How Some Early Igbo Christian Converts Handled The Disappointments Of Unanswered Prayers
By Anayo M. Nwosu
Ifefooku, Chukwuchem, and Adibe congregated under the tall Akpụ tree very close to the entrance of the Ogwugwu shrine but within the trading zone of the Eke market in Otolo Nnewi. Each had on his hand, a hornful of palm wine Mazi Ifefooku had purchased from Nwabueze the wine tapper, in the market.
The trio was drinking partners who usually met at the palm wine section of the Eke Ogwugwu, every Eke market day (which was usually four days apart) to keep abreast with the happenings in the town.
Men usually would arrive the market with their own “Mpata” (i.e. small carved wooden stool) and “Mpi atụ” (i.e a cup made from the horn of a buffalo).
They were all farmers.
Otolo Nnewi men by an edict didn’t usually go to farms on Eke market days but would bring farm produce for sale to the Eke Ogwugwu market. Anyone who had nothing to sell would have something to buy as no man was deemed self-sufficient. Women too did the same.
Settled men like Ifefooku, Chukwuchem and Adibe would let their wives do the selling and buying of food items in the market while they handled the sale of goats, sheep, and cattle which transactions ended before 12 noon.
Somebody who did not know the market dynamics of the people would think that the men in the market were loafers and would be tempted to eulogize the women for being more hardworking. But, as in every sphere of life, the business owners or the bosses appear less busy.
The rave in the town within the period under consideration was the total humiliation of the Nnewi deities by the God of the Whiteman at Akwụ Udo, Nweke and Egbo. The defeat had made many high ranking citizens of Nnewi defect to the new Christian religion.
When Nnewi town surrendered to the British colonial power in 1903 without a fight, the leaders of the town had trusted in the abilities of their deities to revenge and to rout the Whiteman but that was not the case.
Full of confidence of someone whose gun was loaded, Nnewi leaders were happy to donate the very evil forests they believed housed thousands of demons to the Whiteman to build his own shrine or church and a dwelling place.
The stories from the evil forests of Akwụ Udo, Akwụ Nweke and Akwụ Egbo were the same: the white man with his renegade Igbo converts were singing some indiscernible songs as they cleared the forests, hoisted their cross, built a shrine they called churches and surprisingly some dwelling places right inside the revered evil forests.
It was more than 7 weeks (i.e. 4×7=28 days) after the strangers were given the poisonous gifts of the evil forests and nothing happened.
The Whiteman was unhurt, and the deities didn’t even hurt his black co-conspirators. This was shocking to all the elders of the town and the chief priests of the deities that owned the evil forests.
Before now, nobody had ever slept in the evil forest in Nnewi and woken up alive.
“Nji nji ejie!” meaning “Darkness has befallen the land!”
Who would blame the new converts especially the slaves and the devotees of the defeated deities as they trooped in droves to the new and obviously more powerful religion?
The new religion came with a lot of tantalizers.
They were distributing clothes and footwear that made human legs have one big toe.
There were a greater number of converts during the Harmattan season than during the Dry and Rainy seasons as many people especially the women were attracted by the magical soothing sweaters massively distributed by the new religion.
They didn’t need to always sit by the fire to fight the cold of harmattan.
It was chaos in Nnewi but common sense had to reign.
Ezeodumegwu the regent of Nnewi and Otolo at that time, had to summon all the “umunwoke Nile kwụ amụ” or full-grown men in Otolo to a meeting to bring order to the way the people migrated to the new religion.
He had gathered that even though the Whitemen were worshipping the same God that they had different denominations. He advised all clan heads to ensure that the interested converts be shared between the two leading denominations.
Starting from his household, he shared the willing converts equally between those that worshipped Jesus at Akwụ Udo (i.e Anglicans) and the group that worshipped Jesu at Akwụ Nweke (i.e Catholics)
Each family man was enjoined to do the same with his household as it was not good to put all eggs in one basket.
Everybody agreed that Jesus and Jesu were both powerful considering their humiliation of the Udo, Egbo and Nweke deities. The hitherto powerful deities didn’t do anything as their evil forests were being cleared and inhabited by strangers.
