Authenticity of Belief in African (Igbo) Traditional Religion

A Critical Appraisal in the Light of Christian Faith

by Aloysius Ndiukwu (Author)
©2015 Thesis 397 Pages


The work presents Abrahamic monotheistic religions and the belief of the traditional religions in Africa, especially in Igboland. Religion exists notwithstanding many rots and bad religious behaviours through systematic and atheistic upbringing. It is true that in the history of mankind, different religions have come and gone and many are still in existence and they are religiously or socially formed. The monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have their complementary religious conviction with Igbo religion. They have the image of God as one and only. The authentic carriers of Igbo religion include religious functionaries, the family, and the elders. The religion is culturally, socially and ethically oriented and so the Gospel message of Christ should not neglect them.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Content
  • Acknowledgement
  • Vorwort
  • Foreword
  • General Introduction
  • The Aim of this Work
  • Chapter 1: Religious Concept, Faith, Belief and Tradition
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 The Concept of Religion
  • 1.1.1 What is Religion?
  • 1.1.2 Constitutive Elements of Religion
  • The Myth
  • The Rites and the Rituals
  • Mysticism
  • 1.2 What is Faith?
  • 1.3 What is Belief?
  • 1.4 What is Tradition?
  • 1.5 The Relationship between Religion, Faith and Belief
  • 1.5.1 Belief and Knowledge
  • 1.5.2 Belief without Evidence
  • 1.6 Theological/Religious Belief
  • 1.6.1 Miracle, Sacraments and Revelation
  • Chapter 2: Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions and their Beliefs
  • 2. Introduction
  • 2.1 Who are the Jews?
  • 2.1.1 Judaism and its Origin
  • 2.1.2 The Torah in Judaism
  • 2.1.3 The Concept of God in Jewish Religion
  • 2.1.4 Covenant as the Initiation Rite in Judaism
  • 2.2 Christianity
  • 2.2.1 The Birth of Christ and the Origin of Christianity
  • 2.2.2 Jesus as the Word Incarnate
  • 2.2.3 The Principal Message of Jesus Christ
  • The Kingdom of God
  • The Concept of Love in the Teaching of Jesus Christ
  • 2.2.4 Christian Concept of God
  • 2.2.5 Trinitarian Notion of God
  • 2.2.6 Jesus as the Saviour and Mediator between God and Humanity
  • 2.2.7 The Bible/Scripture and the Tradition as Inspired by God
  • 2.3 Islamic Religion
  • 2.3.1 The Life of Mohammad
  • 2.3.2 The Call of Mohammad
  • 2.3.3 Sources of Authority in Islamic Religion
  • The Qur’an as the Islamic Holy Book
  • The Authority of Sunnah in Islam
  • 2.3.4 The Idea of God in Islamic Religion
  • 2.3.5 The Five Pillars of Islam
  • Shahada (Confession of faith)
  • Salat: Daily Prayer
  • Zakat al Fitr (to thrive or to be pure) – Almsgiving
  • Ramadan (Fasting)
  • Al – Hajj (Pilgrimage)
  • Chapter 3: African Traditional Religions and Igbo Objects of Worship
  • 3. Introduction
  • 3.1 African Traditional Religions
  • 3.1.1 The Origin of African Traditional Religions
  • 3.1.2 Lack of Written Materials in African Traditional Religions
  • 3.2 The Country Nigeria
  • 3.2.1 Who are the Igbo?
  • 3.2.2 Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 3.2.3 The Igbo World-View
  • 3.3 Chukwu: God as the Supreme Being in Igboland
  • 3.3.1 Manifestations of God’s Attributes in Igbo Names
  • God as the Provider - Chinenye
  • God’s Omniscience - Chukwuma
  • The Mercy of God: Eberechukwu
  • 3.4 Non-Human Spirits, Divinities and Oracles
  • 3.4.1 The Deity of Ala (Earth)
  • 3.4.2 The New Yam Festival Celebration
  • 3.4.3 Amadioha or Igwe (Heaven)
  • 3.4.4 Anyanwu (Sun)
  • 3.4.5 Chi’s: Other Spirit Forces
  • 3.5 Igbo Belief in the Ancestors
  • 3.5.1 Who are the Ancestors?
  • 3.5.2 The Role of the Ancestors in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 3.5.3 Qualities of the Ancestors in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • Chapter 4: Religious Functionaries in African Traditional Religions
  • 4. Introduction
  • 4.1 What is Priesthood?
  • 4.1.1 Who is a Priest?
  • 4.1.2 Priesthood in the Old Testament
