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Igbo Initiation as Christian Catechesis Dec 24, 2004
The Significant Role Of Initiation In The Traditional Igbo Culture And Religion by George Nnaemeka Oranekwu (Iko) The main prospect among other things, therefore, is to study properly the significant role of initiation in the Traditional Igbo culture and Religion, not only to appreciate the density of meaning but more to see how it can form a valuable foundation, an inculturation basis for a fruitful, meaningful and enduring pastoral catechesis of Christian Initiation. In other words, how can the idea of initiation in traditional Igbo culture and religion be used to make "Christus pro nobis" become „Christus in nobis".
If every work or study must have a method of approach, ours then will not and cannot be an exception. Which system of approach is adopted here for this study? The system of approach mainly adopted in this study is historicoanalytical. It is nonetheless also descriptive, expository and synthetical. The nature of this study and the aim it is set to achieve demand that the above approach be adopted for the purpose of coherence and clarity. The approach having been taken care of, what then is the scope of this study? "Culture", it is said, ,,provides society with inherited transmissible code of conduct as both part and junction of the total system of ideas, values, knowledge, philosophy, law, moral, and belief systems which constitute the content of life of a society." Even centuries before the science of culture was born, the most effective missionaries were those blessed with a deep appreciation of the diversity of cultures and of the important role which cultures play in human behaviour. The most successful apostolic approaches have always been the ones geared most closely to the character and needs of the particular life-way. Effective mission has always gone hand in hand with immersion in local cultures. Hence the Church of Vatican II, however, became increasingly aware of its catholicity in the most authentic sense; the council fathers realised anew that the Christian faith is too rich to be portrayed adequately through a single cultural expression. God did not wait for missionaries to arrive to show Himself. Through the ages God has been revealing Himself in the customs, history and traditions of all peoples. He is present everywhere and missionaries help make explicit what is already implicit. What the missionaries introduced to Africans was not God but Christianity. The second Vatican Council brought out this theme very strongly. Some key texts of the Council serve as background for a return to an understanding of religious symbols of the people. For the Spanish-speaking apostolate in Latin America, that is the beginning of any effective catechesis today. Some of these key texts of the second Vatican Council are quoted extensively thus: „It follows that among all the nations of the earth there is but one people of God which takes its citizens from every race .... The Church, or People of God, takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people by establishing that kingdom. Rather does she foster and take to herself, insofar as they are good, the ability, resources, and customs of each people. Taking them to herself she purifies, strengthens and ennobles them." In another number it continues: „The effect of her work is that whatever good is found sown in the minds and hearts of men or in the rites and customs of peoples, these not only are preserved from destruction, but are purified, raised up, and perfected for the glory of God, the confusion of the devil, and the happiness of men." In these and in other numerous decrees, especially `Ad Gentes' (On the Mission of the Church), and the decree `Nostra Aetate' (On the Relationship of the Church to non-Christians), the Church sees clearly that the task is not to destroy but to ennoble and to perfect.
The decree `Ad Gentes' understood mission not in the sense of the `the pagan countries out there', but in the sense that all men are in the process of conversion and all have God's grace already working in them. Mission means going out of ourselves to give witness to the presence of the risen Lord. "That they (The Missionaries) may be able", the document advises; ,,to give this witness to Christ fruitfully, let them be joined to those men by esteem and love and acknowledge themselves to be members of the group of men among whom they live. Let them share in the cultural and social life by the various exchanges and enterprises of human living. Let them be familiar with their national and religious traditions and gladly and reverently laying bare the seeds of the word which lie hidden in them ...." Going further, it says: ,,From the customs and traditions of their people, from their wisdom and learning, from their arts and sciences these churches borrow all those things which contribute to the glory of their creator, the revelation of the Saviour's grace or the proper arrangement of Christian life .... Thus, it will be more clearly seen in what ways faith can seek for understanding in the philosophy and wisdom of these peoples .... Thanks to such a procedure every appearance of syncretism and false particularism can be excluded, and Christian life can be accommodated to the genius and the dispositions of each culture." Other decree of Vatican II, which reflects on the cultural expression of religion is `Nostra Aetate'. If the Church can speak favorably about those who have not even begun the process of Christianity, how much more can she affirm those who are already in the process of Christianity. The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She, therefore, has this exhortation for her sons and daughters: „Prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture."
