regarded as female deities {i.e. allegedly originated by spirits that appeared in the form of women}
  • Oral traditions attribute the origin of the deities to about 200 – 300 years ago
  • Deities originated from the disguised physical appearances of the goddesses who used the opportunity to impart divine power and favour on their unsuspecting benevolent hosts.
chief priest s account of the origin of alumu deity
Chief Priest’s account of theOrigin of Alumu Deity
  • “As I was told, a certain old woman was walking along the village path on a rainy day. Terribly beaten by the rain, she ran into a compound owned by Uroshi, a certain man in the nearby community of Uda Ezzeodo, but she was denied accommodation. She continued further to Nkpuru Attama (a village in our own community) where she was kindly received and offered accommodation by a man called Adoni Owo. This man made fire to keep his rain beaten guest warm. Adoni’s kind gesture impressed the old woman, hence, she promised to make him a great man by giving him something to augment his living. She offered him a brand new stream known as Iyi Alumu (the stream of Alumu) till date. This mysterious stream thrives best in the dry season when there are no rains. The mysterious guest also gave Adoni the Alumu juju with a number of clearly spelt out injunctions that today form part of the functions of the deity. After establishing the stream and handing down the deity, the old woman disappeared.”
injunctions handed down by alumu according to the chief priest
Injunctions handed down byAlumu, According to the Chief Priest
  • “to kill anybody who steals if consulted
  • to kill any man who would have sexual affair with another man’s wife;
  • to save victims of food charming and to conversely kill the wicked culprit;
  • to protect Amufie land and the inhabitants (this is why the deity’s shrines are located at the boundaries of Amufie and its neighbours to repel our enemies)”.
  • Credit facility was not part of the original agenda of any of the deities; it ostensibly emerged by default.
emergency of the divinity credit facility
Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • The credit system appears to be an offshoot of the well-established social control, criminal justice & livelihood support functions of the deities.
  • Primarily, the gods are consulted or petitioned to help solve various social problems – e.g. theft and land dispute, allegations of extra-marital sex, witchcraft, fraud, food charming, incest and so forth.
  • Most petitioners and clients to the gods are locals from the Nsukka cultural area where the deities are also well known and dreaded.
emergency of the divinity credit facility14
Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • It is widely believed that the deity administers instantaneous capital punishment by magical means or mysterious circumstances on transgressors and culprits.
  • As is the custom, when a death is attributed to the retribution of a local deity in Igboland, all the properties of the deceased victim are voluntarily surrendered by his family as appeasement to the deity.
emergency of the divinity credit facility15
Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • Over the years, the deities have amassed tremendous wealth, especially moveable and immoveable properties, through their alleged retributive killing of offenders.
  • The cult priests expediently volunteered to put the material wealth of the deities to credit utility and under terms that are more client-friendly when compared to the modern capital market.
  • The deities mostly lease out confiscated assets like wheel barrows, bicycles, motor cycles, and tracks of land to clients and tenants who make agreed returns in both cash and kind.
emergency of the divinity credit facility16
Emergency of the Divinity Credit Facility
  • The deities hire/lease out their assets to needy locals to enable them earn a living
  • Some have been able to set up micro-businesses in the process.
  • The deities reportedly have houses and cars used for commercial transportation to raise funds.
  • The hiring & leasing of assets are integral part of the deities’ credit system,
  • The monies realized from all the above activities are, among other things, used for money-lending and for procuring sacrificial items for the deities.
the personnel structure of the credit system
The Personnel Structure of the Credit System
  • Each local deity is headed by a chief priest locally known as Attama; office of the chief priest is held for life but the position is not hereditary
  • The chief priest has a number of assistant priests
  • The deity belongs to an entire autonomous community but there is perceptibly a nucleus of immediate stakeholders or owners;

- These are certain village(s) or clan(s) within the community whose forefathers are more closely associated with the origin of the deities

emerging findings from the fieldwork dominant types reasons for borrowing
Emerging Findings from the Fieldwork:Dominant Types & Reasons for Borrowing
  • Non-financial capital (wheel barrow, motorcycle, bicycle, land leasing, tree crops on deity’s land)

- For livelihood support

  • Financial capital – liquid cash for:

- Funeral obligations for deceased relatives

- Marriage ceremony

- Settling an embarrassing debt

- Setting up or recapitalizing a micro-business

- Paying school fees (university level)

who is eligible to borrow
Who is Eligible to Borrow?
  • Everybody is in theory eligible to borrow
  • In practice, most borrowers are:
  • local community members known to the chief priest
  • people from the Nsukka cultural area introduced to the deity by someone known to the chief priest.
  • Everyone sourcing a credit must be known by the chief priest or introduced by someone known to the chief priest.
  • Most locals regard the deity as a lender of last resort
borrowing procedure financial capital
Borrowing Procedure (Financial Capital)
  • Ascertain the requirements from the chief priest, including an indication on whether the deity has the amount needed.
  • Requirements more or less include presentation of:

- Two tubers of yam (a local staple food)

- Two gallons of palm wine (30 - 40 litres)

