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THE ADVENT OF CHRISTIANITY IN OBOWU LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA AND ITS IMPLICATIONS (1910-2010)

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Project Description

CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

  • Background of the Study

The focus of this study is the area designed as administrative Obowu or the fourteen (14) village community of Ekwere-na-ote and Okwu-na-Nso. Obowu situates in the Igbo Heartland of the present Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State of Nigeria and covers an area of 69,930 square kilometers. It is bounded on the east by the Imo River which separates it from Umuahia, on the North and North-West by Ihite and the famous Abadaba lake respectively, on the West by the Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area. Obowu is served by the Onuiyi River rising from Aham River between Okwuohia and Umulogho. And from here, the Aham (Iyi) traverses Umuoke and Umungwa, emptying itself finally into the Imo River.

Obowu is located about 40 kilometres north-east of Owerri and 9.6 kilometres west of Umuahia and it lies within the rain forest belt of Nigeria. Based on a densely-forested and undulating terrain of this region, Obowu is endowed with a variety of tall tree-ranging from the majestic Iroko, the oil bean, the silk cotton, the coconut to the highly valued oil palm. Here, the oil palm is the most common as well as the most important economic tree. The mean annual rainfall is between 80 – 100 inches and most of the rain falls between the months of April and November. The dry season which is generally hot sets in from December to March with a certain amount of harmattan occurring in December and January. Even during the dry season, occasional rains are not unusual. Worthy of note here is that the name Obowu which was originally spelt as OBOWU but the colonial masters anglicized the name and spelt is OBOWO.

Traditionally, Africans are very religious people, so are the Igbos and Obowu people in particular. The religion is manifested in every aspect of their cultural activities. Before the arrival of the European missionaries in Nigeria, Obowu people already had the same or similar or equivalent doctrines of worship of God with Christianity example,   the Obowu people were monotheistic. They believed in one supreme and Almighty God (Chukwu/Chi-ukwu, the creator of all things (Chineke or Chi-Okike), the great one who lives in Heaven (Obasi bi n’igwe).They also believed in spirits – good ones and bad ones, and these can be equated to the angels and evil spirits or devil (Ekwensu). These spirits are called deities or minor gods. This belief in the deities made the European missionaries to conclude that the Igbo man (Obowu) worshipped many gods and that they were pagans.

Obowu people also believed in the existence of departed good ancestors in the nether world, and Obowu people honoured their ancestors and were in constant consultations with them. The Obowu man believed that the venerable ancestors did intercede for them before God.

Sacrifice: Sacrifice and prayer were not alien to the Obowu man who often saw in the work of evangelization a method of modernizing his practice of religion. Sacrifice is the supreme communion with God. Each family head had an alter. This was erected in a little grove in front of the concession. It is usually made of a pile of wood. On it the family head as a Chief priest of the community, offered sacrifices to God. This sacrifice may be offered through the spirits, Spiritual forces (minor deities) or ancestors and the Supreme God (Chukwu). The victim for the sacrifice was usually a chicken or a baby animal slaughtered and the blood sprinkled on the alter while the Chief priest invoke God, his spiritual agent and the ancestors. In Obowu land, a sacrifice may be expiatory, that is offered in order to purge someone or people of evil committed, such evil as murder, incest, birth of twins, unnatural events, abomination and other crimes against traditional practices(Omenala).

A sacrifice may be imploratory, if made to request for favour, like fertility of the soil, good harvest protection of the spirits, good marriage etc. Obowu man made sacrifice in thanksgiving for favours received. Human sacrifices were practiced in extreme cases. When an abomination has been committed in a community and which according to the village elders, has breached the relationship between the community and God or the ancestors or the great spirits of the world beyond, a human sacrifice was needed to restore normalcy, if not, the community would suffer the wrath of the spirits and spiritual forces.

Powerful men and great Chiefs and other titled men in Obowu were buried with human heads to enable them reach the next world. Sometimes, slaves were buried with their masters to serve them in the land of the dead. This was also a form of human sacrifice.

