1) The Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus, is here with us again. The word incarnation is derived from the Latin word “caro” – “flesh” and the prefix “in” meaning “to make into flesh” or the passive form “to be made flesh”. This means that the Word (of God) did not become man or woman; European, African, Asian or American; white or black; Aramaic, English, Igbo, or French speaking; Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Jehovah Witness or Winners. The Word (of God) simply took flesh and became a human being. Wherever and in whatever form this humanity exists, the Word took it on!

2) Thus, the Word can only dwell with the people when he takes their flesh. In our own case: The Word became Igbo bu Igbo – And dwelt among Ndigbo. The simple logic here is that for Jesus to find a home among Ndigbo (Africans) the only condition is that he must first take their flesh. This means that he must be acquainted with and accept our values, eat our food, drink our drinks, undergo the necessary initiation ceremonies. It is therefore strange that we still have in our churches pictures of Jesus that do not look like us. Many of us I know may find an Igbo looking Jesus disgusting and offensive but the same people are comfortable with the picture of Satan that looks like them in all things.

3) The Jesus I have read about so much, who loved mixing up with people, eating and drinking and who asked his disciples to eat whatever that is presented before them in any house that they are welcomed, would not be happy that we have not exposed him to our rich Igbo menu, our palm wine, our rich cultural festivals and our rich Igbo values. When Jesus was welcomed by a woman who poured her tears on his feet, kissed them and poured perfume on them, he did not complain but when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7: 38). Let us not forget that the biblical Pharisee would not be anything different from an efulefu. There are still many of us who will be disappointed to see Jesus dressed in our Isi Agu with a corresponding red cap or eating ‘isi ewu’ with palm wine. But the Jesus that I know will only educate them when he has finished drinking the last drop of the palm wine.

4) Furthermore, when one examines critically the life of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, one would discover that he has all the qualities of Igbo bu Igbo and would perfectly fit as a model for Ndigbo. For Jesus to perfectly take up his role as a model for Igbo bu Igbo, we must help him speak Igbo, use and understand Igbo proverbs and idioms, eat Igbo food, drink Igbo drinks; we should dress him with Nze or Ozo regalia; we should introduce him to our cultural values because he wants to be like us in all things but sinful acts (cf. Heb.4:15). It is only when these are done that his ‘Igbo bu Igboness’ will shine out otherwise he remains a foreigner and an unstable visitor who will definitely leave one day. There is therefore an urgent need for the inculturation or adaption of the Christian message to Igbo culture.

5) While reiterating the teachings of the church on inculturation, Pope John Paul II reminds us: “Africans have a profound religious sense, a sense of the sacred, of the existence of God the Creator and of a spiritual world. The reality of sin in its individual and social forms is very much present in the consciousness of these peoples, as is also the need for rites of purification and expiation….It is my ardent hope and prayer that Africa will always preserve this priceless cultural heritage.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, 1995, nos 42 – 43).

6) It must also be said that inculturation, adaptation or indigenization are not new in Igboland or in Africa. Who will ever know that foods like cocoa yam, plantain and banana were not indigenous to Igboland? Who still remembers that they came from Asia? Who will ever believe that our almighty and revered cassava, maize and tomatoes were native to America and “were only brought to Nigeria by early Portuguese from the late fifteenth century onwards?” (Elisabeth Isichei, A History of the Igbo People, p. 8). Also, most ancient local farming implements we know today were not indigenous to Africa but as soon as Ndigbo got hold of them, they perfectly adapted them to their culture and tradition. They gave them local names, introduced them to their values, and these dwelt among Ndigbo.

7) Apart from socio-economic adaptations there were religious ones too. Most deities that exist or existed in Igboland were/ are not indigenous to their places of abode. Some of them were brought by women at marriage. Some were brought by friends or business associates. Some were established owing to their potency. Once they were established, they were fed with the people’s food and Drinks, they learnt, spoke and understood the people’s language, they were given native names, they respected the people’s values and customs. They took the people’s flesh and dwelt among them.

8) The acceptance or worship of any oracle/deity by Ndigbo depended on its potency. Once it was seen to be potent, they welcomed it irrespective of where it came from. It was also common that gods were abandoned when seen to have lost their powers. Men’s associations like Ekpe, Ogboni, for instance, that later became popular in many Igbo societies were not indigenous to Igboland. The first was borrowed from the Annangs while the other from Yoruba. The same is the case with most festivals in Igboland today. Given the progressive and enterprising nature of Ndigbo, they have from time immemorial been open to new cultures and religious influences as long as these were seen to advance the Igbo moral and socio-economic objectives.

9) If Christianity had been inculturated, adapted or indigenized at the beginning in Igboland, if Christianity got built upon our revered, cherished and hallowed cultural values, no one would have said today that it was not an indigenous religion, just like we do not say today that most of our powerful deities were not indigenous or that the almighty cassava came from America.

10) Furthermore, when one critically examines the life of Jesus one cannot but see him as a model for Igbo bu Igbo. I wonder if there were any people on earth today who share more in common with Jesus than Ndigbo. Just like Ndigbo, Jesus was circumcised on the 8 day. Apart from standing against laziness, injustice, oppression and suppression, he was one who was very much concerned about the welfare and freedom of his people and all those held in captivity (cf. Acts 1: 6; Luke 4: 18 – 19). He respected his elders and those in authority but not efulefus (cf. Luke 11. 45). He maintained connections with his ancestors, and explained that he did “not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them” (Matt.5:17). He was addressed as the son of David (Matt.1:1-17). He believed in the spirit of Igwe bu ike and preached onye aghala nwanne ya. Consequently, rather than working alone he founded a community. Like an Igbo bu Igbo he was cautious of the efulefus. He knew that it was only through efulefus that the enemy could penetrate their group. Thus, before selecting his apostles he prayed all night (Luke 6:12-13). Just like Ndigbo’s effort could not forestall their betrayal by their efulefus so also was Jesus finally betrayed by an efulefu (Matt.26:15). Just like Ndigbo stood against capital punishment so did Jesus. (John 8: 11).

11) Jesus spoke with authority just like an Igbo bu Igbo (Matt 7: 29). Boldly, he stood up to his oppressors the way Ndigbo stand till today against oppressive leadership. He loved praying in quiet and secluded places like on hills the way our forefathers built their shrines far away from where people lived. Though he was prayerful, he was not a religious fanatic (John 4:7-9). He believed in order but was not legalistic (Mark 2:27-28). Happiness, welfare or life in abundance was essential to him (John 10:10). He was a man of ako na uche (wisdom and knowledge). He preached unity and love among people (John 17:21). He loved merriment and being among his people. His notion of the Eucharist has so much similarities with Igba Oriko Ndu, a meal that bonded participants together. (cf. Jerome Okonkwko, Igba Oriko Ndu: The Transformational mission of the Eucharistic Meal, Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1994). Just like Jesus came to atone for the sins of the world, Ndigbo believe also that the people suffer when sins committed are not atoned for.

12) Who else on earth could be a model for Igbo bu Igbo better than the man called Jesus? Since Jesus decided to become one of us, to become an Igbo bu Igbo, it is our duty to adorn him with the necessary regalia and introduce him to our values and culture so that he can forever dwell among us.

-Rev Fr Angelo Chidi Unegbu (cangelo123@yahoo.com)

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