Re: African Evangelists Destroy Artifacts

The article, “African Evangelists Destroy Artifacts,” written by Dulue Mbachu, for the Associated Press, and published on page A17 of the Washington Times Newspaper of Thursday, September 6, berates the destruction of African cultural heritage, in the manner of burning of idols of worship by Africans. Mr. Mbachu focused his discourse on the activities prevalent in Achina, a village community in the south eastern part of Nigeria. Achina, Mr. Mbachu rightly noted, forms a part of the region where the Igbo-Ukwu bronze pot was discovered in 1958, which proved evidence of advanced mettalurgy in the Eastern part of Nigeria over 10 centuries ago. The article attributes the rise in poverty, occasioned by the Structural Adjustment Program of the 1980’s, to the growth of Pentecostal or evangelical Christianity in Nigeria. Mr. Mbachu blames Pentecostalism in Nigeria for advocating the destruction of shrines and identified a particular Pentecostal preacher, Dr. Uma Ukpai with destroying over one hundred shrines in one district, in December 2005. The article further decries the lapse in the Nigerian conservation law that makes the National Commission for Museums and Monuments unable to prosecute desecrators of ancient artifacts.

There is need to differentiate between Mr. Mbachu’s modern day idols of worship and other artifacts, such as the Igbo-Ukwu, Benin and Ife Bronze works, various wood carvings, drums, wall carvings and statues. While the idols assume the role of deity in the lives of the indigenous peoples, the other carvings were of social, economic, cultural, aesthetic and domestic or even other spiritual significance in the ancient cultures that produced them. In essence, the later, more than anything else embodies the socio-cultural and historical legacy of Africa. One major disadvantage of the introduction of Western styled Christianity into, is the grouping together of idolatry with other cultural practices of Africa and championing their total annihilation. The repression of African culture through religion is more noticeable with Christianity, although Islam is not exempt. By accepting Christianity, the native African was convinced to part with his history, culture, values and social identity, which was exemplified through; dance, drama, folklore, and several traditional practices that required the use of artifacts, but is distinct from idolatry. Mr. Mbachu seems oblivious of this distinction as he equates African culture and tradition with the worship of idols, but the truth is that religion plays a recognizable but not completely dominant role in the traditional African society.

Mr. Mbachu’s dismay at the destruction of the artifacts is understandably borne out of a desire to conserve what is left of the indigenous culture and values of Africa. However, in mounting a crusade for conservation, one must not think like the harbingers of Western Christianity by not being able to differentiate between the positive and negative aspects of traditional African practices, and determine which is to be preserved or disposed. In this instance, one begins to question the sort of legacy that idolatry has bequeathed the present day African. The answer is not far fetched; the history of idol worship in most parts of Africa is drenched in the blood of the innocent. Human sacrifice existed widely in several parts of Africa abut 100 years ago and until present, is still practiced by many across the continent. The sacrifices are not made to the air; the throat of the virgin is slit at the feet of some ‘artifact’, the blood of the day old child is sprinkled on the breasts of some carved image and the skull of some captives is smashed against an idol.

Just about 30 minutes drive from Achina, is Okija, a serene village in Nigeria where in 2004, dozens of bodies were discovered in decomposed and semi decomposing state, at the foot of a shrine or “artifact’ as Mr. Mbachu would rather we call them. The discovery was made after it was revealed that the governor of the state, where both Okija and Achina is located was taken to the shrine by his political godfather just before the elections. At the shrine, the gubernatorial aspirant vowed, that should the godfather use his political clout to institute him as the next governor, he would make remittances from the revenues of the state totaling about $10 million monthly, into the godfather’s personal account, in appreciation of ‘services’ rendered. This monthly remittance is money earmarked for the payment of salaries, construction of access roads, building and maintenance of schools and hospitals and to generally keep the state running on a month by month basis. The governor did later confess to bewildered Nigerians, that he swore loyalty before the “artifact”, calling on death upon himself and family should he fail to leave workers without their salaries, school children without teachers or indeed defraud the state in order to pay the godfather.