In Obowu land, divination was held with great esteem. The oracle in their judgment sometimes demanded human beings. When two indigenes went to the shrine of the oracles, usually, the guilty one never came back. It was said that the oracle had claimed him in sacrifice. It was the combined efforts of the church and government that put an end to the practice. Manifestations of God or minor deities were a common phenomenon in Obowu. There was the worship and devotion to these deities. Amadioha or Kamalu is indeed manifestations of God’s anger. He is regarded as the wrathful arm of God who comes in the form of thunder and lightning to strike the evil doers. He is used to curse evil doers. People swore by him. Sacrifices were offered to appease him and in some communities, an altar was erected in his honour, and goats and rams were offered to ward off his ravaging anger.

Obowu people travelled to Umunoha to seek litigation before Igwe-ka-ala the God of instant justice. Igwe-ka-ala had his shrines and Chief priests in some communities like Umunoha and Okija. The litigants went to these oracles to resolve their differences. The guilty one disappears or is punished.

Charms: The Obowu people believed in the existence of numerous spirits, some benevolent, others wicked or mischievous (Ajo-mmuo) and this belief greatly necessitated the wearing of charms. This was meant to ward off the evil spirits and their human agents and invoke the protection of the benign ones. These charms were designed, forged and endowed with spiritual powers by special priests, medicine men and diviners to neutralize bad luck, spells and attack by evil spirits (Mba mmuo or mba agbara). Some charms were made to be worn around the neck, ankle, waist and wrist or even around the head. Sometimes, these charms were posted on the entrance gate of concession and were supposed to neutralize poison or evil power that a stranger might dare to bring into the compound.

Festivals, perhaps in all Igboland, the most popular festival are “iri ji ohuru”, the new yam festival. This usually takes place in August and September, when the new yam first matures. Each head of the family or village goes to the farm early in the morning and harvest the first new yam of his farm. He comes home and offers the yam to his family. The yam is roasted and a stew of oil been salad is prepared. The head of the family summons his members in his obi, his reception hall. He then places the roasted yam on the table and offers thanksgiving prayers and incantations; he ceremoniously cuts the yam amid cheers of the members who congratulated each other for surviving the new yam festival of that year. Then the members shared and ate the yam with joy and laughter.

New yam festival was also seen as a time of reconciliation. Quarrels and misunderstandings between families and among individuals are settled, it is time for peace.

Marriage institutions: Marriage in a traditional obowu society is an important social obligation. It is contracted not only on the level of the individuals getting married but most importantly on the level of families involved. There is a betrothal ceremony after periods of inquiries, as to whether the families are culturally permitted to marry (a diala is not allowed to marry from Osu family), then the payment of dowry, and Ibuzu mmai (wine offering ceremony). In fact, in Obowu, traditional society a man’s wealth, influence and personality are judged by the number of wives, children, grand children he has and the extent of lands and farms he possesses.

Women form part of the property owned by the man. When the woman is widowed, she is inherited by the deceased brother. A son could inherit his father’s wives but cannot inherit his own mother. Women in general possess no lands and cannot inherit any.

Osu Caste system:- The Osu are those persons consecrated to the community – market deities. They are human beings sacrificed alive to the market spirits or deities. After the ceremony, they were left to live and cultivate the lands around the market. They built their houses and lived in isolation from other members of the community. In Obowu traditional society, any form of association with the Osu was strictly forbidden for the dialia (free born). Any disagreement between Osu and diala was judged in favour of the diala. A free born who marries from an Osu or dines with them or takes shelter in their house or sleeps with their women automatically became an Osu and consequently ostracized from the community.

