Confused junction:The lot of Africa’s belief systems, East of the Niger

To Yoruba, kola nut is a cash crop, an economic fruit and exchange earner, to Hausa, it is an edible fruit, a delicious organic snack with sedative/recreational property. But to Igbo, kola nut is an object of reverence, an organic ancestral relic with libation potential; an oblation offered to enhance communion between man and his Chi –an acceptable element of divine appellation. It is also a communal fruit, which its consumption fosters social unity among the people.

It was held in such high esteem that it constitutes customary aberration in Igbo land, to rough-handle kola nuts. It is abnormal to munch it with care-free attitude, or merely consume it without exhibiting some sense of sacred, or pronouncing formal blessings, and invocation of the ancestral consent, whether in private or public.

According to the wits of the great playwright, Ola Rotimi, “Kola nut lasts longer in the mouth of those who value it.” To majority Africans, bush rabbit (ewi) is a good source of protein diet. 

But to a native Nnewi person of Anambra state, it is a revered sacred vicarious animal of Édò deity (the ancestral deity of community protection to Nnewi people). It is against the custom of the land to kill it or even treat it with levity. If one, by accident, kills a bush rabbit, one is bound by tradition to accord it a full burial rite, to appease the gods.

Same goes to other wild cold-bloodied animals such as reptiles – Pythons, vipers (in many Anambra towns), monkey (in the case of Oji River people of Enugu state) amongst not a few other communities in the south east.

Some avoid certain specie of animals, like nocturnal creatures (owl, bats, chameleon, tortoise, etc), due to their belief that they are impure/unclean, and as a result, even their sounds or sights portray bad omen, while others do same out of traditional religious piety.

This was not a patent of African Traditional Religion (ATR) alone, it was also a common practice among the adherents of Judaic religion (Lev. 11:1-48) in the ancients Palestine, but when  Christ came, he purified that belief system, and enlightened them on what should inform the bearing of their faith( Acts 10:9-15).

To a typical Fulani, cattle is an agriculturally valued asset, a prized livestock, an economic farm produce, and an exchange earner.

But to the African Traditional Religionist of Igbo extraction (especially the northern Igbo provinces, e.g Nsukka), the cattle, especially, native the stunt-horned  N’dama cattle (Efi Igbo), is a sacrificial victim for the repose of the soul of the dead. You can’t claim to have hosted a befitting burial/funeral ceremony of your loved one without sacrificing a cattle as a libation for the final transition of his/her soul to the spiritual draught among his/her ancestors, in the nether realms.

Once bought for this purpose, the cattle is reverenced, honoured, treated with solemn rituals for the welfare of the soul of the departed.

So, you see, it is either a thing of perception, culture or strict belief system, to accord any particular organism (plant or animal) reverence as an object of spiritual appellation.

Why in the world are there chaos between native traditions and Christianity?

In Nsukka, for instance, Catholics believe (like every other faithful Christian) that Christ is the sacrificial victim that guarantees the repose of the soul of her dead ones, therefore cattle used in funeral rites is a mere meat, a protein diet. 

This sacrifice which Christ offered using himself once and for all (Heb. 10:1-18) replaced the old covenant of holocaust sacrifices; and it’s re-enacted in every Holy Mass (1cor. 11:26). The precious blood of Christ not blood of cows saves.

Those who do not hold this belief but still parade themselves as Catholics (lukewarm Christians) betray their own faith and scandalise that of their fellow Christians who are faithful to their calling. 

They engage in syncretism (mixing the elements of both ATR and christian religion). During funeral rites, they will procure two cows, one for the ATR practices and one for the christian community.

In Nnewi diocese, Emeritus Bishop Odili Okeke, in his various apostolic letters, has been admonishing his people to avoid mixing elements of traditional tenets with their christian beliefs. “To you who are baptized and still hold on to the faith transmitted from Christ, bush rabbit is a good source of protein. God of Jesus Christ protects you, not the Édò deity, therefore, eat rabbits as you would other edibles” the Lord Bishop wrote.

If you believe in one religion, observe its teaching to the full and allow those who don’t believe it live their own life as they want, insofar as it doesn’t affect your rights.

Take a painstaking study of interfaith clashes among ATR adherents and christians in south east, and you would see that it is the hypocrites among them that cause troubles.

As captured earlier, some ‘Nichodemus’ Catholics would buy two cows to celebrate their loved ones’ funerals, so that while the church take one as mere meat, the ATR will take the other in line with their religious rituals. They avoid offending the sensibility of the other.

Syncretism is just the word — an impious outing in any faith system.

Mixing elements of two religious beliefs is scandalous. It portrays how shallow one’s faith is, in what one claims to believe.

Such fellows confuse the two distinct religions’ beliefs. One use the cow as mere meat, while the other as a sacrificial victim of intercession for the dead; a sine qua non for the repose of the souls of their dead.

This was why, the Diocesan synod of Nsukka, arrived at the decision that it is advisable for Christians to use conventional horned cows for funeral ceremonies instead of the native  N’dama cattles (Efi Igbo) which ATR followers customarily use. Or they better use other choice livestock to avoid the scandal.

Another point of emphasis is that it is a strict christian belief that “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after death, judgement.” (Heb 9:27). Funeral ceremonies adds little to nothing in the eternal destination of a christian. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sufficed.

Unlike a typical ATR faithful, who would consult the services of soothsayers or fortune tellers to know how or why misfortunes trail his path, and he would probably be told that his father’s soul is not resting in the ancestral realm, because he still owes him a befitting funeral and a cow! And unless this is carried out, he will continue to wreck havoc in the family.That is to say, temporal travails will keep visiting him until he performs the funeral rituals, retrospectively.

Consequently, these two faith systems are world apart in this regard; each with defined tenets as regards burial/funerals.

In the end, it may matter a little what you believe in, than how you profess and carry on with what you believe in. 

Religious beliefs can only limit ones psycho-social complex when one fixes one’s loyalty at a confused junction between two or more religions.

Know your faith, and what it dictates.

May daylight spare us!
Eze writes via+2348099062006 (WhatsApp/Sms)[email protected]