In most cases, Christianity and culture do not go hand in hand. This is because most Christian values oppose the culture of the people. The cultural heritage of a people is often valued, though with the interjection of other forces of change. Religion is an immensely important dimension of society and may amount to some aspects of culture becoming sublime. How do Christianity and culture play out?
In Ikot Obio Atai/ Ibiaku Itam community in Itu local government area of Akwa Ibom, it was found that after over a century of civilization and urbanization brought about by the influence of education and the domiciliation of Christian religion, indigenes of the area still adhere graciously to their age-long traditions and cultural practices into the 21st century. Hence, the essence of this survey being to ascertain if and how interactions of the religious and secular life have impacted upon cultural modifications while taking into cognizance that a people’s way of life must unavoidably experience some changes over time.
Since it is widely believed that these three influences (Christianity, education, and modernization) not only exposed the inhuman nature of some cultures and traditions to the entire world but also triggered the crusade towards the eradication or abolition of this system, it is obvious, therefore, that these forces remain the only instruments that will blow the final whistle that will bring this system to rest.
Historical Perspective on Ibibio Societies and Kinship
Society and Kingship
Nigeria is broadly made up of Northern and Southern regions following its amalgamation in 1914. Southern Nigeria comprises Southwest, Southeast, and South-south geopolitical zones. Those from the Southern region are predominantly Christians. They have embraced the form of worship from the period of the Western missionary’ coming to the nation about 150 years ago. All geopolitical zones have states and each state comprises local government areas (LGAs) with clans comprising several villages.
Akwa Ibom State is in the South-south region with 31 LGAs with Itu being one of them, while the Itam clan is the biggest under Itu where Ikot Obio Atai in Ibiaku Itam (the community under discussion) is located. In understanding a people’s manner of life or conduct, there has to be an insight into aspects of their idiosyncrasies, particularly their traditional/ religious belief system.
Ekong (1988) describes a stateless society that lacks a centralized system of political organization with a king. However, there are traditional rulers/ chiefs who preside over community affairs. In kinship, the Ibibio family is often viewed from the larger (extended) family Ekpuk perspective where each person is a part by origin rather than choice. Each ekpuk is headed usually by the oldest person who represents them in giving information (Offiong, 1991).
Ideally, the study of the Ibibio ethnic group is complete without an indication of the supernatural world. Religion, law, and justice are intricately interwoven and believed to be handed down from the spirit world comprising lesser deities Ndem as agents of an all-powerful Abasi (God) through ancestors deemed to be benevolent and equally vindictive on those who neglect to give offerings and libations (pouring of local gin on the ground with incantations). As such some families or groups used to maintain shrines Nwommo and still practice traditional oath-taking Mbiam (Offiong, 1991).
Laws promulgated by elders in Ibibio communities are enforced oftentimes with sanctions by the popular Ekpo nyoho masquerade cult symbolizing male supremacy The Ibibios are largely engaged in farming, fishing, and trading and are predominantly Christians by identity like other ethnic groups from South-south Nigeria, though many still believe in the efficacy of pre-Christian practices (Philip, 2000).
Education has been a society’s formal mechanism for aiding the process of socialization (Chester, et al 1981) and social change. Whether at the formal or informal level, education develops literacy skills, talents and increases productivity generally to curb certain vices such as ignorance. The integration of education into the way of life of the Ibibio ethnic group which the Ikot Obio Atai/ Ibiaku Itam community is part of was witnessed between the 19th and 20th centuries (the 1840s to 1920s).
The development came through the entry of Western Christian Mission groups such as the Roman Catholics, Methodists, and the Presbyterian Mission. The latter group was prominent in the Itu /Ibiaku Itam area where the heroic account of the legendary Scottish missionary Mary Slessor took place. During the period of the missionary activity, the advancement of Christian religion and education went hand in hand, with an effort to do away with certain socio-cultural practices and traditional beliefs (Freud, 1955) and Ayandele (1966). This study is not intended to undermine traditional values, rather takes into cognizance literacy benefits which when adhered to could furthermore project socio-cultural values more meaningfully, while bearing in mind the development indices which often are a product of education.
Acceptance in this respect was initially hesitant but progressed with the establishment of mission secondary schools, a general hospital, and a leprosy camp (defunct) named after the late Scottish missionary Mary Slessor. The misgivings were that the school and formal education system may lead to the extinction of the Ibibio dialect with no attempt to learn, write or produce literature in this dialect, particularly as local words of wisdom and proverbs. Educational efforts, however, later brought about the establishment of other community secondary schools still in existence in the area.
