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Living Between Two

Worlds: Intrapersonal
Conflicts among Igbo
Seminarians - An Enquiry


Peter Lang
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Printed in Germany
To my late parents
Anieke Matthias and Olunwa Patricia
for the seed of faith
Michael U. Eneja, Bishop Emeritus, Enugu Diocese
for the fatherly trust
to All
who believe in the unconditional Value and Dignity of the human person
and who stand up against all forms of gender and racial discrimination
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Acknowledgment 17
Foreword 19



1.1 Why this Topic? 25

1.1.1 Sociological Indication 26
1.1.2 Theological Indication 26
1.1.3 Psychological Indication 28
1.2 The Aim of the Study 30
1.2.1 The Seminarian: An “Other-Worldly” Being 30
1.2.2 The Seminarian: An “Inner-Worldly” Being 36
1.2.3 The Seminarian: The Epicentre of Attention 39
1.3 Method 43
1.3.1 Our Anthropological Slant 44 The Seminarian: A Man Between two Worlds 46 The Human Person as an Organism 50
1.4 Definition of Terms 54
1.4.1 Igbo 54
1.4.2 Seminarian 54
1.4.3 Worlds 55
1.4.4 Conflict 55 Definitions of conflict 56 Conflict as a Quality of a Relationship 59 Contents of Conflict 60 A Definition of Conflict 61
1.4.5 Intrapersonal Conflict 62

1.4.6 Culture 62 Definitions of Culture 64 Culture as a Metasystemic Unity 66 A Definition of Culture 67
1.5 Summary 68



2.1 Motive-oriented Approach 71

2.1.1 Conflict and Motive 71
2.1.2 Motive 72 Motive – Attitude 76 Motive – Attitude – Value 77
2.2 Characteristics of Motivational Processes 77
2.3 Conflict and Motive: The Regulating Principles 79
2.3.1 The Mechanistic Principle 79
2.3.2 The Homoeostatic Principle 80
2.3.3 The Pleasure Principle – Hedonism 81
2.4 Summary 83


3.1 A Brief History 85

3.2 How do we know what we know? 86
3.3 The Human Person acts motu proprio 89
3.3.1 Theory of Personal Constructs 91 Personal Construct – Choice – Time 92 Personal Construct – Conflict – Neurosis 95
3.4 Relevance of this Approach 98
3.5 Summary 101


4.1 Intrapersonal Conflict in three Perspectives 106

4.1.1 Etiological Perspective 106
4.1.2 Operational Perspective 110 TOTE Model 110 The Difference that makes a Difference 112 Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose 116
4.1.3 Experiential Perspective 126
4.2 Summary 132




5.1 A recapitulation 137

5.2 African World-View and Epistemology 138
5.2.1 Commonsense 138
5.2.2 A Unitary Vision of Reality 138 A Sense of Being Part of the Whole 139 Reality is Interconnectedness 140 Intersubjectivity or Communality 141
5.2.3 Relationality – Participation 142
5.2.4 Language 143 The Spoken Word 143
5.2.5 The Human Being: Life 145
5.2.6 Reality is Endowed with Order and Harmony 146
5.2.7 Time 146
5.2.8 Life-Force: The Basic Principle of the Universe 147
5.3 Myth and Logic 148
5.4 Conclusion 150


6.1 A Preamble 155

6.2 Semiotic Cultural Analysis 162
6.2.1 The Perspectives 163
6.2.2 The Cultural Texts 165 Texts on Identity 166 Texts on Change 168
6.3 Summary 170


7.1 The Igbo People of Nigeria 173

7.2 The Igbo Cultural Area 175
7.2.1 Geographical Location 176
7.2.2 The Sub-cultural Areas 176
7.2.3 Communication and Transportation 178
7.2.4 Economic Life 179
7.2.5 Socio-political Organization 181 General Features 181 Some Special Characteristics 182 Kinship (Umunna) 183 Equalitarianism and Equivalence 185 Primary Democracy and the Nature
of Representation 186 Gerontocracy – Leadership – Authority 187 Ritual Leadership 191 The Lineage Head (Okpara) 191 Priests (Dibia Aja) 192 Diviners (Dibia Afa) 193 Native doctors (Dibia Ogwu) 193
7.3 General Belief System 196
7.3.1 Customs and Tradition (Omenani) 197 A unitary world 197 Harmony in the Interplay of the Life-forces 204 The Spiritual Beings and Forces
(Mmuo na Ogwu) 205

10 The human being (Mmadu) 222 Things (Ihe, Ife) 226
7.3.2 The Ultimate Value: The Good Life (Ndu oma) 228
7.3.3 The Instrumental Values: Communal and Individual 230
7.3.4 The Psychological Expression 235
7.4 Summary 237



8.1 Culture Contact 239

8.1.1 Forms of Culture Contact 240 Culture Contact – (Domain of Perturbation) 241 Culture Collision –
(Domain of Destructive Interaction) 241 Culture Intercourse –
(Domain of Reciprocal Structural Coupling) 247
8.2 Igbo Culture and Change 249
8.2.1 The Stages of Social Change 250 Innovation 250 Social Acceptance 251 Selective Elimination 251 Integration 253
8.3 The Nature and Agents of Change 254
8.3.1 Slavery and the Slave Trade 255 The Effects of the Slave Trade 259
8.3.2 Colonialism 261 The Explorer 262 The Soldier 263 The Missionary and Missionary Enterprise 264 The Soldier and the Missionary in
Igboland 267 The Missionary and School 273
8.3.3 Indigenous Clergy 282 A Seminary Institution 285
8.4 Modernization and Technological Developments 301
8.4.1 The Magic of Modernity 302
8.4.2 The City – The Mystique of Modernity 303

8.4.3 The Sacraments of Modernity 304
8.4.4 Modernity and the Redefinition of Reality 305
8.4.5 Modernity and Social Distribution of Knowledge 306
8.4.6 Modernity and Social Typification 307
8.4.7 Modernity and Cognitive Bargaining 309
8.5 Summary 312


9.1 Emergence of New Commodities 313

9.2 Emergence of a New Social Order 314
9.3 A New System of Law and Order 315
9.4 A Dichotomy of Social Worlds 319
9.5 Emergence of a Religious Enclave 320
9.5.1 Possibility of a Religion Divided in Itself 320
9.6 A Break With the Traditional Way of Life 325
9.7 A New Concept and Feeling of Time 327
9.8 Suppression of Igbo Language 329
9.9 Shift of Emphasis from Spiritual to Material, from Moral
to Intellectual 334
9.10 Institution of an Aristocratic Priesthood 337
9.11 A Misplacement of “Theo-Logical levels” 343
9.12 A Demonisation of the World-in-Between 346
9.13 A Disintegration of the Igbo Concept of Authority 347
9.14 Membership of a Universal Christendom 349
9.15 Conclusion 350





10.1 The Priestly Vocation as a Call 355

10.1.1 The Call to a Special Stand in the Church 356

10.2 The Threefold Basis of Ecclesial Competence 357
10.2.1 The Empowerment to Live 357
10.2.2 The Gratuitous Selection to Believe 358
10.2.3 The Call to a Pastoral Ministry 359
10.3 The Frame of Reference 361
10.3.1 The Content 362 Jesus Christ – The Model 363 Leadership 365 Discipleship and Leadership:
a Totally Encompassing Call 372 The Principal Contents 373 Values 373 Needs 375 Attitudes 378
10.3.2 The Centrality of the Contents 383
10.3.3 The Structure 384 The Actual-Self 385 The Ideal-Self 386 The Institutional Ideal and Role Concept 386
10.4 The Conflict in Three Folds 388
10.5 Inconsistency of Variables with the Five Values 390
10.6 Intrapersonal Vocational Consistencies and
Inconsistencies 393
10.7 Summary 396


11.1 The Basic Assumption 399

11.2 The Propositions 399
11.3 The Survey 401
11.4 The Result 402
11.4.1 School 1 403
11.4.2 School 2 407
11.5 Discussion 410


12.1 Implications for Pastoral Theology 416

12.1.1 A Change of Historical and Cultural Awareness 416
12.1.2 Appreciation of the Centrality of Language in the
Construction of Reality 425
12.1.3 Between Formation and Indoctrination
is Only a Hairline 427
12.1.4 A Re-Evaluation of the Concept of Divinity 430
12.1.5 More Emphasis on the Actualisation of
Academic Themes 433
12.1.6 Appreciation of the Centrality of
Pastoral Communicative Competence 434
12.1.7 Many are called [...]? – Congested Seminaries 443
12.1.8 Introduction of the Concept of and
Program on Leadership 446
12.1.9 Need for a Paradigm Shift in Priestly Formation 451 Priesthood and a secular profession –
Is a combination possible? 464 Parishioners and active participation
in the parish administration 465 Need for a renaissance of ‘Community Priests’ 467 Need for a shift from hierarchy to networking 469 Priesthood – the exclusive reserve of men? 470
12.2 Implications for a Pastoral Therapy 472
12.2.1 An Appreciation of the Ongoing Epistemic
Transformationand its Effects on Consciousness 472
12.2.2 Hide one’s Head in the Sand 474
12.2.3 “Bellac Ploy” 477
12.2.4 Searching on the Upper Ceiling for
Something on the Lower Ceiling 479
12.2.5 A Pastoral Minister as a Facilitator 480 Gestalt Therapeutic Approach 481 The Systemic Approach 488
12.3 Summary 494



Figure 1: T.O.T.E. Model 111
Figure 2: The nine-dots task 122
Figure 3: The solution of the nine-dot task 128
Figure 4: Tree-ring model of Igbo cosmology: The human
Being at the centre of the universe and as the fulcrum of
the activities of the Life-Forces. 219
Figure 5: Tree-ring model of Igbo cosmology: The human being
in a reciprocal interaction with other Life-Forces. 223
Figure 6: The PB as sphere of manifestation of the PI, II, SI 400
Figure 7: Two-dimensional image 482
Figure 8: Three-dimensional image 482

Table 1: Catholic Mission Primary Schools in Eastern Nigeria

by the year 1928 276
Table 2: Admissions into Bigard Memorial Seminary 1988-1998 300

Map of Igbo cultural area 177

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Each time I reach deep into my soul I re-emerge full of gratitude and
contentment. For each time I embark on this spiritual trip, I come in
contact with so many people and events that have contributed in making
my life a chord in the great symphony of God’s creation. I deeply thank
everybody who, at various stages of my life, has been an outstanding
source of strength and inspiration.
The successful completion of this work marks another happy point
in my life for which I want to say thanks. I am deeply indebted to the
following people for the various roles they played in my life and in the
realization of this work: my former bishop, Michael U. Eneja, for giving
me the opportunity to further my studies at the University of Innsbruck,
Austria; the Jesuits at the International Theological College, Collegium
Canisianum Innsbruck and all my professors at the University of Inns-
bruck for their inspiration, the openness to the spirit of intellectual free-
dom and respect for the dignity of the otherness of the cultural back-
grounds of their students. All in all, to stand up for one’s convictions and
remain attentively open to new knowledge and to the activities of the
Holy Spirit in the day-to-day events of life, especially in those ones that
fall out of the ordinary and usual are great legacies I received from the
Jesuits in Innsbruck. I am very grateful. My heartfelt thanks go to late
Madame Walburga, Schwaz in Tirol, St. Anne’s Parish, Annaberg in
Lower Austria and MISSIO Munich (Germany) for financing my stay in
Canisianum from 1985-1994, my many friends and colleagues at the
Collegium Canisianum, especially my Nigerian colleagues, for providing
me with that homely atmosphere that helped to ease off the pains of be-
ing so far away from home and for the mutual control and support we
provided each other.
My special thanks go to my former professor, Dr. Klemens Schaupp
SJ for moderating this work. His patience and encouragement, and useful
advice have been inestimable sources of strength, inspiration and energy
through the whole period of this work; to Prof. Franz Weber and his
team at the Institute for Practical Theology for their warmth, friendship
and great support especially towards the successful completion of my

academic endeavour at the institute; to Prof. Leo Karrer of the Institute
of Pastoral Theology at the University of Freiburg (Switzerland) for co-
monitoring this work and finally to Prof. DDr. Karl Heinz Neufeld SJ for
accepting to be the second reader of this work. I am equally grateful to
all those students of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu (BMS) and Seat
of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri (SWS) who participated in the empirical
survey and to Prof. Hans-Ulrich Kneubühler of the Department of Social
Ethics at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, and his assistant, Hugo
Ensmenger, Dr. Markus Thürig (Kriegstetten, Switzerland), Michael
Krüggeler of the Swiss Pastoral-Sociological Institute (St. Gallen, Swit-
zerland), Dr. Klaus Baumann (Hinterzarten, Germany) and Christoph
Jacobs (Passau, Germany) for the various parts they played in the statis-
tical analysis of the data collected. My gratitude goes to Linda Rickli-
Koser for painstakingly proof-reading the manuscript.
Much of the ideas in this work were influenced by my training and
courses in Pastoral Psychology (Institute for Interpersonal Communica-
tion, University of Innsbruck), in Pastoral Counselling (Austrian Asso-
ciation for Pastoral Psychology, ÖGfP, Graz), in Life, Marriage and
Family Counselling (Zentrum für Familienfragen – Centre for Family
Affairs – Innsbruck) and in Systemic Family Therapy (Graz/Linz). I am
indebted to all my lecturers, trainers and colleagues during those years
for introducing me to the various areas of clinical psychology and the
wide spectrum of psychotherapy and mental health.
My deep gratitude goes to my friends in Austria, Germany and
Switzerland for giving me a home in their homes and hearts. They all
occupy special places in my heart. A few of them deserve mention:
Families Amort, Ellensohn/Häle, Zeh and Kainz in Austria, Hartmann
and Hoffmann in Germany, Häberli, Müggler, Bürgler and Schwegler,
Rev. Fr. Hans Zünd, Marianne Marti and Astrid Häberli in Switzerland. I
am especially grateful to Astrid Häberli for her love and encouragement
and for being so special to me through these years. Finally and most im-
portantly, I thank my late parents for sowing the seed of faith in me and
my entire family for their warmth, support and love.
I thank you all who have contributed in one way or the other in
making my life rich and happy, and this work a success.

Chika J. Uzor
Innsbruck, September 1999


Being is living. Living between two different and often opposing visions
of life is like being in a borderline state, conflict-laden.
There is a link between the culture we grow up in and our percep-
tion of the world we experience. My realization of this grew in intensity
while participating in lectures and seminars at the Institutes of Pastoral
Psychology and Pastoral Theology of the University of Innsbruck, Aus-
tria, and in the course of my training in pastoral and clinical counselling.
These occasions sharpened my sensitivity for the interplay between the
Self and the Other. Most significantly they sharpened my sensitivity for
the problems of denying the Self in favour of the Other and vice versa.
The Otherness did not lie in the coffee colour of my skin,– no doubt an
identity factor in its own right –, but very much in my different cultural
heritage. This was a great relief: it became clear to me that my otherness
was not a sign of any organic or psychological malfunctioning; nothing
was wrong with me. Confronted daily with new interpretations of and
approaches to reality, I became aware that these differ from the way I
learned to view and approach the same realities. Before ever this really
dawned on me, I was already enmeshed in a complex web of new infor-
mation. Soon I was to realize that these new information did not leave
me unaffected. Repeated trips to my homeland, which were designed to
ensure unsevered link with my people, confronted me each time with the
realization that my life was changing, that is, that the way I viewed and
approached reality was radically changing in some aspects, and interest-
ingly too, in other aspects it was changing while remaining the same.
The awareness of this and of the subtlety of its occurrence gave me a
start. I thought: if it needed such a powerful external condition to bring
about this awareness in me, the chances are high that for someone who
never left his/her (broader) home environment the changes might be
more subtle and less obvious.
Linking this with the conflictive behaviours of pastoral workers in
the Catholic communities back home in Igboland, Nigeria, as I observed
them, it appeared that some explanation was revealing itself to me. It is
obvious that before a conflict breaks out, it has gone through some peri-

ods of gestation. This, of course, presupposes a preceding moment of
semination of its underlying factors. The Roman Catholic clerics in Ig-
boland are pastoral workers in the strict sense. They extensively influ-
ence and inform the minds of the rest of the faithful. Doubtless, the pe-
riod of their training in the seminary can be seen as the most crucial
moment of the semination of potential conflict factors. The training and
the ongoing modernization of their society constitute the major sources
of transformation of the candidates’ awareness and cognition. These
changes constitute sources of intrapersonal tensions.
The seminarian-condition is a borderline position: He is a segrega-
tus ex populo and yet not fully separated from the people; he is a cler-
gyman and at the same time not yet a cleric. But most importantly, the
training presumes a discrepancy between the Igbo traditional epistemic
system of reference and the Euro-Christian epistemology it imparts. It
requires the candidate to relinquish the belief systems uncongenial to the
aims of the training in favour of new, congenial ones. Cultural traits and
thought patterns are generally known to be very resilient. Nonetheless,
the cognitive transformation taking place in the seminarian is a transfor-
mation of his consciousness of the world he is experiencing. Inasmuch as
new information brings about mental shifts, one’s original cognitive
patterns cannot be totally got rid of; after all they are the epistemic and
emotive environment that formed one’s mind in one’s early days. The
Igbo have an aphorism which says: An old woman does not forget the
dance steps she learnt in her youth. There are always “residues” and
“vestiges” of the native epistemic system. These keep interfering with a
total inception of the Euro-Christian epistemology. In effect, the semi-
narian epistemically shuttles between two worlds: his native world and
the Euro-Christian world of the seminary, which constantly imposes on
him a borderline condition.
Since the transformation occurs mostly unconsciously, the process
generally eludes conscious awareness and due attention. Depth psychol-
ogy has sharpened our awareness of the powerful influence of past expe-
riences on present behaviour and cognitive bearings; most disruptively
influential are said to be the events which are experienced as uncomfort-
able and distressful. On account of the distress, they are usually put out
of conscious awareness without being appropriately settled, i.e. “without
being given due burial”. The Igbo hold the belief that when someone has
not been given a befitting burial, his or her ghost comes back to haunt

the relatives. In relation to our context, this means that when an experi-
ence is screened off consciousness without having been properly at-
tended to, it keeps haunting our awareness, disturbing our peace, until it
receives the attention it deserves. Without due attention, the effects cre-
ated by the ensuing ambivalence very often lead sooner or later to relig-
ious bigotry and fanaticism and other conflictive behaviours.
To take up arms against the conflictive behaviours and experiences
of the pastoral workers in Igboland may appear chivalric and exciting but
it is as much frustrating as it is arduous. It is in the nature of symptoms
that they keep recurring and reoccurring, often in different forms, as long
as their causes persist. To search for the cause of an observed phenome-
non can be painstaking and lengthy but it challenges creativity and open-
ness to the material under consideration. At the end it throws light on the
symptoms and offers more appropriate basis for treatment prescription.
In effect, attention is focussed in this work on the seminal or gesta-
tion period, the period of seminary training with emphasis on the in-
trapersonal effects of the epistemic transformations the Igbo seminarian
is going through. The aim is to make these transformations explicit, since
self-awareness – the awareness of one’s own existential condition which
touches on the past and reaches out into the future – is one of the basics
for pastoral effectivity and efficacy. If a blind man leads a blind man,
both of them will fall into a ditch (Mt 15:14).
The study is divided into three parts. Part One delineates the theo-
retical perspective of the work and consists of chapters one to four. Part
Two deals with the historical-cultural perspectives: the African epistemic
system of reference. This part comprises chapters five to nine. Part Three
focuses on the pastoral psychological and pastoral theological concerns
of the enquiry. Chapters ten to twelve and the general conclusion make
up this part.
Since the study is a contribution to self-awareness for the seminari-
ans, the enquiry takes off in Chapter One – the introductory chapter –,
with some personal experiences which are embedded in the elucidation
of the reason and the aim of this study. The anthropological stance is
also outlined in this chapter as well as the definition of the central terms
of the study. Since intrapersonal conflict has occupied many minds for
ages, it seemed pertinent, before tendering the system oriented approach
of this work, first to delineate the traditional approach to the problem.
The latter is the concern of Chapter Two, while the former is the centre

of interest of Chapters Three and Four. Chapter Five outlines the general
African world-view and epistemology, which is the context in which the
Igbo epistemic world described in Chapter Seven is embedded. The latter
is designed to give the reader an in-depth impression of the Igbo world
so as to enable him/her to appreciate the changes the Igbo consciousness
has gone and is going through and the impact of the changes. Chapters
Eight and Nine deal with these. The methodical approach to cultural de-
scription proffered in Chapter Six is meant to inform interested scholars
in the Igbo way and vision of life to decide beforehand on the perspective
from which they want to approach it and on which cultural texts should
constitute their object of attention. Above all, it is designed to inform the
reader of our own perspective and texts. Chapter Ten outlines the Euro-
Christian epistemic frame as it concerns priestly vocation and intraper-
sonal conflict. An empirical study was carried out among Igbo seminari-
ans in two major diocesan seminaries in Igboland in order to observe the
relationship between some aspects of the Euro-Christian and the Igbo
traditional epistemic systems of reference with regard to priestly voca-
tion. This is the subject matter of Chapter Eleven. The implications of
the findings and of the foregoing discussions for pastoral theology and
pastoral therapy as it pertains to Igbo seminarians are discussed in the
last chapter. A special accent is laid on encouragement for the formators
to dare new pastoral and therapeutical frontiers in their bid and effort to
empower and to guide the healthy personality development of the “mul-
tipliers” of ‘labourers for the Lord’s harvest’ (Lk 10: 1-2).
Finally, let the reader patiently go through this work and make
his/her own judgement. But let the judgement develop into an improve-
ment on our efforts and be inspired by the same love for the integrity and
dignity of every human being and culture as the locus of God’s incarna-
tion and redemptive acts.

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No one tears a piece from a new cloak to put it on an old

cloak; if he does, not only will he have torn the new one,
but the piece taken from the new will not match the old.
And nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the
new wine will burst the skins and then run out, and the
skins will be lost.
Lk 5: 36-37

1.1 Why this Topic?

The interest in the intrapersonal problem of living between two worlds

among Igbo seminarians in Nigeria, was born, first of all, out of the ex-
periences and observations of the present writer during his years of
training for the Roman Catholic priesthood in Igboland in the south-
eastern part of Nigeria. The interest somehow sharpened his perception
and observation of the behaviours and activities of seminarians and
priests from this area of Nigeria long after he had left the seminary him-
self. Secondly, it was born out of his observations of the conduct of the
seminarians and his fellow priests in the pastoral field. He, himself, is an
One of his major observations was that there were some basic dif-
ferences between the manner in which his expatriate (European mission-
aries) professors in the seminary and those other expatriates in the par-
ishes saw and interpreted many aspects of life in this part of Nigeria and
the ways their African (Igbo) counterparts did. Besides, he became aware
of a marked difference in the manner in which the latter and the semi-
narians behaved and acted, which very often seemed like an unsuccessful
combination of the way their own people approached reality and the way
the expatriates approached the same reality. Further observations con-
cerned the behaviour of seminarians like an elite corps among their peo-

ple, and the sandwich-position of the seminarian as “not-yet-cleric” and
“no-longer-lay person”. A reflection of this situation led him to see the
seminarian-condition in the context of the changes taking place in the
wider Igbo society since the contact with European cultural elements.
There are indications of this on the sociological, theological and psy-
chological levels of life among the Igbo.

1.1.1 Sociological Indication

In a country like Nigeria and in particular the area of our study, Igbo-
land, the contact with western cultures brought about ongoing radical
changes on the micro, meso and macro levels of the social life of the
people. Western modernity and modernization with their essential com-
ponents of technological production and bureaucracy have made their in-
roads into the consciousness of the people. New forms of social organi-
zation and value definitions have arisen and operate along side
traditional forms and values.

1.1.2 Theological Indication

The religious life and concepts of a society are culturally evolved. Re-
ligion as an instrument of world construction and world maintenance1,
leaves its imprint on the values and permeates every sector of the life of
a people. The life and activities of the Igbo, like many Africans, are em-
bedded in a religious ambience.
The contact of traditional Religion with the Christian faith in Euro-
pean cultural wrapping was not a gradual approach between the two, nor
a mutual exploration of each other. It was rather an encounter which
turned out to be a nightmare for the former. The expatriate missionaries
condemned the traditional Igbo religious beliefs as primitive, mythical,
false and demonic and a sure way to damnation.2 Operating on the dual-

1 Cf. P. L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy, especially Chapters 1 and 2.

2 In the wake of the demands for the Theology of Inculturation this attitude has chan-
ged a lot for the better, although there are still voices in Europe and Africa itself
which maintain the same stance.

istic categories of “Same and Other”3 – in the language of Mudimbe –,
whereby they viewed alterity as a negation of Same, they remained inca-
pable of comprehending the traditional beliefs of the Igbo. They sought
to pull down all traditional institutions and to replace them with those
that were Christian and Western. In other words, they sought to establish
“Sameness” by obliterating the “Otherness”. In this they and their colo-
nial counterparts were well aware of the effectiveness of religion as an
instrument of social order.
Through Christianity a new social order and identity were imposed
upon the Igbo; through baptism the Igbo became a Christian and re-
ceived a European or Jewish name or a combination of both.

For example, it was devilish for a clergyman in the Roman Catholic Church to have
his ancestral family name like ‘Rev. Fr. Dominic Nwalusi . ‘He would instead be
called with such a name like ‘Rev. Fr. Dominic Patrick.’ Also in the Anglican
Church people went by such name as Aaron‚ Ehud, Abraham, Ruth, etc. Today
people take to Igbo names. What was the reason for the former attitude? The only
answer is that early Christian missionaries refused to accept that ‘to know how a
people view the world around them is to know how they evaluate life, and a peo-
ple’s evaluation of life, both temporal and non-temporal, provides them with a
charter of action, a guide of behaviour’ .

The baptized Igbo interacting within his social and religious frames of
reference began to see and to think of himself no longer as an Igbo but
henceforth as a Christian or more specifically as a Catholic or an Angli-
can, Methodist etc. However, this “new identity” is not deep rooted be-
cause the “old” (religious) framework seems to have survived. It is op-
erative even in those Igbo who did not witness the early periods of the
violent encounter of the traditional religion with the Euro-Christian cul-
ture but were born into “Christian families”. In short, the encounter led

3 Cf. V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, 1-97.

4 Present writers remark: “Nwalusi” translated means: “Child of alusi”. “Alusi” is
the Igbo generic designation for their deities or divinities. Inasmuch as we share the
point Onwurah makes here, we however, cannot subscribe to his observation that it
was devilish for a Catholic priest to retain his ancestral family name no matter how
semantically incompatible it is with the basic Christian beliefs.
5 E. Onwurah, Mission Christian Converts in Traditional Igbo Society in Nigeria,

to a different, but very often undelineated or ambiguous practice of God-

1.1.3 Psychological Indication

The changes taking place on the sociological and theological levels led
to a diversification and sophistication of life, hence making the social
life much more demanding. The social, religious and psychological de-
mands to which the individual is exposed are increasingly gaining com-
plexity; the resilience of his instruments of perception and world evalua-
tion no longer seems to stand the weight of this test. The reaction ranges
from a total rejection, whereby the new elements are allowed to subsist
in a kind of enclave around which the traditional ways of life substan-
tially go on as before, to a total acceptance of the new changes. In-
between there is a mixture of both. This is to the extent that many Igbo
(and in fact many Nigerians) resemble that phenomenon which Frantz
Fanon so pregnantly described as “Black skin, white masks”7. This phe-

6 For instance, the missionaries exploited the Igbo belief in “Chukwu” – the High
God. None of their preaching usually started with Jesus Christ, Mary etc., but al-
ways with “Chukwu”. Fr. Shanahan was said to have exploited this tactfully: “‘I
come, not as a soldier, but as a white man who serves the mighty Chukwu [...] You
will know what his will is for men. It is to teach it that I came to this country [...]
We shall show you how to build where Chukwu will be worshipped properly‘”, Fr.
Jordan, quoted by Ikenga R. A. Ozigbo, Roman Catholicism, 194.
But the interesting thing about this sort of role definition is that Chukwu among the
Igbo has no need for human emissaries or intermediaries nor do the Igbo require
any of such in order to gain access to Chukwu. This would bring Chukwu to the
level of the lower gods or deities, who require agents and intermediaries. Such an
unreflected transposition of categories constitutes invariably a potential source of
epistemological confusion.
7 F. Fanon. This is also the title of his book: Black Skin, White Masks, first pub-
lished in English in 1968.
The edition we use here is the first edition published by Pluto Press in 1986. In it
Fanon, a psychiatrist doctor in French colonial Algeria, uses psychoanalysis and
psychological theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that
black people experience in a white world. The book was originally formulated to
combat the oppression of black people. However, irrespective of the fact that
Fanon used the expression to portray the ambivalent life of black people in a white
colonial world, we feel that it adequately describes the phenomenon of our interest

nomenon is more than what Peter Berger described as “cognitive bar-
gaining”8 which means the various intellectual compromises a person
makes in his daily activities between traditional and modern patterns.
What Fanon describes here has to do with the special psychological
feeling of the African in a world constructed by the West. Through the
process of identification9 everybody wants to be like the white man or
the Westerner – (at least in appearance).10 This phenomenon only bears
witness to a process of estrangement, which has long started and is fos-
tered and propagated by mainstream Christian churches.
Cognitive and emotional estrangement is unavoidably the result.
However, established modes of thinking and outlook to life are very dif-
ficult to give up. When they are repressed, they can recede into the re-
mote parts of the mind; from there they make sporadic incursions into
consciousness and colour the way we perceive new ideas. Moreover,
mythical conceptual framework cannot be ultimately eradicated from the
human mind. Religion is strongly connected with the future perspective
of the human person. It acts effectively as a principle of orientation and
order for human conduct and consciousness. The side-by-side existence
of Igbo Traditional and Christian religious viewpoints is certainly not
without psychological consequences for the Igbo. Their apparent incom-
patibility results often in a conflict of orientation. For example: In the
traditional society, it is usual, in certain problem situations, to consult a
diviner or a medicine-man in order to ascertain the will of God, of the
ancestors or simply for a piece of advice. Many Christians, when they
encounter similar situations, solicit the help of a priest/pastor (in form of
prayer and/or advice) and still secretly consult a diviner or a medical
professional the traditional way; they might do this personally or through
an intermediary. By so doing, they get trapped between two fronts: both

8 P. Berger, B. Berger and H. Kellner, The Homeless Mind, 155.

9 This is understood in the psychoanalytic sense by which the individual through de-
sire internally assumes the position of the object desired. Thus, in a way, he defines
his existence or identity from the standpoint of the Other. By the same process, he
occupies, at least in fantasy, the place of the object, while at the same time retain-
ing his own former place. His image of himself is already experiencing a transfor-
mation: a kind of being for an other.
10 Cf. Homi K. Bhabha’s Foreword to the Pluto Edition of F. Fanon’s Black Skin,
White Masks, xv-xvi. The Foreword has as title and subtitle: Remembering Fanon,
Self, Psyche and the Colonial Condition.

religious norm expectations. Entangled thus, one, on one hand, fears the
wrath of the “new” God who is said to be a jealous and intolerant God
and, on the other hand, the indignation of the God and the deities of
one’s forebears and of their spirits, whom one disavowed at baptism.

1.2 The Aim of the Study

The description of the aim of our enquiry will be carried out in three
steps. Each step will be illustrated with personal experiences made dur-
ing our own seminary training in Nigeria.11

1.2.1 The Seminarian: An “Other-Worldly” Being

Since the arrival of the Europeans in the south-eastern part of Nigeria,

the area has been caught up in a whirlwind of changes in every area of
life. New structures and institutions, for example, the Church, the clergy
and the seminary, new meanings and new goals emerged. With new
meanings came also new social norms. According to the sociology of
knowledge, social norms come into being through the processes of ex-
ternalisation of individual subjective meanings and objectivation of the
externalised meanings in language, symbols, norms and roles, etc. They
become operative and binding by way of internalisation. The norms and
meanings become internalised through a process of socialization. The

11 The examples we shall be citing here have their roots in the biography of the pres-
ent writer. The experiences narrated are also shared by his fellow Igbo students
living in the same college with him in Innsbruck. These went through the same
seminary in Nigeria.
In the examples we shall be alternating between the pronouns “I” and “we” and
their corresponding reflexive forms “myself” and “ourselves”. We shall use the
form of the first person singular when the likelihood that the experience or act in
question was really had or carried out by a majority of the seminarians is low, thus
only the author can confirm this in relation to himself and a very few others. The
plural form on the other hand shall be employed when the experience or act in
question pertains to a wider majority, the author inclusive.

degree of their influence in a society depends on the extent to which they
have been internalised by the individual members of that society. Cou-
pled with social sanctions and group pressure they assume a social con-
trol function. If they are reinforced by religion their social control func-
tion gradually assumes some kind of an absolute nature. Religion itself
projects a particular kind of image or concept of God, of the human per-
son and of the world at large.
The seminarian is training to become an official representative of
the Roman Catholic version of the new religion – Christianity – and con-
sequently a transmitter of its concepts of God, the human person and of
the world. As a would-be minister of and to the Christian God, the spiri-
tual, intellectual and affective transformations he has to undergo have to
be more encompassing than that of his non-seminarian counterparts. Not
only is he expected to master the techniques of transmitting these new
concepts, he has also to imbibe the logic, the thought pattern and the
frame of reference of the new Christian religion, while relinquishing
those of his traditional society. In rhythm with St. Paul, one has to cast
off the things of the old to take up the new. It is this religious dimension
that makes the situation of the Igbo seminarian peculiar. He has to be-
come the “fresh wineskin” which will contain and preserve the “new
wine”.12 The following experiences, formulated in retrospection, serve as
illustrations of this point:
From the first day of entrance into the seminary onwards, I was to become some-
one special; not necessarily among my classmates but outside the seminary. I be-
came segregated from my peers and friends back home in the village. Everybody
seemed to be interested in me and my career, especially the Catholics. Both in and
outside the seminary real efforts were made to shield me – without fear of exag-
geration, this is valid as well for every other seminarian – from all influences that
could constitute a danger to my career. We learned to call this career “vocation” or
“call”. We learned to understand this to mean that we were called by God to the
priesthood. We were a chosen people. Gradually we were introduced to what was
to become our new identity, our new self-definition and self-ideal. One Igbo

12 Lk 5:38.
13 As a rule the (official) journey to the priesthood in Igboland begins with the minor
seminary from where one proceeds to the major seminary for philosophy and the-
ology. Usually one enters the seminary as a stripling just fresh from the psycho-
logical developmental stage of latency.

bishop defined the priest as an alter Christus, a “segregatus a populo or segre-
gatus ex omnibus”. According to him, a priest “is holier than an angel”. We were,
therefore, to strive towards this high ideal: perfection in holiness; a perfection
which not even the angels could attain. It was very important that we do remember
that we were a chosen people, chosen from among the people. We were told the
story of a certain saint who met an angel and a priest walking together and was
asked to chose between the angel and the priest. The saint chose the priest because
the priest is said to be holier than the angel! We ought to model our lives accord-
ingly. I made all possible efforts to avoid those persons, things and places I was not
any longer meant to come into contact with. As priests in spe we learnt to avoid
participation in the traditional festivities, ceremonies, and associated activities be-
cause they are considered heathen or pagan. We were not to take part in them with-
out compromising our vocation to the priesthood. This behaviour, however, was
not expressly and systematically imparted in the seminary but with time one gets to
know that this is a part of the seminary training. Furthermore, we ought to con-
sciously say goodbye to those traditional beliefs in the spirits and the ancestors in
all their ramifications. That means that we understood that it is expected of us to
avoid any contacts with the heathen or pagan traditions we had “left behind”. To
still lend credence to them or even acknowledge their reality was tantamount to
clinging on to paganism, superstition and idolatry. All efforts were channelled
not just towards avoiding these but also towards exterminating them. In the cate-
chism class, some years earlier, we had learnt that it is “unwise, ignobly stupid and
false to ‘adore’ idols because they are man-made. They neither walk, nor can

14 Late bishop Godfrey Okoye.

15 In actual fact, there was rarely any express mention of the traditional beliefs in the
entire curriculum of the seminary training as something that possibly could have
some relevance for the life of the seminarians being trained or even of their train-
ers. So the “consciously say goodbye” was only a reinforced tacit implication fol-
lowing from one’s choice to be in the seminary; their abjuration had long taken
place at baptism. This therefore should not be understood as if we were called up to
make a conscious and open renunciation of the traditional beliefs.
16 The Igbo custom and belief system were generally said to be pagan which was and
is at the same time evil. They were – “were” because today there is a general ten-
dency to be very careful about the use of pejorative statements to this effect – de-
clared as being not only under the influence of the devil but also permeated through
and through by the devil. The work of evangelisation aims ultimately at saving the
souls of the Igbo from the clutches of the devil, most reputably that of Satan. To be
“pagan” meant at the same time to be inclined to evil and to be under the govern-
ance of the Lucifer, the head of the devils.
17 The choice of this expression “adore” or “worship” which is translated in Igbo as
ife or isekpulu is a clear indication of an imposition of a foreign conceptual frame-
work on the Igbo consciousness. This catechism text is still in use today all over
Igboland even though there is an awakening consciousness among Igbo theologians
of some basic misrepresentations of the Igbo world view contained therein. Be-

they talk, see, hear, move, nor do they possess any powers and so on” (obu nkafie
bu isekpulu alusi makana madu mebelu fa; ije fa eje, ike ikwu okwu ma fa enwe,
nke fa n’afu uzo, nke fa n’anu ife, mmerube fa emeru, ike ma fa enwe wee gaba-
zia). I devoured books on lives of legendary European saints and martyrs who
became saints because of their avowed war against paganism. Books and stories on
how best the traditional arguments and beliefs could be rebutted, disproved and
discredited were passionately read and digested. They were read more with the aim
of equipping myself to face the “pagan” world outside and then secondarily to
strengthen and confirm me in my tacit “decision” against that world. We referred to
the people outside the walls of the seminary as being in the world and of the world;
that world was replete with the devil’s agents and evil machinations and that
women were such instruments. On the surface level one becomes increasingly alien
to one’s own cultural heritage and to the life of the people outside the seminary
fortresses. On a deeper and inner level, one feels himself unfree. Nonetheless, we
were not to concern ourselves with “inner worldly things”. With this image of
“segregatus” we developed a feeling of being something special in relation to the
others who are not in the seminary, something set apart – perhaps this is one of the
aims of the training –, and of being an elite. This feeling made some of us to regard
themselves no more like one of them but like someone above them.

sides, the enumeration of those qualities which – and of course they are no more
divine than human – the alusi is said not to possess also shows a lack of the under-
standing of the symbol and its essence. However one observes even in modern Igbo
society of today that, irrespective of this catechism one learnt, this ability of the
Igbo to perceive the numinous in natural objects and phenomena is still as dynamic
as ever in the Igbo consciousness.
18 Katechism nke Okwukwe nzuko Katolik n’asusu Igbo. Cf. also: Ozigbo 145-146.
This booklet was originally published in January 1904 “with the help of Fr. Vogler
and the catechists” and prefaced by Fr. Lejeune who made its use obligatory
throughout the apostolic Prefecture. On the impact of this catechism on the Igbo
Catholicism Ikenga Ozigbo made the following analysis: “The impact of this cate-
chism on Igbo Catholicism may perhaps best be compared to that of Martin Lu-
ther’s German bible on the course of the 16th century reformation. The seductive
phraseology of this catechism effectively and mockingly attacked the Igbo ‘idols’
which were caricatured as impotent deities, incapable of seeing, hearing or moving,
and consequently, useless to anyone worshipping or praying to them. It is some
matter for surprise that the Catholic mission got away with this gross misrepresen-
tation of Igbo beliefs about their deities. It did, however, serve Catholic propaganda
very admirably. The catechism also succeeded in casting serious aspersions on the
main Catholic rival (the C.M.S.) which was portrayed as lacking all apostolic
authority but had only the worldly and son-loving Henry VIII, for its founder”,

The overbearing demeanour of some seminarians and a good number of
priests today most likely has its root here. This segregatio has certainly a
strong connection with the vision of the world portrayed in the most
popular spiritual book we used in the seminary: The Imitation of Christ
by Thomas à Kempis. In it a picture of the world is painted as the devil’s
hunting ground, with temptations lurking everywhere. For instance
quoting Seneca he wrote: “‘As often as I go among men (the world), I
come back less a man.’” Or: “God comes closer with his angels to him
who isolates himself from acquaintances and friends”19. The safest place,
therefore, was the secure walls of the monastery, and by extension, the
For the African and no less for the Igbo whose life is characterized
by “being-with”, by life in the human community, this is a very difficult
goal. Such a monastic life-style is incompatible with the primary aim of
the seminary, which is the training of priests for pastoral service among
the people of God. This attitude may be partly responsible for stressing
personal, individual activities like prayer, study and recreation, the idea
of magnum silencium, while playing down community life in the training
of priests. The seminarians themselves come from the background,
where community life is the mainstay of the society. Stressing this point,
C. Gotan enunciates:

Very often the local priest is made to look inefficient and undisciplined, not be-
cause he is deficient in his work, but because he is judged by alien standards set by
missionaries. For one reason or another, the missionaries seemed to have made a
virtue out of living alone [...]. A good number of people who have grown old in the
system tend to be introverted, isolated and possessed of a bachelor mentality. The
lives of such persons are usually centred around the cat and the dog, and when the
day comes, imposed by old age, to live in community, they can’t adapt. The result

19 The Imitation of Christ, 1, XX, 5 and 29. Cf.: Paul Mons’ German translation, 45
and 47.
We do not intend to join the bandwagon of those who question the authorship of
this book by Thomas à Kempis. Suffice it to point out that the general tendency is
to ascribe the origin of the book to Gerrit Grote († 20th August 1384 in Deventer),
the great reform preacher and father of the “devotio moderna”. This is a religious
or pious reform movement which arose in the 15th Century. Thomas, an adherent
of this movement, is regarded as having made some contributions to it and at the
same time as the editor. However, for purposes of easy referencing, we choose to
refer to à Kempis as the author. Cf.: Paul Mons, Die vier Bücher der Nachfolge
Christi, 5-9.

of this very often is a nervous breakdown and isolation in old age [...]. The expatri-
ate missionary enjoys a lonely life, with his books, his radio and the bottles which
hopefully solve his problems. These are not enough company for everybody, espe-
cially those who are imbued with and attached to togetherness and brotherhood as
encouraged and lived in the family, clan, and tribe .

The seminary seems to be oblivious of the reality and the explosive na-
ture of this phenomenon. It pays little or no attention to a probable dis-
crepancy in the seminarian’s experience of his “other-worldly life” in the
seminary and his life as a part of the world outside the seminary. The ac-
quaintance with such a conflict was mostly serendipitous. That means, in
the pursuit of his private interest, the seminarian may have chanced on it
in novels of such authors like, Chinua Achebe, Adaora I. Ulasi, Onuora
Nzekwu, John Munonye, Elechi Amadi, Obi Egbuna and Cyprian Ek-
wensi. But even at that, such a conflict between two worlds was inter-
preted as just one of such things one reads in novels and history books
about a remote past, which has no relevance for one’s present life. The
seminary system does not seem to be aware of the existence of such con-
flicts within its walls. Or if it is, it does not give it any serious considera-
tion. And not very seldom, the seminary explains away its manifestation
as lack of vocation. That means too, that the seminary does not yet seem
to realize the pastoral implications of such a conflict and ultimately its
implications for the gospel message of Jesus Christ (“the new wine”) for
and among the Igbo.
This work, therefore, aims at a sensitisation of the seminarians and
of those responsible for their training on this matter. It hopes to draw the
problem right into the sanctuary of the seminary, thereby liberating it
from being condemned as the problem of the others only. Its ultimate
hope, in this connection, is to encourage the seminary authority to bring
this phenomenon to bear in its handling of the seminarians‘ problems.
This is most urgent when it comes to the ongoing assessment or dis-
cernment of the suitability of any particular seminarian for the priest-

20 C. T. Gotan, The Seminarians: Their Dispositions and Challenges, 31f.

1.2.2 The Seminarian: An “Inner-Worldly” Being

It is pastorally irresponsible and naive if one should think that the “new
wineskins” were not bred out of old human (Igbo) stocks. Underneath
the skins lie the ligaments and veins or at least remnants of them, which
tell of the origin of the skin. The relation to that old stock cannot be
completely severed, and much less when the “new wineskin” is used or
kept in its natural ambience. The seminarian is brought up and still lives
in a milieu that is in many respects basically different from that of the
West. It is not quite possible to get him totally socialized in the Euro-
Christian world, a miniature of which the seminary represents. Even
where it seems to have succeeded, the relics of the “old” (i.e. his native
field of vision), once in a while, still overtake him. Outside the fortresses
of the seminary the “old” accosts him with its subtle and defiant dyna-
mism. The resultant conflict which he experiences, leaves its marks of
incongruence on his conducts (in the seminary and outside the seminary
in the pastoral field). The following experiences help to illustrate this
point. The incidents to be narrated below occurred in the only major
seminary in a non-Igbo area of the ecclesiastical province21. Half of the
seminarian population there is Igbo:

The seminary compound is bounded on one end by a river. This river was said to
be inhabited by some spiritual forces. Some even claimed that it was inhabited by a
water spirit. Stories were told of a dreadful python that was said to inhabit that
water too. Some seminarians claimed to have seen it. There was an aura of mystifi-
cation around the stories. However, some years later the then rector announced that
the python really existed, that it was trapped and killed by some snake experts. As a
proof he showed us something in a small bottle he said was part of the snake; it was
extracted, he went on, because it was said to be medicinally efficacious. This still
did not allay the awe we felt each time we approached that river. There was also a
mystification of the suspicion of the discontentment of the villagers over the pres-
ence of the seminary in their neighbourhood. Some seminarians believed that some
of the uncomfortable events in the seminary had something to do with it. All these
stories were believed with varying degrees to be true. Some events seemed to have
helped to lend them credence and substance: As a warning against the river, we
were told the story of a seminarian who got drowned in it a couple of years earlier.
He was actually said to be a very good swimmer. His remains were found some
days later. There was also the story of the ghastly road accident involving the

21 The incidents narrated in this part of the work occurred between 1979 and 1985. At
this time the entire south-eastern Nigeria was under Onitsha ecclesiastical province.

seminary mini-bus just on the bridge over the river; the driver and a seminarian
died there. There had been also a series of motor accidents on that spot. All these
reinforced the awe and evil magical powers attributed to the river. But the interest-
ing aspect was that these explanations and stories existed only within the safe walls
of the seminary. We could not dare to hold such opinions or even admit that we
also shared the same views to people outside the seminary. We even took the oppo-
site stand when necessary.

A further example is my experience with a friend in our philosophy


Throughout his years in the seminary he had suffered from an agonizing headache.
He narrated to me one day what he believed to be the cause of his agony: “One of
my aunts had an only son and was very unhappy about it. She became very envious
of my family, because her brother-in-law, my father, had more male children. We
lived on the same compound. We found out that she had procured a charm which
she buried in the garden close to our house. It was meant to bring about a retarda-
tion of our progress through bad health. She had already bewitched one of my
brothers for he had become so servile to her. She had also afflicted one of my sis-
ters with a rare skin disease.” My friend was also convinced that the aunt was a
witch or at least had access to some evil powers. He was thus certain that the root
of his agony lay in this woman. In reality a brother of his suffers from a schizo-
phrenic disorder and one of his sisters also had an awful and unusual skin dis-
ease. Of course these problems could have other causes. Here is, however, not the
place to discuss them. Of relevance for our investigation is only how he explained
his sickness to himself. Nevertheless he dared not mention this to any of his superi-
ors ; for his fragile health alone was already a question mark on his vocation. Be-
sides, he never disclosed this to any persons outside the seminary folk and when he
did, only to very close friends.

The above examples show that the seminarian is very much a child of his
time and cultural environment.
The study, therefore, aims at button-holing and dislodging the illu-
sion and quasi accusation usually levelled against the Christians – often

22 “Unusual” in accordance with the stand of medicare in this part of the country.
23 The experience with one of his expatriate superiors was a warning: As a result of
his chronic headache, he requested to consult a medical doctor. In the accompany-
ing letter to the doctor, his superior requested the doctor the confirm that my friend
was not suitable for the priesthood. The fact that he had to take an accompanying
letter in a sealed envelope along for a medical consultation aroused our suspicion.
So we had to open the envelope. Of course, he did not consult the doctor but in-
stead decided to bear his pains without medication.

from Christians themselves –, that their dual faith expressions or belief
forms and dual attitudes, which they manifest here and there, are indica-
tions of their shallow and/or weak faith or of a total lack of faith.24 This,
however, does not mean that there is no such thing as lack of faith
among the Igbo Christians. We only point out that such an explanation is
sheer oversimplification of the issue at stake, and to some extent it is an
expression of clerical hubris. The seminarian as well as the other Chris-
tians are undergoing enormous epistemological changes and constant
shifting of fields of vision, which he apparently is not aware of. In bor-
derline situations, many seminarians and priests resort to ‘old’ but ac-
customed horizons of interpretations. Double vision is unsettling and
often sparks off incongruent feelings and behaviours.
On the other hand, the study hopes to help in eliminating or at least,
to relativize the illusion of the seminarian and priests that the shallow-
ness of the faith among their people is a failure on their part as pro-
claimers of the Good News. At the same time, it hopes to help them re-

24 For instance, V. O. Eze, a seminarian, in his article on Spiritual Healing in the Ni-
gerian Church published in the special edition of The Pastor, Vol. 5 No. 1 – Vol. 6
No. 1 (Jan. 1993–June 1994), contends that the absence of an observable “spiritual
transformation” and/or a “true life of conversion” in a goodly number of those who
frequent the numerous healing homes and centres is a result “of lack of faith
brought about to a large extent by an overriding influence of spiritual mediocrity”
and “lack of understanding of the true meaning of suffering in the life of a Chris-
tian [...]. The attitude of running from one healing centre to another endlessly is
totally at variance with this theology of the cross”, 14.
Eze seems to be content with the feeling of being free of such a spiritual mediocrity
and possessing the true understanding of the true meaning of suffering. He feigns
to guess the reason why the people seek those healing centres when he writes: Be-
side those who go there out of sheer curiosity is the fact that “the African man or
woman is a suffering type. There is great suffering in his or her life that little lifting
up of this burden is more than welcome. Thus he or she seeks for this ease for its
sake regardless of the demands it would make in his or her spirituality”. He how-
ever fails to ask the crucial questions: What does wholesomeness of mind and
body, say mental and physical well-being, good health, mean for the African, Nige-
rian or Igbo? What does suffering or sickness mean for him? How does he explain
both? If he had posed such questions and attempted the answer, he would have very
likely stumbled at the insight, that what he quietly described as “lack of faith” or
“lack of understanding” is more of a manifestation of a basic epistemic disruption
than of spiritual intransigency or intellectual myopia.

alize that if their people need conversion, then they themselves need it on
a greater scale.
In the same connection, it wants to make the seminarian conscious
of the fact that he is a part of a system in which epistemic violence has
been entrenched and propagated as the best instrument in the encounter
between the Christian doctrine and the traditional belief of his people.
By doing this, it hopes to awaken in him, in his dealings with his people,
an appreciation of the transformations of consciousness, which the pa-
rishioners are undergoing. Such appreciation is meant to bring about a
change of pastoral stratagem: from the overbearing, “topdog and under-
dog”25, “better-than-thou” to a more humane, empathetic and understan-
ding disposition.

1.2.3 The Seminarian: The Epicentre of Attention

The acclaimed aim of the seminary is to produce able bodied men pre-
pared for the ministries of the word, of worship and sanctification and of
a shepherd26. Perhaps based on this the Nigerian National Seminaries
Commission recommends that “the Seminary should aim at making
priests all-round men, so that they can easily fit in anywhere into society,
and be very versatile. Liberal arts and science subjects like music,
woodwork, engineering, mechanics, architecture should be taught to
some degree”27. One gets the impression that the above recommendation
still clings to that obsolete idea of the priest as a “factotum” of the
Church, where he has always something to say in every walk of life; an
image of the priest inherited from the early missionaries.
The idea is noble but unrealistic. The overpopulated condition and
inadequate infrastructure in the seminaries seem to force the “making of
all-round men” to give way to a chiefly intellectual enterprise coupled

25 F. Perls, The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy, 122-123. Perls used
this expression to explain what he considered the most frequent split in human per-
sonality. According to him “top dog” is the equivalence of the psychoanalytic super
ego, which is always righteous and correct. It makes use of punishments to prove to
the “underdog” that he is right. As a communication metaphor, it describes a rela-
tionship characterized by power tussle.
26 Cf. Vat. II, OT, Art. 4.
27 Gotan 34.

with the acquisition of liturgical skills. The development of pastoral
communicative competence suffers a grave neglect as a result. This
situation encourages competitive spirit and tendencies among the semi-
narians. Not that the technique and methods are unimportant but that
they are peripheral to the core quality of ability to relate. They are pas-
torally useless if the person cannot establish a healthy relationship with
the people in tune with the Vat. II Council which recommends that semi-
narians should develop “the abilities most appropriate for the promotion
of dialogue with [fellow human beings], such as the capacity to listen to
other people and to open their hearts in a spirit of charity to the various
circumstances of human need”28. But where methods and technique are
applied without this “relationship-ability”, they become, according to R.
Zerfaß, no more than tricks and manipulative manoeuvres.29
It has always been reiterated that the pastor should be an all-round-
man but right in this aspect his training seems to be at a loss. The semi-
narian is being prepared for work among his people, the majority of
whom still live according to their traditional patterns. There he is meant
to be able to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who
rejoice.30 He is meant to be understanding and to feel with believers and
none believers, Christians and non-Christians, old and young, sick and
healthy alike. “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable
of feeling our weaknesses with us [...]”31. One of the characteristics of
Jesus Christ, the good Shepherd is: capability of empathy and solidarity.
The seminarian has to emulate Christ. But he cannot develop this quality
fully as long as he is totally shielded from the realities of life of the peo-
ple he is later meant to minister to. He can also not come to that depth if
he does not reach deep into his own soul to discover the laws which gov-
ern his conduct and by extension that of the people he is meant to teach.
For “‘it is no use painting the foot of the tree white, the strength of the
bark cries out from beneath the paint [...]’” says Aimé Césaire.32
This work, therefore, wants to inspire the seminarian to strive to de-
velop the capability of hearing those “cries” – i.e. the ensuing inner con-

28 Vat. II, OT Art. 9.

29 R. Zerfaß, Menschliche Seelsorge, 124. Cf. also H. Stenger, Kompetenz und Iden-
tität, 51-54.
30 1 Cor 9:19-23.
31 Heb 4:15a.
32 Fanon 198.

flict – as cries welling from the pith of the tree, which is its strength and
not as whimpering of an ill-willed and unbelieving person. They are
“cries”, which need serious attention, that is, to be heard and interpreted
Furthermore, it aims at awakening in the seminarians the insight, to
borrow Boisen’s words that every human person is a “‘living human
document’”33 which one, like oneself, has diligently to learn to read and
understand, if one wants to understand the inner logic behind and the
connections between the different words, that make up the different sen-
tences, which is his life. These are the “living texts” the seminarian has
to do with in and outside the seminary. They have to be understood, just
like oneself, as living texts.
This work also wants to encourage the seminarians to get in touch
with themselves from this perspective of their entanglement in two epis-
temic systems. It hopes to arouse in them the awareness that their entan-
glement has far reaching implications for the life of the faithful and par-
ticularly for their understanding of the faith. It is hoped that if they
realize that both they and the rest of the Igbo Christian folk are experi-
encing an epistemic disruption – in their varying levels and degrees –,
then they may begin to see themselves and the others as equal subjects
and targets of God’s salvation message. In this connection, this work
hopes to help cut down that “better-than-you” attitude one meets among
seminarians and priests, of which the people of God so much complain.
It thereby wants to help foster a domination-free (“herrschaftsfreie”)34
atmosphere between the seminarians – priests inclusive – and between
them and the rest of the Christian community.

33 H. Wahl, Pastoralpsychologie – Teilgebiet und Grunddimension praktischer Theo-

logie, 47. A. T. Boisen, an American (U. S. A.) pastoral theologian, himself a long-
time psychiatric patient, came to the insight that the people with whom the pastor
deals are “living human documents” which have to be read and interpreted like the
great documents of the Bible and the tradition which are themselves embodiments
of the faith experiences of human beings. They have therefore to be understood,
just like oneself, as living texts.
34 H. Stenger, Kompetenz und Identität, 54f. This beautiful coinage from J. Habermas
qualifies that kind of communication which is free or devoid of that overbearing air
in which one party exacts the authority, gives the tone and allows for no other

P. K. Sarpong35 was quoted in connection with his critical appraisal
of the growth of Christianity in Africa as having remarked: “I do not
want to seem to be merely attacking the missionaries. Their zeal was
admirable. What happened was no one’s fault. But if it is understandable
to make mistakes, it is unpardonable to continue them”36. We too do not
want to be understood as merely criticizing the seminary training in Ig-
boland. It is our earnest and honest wish to contribute something to fill
that lacuna in the formation of the future priests in Igboland about which
many have complained: psychological growth and at the least a reduc-
tion of self-alienation of the seminarian. According to R. G. Cote,

the African seminary has had more success thus far in educating the minds of
seminarians; it has not been as successful in educating their hearts. It has imparted
sound theological knowledge [in scholastic categories] but not sufficient self-
knowledge, good reasoning powers but insufficient psychological strength, impres-
sive mental acumen but not enough emotional and affective maturity. Seminarians
so become very knowledgeable about many things a good priest has to know, but
remains surprisingly ignorant about many psychological facets of their own per-
sonalities, their own emotional conflicts, anxieties, and inner fears. Their religious
and spiritual growth has not always been matched with a corresponding psycho-
logical growth and African development .

A major contribution in the area of the psycho-dynamics of vocation is

the pioneer work of L. M. Rulla, J. Ridick, F. Imoda, Entering and
Leaving Vocation: intrapsychic Dynamics from which we will draw very
much in this our work. This work, therefore, aims at contributing to the
growth of this aspect of the seminarian’s personality.
Finally, we wish to bring the seminarian into the epicentre of atten-
tion. By that we reduce the number of those who, when they talk about
priestly formation, concentrate most on the seminary administration, and
increase the rows of those who struggle to turn the searchlight of atten-
tive discussion on the very person on whose account the seminary exists,
the seminarian himself. The Council of Trent in trying to streamline the
training of priests concentrated, among other things, on the seminary
administration. It failed, however, to say enough on the seminarian per
se. Consequently, seminary education all along has tended to pre-occupy

35 Bishop of Kumasi, Ghana.

36 A. G. Unimna, Towards Africanizing the Catholic Priesthood, 45.
37 Ibid., 52.

itself with what and how to teach to the detriment of who is taught. In the
modern society of today where a person vanishes easily into a mere
functionary (in Gabriel Marcel’s sense), it becomes more compelling to
place the person of the seminarian in the epicentre of seminary concern.
The mission of Christ needs more than functionaries. Let us now con-
clude with the words of A. G. Unimna:

I suppose that our modern Church too needs more than priests who just know how
to wear soutanes and administer the sacraments to a congregation they cannot
maturely relate with. She needs mature and responsible priests as active collabora-
tors in the common mission of salvation entrusted to her by Christ, and the semi-
nary constitutes an ideal place for such an integral up-bringing .

If this work succeeds in being a contribution to this end, then it must

have achieved its goal, for that is what it is all about.

1.3 Method

As far as we know, no previous works exist on the theme of our enquiry.

We are practically threading a new terrain. Usually, all pioneer efforts
are guided by the hope and the vision of some treasure somewhere. So
are we guided by the vision of future priests who are positively in touch
with their cultural heritage while growing stronger in the Spirit of the
Man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, and by the vision and the desire to con-
tribute to the pastoral competence and effectiveness of future Igbo
priests. In effect, we will draw from sources in (clinical and pastoral)
psychology, cultural anthropology, history and theology. For the empiri-
cal survey and its results interested readers are referred to the unpub-
lished original version of this work at the universities of Innsbruck and
Freiburg in Switzerland. Our enquiry will take the following steps:
Since intrapersonal conflict has much to do with the individual’s
perception and interpretation of the reality of his experience, we will
state in the first part of this work our epistemological slant, which is the

38 Ibid., 51-52.

systemic approach. In this regard we will draw from works from the psy-
chology of knowledge: cognitive and communication psychology. Here
the works of H. Maturana and F. Varela, G. Bateson, D. Ulich, G. A.
Kelly will play a very important role. These works were chosen because
they concern themselves with the systemic nature of human knowledge
and behaviour. Our decision to apply the systemic approach in this work
was guided by the fact that the African social and cognitive world, irre-
spective of the radical changes it is undergoing, is still a world of inter-
connected relationships and realities.
To understand the Igbo world of the seminarians, we will apply the
cultural anthropological and historical approaches in the second part of
the work. The works to be used in this area are mainly works from Afri-
can authors. These works are written in English. It might be difficult for
someone outside the African cultural hemisphere to fully comprehend
the reality to be discussed in this part.– That is actually the issue at state
in this work: the problem of interpretation! We will, however, do our
best to reduce this barrier while remaining faithful to the object of our
attention. Since no culture is static but evolving in accordance with his-
torical developments, the historical approach will be used to portray the
changes the Igbo “way-of-being-in-the-world” has been undergoing
since the advent of the Europeans in Africa.
Pastoral theological and pastoral psychological considerations will
constitute the third and last step. We will rely much on the works of L.
M. Rulla et al. and H. Stenger as they deal with seminarians and pastoral
workers. This part of the work will be a synthesis of all the deliberations

1.3.1 Our Anthropological Slant

Every vision of life and its related issues is a vision of the human person
and an expression of a specific conception of the human being. Naively
put, an Igbo, and so an African, is not a European. The difference be-
tween them lies not so much in the colour of their skin or of their eyes. It
lies basically in the ways in which they are conscious of the world, the
manner in which they perceive and interpret the world of their experi-
ences. This difference is significantly cultural in nature.

The homo sapiens is at the same time homo socialis and as a bio-
logical necessity a homo culturalis as well. Understood from a cultural
anthropological standpoint, the human being39 is culturally determined.
By this is meant that the culture which is basically a human product con-
ditions its producer, thereby shaping his perception of himself and of the
world around him. Thus both stand in a dialectical relationship to each
other. The society patterns the ongoing relationship of the individual
with others.40 It is a dialectical phenomenon. The life of every individual
can be seen as an aspect of the history of his society. According to P. L.
Berger: “Every individual biography is an episode within the history of
society, which both precedes and survives it”41.
In comparison to the lower animals, one can say that the human
being is biologically and psychologically a “premature delivery”. He is
“unfinished” at birth. As a result, his world, by nature, is an open one.
The world of the lower animals is on the contrary already determined by
their inborn instincts. There is right from the beginning a dog-world, a
donkey-world, a fish-world and so on. In respect of the human being,
there is no such finished world. The human being has first to “create” his
world. And by doing so, he fashions and “finishes” himself.
As homo socialis, his nature is essentially relation. In relation he
creates his world, i.e., in constant communication with his fellow human
beings. This world makes up his culture. In the process of this activity,
human beings form and maintain society, which is at the same time an
aspect of culture. A very important aspect of this “relationality” is re-
ligion: The homo relationis is also relatively a homo religiosus. Religion
has to do with the belief in and reverence for a supernatural force, power
or being, accepted to be the origin and sustenance of the universe. This
supernatural power acts – where it applies – also as unifying factor for
the human personality. It is an essential part of the person’s world. The

39 We are quite aware of the fact that the terms “Person”, “Personality” or “individ-
ual” stands for the male and female forms of the human species. We would very
much love to give honour to this fact and consequently use the pronoun “she/he”,
when we mean both. But for easy reading, and for the fact that the author is a man
and writing for an, in the mean time, exclusively male audience: Seminarians and
Priests of the Roman Catholic Church, we shall be using the pronoun “he” even
when we mean both forms of the human family.
40 Cf. Berger, The Sacred Canopy, 7.
41 Berger 3.

relationship to it manifests itself in rituals and values. The concrete ex-
pressions of this relationship are themselves fundamentally culturally
On account of the dialectical nature of the relationship between the
human being and his world, the latter which is basically open becomes at
the same time a relatively closed world.42 Apart from the biological and
psychic make-up of the human person, his culture provides him with
specific forms of perceiving and experiencing things and events, thus
serving as orientation in his encounter with his environment. That is, it
specifies what he should see and what should be bracketed out of per-
ception and conscious awareness. In other words, it provides him with a
specific form of epistemology. The specific forms of perception vary in
their elasticity from person to person. Seen from this perspective, an en-
counter or contact between persons, ideologies, concepts of life and of
the world from different cultures posits a fertile ground for conflict. The Seminarian: A Man Between two Worlds

The seminary has, among other things, the main task of “restructuring”
the seminarian mentally, cognitively and emotionally and of “re-socia-
lizing” him, in order to impress on him the new identity: that of a Chris-
tian and a representative of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic priesthood inherited by the Igbo was a distant and
strange priesthood. ‘Distant and strange’ because it was foreign to the
people and far-removed from the people’s everyday life; it demands that
the priest lives far away from the people. According to Unimna, this
priesthood was shrouded with mysteries:

a priest does not go to toilet; he eats no foo-foo or garri; he drinks no alcohol; he

associates with no females outside the sanctuary and sacristy, etc. Anger expressed
by a priest – even irrationally – was considered as God’s wrath while a slap from
the priest was a blessing in disguise. That the background of the expatriate priest
was unknown and that he was dressed in a special and strange way, talked in a
strange language and style, and behaved in a completely different way from the
evangelised community added to the mystification of the priesthood. On top of all
that, the expatriate priest was sure of who he was (a king among inferiors) and

42 Cf. P. L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, 51.

what his mission was (a decisive one of remodelling the evangelised with the Bible
as a tool and colonial superiority as a garment) .

