The cultural heritage of a people is often valued though with interjection of other forces of change. One of such forces is religion which is an immensely important dimension of a society. Religion may amount to some aspects of culture becoming sublime. This made the imapct of christianity on the culture of any society relevant and worth studying.
The influence of education and christianity on the culture of Akwaibom people cannot be overlooked. In Ikot Obio Atai/ Ibiaku Itam community in Itu local government area of Akwa Ibom this impact is obvious. Over a century of civilization and urbanization has brought about great influence of education and the domiciliation of Christian religion.
Though the indigenes of the area still adhere graciously to their age long traditions and cultural practices into the 21st century. But cultural adaptations and influence of christianity on the culture are unequalled.
Hence, the essence of this survey is to ascertain if and how interactions of the religious and secular life have impacted upon cultural modifications. We also take note that a people’s way of life must unavoidably experience some changes over time.
Three basic influence expose the inhuman nature of some cultures and traditions to the entire world. They are: Christianity, education and modernization.
These influences also triggers the crusade towards the eradication or abolition of obnoxious systems. I believe that these forces remain the only instruments that will blow the final whistle that will bring inhumane systems to rest.
Let us look at the influence Christianity on the culture and traditions of the people of AkwaIbom State.
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 of South – west, South – east and South – south geopolitical zones.
Those from Southern region are predominantly Christians having embraced the form of worship from period of the Western missionary’s 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 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 which lacks a centralized system of political organization with a king. However, there are traditional rulers/ chiefs which preside over community affairs.
In kinship, 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 Ibibio ethnic group is not 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.
This spirit world is comprised of lesser deities such as:
- Ndem: an agent of an all-powerful Abasi (God).
- Ancestors deemed to be benevolent and equally vindictive, especially, on those who neglect to give offerings and libations. Libation here means pouring of local gin on the ground with incantations.
- Nwommo: which are family gods. Some families or groups used to maintain shrines Nwommo. Many families are still practicing 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. They are predominantly Christians by identity like other ethnic groups from South-south Nigeria. However, 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 in order to curb certain vices such as ignorance.
The integration of education into the way of life of the Ibibio ethnic group which Ikot Obio Atai/ Ibiaku Itam community is part of, was witnessed between the 19th and 20th century (1840s to 1920s). The development came through the entry of Western Christian Mission groups such as the Roman Catholics, Methodist and the Presbyterian Mission.
The latter group was prominent in 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 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 AKWAIBOM PEOPLE
There are socio-economic groups which demonstrate their sense of belonging through seasonal festivals and events marked as major celebration for such groups. They draw together members with similar interest 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 tournament and seasonal outings of entertaining masked cultural troupes are not left out.
Leisure time at drinking spots are usually by adult male and often the elderly after a day’s work, particularly for those in retirement. Unlike other communities, Ikot Obio Atai/Ibiaku Itam area is populated 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 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 are 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 any 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 labour.
It was found from 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, 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.
IMPACT OF CHRISTIANITY ON THE CULTURAL PRACTICES OF AKWAIBOM
Due to the influence of Christian religion, what previously were regarded to be ‘appropriate’ forms of cultural expressions and practices have been influenced. Some of these cultural antecedents have undergone some modifications by reason of the Christian faith. Though other overlapping social forces such as education, civilization and urbanization which play a role. Bird and Stevens (2003) attribute these as being significant to cross-cultural interactions.
Some of the impact of Christianity on the culture of AkwaIbom include:
Killing of twins
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. This is because it was a taboo for twins to be born. But Christian religion stopped such, and now tradition labels it as taboo.
Transmission of knowledge through education
Christianity brough with it education which helped to transform societal knowledge. The foregoing resonates with Jefferson (1962) who posits that only by transmission of knowledge by each succeeding generation can civilization maintain itself and make advance upon the knowledge of the past.
Before the advent of Christianity on the culture of Ibibio people, knowledge is transmitted traditionally. This is usually achieved via story telling. The implication is that most times, the recepient may not have the original knowledge. Hence, some valuable part of knowledge are lost.
Christianity made knowledge modification easier
Humans as first-hand information resources particularly at sub-urban community levels are no doubt invaluable ‘living libraries’. Most of these people who have content embedded in them (tacit knowledge) can only share them as desired or willed. Through christian education, person(s) in possession of the information content now know that it could be lost if not shared. And with this, they understood that if such lnowledge is lost untapped, their existence on earth terminates.
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.
This person is known from the ancient times as the Obong-Ikpaisong. The word ‘Obong Ikpaisong’ 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 were 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, for 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 Christian area.
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