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RECONCILING CHRISTIANITY WITH THE CULTURES AND TRADITIONS OF A PEOPLE. By comrade Chinedu N. Nwobodo ( jp ) M. sc , B. sc At the CWC meeting of Awkunanaw Enlightenment Foundation, 4 th November, 2012 at Obuofia Okunano . INTRODUCTION :.
comrade Chinedu N. Nwobodo (jp)M. sc , B. sc
At the CWC meeting of Awkunanaw Enlightenment Foundation,
4th November, 2012 at ObuofiaOkunano.
When the president of Awkulite told me that I would be making a scripted speech on the above subject, he certainly threw me into a state of dilemma, whether or not to accept, because this is one topic I hate to discuss or argue about in all fora, especially in our society, where ignorance holds sway, which makes our people equate anything that is customary with the devil and/or satan.
Okunano clan is a vulnerable society, where intellectual discourse, based on religion would create more problems than creative thinking.
However, after a critical consideration of who the members of Awkunanaw Enlightenment Foundation are, I concluded that I would be discussing with enlightened minds, who are not and cannot be considered vulnerable, among whom issues should be discussed the way they are, without endangering their understanding and the way they ought to reason.
Having said so, let us begin this discussion from the introduction and definition of the key words of the topic sentence, to suit the context in which we will be talking. Such words to be defined which are critical to understanding the entire presentation are:
- Tradition and
- A people
Reconciling: This is the present participle of the word-Reconciliation, which, according to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary means
“to find a way to make two or more ideas, situations, etc, agree with each other when actually they seem to be in opposition”. The Webster's Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus defines it as “to re-establish friendly relations, to bring to agreement, to make compatible, to settle, to make resigned, etc”. The Encarta Dictionaries defines it as “put people back on friendly terms, end conflict, make somebody accept something and make consistent or compatible”.
A critical analysis of the above literary definitions show that we can reconcile with, as in making people become friends again after quarreling, reconcile to, as in making somebody to accept an unpleasant situation because there is nothing one can do to change it, or reconcile between, as in bringing an end to a disagreement between two sides.
For the purposes of this presentation, we will choose reconcile between, because we will be trying to find a way of conflating Christianity and the cultures of the people, as a means to ending the perennial disagreement between the two. In the context of this presentation therefore, reconciliation means achieving a commonness between Christianity and Cultures of Okunano, such that will produce an Okunano Christianity.
The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines this as “the religion based on the belief that Christ was the Son of God and on His teachings, it is a state of being a Christian”. Webster’s Universal Dictionary and thesaurus defines Christianity as “religion based on teachings of Christ”, while Encarta English Dictionary similarly defines the same as “religion that follows Jesus Christ’s teaching, holding Christian beliefs, Christians as a group”.
In this presentation, Christianity represent the belief system and practices of all Okunano sons and daughters who have converted from their primordial religion to believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the true saviour of mankind.
CULTURE: The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 7th Edition, defines culture as “the customs, and beliefs , arts, way of life and social organization of a particular country or group”. Webster’s Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus defines culture as “appreciation and understanding of the arts, the skills, etc of a given people in a given period, the entire range of customs, beliefs, social forms and material traits of a religious, social or racial group”. The Encarta English Dictionary defines it as “arts collectively, knowledge and sophistication, shared beliefs and values of a group”.
C. V. Good in 1959 posited that culture is “the aggregate of the social, ethical, intellectual, artistic, governmental and industrial attainments characteristic of a group, state or nation and by which it can be distinguished from and compared with other groups or nations”.
Prof. B. K. Malinowski in 1961 operationally defined culture as “a vast apparatus partly material and partly spiritual and partly human by which human societies are organised into permanent and recognizable group”.
In view of the above definitions, let us construe culture, in the context of this presentation, as the totality of the way of life of Okunano clan, i.e. their material and non-material ideologies and the general characteristics (Religion inclusive), by which Okunano clan can be identified from and compared to its neighbouring clans at any given period.
A people can also be seen as a race, representing persons with the same cultural backgrounds and traits who may be living miles apart.
In this presentation, therefore, it means all the communities of Okunano who live within Enugu South and Nkanu West Local Government Areas, who have common socio-religious and political traits.
We have known the meaning of the key words and phrases in the topic sentence in relation to this presentation. Let us therefore look at the possibilities or not of reconciling between Christianity and cultures of Okunano. This paper will look at this from the following perspectives:
- Areas of Disagreement
- Need for Reconciliation, and
- How to Reconcile
There are several areas where Christianity disagree with the cultures of Okunano because of the fanatical disposition of the Christian Okunanos, and because of the conservative disposition of the traditional religionists of Okunano.
Areas of disagreement include the following, but certainly not exhaustive. We will only use them as samples, based on which we can discuss, and then be able to draw our conclusions:
- Worship system,
- Idols and Altars
- Value system
Language/Dialect: In the dialect of Okunano, “Igo-ofor” simply means prayer, “Igo-oji” means blessing the kolanut, “igoekwu” means wedding, “itooji” means presenting kola for a new bride. But invite an Okunano Christian to “Igoofor”, “igoorji”, “igoekwu” or “itoorji” and you would have committed heresy, unless you have invited him to ikpeekpere, igoziorji, igbankwu, igbaakwukwo, which mean the same things, but now in the Owerri or Onitsha dialect.
