The mere mention of our cultural practices in Africa prickles the satanic-attuned-sensitivities of the Christian or other members of many organized religions. But these sanctimonious cheerleaders conveniently forget that religion is simply beliefs, faiths, or creeds about any spiritual system held dear by any sect, people, or community. The stereotypical profiling of African religious practices and beliefs by the western world and the nouveaux Christians of all shades as satanic or pagan worship is both racist and prejudiced. Let it be known that pagan worshiping is not the province of the devil. It is just a system of worship different from the main stream’s preferences. But it is important to note that the missionary colonialists were the ones that turned our religions into pagan entities through their forced proselytization, crusades, and divide and rule policies following the scramble for Africa. For it is a well-known fact that the population of Africa even south of the Sahara dwarfs that of western Europe. So, who had the minority religion? However, that is water very much under the bridge. What is of interest to us now may very well be how do our people seek out misdeeds and truths from our ancestors whom they then beseech for favourable intervention or justice?
Within our communities reside wise ones who from experience and the wisdom of careful observation would know when issues have gone awry. These men would usually intervene unprompted and call people to order, or their advices will be sought by the troubled souls. When bad deeds are caught this early, remedies are most often than not, quite easy to implement. Matters get complicated when offending issues are left to fester, or the offending parties dither in the implementation of recommended remedies. However, matters of old that have gone unresolved through generations, as well as matters of urgent and grave importance will be treated differently. Inquiries into such matters will normally be subjected to Igba Afa.
Igba Afa is a process of subject inquiries from an all knowing and recognized chief priest or Oracle within or without the community. Visitations to such Oracles are prepared for well in advance. The delegates must have the authority of those that have dispatched them on such a mission. Members of the delegation must be people of integrity and acceptable piety. Instances have been known where the Oracle will send delegates back empty because one or more are not qualified to seek the truth. In other words, you cannot go to equity with unclean hands. Successful delegations will normally return with a shopping list of remedies to appease the ancestors and those offended. It is not unusual to seek alternative advice from another Oracle if the subjects so desire. Cases of concurrence of remedies have been known, and so too are cases where additional remedies are recommended by alternate Oracles. Rarely are their known to be total exoneration.
The implementation of the findings from the Oracles will most certainly involve some cleansing rituals, appeasements, forgiveness, and filial agreements in one accord to bury the hatchets if any. The filial accord is of utmost importance in continuing as one people going forward. And with time, life improves, retributions are averted, and prosperity returns to the people. These processes have been known and seen to yield positive results. These are no different from a church-based confessional, absolution of sins, penance prescribed by the Reverend Father/Priest, with the injunction, “Go and sin no more.”
Yes, the so-called (by the western world) traditional religious practices may and do involve blood sacrifices. But these are sacrifices of animals and not of people. The Old Testament chapters of the Bible are filled with such sacrifices and these were not satanic then. Present-day Jews are not known to have dropped such practices. To us Africans, these sacrifices represent a covenant between the living and the departed. The Christians produce the argument that by dying on the cross, Jesus Christ had for once and forever shed His blood to absolve all sinners. That precisely is their belief, and that is why they are Christians. The African culture requires us to individually pay, appease, and atone for our sins in our own methods. If you do not offend the people and the gods, you do not need any atonement, and so, no directives for sacrifices. Except those done in the spirit of thanksgiving. Here, there is no disagreement on this with the western religions or even the middle eastern ones.
There is yet another aspect of our life where we must seek one accord with our ancestors. As is with governance, societies are dynamic with time. Values change and the necessities to institutionalize fresh practices and enshrine new relations could come upon us. When such happens, the issues are discussed, first by the elders, then by the whole town. Such discussions will follow due processes, involving our indigenes in the diaspora as well. Probable solutions are proffered and reviewed over time, and the acceptable one will become adopted by majority vote. Thereafter, a sacrifice will be performed at Ihu Ani to institutionalize the adopted observance. A good example of this is the creation of autonomous communities in South-Eastern states of Nigeria. Once a community is created, it must undergo a process of traditional ‘gazetting’ to obtain official status. On the other side of this is what happened in my community, where the Obi granted a certificate of autonomy to a quarter within a village in my town. The entire town kicked against this because rather than discuss this and follow due process, the Obi decided to exhibit authoritarian powers which were considered undemocratic, and roundly condemned by the nine villages in my town. Compare this practice with constitutional amendments of the modern era of governance.
Just as the Christians have saints and prophets, my religion has many deities through whom one can offer supplications and prayers to Chukwu. Typically we have various gods represented by streams and rivers who we revere. We believe that these streams who all have their sources in the town are responsible for the fertility of our land and women. They provide sustenance to the soil and our bodies, and we believe that they take human forms from time to time when they wish to interact with us physically. They offer us protection against evil forces and help the people in return for simple reverence and observance of ordinances of dos and don’ts. These lead us to revere them, to take care of them, nurture them, keep clean their paths and courses through the town, do not pollute them, and we dredge them. Yes, we dredge them through a process of Igwo Iyi. What the mighty Federal Government has repeatedly failed to do for the rivers Niger and Benue my community had been doing for the five (5) streams in my town for centuries. To date we have not lost any stream, nor suffered any flooding due to siltation and course change because of neglect. And please, the colonialists did not teach us that. We do not throw dirt into our streams, we do not wash plates in our streams, and we do not wash blood-stained laundry in our streams. Yes, we worship and honour our deities who reside in our streams so, we cannot trash their homes. The colonialists call this pagan worship; I say this is environmental protection of the highest order. These streams and my people are there as living proofs of that symbiosis between us and the gods of our lands.