Has Mr. Mbachu ever lost any relative of his, or a friend or someone he knows to ritualists? Has he ever seen mutilated and decomposing corpses on the streets of Nigeria especially during festive seasons, with eyes, private parts and other organs gorged out, of innocent citizens on their way home after a hard day’s journey, kidnapped and killed to sacrifice to the “artifacts”. If Mr. Mbachu is a keen follower of Nigeria’s socio political issues, he would remember the Otokoto Crisis in Owerri in 1998, just about two hours drive from Achina in South Eastern Nigeria, where an 11 year old boy was kidnapped and used for money rituals by the city’s wealthiest mafia. This group of bloodthirsty hounds prior to this discovery had held the city hostage with ritual murders and all manners of atrocities for years. The social uprising that followed the discovery of the boy’s mutilated body parts at the feet of an “artifact’ went on for months. The mafias were killed by the angry mob with their shrines and properties running into millions of dollars destroyed.

Moreover, in a day when not many Nigerians can afford two nutritionally balanced meal a day, families, who engage in worshiping idols are made to bear heavy financial burdens in the form of statutory sacrifice of cows, goats, chicken and even money to keep the gods appeased or risk incurring its wrath. Impoverished villages organize annual festivities in deference to these gods, where most of their scanty harvests are offered for continued protection and provision. Worse still, is the psychological bondage that adherents undergo out of fear of consequences of disobedience. A most pathetic case is that of a 14 year old extremely brilliant pupil, who was plucked away from school and bundled home to the village by his parents, ostensibly because the idol named him as the next high priest after his late uncle. The family washed their hands off his education and consigned him to a life of making sacrifices and ‘hearing’ from the ‘artifact’ on behalf of the villagers.

In essence, the people who burn idols and shrines do so out of desperation and as a last resort, knowing that keeping the idols spell nothing but trouble. In the cases where the idols were removed and kept in an unsecured Nigerian museum, experience has shown that the worshippers, who see these idols as their source of life, prosperity and hope for sustenance go to any length to retrieve them and continue with business as usual. The surest path to liberation for the communities, who want to be free from the shackles of idolatry, is their destruction or sale to a remote and foreign country. In counseling abusive victims, the first thing adviced is a separation from the abuser, the withdrawal of the abused to a safe house. The place of safety for Africans is severance from the objects that make us kill our brothers, drive us to penury, and has kept us redundant for centuries. Mr. Mbachu failed to note that in all the villages where Dr. Uma Ukpai has convinced indigenes to do away with idolatry, there has been, 0% incidence of human sacrifices, the taxing of poor villagers to contribute ‘food’ to the idol, or the wastage of the African youth in serving the idol.

As Africans, we should be wise to think beneath the surface and learn from our experiences. The story written by Dulue Mbachu, sounded more like what a Western reporter would write about the continent. It lacked depth, and the understanding of the social and cultural terrain, expected of an African. In sincerity, to say that one expected anything else from the write-up would have been foolhardy; for an African writer to be given prime space in the Washington Times, complete with pictures and a map of Nigeria affixed in one corner, he must have something derogatory to say about the continent. Just like Samos Samora’s documentary on HIV/AIDS in Africa which CNN gladly aired on December 1, 2005 and re-aired severally, only the worst about the continent is fit for global consumption. Either kwashiorkor suffering families, young boys straddling AK47 or pictures of emaciated HIV/AIDS victims, or just about anything condescending to evoke pity and enforce the western reader’s superiority complex sells.