  • 4.1.3 The New Testament Priesthood: The Priesthood of Christ
  • 4.2 Priesthood in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.2.1 The Call to the Priestly Function
  • 4.2.2 Four Categories of Priesthood in Igboland
  • The Okpara or Paterfamilias Priest
  • The Onye Isi Ala (The Priest of Ala)
  • Onye Eze Mmuo or Eze Arusi (The King of the Spirit)
  • The Aro or Nri Priests
  • 4.2.3 The Training of Priests in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.2.4 Installation of Priests in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.3 Functions of Priests in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.3.1 Worship in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.3.2 Sacrifice and Offering in African Traditional Religion
  • 4.3.3 Sacrifice: (Aja) and Offering (Nhunye) in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.3.4 Human Sacrifice in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.4 Prayers in African Traditional Religion
  • 4.4.1 Prayers in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.4.2 Kinds of Prayer: Private and Communal or Family Prayers
  • 4.4.3 Types of Prayer
  • Prayer of Invocation
  • Prayer of Petition
  • Prayer over Kola Nut in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.5 Medicine Men/Women or Healers in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • 4.5.1 The Medicine Man/Woman (Herbalist) Dibia Ogwu
  • 4.5.2 Training for Medicine Man: Dibia
  • 4.5.3 Diviner (Dibia Afa) in Igbo Traditional Religion
  • Chapter 5: The Ethical, Social and Cultural Values in Africa
  • 5. Introduction
  • 5.1 Community in African Traditional Religion
  • 5.1.1 Community in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.1.2 The Spirit of Solidarity in Igbo Cultural Tradition (Igwe bu Ike)
  • 5.1.3 Sanctions in Igbo Community
  • 5.2 Traditional Family System in Africa
  • 5.2.1 Family System in Igbo Cultural Tradition (Ezi na Ulo)
  • 5.2.2 The Extended Family System
  • 5.2.3 Village Setting in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.3 Moral and Social Values in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.3.1 Respect for the Elders in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.3.2 Title Taking in Igbo Tradition
  • 5.4 Proverbs as a Social Means of Transmission of Knowledge in Africa
  • 5.4.1 Proverbs in Africa and other Cultures
  • 5.4.2 Proverbs in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.5 The Spirit of Hospitality among the Africans (Igbo)
  • 5.5.1 The Kola Nut (Oji) in Igbo Cultural Tradition
  • 5.5.2 Songs, Drums and Dancing as the Instruments of Social Interaction
  • 5.5.3 Songs and Music in Igbo Traditional and Cultural Setting
  • 5.6 The Notion of Life in African Cultural Traditions
  • 5.6.1 The Notion of Life in Igbo Tradition
  • 5.7 Death in African (Igbo) Tradition
  • 5.7.1 Mythology of Death in Igboland
  • 5.7.2 Death and Burial in Igboland
  • 5.7.3 The Death of a Youth
  • 5.7.4 The Death of an Old Person
  • 5.7.5 Igbo Ways of Lying in State
  • 5.7.6 The Carrying of the Corpse to the Grave and its Burying
  • 5.7.7 Funeral Activities after the Burial
  • 5.7.8 Those that were not given Burial Rites
  • Chapter 6: Evaluation: A Critical Appraisal in the Light of Christian Faith
  • 6. Introduction
  • 6.1 The Impacts of Christianity in Africa Especially Igboland
  • 6.2 Christianity in Africa According to the Mind of Christ
  • 6.3 The Christian Identity
  • 6.4 Religious Crises in Igboland
  • 6.5 Syncretism in Igbo Neo-Christian Religion
  • 6.6 Inculturation of the Gospel into the Lives of the People
  • 6.6.1 Inculturation of Christianity among the Igbo
  • 6.7 The Belief in the Supreme Being, Deities and Ancestors
  • 6.7.1 Other Spiritual Deities
  • 6.7.2 The Ancestors as Intermediaries
  • 6.7.3 Theological Interpretation of Ancestral Veneration
  • 6.8 Inculturation in the Areas of Liturgy
  • 6.8.1 Inculturation towards Cultural, Social and Moral Values of the People
  • 6.8.2 Theological Interpretation of Kola Nut
  • 6.9 Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedia
  • Ecclesiasical Documents

