Igbo religion

Chinua Achebe is one of the Igbo people, an ethnic group in Nigeria numbering some ten million. The book of Achebe’s I’m currently reading, Home and Exile, stemmed from three lectures he gave at a conference in 1998 at Harvard. The content is primarily autobiographical and the lectures explore themes of African imagery in Western cultures, images of African people and culture, the intrusion of Christianity into Africa and how Africans should/could counter stereotypes and create a new, truthful vision of Africa and her peoples. One passage in particular caught my eye.

I heard that one of Ogidi’s neighbouring towns had migrated into its present location a long time ago and made a request to Ogidi to settle there. In those days there was plenty of land to go around and Ogidi people welcomed the newcomers, who then made a second and more surprising request – to be shown how to worship the gods of Ogidi. What had they done with their own gods? Ogidi people wondered at first but finally decided that a man who asked you for your god must have a terrible story one should not pry into. So they gave the new people two of Ogidi’s gods, Udo and Ogwugwu, with one proviso, that the newcomers should not call their newly acquired gods Udo but Udo’s son; and not Ogwugwu but Ogwuwgu’s daughter.

The significance of the Igbo reluctance to share their religious beliefs demonstrates their lack of awareness of such a concept as religious imperialism, as Achebe notes. This would clearly have made it easier for the Christian missionaries to bring in their own religion, as indeed they did, replacing traditional cultures, religions and customs not just in Nigeria but all across Africa. Although a short passage and not central to the theme of the lecture I read today, I found it an interesting snapshot of one of the many issues Achebe confronts in his works.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Igbo religion

  1. Stefanie

    Thanks for sharing this, very interesting and sheds a bit of light on Achebe’s work

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