What Dulue Mbachu fails to grasp is that thinking and writing like the West robs every African, resident and in the Diaspora, including Mr. Mbachu of every shred of respect in the global community of nations. Until African writers, film makers, entrepreneurs and even students revolt and stop thinking and acting with an expectancy of being validated by the West, the question of progress and development in the continent will remain unanswered. It is imperative for the African to shift his paradigm of thought from euro-centrism, towards first, a dissection of the processes that define him as a human being, in a unique culture, although subsumed in a wider global culture, and from there, ascend towards a knowledge of what should be and what should not be. The artifacts and every other manifestation of the greatness of our ancestors, we must preserve with all our might, but the few surviving symbols of man’s inhumanity to man and continued yoke imposed by our forbears out of ignorance, we must destroy. For only by emphasizing the positive, can we bequeath the legacy of true greatness, which the world must some day come to appreciate, to the next generation.

Written by
Chika A. Ezeanya
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5 comments
  • Chika Daalu,

    The distinction between idolatory and African cultural practices within the African domain should be shouted up to the roof top. We had our system of administration before the white man came to meet us.

    My humble and sincere thought is that you may be operating from the same pedestal as Mr Mbachu unwittingly.I can feel the influence of Christianity in your position.Okonkwo called it the white man s religion…A strange Religion.

  • wow …. you made my day Chika , its like the day I stumbled upon youtube video of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche ” The danger of single story” I was amazed and started searching for her stuff online , today I read your article ” I am proud of Nigeria ” I was curious when I saw the caption because it is quite unusual going by the current trend of everything negative is Nigerian and the subsequent denial and disassociating oneself from the virus called Nigeria, I was thrilled by the write up and like oliver twist I searched for more and came across this wonderful piece , what I like most is your insight about the negative consequences brought by idol worship, your clear definition between religious idol and cultural artifacts

    and lastly your indept knowledge of the so called west or white people you know them as you know the back of you hand ” this is where I fall in love with you , like osofia said in his famous song ” I don see dem tire ” my sister I know them Now , I am living in Singapore, Asia is no exception, they are even more crude and brutal when it comes to dealing with Africans both in their foreign policy and dealing with Aficans in their midst

    However I am delighted that there are people like you out there to stand up for Africans and poke the oppressors in the eyes.

    You are my sister literally because I am from Aguata

  • Chika,

    You are black, brilliant and beautiful!!! You have written a nice, but very moving piece! I am glad that Nigeria has enlightened and focused people like you. That means that there is still some hope for that country. I completely agree with all your views.

    I also had the previlege to read Walter Rodney's book "How Europe underdeveloped Africa" in Russia more than 12 years ago. Infact, I still have it in my library. I was moved by that book. Will you believe that Rodney met his death in the hands of his own black people? He got involved in Haitian politics and was murdered. That's the irony of life. I want to recommend some other books for you -incase you have not read them.

    1. Parting the waters written by Taylor Branch. It's about the civil rights movement. Branch was awarded the Pultzer prize for this book.

    2. The Economic Hitman, written by John Perkins. This is the book to read, especiall for you. It gives a detailed acount of the different schemes that the west use to exploit Africa.

    Off-shore taxation is another tool that the west use to avoide paying tax to developing countries. Nigeria needs experts in this field to counter the multinationals. The multinationals have perfected this scheme. The oil contract that was signed between the northern led federal government and the multinational oil companies is just like another "slavery or colonalisation" in disguise! Since you already have a rich background in the oil and gas and sector, in my opinion, it will be great if you can devote your ph.D thesis to this issue – How multinationals use Offshore taxation to avoid paying taxes. You might also want to go further and conduct a sort of an financial and legal audit of the contract that Nigeria, represented by the semi-illiterate northern military officers entered into with the multinationals. You might want to use Venezuela and Russia's – with the largest reserve of oil and gas in the world, latest agreement (Stokom) with western oil companies as reference points. Is Nigeria's agreement with western oil companies based on Per Share Agreement (PSA)? I am ready to provide you with materials on Russia's oil deals to help you in your research. You might as well want to study for your ph.D thesis "Offshore taxation in Foreign Direct Investment. ( Nigeria as case study)"

    In general our trade policy, especially General Agreements on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), now replaced with World Trade Organization (WTO) puts the developing countries at a serious advantage. The concept of "completely free trade and free movement of goods and services" puts mant African countries at a very serious disadvantage or serfdom – to be more precise. The situation is compounded by corruption that has eaten deep into our system. I hope that I will be able to write an article on this very important topic

    someday. But I think you are better equipped to do justice to this topic. This is another area you might want to consider for your research.