The coincidence of colonialism and missionary activities in the African

historical experience has far-reaching consequences for the evangelisa-
tion of the African peoples. This unholy marriage between the altar and
colonial imperialism led to the fact that the missionary interests, Unimna
continues, “became mixed up with the notion that Africans were not
properly finished by the Creator who had therefore sent the perfect men
to remake and give the African a new and superior culture, and to deliver
him from everything African except himself and his land. There is no
doubt that Christianity for long (perhaps until Vat. II) staged a vigorous
drive for the circumcision of the African culture in such a way that might
remind one of the events that prompted the Council of Jerusalem (Ac
15)”44. The emergence of Igbo indigenous priests has, however, helped
to eradicate to a great extent this image of the priest.
The seminary has the function of producing the clergy for the local
church. Not long ago the training of indigenous and diocesan priests in
Nigeria was largely in the hands of the religious45 clergy; almost all of
them were expatriates. For instance, Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu
(Igboland in the southeast), was run by the C.S.Sp Fathers, Ss Peter and
Paul Seminary, Ibadan (Yorubaland in the west), was run by the SMA
and White Fathers, and St. Augustine’s Seminary, Jos (Hausa-Fulani-
land in the north) was run by the OSA Fathers. It is believed that the re-
ligious priest is superior and higher in spirituality than the diocesan
priests. This point is substantiated by the fact that until recently the
spiritual and moral formation of seminarians in these major seminaries
was the responsibility of priests belonging to one religious congregation
or the other.46 Expressed in sociological terms, the process of the “re-
socialization” of the Nigerian priest into the Catholic hierarchy has more
or less a monastic or religious congregational bearing.
Socialization is said to be successful to the extent the internalisation
of the norms and values of the given society has taken place and to the
extent those norms and values assume the quality of “taken-for-granted”

43 Unimna 43.
44 Ibid.
45 By “religious” we mean members of the various religious order or congregation.
46 Cf. Unimna, 44.

in the day-to-day life of the individual. To the extent that the seminarian
internalises the norms and values imparted in the seminary, to that extent
one can talk of his estrangement from his cultural and traditional ambi-
ence being consummated. Where this process does not succeed very
well, then we are left with a classical example of a half-backed bread; a
phenomenon Fanon aptly called “black skin, white masks”. To borrow
Fanon’s terms again: “Not yet white, no longer wholly black, I was
damned”47. To add to it, the seminarian seems ignorant, or rather, un-
aware of this state. Thus moving on two planes, without in the least be-
ing aware of it and much less embarrassed by it, he conjures up his al-
ienated image as the image of the ideal human being, whereby this
image is not that of Self and Other but of the “Otherness” of the Self.
The hazy awareness of the “Otherness” of his Self (in relation to the
“Other” which is projected in the information package he receives)
makes him, by way of psychoanalytical identification and projection,
combat the undesirable (in himself) in the others. It is, therefore, not
surprising that the seminarian (unconsciously) excludes himself and his
class when he talks of others as primitive and pagan or syncretistic.48 In
his dealings with his own people, he sees or thinks no longer of himself
as Igbo; he thinks and sees himself much rather unconsciously in his new
identity and role as a Seminarian.
It is unfortunate that the entire seminary education is geared towards
the eradication of the “Otherness”. In other words, the awareness of this
“Otherness” is actually the reason for the training, and the aim is to in-
culcate in him the idea of the Other (Euro-Christian) in relation to Self
(oneself) as ideal. In this process, the total surrender of or the estrange-
ment from the “Otherness” of his Self in favour of the Other is at the
same time the attainment of the Other – the ideal. Thus, what Mudimbe
said in a different context applies remarkably to the seminary training.
According to him:

Up to the 1920s, the entire framework of African social studies was consistent with
the rationale of an epistemological field and its socio-political expressions of con-
quest. Even those social realities, such as art, languages, or oral literature, which
might have constituted an introduction to otherness, were repressed in support of

47 Fanon 138.
48 It is most unlikely that he would even think of himself in this sense as eclectic, as
some people would say on the intellectual field.

theories of sameness. Socially, they were tools strengthening a new organization of
power and its political methods of reduction, namely, assimilation or indirect
rule .

The awareness of these basic differences in outlooks to life and of the

immense problems that can occur if these differences are overlooked,
became disquietingly evident and clear to the present writer when he was
sent to Europe on study. There he became aware of a number of prob-
lems which until then never touched or bothered him as such. He sensed
the feeling which was common among his fellow African students,
namely, a brutal confrontation with that “Otherness” of Self. Everywhere
this feeling was there. On the street, in the cinema, in the lecture halls, in
the shops and offices, in the swimming pool, in the restaurant, in his
room. Not just the Otherness of the colour of one’s skin, which is at once
obvious, but the “Otherness” of his being. Such questions from the na-
tives like, “Gefällt es Ihnen bei uns?” (Do you like our place?), “Wie
heißen Sie?” (What is your name?), “Gibt es [...] bei Ihnen zu Hause?”
(Do you have [...] in your home?), “Was ißt man bei Ihnen zu Hause?”
or “Was ist Ihre Nationalspeise?” (What does one eat in your home? or
What is your people’s special menu?) were already sufficient to crystal-
lize that “Otherness”. When he heard the word ‘black man’ or ‘Neger’,
‘African’, ‘Nigerian’ or ‘Igbo’, he felt himself at once addressed. He no
longer had the chance of a cognitive and emotive flight as he used to
have back home in Nigeria. He realized that those words included him-
self as well as those back home from whom he used to marginalize him-
self. One day he had to confront one of his psychology professors during
lectures for constantly using the word ‘Neger’ in contrast to ‘White’
when referring to the ‘Black and White’50 races. Not just such questions
as the ones above call forth this feeling but also that introductory phrase,
namely, “Bei uns ist es so [...]”(It is so [...] in our place), which has be-
come a commonplace among foreign students when conversing with
their European counterparts. The phrase is not simply an explication of a
difference in ways of life as a matter of information. Through it shines

49 Mudimbe 83. Emphasis added.

50 Some people quarrel over these two designations for the two groups of the human
family: The Sub-Saharan African and the European. I am one of such people. But
for purposes of convenience I prefer to use them here but always in inverted com-

that “Otherness” of one’s being again. What usually follows this “bei
uns ist es [...]” is often very amazing in terms of its cultural import.
Once in a conversation with a fellow Igbo student over the strenuous ef-
forts being made by many fellow African students to cover up their de-
scent, their “Otherness” the colleague remarked: ‘It’s awful to spend
one’s life trying to prove to people (Europeans and Africans) what one is
not. For in the end one ends up not living what one is’. This often frus-
trating effort ‘to be like others’, to attain sameness, originates from the
tendency to oversimplify the problem at stake. The oversimplification
lies in the belief that the problem is erased as soon as one properly imi-
tates the natives. This oversimplifying tendency hangs over the African
universe, especially the universe of the African newcomers to Europe,
like an ominous nimbus.
In such circumstances and at such a distance away from his own
cultural ambient, the present writer recognized, in the words of Fanon,
that “it was no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third
person but in a triple person [...]. I was responsible at the same time for
my body, for my race, for my ancestors”51. The lead quotation above
from the gospel of St. Luke drives home the point at stake here: the de-
structive nature and potency of the tension emanating from the interac-
tion of the “new wine” with the “skin”. The poignancy of this awareness
is the definitive factor in the decision for this theme. These later experi-
ences confirm the words of P. Watzlawick et al. that one “cannot obtain
a full visual perception of one’s own body (at least not directly), because
the eyes, as the perceiving organs, are themselves part of the totality to
be perceived [...]”52. It is really a fact that one can only appreciate and
understand one’s own culture better only when one looks at it from out-
side. As long as one is still within it, it is very difficult to become aware
of its general structure not to talk of the relationships between its various
components. The Human Person as an Organism

Conflict is the quality of a person’s experience of certain changes taking
place in his social and psychological environment. There are changes
which remain unnoticed by the individual because they do not reach the

51 Fanon 112.
52 P. Watzlawick, J. Weakland and R. Fisch, Change, 25.

threshold of his consciousness. There are also such changes which are
felt and the person can easily adjust to them. Some other changes, how-
ever, cause him a lot of pain and are not so easy to get adjusted to. At the
other extreme there are events which bring about radical changes such
that the person is compelled to jettison his habitual patterns of encoun-
tering change and take up completely new visions and patterns. With re-
gard to the former type of changes where the person is capable of ad-
justing to the new situation with little or no noticeable change in his
usual pattern of life, continuity is accounted for. The latter form of radi-
cal changes do not leave the individual as he was. The change is noticed
and can be accompanied by an excruciating experience.
In their publication: The Tree of Knowledge, the Chilean biologist,
H. Maturana, and neuroscientist, F. Varela, gave us in a very brilliant
manner a lead to an explanation of this phenomenon. According to them,
the roots lie in human biology. Human anatomy is so structured that the
human being can only interact with his environment in the only way his
anatomy permits. Information, in the sense of sensations, are made intel-
ligible in accordance with the structures of the human brain. The basic
characteristic of living organisms is that “they produce themselves and
specify the boundaries of the space in which they are formed”53. In the
course of a person’s development the human brain lays patterns accord-
ing to which it can encode and decode information coming from outside.
The same thing is done on a social level. Human beings create a com-
mon world together through the actions of their coexistence. In this pro-
cess they create patterns according to which they can encode and decode
incoming information and new elements.
Every living being is a unity because it is distinct from any other
living being. Cellular organisms constitute first-order unities.54 Meta-
cellular organisms, which include human beings, constitute second-order
unities55, while cultures make up third-order unities.56 Each of these
unities exhibit similar characteristic which is an “autopoietic organiza-
tion”57. “Autopoiesis” derives from the Greek words “autos” = self;

53 H. R. Maturana and F. J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge, 40.

54 Ibid., 89.
55 Ibid., 74-88.
56 Ibid., 180-201.
57 Ibid., 43. On the description of this process of an ongoing self-reproduction and
self-organization in living organisms: 43-49, 201.

“poiein” = to make. The basic and essential characteristics of living be-
ings, according to Maturana and Varela, is that they are “structurally de-
termined”58 and continually reproducing or making themselves.59 Living
beings may differ in their structures but they are similar in terms of their
organization. Each type of organism or unity is self-organizing since it is
also imbued with an internal feedback system, which enables it to adapt
to a given environment as well as to adapt the environment to itself
without leaving its own internal network. As the human anatomy indi-
cates, the cells (cellular organisms) of the body constitute a network of
interdependent subsystems within the human organism and in the course
of their reciprocal interaction they constitute the human being (a meta-
cellular organism). The same type of organization is shared by social
systems and cultures. As a result, any change in any one area of its
structural network causes adjustments and/or readjustments or changes
in all the other areas, and consequently in the entire system.
The fact that a living system is determined by its structure, implies
that some kind of structural change can lead to a destruction or a disinte-
gration of the system. In reality, no one system can accommodate an in-
definite number of alien elements and every kind of interaction without
compromising its identity.60 Maturana and Varela differentiate four kinds

58 P. F. Dell, Klinische Erkenntnis, 72, 81, 96-98. “Structural determinism” means,

for instance, that the biological structure of the human being determines that the
individual human being basically has to react to his environment in a certain way
and not in the other. For instance: That a person in the face of danger runs away or
stays put to ward the danger off or confront it; or that a person who has fever is not
reacting or functioning abnormally, he reacts just the way his present structure
specifies that he under such circumstances must react.
59 Maturana and Varela 43.
60 U. Bitterli’s statement on the dangers of cultural estrangement and individual
mental homelessness accruing from the phenomenon of re-interpretation of alien
cultural elements in the bid to assimilate them lends this point emphasis. The for-
mulation is so good, that it deserves to be reproduced here: ”Indem ein Kulturele-
ment sich verlagert, verändert es sich, übernimmt neue Funktionen und tritt in neue
Sinnzusammenhänge ein. Dies läßt sich besonders gut in jenem Bereich beobach-
ten, in dem Europa ein eigentliches kulturelles Sendungsbewußtsein entwickelte:
auf dem Gebiet der Heidenmission. Hier geschah es häufig, daß christliche Begriffe
und Rituale mit fremden Bedeutungsinhalten befrachtet oder einer angestammten
Religion wesensfremde Heilserwartungen unterschoben wurden [...]. Dieses Phä-
nomen der ‘Re-Interpretation’ kann bei der betroffenen Kultur zur Entfremdung
und geistigen Unbehaustheit des Individuums führen”, U. Bitterli, Alte Welt –

of effects resulting from certain kinds of interactions between different
systemic units:
(1) Changes of state: This includes all structural changes which the unit
undergoes as a result of its own internal dynamics without any changes
in its organization, i.e. while maintaining its class identity. This kind of
change accounts for the apparent continuity in a changing situation. This
fact is confirmed also by the Group Theory as we shall see later.
(2) Destructive changes: These include every structural change which
leads to a loss of the organization of a unit and therefore to its disinte-
gration as a unit of a specific class, i.e. loss of identity. This kind of
change must not necessarily be the effect of an external impact. This
kind of change accounts for the discontinuities experienced in a chang-
ing situation. The mathematical theory of Logical Types confirm this as
we shall also see later.
(3) Perturbations: These include all sorts of congenial interactions with
other (external) entities which bring about changes of state in the system.
(4) Destructive interactions: These include all destructive changes of the
system or unit brought about by uncongenial interactions with other en-
tities or by a destructive impact from outside the system.61
As long as the unit does not get implicated in a destructive interac-
tion with its milieu or environment, they conclude, the observer of the
structures of both (milieu and unit) will describe the observed relation-
ship between the two as compatible. As long as the relationship remains
compatible, both systems constitute to each other a source of “perturba-
tion”, thereby bringing about changes of state constantly in each other
while maintaining their individual structural organizations. The process
is known as reciprocal “structural coupling”62. This kind of interaction
is given, according to Maturana and Varela, “whenever there is a history
of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between
two (or more) systems”63. This methodical outlook we will call the Sys-
tem Oriented Approach. We shall expatiate more on it later in Chapter

Neue Welt, 53. Cf. also: D. Power, Kulturelle Begegnung und religiöser Ausdruck,
in: Concilium 13(1977), 114-121.
61 Maturana and Varela 97-99.
62 Ibid., 75 and 99.
63 Ibid., 75.

1.4 Definition of Terms

We consider it pertinent to delineate the operative concepts in this study,

which are: “Igbo”, “Seminarian”, “Worlds”, “Conflict”, “Intrapersonal
conflict”, and “Culture”.

1.4.1 Igbo

The term “Igbo” has a threefold function. It stands for the cultural group
inhabiting the south-eastern part of Nigeria, the geographical location it-
self called Igboland (an igbo or ala igbo) and for their language. Many
authors used different versions of this word. These versions range from
“Ibo” (with its plural form “Ibos”) to “Eboe”, “Hebus”, “Hebos”, and
“Ebus”. The form “Ibo” was arbitrarily adopted by colonial officials,
their anthropologists and the Euro-American in general to circumvent the
difficulty in pronouncing the diphthong “gb”. No Igbo speaking in his
native language refers to himself as an “Ibo”. The plural form “Igbos”
seems absurd, for the plural in the Igbo language is not formed by ap-
pending an “s”. In this work, we shall use the following forms: “The
Igbo” when we mean more than one Igbo and/or the people in general,
that is “ndi igbo”; “an Igbo” when we mean one person, that is “onye

1.4.2 Seminarian

The term “Seminarian” shall be understood to stand for a young lad or

young man training for the Catholic priesthood in an institution called
minor/junior or major/senior seminary. In this work we will restrict this
term to those seminarians only who are at that very point in time training
for a particular diocese, hence, diocesan seminarians.
By “Igbo seminarians” we, accordingly, mean those seminarians of
the class defined above who hail from that culturally distinguishable area
called Igboland.

1.4.3 Worlds

By “worlds” we mean, the totality of forms or patterns of consciousness

of everyday life reality which a people share in common and which dis-
tinguish them from other people. It is the totality of the meanings the
people share. We believe that “worlds” understood in this sense are on-
togenically acquired and therefore essentially cultural. Consequently, we
will give a substantial attention to the concept “culture”.

1.4.4 Conflict

When the term “conflict” comes from the mouth of a politician or flows
from the pen of a journalist, it generally refers to conflict between per-
sons, groups of persons or nations. But when a psychologist speaks of
conflict, he means most likely a conflict which the person concerned ex-
periences within himself. This could also be in relation to another person
or persons. In the normal, daily colloquial language this term is rarely
used. One hears more often such expressions like: “I have a problem”; “I
am in a fix”; “I am at crossroads”; “I feel like I am pressed to the walls”;
“I am totally perplexed, and that irritates me”. Thus the term conflict ap-
parently has two completely different meanings or at least two meanings
which are independent of each other. We will call the former interper-
sonal conflict and the latter intrapersonal conflict.
Many books and journals have occupied themselves with both as-
pects of conflict. In their treatment of the goings-on between nations and
persons, they recognize the fact that the study of the intrapersonal occur-
rences could throw some light on the international or interpersonal ones.
The reverse is also the case: the conflicts which the person experiences
within himself could be understood with the help of the ones which he
encounters outside or around him. It will be a futile enterprise to attempt
a separation of both aspects. For this reason, in this work which concerns
itself chiefly with the intrapersonal aspect of the conflict the Igbo semi-
narian experiences in the course of his training to the Roman Catholic
priesthood, attention will be paid also to its interpersonal dimension.
Etymologically, the word “conflict” is a Middle English word
which came in 18th Century from the Latin word “conflictus”. This in
turn was derived from the past participle of the intransitive verb con-

fligere: to strike together, to clash.64 Another word derived from the
same root is “conflictatio”. This word throws some extra light on our
term. It means: 1) The act of shoving or pushing against, striking to-
gether; 2) Fight, quarrel, squabble.65 Also in this related word we find
the same originally mechanical meaning: two objects or bodies striking
together or pushing each other – meaning (1); and two further meanings
(2) used in a dynamically figurative sense. Both expressions (fight, quar-
rel) contain in themselves a tendency on the part of the persons involved
to strike together or to shove, push one another. However they differ in
the manner and intensity: one makes reference to a physical act, while
the other refers to a verbal act.
One could see that conflict has to do with the meeting of two op-
posing or incompatible forces. But can one refer to every kind of striking
together or clash of opposing forces as conflict? If we were to under-
stand this term in a purely mechanical sense, we can then imagine that
the two forces could strike together and then come off each other or free
themselves again. For instance, when two cars collide with each other.
One would not think of the two cars being in conflict; but the two drivers
(if they survived the collision) could run into conflict with each other
and fight it out verbally or physically. Therefore, for a clash to be termed
a conflict, at least two dynamic opposing or incompatible forces, whose
impetus emanates from within, must be involved. This makes it possible
for them to go on acting and reacting and not die off at the moment of
the clash.66 Definitions of conflict

In this section, we shall look at the term “Conflict” from a psychological
perspective. Many authors have proffered varied and varying definitions
of conflict. Lalande67 defines conflict as the meeting of two forces or
principles whose application by one and the same object leads to oppos-

64 Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary; Duden, Das Herkunftswörter-

buch; Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch, Lateinisch-Deutsch; Cassell’s Latin Dic-
tionary, Latin-English and English-Latin.
65 Georges ausführliches Lateinisch-Deutsches Handwörterbuch, Bd. 1: A-H. Cf. al-
so: Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch, Lateinisch-Deutsch.
66 A.-M. Rocheblave-Spenlé, Psychologie des Konflikts, 15f.
67 Ibid., 12.

ing goals. Later he talked of “conflict of inclinations.” Webster’s II New
Riverside University Dictionary68, taking from English and English, de-
fines conflict as “the opposition or simultaneous69 functioning of mutu-
ally exclusive impulses, desires or tendencies.” For D. Lagache70, it is
“the state of the organism which is subjected to the activity of mutually
incompatible motivations.” A. J. Yates, quoting Maher, said that conflict
could best be defined as a stimulus acting on an organism which triggers
off two or more incompatible reactions in the organism that are function-
ally equal in strength.71 One can easily observe the Stimulus-Response
slant of Yates’ definition. For K. Lewin however, conflict is the situation
in which the opposing forces are triggered off in the individual.72 Al-
though H. Thomae while quoting Cofer and Appley defines conflict as
the result of two or more equivalent but mutually incompatible reaction
tendencies73, he also emphasizes the situational aspect when he talks of
“decision” (Entscheidung) as a form of reaction to a multivalent situa-
tion, and the “multivalence of the situation” as the common feature of
conflict and its other related phenomena (choice and decision etc.).74
Likewise for A. S. Reber, conflict is “an extremely broad term used to
refer to any situation where there are mutually antagonistic events, mo-
tives, purposes, behaviours, impulses, etc”75. One can say, for instance,
that for an Igbo seminarian, being in the seminary is a multivalent situa-
The definition given by Gerd Domann serves as a contrast to all the
previous ones. It is broad but more differentiated. According to him,
conflict is a “general term for that psychological or social condition in
which two opposing tendencies of action arise simultaneously with equal

68 This definition was borrowed from H. B. and A. Ch. English, A comprehensive

dictionary of psychological and psychoanalytical terms. London 1958.
69 Emphasis added. The inclusion of the category of time, in the word ‘simultaneous’,
points to the fact that the category of space alone does not exhaust our definitional
70 Rocheblave-Spenlé 12.
71 In: W. Arnold et al. (Hg.), Lexikon der Psychologie. Bd. II/1, 317.
72 K. Lewin, A dynamic theory of personality, 122.
73 H. Thomae, Konflikt, Entscheidung, Verantwortung, 24.
74 Thomae, Der Mensch in der Entscheidung, 18.
75 A. S. Reber, The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Emphasis added.

strength in an individual or social system and are experienced as possible
alternatives for the attainment of the individual’s or collective goal”76.
It is evident from the preceding discussion that there are very many
definitions of conflict; one could go on multiplying them ad infinitum.
But apart from some apparent formal agreement between these defini-
tions, each one of them seems to mean by conflict totally different psy-
chic events. This difference is as a result of the fact that each definition
takes off from a definite and predefined system of reference or a definite
interpretational horizon. Besides, the definitions are very abstract. A
closer look at each one of them easily reveals some basic tendency in
almost all of them to hypostatise the forces meant, and an attempt to
separate them from the human being who actually is the basis of any ex-
amination of this concept. Lagache and Domann somehow brought this
important aspect of the human person into their definitions. Lagache
talks, for instance, of the “state of the organism”, but at the same time
reduces the human person to a mere passive element which undergoes
the experience of the conflict taking place in him without, as it seems,
the ability to do anything about it. Domann made the closest effort to
take this aspect into account. In his definition, he talks of conflict as that
psychological or social condition in which the opposing tendencies are
experienced as possible alternatives for the attainment of the individual’s
or collective goal. A closer look at this definition reveals nonetheless
some implicit difficulty. It seems here, that this conflict is not an expres-
sion for that experiential state of a person (or an organism – to include
the lower animals and a social system) whose behaviour may or may not
give a cue to the existence of such a state, but rather an already existing
psychological or social condition, in which those mutually opposing
elements surface at the same time and begin to vie for supremacy and
control in and over the individual. In those places where the individual or
a group of persons are mentioned, they serve as receptacles and passive
victims of the activities of these forces or as the arena or forum where
these formidable forces carry out their uncompromising battle.
Nonetheless, Domann’s definition has the advantage that it offers us
a definition that encompasses both dimensions of conflict: intra- and in-
terpersonal. He goes further to offer a more or less specific definition of
conflict as it applies in the social sciences. In the social sciences a given

76 G. Domann, Konflikt, 575-579. Emphasis added.

phenomenon is described as a conflict only when the members of a so-
cial group or organization are agreed on the goals to attain but have di-
vergent opinions regarding the means, ways and methods of attaining the
set goals.77 The tension arises not merely because of the presence of al-
ternative means or methods, but much more because of the functional
valency of those alternative means and methods tendered.
In depth psychology one talks of conflict only when two opposing
inner demands, needs, feelings etc. confront and at the same time cancel
out each other in an individual.
From the above definitions we have seen that conflict is a specific
and special form of intra-psychic and/or interpersonal interaction. This
interaction involves some specific elements, viz: at least (and most often
only) two forces, mutual opposition or incompatibility of those forces,
and simultaneity of their functioning or activation.78 ‘Simultaneity’ is a
necessary factor in this interaction. ‘Opposites’ (‘opposition’) has to do
with the quantitative aspect of the interaction. It concerns something
(hypothetically) quantitative. “What is opposed to what?” – a quantita-
tive relationship. But ‘incompatibility’ on the other hand, concerns the
qualitative aspect of the relationship. Two things could be opposed to
one another but must not necessarily be incompatible. However, when
this contrast involves a particular tendency of action, one discovers that
it becomes incompatible. For instance, I cannot sit and stand at the same
time, or I cannot be afraid and relaxed at the same time. Certain tenden-
cies of action are made incompatible with one another through socializa-
tion and most often through (operant) conditioning. Conflict as a Quality of a Relationship

We have seen so far that these four elements of a specific form of rela-
tionship constitute the most common characteristics of all the definitions.
In consonance with K. Berkel79, we therefore say that conflict is given

77 Ibid., 578.
78 D. Ulich, Konflikt und Persönlichkeit, 33. Cf. also: F. Bilzer, Konfliktlernen, 14-
24. Bilzer’s interest is nevertheless interpersonal or social conflict with a special
focus on the distribution of information and communication process in conflict
situations, but one sees in his analysis the involvement of the same factors in the
structure of conflict.
79 K. Berkel, Konfliktforschung und Konfliktbewältigung, 54.

when and only when at least two forces are in a relationship which is
characterized by a simultaneous mutual opposition and/or incompatibil-
ity. Although this definition, too, falls prey to the endemic tendency to
hypostatise the forces, it has the uniqueness of explicitly exposing and
emphasizing the aspect of relation.
Following the above formal definition conflict is thus a particular
way of indicating or qualifying a specific kind of relation between the
forces or elements. It is not a quality or feature of any particular or sin-
gular element, but a kind of relationship, a quality of this specific rela-
tionship. And this relationship is such that not all the forces present have
the chance to simultaneously prove their worth. For the forces them-
selves, a conflict situation is always a restrictive one.80 Contents of Conflict

The agreement among the authors nevertheless ends with this formal as-
pect81 of what a conflict is. What constitutes the content or what the
forces exactly are, that clash with one another, differ immensely from
author to author depending on his or her interpretational horizon. For in-
stance those forces could be:
– “two or more equivalent but mutually incompatible reaction tenden-
cies” (Domann and Thomae).
– “divergent opinions regarding the means, ways and methods of at-
taining the set goals”
– “any situation with mutually antagonistic events, motives, purposes,
behaviours, impulses, etc” (Reber).
– “mutually exclusive impulses, desires or tendencies” (Webster/English
& English).
– “mutually incompatible motivations” (Lagache).
– [...] “stimulus” which triggers off “two or more incompatible reac-
tions [...] that are functionally equal in strength” (Yates).
– “Inclinations” (Lalande)
– “two opposing inner demands, needs, feelings etc.” (Depth psychol-

80 Ibid.
81 Ibid., 54f.

As we pointed out earlier, the concept of conflict is a mental con-
struct used to describe a specific kind of human behaviour or “experi-
encing”82 which the user of the term observes. The interpretation given
to such a concrete and observed phenomenon depends immensely on the
theoretical or interpretational background of the user. In this case, one
cannot separate the formal aspect of conflict from the content or material
aspect.83 Each theory, discipline or system has its own definite under-
standing of what constitutes a conflict. For instance, a seminarian ques-
tions the rationale behind the censuring of letters – the rector describes
his questioning as a subversive act and as not befitting of someone who
wants to become a priest. Depending on the interpretational background
of the person analysing this encounter, this very same conflict can be in-
terpreted as an expression of a ‘power relationship’ (power struggle be-
tween rector and seminarian), ‘social’ or ‘interpersonal’ conflict, ‘uncon-
scious problem of rivalry’, ‘displaced’ authority-conflict (perhaps a
conflict between rector and a priest friend or superior/bishop of the
seminarian), ‘game’ or ‘struggle’ etc. Therefore, the different theories84
and models of conflict have, in the main, a hermeneutical function. A Definition of Conflict

Conflict arises in the course of the individual’s constant dialectical inter-
action with the environment. Whatever interpretation the observer may
give to the observed phenomenon, it is still the individual who is experi-
encing the said situation as conflictive. Conflict, therefore, can be de-
fined as that psychological state of a person as a living organism in
which he experiences certain simultaneously occurring inner tendencies
in the course of his dialectical interaction with the environment as mutu-
ally opposing or incompatible. This aspect of interaction is an essential
characteristic of the human person as a living being. How this interaction
occurs and the interpretation and meaning the person attaches to it de-
pends very much on the socio-cultural influence the person enjoyed or

82 We shall be using this infinitive form of the word “experience” throughout this
work, when we are referring to the ongoing process of experiencing. We consider it
the nearest expression for the German substantive verb Erleben.
83 Berkel 55.
84 Ibid., 55-59; Cf. also W. L. Bühl, Theorien sozialer Konflikte.

1.4.5 Intrapersonal Conflict

The use of the word ‘intrapersonal’ as against ‘psychic’ or ‘intrapsy-

chic’ is deliberate as it conveys our conviction that the conflict which a
person experiences affects not just his psyche but his entirety as a per-
son. It is this or that person that experiences this or that situation or event
as conflictive and not some part(s) of him. In accordance with our an-
thropological slant we will use the term Intrapersonal conflict as

the psychological state of a person in which he experiences, in the day-to-day

communicative interaction with his social and psychological environment, either a
disintegration of his frame of reference or the simultaneous occurrence of two
frames of references as mutually opposing or incompatible.

Intrapersonal conflict is thus experienced as a discrepancy or a disinte-

gration in or a disabling of the cognitive and normative compass of the
individual. An interpolation or interruption in that “web of meanings that
allow the individual to navigate his way through the ordinary events and
encounters of his life with others”85, that is, his taken-for-granted under-
standing of the reality of everyday life, brings along with it pain and con-
fusion for the individual.

1.4.6 Culture

“Culture” as it is used in modern European languages derives from the

Latin word “cultura”, which in turn derives from the verb “colere”,
meaning to tend, to cultivate. This usage went even as far as defining the
word culture as ‘husbandry’. Later in the 16th century it came to be used
in the sense of ‘manners’. This sense has survived through time. One
meets it in such statements like: “He is such a loving man but he has no
culture”. In a positive sense, the word is also used thus: “He is a cultured
person”. In this sense it generally means someone of impeccable man-
ners, well versed in music, art, science, and literature. These various
usages however fall short of the anthropological foundation of the term
‘culture’. Basically, the idea of culture arose from the observation that
what human beings do and what they refrain from doing is, in part, a

85 Berger et al., The Homeless Mind, 12.

consequence of being brought up in one group as opposed to another. As
a result, the behaviour of an individual can be regarded as a function of
the influences of nature and nurture. Except for a few simple reflexes
and for behaviour under extreme physiological stress human beings do
not simply react to stimulus as the lower animals do. Their response is
always on the background of the meaning attributed to the entire situa-
tion or the stimulus in question. Such attribution of meaning is always
dependent on the conventions of a particular culture.
In its anthropological usage, culture is said to be the man-made part
of the human environment. A culture is the way of life of a specific
group. According to C. Kluckhohn86, Anthropologists differentiate be-
tween general culture and particular culture.
General culture helps us to understand the similarities and differ-
ences in human conduct. In this form culture is not qualified by an arti-
cle, either “the” or “a”. For instance: Life is considered sacred and an in-
violable right, but culture intervenes to determine when this right is
violated. Particular cultures could be described in all their ultimate and
irreducible features. For instance: An essential element of the culture of
the Igbo is the concept of Umunna.
A further differentiation is also made between explicit and implicit
culture. The former “refers to those generalizations which can be con-
structed simply by counting observed recurrences in behaviour”87.
Modes of conduct and cultural norms belong to this category. Implicit
culture, on the other hand, is that aspect of culture which the representa-
tives of the particular culture live in a taken-for-granted manner. Their
taken-for-granted assumptions as to ends and means belong to this cate-
gory. Also those aspects of their everyday life which are taken as ‘given’
by nature are of this class. They are categories of everyday life reality
which present themselves to me as ordered reality and whose manifesta-
tions appear in prearranged patterns which seem to be independent of my
apprehension. They appear already objectivized. That means, they are
constituted by an order of objects that have been designated as such be-
fore my appearance on the scene. This is the dimension of a people’s
culture which strangers to that culture do not easily perceive. Implicit
culture can only be reconstructed by analytical inferences.

86 C. Kluckhohn, Culture, 553-557.

87 Ibid., 555.

63 Definitions of Culture
In a time like ours where the rediscovery of the principle of relativity has
toppled a goodly number of established general ideas and put established
authorities in question, the indispensable importance of culture has re-
ceived a very wide recognition. Virtually all scholars are agreed on this.
But no one definition of culture proffered has received a universal ac-
ceptance. According to Kroeber and Kluckhohn,

culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and
transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups,
including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of
traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached
values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action,
on the other as conditioning elements of further action .

A particular action can be said to be an effect – beside many other fac-

tors like motivation, biological needs etc. – of culture. The manner or
mode of response of a person to a given situation always has a cultural
dimension89, which is given through socialization. Beside his culturally
acquired response (behaviour, reaction) patterns, the person’s evaluation
of the given situation is always on the background of his upbringing –
his socialization. Just as human beings create culture in order to substi-
tute for their lack of instincts90, culture creates people by conditioning
them to react to or interact with their environment in a particular manner
and in doing so they also create their culture. In this sense, culture is al-

88 Ibid., 554.
In their book Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Cambridge
1952, Kluckhohn and Kroeber listed 150 possible definitions of culture offered by
scholars from many countries and in all fields of social and biological science and
the humanities. But in this article from which we quote their definition, they re-
grouped these definitions into six major types of definitions basing on the emphasis
they lay. Cf.: R. J. Schreiter, Abschied vom Gott der Europäer, 73.
89 B. Catchpole while establishing that the decisive difference between people is not
racial but cultural, quotes P. Farb: “‘Men in all societies possess the biological
equipment to remove their hats or shoes, but it is the birth within a particular cul-
ture that decides that a Jew will keep his hat and shoes on in his place of worship, a
Mohammedan will take off his shoes, and a Christian will remove his hat’”, Catch-
pole, The Clash of Cultures, v.
90 Cf. R. Wuthnow et al., Cultural Analysis, 40.

ways evolving. As consisting of the distinctive achievements or products
of human beings (i.e. knowledge, belief, language, social and moral
norms, art, custom etc.), culture manifests the subjective meanings of
those who produced them. “The fabric of culture is, therefore, the inter-
subjective meanings individuals hold concerning the world in which they
live”91. In effect, just as culture manifests the intersubjective meaning of
people, the people portray the culture around them in their lives.92
Edward B. Tylor proffered a definition of culture which has found
resonance in many works. In this classical definition he sees culture as
“[...] that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law,
morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as
a member of society”93. Here Tylor made efforts to enumerate the vari-
ous elements which constitute the fabric of culture. These and all such
capabilities and habits serve as navigational instruments of the human
being in his dialectical interaction with the environment. These are the
universals. However, the accent they set in the specific interactions of
specific human persons varies. It varies from race to race, from people to
people, and also from time to time.
Paraphrasing the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, Kluck-
hohn defines unique culture as “a set of patterns, of and for behaviour,
prevalent among a group of human beings at a specified time period and
which [...] presents, in relation to other such sets, observable and sharp
discontinuities”94. By pointing out the dimension of time, this definition
brings out the dynamic nature of culture. It also implicitly indicates that,
in order to understand and/or evaluate any particular behaviour, one has
to consider it in the context of the culture in which it took place. For it is
this “group of human beings” that created this “set of patterns of and for
behaviour”, and whose behaviour patterns are on the other hand condi-
tioned by this set. The conditioning influence is possible due to what
Peter L. Berger calls participation in a common stock of knowledge95, an
intersubjectivity, which sharply differentiates their “social life-world”96

91 Ibid., 35.
92 Cf. M. Landmann, Pluralität and Antinomie, 13.
93 Kluckhohn 555.
94 Ibid., 554.
95 Wuthnow et al. 32.
96 According to Berger, “a particular social life-world” is made up of “the totality of
the meanings, which [the individual] shares with others”. A social life-world is

from that of another group, thereby qualifying it to be regarded as a
(systemic) “unity”97. This “common stock of knowledge” provides the
necessary information to carry on in everyday life. It is the knowledge I
share with others in the normal, self-evident routines of everyday life. It
is the externalisations of subjective meanings (experiences) which be-
came accumulated in the course of the history of a people. To try to view
the behaviours of people as separate from their contexts is to risk misun-
derstanding them. Here we have something close to what Franz Boas
called “cultural relativity”. This is “the principle of contextualism: any
item of behaviour must be judged in relation to its place in the unique
structure of the culture in which it occurs and in terms of the particular
value system of that culture”98. The implication of this is simple: For a
person to judge any particular behaviour not in relation to the particular
culture in which it occurs, but in terms of the value system or norms of
another culture, is to make himself guilty of cultural and psychological
imperialism. The philosopher Xenophanes (c. 570-480 BC) adds: “Yes,
and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their
hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms
of their gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in
the image of their several kinds [...]. The Ethiopians make their gods
black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red
hair”99. And it is not without cause that Herodotus (c. 485-428 BC)
chided the Persian King, Cambyses, “for violating ‘the long-established
usages’ of other peoples”100. Culture as a Metasystemic Unity

As we saw in section 3.1.2 above human societies and cultures constitute
systemic unities of the third-order. A third-order unity or autopoietic or-
ganization comes into existence through the recurrent structural coupling
of several ontogenies through several generations.101 In other words,

therefore the “world” I share with others. Cf. Berger et al., The Homeless Mind,
97 Cf. Maturana and Varela 40.
98 Kluckhohn 555.
99 Ibid.
100 Ibid.
101 Cf. Maturana and Varela 180-181.

culture differs from first- and second-order unities by the fact that it
stems from a stable and recurring congenial reciprocal communicative
interaction of autonomous and independently existing human beings over
many generations. Another important aspect of it is that its structure and
organization remain unchanged while its members are continuously re-
The organization of the system places a limitation on the scope of
the activities of the members, individually and collectively because it is
“structurally determined”103. A given culture can undergo a series of
changes of state without changing its metastructure, since like all living
organisms the structure defines the identity or class of the entity. As long
as the members interact with one another as members of a specific cul-
tural system, they can do that only within the confines of that system.
Like other living systems, human cultures have within their systems eve-
rything they need to effect all necessary internal adjustments in accor-
dance with their own internal dynamics. They do not, nevertheless, con-
tain at the same time provisions for their own systemic destabilisation
and/or destruction. Accordingly, a metastructural change will mean a
disintegration of the very system, a loss of identity, a transformation into
something new or something else. Whatever will bring about such a
change must come from outside the system. A Definition of Culture

In the light of the discussions so far, culture is understood as that com-
plex system, which includes knowledge, belief, norms for behaviour, and
any other capabilities and habits acquired by a group of people in the
course of their history, which gives them an orientation in their day-to-
day interaction and a certain continuity to their history but which pres-
ents, in relation to other groups of people, observable and sharp disconti-
nuities. In this work we will understand culture as

the totality of a people’s ontogenically acquired web of meanings, which, on the

one hand, gives their history a certain continuity and their thoughts and actions a

102 Cf. Ibid., 198-199 and 201.

103 Maturana and Varela 95-96.

certain orientation, and, on the other hand, makes the way they view and interpret
the world of their experience differ from that of other people.

Culture thus shapes and embraces the frame of reference of the individ-
ual in his communicative interaction with his environment. It also condi-
tions his experience of reality and his definition of this reality. As a re-
sult, culturally different people live in different cognitive realities. There
exists a dialectical relationship between them and the realities they are
constantly creating such that the creation of any new cognitive reality
occurs in a self-referential manner.105

1.5 Summary

Structural coupling between two cultural systems with the attendant

structural changes in their respective internal organization is an ongoing
process. The human being is always reaching out for something more.
He is actively involved in constructing his future. Human beings, lacking
the natural instinct of the lower animals, evolved human culture in order
to ‘find their way’ through the myriads of impressions and experiences
arising from their interaction with the environment and also as a result of
their being in a world that is not altogether very friendly. They are con-
stantly creating their cultures as much as their particular cultures shape
and determine their consciousness of the reality of their everyday life. In
addition, the cultures shape and determine their mode of interaction with
their internal cultural events and with elements of alien cultures. The in-
troduction of elements of alien cultures inevitably causes dramatic
structural changes in the receiving culture. Not all changes leave the in-
ternal organization of the system, which is the frame of reference of its
members, intact. The disintegration of this organization or the unhealthy
coupling of two or more incompatible cultural or epistemic unities can
cause the individual that psychological state of distress which we identi-

104 “Ontogeny” is the history of structural change in an entity without loss of organi-
zation in that entity. It is an ongoing process and can be set off by its internal dy-
namics or from without. Cf. Maturana and Varela 74.
105 What we mean by “self-reference” will become clear in Chapter Four.

fied as conflict. The fact that the human being is always reaching out for
something more, the fact that he is ever actively involved in constructing
his future, often makes him to cross boundaries of other
”consciousnesses“. Often this puts his own well established definitions
of reality into question. In the light of these, one can say with Lückert
that the human being is a being essentially laden with conflicts106, the
anthropological state of the homo culturalis which Landmann107 calls an
antinomy. From the discussions hitherto it is clear that the subject matter
of intrapersonal conflict has engaged many scholars, psychologists and
psychotherapists for quite a long time. We will now expound more on
the psycho-anthropological slant we introduced in Chapter One. This is
the theme of the next two chapters.

106 Cf. H.-R. Lückert, Der Mensch, das konfliktträchtige Wesen. München 1977.
107 Cf. Landmann, especially 21-54.

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The decision to devote a chapter on motive and motivation is based, first

of all, on the fact that there exists a general consensus among the authors
that there are some underlying elements to the occurrence of conflict.
That is, conflict does not just arise on its own. The second reason is that
there seems to be a general tendency to attribute the problem of conflict
to the existence of motives.

2.1 Motive-oriented Approach

Actually the idea of motives is inseparable from the occurrence of con-

flict in a person and between individuals. The motivational approach has
been the traditional approach to the analysis of conflict. This was propa-
gated especially by Depth psychology, which understands neurosis as a
symptom of some internal conflict in the individual. Under the influence
of Depth psychology it is even assumed that every conflict psychology is
at the same time a motivational psychology. This approach postulates
motives as the underlying elements in a conflict phenomenon. The mo-
tives vary in their kinds, modes of operation and in their origin. A good
number of them is psychological and a good number physiological in

2.1.1 Conflict and Motive

We said earlier that conflict has to do with forces. But a force implies the
capacity to cause change, implies dynamism. A dynamic psychology1

1 G. W. Allport, Entstehung und Umgestaltung der Motive, 489.

which uses the concept of conflict does away with the idea of the unity
of the human person. That is to say, it presupposes the existence of nei-
ther an a priori fixed harmony nor an a priori fixed disharmony in the
psychology of the human person. It is a dynamic psychology because it
attributes psychic manifestations to an interaction of certain internal
forces. It, therefore, takes for granted the existence of motives, of some
dynamic forces, which activate human behaviour, give it direction and
energize it. A conflict results when “something” whose impetus ema-
nates from within itself and which directs, sustains and energizes be-
haviour and experiencing, clashes or collides with “something” else
which exercises the same function but in another circumstance. And this
“something” is identified as “motive”.

2.1.2 Motive

But what is a motive? We want to say from the onset that we do not in-
tend to offer a treatise on this subject matter. Motive or Motivation is a
very broad and at the same time complex theme. Our attention to it is,
therefore, going to be a very cursory one.
Just as in the case of conflict, psychologists differ in their defini-
tions of the concepts of motive and motivation. According to Hans Tho-
mae, “the theory of motivation concerns itself with all those events tak-
ing place in the human personality which make his behaviour in all as
well as in particular situations understandable”2. A bit simplified, one
can say that the quest for the motivation is a quest for the “why” of an
action or behaviour. “Why does this person act or behave the way he
does?” Going by this rather broad understanding of motivation, one can
almost say that it is not possible to exclude any event taking place within
the human personality as not in one way or the other pertaining to moti-
vation: Motivation, therefore, encompasses all the cognitive and emo-
tional processes of the human being.
Following the influence of behaviourism, Valentine defines motiva-
tion as, “‘the totality of physiological and symbolic processes which urge
us to behave’”3. Such motivating factors or processes can only be in-

2 H. Thomae, Die Motivation menschlichen Handelns, 13.

3 Ibid., 15.

ferred from the overt behaviours and their overt external stimuli. But the
knowledge derived from Depth psychology compels us to see this as a
restriction and an oversimplification of the problem. Depth psychology
reminds too that a great deal of the factors motivating our actions is un-
conscious; we are only conscious of a very small part. Even everyday
life experience confronts us with the hard fact, that it is not all that easy
– and even many a time almost impossible – to explain certain observed
human behaviours by just inferring their causes as described above.4
Anyway, behaviourism simply delimited the scope of the problem to suit
its instrument of operation.
In social psychology the theories of attribution5 occupy themselves
with the common-sense explanations of human behaviours within a so-
cial interaction: what internal and/or external causes could be attributed
to an observed behaviour? Of course, the aim of the attribution theories
is different from that of motivation theories. The one seeks to forecast a
possible behaviour of a person, while the other seeks to understand an
observed behaviour. But the allusion to “internal and external causes” of-
fers some more evidence to the complexity of the problem at stake and
also serves as a pointer to its psycho-social character. This “internal and
external causes”, however, does not mean that the motive exists outside,
independent of the person since motivation is an organismic variable. It
rather points, for instance, to the existence of such motives like the so
called “basic needs or deficiency needs”6 and of such that are closely
connected with such external factors, like the environment and its influ-
ence. J. S. Brown seems to be convinced of the futility of deciding on
which variables should be considered as motivating, when he says: “If
one could decide among all these alternatives, well the theoretical impli-

4 The African prices the sense of community, the active communion with living and
“dead” relatives very high. Since Mr. X entered the seminary he refuses to visit his
grandparents who are still resolute adherents of the African Traditional Religion.
Why does he refuse to visit them? His motive(s) is/are not all that easily deducible
from this simple action. Nor can an allusion to the fact of his grandparents being
non-Christians alone give us a clue to what his motive(s) are. “Vom Verhalten
eines Menschen läßt sich nicht zuverlässig auf dessen Motivation bzw. seine Mo-
tive schließen”, writes Angela Schorr: Motivation, 82.
5 Cf. M. Hewstone and C. Antaki, Attributionstheorie und soziale Erklärungen, 113.
6 Cf. A. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in his renowned work: Toward a psychology of
being. N.Y. 1968.

cations of the research may be enhanced. But the empirical findings will
all the same be of value if such a decision is not made”7. He holds that
everything that brings about behaviour should be allowed to carry the la-
bel “motive”, irrespective of whether it belongs to the energetic group of
motives or to the cognitive. In line with this division of psychic events,
he affirms that “drives, motivations, conations, emotions and libidos
function as the activating agents, whereas the cognitive systems function
as the directive agents”8. These two great aspects of human behaviour,
the activating and the directing, embrace the entire human being. They
are the two aspects of his behaviour and inner encounter with reality.
They are, therefore, restricted neither to the conscious or unconscious,
nor are they limited to pure psychological or to exclusively physiological
In the course of time, there occurred a shift of emphasis in the occu-
pation with the problem of motivation. Under the influence of behav-
iourism, especially in the USA, the attention drastically shifted away
from the quest to understand the totality of those psychological and
physiological events, which initiate, energize and direct our actions and
behaviours. More emphasis began to be laid on defining what exactly
these initiators are, under what conditions they occur, and what effects
are attributable to them. These initiators came to be called motives or
drives, “instinct”, or “needs”, or “reaction or behaviour tendencies”,
or “expectation”. The most popular of these motives include such con-
structs like the so called vital motives: ‘hunger’, ‘thirst’, ‘sex’. They also
include other motives like ‘anxiety’, ‘proclivity to achievement’, ‘atti-
tude’, etc. These are more or less taken to be the primary motives. They,
at the same time, dispose the organism to respond to certain cues in cer-
tain ways. Their existence is, however, inferable only through the overt
behaviour of the organism.
Beside these so called primary motives, the existence of some sec-
ondary ones is also postulated. These include such motives which are
learnt in association with the primary ones, but which in the course of
time attain some relative independence from the primary ones. Example

7 J. S. Brown, Kriterien zur Bestimmung von Motivationsvariablen, 54. (The trans-

lation from German is ours).
8 Thomae 15.
9 Ibid.

of this class of motives is the quest for money and social prestige or
status. The quest for education belongs to this class too. One can engage
in activities towards these ends – acquisition of money or wealth, or edu-
cational carrier – no longer as means towards satisfying hunger etc., but
for their own sake or even for the purposes of enhancing one’s social
prestige. As a result, these secondary motives could equally be brought
about by internal stimuli, for instance, self-instructions, personal resolu-
tions etc. The Neo-Behaviourists call this “response-produced stimuli”10.
A lot of efforts have gone into establishing the various kinds of mo-
tives there are. But we will not want to occupy ourselves with that in this
work. It suffices just to mention such efforts like, Murray’s list of items
in his Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), Maslow’s and Roger’s hierar-
chy of values. Depth psychology’s postulate of those motives emanating
from the pleasure principle and those emanating from the reality princi-
ple is a classification of forms as well as of kinds of motives. Such be-
haviours that are activated, shaped and directed by the pleasure principle
(“id-determined”) short-circuits the points between the appearance of the
particular stimulus and the satisfaction of the need it aroused or triggered
off. Hunger is an example of this kind of motive. Those motives related
to the reality principle (“ego-determined”), on the other hand, take into
consideration the inner representation of the situation at stake in their
functioning. A good example of this kind of motive is fear or anxiety.
Some authors also tried to classify the forms of motive from the
standpoint of those emphasizing experiential states – such as the states of
feeling (Lersch) – of the organism as the starting point, and those which
emphasize the end, the goal. The form of motive in the latter group is
mostly said to be that of the Will.11 The former – feeling –, granted, is a
state, but it has also a propelling component sloping towards another
state. With this shift in attention, motivation research changed over to
“motive research”12. Among the different motives, attitude occupies a
very special place. That is why we deem it pertinent to make a brief
comment on it.

10 Ulich 32.
11 Thomae 19.
12 Ibid., 16.

75 Motive - Attitude
“Attitude” means a response tendency, and can only be inferred from ob-
served behaviours. Its existence cannot be readily adduced by a mere
analysis of the stimulus alone. Experience shows that many response be-
haviours, many a time, do not correspond to the observable cause or
stimulus. We are surprised most often when someone ‘over-reacts’ to a
given cue which to us is a very trivial one. To this we say figuratively:
he/she makes an elephant out of a fly. If we situate attitude in the broad
context of “motive”, one cannot avoid getting a feeling for its complex-
ity. In this sense, attitude is viewed as some internal affective orientation
that would explain the actions of a person. G. W. Allport offers a classi-
cal definition of attitude as “‘a mental and neural state of readiness ex-
erting a directive influence upon the individual’s response to all objects
and situations with which it is related’”13. P. Sbandi attempted a free
translation of this definition into German. In his translation he empha-
sized that this “mental and neural state of readiness [...] is structured by
experience [...]”14. This translation draws our attention to the fact that at-
titude is not an innate state of readiness or disposition. It is an acquired
one. Thus it depends very much on environmental influences and conse-
quently related to experience (“Erfahrung”).
Attitude consists of several elements, namely: “cognitive (consci-
ously held belief or opinion); affective (emotional tone or feeling);
evaluative (positive or negative); and conative (disposition for action)”15.
Emphasis could be laid on any one particular element depending on the
theoretical tilt of the user. This can be observed in modern psychological
literature. One could arrive at what the attitude of a person to a given is-
sue is by directly inquiring about it from him. However this is not a very
reliable method, because of a very high quota of falsification. Many

13 B. F. Green, Attitude Measurement, 335.

14 “Einstellung ist ein mentaler und neuraler Bereitschaftszustand, der durch die Er-
fahrung strukturiert ist, und einen steuernden dynamischen Einfluß auf die Reakti-
onen eines Individuums gegenüber allen Objekten und Situationen hat, mit denen
dieses Individuum eine Beziehung eingeht”. The emphasis and the translation are
ours. Sbandi offered this definition during his lecture on 13.3.1991. Cf. also the
translation of M. Rosch and D. Frey, Soziale Einstellungen, 297.
15 Reber 65. See also: D. Stahlberg und D. Frey, Einstellungen I, 145-146.

authors have busied themselves with finding and inventing methods of
measuring “attitude”.16 Motive - Attitude - Value

As an acquired mental and neural readiness to respond to all related ob-
jects and situations, attitude borders close to values. A person’s attitudi-
nal behaviour towards a particular object is an indication of the psycho-
logical importance or meaning the person attaches to the said object.
This is what H. Thomae means when he talks of the “multivalence of the
situation” as the common feature of conflict. A person’s attitude towards
a particular object or event serves as an indicator of those values which
the person associates with the said object. Furthermore, it indicates some
of his central values as well as some components of his self-concept.
This is why attitudes, beside needs and values, are very powerful mo-
tives. But unlike needs and values, they are most amenable to socio-
cultural influences.

2.2 Characteristics of Motivational Processes

When it is said above that motives activate, energize and direct our be-
haviours, certain qualities are being attributed to them. Normally, be-
haviour is not activated just for the sake of itself. There seem to be al-
ways a goal “in view” towards which it is directed. And when motives
direct behaviour, they are giving it some orientation. This brings us to
the three major characteristics of motivational processes: the basic state

16 Interested readers are referred to the work of B. F. Green cited above. Green distin-
guishes three different methods: the judgement methods basing on ‘Thurstone-type
attitude scale’, response methods: (the method of summated ratings -> Likert-type
scale; scalogram analysis -> Guttman scale; the unfolding technique -> Coombs;
latent structure analysis -> Lazarsfeld) and the rating methods (-> Krech and
Crutchfield). See Green 344-365.

of need (“Grundbefindlichkeit des Bedürfens”17), “directedness” (“Ge-
richtetheit”18), anticipation, and orientation.19
The “basic state of need” indicates the fact that the starting point,
the status quo, is always experienced as a lack reaching out to be filled
or overcome. As the saying goes, ‘nature abhors vacuum’. The basic
state of well-being of the human being pushes to overcome any lack as
soon as it is recognized.
The “directedness” refers primarily to the anticipated future (psy-
chological and physiological) state of well-being of the human being
(Thomae, Kelly, Lersch). The anticipation must not necessarily imply a
clear vision of this future state of well-being. The specific importance of
the motivation events for the “ego” is closely connected with this “future
reference”. Lersch reiterates the same when he says that our inner life
pulsates with dynamic propelling forces striving for the realization of a
state of well-being which is not yet.20 This also explains why a person
chooses a particular direction of action instead of another. Motivation
events are always oriented. By this we mean, among other things, that
motives act with regard to or with some “insight” into the present situa-
tion of the person. Their manifestation and the course they take are al-
ways influenced by and always stay in relation to this situation. Moreo-
ver, the “orientedness” of their course refers only to the goal and to the
means of its attainment.

17 Ph. Lersch, Wesen und Bedeutung der Antriebserlebnisse, 59.

18 Thomae 17.
19 For Ph. Lersch the third characteristic is the fact that every motivation event is al-
ways directed towards a goal. And because this goal carries a certain meaning for
the experiencing person, it represents a value. Thus the third aspect of the motiva-
tion events is their directedness towards a desired value.
20 The experience of the motivation events is subject to the fact of time just like life
itself is, Lersch says. He writes: “Triebe und Strebungen sind gerichtet auf Ver-
wirklichung eines Noch-nicht-Seienden. Sie entfalten die Thematik des seelischen
Seins in den Dimension der Zukunft. Das entspricht der Tatsache, daß seelisches
Leben wie Leben überhaupt die Seinsform des Sichzeitigens hat, dass also die
Zeitlichkeit zur Innerlichkeit auch des seelischen Lebens gehört. So ist dieses im-
mer durchpulst von Antrieben, die auf die Verwirklichung eines noch nicht beste-
henden Zustandes gehen und die Lebensführung und Lebensgestaltung wie ein ro-
ter Faden durchziehen”, Ph. Lersch, Antriebserlebnisse, 129.

2.3 Conflict and Motive: The Regulating Principles

As we stated earlier, what a person calls a motive depends on the per-

son’s world-view or theoretical slant in relation to what an organism or
the human personality is. What one takes to be the immanent goal of
human behaviour also plays a role here. Such an operating world-view or
theoretical slant acts as a regulating principle of motivation21 and as a
background upon which could be determined what sets behaviours “in
motion”, what the propelling forces are, and, therefore, what the actual
conflict components are. Ulich differentiates three of such principles or
theories: the mechanistic principle, the homoeostatic principle, and the
pleasure principle. We will briefly expound the three principles, whereby
an appraisal follows each exposition.

2.3.1 The Mechanistic Principle

Every behaviour is set and held in motion through the mechanism of en-
ergy accumulation and energy discharge. When the accumulated energy
(in connection with some physiological processes) reaches a certain
level, one could say, a saturation point, it gets automatically discharged.
The energy activates the particular organ of the organism responsible for
the discharge. This principle calls to mind the image of a steam boiler.
Similar ideas are also found in the everyday expression, like, “Her im-
pertinence made me boil”; “He is silently fuming over the delay and he
may explode if you too should be waited for”. Freud and the psycho-
analysts talk also of “psychic energy”.
A conflict can, therefore, be presumed to arise when two or more
channels of energy discharge, which normally cannot discharge simulta-
neously without causing some problems, are activated at the same time.
For instance when an organism experiences fear, the organ responsible
for flight and the one responsible for confrontation could be activated at
the same time. In this case the organism could experience the urge to flee
from the situation or to stand and face the matter, whereby it could expe-

21 Ulich 29.

rience a state of general paralysis or inability to act in either of both

An appraisal of the mechanistic principle

This model presumes the satisfactory state of an organism to be a ten-
sion-free state. Besides, it presents a very mechanistic view of the human
organism. Such a view presupposes a static structure (like a steam chest),
in which the energy is accumulated and further transported, as if the hu-
man being were something essentially static, and needs to be set in mo-
tion by some external forces.

2.3.2 The Homoeostatic Principle

This principle is closely connected with the first one. According to it

every human behaviour is determined by the desire or natural tendency
to maintain physiological (and psychological) equilibrium. All organis-
mic activities are triggered off by a disturbance of this equilibrium and
always aim at restoring the original organismic or systemic harmony.
Biochemical information lends credibility to this principle. For instance,
“the hypothalamus regulates endocrine activity and maintains homeosta-
sis [...]. Under stress the usual equilibrium is disturbed, and processes are
set into motion to correct the disequilibrium und return the body to its
normal level of functioning”22.

An appraisal of the homoeostatic principle

Success in life could give one a sense of well-being. This in turn brings
about the feeling of being in a state of psychological equilibrium. This
state could be likened to the Ericksonian stage of Integration and Fulfil-
ment which, however, is attained much later in life. This implies that the
desire to attain this state keeps one in a constant state of psychological
imbalance. All one’s activities are, therefore, geared towards reaching
this goal. Certainly, there are some attainments in the long process of
living which give one some sense of achievement and fulfilment. But
such moments are very short lived. The human nature is such that it al-

22 R. L. Atkinson et al., Introduction to psychology, 38.

ways aspires to higher and greater goals. It is ever reaching out for
something more.
Therefore, applying this physiological principle of homeostasis to
psychological life is not without difficulties. The calming down of some
twitching nerves or muscles may return one to the state of physiological
well-being. But the experience of any situation is qualitatively different
from the previous one, however similar the two situations may seem to
The existence of a lack and the perception of the same as such must
not necessarily lead to psychological disequilibrium in the person con-
cerned. Naturally, some psychoanalysts may object and say that many
lacks have receded into the unconscious and out of the reach of con-
scious perception and awareness. But why does the “excavation” of the
same to consciousness and its later satisfaction (where this is possible)
not return all such persons affected to the state of equilibrium? And why
is insight not always sufficient to bring about the desired behaviour or
state of well-being?
Similar to the previous principle, a normal state is for the homoeo-
static principle a tensionless state. In a sense, it means too that a ten-
sionless state is a state where all needs are satisfied. But the human being
is a living being. He is more than a bunch of nerves or reflexes. He just
does not respond to every stimulus or to its absence. Definitely many
cognitive activities transpire between his perception of a particular lack
and the action that might follow. This action must not have as its end the
satisfaction of that lack.
Furthermore, the restoration of equilibrium does not necessarily
mean a restoration of the original state of the organism. And also bio-
chemical equilibrium does not exclude the possibility of the initiated ac-
tivities being motivated by some other factors.23

2.3.3 The Pleasure Principle – Hedonism

This third principle states that the underlying motive for human behav-
iour is the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. This is also the
goal of every human behaviour. As an extreme form of the Socratic eu-

23 Ulich 31.

demonism, it emphasizes more of sensual pleasure which is often taken
to generally stand for happiness. Freud’s postulate of a “pleasure princi-
ple” is in no little way influenced by this age long principle. This means
in effect, that any hindrance to the satisfaction of this desire will cause
frustration and consequently a conflict in the individual concerned.
Likewise, the pursuance of any two or more equally attractive pleasure
goals could bring about the same effect.24

An appraisal of the pleasure principle

Experience and history tell us that not every human behaviour is moti-
vated by the desire for pleasure or has pleasure as its goal. And even a
good number of such activities which seem to have pleasure as their mo-
tive and end, actually have other concrete ends. They have pleasure as a
side-effect, as a feeling which accompanies the attainment of those ends.
In this case pleasure and displeasure or pain are anticipated feelings; as
such, they are more of signals than motives.25 Surely, the many martyrs
in the various religions and such people who take torture or death upon
themselves for ideological reasons definitely were/are not motivated by
pleasure, be it as a desire or as a goal. One can even say that anticipation
rather than pleasure or avoidance of pain moves a person to behave or
act in a certain manner.
The Neo-behaviourists K. Lewin und N. E. Miller seem to lend
some credibility to this principle with their typologies of conflict situa-
tions.26 According to them the valencies of a situation or object can cause
the individual to approach or to avoid a situation. A conflict situation can
arise when a person has to choose or decide between two positive valen-
cies, for instance between two pleasure goals at the same time. It can as
well arise when he is placed before a choice with positive and negative
valencies. This is the case for instance, when the same goal he is striving
at will bring him pleasure and pain. A conflict can also arise when he
comes in a situation with two negative valencies, whereby whichever
way he moves, the negative valency of the goal repulses him back.
Whichever way he chooses will bring him pain. This is like facing a di-

24 It should be noted that from the psychoanalytical perspective the pleasure principle
is kept in check by the reality principle and the super-ego.
25 Ulich, ibid.
26 Cf. Ibid., 76 and 82f.

lemma without no possibilities of rebuttal. Another situation that can
cause conflict is where a person is caught in a choice between two goals
with each of the goals having many positive and negatives aspects at the
same time.

