A war is apparently going on between Christianity and Culture wherever the former thrives today in all parts of the world. Some commentators have identified this war as “Culture War,” and others call it “Holy War.” I have read numerous commentaries on the subject, and most of my readings emphasized ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘misconception’ as the cause of the war. This is probably because the commentaries came from the rest of the world outside Nigeria, and the authors wrote about the rest of the world, and not about Nigeria. They did not know about the phenomenon called the Nigerian Factor, which makes a whole lot of difference as Nigerians increasingly join the war.
Slightly deviating from the common emphasis on “misunderstanding” or “misconception” as the source of the war, I focus on a third ‘m’ word called ‘Mischief.’ I frown at the fact that mischievous Christians in Africa, Nigeria in particular, are gradually perfecting the art of turning Christianity into a business franchise. However, I probably would not have paid much attention to this, if only they left the African Culture out of their mischief. But, no, they had to start annihilating the culture in the most ignorant way, all based on gross misinterpretation of the Holy Bible! And, since Nigerian Traditionalists are not sitting back and watching the assault on the culture of the land, there is truly a war going on between Christianity and Culture in Nigeria.
The “Holy war” is executed on two separate battlefronts. On one front, the battle is raging between Christians and the last-standing adherents of the Traditional African Religions who are protecting their traditional belief system against the foreign Christian principles. And then, there is the second battle that is internal among Christians themselves, who disagree on some basic principles of Christianity, especially as they affect the culture of the land. Grievously, mischievous Christians hide behind the confusion to prey on their emotionally vulnerable brethren to make a living. So, now we have pastors whose money-making specialty in Nigeria is to desecrate all the elements of the African Culture, with “holy water” and “anointed oil” in hand, and an army of ignorant and destructive followers behind him. The ultimate interest of the funky pastors is m-o-n-e-y! Yes indeed, the pastors in Nigeria get paid for the culture-demolition escapades; and I mean huge fees! The more successful ones do not only make a living through pastorship, mind you; they live in outlandish jet-paced affluence like ancient Roman Emperors, all in the name of God!
My interest in the Culture-versus-Religion war was kindled in December 2007. I was visiting my remote village in a town called Nnewi, which is situated in the Southeastern State of Nigeria called Anambra State. It all started when a group of Christians woke up one day and decided to put a ban on a cultural element of art and entertainment called masquerade. They believe, and insisted that all the cultural festivities and other elements associated with masquerades, which make us who we are-Africans-must be abolished, in the name of Jesus. Naturally, another group in the village, all Christian, too, said no to the ban, and…bang! A war broke out in the village, and I was right in the middle of it. The Progressives insisted, and still insist that the masquerades must be retained for their primary purpose of cultural entertainment, and if any particular masquerade is found to be wanting in any form, then it should be purified, sanctified or modernized where necessary. It goes without saying that I was on the side that said that the masquerade culture has to stay.
The pertinent question in the entire disagreement has to be: How does the cultural entertainment tradition of masquerade go against the teachings of Christ and the Holy Bible? I approach this question starting with the definition of the word masquerade. Various dictionaries and scholars define a masquerade variously as: Impersonate; Pretend to be; Make-belief; Disguise, subterfuge, to pick just the five. In essence, a masquerade is what the masquerader says that it is; what the “pretender” says that he is pretending to be, and nothing more. In other words, the masquerade itself (the “make-up”) has no intrinsic value. If we say that a masquerade is an element of cultural entertainment, then that is what it is. There are entertainment masquerades all over the world, and they are made in the likeness of reptiles such as crocodile; mammals such as elephant, and other conceivable creatures on earth, including man. Dragons and some sort of worms are common features in masquerades in Asia.
Indeed, a masquerade may represent or pretend to be a bad deity, but this does not always mean that it venerates the deity. It can be a work of art employed to insult, mock, or ridicule the bad deity as it entertains, in which case, a discerning Christian should see it as a positive tool to promote Christianity. And if indeed a masquerade gets possessed by a demon, then the thing to do is to exorcize it, get rid of the demon, and not destroy the masquerade. If it is too bad for reformation, then discard that particular masquerade, and don’t even think about the abolition of the entire concept! Ultimately, masquerades all over the world, in the context of this discourse, are primarily for cultural entertainment.
