Nigeria & Christianity.

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The Igbo enthic Nigeria group believe so much in the concept of ọfọ. An Igbo man uses the ọfọ as a symbol of justice, righteousness, and truth. Not only that, ọfọ to him symbolizes fair play, innocence, trust, good luck, peace, equity, sacredness, good moral conduct, good leadership, accountability, and honesty, ọfọ performs three functions in Igbo land, that is, social, political, and religious but the political and religious functions are most important in that no serious rite or ceremony is performed without making use of ọfọ. 

What the Bible is to the Christians, ọfọ is also to the traditional Igbo people. The poor and the widow take consolation in ọfọ, especially in land cases, for without the fear of the ọfọ, they will be maltreated by the rich and powerful and from the name such as Ọfọbuike  (ọfọ is strength), you see that the Igbo regard ofọ very highly. Ọfọ has various types, namely, ọfọala (ọfọ for mother earth), ọfọ ụmụnna (ọfọ for the kinsmen), ọfọọzọ(ọfọ for titled men), ọfọ dibia (ọfọ for diviners), and so forth. 

Igbo traditional worldview reveals that the journey that man makes in a lifetime and after his death is cyclical. This is known as life cycle. In contrast with Christian religion, there is no idea of eschatology, when all will go to eternal God for judgment as Christians have it. There are only death and reincarnation in a cyclical manner. Igbo people believe in reincarnation but it is only those who lived good lives who are believed to be capable of coming back to human form. Those who lived sinful and unprofitable or purposeless lives, by departing from the moral code of the clan, cannot find human bodies through which they can reincarnate but instead are forced to live as unenviable and formless “spirit lives,” in which forms of existence,their delight is mainly to harm their more fortunate members who led good lives.

Christianity in Igbo Land.

Christians believe in the life on earth now and then the eschatological kingdom that is yet to come. Christianity was successfully planted on September 24, 1842, in Nigeria by Rev.Thomas Birth Freeman of Methodist missionary.

The origins of Christian missionary work in Nigeria antedated the Egba Abeokuta enterprise. It arrived in Igbo land in 1857. So, with the advent of Christianity in 1857, the traditional religion had a serious rival. At first, the problem which Christianity presented to the traditional religion was not regarded as a serious matter by the people because conversion to Christianity at the initial stage was not an easy task because Christianity was a new religion and something brought to Igbo nation by European missionaries: Rev. Schon and his associates at the shores of the River Niger.

The Igbo feared that if they become Christians, their gods would bring disaster to them. Diviners and medicine men reported that the divinities were angry because of the new religion and warned that nobody should join the missionaries. Others refused to embrace the new religion because they thought that the missionaries wanted to destroy their culture. Despite these reasons and threats, Christianity began to win converts in Igbo land. They had village church-school teachers called church agents. These agents were very active in molding the attitude of the converts, especially the young, toward the traditional society. Most of them, half educated and in many cases utterly misguided, contributed significantly to open disrespect for and disregard of the society’s time-honored customs and religious practices.

Churches and schools were built and youths and children were made to attend schools.These children were adolescents and they were campaigners for converts. This method of conversion conforms to Ifemesia’s (1972)assertion, which runs thus: The Christian missionaries were the object of education and religious instruction; and converting the younger people into Christianity was easier, since the young were believed not to be rooted in the ancestral ideas and practices as their fathers.

At different times and places, there were face-to-face encounter with Christians and traditionalists, because the early Christian missionaries behaved like social revolutionaries.They plunged into the condemnation and eradication of traditional religion. Traditional music and song, drama, and dance were totally denounced as bad and immoral. Statues, images, and emblems of remarkable artistic work and aesthetic merit were wantonly destroyed by some of the overzealous converts as idols and works of the devil. The missionaries were not prepared to face traditional religion. These acts set the stage for conflicts, which soon ensued between the Christians and the traditionalists.

Methods of Data Collection and Analysis

Data for this study were collected using both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include oral interviews that were collected through face-to-face interaction with the interviewees, which were aimed at eliciting firsthand information on their knowledge of the subject matter. The interview schedule specifically targeted people with rich knowledge of the issue under investigation. Such people included traditionalists, missionaries, scholars of church history, and so forth. The secondary sources included, among others, materials such as textbooks, journal articles, encyclopedia, and Internet materials. These secondary materials helped the researchers to know the state of the art and make a qualitative analysis of the issues involved in the topic.

The study further adopted the qualitative descriptive and comparative methods in the analysis of data so collected. The qualitative method enabled the researchers to make valid deductions from the secondary data, whereas the comparative method helped to make counterfactual analysis of both the secondary and primary data sources as they relate to the traditional and Christian ethos. Concretely, the values and the ritual rites of the traditional religion of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria were analyzed side by side with the Christian values and ritual rites. Consequently, the areas of conflicts between the traditional religion of the Igbo and those of Christianity were identified. At the end, suggestions that will make for healthier relationship and coexistence between the two religions were made.

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