2.4 Summary

We have tried to give a general view of the traditional approach to in-

trapersonal conflict which stands on the soil of motivation psychology.
In this we did not pay any special attention to a particular school of
thought, although mention is made sporadically of depth psychology and
behaviourism. This had to be so because they are the two major propo-
nents of this approach.
Motives are said to be the underlying elements in intrapersonal con-
flict. A conflict is the effect of the simultaneous operation of two mutu-
ally incompatible motives in the human being. They activate his behav-
iour. In this way they give answer or clue to the question, why a person
acts or experiences what he experiences the way he does.
There are those motives that energize and those that direct the ac-
tivity of the individual. Emphasis is laid on one or the other depending
on the outlook of the observer. G. A. Kelly calls them the “push”- and
“pull”-27groups of theories. The “push”-theories or principles postulate
such forces that “push” or move the individual to act. They employ such
terminologies like, drive, stimulus or motive, to describe those forces.
The first principle of energy accumulation and discharge and the ho-
moeostatic principle could be located in this category. The “pull”-
theories, on the other hand, postulate those forces that attract, allure or
evoke the activity of the individual. To describe them, they employ such
terminologies as goal, value or valency, or need. The pleasure and the
homoeostatic principles could be grouped in here. So some forces propel
the individual to action while others attract or elicit. In the motivational
psychology the generic word ‘motive’ is used to depict all these forces.
The explanation of what the motivating factors of human actions are –

27 G. A. Kelly, Der Motivationsbegriff als irreführendes Konstrukt, 500.

especially the kinds of motive that are operative in a conflict phenome-
non –, depends on the interpretational background of the person con-
cerned, and so on which principle or theory regulates the person’s inter-
Having paid respect to the chief forerunners in the discussion on in-
trapersonal conflict, we will now expound more on the psycho-anthro-
pological slant we introduced in Chapter One. This is the theme of the
next two chapters.


In Chapter One, we introduced the subject matter of our study. We now

turn our attention to the system oriented approach, which will serve as
our theoretical optic and epistemic grid in this work.

3.1 A Brief History

The literary materials of epistemological and system theory are very

complex. They are as diverse as they stem from various fields of science
like physics (I. Prigogine), biology (H. Maturana, F. Vester), mathemat-
ics (B. Russel, A. N. Whitehead), informatics (C. Shannon), cybernetics
(N. Wiener, L. von Bertalanffy), cultural anthropology (G. Bateson) and
the cognitive sciences (P. Dell, D. Jackson, etc.).1 The developments in
these fields led to what could be described as an “epistemological revo-
lution” which challenged the established optic to shift from the age-old
Aristotelian linear thinking to a systemic circular pattern in the under-
standing of living beings and their activities and of nature. The former
based on an erroneous transference of our observation of the relationship
between two inanimate entities to all entities (i.e. including living enti-
ties) in terms of the Aristotelian “unmoved mover”. The latter pays due
respect to the evident difference between living and non-living entities or
organisms and follows the natural organization or structure of living be-
ings. No sooner had this revolution taken place did the idea come into
the almost exclusive possession of Family Therapy. This is why for a
long time the idea of “systems” seemed synonymous with Family Ther-
apy. This state of affair has, however, changed a lot in the meantime.
The idea has also found great acceptance in the fields of politics, eco-
nomics, commerce, environmental protection, medicare, etc.

1 Cf. L. Hoffman, Foundations of Family Therapy, 4-5.

In the area of psychotherapy and mental health, psychoanalysis as
one of the earliest methods and behaviourism helped to entrench and
propagate the linear causal explanation of mental illness. As soon as they
liberated it from the religious connotation as demonic possessions, men-
tal illness and distress came to be understood as the effect of biological
or physiological causes or of a repressed past traumatic experience. Thus
“the individual is the focus of the malfunction, and the etiology is con-
nected with an imperfection in his genes, biochemistry, or intrapsychic

3.2 How do we know what we know?

The fact that living organisms do not passively “respond” to perturba-

tions or stimuli just like inanimate objects do, made somebody like G.
Bateson to startle and attentively prick up his ears. Causality, he ob-
served, cannot act backwards, i.e. the effect cannot go before the cause.
Since this chain: “cause-effect” could not explain many aspects of real-
ity, the Greek quickly introduced the idea of teleology, of a causa finitas
– final cause. But, Bateson insists that a new grammar to depict what is
going on in living beings must be found and argues that if causality were
to be circular and not linear, then a difference in the state of the organism
can originate from any point in the circle of interaction.3 And if that be
the case, then it must have to do with the relationship between that point
and the rest of the points in the organismic system. Living beings operate
not in a linear way but in a circular pattern. The energy they need for
their operation do not originate from outside – motive – but comes from
their own motu proprio. A classical example of this new optic is the dif-
ference between kicking a stone and kicking a dog. “In the case of a
stone, the energy transmitted by the kick will make the stone move a
certain distance, which can be predicted by the heaviness of the stone,
the force of the kick, and so forth. But if a man kicks a dog, the reaction
of the dog does not depend wholly on the energy of the man, because the

2 Ibid., 6.
3 Cf. G. Bateson, Geist und Natur, 79-80.

dog has its own energy, and the outcome is unpredictable. What is
transmitted is news about a relationship – the relationship between the
man and the dog. The dog will respond in one of a number of ways, de-
pending on the relationship and how it interprets the kick. It may cringe,
run away, or try to bite the man. But the behaviour of the dog in turn be-
comes news for the man, upon which he may modify his own subsequent
behaviour. If, for instance, the man is bitten, he may think twice before
kicking that particular dog again”4. Why must he think twice before
kicking that particular dog again?– Because the dog has among other
things registered this event in its memory. If a dog can respond so un-
predictably, how much more a human being who is equipped with not
only instincts but also a more diversified and complex nervous system.
This, however, has not explained what transpires in living beings so that
they react so unpredictably and how they are internally organized.
To answer this question biochemists, biologists and neurophysiolo-
gists were of immense help. An example are the publications of H.
Maturana and F. Varela: The Tree of Knowledge. The biological Roots of
Human Understanding and Erkennen: Die Organisation und Verkör-
perung von Wirklichkeit. We have already given a foretaste of their
findings in Chapter One.5
According to them, living beings differ from non-living beings es-
pecially in the fact that they are cellular, self-reproducing and self-
organizing and that they interact with their environment in a self-
recursive way, whereby the energy they need therein comes from their
own metabolism. This is called autopoiesis. The cells are endowed with
specific information and stay in their function in an interdependent rela-
tionship with each other (in multicellular and metacellular6 organisms).
This kind of relationship guarantees that the whole organism can reor-
ganize itself as soon as one of its cells receive news about a difference in
their environment. At the same time, it makes it impossible for them to
adapt to extreme changes in their environment.
Each cell in the human organism is structurally and functionally dif-
ferent, i.e. each cell is autonomous. A basic characteristic of autonomous

4 Hoffman 7. Emphasis added.

5 See subsection
6 We mentioned in Chapter One that human societies and cultures are metacellular

entities is an “operational closure”7. This means that each cell is an ac-
tive component in a network of active components. When one of them
receives a new information it reorganizes itself in order to accommodate
the new information in accordance with its own internal and autonomous
structure. Since they are interconnected – made possible by the synapse
– the activity of this cell results in a change of the state of its activity and
this in turn leads to a change in the state of activities in the rest of the
cells making up the same system. What connects them is the relationship
between them which is dictated by the structure or architecture of the or-
ganism itself. At the end of this operation the organism reacts to the
situation according to the outcome of its own autonomous operations. It
must be clear now that the units in relation to one another follow a cir-
cular rather than a linear pattern. A typical example of a system with op-
erational closure is the nervous system.8 By its very architecture it does
not violate but enriches and maintains the operational closure which de-
fines the autonomous nature of all living beings.
Every process of cognition follows the same pattern. It is based on
the organism as a unity and on the operational closure of its nervous
system. This is why the authors came to the insight that “every knowing
is doing and every doing is knowing” and that “everything said is said
by someone”9 because each act of cognition is an activity and whatever
the human organism (says at the end that it) knows is a product of its
own activity. This activity starts right from birth and continues until the
organism ceases to exist.
The more the organism interacts with different environments or
goes through several environmental changes, the more information it ac-
quires and the more “layers of information” it builds up. It follows then
that the older a human being becomes and the more diversified the envi-
ronments are, which he has gone through, the more and the richer the in-
formation (“knowledge”, “experience”) he has acquired. These experi-
ences or information are stored in the synapse in the brain and are
activated by each new information.10 In the course of the individual’s
ontogeny11 the nervous system, on account of the information it has ac-

7 Maturana and Varela 164.

8 Cf. Ibid., 141-176.
9 Ibid., 27.
10 Cf. A. J. Hammers, Der systemische Ansatz in der Psychotherapie, 238.
11 See Chapter One, Footnote 104.

quired, specifies what kind of events in the environment qualify to con-
stitute perturbations for the individual (human organism) and develops
the criteria for their assessment. It also lays out many response or inter-
action alternatives and the criteria for choosing between them. Conse-
quently, extreme and drastic changes in the environment can lead to a
total breakdown of the system.
On a social level human beings constitute several nervous systems,
i.e. several unities with their independent existence in an ongoing proc-
ess of structural coupling.12 Through interaction with one another, they
trigger series of response related activities in each other. And in this
case, it makes little sense to occupy oneself with the punctuation of the
sequences – who first acted and who reacted? –, even though we know
that such punctuation arrangements help to order interaction within a
given group.13 And in doing so they engage in an ongoing process of
creating and sharing common meanings. When this communicative in-
teraction assumes a recurrent nature human societies and cultures arise,
also endowed with operational closure. In that way they are able to dis-
tinguish themselves from other similar autonomous entities and most
importantly also establish criteria for reproducing themselves. Traditions
guarantee this. Almost similar to the operational structure of the nervous
system, human societies and cultures cannot violate themselves. Rather
through their operations they enrich and enhance their structural auton-
omy. As we go on in the discussion, these points will become clearer.

3.3 The Human Person acts motu proprio

Going from the preceding exposition it is clear that human activities are
not results of the impact of some motives or the other. The postulation of
some dynamic forces as activators and energizers of human behaviours –
as we saw in the previous Chapter – is misleading because it does not

12 See Chapter One, Footnote 62.

13 Cf. P. Watzlawick, J. B. Bavelas, D. D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communi-
cation, 54-49.

pay due attention to the human biological makeup and to the biological
root of human epistemology.
The individual remains active whether he is motivated or not. Be-
sides, motion is primarily a spatial activity; it is only secondarily a tem-
poral one. But the human being lives primarily in the dimensions of time
and only secondarily in the dimensions of space. According to Kelly14, it
is more plausible to take the mere fact of the human being being alive
(“lebendigsein”) as the basis of his behaviour or activities. Activity or to
be active is an essential quality of human life. Looking for some other
force or forces within or outside of the individual as an explanation for
the behaviour or action of this individual is, therefore, superfluous. He
argues that the use of such constructs is unnecessary, for “[...] the fun-
damental thing about life is that it goes on. It isn’t that something makes
it go on; the going on is the thing itself. It isn’t that motives make man
come alert and do things; his alertness is an aspect of his very being”15.
Any explanation of the actions and experiences of the human being
must, therefore, start with him as a living being – in constant communi-
cation with his environment and with himself, and whose nervous system
remains active even when the “windows” of the body, the senses, are
Grouping the motivational theories into two, namely the “push” and
“pull” theories16, Kelly described them as the “Pitchfork” theories, on the
one hand, and “Carrot” theories, on the other hand. His own theory he
decides to call a “Donkey” theory since his attention is focussed on the
nature of the animal itself.

14 G. A. Kelly, Der Motivationsbegriff als irreführendes Konstrukt, 498-509. As far

back as in the early 60s Kelly voiced a very provocative critique of the concept of
motivation as a misleading construct.
15 D. Ulich, Konflikt und Persönlichkeit 129. Cf. also Kelly 499.
16 The “push”-theories or principles postulate such forces that “push” or move the in-
dividual to act. They employ such terminologies like, drive, stimulus or motive, to
describe those forces. The first principle of energy accumulation and discharge and
the homoeostatic principle could be located in this category. The “pull”-theories,
on the other hand, postulate those forces that attract, allure or evoke the activity of
the individual. To describe them, they employ such terminologies as goal, value or
valency, or need. The pleasure and the homoeostatic principles could be grouped in
here. So some forces propel the individual to action while others attract to act. Cf.
Kelly 500.

Human beings do not just react to events and cues from the envi-
ronment but in accordance with the outcome of their own internal or-
ganismic operations in regard to the event or situation. An observed or
experienced behavioural phenomenon is, hence, a response to differences
(changes) in the environment or in the internal state of activity of the or-
ganism. A human being always acts of his own accord in the double
sense of not being moved by any other force beside itself and of acting in
tune with his systemic structure as a human being with an operational
closure. He acts within the frames of all his acquired cognitive and af-
fective pathways in the course of his ontogeny. Kelly calls this frame the
network of a person’s personal constructs. Let us examine what he
means by this.

3.3.1 Theory of Personal Constructs

Kelly’s starting point is his clinical experiences with clients, especially

his psychotherapeutical. Going from the “nature of the animal itself”, as
he said, he proposes that the therapist should understand himself as a
fellow researcher of the client studying the internal functioning of the
latter. It is only an understanding of the internal cognitive operational
pattern – the various ways in which the client sees, interprets and ex-
plains the universe he or she experiences – which can bring promising
results in the therapeutic interaction. This internal functioning includes
the network of constructs which the client has developed in the course of
his or her life. The client can express him- or herself only within his or
her network of constructs (conceptual frame-work). This network is like
a labyrinth through which the client moves daily. The same is valid for
every human being. Each person has a network of personal constructs. If
every autonomous being is operationally closed, then the world around
him makes sense to him only within the confines of his constructs. He
interprets and experiences the “reality of everyday life”,– he lives his life
–, in accordance with his personal constructs. This means, that the be-
haviour and activities of the person must follow the course of the limited
dimensions of his personal system of constructs. And things, events have
meaning to him to the extent they fall within the radar of that system.

91 Personal Construct – Choice – Time
Admittedly, this means a limitation of the possibilities of “choice” open
to the person. But, as long as the system has dimensions, it must provide
the personality with a certain stock of “alternatives” to choose from. Just
as the person creates his personal constructs together with their stock of
alternatives, he creates at the same time the criteria for choosing between
the alternatives. These constructs give direction and orientation to his
acts and behaviours.
But what determines or regulates a person’s choices between the
alternatives he himself established? In tune with his theory, Kelly argues
that every choice the person makes has consequences for his future.
Whichever way he chooses to take, brings him to a new vantage point
where he can examine the rightness of his previous choices and also
work out meaningful system of alternatives for the present in view of
future choices. Constantly the future beckons at him, and constantly he
reaches out in hopeful expectation at it. The human person lives in an-
ticipation! A person chooses from two or more alternatives of constructs
available to him the one from which he expects greater chances of en-
hancement or consolidation of his own system of constructs.
The dimension of time occupies a very central position in human
cognitive network of constructs. Most importantly in this function of “di-
rection” and “orientation” is the way in which the human being antici-
pates the future. His behaviour is directed and ordered not just by what
he anticipates – whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, self-
preserving or self-destructive –, but by the situation which he expects to
arrive at through the choice he makes in view of all the other alternatives
or possibilities foregone.
The human being links the past with the future. The fact that he
lives in the present makes him stand astride the ravine which separates
the past from the future. By the mere fact of his being alive, he is the only
living being that can unite the two. Therefore, if we want to know why a
person does what he does, then our explanatory concepts should be much
more related to the dimensions of time than to those of space. They
should refer to events rather than to things or entities. In view of this,
Kelly makes his basic postulate: “The processes which make up the per-
sonality are psychologically determined by the ways in which the person

inwardly anticipates events”17. These “ways” are parts of his personal
constructs and are equally ontogenically acquired.
As much as the integrative orientation of behaviour and experien-
cing results through one’s personal construct or conceptual framework, it
is also a consequence of “time reference” or “time perspective”. This
means that every experience is qualitatively determined by its relation or
reference to time. A person’s experience of events or of the realities
around him is qualitatively determined by the way in which he antici-
pates the future on the background of the past.18 That every actual expe-
rience or cognitive event contains an experience of the future or that a
sense of the future plays a central role in every actual experience is,
however, something not very self evident. But in spite of that, this factor
plays an integral role in the subjective assessment of every personal ex-
perience and behaviour. This is what is meant when we said that the hu-
man being lives primarily in the dimensions of time and only secondarily
in those of space.
D. Ulich emphasizes that time here does not mean time which is
external to but “time” which is immanent in experience and events. That
means the “ego-time”19, the “time-dimension” as it is relevant to the per-
sonality of the individual. It has, through its “perspectivity” the same
overarching function as a “frame of reference”. He defines “perspectiv-
ity” as a particular framework of time through which events and experi-
ences are perceived and through which their position and meaning in the
entire network remain relative to this specific framework.20
Special configurations of and changes in this dimension are most
evident when they affect the individual’s future perspective. Normally
the future is always experienced as open and as the home of unlimited
possibilities for personal action and experiences. It has always got to do

17 Kelly 505. Emphasis added.

18 R. Bergius, Formen des Zukunftserleben, 8. Bergius puts this idea thus: “Alles Er-
leben ist [...] durch seinen Zeitbezug, durch seine Beziehung zu dem vergangenen,
gegenwärtigen und zukünftigen inneren Geschehen qualitativ bestimmt”.
19 Ulich 134.
20 Ibid. “Perspektivität heißt, daß alle Ereignisse und Erfahrungen in bezug auf ein
bestimmt geartetes Zeitgerüst erlebt werden und von diesem Zeitgerüst her eine
relative Position und Bedeutung im Erlebnisstrom erhalten.”

with the sense of the “capability to act”.21 The future perspective, that is,
the way a person anticipates the future, overarches and orders every ex-
perience and behaviour. How far this anticipatory disposition stays in
correspondence with reality varies according to person, age and social
class.22 It can also gain, to some extent, an existence independent of par-
ticular events when a specific form of “future anticipation” becomes an
integral part of a person’s sense of “being in the world”. This point is
very characteristic of conflict and neurosis, which are themselves defi-
nite forms of “being in the world”.
The human being develops his way or manner of anticipating events
while creating the tracks along which his thoughts will run, i.e. his sys-
tem of constructs. This system or network is like a labyrinth and the con-
structs are the paths through it. He spreads this net over every new event
or phenomenon or idea in order to grasp them more distinctly and en-
dow them with his own personal meanings. Thus, his personal constructs
serve as framework for his experiences and cognition. They arrange, or-
ganize and order the stream of experiences in patterns meaningful to
The constructs are not static. The fact that the human being is in a
constant communicative interaction with his environment makes the
changes he undergoes an ongoing process. Those changes remain unno-
ticed which are below the threshold of consciousness and which have not
been registered by the nervous system as perturbations. Others are no-
ticed but only as changes of state. And still others pose great risks of
systemic disintegration. However it may be, any new information leads
to changes in the state of activity of the construct, which in turn leads to
changes of state in all the interconnected constructs. On account of the
unpredictability of the outcome of this process, it is often perilous for the
person to change one construct while not being certain of what disruptive
effects it may have on the major sectors of the system or on the entire

21 Bergius while alluding to N. Ach’s analysis of the Will as a central factor in deci-
sion making, holds that even in every act of the Will or sense of freedom there is
this anticipatory dimension of time. The knowledge about the capability to act
which is contained in the following statement of Ach’s: “‘Ich habe die schwerste
Tätigkeit wählen wollen und hatte das Wissen, daß ich dies durchführen kann’” is
enough evidence of the centrality of the future perspective. Bergius 32.
22 Ibid., 233.

Kelly emphasizes that these constructs do not have any existence
outside the human personality. They are no more than psychological
processes in a living person. Moreover, the “personal construct” should
not be confused with grammatical structure, syntax, words, language, or
even communication. It does not even presuppose awareness. It is simply
a psychologically defined unit for understanding human inner psychic
processes. Furthermore, it is no more conscious than unconscious and no
more intellectual than emotional.
The system of “personal constructs” provides the personality with
freedom of decision as well as with a limitation of this freedom. In the
former sense, it allows him to ‘enter into dialogue’ with the significance
of the events he experiences, rather than be helplessly abandoned to the
mercy of the events. In the latter sense, it limits his freedom because the
person can never make any choices outside the domain of the alterna-
tives, which he set up for himself. Its feature of operational closure
makes sure this does not happen. Personal Construct – Conflict – Neurosis

Person, according to D. Ulich, is “reality in social relation, in an interac-
tive communication”23. Its psychological aspect is the “personality”. He
defines personality as that complex of cognitive-evaluative systems of
reference of a person which lies behind all his cognitive-affective bear-
ings in the experienced relationship between himself and the material,
social and conceptual worlds.24 When, therefore, a person experiences
conflict, he experiences it as ‘disintegration’ and ‘disorientation’, as a
change of his time perspective and an interruption in his future orienta-

23 Ulich 128.
24 Ibid. We consider it worthwhile to state the German version of this definition since
it brings out Ulich’s slant of viewing the problem of conflict from the specific per-
spective of the individual’s reference system and its inextricable link with the indi-
vidual’s concept of the future. Besides, the term is one of the terms in psychology
so resistant to definition and so broad in usage that no coherent simple statement
about it can be made. This latter fact is also manifest in his definition. He says:
“Persönlichkeit verstehen (wir) als das den kognitiv-affektiven Stellungnahmen in
den erlebten Beziehungen zwischen sich und der materiellen, sozialen und ideen-
haften Umwelt als Möglichkeitsbedingungen zugrundeliegende System von kogni-
tiv-evaluativen Bezugssystemen”.

tion.25 As such conflict is experienced as a specific form of interruption
of the stream of experiencing or of the experiential continuum.
This living person wades through life along the “pathways” he him-
self constantly constructs as a guideline or orientation. We are of the
opinion that if some violence is done to any of these pathways, the effect
will ramify in other pathways. The person will find it very difficult or
even impossible to achieve or attain those ends associated with the af-
fected pathways. This disturbance or violence affects him as a person
because the affected pathways are sectors in the entire web of his orien-
tation system. The personal constructs are, therefore, the cognitive
frames of reference of the person.
It is this quality of an individual’s “orientation” to meanings (valen-
cies), social norms and personal values, which makes a particular be-
haviour of his useful und ordered, consistent and consequent, meaningful
and understandable.26 Quoting Graumann, Ulich argues that “an act ex-
hibits orientation when it is guided by the meaning which the person
gives it in view of the goals and interests he wants to achieve”27. Living,
i.e., “to-be-in-the-world” entails a certain succinctness and unambiguity
of social relations and relations to time and space. It also involves a dif-
ferentiation of what is desirable and not desirable. Living means some
consciousness of where one is coming from and where one is going to.
This presupposes an awareness of where one is now, in the sense of what
meanings, norms and personal values guide one’s actions. Just as this
“orientation” guides, orders experiencing and behaviour, it also inte-
grates the single experiential events into the whole corpus of the per-
son’s horizon of meanings. An interruption of this cognitive function of
integrative orientation leads usually to an intrapersonal conflict.
How a human being knows what he knows depends largely on the
operations of the central nervous system and the cognitive frameworks it
lays in the course of the individual’s development and history. These
frameworks have been variously named a person’s “system of reference”
(D. Ulich), “personal constructs” (G. Kelly), “overarching reality defi-
nitions” or “web of meanings” (P. Berger). It determines how something

25 Personality in conflict means: “Es ist die Person, die einen Konflikt als Desin-
tegriertheit und Desorientiertheit, als Veränderung der Zeitperspektive und Störung
des Zukunftsbezuges erlebt”. Ibid.
26 Cf. Ulich., 131.
27 Ibid. 131.

is perceived and experienced, what qualities should be attributed to
events and contents of consciousness and with what value concepts
events should be assessed.28 It is the spectacle through which a person
views the world and the filter of his perception and experiences.
Once again taking off from his clinical experiences with clients,
Kelly illustrates the relationship between cognitive frame of reference
and conflict using as example the Neo-behavioural concept of “neurotic
paradox”. According to him, neurotic paradox is “that paradox which at
the same time perpetuates and destroys itself”29. To illustrate what he
means here, Kelly asks: “Why does a person persist sometimes in a cer-
tain behaviour which in no way brings him any reward for his efforts?”
Put the other way round: “Why does an individual sometimes not persist
in an unprofitable behaviour?” From the standpoint of the psychology of
personal constructs, he argues, there is no such thing as “neurotic para-
dox” as far as the client is concerned. It appears only to the therapist as a
“paradox”. As long as the client in his daily operation remains within the
realm of his own personal constructs, his behaviour does not appear to
him as paradoxical. Even that of the so called neurotic clients. The para-
dox arises only when he tries to use the system of constructs of his
therapist to explain or understand his own behaviour. Within his own
system, the client perhaps sees himself as facing some complication but
not a paradox. It is, therefore, necessary to understand first of all what
the client understands as a reward or as profitable. As long as a person
remains within his own conceptual framework or system of constructs,
he experiences what to the observer seems to be a neurosis perhaps only
as a complication. A conflict can then arise when he tries to make use of
another system of constructs to explain or understand his behaviour
while remaining within his own system, or when a given subjectively
relevant psychological situation proves to be incompatible with his own
epistemological grid.

28 Cf. Ulich 133.

29 Kelly 504. Kelly borrowed this definition from O. H. Mowrer.

3.4 Relevance of this Approach

In our discussion of culture, we pointed out that the human society can
be considered as a living organism or system with an “autopoietic” or-
ganization of the third order. We also mentioned that any interaction
between two organisms always calls off some changes within their re-
spective systems, hence we called those changes ”changes of state”.
They occur as an essential aspect of the process of interaction between
the organism and its environment. These changes are integral to the natu-
ral communicative interaction of the organism with its surroundings.
They are natural occurrences in the ontogeny of the organism. Taking
from Maturana and Varela, we called such changes, when they are con-
genial to both organisms, reciprocal “structural coupling”. We also noted
that there are some interactions which bring about a disorganization of
the navigational instrument of the organism, its conceptual framework.
The conceptual framework of a person evolved and evolves from
his being embedded in a particular socio-cultural milieu. And this is
made possible by his participation in a common stock of knowledge of
that culture, which has as its core the values and meanings upon which
the life of the members rests. The person is continuously tuned in to this
common stock of knowledge through the unsevered contact to his folk
and most effectively through the recurrent, ongoing communication –
relationship – with the others belonging to the same culture. This con-
ceptual framework of a person is also continuously evolving as a result
of the dynamic nature of life, of all living beings, of human societies and
of culture. As the culture evolves, so do the individual members undergo
a process of changes of state in their cognitive and affective frames of
reference. The close bond between this framework and culture is, there-
fore, given through the recurrent participation in a common stock of
knowledge which has accumulated through the reciprocal structural cou-
plings of generations of ontogeny.
Our choice of the systemic approach is based (1) on the centrality of
the holistic idea of the human being and human cultures as autonomous
unities in an interconnected relationship, and (2) on the focal place it ac-
cords the implication of that idea for the human epistemology and cul-

(1) The holistic idea of the human person: Phenomenologically speak-
ing, when someone is describing his internal struggle between two goals
or two situations of equal valency, the person does not say: “There is a
struggle going on in me between this and that goal or this and that situa-
tion.” He is most likely to say: “I am torn apart between this and that
goal” etc. Or “I am hard up as to the best step to take here.” He can de-
scribe the situation in whatever way or form that pleases him; the em-
phasis remains on the “I” which is undergoing this or that experience.
This “I” refers to the self30, the subject of an experience. This personal
pronoun “I” stands for and is at the same time synonymous here with the
individual himself.
Furthermore, when a person suffers some epistemological rupture or
shift, it is neither his brain nor this or that part of him that suffers the
shift. It is he as a totality, as a whole person who undergoes such a cog-
itive shift. It is he, as a unity, who is undergoing, consciously or uncon-
sciously, a change in his perceptive framework.
The idea of the human being and human societies as autonomous
unities offers a plausible explanation for the fact that each individual
human being, group or society, creates the world in which he or it exists.
Hence the truth of the aphorisms: “Everything said is said by someone”
and “all doing is knowing and all knowing is doing”31. Every reflection
brings forth a world. It is a human action by someone in particular in a
particular place. And in bringing forth a world the person creates and ac-
quires knowledge, he creates also at the same time the bases for further
knowing. Since living beings cannot not communicate, i.e. cannot not
interact with their environment and with other entities in that environ-
ment, the human being is inseparably linked up with his environment.
This interconnectedness constitutes his existence as a living being. All
his activities and cognition are aspects of this ongoing communication
through which he charts his ways through the myriads of impressions
and experiences and creates patterns for the recognition and validation of
those ways. In this way he continuously produces his world. This bring-
ing forth a world – cognition – has a biological base. It “manifests itself
in all our actions and all our being, [...] in all those actions of human so-

30 The Self here is different from C. G. Jung’s understanding of the Self as the totality
of the psyche. Cf.: M.-L. von Franz, The Process of Individuation, 161-254.
31 Maturana and Varela 26-27.

cial life where it is often evident, as in the case of values and prefer-
ences. [And] there is no discontinuity between what is social and what is
human and their biological roots”32.

(2) Implication for human epistemology and culture: If the human being
is an autonomous entity and through his recurrent communicative inter-
action with other human beings and his environment he knows and cre-
ates his world all at the same time and in creating he knows himself and
his world, then circularity governs the process of human epistemology.
Every outpouring of inner meanings uses and creates a language. When
this language is shared by others in their ongoing communicative inter-
action such that they understand the meanings it transmits, then together
they lay down the criterion for the validation of future understanding of
the phenomenon in question. The same process of validation is followed
on a personal level as the person creates his world. In this manner, the
human being, as well as human societies, create the yardstick for vali-
dating their own experiences and actions. With time, these criteria will
no longer serve only as validation but also as regulating principles for all
future actions and experiences. In doing this they create the epistemic
domains within and only within which such phenomenon can make sense
to all those who share the criteria and within a particular place.33
Following the discussion hitherto, one can easily perceive the cul-
tural import. Depending on the geographical location of any particular
group of human beings the cognitive worlds they create will differ, to a
great extent and in many domains, from those of other groups elsewhere.
Furthermore, it means that the phenomena might remain the same eve-
rywhere, but the criteria for the validation of actions and experiences in
relation to them will differ, and perhaps fundamentally too. According to
Maturana and Varela, “this circularity, this connection between action
and experience, this inseparability between a particular way of being and
how the world appears to us, tells us that every act of knowing brings
forth a world”34. It is our conviction that a substantial part of the in-
trapersonal conflict experienced by Igbo seminarians arises from their
being embedded in more than one social and cognitive milieus: their

32 Ibid., 27.
33 Cf. Ibid., 28.
34 Ibid., 26.

home environment and the environment of the seminary which is based
on ecclesio-western Weltanschauung. People from different cultural
worlds live in different cognitive realities. Of course, this difference does
not imply by necessity a condition for intrapersonal conflict. The Igbo
seminarian struggles to unite or incorporate various elements from the
different cognitive worlds. These elements are, a good number of times,
incompatible, or at least, opposing in relation to each other. Intrapersonal
conflict can arise when he crosses boundaries without due respect to the
inherent basic differences or similarities between the elements.
When someone undergoes an epistemological rupture, this affects
his consciousness of the temporal order, especially his feeling of and
manner of anticipating the future. The future seems to him for that mo-
ment not accessible. At that moment it seems to him that the achieve-
ment of a set goal has been hampered. This form of temporal bearing is
an essential dimension of the person’s epistemic frame of reference.

3.5 Summary

We set out in this chapter to find the basis for the problem why the em-
bedment of a person – the Igbo seminarian – in more than one epistemic
systemic of reference should constitute a source of intrapersonal conflict
for him. Through the optic of the system theorists we arrived at the bio-
logical roots of all human experiencing and action.
Living beings differ from non-living beings in their autopoietic or-
ganization as autonomous unities whose internal operations are circular
in nature and exhibit an operational closure. While in contact with his
environment the human being remains open to information coming from
his environment but in regard to the processing of the information he
follows his own ontogenically established patterns, thereby exhibiting an
operational closure. His response to the event is totally motu proprio and
unpredictable. Along his own ontogeny the human being lays out series
of patterns for being, creating and knowing his world. These patterns
have been variously named “network of personal constructs”, “yardsticks
or criteria of validation”, “epistemic system or frame of reference”,
“overarching reality definitions”, “conceptual framework”, “navigational

instrument”, “consciousness of everyday life”, “web of meanings”,
The fact that the human being is a living being makes the business
of living a reciprocal, circular, enterprise such that doing and knowing
belong inseparably together. As far as his biological base is concerned he
is not – even on a greater level – endowed with a finished world, whether
internal nor external. He has to finish that creative process. Thus in get-
ting to know or acquaint himself with his environment he creates his
world and shapes his consciousness of that world in an ongoing process.
This consciousness – which involves experience and behaviour – is
sifted, ordered and determined by the person’s epistemic systems of ref-
erence. The frame of reference becomes at the same time the person’s
“navigational instrument” through the ordinary events and encounters of
his life with others. The “world” around him makes sense to him only
within the framework of his “web of meanings”36. It is the person’s con-
dition for the possibility of freedom of choice as well as of the limitation
of this possibility of choice. Hence it serves as the integrative orientation
of his actions and experiences.
An integral part of consciousness is the aspect of “time”. The hu-
man being lives basically in the dimensions of time. In the assessment of
experiences and events the individual thrusts himself (unwittingly) into
the future. Thus he experiences already in the now that yet to be. How far
this anticipatory disposition stays in rhythm with reality varies from per-
son to person, from age to age and from social class to social class. In
any case, the way a person anticipates the future, overarches and orders
his experiencing and behaviour.
Intrapersonal conflict does not arise simply by the possession of one
or more systems of reference. In effect, the question of how this conflict
originates (its etiology), how it operates or its process (its operation),

35 In this work we shall use these terms occasionally interchangeably. Which form
will be used will depend solely on convenience and contextual aesthetic appropri-
36 Berger et al., The Homeless Mind, 12.

how it is experienced (experiential), and its implications for the problem
of neurosis will be the focus of the next chapter.

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In the preceding chapter we situated the object of our study, intraper-

sonal conflict, within the domain of what we called the individual’s
epistemic or cognitive frame of reference, one of the major pillars of
which is the dimension of time. We also emphasized that the aspect of
this dimension of time which is most central and decisive in a conflict
event is the “future”, in the sense of anticipation. The frame of reference
as we said is that cognitive order in terms of which a person can “make
sense” of his life and activities and recognize his position in the ongoing
interaction with the world around him. As Berger puts it, human beings
are “congenitally compelled to impose meaningful order upon reality”1
in order to make their world2 predictable and stable. Certain events can
lead to a disintegration of the entire or some parts of this psychological
“edifice”. In the event of this, the person not only risks a loss of his
evaluative bearings but he will become ambivalent as well about his
cognitive bearings. Such a situation can temporarily block or blur the
person’s view or insight into the future in the sense of the future as the
domain of the possibility to act. We will now consider more systemati-
cally the question of how this conflict – in the sense defined – originates,
operates and is experienced.

1 Berger, The Sacred Canopy, 22.

2 We wish to call to mind that we use the term “world” here not in the strict sense of
a geographical terminology but to include all the physical, psychological and
spiritual spaces relevant in the daily life activities of the individual.

4.1 Intrapersonal Conflict in three Perspectives

Pre-scientifically or phenomenologically the conflict event is mostly de-

scribed as “being in a fix” or as “vacillation”. A deeper and better under-
standing of what is meant here can be attained when one takes as the
characteristics of conflict the inter- and intrapersonal differences in the
functioning of the frames of reference and the differences in the configu-
ration of the relation to the future dimension of time. Leaning on D.
Ulich’s three dimensions, we now look at the conflict event from three
(1) etiological, (2) operational and (3) experiential perspectives.

4.1.1 Etiological Perspective

Generally speaking, we designate as an essential condition for the gene-

sis of conflict the situation in which a person experiences an event, a
feeling or an action simultaneously in more than one frame of reference,
such that a clear goal and evaluative bearing is no longer possible. Most
often those frames of reference are either opposing or contradictory. It
becomes almost impossible for the person to situate the event or his
feeling in his personal orientation framework. There ensues an uncer-
tainty regarding the place of the event in the person’s entire fabric of
valuation and signification. The simultaneous awareness of a particular
event or situation in several incompatible epistemic reference systems
acts as a disintegration in this fabric. By way of illustration, let us look at
the following example taken from an incident3 in one of the seminaries
in Igboland where the present writer received a good part of his training
to the priesthood:

A final year student4 assigned to work in the office of one of the professors, gener-
ally feared by the students, became so terrified that he got himself re-assigned and

3 This was narrated to me by the seminarian involved, for he felt himself unjustly
treated. He did anyway survive the tenure of assignment very well.
4 This is the fourth year of theological studies and at the same time the stage of scru-
tinium for the deaconate. This meant that this seminarian is, in seminary’s jargon,
“higher in dignity” than the junior student.

secretly got a junior student to be put in his stead. He feared that he would not meet
the expectations of this professor and that the latter consequently might find one
reason or the other to write a negative assessment of his performance in his office;
a negative report would have a disastrous effect on his admission into the deaco-
nate. The junior student got to know about this change when he appeared the next
morning at his place of function and was informed of his re-assignment.

This behaviour of the final year seminarian can be interpreted as sheer

self-centeredness, a misuse of the position of power and an injustice to-
wards the junior student, ultimately as exploitation. As one can see, this
seminarian found himself in a situation, which he perceived as a danger
to an anticipated future state. In his assessment of the situation he be-
came aware too of the fact that he has thereby exposed his surrogate to
the same danger he desperately wanted to avoid. This is most likely a
reason for his wanting to keep the affair secret. Within the Christian
epistemic framework there is the “construct” called The Commandment
of Love. This demands that you do not do to others what you would not
want them to do to you. Now, both students are Christians and in addi-
tion, seminarians. Ideally, the final year seminarian’s assessment of his
situation should have been guided by Christian charity – love of neigh-
bour – and sense of justice in his dealings with this junior student. How-
ever, he thought that he could take advantage of his “seniority” over the
junior one and of his comradeship with his classmate who was the
“Master of Manual Labour5” and ransom himself with this junior stu-
dent. The funny thing about it all is that both hail from and are training
for the same diocese. This later factor alone “should”6 have sufficed as a
deterrent. Later our final year seminarian remembered that the junior one
entertained a very good relationship with their bishop and their Diocesan
Vocation Director. Thereupon he sought for ways of covering up the
matter: first by seeking to maintain his anonymity, and by using threat of
authority against the junior student after his identity had become known.
Later, when this failed, he tried to justify his action before the “surro-

5 This is the post of the student who has, on the students’ level, the overall responsi-
bility for the execution of the duties assigned to each and every one of the students
and is accountable to the rector or the designated member of the administration. He
can also assign and reassign any student to any function at any time.
6 “Should” is used here to indicate the sense of obligation or duty which arise at
viewing the event from the perspective of the social injunction to protect one’s
‘brother’ from harm, not to talk of using him as a ransom.

gate” with the aim of winning his sympathy for his precarious situation.
Lastly, when that also failed, he sought for reconciliation with the other
(offended) seminarian by standing up to and taking ownership of his ac-
tion. He pleaded for clemency.
The two roles7 – “exploiter” – on one hand and “Christian-
seminarian”, “senior” and “diocesan seminarian” on the other hand –
alone are not sufficient to bring about conflict. That is, they must not al-
ways overlap because they are experienced as frames of reference, which
do not necessarily have an essential link to each other. In other words,
contextual events, one’s own opinions and activities are mostly experi-
enced in only one frame of reference. The entire process of socialization
has the one goal of bringing about such a distinct perception of different
events in different frames of reference. From our theoretical standpoint,
our final year seminarian ran into conflict as soon as he became aware of
or began to experience these his two pairs of roles as overlapping. That
is to say, he found himself in a fix when he suddenly perceived the junior
student simultaneously as being exploited for his own selfish ends (ref-
erence system of exploitation) and as a fellow seminarian. He will be-
come conscious of the fact that the same rules (Christian and seminary
rules and regulations) apply as well to him in his relationship with his
fellow seminarians. His problem became more compounded when he
perceived the other student not only as his “junior” whom he can use as a
ransom for himself (reference systems, authority and self-survival) but
also as one training for the same diocese and at the same time as some-
one who has powerful people behind him to whom he himself entertains
a dependence-relationship (reference system, dependency – diocesan
seminarian). In fact, he became afraid that if this his “junior” found out
that he master-minded his re-assignment, the latter would make this
known to their diocesan secretariat.
Another situation that can give rise to conflict is when a person
finds himself in the so called “overlapping situations”8. Situations of
choice belong to this category. A person in a choice situation sees him-
self simultaneously or alternatingly in a future situation which the choice

7 In the course of the work we shall see that (social) roles act as frames of reference,
for around them are located sets of behaviour expectations and values of the given
social group. As a result they by their very nature order and orientate our behav-
8 Ulich 137.

of any one of the alternatives might bring about. He already anticipates
or “lives” this future situation. Let us consider the following situation of
the young Igbo man in the seminary as an example. He is the only son of
a widow. He wants to become a Roman Catholic priest and at the same
time sees himself as the only son of his widowed mother with all the
cultural import of such a role. Viewed from the cultural perspective, the
“Roman Catholic priest” disrupts his reference system as the ‘only son’
and vice versa. “Overlapping” here means the experience of the different
frames of reference as being incongruent with one another.
In the two examples shown above, the two seminarians find it im-
possible to situate the events in any one of their systems of reference
without running into dissonance with another reference system. Of
course, this state must not remain permanent. But as long as it persists,
they will not be able to make any clear reference to the goal or valuation
order embedded in their frames of reference. This makes a “restructur-
ing”, in the sense of re-organizing the systems of reference according to
a certain order of priority, impossible. And here conflict originates. The
fact that the person does not see the possibility for such a restructuring is
a condition for conflict. The person is unable to take a definite and clear
stand. This inability makes it even more difficult for him to develop
other guiding principles, which will help him start the restructuring on
the way to resolve the conflict or to get out of the quagmire.
A side effect of experiencing an event or a feeling simultaneously in
several incompatible frames of reference is that the person’s attention
will be focussed upon or confined to those reference systems. This can
bring about a disturbance in orientation even in those sectors of his life
which are not directly affected by the conflict. For instance, our final
year student could no longer comfortably pursue his academic studies
with concentration.
In conclusion, we want to recall that conflict originates when an in-
dividual experiences or perceives an event, a feeling or an issue simulta-
neously in more than one opposing or incompatible frames of reference.
That is, when the frames of reference overlap.

4.1.2 Operational Perspective

As we hinted farther above, not every experience of an event in several

conceptual frameworks must of necessity lead to conflict. According to
Ulich, this is so as long as it does not endanger the accomplishment or
execution of the central “‘plans’”9 of the individual. How intensive
and/or pervading a conflict is experienced depends very much on how
central and fundamental the object of attention is for the person.
A conscious act or a purposive behaviour depends on the capability
to harmonize the perceived structure or nature of the psychological now
with the expected nature or structure of the future in such a way that the
projected goal can be attained. In other words, it is only when there is a
congruence between the external influences or one’s own present state
and the anticipated (future) state that an action (a goal oriented) can be
initiated towards arriving at that state. If a discrepancy or incongruence
is discovered, the individual continues to strive to correct this discor-
dance until it is eliminated or resolved and a harmony is reached. TOTE Model

George Miller, Eugene Galanter and Karl Pribram proposed a model in

their book Plans and the Structure of Behavior10 which portrays this pro-
cess beautifully. Their model is called TOTE (Test–Operate–Test–Exit).
According to R. Dilts et al., “a TOTE is essentially a sequence of activi-
ties in our sensory representational systems that has become consolidated
into a functional unit of behaviour such that it is typically executed be-
low the threshold of consciousness”11. Miller, Galanter and Pribram de-
veloped the model as an extension of the S-R theory (stimulus-response
theory), otherwise known also as “reflex arc” in behaviourist psychol-
ogy, by incorporating the cognitive dimension as a very important inter-
vening variable in the S-R link. That is, their model extends the “reflex
arc” model to include a feedback operation as an intermediate internal
activity between the stimulus and the response. According to the authors,
“the test represents the conditions that have to be met before the re-

9 Ibid., 138.
10 The book was published in 1960.
11 R. Dilts et al., Neuro-Linguistic Programming, 27.

sponse will occur”12. The Test phase represents a comparison of present
state of the person and the desired state. If the conditions of this phase
are met, the action initiated by the stimulus Exits to the next step in the
chain of behaviour. If not, the feedback reports negative. This results in a
feedback phase in which the system Operates, effects a change (read-
justment) of some aspects of its perception of the stimulus or of the per-
son’s internal state – in terms of providing more of his available re-
sources – in an attempt to satisfy the test once again. The test-operate
feedback loop may recur several times before the test is passed and the
action terminates.13 Miller, Galanter and Pribram write:

[...] the response of the effector (the output neuron) depends on the outcome of the
test and is most conveniently conceived of as an effort to modify the outcome of
the test. The action is initiated by an ‘incongruity’ between the state of the organ-
ism and the state that is being tested for, and the action persists until the incongru-
ity is removed. The general pattern of the reflex action, therefore, is to test the input
energies against some criteria established in the organism, to respond if the result
of the test is to show an incongruity, and to continue to respond until the incongru-
ity vanishes, at which time the reflex is terminated. Thus there is ‘feedback’ from
the result of the action to the testing phase, and we are confronted by a recursive
loop .

The TOTE process is represented visually by the authors as follows:


Figure 1 T.O.T.E. Model

12 Miller et al., Plans and the Structure, 24.

13 Dilts et al., remark that this does not mean that the TOTE will not exit if after many
trials, its operation phase fails to have any significant effect on the outcome of the
test. It will exit all the same, but not to the same behaviour as it would have if it
had successfully finished the test.
14 Miller et al. 25-26.

The elasticity of this TOTE model is such that the operate phase of one
TOTE can include other TOTEs – with their own tests and operations –
embedded inside it. The structure of the relationship between them is
more hierarchical than sequential. Miller et al. described the process of
hammering a nail as a simple example of this “nesting arrangement”15.
According to them the specific TOTE sequence of hammering a nail is
as follows:

If this description of hammering is correct, we should expect the sequence of

events to run off in this order: Test nail. (Head sticks up). Test hammer. (Hammer
is up). Strike nail. Test hammer. (Hammer is down). Test nail. (Head sticks up).
Test hammer. And so on, until the test of the nail reveals that its head is flush with
the surface of the work, at which point control can be transferred elsewhere. Thus
the compound of TOTE units unravels itself simply enough into a coordinated se-
quence of tests and actions, although the underlying structure that organizes and
coordinates the behaviour is hierarchical and not sequential .

The feedback operation constantly transmits information about the con-

tinuing existence of the discordance or its elimination. In the event of the
latter, the action exits to something else. The Difference that makes a Difference

The information transmitted is only information or news about a differ-
ence in the original or previous state. The “discordance” or “incongru-
ence” is, therefore, a content of the information. In the process of taking
cognisance of the “difference” the individual continuously takes recourse
to himself. That means, the individual initiates some (conscious or un-
conscious) cognitive self-referential actions on the basis of his previous
and/or present state in view of the future one. This goes on and on, in the
form of self-correction, until he reaches a state congenial to the antici-
pated one. In the process he ‘changes’ himself. One can say that it is the
existence of this difference and the awareness of it as such that makes a
The self-referential process is grounded in the ontological status of
the human being as an autopoietic17 organism with a systemic opera-

15 Dilts et al. 30.

16 Miller et al. 25-26.
17 Refer to subsection for the definition of autopoiesis.

tional closure. The “continuous corrective striving” or “circuiting” can
be seen as a part of that immanent self-organizing activity of the human
being which does not leave the boundaries of his organismic structure.
Bateson called this phenomenon “self-correctiveness”18. The same phe-
nomenon is also described by Dell as “self-referential” or “self-
reflexive”19. All these terms “self-correctiveness”, “self-referential” and
“self-reflexive” are used interchangeably to refer to the same innate op-
erational closed feature of every living organism, especially the human
organism and human social unities. In the process of this activity the
human being changes his behaviour in accordance with results of the
previous “outputs” so that this in turn leads to a change in the subsequent
goal-oriented behaviour. For instance, a person changes his behaviour in
relation to a specific goal in line with his judgement of the (perceived)
situation. And his subsequent behaviour is a sort of modification of the
previous one consequent upon the results of his previous assessment.
This is why it is said that the relationship between the various TOTEs
within the “Operate” phase of one TOTE-loop is more hierarchical than
sequential. In other words, every system or organism (social or individ-
ual) operates on the epistemological level in a cybernetic feedback loop.
This feedback is neither positive nor negative. It is just feedback.
Bateson describes the feedback circuit thus: “A circuit is a closed path-
way (or network of pathways) along which difference (or transforms of
differences) are transmitted”20. Any observable change of behaviour in
an organism is a result of such a self-corrective or self-referential activity
of the said organism. In effect, any changes the organism undergoes is
not the product of any external force or stimulus but solely the effect of
the organism’s own internal activities and processing.
A difference is neutral. It is only a piece of information in a certain
sequence within an experiential continuum. The registration of every
difference effects a change (of state) in the person. Every action (physi-
cal or mental) of an organism (human or otherwise) involves change or
transformation. Actually, no organism can act without changing itself,
i.e. without going through some transformation. Every action or behav-

18 G. Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 490.

19 Dell, Klinische Erkenntnis, 36-44. This concept is translated in German as “Rück-
bezüglichkeit” or “Rekursivität” or simply “rekursiv”.
20 Bateson, Ibid.

iour is a participation in that on-going self-referential or self-corrective
transformation of the first order21 of the systemic consistency. The trans-
formation of the first order means that a person is so structurally deter-
mined (by the natural organization and membership to the human spe-
cies) that every transformation or change he experiences, is a part of that
on-going self-reorganization within that same class. Such changes are
consistent with his nature as a human organism. A transformation or
change in the overall structure of this organism means death. The or-
ganism ceases to exist as that very organism. A structural alteration, in
effect, means a loss of identity of the class. All other types of changes –
epistemological, behavioural or physiological – are only changes of state
in that on-going process of systemic consistency. When we, therefore,
say to a friend: “You have changed” or “You are quite different now” or
“We thought, we knew you; you are a different person now”, the change
we believe to see actually exists only in us, the observers. The person is
what he is. The “change” (of behaviour) we observed might be per-
ceived by him differently. Thus it might not have the same import for
him as it has for us as observers. His transformation is a part of that on-
going epistemological activity which is part of his nature as a member of
the human species. Conflict can, therefore, be said to be the expression
or designation we employ for a form of this “change of state”.
We want to recall here that the Batesonian “network of pathways” is
synonymous with what Kelly, in the previous chapter, called “network of
constructs”; a kind of a mental labyrinth through which the person
moves daily. In his daily interaction with his environment the individ-
ual’s behaviour or responses are orientated on the information from the
circuit structure. According to Dell, the person’s “environment” is de-
termined by that to which he “reacts”.22 Only the things he “reacts” to, in
the sense of “being aware of”, constitute parts of his conscious “envi-
ronment”.23 Moreover, the energy for the responses is supplied from his

21 This is the constant, normal (natural) transformations going on within the unity,
nervous system itself, in accordance with the biological (constitutive) structure of
the nervous system. Cf.: Maturana and Varela, “especially Chapters 2 to 4. Cf. also
first-order change in: Watzlawick et al., Change, especially the Chapter on Plus ça
change, plus c’est la même chose.
22 Dell 27.
23 A person’s psychological environment encompasses the natural and the spiritual
realms of life.

“metabolism”24. This epistemological network is the network of his
frames of reference through which differences are registered thereby
triggering off self-corrective (mental) activities. Bateson points out that
this “network is not bounded by the skin but includes all external path-
ways along which information can travel. It also includes those effective
differences which are immanent in the ‘objects’ of such information. It
includes the pathways of sound and light along which travel transforms
of differences originally immanent in things and other people – and es-
pecially in our actions”25. In a more simplified way: our epistemological
network of pathways includes all those ontogenically26 developed modes
of perceiving, receiving and interpreting information; in short: the epis-
temic frames of reference, be they objects, things, concepts or persons.
On the interpersonal level, the behaviour of the different individuals
– each behaving in consistency with his nature or structure – in a com-
municative interactive circuit brings about that kind of relationship
which Maturana and Varela called structural coupling.27 This relation-
ship can also take the form of rigidity or stability, whereby a kind of
“rigid equilibrium”28 is constituted.
Human beings are relational beings. They are basically concerned
with patterns of relationships. In a communicative interaction between
individuals, each person is at peace with himself, when he can be “sure”
of how he stands in his relationship with the others, say his environment.
He is at peace with himself, when he can rely on the knowledge he has in
his dealings with the others. He is at peace with himself, when he can be
sure that his pathways or network of pathways can still be trodden with-
out insurmountable hitches. He is at peace with himself, when he can
rely on the meanings he shares with others. Bateson has always empha-
sized the centrality of “information and relationship”29 in living organ-

24 Bateson, Ibid.
25 Ibid., 319.
26 Maturana and Varela define “ontogeny” as “the history of structural change in a
unity without loss of organization in that unity. This ongoing structural change oc-
curs in the unity from moment to moment, either as a change triggered by interac-
tions coming from the environment in which it exists or as a result of its internal
dynamics”, 74.
27 Refer to Footnote 62 in Chapter One of this work.
28 Dell 71.
29 Hoffman 7.

isms. He even puts this more succinctly when he declares before his

Mammals in general, and we among them, care extremely, not about episodes, but
about the patterns of their relationships [...]. They are concerned with patterns of
relationship, with where they stand in love, hate, respect, dependency, trust, and
similar abstractions, vis-à-vis somebody else. This is where it hurts us to be put in
the wrong. If we trust and find that that which we trusted was untrustworthy [...] we
feel bad. The pain that human beings and all other mammals can suffer from this
type of error is extreme .

The person is hurt because his “former ‘values’”31, which are very fun-
damental enclaves in his system of reference, no longer hold. When the
values the person holds on to are threatened, the whole personality be-
comes threatened too. Furthermore, his peace is gone when he applies
himself in his usual manner to a given object and is constantly rewarded
with frustratingly negative outcomes in the sense of the French apho-
rism: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more something
changes, the more it remains the same). Let us consider briefly why this
is so, since this will help us understand better why things change and still
remain unchanged – the nature of “continuity and change”. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland and Richard Fisch applying the
mathematical theories of Groups32 and of logical types33 have provided a
very brilliant insight into this problem34 in their book: Change. The
Group Theory is very relevant with regard to why things change and at
the same time remain “unchanged”. The term “Group” means the same
as the entities we described with the terms “system”, “class”, “unity”.
According to the Group Theory, a group has the following properties:

30 Bateson 478.
31 Ibid.
32 Developed by the French Évariste Galois.
33 Developed by the two Englishmen Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russel in
their work: Principia Mathematica.
34 They devoted their whole work: Change: Principles of Problem Formation and
Problem Resolution, to this. Interested readers in how the two theories can help in
understanding change and continuity and how they can help in resolving stalemates
in human interactions are referred accordingly.

(1) It is composed of members which are all alike in one common fea-
ture. A group can be made up of objects, events, concepts, numbers, or
persons, etc or anything else one wants to bring together in such a group.
They only have to share one basic, common characteristic. For instance,
persons have the common denominator of “human beings”. A group of
Igbo men and women have that common characteristic which distinguish
an Igbo from an Hausa. Any combination of two or more Igbo is itself a
member of the group. For instance, an Igbo from Nsukka and an Igbo
from Owerri will not give two Yoruba but still two Igbo, both together
being Igbo. Even if you subtract one Igbo from the two, you still get the
same member. Thus “combination” here refers to the process of addition
or subtraction of members. In this case combination refers to a change
from one possible internal state of the group to another.
On the cognitive level, we said that we human beings are constantly
charting our pathways through the phantasmagoria of impressions of re-
ality, imposing meaningful order on them, thereby classifying them. This
“re-ordering” and classification, as we said earlier, is the only way to
make the world around us predictable and in making it predictable we
stabilize it. In the process of this classification we create a complex body
of intersecting and overlapping cognitive groups whose members all
share a common feature. Any addition of a (new) member into a group
brings about quite all right a change within the group but it creates still a
member of the same group. A series of similar changes can take place
within the group while it remains impossible for any member or combi-
nation of members to place themselves outside the class or group. In re-
lation to human problems, this means: just as integers remain the same in
their individual properties and structures and only their relations to each
other change, so also problems can remain the same or steady and tend
to escalate or increase if they are ignored or wrong solutions are applied
to them. Thus they can be experienced as remaining structurally un-
changed, while the difficulty and the suffering they produce increase and
intensify. In such a case, the problem remains and at the same time it is
described as getting out of hand or getting steadily worse. This leads us
to the next property.
(2) Another property is that no matter in what varying sequences one
combines the group members, the outcome of the combination remains
the same. Thus, there can be variations in the process, but invariance in
outcome. For instance, an insomniac who struggles fruitlessly to fall

asleep does everything possible to achieve sleep. He can change his diet,
alter his sleeping timetable, use sleeping tablets – and consequent drug
dependence, practice medication, try to read himself to sleep, etc.; and
each of these steps, rather than bringing about sleep, intensifies his
problem of sleeplessness. Sleep cannot be forced by an act of will power.
It is a phenomenon that occurs spontaneously; and spontaneity is incom-
patible with will power. The more sleep is willed – i.e. conscious efforts
are made to induce it –, the more the insomniac stays awake. Thus: more
of the same produces invariance in outcome.
(3) “A group contains an identity member such that its combination with
any other member gives that other member, which means that it main-
tains that other member’s identity [...]. In groups whose rule of combi-
nation is additive, the identity member is zero (e.g., 5+0=5); in groups
whose combination rule is multiplication, the identity member is one,
since any entity multiplied by one remains itself”35. In other words, a
member can act without effecting any changes in the group, hence ef-
fecting a zero change. Tradition, as a basis for action, can be considered
as having the function of an identity member, because it is in its nature to
ensure continuity, if necessary, through corrective action. The popular
slogan of a Reggae group in the 70s: “the more you look is the less you
see”, can also help to illustrate this point further. For instance, in the
seminarian-formator relationship one can often observe both engaging in
behaviours which they individually consider the most proper reaction to
something wrong that the other is doing; the particular corrective be-
haviour of one is seen by the other as the behaviour that requires correc-
tion. The formator may have the impression that the seminarian is not
open enough for him to know what the latter is doing during the former’s
absence, what is going on in the latter’s mind, etc. To get the needed in-
formation the formator can apply a variety of techniques – from directly
confronting the seminarian with relevant questions to setting up infor-
mants against the latter. If the seminarian considers the formator’s be-
haviour as intrusive and inquisitive, he will withdraw from the latter’s
reach. And the more the former withdraws – i.e. holds back the needed
information – the more the latter thinks: if the former is making himself
less and less accessible, then there must be something he is hiding; this
in turn fuels his efforts to find out what it is. Thus, the more the formator

35 Watzlawick et al., Change, 5.

looks, the less he sees. Any move from the former will be met with a
corresponding negative corrective move. This brings us to the fourth
(4) In a group every member has its opposite or reciprocal, such that the
combination of any member with its opposite gives the identity member.
For instance, where the combination rule is addition 5+(-5) = 0. Reality
presents itself to us in pairs of opposites, such that the lucidity of one as-
pect is only on the background of its opposite aspect. Such pairs of op-
posites abound: darkness and light, hot and cold, good and evil, beauty
and ugliness, woman and man, etc. On the cognitive level, this means
that in cases where we judge the problem to be the lack or presence of,
for instance, a certain kind of behaviour, the common sense reaction is
usually an attempt to resolve the problem by doing away with the unde-
sirable one and replacing it outright with its opposite. A good example of
this is the Christian reaction towards the use of amulets and charms. The
traditional Igbo use them to protect themselves from evil influences or as
guarantee for good luck and success.36 Converts had to disavow and re-
linquish them at baptism; in their stead they received medallions (of Im-
maculate Heart of Mary, or of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or of any of the
revered European Christian saints), scapulars, etc. for the same purposes.
In exchange for the charms in their households, they got holy water, the
Rosary, and holy pictures. These objects are only fully effective when
blessed prior to use by a priest. Thus, they too are ritually imbued with
potency. The anticipated change is a change of frame of reference or
system and not that of state. To achieve such a goal, the action would
have to be directed at the entire group (i.e., the whole body of conceptual
framework which attributes magical powers to objects). The careful
reader will have noticed now that a change was actually made without
really changing what was meant to be changed, thus plus ça change, plus
c’est la même chose. The opposite of the amulets are still members of the
same group of ritual objects with attributed magical powers.
This is partially what happens in a conflict; certain problems persist
irrespective of relentless efforts at resolving them. The changes that are
effected in any of these four properties are more or less changes of state

36 The propitious or protective effect of these objects is not otherwise inherent in

them but only in connection with specific ritual performances by which they are
then imbued with the corresponding spiritual powers.

or “first-order change”37. When problems, therefore, persist, the solution
often lies on a different level. Since every solution is a change, it implies
directing the corrective behaviour to the entire frame and not to its mem-
bers or contents. This is achieved by a “second-order change”38 – i.e. a
change provision which is not included in the properties or features of
the frame or group, thence, lies outside it. First-order change conflict
does not include provisions for its own resolution. The terms: first-order
and second-order changes seem to have been introduced by the systems
theorist W. Ross Ashby. Paraphrasing Ashby L. Hoffman explains them
as follows:

Living systems, Ashby noted, are not only able to vary their behaviours in response
to minor variations in the field (as the body keeps within an optimum range of tem-
perature by perspiring when it is hot and shivering when it is cold), but are often
able to change the ‘setting’ for the range of behaviours whenever the field presents
an unusually serious disruption (as in animal species that developed the capacity to
grow thicker fur when winters became colder, or worked out a pattern of migrating
to warmer climates until spring). This type of ‘bimodal’ feedback is useful, says
Ashby, because it enables the entity or organism to survive both day-to-day fluc-
tuations and drastic changes. He called the corrective responses to minor fluctua-
tions ‘first order change’ and the responses to drastic differences in the environ-
ment ‘second order change’ .