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Authentic human life begins with the acknowledgement of the Supreme Being, whose essence and existence are beyond human comprehension. Although His Being is above human understanding, but human beings come to believe in Him through religions revealed to them in human cultures and traditions. I thank God in a special way, who gave me life, knowledge, wisdom and understanding for the realization of this work. It would not have been completed without His strength, inspiration, guidance, direction and protection. To Him be the glory.

I thank my bishops: Most Rev. Dr. A. T. Ukwuoma and Most Rev. Dr. G. O. Ochiagha (Emeritus) for their fatherly care and the wonderful privilege and opportunity given to me to experience a part of my academic and priestly life in Europe. May God bless them.

I am grateful to my chief moderator, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klausnitzer. His wonderful reading skill, corrections, assistance and encouragement made the completion of this work possible. His correction and suggestions gave my theological knowledge a deep insight. I am proud to have passed through him. I am grateful to my second moderator, Prof. Dr. Erich Garhammer, for his meticulous assistance in correcting this work and for offering useful suggestions.

I am grateful to the Catholic Diocese of Würzburg for the invitation to my diocese and the offered scholarship for studies at the Bavarian Julius Maximilian University. Thanks to his Lordship, Most Rev. Dr. Friedhelm Hofmann, to whom I remain indebted for this magnanimous gesture. I appreciate the lovely and friendly concern of the community of St. Laurentius in Kleinostheim and Rev. Fr. Heribert Kaufmann during my stay with them. I thank them for their identification and appreciate their solidarity. I will not forget the help rendered to me by Mrs Astrid Heilmann and her family and the wonderful gestures of Mr Walter and Mrs Angela Jansen. May God reward them abundantly. I am, in a special way, highly indebted to the Catholic Diocese of Fulda, especially the local ordinary, Most Rev. Dr. Heinz-Josef Algermissen and Msgr. Christof Steinert for the opportunity given to me to have a pastoral experience in their diocese. I am grateful to the community of Geisa, the Bürgermeister Martin Henkel and Mr and Mrs Werner and Anneliese Deschauer who helped immensely in the publication of this work.

I thank in a special way Rev. Fr. Dr. Dr. Innocent Ezeani for his fraternal help, for proof-reading the work and for critically offering useful suggestions. I thank Rev. Fr. Dr. Emmanuel Umeh, who read and corrected the work. I thank Rev. Fr. ← 11 | 12 → Dr. Rowland Onyenali for reading and helping to format the work. I thank Rev. Fr. Dr. Edwin Udoye, Rev. Fr. Dr. Philip Omenukwa, and Rev. Frs. Kenneth Okpara, Uzor Uzochukwu, Marcel Ekenedo, Athony Udem, Andrew Ukonu, Uche Nnajiofor and many others for their encouragement and identification during this stressful period.

