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  • Background of the Study

The argument over whether human behavior is a product of gene or environment, nature or nurture, has been raging in medical circles for decades. At various times, one has gained ascendency over the other owing to some new discovery through research or the emergence of an opposing theory. Genetics Home Reference (2014), described genes as:


The basic physical functional unit of heredity – DNA. It is made up of deoxyribonucleic acid and acts as instructions to make molecules called proteins. In humans, genes vary in size from a hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases. The human genome project has estimated that humans have between 20,000 to 25,000 genes. Every person has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. Most genes are the same in all people, but a small number of genes (less than 1 percent of the total) are slightly different between people. Alleles are forms of the same gene with small differences that contribute to each person’s unique physical features. (Para 1-2)

While to some, these genes play the most important role in the molding of the human personality and determine the level of achievement in life, others hold that the environment or experiences play a more important part in what makes human persons that which they eventually become (Unique Collective Awareness of Dia – UCADIA, 2009). A third school of thought is also reported by UCADIA (2009, para 4) as playing a mediating role by upholding that the human person is always a combination of genes and the environment. They argue that



without the code built into DNA, cells would not know how to specialize into a human being. Similarly, without the flexibility of the cells being able to ‘upload’ and interpret the code according to real life experiences, humans would not survive. Therefore, throughout their lives, it can be said that humans are a product of a mixture of genes and our environment.

In the social sciences, Sparkin (n.d, Para 1), asserts, “A personality is a socially developed person, one who is part of a certain specific historical and national context”. The status of this discourse is that society forms a framework of reference as regards a person’s outlook or worldview. This combines with the unique abilities or disabilities conferred on the individual by his or her inherited gene, to determine what the person becomes and achieves in life.

The concern of this study is not to get involved in the foregoing argument but to point out the emergence of a fourth view with regard to the determinants of the human personality and level of achievement in life. The position emerged a few decades ago as one of the tenets of Pentecostalism. It has gained such outstanding popularity in Igboland as to be regarded as a social phenomenon. While the argument on the supremacy of gene emanates from the biological axis, that on the ascendency of the environment seem to lean on the social axis but the position being introduced here emanates from the praxis of the spiritual. The position of this school of thought can be referred to as ‘the supremacy of the family root’.

This ideology of supernatural conditioning and determination of fortunes developed into a new ideology among Christians and is referred to as ‘Healing of family roots’. It derives from the belief that the misfortunes of each generation are linked to its ancestral past. Madueke (2006) believes that the healing of family roots as a ritual began and developed among the Pentecostals and African instituted churches. This phenomenon is wide spread in Nigeria and beyond, but it seems to be more pronounced among Igbo Christians. This may be attributable to the affinity of the belief on which this practice is based with the Igbo traditional belief in generational transfer of punishment as well as their strong belief in supernatural causality (Igwe, 2006).

The proponents of this ideology believe that the spiritual controls the physical world so that no matter the quality of the gene inherited by one, or the healthiness of the environment where an individual is nurtured, his personality and achievement in life are always affected or decided by the healthiness or otherwise of his family root or ancestral heritage. Healthiness as used here is not in a biological or social sense but at a spiritual level (Njoku, 1993, 1996, 2009, Ozoko, 2009, Olukoya 2003, 2004, 2013, 2014,). This stand is associated with issues such as belief in generational curses, the transferability of guilt emanating from the sins of the one’s fathers, ancestral or inherited bondages and the need for land deliverance. This appears to be a new Christian theology rooted in the Bible especially the Old Testament with special reference to the first five books. Areji (2006), whose view represents that of many is of the opinion that the underlying beliefs of healing the family roots is similar to the Igbo-African traditional religious worldview as expressed in proverbs like Aru nna na-eche nwa­ meaning that the consequences of the abomination committed by a father, awaits his offspring. There is however, no gainsaying the fact that it gained overwhelming popularity among present day Christians.

This position has not gone without challenge within the Christian enclave. Some of the opponents argue that the consequences of sin are not transferable across generations in the light of the prophecy of Ezekiel 18 (Obodo, 2006). Others argue that the vicarious death of Jesus automatically liberates from sin and its consequences. For them, the focus should be on conversion because it is impossible for a baptized Christian to live under the bondage of ancestral curse. A third and extremist segment of these opponents even argue that the so called idolatrous sins of the fathers are non-existent and at best, is a figment of the imagination of minds overcharged with “devil mania” (Oguejiofor, 2006, p.28) or “an accented pretentiousness to extraordinary charismatic endowment” (Odika, 2006, p.57). Healing of the Family root or Olu Ezi n’ulo as it is called in Igbo, has become popular in Igboland since the 1960s (Okeke, 2001). However, it has become more popular as a panacea for the numerous problems that have beset the individual and family in Nigeria: hunger, unemployment, sickness without the means to seek proper medical treatment, injustice, and perceived spiritual oppression. Many families in Igboland have gone through one form of this ritual of healing the family roots or the other, either as a whole or part.