The Theory of Logical Types helps us to understand how the second-

order change works. According to this theory “‘whatever involves all of
a collection must not be one of the collection’”40. A “collection” here
means, as in the Group Theory, a class. A population of the whole Igbo
race is not just quantitatively but also qualitatively different from an in-
dividual Igbo, because it involves a complex system of interaction
among the individuals which has evolved since the beginning of the Igbo
race. For short, a class cannot be a member of itself. A lot of problems
result from confusing both logical levels, from inattention to this funda-
mental difference between class and its members. Ancestral reverence,
divination, ritual sacrifice are parts of Igbo religion which is in turn a
member of the Igbo conceptual framework. An attempt to change the

37 Watzlawick et al. 10.

38 Ibid.
39 Hoffman 47-48.
40 Ibid., 6.

conceptual framework by changing (replacing) these members with
commemoration of the saints, consultation of a priest, and Eucharistic
sacrifice, are bound to lead to confusion. The early missionary, Fr. Le-
jeune, seemed to have recognized this by directing his efforts at trans-
formation to the framework itself through the introduction of schools
(we shall return to this in Chapter Eight). Another example: the class of
seminarians is the totality of all the individual seminarians. To attempt to
resolve the problem pertaining to the entire class by addressing individ-
ual seminarians will of course lead to wrong conclusions, i.e. to a zero
change. It is also immediately obvious that to conclude from one semi-
narian who lies to saying that all seminarians are liars is a fallacy. How-
ever, for a seminarian to say that “all seminarians are liars” is to violate
the above main axiom of the Theory of Logical Types. The statement in-
cludes himself as well as his statement and the entire class of his state-
ments: If he is telling the truth, then he is lying and if he lying then he is
telling the truth. The theory, nevertheless, holds that it cannot be both;
this would otherwise result in a nonsense, in a paradox. Since not every-
body can handle a paradoxical situation41, it leads to either a stalemate or
a confusion, and to real conflict.
Second-order change entails introducing a new frame of thought
into the existing situation, the kind that happens through “reframing” the
problem issue. In a cybernetic sense42, it is exactly that which is carried
out or achieved each time the gears of a moving automobile are changed.
The shifting from gear one to gear two and so on produce second-order
changes in motion or acceleration. First-order change would be to be, for
instance, in gear five while making an ascent. No matter how firmly one
steps on the gas pedal the car will not advance any faster; at the worst,
the pistons will choke in the flood of gas and if nothing is done – like
breaking out of that gear five and entering gear three or two – the car

41 On the nature and application of paradoxes in diffusing and disentangling muddled

up situations or impasses in interactive communications interested readers are re-
ferred to the following works: Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin Bavelas, Don D.
Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication; Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland,
Richard Fisch, Change; Mara Selvini Palazzoli, Luigi Boscolo, Gianfranco Cec-
chin, Giuliana Prata, Paradox and Counterparadox: A new Model in the Therapy of
the Family in Schizophrenic Transaction. New Jersey 1978; Jay Haley, Strategies
of Psychotherapy. New York 1990.
42 Cf. also, F. Vester, Neuland des Denkens, 50-76.

will stop. A similar problem will be encountered by the wish to gain
speed while on gear one; the engine will howl each time one presses
down the gas pedal, and the harder one presses down the louder it howls.
First-order change conflict can be illustrated by the somewhat abstract
example below:

· · ·
· · ·
· · ·
Figure 2: The nine-dots task

The task: The nine dots shown in Figure 2 above are to be connected by four
straight lines without lifting the pencil from the paper.

Since human beings live in a world they have arduously mapped out,
new situations are usually confronted on the background of assumptions
from established, classified and proven perceptions. Not very seldom do
such assumptions complicate problems. Almost everybody who first tries
to solve the above nine-dot problem introduces a premise or an assump-
tion which makes the solution impossible. Looking at the formation of
the dots one assumes that they compose a square and that the solution
must be found within that square, albeit the assumption is not contained
in the instruction. Operating with the said assumption, it does not matter
how often and which combinations of four lines the person tries and in
what sequence, i.e. the person can run as many TOTEs as possible, he
will always end up not connecting at least one dot. The solution is a sec-
ond-order change.
First-order change conflict can be resolved by introducing another
idea which is not included in its class (for example: in the assumption
concerning our nine-dot task above) and that means bringing about a
second-order change. The former leads to continuous negative feed-
backs43, while the latter helps to interrupt the free-wheeling and points to

43 “Negative feedback” here refers to the result of the operation. Otherwise in respect
of the operation itself the feedback is positive because the information transmission

a way out. In concrete terms this means changing levels of logic or
thought. First-order change pays attention to the relationship between the
members within a class (of a conceptual framework), while second-order
change acts on the patterns of the relationships between the various
contents (members) of the framework, i.e. kind of leaves the framework
to look at it from outside.44 But as long as one’s perception remains
within the same cognitive system, the self-referential nature of systems
will make it impossible for one to arrive at any changes that will affect
the system itself, which is what is needed to resolve the impasse.
It is this “relationality” which actually forms the bedrock and the
spring board for the self-referential activities which are initiated each
time a difference is noticed, and ultimately results in a first-order change.
The human being, like every system, is the total self-corrective unity,
which operates with and on differences. The self-correctiveness always
goes in the direction of resolving the discrepancy – i.e. restoring ho-
moeostasis – and/or in the direction of escapism, i.e. increasing or rein-
forcing the discomfort up to a certain threshold – a classical extreme is
suicide or homicide. This self-correctiveness implies trial and error.
When no positive results are in view, the tendency may be to relapse into
some “epistemological error”45 whereby the person screens off the un-
comfortable event from consciousness in the belief that this does not
have any effects on the remaining frames of reference of his larger “eco-
mental system”46. The “error” consists in the apparent obliviousness of
the relatedness of the different sectors of the frames of reference within
the human organismic unit in the process of resolving the conflict. Such
an error has the tendency to propagate itself. It is a kind of telling oneself
lies. With the conflict sort of “skipped”, it keeps interfering, often unno-
ticed, in the other cognitive and evaluative activities of the person. We

transpired according to its established pattern. In this work, therefore, whenever we

use the expression “negative feedback”, we refer to the outcome of an operation.
44 This is why one can arrive at a better, deeper and broader understanding of one’s
own culture only when one has left it to look at it from outside. This also explains
why genetic manipulation has to do with an interference in the natural pattern of
the relationship between the genes, that is to say, an interference in the natural flow
of information between them.
45 Bateson 491-495.
46 Ibid., 492.

consider this situation as a determinant factor for the origin of neurosis
and the attendant building of a chain of defence or coping mechanisms.
Seen from this view point, conflict operates like a “feedback loop
without a positive response”. As often as one tries to achieve an aim, one
discovers that it would not work. Consecutive self-corrective activities
(TOTEs) yield no positive results. One’s intentions are always con-
fronted with the insight into the impossibility of their realization. In
other words, this “circuiting” is made possible by the fact that the indi-
vidual perceives the situation in two or more frames of reference, which
overlap. As long as he remains in this state, he will not be able to see
through to other possibilities of breaking out of the stalemate. Sometimes
the assistance of a second or third party becomes very necessary to get
out of this quagmire. To illustrate, let us consider the following situation
of the seminarian:
The Seminary stipulates when the seminarian has to talk or not talk, when he has
to eat and provides the meals. It designates with whom he has to share a room, and
specifies when to sleep and for how long, when to wake up, take a bath or wash up,
play, pray, study, work, go for walk and how (for instance, a rule of thumb was:
nunquam solo, semper due, aliquando tres). It also stipulates when to leave the
compound and come back, receive visitors (including one’s relatives) and make
visits, what to wear and what not to. The regular remark of a former rector summa-
rizes this adeptly: You are there. We [the seminary authorities] are here. You have
to be there and we have to be here, so that we can think for you.

Following this line, it seems that the seminarian is meant to be a passive

receptacle, like clay passive in the hands of the potter. This stipulation
expects him to show total acquiescence and submission to the rules the
seminary institution streamlined for him. One is compelled here to be-
lieve that such rules aim at reducing to a minimum all tendencies in the
seminarian towards self-reliance, independence and self-determination.

47 This “when” also stands for a new concept of time which is basically characteristic
of European bureaucratic and technocratic system; a system which places and fixes
events in accordance with any one of the twenty-four hour digits of the clock. Of
course, this is necessary for a proper functioning of the organization: the seminary
institution. But this is different from the Igbo concept of time, which is more or less
linked with events and not the other way round. This shall occupy us much later in
the work. Suffice it to say here, that to live according to the European temporal
system is considered to be modern and civilized. A symbol of it is the wristwatch
and the seminary regulator. And as a symbol it has got some sacramental character.

Now the seminarian who receives or internalises this training from the
seminary is at the same time expected from the same seminary to be ca-
pable of self-reliance. This expectation is coupled with that of the people
of God (including his diocese) who want him to manifest the capability
to self-reliance and independence in the proper execution of pastoral
tasks. These two injunctions constitute two “plans”, which correspond to
two different reference systems in which he evaluatively perceives and
experiences himself – his thoughts and actions. If he tries to act simulta-
neously in accordance with these two plans, then he is likely not to find
any one set of actions which, in accordance with both plans, can bring
him any further. No matter what he does or tries to do according to plan
A (seminary training) he will always get a negative feedback or result in
plan B (pastoral competence) and vice versa. Should he try in the semi-
nary to be independent, that will not fit in, when viewed from plan A.
Besides, he will meet with resistance from the seminary authorities,
regulations and rules. That can even earn him the tag of “insubordina-
tion”. If he tries elsewhere in the pastoral field to wait until everything is
prepared or decided for him, or “thought for him”, he will never accom-
plish any task. Both reference systems cease to be functional as long as
this seminarian perceives or experiences himself in these two mutually
opposing reference systems – operation plans, i.e. as long as he is guided
simultaneously by both. His self-corrective circuit constantly reports
back negative results. Soon he will wear himself out; in the end both
plans will remain unaccomplished because he cannot initiate any positive
action. No positive action can be effected since he experiences a discor-
dance between plans A and B. This in turn makes it impossible for him
to harmonize his psychological now – his perceived (subjective) present
situation – and the anticipated future state. None of the situations fits
clearly into his structure of signification or evaluative bearings.
Before we conclude this subsection, we want to point out that the
frame of reference is not necessarily an object of consciousness. While it
operates one must not be conscious of it. He can be aware of some of
them at a given time. Others can be recalled into consciousness with
some efforts through reflection, meditation, or through the help of some
psychological medium, like, psychotherapy or clinical counselling. A
good part of them, because they are ontogenetic, developed through par-
ticipation in a common stock of knowledge a people acquired through
the years, are deeply embedded in the person’s subconscious or memory.

However, they still exercise a great influence on the behaviour of the in-
dividual. Without it the person is lost in the stream of experiences and in
the ongoing interaction with the environment.
In conclusion, we recall that the conflict process takes the form of a
circuit with no positive feedback. The cognitive situating or the appre-
hension of a given event or phenomenon simultaneously in more than
one frame of reference, which are mutually incompatible, always con-
fronts the person with the insight that the expected future state is not re-
alizable. As long as he remains within this circuit, he will always receive
a negative feedback. This is the more intensive the more the issue at
stake is of fundamental importance to the individual. It is on this sphere
that the answer to the question of human behavioural incongruence
should be sought. More affirmatively: this explains some of the incon-
sistencies or incongruity we observe often in our behaviours or in that of
others around us. With this we move on to the third aspect.

4.1.3 Experiential Perspective

The third perspective concerns how conflict is experienced. The future,

we said, is always experienced (in the now) as open and as the home of
unlimited possibilities for personal action and experiences. A conflict
event disrupts the flow of this experiencing, the link between the present
and the future. Conflict, as stated above, originates in the simultaneous
apprehension of an event, a feeling or an action in more than one (op-
posing) frames of reference, such that a clear goal and evaluative bearing
on which any concrete and positive action can be based, can no longer be
mapped out. One experiences the impossibility of realizing an expected
future state. A conflict phenomenon is thus experienced as a breach of
the flow of life from the present to the future. According to Nesswetha,
“‘the continuum of life, the flow from the present to the future, experi-
ences a stagnation in one of its sectors; the link to the future seems bro-
ken, severed [...]’”48. The person experiences himself – in varying de-
grees – as having been cut off or disconnected from the future. The
intensity of this experience depends on how central or fundamental the

48 Ulich 140.

goal to be attained, which is caught up in the “freewheeling” of inten-
tion and negative insight, is to the person.
R. Bandler and J. Grinder recognize the vital importance of conflict
in the response of the human being to the incessant demands of daily life
and the limitations it sets to this response with the accruing pain there
from. Sometimes the pain can be so excruciating because one is dead-
locked and “freewheeling”. Desiring to reduce human cognitive and
emotive discomfiture and suffering they devised a method in their
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) called “Reframing”. In the light
of this they affirm that “the meaning that any event has depends upon the
‘frame’ in which we perceive it. When we change the frame, we change
the meaning” and “[...] when the meaning changes, the person’s re-
sponses and behaviours also change”49. To get out of a conceptual game
without (positive) end, out of an endless series of negative TOTE loops,
and to restore the flow of life once again, a paradigm shift, a change of
change is often required. The change of change is a movement from
change of state to a transformation, i.e. a redefinition of the object or
situation which involves transforming first-order change to a second-
order change. In a teacher-student relationship frame both the student
and the teacher will attune their behaviour to the rules of that frame. But
as soon as one of them no longer accepts the definition – the frame – of
that relationship and breaks out of it – i.e. redefines it, the rules govern-
ing their relationship thenceforth will change and with it their modes of
interaction. Our nine-dot problem can throw more light on this: The so-
lution to the problem lies in leaving or breaking the “square-frame” or
premise, rejecting the rule which stipulates that the solution must be
sought in the square. If this is done, the seemingly “strange” solution
(Fig. 3) below will be the result. As soon as the blockade is lifted, the
person experiences himself as being reconnected to the continuum, to the
flow of life from the present to the future. A person’s goal and value50
orientation, we said, are very closely connected with time and future ref-
erence. This close relationship is based on the fact that the aims and
theimportance of an action or thought are basically experienced as some
thing within the domain of the person’s psychological future. This is
why one’s outlook into an accessible future domain becomes eclipsed,

49 R. Bandler and J. Grinder, Reframing, 1.

50 By value we mean the ideals a person intends to live or reach.



Figure 3: The solution of the nine-dot problem on page 122

the range of one’s “orientation” horizon becomes very narrow, when the
intention and its execution (together with the attendant reviews) toward
the achievement of the expected goal meet insurmountable obstacles. Let
us consider the following example:

In the junior seminary we had a classmate who was afflicted by incessant illness.
He was one of the oldest in our class. He was quiet, responsible and respected by
all. We regarded him to be very pious. He was also very brilliant. Acute headache,
fever and sometimes general debility tormented him. He bore his affliction with
patience and fortitude. But very often its severity disrupted his cadence of spirit so
much so that he had to remain in bed. Western medicine could not offer much help,
for physiologically nothing could be identified as the root of his affliction. The
rector and the entire seminary staff were convinced that this young man had a very
strong vocation. Everybody believed that he was going to survive the affliction and
emerge triumphant someday as a priest. He was the only son of his mother, a
widow and a non-Christian. His mother, he told us, was strongly opposed to his
being in the seminary. For the seminary community (including the present author)
his mother was the cause of his affliction. Stories were then told of priests who

51 One can of course view this from the perspective of the problem of attachment and
separation (J. Bowlby) or of symbiosis and individuation (M. Mahler). Seen thus,
one could understand the seminary’s explanation to mean that his mother was still
so emotionally attached to him or vice versa; both were unable to break that tie and
let go of each other. Be it as it may, our interest here is concerned with how the
seminary community interprets or explains the situation to itself. Suffice it just to
say that an adequate understanding of this explanation requires an understanding of

went through similar ordeals as seminarians; some were even persecuted to the ex-
tent that they no longer dared to visit their homes. At the end they still made it. We,
therefore, believed that he was going to make it as well. But we were to be proved
wrong: He left the seminary because of this after our school certificate examina-
tion, i.e. five years later. Thereafter the affliction was said to have stopped.

This seminarian saw himself between two instructions: To become a

Catholic priest; that means abandoning his mother and all the responsi-
bilities as the only child and son, which includes marrying and having
his own children. As the only son, he sees himself as the only person
who can vindicate his dead father and perpetuate his family’s name in
his own offspring. Were he to remain in the seminary and eventually end
up as a Catholic priest, this responsibility and hope would become unre-
alisable. Secondly, to return to his mother means to leave the seminary
and to give up becoming a priest together with everything he associated
with it. Now perceiving or evaluating (the implications of) his vocation
to the priesthood from his perspective as an only son of a widow and
vice versa, the prospects of ever realizing both goals appear very ob-
scured. The more he persevered in the seminary, the more intensive he
experiences the insight into the impossibility of ever realizing the other
goal. Both goals seem to be of central importance to him. Thus the inten-
sity of his conflictive experiencing left a negative impact on his physio-
logical well-being. His affliction can, therefore, be seen as a psychoso-
matic reaction to this internal conflict. In reality, bad health was
considered as a negative indication for the priestly vocation. His situa-
tion was, as a result, a precarious one. He strove hard on the one hand to
prove the earnestness of his vocation by bearing his affliction with great
fortitude. On the other hand, he could not discuss his worries openly
with the seminary authority without risking a misunderstanding and
eventually a disqualification and a dismissal from the seminary. Trapped
in such a “coasting” his hope of even realizing this other goal of attain-

the Igbo world view. The Igbo believes that there are people endowed with the
powers of influencing some supernatural forces or spirits. This influencing can be
for good and/or for bad. In this case, this explanation, understood in its proper
context, means that the mother of this young man used sorcery to win back her son.
Through that means she made life in the seminary as unpalatable and unbearable as
possible for her son. Her aim was to compel him to leave the seminary and return
to her and his family. Being a son and the only child, he was the only person who
could vindicate her and perpetuate his family’s name in his own children.

ing the priesthood in this context becomes even more obfuscated. The
future (his hope) appears now unattainable.
Borrowing from Werner, Ulich described the situation of a person
whose perspective into the future has been changed in this form as a
“‘situatives Querschnittdasein’” 52 – a situational paraplegic existence.
We, however, do not agree entirely with their subsequent view, that such
a state is characterized by “planlessness” in the broadest sense. We con-
tend that even in such a situation of epistemological sectional paralysis,
the person is not without a “plan”. His self-corrective activity goes on
and he is also busy looking for ways out of this maze. The only thing is
that the “plan” or “map” he is working with brings him constantly to a
dead end. Therefore, the person could be everything but not “planless”.
Furthermore, they hold that the person disappears in the stream of events
and loses more or less the strength to organize and face events in some
sequential order when the general orientation depreciates. To this we
have the following to say: This effect of a depreciation in general orien-
tation cannot be generalized for every case of conflict. The experience of
disorientation in one sector must not necessarily have a general debili-
tating effect for all the other sectors of the person’s life. The “continuum
of life” from the present into the future can be impaired for the very
sector affected and perhaps for the other closely related sectors. But in
other areas the person may experience no impairment of the flow of life.
Even if he does, it may not be such that he can no longer organize and
face events in a sequential order. This notwithstanding, we concede that
there is a kind of general paralysis one can experience in relation to the
achievement of the set goal. This can be the case when the goal is of a
vital and fundamental importance. When no clear view of the future can
be envisaged the tendency is most probably to withhold action and con-
tinue trying or testing other possibilities. It is like the key to a room.
Only one key can, all things being equal, fit into the lock. (Except, of
course, if the person has a master-key. But it is a hard fact of life that not
every person is in possession of this master-key). When eventually I
want to get out of the room, I discover suddenly that my key cannot open
the door any more. The tendency is to try and try over and over again.
Each subsequent trial with a negative result confronts me with the
shocking prospect, that I am most likely entrapped. The prospects of ever

52 Ulich, ibid.

reaching the other side seem to thin out with each further ill-fated trial.
At this realization I may try other possibilities. For instance, I may try
looking for help through other means, like, the window, sending out an
SOS, mobilize all remaining possible resources. When all these equally
fail, then I am in real trouble. The insight into this impossibility can
arouse the feeling of panic in me. Such a situation can lead to a momen-
tary or temporary general impairment of clear thinking or of action. This
is similar to the case when the future seems closed for a person.
The three dimensions of time belong to the ontological nature of the
human being. Among them the dimension of the future plays the most
decisive role in giving meaning and direction to every human action. The
experience of this dimension as cut off causes the individual an extreme
distress and discomfort. Nevertheless, when the discomfort reaches a
certain threshold the person may choose to take the “emergency exit”
and runaway from the danger zone. No longer ready to keep on pre-
occupying himself with the burning issue, he takes a “short-cut”, thereby
making himself guilty of the Batesonian epistemological error53. With
the uncomfortable issue or issues screened off (for a while), what is left
behind along his ontogenetic pathways will then be a series of unaccom-
plished plans – in the words of F. Perls, unfinished businesses. Our sick
seminarian above did not, however, seem to have had good luck in
screening off his conflict – for long. In any case, the “unaccomplished-
ness” of the plans is expression as well as the basis for conflicts. Viewed
from this ontogenetic perspective, the most important aftermath of ear-
lier conflicts can be said to be a “vacuum”54 in the future dimension of
the experiential flux. And this hiatus – the unresolved and perhaps ban-
ished conflict issue – exercises an enormous influence on the subsequent
activities of the individual from its imposed hibernation. As we pointed
out earlier not every experience of conflict is essentially psychopatho-
logical. However, when an “epistemological error” or the screening of a
conflict from conscious awareness or in K. Horney’s words “neurotic
solution”55 becomes the habitual coping strategy, the underlying conflict
can lead to neurosis or to some kind of a more severe psychopathological
state called psychosis. These two states deserve an appropriate in depth

53 Cf. footnotes 45 and 46 above.

54 Ulich 141. According to him, this is a “Vakuum im Zukunftserleben”.
55 Cf. Reber 473.

treatment, which we cannot provide here without over stretching the
scope of this work.

4.2 Summary

Let us pull our thoughts together: We have located intrapersonal conflict

event within the domain of what we called the individual’s frame of ref-
erence. On a closer range we examined it from its etiological, operational
and experiential perspectives.
Considered from the point of view of its genesis, we designated as
the birthplace of conflict the situation in which a person experiences a
given event, feeling or action, simultaneously in more than one opposing
or contradictory frames of reference, such that a clear goal and evalua-
tive bearing is no longer possible. Operationally speaking, conflict oc-
curs like a feedback loop without a positive response. A conscious act or
a purposive behaviour depends on the capability of the person to harmo-
nize the perceived structure or nature of his psychological now with the
expected nature or structure of the future in such a way that the projected
goal can be attained. When this is not possible, the ensuing conflict can
be experienced as being hindered from arriving at a projected future state
– a breach of the flow of life from the present to the future. The intensity
of this experience, however, depends on the centrality of the projected
goal, which is caught up in the “free wheeling” of intention and negative
insight, within the life plan of the individual concerned. Just as the inten-
sity of the experienced conflict can have debilitating effect on the other
interconnected sectors of the person’s system of reference, leaving the
conflict totally or partly unresolved creates a breach in that interconnect-
edness. It disrupts that healthy or congenial relatedness which charac-
terizes the person as an organism in constant interaction with himself and
his environment. This gives rise to a disturbing hiatus in the person’s
“eco-psychological system”. The unresolved conflict keeps encroaching
unconsciously in the person’s activities, thus causing him psychological
distress. One of the unfortunate ways of dealing with this distress is to
cling to those “maps” which he used in wading through the stream of
negative feedbacks but which have, nonetheless, become obsolete in re-

lation to the present situation. This leads to the incapacity of the person
to accommodate or incorporate new bodies of knowledge or information.
The inflexibility leads also to a substantial reduction or narrowing of his
vision of the future and scope of what this future holds in store for him.
In this case neurosis lies within reach.
With this we conclude the exposition of our theoretical perspective.
In the next part we shall deal with the African and Igbo epistemic sys-
tems of reference in order to appreciate the condition of the Igbo semi-
narian. The exposition of the Igbo epistemic world will be followed im-
mediately by a discussion of the transformations it underwent and of the
impact of the same on the Igbo consciousness.

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5.1 A recapitulation

In the preceding part we delineated the theoretical perspective of this

work. We described the phenomenon of intrapersonal conflict as linked
it up with the epistemic framework of the individual concerned. In our
discussion of systems we saw that not only unicellular and multi-cellular
unities, like protozoans and human beings, but also metacellular entities,
like human societies and cultures exhibit similar autopoietic characteris-
tics. We saw also that the structure of our knowledge is determined by
our biology (including our ontogeny). Every individual living being has
a history and therefore an ontogeny. It follows that metacellular unities
have an ontogeny. And this has to do with the acquisition of all that is
required for their self-reproduction, self-organization and self-mainenan-
ce i.e. with the acquisition of layers of criteria for validation and action.
This occurs in an ongoing communicative interaction with his psycho-
social environment. In this process, language plays a very prominent
role. Action and experience are both modes of this communication.
Communication is knowing and knowing is doing. In this circular proc-
ess human beings and human societies continuously create their world.
Since it is the natural feature of living beings that they have an opera-
tional closure, every entity endeavours to admit only that information
that can either enrich its structure and help it to adapt to changing exter-
nal conditions or consolidate its pattern by maintaining equilibrium. We
saw that the latter can constitute a great hindrance to the natural drift
(evolution) which is necessary for the survival of living beings.
Since human beings and human societies are in a dialectical rela-
tionship with their environment, it follows that geographical factors have
their influence on the development of any people’s systems of world ap-
prehension and creation. In this chapter we are going to take a look at the
African epistemic framework to which the Igbo epistemic world belongs.

5.2 African World-View and Epistemology

Intrapersonal conflict arises in the subjective encounter with everyday

life. Everyday life presents itself as a reality interpreted by human beings
and subjectively meaningful to them as a coherent world. This personal
interpretation rests on the basis of a pre-logical, that is, pre-scientific1
mode of being in the world, which is called “commonsense”.

5.2.1 Commonsense

Commonsense contains innumerable pre- and quasi-scientific interpreta-

tions about everyday life, which are taken for granted. The everyday life
reality presents itself as ordered reality and its manifestations appear in
prearranged patterns which seem to be independent of the individual’s
apprehension of them. It appears already objectivised. That means, it is
constituted by an order of objects that have been designated as such be-
fore the apprehender’s appearance on the scene.
The language used in everyday life continuously provides me with
the necessary objectivations and posits the order within which these
make sense and within which everyday life has meaning for me. My dif-
ferent modes of life in society are also marked by language. This lan-
guage is an instrument of consciousness.

5.2.2 A Unitary Vision of Reality

How does the African interpret his subjective experience of the reality of
everyday life? What basic assumptions, concepts, theories and world-
view does he apply? The answer to this question would enable us to ap-

1 By “logical” or “scientific” we mean a mode of relating to the world of our experi-

ence, whereby the validity of the experience and its expression is sought and estab-
lished only through some established empirically demonstrable measures. A “pre-
logical” or “pre-scientific” mode would then represent the form of relating to the
world which affirms the validity of experience and its expression only by the very
fact of the relationship it establishes between the various parts of the interacting

preciate the African mind-process, which is the overarching canopy in
which the Igbo mind-process is situated.
It is impossible within the African traditional cultural paramount re-
ality of everyday life to speak of art as if it were detached from religion;
religion as if it were detached from mythology and speculative thought;
speculative thought as if it were detached from mythical feelings and
these feelings as if they were detached from moral principles and politi-
cal ideas. We are, therefore, entering into the realm of a unitary vision of
reality, a mode of being in the world which Ruch and Anyanwu de-
scribed as “mythical consciousness”2. A Sense of Being Part of the Whole

Consciousness is intentional. It is always directed toward objects. It is
always consciousness, an awareness and apprehension of something. The
object of experience, mediate and immediate, is given. “Experience”
here is the result of that dialectical interaction between the human being
and his environment which is or was made possible through the impres-
sions provided by his senses. Different objects present themselves to
consciousness as constituents of different spheres of reality. This reality
is no creation of our consciousness even though it is apprehensible by
consciousness. Consciousness cannot encompass it. It encompasses con-
sciousness, because it does not stop to be when I am no longer. These
different objects introduce quite different tensions3 into my conscious-
ness and I am attentive to them in quite different ways. This reality is the
“world”, the world of everyday life with the human being as its centre.4
The reality of everyday life is organized around the here of my body and
the now of my present. It has a spatial and temporal structure. This “here
and now” is the focus of my attention to it. That means that I, as a per-
son, am always the point of reference in my interaction with this reality.

2 E. A. Ruch and K.C. Anyanwu, African philosophy, 23-49.

3 By “tension” we mean “information” about a difference in the status quo.
4 By this we mean that the human being is the focal point of activities and the point
of convergence of meanings such activities may have. He gives meaning to them
and they hold meaning and information for him. Therefore, nothing that happens
within this sphere of his reality experience is bereft of meaning and information for
him. “Being the centre” is thus to be understood not in the sense of causality.

The manner in which any culture consciously or unconsciously ap-
proaches the discrepancies in the experiences of this reality determines
its modes of thought, beliefs, values, activities and social norms, and
vice-versa. The traditional African mode of being in the world is gener-
ally described as the mythical mode.5 Reality is Interconnectedness

“Myth” comes from the Greek word “mythos” which refers to anything
delivered orally: a word, a speech, a tale, a conversation, a story, a fable,
a legend. In the course of time, however, the term came to be restricted
to poetic and legendary tales or fables about gods, heroes, spirits and su-
per-human beings of the very early periods of a people. In this later
sense the term was more directly opposed to “logos”: a word or state-
ment the truth of which is empirically and/or logically demonstrable.
Myths on the other hand refer to narratives of events and personages so
far outside of the ordinary range of experience that they cannot be veri-
fied; the truth of such tales are usually authoritatively affirmed.6
When we say that the traditional African mode of relating to the
world of everyday reality is mythical, we, therefore, mean that he does
not concern himself with neat distinctions and classifications but rather
has visions of reality as a totality, as a chain of “connectedness”. It is an
intuitive mode of being in the world which is akin to what René Spitz
describes as “coenästhetisches Erleben”7 (coenaesthetic experiencing).
This is the capacity of the mother for integral perceptions which disposes
her for an intuitive perception of the needs of her infant. “Mythical con-
sciousness” is an intuitive mode of visions or perceptions of reality.
Mythical consciousness, following its own logic, makes use of sym-
bols which, according to Claude Lévi-Strauss, function as concrete in-
termediaries between images (concrete and particular) and concepts (ab-
stract and universal). It uses symbols (gestures, bodily movements,
material artefacts, etc.) as special objects which “proclaim” subjective
meanings of a people. Myth has a universality and rationality of its own
which is closer to music than to language.8 Its logic is no less demanding

5 Cf. Ruch and Anyanwu, Ibid.

6 Ibid., 28.
7 Elhardt 74.
8 Ruch and Anyanwu 33.

than that of science. Myths with their symbols want to preserve the
“connectedness” of human relationships, to establish community and to
promote the sense of community, of being a part of a specific human
The word Symbol is etymologically derived from the Greek word
“symbolon”: a token for identification between friends or relatives by
comparison with an agreed counterpart which, when both parts are
“joined” together, make a whole (a complete unit) and thereby prove the
relatedness of their owners. The substantive “Symbolon” is derivated
from the root verb “symbállein”: to throw together, to put or place to-
gether. In this sense, a symbol is the compression (“Verdichtung”) of a
sector of the reality of everyday life. Symbol is a special case of objec-
tivation of subjective meaning, intention and experience of everyday life.
When experiences of everyday life reality are “put together” (symbállein
– symbolization), that is, expressed in symbols, all those who use such
symbols partake in the experiences which are compressed in them.
Through this involvement and participation one gains access to new
hori-zons of experience and meaning. Communities have, for instance,
symbols which are at the same time tokens of identification (“Erken-
nungszeichen”) for the existence of someone else, someone perhaps un-
known9, but who, due to his participation in a common experience,
stands in a state of relatedness to and with the communities in question.
This is the case with the various objects which are brought in connection
with the ancestors in the context of African communal existence and ex-
periencing. Intersubjectivity or Communality

This sense of belonging, held alive and promoted through the symbols,
arises from the fact that the reality of everyday life is shared with others
in an intersubjective manner. Together, people share a common stock of
knowledge10, an intersubjectivity, which sharply differentiates everyday
life reality from the other realities of which they are conscious. This
common stock of knowledge is the knowledge they share among them-
selves in the normal, self-evident routines of daily life. It is the externali-
sations of subjective meanings (experiences) which become accumulated

9 Cf. G. Hasenhüttl, Schwarz bin ich und schön, 21-22.

10 Wuthnow et al. 32.

in the course of the history of a people. On account of the participation in
this common stock of knowledge people are able to give meaning to the
symbol and to participate in it.
As we pointed out above, there are other realities which present
themselves to me as “finite provinces of meaning”11. These appear as en-
claves within the paramount reality of everyday life and are marked by
circumscribed meanings and modes of experience. All the finite prov-
inces of meaning are characterized by a radical change in consciousness,
a turning away of attention from the reality of everyday life. But con-
sciousness always returns to it as if from an excursion. People could
make different experiences in everyday or non-everyday reality of life.
But most importantly, they know that there is an ongoing correspon-
dence between their various meanings in that world, and that they share
a common sense about its reality.12 Symbols are concrete indications of
this common stock of knowledge, the collective unconscious (C.G.
Jung). Like consciousness, symbols always refer to something. The ref-
erence-function of symbol does not consist in its ability to depict or por-
tray reality, but much more in its invitation or incitement to become con-
scious of and get involved in the reality it symbolizes, to a participation
in the fullness of experiences it represents.

5.2.3 Relationality – Participation

The moment this invitation is honoured, one is already entering into a

relationship with the others who are connected with these experiences.
This participation opens up for the person another quality of relationship
which is “relationality”. The Christian religion, especially Roman Ca-
tholicism, applies this understanding of symbol when it talks of the “real
presence” (symbol) of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For
the African the symbol “retains” its entity as symbol and at the same
time establishes a participatory relationship with the reality which it rep-
resents. Of utmost relevance to him is the participation in the “relation-
ality” to the utmost reality, God, who is the supreme Life-principle,
which the symbol now has made possible. And through this participation

11 Berger and Luckmann 25.

12 Ibid., 23.

a new horizon of experience and meaning opens up for him through
which he gains some guarantee for hoping and an evidence of what he
does not see. This participatory dimension is most transparent in his rit-
ual activities.

5.2.4 Language

We have talked about symbols as belonging to a set of cultural products

which explicitly reflect human subjectivity, thereby making such a sub-
jective meaning available to others beyond the moment and situation in
which it was initially expressed (capability to transcend). The most im-
portant in this set of products is language.
Berger describes language “as a system of vocal signs”13. The spe-
cial thing about language is its ability to become an objective reservoir
of vast accumulations of meanings and experiences that can be preserved
over time and transmitted to generations to come. It is the language
which the person shares with others in a “taken-for-granted manner”14 in
their daily communicative interaction. Through its capacity to transcend
the present situation, language can bridge different spheres of everyday
life reality and integrate them into a meaningful whole. Language gives
meaning to reality and also structures one’s experience of it. The world
“exists” to the extent it has meaning for the human being. And to the
extent individuals share a common language, “projecting” their subjec-
tive interpretations of their “common world”, to the extent they create
their world (of meanings). In this sense language creates the world. The Spoken Word

This efficacious capacity of language is what made the African repose
great value and importance on the spoken word. The word is an indica-
tion of the awareness of the interaction with reality. It objectivises expe-
rience and makes it expressible, and consequently communicable.
Through the spoken word experience becomes real. The African believes
that the spoken word is endowed with tremendous magical powers hav-

13 Ibid., 36f.
14 Ibid., 38.

ing quasi-sacramental efficacy. The word is powerful, creative and ef-
The spoken word, of which its later development, written word, is a
set of signs with a symbolic character, is the groundwork of intersubjec-
tivity. And what actually cannot be “verbalized”, expressed in “word”
does not belong to the intersubjective world. According to P. Berger,
there is a “dialectic”16 in our knowledge of the reality we share. In the
course of their ongoing communicative interaction human beings exter-
nalise their individual subjective meanings (interpretations) of reality by
verbalizing them. By so doing they objectivise their world, making it ac-
cessible to others. At the same time, they internalise or reabsorb the ob-
jectivised meanings into consciousness, such that “‘the structures of this
world come to determine the subjective structures of consciousness it-
self’”17. This all happens quite unconsciously18, whereby internalisation
takes place at best through socialization.

15 Roman Catholic Christians may not admit the expression “magical” but they attrib-
ute great creative and efficacious powers to the spoken word. The entire web of
meanings associated with the sacraments seem to come to life and become effec-
tive only in the spoken form. This is most strongly felt in the sacraments of recon-
ciliation – the words of the absolution – and of the Eucharist – the institutional or
consecration words. The absolute premium placed on the spoken word and its cor-
relates, the abilities to speak and to hear, is most probably the reason for the exclu-
sion of the deaf and the dumb from admission to the Catholic priesthood. This dis-
crimination is no longer justified and must be done away with. What all those of us
who are privileged to suffer no oral and/or auditive impairment consider “speech”
is of no use for the deaf and the dumb. In the course of the years, they have devel-
oped their own forms of “speech”. Thus the communication barrier between them
and us has been eradicated. Since their humanness is not devalued by their “im-
pairment”, so does and should their “impairment” no longer hinder them from ac-
cessing the deepest wells and the highest fountains of the Christian faith. We look
forward to the day when the deaf and the dumb can minister to their fellow deaf
and dumb men and women as priests (and priestesses).
16 Wuthnow et al. 39.
17 Ibid.
18 Cf. G. Bateson, Geist and Natur, 43-51.

5.2.5 The Human Being: Life

To speak about reality is to speak about the world. The world (which the
Igbo call “uwa”) is the language of reality as a whole. However, not
every bit of this world can be known equally vividly. There is a dimen-
sion of this reality which does not permit a reduction to a mere terminus.
This is the dimension of reality which makes consciousness possible in
the first place: Life. The reality of Life is a mystery. That is why life is
divine for the African. It is a mystery to be experienced, to be partici-
pated in (G. Marcel) and lived, and not a candidate for an analysis. The
Igbo people of Nigeria express this paramount status of life in such
names like: Ndubuisi, Ndubueze (Life is supreme), Chinwendu (Life
belongs to the gods or to God), and Chinenyendu (God gives life). The
last two names are suggestive of the divine origin of life.
The most outstanding manifestation of this Life is the human being.
He is the microcosm. He is the universal symbol from which all other
symbols take their meaning. However this central position of the human
being in the world of the African does in no way make him “the measure
of all things”, if by “all things” one includes the Life-principle or force.
The individual is a human being in the African world in so far as he is
dependent on the “relationalities” in his everyday life reality. He is and
cannot, therefore, be the measure of this reality or of life. A special thing
about this reality of everyday life is the fact that it is alive and dynamic
with Life-force.
In the African cultural context, the self (the experiencing, living per-
son) and the other are in constant communication with each other. While
Descartes would declare: “cogito, ergo sum”, the African would affirm:
“participo, ergo sum”. This self is the centre of the world and reality is
personal. The world which is experienced by the self encompasses not
only the aspects which are apprehensible in the above mentioned form
but also those invisible and inexpressible dimensions which could only
be experienced in symbols. The self vivifies or animates the world so
that the order of the world and that of the self become identical. What
happens to the world happens to the self and what happens to the self
happens to its world. Every knowledge of this world is meaningful, how-
ever, only as far as it is for the human being.

5.2.6 Reality is Endowed with Order and Harmony

The traditional African is constantly aware of the paradoxical nature of

his existence and of the forces of the universe which give him the sense
of his world as a chaotic and disordered one. But due to his unequivocal
affirmation of the fundamental unity and harmony between the human
being and the universe in which he lives, he tenaciously seeks order
within the chaos. Evil, (moral, physical and social), seems to be the
greatest disruption of this existential order and sense of integral well-
being. As a result he has equipped his world with a superabundance of
rituals and myths (proverbs and tales) which aim at accounting for the
existence of evil, and together aim at reducing or even completely elimi-
nating its impact. The traditional African is not “merely an emotive lover
of nature, but a thinker who starts from the intuitive axiom that an over-
all order must exists and, if found, will provide the protective shell
within which man’s existence may blossom”19. His first approach to real-
ity, of which he is a part, is not rational but intuitive. His avowed stance
of relating to the universe as a living whole makes him reject an individ-
ual anthropology. Hence, instead of seeking the emancipation of his in-
dividual self from the community, he emphasizes social harmony and
unity with fellow human beings, both living and dead. He rejects death’s
apparent victory by affirming life after death and a continued relation-
ship between the living and the “living-dead”, the ancestors. The tradi-
tional African’s continued contact with his ancestors is not just a mere
act of respect and devotion. It is an expression of a lived affirmation of
this social unity which not even death can break.

5.2.7 Time

The problem of time and space does not pose itself in a world where the
objectivation of subjective personal experience has its foundation in the
spoken word. This is why the African does not feel himself under the
command of impersonal, ‘abstract’ time.20 Instead he lives and acts and

19 Ruch and Anyanwu 37.

20 One can also look for the explanation for this in the fact that the early childhood
days of the African child (i.e. the first three years of infancy) did not stand under

thereby creates time. Events are essential constituents of his time. Be-
cause events are inextricably connected with experience, only the past
and the present are of primary relevance to him. These depict times
which he has lived and therefore created. For the Africans, J. S. Mbiti
writes, “time is simply a composition of events which have occurred,
those which are taking place now and those which are inevitably or im-
mediately to occur”21. The future depicts more or less an extension of the
present activity like, to borrow the example of Rücker, “harvest is a re-
sult of planting”22. According to Mbiti, “the most significant conse-
quence of this is that, according to traditional concepts, time is a two-
dimensional phenomenon, with a long past, a present and virtually no
future [...]. The future is virtually absent because events which lie in it
have not taken place, they have not been realized and cannot, therefore,
constitute time. If, however, future events are certain to occur, or if they
fall within the inevitable rhythm of nature, they at best constitute only
potential time, not actual time”23. The past which is no longer directly in
man’s control can be ‘re-created’ ritually and effectively by appropriate
words and gestures.

5.2.8 Life-Force: The Basic Principle of the Universe

For the African, the human being and nature do not constitute two inde-
pendent and opposing realities but form one inseparable continuum of a
hierarchical order of beings. The ideal of the African culture is coexis-
tence with and the strengthening of vital-force or vital relationships in
the world. He strives to put himself in immediate and personal relation-

the primacy of abstract time as against the experience of the European or North-
American child. The African child’s experience of time was marked by events such
as the activities that followed the feeling of hunger: breastfeeding, or feeling of
tiredness: being laid to sleep, etc. It did not have to wait for food because “the
chronometer has not yet indicated that it is time to be fed” or “because the mother
is not yet in the mood for that”. The African mother is always there ready to breast-
feed her child as soon as it shows the slightest sign of hunger discomfort. Moreo-
ver, the African child does not have to do anything because it was time to do so but
simply what it is doing at any time determines the time it is to be done.
21 J. S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, 16.
22 H. Rücker, “Afrikanische Theologie”, 120.
23 Mbiti 16-17.

ship with God and the spirits in order to find the guarantee of his hope to
live as well as evidence of what he does not see but which he experi-
ences in symbols.
In this cosmic vision nothing is lifeless. Everything is filled with or
enmeshed in life-force. This force dominates or prevails in the whole
universe and it is something “divine”. The life-force lies behind nature
itself or behind the things experienced. It is that which vivifies the reality
of everyday life and makes the world active and alive. Reality is Life.
In the African cultural context reason, imagination, intuitive experi-
ence and feelings are modes of knowing and, therefore, of relating with
reality. This is why the deepest expression of African cultural reality has
been through art, music, folk song, proverbs and myths rather than logi-
cal analysis. And the utmost yearning of the traditional African is the ex-
perience of a state of an integral well-being. This is the experience of
living in a wholesome unity and harmony with all the forces that share in
his interrelatedness.

5.3 Myth and Logic

We stated earlier that myth refers to narratives of events and personages

whose truth cannot be verified but only usually authoritatively affirmed.
The early Greek philosophers criticized Homer’s myths as not being
historical truths, as mere fables. They became the first to question the
truth, the objective usefulness and value of the myth. Existential prob-
lems gave rise to myths. “Wisdom” consists in making sense of our ex-
istence, of our actions and of our destiny by a fair balance of intuitive
and discursive interpretations of our experience of everyday life and of
other realities. It is of little relevance whether the answers to the ques-
tions of existence are arrived at through intuition, revelation or inspira-
tion, or through some strict logical, cogitative efforts. What matters most
is whether they provide the emotional and mental security human beings
direly need in their strange, paradoxical existence. This emotional and
mental security is the sense of an integral well-being. For the “mythical
human being”, to question the truth of the myth amounts to threatening

his existence and the stability of the community, because every aspect of
the life of the community is tied up with the myths.
Right from its origins philosophy took up the task of liberating the
individual from tradition and from being completely immersed and ab-
sorbed in the identity of the group. This task was taken up and propa-
gated by the 18th century Enlightenment. Since then the individual that
came in contact with this philosophy gained and/or struggles to gain a
full belief in himself and his autonomy; he discovered his personal iden-
tity. Philosophy taught him to trust his reason more than the tradition. It
taught him to see reason as the innermost, highest and most autonomous
drive in him through which he can attain his individual height and eman-
cipation. This attitude gave rise to an “individual anthropology”24. The
Western mind was the creator as well as the first victim of this new di-
rection of consciousness. It turned its attention away from the commu-
nity and focussed it on the individual human person. This has untold
negative repercussions not just for the individual alone but also for the
entire world, and most concretely for the African.
On the other hand it led to the discovery of personal identity. Even
though reason has been dethroned by the postulate of “irrational” forces
as the determinant drives in the human being, the “individual anthropol-
ogy” has remained unshaken. For Rousseau and Schopenhauer the de-
terminant drive is the feeling and the will. Nietzsche and Adler postu-
lated the power drive, Freud and the psychoanalysis the unconscious,
and existentialism, anxiety (“Angst”).
All the same, the awakening of the critical mind remains of crucial
importance. It brought the human being to look increasingly at himself
as an individual, no longer immersed and absorbed by the community.
As a result of his actively placing himself on his own, the human being
began to wonder about and to desire to ensure his survival after death.
Life and death became personal matters. Death became for him a de-
stroyer. However, he refused to accept this destruction; property and
thought became private as well as a possible means of assuring his per-
sonal immortality. At the same time the human being became conscious
of his ideas as personal value. Thus “logical, analytical consciousness”,
as opposed to “mythical consciousness”, wants to reach its own certi-
tude, independently of blind confidence in tradition. It strove personally

24 Landmann 12.

to find meaning in reality, instead of an habitual trust in a common stock
of knowledge called “commonsense”. A fundamental step in the discov-
ery of the individual personality was undertaken by Socrates. Perhaps
none more than he contributed to this revolution of intellectualism. Soc-
rates sought to found the norms of truth on impersonal objectivity, in-
stead of searching for them in interpersonal harmony and exchange of
mere personal and therefore subjective views within the community. His
dialectical approach (“maieutika”) led to the discovery of the fact, that
the human being possesses in his subconscious mind a wealth of ideas
which are neither his subjective creation nor a result of social pressures.
This was the birth of education! (Latin: “educare”– to educate, “edu-
care” is in turn derived from a specialized use of the Latin “educere”:
e-, ‘out’ and ducere, ‘to lead’ meaning to assist at the birth of a child).
Education became like the art of midwifery (Greek: maieutika), the pro-
cess of learning whereby the educator, like a midwife, carefully and skil-
fully assists the person to bring forth the ideas or talents already existing
in his mind-womb. It was no longer the process of learning with the old
wise men teaching the inexperienced youth. Reason succeeded thus in
uncovering myth as myth. While satisfying the intellect, it nonetheless
left the emotions unsatisfied and failed to provide the all-embracing se-
curity of the myth25.

5.4 Conclusion

From the above discussions, it can be seen that a mythical world-view is

essentially a religious one. Religion feeds from the inexhaustible de-
positum of myth. Any attempts to expel myth from religion would un-
mistakably mean the death of religion. Myth furnishes religion with the
mystery surrounding her object and subject: God and the human being.

25 In his book “Up from Eden” Ken Wilber provides an interesting reading on the
evolution of the human consciousness through to the emancipation of the individ-
ual from the community up to the emergence of the stellar ego. It is the journey of
the human consciousness to its destination, which is divinity. In this project the
humans are just half-way through the journey.

The human being is the producer of the myth, but his experience of a re-
ality that exercises a pervading influence over him and which at the same
time eludes his rational grasp, gives him the feeling of having to do with
something numinous. Even the human being remains a mystery to him-
self. It also arouses in him the desire to employ, influence or even ma-
nipulate these forces. This desire is manifested concretely in the phe-
nomenon called “magic”. Magic stands, therefore, in direct relation to
myth. However, myth and magic are not the same, and moreover, a cor-
rect appreciation of magic is only possible in connection with the under-
standing of symbol as stated above.
We said that reason led man to recognize myth as myth, i.e. as pre-
scientific. This fact, nonetheless, does not constitute an objection to the
usefulness of myth. Ethnology and Depth Psychology attest to the en-
during function of myth. Depth Psychology (Freud, Jung) in particular
has shown, through its work with dreams, that the human psyche cannot
be rid of myth. Many nations use animals or birds as symbols on their
coat of arms. Religion is well aware of the fact that myth cannot ade-
quately overcome the inexpressibility of the numinous; but it cannot do
without myth. The myth is one of the many ways through which the di-
vine beams through, even if it is just a small aspect of it. The personal
character of myth has as a consequence that the divine also is personal.
The God of the Bible will ever remain the God of Abraham, Isaac, Ja-
cob, and the father of Jesus Christ. This personal character makes the
mythical talk about the divine, that means religion, inextricably anthro-
pomorphic. The divine has a Gestalt and personality. It can make de-
mands, get angry, act in time and space. It is active. It is. The proposal of
Rudolf Bultmann of a “radical”26 “demythologisation of the New Testa-
ment” set into motion a lot of attempts to eliminate myths from the bible.
Such a radical and total demythologisation, if followed consequently,
would necessarily lead to a “de-personalization” of God. Admittedly,
myth must be recognized as myth. A radical demythologisation, how-
ever, would produce a philosophical God. With this the “living God” of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who manifested himself in Jesus of Nazareth,
the protective presence of the ancestors of the African, would end up as a
mere figment of the mind, a mere thought, lost and betrayed; religion
would be turned into philosophy. Ruch and Anyanwu correctly observed

26 R. Marlé, Demythologization, 65.

that a totally demythologised society tends to produce in the less edu-
cated and “unsophisticated masses mythical subcultures, like: sects, as-
trology, [occultism] and even cult of film stars and pop-music idols”27.
Such a radical expulsion of myth from religion would produce a religion
for philosophers, theologians and rationalists, thereby dropping off the
broad masses who resent and resist being deprived of the emotional im-
pact of their beliefs. According to M. Landmann, “such a God [of the
philosophers] is everything else other than what God historically meant
and what he still means to genuine believers today. This God, however,
can never be stripped of a mythical moment”28. J. L. Henderson while
reiterating the enduring function of myth, writes: “A more striking ex-
ample should be familiar to anyone who has grown up in a Christian so-
ciety [...]. For all our sophistication we [...] join with our children at
Easter in the pleasant ritual of Easter eggs and Easter rabbits”29. At-
tempts to eliminate or discredit myth and its associated thought pattern
and language cannot be regarded as a mark of progress, but rather a loss
of a major experience in the comprehension of reality. According to K.
Jaspers30: “‘Mythical thinking has not passed, it is proper to us in every
age. We need to regain the mythical way of thinking in our assurance of
This exposition has been an attempt to establish the broad context in
which the Igbo world-view and belief system is embedded. In the fol-
lowing chapters we shall consider in some more details the Igbo epis-
temic world. This will give us an idea of what aspects of their world has
undergone transformations through culture contact with Europeans and

27 Ruch and Anyanwu 49.

28 Landmann 116. (Translation is ours).
29 C. G. Jung and M.-L. von Franz (ed.), Man and his symbols, 99. The rituals
Henderson is referring to here, of course, applies to Christians of European descent
30 H. Fries, Myth, 154.

the nature of such transformations. First of all let us consider the method
we will apply in the discussion.

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6.1 A Preamble

In this work we set out in quest of the intrapersonal effects of the epis-
temic transformations among Igbo seminarians. The transformations are
changes in the consciousness of the Igbo with regard to his cognitive
world. The personal experiences and observations stated in Chapters One
and Three indicate that there are enclaves in this consciousness which
have remained resilient to the overall changes. The findings of depth
psychology have indicated that repressed uncomfortable, distressful and
traumatic past experiences exercise powerful and disruptive influence on
our present behaviour and cognitive bearings. The Igbo, like the Ameri-
can Indians1, hold the belief that when someone has not been buried
right, his or her ghost comes back to haunt the relatives. In relation to
our context, this means that when an experience is screened off con-
sciousness without having properly been attended to, it keeps haunting
our awareness until it receives the attention it deserves. Like a bandit it
keeps intruding sporadically into our present behaviour, distorting our
experience and our view of present events, hence disturbing our peace.
The training for the Catholic priesthood requires giving up a belief
system uncongenial to the aims of the training and the acquisition of a
new and congenial one in its place. The probability that “residues” and
“vestiges” of the native world-view will keep interfering with a total in-
ception of the Euro-Christian epistemology which the training imparts is
high. The fact that the former is the cognitive and emotive environment
that formed the personality of the seminarians in their early days makes
this very likely. The Igbo have an aphorism which says: An old woman
does not forget the dance steps she learnt in her youth. The process or
method of abjuring those uncongenial aspects of the native world view

1 R. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 31 and 63.

was everything other than “being buried right”. The effects created by
the ensuing ambivalence very often lead sooner or later to religious big-
otry and fanaticism. An incident in the one-town parish of Amokwe2 in
the Catholic diocese of Enugu serves as a good illustration:

A long standing disagreement among the Catholics on the right attitude towards
some traditional cultural elements, like ozo-title-taking, sweeping of common vil-
lage squares , participation in the annual traditional New Yam festival, etc. has
been the cause of major strife between the two parties in the town. The parish priest
not only exacerbated the conflict but also created more through his intolerant and
aggressive behaviour towards, and deleterious utterances about, persons and groups
sympathetic or positively disposed towards the traditional culture. The people’s en-
durance reached its limit when he spoke disparagingly at the holy mass about their
ailing traditional ruler and his second-in-command. A group of the youths of
Amokwe town visited him a couple of days later in the presbytery and physically
evicted him from the town.

2 Amokwe is a town in the Udi L.G.A. of Enugu State with a population of approxi-
mately 46'000 inhabitants. The majority of the people profess the Roman Catholic
faith. The town was elevated to the status of a parish in 1988 having been carved
out of St. Mary’s parish Udi.
3 Prior to the advent of Christianity in the area, these squares served as assembly and
festival grounds for the people. Every village in Igboland had and/or still has such a
square. Each square is usually named after the village deity. An essential part of the
square is a small enclave or area reserved for ritual celebrations and worship of the
deity. The enclave is usually separated from the rest of the square either through a
fence or a wall. The enclave also served/serve as locus refugium: anybody who
takes refuge in the area is protected from and is effectively outside the grasp of his
pursuer or enemy. The entire square used to be maintained and kept clean by the
whole village. With the increasing spread of Christianity in the area, the Christians
started reneging from participating in the maintenance of the square in many towns
and villages with the explanation that the participation is tantamount to paying al-
legiance to the village deity to whom the square is dedicated. Since school com-
pounds have taken over the function of assembly and play grounds, the Christians
have their churches, the village squares are left with the function of venues for tra-
ditional annual festivals or for political party campaigns. Since the major routes in
the village pass through the square and the number of the traditional religion adher-
ents is steadily dwindling while the Christians are increasing in number, the former
insist that the Christians help in the maintenance of the square. Hence the ensuing
4 This took place in June 1996. They took him to the local police station where they
asked the police to return him to or find the safest and quickest means of notifying
the bishop to come and take his priest back. In response the diocesan administra-
tion placed a ban on the celebration of the sacraments in the parish which lasted till

Fanaticism breeds intolerance.5 Analysing a similar incident in another
part of Igboland6, but with a fatal outcome, Mbefo has this to say:

As kinsmen they [Igbo theologians] understand the language and the meaning of
their traditional customs. As churchmen they have been schooled and versed in
Christian scriptures and tradition and thus well trained to pass on Christian theol-
ogy. If these theologians cease in their efforts to bring about true peace between the
two religions, they shirk their theological responsibility. It is moreover not accept-
able to postpone this encounter into the future in the hope that deeper enlighten-
ment and the corroding effects of modernity and secularism will at last solve the is-
sue and forego a conflict. Modernity and secularism offer their own specific
challenges to the Christian faith. And it is to be feared that if African theologians
shirk the confrontation with traditionally African religious attitudes, they will
equally shirk their responsibility of tackling the problems posed by modernity and
secularism .

February 1997. In our opinion such a measure is a blatant exhibition of power and
clericalism, disproportionate to the issue at stake. No serious efforts were made to
investigate the activities of the parish priest in the town which led to the escalation.
5 The French writer André Maurois once wrote: “The more unsteady the platform,
the lesser the stability or certainty of one’s position, the more vehement is its de-
fence. To balance on an overstated standpoint evokes the fear of losing one’s
ground. And fear leads to aggression. Language illustrates the difficulty in discus-
sion when the meaning of the essential is narrowed or even completely lost sight
of. Fanatics especially are in no way sure about their case, as one would think. In
reality they cannot afford to get involved in a factual discussion or argumentation.
Argumentation fizzles out when the participants have little or no knowledge about
what they are so vehemently defending. Controversialists say: ‘I go from the as-
sumption’, Zealots or fanatics put that into action. They so to speak put their fun-
damental assumptions really out of question. Dogma and party statutes are taboos
whereby their content is only known or even understood by just a few. And instead
of critically examining the issue at stake, and suspecting that their position might
be woefully rocked or even get irretrievably lost, they defend it with all their might.
How well do we actually know what we talk about?” The quotation was found in a
calendar with no details about the actual source.
6 Nanka in Anambra State. This town belongs to the core area of Igboland.
7 L. Mbefo, Tensions between Christianity and African traditional Religion, 130.
Mbefo seems to forget that being a kinsman is not synonymous with or even suffi-
cient for the ability to articulate one’s own culture. It does not guarantee a positive
and tolerant as well as an objective and a critical disposition towards one’s tradi-
tional religion, where the trend in the formation is that of conquering the traditional
religious belief system. How does he think that the task of mediation between the
two religions is going to be carried out where prejudice lies at the base of the crite-
ria for mediation?

Such unfortunate incidents could have been avoided, or at least the like-
lihood of their occurrence greatly reduced, if the seminary formation
took into consideration the precarious nature of living between two
worlds. The seminarian is not only faced with the resilience of the tradi-
tional belief system, and like his counterparts outside the seminary, with
the cognitive upheavals brought about by an ongoing modernization and
westernisation of his traditional society. He also has to manage the ten-
sion arising from the demands of Christianisation8, which he is expected
to uphold, champion and further. As a child of the same environment, on
the one hand, he also experiences an attraction towards the ideas and
promises of modernism and modernization. But on the other hand, he is
expected to draw a safe line between the moral demands of his training
and the concrete promises of modernism. In this connection, however,
modernism does not possess a moral force comparable to that of Christi-
anity in relation to the traditional milieu of his origin. In the face of all

8 By choosing the expression “Christianisation” we are making a distinction between

the term and “evangelisation”. We understand “Christianisation” to stand for the
effort and process by which the Catholic Church among the Igbo aims at making an
ever increasing number of those who register or are registered as Christians irre-
spective of the basic conversion of the heart to the message of life and love which
Jesus of Nazareth preached and died for. Christianisation measures its effectivity
by the high turnout at the end of the process, namely: in numbers. By “evangelisa-
tion” we understand the content implied by the term itself: The spreading of the
Good News of life and love of God in Jesus Christ. In other words, the creation of
an atmosphere where the people can come in contact with the Spirit of our Lord Je-
sus Christ contained in his Message, and through this contact encounter a God who
loves us in spite of ourselves; a God who risked rejection by making a choice for a
specific people and their culture; a God who did not bother about incarnating ever
anew in each culture and in the hearts of the people of that culture; a God who did
not show his power in his Might but in his infinite choice for finite humans and in
his infinite capacity to love, forgive and to suffer by sharing in our individual and
collective suffering. To encounter such an “ungod-like” God our hearts must be
touched by Jesus’ message of Love and not by our own projections of fear and
anxiety. Christianisation operates much with such projections while evangelisation
operates with love and the respect for the dignity of each culture in the awareness
of the ever presence of God in every culture. If He weren’t present therein to pre-
pare the spiritual soil for the seed of His message through the agents, the agents
would be sowing and toiling in vain. Evangelisation measures its success by the
qualitative difference in the general and individual life of the people, in the hopes
they share and in the love they exercise and live.

this, the probability that the work of integration9 of both systems of per-
ception and interpretation will create a state of ambivalence in the semi-
narian is obvious. Thus walking on two planes at the same time, the
seminarian transposes fields of vision.
Even when one believes to have a great capacity to accommodate as
many foreign ideas and cultural patterns as possible, the discrepancy or
dissonance between the one and the other becomes obvious when one
comes into “borderline situations”. These are situations where the appli-
cation of one of the two patterns cannot be effected without one falling
into trouble with the other. Some terminal situations, like sickness, dis-
ease and death, and often enough, failure, can pose such “borderline
The aim of evangelisation is to spread the Gospel message of Jesus
Christ as the means of forming moral minds and sound hearts. The philo-
sophical and theological formation in the seminary has the aim of pro-
ducing multipliers who are to serve as agents – using the same Christian
philosophical and theological instruments – to help inform the minds and
hearts of the Igbo so that they live lives the Christian general belief sys-
tem can describe as good. Becoming a Christian, thus, means adopting a
new way of life, adopting or acquiring a new cognitive system of refer-
ence, a new mode of relating to the world. Since every cognition is in-
formed by the values, needs and attitudes of the particular cultural milieu
in which the person largely grew up or lives, intrapersonal conflict has to
do with the person’s sense of general well-being. How whole and inte-
gral does he feel within himself? How good does he feel within himself?
The result of such a self-examination will depend on how his culture de-
fines health and well-being.

9 Mbefo talks of “rehabilitation of other areas of Igbo traditional views”. The work
of integration actually presupposes such a rehabilitation, whereby rehabilitation has
to do with making someone feel at home again, with restoring one’s strength and
status, reinstating someone in his original position. A critical introspection and ex-
amination should be an essential part of the rehabilitation program. We, therefore,
appreciate his introduction of this terminology, since only on the basis of a positive
recognition of inherent germinative (positive) qualities in the Igbo traditional world
view can one reasonably work towards an integration of the new world views into
the general framework. Even a dialogue of the two cognitive traditions, even in-
culturation, is only possible on the basis of a mutual recognition of the right of the
other to exist and of equality as functional cognitive frames of reference.

It is the aim of the generality of the human race to produce human
beings who, within the confines of their individual geographies and cul-
tures live lives measured by their respective cultures as ethically and
morally good. Behind every moral or ethical10 ideal, precept or injunc-
tion, lies ultimately a theology, a conception of and set of doctrines
about an ultimate Being or God which gives it its legitimation and
“sacrosanctity”. Such ideals and precepts become the major contents of
values and attitudes of that cultural milieu or society in general. Through
the process of socialization the collective ideals in turn become particu-
lar ideals of its members. These values and attitudes guide, direct and in-
fluence every behaviour they initiate towards meeting their daily needs.
In other words, the values and attitudes give orientation to each of their
purposive behaviours. The moral principles serve as the touchstone and
frame of reference in evaluating and judging the behaviour in question as
good or bad. This, of course, means that every human society, be it
“natural” or “unnatural”11 has its understanding of “good” and “bad”
conduct. It is of utmost relevance for the psychic health of the individual
members that each person strives to attain a certain degree of congruity
in his behaviour. That means: Each person, consciously or uncon-

10 We shall be using the two terms “moral” and “ethical” synonymously and inter-
changeably to stand for a set or sets of codes of or systems of belief guiding be-
haviours, on the basis of which a behaviour is judged as good or bad. The decision
to use which will be determined and guided solely by contextual convenience.
11 The classification in “natural” and “unnatural” is used here to differentiate between
societies which are the consequences of bio-geographical necessities of birth to-
gether with cultural affiliation. This aspect is still typical of most African countries
where geographical mobility and political boundary lines have not been able to ef-
face or obliterate ethnic affiliations as is the case in many countries of the West.
For instance, an Igbo living in the Lagos metropolitan city for many years (i.e. in
Yorubaland) usually says “I am going home” or “I want to visit home” (ka m ruo
uno) whenever he wants to travel back to his native home in Igboland. When he
wants to return to Lagos, he will say: “I am going back to Lagos”. The same mes-
sage and feeling of affiliation is expressed whenever he leaves his real place of
birth – i.e. that specific geographical location where his parents, grandparents and
perhaps great grandparents etc, for short, his ancestors, live and/or lived – his home
or is returning to it: “I am going home” and “I am going (back) to [...]”. By the
word “natural” we mean, therefore, more or less ethnic affiliation.
The term “Unnatural” pertains to other forms of human society, like “social clubs”,
“professional groups”, “political societies”, “religious fraternities and groups other
than the religious bearings inherent in the native culture”, modern cities, etc.

sciously, aims at a correspondence of his behaviour with the norms and
moral standards of the society on one hand, and of his behaviour with his
own personal ideals on the other hand. This provides him with that sense
and feeling of well-being, of being at peace with all the forces that make
him feel (within himself) that he is leading a good life.
If the Christian religion considers it a necessity to evangelise the
Igbo – i.e. to impart those standards by which the Christians live their
lives and judge their conduct or an entire life (style) as good or bad –,
then the Igbo sense of good and bad, their moral frame of reference with
its religious legitimation, must be in many important respects incompati-
ble with that of Christianity. We will, therefore, take a look at the Igbo
vision of a good life.
Since ethical principles – especially of less industrialized peoples –
usually have their theo-anthropological underpinnings and justifications,
we will also consider the Igbo understanding of the place of man in na-
ture and his relationship with the spiritual forces that influence his life.
This is all the more imperative when we consider, as Lee and Armstrong
put it, that “within many cultural groups [especially in traditional Af-
rica], there is often little distinction made between spiritual existence and
secular life. The philosophical tenets inherent in spiritual beliefs influ-
ence all aspects of human development and interaction”12.
In the light of the aforesaid, we consider it very important that the
social group or society in question be introduced. For, “generally speak-
ing, it is the society that supplies and imbues the individual with much of
the ideas and beliefs which he incorporates and which for many deter-
mine the picture they individually and collectively possess about the
world around them”13.
In this second part of our work, we are going to focus our attention
on the following issues: Who are the Igbo? How is their world organ-
ized? What is the nature of their general belief system? What factors ef-
fected the greatest changes in their cognitive framework? How did they
respond to these changes? What impact did the changes have on their
consciousness? To fulfil this task we shall apply the method of semiotic

12 C. C. Lee and K. L. Armstrong, Indigenous Models of Mental Health Intervention,

13 T. U. Nwala, Igbo philosophy, 4.

cultural analysis as suggested by Robert J. Schreiter.14 First of all, let us
explain this method.

