1.1 Background of the Study
Man as an intellectual being has always questioned the origin, sustenance and existence of the universe. In a like manner, these numerous questions on the mysteries of life have led to the discovery of religion; hence man is regarded as a religious being. Unlike other religions namely like Judaism, Christianity and Islam that have known origins, African Traditional Religion has no specific founder. Christianity for instance, according to the Bible in the second book of Luke popularly known as the Acts of Apostles chapter 11:26 points to Antioch as the place of origin of the word Christians. In other words Christ was the founder and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. In the case of Islam, it was Mohammed who founded it. Contrasts to this, Africans have no recorded founder(s) or initiator(s) of their religion. Yahweh’s (Judaism) according to Okwueze (1998:51) is suggested to have been founded by Moses .African Religion is as old as the continent itself. This has contributed immensely to the nature of the religion with multivariate practices of this religion all over the continent.
That is why there is a lot of variations from one smallest indivisible society of Africa to another. In this vein, Isichei (1977:13-14) posits that:
One should not neglect to mention the value of tradition religion …West African religion tend to hold that the supreme God is benevolent but that he stays remote from affairs of men. It is therefore believed that worshippers should give most of their devotion to many lesser spirits…Because they did not write; their wisdom has usually died with them.
All things being equal, African Traditional Religion concept of the divine ultimate or transcendent being revolves around the belief in the supreme being, the belief in divinities, Belief in spirits, Belief in Ancestors and practice of magic and medicine (Ugwu and Ugwueye 2004:32-49). From this, we can understand the belief pattern of other nations or societies in Africa irrespective of their languages and cultures like the Igbo nation or society, and other sub-regions or sections within the Igbo world like the Akpo people of Anambra State.
According to Ogugua (2005:68), between the supreme being and man is a region inhabited by spirits. Onunwa (2005:35) places African Traditional Religion (human being), in a triangular form with man at the center where God (the
Supreme Being) is at the apex, divinities and spiritual forces occupy other sides of the Isosceles triangle, and the ancestors are at the base.
These researches tell us man’s relationship with the spiritual world. According to Abanuka (2004:5) for example there exists in Igbo Religion, symbols as chi (reality):
Belief in Supreme Being (chukwu) and gods (Arusi/Agbara) such as Anyanwu (sun god), Ala (earth goddess), Agwu (god of medicine and healing, Ahiajioku (god of yam), and Ikenga (god of achievement and success in life). He never kept aside the belief in ancestors (Ndi-iche).
Ifesieh (1989:25-41) while treating the Igbo perception of the world which has religions bearing, relates the people’s belief in celestial/semi-celestial sphere:
The sky (igwe) star (kpakpando), the sun (anyanwu) etc as abode of supreme God (chineke), the Earth addressed as the (mother of fertility). They said (land) is a free gift from chineke, spiritual significance is also given to tree, like the ofo trees, ogbu tree etc, mountains ugwu, rivers, irrational animals like mmuookuko spirit of fowl, mmuoanuofia spirit of wild animals e.t.c, spirit of family/kingship mmuo Uno or spirit of the house (domestic). He calls all these spirits Igbo four-arch spirits, and the individual spirits-Ancestors (Nna-Anyifa).
Onah (1992:21-28) views them thus:
Belief in supreme God, Belief in minor Deities-namely the sun Deity-Anyanwu, sky or Thunder Deity Igweor Amandiioha, and the Earth goddess-Ala, the Belief in Ancestral veneration, and belief in Evil spirits and forces –Arusi.
Madu (1997:5) categorizes Igbo spiritual beings based on their vital ranks as follows:
…First, the supreme being (chukwu orchineke), the creator, Second, the deities (muo) which include (a) Anyanwu-lord of light and life, (b) Ala-the earth goddess mother of life and the queen of morality (c) Amadioha –God ‘s orderly and agent of instant justice, (d) Muo-mmiri the divinely appointed temptress, (e) Ahiajioku-lord of agriculture (g) Agwu-nsi-lord of divination and healing. Third in his ranking is the spirit forces (Arusi/Alusi), fourth is the Ancestors (Ndi-ichie), and fifth is the medicine (ogwu).
Having seen these Igbo belief patterns, we ought to see in this work how the traditional Akpo people as part of Igbo people pay reverence to some all of those spiritual beings in form of worship from past to the present. This is because this research is concerned with the nomenclature given to the reverence Igbo (Akpo) give to supernatural beings inform of worship from time immemorial. Traditionalist in Akpo is often misunderstood to have belief in some things barbaric, devilish, and heathen and of no value.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Worship is a very common language in religious studies or theology. Every religion has its systems of worship. The Nigerian foreign religious namely Christianity and Islam have their ways of worship and designated terminologies. In Christianity, they have different names for it namely, services, mass, fellowship, litany, stations of the cross, crusades etc, the Muslims have their “raka” Jihad etc.
