Before the incursion of Europeans (British colonialist) into Igbo land, we naturally cultivated and practiced customs and traditions that were adapted to our own soil, our own climate and our own blood. The Igbo customs and traditions we developed helped us, at that time, to actualize our fullest potentials as a people. They were what every Igbo man or woman was known for.
Igbos thought with one mind, we spoke with one voice, and performed diverse but similar deeds through the common customs and traditions we shared amongst us. We were held as one by Omenaala (the Igbo traditional religion). We flourished and enjoyed the true beauty and progress our minds and souls attained.
But things changed in the 19th-century when British colonization effort in Sub-saharan Africa spread to Igbo land and increased the encounters between us and other ethnicities near the Niger River. We proved decisive and enthusiastic in our embrace of British colonization, because the increased encounters between us and other ethnicities boosted our commercial activities.
But then, during the colonization of our land, It was not only commercial activities that the British expressed strong interest in. They were also interested in our administrative system and religious lives. While we enjoyed the wealth and power that came to our people through the colonization process, the religious imperialism the colonialist engineered upon our collective psyche was not-so-good.
At first, the British missionaries penetrated the hinterlands of the Igbo nation, and established all sort of church denominations each with a handful of ardent followers and converts. The churches struggled for a footing in our traditional society which was, at that time, bounded by strong age-long traditions, taboos, and expectations. As a result of that early struggle of the churches, the European missionaries aimed at yanking off the cultural traditions and customs of Ndigbo with a view to supplanting it with both logical and illogical church doctrines and rituals.
The British missionaries were clever. They came quietly and peaceably into Igbo land – our land – with the Christian religion. We, the Igbos, were amused at their “foolishness” and allowed them to stay. But not-so-long afterwards, the European missionaries put a knife on the things that held us together (our revered Igbo culture and traditions), and yanked off as many of them as hindered their ulterior motives, which made the centre of our cultural existence no longer able to hold together as one, and things indeed fell apart for all of us. This same idea was echoed in Chinua Achebe’s classic novel; “Things Fall Apart.”
The missionaries won over our brothers to their side through evangelism and indulgence, and ever since, the Igbo nation could no longer act like one. Omenaala was fought hard and fast by the colonialists who used both schools and churches as effective platforms for socially controlling and Influencing the minds of our people and twisting it to support their whims and caprices.
Following that “negative” success engineered by the missionaries against our cultural psyche, the God-willed beauty of our Igbo nation became a mighty pipe-dream. As long as the leaders of our people try to force upon us foreign clothing, and foreign architectural styles in the illusion that this makes for the progress of the Igbo people, our cultural and spiritual beauty and dignity will remain lost. Imitation is not uplifting.
I am reminding those of us that argue that we’re in the information age and as such, the media has shrunken the world into a global village, know nit today that there is no personal cultural achievement for Igbo people in the uniformity of the world through copying other cultures at the expense of our own.
The Igbo nation can only progress through the upward development of what culture, customs, traditions, and language we already possess. In so doing, we can find and regain the beauty and dignity of our culture which was lost through the not-so-noble efforts of the missionaries during the colonial era. We can never achieve that by adopting a culture and religion that is borrowed. Taking something over is not progress, for progress shows itself in the improvement of what already exists.
Let me conclude by saying once again that true progress for our people – the Igbo people – lies solely in the development of our own culture which is naturally adapted to the Igbo soil, Igbo climate, and Igbo blood. We must all become indigenous in the purest sense of the word, if we ever wish to develop our cultural and spiritual beings as well as expect help from Chukwu.
To be rooted in our native soil and all its nuances is a basic condition, and it, alone, guarantees that we can regain the cultural beauty and dignity we’ve lost to British colonialism. If we ever succeed in achieving that, we can expect only peace, unity, robust health, strength, beauty, and spiritual maturity for our people.