I remain grateful to my parents: my late father Ferdinand and my mother, Ezinne Roseline Ndiukwu, for sacrificing all she had that I may be what I am today. Mama, I am proud of you. To my brothers and sisters, Christiana, Cyprian, John, Pet, Regina and Emma Ugokwe, may God bless you abundantly. I am grateful to Mr and Mrs Chika Emenike (Kotec), Prince, Engr. Sir & Lady Bede Obioha, Hon. Sir & Lady Jerry/KC Alagbaoso and Sir & Lady Linus/Stella Nwanemuogh for their identification and friendship in this stressful period. To my many friends and well-wishers, whom I cannot mention here due to lack of space, for contributing immensely towards the success of this work, I remain grateful to all. May our belief in the Supreme Being continue to be faithful, reasonable and authentic.

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Was versteht man unter „Religion“? Trotz aller Versuche, die in manchen totalitären Staaten speziell im 20. Jahrhundert unternommen wurden, religiöses Verhalten und Religionen durch systematische atheistische Erziehung und Propaganda auszurotten und trotz aller Rede vom „Ende der Religion“ existiert diese Phänomen auch heute noch. Es besteht kein ernsthafter Grund anzunehmen, dass sich dies einmal grundlegend ändern wird. „Es gibt kaum etwas, das so oft totgesagt wurde wie die Religion. Zweifellos ist es wahr, dass in der Geschichte der Menschheit verschiedene Religionen gekommen – und dann wieder gegangen sind. Aber in allen Gesellschaften, an der archaischsten bis zur modernsten, hat es sozial geformte, mehr oder minder verfestigte, mehr oder minder obligate Symbolsysteme gegeben, die Weltorientierung, Legitimierung natürlicher und gesellschaftlicher Ordnungen und den Einzelnen transzendierende (z.B. familien- oder sippenbezogene) Sinngebungen mit praktischen Anleitungen zur Lebensführung und biographischen Verpflichtungen verbanden.“1 Andererseits scheint sich dieses dia- wie synchron universal verbreitete Phänomen der Religion einer genaueren Definition zu entziehen. Die Aussage des Augustinus über das Wesen der Zeit („Was ist also ‘Zeit’? Wenn mich niemand danach fragt, weiß ich es; will ich einem Fragenden es erklären, weiß ich es nicht“2) gilt dem ersten Eindruck nach entsprechend auch für die Religion. Erschwerend kommt hinzu, dass der zeitgenössische Begriff Religion in der Philosophie der Neuzeit Europas entstanden ist und in seiner Sachgemäßheit in der Anwendung auf das Christentum von der Dialektischen Theologie Karl Barths sowie in seiner Fähigkeit, ein wissenschaftliches Formalobjekt eindeutig zu beschreiben, von den Religionswissenschaften in Frage gestellt wird.

In dieser Situation ist es vielleicht angebracht, zunächst einmal in einer religionswissenschaftlichen und/oder theologischen Komparatistik verschiedene Religionsphänomene in Beziehung zueinander zu bringen. Die vorliegende fundamentaltheologische und an der Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät Würzburg eingereichte Dissertation von Aloysius Eberechukwu Ndiukwu versucht dies ← 13 | 14 → in einer überzeugenden Weise. Der Verfasser vergleicht den monotheistischen Glaubensinhalt des Christentums (aber auch des Judentums und des Islams) mit den entsprechenden religiösen Überzeugungen der traditionellen Igbo-Religion in Nigeria. Der Fokus der Untersuchung beschränkt sich dabei nicht nur auf das Gottesbild, sondern auch auf die verantwortlichen Träger der jeweiligen Religion, auf zentrale Formen religiöser Praxis und auf die konkrete Gesellschaft (unter Einschluss der Familie, des Umganges mit den Stammesältesten und sogar des Begräbnisrituals), auf die die behandelten Religionen in Nigeria einwirken, wie sie auch umgekehrt von ihr beeinflusst werden. In der Summe ist die Arbeit zumal in ihrem letzten Kapitel ein eindrückliches Plädoyer für eine notwendige Inkulturation des Christentums in den afrikanisch-nigerianischen Kontext der Igbo-Kultur. Es bleibt zu wünschen, dass es dem Verfasser gelingen möge, seine theologischen Einsichten, die er in seiner Dissertation präsentiert, in seinem weiteren Wirken als Priester und Theologe praktisch, pastoral und theologisch umzusetzen.