Adhering to the instructions and guidelines of the Church, as we have seen above, the scope of this study is limited to the Igboland and its people. This gives better chance for a thorough and in-dept study of the subject matter. However, cogent examples outside our scope, that help for better illustrations and understanding of certain important points are not neglected. From where is the information contained in this study obtained? What is the source or are the sources, as the case may be? The experience of the writer of this work as an Igbo, born, trained and brought up in Igboland and moreso as a Catholic priest, trained, ordained and worked in Igboland, form the primary source. No doubt valuable and important literatures written by indigenous and non indigenous writers on Igbo people, their life, environment, culture, religion, custom and tradition also form a major material for this study. The Holy Bible, other Church's documents, some theological books, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, very important articles relevant for our work and other useful scientific works from various Libraries (private as well as public) form important part of the sources also. However, inspite of the availability of all the necessary materials for this work, the task has not been an easy one. Below are considered the `necessary' obstacle, limitation and problem. As already mentioned above, it must be acknowledged that the task of writing generally on initiation rites in Africa is a very difficult one. This is given to the fact that at one time or the other in the process of initiation rites, absolute secrecy is maintained the breaking of which is considered a taboo. Among the Igbo of Nigeria, tampering with the absolute secrecy of initiation rites is sometimes punishable by confiscation, destroying and burning of the property or even death of whoever reveals the secret. Nevertheless, the maintenance of the absolute secrecy is essentially very important because in it lies the `life-force' and the success of all Igbo-African initiation rites. Hence the necessity. Having seen the `necessary' obstacle, limitation and problem in this study, how then are we going to study the subject matter? In other words, what is the sequence of our study? General introduction having been taken care of, the major focus of this study that is divided into six chapters is based on the Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria. As a result of that, the study of the people constitutes the first chapter of this work. This is also considered very important because Igbo religious beliefs are strongly influenced by their historical, geographical, social and cultural background. A.C. Haddon is proved correct here as he says: ,,... no phase of religious development can be understood apart from the history of the people." Chapter two is concerned with the title `Initiation in the Traditional Igbo Culture and Religion'. What is the traditional Igbo idea of initiation? What are the major types of initiation, the perculiarity of the Igbo initiation rites, the three distinctive and characteristic moments in the traditional Igbo initiation rites? Who are the agents of traditional Igbo initiation rites and what do they do? What are the obstacles to the initiation rites among the traditional Igbo? The significant role of initiation in the traditional Igbo culture and religion is also treated. At this juncture, it is good to observe that every other chapter has a short introduction, which gives an overview (Überblick) of the content of that particular chapter, and then a short conclusion, which gives a brief summary of what has been discussed in the particular chapter. The observation having been taken note of chapter three treats `Christian initiation'. It sets off with a brief historical development of the concept of sacrament and other various teachings of the church on the same subject (sacrament). Before the study of the sacraments of Christian initiation, their effects and the ministers, some expressions of some renowned theologians on the sacrament in general, were presented. Also treated is the significant roles of the sacraments of Christian initiation.
A comparative study of traditional Igbo and Christian initiations formed the centre of attention in chapter four. Initiation on both sides were placed side by side, bringing out the common characteristics and dissimilarities in other to present a point of connection for a formidable and fundamental inculturation basis for pastoral catechesis of Christian initiation. What then is inculturation and how do we go about it? Chapter five handles this question and even goes further to give the scope, the importance and the principle for it, after presenting a brief historical origin of inculturation, its previous terminologies and the examination of those previous terms (of inculturation). `Pastoral Catechesis for Inculturation of Traditional Igbo Initiation' constitutes chapter six, which is the last chapter before the general conclusion. The highlight here is proposing models of traditional Igbo initiation that can form solid and fruitful basis for pastoral catechesis of Christian initiation for the Igbo Christians.