6.2 Semiotic Cultural Analysis

“Semiotics” is the science of “signs”15. The word derives from the

Greek “semeion” meaning “sign” Semiotics sees culture as a gigantic
communication web in which verbal and non-verbal messages move
along perfectly worked out and interconnected pathways. Of utmost im-
portance are the mediums or “carriers” of the message which are called
“symbols”. A symbol, we said, indicates that the medium stands for the
message itself, for symbols have the quality of participating in the es-
sence of the message or of that which they symbolize. To understand the
message one must possess the knowledge of the “codes” or “system of
rules” governing the interpretation of the message within a given con-
text, i.e. one must be capable of decoding the message. Membership in
the group that share these meanings is one of the best ways of acquiring
this ability.
The codes or system of rules are divided into syntactic, semantic
and pragmatic rules or codes. The syntactic rules indicate how the signs
relate to each other in order to make sense, i.e. the grammar, the seman-
tic, how the message is to be understood, i.e. the meaning, and the prag-
matic, how the signs or symbols are to be used and in which context. A
knowledge of these rules or codes is indispensable in order to understand
the symbols and the manner in which they transmit messages. The inter-
nalisation of these rules is taken care of by the process of socialization.
As a result their existence is, under normal circumstances, no longer ex-
plicitly felt, as the saying goes: “Every eye has a blind spot”16.
In the eyes of the natives, a semiotic cultural analysis would be do-
ing something very superfluous, something quite unnecessary, in the
sense that, for a native, the phenomena or things semiotics occupies itself

14 R. J. Schreiter, Abschied vom Gott der Europäer, 84-119.

15 See also: Umberto Eco, Einführung in die Semiotik, 28-44.
16 K. Wilber, The spectrum of Consciousness, 17-27; the quotation is from page 25.

with actually are clear and self-evident; they need no further explication.
They have attained the status of “being-taken-for-granted”. However, in
a situation of culture contact between African-Igbo culture and Euro-
Christian culture such an attempt is very useful if we have to understand
the changes which took and are taking place in each of these cultural
systems. To do this we will have to decode the Igbo culture and after
having examined it re-code it. This process normally leads to or results
in a new consciousness of one’s identity and behaviour pattern, which in
turn strengthens the sensitivity of the person or community for their own
importance, for their own self-understanding and for their place in the
scheme of the things and in the universe.

6.2.1 The Perspectives

In the description of a culture it is important to be aware of the perspec-

tive out of which the said culture is to be analysed. The semiotic cultural
analysis distinguishes two kinds of perspectives: (1) “inner” and “out-
side”, and (2) “speaker” and “listener” perspectives.

Inner vs outside perspectives

The “inner” perspective employs the narrative style in its cultural de-
scription. Its goal is not an analysis of the realities of the culture but
rather their affirmation. The description is considered successful when it
strengthens or reinforces the feeling and sense of identity of the people
of that culture. That means, in the process of the description those quali-
ties by which veritable members of the culture are known become trans-
parent to and perceived by the other members as guidelines for conduct.
Also external observers get a clue about the characteristics by which true
members are to be recognized. This is the perspective and style em-
ployed in the Bible.
The description from the “outside” perspective uses also the narra-
tive style but only for illustrative purposes; as a kind of case study for
analytic purposes. Its aim is not the reinforcement of the sense of identity
of the people but to arouse a discussion about the cultural aspects in
question. This perspective is useful with regard to cultural and societal
changes and often as a kind of invitation for the natives to adjust to the
changing situation.

Both perspectives are very necessary for a theological consideration
which is concerned with the phenomenon of culture contact between Af-
rica and Europe, African Traditional Religion and European-Christianity.
The inner perspective provides the complex of symbols which constitute
the identity of the people, while the outside perspective takes care of the
means for coping with the changes in the society and the possibilities of
establishing a link to the larger system: the Christian world.

Speaker vs listener perspectives

The second kind of perspective, derived from communication theory –
“sender-receiver relation”17 –, is that of “speaker” and “listener”. This
perspective is a very important instrument for every kind of description
including both types of the first kind of descriptive perspective. From the
speaker perspective attention is concentrated more on a lucid and precise
transmission of messages within a culture. The criteria of such a distinct
transmission stand in relation with the content of the message, the infor-
mation. Its aim is to transmit the information with as little impairment as
possible, so that it reaches the receiver intact. The receiver pays attention
to the content and the structure of the message, while the speaker has to
be mindful of any variations or changes in the signs and symbols or in
the entire signs complex he is using. From the perspective of the listener
the description has to concentrate on the capability of the listener to es-
tablish a relationship to his own environment. That means also: the lis-
tener should be able to decode the information and then encode it by re-
formulating it into the signs complex akin to the world of his experience.
The transmission is considered successful when the listener is able to do
A further aspect of the Speaker-listener relation is the differentiation
between esoteric (for a select and initiated elite) and exoteric (for the
general public, for the common, uninitiated folk). Esoteric description
consists in the description of cultural phenomena in such a complicated,
highly condensed, detailed and comprehensive way that only the so
called “experts, specialists”, as a select elite group can understand that. If
this were to be done from an exoteric perspective, the language and the
form of presentation will be much simpler and the transference in the
symbolic world of the audience less complex. The esoteric perspective is

17 Cf. Watzlawick et al., Pragmatics of Human Communication, 22.

the usual approach followed in the training of cultural experts like ritual
and political functionaries. Not every member of the society is expected
to transmit information in this way. However, the danger is that the gap
between esoteric and exoteric descriptive forms grows wider and wider,
especially when the esoteric information and sign system is intended to
fortify and perpetuate the power of a particular class. When this begins
to happen then one has to brace up for big problems and tensions in the
community. In our description of the Igbo culture and belief system we
shall go more from the “inner” and “listener” perspectives. It is our in-
tention to strengthen the sense of identity of our audience and their sen-
sitivity for their own importance, their own self-understanding and their
place in the scheme of things and in the universe.

6.2.2 The Cultural Texts

Having delineated our perspectives we now move to the next step of lo-
cating and marking the “cultural texts” we are going to occupy ourselves
with. A “cultural text” is the concrete cultural unit on which the discus-
sion takes place, i.e. the object of discussion. Such cultural texts can be
verbal as well as non-verbal, visual, auditory and tactual, simple as well
as highly complex. A text can also contain another or even a series of
other texts. A comprehensive text containing a series of other texts is
called a “semiotic domain”. For instance, the cultural texts on the socio-
political organisation of a people is the “socio-political domain”, texts on
the religion the “religious domain”.
In view of the subject matter of our work we are going to concen-
trate on those texts which have to do with the identity of the Igbo (texts
on the processes of the formation and consolidation of ties between
groups or members of the society. Such texts ask: Who is to be regarded
as a member and who is not? On what features is an Igbo or the Igbo
folk to be distinguished from other peoples in Nigeria? They are texts on
their belief system and outlook to life), and those that have to do with
change in the society (texts on how the people handle change and events
which threaten their identity). The rites of passage, the feasts: New Yam
and New Year festivals (Aju and Ochuchu Afo respectively, as they are
called in the Udi cultural area) and the numerous rites of initiation, for
example, belong to the category of identity-texts. Crimes and offences or

misconducts which have social implications, especially as they affect the
welfare of the group or society, the numerous rites of purification and
rehabilitation, belong to the texts on change. Texts on Identity

Identity has to do with ‘who is within the circle and who is outside it’.
On the individual level it distinguishes between “I vs Not-I”. On the
community or group level it concerns itself with “We vs Not-We, mem-
bership vs non-membership”. On the level of belief system it deals with
“what things are to be believed, how they are to be perceived and what
things are not congenial or incompatible with the belief system”.
A further aspect of this point of identity is: identity is related to
drawing boundary lines. Borderlines are always points of contact as well
as of ambivalence between two states: the states of belonging and not-
belonging, being and not-being. As a matter of fact, such zones are very
dangerous states in human existence. They are dangerous because of
their ambivalence. To be on a borderline is to be in a “nobody’s-land”, a
state where none of the rules or codes of both sides of the line apply or is
effective. To redefine or redraw borderlines means, in effect, to redefine
or restructure the identity.
Border zones are not only dangerous because of their ambivalence,
they can also posit a great potential for and source of transformation,
since they are not controlled by any rules of the states or conditions on
both sides of the line. They are the threshold between two worlds. There
are people who know how to handle these zones and who have the
knowledge of how to traverse them and move from one area to another
and back: Priests, Seers, Healers, Magicians, Shamans, Medicine men or
women, Psychotherapists. They seem to keep watch over these border
zones. In crisis situations they can visit the borderlines, take a look at
their configuration, explore them for new insights into the background of
the tensions emanating from them.
Social change occurs when a certain boundary is overstepped or
shifted. For instance, the introduction of the ballpoint pen in Igboland
brought about a completely new picture of what it means to be a wise
man; wisdom came to be measured no more by age or grey hair but by
academic excellence. Jesus, by shifting the borderlines of who will enter
the kingdom of God and who will not, introduced and redefined a com-

pletely new picture of what it means to be a member of the chosen peo-
ple of God.
Codes of conduct in relation to the various cultural elements and
signs, like, marriage, taboos, justice, shedding of blood, etc., help to lo-
cate or identify the boundaries and those features that mark them. Thus
the question of “what is allowed and what is not allowed” within a par-
ticular culture not only indicates where the borderlines are but also what
the symbols are, which give information about the nature of the member-
ship to that society. For instance, which profession is noble and admira-
ble and which is contemptible and abhorrent? The answer to this sort of
question gives a clue to what is regarded as worthy or valuable and un-
worthy or discreditable in that culture, it is a question of what is a value
and what is not value.
Signs or Symbols, as has been pointed out above, are the transmit-
ters and carriers of the message or information which, on the conceptual
level, constitute the cultural identity of a people. A symbol can stand for
only a part of or for the entire message. For instance, the crucifix is for
Christians salvation, and the Eucharistic bread and wine stand for the
presence of Jesus Christ in the Christian community. Kola nut is for the
Igbo hospitality, while the tasting of food or drink before it is served to a
guest stands for innocence and good-will. While some symbols contain
only possible messages, e.g. smoke, some other more important symbols,
e.g. trees, contain several meanings depending on the context in which
they are used. The other symbols connected with them, and the codes
which govern their function in that context, determine which meanings
they transmit and/or embody at any given time.
The codes in Igbo culture are contained in their Omenani and is at
the same time Omenani itself. This will become clear in the next chapter.
Changes in codes result automatically to corresponding changes in the
relationship to the specific symbols. Thus, if one alters the codes gov-
erning the use of a particular symbol, one alters accordingly the meaning
it has for the people and the way the people relate to it.
We said above that cultural texts are significant signs or symbols
which act as carriers of specific messages in a culture. Furthermore, we
said that texts can be simple or complex and that a comprehensive text
containing a series of other texts is called a “semiotic domain”. Meta-
phors give rise to the connections between signs and a system of signs.
The Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary defines metaphor

as follows: “A figure of speech in which a term is transferred from the
object it ordinarily designates to an object it may designate only by im-
plicit comparison or analogy [...]”. A metaphor is thus created when two
separate signs are equated with each other. For instance, when the Igbo
talk of the cola nut as life, or the Christians talk of Jesus of Nazareth as
the Son of God, or that the consecrated Eucharistic bread itself is Jesus
Christ, then we are uniting two independent signs, which on their own,
otherwise convey different meanings and information, and looking at
them as one. Without metaphors cultural texts would be very isolated.
Metaphors are so effective because of the synecdochical (using the name
of the part of a sign to stand for the whole or the whole for the part) and
metonymical (using the name of one thing for that of another with which
it is closely associated) processes. For example: the cross is metonymi-
cally used for Christ, and the crown for the king. Through these proc-
esses of metonymy and synecdoche cultures can generate new connec-
tions to other metaphors, thereby creating a network of possibilities and
avenues for the transmission of messages and meanings.
Very often a semiotic domain contains a dominant metaphor. Such a
metaphor is called root metaphor. In the Christian culture a root meta-
phor in the religious domain would be for example the “holy mass” and
in the Igbo culture a root metaphor is the ofo (the ancestral staff of
authority). Such root metaphors often determine the direction in which
the signs and symbols to be included as well as the codes have to de-
The study of any culture, in effect, must ascertain as well as take
into consideration the metaphors which dominate the semiotic domains,
most especially those ones which unite the different domains into a sin-
gle cultural whole. These are the important guidelines for our description
or analysis of the Igbo culture as it pertains to their cultural identity. Texts on Change

The second group of cultural texts which will interest us are those deal-
ing with change in the society (texts on how the people handle change
and situations which threaten their identity). A change in the society can
be seen as a threat or as a blessing. When a change posits a threat to the
security of the people, it will doubtless be seen as negative or a deviation
from the norms. If it promises or brings an improvement in the condi-

tions of living, then it will be regarded as positive and sometimes even as
a necessity. Human societies are always confronted with changes. The
transition from a rural, traditional and agrarian society to an urban, tech-
nologically oriented and industrial modern society is a case of intensive
transformations. From the theological point of view, change pervades the
whole Christian message: Salvation is at the centre of the Christian expe-
rience of God, and salvation implies a very far-reaching, profound and
powerful change, which shields one from evil and brings about a passage
into a new reality.
Generally the semiotic description of cultural change concentrates
on the transformation of the systems of signs. It can occur through an
alteration of the relationship of the symbol to its message or through
changes of the codes, which govern the interaction of the symbols. Now
the question is: Is the change a process of incorporation, i.e. by which
new signs, messages, and codes are incorporated into an existing sys-
tem? Or does the change posit a conflict, by which a system of signs and
symbols, codes and messages is eliminated and a new one put in its

Incorporative approach
Since no human culture is perfect, there is always the need and the ten-
dency to enrich itself by incorporating new and foreign cultural elements
into its system. Every human culture does this at one point or another in
its development. A classical example is the religious syncretism. Christi-
anity incorporated a lot of elements from the Roman, Greek, Celtic, and
Germanic cultures and mixed them up with the Gospel message of Jesus
Christ. The key to this incorporative approach as a semiotic cultural de-
scriptive form lies in the question: Has the recipient culture got sufficient
self-awareness, self-confidence, and survival strategies to enable it to
admit new and foreign elements? If these are available, then it will be
able to accommodate and integrate the new information and elements. If
it lacks these, and if the tempo of confrontation is too high and the new
information overwhelming, then it will definitely take a different stance.
This brings us to the second process: conflict.

Conflictive approach
In this process two systems of signs and symbols compete with each
other in such a way that only one can take the upper hand or the domi-

nant position. In colonialising structures the invading systems of signs
generally tend to replace those of the invaded culture. This was the
situation in Africa especially from the 19th century right into the second
half of the 20th century.
There are not only conflicts from outside, but also conflicts within
the same culture. In this respect the question of what causal explanations
do the people themselves posit in the face of threats or dangers to their
cultural identity and stability. What provisions does it have for tackling
such anomalies individually and as a community?
Change is always a reorganization of the boundaries of semiotic
domains. When people no longer respect their assigned roles and places
and begin to act out of the ordinary, then the boundaries within the cul-
ture must be redefined. Every redefinition is a change. The awareness of
the boundaries is always connected with the awareness of identity. A
change in one results in a change or a reorganization in the other and
vice versa.

6.3 Summary

Let us piece the points together:

A study which has as its subject matter the problem of being in a border
zone as it pertains to seminarians, must take a look at the culture from
where the seminarians hail. For the description of this culture we have
opted for the semiotic method of cultural analysis. Semiotics has to do
with signs and symbols. It regards culture as a large communication web
in which messages move along perfectly worked out and interconnected
pathways. The most important aspects of that web are the carriers of the
messages called signs or symbols.
Before one delves into the descriptive task, it is of utmost impor-
tance to make certain pre-decisions: 1. It is important to decide on the
perspective from which the description is to be tackled: inner or outside,
listener or speaker perspectives? 2. It is also essential to make out the
specific cultural texts relevant for the study. We decided to look at the
Igbo culture mainly from the inner and listener perspectives and to con-
centrate on those cultural texts dealing with identity and change. In at-

tending to them, especially to those which constitute the cultural identity
of a people, it is important to keep an eye open for those dominant semi-
otic domains and the dominant metaphors, the root metaphors, within
those dominant semiotic domains.
In the next chapter we shall consider both, especially those texts
which constitute the identity of the Igbo and those which deal with
changes that arise largely from within the culture itself. In doing this we
shall not treat them separately but describe such changes as they emerge
in connection with texts on identity. Changes as a result of external in-
tervention will be the subject matter of the chapter after that.

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In order to appreciate the changes which the Igbo consciousness has un-
dergone in the course of the years and the likelihood of psychic tensions
as a result, we have to examine the organization of the life or the psycho-
social world of the Igbo before their encounter with Europeans. Marked
epistemological changes1 started to take place with the advent of Euro-
peans in the Igbo cultural area; this was the period of colonialism and
missionary evangelism. We shall refer to the pre-colonial Igbo society
simply as the “pre-colonial” Igbo society. When we mean the aspects of
the society which have survived the colonial and Christian assaults we
shall use the term “traditional” Igbo society.2

7.1 The Igbo People of Nigeria

The Igbo are a fast growing ethnic group and one of the three major eth-
nic groups in Nigeria. Unfortunately, there are no reliable figures as re-
gards their exact population.3 “Projections based on the census figures of

1 This does not imply that the Igbo world view was a static, although there was, prior
to the advent of the Europeans in the Igbo area, little or no contact with other cul-
tures outside the Igbo area. Cf. E. C. O. Ilogu, Christian Ethics in an African Back-
ground, 3f.
2 Generally speaking the traditional society with its specific or different way of life
still exist along side an emerging modern society with its attendant way of life,
though with some modifications here and there.
3 Writing about the Igbo in the 1930s C. K. Meek argued: “The 1921 (census) fig-
ures of 3,930,085 or approximately four million people, represent more accurately
the strength of the Ibo-speaking communities. If this is so, they would outnumber
all other Nigerian tribes, not excluding the Hausa, who are generally regarded as
the most numerous and most important tribe in West Africa, if not in the whole of
Africa”, C. K. Meek, Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe, 1.

the 1950s and 1960s, indicate that the Igbo constitute 25% or about 20
million out of the current total population estimated between 80 million
to 100 million”4. The latest census of 1991 under UN supervision fixed
the total population of Nigeria at 88.5 million. The Igbo have the highest
population of Roman Catholic Christians predominance; the western re-
gion (Yoruba) is the most divided, with some 40% Christians (chiefly
Protestants), one-third Muslims and the rest Traditionalists5. In the main,
the Igbo have the highest rural population densities in Nigeria.
Various theories exist regarding the origin of the Igbo. Many of
them base their theories on the occurrence of many similarities in cul-
tural patterns between the Igbo and their purported places of origin. Two
groups link the origin of the Igbo with peoples outside the Igbo cultural
area. There are Egyptian6 and Jewish links. Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo
ex-slave, in his memoirs first published in 1789, was the first to link Igbo
origin with the Jews.7 It has been established that the continent of Africa
is the cradle of humankind, of its culture and of its civilization.8 The
similarity of cultural patterns which may have given rise to such specu-
lations of Jewish or Egyptian origin of the Igbo only substantiates the
theory of a common African root of the human race. It is nevertheless
not compelling enough to deduce from that an external origin of the
Igbo. The most commonly accepted tradition is the one which does not
associate the origin of the Igbo with anywhere else other than their cul-
tural environment.9

During the Nigerian civil war (1966-1970) the Igbo were said to have constituted
nine million of the 14 million people inhabiting the area of the Republic of Biafra.
Cf. T. Zülch und K. Guerk (Hg), Soll Biafra überleben?, 255.
4 J. N. Oriji, Traditions of Igbo Origin, 2. As a matter of fact, there are very few
things in and about Nigeria that are as uncertain today as its population. The above
figures give credence to this fact. Even the latest 1991 census figures, which place
the total population of the country at 88.5 million people, are being strongly con-
tested by Nigerians themselves.
5 J. Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 381.
6 Cf. A. E. Afigbo, Towards a History of the Igbo-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria, 15.
7 O. Equiano, Equiano’s Travels, 12.
8 Cf. Oriji 22-23.
9 Among the proponents and defenders of this theory are K. O. Dike, P. A. Talbot,
G. I. Jones, V. C. Uchendu, A. Onwuejeogwu. For more discussions on the puz-
zling question of Igbo origin interested readers may refer to the works of V. C.
Uchendu, The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria, 2-3; J. N. Oriji, Traditions of Igbo Origin;

The term Igbo is used in a threefold sense to depict (1) the people of
this cultural area, (2) their language10, and (3) the cultural area itself.
When the people is meant, we will use the singular form “an Igbo” or the
plural form “the Igbo11” . We will use the form “Igboland” when we re-
fer to the cultural area and simply “Igbo” when the language is meant
and when it is used as an adjective. In most cases the sense meant will
become clear from the context in which it appears.

7.2 The Igbo Cultural Area

The concept “culture area” is a cultural-anthropological one. It is based

on the fact that particular cultures have specific traits and patterns, which
are geographically or spatially delimited. A culture area is thus a geo-
graphical delimitation of areas that have or manifest the same dominant
and significant cultural traits and patterns.

E. Isichei, A History of the Igbo People, 3-16; E. C. O. Ilogu, Christian Ethics in an

African Background, 1-3; A. E. Afigbo, Towards a History of the Igbo-Speaking
Peoples of Nigeria, 11-20; Ibid., Prolegomena to the Study of the Culture History
of the Igbo-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria, 28-41.
10 Greenberg’s classification of African languages indicates that Igbo language be-
long to the speech communities in the Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo linguis-
tic family stock. It is even argued that the homeland of the Bantu and other groups
who speak languages belonging to the Niger-Congo linguistic stock lies “in the sa-
vanna region, between Central Nigeria (the Middle Belt region) and the Cameroon
border. The groups include the inhabitants of the forest region such as the Igbo,
Yoruba, Akan and others [...]” (Oriji 23.) Cf. V. C. Uchendu, The Igbo of South-
east Nigeria, 3; Oriji 23-25.
11 Sometimes some authors use the anglicized form “Igbos”. We however prefer to
use the more convenient form “Igbo”, i.e. without the English language plural ap-
pendage of “s”. The argument that the version “Igbos” is absurd on the grounds
that the plural in Igbo language is not formed by appending an “s”, (cf. C. C. Agu,
Secularization in Igboland, 209), seems to us misplaced. It would apply if we are
writing in Igbo language. But when we use a foreign language like English to ex-
press a native concept, then it seems appropriate to abide by the grammatical rules
of that language. Thus we consider it only a matter of convenience – until a general
literary consensus stipulates otherwise – whether one uses “Igbo” or “Igbos”.

7.2.1 Geographical Location

The Igbo12 culture area includes the geographical area of south-eastern

Nigeria lying approximately between the latitudes 5° and 7° north of the
equator and longitudes 6° and 8° east of the Greenwich meridian. It cov-
ers an area of approximately 25,000 km2.13 The Territory is divided by
the River Niger into two unequal parts conveniently described as “West
and East Niger areas”. The Igbo culture area – that is the delimited geo-
graphical area in which the one Igbo language is spoken in its mutually
comprehensible dialects and the people on the whole “share typical and
significant common culture traits and patterns, up to or above 50%”14
and a common world view – is bounded to the north by the Igala, Idoma
and Tiv, to the south by the Ijaw and Ogoni of the Niger Delta, to the
east by the Yako and Ibibio and to the west beyond the Niger by the Edo
and Urhobo culture areas.15

7.2.2 The Sub-cultural Areas

The Igbo territory lies chiefly within the tropical rain forest zone with
the northern parts consisting of grassland and orchard bush or savanna.
“The most important rivers: Niger, Imo, Anambra and Ulasi, flow from
north to south thus indicating a steep northward gradient”16.According to
D. Forde and G. I. Jones, the Igbo are subdivided into five main sub-
cultural groups: (1) Northern or Onitsha Igbo, which includes such towns
like, Udi, Awka, Enugu-Ukwu, Nsukka, Onitsha, Aro Ndizuogu, Igbo
Ukwu, Nri. Bigard Memorial Seminary is located in this area. It is the

12 It is our a priori decision to use in this work this orthographic form as we consider
it the only correct way of writing this word and the only correct appellation. In the
literature which abound on the Igbo people and their culture one meets various or-
thographic forms, like, Eboe, Ebus, Hebus, Hebos, Ibo, Ibos. For those interested in
the orthographic dispute we refer them to Isichei, A history of the Igbo people, xv;
Agu, Secularization in Igboland, 209; L. N. Oraka, The foundations of Igbo stud-
ies, 11.
13 Cf. Uchendu 1; Agu 210; Oriji 2.
14 M. A.Onwuejeogwu, The Igbo Culture Area, 1. Cf. M. M. Green, Igbo Village Af-
fairs, 5.
15 Cf. Uchendu, ibid; Onwuejeogwu, ibid; Agu, ibid; Nwala 15; Oriji, ibid.
16 Uchendu 1.

Map 1: Igboland Showing Some Sub-cultural Groups,
Towns and Communities

first and oldest major seminary in Nigeria. About 60% of the respon-
dents to our questionnaire were drawn from this seminary. The European
missionary activities in Igboland had its genesis in this area as well. (2)
Southern or Owerri Igbo. Some important towns in this region are: Ow-
erri, Aba, Umuahia Ibeku, Ahoada, Orlu, Okigwe. The second major
seminary in Igboland, Seat of Wisdom Seminary, is located here. 40% of
the respondents were drawn from this seminary. (3) Western or Ika
Igbo.17 This is that part of Igboland west of the Niger. This area com-
prises such towns like, Asaba, Agbor, Kwale, Idah and Aboh. (4) Eastern
or Cross River Igbo is composed of Abam, Ohafia, Afikpo, Arochukwu,
Abriba. These are border towns to the Efik and Ibibio peoples of south-
eastern Nigeria. (5) North-eastern Igbo includes such towns like Abaka-
liki, Ezza, Uburu, Okposi. In this sub-cultural area the clash of cultures
and of religions (internal and external) seems to be less intense than in
other Igbo sub-culture areas.18 These areas are termed “sub-cultural” be-
cause, though having a common cultural pattern, they exhibit some dis-
tinguishable cultural differences. Nonetheless they constitute one cul-
tural unit since they occupy a common territory, [...] speak a common
language though with many dialectical variations which are mutually
intelligible. In spite of countless variations of custom, there are a number
of factors which are common to all of them, such as kinship structure
and certain important cult symbols such as ofo which are widely

7.2.3 Communication and Transportation

In the pre-colonial Igbo country there existed only a network of foot-

paths through the forest and grasslands which served as communication
routes. All travelling was done on foot. Objects were carried generally
on the head. The riverine Igbos, however, employed canoes for their
communication and transportation. Constant feuds and intermittent
small-scale warfare arising between village groups made long distant

17 Cf. Oriji 2.
18 D. Forde and G. I, Jones, The Ibo and Ibibio Speaking Peoples of South-Eastern
Nigeria, 10. Cf. Ilogu 2-3; Oriji 2.
19 M. M. Green, Igbo Village Affairs, 5.

travel highly insecure. This insecurity was heightened by the infamous
slave trade. Many Igbo took part in that despicable and inhuman trade.
W. Bascom and M. Herskovits, citing K. Onwuka Dike, note that some
of them served as “agents from Aro Chuku, an Ibo group near the Cross
River whose men moved relatively freely about large parts of Ibo coun-
try and dominated much of the internal slave trade”20. Only these agents
and the priests of Nri could travel fairly freely in the Igbo country “with-
out ending up in the hands of the slavers. Hence, as Ottenberg very
rightly states, ‘for the average Ibo distant travel of any kind was under-
taken only under unusual circumstances’”21.

7.2.4 Economic Life

The pre-colonial Igbo society practised sedentary agriculture predomi-

nantly on a subsistence level. Yam, cassava, coco yam, maize, pepper,
beans, and many other staple food items constituted the main food crops.
Palm trees grow wild in this region and in great abundance too. The trees
served chiefly for the production of palm wine, palm (edible) oil, palm
kernel and palm kernel oil for body lotion. They also provided materials
for house construction and livestock feed. Animal husbandry and fishing
were practised as well but not on a large scale. All these agricultural

20 S. Ottenberg, Ibo Receptivity to Change, 132.

21 Agu 212. Ottenberg’s account of the various means through which slaves were ob-
tained quoted by Agu is worth reproducing here because of its vividness and lucid-
ity: “‘Aro agents dominated much of the trade in Ibo country. Able to move rela-
tively freely along certain trade routes without fear of being attacked, they
controlled some of the major Ibo markets or else were closely associated with
them. Slaves were perhaps the greatest and most valuable single commodity though
a variety of goods was also traded. The Aro also obtained slaves from other sources
than through their oracle. They captured persons by waylaying isolated individuals,
persons returning from the farms, traders and travellers, and children away from
home: or other Ibo captured such persons and sold them to the Aro. Families sold
their younger children – particularly when they were many in the family – to the
Aro for money and goods. A man who was in debt could clear himself by selling
himself into slavery, or his debtors might seize him and sell him. Persons captured
in warfare were also sold into slavery. Finally, individuals who were considered to
be physically abnormal were likely to be disposed of by being sold out of their
community of birth’”.

products served also as the main commodities on the local markets.
Handicrafts like baskets, chairs, iron works (hoes, machetes, knives etc.)
were also sold. The means of payment was by barter, which later was re-
placed by currencies such as cowries, manilas and brass rods.22 Women
play a dominant and prominent role in Igbo traditional economic life.23
What Green said about the Igbo of Agbaja (in Okigwe area), the area of
Igboland she studied, is applicable to the people in general:

If agriculture is the basic occupation of these Ibo people, trading is a close second.
One might almost say that whereas they farm of necessity, they trade not only of
necessity but also for pleasure. Their markets are one of the main features of their
lives. They provide a meeting point for the discussion of common business and for
the dissemination of news; they are a social event where the spice of gossip, the
recreation of dancing and the zest of a bargain relieve the almost continuous toil of
hoeing, planting, weeding and harvesting throughout the year. Trading is the breath
of life, particularly to the women among the Ibo [...]24.

Art works were pursued mainly in connection with religious and social
activities and for individual consumption such as colourful house paint-
ing.25 We shall now concentrate on those semiotic domains which we
consider relevant to our subject matter. The consideration of those do-
mains will enable us to develop a feeling for the epistemic framework of
the Igbo and their mode of relating to the world of their experience.

22 The use of cowrie shells as a currency was widespread in West Africa and was in-
troduced from the India in the early part of the nineteenth century.
23 To this regard W. T. Morill observes correctly, albeit with some overstatements
that “‘women not only are the responsible persons in gardening, they also dominate
the marketing of produce and handicrafts. An Igbo woman is a highly independent
economic being with her own capital, control over her own transactions, and is re-
sponsible to no one in her enterprise. A woman is supposed to provide for her own
children with little or no help from her husband, and few Igbo husbands take a di-
rect interest in the methods used by their wives in providing the necessities of the
home. The husband is responsible for providing sufficient cash so that his wife can
provide him as an individual, but his responsibility does not extend beyond this’”,
Agu 213.
24 Green 37.
25 For further readings on the topic, refer to K. O. Dike, Trade and politics in the Ni-
ger Delta 1830-1885, Oxford 1962; Green 32-48.

7.2.5 Socio-political Organization

In discussing this point we will first of all consider its general features
and later some of its special characteristics. General Features

One significant thing about Igbo traditional societies is the absence of an
all-embracing social and political structure. In fact, one can say that the
most striking and intriguing feature of the pre-colonial Igbo society in
the eyes of a foreigner was its apparent “social fragmentation”, Green
writes. “This great people”, she further observes, “is broken up into hun-
dreds of small, more or less independent, social units, the largest being,
in many cases, what we may call the village group. This is a collection of
villages bound together by certain ties, but each one, [...] largely man-
aging its own affairs”26. These ties are much more reinforced through a
network of intermarriages. Thus “not united by any central governmental
authority, nor arranged in any political hierarchy, (they) are none the less
inter-linked horizontally each with its neighbours by social bonds of in-
ter-marriage”27. This apparent “lack of a central government” has been
the source of gross misunderstanding and its resultant misrepresentation
of the Igbo. Besides, this fact lay at the root of political and administra-
tive improprieties as well as serious bloody conflicts during the colonial
era between the people and external powers and authorities. Describing
the bewilderment of some European anthropologists who set out to study
the Igbo people, Agu has this to say:

[...] Seeing neither system nor meaning in the whole situation, the white man (and
by this is meant the colonial administrator who arrogated to himself the duty of
bringing government to the people) ‘naively concluded that the Igbo were living in
‘ordered anarchy’ or that, at best, they were leaderless [...]. Meek, a colonial an-
thropologist [...] was pleased to brand them ‘the most lawless part of Nigeria’ and
felt he was in duty bound to clap the colonial administrative staff on the back for
converting this lawless rabble ‘to a state of comparative peace and contentment [...]
in a single generation’. In the same vein Perham declared them to be ‘one of the
least disciplined, and least intelligible, of African peoples’28.

26 Green 3.
27 Ibid, 8.
28 Agu 215.

There are, however, some exceptions to this common feature. The pe-
ripheral Igbo towns of Onitsha, Abo, Oguta and Osomari have a system
of centralized government called obiship, which is somehow similar to
that obtainable in the non-Igbo kingdoms West of the River Niger.
Prominent among these kingdoms is Benin in western Nigeria. “Ac-
cording to Basden, the Onitsha Kingship which spread to Abo, Oguta,
etc. originated from Benin city”29, while Osomari kingship originated
from Igala.30 The northern Igbo country of Nsukka knows a relatively
mild form of kingship which can be described as Ezeship31, which they
borrowed from their Igala neighbours.
Beside these kingship forms there exist other forms of government
and politics which differ from the general kinship and village republic
systems of government among the Igbo. These include government by
associations and/or secret societies as is practised by the Southern Igbo,
and government by age-sets or age-grades as is found among the North-
Eastern and the Cross River Igbo.32
When the Igbo refer to the entirety of Igbo-speaking peoples or Igbo
country, they use terms depicting their two extreme forms of socio-
political organizations. This is expressed in the words Igbo na Oru (Igbo
and Oru). While Igbo stands for the highland people, Oru stands for the
riverine or lowland people.33 It would have been interesting to find out
whether the attitudes of our subjects of enquiry – the Igbo seminarians –
towards constituted authority as it is obtained in the seminary exhibit any
significant correlations to their areas of origin. Unfortunately many of
our respondents failed to disclose their areas of origin. Some Special Characteristics

Some of these features are: the kinship system, equalitarianism and
equivalence, democracy, authority and ritual leadership. We now look at
each one of them, since they each bring out a special aspect of the Igbo
epistemic world.

29 O. Imoagene, The Ibo of East-Central Nigeria, 13-15, 38-43, the quotation is from
p. 13.
30 Ibid., 15-16.
31 Nwala 19.
32 Cf. Imoagene 28-37, Nwala, ibid.
33 Cf. Agu 217. Cf. also Isichei, A History of the Igbo People, 19-20.

182 Kinship (Umunna)
The most important element in a socio-political set-up is the human ele-
ment. The population of an Igbo socio-political unit includes both the
living and dead members of that unit as well as their deities. According
to T. Nwala the Igbo socio-political community is

sustained by several forces which include: a) common land or primordial territorial

base with communal economic ties; b) blood relationship and a web of kinship ties.
All who belong to the same community are the umunna (children of the same fa-
ther); c) the mythical charter which embodies the history and ideology of the politi-
cal community. The charter stresses their descent from a founding father, and the
inevitable role of the gods of the community in its founding and protection.[ ..], d)
a web of customs and traditions and supernatural sanctions. The Igbo traditional
political community was really [...] ‘a spiritual commonwealth, involving union of
living blood relatives, the dead relatives and the gods of the community’; e) a hier-
archy of seniority and social status. Seniority is a function of age and birth while
social status is achieved within the open competitive social system [...]; f) a mode
of economic activity in which the collective free labour of the family or clan mem-
bers enabled social and common task to be performed34.

Kinship is one of the central nerves of the Igbo social, political and re-
ligious organization. In Igbo linguistic world the concept of kinship is
described by the words “Umunna” and “Ikwunne”. The term “Umunna”
literally means “the descendants or children of the same forefather”. The
concept depicts “a system of patrilineal organization which not only de-
termines one’s membership of a patrilineage but also determines one’s
rights and duties accruing from such a membership”35. It operates at the
three levels of traditional Igbo polity36: the micro level which is repre-
sented by the extended agnatic family segment; the messo level com-
prising of several agnatic family segments – village, and the macro level
which is in most cases the town or village-group. The village is mostly a
community of the messo lineage segments. According to Ilogu,

there are two kinds of villages: a village made up of various homesteads or com-
pounds whose owners are members of the lineages that claim ultimate common de-
scent. The other kind is a cluster of hamlets made up of homesteads or compounds

34 Nwala 167-168.
35 Onwuejeogwu 5.
36 Ibid.

whose occupants are members of various lineages, all of which do not claim ulti-
mate common descent, and therefore can intermarry. The village in this latter in-
stance is mainly a geographical unit providing some considerable solidarity based
on neighbourhood rather than on immediate ‘blood relationship’37.

The government of the village is run by the village assembly. The mem-
bers consist of all the male adults in the village. “Although anyone had a
right to speak at meetings, the responsibility for taking decisions fell on
the inner caucus of lineage heads in the village”38. As in family and
umunna (patrilineage) meetings, however, everything was done to reach
a consensus. The village assembly is the highest governmental organ in
the Igbo lineage system.39 Above the village you can get a federation or
confederation of villages constituting a town.40 Nevertheless, the gov-
ernment of the village group (the town) – the village-group assembly – is
neither a federation nor a confederation. The village-group assembly
comprised of representatives of member villages. As a result of geo-
graphical mobility there are in many towns villages which have no agna-
tic connection to the rest of the majority, hence the common phenome-
non of federation or confederation. Political power and authority, social,
economic and religious activities are arranged around the kinship con-
cept. Its centrality is borne out by these words of Uchendu: “An Igbo
without umunna is an Igbo without citizenship both in the world of man
and in the world of the ancestors”41.
The term ikwunne stands for the ancestral affiliation of the individ-
ual to his mother’s patrilineage. A person may be haunted or persecuted
in his umunna, but he is sacrosanct in his ikwunne.42 These two basic
concepts offer a strong bond of relationships among the Igbo, and serve
as the basis for their equalitarian and communal predisposition.

37 Ilogu 11.
38 Imoagene 27.
39 In the peripheral Igbo kingdoms the highest governmental organ is the Obi (the
king), the administrative and executive cadre of the Age-Sets or the village group
level representatives of the secret society members. Cf. Imoagene 31 and 37.
40 Ibid. Several villages constitute a village-group or town.
41 Uchendu 12.
42 Cf. C. Achebe, Things Fall Apart. The central figure of this epic novel, Okonkw,
took refuge in his Ikwunne when he was banished out of Umufa, his village, after
accidentally shooting a fellow village youngster.

184 Equalitarianism and Equivalence
The equalitarian and communal predispositions are at the base of the
aphorism: Igbo enwe eze (the Igbo do not have kings); an aphorism de-
picting not only unequivocally the Igbo political system but also an im-
portant aspect of their psychology: The Igbo generally not only do not
have a tradition of kings or a system whereby political power is in the
hands of a monarch or of chiefs, they abhor such a situation whereby
someone claims or imposes such a power or authority over them. “An
Igbo does not recognize anybody as his chief or superior and so does not
see why he should entrust his welfare into the hands of another; he be-
lieves that what you can achieve he too can achieve”43, and perhaps excel
you in the same venture. In general, the Igbo have a dogged principle
which is expressed in the maxims: “strangers shall not be rulers” and
“the land is never devoid of counsellors.” S. Leith-Ross observed accu-
rately that nothing could entice Igbo men “to acknowledge the leadership
of a ‘stranger’, even though that stranger lived but a few miles away”44.
The principle of equalitarianism guarantees that no one person or
group of persons acquire too much control over the life of others. An
equalitarian society, moreover, is for the Igbo a society which, according
to Uchendu, “gives to all its citizens an equal opportunity to achieve suc-
cess”45. The price for this kind of epistemic bend is an endemic atmos-
phere of competition which many a time takes the form of very un-
healthy rivalry and fatal intrigue. A further aspect which, in our opinion,
among other factors also contributed greatly to the backward trend espe-
cially in economic development, is envy and the malicious tendency in
some people which can be best described as: ‘if I cannot be more suc-
cessful than you or at least as successful as you are, then you should also
not succeed at all’. This attitude has frustrated and set back many prom-
ising young business men and women. Although adventurism sometimes
is tolerated, there is a slight group pressure on the individual to tow the
line of the umunna.

43 Agu 217.
44 S. Leith-Ross, African Women, 22.
45 Uchendu 19.

185 Primary Democracy and the Nature of Representation
The organization of the Igbo state as we pointed out previously is based
on the two kinship concepts of “Umunna” and “Ikwunne”. Above the
umunna is the village or village group whose affairs are not entrusted
into the hands of any single individual or even group of persons. Each
village or village-group is an independent and autonomous political en-
tity. No one can presume to wield authority or power beyond his own
village no matter what fame, honour or achievements he may enjoy in
his own village. Two oak trees do not grow under each other’s shadow, it
is said. The Igbo themselves say: Osisi ogologo anaghi akufe mba (A
tree does not span two villages no matter how tall it may be).
Matters affecting the umunna are treated and cases are settled in ad
hoc umunna-meeting. Such meetings can be convened by any member
who has cause to do so. The same is applicable on the village level. In ad
hoc village general assemblies called Oha, Amala, and in modern times
Nzuko, cases are tried, issues handled and decisions and resolution
reached on matters affecting the village. Every member of the village is
free to attend such gatherings and everyone present has the right to con-
tribute his opinion. When the matter has been thoroughly discussed the
‘leaders’ from each lineage in the village retire for brief consultation or
deliberation (igba izu or izuzu). Any decision reached in such an assem-
bly, which is short of a consensus is unacceptable and has neither a legal
nor a moral binding force. To a stranger such assemblies would appear
like an organized chaos. To illustrate, Agu cited D. R. Smock who at-
tended such a village assembly together with M. Green during their
fieldwork among the Agbaja people:

When a decision affecting an Ibo community is to be made, several groups and or-
ganizations concern themselves with the issue and within each organization near
unanimity must be reached before discussion can be closed. Participation is on such
a broad scale that most traditional meetings have no chairman or central direction,
take no votes, permit more than one person to speak at a time, have no agenda, and
continue for long periods. A decision reached by one organization within a com-
munity that is not acceptable to another organization can usually not be imple-

46 Agu, ibid. Cf. also Green 121-129.

In short, when it comes to the organization of umunna or village affair or
when it comes to decisions on matters of common concern, the Igbo
prove themselves as dogged democrats. Government among the Igbo
was an affair of the entire community.
The Igbo political system is a highly decentralized system. Author-
ity was consequently widely spread or distributed. According to B. Da-
vidson the Igbo have a system of government where “‘the common man
was his own ruler, though within a complex pattern of community
life’”47. The political participation on the village level involves every
male adult of the village. The village assembly has not only legislative
but also administrative and executive powers. In the assembly every vil-
lage, represented by its delegates, has equal voice. Green observes: “Ibo
democracy, unlike English [democracy], works through a number of
juxtaposed groups and a system of checks and balances rather than on a
unitary or hierarchical principle”48. Uchendu sums it up thus:

There is no majority decision. The village representatives are not a permanent body
of legislators but are selected at each session for their ability to represent the point
of view of their village. They have a ‘delegate’ and not a ‘representative’ status and
cannot commit their village to any matter not previously discussed and agreed upon
by it49. Gerontocracy – Leadership – Authority

In the Igbo country the relationship between the generations are ordered
along a line which is best described as gerontocracy. This is in contrast
to the seminary or church institution where hierarchy is the principle ac-
cording to which interpersonal relationship between the generations is
The head of the household is the ‘paterfamilias’. The households
that constitute an umunna share a common ancestral shrine. Often they
share a common compound. The head of the umunna is the okpara,
ikenye or okenye i.e. the oldest male in the compound – the patrilineage.
He holds the ancestral staff of authority of his umunna called ofo.50 This

47 Ibid.
48 Green 145.
49 Uchendu 44.
50 The ofo is a “sacred, club-like” ritual staff from the “branch of the tree known as
detarium elastica”. Cf. Green 12 and Uchendu 40.

confirms and legitimates his ritual authority. The position as a lineage
head is not hereditary. This means that an incumbent lineage head, the
okpara, cannot bequeath the family or village ofo and the attendant so-
cial position to his son at death. The succession follows the adelphic
principle. The okpara of the umunna (patrilineage), however, is normally
the oldest in his patrilineage, while the okpara on the village level is the
oldest member of the most senior village lineage segment. The leader-
ship or headship function of the okpara is first and foremost moral and
ritualistic in nature. His authority derives from the position he occupies
as the closest to the ancestors of his family, or of his umunna lineage,
and on the village or village group level because of the position his vil-
lage occupies as the most senior village segment lineage. He attends to
the ancestral shrine and to the family deity, or to the village deity, offer-
ing regular sacrifices to elicit and ensure their goodwill and making in-
tercessions for and on behalf of the members of his lineage.
The okpara must possess a good number of qualities if he hopes to
command respect and cooperation from the members of his lineage.
Such qualities are essential for the qualification for this office as well as
for the enhancement of his competence and efficiency. According to
Uchendu: “Character is the overriding factor, and a candidate qualified
by the age-order principle may be turned down because he is considered
to have a questionable character. Although character is important for
election or selection for office, the personality of the office holder de-
termines how effective the office will be”51.
He must be an upright man, a man of good character and of moral
integrity, evident honesty and untarnished reputation. He must be a man
who leads what Uchendu calls a “transparent life”. He is expected to be
“accessible to all. If he holds ofo [...] he is required to vindicate his inno-
cence regularly through the rite of iji ogu – the affirmation of inno-
cence”52. A breach of this, through acts of injustice or dubious dealings,
is supposed to attract the wrath of the earth goddess, Ani, Ala, and of
course a divestment of all respect, honour and cooperation he has hith-
erto enjoyed.
One who has a leadership position in an Igbo community is ex-
pected to be moderate in the exercise of his authority. Although he can

51 Uchendu 41.
52 Ibid., 17.

be impeccable in character, the Igbo do not expect him to “govern too
much”. Should he attempt to do this, he must reckon with an instant
withdrawal of their respect and their cooperation. In the words of

The Igbo leader ‘emerges’: he is not born or made. The Igbo saying that ‘everyone
is a chief in his hut’ [...] [means] that a dictatorial leader of the Igbo is inconceiv-
able. A leader may be a dictator if he likes, but his leadership must be restricted to
his household. A leader is supported by his followers as long as ‘he does not gov-
ern too much.’ To govern too much is to alienate them53.

Actually one of the greatest things they abhor in their socio-political life
is an authority who attempts to be despotic or autocratic.
A further quality expected of him is – very often on account of his
age – insightfulness and eloquence. He is required to be eloquent, able to
articulate ideas and to command the attention of his listeners whenever
he is presenting his case before the village or village group assembly. As
the Igbo themselves say, he must be someone who “has mouth”. This
means not only a mastery of traditional Igbo oratory which includes a
good command of Igbo proverbs, which the Igbo say is the spices with
which one enjoys a discourse (ilulu bu mmanu an’eji eri okwu). It pre-
supposes a good knowledge of the Omenani54 of the people.
A leader is not born because the necessary qualities are not given to
every man; old age neither produces eloquence nor is it a guarantee for
its existence. The village tries to forestall such a situation whereby its
case can be thrown out because of bad presentation or lack of eloquence
on the part of their village head or leader by choosing a gifted younger
member to accompany their elder and to present their case as his dele-
gate.55 It is not uncommon that an elder is made fun of or taunted and
shouted down with ignominy if he botches up the presentation of his
people’s case or flounders in announcing to the general assembly the de-

53 Ibid., 20.
54 Omenani, and Omenala are one and the same thing. The form of expression one
chooses depends on the area of Igboland one comes from. In this work we shall use
the form Omenani.
55 One can notice here a similarity with the relationship between the biblical Moses
and his brother Aaron. Cf. Ex 4: 10-17.

cision reached in a consultation by a council of elders.56 “Position with-
out ability was, in fact, accorded recognition but not respect”57, Green
concludes. Since merit is esteemed as well as seniority, the road was free
for competition. According to Afigbo, “‘competition kept everybody and
every group up and doing in order to retain his or its rightful place in the
Igbo scheme of things’”58.
From the ongoing discussion one can see that the Igbo socio-
political system integrates gerontocracy and meritocracy, primary and
representative democracy in a harmonious manner. While the elders have
their inalienable spiritual position and rights, men of merits, success and
achievement share in the leadership functions in the community. Thus
the society makes room for and encourages progress and development of
talents and capabilities – a sign of flexibility – but also a fertile ground
for competition. In view of these facts, one can appreciate the extent to
which a social system that operates on hierarchical principles and deci-
sions are unilaterally made, as is the case with the seminary, is a devia-
tion and to a great extent a novelty for the Igbo. In a society where “so-
cio-political integration is achieved through decentralization rather than
through hierarchical organization”59, the introduction of the latter is a
likely a source of distress for the subject who is compelled to operate
along both principles – within the seminary and more so outside the
As we have seen the principles of Umunna and Ikwunne are the
foundation and the bulwarks around the highly priced principles of
equalitarianism, equivalence and communalism among the Igbo. The
two former principles state that

all who are morally worthy were basically equal, differences in wealth notwithstan-
ding. Anyone descendant of ancestor X was equal to anyone else in the community
[...]. Whatever has to be shared was divided equally between all participants who
chose according to seniority. In other words, barring age which was venerated in a
gerontocratic society where seniority conferred authority, all men and/or segments

56 Cf. Green 124. mnna-headship or the position as village head, as we said earlier, is
not hereditary, even though Green believes to see or recognize one among the peo-
ple of Umueke.
57 Green, ibid.
58 Nwala 173.
59 Uchendu 20.

were equal. There were therefore no commoners for whom decisions had to be

Even in those areas with kingship institution the Obi or kings do not ex-
ercise absolute authority. The kings are sort of presidents of communal
councils, symbols of communal power and authority in the state and a
kind of unifying figure. I. Nzimiro writing on the position of the Obis in
Onitsha, Oguta, Abor and Osomari pointed out that a lot checks and bal-
ances see to it that they do not “govern too much”. Nzimiro writes:

Sovereignty of the people expressed through the assembly recognized in the state is
supreme [...]. The presidency of the Obi at the Council sitting is a matter of routine
since the council can proceed without him as was the case but, decisions automati-
cally bind him [...]. Thus, despite the sacredness, high respect and the dignity of the
office of the king [...] he is not above the law [...] as the present day British mon-
arch [...]. Besides, [...] though sacred, he is a politician and can be challenged, ei-
ther by his chief on behalf of the people or simply for personal aggrandisement on
the part of an individual chief [...]61.

Whatever form the leadership assumes, the primary function of leader-

ship among the Igbo is to make it possible for the people ‘to get up’.
That is to say, it is the primary function of the leader to create opportu-
nities for the individuals – and by extension, the community – to enhance
their economic, social and psychological condition. His leadership will
be judged and evaluated on the basis of how far he has been able to pro-
vide both. Ritual Leadership

A special class in the socio-political organization of the people is the
group involved with ritual leadership. This class is of a special interest to
us considering the subject matter of this work. The Lineage Head (Okpara)

Leadership among the Igbo accords special recognition and place to
seniority and to merit. Ritual leadership, however, rests first and fore-
most on the okpara of the family, of the lineage, village or village-group,

60 Imoagene 22-23. Emphasis added.

61 Nwala 172.

as we have seen.62 He also performs sacrifices for the family members to
Chukwu, as we shall see further down in this chapter. The okpara can be
said to be the primary ritual leaders among the Igbo.
The Igbo have an elaborate means of coping with the spiritual
forces believed to control and influence their life and destiny. However,
the knowledge of the supernatural realm and the power and gift to influ-
ence the forces that abound are not shared equally by all. The person
who understands these forces, manipulates and controls them, can as
well influence the lives and affairs of his fellow human beings. As a re-
sult such a person is held in high respect and awe. Priests, diviners,
medicine men and women belong to this group of persons. They are rit-
ual leaders in a secondary sense. Priests (Dibia Aja)

Priests are ministers to particular deities and spirits to which public
shrines and cults are dedicated. These deities and spirits have altars set
apart for them. The priests are called isi-mmuo (head of the deity or
spirit) or eze-mmuo (chief of the spirit or deity). In every Igbo town or
village there are several such priests each of which is attached to a par-
ticular public shrine of a deity worshipped in the town or village. They
mediate between the deity or spirit and the people. The earth-deity, Ani,
is the greatest deity in the Igbo country. Likewise her priest (eze-ani) in
any village or town is regarded as the ‘High Priest’.
By some deities, the office of the priest is hereditary. In most cases,
however, succession to a vacant priestly office is a result of a direct in-
tervention by the deity in question. This happens through some extraor-
dinary religious experience63, which is generally interpreted and authen-
ticated through divination. The intervention is described by the Igbo as
wa (= breaking into the life of the candidate). In the case of a direct in-
tervention of the deity the candidate requires no special training. He
learns from experience guided by his deity.64 Otherwise the candidate
undergoes a very simple training. Often this is accomplished by observ-
ing the prospective predecessor. Before he assumes office the priest is

62 See subsections and above.

63 Cf. E. E. Uzukwu, Church and Inculturation, 13; E. I. Metuh, Comparative Studies
of African Traditional Religions, 207.
64 Compare the similarity to Ex 3: 1-12 and 4:12.

usually initiated. The initiation ceremony varies in solemnity according
to the importance and influence of the deity he serves. This class of
priests are resident priests. The Igbo have also an itinerant priest class.
These are the Nri itinerant priests. According to E. Metuh

The Nri priests are agents and delegates of the ‘Eze Nri’, who is believed to have
received from God powers over the mystical forces connected with the earth. Nri
priests therefore have the prerogative of performing the purification rituals for of-
fences believed to pollute the earth, like homicide, incest, suicide and theft of
yams. Since only Nri priests may perform the cleansing rituals for these offences,
many communities, welcome some Nri priest families to settle among them to pro-
vide these services65. Diviners (Dibia Afa)

Diviners are those who “reveal the minds of the deities by interpreting
certain signs according to fixed principles”66. A special class of diviners
are the mediums. Mediums are those religious functionaries through
whom the deities or spirits make known their wishes to their adherents.
They practice different forms of divination in order to obtain the oracular
messages from the deities. There are others who access the deity in
question by spirit possession.
Diviners occupy an indispensable place in the Igbo society. They
help the afflicted to discover whether his misfortune is the work of hu-
man agents from the community – e.g. witches or sorcerers, or from
spiritual agents from within or outside the community – e.g. an alusi, or
from an evil spirit. When this is established, they are still needed to help
the victim find out the culprit or which particular spirit is responsible,
and also to ascertain the appropriate remedies for the disrupted har-
mony.67 Native doctors (Dibia Ogwu)

These are persons who possess the art of accessing the powers inherent
in nature, herbs, animals and human beings, primarily for the well-being
of their clients: healing, protection from and prevention of harm, or for
the heightening or strengthening of one’s vital force and abilities or those

65 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 207.

66 Ibid., 218.
67 Cf. E. I. Metuh, African Religions in Western Conceptual Schemes, 174-175.

of their clients. These professionals are generally called medicine-men in
the literature. There are, however, not only men but also women in this
profession. That is why we prefer the terminology “native doctors”. In a
society where many forces are believed to impinge on one’s life and
sense of well-being, it becomes a matter of vital importance to have
competent men and women versed in the art of manipulating, controlling
and accessing the influence of these forces. Illness for an Igbo, as is the
case for any African, is not only a physiological but also a psycho-
spiritual disorder. In the Igbo country any sort of impairment of well-
being – actual, anticipated or imagined – is the field of interest of the na-
tive doctor. His art involves, beside the knowledge of the causes (physi-
cal and spiritual) of illness and the relevant remedial approaches, also the
invocation of the spirits and gods and the performance of ritual sacri-
fices. As a doctor his function is first and foremost to protect and en-
hance life and well-being.
Every gift or talent can be misused. So also every profession, com-
petence and office. The office of the native doctor posits no exception.
There are some native doctors who specialize in means of vitiating, im-
pairing and destroying the life and well-being of their fellow human be-
In some cases the native doctor is at the same time priest and di-
viner. Since his field of work spans the three dimensions: physiological,
spiritual and psychological, he often works closely with diviners and
priests. In any case every prospective native doctor undergoes an inten-
sive and sometimes long period of training or apprenticeship. However,
the profession cannot be chosen as one would choose any other profes-
sion like carpentry or teaching. Only those into whose lives the deity of
medicine, Agwu, breaks (wa), i.e. those called, can become native doc-
tors. According to Metuh, “the call is experienced in the form of a mild
mental disturbance (ala agwu – madness of Agwu). Divination confirms
that it is the sign of a call by Agwu to serve him and the community as a
medicine-man [or -woman]. The candidate then sets up a shrine for De-
ity-deity and attaches himself to an experienced medicine-man as an ap-
One would think that the presence of Western trained medical prac-
titioners and the increasing number of Western oriented hospitals will

68 Ibid., 215.

force the native medicine and its doctors to fall into disuse. The reality is
far from this. Not even the onslaught of missionary and Christian activi-
ties could weaken the importance of native doctors in the Igbo country.
Their resilience is underscored by the apparent great number of native
doctors in Nigerian as well as in many African cities. “Their clientele”,
Metuh observes, “come from all sectors of the community and include
politicians, highly placed government officials, university lecturers and
students, business-men [and -women] and military officers”69.
All three categories of ritual personages are ritual leaders in the
Igbo society and the Igbo assume ‘correct behaviour’70 in respect to
them. They too are bound by the same Igbo concept of leadership, which
has the primary function of creating possibilities of “high status for the
individual and progress for the entire community”71.
An important contrast to the Christian idea of ritual leadership con-
sists in the fact that among the Igbo these functionaries live the normal
life of every other citizen, except for those periods when they perform
their duties and the fact that they are accorded the social status and re-
spect in correspondence with their office and function. Permanent celi-
bacy or abstinence from sexual activities as a way of life for these func-
tionaries is strange to the Igbo traditional life. Igbo tradition demands
limited and periodic sexual activities on the part of the priests and priest-
esses (which of course seems to be a more practicable human require-
ment). For instance the traditional priest does not sleep with his wife
during the period he is on duty.72 Agu puts it thus:

Those who performed ritual or priestly functions for and among the people were
not secluded from the rest of the populace. They performed their religious duties at
the time and in the manner it was required of them, and they received their remu-
neration in accordance with omenala and were accorded the social status and re-
spect in keeping with their office and function. Outside that, they lived the normal
life of every other citizen [...]. None of these who perform ritual and priestly func-
tions in various ways is ‘a holy figure set apart from daily life’; each of them went
about his farming and took part in village activities as did everyone else .

69 Ibid.
70 The concept of “correct behaviour” will be explained later down in this chapter.
71 Uchendu 20.
72 Cf. Nwala 233.
73 Agu 230. Cf. also, Green 53.

Let us now take a look at the general belief system74 of the Igbo, which
is the bedrock on which the aforesaid rests.