Würzburg, Dezember 2013

Wolfgang Klausnitzer

1 Thomas Luckmann, Einleitung zur deutschen Ausgabe v. Bronislaw Malinowski, Magie, Wissenschaft und Religion. Und andere Schriften (1948), Frankfurt 1973, XI–XVI, XI.

2 Augustinus, Confessiones XI 14, 17.

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What does one understand under “Religion”? The phenomenon of Religion exists still in our days, notwithstanding many ventures of totalitarian nations of the 20th century to rot out Religion and religious behaviours through systematic and atheistic upbringing and Propaganda and the discussion about the end of Religion. There is no plausible reason to believe that this would Change. “There is nothing, whose death has been proclaimed like Religion. It is undoubtedly true, that in the history of mankind different religions have come and gone. However, in all societies, beginning from the primitive to the modern ones, there has always been socially formed, more or less firm obligatory social Systems, which combine world orientation, legitimation of natural and societal orders and the individual transcendentory Interpretation (for instance the family relation) with practical introduction to lifestyle and biographical commitments.1 However, this diachronic and synchronic universal phenomenon of Religion seems not to be grasped easily in a particular Definition. The statement of Augustine about time (“What is ‘Time’? I know what it is, if no one asks about it; however, if I want to explain it to somebody, I realise that I do not know it”)2 seems also to be valid for Religion. Besides, the complication of the Topic stems from the fact that the contemporary concept of Religion arose in the philosophy of modern Europe. The dialectic theology of Karl Barth has questioned the proportionality in its relation to Christianity and the religious sciences have doubted its capability of clearly explaining a scientific object.

It might be necessary in this situation to bring many different religious phenomena in relation in a religious scientific and/or theological comparison. This Dissertation, written by Aloysius Eberechukwu Ndiukwu at the Institute of Fundamental Theology and accepted at the faculty of Catholic theology Würzburg, attempts this trial convincingly. The writer compares the monotheistic faith Content of Christianity (also of Judaism and Islam) with the corresponding religious convictions of the traditional Igbo-Religion in Nigeria. The Focus of the Research is not only limited on the Image of God but also on ← 15 | 16 → the responsible carriers of the Religion, the central form of religious practices and the concrete Society, (including the family, contact with the elders and also the rites of passage), on which the religions have their influences, and how these religions are also influenced by this society. The work, especially its last chapter, is a plea for a necessary inculturation of Christianity in the african-nigerian context of the Igbo-culture. It is therefore desirable that the writer would succeed in utilising the theological insights, which he presents in the Dissertation, in his work as priest and theologian practically, pastorally and theologically.

Würzburg, December 2013

Wolfgang Klausnitzer

1 Thomas Luckmann, Einleitung zur deutschen Ausgabe v. Bronislaw Malinowski, Magie, Wissenschaft und Religion. Und andere Schriften (1948), Frankfurt 1973, XI–XVI, XI.

2 Augustinus, Confessiones, XI, 14, 17.

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General Introduction

The research work “The Authenticity of Belief in African (Igbo) Traditional Religion – A Critical Appraisal in the Light of Christian Faith”, presents the belief of the traditional religions in Africa especially in Igboland. “Africans have a profound religious sense, a sense of the sacred, of the existence of God the creator and of a spiritual world. The reality of sin in its individual and social forms is very much present in the consciousness of these people, as is also the need for rites of purification and expiation.”1 These religious senses help the people in their approach to God the creator and giver of life. In a bid to address these religions many writers, like Aylward Shorter, John Mbiti, Bolaji Idowu, and Emefie Ikenga-Metuh, have written extensively about them. Some authors use traditional religions – plural, while others in singular. Are these people speaking about the same religion? This work will throw some light into that. The religions in Africa before the advent of Christianity and Islam are not the same as we see them today. Today, Christianity and Islam have swept aside these religions and institute their different religious tenets. What exist now sometimes lack relevance among the people, because some conceive them as pagan, archaic and devilish.