Cultural Antecedents Of Akwa Ibom People
There are socio-economic groups that demonstrate their sense of belonging through seasonal festivals and events marked as major celebrations for such groups. They draw together members with similar interests to fulfill certain obligations for their economic advancement such as cassava processing and other special commodities locally produced for sales. Periodic festivals such as wrestling tournaments and seasonal outings of entertaining masked cultural troupes are not left out.
Leisure time at drinking spots is usually by an adult male and often the elderly after a day’s work, particularly for those in retirement. Unlike other communities, the Ikot Obio Atai/Ibiaku Itam area is populated by youths who prefer to be independent in every possible way.
Major tradition still held unto is the deification of the revered and equally dreaded Ekpo nyoho masquerade which makes an unexpected physical appearance in their pairs or groups. A female is not required to walk past it if encountered on the road but to would be aided by any brave male as a covering to do so. This masquerade appearance is generally tied to some taboos e.g. change of soul from aged to youth, farm yields, or some other reasons. They are sometimes given money by passers-by to let go and to welcome if they venture into someone’s house or at compounds where people are.
A bit on the average among the youths who seem to be interested in manual work around the community as means of sustenance such as building, off-loading of items for a fee, sales of farm produce on market days and other forms of unskilled labor. It was found from the observation that despite the citing of a major University in the state and a private polytechnic few miles from the community with the intermingling of foreigners and students from the tertiary institutions, indigenes seemed to adhere yet strongly to their traditions and cultural practices. This paper takes for granted that with such academic advantage, a high literacy rate would have been experienced among Ikot Obio Atai/ Ibiaku Itam indigenes particularly, as some off-campus residents both staff and some students are scattered throughout the community. This however was a personal submission. Influence of urbanization: indigenes still adhere strongly to their local norms and indigenous lifestyles.
Christianity and Culture of Akwa Ibom People
Due to the influence of Christian religion, what previously were regarded to be ‘appropriate’ forms of cultural expressions and practices have been influenced and undergone some modifications because of not only the Christian faith, but another overlapping yet embracing social forces such as education, civilization, and urbanization which Bird and Stevens (2003) attribute as being significant to cross-cultural interactions.
The Ibibio practiced the killing of twins before it was abolished during the colonial era, with help of missionary Mary Slessor. It was common practice for twin babies to be taken to their community’s local evil forest and left to die as it was taboo for twins to be born, but Christian religion stopped such and tradition now labels it as taboo.
The foregoing resonates with Jefferson (1962) who posits that only by transmission of knowledge by each succeeding generation can civilization maintain itself and make an advance upon the knowledge of the past. Humans as first-hand information resources particularly at sub-urban community levels are no doubt invaluable ‘living libraries’, as the content embedded in them (tacit knowledge) can only be shared as desired or willed by the person(s) in possession of the information content, without which may become entirely lost if untapped or their existence on earth terminates.
Christianity and culture are two dimensions of human existence. Christianity and culture may work well in some aspects and fail in other aspects. In the wake of civilization, it was observed that Christianity and culture are antagonistic to each other. But with greater understanding, Christianity and culture can be sustained in an area.
Ibibio religion was of two dimensions, which centered on the pouring of libation, worship, consultation, communication, and invocation of the God of Heaven (Abasi Enyong) and God of the Earth (Abasi Isong) by the Constitutional and Religious King/Head of a particular Ibibio Community who was known from the ancient times as the Obong-Ikpaisong (the word ‘Obong Ikpaisong’ directly interpreted means King of the Principalities of the Earth’ or ‘King of the Earth and the Principalities’ or Traditional Ruler).
The second dimension of Ibibio Religion centered on the worship, consultation, invocation, sacrifice, appeasement, etc. of the God of the Heaven (Abasi Enyong) and the God of the Earth (Abasi Isong) through various invisible or spiritual entities (Ndem) of the various Ibibio Division such as Etefia Ikono, Awa Itam, etc.
The Ibibios was introduced to Christianity through the work of early missionaries in the nineteenth century. Samuel Bill started his work at Ibeno. He established the Qua Iboe Church which later spread places in the middle belt of Nigeria. The Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic church, and Presbyterian Church rode into the Ibibio hinterland.
Later, day churches were also introduced, e.g. The Apostolic church, independent churches, like Deeper Life Bible Church, came into the area in the second part of the twentieth century. Today Ibibio people are predominantly Christians. It can be said of the Akwa Ibom people that Christianity and culture helped shape their future.
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