7.3 General Belief System

Often when world views are being discussed, there is a common ten-
dency to a priori treat religion as an independent department. But when
we talk about frames of reference, we are talking about belief systems,
which naturally have at their roots the people’s convictions about their
place in the scheme of the universe, the meaning and goal of human life,
their relationship to the natural and spiritual forces active in their uni-
verse. To this regard, a belief system is a web of epistemological princi-
ples underlying behaviours and/or general behavioural tendencies. A
person’s or a people’s behaviour can be better appreciated if the observer
understands the underlying belief system or systems. In the subjective
experience of the person himself a conflict occurs when two or more
guiding principles can no longer simultaneously be applied without their
resulting in contradictory behaviours.75 An insight into the traditional
Igbo belief system is very necessary if one wants to understand why the
Igbo act the way they act and also to what extent their belief system dif-
fers from, say, that of a French, an German or a Briton. We shall discuss
this overarching semiotic domain of Igbo belief system under the term
Omenani, whereby we shall pay attention only to some selected areas of
the Omenani which we consider as the “root metaphors”.
Igbo general belief system is centred on the belief in the Supreme
Being and the supernatural forces. It is, therefore, bound to share certain
broad characteristics with other similar belief systems around the world,
such as the need for myth, dogma and sanctions – to describe, define and
defend beliefs –, rituals to actualise and communicate with the super-
natural forces, taboos and a web of codes of conduct and attendant pos-
sible sanctions to ensure conformity, cultural identity and the correct

74 We employ the term “belief system” here as a generic term which includes world
75 Cf. R. Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP, 179.

disposition towards the whole belief system. All these are embodied in

7.3.1 Customs and Tradition (Omenani)

Omenani literarily means that which obtains in the land or community,

the way things are done in the land. It means also ‘according to the way
our forefathers and our people do things’. It refers to the norms, customs
and traditions of the Igbo. Omenani refers to the guiding principles in the
relationship of the Igbo to the world around him, visible and invisible,
material and spiritual. It defines what is right and wrong in the commu-
nity. It refers to what is in accordance with the basic beliefs, ideas and
mores without which, in fact, as the Igbo say, the community loses its
identity, ceases to exist as a social entity. It includes the concepts about
the origin of the universe and its nature, structure and organization, the
nature of the order and harmony among the various beings or forces in
the universe, means of maintaining or observing such a balance, rules
and regulations governing human actions. Omenani is the Igbo expres-
sion not only for their culture, but also for the moral order. Omenani is
the compendium of the Igbo belief system as well as the actual practice
of the norms and customs as they apply to any aspect of social and ritual
life of the community. If an Igbo is pouring libation and you ask him
what he is doing, he will reply: ana m eme omenani (I am performing
omenani). If your host presents cola nuts to you, he might say: k’anyi
mee omenani (let us do omenani). Omenani is the way the Igbo view,
interpret and approach life as a whole.
The Igbo belief system or Omenani is founded on two basic convic-
tions: (1) There is an organismic unity among all things, and (2) there is
an ordered relationship, an equilibrium, among all beings in the universe. A unitary world

The Igbo world is a unity. This is a world where the various departments
of life are in a web of interconnected relationship, such that one cannot
separate one from the other without losing an essential component. It is a
world where the various spheres: the human and the divine, the religious

and non-religious, the visible and the invisible are involved in such an
interaction that they mutually influence each other.
Like other African societies, the Igbo view their world as inhabited
and permeated by what we can call Life-Force. The essence of the vari-
ous realms and entities in this world is Life-force. This is why their
world is a unity. It is this Life-force that weaves the realms and entities,
which are organized in a hierarchical ontological order, into a cognitive
For the analytically minded Western scientific orientation such a
world appears primitive or unscientific. It does not fit into the grid of
Western world apprehension, which operates on the principles of dual-
ism and quantification or measurability. Since the beginning of European
intellection, dualism has been the cornerstone. It severed the universe
into good versus evil, truth versus falsity, subject versus object, natural
versus supernatural, body versus soul, matter versus form, heaven versus
hell, the human person versus nature, this world versus next world, etc.
The one always excludes the other. Later in the 17th Century while free-
ing itself from the control of church scholasticism with the help of Gali-
leo and Kepler, but without eliminating dualism, and shedding the last
grips of mythological cosmology76, Western consciousness added the
principle of measurability to its intellectual cornerstone. Having sort of
side-stepped dualism, it enthroned a kind of monism: Only what can be
measured and quantified can be known, is worth attention and is real. As
L. L. Whyte put it: “About 1600 Kepler and Galileo simultaneously and
independently formulated the principle that the laws of nature are to be
discovered by measurement [...] Where Aristotle had classified, Kepler
and Galileo sought to measure”77. In a cognitive framework which oper-
ates by exclusion and/or division, the idea of ‘as-well-as’ has no place or
recognition and an apparent paradox is an absurdity. The human being is
divided into body and soul, whereby the former is inferior to the latter;

76 This process began as far back as the 6th century B. C. in Greece when the Ionian
philosophers took the first steps towards looking at the world, explaining and inter-
preting it in naturalistic terms without recourse to supernatural forces or entities.
The climax seemed to have been reached with the Enlightenment era of the eight-
eenth century, when tradition with its myths was virtually ousted from the stage of
world perception and explanation; the individual was pitched up against the soci-
ety, and the road was straightened out for the modern individualism.
77 K. Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, 20.

only objects are significant and real, since they are measurable and veri-
fiable; subjects have no reality. While the church and some fields of the
humanistic sciences still stick doggedly to dualistic approaches to the
universe, the natural sciences spearheaded by physics and mathematics
are rapidly giving up the principle of measurability and objectivity.78
Gradually they have come to realize that it is an illusion to believe that
you can observe something without interfering with it. This illusion gave
rise to the problem of mistaking the map for the territory79 or “our ab-
stractions for concrete realities”80, as is the case in many confrontations
between Christians and adherents of the Traditional religions. Both prin-
ciples have constituted the cornerstone of Western intellection: philoso-
phy, theology and sciences, for several centuries. Criticizing this age-old
intellectual bondage K. Wilber impatiently upbraids:

Western philosophy is, by and large, Greek philosophy, and Greek philosophy is
the philosophy of dualism. Most of the great philosophical topics still debated to-
day were created and moulded by the philosophers of ancient Greece. These in-
clude the dualism of truth vs. falsity, whose study is termed “logic”; that of good
vs. evil, called “ethics”; and that of appearance vs. reality, named “epistemology”.
The Greeks also initiated the wide scale study of “ontology”, the examination of
the ultimate nature or being of the universe, and their early inquiries centred around
the dualisms of the one vs. the many, chaos vs. order, simplicity vs. complexity.
Rooted firmly in these dualisms, Western thought throughout its history has con-
tinued to generate those of its own: instinct vs. intellect, wave vs. particle, positiv-
ism vs. idealism, matter vs. energy, thesis vs. antithesis, mind vs. body, behaviour-
ism vs. vitalism, fate vs. free-will, space vs. time – the list is endless. Thus did
Whitehead state that Western philosophy is an elaborate footnote to Plato.
This is indeed odd, for if dualistic knowledge is at the root as contradictory as try-
ing to make your finger touch its own tip or your foot step on itself, why wasn’t it
abandoned long ago, why did it exert such a pervasive influence throughout the
course of European thought, why does it still dominate – in one subtle form or an-
other – the major branches of Western intellection today? [...] One of the principal
reasons that the dualistic or “divide-and-conquer” approach has been so pernicious
is that the error of dualism forms the root of intellection and is therefore next to
impossible to uproot by intellection (Catch-22: if I have a fly in my eye, how can I
see that I have a fly in my eye?) .

78 Cf. Ibid., 21-24.

79 Cf. Ibid., 29-30.
80 Ibid., 33.
81 Ibid., 18-19.

In the Western culture where the analytical thought pattern is based, such
categories of thought like sacred and profane, religion and politics etc.
are accepted thought categories, which could be opposed to each other;
religion is looked upon as just a department of life – an activity reserved
just for special occasions: “an appendix to normal living”82. Fortunately
mystics in the Christian tradition have practised the kind of unitary vi-
sion we mean here. They have been able to jettison the shackles of dual-
ism and perceive reality unabridged, direct and as one without doing
violence to “the seamless coat of the universe”83. In fact, the Igbo do not
even have a word that renders the English word religion in their lan-
guage; the same is applicable to many other African languages.84 This
underscores the fact that the belief system, which the word religion ex-
presses, permeates all the departments of life. K. Gibran has expressed
this same idea in a brilliant manner, which we quote here in extenso.
Asked by a priest among his audience to speak to them about religion,
the wise teacher said:

Have I spoken this day of aught else? Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,
and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever
springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom? Who
can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? Who can
spread his hours before him, saying, ‘This for God and this for myself; This for my
soul and this other for my body’? All your hours are wings that beat through space
from self to self. He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better na-
ked. The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin. And he who defines his
conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage. The freest song comes not
through bars and wires. And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also
to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to
dawn. Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it
take with you your all. Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
the things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight. For in reverie you cannot
rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures. And take with you
all men: For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble your-
self lower than their despair. And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver
of riddles. Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.
And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His

82 Agu 223.
83 Wilber 33.
84 Cf. Mbiti 2.

arms in the lightening and descending in rain. You shall see him smiling in flowers,
then rising and waving His hands in trees .

Many works have been written on Igbo traditional religion.86 These

works, however, manifest the same tendency akin to Western thought
pattern: they treat religion as an independent sphere of life, as a subject
matter on its own footing. The reason or the explanation for this can be
sought in the following directions: (a) Most of these works, especially
those written by Igbo scholars are impelled and propelled by the desire
to correct the widespread wrong notion that exists among Europeans
about the Igbo and their relationship to the world of spiritual beings or to
the numinous. For A. E. Afigbo, “the enemies of our culture, especially
the missionary societies, have libelled our society and culture for so long
and to such an extent that we now have to prove to them, and to those
who think like them, that there is much in that culture that is noble, dig-
nified and praiseworthy”87. (b) Connected with this is the desire to fill up
an intellectual gap88 which such misrepresentations in the West had laid
bare: the traditional Igbo culture has no literary documentation of its
system. Just like efforts to fill up this gap in the area of philosophy89 are
yielding a lot of positive results, the area of religion and religious beliefs
has attracted the greatest attention largely due to the Christianity factor
and its perpetual negative bias and aggression towards the Igbo tradi-
tional religious belief system. Afigbo comments:

So iconoclastic did the missions become that they infuriated many members of the
colonial administration by their radical reformism. At one point Herbert Richmond

85 K. Gibran, The Prophet, 103-105.

86 E. I. Metuh, God and Man in African Religion; ibid., Comparative studies of Afri-
can Traditional Religions; ibid., African Religions in Western Conceptual
Schemes. Other works on Igbo Traditional Religion are: A. N. O. Ekwunife, Con-
secration in Igbo Traditional Religion; C. O. Obiego, African Image of the Ulti-
mate Reality; F. A. Arinze, Sacrifice in Igbo Religion; G. T. Basden, Among the
Ibos of Nigeria; V. C. Uchendu, The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria.
87 A. E. Afigbo, Towards a Cultural Revival among the Igbo-Speaking Peoples, 7.
88 E. I. Metuh’s work “God and Man in African Religion” has this as one of its moti-
vation and aim.
89 For instance the works of T. Okere, Can There Be an African Philosophy? A Her-
meneutical Investigation with Special Reference to Igbo Culture, Louvain 1971; T.
U. Nwala, Igbo Philosophy; E. M. P. Edeh, Towards an Igbo Metaphysics, Chicago

Palmer, the Lieutenant-Governor of Northern Nigeria, commenting on the affairs in
Igboland, said it was the policy of the missions to destroy the fabric of Igbo life in
order to build upon the ashes thereof. It is a measure of how far the Igbo were taken
in by European cultural propaganda and blandishments that it is only within the last
few years that they became even moderately aware of the need to revive and assert
their independent cultural identity [...] .

(c) Also closely affiliated with the first two points is the loud and per-
sistent outcry for a cultural revival in the face of a war of extinction
waged on the Igbo cultural and traditional belief system by the mission-
ary societies and colonialism; a war which was exacerbated by the un-
critical and unrestrained Igbo longing for European culture.91 Afigbo
quotes G. T. Basden who commented on this reckless hankering for for-
eign ways of life as very unfortunate and regrettable:

The generation that represented primitive Ibo belief, with its ancient laws and cus-
toms, has almost died out [...]. The younger generation is learning to read and write
and to adopt European ideas and fashions in every detail of life, clothes, houses and
pastimes [...]. The younger generation has shed old manners and customs freely,
and somewhat hastily. They are ardently grasping at all things new and foreign.
Not all, by any means, can discriminate between the wheat and the chaff .

According to Afigbo the need for a cultural revival is justified and based
on the fact

first, that before we were colonized and culturally brainwashed we had a culture of
our own; second, that it was this culture which gave our fathers and those before
them their distinctive individuality; third, that though this culture, like all cultures,
had its weak points, it also had its strong points; fourth, that while casting aside the
weaknesses we can move into the modern world with aspects of that culture in or-
der to retain our separate identity and, finally, that should we cast aside our culture
in its entirety in order to embrace European ways, we shall cease to be ourselves
without quite becoming Europeans .

90 Afigbo 4-5.
91 European culture as introduced by the missionaries and colonialists sort of fash-
ioned a society in which the Igbo found unlimited and unparalleled opportunities
for indulging their achievement oriented attitude inculcated in them by their tradi-
tional society.
92 Afigbo 4.
93 Ibid., 5.

(d) The desire to present the correct picture of the religion of their people
to the wider world, coupled with the intellectual enterprise made it in-
evitable and expedient to use thought categories their audience is accus-
tomed to. Nonetheless, the difficulty and the problems of translating for-
eign concepts and phenomena into one’s own linguistic horizon – as is
the case in works by European and American authors – or African cul-
tural phenomena and concepts into foreign language and/or with words
that are foreign to it – as is case in the works by Igbo authors – are felt
throughout most of these works. This of necessity leads very often to
distortion of facts about the subject matter. E. Metuh cited an example of
such distortions in the rather cynical account made by Rev. J. During in
his report of 1878 on the nature of Igbo worship:

How they offered their prayers every morning? With their stick tooth brush. When
they chewed it to their satisfaction they took it out and slew their hand with it
around their head many times and sprinkled spits as they think and said God must
eat it, and he must give them cowries (money) and should any of their enemies
want them to die, such one must die. And in front of their houses they planted a
tree and pray through it; they said, when they speak to it, the stick conveyed their
words to God; all broken plates, cups, placed on the roots of the trees they said they
gave it to God .

In recognition of this problem E. I. Metuh devoted one of his works95

entirely to the problem of translation and interpretation. In this work
Metuh set out to portray the Igbo religious experience in such a way that
a “Westerner or anybody with a Western world view” can “understand
Igbo religious beliefs as the Igbo understand them”96. Whatever the
shortcomings of these intellectual ventures they have helped to articulate
and objectivate the subjective experience of the Igbo for the wider world
by rendering it in a more universal symbolism: written language, thus
making it available to the rest of humankind97 and to posterity. On the

94 Metuh, African Religions, 50.

Such an account only exposes the extent to which During is ignorant of symbolism
and the nature of symbols.
95 African Religions in Western Conceptual Schemes.
96 Ibid., xi.
97 This is in contrast to speech language which no doubt is also a powerful instrument
of externalizing subjective experience. However, until the invention of audio-visual
aids and techniques, its usefulness and efficacy as an instrument of documentation

background of this optimism we too venture into this cognitive land-
scape of the Igbo in order to explore and to savour the order and har-
mony in the interplay of life on this landscape. Harmony in the Interplay of the Life-forces

The second basic conviction on which Igbo belief system rests is that
there is an ordered relationship, an equilibrium, among all beings in the
universe. The Igbo believe that their universe is full of life-forces, be-
ings, which are related to each other in an organismic manner and are in
constant interaction with each other. A basic characteristic of this inter-
action is reciprocity. Human existence and survival depends on the
maintenance and observation of the harmony and order among these
forces. (Morally) good life consists in the observation and maintenance
of this order. Any disorder is the result of an improper conduct or be-
haviour on the part of any of the forces. Any disorder affects the entire
system. The disruption can be rectified through various rituals. The
omenani contains numerous taboos (nso) and sanctions to ensure and
safeguard this organismic – cosmic and social – balance and order.
The Igbo believe that their world is inhabited by both benevolent
and malevolent visible and invisible beings or forces. The human being
is at the centre of this universe of dynamic forces. Consequently the Igbo
have developed an elaborate range of rituals and means of influencing,
securing or procuring the benevolence of the beneficent ones and pro-
tecting themselves from, warding off or manipulating the maleficence of
the malicious ones. Through the rituals an Igbo hopes to “maintain an
equilibrium and a harmonious relationship with all the beings and forces
that impinge on his life and being”98.

and information transmission from one generation to another was restricted only to
the method of oral transmission.
Furthermore, this statement does not disregard the existence of age-old forms of
written language among the Igbo: the Nsibidi and Ur ala sign language, cf., A. E.
Afigbo, The Place of the Igbo Language in our Schools, 73-74; Isichei, A History
of the Igbo People, 35-39. These writing forms, however, were not available to the
entire Igbo people; since they were secret writings, they were known and restricted
only to the members of the secret societies, especially the knk and the Ekpe secret
societies, cf. Afigbo 73.
98 Metuh, African Religions, 4. Cf. Uchendu 12-14.

Among the invisible members of the Igbo world are Chukwu (Great
God), the numerous deities that are his messengers, the ancestors and
other spirit forces that roam the world. Being members of the one Igbo
world these spiritual beings are in constant interaction with the human
For the Igbo all the life-forces or beings in the universe are organ-
ized in a hierarchical order. The other life-forces are not all of the same
kind and vary in their importance to the human being. They are thus dif-
ferentiated according to their power and their role in the ontological or-
der in nature. Nwala classified these beings into three broad categories
with subcategories: 1. Spirits and Forces (Mmuo na Ogwu), 2. Human
beings (Mmadu), 3. Things (animate and inanimate, plants, animals)
(Ihe). The Spiritual Beings and Forces (Mmuo na Ogwu)

This class of spiritual beings are sub-grouped according to their order of
importance, power and influence:

(a) The Supreme Deity (Chukwu)

The overarching power and ultimate Life-force in the Igbo world is the
Supreme Deity – Chukwu, Chineke, Osebuluwa, Ezechitoke abiama – as
it is variously called depending on the aspect being emphasized or ad-
dressed. Referring to the transcendence and greatness of this supreme
deity, God, the Igbo call him Chukwu. Chukwu is derivative of two Igbo
words Chi (the creative destiny) and ukwu (great) meaning the Great
Chi. Chi is the “personalized creative destiny”99 of a person. “The [Igbo]
[...] believe that at the moment of conception God creates a new individ-
ual spirit who eventually is born as a human being. Sometime before his
actual birth, this spirit goes before God and is allotted his destiny (Chi)
and an ancestral guardian (Eke) who then as it were, imprints on this
formless figure some of his own physical and character traits. Hence the
reincarnating ancestor is called ‘onye noro ya uwa’ (he who welcomed
him into the world) [...]. It is not the individuality of the ancestor that is
reborn but his personality”100. This personal Chi is an emanation of God
embodying the divine providence for the person. Chi is thus a kind of

99 Uzukwu 15.
100 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 256.

personal God. This Chi receives a package of possible destinies for the
person from which it has to choose only one. The destiny chosen is re-
garded by the Igbo also as Chi. The person’s course of life, and what he
may get out of life are contained therein and predestined by Chukwu.
However, what the person actually gets or makes out of his package is
the person’s sole responsibility. The Igbo believe that this Chi has a dou-
ble. One remains with God and the other accompanies the individual to
oversee and assist him in realising the destiny it has chosen for him.101 In
this sense, it can be understood as the ‘spirit guardian’ of the person. Chi,
therefore, stands for three related meanings: the supreme being, the per-
sonal destiny of the person and the personal spirit-guardian.102 Which
one is meant by the Igbo at any given time is decipherable from the
context in which the word is used.103 Chi-Ukwu would then be to the en-
tire universe what Chi is to the individual person. Chukwu understood in
the above sense means ‘The Great God’ or ‘The Great Controller or
Originator of universal destiny’. Individual and global history would
then be the process of the crystallization, development and bringing into
full shape the individual and universal divine package. However, the ul-
timate goal of this movement or process, in contrast to the Judeo-
Christian tradition, is not union with Chukwu (God).104 When the Igbo
mean God’s creative power and quality, they address him as Chineke or
Chukwu Okike. The designation “Chineke” is a combination of three

101 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 175.

102 Metuh, God and Man, 24.
103 Cf. Ibid., 22-23.
Any event in the life of the Igbo, be it good or bad, success or failure, fortune or
misfortune, is called Chi (one’s destiny). A lucky person is said to be ‘onye chi
oma’ – ‘a person who has a good chi’. Faced with an arduous task, the Igbo would
affirm his self-confidence and encourage himself by saying: Onye kwe chi ya ekwe
(‘If you will or persist hard enough then your Chi will assist you’ i.e. if you are in-
dustrious your Chi becomes active and cooperates. A kind of ‘Heaven helps those
who help themselves!’). Affirming his innocence, he can say: Chi ma ije m (‘God
knows the course of my life’ or ‘God knows how I have come to this point and
where I am heading to’).
104 Cf. K. Wilber, Halbzeit der Evolution, 14-15. In his critic of the Western concep-
tual framework which separates the divine from the human, thus positing both as
different entities which have ontologically nothing in common, Wilber submits that
history is for the Judeo-Christian world the development of the treaty between God
and human beings and has the goal of uniting them with God.

Igbo words: “Chi”, “na”, and “Eke” (Chi, and, Eke or Okike). We have
seen what Chi means. At creation each person receives from God
(through the ancestors) another divine dimension called Eke. This divine
emanation, Eke, lets the person out into the world105, linking him with
the human society, especially with the Life-force of his umunna (pa-
trilineage), as his ‘ancestral-guardian’. The Igbo believe that once Chi
and Eke make their choices, they are irrevocably sealed and they are in-
delibly imprinted by Chukwu on the palms of the person’s hands repre-
sented by the lines of the palm, akala aka. When an Igbo refers to the
entire course of his life, he often says: Chi m na Aka m.106 Chineke thus
means ‘The Creator God’, the ‘Creating Providence’. The Igbo address
God as Osebuluwa (or simply Olisa) (‘Sustenance of the Universe’, the
‘Great Providence’, the ‘Great Life-force of the universe’ ) when they re-
fer to the fact that he is immanent in his Creation. The form Ezechitoke
abiama (Lord God Creator of the Universe) is used when His all-creating
and providential power is meant.
The special place of the Supreme Deity in the Igbo world is marked
by the fact that only non-bloody sacrifices are made to him.107 This sacri-
fice, called Aja eze enu (sacrifice to the King on High), consists usually
of a white live fowl tied onto a pole, an eagle feather, a white cloth, a
piece of yam stuck unto the pole and at the base of the pole kola-nuts.108
It can be performed by any married male adult in accordance with the
diviner’s instruction. The place of Chukwu among the Igbo is further
marked by the fact that a direct access to him can be established by any-
body and by any family through its family head. Prayers and supplica-
tions are addressed directly to him. However, a very striking and essen-
tial characteristic of the relationship of the Igbo to Chukwu is that they
do not have any intermediaries between them and Chukwu. Uzukwu’s
observation in this regard is enlightening:

No leader (ritual or political), no community, can arrogate to itself an exclusive re-

lation to Chukwu. No one can claim to mediate (through prayers, invocations or
sacrifices) as an instituted priest between Chukwu and the people. The intrinsic
worth of each human as person, and the dispersal rather than concentration of

105 Metuh 25.

106 “Aka” is a dialectical inflection for ‘Eke’.
107 Cf. Uzukwu 15.
108 Cf. Ibid.; Metuh, God and Man, 130.

authority in the hands of one person is best manifested in the Igbo ritual attitude to
Chukwu. The practice whereby any adult male (i.e. married) performs priestly (sac-
rificial acts) in relation to Chukwu without being specifically consecrated for the
worship of Chukwu brings Chukwu home to each family. Just as no priestcraft
stands between ancestors and their descendants so also none stands between
Chukwu and the families .

Chukwu is the only Deity who does not fall within the class of nature
deities. That Chukwu often is associated with Igwe (sky), Anyanwu (sun)
or even with any other powerful deity, Nwala says, is “only an attempt to
bring closer to human comprehension and communion what is but an ab-
solute and an immaterial force or being”.110
Of a very special interest for our study is the following point: For
the traditional Igbo the ultimate goal of his life is to live a life in har-
mony with the cosmic totality, with all the forces that impinge on his life
– and this means to live a good life; his main goal for the Afterlife is to
become an ancestor; and his aim of worship is to attract the gifts and
blessings of the Supreme Being, the favours of the Deities and the sup-
port of the good spirits. Thus, the ultimate goal and value of his life is
neither the imitation of Christ, union with God, nor is the primary aim of
worship the glory of God. The traditional Igbo definitely do not see the
purpose of life to consist in the knowledge, love, worship of God so as to
live with him forever in the next world.111 There are numerous deities
that act as messengers to Chukwu. The deities that follow belong to this

(b) The Deities (Mmuo)

The term Mmuo is a generic term the Igbo use for spirits or spiritual be-
ings. However, it is commonly applied to depict the deities, mostly be-
cause the other spiritual beings have their specific designations in addi-
tion. We shall employ the term “spirits” or “spirit-forces” (Arusi) to
depict that class of spiritual beings or forces, which Chukwu created and
left in nature. The term “ndi mmuo” will be used to denote the common
populace of those spiritual beings that were once human beings. The ex-

109 Uzukwu, ibid. Emphasis added.

110 Nwala 127.
111 This is the purpose for which God created the human being as is contained in the
Igbo Catholic Catechism: ‘Katechizm nke okwukwe katolik n’asusu Igbo’.

pression “spirits” stands, therefore, for both Arusi and Ndi Mmuo and
represents those life-forces, which in the ontological hierarchy, are be-
neath the status of the Deities, and above the status of human beings.
Which category of spirits is meant at any point in the discussion will be-
come clear within the context.
The most important among the deities are the ‘Sky-Deity’ (Any-
anwu) and the ‘Earth-Deity’ (Ani, Ala, Ajani). Together they dispense
Chukwu’s immense wealth to his entire creation – for the good of human
beings. The manifestation of sky-deity is the sun. Anyanwu (Sun) is be-
lieved to abide in the sky and thus is nearest to God. The Igbo have a di-
rect sacrifice to Chukwu112, but most often he is worshipped through An-
yanwu. The Igbo regard Anyanwu as the Deity of wealth and good
fortune. Belonging to the sky deities are also Igwe, Amadioha or Ka-
malu. Igwe (sky) is regarded as the ‘husband’ of Ani. “Just as a husband
fertilizes his wife, so Igwe, in form of rain, fertilizes Ala, the Earth De-
ity”113. The function of Igwe consists in uncovering undetected criminals.
Igwe expresses his power and vexation in thunderbolts (Amadioha) and
lightening (Kamalu).
Ani (Earth) is the most important deity in the life of the Igbo.114 It is
said that she presides over the deities below just as Chukwu presides
over the deities above. Subordinate to Ani are numerous lesser deities
like Ifejioku, Agwu, and myriads of Arusi, or local spirits of rivers, for-
ests etc. She exercises her power through them. Agwu, for instance, is the
curator of divination and diviners. It endows its candidates with the gift
of divination and knowledge of medicinal herbs, while it punishes of-
fenders by afflicting them with mental derangement.115 It is important to
note here that various deities found in any part of Igbo country depends

112 Metuh, God and Man, 128-135. Metuh identifies four types of direct offerings or
sacrifices to Chukwu among the Igbo: “The rites of Igba mkpu Chukwu, celebrating
God’s mound; Aja Eze Enu, sacrifice to God, King of heaven; Iruma Chukwu, in-
stalling the altar of God and Ikpalu Chukwu ugbo, making a sacrificial boat for God
on marriage”. Most widespread among these forms of sacrifices is Aja Eze Enu.
For a detailed description of the nature of these sacrifices, cf. Metuh, 129-132.
113 Ibid., 64.
114 Ibid., 66.
115 When someone starts behaving in an unusual or funny way, the Igbo may ask him:
Agwu ona akpa gi? Or Agwu ona ebu gi? – ‘Is Agwu in possession of you?’ That
means: ‘Are you crazy or mad?’

on the geographical and ecological conditions of the areas. Highland
Igbo have deities associated with hills and heights, while riverine Igbo
have deities associated with rivers and waters, for instance. The Igbo re-
gard Ani as the owner of all human beings, living or dead. She is very
dear to the Igbo, since she is responsible for fertility of human beings,
animals and plants. Besides, she provides human beings with an abode,
home or shelter and with means of livelihood. At death they return to the
Earth. She is the queen of the underworld and of the ancestors, since they
are buried in her bosom. Thus burial rites are closely associated with Ani
cult. Ani is the wellspring and custodian of omenani. Land disputes,
criminal and other offences that mitigate against individual and commu-
nal well-being are referred to her. Crimes like adultery, incest, murder or
homicide, unnatural birth116 , such as birth of twins, etc. are all crimes
against Ani. All offences against the Earth-Deity, Ani, are abominations
and are called nso Ani (‘taboos’ or things Ani abhors). Ritual sacrifices
of propitiation are made directly to Ani to atone for such crimes in order
to obviate her wrath. According to Metuh,

the cult of Ala is one of the most powerful integrating forces in traditional Igbo so-
cieties which are characterized by the absence of centralized political authority. Her
cult is organized at the family, village and clan level, so that there are family
shrines, village shrines and clan shrines to Ala. Public rites are performed at vari-
ous stages of the farming cycle [...] .

The most important of these rites, the new yam festival, performed annu-
ally, is dedicated to her. During the ceremony new yam seedlings, eggs
and other products of the land are offered to her in thanksgiving. After
the opening ceremony performed in the village’s central shrine dedicated
to her called Mbari, the family heads do the same on behalf of their

116 “Unnatural birth” here underscores the belief of the traditional Igbo that since
Chukwu creates and sends out each human being into the world individually, the
occurrence of twins runs contrary to this natural course of creation. Thus it is un-
natural to give birth to twins and twins themselves are bad omen. Since birth has to
do with life and the Earth-Deity is the chief custodian of life, the birth of twins is,
therefore, a crime against Ani and consequently an abomination – nso ani. Such
births are the handwork of nefarious spirits. However, this view was given up al-
ready in the early days of the contact with Christianity.
117 Metuh, God and Man, 67. Cf. also, Jan Knappert, Lexikon der afrikanischen My-
thologie, 97-98.

members. In Umuneke clan118 the yams eaten on that day are not boiled;
they are rather roasted and eaten with fresh palm oil, pepper and salt.
This festival is the major feast among the Igbo. It is generally accompa-
nied with great feasting consisting of music and masquerading (– be-
lieved to be the ancestral spirits parading through the villages, dancing
here and there and making visits to their erstwhile families and rela-
tives), and, of all married daughters (umuada) returning to their families
of origin (patrilineage) bringing with them offerings which the okpala
will offer to the ancestors on their behalf. They are occasions for family
reunion and strengthening of family ties with the ancestors. The greatest
and most frequent open confrontation between the participants or believ-
ers in the Traditional Religion and the Christians have been on such oc-
casions. Christians, with the support of their pastors (natives and expatri-
ates alike) and seminarians, often openly defy some of the taboos
connected with these rites, such as preventing their wives to visit their
ancestral homes or forbidding their married daughters from returning
home on the prescribed day(s), or even openly desecrating and violating
the ancestral spirits by disdainfully unmasking the masquerades in order
to show that they are human beings. Up till date this is the tenor of the
Christian approach to what for the Christians is the “problem of mas-
querading in Igboland”. In any case, the aim is to totally eradicate mas-
querading among the Igbo.119
Alusi, Arusi (local Spirit-forces) are said to be ‘metaphysical forces’
which the Supreme Being created and put in nature. They can become
concrete and real in material objects. It is believed that in this process of
incarnation they acquire varying degrees of consciousness and potency.
According to Metuh, “fortunate people especially the dibia or diviners
who first discover these Arusi bond themselves to their service and thus
become the owners of the Arusi. Hence an Arusi is usually the property
of a clan, a village, a family or even an individual”120. Alusi differ essen-
tially from the deities in the fact that they can act whimsically or irra-

118 This area forms the greater part of the present-day Udi Local Government Area in
Enugu State.
119 This is also one of the causes of the conflict between the parish priest of Amokwe
parish (see the Preamble to Chapter Six) and the town community. He, however,
did not desecrate the masquerades but he was incessantly disparaging this tradi-
tional and cultural institution in the churches.
120 Metuh 73.

tionally, but not immorally121. They can be invoked against enemies, or
to protect one’s properties or oneself. Christians disparagingly describe
most Igbo traditional ritual affiliations generally as igo mmuo or igo
Alusi (in Christian terminology: worshipping spirits or idols).

(c) Ancestors (Ndichie)

A group of ndi mmuo (non-corporeal beings122) very dear to the Igbo is
the group called ndichie (Ancestors). These are dead family, lineage or
umunna members, who, through a series of passage rites, most especially
burial rites, have attained admission into the spirit world and have be-
come ancestors. As ancestors, they are revered and regarded as part and
parcel of their families and communities. Since they have not yet at-
tained the full ontological form of spirits, which is the ultimate end of
human beings, their process of dying is not yet complete. As a result,
Mbiti prefers to call them the “living dead”:

They are the closest links that men have with the spirit world [...]. The living-dead
are bilingual: they speak the language of men, with whom they lived until ‘re-
cently’; and they speak the language of the spirits and of God, to whom they are
drawing nearer ontologically. These are the ‘spirits’ with which African peoples are
most concerned: it is through the living-dead that the spirit world becomes personal
to men. They are still part of their human families, and people have personal
memories of them .

The difference between the ancestors and the spirits is that people from
their families or lineages still remember them, their characteristic traits
and their names. The ancestors who have become spirits no longer have
any living person or family members who remember them. They have
passed into the state Mbiti calls “collective immortality”124 and have no
more family or personal ties with the living. More to this theme when we
discuss ‘spirits’. The ancestors, on the contrary, are in a state of “per-

121 Ibid., 72.

122 In need of bringing some clarity in the concepts used in the description of African
religions and cultures, Mbiti argues that the terms ‘living-dead’ be reserved solely
for the ancestors, while ‘spirits’ be used only for those non-corporeal beings in the
final states of existence, i.e. fully dead and, therefore, wholly spirit. Cf. Mbiti 83-
123 Mbiti 82.
124 Ibid., 78.

sonal immortality”125. Commenting on the relation of the Igbo to their
ancestors Metuh has this to say:

The Igbo are very close to their ancestors. They receive more attention in daily and
annual acts of worship than the Supreme Being or the deities. As members of the
family they are invited to be present and participate in most family activities; they
are invoked to share in the kola communion, whether it is blessed at public gather-
ings or split at home to entertain a guest. They are invoked to participate at naming
ceremonies, marriages and funeral rites of other members of their family. The Igbo
morning offering, Igo ofo, ‘praying with the ofo’[...] is addressed to God, the dei-
ties and the ancestors, but it is made before the ancestral shrine Okpensi .

As we saw earlier, the ancestors legitimate the authority of the okpala.

Unlike the malignant spirits, the ancestors are good ‘spirits’, well dis-
posed and caring for the welfare of their descendants. As ‘living-dead’
they have enhanced powers and influence. Since they are part of their
human families, they know the needs of their people and at the same
time have full access to the channels of communicating directly with
Chukwu and the deities. Being closer to the Supreme Being and the dei-
ties, they act as intermediaries between these other spiritual beings and
their families. In virtue of their new status they have better knowledge of
the goings-on in the spirit-world. From this vantage point they can con-
stantly warn their families and umunna of an impending catastrophe and
advise them on how best “to attract the most favourable fortunes. As
members of the clan into which they hope one day to reincarnate, they
are very concerned with the continued existence and strengthening of the
clan”127. As a result they act, under the supervision of the Earth-Deity,
Ani, as custodians of the traditional norms, mores and customs on which
the survival of the lineage revolves. The Igbo, and indeed Africans in
general, involve them in their family affairs more often for minor needs
of life than they approach Chukwu.
Just like the relationship between Chukwu, the deities and human
beings requires ‘correct behaviour’, so also does the relationship be-
tween the Igbo and the ancestors. A “correct behaviour” is the demean-
our, conduct or disposition, which is in accordance with the norms and

125 Ibid., 82.

126 Metuh, God and man, 95. Cf. too Uchendu 11-12.
127 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 139.

customs of the people regarding, and befitting of, a given object to which
one relates. This includes the observance of proscriptions and prescrip-
tions, taboos, as they relate to the given object or person(s). It is, for in-
stance, a “correct behaviour” towards the ancestors to ‘feed them’128
regularly. And in offering them their food, it is “correct behaviour” to
treat them as part of the family but still not as if they were not dead. This
requires the befitting measure of distance and nearness.
The concept of ndichie puts up the question of how the Igbo view
the idea of afterlife. Closely connected with this question is the concept
of time. Time is for the Africans, in contradistinction to the European
concept of time, not linear but cyclic. This is not to say that Africans or
the Igbo do not have an idea of the past, present and indefinite future.
They do. A striking difference, however, is that for the Igbo life is activ-
ity, and events determine, mark and govern time. For a Westerner time is
more or less the concatenation of sequences of events measured on the
The linear conception of time is also at the root of the Christian
teachings on the Afterlife. Christians posit a better world in the future, in
the other world. For the Igbo there is no ‘world to come’ and there is no
better world outside this very one. The invisible world, the world of the
Deities, spirits and ancestors is almost a carbon copy of this world, and is
organized seemingly in the same way. At the end of one’s life among the
living, the ultimate desire and end of the African or the Igbo is not union
with God or entrance into heaven, but to become an ancestor and to be
able to reincarnate into one’s family. This guarantees him a continuous
participation in the affairs of his family or clan, and remembrance. That
means Ndu (Life) for the Igbo: a life materially and spiritually sustained.
According to Nwala, “hardly do the Igbo pray to be like their gods or to
be united with their gods […]”129. The general orientation of Christians
is other-worldly, while that of the Igbo is this-worldly.

128 Sacrifices or offerings made to the ancestors are called by the Igbo inye ndi nna
nna anyi fa nri – giving food to our forefathers. Since the relationship to the an-
cestors is as well governed by the principle of beneficial reciprocity and mutual re-
sponsibility, which is the maxim governing their social life, the ancestors can be
subjected to ‘starvation’ should they fail to perform their own part of their respon-
sibility towards their families and communities.
129 Nwala 183.

The cyclic nature of time begins for the Igbo at creation and pro-
ceeds through birth, (adulthood,) death and rebirth. Just like cosmic
events such as the rotation of the earth, the phases of the moon, day and
night, the seasons of the year all follow the cyclic sequence, so does life
for the Igbo. The ‘rites of passage’: birth, puberty and funeral rites, all
are geared towards celebrating and reinforcing the dynamism of each
phase of this cyclic process. Each new phase brings about an enhance-
ment of the powers of the person, which he can exercise for the benefit
of his family and lineage. Appropriate and elaborate burial or funeral
rites are believed to usher the dead person into the spirit-world and en-
able him gain a place within the ranks of the ancestors. However, death
alone makes yet no ancestor. Only when the person has lived a life in
harmony with all the vital network of relationships, with nature, God, the
Deities, the ancestors, his umunna or lineage etc. can they guarantee him
the status of ancestor. Life is for the African life-in-relation.
The ‘Afterlife’ is, therefore, for the Igbo the continuing of the rela-
tionship of the dead with the living and not the ultimate end of the hu-
man being or of the world. When, therefore, one is not buried right, i.e.
not accorded the proper burial rites, the person ends up in a ‘world-in-
between’; he is not admitted into the spirit-world and is also no longer
part of the living. Such persons are believed to return to their families to
cause havoc until they are given the right burial. “The most loathsome
expectation in the Afterlife”, Metuh writes, “is to end up as a wandering
spirit, cut-off from the community and communion with one’s family
and kinship groups”130.

(d) Spirits (Ndi Mmuo)

There are myriads of spirits which co-inhabit the Igbo world. Just as
there are good and evil human beings, there are also good and evil spir-
its. The spirits are believed to dwell in the underground, in the woods,
thick forests, rivers, grooves, caves, or just around the villages. The
world of the spirits is believed to be very much like the world of human
beings. In addition to many other activities they engage themselves in,
which are unknown to human beings, the activities of the spirits are
similar to those of human life here. People report that they see spirits in
forests, in ponds, at midday, on open places, in the market place, along

130 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 251.

pathways, outside their villages, dancing, singing, working in their farms
or nursing their children.
Spirits themselves are invisible, but they may make themselves visi-
ble to human beings, especially to diviners and mediums. They are said
to assume different shapes like human, animal, bird, plant forms or in-
animate objects but in shadowy forms. They have no family or personal
ties with human beings, and are no longer ancestors. This fact of the ab-
sence of any family or human binding or cleavage makes human beings
to fear them. They are regarded as strangers and as such dreaded; since
one does not know how exactly to approach or deal with them correctly,
every effort is made to keep out of their way.
The evil spirits are most dreaded by the Igbo. Among the evil spirits
the most potent are the ones the Igbo call Uru Chi (Destroyer of fortune),
Ogbanje (Repeaters), Akalogeli (Wandering spirits) and Ogbonuke (Dis-
gruntled dead comrades). As a result of the effort to find an equivalent to
the Christian concept of the Devil in the Igbo belief system, the mission-
aries came to identify an Igbo Deity of war, Ekwensu, with the Christian
devil. The Christian notion of the devil as the enemy of God, who de-
rives satisfaction in inciting people to moral evil in order to alienate
them from God, is inexistent in the Igbo belief system. Ekwensu is not
the devil but an Alusi. It is generally regarded as the spirit of valiance,
bravery and valour, violence and destruction. At war time warriors and
head-hunters invoked it for valour and bravery. At peacetime Ekwensu
incites people to violence. Purification rites and some other rites are per-
formed to drive away Ekwensu, since its activities during peacetime
spells disaster for the community. Among all the spirits only Ekwensu
can make somebody to commit a morally despicable act, and that only on
one specific area: homicide against a person of the same community.
That is the only occasion in which moral evil is brought in connection
with an Alusi or spirit. Specifying Metuh writes:

When Ekwensu, which like every other Arusi is generally regarded as a good spirit,
incites somebody to acts of violence resulting in bloodshed in his own community,
it is regarded as a moral evil. Only Ekwensu, therefore, is believed to incite people
to moral evil and only in this very restricted area; thus the notion of inciting people
to moral evil enters the conception of Ekwensu and one can understand why the
idea of Ekwensu as the ‘tempter’ or the ‘devil’ caught on easily with the Igbo .

131 Metuh, God and man, 78.

On account of this thin connection, the Christians believe to have found
an equivalent of their notion of the devil among the Igbo. Following this
misinterpretation and generalization Christians and non-Christians am-
ong the Igbo today refer to every misfortune, mistake, wrong doing or
evil act as oru ekwensu (the work of ekwensu).
Akalogeli, Ogbonuke, Ogbanje are three categories of evil spirits
that have the same goal of making the lives of the living worthless by
baring them from realizing their ultimate purpose in life and their des-
tiny: long life, big family, wealth, grandiose funeral ceremonies to en-
sure a smooth passage and admission into the spirit-world and a place
among the ranks of the ancestors. These spirits are evil because they
bring misfortune upon the living. Evil spirits are not worshipped; they
are driven away by the help of a dibia.
Uru Chi is another category of non-human spirits. It is the only
spirit the Igbo regard as essentially evil. It strives to negate every effort
and every favour from Chi. Other evil spirits bring misfortune, Uru Chi
thwarts or destroys fortune. According to Metuh, “Uru Chi strives to
render null and void any favours Chi intends to send to her child, and
strives to frustrate any requests and sacrifices offered to Chi by her
From this exposition one immediately sees how cognitively danger-
ous, theologically irresponsible and pastorally misleading it is to identify
the Christian concept of evil or devil with the Igbo concept of evil. A
concept equivalent to the Christian concept of devil, except in relation to
the deity Ekwensu, and only in that restricted sense explained above,
does not exist in the Igbo belief system. The same thing is applicable to
the concept of ‘original sin’. This, too, does not exist in Igbo conceptual
framework. Since Chineke creates each person individually, it seems ab-
surd to believe that some person or persons in the remote past committed
a sin in which each newly created person participates. Besides, what’s
the point in creating each person individually?
In accordance with their cyclic conception of time and life, the Igbo
believe that the spirit status is a more enhanced status in relation to hu-
man beings. Accordingly the spirits have more powers than human be-
ings; still yet they are amenable to manipulation, influences and control
by human experts. Thus, even though human beings dread or fear the

132 Ibid.

spirits, they still can drive the same spirits away or use them to their own
human advantage. Dealing with the spirits is a very delicate affair and
requires the exact know-how; the spirits (Alusi), as we saw earlier, are
whimsical and indiscriminate in their actions.
The main objective of an Igbo is to live a life of communion in
harmony with all the life-forces. To fall out of this harmony means to
fall out of communion which is disintegration; this would bring disaster
for him and for his immediate environment. His well-being consists “in
keeping in harmony with the cosmic totality. When things go well with
him he knows he is at peace and of a piece with the scheme of things and
there can be no greater good than that. If things go wrong then some-
where he has fallen out of step [...]. The whole system of divination ex-
ists to help him discover the point at which the harmony has been broken
and how it may be restored”133. From the point of view of the human
being the Igbo cosmology can be diagrammatically depicted in the man-
ner shown on page 235.
We saw that the Igbo dread the malignant spirits because of their
capability to meddle with the safe courses of one’s fortune. One has to
enlist the help of as many benevolent forces as possible to ensure a safe
realization of one’s destiny or mission, and also to shield oneself from,
as well as hold, the malignant and pernicious influences and forces in
abeyance. The most common means of controlling, manipulating and
checking the malignant spirits is ogwu.

(e) Medicine (Ogwu)

The Igbo believe firmly in the potency of ogwu. It is not easy to pin the
term ogwu down to one specific meaning. The concept of ogwu can be
understood pragmatically as practical answer to practical problems of
life, but as well as a conceptual framework.

133 Metuh, Comparative Studies, 71.

Chukwu, Chineke, Osebuluwa, Ezechitoke abiama

Anyanwu Onwa

life- Ndi-
forces, Mmadu ichie

Ala, Ani, Ajani

Figure 4: Tree-ring model of Igbo cosmology: The human being at the centre of the
universe and as the fulcrum of the activities of the Life-Forces.

The world of the Igbo is just one world in which all the forces of life, spiritual, hu-
man and material beings have their specific places and where the borders between
their different domains are very thin and fluid. At the centre of this world is the
human being, Mmadu. All the other life-forces vary in their importance in accor-
dance with their relevance to Mmadu. As the overarching canopy is the Supreme
Being, Chukwu, Chineke, Osebuluwa, Ezechitoke abiama. Since Chukwu is the
originator and creator of the entire universe, its scope of operation is unbounded.
Only Chukwu can fathom the span of the universe. This is indicated by the unbro-
ken line of the outermost circle. In relation to Mmadu and his immediate visible
world Chukwu is at the same time transcendent and immanent. The dotted arrow
indicates its distance or transcendence in relation to Mmadu compared with the rest
of the vital forces. Since it created each human being individually it entertains a di-

134 In order to avoid the problem of whether Chukwu is masculine or feminine we opt
to use the pronoun ‘it’ or ‘It’. When the Igbo refer to God either in a normal daily
conversation or in liturgical setting they either address God as a Thou or they use
the direct substantive, Chukwu, or Chineke, or Olisa. The commonest exclamation
among the Igbo is Chineke m ee! And one does not have to stay long in Igboland
before one notices how frequent the various designations for the Supreme Deity or
Being are on their lips. This can be seen as an evidence of how close they feel
Chukwu is in their lives, while remaining farthest away from them.

rect relation to him through its many agents. As dispensers and custodians of
Chukwu’s bounties are the great Sky-Deity, Anyanwu, and the Earth-Deity, Ani.
The sky and the earth constitute a unity physically encompassing the domain of
Mmadu. Within this span the rest of the spheres are pervious in varying degrees as
a result of the fluidity of the boundaries. Below them are then the deities and spirits
who, as subordinates and agents of Anyanwu and Ani, depending on whether they
are benevolent or malicious, act as well as agents of Chukwu. Closest to Mmadu
are the ancestors, Ndichie. Mmadu is the recipient of all the activities of the other
life-forces, for they and the other living and non-living things are all there for
Mmadu and not the other way round.

Ogwu as answer to practical problems

Ogwu stands for anything or substance medicinal, be it for protective or
defensive, curative or reinforcement and enhancement135 purposes, or for
the purposes of attracting or securing good luck or of doing harm to
someone else. The concepts of charm and magic come within the scope
of medicine, ogwu. Ogwu can take the form of charms, amulets or herbal
concoctions. Basically they serve the same purposes as the medals,
chaplets, scapulars, the holy water, candles, olive oil, etc. of the Chris-
tians. The Igbo describe the making of medicine as igwo ogwu, the ap-
plication of medicine solely for curative purposes as ime ogwu and the
application of medicine for malicious purposes as iko or ime nsi or iko
ogwu. From this perspective ogwu can be understood as a humanly pro-
duced effect, power or force, resulting from exploiting the powers inher-
ent in natural objects or even in animals and human beings in conjunc-
tion with the powers inherent in human speech, in form of words and
incantations. Through incantations the powers of the supernatural beings
are conjured to strengthen the efficacy and potency of the ogwu. The in-
gredients of all medicines are derived basically from herbs and plants.
Occasionally they may include ingredients derived from the fauna
sphere. The specialist in making medicine is called Dibia ogwu (Medi-
There are ogwu for protective purposes (against evil machinations)
and ogwu for harmful purposes (as poison – nsi – or witchcraft – amusu
– or to induce misfortune upon others). There are also ogwu for en-
hancement purposes: The Igbo rely on special kinds of ogwu to enhance
their powers of achievement and success. People of different works of

135 “Reinforcement and enhancement” of one’s potencies and chances in life.

life like students, workers, managers and traders, etc., still resort to the
use of ogwu in order to secure success at examinations, to earn promo-
tion at work, to cover up some misdeeds at work, to win the attention of
a cathected or loved one, to make or have successful business transac-
tions, to get rich quickly etc. Many politicians, military officials, aca-
demic professionals etc. make use of ogwu as well. According to Nwala,
“with this they hope to influence their subjects and other leaders and
with it they can protect their lives by having a precognition of impending
danger and have the powers of clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and hyp-
notic powers so that they could make a man do what he would never do
by himself”136. Other kinds of ogwu are used for healing purposes: The
Igbo believe that the Creator imbued the plants and herbs with nutritive
and healing powers for the welfare of the human being and his commu-
nity. The woods and forests abound in plants and herbs with medicinal
qualities and powers, either alone or in combination with other herbs, for
the cure of several diseases and ailments. Many of them are commonly
known. However, the medicine prepared by a dibia (native doctor or ex-
pert) is more potent not only because he is a specialist, “but because he is
in possession of Agwunshi, the medicine deity. Thus, ogwu is not just
herbs; it must be charged with spiritual powers by the use of rites, spells,
and invocations”137.
Whatever the use may be, the effectiveness and potency of ogwu
depends not only on the experience and know-how of the dibia but also
very much on the diligence of the recipient in keeping to the ‘instructions
of use’, i.e. behaving correctly, as prescribed by the native doctor.

Ogwu as a conceptual framework

The Igbo use the concept of ogwu to explain certain events and phenom-
ena which supersede their knowledge or to which they cannot find ade-
quate explanation. They believe that some human beings are capable of
performing certain feats beyond the ordinary normal human capacity.
Accomplishments that exceed their comprehension or go beyond their
concept of the familiar and usual are attributed to the powers of ‘ogwu’
or alternatively to the activities of the deities. The early Europeans
evoked admiration, fascination and awe in them since they did things

136 Nwala 69.

137 Metuh, God and man, 97-98.

which were inconceivable for the Igbo mind: they spoke in unintelligible
languages and exhibited powers which seemed to supersede that of the
evil spirits. Nwala gave a very good example of the Igbo use of ogwu as
a conceptual framework:

During the early years of contact with the white man, he was considered as a type
of spirit. The white man did everything he did by the powers of ‘ogwu’. When the
missionaries defiled the ‘evil’ forests (hitherto regarded as the den of powerful
[malignant] spirits) and went on to build [their churches] upon them with no harm
on themselves and their followers, they were believed to possess a very powerful
‘ogwu’ with which they overcame the spirits [...]. The human being (Mmadu)

At the centre of the Igbo epistemic world is the human being. All the
beings around him are appreciated to the extent they help the human be-
ing to achieve his self-fulfilment, which is the enhancement and
strengthening of his life force or potency and the integration and har-
mony of the community to which he belongs.
The human being presents himself as an organism wrapping into
one indivisible unit several life-forces. These component life-forces or
principles constitute the channels of communication with other forces in
the universe. The Igbo distinguish four constituent principles in the hu-
man being139: (a) Breath or Heart (Obi): This is believed to be the ani-
mating principle and seat of affection and volition. It dies at death. (b)
Shadow – Self (Onyinyo): This is visible in the form of the shadow cast
by the living human body. In a tangible, concrete form onyinyo (shadow)
is the concrete, individual human being himself. It is the shadow-self that
incarnates in the body and is assigned an ancestral guardian; it in turn
can become an ancestral guardian after death. When the person dies the
shadow-self leaves the body. Hence the common belief among the Igbo
that corpses do not cast shadows. (c) Creative personal Destiny (Chi) and
d) the ancestral guardian (Eke). We already saw the last two in subsec-
tion (a).
As channels of communication with other vital forces, Eke links the
human being with his ancestors and ultimately with his ancestral lineage.
While Obi links him with other mortal life-forces, Onyinyo connects him

138 Nwala 66.

139 Cf. Metuh, Comparative Studies, 175-176.

with other lower immortal forces. Chi keeps him in constant communion
with his Creator. Being at the centre of the universe, Mmadu maintains a
harmonious and vital relationship with nature, the Supreme Being, the
Deities, the spirits, the ancestors, his community and umunna, through
each of these principles. Thus life for the Igbo is communion, participa-
tion. Since the Supreme Providence, Chukwu, has a worked out plan for
each individual human being and his spirit, Chi, abides by each individ-
ual to guide its implementation, the mission of the human being on earth
is to realize his destiny amidst the constant threats and obstacles posed
by the many forces of evil and misfortune which abound in the universe.
In order to achieve this he solicits the aid of all benevolent spiritual be-
ings, especially those of his lineage and community, and the support of
his umunna and ikwunne (the patrilineage of his both parents) and other
social institutions to which he relates. Through divination and ogwu he
endeavours to chart the correct courses of action and to enhance his
chances and powers. When he must have done everything and still fails,
then what he gets is his destiny, for the Igbo say: Ebe onye dara n’ala ka
chi ya kwaturu ya (‘where a person falls, there his Chi let or pushed him
Chukwu, Chineke, Osebuluwa, Ezechitoke abiama

Anyanwu Onwa

forces, Ndi-
Mmadu ichie

Ala, Ani, Ajani

Figure 5: Tree-ring model of Igbo cosmology: The human being in a reciprocal in-
teraction with other Life-Forces.

Fig. 5 above shows the two-way reciprocal track of the relationship between
Mmadu and the other Life-Forces. The same principle basically governs the attitude
of the Igbo towards his natural environment, since it is closely associated with the
Earth-Deity. The relationship of the human being with the other Life-forces is not
that of a bondage and his position is not that of a sandwich, where he is pressed to-
gether from all sides by the other Life-forces. His is rather a vantage position where
the Creator and the entire creation work for his good and well-being. His relation-
ship is one of reciprocity and gratitude. As a microcosm he embodies all the neces-
sary channels of communicating with all the Life-forces. Through rituals he keeps
up and nourishes his relationship with the forces of the invisible order. Should any
one of them, visible or invisible, renege on this mutual beneficial arrangement the
Igbo breaks up the contact. This attitude is most apparent in their relationship to the
ancestors. The ancestors can be scolded, reprimanded and starved or placated and
honoured as if they were still living. Only Chukwu remains unaffected by this prin-
ciple since Chukwu, the source of life and sustenance of the universe, is self-
sufficient. They do not associate Chukwu with capricious and wicked acts. When
Chukwu punishes, then only justly. The Igbo expect the deities to “fulfil their role
of protecting them, of giving them children, of making their land fertile, of warding
off misfortune and disease and all manner of disaster. When a deity fails in this, ef-
forts are made to have him do the right thing i.e. what they expect of the god.
Should all efforts to ensure this balance fail, the deity is discredited and falls into
disuse” . Uchendu concludes: “the Igbo attitude toward the gods is not one of
fear but one of friendship, a friendship that lasts as long as the reciprocal obliga-
tions are kept” .

The relationship of the Igbo to the other life-forces is based on the prin-
ciple of “beneficial reciprocity”142, i.e. as long as they help him to realize
his ultimate goal. The Igbo believe that no individual human or spirit is
self-sufficient. To achieve their respective goals, they need each other.
The relationship is upheld as long as this beneficial reciprocity is ac-
tively respected. Consequently a relationship is binding only when it is
mutually beneficial. This goes for the spirits and ancestors as well as for
fellow human beings. This fundamental disposition is expressed in the
aphorisms: ona abu aka-nri n’akwo aka-ekpe, aka-ekpe an’akwo aka-nri
(it is usual and proper that both the right hand and the left hand wash
each other so that both might be clean); ka an’achu aja ka ikpe n’ama
ndi mmuo (we continue to offer sacrifices so that the spirits will be the
defaulters). This latter saying pertains to the situation where a spirit

140 Nwala 137. Cf. also Agu 226-227, C. Achebe, The Arrow of God, 347.
141 Uchendu 101.
142 Uchendu 14.

whose caprices and mischief defy control or riddance. In such a case the
human being has only to make certain that he fulfils his part of the ‘con-
tract’ by continuing to offer sacrifices for as long as is prescribed by the
diviner. The human being is, quite all right, at the mercy of the forces
surrounding him, but he is not unequipped for them. Through ritual sac-
rifices, divination, ogwu, correct behaviour and a dint of hard work on
his part, the Igbo believe, he can manoeuvre or parry his way through.
Central to the discussion of Mmadu and his personality is the notion
of obara (blood). Blood is regarded as that principle which sustains life
by nourishing it. It not only sustains the life of the human being on earth
but also transmits his (physical and moral) traits or qualities to his off-
spring. The one thing which all kinsmen and -women share in common
is the blood of their ancestors. It is thus blood which binds them together
and defines their common descent and ancestry. Blood relationship is the
ontological basis of all kinship relations and the great spirit of equalitari-
anism, equivalence, solidarity and sense of belonging which pervades all
communal activities.143 The spilling of blood, especially of a member of
the same community, not only brings about the disintegration of life but
worst of all deprives the victim of the ancestral life-line. Besides it is an
abomination and a defilement of the land and the Earth-Deity, Ani, to
unlawfully kill a fellow human being. However, when blood is shed “in
a righteous cause, it is a sacrament and a purification”144. All said and
done, the Igbo society, like every other human society, still has its own
share of ne’er-do-wells, scoundrels, social parasites and sycophants.
There are, of course, cases where individual members refuse to abide by
common agreement irrespective of several efforts on the part of the
community or family to convince them otherwise. Such dissidents or
nonconformists normally are either tolerated or excommunicated. Ex-
communication is, however, a measure of last resort; even at that it de-
pends on the gravity of the offence committed and/or on the presence of
another member who is able to convince the assembly on the propriety
of such a measure. The message of tolerance is usually given to the per-
son concerned by reminding him that bad times lie ahead, when he most
likely will need his kindred. Anaghi agwa ebi ya epuna ogwu, mana ya
echefukwana ihapu ebe umunna ya ga ejide ya aka ma oria dakwasi ya

143 Cf. Nwala 45.

144 Ibid.

(No one forbids the porcupine to grow quills but it should not forget to
leave some space on its body where the relatives can place their hands to
carry it when it falls sick), they would say.
The human being is embedded primarily in his umunna as his pri-
mary source of strength. However, if the umunna is the greatest source
of strength and very important condition for the possibility of success in
life, it can also constitute the greatest source of hostility and envy. It is
one’s umunna that can accuse one of sorcery, especially if one is not so
socially inclined, or does not speak out his mind or is secretive.145
Let us now look at the third category of beings: Ihe (Things). Things (Ihe, Ife)

Ihe in this context refers to those beings below the spirits and the human
being in the Igbo ontological hierarchy: the flora, the fauna and inani-
mate objects and the elements. ‘Things’ belong to the physical and visi-
ble realm. But in consistency with their cosmology the Igbo believe that
they also exist in the world of the spirits. Like all traditional people, the
traditional Igbo have a very personal approach to nature. Since the natu-
ral or physical order is his abode, only a personal relationship or ap-
proach to ‘things’ is the gate-way to the much needed balance or har-
mony with external nature, which ultimately serves the sustenance of
human existence. Survival is so paramount a need that to ensure this as
well as to enhance his capability to face the uncertainties of life, the hu-
man being endeavours to tap whatever forces that favour and promote
his survival. The external nature provides him with ample opportunities
for that.
Igbo culture is a culture where the content of cognition or thought is
mainly speculative, i.e. not always based on empirically established
facts.146 Such speculations and speculative stance developed in a long
process of trying to unify, explain and order experience. As a result, Igbo
thought pattern has a predominance of idioms, archetypal images, rituals,

145 Ibid., 65.

146 There is, however, much room in the Igbo belief system for empirical verification.
The Igbo is not out to believe everything; sometimes he would want to be certain
about the correctness of the information he is being fed with. For instance, an Igbo
would sometimes ask the narrator of an incident: ifuru n’anya? (Did you see it
yourself or with your own eyes?).

symbolisms, proverbs, myths, etc. as concrete forms of expression and
education. These serve also as the easiest means of establishing an inti-
mate rapport with the Life-forces and other mystical forces. The Chris-
tian religion is replete with such vehicles of expression and linkage.
Nwala has the following to say on this point:

Believing as the Igbo do in spiritual beings and non-material forces which are in-
visible, the need arises for establishing a great intimate rapport between themselves
and these forces and entities in nature. In the absence of a literary culture, material
objects, symbols, images, internalized in myth and stories and externalized in ac-
tion (e.g. Rituals), become the easiest way of doing this. The numerous shrines,
oracular centres, Mbari centres, the elders chambers; the effigies, skulls, bones,
shells (of tortoise, crabs and snail) stones, broken potsherds, pieces of jagged glass,
rusty nails, rags, feather, sacred groves, numerous festivities, and ceremonies,
folktales, legends and proverbs etc. all these aid the memory, act as reminders,
serve as foci of attention, channels of contact and means of internalizing the beliefs
and values which give rise to them [...]. In Christianity we find the Holy Bible, the
church and crucifix [...] ecclesiastical robes and paraphernalia, [...] cathedrals, al-
tars and [holy water], [...] Christmas, Easter [...] confession, etc. All these are built
around the Christian world-view of a created universe, the theory of original sin
and salvation, worship and everlasting life for the faithful. The ritual symbols of
Christianity serve the same purpose, i.e. as avenues of propagating the creed, of
internalizing them, of passing them on from age to age, and of giving a concrete
form and reality to what is but a body of ideas. It represents comprehensive world-
views analogous to the traditional Igbo world-view .

We pointed out above that the Igbo believe that material objects, trees
and animals, participate in the spiritual qualities of the mystical forces
that abide in them or use them as vehicles of their manifestation, and
consequently reverence and sometimes deify them. Thus the effigies of
the deities and the spirit forces are not only the images of the forces they
represent but are believed to possess the powers of and act like those
forces. In the same manner the Igbo also accord high respect to language
in the form of spoken words and signs. Words and signs are regarded as
things having power in themselves. By way of participatory representa-
tion they share in the power or potency of the things they represent or
symbolize, in a some what magical way.148 For instance, it is forbidden

147 Nwala 94.

148 Cf. Ibid., 92. The strongest equivalence in the Christian tradition is the context of
the Eucharistic liturgy: the words of the consecration.

to mention the name of snakes or spirits in the night because it is be-
lieved that the mere mention of them is sufficient to make them appear.
In the same connection there are some ready-made explanations and
meanings of certain occurrences which an average Igbo person recog-
nizes (with some local variations). They border on what one would dis-
miss as superstitions: (a) Hitting one’s foot against a stump or stone
along the road or on a pathway has a special omen (good or bad) de-
pending on which foot was hit. (b) A giant millipede appearing in the
home, an owl149 singing in the vicinity of the house in the night, a
screech owl or a black bird crying in the neighbourhood portend bad
omen. They are usually chased away with a curse. (c) A cock crowing
early in the night is a bad sign. d) Twitching or itching of the eye-lids
(depending on whether the left or the right) means that one is going to
see something good or bad.

7.3.2 The Ultimate Value: The Good Life (Ndu oma)

We have hitherto been discussing the Igbo general belief system. It is the
basis on which the traditional Igbo make value judgements as to whether
his conduct is good or bad, whether his life is meaningful or not. The ac-
tions of the human being through the ages have been determined and or-
dered in many important respects by what he believes to be the nature of
the universe and his place in it. A people’s belief system reflects their
environmental, social and historical realities. It provides the normative
basis for human moral evaluation and conduct.
In the context of the previous discussions, the good life for the Igbo
would mean what they cherish and hold dear to their very existence, i.e.
actions and conducts in keeping with their proximate and remote goals of
life: self-actualization. Self-actualization in this sense means the realiza-
tion of one’s destiny and of a harmonious interaction with the natural and
cosmic order.
We shall not attempt here to take the stance of philosophers who under-
take to define ‘good’ as an abstract concept without relating it to con-
crete practical life. Since belief systems are guiding principles for practi-
cal life, it is unrealistic to discuss moral questions without linking them

149 Cf. Knappert 99.

up with practical realities of life; and in the context of the Igbo and of
our work, it would be a wasted effort. According to the Greek Sophists,
morality is a social product. Morality, therefore, is created by human
beings out of definite social interests, which are conditioned by social,
environmental and historical necessities. The idea of the good in any
concrete case is the result of a mind conditioned by these necessities or
realities. The good, Ihe-oma, as the Igbo call it, is a generic term which
has meaning only in the light of concrete cases.
The highest value, the summum bonum, for the Igbo is Ndu (Life) or
Ndu oma (Good life). Ndu is that active principle, force, which all Be-
ings, visible and invisible, have in common but in their different modes.
For the Igbo, Ndu has several connotations and modes. In the most fa-
miliar and simple form it means an existence in which a Being still func-
tions in its natural mode. In this sense the Igbo understand that the prin-
ciple or animating force of its activity is still active, and consequently
that being is effective: it is alive (odi ndu). For the Igbo, to say to a man:
I nwuru anwu na mmadu (You are dead as a person), means he has be-
come inactive or incapacitated in respect of a specific activity or function
expected of him as a human being. To say to him, I di ndu, (You are ac-
tive and alive) is to mean the reverse. The same meaning is transposed to
his Chi when they say to a person, Chi gi di ndu (Your Chi is alive); this
is often expressed when the person escapes an accident or a mishap. To
be alive means to be effective. For a person to be physically existing but
ineffective is to become odi ndu onwu ka mma (living a worthless life, a
life worse than being dead). The Igbo are more familiar with the human
ndu than with the nature of the life the spirituals live among themselves.
Earlier we pointed out that the Igbo conceive time and life in a cyclic
mode. There is, however, the belief that really wicked people die a com-
plete death in the spirit (world): inwu onwu na mmuo. This is brought
about by the fact that they are not only refused reincarnation by the gods
and the ancestors, but also the living refuse to give them befitting burial.
The latter would have helped them reach the ancestral world. Nwua
onwu na mmuo (‘May you die in the spirit world’) is the worst curse one
may invoke upon an Igbo.
Ndu is a very broad concept, the ultimate good. The affirmation ndu
bu isi (Life is the supreme good), which is used both as a name and as an
expression depicts the paramount place of ndu for the Igbo. Ndu is also
existence itself, and existence can assume various forms. Every entity,

social or individual has its life and its specific mode of life. The per-
petuation of life is the wish and ambition of both the individual and the
group. For the individual his life is practically symbolized by his own
concrete ndu, his family and especially his children. However, the ndu of
his community, lineage, takes precedence over his individual ndu. The
reason is mainly because the individual is part and parcel of the commu-
nity and his survival depends on conditions which only the group can
guarantee. Thus they affirm: umunna bu ike (the kinsmen are one’s

7.3.3 The Instrumental Values: Communal and Individual

The realization of Ndu-oma

According to Nwala, the Igbo distinguish two basic conditions for the
realization of Ndu-oma.
(a) The material condition: When the Igbo pray for the gift of life, they
always pray for the accompanying material conditions for enjoying that
precious gift. They pray for security, ogonogo ndu na aru isi ike (long
life and good health), and prosperity (aku na uba). Suffering and poverty
are no virtues to be aspired to. Both are seen as a curse which must be
shaken off or fought against. The Igbo strive to acquire the basic material
necessities of life as well as to achieve a good measure of social well-
being. For them it is not sufficient just to exist. The quality of life, which
must be socially felt, is also very important. It manifests itself in one’s
social status measured in terms of one’s material possessions, i.e. in
terms of one’s achievements. But over and above all, his achievements
must have a communal impact or significance: the kinsmen must benefit
directly from them, after all, they argue, he could achieve all that be-
cause the community provided him the necessary support. The quality of
life, therefore, is closely related with success in life, which in turn is
manifested in the person’s communally beneficial achievements. The
latter is the touchstone on which achievement or success is weighed.
Consequently the communal and social life of the Igbo is characterized
as well by competition and open rivalry.