The basic reason for religion is to reunite humanity to God. It therefore plays a vital role by trying to bring human image, dignity, personality and identity back to God. It also shapes the patterns of human behaviours, values and attitudes in the society.2 It has great influence on human being. It plays a great role in the reconciliation of human beings with God and gives theological answers to these basic questions of life: How did the world come into existence? Who is the source of life? Why the creation of the world and human being? What is the essence of human life, death, judgement and retribution? What does God expect from human being and where is human being’s final destination? Is there any reward or punishment after life? Is God immanent or transcendent? Did God create the world to be good? Or can we say that evil and death came into the world through human disobedience? Is God interested in humanity by involving Himself in human sufferings and anxieties or has He distanced Himself from the world after creation? What is the ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: where do ← 17 | 18 → we come from, and where are we going?3 These are the questions religions answer and African religions give answer to these ultimate questions.4

Religion as a natural phenomenon in Africa is found in every tradition. There is no tradition without religion and it influences one who is born into it. To be without religion amounts to self-banning from the society because it involves the daily activities of human beings. Sometimes the religion one practices can influence the other either through conviction or compulsion (this is with regard to Christianity and Islam). One is converted to other religion through either conviction or compulsion. The question is: is Africans convinced to abandon their religions or compelled to abandon them?

The Abrahamic monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) we shall discuss have great connection with and influence from African continent. Moses the man who led the Israelites out of slavery and received the Torah on Mount Sinai was born, raised and educated in Africa, in the Egyptian royal court and its divine mysteries. Judaism and its priesthood have their origin from Africa. In Judaism, like in African religions, the duties of the priests are to offer sacrifices, perform the purification of rites of uncleanliness, teach moral and social laws, arbitrate between individuals, and act as medical practitioners and fortune-tellings. Moses learnt the religion in Egypt, and passed on to the Western world through the Mosaic books, law and the Hebrew Bible.5 Sometimes people will argue against old Egyptian religion in comparism with the religions found in Africa. Some will say that the religion was not African. But if it is not African, where then can we attribute it since Egypt is in Africa, and remains in the map of Africa?

Africa has been a place of refuge for Christianity and Islam. Christianity inherited a lot from religions in African through Judaism. The continent was a place of refuge for the new born child Jesus when King Herod wanted to kill him (Matt.2:1–21). It is described as a second homeland of Jesus since it was there that he sought refuge from Herod’s cruelty.6 Africans were also there on the Pentecost day, when the church was first proclaimed (Acts 2:15–13). In Islam, Mohammad had direct contact with Africa and when his followers were persecuted, he sent ← 18 | 19 → them to Kusch (Ethiopia) for 15 years until conditions at home had improved. This relationship was the reason Mohammad did not attack Kursch when his army conquered Palestine, Egypt and North Africa.7 These monotheistic religions later influenced Africans so much that the traditional religions of the people are heading to extinction. The people are now at the cross road because they neither live their traditional religions nor Judaism, Christianity or Islam convincingly. With this development, the religion in Igboland is so much influenced by Christianity that everything tends to look forward Christ and the Western culture, thereby setting aside the traditions of the people.

The advent of Christianity in the late 19th century in Igboland was so closely linked with colonialism. The colonial masters and the European merchants came first and later came the missionaries. They came along with the Western culture, and their views regarding the local people and their land were identical. This made it difficult for the Christian faith to be deeply rooted in the lives of the people because they were interested not only in imparting the religion, but also in plundering the wealth of the people. There was a story that: “The white missionaries came to us and we lovingly welcomed them in our land, and they said, ‘close your eyes, and let us pray,’ and when we opened our eyes, there was a Bible in our hands, but our lands were all gone.”8 They threw away the symbol of justice (Ofo) of the people and gave them the Bible. Since then, there has never been peace. The Bible has sometimes become a cause of war against one another and against the traditions of the people. With this mentality of the Bible and approach to life issues, the community love, peace and unity that were in the community were gone because of the new religions, is this the aim of religions?