It is a fact that a masquerade as a concept cannot possibly be an evildoer, because it does not possess either life or power to do anything whatsoever, good or evil. It is also a fact that a person that wants to do evil would always find a way to do it, with or without a masquerade. And so, if indeed masquerades constituted any danger, or did anything un-Christian anywhere in Nigeria, it could never have been the costumes called masquerades. The culprits would have to be the masqueraders (people) inside the masquerades. As the late Nigerian Afro-Beat music legend, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti once put it in a different context, “Uniform na cloth, na tailor de sew am,” meaning that ‘a (police) uniform is merely a piece of cloth sewn together by a tailor.’ The policeman inside the uniform still remains what he had always been before he ever got hold of the uniform. If he was evil before he picked up the uniform, then an evil policeman he is. And if he was a good man, then he makes a good police officer. In Fela’s context, the man is not a big deal; he is just another guy, uniform or no uniform.
Similarly, interest groups and individuals in the USA who campaign for a citizen’s right to bear arms have popularly and successfully argued that “guns do not kill people; rather, people kill people, using guns.” The point in this argument is that the evil man is our problem, and not the gun. Sure, there are instances where easy availability of a gun can be a factor. However, the argument is that human nature always has pros and cons in every matter, and we cannot go about abolishing everything that has some ‘cons.’ If we do, then we will have no to abolish every concept we presently hold as humans, because they all come with good and bad. For instance, the contraption called airplane crashes and kills people almost every other day, but we have never considered scrapping air transport in the world. What we do is keep improving on the concept, including better training of pilots, hoping to perfect it all one day, if ever possible.
The argument, therefore, is that a person that wants to control the rate of shooting deaths in a society should control the people’s attitudes, and not the inanimate gun. Hence, the masquerader is our problem, and not the concept known as masquerade. A person that wants to control witchcraft should control the masquerader, and not a mere inanimate costume called masquerade, which cannot make any move on its own. The way to eliminate evil, therefore, would be to change the behavior of the evildoer inside the masquerade, and definitely not by destroying the masquerade and all its positive values.
Let’s face it, if we destroy the masquerade, the guy inside it, if evil, simply changes his method of doing evil, period. As the saying goes, once there is the will; there will always be a way. If one way closes, then the man with the will finds another way. Sure, there were masquerades in the past that were supposedly very powerful in the hocus pocus world of the spirits and wizardry. But all they did, if and when they did, was to, supposedly, engage one another, amongst themselves, in spiritual power tussle.
In the festivals that I personally experienced as I grew up in Nigeria, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary to suggest convincingly, that some spiritual warfare actually went on among the masquerades, but I am willing to accept other people’s word who witnessed manifestations. Besides, I believe that it probably did sometimes, because, since I believe in Christ and God, and believe there is Satan, I believe that the spirit world does exist. What I did see and experience for sure, however, were wonderful, memorable moments of exciting, fun-filled cultural entertainment offered by masquerades in my town.
I am proud to announce that the pro-culture Christians in my village won the first battle in the masquerade tussle. We do have the tradition still going on in the village. Following the incident, the detail of which I reserve for another edition, I commenced a research on the culture-annihilation phenomenon in Nigeria, and I have since come across a few ugly incidents of communal clashes between Christians of divergent views on the tenets of Christianity in the country. In essence, most often, all the conflicting parties are Christians who disagree on exactly how to be Christian.
My interest in the subject of preservation of culture, any culture whatsoever, led to the formation of “Culture Watch Africa” non-profit Organization, with the mission to protect and promote the African Culture from the new-wave “born-again” Christians. As I begin this sensitive mini-series on “Christianity At War With African Culture” it is very imperative to state very clearly that I am a Christian, and I am definitely not leading or backing any campaign against Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, God forbid! Mine is a campaign against misconstrued and mischievous Christianity, which is engendered by ignorant and mischievous misinterpretation of the Holy Bible. I have a lot of patience for the Christians who ignorantly misinterpret the bible; “they know not what they are doing,” said Christ on the cross. My grouse is with those who mischievously, advertently misinterpret the bible for selfish reasons.
Destructive and deadly conflicts between extremist anti-culture Christians and their culture-friendly counterparts abound in Igbo land in South-Eastern Nigeria. One of the notable ones degenerated to the destruction of a local church building in a community known as Nsirimo Village in Umuahia Town, Abia State. It began with a rampage on the culture of the land in Nsirimo community, by a Pentecostal church going by the name Charismatic Renewal Movement (CRM). Their casualties included a couple of peculiar, ancient trees. In most parts of the world where tourism is promoted those trees would have been highly celebrated tourist features. Indeed, though belatedly, the government of Abia State had already approved the trees for Tourist Attraction development project, shortly before the overzealous born-again Christians decided and succeeded to chop them down. They also destroyed the village shrines. In retaliation, irate youths simply matched to the CRM church on December 1, 2007 and burned it down. The message from the youths was very clear: “You destroy our culture; we destroy what you claim to be your culture.”