(b) Non-material conditions: These are conditions which are closely tied
up with the fundamental beliefs of the Igbo as they relate to the mainte-

nance of individual and cosmic harmony or balance. Consequently, they
have to do with the primary or most important elements of Omenani.
They include: duties towards the invisible realm of the community and
duties towards the community and individual fellow human beings.
These duties aim at ensuring the maintenance of justice, peace and order
in the community and in the cosmic order. The latter being the conditio
sine qua non for the realization of one’s destiny. The duties include the
proper performance of rituals, observing the prescriptions (taboos and
proscriptions) of Omenani, and fulfilling one’s moral obligations to-
wards fellow human beings, for instance, respect for elders, and for par-
ents. Contravening the omenani is a grievous offense (aru), and is pun-
ishable by the community. The strained situation can only be rectified by
following the necessary (ritual) steps as prescribed by omenani itself. It
is worth noting that traditional morality is not only communally enjoined
and enforceable, the responsibility for the conduct of each individual is
also communal. For the conduct of the individual member of the com-
munity has one consequence or the other for the entire community, as
they say: ofu mkpisi aka ruta mmanu ozuo ndi ozo onu (when one finger
touches oil, it spreads to or affects the rest). There is a collective respon-
sibility for the moral conduct of the individual members of the commu-
The concrete instrumental values for attaining the ultimate value of
self-actualization in the sense already defined are of two kinds: those
which stress the pre-eminence of the community. They are the so called
communal values. Among these are such values like, justice, peace, or-
der and harmony, communal cooperation, unity and beneficial reciproc-
ity, honesty, hospitality150 and generosity, respect for seniority and
community. By way of illustration, let us describe some of these values:
For the Igbo justice has to do with the freedom of everyone to pur-
sue and equally enjoy the gifts of nature without discrimination and un-
due hindrance. Their symbol of justice is Ofo. Often it goes together with
Ogu (Innocence).They say, with ofo and ogu on one’s side one will al-
ways prevail. Both principles, ofo and Ogu symbolize the collective

150 Cf. Uchendu 74. This is the trademark of the Igbo and symbolized by j (kola nut)
offered to guests. There are two species of kola nuts. The Igbo prefer the species
cola acuminata which they call oji Igbo and which is traditionally grown to meet
social and ritual obligations. The second species is the more robust and disease-
resistant cola nitida which they call oji Awusa (Hausa) or gworo.

moral conscience of the community. Justice means for the Igbo: Egbe
belu, ugo belu, nke si ibe ya ebena nku kwapu ya nike (‘Let the kite perch
and let the eagle perch, which ever prevents the other from perching, let
its wings break off; live and let live’).151 Justice is based on the princi-
ples of equality and equivalence, which are rooted in their concept of
kinship or blood relationship.
Honesty has to do with transparency in dealings with others.
Through the ritual of Igba ndu (oath of covenant) the Igbo aim at estab-
lishing or re-establishing mutual trust and confidence in situations where
this seems jeopardized. Persons in positions of responsibility, leadership,
are required to constantly affirm their innocence, i.e. transparency (iju
ogu). The traditional Igbo are very much concerned about their inno-
cence, their good faith, to the extent that before they serve food or drink
to their guests or to a stranger they always taste it in his presence. They
abhor a secretive person (onye ana enyo enyo – someone with a shady
character). To default on transparency is to fall prey to shame. Actually
“the major deterrent to crime is not guilt-feeling but shame-feeling”152.
Among the Igbo a person who feels no shame is avoided as far as possi-
The fact that whoever succeeds in life did so with the support and
help of fellow human beings, of his community and especially of his
kinsmen and -women, makes the Igbo cherish the virtue of generosity or
‘having a large heart’. Standing on the wagon of beneficial reciprocity
they look down upon miserly or stingy persons with contempt. They
speak of such a person as onye obi tara mmiri (someone whose heart has
dried up), onye aka chichichi (someone with a very tight hand). Beggars
did not exist in the traditional Igbo country. Such a situation would bring
discredit and great shame to their kinsmen, since it will expose their in-
ability to care for their brother or sister. They say: The kin of a blind per-
son is engulfed with shame when at meal the blind relative dips the hand
in the sand instead of into the dish of food. For the Igbo a wealthy person
who cannot help others to ‘get up’ is a wasted asset. But to steal his or
any other person’s property is an abomination. Theft is execrated as one
of the worst and most shameful crimes among them deserving extreme

151 Cf. also Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 29.

152 Uchendu 17.

penalties.153 Green observed among the Agbaja that “stinginess or mean-
ness is not admired [...]. On the contrary, anyone [...] dropping in when
people are eating will always be offered food and a visitor at other times
will be entertained with palm wine – mmae (sic) – and kola – oji”154.
The second group of instrumental values are those which stress
more individual virtues and the values necessary for the individual’s
ability to attain the ideal state of life or ndu. These include such values as
intelligence and wisdom, craftiness and wit, ability and courage, fidelity,
bravery and strength, honesty, patience and eloquence. These are mainly
achievement-success values.
As far as the individual is concerned, the Igbo believes that there is
nothing he cannot do and no new environment he cannot adapt himself
to. With the exception of some reserved areas for the gods and spirits, he
is convinced that the wide world belongs to him as much as it belongs to
the gods. The Igbo firmly believe that a society is as good or bad as the
people themselves, that the success or failure of an individual in achiev-
ing his ‘mission’ in this visible realm of life, depends very much on his
ability to effectively mobilize all necessary forces towards that end. They
believe that each individual has sufficient charisma to enable him
achieve a good life, even when it seems that the person is ill-fated
straight from his mother’s womb. The Igbo, thus, needs not be told that
success in life or even prosperity remains a lofty unrealizable dream if he
does not apply himself assiduously, physically and mentally. To drive
this home they say: Anaghi ano n’ulo ebuta anu agbara gburu (One does
not get the game the gods killed for him by sitting down at home). Chi-
nua Achebe adeptly portrayed this point of industriousness, achievement
and wisdom in his vivid description of the ill-fated Unoka. “Unoka had
gone to consult the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves to find out why he
always had a miserable harvest”. Standing before the priestess of the
Oracle, he recounts how he always sacrifices to Ani and to Ifejioku as
prescribed by Omenani and attends to his farm the normal way. Before
he could finish his story, the priestess shot in:

‘Hold your peace!’ [...]. ‘You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And
when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or
bad according to the strength of his arm. You, Unoka, are known in all the clan for

153 Cf. Metuh, God and Man, 112.

154 Green 88.

the weakness of your machete and your hoe. When your neighbours go out with
their axe to cut down virgin forests, you sow your yams on exhausted farms that
take no labour to clear. They cross seven rivers to make their farms; you stay at
home and offer sacrifice to a reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man’ .

To ‘work like a man’ means to be industrious and active, diligent and

wise156. With these one can even change the course of one’s destiny or
Chi for the better. This is the belief behind the Igbo saying: Onye kwe chi
ya ekwe. Onye gba nkiti chi ya agba (If you are industrious and diligent
enough, your Chi becomes active and cooperates. If you are indolent
your Chi remains accordingly dormant).
Suffering and poverty are no virtues to be aspired to, as has been
pointed out earlier. The Igbo sees many avenues open to him for over-
coming both. In the pre-colonial and pre-Christian period success in life
was measured in terms of one’s social status, which was in turn meas-
ured in terms of one’s material possessions (cultivated farmland, food
stuff, the size of one’s yam barns, social titles and membership in several
societies, etc.), number of wives, children, size of homestead. The con-
tact with Europeans through the missionaries and the colonialists opened
up to the Igbo more avenues and possibilities. We shall talk more on that
when we discuss the Igbo and the transformation of consciousness.
The Igbo also measures his status and achievement by the network
of beneficial interpersonal contacts he has. This propels his great need or
passion for sociability, for many and continuous human contacts. Onye
nwelu mmadu ka onye nwelu ego (he who has many social contacts is
greater than he who has money) or mmadu ka ego (the human being is of
greater value than money), he says. Green observes: “The system of liv-
ing in house groups and the fact that most activities [...] are carried on out
of doors, means that even when an individual is engaged alone on a job,
he or she is not solitary [...]. Solitude is held to be a mark of wickedness
[...]” .

155 Achebe 28.

156 One might wonder what the Igbo think of the woman. If to work like a man means
all this, would the opposite imply working like a woman? Let us not make a gender
case out of this now.
157 Green 253.

7.3.4 The Psychological Expression

Just as the moral life of a people is determined by and organized around

their general belief system, so does the same influence and determine
their psychology.
On the background of the foregoing discussion of their belief sys-
tem, one can see that generally the Igbo is no fatalist who resigns himself
to the fortune chosen by his Chi at his creation. He is convinced that he
can change the course of this fortune to his favour and apply himself
consciously and assiduously to achieve optimum results. And to this end
he is ready to dare any risks. His guiding and goading philosophy
thereby is: Onye kwe chi ya ekwe; Onye gba nkiti chi ya agba (he who
says “Yes” to a goal and works assiduously towards it, can count on the
good disposition and cooperation of his Chi) and Onye na arukari ndu ya
mmanu, ikpo akwukwo ji akugbu ya (he who is over cautious of his lie is
always killed by a sheaf or even a heap of dry leaves). This explains his
paradoxical openness to new ideas, new vistas and new frontiers. The
paradox expresses itself in his aptitude to embrace Christianity and
Western culture and at the same time staunchly resisting both, saying yes
to ‘One Nigeria’ and at the same time seceding from it in the Biafra war,
being community-loving and at the same time individualistic when it
comes to achievement and status-seeking. The Igbo have been brand-
marked by foreigners as well as by their fellow Africans as: proud, go-
ahead, novelty-loving, stubborn and unruly, pushy, ambitious, daring,
industrious, energetic, domineering and democratic folk. Some call them
As we have seen, they resent any dictation from and resist any
overlordship or dominion by another. The Igbo is king and master in his
own house and in his own affairs. When he needs assistance he asks for
it, but before them he minds his business and expects the other to do
likewise. This, however, does not prevent him from fulfilling his com-
munal obligations. Commenting on the characteristic features of the
Igbo, Forde and Jones write: “the Igbo are generally held to be tolerant,
ultra-demo-cratic and highly individualistic. They have a strongly devel-
oped commercial sense and a practical unromantic approach to life”158.

158 Agu 234-235.

In a society where a great premium is placed on achievement, com-
petition is held very high. Green comments: “The spirit of open rivalry is
[...] a recurrent feature of their life. It has been institutionalized in their
social organization [...] and is one of the driving forces of the commu-
nity”159. And since achievement with no communal significance is as
good as useless, a lot of competition goes into every endeavour to help
one’s relatives and one’s community ‘get up’. The success of a member
is the pride and glory of his kinsmen and -women and of his community
in general. Fame, wealth, title-taking, all contribute to the (vicarious) en-
hancement of the prestige and fame of the community. In addition to in-
dustry and the ability to mobilize the relevant forces to one’s advantage,
the qualities described above under leadership160 help to boost one’s so-
cial standing and prestige. It is logical, therefore, that among the Igbo
smartness and eloquence, i.e. “having mouth” , intelligence and strength,
and most of all sociability, belong to the highly coveted personal virtues.
That is why the ‘go-getter’ is admired and lauded, and the urge ‘to get
up’, either as individuals or as groups, assumes the proportion of an ob-
session, while failure is explained with a tinge of paranoia. Since every
Igbo likes to be his own king and master, ascribed status is unknown
among them; whoever wants to have a status must achieve it.
He tends to overestimate his ability, thus exhibiting behavioural
tendencies reminiscent of that infantile omnipotence which his strong
embedment in his Umunna and Age grade helped to keep in check. Fur-
thermore, his conviction of being at the centre of his universe and of be-
ing the ultimate recipient of the benevolent activities of all Life-Forces
often leads him to an unbridled desire for success and for material well-
being. The fact that he is sometimes ready ‘to walk over corpses’ not just
to satisfy this need but also to do this within the shortest possible time
indicates how strong, alive and influential the experiences of the oral
stage of his infancy still are. The self-destructive effect of this stage is
what the Omenani tried to check with the prescription of generosity and
communalism. Let us conclude this brief discussion on the psychological
expression of the foregoing themes with the honest and terse remark of
the British anthropologist Sylvia Leith-Ross. While reflecting on what
the Igbo really thought about the white colonialists, she said:

159 Green 255.

160 Cf. Subsection in this work.

But one thing is certain: the Ibo does not think very much of us [...] When he
strives to copy us, it is not because of the courage or wisdom, the virtues or the tal-
ents he may see in us, but simply because we represent to him Success. In our-
selves we do not interest him except in so far as we contribute to his own interests
[...]. I never cease to wonder at and be a little disturbed by their lack of reverence,
if I may use so portentous a word, for anyone superior to them. Admiration, re-
spect, prestige, were dead words to them, either when used in connection with the
white man or with themselves. True democrats, no one was better than themselves
but yet they were somehow better than anyone else. This self-assurance was some-
times a little frightening. The Ibo men and women are continually in the right and
so busy proving that everyone else is in the wrong. They want to learn from us but
only such things as may be materially productive as soon as possible. They tolerate
us because they need us. They do not look upon us resentfully as conquerors but
complacently as stepping-stones. What will happen when they can, or think they
can, mount alone and have no further use for the stepping-stones, no one can
tell .

7.4 Summary

In this chapter we have introduced, as faithfully as possible, the socio-

political, cultural and epistemic world of the Igbo people of Nigeria prior
to the invasion of Western foreign elements. Special and extensive at-
tention has been paid to the dominant semiotic domain of their belief
system under the concept of Omenani. In the process of the discussion
we aimed at letting their unitary, systemic vision of the world come to
light. The traditional and pre-colonial Igbo saw his world and lived in it
in mutually inclusive domains. It is the one and only one world, the do-
main of all the beings that are, natural and supernatural, visible and in-
visible. In this world all these beings co-exist in an ontological hierarchi-
cal order, they interact, modify one another and are mutually
interdependent on a beneficially reciprocal basis. At the centre of this
world is the human being. On him lies the great responsibility not only
of caring for the deities and the ancestors with whom he interacts, but
also of maintaining the harmony and balance of the interplay of these
life-forces. The omenani provides him with the necessary ritual and so-

161 Leith-Ross 356-357.

cial-psychological paraphernalia for this task, whereby at the end he
stands to gain. His is a world that is as profane as it is sacred. The dis-
cussion of the ultimate and instrumental values gives an insight into
those ends or goals which give his life, activities and behaviours orienta-
tion, organization and direction. Finally a reflection on the expression of
this vision of reality and of the place of the human being in the scheme
of things in the psychology of the Igbo – as individuals and as a people –
, aimed at marking out and underscoring some dominant elements of
their psycho-social dynamics.
Living between two worlds means living in a border zone, being in
a state of “no-longer and not-yet”, as is the situation of the seminarians.
It was consequently necessary to throw some light on what they were as
a people and as individuals. The ultimate aim of this chapter, therefore,
has been to delineate those elements which constitute the Igbo identity.
The Igbo society portrayed in this chapter has been undergoing very
radical changes. Many of the domains described here have since changed
radically while many others have resisted the change. In a way the tradi-
tional life persists side-by-side with an emerging modern society. It is
clear that social changes are always accompanied by transformations of
consciousness of the people affected and a disintegration of those links
that hold the society today. With the breakdown of their system, the Igbo
are left at the mercy of those psychological forces that have been kept in
check by the Umunna. In the next two chapters we shall look at the na-
ture of this transformation and the impact on the Igbo world.


The disturbing effect was an odd sensation which was sub-

sequently to come over me on many other occasions. I can
only describe it as a progressive diminution in my mind of
the simian nature of the figures round me in relation to their
function or the position they held in society .
Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes.

In the previous chapter we discussed the Igbo and their epistemic world
prior to the contact with Europeans. This fundamental predisposition has
been changing since the contact with cultural elements from Europe. Let
us now look at the nature of this culture contact.

8.1 Culture Contact

Human culture, we said, is a systemic unity of the third-order and as

such can only undergo changes in accord with its internal pattern or or-
ganization. A transformative contact with other cultures can take the
form of a seduction or an allure in a direct, “face to face” or an indirect,
“distant” encounter or of a gradual developmental process guided by
mutual respect and interest or of violence and invasion, as something
imposed from without. Culture contact in the first two forms can occur
by way of a gradual process of acquaintance with persons or things or
ideas from other cultures. However, in the third form culture contact is
always a violent experience for the culture visited. This is the case with
people invaded, defeated at war or colonized. The period of colonialism
in Africa was a period of cultural and psychological violence to the Afri-

1 Boulle 151.

can peoples and cultures. To impose one’s culture on another people is to
rob their culture of the quality of being a matrix of personal development
with its own homoeostatic capability, creativity and authenticity. Ac-
cording to D. W. Augsburger, the outcome of this, “is tragic, the impact
a renewal of colonialism and psychological imperialism, paterna-lism, or
maternalism”2. It disrupts the entire fabric of the people’s lives, the inter-
subjectivity of the meanings they give to their world which make life
worth living. In other words, any encounter between peoples of different
cultures has an effect on the consciousness of the peoples concerned.
This consciousness is most of the time a pre-reflective, pre-theoretical
one.3 Hence the truth in the words of Okwu B. Eboh that “whatever hap-
pens to a human being, happens to him in the mind”4. Let us now con-
sider these forms of culture contact.

8.1.1 Forms of Culture Contact

We consider Bitterli’s5 differentiation of forms of culture contact useful

for a better appreciation of the impact of the meeting of these forms of
being in the world on the later development in the world of the Igbo. In
his treatment of the nature of the contact of European culture with over-
sea-cultures before the period of industrial revolution, Bitterli differenti-
ates three basic forms of culture contact: (1) Culture contact or touch
(Kulturberührung), (2) Culture collision (Kulturzusammenstoss), and (3)
Culture intercourse (Kulturbeziehung). One can lead to the other, but
they must not follow from one another. They can appear in mixed up
forms or even run concurrently. Their boundaries are very fluid.

2 D. W. Augsburger, Cross-Cultural Pastoral Psychotherapy, 132.

3 According to Berger et al., “all social reality has an essential component of con-
sciousness. The consciousness of everyday life is the web of meanings that allow
the individual to navigate his way through the ordinary events and encounters of
his life with others. The totality of these meanings, which he shares with others,
makes up a particular social life-world.” Berger et al., The Homeless Mind, 12.
4 O. B. Eboh was one of our erstwhile philosophy professors.
5 Bitterli 17-54.

240 Culture Contact – (Domain of Perturbation)
This refers to the very first and brief meeting of a group of Europeans
with representatives of a foreign culture. The meeting can be brief or
followed by long breaks in between. Culture contacts of this kind have
the character of the early discovery journeys. By such a contact, the ap-
proach of both sides to each other was often characterized by an attitude
of reciprocal friendliness. This friendliness, usually very superficial, was
out of caution. For the Europeans, however, every step they took on arri-
val on foreign coasts was geared towards establishing that with their
presence a new dispensation has arrived. To the natives these strangers
seemed like some beings from another planet; some even saw in them
some kind of gods or godlike beings. This was at least so in the first
phase of the culture contact, before they were discovered to be mortals
too. In any case, the Europeans failed to realize how precarious the
friendliness was and consequently were incapable of realizing too when
they outlived their welcome. Thus culture contact was destined to turn
suddenly into a culture collision. Culture Collision – (Domain of Destructive Interaction)

This occurs when the natives begin to feel that their established cultural
habits are being jeopardized by the presence of the strangers, and also
when the respect for and trust in the strangers have been lost. This was
the case, for instance when the Europeans began showing their real in-
tention: They have not only come to stay, but also to establish ownership
of the land in which they were visitors – to colonize the people. As soon
as the Africans realized this, they became suspicious of the Europeans. It
didn’t take long and this suspicion turned into open hostilities on both
sides. In this respect, the Europeans spared no means to subjugate the
Africans. This reached its climax in slavery, in the partition of the conti-
nent and in colonization.
One could ask himself, why the contact with European culture was
able to have such a devastating effect on the Igbo culture? After all, the
Igbo country was not the only country in the world that was colonized.
South Korea, for instance, was colonized by Japan, but she was able to
retain, to a great extent, her cultural identity. India was also colonized by
Britain. She still retains her cultural identity.

It should not be forgotten that colonialization and colonization of
black Africa did not come about by accident. The road was prepared for
it centuries before its occurrence. Although generalizations are odious,
“colonialism” and “colonization” derive both from the same root with
the term “culture”. Basically both mean organization, arrangement. The
colonists – those who settle in a region, – as well as the colonialists –
those who exploit a territory by dominating a local majority – have all
tended to organize or transform non-European areas into fundamentally
European constructs. This might sound one-sided. But be it as it may,
any person who has gone through the colonizing experience would af-
firm that colonialism is responsible for cultural and religious estrange-
ment in any area it occurs. It is only a question of the extent of such an
The “colonizing structure”, as Mudimbe calls it, completely em-
braces the physical, human and spiritual aspects of the colonizing expe-
rience. This structure manifests itself in the following complementary
moments: the domination of physical space, the reformation of the na-
tives’ minds, and the integration of local economic histories into the
Western perspective. This colonializing structure6 brings about the pro-
duction of marginal societies, cultures, and human beings: traditional
versus modern, oral versus written and printed, agrarian and customary
communities versus urban and industrialized civilization, primitive ver-
sus civilized persons or societies. At the cultural and religious levels the
colonializing enterprise diffused through schools, churches, press, and
audio-visual media new attitudes which were contradictory and much
more complex models in terms of culture, spiritual values and their
transmission. Thus, it broke the culturally unified and religiously inte-
grated scheme of most African traditions. According to P. Bigo, “there is
no doubt that direct or indirect colonialism always provokes in the coun-
tries that experience it cultural constraint, a contamination the more pro-
found as it is hidden. Lifestyles and modes of thinking of the dominant
nations tend to impose themselves on the dominated nations. Moreover,
they are accepted, even sought after. Models spring up, alienating factors
for the people who adopt them”7.

6 Cf. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, 4.

7 Mudimbe 5.

As we said above, colonialization of Africa was the ultimate result
of an age long preparation. The trans-Atlantic slave trade (henceforth
“TAST”), was only a fore-taste of what was to come! Its forerunners can
be found in what might be termed the “African bias”. This is the attitude
and practice of equating Africa with inferiority, backwardness, primi-
tiveness, savagery, innate indolence, barbarism, everything negatively
not-European. If anything to the contrary should be found there, then it
must have been put or brought about by a European or an Arabian. On
the basis of this bias, fed and nurtured by explorer’s accounts, the West
created an Africa which fitted into her epistemological grid. Right down
to the first century A.D., there are traces of this. For instance, “during the
reign of Hadrianus (A.D. 76-138), the poet Florus from the African
province was denied a prize because, according to a witness, ‘the em-
peror [...] did not want to see Jupiter’s crown going to Africa’”8. For
centuries Herodotus, Diodorus of Sicily, and Pliny belonged to the most
important creators of images of Africa. In the fifth century B.C. for in-
stance, Herodotus while describing the eastern part of Libya was able to
state: “‘I know and can tell the names of all the peoples that dwell on the
ridge [of the Tritonian lake] as far as the Atlantes [on Mount Atlas], but
no farther than that’”. That said, he went on to recount, “that west of the
Tritonian lake is savage, full of wild animals and strange creatures: ‘dog-
headed humans’, ‘headless peoples’, and ‘human beings who have their
eyes in their breasts’, ‘besides many other creatures not fabulous’”9. In
his chronicle, Pliny described an area around the “‘black river which has
the same nature as the Nile‘[...]. Strange beings live there: peoples who
do not have individual names, cave-dwellers who have no language and
live on the flesh of snakes, the ‘Garamantes’ who do not practice mar-
riage, the ‘Blemmyae’ who are headless, satyrs, strapfoots, etc.”10. Actu-
ally, the most widespread European knowledge of Africa till right into
the nineteenth century was that of land of “Savages” and “Primitives”.
This knowledge was propagated and fostered by the explorer’s accounts,
given scientific coverage by anthropologists and theological gab by mis-
sionaries. Artists and painters conjured images of savagery basing on the
explorers’ accounts. Their models were of course their fellow Europeans

8 Ibid., 69.
9 Ibid., 70.
10 Ibid., 71.

but once on their canvas, they imagined schemes and infused savagery or
racial difference into their model.
One may not be too wrong to suppose that it is the same bias which
led the Spaniard soldier and priest, acclaimed later as the Indio-defender,
Bartolomé de Las Casas, in the year 1516 to make the ominous advice.
Therein he recommended that black African slaves be brought to the
West Indies to replace the Indios – whom the Spaniards had worked to
death – in the gold mines. This recommendation brought doom over the
black African continent: the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Although he
deeply regretted this act in his later years before he died, black African
slaves stood for him on the lowest rung of the value scale. In his eyes
they were most probably on the same value level with beasts of burden,
which anybody (especially the Portuguese) had the right to capture and
dispose of at will. A system which devastated and almost obliterated the
Indios from the face of the earth, and against which he fought to save
them with all the power in his soul, he judged good enough for the Afri-
cans! Many years later, as the “TAST” raged on unabated, he wrote in
his Historia de las Indias:

The advice that it be allowed that black slaves should be brought into these coun-
tries was given first by the cleric; but he was unaware of the injustice with which
the Portuguese caught and enslaved them; but having run into this error, he would
not give [the advice] for everything in the world again; for he was of the opinion,
slaves were always made unjustly and tyrannically. Whether they [black Africans]
or Indians, the reason is always the same .

Even die Era of Enlightenment did not bring any positive change in this
epistemological atmosphere. It rather defined the characteristics of sav-
agery. Voltaire explained, for instance, the inequality among human be-
ings through the metaphor of the inequality of trees in a forest. Hegel
devoted some contemptuous pages on blacks and “Savages” in general.
Lévy-Bruhl on his part asserted that “primitives seem frozen in a state of
prelogism, thousands of years behind Western civilization”12. More re-
cently, K. Jaspers interpreted the history of “primitives who simply van-
ish in the presence of Western culture”, while B. Malinowski posits a
“theory of cultural change, involving the African’s dream of becoming

11 G. Gutiérrez, Gott oder das Gold, 176. Translation from German is ours.
12 Mudimbe 72.

‘ifnot European, then at least a master or part master of some of the de-
vices, possessions and influences which in his eyes constitute European
superiority’”13. A host of other myths, like the “beastly savages,” “bar-
baric splendours,” “white man’s grave,” contributed to pave the way for
the kind of approach the Europeans took in their encounter with Africans
and for the devastating effects of this encounter on the African, and con-
sequently on the Igbo culture. Beside the explorer and the soldier, the
anthropologist and the missionary also played very decisive roles in
shapng Europe’s knowledge of Africa and in bringing about an episte-
mological shift in the African towards himself, as we shall see later. The
missionary, however, was the most potent. His main objective remained
constant through the years: the conversion of African minds and space
through the expansion of the absoluteness of Christianity. In the face of
these forces: the invasion of formidable strangers, a distorted and dehu-
manized image outside, and split or damaged identity within, the African
had no alternatives left, if he were to survive, than to “drink the cup” of
estran-gement. We thus share Mudimbe’s conclusion that

a person whose ideas and mission come from and are sustained by God is rightly
entitled to use all possible means, even violence, to achieve his objectives. Conse-
quently, ‘African conversion,’ rather than being a positive outcome of a dialogue –
unthinkable per se – came to be the sole position the African could take in order to
survive as a human being14.

In spite of this general negative and patronizing attitude towards Africa

and the Africans there were some exceptions which eventually had some
far reaching effects on the later Europe-Africa-relationship. For instance
many anthropologists and missionaries started undergoing an epistemo-
logical shift. A noticeable shift from the search for justifications for the
processes of conquering and creating an Africa according the conceptual
framework of their homelands as well as for the processes of its exploi-
tation and methods for its “regeneration” was creeping in. They no
longer sought primarily to exploit but rather to understand the continent
and its peoples. They began to speak about Africa and the Africans.
Some of them went through what can be described as a “conversion”. To
illustrate: There was the seventeenth-century Italian Giovanni Francesco

13 Ibid.
14 Ibid., 48.

Romano. He worked as a missionary in the Congo from 1645 to 1654. In
his report of fewer than one hundred pages on his voyage and sojourn in
the Congo kingdom, published in 1648, only very few derogatory words
could be found. In his ethnographic description of the people and their
customs, the latter are neither curious nor bizarre. Only in his description
of the social structure of the kingdom he applied the model of a Christian
European kingdom with its dukes, earls, barons and peasants. Except for
the king and his courtiers, all the inhabitants of the Congo were for him
“pagan and poor”, questi gentili, quei poveri. Another example is the
twentieth century Belgian Placide Frans Tempels, a missionary in Cen-
tral Africa from 1933 to 1962 and author of Bantu Philosophy. Tempels
lived more than ten years among the Luba Katanga people, sharing their
language and culture before publishing his experiences in a more or less
philosophical treatise, in 1959. Commenting on this Mudimbe writes:

Rather than as a philosophical treatise, his Bantu Philosophy could be understood

simultaneously as an indication of religious insight, the expression of a cultural
doubt about the supposed backwardness of Africans, and a political manifesto for a
new policy for promoting ‘civilization’ and Christianity. But this complexity is not
what is commonly discussed when specialists speak of Tempels’ philosophy .

This change of attitude did not restrict itself to the continent. It was also
occurring in Europe in the first half of this century among intellectuals in
a more or less revolutionary form aimed at dismantling colonialism
wherever it existed. This involved not only Europeans themselves but
also African intellectuals in Europe and America then. People like the
existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre through his association with
Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks; The Wretched of the Earth) and
Leopold Sedar Senghor (Négritude) were also affected by epistemologi-
cal ruptures. Sartre, for instance, stated in his article Black Orpheus:
“Today, these black men have fixed their gaze upon us and our gaze is
thrown back in our eyes; black torches, in their turn, light the world and
our white heads are only small lanterns balanced in the wind”16. Then he
went further: “A Jew, white among white men, can deny that he is a Jew,
can declare himself a man among men. The Negro cannot deny that he is
Negro nor claim for himself this abstract uncolored humanity [...]. The

15 Ibid., 50.
16 Jean-Paul Sartre, Black Orpheus. Présence Africaine. Paris, 7-8.

Negro who vindicates his négritude in a revolutionary movement places
himself, then and there, upon the terrain of Reflection, whether he
wishes to rediscover in himself certain objective traits growing out of
African civilization, or hopes to find the black Essence in the wells of his
souls”17. This ideological rupture led inevitably to the nationalist move-
ments of the fifties and sixties. Some sociologists and historians like
Basil Davidson contributed their own quota by opposing the widely ac-
cepted conceptions of “living fossils” and “frozen societies”. And finally
in the outgoing 20th century it is crossing the minds of many Christians
in the Catholic world that a black African might possibly become a Pope.
All these – the anthropological and missionary commitment to Afri-
can values, the intervention by some Western sociologists, historian and
philosophers, and the “awakening” of African intellectuals who began to
speak about their past and their culture and attacked, or at least ques-
tioned, colonialism and its basic principles, and today of African theolo-
gians18, with their emphasis on négritude, blackness, African heritage
and experience – blend to portray the complexity of the epistemological
shift or change that is taking place on the larger African cultural system
and in particular on the smaller Igbo cultural unity.19 Culture Intercourse – (Domain of Reciprocal Structural Cou-

This is a lasting relation of mutual contact on the basis of a balance of
political power or of a stalemate. A condition for this, is the interplay
between demand and supply. The Africans had goods which the Europe-
ans desperately needed and likewise the Europeans had goods which the
Africans came to desire. On the side of the Europeans the traders and the
missionaries were carriers and transmitters of European culture. They
needed the natives not only for the success of their mission, but also for
survival in the unfamiliar and harsh tropical climate. The Africans, on

17 Ibid., 17.
18 Very popular among them are Uzukwu, Mveng, Hebga, Mudimbe, Oduyoye and
Bimwenyi: the protagonists for a theology of incarnation, and many others.
19 For further interest on this theme of the above discourse, a visit to the edifying and
scholarly work of V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, is as imperative as it is
rewarding, especially Chapter I: Discourse of power and knowledge of otherness,
and Chapter III: The power of speech.

the other hand, had discovered that they could enhance their political
status and their technological know-how through contact with the Euro-
peans. Both the traders and the missionaries made efforts to create and
maintain an atmosphere conducive enough for achieving their aims. The
missionaries, especially, even tried to adjust their social behaviours to
some extent to fit into the social behaviour patterns of the areas they
found themselves. While the traders and the colonialists made use of
middle-men (Africans or mulattoes) in their interaction and transactions
with the natives, the missionaries sought direct contact with the people.
In spite of all that, they remained in their core exponents of European
culture, for whatever concessions they ever made, the orthodoxy of their
doctrine dared not be tampered with. It is the paradox of the early mis-
sionary history, however, that those places where they tried to make use
of the cultural elements of the people, they actually ended up contribut-
ing to the decline of the culture.
In whichever way the culture contact occurred, a process has set in,
which will alter the cultural habits of the Igbo people. Such changes
bring about a re-organization or a disorganization of the person’s con-
ceptual horizon. The person progressively feels ill at ease or even es-
tranged in his usual epistemic world. This state is the kind many find
themselves who live in more or less transcultural environments. What
Pico Iyer wrote on the situation of the current generation of transcultural
writers aptly portrays the kind of state we are talking about here. He

The novels that descend from this tradition of multiple homes are invariably con-
cerned with identity, and their central theme has been the plight of those who are
torn between motherlands and mother tongues, the ‘not quites’, as the Indian writer
Bharati Mukherjee calls them. Looking both ways at once, neither here nor there,
they end up citizens of nowhere, or somewhere in the mind. Their situations are
universal enough to cross all kinds of boundaries [...]. All these rootless souls be-
long to a common place whose name is dislocation .

M. Landmann’s analysis of this state is so impressive that we would like

to conclude this section with it:

20 P. Iyer, The Empire writes Back, 52-53. Emphasis added.

Just as [we can live] in several social embedments we can also live in several in-
tellectual traditions [...]. The various intellectual traditions [...]which we bring to-
gether in ourselves do not lie unrelated close to each other. There results some
synthesis between them as well as frictions and rivalries [...]. Not quite at home in
one and from the other not quite accepted, we feel every where, like Othello, ‘un-
housed’ [...]. Whoever stands in a single or in a dominant social embedment or tra-
dition will identify himself fully with it. He owes his personality quite alright to it,
but it is a full, objectively richer personality. But whoever, on the contrary, is sur-
rounded by a multiplicity of social embedment and traditions, susceptible now to
one, then to the other and choosing between them, maintains a neutral distance to
all of them. He withdraws time after time from them, remains free and at the end
untouched. He manipulates them without their truely becoming part of him. As a
result he quite alright is more individual and independent than the former person;
but at the same time his individuality is lacklusterer and hollower .

8.2 Igbo Culture and Change

Igbo culture, like any other human culture, is not static but always trans-
forming in accordance with the changes in the environment. For a people
who have a special bent for individual and group achievement and status,
change can only be a welcome phenomenon: every change carries po-

21 Landmann 46-47. Translation is ours. The original version is as follows:

“Ebenso wie in mehreren Sozialeinbettungen können wir auch in mehreren Geis-
testraditionen leben [...]. Die verschiedenen Geistestraditionen [...], die wir in uns
vereinigen, bleiben nicht beziehungslos nebeneinander liegen. Es kommt zwischen
ihnen zu Synthesen, ebenso aber auch zu Friktionen und Befehdungen [...]. In der
einen nicht mehr ganz heimisch, von der andern nie ganz rezipiert, fühlt [derjenige]
sich überall, wie Othello, ‚unhoused‘ [...]. Wer nur in einer einzigen oder doch ei-
ner dominierenden Sozialeinbettung oder Tradition steht, der wird sich ganz mit ihr
identifizieren und durchtränken. Er hat dann zwar seine Persönlichkeit von dort
her, aber sie ist eine gefüllte, um Objektives bereicherte Persönlichkeit. Wer dage-
gen von einer Vielheit von Sozialeinbettungen und Traditionen umringt wird, bald
von dieser, bald von jener angesprochen und zwischen ihnen wählend, der behält
ihnen allen gegenüber eine neutrale Distanz. Immer wieder nimmt sich von ihnen
zurück, bleibt er frei und im letzten unberührt. Er manipuliert sie, ohne daß sie ihm
wahrhaft zu eigen würden und zuwüchsen. Daher ist er zwar in höherem Maß als
jener individuell und auf sich gestellt; aber gleichzeitig ist seine Individualität
farbloser und leerer“.

tentials for new avenues to status, opens up new alternatives to existing
goals and/or enhances the opportunities open to a greater number of aspi-
rants. On the other hand, every change constitutes a threat to established
social institutions and privileges; it whips up discordant and deviant be-
haviours and attitudes in respect to established and age-old norms and
values. Thus a positive or negative attitude towards change and its re-
ceptivity are dependent on many factors internal or extraneous to the in-
dividual. We shall briefly consider the various stages of this change.
Later on we shall look at the nature of the transformation.

8.2.1 The Stages of Social Change

Murdock enumerated four different stages in the process of social

change, which are observable in the approach of the Igbo to Western
culture. They are: (1) innovation, (2) social acceptance, (3) selective
elimination and (4) integration. Innovation
Innovation is the introduction of something new into an established set-
ting. But when it involves the introduction of elements of habitual be-
haviour from one context to another, it can be of various kinds. The most
common, and for our study, the most important form of innovation is
cultural borrowing. This is the process of diffusion of some elements of
an alien culture through culture contact, which can occur in any of the
forms described earlier. Incentive is very necessary for borrowing. Bor-
rowing can only occur, if the foreign culture shows itself to be of great
reward and to possess the capacity to satisfy the needs of the society. For
instance, in a society where oral method was virtually the only form of
transmission of history and tradition, the alien element of formal educa-
tion, whereby people learnt to read and write other people’s thoughts and
their own too, proved to be very rewarding. Besides, those who attended
the schools had more access to better paid jobs. But they also learnt
some of the craftiness and secrets of the ‘white people’. It enhanced their
social status as well. Most often what is borrowed is only the general
idea of the foreign culture trait. No borrowed cultural element remains or
develops in its original form. Once a cultural element has been moved

from its original context, it transforms itself, assumes a new function and
enters into a new horizon of meaning.22 It is also interesting to note that
not every member or institution of a society is in like manner open to in-
novations. As a rule, young people, and in many cases, socially under-
privileged are more susceptible to new and alien ideas than elderly
ones.23 Social Acceptance

After the introduction of the new idea, the phase of social acceptance
follows. This is the stage where the society develops structures of action
and of thought congenial to the new idea. With this, internal or vertical
diffusion begins to take place, now championed by members of the soci-
ety itself rather than by the carrier or representatives of the alien culture.
Chinua Achebe captured these momentous phases in an unparalleled
manner in his monumental Trilogy: “Things Fall Apart, No longer at
Ease and The Arrow of God”. Selective Elimination

As soon as the new ideas have been accepted, they have now to establish
their right of existence in the encounter with the already existing cultural
institutions. Unsuitable or maladaptive ones get ejected whilst the con-
genial ones proceed to the next phase. It is important to stress here that
the selection is in most cases not necessarily substitutive but additive.24
We do not, however, share the opinion of these authors on literacy,
schooling and religion: According to them, “the desire for literacy is a
response to a need which can be satisfied without inducing cultural con-
flict. Even when considered as modes of speech rather than techniques,
the new European languages in which instruction is given are advanta-
geous to learn but do not necessarily replace the African ones”25. This
might be so especially with respect to the older generation. New lan-

22 Cf. Bitterli 53: Auf dem Gebiet der Heidenmission geschah es “häufig, daß christ-
liche Begriffe und Rituale mit fremden Bedeutungsinhalten befrachtet oder einer
angestammten Religion wesensfremde Heilserwartungen unterschoben wurden”.
23 Cf. Berger et al., The Homeless Mind, 154-155.
24 Cf. M. J. Herskovits and W. R. Bascom, The Problem of Stability and Change in
African Culture, 6.
25 Ibid.

guage introduces new concepts and ideas which often have no equiva-
lence in the native language. Every concept has emotional component(s)
associated with it, which in turn evokes a specific reaction. This gives
rise, in many cases, to new behavioural patterns, the effect of which may
be positive or negative in relation to established patterns. It is positive
when it augments or consolidates the existing behavioural habits. It is
negative when it leads to a constant deviation from them, and conse-
quently triggering new adjustments. More often than not, this brings
about a state of mutually exclusive tendencies in the individual. Besides,
the language of instruction assumes with time the role of the official
means of verbal communication. With that it gains an edge over the na-
tive language. When this is coupled with greater opportunities to “better
living standards”, it becomes a status symbol. It will, therefore, be a
gross underestimation to believe that this condition will be without cul-
tural conflict. The danger of substitutive selection is, at any rate, higher
among the younger generation Igbo, who no longer can speak their na-
tive language properly, having started with the foreign language much
too early in their lives. The same thing applies to religion. In the latter
case, there is likely to occur a state of religious homelessness. In several
sectors of life in the Igbo society today, this is the phase in which many
foreign cultural elements still find themselves. As Herskovits and Bas-
com rightly observed,

there is no African culture which has not been affected in some way by European
contact, and there is none which has entirely given way before it [...]. Elements
from outside, accepted generations ago, have been adapted to traditional African
patterns. Tobacco, cassava, peanuts, and maize, which were probably introduced
from the New World by the early Portuguese explorers, have been incorporated
into many African cultures without weakening them. European legal principles and
procedures, whatever their degree of acceptance, have not [completely] displaced
the sanctions of traditional law – though in many cases both have been modified in
the course of adaptation. Monogamy has been sanctioned in law without prohibit-
ing polygyny when marriage is by “native law and custom.” Despite the intensity
of Christian missionary effort [...] African religions continue to manifest vitality
everywhere. This is to be seen in the worship of African deities, the homage to the
ancestors, and the recourse to divination, magic, and other rituals. A growing num-
ber of Africans, to be sure, have been taught to regard the religion of their forefa-
thers as superstition and to reject other beliefs and customs as outmoded .

26 Ibid., 3.

Stages (2) and (3) are highly volatile and conflict-ridden periods in the
process of interaction between the two cultures. Integration
Integration is reached when the new ideas have found durable institu-
tions capable of expressing them. That means, they get diffused in the
existing interpretational horizon of the home culture. This in turn brings
about a re-definition of the norms guiding social behaviours, relation-
ships and expectations, which in their turn, generate clear inter- and in-
trapersonal relationships. The period of time between innovation – in the
sense of cultural borrowing – and integration is called “cultural lag”. In-
tegration implies a period of relative stability. But, all societies are con-
stantly in change, some at a more rapid pace than others. As a result such
a stability remains far-fetched for a culture caught up in rapid social
change. The tragedy of the situation is that many African peoples, the
Igbo inclusive, are expected, and here and there being prodded, to make
a leap comparable with say a leap from 18th century into the 21st century.
For instance, while Europeans are grappling today with the problem of
adjustment to the changes being unleashed by Cyberspace, Africans are
still battling not only with the problems of modernisation and techno-
logical advancement but also with the upsurge and invasion of computer
technology coupled with the impacts of the globalization of communica-
tion network – all introduced from without. A continuous culture inter-
course invariably involves rapid social change. Such changes, no doubt,
cause much “pain and confusion”27 in orientation and expectation, espe-
cially in intra- and interpersonal relationships. “Integration is [thus]
reached when such conflicts and pains remain unnoticeable”28, albeit not
totally resolved.
These different stages of social change show clearly the futility of
every effort which is aimed at reproducing European Christianity on Af-
rican soil, which the early missionaries inadvertently thought they could
do in Igboland. Actually Europe had a strong missionary consciousness
and zeal in relation to establishing and spreading her culture or cul-

27 Augsburger 138.
28 Ilogu 7.

tures29. With this theory in mind, let us now see what transformations
took place in the Igbo consciousness and how they came about.

8.3 The Nature and Agents of Change

The encounter with European commercialization of slavery30, which

culminated in the heinous “TAST” coupled with colonialism and Chris-
tianization crusades had not only cataclysmic impacts on Igbo life and
culture, it also offered new avenues to status achievements. Of greater
interest for us are those changes which occurred as from the fifteenth
century, when the Europeans set out in “search of Christians and
Spices”31 and touched down on the west coasts of Africa.
The 15th to the 19th centuries witnessed an unprecedented and sud-
den emergence of the terra incognita – Africa – on the world scene.
Herskovits and Bascom described “the suddenness with which Africa
has emerged onto the world scene” as “one of the striking happenings of
our day”32. In contradistinction to the changes prior to this period, the

29 This consciousness arose out of the 19th Century imperialism spawned by biolo-
gists of the same era. This led to the belief that some races were superior to others.
Catchpole enumerated four basic ideas which emanated therefrom and became cur-
rent. These deserve full citation here, because they throw light on the psychological
and mental propensity of some of the agents of Western cultures who came into Ig-
boland. Moreover, they offer some explanation for the economic and cultural ex-
ploitation perpetrated on the Igbo and on all other non-Western cultures coming
into contact with Western cultural agents. These ideas are as follows: “1. Western
culture is superior to non-Western cultures. 2. Europeans are descended from a dif-
ferent race from everybody else. The differences between Europeans and other
people can therefore be explained in biological terms. 3. European cultural superi-
ority must be hereditary. That superiority can be transmitted from one generation
to the next. 4. Other cultures will always be inferior because they are bound to
transmit that inferiority from one generation to the next. As Philip Curtin pointed
out in his study of imperialism, ‘The result for Western thought was a wave of un-
questioning cultural arrogance that arose steadily until well into the twentieth cen-
tury’”, Catchpole, vii-viii.
30 Cf. J. Ki-Zerbo, Die Geschichte Schwarz-Afrikas, 214-220.
31 Ibid., 214.
32 Herskovits and Bascom 2.

year 1472 – the year the first Portuguese came to southeastern Nigeria33
–, ushered in a long period of far-reaching radical changes in Igbo cul-
ture and cognitive horizon.
As we said in the previous chapters, whenever social behaviour is
persistently at variance with established cultural codes of conduct, i.e.
whenever existing borderlines are incessantly overstepped so that the
existing codes no longer apply, it results, according to G. P. Murdock,
“‘in modifications, first in social expectations and then in customs, be-
liefs and rules’”34. Thus social change results from the existence of social
behaviours following other guidelines which deviate from established
norms and when the existing institutions of a social system have become
incapable of accommodating them. By social system we mean Kroeber
and Parsons’ designate for that “‘specifically relational system of inter-
action among individuals and collectives’”35. Social change and trans-
formation of interactive maps bring about adjustments, change(s) on the
cognitive level. Changed visions allow new “worlds” and new “realities”
to emerge. The necessary socio-psychological adjustments to be made
may be more or less conflict-laden depending on whether the change of
vision took place in one or a small group of persons or in a greater col-
lectivity. Let us now look at some of the agents of change and transfor-

8.3.1 Slavery and the Slave Trade

The Mali Report distinguishes three distinct periods of slavery in Africa:

“(a) domestic slavery and prisoners of war in feudal times; (b) the slave
trade with the establishment of trading posts; (c) the replacement of the

33 E. Isichei, A History of Nigeria, 42.

34 Ilogu 6.
35 Kluckhohn, 556. Cf. also: Vester 38: “The events in systems seem even to be inde-
pendent of the nature of the things themselves, but all the more dependent on their
interactions, on how they are organized in relation to one another and on what kind
of structure they create” (Ja, das Geschehen in Systemen scheint sogar ziemlich
unabhängig von der Art der Dinge selbst zu sein, dafür um so abhängiger von ihren
Wechselwirkungen, von der Art, wie sie zueinander organisiert sind, welche
Struktur sie bilden).

slave trade by a ‘system of exploitation’”36. The first period of slavery in
Africa depicted the kind of slavery in vogue since the ancient times. In
the New Testament St. Paul in his letter to Philemon made efforts to free
Onesimus, who was a slave in the house of Philemon at the time of his
conversion by St. Paul.37 In the Middle Ages slavery was a symbol of
social-economic status.38 Slavery was also common in Africa. In general,
however, one distinguished between “house or domestic slaves” and
“war slaves, i.e. prisoners of war”. The latter became, in the course of
time, domestic slaves. In any case, they were treated as human beings,
albeit of a lower social status.
With regard to the European contact with Africans, one might in-
clude the periods between 1440 and 1451 in this first phase of slavery in
Africa. That is the first periods of Portuguese slavery activities in West
Africa. Having been initiated by Gonzalvez who was at the service of
Prince Henry ‘The Navigator’ of Portugal and Nuno Tristão in the year
144139, the machinery of inhumanity and human depravity was soon to
develop into a global commerce which was to go on unstopped for well
over 400 years! The first public commercialization of Africans as slaves
took place “on 8 August 1444 [...] at Lagos in the presence of Prince

36 M. Duchet, Reactions to the Problem of the Slave Trade, 49.

37 Cf. The Jerusalem Bible: Letter of St. Paul to Philemon.
38 Cf. Ki-Zerbo 217.
39 Going from the study done by S. U. Abramova, Gonzalvez had already taken ten
captives from Africa back to Portugal by the year 1441. Ki-Zerbo, however, dates
this incident after the year 1442. Da Veiga Pinto ascribed the first slaves to be
taken from the west coast of Africa to Nuno Tristão in 1441. Whatever the case
may be, whether they were only two or ten Africans who were forcibly uprooted
into Europe, the fact remains: “‘that unhallowed commerce of traffic in the Souls
of Men’” as Ezra Stiles put it, was set off by the Portuguese between 1441 and
1442. With time it became a sign of affluence to hold black slaves in one’s house-
hold in Europe, and for the Portuguese sailors it soon became obvious that a couple
of African slaves brought along with other commodities like elephant tusks, gold,
pepper, etc. augmented the price offered them for these commodities. About the
year 1550 African slaves amounted to one tenth of the entire population of Lisbon.
Cf., S. U. Abramova, Ideological, doctrinal, philosophical, religious and political
aspects of the African slave trade, 16; Ki-Zerbo 219; F. L. da Veiga Pinto and A.
Carreira, Portuguese participation in the slave trade, 119-120; P. J. Staudenraus,
The African Colonization Movement 1816-1865, 5.

Henry, instigator of the African expeditions. The choicest slaves had
previously been offered to the church”40 – to Pope Eugene IV.41
The second period of slavery was the period of that heinous scram-
ble for Africans as “live cargo”, which drained the blood of youth from
the veins of Africa for four long, tortuous and gruesome centuries: 1451
to 1870! The claws of hell were partly let loose upon the continent and
her children when the Pope, desperate to regain the countries dominated
by Islam and to check its further expansion in the world of the second
half of the 15th century, divided the world between Spain and Portugal42:
Africa, Asia and Brazil went to Portugal while the rest of America went
to Spain. With the bull Dum Diversas of 145243 Pope Nicholas V granted
the King of Portugal, “Alphonso V, the right to seize lands and enslave
heathens in regions discovered by that time in Africa and in those that
would be discovered”44. Christians at the time felt the moral obligation to
wage a “just war” against infidels: Moslems and heathens, and convert
them to Christianity, willy nilly.45 It is true that slaves were baptized, but
nonetheless sold. François I, the King of France, was known to have
made the contentious but laconic statement in reaction to this papal deci-
sion: “I am very curious to see that clause of Adam’s testament with
which he excluded me from participating in sharing the world”46. With
the geographical revolutions of Copernicus and Galilei it became con-

40 da Veiga Pinto and Carreira 119-120.

41 Abramova 16.
42 These two countries were known at the time as the “Catholic countries”.
43 Mudimbe 45. “Dum Diversas clearly stipulates this right to invade, conquer, expel,
and fight (invadendi, conquirendi, expugnandi, debellandi) Muslims, pagans, and
other enemies of Christ (saracenos ac paganos, aliosque Christi inimicos) wher-
ever they may be. Christian kings, following the Pope’s decisions could occupy
pagan kingdoms, principalities, lordships, possessions (regna, principatus,
Dominia, possessiones) and dispossess them of their personal property, land, and
whatever they might have (et mobilia et immobilia bona quaecumque per eos de-
tenta ac possessa). The king and his successors have the power and right to put
these peoples in perpetual slavery (subjugandi illorumque personas in perpetuam
servitutem)”; Also Ki-Zerbo, 220.
44 Abramova 17.
45 On the cultural and mental situation in Europe at this time, cf. H. Goldstein, Was
geschah 1492? Was geschah 500 Jahre lang? Was sollte 1992 geschehen?, 490-
500, especially 491-492. Actually, slavery was deemed justifiable and legitimate as
long as it contributed to the propagation of Christianity. Cf. also Duchet 33.
46 Ki-Zerbo 220.

ceivable to go to the spice markets of India by following the sun, i.e.
westwards! In 1492 Christopher Columbus, at the behest of the Iberian
monarchy, Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, set
sail for India westwards and later found himself in the New World. Sub-
sequent voyages brought Spanish settlements into the West Indies and
riches in gold back to Spain. Having worked the native Indios to death in
the gold mines and in the plantations, they turned over to Africans whom
they considered more resistant to tropical climate, docile and more ro-
bust – having experienced them earlier on Portuguese farms. With that
the road was opened for unrestrained raids for African slaves and deple-
tion of the African population. Holland, France, Great Britain all re-
ceived concessions, asiento, from Spain to sell African slaves in the
Spanish American colonies. Britain47 and the United States of America48
later abolished slavery in 1807 and 1808 respectively. However, the
trade went on, though “illegally”.
The following period constituted the third period of slavery, which
was the period of a systematic exploitation of the Africans in their own
country. With the British proscription of the “TAST” there set in the pe-
riod which the British styled the period of “legitimate trade”, as if the
trade in African slaves was not for many centuries “legitimate” dealing
of the British. In Igboland, this period was marked by trade in vegetable
oil. By 1870, when slavery was finally abolished49 or rather given up,

47 Great Britain pioneering and championing the war against the Atlantic slave trade
was certainly not motivated by humanitarian convictions alone. The breaking away
of her North American colonies compelled her to take some punitive measures
against them. The best way, of course, was to squeeze off the supply of slaves to
their large plantations and ultimately to debilitate their economic mainstay.
48 Besides the mounting insurrections and revolts of slaves on the slave islands and
the plantations, and increasing humanitarian movements, at the core of the motiva-
tion to abolish African slave trade and slavery in the United States of America was
a very strong racist angst: the fear of racial infiltration of the “superior white race”
by the “inferior black race”. According to Staudenraus: “Emancipation and re-
moval of Negro slaves were urgent. Jefferson detected a steady increase in the Ne-
gro population foreboding ‘a revolution of the wheel of fortune’ that could reverse
the roles of master and slave and bring tragic paroxysm to the land. ‘I tremble for
my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever’”.
For further interesting reading on the background of the anti-slavery and coloniza-
tion movement in America, cf. Staudenraus, ibid. The quotation above is from p. 2.
49 Saudi Arabia was the last country to abolish slavery and slave trade in 1962.

well over 29.4 million recorded Africans were taken into slavery: about
15.4 million among them through the “TAST”.50 The report of Captain
John Adams “‘who made ten slaving voyages to West Africa between
1786 and 1800’” confirms the projections which hold that the majority of
slaves exported through the Niger Delta to the New World were Igbo
and Ibibio (68% Igbo and 26% Ibibio)51:

This place (Bonny) is the wholesale market for slaves, as not fewer than 20'000 of
whom are members of one nation, called Heebo (the Igbo), so that this single na-
tion [...] during the last 20 years (exported no less) than 320'000; and those of the
same nation sold at New Calabar (a Delta port), probably amounted, in the same
period of time, to 50'000 more, making an aggregate amount of 370'000 Heebos.
The remaining part of the above 20'000 is composed of natives of the Brass country
[...] and also of Ibbibbys (Ibibios) or Quaws .

Numbers can be measured and quantified, but one cannot measure or

quantify human inhumanity, misery and psycho-spiritual depreciation. The Effects of the Slave Trade

The slave trade has far reaching effects both on the African continent and
the receiving countries.53 We are particularly concerned with the effects
on the peoples of West Africa to which the Igbo people belong. The ef-
fects of slavery, however, are similar all over Africa.
The “TAST” led to a massive depopulation of the West African coun-
tries, especially the nations on the west coast: millions of able bodied

50 Cf. J. F. Ade Ajayi and J. E. Inikori, An Account of Research on the Slave Trade in
Nigeria, 248. These figures are estimates. Every book on African slave trade con-
tains figures which due to varying sources and often incomprehensible data are
bound to differ; some underestimate, while others overestimate. In any case, if one
adds about four to five African slaves who did not make it to their various destina-
tions of captivity to each of the recorded figures, then one gets a chilly feeling
about the immensity and enormity of this depletion. Cf. also Ki-Zerbo 228-229.
51 Cf. Isichei, A History of Nigeria, 96-97.
52. Agu 244.
53 For more information on the effect of Slavery on the receiving countries consult:
UNESCO publication: The African Slave Trade: From the fifteenth to the nine-
teenth century; J. Ki-Zerbo, Die Geschichte Schwarz-Afrikas; P. J. Staudenraus,
The African Colonization Movement 1816-1865.

young men and women were forcibly exported from their home coun-
tries to Europe and to the Americas.
The European slave raiders and dealers introduced firearms (guns
and gun powder) and hot drinks – often in exchange for “live wares”.
These weapons not only gave rise to a state of social, economic and po-
litical instability, but also exacerbated and nurtured it for centuries. Life
in Africa remained insecure for four bloody centuries! In such a state of
long and deadly insecurity and brain drain nothing can develop. The un-
settled conditions of those centuries made political stability, social and
economic development impossible
The trade plunged the continent into a chaos of gory internecine
wars. Wars provided slaves, and firearms produced more casualties and
deaths. The European ever increasing, incessant and insatiable demands
for African slaves instigated new wars. According to J. E: Inikori, “fire-
arms gave steam to imperial ventures aimed at controlling the sources of
slave supply. The conflict between these nascent empires over the con-
trol of slave supply on the one hand, and the need for self-defence
against their activities by their victims or potential victims on the other
hand, created a slave-gun circle”54.
The brutal nature of the slave trade and slavery itself served the con-
firmation of the Europeans’ feeling of and belief in the supremacy of the
white people over the black people55, of the white race over the black
race; but we would rather say: it only confirmed the depravity and in-
sanity of the perpetrators of the “TAST” on one side, and the naivety and
avariciousness of their native suppliers on the other hand. Such power
demonstrations created a mental state of docility in the Africans – the
sole position open to them if they were to survive as human beings.
In addition, these long years of enslavement and subjection to a
state of servitude, produced in the African the consciousness of not only
being a second class being but also of a subjugated and tolerated race.
This state of affairs held up the image of the African as a timid, primi-

54 J. E. Inikori, The Slave Trade and the Atlantic Economies, 1451-1870, 72.
55 In his publication, “Africa: A Biography of the Continent”, J. Reader criticizes this
arrogance. He blames the developmental disasters of the continent on the importu-
nities, intrusion and interruption of her natural developmental course, on Europe,
the migrants from Africa, who, returned 500 years ago “behaving as though they
owned the place”. John Reader, Africa. A Biography of the Continent. Penguin
Books. London 1998.

tive, docile and resistant “beast of burden”, which had been on course
among Europeans for centuries. This forced status of a second class hu-
man being furthermore gave rise to an infectious sense of inferiority and
aggression, and an often uncalled-for “I-am-as-good-as-you-are” air in
their later dealings with Europeans and Americans. This deportment
seems to be propelled by an internal compulsion to justify one’s right to
existence or right to be here and now. Consider the effect which the six
years of World War II had on the consciousness of the industrialized
world, and then imagine the effect that four centuries of slavery had on
the entire social and cultural ethos of the rural Igbo country and Africa in
The Igbo had hitherto thought that they were the only race in the
world. This is not surprising for a people whose only means of transport
and channels of communication were their legs and their pathways, their
voices and their drums or gongs. Beside occasional bloody conflicts
between villages and village-groups, the Igbo do not know of any wars
between them and other tribes. The absence of a political unit favoured
this situation. The society and the people lived relatively intact and un-
disturbed in their accustomed way of life until the slave trade broke out.
With that the peace and isolation were gone forever. The slave trade in
which they participated as victims and as agents brought them into con-
tact with other Africans and with the light-skinned people of an unknown
provenience. Through slave trade the Igbo got introduced to a new eco-
nomic sector in addition to the subsistence economy they practised. Soon
also they began to develop a taste for hitherto unknown (foreign) com-
modities.56 Those who participated rose in influence, power and status,
which in turn ignited and sustained the crave for foreign commodities
and the need to supply more slaves to the dealers or their middlemen
(e.g. their fellow Igbo of Arochukwu).

8.3.2 Colonialism

When it became no longer expedient and economical to export Africans

to Europe and America, when Europeans and Americans became afraid
of an increasing Black population in Europe and America and when

56 Such as guns, gun-powder, boots, helms, liquor, iron, and cloth.

many Europeans started realizing the depravity and the self-destructive
nature of their own actions, instead of making acts of repentance, they
switched on the machinery of colonialism. Some in a bid to becalm their
own conscience and others propelled by the need to meet the challenges
of the industrial revolution by exploiting the most out of the African raw
materials and natural resources, they evolved the idea of civilizing the
African savages and primitives. Christianization, which meant at the
same time Europeanization, became a central and suitable instrument on
that program. The ultimate goal was to program the African minds to see
their enslavement, colonization and Christianization as acts of charity
and not as intrusion and uncalled for acts of cultural and cognitive vio-
lence. Besides, as J. B. Metz in his Faith and History once said, “it is the
principle of colonialism to make the colonized forget his past”. Impelled
by social, economic, political and religious problems in Europe, the
Europeans set out in search of “Newfoundlands”. According to V. Y.
Mudimbe, three major figures, from the fifteenth century to the end of
the nineteenth, determined modalities and the pace of mastering, colo-
nizing, and transforming the “Black Continent”. They are the explorer,
the soldier, and the missionary.57 The Explorer

The explorer, at the end of the fifteenth century was looking for a sea-
route to India. In the course of subsequent expeditions he began mapping
out the continent, thus opening the routes into the African hinterlands to
the soldiers, later colonizers and colonialists, and to the missionaries. In
the nineteenth century, he engaged himself with compiling information
and organizing complex bodies of knowledge, including medicine, geog-
raphy, and anthropology.58 With such bodies of knowledge he “colo-
nized” the minds of his country men and women, about what and how
the “African Child” and his continent looked like.59 By solving the enig-
ma of the River Niger, the Lander brothers, Richard and John, opened
the way into the Igbo country for their country men and women.60

57 Cf. Mudimbe 46. Cf. also J.-M. Éla, African Cry, 9-27.
58 Ibid., cf. also Ki-Zerbo 438.
59 Ibid.
60 Cf. Ozigbo 26; Ki-Zerbo 440.