The people followed another religion to the detriment of their tradition. There was neither conviction nor dialogue as regards the faith that was propagated by the missionaries. The people swallowed the teachings of the new religion; hook, line and sinker, but their unquestionable acceptance postponed the day of reckoning when African theologians will rise up to demand a redress or redefinition of Christian theology.9 Africans have become conscious of the religions they have abandoned, only to realize that, they have picked up the tradition of the Europeans. They have started asking why they should abandon the religions of their ancestors to follow the religions that condemn their tradition. They have started asking why they should condemn their ancestors because they did not know Christ and ← 19 | 20 → venerate Christian ancestors who are the Saints and the Martyrs. They have started asking why they should condemn some of the positive values found in their tradition, because Europeans could not understand them. They have started asking many questions which they did not have the courage to ask when they first received the Gospel of Christ. Christianity is good but the problem is, some missionaries had condemned everything they did not understand and had expected the people to follow them without questioning. Is this not religious slavery or terrorism? Christianity should incarnate itself into the culture of the people. Every incarnation ought to be understandable to the people and their ways of living. God can only appear to the black people through their traditions.

The Igbo people of Nigeria worship Chukwu (the Supreme God) in the way that is related to their tradition and culture. For Christ to be relevant to them, he needs to be associated with Chukwu who took the human form in order to bring the people closer to Chukwu. In the worship of Chukwu in Igbo traditional religion, the community gathers to express their joy, grief and praise to God, acknowledging their dependence on Him and pray for forgiveness. They do these through their rituals. Through rituals the community interacts with God. The essence of worship is to have religious experience. This experience contains an element of renewal. Experience is the key to renewal; without it, the community and the individual cannot turn to Chukwu. Chukwu is experienced by the people in a unique way. It is through experience that one reacts and responds to God, like Thomas confronted with the risen Lord (John 20) or Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Liturgy in African context will therefore be relevant only when it expresses the experience of African people. Yet the historical churches of Africa have tended to use forms of liturgy produced in Europe and North America in their liturgical worship and are therefore lacking the vitality of African spirituality.10 God ought to be worshiped in the tradition that influences the people.

God for the Igbo is a loving Father, who takes care of His people and provides for them. He is not a God of war or vengeance, rather He punishes when the people offend Him and He shows mercy when the people offer appropriate sacrifices. It is certain that, if we worship a warmongering God, we become warmongerers. If we worship a loving and forgiving God, we become loving and forgiving. If our image of God is that of self-righteousness, who would punish with eternal fire those who disobey God’s commands, then we would feel justified in being intolerant and punishing those who in our opinions are against us or even only different ← 20 | 21 → from us.11 The God the people worship is loving and caring, and the people are loving, caring, hospitable, friendly, faithful and happy. They are forgiven people, the experience of the Nigerian – Biafran war12 proves this, because after the war, many of the Igbos went back to those places and started relating normally by going about their normal businesses without calling the past to mind. So the God they worship influences them positively.

In Igbo traditional religion, God is one and there is no other. The religion is monotheistic, propounding only one God. But do they worship the same God which the Jews, the Christians and the Moslems worship? One can talk about different approaches to God through religions, but He remains the same. Hence, God is like one large tree with different branches that represent the religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African traditional religions and so on. These branches are part of the same tree of God.13 They all speak about God from different perspectives. God is the same, but the approach to Him differs from one religion to another.

For an African, God can be worshipped everywhere, a market place can be a place of worship, bearing each other’s burden and enjoying life together. Every social gathering has religious undertone and such cannot begin without first calling on the name of God. These are the expressions of faith that help to keep the people together and communicate with their God.