Some Scholars have opined that this phenomenon can serve society in a positive way. Madueke, (2006), believes that, if properly pursued:


Healing the family roots may be seen as a powerful acknowledgement of the corporate nature of sin and repentance… may be a help towards solidarity and common good, communal atonement for sin, satisfaction, intercession, and commitment to exchange of spiritual goods. It may reverse the destiny of a people who before were characterized by hatred, selfishness and indifference (p.25).

The above view not withstanding there are others who have decried healing of family roots as “a means devised by charlatans to exploit the gullible Christians, a steady source of income for them and a refuge for social insecurity” (Okeke, 2006, p.14). Okeke went further to point out that emphasis on healing of family roots, and its underlying beliefs influence the society negatively by shifting responsibilities and blames for one’s lot to the supernatural. Okeke laments that it enables individuals absolve themselves of the consequences of their actions. This according to him, “works against the objective humanistic and socio-historical confrontation of human predicaments” (p.13).  Some people see healing the family roots as a waste of time, and an unnecessary soiling of the image of the indeginous religion. The destruction of shrines, artifacts and other paraphernalia of African traditional religion which form a part of the practice of healing the family roots (a process of cleansing the family’s past as directed by Deut. 7:25) is decried by others as wanton destruction of property, insensitive annihilation of valuable cultural heritage and trampling on the rights of persons .

An example is the recent upheaval in Umuaji Agu Obuowa in Ezeagu Local government area of Enugu State that resulted in the police arresting six Christians in connection with the burning of shrines during a crusade in the area. While the arrested Christians explained that the shrines have been responsible for their backwardness, and other calamities, the priests in charge of the burnt shrines described the act as sacrilegious and the police charged the perpetrators with arson and willful destruction of property (Laila’s blog, 2014). This is just to mention but a few of the arguments and controversies surrounding this phenomenon that is making waves among the Igbo Christians of this epoch and also forms the background of this study.


1.2       Statement of the Problem

            Religious affiliation in Nigeria may be related to ethnicity. The Northern parts of Nigeria dominated by the Hausa-Fulani groups are predominantly Muslims. The South East has a large number of Christians and in the South West; there is no predominant religion (Advameg inc., 2014). Supporting the above assertion, the New World Encyclopedia (n.d) states that although a few Igbo people still practice traditional Igbo religion and indigenous belief systems retain some influences, Igbo people are largely Christians. It is also a fact that an African is indepthly controlled by his religious convictions (Mbiti, 1969). It therefore becomes obvious that any Christian practice or trend which is as popular as healing of family roots has become among the Igbo people, will go a long way to impact on their lives and affect the Igbo nation as a society as well as the whole of Nigeria by extension.

In the light of the above scenario, this research work will concern itself with investigating the practice  so that it may be in a position to attempt a response to questions such as, what is the root or underlying belief of this practice? Are all the perceived problems that lead to the practice of healing the family roots real, imagined, or trumped up? Has the practice been effective in solving the perceived problems? Are there some abuses associated with the practice of healing the family roots? Is the practice harmful to the wellbeing of the society in any way? What are the benefits of this practice to the Igbo nation and Nigeria by extension? Is there no possibility of interpreting the underlying belief of this practice and reforming its tenets in such a way that it will suit its Christian outlook better and maximize its benefits to the society? What is the consequence of going on with this Christian ritual when it involves the destruction of other people’s property without their consent and what implications does this have for maintaining the peace and respect for human rights and dignity among the Igbo? In the face of the outcries against violence and religious fundamentalism, how should percieved destructive tendencies in healing the family roots be addressed? These and other related questions are the problem of this research, and will serve as a guide to the development of this thesis.


1.3       Objectives of the Study

            The broad objective of this study is to critically examine the implication of the practice of healing the family roots among Igbo Christians as a socio-religious phenomenon and in relation to the health of the society Vis a Vis the rights and comfort of both Christians and non-Christians in Igboland.