But not some of the new converts were impressed with the new religion.
On one fateful Eke market day that fell on a Sunday, Mazi Adibe was too surprised to see his cousin Ifefooku and his friend, Chukwuchem in the market. They were supposed to have gone to church but they were in the market before him.
“Why didn’t you people go to church today”, he mischievously asked as if he had not heard from the grapevine that they had backslidden.
Ifefooku was the first to speak. “Nnaa, gbalu nkwụ ñụọ” meaning “Bros, pour palm wine into your cup and drink”
“The sweet sound of the bitter kola to the ears didn’t translate to sweetness in the mouth. I don’t think I can fit into that kind of religion.
“My only regret is the loss of my big plantain I was tricked into donating to the whiteman called Fada as an offering. That was the first fruit of that giant high-yielding plantain I traveled to Omambala to buy its suckers. The first fruit of this plantain was so big to be carried on a shoulder by one man.
“The catechist of our church at Akwunweke upon a visit to my house one evening saw the matured plantain in my compound and beseeched me to offer the fruit to Jesu.
“He had assured me that if I donated something I valued so much that the “ama afọ” (i.e. chronic ulcer) which had caused and is still causing me excruciating pain in my stomach would be cured.
“It is now seven weeks and I feel that the pain has even increased.”
“Does it mean that the plantain did not get to Jesu or that the Fada and the catechist didn’t tell Jesu the actual donor of the plantain sacrifice?”
“I was particularly incensed by the catechist who asked me, upon my enquiry , to be patient, that sometimes it took Jesu many months to answer prayers. I have to count my losses and return to “ịgọ mụọ” or the traditional worship I understand”, Mazi Ifefooku concluded.
Chukwuchem’s account was stunning.
He said that he converted to Ụka Fada i.e. Catholicism a month after the Whiteman and his converts successfully cleared the revered evil forest of Nweke (known as Akwunweke) to erect their church and a dwelling place.
“We were baptized and were told of one great feast called “holy communion” and all of us were expecting a real feast until the day Fada (i.e. the reverend father) arrived from Onitsha for the ceremony.”
“Many of us were tasked to bring to the church a day before, a big bundle of firewood by “onye nkuzi ụka” or catechist and we thought that the firewood was to be used to cook the feast food until the ceremony began.”
“The Fada rather used words of mouth to cook the food and then started putting a small chunk of white biscuit, not bigger than a flake of an Abacha or sliced cassava tapioca into our tongues. He didn’t give anyone more than one slice.”
“My disappointment was accentuated when the Whiteman returned to his table to now eat the remainder of the biscuits and drank his cup of wine alone without giving any more, not even to the catechist.”
“That, to me was very selfish. I did not tell anyone my feeling but I decided right there in that church to withdraw my membership.”
“Nduka my cousin later told me that he too didn’t leave the church that day without collecting his own firewood bundle.”
“He had noticed that Fada didn’t return to Onitsha with any firewood and had suspected that the catechist made us bring the firewood for his own use.”
“I had never been hungrier than I was that oriri nsọ or holy communion day as I thought that we were going to be fed the way we do during traditional marriage ceremonies or during a feast of Ọzọ title taking”, Mazi Chukwuchem said with a forlorn face.
Mazi Adibe felt justified that he did not join the bandwagon of new Christian converts. Things to him were happening too fast to be real. He was of the opinion that one should not test a new river with two legs.
As a wise man, Adibe allowed his wife and three of his six children to convert to the new religion while he and the rest remained in the religion of his ancestors.
In his words “ahọrọ ụmụ ụmụ egbuo Ichi, ahọrọ ndị ọzọ Chie ọzọ” meaning “one needs to diversify his risks and should not put all his eggs in one basket”.
Who would Adibe leave the priesthood of Nzukpe to? The priesthood that had assured him enough money, yam and loads of chicken, goat and even cow meat from supplicants and thanksgivers to Uzukpe deity for one favor or the other.
At the Uzukpe shrine or Okwu Uzukpe, Mazi Adibe was not only the “Fada” or the priest but a generous one for that matter, because the worshippers at the shrine got more share of the sacrificial meat or food than what those in the new religion get during their own feast or holy communion.