    It is very unfortunate to admit that this exploitation takes thanks to our so called leaders.

    In general, in my opinion, if we want things to change for the better in Nigeria, then we have to leave our "comfort zones" and be physically and mentally involved in the processes going on at home. We need to move beyond publishing articles on the internet. We need to see ourselves as stakeholders. We must think of how to influence policies bach at home. One of such ways is to get the government or ourselves empowered to be actively involved in our economy and policies formulation. My article "Empowering Nigerian professionals to turn around the economy." (Nigeriansinamerica.com) was devoted to this topic. Secondly, we need to be actively involved in the political process at home directly or indirectly in order to choose competent, honest and dedicated leaders. ourselves. Nigeria, undoubtedly is blessed with competent, honest and dedicated people. However, the problem is that the system does not allow these people to be athe helms of affairs. Some were in government but not in power to formulate and implement the right policies necessary for the development of the country.

    You have a noble plan for the country. All hands must be on deck to make it a success. Please don't give up. We are bound to do it, at least for the sake of future generations.

    Best wishes.

  • My dear Ms Chika A. Ezeanya,

    I took time to read your thought and i find it highly interesting. Well done.

    Nevertheless, allow me to make some brief comments. One, you were busy criticing Dulue Mbachu as been deeply western oriented, I think you are also. The manner in which you support xtianity which is foreign, the levity with which you hold cultural antecidents is also viewing things from your modern-eurocentric perspective. These are just my fair comments. But these do not by any standard render your opinon invalid. The human sacrifices and demonising information from Africa are obscene and scary.

    Finally madan, have you ever heard of this social writer from Africa; Axelle Kabou? I think you should because she was putting the blames of african back at the doorsteps of the makings by africans themselves. a quotation from her "the Africans are the only people in the world who still

    believe that their development is the responsibility of

    other people than themselves"- Dele Sonubi

  • Great thought Chika, the incidence of ritual killings has gone on for too long and has reached an alarming proportion recently. What will make a human kill his fellow human being all in the name of getting rich still beats me. Evil shrines still exist in in their thousands in this country. For me the solutions lies in education and educating our people on the evils of idolatory and placing values on human life. Writers like the Mbachu guy obviously get a voice to air their half truths and warped minds. Unfortunately it is people like him that get a platform to impose their half truth and poorly researched work on the majority. As par negative report of western media on Africa, I beg to disagree with you. Lets be frank about this. What is there to report about Africa? Expect for the few individuals and ngos making some strides in Africa, the nature of Africa society promotes all the negatives through bad leadership. Africa leaders need to show examples. Their sit tight posture promotes wars, child soldiers, increase in the AIDS pandemic, breeds violence and evil shrines. Look at Darfur, Congo and the poverty in Equitorial Guinea. The plight women and children in war torn African countries is something that touch the soul. Look at the amount of abuse going on in the Congo of killing and raping of women and cooking their bodies for meals thereafter. But you know of the atrocities that are being commiited on women in several parts of Africa. What is there to report but all these evils committed by rebel forces and government soldiers? The few examples being set buy individuals are being overshadowed by leaders who should show examples. Do you know that bad leadership through corruption have led to enternchment of evil shrines and practices? All these thrive where there is corruption. Until leaders rule by examples and provide the needed indices that will make life worth living, our people will continue to engage in their ritual killing s to get rich qiuck or consult their dead gods to kill people so they can get into powerful positions.