Evil babies: – These were babies believed to be penetrated by evil spirits (Ajo mmuo) right from the womb. These were twins, albinos and babies who cut the upper teeth first. The pre-colonial Obowu man believed that only animals can beget more than one offspring at a time and that it was abomination for a higher being to behave like an animal. It is further believed that they bring misfortune, death or serious illness to the members of the family. Such babies were either killed and or thrown into the evil forest and their mother would either be killed or sold into slavery. It is pertinent to cite here other features that characterized Obowu society. Travelling in those days was difficult and tedious. Travelling alone was at great personal risk. Before one could travel from Obowu to a neighbouring village or at times within Obowu itself, one would be subjected to a handover ritual from village to village until one reached ones destination. A handover ritual involves entering a prominent personality’s compound and letting him know of your journey. Such a personality would then guarantee you a safe journey to and from his village. Without this process, a safe and peaceful journey was almost always impossible. At times, it was necessary for a person going to a nearby market to get himself sufficiently armed, so that he could defend himself when attacked, otherwise, during occasional disturbance in the markets, one could be taken into slavery.

Native dances featured prominently in Obowu society. Men and women took much delight in dancing. Dancing was essentially a recreational function. Other recreational activities took the form of games, prominent among the games was Mgba (wrestling).

Nwiyi festival as a symbol of common origin of Obowu people.

Traditional authorities in Obowu including late Chief Onwunali had agreed that for many years, an annual festival known as Nwiyi was observed by all the fourteen village communities in Obowu. It was through this festival that Obowu people presented their corporate existence as descendants of one founding father. In effect, Nwiyi was a symbol of unity, nay an event which stimulated in the people a feeling of oneness. The Nwiyi festival had its origin from the fact that nearly all the fourteen village communities in Obowu are served by the Aham stream (Nwiyi). It is postulated that as each village group increased in population and influence, each began to evolve its own annual festival, and in time, established its separate identity from the rest. Each village had a patron deity or god which sponsored it and with which that particular village was associated.

Thus, the deities associated with the various villages today are as follows:

Deity                                                 Village

Durugo                                              Alike

Ogbagbu                                           Amuzi

Uramirikwa                                                Okwuohia

Uramirikwa                                                Avutu

Iyi Eruru                                           Umunachi

Iyi Afo                                              Umuoke

Iyi Aja                                               Umulogho

Iyi Afo                                              Ehume

Iyi Eke                                              Umuosochie

Iyi Nkwo                                           Umuariam

Opara Ozurumba                              Odenkwume

Imo                                                   Umungwa

Iyi Nze                                              Amanze

Ajala                                                 Achara

All these can be considered as further evidence of the common origin of the fourteen village communities in Obowu. Other basic concept for a clearer understanding of Obowu is:

Onu-Gaa-Otu (Speak with  one voice)

          The much talked about republican, democratic character of the Igbo is eloquently manifested in the manner the ancient people of Obowu carried out their decision-making process ‘Onu-Gaa-otu’ which literally means speak with one voice is typical of this mode of reaching agreement on issues of common concern to the clans. Indeed, the early people of Obowu were proud  custodians of a democratic culture in which consensus, the common will or ‘Onuoha’  was a cherished value which guided the people in making decision on vital issues.

Onu-gaa-otu is both a mental construct, a social process, a spiritual force, a cherished value and a place name. Among other things, ‘onu-gaa-otu’ is the traditional shrine of the entire kingship group, the clan assembly, a place or square, where all Obowu people gathered to discuss and arrive at a decision that was representative of the views of all (one voice). It is believed by many that the onu-gaa-otu (consensus) square for all Obowu was located at Ehume, the head village in the Ekwere-na-ote group, in addition Ehume has for long been favoured and treated as the most senior (Opara) in Obowu.