- Two pieces of kolanut (a local nut with strong ritualistic value)

- A guarantor if client is not known to the chief priest

  • All transactions are conducted in the deity’s shrine
  • The chief priest prays over the items, part of which are used as ‘holy communion’ between parties.
borrowing procedure financial capital21
Borrowing Procedure (Financial Capital)
  • The client is asked by the chief priest to present his request to the deity
  • A standard request presentation usually entails telling the deity what you want (how much), why you need the cash, when you expect to pay back
  • Some voluntarily include a pledge or vow to the deity (usually in livestock) which they offer to redeem on debt repayment.
  • The chief priest counts out the money from a clay pot or coffer in the shrine;

- the custom of the Iyiakpali deity is that the client deeps his hand into the coffer to count out how much he has requested

amount borrowed period interest rate financial capital
Amount Borrowed, Period & Interest Rate (Financial Capital)
  • Amount borrowed range b/w 5,000 – 60,000 Naira (about $42 - $500 – using current exchange rate)
  • Those interviewed so far borrowed b/w 1999 and 2008 (mostly b/w 2003 – 2008). Only a few have borrowed more than once.
  • All have repaid (repayment averagely occurred within one year)
  • All sampled borrowers are coincidentally males
  • Interest rate is averagely 2% of credit per month
borrowing procedure non financial capital
Borrowing Procedure (Non-Financial Capital)
  • The borrowing procedure for non-financial capital is more affective and ordinary
  • A client can make his request with just two pieces of kolanut.
  • Hiring of facilities like wheel barrow and motorcycle for livelihood support is usually offered at the prevailing commercial rate
  • Leasing of land and tree crops is done with the understanding that the client presents a reasonable part of the harvest to the deity as a token of appreciation.
issues of collateral debt recovery financial capital
Issues of Collateral & Debt Recovery (Financial Capital)
  • No collateral is required for any credit
  • It is generally believed that the deity recovers its money magically by afflicting & ultimately killing defaulters
  • There are legends about defaulters the deity killed and confiscated their properties in immemorial past
  • Everyone who has borrowed in contemporary history has promptly paid back for fear of the deity’s retribution.
debt rescheduling and recovery financial capital
Debt Rescheduling and Recovery (Financial Capital)
  • Debt can be easily rescheduled by presenting recommended edible items to the deity and entering into a plea.
  • None of the respondents ever rescheduled his debt.
  • If one dies with an unsettled debt, it is incumbent on his family to repay the money otherwise the deity is entitled to inherit or acquire all the deceased’s properties.
safekeeping of valuables
Safekeeping of Valuables
  • In addition to credit sourcing, people known to the chief priest do keep valuables (mostly money) with the deity for safety;
  • The money is wrapped and kept in the shrine; no interest is charged but a token of appreciation in cash or kind is welcome
  • Locals consider the deity’s shrine the safest place to keep any valuables
estimating the assets of the deities
Estimating the Assets of the Deities
  • The financial assets of the deity are obviously limited given that all the monies of the 3 deities are kept in a clay pot in their principal shrines
  • The liquidity of the deity largely depends on the managerial & entrepreneurial acumen of the chief priest
  • The non-financial capital of the deities, especially farmlands are quite extensive
  • The deities reportedly have lands & immovable assets both within their communities and elsewhere in the larger Nsukka cultural area.
  • None of the chief priests and other respondents could estimate how much assets the deities have.
slide28
Theorizing the Problematic Using Robert Merton’s Typology for Analyzing Traditional Social Structures
  • Social structure are constructed to perform identifiable [necessary] functions: structural functionalism
  • Manifest Function – intended consequences of social institution (usually tangible & positive); functions that make for the persistent of a given system. Everyone is aware of it through observation & expectation.
  • Latent Function – unintended consequences of social institution/action. These are difficult to recognize, especially to the external observer. Sociological analysis should help identify this.

- Latent functions can affect a designated system functionally, dysfunctionally or probably have non-functional consequences (functional irrelevance)

slide29
Theorizing the Problematic Using Robert Merton’s Typology for Analyzing Traditional Social Structures
  • Dysfunctions: intended negative functions - they can be manifest or latent.
  • Functional alternatives – certain social institutions can perform overlapping functions & this vitiates the explanatory power of structural functionalism.
challenges in conducting the research
Challenges in Conducting the Research
  • Logistical difficulties in tracing borrowers
  • Sensitivity of the research subject, leading to great reluctance of almost everyone to disclose information
  • Limitations of fieldwork data collection in rainy season
  • Ascendancy of new chief priests in two project communities following the recent death of their predecessors
  • Growing incidents of insecurity in south-eastern Nigeria (widespread kidnapping of people for a ransom)
  • Substitution of one of the originally proposed communities due to logistical constraints
moving forward time plan for the next phase
Moving Forward: Time Plan for the Next Phase
  • Completing the fieldwork (about 60% of set target already achieved) – Jan. 2010
  • Completing the data interpretation & analysis – April 2010
  • Preparation & submission of final project report – May 2010
  • Developing 2 publishable papers from the project – June - Aug. 2010