In many instances, the Okunano Christians go to their fathers-in-law for “itoorji” of their wives with garden egg against the use of kola-nut, simply because kola-nut has been identified with the tradition of the people. The questions here are, what is the basic difference between kola-nut and garden egg? If the people would change from kola-nut to using garden egg for itoorji ceremony of their wives, would there be any difference in the cosmology, philosophy and psychology of a typical Okunano society? My answer to these questions is No! Kola-nut and garden egg are fruits? Kola-nut does not constitute any sin in the sight of God, more than the garden egg? The use of kola-nut for marriage in Okunano only symbolizes the perfect union expected in a marriage, as kola-nut comes in lobes, but always firmly united in one body.
Worship system: This is the practice of Okunano people, showing respect, reverence or veneration to God. There is a disagreement here because of how the Okunano Christians look at the means through which the Okunano traditional religionists reverence or venerate the almighty God.
In this discourse, I align myself with Patrick Iroegbu(2010 p. 1). The man said “Referring to the ancestor by the Igbo when in prayer session or incantation moment was misunderstood by the missionary colonial authorities to mean worshiping dead ancestors. The Igbos do not worship the dead ancestors, rather they call up the virtues of known ancestral forces that constitute part of their cosmology of life and world. Ancestors are not called up without Chukwu- Obasidin’elu (the almighty God above)…The actual worship is routed to God, Chukwu, the biggest being they can imagine, experience, refer to, call upon, submit to, and know well and are passionate about.”
I also agree with the position of Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity (2009, P1), which states “when Christianity is presented as an alternative to the existing culture, the prospective convert must choose either to follow Christ or to remain in the “evil” world or “paganism”. This is a common conception when Christianity is viewed as an apocalyptic or sectarian movement and also as Christendom. Most missionaries from the Northern Atlantic to African presupposed this view without acknowledging that for them, Christianity was their own culture and religious heritage”
Idols and Altars: Copying from the misrepresentation by the Missionary colonial authorities, the Okunano Christians construe the altar/intermediary nature of consecrated arena, images, and symbols to mean just idol worshiping or having other gods besides God (Chukwu).
If praying to God with and/or before consecrated artifacts, in the altars and before images mean just idol worshipping, then so many Christian Churches, if not all, would be culpable, because in many churches, from the houses of their faithful, to their altars, to some consecrated portions of their church Compounds, are adorned with consecrated images, which in the hearts of most of their faithful have taken the place of God, hence they cannot step out of their houses without the company or assumed company of such idols.
Many more churches would be culpable if what makes an image an idol still remains as in Exodus 20: 24-25, which records “make an alter of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honoured I will come to you and bless you. If you make an alter of stone for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.”(NIV).
If this be it, which Church would not be culpable, for it has an alter, on which tools are not used.
To buttress my point that the colonial missionaries misrepresented the Okunano God (Chukwu) worship Altars, the biblical Noah would not have been said to have worshipped idol, yet it was recorded “then Noah built an altar to the Lord and taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it”(Genesis 8:20) (NIV). Elijah, too, would not have worshipped idol, yet it is recorded that he took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying “your name shall be Israel. With the stones he built an alter in the name of the Lord… He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood”(1st King 18:31-32)(NIV). Read also Genesis 22:9.
The Colonial missionaries believed that by condemning the Okunano religious beliefs and practices, that they would be able to immediately have a new man in a new faith but that was not to be and has not been. The syncretistic practices in the clan has shown that the colonial authorities were wrong, hence the need for the reconciliation.
Furthermore what is the basic difference between the use of the Okunano traditional ofor stick for our rosary and the use of the Roman Catholic chaplet or the use of mini (handy) cross by the churches. The philosophy of using those objects remain one and the same. The difference is rooted only in the origin. I strongly believe that the use of ofor stick for our rosary would not have made any difference before God, if our hearts were pure as we say our rosary, after all God created us the way he did and in His own image. The same God gave Okunano the sense and knowledge of the use of ofor stick for prayers, as much as He gave the Romans the knowledge of the use of chaplets and the knowledge of the use of the cross for crucifixion to the Jews.
Forsooth, my intention is not to put the wisdom of the colonial missionaries under scrutiny. I only want to raise some credibility questions on:
Value System:Okunano cultures consist universally acceptable God-given norms, values, mores and common traits, which can be shared and which can contribute to the better understanding of the Christian gospel.
We cannot be far from the truth if we accept that every authentic culture in its own way bears universal values established by God. The unfortunate thing is that the Okunano norms, mores and values have been considered and treated as heathen by the Okunano Christians, hence the existence of disagreement between cultures of the Clan and Christianity. To this end, I concede to the statement of Ernest Munachi (CSSP), in his essay in African Theology, titledBible and Culture in African theology, part 2, page 3,
which states “that the Bible is the word of God does not imply that the totality of the word of God is contained in the Bible. Aspects of the word of God are found in the cultures established by God through creation. In a word, what is to be gained by the Christian gospel and African culture in the event of dialogue and possible re-integration is mutual enrichment and new life for both”.