The Aim of this Work

This work aims to promote the good things, spiritual and moral as well as the socio-cultural values found among the Igbo people, how they experience the Supreme Being and how religion permeates into their lives. This experience shows that there is authentic belief in Igbo traditional religion before the coming of the missionaries. The missionaries met a people that believe in Supreme Deity known as Chukwu, whose essence and existence is beyond human comprehension. He ← 21 | 22 → is the God whose existence is unfathomable. His identification with the believers led to what is known as African spirituality. African spirituality has God at the centre of religious worship, moves around the person and the community. God is transcendent and at the same time immanent. He is all powerful, all knowing, and ever-present and He responds to prayers. By prayering to God, a religious person believes that human being can influence his situation.14 Praying to God with personal effort is necessary in African spirituality.

African spirituality conceives God as the Being who is far removed from the people. Because of His transcendent nature, there is need for intermediaries between Him and the people. These are the lesser deities and ancestral spirits. In some communities, ancestral veneration is more regular than the divine worship. God is usually approached only as a last resort in extreme cases. This attitude might have been more frequent in former times, as is shown by the information of early ethnographers and the widespread myths of a Deus otiosus or remotus (the far removed God): the one who retired to heaven after some human misdeed or the one who is not affected by what is happening in the world. But it would be incorrect today to characterize the African God as a ‘do-nothing’ or ‘withdrawn’ God.15 He can be seen as the God who is mediated with His people through His intermediaries known as the deities: the spiritual entities and the ancestors.

The God that Africans worship is the One God who is revealed in different ways to various religions of the world. He reveals Himself to the people in a unique way. This work is not a call, for the Igbo people to return to pre-Christian era, but to reconsider the peoples approach to the traditions which the Gospel message of Christ ought to incarnate itself into the culture of the people. Christianity has no problem with African culture and social values, but some missionaries did have problem with them. This work will help us to see Christianity as a religion that comes not to dominate and assimilate or annihilate the traditions of the people, but a religion that comes to help the people to see the fulfillment of Christ’s message in the religions and the traditions of other people. It will help us to see Christianity as a religion that will help to reveal the positive aspects of other religions. Hence “The greatest good we can do to others is not just to share our riches with them but to reveal their riches to themselves.”16 The greatest good Christianity can do to Africans is to help them to see the positive light of their cultures through the ← 22 | 23 → propagation of the theology from below, through proper inculturation or incarnation and not theology from above through imposition.

The work is divided into six chapters. In chapter one, religion and the concepts associated with religion are examined. When we talk about religion; belief, faith and tradition have to come in. They give relevance to religion. They are discussed in a unique way. The German language has the same word for faith and belief (Glaube). The English language has a clear cut distinction between the two. Faith is seen as absolute trust while belief is seen as opinion that can be changed. Belief is a step towards faith. It has to do with human reasoning, while faith has to do with the supernatural conviction and trust. The former has to do with the natural, while the latter has to do with the supernatural. Belief leads to faith and faith is the height that human reasoning cannot reach. Belief can also be scientific. Every scientific truth has a process to arrive at its final destination. It is always subject to change or alteration. Faith is a thing of the heart, a total conviction and acceptance of the truth that is based not on evidence of fact, but on the supernatural revelation. But belief has to do with the mental state of assurance or conviction, and the attitude of the mind towards its own experience in which it accepts and endorses as having real or significant values. There is no religion without faith and belief and they point to the direction of every believing community. Hence every religion comprises the beliefs and the practices of a given community or a number of communities.17


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (October)
Monotheismus Evangelium Afrika Atheismus
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 397 pp.

Biographical notes

Aloysius Ndiukwu (Author)

Aloysius Eberechukwu Ndiukwu hails from Urualla (Nigeria) and is a Catholic Priest of the diocese of Orlu (Nigeria). He studied philosophy and theology in Rome and Nigeria. He also researched at the University of Würzburg (Germany) specializing in fundamental theology.


Title: Authenticity of Belief in African (Igbo) Traditional Religion
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400 pages