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