In line with this purpose, the specific objectives are:

  1. To study the sources and tenets of this practice of healing the family roots with a view to exposing any negative social trait in it, then evaluate the perceived problems that gave rise to the quest for this healing the family roots in order to demonstrate their compatibility or otherwise with the solution proffered.
  2. To examine the possibility of reforming this practice in such a way that it will improve its Christian outlook and maximize the social benefits.
  3. To examine the nature and functions of this religious practice on Igbo people so as to gauge its implication for social good.
  4. To observe the efficacy of this practice of healing on the perceived problems it sets out to solve and hope fully, make useful suggestions that may help in positively addressing any observed anomaly.


1.4       Significance of the Study

Healing the family roots and the practices and beliefs system associated with it, can hardly be overlooked in any consideration of important issues such as peaceful co-existence and development in Igboland. It is therefore hoped that this study will have some theoretical and practical relevance to the building of the right religious and social atmosphere conducive for sustainable development in Igboland in particular and Nigeria by extension in the following ways:

  1. This study may create an awareness of a form of religious fundamentalism among the Igbo Christians hence, useful in stemming the tide of religious conflicts that are beginning to rear their head up once more in Igboland.
  2. Furthermore, this work is an addition to the scarce sources and documents on how healing the family roots in particular and religion in general can make or mar developmental efforts in a society through its hold on the individual’s attitude.
  3. This study will also be relevant as a tool of enlightenment providing information to the public and clergy on the correct role of religion in society. It may also serve as a source of information to some practitioners of healing the family roots and engender a change of attitude in the right direction.
  4. It is hoped that this study will contribute its quota to the ongoing debate on inculturation given the affinity of the belief underlying healing the family roots with the tenets of African traditional religion.
  5. Finally, it is believed that adherence to the suggestions and commendations will yield many fruits in the promotion of peace, co-existence and development in Igboland.


1.5       Scope of the Study

This study is limited to healing the family roots as a socio-religious phenomenon among Igbo Christians. It will not concern itself with other Christian practices. It is also limited to Igbo Christians. Though some Christians in other parts of Nigeria also practice healing of family roots, it seems to be more pronounced among the Igbo. The period under discourse in this work is from 1970 to 2015. This limitation in time is informed by the fact that 1970 is the period when Pentecostalism fully penetrated Nigeria, bringing with it, healing of family roots as one of its tenets. The year 2015 is there not quite as an end of duration, but because the phenomenon under discussion is contemporary and ongoing. However, if the need arises, reference could be made to other Christian practices, other periods, or the practice of healing of family roots in other parts of the country or even the world for the purpose of clarifying facts.


1.6       Research Methodology

This study adopts survey design in the collection of data. Data was collected from both primary and secondary sources. The primary data was collected through oral interviews and participant observation. The secondary sources were textbooks, journals, monographs, newspapers, magazines, church documents and unpublished materials. The data so collected was analysed phenomenologically. This method of research, although popularized by Edmund Husserl has gained the confidence of many prominent researchers in the science of religion. It applies the principles of suspension of judgment, a listening attitude, impartiality and the essence and structure of facts, to present the researcher with adequate knowledge for establishing the state of affairs as it concerns the matter under discussion. It examines things as they present themselves. This approach enabled the researcher to uncover without bias the tenets and practices associated with the healing of family roots among Igbo Christians.

The operational theoretical framework of this research was the social scientific method of structural – functionalism. This theory was amply employed by renowned social scientists like Spencer, Parsons, Radcliff-brown, Webber, and Pareto among others. It is a framework that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability just like the human body (Education portal, 2003). Religious organizations and their accompanying rituals like healing of family roots are expected to give structure to and foster stability in everyday life of members of the society. This approach therefore helped the researcher to evaluate healing of family roots among Igbo Christians in the light of the social functions of religion in the society.

1.7       Definition of Key Terms

1.7.1 Religion

            Madu (1996, p.22) perceives religion as “what you get when you investigate strictly human phenomenon to find the ultimate vision or set of convictions that give them their sense”. From a similar perspective, Okwueze (2003, p.3) defines religion as “a regulated pattern of life of a people in which experiences, beliefs and knowledge are reflected in man’s conception of himself in relation to others, his social world, the physical as well as the metaphysical world”. Religion is a very pervasive concept and have been variously defined, but in the context of this paper, it is to be understood not only as man’s recognition and homage to the ultimate but also to the perceived meaning emanating there from which informs his mundane actions and horizontal relationships in society.


1.7.2 Society

            Society like religion is a concept prone to varieties of definitions and numerous underpinnings. Society for Okwueze (2003,p.6) indicates “connections, relationships, union, alliance or affinity”. However, the definition offered by Dictionary. Com. LLc (2014, para. 1), is best suited to the context of this thesis. It defines society as “the body of human beings generally associated or viewed as members of a community”. People are related or connected with one another in society. The society of concern in this study is the Igbo society.   Be they within their recognized geographical location, in diaspora or other parts of Nigeria, they form a community by virtue of their being connected by a common language and cultural heritage.