Having identified some of the areas of disagreement, let us now look for some dialogue systems that could produce a synclinal position for Christianity and culture against the subsisting anticline posture between the two.
Chinua Achebe (1956, pp. 123-125) through the character Obierika, aptly describes the encounter between Christianity and the cultures of Okunano clan and pungently stated why there should be reconciliation between the duo, when he wrote
“How do we think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us. Whiteman is clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that hold us together and we have fallen apart”.
Similarly Gandhi was cited as saying “Everybody is right from his own perspective, but it is not impossible that everybody is wrong, hence the necessity for tolerance which does not mean indifference to one’s faith, but a more intelligent and purer love for it”- Gandhi. In Odeh (1996, p. 194).
The above citations paint the exact picture of the need for reconciliation between Christianity and the cultures of Okunano. Yes, who expects Okunano to continue to disagree alongside religious sentiments . Okunano is living in a changed and continuously changing world. We have to accept this fact. Those who are not ready to change either way, must have a rethink. Okunano does not have to linger in the age that is passing away fastly.
Surely, it is not possible that anybody can evade the psycho-discomfort of belonging to and of course living in a world in transition. The Okunano world has changed from its primordial common religious paradigm and it will continue to change. Every member of the clan will have to suffer a little discomfort to be able to change from his tenaciously held belief and practices for a dialogic model that produces a dialogic relationship, for a better understanding and reconciliation.
Whether we accept it or not Christianity has been acculturated in Okunano and it is now the popular religion of the people, within the modern cultures of the clan. We therefore, have to create means for developing and accepting an Okunano Christianity that will produce Okunano Christians, in the best heaven-bound Christian tradition, which will no longer query God for creating the people of the clan in the Okunano perculiarities.
We will look at this part of the presentation from five perspectives as follows:
- Adoption of Okunano Christianity,
- Mending the broken links,
- Interlocutory relationship,
- Christ, the transformer of cultures, and
- Elimination of the racial sentiment.
(ii) Once upon a time a Monkey and a fish were in a huge flood. The agile monkey was able to save itself by grasping a tree branch and pulling itself to safety. Happy at last, the monkey noticed the fish fighting against the massive current and deeply moved by the plight, he bent to save it. The fish was not happy, for it bit the Monkey’s hand. Whereupon the monkey being terribly annoyed at the fish’s ingratitude, threw the fish back to the water… We Evangelizers and Theologians can act very much like the Monkey, full of goodwill but with little sensitivity to what culture is or how it operates…-(E. N. Ezeogu, 2012).
(iii) Since Christianity cannot exist in a cultural vacuum, any claim to preach the pure gospel is pretense. Christians are necessarily products of their cultures. When they go out to win converts, they do so from their own cultural backgrounds, using the languages and cultural tools they accumulated through the process of socialization and education. In
practice, Portraying Christ as against culture puts
in conflict the missionaries’ cultures with the perspective
converts’ culture and engenders serious social crisis. The
proliferation of African instituted Churches is a
manifestation of that crisis. (David Patte (ed), 2009)
(iv)“We follow the same context to examine cultural
heritage, while taking note that each of the religions- Igbo
Chukwu worship and Christianity, is a cultural paradigm of
worshiping the Supreme God, or Chukwu in Igbo parlance;
and that encounters between cultures are necessarily
bound to create both continuity and change”.(Patrick
The four citations above form the platform upon which the discussion of Okunano Christianity is based. What is Okunano Christianity? How would Okunano Christianity operate? It is the same Christianity known to us all, earlier than now. It is the same Christianity still taking its bearing from Jesus Christ. However, it is the Christianity that would no longer be far removed from the cultures of Okunano, so that the present practice of syncretistic Christianity would cease, so that we no longer have Christianity that gasp for the breath of life as fish removed from the water.
The present ambivalent Christianity in Okunano cannot be said to be pure Christianity. It presents Christianity that opposes the good values of the cultures of Okunano, it breeds a circumstance, where majority of Christians resort to their deities, ancestors, native doctors, traditional divination and herbalists for solutions to their challenging moments.
obvious need for a reconciliation that will restore the broken link. The possible ways of restoring the broken links include the following:
Christianity, therefore, can transform Okunano and their values to bring to fruition the best practices out of them. That is the real essence of Christianity rooted in the cultures of the people. According to E. M. Ezeogu, the gospel, while retaining its eternal and divine character finds it not difficult to be incarnated into the concrete cultural body of any time.
The account of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 13 shows that our Lord and Savior is a man of all cultures. As He went into Galilee, knowing that the Galileans were predominantly farmers, He spoke to them in parables, using farming terminologies like sower, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, etc, because parable is using the known truth to explain the unknown truth. We can now imagine how very faithful the Okunanos would have been, if the colonial Missionaries did not condemn their ofor stick for rosary, for their own chaplet, if the colonial Missionaries did not condemn the Okunano altars to paganism/idol worshiping, while protecting the same altars raised by the forbearers of the colonial Missionaries, as holy.
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