In African Traditional Religion, an organized form of worship as in Christianity or Islam is lacking. This work therefore, observes that the Traditional Religion generally and that of Akpo people in particular share this problem. Worship in Africa is so wide that the way others worship. In Akpoland, some worship in a specific place for a defined purpose while in some places for same purpose they worship in Igbo world view, so many interpretations come in, in view of the fact that the religious systems of Akpo people have not received it’s desired attention, the research has dwelt much here to unravel the intricacies of their religious worship systems in comparisms with that of other religions that co-exist with it.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
This research work has in mind,
- the aim of bringing to the surface the traditional religious practices of the Akpo people right from ancient to the modern age.
- to enhance the understanding of their beliefs, touch some aspects of Igbo/Akpo Traditional Religions, and explain relevance and importance of the traditional religious practices.
- to interpret religious practices of the Akpo in context and the language in relation with other Igbo dialects. All these and more form the basis of discussion in this thesis.
- 1. 4 Significance of the Study
The study will benefit the traditional worshippers in Akpo. The study will help Akpo people to prepare a good background for prospective worshippers. This is possible because the study has prepared a library where future worshippers can get some information on their system of worship as practiced by the Ancestors or their predecessor. The traditional worshippers on assimilating the contents of this study will be able to appreciate their religious faith. The study also can guide them on identifying areas of their religious practices that call for amendments. It will also be beneficial to the Christians, in the sense that they could be guided very well on strategies of evangelizing the traditional settings of Akpo and environs. The study will benefit the youths so that they can make choice of which religion to practice. It reveals to them some religio-cultural background of Akpo which would help them in acquiring some essential knowledge required in academics like in areas of humanities and other cultural related studies from secondary to the tertiary.
In the course of studying it, most of the religious crises, misunderstanding will be controlled and minimized in the society. It will foster mutual understanding and co-operation among the religious groups and sects.
This research throws questions on the conscience of those whose works are to make sure they demolish traditional worship centers, force their parents, relatives, friends to quit from the worship, and preach against the traditional worship. The study is also designed to highlight traditional religious practices of Akpo religion.
The fruit finding of this research work will supply researchers in the future with adequate information for comparing Traditional religious practices in various systems. The study would also explore the traditional religious practices among Akpo Traditional Religion as sustained by the traditional worship that provide stability to traditional Akpo values in social, political, economics and religious life. Consequently, the study would add to the existing literature on African Traditional Religion and worship systems.
1.5 Scope of the Study
In this research, the researcher concentrates more on the Akpo people of Anambra State with regard to the major fundamentals of their traditional religious practices.
The Akpo include; Agbaelu, Ọgbọ, Uhuala, Amaife, Udo and Umueze all in Aguata Local Government Area in the present Anambra State. They share among others the Ezinwanne identity as contained in Okeke (1989:47). Okeke stated that:
This includes… “Akpo Nnaa”. In normal circumstances “Imere Aghaa” is an expression meaning how are you but has since becomes a term identity … means not only sub-linguistic group, but also becomes synonymous with inferiority, ignorance, poverty and illiteracy.
1.6 Research Methodology
This research has a wide spread in its method. The researcher consulted textbooks, journals, bible, internet and dictionaries. The researcher added his own little experience over the years in studying religion. The consultation of knowledgeable informants was never kept aside. The researcher embarked on field work to learn things first and for himself. The internet was very useful in this work. At the end, descriptive and comparative analytical approach were used to analyze the data from these sources.
1.7 Definition of Key/Related Terms
In this work, the following terms are defined: Religion, African Traditional Religion, practices.
Scholars find it difficult to come up with a definition of religion that would include every religion, past and present. Many believe that the idea of supernatural is universal to religion and should therefore be a part of it’s definition. Others reject this viewpoint saying that religion may be a private set of beliefs of only one person or it may be a shared set of beliefs of many. Religion is often practiced in a formal organization (Huston, 1978:15).
