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By DULUE MBACHU, Associated Press Writer Tue Sep 4, 1:19 PM ET
ACHINA, Nigeria - Born to a family of traditional priests, Ibe Nwigwe converted to Christianity as a boy. Under the sway of born-again fervor as a man, he gathered the paraphernalia of ancestral worship — a centuries-old stool, a metal staff with a wooden handle and the carved figure of a god — and burned them as his pastor watched.
"I had experienced a series of misfortunes and my pastor told me it was because I had not completely broken the covenant with my ancestral idols," the 52-year-old Nwigwe said of the bonfire three years ago. "Now that I have done that, I hope I will be truly liberated."
Generations ago, European colonists and Christian missionaries looted Africa's ancient treasures. Now, Pentecostal Christian evangelists — most of them Africans — are helping wipe out remaining traces of how Africans once worked, played and prayed.
As poverty deepened in Nigeria from the mid-1980s, Pentecostal Christian church membership surged. The new faithful found comfort in preachers like evangelist Uma Ukpai who promised material success was next to godliness. He has boasted of overseeing the destruction of more than 100 shrines in one district in December 2005 alone.
Achina is typical of towns and villages in the ethnic Igbo-dominated Christian belt of southeastern Nigeria where this new Christian fundamentalism is evident. The old gods are being linked to the devil, and preachers are urging not only their rejection, but their destruction.
The Ezeokolo, the main shrine of Achina — a community of mainly farmers and traders in Nigeria's rain forest belt — has been repeatedly looted of its carved god figures. While no one has been caught, suspects range from people acting on Christian impulses to treasure thieves.
Recently, a village civic association volunteered to build a house to keep burglars away from a giant wooden gong decorated with carved male, female and snake figures. The gong in the market square is reputed to be more than 400 years old, and in decades past was sounded in times of emergency.
"We feared it may be stolen or destroyed like so many of our traditional cultural symbols," said Chuma Ezenwa, a Lagos-based lawyer.
But the move to protect a communal symbol has not changed the minds of others.
Ikechukwu Nzekwe, a 48-year-old farmer who belongs to a traditional masquerade cult, rues the action of his younger brother, a born-again Christian who destroyed the family's masquerade costume, including pieces dating back seven generations.
The masquerade cult was once part theater, appearing at festivals to perform songs and dances, and part traditional police — its members helped enforce mores and customs. Now its role is largely restricted to theater, including performances and races by men in costumes depicting ancestral spirits.
Ukpai, the evangelist, tells followers the artifacts bear "curses and covenants" linked to the gods they represent.
"Since the curses and covenants do not automatically disappear when we repent, Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai is a man called by God for the total liberation of mankind," he says on his Web site, claiming to have the spiritual backing of Jesus to break the curses.
Efforts to speak to Ukpai were unsuccessful, and e-mails to his office asking for an interview received no reply.
Early missionaries to Nigeria condemned most traditional practices as pagan. Roman Catholics and Anglicans later came to terms with most practices, even incorporating some traditional dances into church liturgy. But there was no room for local gods once their erstwhile worshippers became Christians.
Most of us have read or heard about European colonists and Christian missionaries looting the treasures of Africa. That destruction and theft occurred a long time ago, but now, a new version of it is taking place.Pentecostal Christian Nigerians are destroying ancient artifacts in order to "break the covenant" with what they call "ancestral idols." Costumes, bronzes and carvings have all been targeted.
Pentecostal Christianity has increased along with poverty in Uma Ukpai, a leader of the Pentecostal Church in Nigeria, is said to have told his followers that the ancient African religious artifacts represent "curses and covenants" linked to various gods. during the last couple of decades. "Redemption camps" have sprung up in the country, attracting such famous pastors as Benny Hinn. The Rev. Dr.
Of course, there are forces in Nigeria that are fighting this trend. Some pieces have been sold to museums, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is conducting a campaign to explain to Christians that "they can't detach themselves from their past, that there is a beginning to their history." The commission is also asking for stricter enforcement of a law that prohibits the export of artifacts.
by John Henrik Clarke
To hold a people in oppression you have to convince them first that they are supposed to be oppressed.
When the European comes to a country, the first thing he does is to laugh at your God and your God concept. And the next thing is to make you laugh at your own God concept. Then he don't have to build no jails for you then, cause he's got you in a jail more binding than iron can ever put you.
Anytime you turn on your own concept of God, you are no longer a free man. No one needs to put chains on your body, because the chains are on your mind.
Anytime someone say's your God is ugly and you release your God and join their God, there is no hope for your freedom until you once more believe in your own concept of the "deity."
And that's how we're trapped. We have been educated into believing someone else's concept of the deity, and someone else's standard of beauty. You have the right to practice any religion and politics in a way that best suits your freedom, your dignity, and your understanding. And once you do that, you don't apologize.
Nothing the European mind ever devised was meant to do anything but to facilitate the European's control over the world. Anything that you get from Europe that you are going to use for yourself, remake it to suit yourself.
Where did we go wrong educationally? After the Civil War, the period called reconstruction, a period of pseudo-democracy, we began to have our own institutions, our own schools. We had no role model for a school, ... our own role model. So we began to imitate White schools.
Our church was an imitation of the White church. All we did is to modify the old trap. We didn't change the images, we became more comfortable within the trap. We didn't change the images, we changed some of the concepts of the images, but the images remained the same. So the mis-education that gave us a slave mentality had been altered. But it remained basically the same."
"There is a deity in my village called OVIA. When I was growing up, the masquerade of the deity use to come out on an important occasions like annual festivals, when the chief priest dies, when bad things are happening in the village. It comes out to perform the cleansing of the land. Back then, it is forbidden for a fellow country man to snatch another man's wife or sleep with her. Stealing is a forbidden thing to do. Murderers do not have a place in the land, etc. This is so because when Ovia masquerades comes out to patrol the entire town, trust me, before the end of another year, all those who perpetrated any of the above enumerated atrocities, will all die one after the other. Then people are very mindful of what they do. But nowadays , people do whatever they like because they know nothing would happen to them. Nothing to put people in check any more. The deities are still there because according to Phyllis J. Powers, Deities are powerless unless we give them power. I can assure you, if we allow the Ovia masquerades to come out as before, all the atrocities being committed today everywhere will not happen because if people know that sudden death would be the end of the crime they committed in the secret or in the open, they will think twice before they do it." -- Osa Oviasogie
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