Do note that the youths that burned down the church were not pagans, anti-Christ, or anything like that, as the holier-than-thou Christians would want everybody to believe. Indeed, some of the youths were probably more Christian in behavior than many of the hypocrites among the un-appointed Christian Warriors. By their action, the youths were saying that the extremists were/ are going too far, and must be stopped, even if it meant or means destroying the church. Under normal circumstances, the youths, just like the Christian culture-demolition warriors, do believe in Christianity, but not at the expense of the African Culture. They are aware that both can coexist, hence, they say no to the destruction of one by the other.
Nigerian national daily newspaper, “The Sun,” had another story on March 19, 2008, which was titled “Spiritual Warfare.” Written by David Onwuchekwa, the story came with a subscript: “Chief Priest threatens church with war for desecrating his shrine.” The incident happened in a village named Umuenem, in Nnewi town. The desecrated shrine, which was named “Udo Enem Shrine,” had been in that village for over four hundred years. Relics carted away by the Christian warriors included an ancient carved door that had secured the shrine from intruders. The Chief Priest of the shrine, David Chukwukadibia Onuchukwu, estimated all the relics removed or destroyed by the Christian warriors to be worth over five million naira (about 42,000 U$D). He reported the vandalism to His Royal Highness, Igwe Kenneth Orizu 111, the Igwe (King) of Nnewi. Igwe (King) Orizu condemned the vandalism in totality, and actually advised the aggrieved Chief Priest to invite the Nigeria Police into the matter. Also with a strong condemnation of the vandalism was the President of Odina Ana Anaedo Cultural Organization of Nnewi, Dr. David Igwilo.
The Christian Warriors violate the Constitution of Nigeria when they go on their destruction rampage, and they don’t even seem to know it. They don’t seem to know that they have no right to forcibly dispossess citizens of their cultural artifacts and burn them amidst protest by the owners. This has resulted in another ugly anti-culture trend in Nigeria-Nigerians are selling off all the remaining artifacts of the African Culture in Nigeria. Rather than being persuaded by quack pastors, or forced by their converted brethren in the village to destroy the artifacts, some people choose to sell them off to foreigners who have great values for them. The Afro-cultural heritage of all Africans, which is supposed to be passed on to the next generations for the continuation of history, the future story of our sojourn on earth, is being carted away piece by piece every day by foreigners.
In an article (September 4, 2007) titled “Christianity Vs The Old Gods of Nigeria,” Associate Press writer, Dulue Mbachu stated: “The changing attitudes have not escaped the attention of art dealers. Generations ago, European colonists and Christian missionaries took away 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.”
“This work you see here is from a shrine,” said a dealer at Ikoyi Hotel in Lagos, Wahid Mumuni, as he gestured at a carving. “It was brought to me by one woman who said her pastor had asked her to get rid of it.”
Do visit [http://FunkyPastors.com] and [http://culturewatchafrica.org] for more information.
I am a Nigerian-American Broadcast Television Production Consultant and Practitioner. I have Master’s degree in Mass Communication, BA in Telecommunication, and BA in Theater Cinema. I have lived in Houston Texas for over 30 years. As a Communications & Human Relations Scholar, and Social Critic, I have a passion for intercultural interaction and investigation. And, since my origin is Africa, I have special interest in Afro-centric intercultural interaction/ communication. No wonder I published a book under AuthorHouse Publishers, USA, in 2010, which is titled “The Invasion of The Funky Pastors: Church Business At War With African Culture.” The book is centered on the theme that The African Culture is in clear and present danger of extinction due to overwhelming foreign influences. A key argument is that “Ignorant Christianity” is among the most influential of the foreign influences that are destroying the African Culture. Naturally, I endeavor to bring attention to my book through my blog (articles) series on various platforms. My true first passion is actually to contribute in stopping the impending annihilation of the African Culture. Importantly, I also aim to contribute in exposing some atrocious activities of debased pastors who have turned Christianity into a business franchise that is marred by mischief, through gross misinterpretation of the Holy Bible. It is my view that too many Christians are ignorant and gullible, hence, they follow the debased pastors into socio-cultural pits without question. I strive to liberate as many as I can through information. The impact of religion on culture is only one of my areas of interest as a social critic. In the past three years or so, I have published in national Nigerian Newspapers (and on the net), over 35 hard-hitting, indeed, life-threatening political articles on the Nigerian politics and political players.