Even though the story of Obowu, as narrated by the traditional authorities, places in time the coming of Adaure before that of Ikenga, the acceptance of Ehume as the Opara of Obowu would then strongly suggest that the first of the two sons from each woman must have come from Ikenga who was married later. This position is not difficult to explain or understand for it is common knowledge in all polygamous societies that the first son does not always come from the first wife. Alike usually regarded as the first village in the Okwu-na-Nso group, has also drawn attention to the location of another traditional onu-gaa-otu shrine for the Okwu-na-Nso group at Orie Ononogbu market at Alike. The question that readily comes to mind is which onu-gaa-otu preceded the other in time? The one located at Ehume or that of Alike, or did both exist at the same time? Whichever one that came first what is important is the fact that decision-making by consensus method had been practiced in Obowu ever before the first white man set foot on Obowu soil. And since the deliberations backed by the spiritual and moral sanctions of ‘Onu-gaa-otu’ were held at the All-Obowu shrine at Ehume, it is reasonable to maintain that the clans (Obowu) were fully developed as the highest political unit before the advent of British administration in Igbo land.

  • Statement of Problem

The problem associated with Christianity in Obowu had been documentation is acceptable within scholarly circles. The missionaries kept records of their work, experiences, in their diaries and mission magazines. However, the ravages of the Nigerian Civil war destroyed records left by the early missionaries. Furthermore, records kept at various stations from where Obowu was administered from 1948 to 1951 when Obowu and Ihitte were excised from Owerri and made part of Okigwe Division were distorted. Available records of the impact of the church were of post war effects on the area and more so, they were more of chronology left in the pamphlets and narrations presented as history of the church at inaugurations. The magnitude of the problem could be assessed in that the history of Obowu has not been written until this date.

  • Aim of Study

The researcher examined the methods and strategies adopted by Christian Missions in Obowu land as change agents. This is done in order to bring to lime light the activities of those missionaries who propelled change in Obowu land. This is in order to educate the present generation of Obowu people of their past, so that they would not view missionary activities in Obowu negatively.

  • Significance of Study

The researcher intends to contribute through appropriate documentation of the history of Obowu people and the Christian churches. The research projected five main denominations. These are the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Assemblies of God Church and Deeper Life Bible Ministrywhich led the way to Christianization and development of Obowu people. The spotlight of the research portrayed that Colonial missions were established.

Obowu church historiography has shown that culture and tradition of Obowu society did not fall like the wall of Jericho at the sound of the Gospel message. The research serves as a resource to future researchers. The research projected the enviable role of Christian Mission in Christianizing, developing, reshaping the culture, custom and tradition of Obowu society.

  • Scope of Study

The research covered Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State in Nigeria. The research centred on Christian Mission in traditional Obowu Society to the present-day. The responses of traditional and modern Obowu society occupied focal point in the research. The impact of the Christian Churches in Obowu had been properly examined.

  • Limitation of Study

The incursion of Christianity into Obowu had been limited to five pioneering churches namely;the Roman Catholic Mission, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Assemblies of God Church and Deeper Life Bible Ministry. Other churches have been included in the table of churches in Obowu, which indicate their names, founders and years founded that projected their existence in present-day society.

  • Methodology

National Archival materials were consulted: The minutes of meetings of various courts of the church available and those of Obowu Development Association had been consulted. The church periodicals, inauguration histories, papers presented at send off parties of missionaries were analytically interpreted.

Oral interviews had been conducted on people with the position of trust in various phases of life and studied what they said about their past and the church.

  • Definition of Terms

For further clarification and in order to provide useful insight, the following words will be briefly defined.

Advent, Christianity and implication.

As a concept, the term advent is derived from the Latin word ‘ad-venio’; meaning to come to: The Catholic Encyclopedia on the other hand sees it as a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. The first Sunday may be as early as 27 November and then advent has 28 days or as late as 3rd December given the season only 21 days.

On the other hand, Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines advent as the approach or arrival of something, person or event which is of great importance.

 

Christianity

          According to Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Christianity as a concept is derived from Greek word, Christianos and Latin Christianities. It is a Monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as present in the canonical gospels and other New Testament writings. Most adherents of the Christian faith are known as Christians. Gbenda, J.S. in his book Religion and Ecology, A Comparative Study, defines Christianity as a monotheistic religion based purely on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible.

The Quran also defines Christianity as a religion of the people of book.

Implication

          According to Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, implication means the conclusion that can be drawn from something although it is not explicitly stated. It can also be seen as a likely consequence of something.

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