1.7.3 Healing

            Health has been defined by the World Health Organization (1946, p.100) as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.In spite of the ambiguity of the term, Obodo (2006, p.60) gave a definition of healing that aptly suits the context of this work. According to him, healing “is an act of restoring something or somebody to order or health, to bring about the wellbeing of someone”. The act of healing presumes a state of unwholesomeness, which it comes in to restore. It means that there is something that has gone wrong which needs to be made right, a damage to be repaired. As Obodo (2006) went on to observe, healing can be physical, social, psychosomatic or spiritual. In this work, the focus is on spiritual healing (that is using spiritual means to heal the mind, the spirit, the physical body and the environment).


1.7.4 Family-root

            It will be difficult for anyone to attach a straightforward definition to the phrase-‘Family root’. Nevertheless, a description will come in handy. This term which has been coined in the course of the development of this theology of healing of family roots (Njoku, 1994: p 23-27), is an imagery describing the invisible part of the family tree. ‘Family tree’ on its own has been an imagery used for a longtime in sociological circles to demonstrate the genealogy of a particular lineage.

The new thing here is the recognition of the root as not just a part of the family tree but also a very important part of it whereas emphasis had earlier been on the visible parts of the tree. This ideology is believed to have emanated from a belief also found in the African worldview that the dead members of a family still remain viable members of the family, ever present and capable of affecting the lives of the living. The Christian practitioners of healing the family roots have however appropriated this belief and have argued vigorously that it is not unchristian. (McALL, 1982, Njoku, 1995, 1994, 1996, 2011, Mcnutt, 2005, Ozoko, 2009, Ssemakula, 2011 Olukoya, 2013).They support their stand with Bible passages such as Exodus 34:6-7 where God promised to visit the sins of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generations. In a very vivid description, Njoku (1994) writes:


…can a tree remain alive without drawing supplies from the root? But assuming the root draws harmful ingredients or chemicals and sends them up to the rest of the tree will that tree remain healthy or alive? Or again, can that root remain alive and perform its duty without adequate supply of manufactured food from the leaves via the branches and the stem? You see then that there is a living realistic, mutual communication between the root and the rest of the tree. (p.25)

Therefore, in the context of this work, family root will always be understood as the dead members of a family, community, or clan; their deeds while still alive and their perceived consequences on the living both positive and negative.

1.7.5 Igbo Christians

            Nwala (2010, p.22) portrays the Igbo nation as constituting one of the three largest ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. They belong to the Negro race in Africa and speak a language that belongs to the kwa group of languages found in the west and central Africa. The southeastern part of Nigeria is recognized as the homeland of Igbo people and according to the last Nigeria’s census in 2006, the Southeast combined have a total population of around sixteen million. However, as Enebe (2013) observed, upwards of 80% of Igbos do not live in the traditional Igbo enclave of the Southeast. The Igbo people are simply very republic in nature, and would easily uproot themselves and their families to greener pastures without any regrets. They migrate in search of better opportunities; and create one for theirselves when they cannot find one upon arrival. In the light of the foregoing discuss, the recent population estimate which places the number of Igbo people in Nigeria at 50 million (Nwala, 2010, p.22) becomes believable.

Prior to the advent of Christianity in this part of the world, the Igbo had a well-articulated indeginous religion. With the advent of Christianity, many of them have become Christians. Nearly every hue and shade of Christianity can be found among the Igbo both at home and in the Diaspora. There are Igbo Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Aladuras and so on. Therefore, in the context of this work, the term Igbo Christians shall always refer to all Christians of Igbo extract unless it is otherwise stated in a particular context.


1.7.6 Pentecostalism

            According to Achunike (2004, p.14), Pentecostalism refers to “a modern Christian group that began in the USA in 1901. For them, the Bible is normative. Pentecostals emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit to the individual and the church”. Over time, the Pentecostals have come to be classified along the line of inception, denominational affiliation, and doctrinal emphasis. There are the African Independent churches/Aladura like Cherubim and Seraphim, which came into the religious scene of Nigeria from 1918 upwards. The modern Pentecostal churches like Assemblies of God, Deeper Life Bible Church and others that came into being later on. The renewal groups metamorphosed within the mainline churches and more recently, other groups that have been referred to as neo-Pentecostals (Dim, 2012). Therefore, in the context of this work, Pentecostals will serve as an umbrella name for all these Pentecostal groups mentioned above except where it is stated otherwise in a particular context.