Majority of the Africans accepted christianity through coercion and not an immediate inspiration of the Holy spirit.
Now before you (the Igbo/African Christian) begin to tear yourself apart on this, I would want us all to pay attention and take these lessons of the history of the Igbo people, as a blueprint to what happened all over Africa.
If you must understand why the Igbo practice Christianity as opposed to Odinani, you must do your best to trace back to when it all started and how it all started.
This is not an attack on Christianity as presently practiced by the Igbo or other African peoples – No. This is my own analogy on why a good number of Ndi Igbo refused to become Christians and have remained with the ways of their ancestors (Odinani).
The Igbo people met the Europeans face to face in the nineteenth century. That collision was to change the Igbo history (both culturally and religiously). Although European slave traders had exported a great number of Igbo people from the Bight of Biafra to Europe, up until 1830, no European had penetrated the Igbo hinterlands.
And so after the abolishment of slavery, Europe and America realized they needed other sources of economic interests in Africa; this drove them to venture into the Igbo interior. Between 1832 and 1854, expeditions up the Niger River were carried out, despite health risks.
The near-forceful introduction of Christianity to the Igbo cannot be separated from the quest of the British to annex the Igbo land; first as a business colony and then a political one. The traders made up their minds to control the trade along the Niger, which certain Igbo towns sat along.
The British traders signed a merger in 1879 which resulted in the formation of the Royal Niger Company – a company whose forces and influence were vital in the infiltration of Igbo land.
To defend their position against the French traders and other British newcomers who had taken positions on the Niger, the company decided to seek a Royal Charter. They also started to conclude treaties with the Igbo and other African people living on the different parts of the river.
According to these treaties/agreements, the Igbo communities accepted the sovereignty of the company, although it was clear that the Igbo signatories were not aware of the full implications of what they signed. Some of the treaties which gave the British trading companies control over the Igbo were reported to be deliberately forged. But knowing full well that these papers which gave away certain rights of the Igbo were forged, the British consul went ahead to sign them.
Increasing European demand for palm oil and expanding African demand for imported European goods encouraged the British to establish trading posts in Agbor/Aboh (in present-day Delta state), Onicha (Onitsha), and Lokoja in 1857. Satisfied with the booming trade, a couple of Igbo communities welcomed European traders and missionaries to come and live among them. But these friendly relations began to crumble during the depression of the palm oil business that followed in 1875.
The drop in palm oil price and rise in the price of European manufactured goods led to trade disputes between the Europeans and the Igbo. Igbo chiefs collected tolls, duties or tributes to maintain the peace along the Niger River and the surrounding mainland.
European traders paid these tolls initially, but when British gunboats began to patrol the river in the 1880s, the Europeans arrogantly refused to pay their tolls. They made excuses about the chiefs not been able to provide enough security; so that led to the chiefs relaxing security. There was then an increase of robbery cases on European trading posts and vessels.
The British first show of power was registered in October of 1879. Following a report of mistreatment of British citizens, as a result of trade disputes, the British war office authorized Captain Burr to bombard Onicha (Onitsha). Mind you, Onicha was a town of armless civilians.
But they still went ahead to lay siege to a town of innocent Igbo people, just because a few British men were attacked (not killed) in a quarrel. After bombarding Onicha for two days, Captain Burr led his men into the town and destroyed every object they could find.
The warriors of Onicha fought back but were no match for the better-armed British, who were out to show force and also protect their interest. And in 1883, three British warships shelled Agbo (Aboh) and killed its citizens, on the grounds that some Agbo citizens had attacked a British citizen. Of course, who would be silent in the face of bullying, which was the attitude of the British traders/citizens in Igbo land? They saw themselves as lords over the Igbo (Africans).
Now because the British army had succeeded in scaring the trading towns into partial submission, the missionaries, in turn, demanded military security. Protecting the missionaries was more tactical than the traders. The Christian missionaries carried their gospel into the heart and hinterlands of Igbo land, provoking indignation among the inhabitants.
These missionaries were the first to venture deep into the Igbo villages, and their ignorant and biased opinions of the Igbo ways of worship were what set the tone for the British ambition to rule and to decimate Igbo religion.
In light of the foregoing, Chinua Achebe said: “… The Igbo had adopted a conciliatory stance in their early dealings with the missionaries because the Igbo religion was pacific and the Igbo themselves respected the religious views of other people. The Igbo usually listened patiently to the Christians and then expected the missionaries to pay equal attention to their own viewpoints. Some Igbo saw the missionaries as essentially harmless, and shrugged at the uncomprehending priests who fraternized with outcasts and gainlessly occupied themselves with preaching.”
It is recorded that most missionaries painted ghastly pictures of Igbo society, which they sent back to Europe and incited European governments and traders against the Igbo.
The British colonial agents had access to more villages while they protected the missionaries. They did these without thoughts on how the proud Igbo natives would feel. They treated the Igbo man like a spineless sheep. They never for once thought that the Igbo man would defend himself and his religion.
The missionaries were emboldened by fierce military presence, and so they intensified their dismantling of Igbo customs. They saw their course as just; they referred to their campaign as a fight against darkness.
Their misunderstanding of Igbo tradition was enough conviction for them to lay siege on a tradition which was over 5,000 years old – a tradition which had sustained the Igbo people. It took the Igbo a long while to realize that the missionaries were more dangerous than they appeared.
In Obosi, the chiefs accosted Bishop Crowther and protested the pulling down of their objects of worship and shrines by the Christians. The Christian converts were demanded to confess the wrongs done to the Igbo Gods, pay for the damage, and promise not to repeat those wrongs again.
In Illah and other villages to the South, the Igbo in defense of their religion, tradition, and lives, burnt down churches and drove the Christians away. At that juncture, the Igbo felt betrayed and started to fight back. They had to defend themselves against perceived aggression.
The Igbo decision to defend their age-long religion and tradition from the assaults led to more harsh measures from the British officers. The British army, under the Royal Niger Company, attacked various Igbo communities in the guise of protecting the missionaries.
Incited by missionary complaints that the people of Asaba still practiced human sacrifice, the company forces raided Asaba in 1888 and destroyed half of it. This type of attack was to be recorded in various communities in Igbo land.
The British, who nursed dreams of annexing Igbo land (politically), used the missionaries to infiltrate the Igbo. Their show of force made the Igbo accept their religion, and have their lives spared. If the missionaries had gone about their teachings and allowed a majority of the Igbo to accept Christianity on their own terms, then maybe we could attribute the Igbo conversion to the Biblical Holy spirit. But in this case, it was not.
In conclusion, it is my opinion and born of actual facts that Christianity was partially forced on the Igbo. No wonder there are still pockets of resistance to Christianity in Igbo land to date.
Article Written By Chuka Nduneseokwu
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