Religion, therefore, could be defined as faith and practices involving relationship between mankind and what is regarded as sacred. Religion generally includes the belief in the supernatural and a code of ethical behaviour. More comprehensively, religion is defined as “the outward act or form by which men indicates their recognition of the existence of God or gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear or awe of some super human and over-ruling power, whether by profession of belief by observance of rites and ceremonies or by the conduct of life” (Merriam, 1980:250). In primitive societies, religion often merges into magic but the two are fundamentally different. While religion often involves the worship of supernatural forces, magic deals with means of controlling them to gain certain ends. In modern life, religion sometimes merges into philosophy but again, essential and clear-cut differences are observed. Religion deals with salvation and faith and philosophy with understanding and logic. Ugwu and Ugwueye (2004:3) see religion as the belief in the existence of a supernatural ruling power … who has given man a spiritual nature which continue to exist after the death of the body.
He went further to explain that religion results from man’s spontaneous reaction to a living power, “wholly other” who is greater than himself; a power mysterious because although unseen, it is yet a present and urgent reality, seeking to bring man into communion with himself. Religion is natural in man and this account for the numerous religions invented by different people across the globe over time out of man’s natural quest to discover the supernatural ruling power with a view to establishing a relationship with him. In this regard we talk of Buddhism as a religion that started in India; Taoism as a religion of Chinese; Islam as an Arabian religion; Christianity as a religion that started in the Jewish-Greco-Roman world and so on and so forth. A list of such religion is interminable. Africans also have their own religion and this specially our interest in this book. Added to the above is the fact that religion itself deals with invisible and spiritual beings that cannot be subjected to empirical observations. Writing on this problem of definition, Metuh (1978:13) summarized that this problem.
… Is partly because the object of religion is invisible and the spiritual beings who are not subject to observation are conceived in different ways by different people. Besides, the study of religion interests people with a widely differing interests as theologians, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists, each of who see it from different perspectives.
It is against this backdrop, according to Madu (1997:17), “that hundreds of definitions of religion litter our textbooks in the social sciences and the humanities”. Be that as it may, almost every one of these definitions gives reasonable shades of meaning to the subject of religion.
Religion could be defined subjectively and objectively. Arinze (1970:8) explains thus:
Subjectively religion is the very consciousness of dependence on a transcendent being and the very propensity or inclination to … worship. Objectively, religion is a complex of truths, laws and rites by which man is subordinated to the transcendent being.
In this regard, religion, in a nut shell means man’s relationship with God. Man as a dependent being freely and internally knowledge his dependence on God and expresses this in acts of individual and/or communal worship. Religion is as old as man himself. Man started to talk about religion when he discovered his weakness and limitations as a dependent being. Awolalu (1976:275) defines this religion as:
… The indigenous religion of the Africans. It is handed down from generation to generation by the forebears of generation of Africans. It is not a fossil religion (a thing of the past) but a religion that has no written literature, yet, it is “written” everywhere for those who care to see and read. It is largely written in the people’s myths and folktales, in their songs and dances, in the liturgies and shrines and in their proverbs and pithy sayings. It is a religion whose historical founder is neither knows nor worshiped; it is a religion that has no zeal for membership drive; yet it offers persistent fascination for Africans, young or old.
This religion had been in existence from time immemorial and is still being adhered to today by many Africans.
African Traditional Religion
Ekwunife (1990:1) defines African Traditional Religion as:
Those institutionalized beliefs and practices of indigenous religion of Africans which are rooted in the past African religious culture, transmitted to the present votaries by successive African forebears mainly through oral traditions (myths and folktales, songs and dances, liturgies, rituals, proverbs, pithy saying and names), sacred specialist and persons, sacred space and objects and religious work of art, a religion which is slowly but constantly updated by each generation in the light of new experiences through the dialectical process of continuities and discontinuities.
Accordingly, this shows that African traditional religion revolves around the beliefs, customs, rites, rituals etc that were handed down by the past generations to the present, and the present is expected to pass it on the future generation. In further explanation, Onyeidu (2001:20) states that:
This was the primal, primordial, and native religious experience of the people of Nigeria before the coming of Christianity and Islam to the country. It has no founder. Rather, it was a collective heritage of people from their ancestors …
Ajayi, (1981:1) corroborates Onyeidu when he says that these religious beliefs and practices had been in existence from time immemorial and are still adhered to today by many Africans …
We can notice in all, that scholars are of a similar if not of the same views on the African Traditional Religion and it should be generally accepted as such in it’s context.
Africans also have their own religion; it is called African Traditional Religion. It is the religious beliefs and practices of the Africans. According to Awolalu and Dopamu (1979: 27-28).
… the practices and beliefs that continue to be useful and adequate to the spiritual life of the people are allowed to stay, while those are not suitable for spiritual growth and development are discontinued … the changes that take place are results of the universal changes in the lives of the peoples, and a new spiritual awareness.