262 The Soldier
With the abolition of the slave trade other trading commodities such as
palm oil and palm kernel, cotton, millet etc. surfaced. As the new trade
expanded and its economic benefits became more and more apparent, the
conflict of interests among the Europeans led to the partition of Africa.
The soldier, now equipped with the knowledge provided by the explorer,
was dispatched to protect the economic and political interests of his na-
tive country against native uprisings and foreign incursions. “The soldier
constituted the most visible figure of the expansion of European juris-
diction. He built castles and forts on the coasts, was in charge of trading
posts, participated in the slave-trade, and, in the nineteenth century, im-
plemented colonial power”61. In any case, it took him several years of
military expeditions – from 1900 till after the First World War – before
he could bring Southeastern Nigeria to finally capitulate and submit to
colonial rule.62
Once he had bombarded, burned and plundered his way into the
Igbo country, and eventually established his control, what the Igbo
feared and resented the most was, according to Agu, “a fait accompli:
foreign domination in all its shades and colours”63. The infamous “sys-
tem of indirect rule” – rule through imposed Warrant Chiefs – had be-
come a paradigm of British colonial power in the Igbo country. In spite
of the fact that it was a blunder and a failure, the very introduction of the
Warrant Chief system cast its shadows on Igbo society and political life
to the present.64 To secure his control over the area and the access to the
local natural resources, the soldier went straight to constructing road and
railway network to facilitate the movement of the troops, officials, and
trade – and “to maintain law and order.” This program was clearly con-
ceived and mapped out as James Coleman pointed out: “It was necessary
to establish political control, and then to construct communication, in-
stitute a common currency, and encourage African production of tropical
export crops, and finally to stimulate a desire for European manufactured

61 Cf. Mudimbe 47.

62 Cf. Ozigbo 111-114.
63 Agu 247-248.
64 A reminiscent of this system is the institution of “Igweship” in present-day Igbo
political organization.

goods”65. To ensure the cooperation of the people direct taxation was
imposed66 payable only in the new currency, thus furthering its circula-
tion. To be able to pay every household was eventually constrained ei-
ther to turn to wage labour or to the production of cash crops. In this way
the economy of the people was totally transformed, and worse still,
equally totally in the hands of the foreign power. The Missionary and Missionary Enterprise

Finally, there was the missionary. He, also equipped with a similar body
of knowledge provided by the explorer and with the Christian zeal, came
to save whatever “soul” may inhabit the body of the savage and primi-
tive through evangelization (– which is also a form of colonization, al-
beit spiritual, but consequently, more radical). He, as much as the colo-
nialist, devoted himself very much to the expansion of European
civilization, even though this was not his primary objective. The first
half of the 19th century witnessed a change in European attitude and poli-
cies towards West Africa. The ensuing anti-slavery movements in Brit-
ain and the African Colonization Movements in North America67, com-
bined to create a state of real chaos in West Africa. In the midst of this
unclear state of affairs the churches attempted another missionary incur-
sion in the region of Southern Nigeria after the ill-fated efforts of the
Portuguese missionaries in the second half of the 15th century.
The objective of the missionary, throughout the centuries the most
consistent, has been the expansion of “the absoluteness of Christianity”
and its virtues. Quoting Hammond and Jablow, Mudimbe affirms: Prin-
gle’s 1820 vision sums it up nicely: “‘Let us enter upon a new and nobler
career of conquest. Let us subdue savage Africa by justice, by kindness,
by the talisman of Christian truth. Let us go forth, in the name and under
the blessing of God, gradually to extend the moral influence [...] the ter-
ritorial boundary also of our colony, until it shall become an Empire’”68.
The missionary’s objective is not necessarily connected with the colonial
aims of the soldier or the explorer/merchant. He has the unfortunate

65 Agu 249.
66 This led to the famous Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 against the British Colonial
Administration. Many women were killed in that incident.
67 See Staudenraus, The African Colonization Movement 1816-1865.
68 Mudimbe 47.

situation that his appearance on the coasts of Africa coincided with that
of the soldier. As a result, he has to live with that stigma of being (often
justifiably) accused of having come with the Bible in one hand and the
gun in the other. Thus paradoxically, the propagator of the Gospel Mes-
sage of Jesus Christ became the best symbol of the colonial enterprise,
namely: the expansion of European civilization, the dissemination of
Christianity, and the cognitive and spiritual restructuring of the colo-
nized.69 In the eyes of some colonialism and evangelization were so
complementary that the former was a necessary instrument for the lat-
ter.70 However genuinely motivated by true evangelical zeal to proclaim
the Good News of Salvation to all humankind, the missionary had, of

69 The Protestant missionary societies dominated the field during the first half of the
19th century. In West Africa the following missionary societies were active at the
time: the Baptist Missionary Society in Freetown (1795), the Church Missionary
Society (C.M.S.) (1804), the Wesleyan Methodist Mission (1811), the Basle Mis-
sion (1835), the Presbyterian Mission (1846), the Bremen Missionary Society in
Togo (1847). The only Catholic missionary societies on the West African mainland
at the time were the two congregations of St. Joseph Cluny (S. M. A.) and of the
Holy Ghost Fathers (C. S. Sp.). The first Catholic missionaries to arrive West Af-
rica were from the United States of America led by Father Edward Barron in 1842.
Having lost most of his missionaries, Barron was fortunate to team up with the
French cleric and Jewish convert, Father Francis Mary Paul Libermann, who a year
previous had founded the missionary society of Sacred Heart of Mary in France.
Libermann had missionaries but no mission field. Barron had mission field but lit-
tle or no missionaries. With bishop Barron’s resignation in 1845, the Propaganda
Fide transferred the responsibility for the Vicariate of the “two Guineas” (spanning
the countries between the Senegal River and Angola) to Libermann. Around 1860
some part of this vast vicariate – the area from the Volta to the Niger Rivers – was
transferred to the S. M. A. by the Propaganda Fide. The British had already occu-
pied the Niger down to its delta; the trade in that region was under the control of
British commercial firms, which later were brought together under the name United
African Companies and later in 1886 as Royal Niger Company. The latter favoured
the missionary activities of the C. M. S. on the Niger. On the invitation of some
French merchants on the Niger the C. S. Sp. and the S. M. A. sent missionaries to
the Niger. With the creation of the Prefecture of Lokoja at the confluence of the
two Rivers Niger and Benue in today’s Nigeria, the C. S. Sp. decided to establish a
mission on the Niger, at Onitsha. Cf. Ozigbo 36-40.
70 For Portugal and Spain the spreading of the Christian message was the major legal
justification for their colonizing ambitions, involvements and activities. This was
also confirmed and sanctioned “auctoritate Apostolica” by the roman curia. For
further reading, Cf. Bitterli, Alte Welt-neue Welt, 48-49; Gutiérrez, Gott oder das
Gold; Catchpole, The Clash of Cultures.

necessity, to adjust his objective to become co-extensive with the politi-
cal and economic aspirations of his fatherland. Sometimes extraneous
factors necessitated such adjustments, for instance, the need for political
or military protection and/or permission for entry into the occupied re-
gions. According to Mudimbe, the missionary’s objectives, obviously,

had to be co-extensive with his country’s political and cultural perspectives on

colonization, as well as with the Christian view of his mission. With equal enthusi-
asm, he served as an agent of a political empire, a representative of a civilization,
and an envoy of God. There is no essential contradiction between these roles. All
of them implied the same purpose: the conversion of African minds and space.
Christopher rightly observes that ‘missionaries, possibly more than members of
other branches of the colonial establishment, aimed at the radical transformation of
indigenous society [...].’ They therefore sought, whether consciously or uncon-
sciously, the destruction of pre-colonial societies and their replacement by new
Christian societies in the image of Europe .

It is obvious that the missionary, being an apostle, was sent. His speech,
therefore, is always predetermined, pre-regulated and conditioned not
only by the message he is meant to convey but also by his understanding
of the perspective and authority of his master. Besides, he carries into his
mission his developmental background and the cognitive bearings –
“den Zeitgeist” – of his time. In effect his language depends upon a
normative discourse already given and definitely stipulated. In this con-
nection Mudimbe observes:

Missionary orthodox speech, even when imaginative or fanciful, evolved within the
framework of what [...] I shall call the authority of the truth. This is God’s desire
for the conversion of the world in terms of cultural and socio-political regeneration,
economic progress and spiritual salvation. This means, at least, that the missionary
does not enter into dialogue with pagans and ‘savages’ but must impose the law of
God that he incarnates. All of the non-Christian cultures have to undergo a process
of reduction to, or – in missionary language – of regeneration in, the norms that the
missionary represents .

71 Mudimbe 47.
72 Ibid., 47-48.

As if following Pringle’s vision of subduing savage Africa by justice, by
kindness and by the talisman of Christian truth, in 188573 the missionary
arrived in Igboland. He pitched his tent at Onitsha, which in 1889 be-
came a C. S. Sp. Prefecture, officially known as the “Prefecture of the
Lower Niger”.74 Soon after his arrival, he embarked on charity works as
means of winning the good-will and the conversion of the people to the
Catholic faith. Convinced of his cultural and religious superiority and of
his call to disseminate his civilization and save the poor souls from per-
ishing in the wilderness of evil, he plunged himself into his mission,
shying no hardship, setbacks and dangers. He dedicated all he was and
all he had to this one mission. His reward was to be heaven as well as the
fame not only among his countrymen and women but, most of all,
among the evangelized. Ozigbo described the missionary enterprise as a
“marriage of interests and philanthropy”, as an “investment for which the
expected dividends would be spiritual and psychological.75 It was a do ut
des. The Soldier and the Missionary in Igboland

In considering the activities of these two key figures in the scheme of
transformation of the Igbo world, we shall pay special attention to the
missionary. The soldier used the force of arms to subjugate the people
and impose foreign legal and political structures on them. The mission-
ary76 not only infiltrated their minds but also estranged their souls thus
irrevocably destabilizing the cognitive and spiritual edifice which gave
meaning and unity to the life of the people.

73 The first Catholic missionaries to set foot in Igboland were French C. S. Sp. mis-
sionaries led by Father Joseph Lutz. The other members of his crew were Father
John Horne and two lay brothers, Hermas Huck and John of Gotheau. Cf. Ozigbo
74 Ozigbo 52.
75 Ibid., 58.
76 Henceforth the term “missionary”, used as a noun, in singular, refers to the mis-
sionaries of the Holy Ghost Congregation (C. S. Sp.) who evangelized this eastern
part of the country. Since we are not enquiring into the effects of each individual
missionary on the Igbo, but rather the effect of missionary activities among the
Igbo, we consider it more expedient to address the “missionary” rather than the
“missionaries”. We shall, nonetheless, use the term “missionaries” when we make
some specifications between the different nationalities within the C. S. Sp.

Taking off from Onitsha at the bank of the River Niger he moved
into Igbo heartland, equipped with a strong four-itemed program: (1) the
provision of medical services, (2) the redemption and rehabilitation of
slaves – i.e. purchasing of slaves77 who were later baptized and allowed
to live within the Church premises, gathering, baptizing and habilitating
the marginalised of the society, such as, social outcasts, social misfits
and the helpless, (3) the deliberate play on the psychological and aes-
thetic susceptibilities of the converts, and (4) the education in literacy
and vocational training.78
With his selfless medical attention to the sick the missionary won
the greatest sympathy of the people. Disease, illness and ultimately
death, are the forces which, from their very nature, constantly tend to
submerge human life and experience into a nightmare of meaningless-
ness and chaos. They not only constitute “a threat to the continuity of
human relationships”, but also “threaten the basic assumptions of order
on which society rests”79. As a result, anybody or institution that helps to
combat, or augment the efforts of human beings against disease, illness
and death, or even help them to go through those terminal or border
states, is greeted with great sympathy and respect. The result of this
medical strategy was formidable: the Igbo responded in great numbers to
the call of the missionary. They went even further to attribute super-
human powers to him. In the report from Aguleri in 1894 we read for in-

77 The paradox of the whole affair was that the missionary, through his enthusiasm
and zeal for the freedom of the slaves, unwittingly and indirectly encouraged the
inhuman business among the Igbo for four good years (1886-1899). Ozigbo’s ac-
count of this event is very enlightening. He even reports that the Prefecture contin-
ued to receive annual grants from “slavery fund” established by Rome until the
1930’s. “Boys, girls and women ranging from 2 to 35 years of age were redeemed.
The greater number of these were females. They were all paid for with bags of salt,
rolls of tobacco, pieces of cloth (cotton goods), or bottles of gun-powder, which the
missionaries bought from the Royal Niger company’s trading factory at Obosi. The
records show that few of these slaves were purchased from the open market at the
Onitsha wharf. Most of the sales were made in the Holy Trinity mission station.
The people brought the slaves to the mission to sell them to the missionaries”,
Ibid., 66-78. The quotation is from p. 67.
78 N. I. Omenka, The School in the Service of Evangelization, 58
79 Berger, The Sacred Canopy, 23.

Our great influence comes from the care which we extend to the sick who come to
us from several miles around. The good Lord had also permitted us to give salva-
tion to some of the desperate cases. Besides, the people say that we have power to
cure any disease, and that if sometimes we fail, it is because we are unwilling to
heal. Thanks to medicine, we have been able to baptize a large number of children
and many converts have been won .

In all that, the missionary “objective” stood first and foremost: Patients
who indicated their unwillingness to accept or submit to the new religion
were sent away unattended to.81 Baptism and the new religion, which
very often meant living around the church premises82 or in the ill-fated
Christian villages83, were usually the prerequisites for medical treatment.

80 Ozigbo 63.
81 Cf. Ibid., 64.
82 When parents refuse to leave their children behind after treatment, the pioneer mis-
sionary saw it as an act of ingratitude. The anguish expressed in the following cita-
tion underscores this point: “One thing [...] which causes us much pain is ingrati-
tude. Parents in extreme anguish bring their children [...] [with the promise to leave
them] with us once they regained their health. But was such a promise kept? [...]
We now make them sign an agreement to leave the children with us till they reach
the age of marriage, in the hope of making them good Christians, who will in turn
raise Christian families [...].” Omenka 32.
83 Ibid., 66.72-75: “Though life in the Aguleri Christian village was regimented, its
population nevertheless, steadily increased. By November 1896, twenty two Chris-
tian and ten catechumen families were recorded. Five Christian marriages were
also celebrated there that year. By July 1898, the population had shot up to 202 of
which 150 were baptized and 52 were catechumens. The number of families in the
village stood at 41. Chief Idigo of Aguleri, the patron of the village, became its un-
official catechist and time-keeper. He gave the rising sign each morning at 5
O’clock [...] [and] went round [...] to make sure that everyone was up for the 5.30
a.m. prayers and Mass. Evening prayers were also communal in the chapel. [Not all
the missionaries, however, were happy about this monastic regimentation of life in
the village]. Fr. Bubendorf blamed Fr. F.X. Lichtenberger, then in charge of Agu-
leri, for demanding too much from the villages”. The admission into the village
was conducted under strict observation of the following rules: “The man must have
one wife or promise to have only one. This must be done before he comes into the
village; He must have nothing to do with idols; he must be willing to be instructed
in the Christian faith and to follow other Christians in the exercise of piety and to
live unreproachful life. If any of these is broken later, the person is immediately
expelled [...]. We try to repress the ancient habits by limiting the contacts of our
Christians with their pagan countrymen and even with their friends and relations
(même avec leurs amis et parents)”, 73-74. Emphasis added.

There is no gainsaying that this response was motivated by the material
need of attaining sound health again, rather than by the spiritual appeals
of the teaching of the missionary. This fact is borne out by the fact that
many, who on admission agreed to let their sick children get baptized or
that they themselves be baptized on recovery, reneged on the agreement
without remorse. For the missionary this was a sign of gross ingratitude.
The initial members of the Christian folk in Igboland consisted of
ransomed slaves, social outcasts and misfits. Reporting to the Propa-
ganda Fide in 1912 Father Shanahan (the most popular of the Irish mis-
sionaries in Igboland) recalled the experiences of the pioneer missionary
with the infamous slave trade in Onitsha:

On the sandbank before our eyes, in Onitsha, slaves were once publicly marketed,
and our Fathers redeemed them daily to the extent their meagre resources permit-
ted. Soon hundreds of these unfortunates were living in the Mission, and it was no
small task to feed, clothe and house them; no easy task to dress their hideous
wounds and gradually to instruct them and change them to a Christian way of
life .

The missionary was soon to realize that this second program option had
no prospects of success for his objective, if any other thing, it was rather,
in the long run, going to be contra-productive: In Igboland free sons and
daughters of the land do not mix or commune with social outcasts – a
custom which, from a Christian point of view, is very deplorable. None-
theless, were the missionary to have followed this course, he would have
marginalised a greater part of the society.
Religious conversion, real or superficial, is essentially a radical
change of a person’s religious views and attitudes from one religion in
favour of another. The use of charity to lure the Igbo into abandoning
their traditional belief system in order to embrace the new dispensation
and religion dawned on the missionary as a very fleeting and superficial
instrument of evangelization. It became clear to him that the wheel of
conversion – aimed at by the use of charity – for most Igbo does not turn

The missionaries had hoped that with the conversion of Chief Idigo his entire town
would follow him. However, they did not know that in the Igbo society the title of
chief yielded prestige rather than power: At his conversion and subsequent entrance
into the Christian Village the chief had to leave behind his town with an estimated
population of 15’000, cf. Baur 149.
84 Omenka 35.

full circle. As a result, he began to appeal to the psychology of the con-
verts, in order to elicit the desired response: permanent membership of
the Catholic folk.
A great importance was given to a solemn celebration of the liturgy
and the sacraments. Since such solemnity and attitude towards rituals
and symbols were not totally strange to the Igbo, it appealed very much
to them. Besides, the idea of the Holy Mass as a “sacrifice”, the sacra-
mentals and the air of mystery surrounding their performances, are
things the Igbo only too easily incorporated into their existing cognitive
edifice. Since not properly understood, and the goal being ultimately
similar, it seemed like replacing one nomenclature with another; the
content and subjective relationship to such ritual activities remained
more or less unchanged. On the other hand, it also augmented the possi-
bilities open to the Igbo for accessing the benevolence of the forces that
abound in his world.
In addition, the unintelligibility of the language – Latin and English
– fitted properly into the Igbo conception of and attitude towards the
spoken word and the efficacy of ogwu as prepared by a Dibia. The Gre-
gorian Plain chant had its own toll of appeal on the aesthetic feelings of
the people. It seemed to bring the numinous much closer and more con-
cretely felt by the participants. To sing in an unintelligible Latin lan-
guage became somewhat a status symbol, for it brought you closer to the
mystique of the white people and the hopes for a better life he represents.
For the novelty-loving Igbo it was no problem for the converts to iden-
tify with this mystique.
To hallow these externals and give them a base, the concept and
idea of the sacred had to be expounded. The dogmatic doctrines of the
Church provided this needed legitimation and grounding. Since these
were in a more or less esoteric language, it became necessary to translate
them into some exoteric, intelligible forms which the neophytes could
understand. Attempt was made to initiate them through a process of
doctrinal instruction, the most potent vehicle of which was the Cate-
chism. This was simply indoctrination. Since the language of dialogue
was essentially contradictory to missionary speech and objective, the
contents of the catechism were then to be learnt by rote. This explains in
part the missionary’s preference for children, the ignorant and the gulli-
ble. Since these doctrines were imbibed and internalised without the
guiding light of the Spirit of understanding, the faith grew in most Igbo

not beyond their childhood catechism stage. Many of the strife and fa-
natical activities among Catholics against the traditional Religionists and
their traditional culture could be traced back to this point. Among candi-
dates for the Catholic priesthood and already ordained this shows itself
in an over-zealous and intolerant attitude towards the Igbo traditional
culture and religion.
A very remarkable feature of the missionary speech and of the
Catechism he introduced is that the language is a language of derision. In
this connection the idea of the Supreme God becoming a human being in
the person of Jesus of Nazareth fascinated the people, since such an idea
was hitherto totally strange to the Igbo. The idea of a God, who so loved
his people that He was prepared to sacrifice His son Jesus to save human
beings really touched the emotional nerve of the Igbo. The traditional
Igbo deities and spirits were then derided and ridiculed as capable of
nothing. Having dismissed the ritual symbols and icons of these deities
as idols, the missionary condemned the ritual reverence accorded them
as idolatry, thus mistaking the icons for the deities themselves. The dei-
ties were derided as man-made, work of the devil, incapable of speech,
motion or thought. The traditional religious belief system was said to
lead consequently and ultimately to damnation, or at best, it was said to
be a mark of primitiveness, backwardness and savagery. To become a
Christian was to become modern, civilized and saved. V. Y. Mudimbe
captured this fact in his assessment of the missionary’s language and Af-
rican conversion, when he cites the Cameroonian philosopher, Ebousi-
Boulaga, saying:

Christianity is the inheritor of Greek reason and it is the continuation and the
achievement of the Judaic revelation. By these two traits it is the critic of the false-
hood of other religions and denounces their mythological character. Its proper ele-
ment is language and history, but not the obscure regions of the cosmos nor of the
imaginary [...]. The missionary’s discourse [...] always presented five major fea-
tures. First of all, it is a language of derision, insofar as it fundamentally ridicules
the pagan’s Gods. And one must not forget that since its birth Christianity has ap-
propriated for itself both the only way to true communication with the divine and
the only correct image of God and God’s magnificence. Second, it is a language of
refutation or systematic reduction: all pagan religions constitute the black side of a
white transcendental Christianity, and this metaphoric opposition of colours means
the opposition of evil and good, Satan and God. The third feature illuminates the
missionary’s pragmatic objectives: his action is supported by a language of demon-
stration, which reflects God’s truth. In order to sustain his derision for and refuta-

tion of non-Christian beliefs and practices, the missionary emphasizes the Christian
faith in terms of its historical coherence and transforming virtues. Religions and
biblical categories enter into the logic of his civilization, thus making sacred a cul-
tural model and giving it a divine seal . The Missionary and School

To drive home his conviction of the superiority of the Euro-Christian
civilization over the traditional culture and civilization permanently –
although the African traditional civilization was considered an un-
civilization, primitive and savage –, the missionary turned in his fourth
item on the program: school. The objective was, of course, not to enable
the missionary understand the Igbo culture and way of life for a later
philosophical and theological dialogue with their hosts. Rather, the aim
was to bias the minds of the pupils against their own society and culture
in favour of the new teachings. The Igbo and their endemic crave for
novelty snapped at the bait, generally uncritically. Hence the school86
caught up with the people like wild fire. Looking back on the efforts of
the missionary in those early years, one cannot but admit with gratitude
the outstanding merit of his effort on this sphere.
With the backing of the highest Church quarters, the missionary in
Igboland invested practically everything he had into the school program.
The slogan was: Evangelization through school. Schools were built with
such an incredible rapidity. Almost every village that wanted had a
school, since every school compound was the mission compound. Where
the missionary himself could not be, he posted a catechist. As the de-
mand for education and for quality became higher, propelled by the edu-
cational developments on the Anglican side, the need for trained teachers
became imperative. While the colonial administration subjugated the
Igbo hinterland through successive and protracted military expeditions,
the missionary, aimed at subjugating the Igbo through school education.
For him the school provided a formidable instrument for making con-

85 Mudimbe 51.
86 We prefer to use the term “school” instead of education, since we are of the opinion
that education is to be likened to midwifery: attending to someone, an expectant
person to bring forth the capabilities, qualities and talents developing in his person,
to attend and assist the person develop these qualities and capabilities in order to
enable him live a meaningful, fulfilled and socially beneficial life. Such an outlook
and disposition is different from and incompatible with indoctrination.

verts. The colonial administration’s need for educated personnel eventu-
ally brought about a government involvement in the mission education
affairs.87 Despite this intervention the Catholic missionaries were insis-
tent on using the school for their primary missionary interest. The fol-
lowing missionary report from Onitsha in 1906 supports this point:

Our objective would not be to train clerks or employees for commerce or for the
government. Our aim, especially in this big town [Onitsha], which is like a gate to
the interior, is to form future catechists and future school masters for the Igbo
country.[...] In accordance with the strict demands of the government educational
regulations, the pupils are scrupulously drilled in reading, writing, arithmetic, ge-
ography, English composition, and some elements of science. However, the em-
phasis is on religious instructions, catechism, church songs, and the Scriptures .

However, the colonial government’s promise of financial support, and

the prospects of gaining a position of influence in the territories to be
opened by its military expeditions in the hinterland, lured the missionary
into an open league with the colonial government.89 Further factors that
compelled the Catholic missionary to ally with the colonial authority was
the obsessive fear of losing the terrain to the Protestants from whose
schools in Lagos and Sierra Leone the colonial government in Eastern
Nigeria was already recruiting civil servants. The Igbo becoming in-
creasingly indignant over this fact were eager to send their children only

87 On government intervention in education cf. Omenka 70-129 and 151.

88 Omenka 97.
89 Cf. Ozigbo 110-143. Roman Catholicism profited immensely from such a mar-
riage. When the colonial government introduced the infamous “system of Indirect-
Rule” with its machinery of “Warrant Chiefs”, the missionaries eagerly used the
chiefs to secure a strong foothold for the new religion and its fledgling adherents
within the apparent areas of jurisdiction of the respective chiefs. Often such an alli-
ance with the chiefs was exploited to keep the Protestants at bay or completely
away from those areas. Of course, the chiefs used the missionaries to strengthen
their imposed authority over their areas, and to compensate for the negative image
they have as collaborators. Chief Onyeama of Eke in the then Udi Division, for ex-
ample, was dreaded for his uncompromising authority, his active participation in
slave trade and the terror he breathed out in the entire neighbourhood. Both he and
the Catholic missionary got on well with each other: He allowed the missionary to
build schools and establish the new religion; the missionary, by his mere presence
and principle of non-interference in the chief’s activities, contributed immensely
and actively in augmenting and consolidating the authority and powers of the chief.

to such schools that met the colonial governments demands for educa-
tional programs that would prepare the natives for more involvement in
the economic development of their country. Through the introduction of
industrial subjects and the eminent role given to English language, the
Catholic schools endeavoured to make their schools more attractive to
the natives. English was considered as a symbol of progress. It “was the
surest guarantee for all job opportunities in the colony. Since the Protes-
tants90 gave special attention to the vernacular rather than to English, the
Catholics were, as a result of the premium placed on English, able to at-
tract more children to their schools than their rivals in Eastern Nigeria”91.
The bitter rivalry between the Catholics and theAnglicans92, which Baur

90 When we talk of “Protestants” missionaries in southeastern Nigeria in these early

years, we mean specifically the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, the
91 Omenka 99.
92 Initially the British colonial government was represented in the Niger country –
southeastern Nigeria – by the Royal Niger Company (R. N. C.) which had the mo-
nopoly of trade and licence to a sole occupation of the area. The first Catholic mis-
sionaries in the area were French. Since missionary objective was very often co-
extensive with the political and economic aspirations of their native countries, it
was therefore, not a thing of surprise that the R. N. C. was not unreserved in the
welcome it accorded the French missionaries at the arrival of the latter. The rela-
tionship between them remained one of mutual suspicion. Since the French spoke
French and not English in an English colony, it soon became necessary for the fu-
ture of the mission to replace the French with English-speaking missionaries.
The unhealthy relationship which had been existing between the English and the
French back in Europe was carried over by the French missionaries into their mis-
sion activities in Igboland. The Churches both planted grew up to see each other as
arch enemies to the present day. The faithful they groomed, without having the
flimsiest idea of the root of the French aversion for the English or rather for the
Anglican Church, looked down on their fellow brothers and sisters with scorn sim-
ply because they belong to the Anglican Communion. Songs of derision and anec-
dotes directed towards the other were taught and learnt on both sides. Population
wise the Anglicans and Catholics constitute the greater part of the Christian folk in
Igboland. They being the closest are at the same time the worst rival and enemy to
each other till date. The unhealthy and unchristian competitive attitude that marked
their relationship right from the first day the Catholic missionaries set foot on the
bank of the Niger at Onitsha, is one of the unfortunate legacies which overshadow
every relationship between the Catholic and Anglican clergy in Igboland today. For
further details on the relationship between the missionaries and the British trading
company and later the British colonial administration in Eastern Nigeria, and the
relationship between the Anglican and Catholic missionaries in Igboland, interested

described as “one of the most bitter denominational competitions in Af-
rica”93, contributed immensely to a change in policy on the Catholic side.
The Catholic missionary was convinced beyond all doubts that the sal-
vation of the people was only possible in and can be guaranteed only by
Catholic education. Such a conviction justified any means of attaining
the highest place of influence in education and all efforts towards out-
doing the Protestant rivals in the colony.94
As soon as the economic, social and political benefits of Western
education started dawning on the people, there occurred a kind of
“school epidemic”: in no little time, there was an unprecedented prolif-
eration of Mission schools. By 1928 there were already as many as 300
primary schools in the area. For 19 of them the missionary received
some financial aid from the colonial government. The Table below indi-
cates a concentration of these schools in the Owerri province, which is
the core and the heaviest densely populated area of Igboland.

Table 1: Catholic Mission Primary Schools in Eastern Nigeria by the year 1928

Province Nr. of Schools Enrolment Attendance

Assisted Unass. Assisted Unassisted Assisted Unassisted.
Boys Girls Boys Girls Boys Girls Boys Girls
Onitsha 14 136 3,477 325 50 – – – 32 –
Owerri 5 145 1,190 5 11,449 49 847 3 6,782 42
Source: Adapted from Omenka, p. 110. He compiled his data from, Annual Report on
the Education Department, Southern Provinces, For the Year 1928 (Lagos: Government
Printing Office, 1928), pp. 20-25.

Of course, there were not as many missionaries as there were schools,

not to talk of classes. Since his main objective was proselytization, it
seemed sufficient to him to make extensive use of the Catechists – who
can be described as “the local missionaries” in the real sense of the word.
The Catechist, usually chosen by the missionary from the group of con-
verts because of his exceptional zeal for the new faith, served as the
long-arm or extension of the missionary in the mission station entrusted

readers may refer to the works of: N. I. Omenka, The School in the Service of
Evangelization, I. Ozigbo, Roman Catholicism in Southeastern Nigeria, and E. Isi-
chei, The Igbo People and the Europeans.
93 Baur 149.
94 Cf. CSE: Bulletin, 24 (1907-1908), 144.

to his care. As a teacher, however, he lacked every teaching training
whatsoever.95 His main functions were the ministration to the people in
lieu of the missionary, the preparation of the catechumens for the sacra-
ments mostly through teaching the catechism. Since he learnt to speak
English language from the missionary, he acted as interpreter for the
missionary as well. In the course of time, the use was made of brilliant
pupils to assist the teachers as “Pupil-Teachers”96. The latter received
teaching lessons outside the school hours from qualified teachers. Their
task was mainly to assist the teachers in helping their fellow children
who lagged behind. The seminaries created in the twentieth century em-
ployed this system heavily. The difference between the “Seminarian-
Teacher” and the “Pupil-Teacher” of the eighteenth century lay in the
fact that the “Seminarian-Teacher” was treated as a teacher on his own
account – albeit without any teaching training –; he did not have to assist
any teacher. This method is still much in use in most of the minor semi-
naries in Igboland.
Later, when the colonial government required the schools to pro-
duce qualified personnel for the civil service, the idea of founding a
Teacher Training College became an urgent and existential issue for the
Catholic Mission. Since the Mission hinged on a “good” teacher, it was
then logical that the training of future qualified teachers had to be a kind
of seminary training. Consequently, the teacher training institution was
to serve as well as a seminary for the training of Catholic native clergy.97
The establishment of the first Catholic Teacher Training College at Ig-
bariam in 1913, run by Irish missionaries, seemed to fulfil this hope.
Omenka commenting this great innovation writes:

It was at Igbariam that some privileged pupils of the Prefecture were called ‘stu-
dents’ for the first time. It was also there, more than in any other Mission, that the
saying that the Missions produced teachers who were more of theologians than
schoolmasters was given a sound justification [...]. The first priorities in the new
College were discipline, character formation, religious and moral education .

95 Cf. Omenka 135-139; Ozigbo 184-187.

96 Cf. Ozigbo 185; Omenka 140-142.
97 Cf. Omenka 143.
98 Ibid., 150.

The Igbariam experiment survived only the first five years and had to be
closed down on account of lack of qualified European teaching person-
nel. By 1928 another teacher training college at Onitsha, St. Charles
College, was already in operation. This second attempt survived the hard
tests of time. The college was to produce Higher Elementary School
Teachers.99 But soon the Mission could no longer pay these teachers.
The idea of creating more Higher Elementary Teacher Training Colleges
had to be given up in favour of a more viable and financially less bur-
densome Elementary School Teacher Training Centres. The latter were
to produce Teachers who were to organize the village schools. The ac-
tivities of these teachers were minutely controlled by the missionary. For
instance, “they were not allowed to be absent from their stations, even on
their free days, without the permission of the Fathers in-charge. When
schools closed for holidays, teachers were held back and given some du-
ties to keep them busy, the idea being to ward off idleness, or what was
described as ‘a great moral danger to the station’”100. Decisions pertain-
ing to their profession were made for them but without them. Since the
missionary considered the teacher more of an apostle, a missionary, than
an ordinary schoolmaster, it was therefore, not surprising that they were
required to live lives above the ordinary. This requirement can only be
appreciated on the background of the fact that the school was the centre
of the visible Church among a non-Christian community. Thus the
teachers were compelled to teach the people by good examples; they
were to serve as touchstones for the rest of the community with regard to
Christian life. Later developments in the Mission administration-teacher
relationship seemed to indicate that not many teachers were happy with
this, coupled with the low wages they received. Both sources of discon-
tentment finally fuelled the state take-over of all Mission schools in Ig-
boland at the end of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war in January 1970.101
Until 1945 the emphasis in the secondary schools, beside English
language, had been on discipline, physical education, religious instruc-
tion, vocational and practical education such as carpentry, masonry, ag-
riculture, etc. After this period this emphasis was shifted to subjects like
English, History, Geography, Elementary Mathematics, Biology, Chem-

99 Cf. Ibid., 154.

100 Ibid., 162.
101 Cf. D. B. Barret, World Christian Encyclopedia, 528.

istry, Physics, Additional Mathematics, French or Latin.102 C. K. Meek
reporting on the overall development in the Igbo country between 1906
and 1931 wrote:

In 1906 Government schools were opened at Onitsha and Owerri, and by 1931
there were in Onitsha and Owerri Provinces 11 Government schools, 74 schools as-
sisted by the Government, and 1,092 non-assisted schools. The total number of
scholars was returned as 61,526 and there were 2,935 African teachers. In these
two provinces, also, there were in 1931 298,081 ‘adherents’ of Christian churches,
so that the total number of professing Christians in Iboland may be estimated at not
less than 600,000. It is evident from these figures that the Ibo are strong in their
demand for Western education, and that there is a powerful movement towards
Christianity .

Reasons for the Success of the School program

One should not be misled to think that the motivation for this rush for
schools was congruent with that of the missionary. This was certainly
not the case: In the eyes of the people the school was a symbol of pres-
tige and often a stratagem in inter-village rivalry. Over and above all, it
was a doorway to modernity and to the “power-house” of political and
social influence. The people responded to the enticements of the mis-
sionary neither so much out of a dissatisfaction with their traditional re-
ligious beliefs nor out of the need to belong to any wider religious com-
munity, as Donders citing Barret would want to believe: “‘The
conversion movement at the grassroots level [in Africa] is due to the fact
that Africans are turning away from their local tribal religions because
they see no ‘salvation’ in those organizations anymore. They want to
belong to a larger human and religious community’”104. Obviously, the
motivating factors are, as the Indonesian born East African missionary,
Adrian Hastings, analysed, “not specifically religious but social and psy-
chological”105. For the missionary, however, the aim was clear and une-
quivocal: proselytization. Nevertheless, it is in satisfying social and psy-
chological needs that conversion can possibly arise. The people found in
literacy, which the school represented, the most formidable strategy to
cope with the indescribable humiliation the forcible subjugation by the

102 Of course the content and illustrations of these subjects were totally European.
103 Agu 275.
104 Mudimbe 55.
105 A. Hastings, Church and Mission in Modern Africa, 121.

colonial intruder meant for them. This strategy lay in the mysterious lan-
guage of the white people: English. It is the firm belief of the Igbo that
“when a fish is bigger than another fish, it swallows it” – (azu karia azu,
o noo ya). Consequently they were bent on not resigning to this fate;
they were intent on discovering the tricks of these white people and on
participating in the power and prestige they enjoy. For the Igbo that was
the only alternative to getting swallowed by, as Agu describes it, “the
monster they could neither repulse nor dislodge”106. Achebe in his Arrow
of God captured this Igbo thought pattern in a vivid manner. Ezulu, the
Chief Priest of Ulu, was summoned to the office of the administrative of-
ficer at Okperi. Their he made a very humiliating experience for a man
of his dignity and social standing. Convinced of the wisdom of his deci-
sion to send one of his sons to go and acquire the white man’s knowl-
edge, he instructs his son:

I have sent you to be my eyes there (in the school). Do not listen to what people say
– people who do not know their right from their left. No man speaks a lie to his
son; I have told you that before. If anyone asks you why you should be sent to learn
these new things tell him that a man must dance the dance prevalent in his time [...]
When I was in Okperi I saw a young white man who was able to write his book
with the left hand. From his actions I could see that he had very little sense. But he
had power; he could shout in my face; he could do what he liked. Why? Because he
could write with his left hand. That is why I have called you. I want you to learn
and master this man’s knowledge so much that if you are suddenly woken up from
sleep and asked what it is you will reply. You must learn it until you can write it
with your left hand. That is all I want to tell you .

This is a typical early Igbo thinking of education as a means of catching

up and being on a par with the white people and their power; a thinking
exacerbated by the unscrupulous and flagrant abuses perpetrated upon
their own people by the semi-literate Igbo Court Clerks and largely illit-
erate Court Messengers. Added to this were the unrestrained abuses of
power by the imposed Warrant or Paramount Chiefs, who were installed
by the colonial administration to act as intermediaries between her and
the people. Although the chiefs largely did not understand English, they
wielded a lot of power and influence by their mere closeness to and pact

106 Agu 271.

107 Achebe, Arrow of God, 514. To do something with the left hand is to do that thing
with ease; it is a sign of absolute mastery.

with the whites. All this summed up to create and nourish the impression
that whoever was close to the white people had not only access to an un-
questionable power but also knew what the white people knew. Bishop
Shanahan cashed in on this pattern of thinking and exploited it fully to
attract more people to the Catholic schools:

When pleading with the people to accept a Catholic school he would argue: ‘Why
was the European D. O. in charge of tens of thousands of Ibos? Was it because he
had more money or more wives or more influence? No, the answer was that he was
more educated. Why was the interpreter so contemptuous of local views and so in-
sistent on heavy bribes before he would explain a case properly? Because he knew
English which he had learnt at school, and because no local knew enough English
to follow what he was saying. And look at the Court Clerk and Court Messengers,
the most influential and the most feared men in the district. Why were they chosen
for their jobs? Simply because they had been to school and understand English‘ .

Besides, the Igbo saw that almost all their social drop-outs, outcasts (the
Ohu or Osu), and sons whom their parents considered too feeble for farm
work, who joined the new Religion and went to their schools of doctrinal
instructions had become very influential government officials. Not only
did they have a new and coveted social status but the new currency with
which they were paid, paved the way for them in the new dispensation.
Many of those who rushed to the schools themselves were certainly not
conscious of all these material advantages; they merely wanted to escape
the hardship of rural farm life. The benefits only dawned on them much
later. Like a bomb shell it exploded into the awareness of the Igbo that a
new society had made its debut with new measures of social evaluation,
and there was no going back.109 Either you join the bus or you are left
behind. “Education” in this sense properly meant the emulation of the
white people in every respect. Mr. E. J. Hussey, the director of Education

108 Afigbo, The Place of the Igbo Language in our Schools, 78-79. D. O. means: Dis-
trict Officer.
109 Moses, a convert explaining to his town’s people the futility of wanting to get rid
of both the colonial administration and the Christian Mission, said to them: “I can
tell you that there is no escape from the white man. He has come. When suffering
knocks at your door and you say there is no seat left for him, he tells you not to
worry because he has brought his own stool. The white man is like that [...]. As
daylight chases away darkness so will the white man drive away all our customs”,
Achebe, Arrow of God, 405.

in Nigeria from 1929 to 1936, offered a revealing definition of such an

In a country which is under the tutelage of a European Power, the term education
can with propriety be applied to all the local activities of the ‘tutoring’ Power – the
general administration and maintenance of law and order, the work of technical de-
partments of government, the day-to-day undertakings of the European planters in
countries where there is a European settlement, and last, but by no means least, the
self-sacrificing labours of the missionaries, who, quite apart from the instruction
provided in their schools, do so much through the examples of their lives and
through the force of the religion which they preach to educate the people up to no-
bler ideals and more civilized standards .

To be educated meant ultimately to be freed from arduous farm life of

the rural country. After school one soon departed for the urban centres
where there were white collar jobs. Consequently there is a very signifi-
cant correlation between the general downward trend in and neglect of
agriculture and spread of western education. The social and psychologi-
cal make-up of the people were in total disarray.

8.3.3 Indigenous Clergy

As early as 1887, the school idea stood firm on the Catholic missionary’s
program in Igboland. This did not come as a revelation. It was rather a
result of the re-evaluation of the missionary objective in Europe after the
lessons of the French Revolution and the tragic failure of the missionary
activities of the Jesuit Order in Asia and Latin-America, to mention but a
few examples. The re-evaluation of the biblical injunction: Euntes docete
omnes gentes111 led to different and differing opinions among Christian
missions. Those who laid emphasis on the “salus animarum” found the
catechumenate as the most logical instrument. Thus neophytes were ad-
mitted and instructed in the doctrines of the Catholic faith and then bap-
tized. Once baptized, then the salvation of the soul of the neophyte was
guaranteed. Others opted for “plantatio”. For them it was not sufficient
merely to baptize the heathens, a permanent presence of the church

110 Omenka 111-112.

111 Mt 28: 20; Mk 16: 15.

among them would insure not only a continuous existence of the faith
among them but also help augment their numbers. Such a goal is only
attainable by systematic measures which will give rise to the emergence
of a local clergy and hierarchy in the mission countries. Accordingly the
primary concern of the missionary came to be the implantation of the
visible church, namely, the organization of an indigenous clergy; a task
unthinkable per se without school and education. A driving force in this
enterprise was Pièrre Charles, a Belgian Jesuit, who called on the mis-
sionaries to “planter l’église visible”112. Targets were the youth. This was
in accordance with the motto: “Whoever has the youth has the future”
which was passionately acclaimed in Europe in the nineteenth century. A
visible church was to ensure a permanent grip of the new dispensation
and belief system on the minds of the so educated and converted. It was
to be the permanent presence and representation of the new way of life
among the people. It was to serve as a symbol and agent of radical
change and break with the traditional belief system. Very instrumental to
this changed missionary vision were Popes Benedict XV, Pius XI and
Pius XII. In his Maximum Illud Benedict XV accentuated the essential
position of the indigenous clergy in the establishment of self-sustaining
local Churches. For the Pope any Catholic mission that was not engaged
in the production of local clergy was not doing its work well. Accord-
ingly he urged missionaries to make the education of the indigenes the
primary purpose of their enterprise.113 On the same matter, Pius XI wrote
in his Rerum Ecclessiae in 1922, that the clergy of the apostolic era were
chosen not from people of alien cultures but from the natives.114 Going a
little further than Benedict XV he insisted that the missions must have
indigenous nuns, religious brothers and monasteries. He even made all
Catholics throughout the world co-responsible for the missionary work
of the church; an idea which found a worthy resonance in Ad Gentes of
the Vatican II Documents. In connection with this goal, he advised mis-
sionaries to build hospitals and schools instead of magnificent churches
and palaces. According to him, the latter would be taken care of in their
appointed time.115 W ith his Quum Huic of 1929 he finally took over all

112 P. Charles, Les Dossiers de l’action missionnaire, quoted in H. Berger, Mission und
Kolonialpolitik, 120.
113 Cf. Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, 444-445.
114 Pius XI, Rerum Ecclesiae, 74.
115 Ibid., 80-81.

the Catholic missions from their various religious missionary societies
and placed them under the direct control of the Vatican. The effect of
this change in the mission in Nigeria was the reinforcement of the edu-
cation program and a closer cooperation with the colonial government on
this issue. In the wake of the Nationalist Movements in the European
colonies in the early 1950s, Pius XII gave expression to his affirmation
and commendation of the school apostolate in very lucid words:

The youth, especially those of them who have gone through high schools, will
control the destiny of their countries in the future. The importance of education at
the elementary, secondary, and university levels is generally recognized as deserv-
ing of the greatest care. For this reason, therefore, we exhort mission leaders with
fatherly endearment to spare no effort or expense in the development of these in-
stitutions. The elementary and secondary schools have, in addition, the advantage
of creating valuable relationships between the missionaries and the natives. The
youth in particular, who are as flexible as wax, can easily be educated to under-
stand, value, and accept Catholic doctrines. The well-educated among them shall
one day have leading positions in Government, and the masses shall have them as
their leaders and teachers .

It is striking to note that the Pope, in his commendation, stressed the

centrality of the recent developments in the colonies and of an emerging
new class of natives, without diminishing the importance of the original
missionary objective. As he rightly observed, the future of the Church in
these countries depended very much on the nature of the relationship
between the missionaries and the nascent local political leaders. The
sooner the expatriate missionaries were replaced by native clergy and hi-
erarchy, the better for the co-existence of the local Church with their na-
tive government. Thus by placing the school apostolate at the service of
the social and political aspirations of the native, the Pope wanted to kill
two birds with one stone: establish an indigenous clergy and create a
congenial atmosphere for the operation of the Church in the mission
As early as 1904, the great initiator and propagator of the school
evangelisation in Igboland, the French missionary, Léon A. Lejeune
C.S.Sp., decried the lack of interest among his predecessors and contem-
poraries in the Nigeria Mission with regard to the formation of indige-
nous clergy:

116 Pius XII, Evangelii Praecones, 514-515.

Not one of the [Catholic] Missions in the English territories of West Africa edu-
cates its pupils beyond the primary school. When I look at Sierra Leone, Ivory
Coast, Benin, and Nigeria [...], I see at least five Black Anglican Bishops – John-
son, Oluwole, Phillips, Smith, Crowther, the latter being a former Yoruba slave; I
see a number of Black medical doctors, barristers, magistrates with degrees from
Oxford and Cambridge, but I do not see a single Black Catholic priest, and not
even a Seminarian. At least some efforts are being made in the French colonies, but
in the English territories – nothing! .

The realization that the entire missionary enterprise was inevitably going
to experience a calamitous end if the missionary’s work of evangeliza-
tion was not continued by local religious personnel made the issue of
preparing a native hierarchy a matter of urgency. This timely realization
goes to the credit of the insightful Lejeune, who hoped to achieve this
aim through formal education: school. He, unfortunately did not live to
execute this idea or see it materialize. In spite of this early realization,
his successors remained very reluctant about the issue. By 1950 when
Nigeria became a Church hierarchy – almost ninety years after the first
arrival of Roman Catholicism in the country (in Western Nigeria) – there
were only very few indigenous priests and not a single native bishop.
Taking the fact that the natives were considered by the missionary as still
heathen prone and hence unripe for such a noble office, irrespective of
the fact that the aspirants made every effort to excel in all aspects of the
training, such a reluctance would not surprise any longer. The observa-
tion of Bishop Shanahan, throws light on this point:

If our number of native priests are already not much greater, it is because we put
them through a long course of preparation. This is not because they are not good
students, or because they do not give sufficient promise in the Seminary. On the
contrary, the general comment of those in charge of the Seminary is that they are
too keen on their studies, and are over-exemplary in conduct. But these young men
have only just emerged from centuries-old pagan tradition and habits . A Seminary Institution

In order to bring forth a greater number of youngsters freed from these
“centuries-old pagan traditions and habits”, an organized program of in-

117 Part of a letter of Fr. Lejeune to Propaganda Fide in 1904, October 20, Calabar,
Omenka 143. Cf., too Ozigbo 146.
118 E. Isichei, Entirely for God: The Life of Michael Iwene Tansi, 32. Emphasis added.

tellectual and cognitive re-orientation and a corresponding seminary in-
stitution became increasingly a matter of urgency. At last a Seminary
was established at Igbariam in 1924 which was a combination of a minor
and a major seminary. Beside an Igbo119 and perhaps one or two Irish
students, none of the students possessed an adequate post-primary edu-
cation.120 There were on the whole six students on minor seminary or
secondary school program and three students on major seminary or post-
secondary school program who were given courses in philosophy. To
balance the disparity between a secondary school education and a semi-
nary training, the candidates were taught English, Latin, Mathematics,
Liturgy, Church History, and Church Music.121 The reason officially
proffered for the choice of the Igbariam site was that it was a small Mis-
sion station isolated from the noise and the distractions of daily life, and
of a parish with its schools, its relationships with the whole mission, its
thousand and one distractions.122 The town lies in the Anambra valley
very close to Aguleri where the ill-fated Christian village experiment
took place. Its location close to the Anambra River naturally made the
seminary and the seminarians easy prey to the myriads of mosquitos in-
festing the area – a danger not only for the Expatriates but also for the
native seminarians themselves. However, the choice of this remote and
isolated area is a clear witness and confirmation of the prevalent ten-
dency in the Missions to turn seminaries and houses of religious forma-
tion into semi-monasteries. There the students followed a strictly
guarded and guided daily routine of prayers, studies, and manual labour
– which began at 4.00 a.m. and ended at 9.10 p.m.123
When in 1928 the first Teacher Training College in the Mission was
established at Onitsha to meet the need for the long desired qualified
teachers, the Seminary moved from Igbariam to this college. The reason

119 John Cross Anyogu, who ordained as the first Igbo Catholic priest in 1930 – forty-
five years after the Holy Ghost Congregation (C.S.Sp.) established their mission at
Onitsha – became an Auxiliary Bishop in 1957 and later the first Bishop of Enugu
Diocese in 1963.
120 Cf. C. I. Eke, Priestly and Religious vocations, 305-306; Omenka 263.
121 Cf. Omenka 263.
122 Cf. Ibid., 263-264: Igbariam was “a small station isolated from the noise of gov-
ernmental and commercial worlds, as well as from the distractions of the daily rou-
tines of a parish”.
123 Cf. Isichei 28.

being that the only qualified teachers who were to run the college were
the Fathers at Igbariam. With this union the long envisaged college-cum-
seminary came into being. For the seminarians, however, the union
brought about an unusually prolonged period of seminary training. They
were expected to teach for two or more years in the college as part of
their “probation”. After their secondary education they were expected to
acquire some pastoral experience by acting as catechists in several mis-
sion stations for more than one year. This was to be repeated after their
philosophical studies and for a third time several months before the ordi-
nation. This long period of training, coupled with the constant doubts
about their sincerity and maturity by their European Superiors124, espe-
cially by the Head of the Prefecture, Bishop Joseph Shanahan himself,
and rigorous trials they were subjected to, made many of the candidates
become disillusioned. Some left on their own. Some others were ex-
pelled for several reasons ranging from trivial illness to the whims of the
Superior.125 Commenting on this state of affaire Richard Gray has this to

If the sacrifices demanded of the seminarians in those days were severe, so also
were the consequences of concentrating scarce missionary resources on the semi-
naries. Cut off for almost ten years from their families, forbidden to speak their
vernacular languages, provided with Cicero as recreational reading, regularly re-
quired to pass the standard examinations, few among the seminarians survived to
take up their career of life-long celibacy .

124 For instance, the Prefect of the Lower Niger Mission, as Eastern Nigeria was called
in those days, Fr. J. Shanahan, himself had this opinion about his seminarians: “In
spite of undeniable qualities, most of these young people lack character and con-
viction. They are changeable, egotistical and proud. They lack a clear idea of sacri-
fice and abnegation”. Even Fr. D. Kennedy, the Rector of the Seminary then, had
the following to say: “We often asked ourselves, could we ordain to the priesthood,
boys who were only baptized as teenagers, whose non-Christian parents expected
to be faithful to the family and take part in family life? They were very good under
supervision in school. But ordained and sent out alone on ministry in the bush,
what would happen? How could celibacy succeed in such an environment? Would
they resist the temptation to divert the funds of the mission to their relations and
friends”. For both quotations, see: Isichei 27 and 26 respectively.
125 Cf. Ibid., 29-30.
126 Eke 309.

If the seminarians were subjected to an unduly long period of training for
the priesthood in those days, it was not due to their incapacity to inter-
nalize what they were being taught. Beside the often expressed misgiv-
ings concerning the non-European and non-Christian backgrounds of the
students, there was also the prevalent conception among the Europeans
of the intellectual inferiority of the Africans and general racial prejudice.
Even the appeals of Pius XI and the intellectual and moral excellencies
of many Africans were not able to dissipate and relegate this bias per-
petually to history. The words of the Pontiff are self-explanatory:

It is rather a flawed policy to regard the natives as inferior human beings, and as
people of dull intellects. For experience has long shown that with regard to the
acuteness of the mind, the peoples who live in the farthest East or South are not in-
ferior to our people, but capable of competing with them. […] You, honourable
Brethren and beloved Sons, can be witnesses to this yourselves. We too can also
give a convincing proof here, namely, that, the natives [from the Third World] who
before our very eyes, are pursuing studies in diverse disciplines in the Roman Col-
leges are with regard to intellectual abilities and academic achievements not only
equal to our own students, but also outmatch them oftentimes. This is all the more
reason why you should not rate the indigenous priests lowly and assign to them
only mean jobs, as if they do not possess the same priestly dignity and as if they do
not share in the same apostolic vocation as you yourselves. On the contrary, you
must have an eye particularly to them, because some day they will be the ones to
lead both the Churches you have built up with so much sweat, and the future
Catholic communities. For this reason, there should be between the European and
native missionaries no distinctions made and no lines of demarcation drawn; rather
the one should be united with the other in a bond of reverence and love .

That this appeal did not make much impression on the Holy Ghost Mis-
sionaries in Igboland could be assessed from the careers of the two first
Catholic priests in the area: Mr. Delaney, an Irish lay missionary, who
came into the mission as a volunteer in 1910 and John Cross Anyogu, an
Igbo young man. After some years in the mission Mr. Delaney sensed
the call to the priesthood. Having made this known to his Superiors, in-
stead of being sent back to Europe to do the training to the priesthood
there, he was given private classes by the Fathers in the mission. By July
1919 he was thought ready for the Orders, and was ordained Deacon; a
week later he came to be the very first person to be ordained a Catholic

127 Pius XI 77.

priest in the entire region.128 The road to the priesthood for John Anyogu,
on the contrary, was extremely long and arduous. Having declared his
intention again and again, together with one other boy, to “learn priest”
to Shanahan between 1910 and 1912, he began to be tested in several
ways. First of all the news came to the European missionaries in the
Mission like a bombshell, so much so that the Superior, J. Shanahan, had
to seek the opinion of the Mother House in Europe. John’s parents and
those of the other unidentified boy were later made to pay 500 French
Francs annually for their secondary school studies overseas. In 1912 they
were sent to Castlehead, England, to the school of the Holy Ghost Fa-
thers. After his secondary school studies there, Shanahan could bring no
religious House of Formation in the whole of England and Ireland to
admit John Anyogu to do his training to the priesthood there. Frustrated
and disenchanted he recalled John from Castlehead back to Onitsha in
1919. Back to Onitsha John started his studies under the direction of one
of the Fathers. However, instead of applying the same program of philo-
sophical studies for John, as was for Delaney, the former was made to
spend the next five years serving as catechist and teacher in several sta-
tions and parishes. It was only in 1924, when the seminary at Igbariam
was opened, that he was able to start his philosophical studies. He was to
spend the next six and half years as a senior seminarian.129 For the Holy
Ghost Fathers an indigenous priest was not on the same pedestal with
Europeans, and moreover a secular priest was a mere auxiliary to the re-
ligious priest. Anyogu was neither a European nor did he belong to the
C. S. Sp. or any other religious congregation. As a result, it became ur-
gent to convene a meeting to determine the religious, social and financial
status of the future first indigenous priest before he could be admitted to
the Holy Orders. He was at last ordained on December 8, 1930. This
distinction between “religious” and “secular”130 priest has survived till
date among Igbo priests and seminarians, especially among the religious.
One wonders too why Shanahan did not send Anyogu to the missionary

128 He was ordained by Bishop Broderick, the Apostolic Vicar of Western Nigeria at
the time.
129 Cf. Omenka 269.
130 The members of the religious congregations tend to downgrade secular or diocesan
priests. The former extol their “vita communis” as the ideal form of Christian life.
The latter, in return, consider the former as having abandoned the work of God in
the world; as true vicars of Christ they are closer to the people of God.

college of Propaganda Fide in Rome which trains seminarians for the
missions after failing to find a seminary to take him in Ireland and Eng-
land. Even the letter sent by Cardinal van Rossum to all missions ex-
pressing the readiness of the Propaganda Fide to accept and train semi-
narians from the missions, including their transportation costs, at little or
no cost for the mission131, seemed to have eluded his awareness.
Having sojourned at Onitsha as a part of St. Charles’ Teacher
Training College and in the first Catholic Secondary School, Christ the
King College (C.K.C.), which was opened later in 1933, the seminary
was moved again from Onitsha in 1934 to Eke in the present day Udi
Local Government Area of Enugu State. This move was necessitated by
the fact that at that time the Franciscan Brothers took over the admini-
stration of the C. K. C. Onitsha. In order to keep the education and for-
mation of the future indigenous priests under their control, the Holy
Ghost Fathers felt it necessary to move the seminary away from Onitsha.
The site at Eke had similar characteristics with Igbariam, with the ex-
ception that instead of being in a valley, Eke Seminary was set on a hill-
top with practically no water resources. Eke was far-removed from the
inhabited villages around and poorly accessible.132 Of the nine pioneer
indigenous seminarians who went through Igbariam, Onitsha and Eke,
only four became priests in the end: John Cross Anyogu, William
Obeleagu, Michael Iwene Tansi and Joseph Nwanegbo.133
In 1929 the Conference of the Ordinaries of Nigeria and the British
Cameroons had decided to found a “Regional Major Seminary” for the
entire country. However, the immediate implementation of this idea was
prevented by the unhealthy rivalry between the various religious congre-
gations in the region. Ten years later, in 1939, the Conference decided to
site the Seminary at Enugu in Eastern Nigeria due to the centrality of
Enugu and its easy accessibility by rail from Lagos and Port Harcourt in
the South and Kano in the North, and from Buea and Bamenda in Cam-
eroon. The new “Regional Major Seminary” was to be given the name

131 Cf. Ozigbo 238.

132 Many years after the seminary had moved out from this site, it was occupied by the
Benedictine Monks and presently is serving as the Pastoral Centre for the Enugu
Catholic Diocese. But irrespective of all the changes in proprietorship or occu-
pancy, the conditions there have not changed at all till date.
133 With the exception of Anyogu, the rest were ordained priests in 1937. Michael
Iwene Tansi was beatified by John Paul II in the spring of 1998.

“Bigard Memorial Seminary” in memory of the two French women,
Stephanie and Jeanne Bigard.134 The Association of St. Peter the Apostle
founded by them in 1889 for the training of native priests in the Missions
financed the building of the seminary blocks. The work on the building
was interrupted by the Second World War.
During the years of the war until 1950 the seminary moved from
Eke in 1939 to the Holy Ghost Cathedral Compound, Enugu. Later it
moved again from Enugu to Okpala in Owerri in 1942. In 1951 it re-
turned to Enugu with 24 students to occupy the newly completed build-
ing under the new name: Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu. Later the
SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary was opened in Bodija, Ibadan, for
the Lagos ecclesiastical province in the West by the S.M.A. and St.
Augustine’s Seminary, Jos, for the Kaduna ecclesiastical province in the
North by the Augustinians. Consequently Bigard came to serve the Onit-
sha ecclesiastical province in the East and the Cameroons.
In the course of the years the number of seminarians in Bigard grew
steadily. With the progressive increase came also the problem of ac-
commodation. By the late 70s the number had increased to such an ex-
tent – over 600 students in 1975 – that the philosophy faculty of the Bi-
gard Memorial Seminary had to be moved to Ikot Ekpene, Cross River
State, in 1976.135 By 1982 the seminary became one of the most popu-
lous seminaries in the Catholic world. To ease the congestion in the phi-
losophy campus a new philosophy faculty was opened at Owerri with the
name: Seat of Wisdom Seminary. Now with three functioning campuses
of one mother seminary in the region, the need arose to maximize the
usefulness of their facilities. In response all three campuses were raised
to the status of autonomous seminaries. Consequently the faculty of
philosophy returned to Enugu, while the faculties of theology were
opened in the seminaries at Ikot-Ekpene and Owerri in the 1989/90 aca-
demic year.136 With the new status the Bigard Memorial Seminary, Phi-

134 For a little insight into the life and activities of the two French women, cf. C. A.
Obi, The Bigard Ladies and The Foundation of the Society of St. Peter the Apostle
– Opus Sancti Petri and the Impact on Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, 12-28.
135 Cf. C. A. Obi, The Development of Priestly Vocation in Igboland and the Genesis
of the Bigard Seminary, 10-21.
136 This explains the absence of records for philosophy and spiritual year students in
the column for 1988/89 in the Appendix B3 on Admissions into Bigard Memorial
Seminary, Enugu, in the past decade.

losophy Campus, Ikot Ekpene, assumed the new name and identity as St.
Joseph’s Major Seminary.
One would expect that a great number of turnouts would be the re-
sult of such an explosion of vocation to the Catholic priesthood since
1924. Considering the fact that this part of the country has the largest
population of Catholics in the entire country one would expect more or-
dinations to the priesthood. Unfortunately the turn-outs do not run con-
current with the admissions: Between 1924 and 1974 1,037 students
were admitted but only 361 of that number eventually finished as priests
among whom 12 became bishops.137
The investigation of the reason for this very low turnout is a subject
matter for discussion which really calls for a separate study. Let it suffice
here to point out that since 1924 the promotion of the indigenous clergy,
the actual intellectual and spiritual training of the candidates rested in the
hands of the missionaries of the Holy Ghost Congregation (C.S.Sp.) until
March 1970.138 It was only after the Nigerian civil war (Biafra), when
almost all the European missionaries in Eastern Nigeria were expelled
out of the country by the Nigerian Government, that the running of the
Seminary was officially handed over to a team of seven indigenous
priests. Despite the injunctions of Pius XII and the good intentions of the
various Superior Generals of the missionary congregations towards the
active and urgent promotion of indigenous clergy, the respective mis-
sionary on site followed his own individual predilections in assessing the
situation. The Holy Ghost Fathers of the Nigerian Mission in general re-
sented the idea of once handing over the rein to the natives in general,
and to secular clergy in particular. The lengthy years of priestly forma-
tion were aimed at gaining sufficient time to alienate the candidate from
his cultural background and traits in favour of the missionary’s image of
a priest, or ideal Christian. The protracted length of the formation years
and the preference of only the indigenous members of their congregation
as Ordinaries in the newly created dioceses all attest to the unwillingness

137 Cf. Concise History of Bigard Memorial Seminary, in: Golden Jubilee 1924-1974,
10. Since it was not possible to obtain the records of the turn out of ordinations
from the various dioceses in the area under consideration, we cannot give any in-
formation on the actual number of ordinations for the last twenty years.
138 Ibid., 6.

of the missionary to promote local clergy.139 It is, therefore, not surpris-
ing that turnouts between 1924 and 1974 had been abysmally low as
against the progressive increase in the number of admissions within the
same period.
With regard to the length of the formation years, not much has actu-
ally changed. The program still runs eight years of philosophical and
theological studies, one or more years of probation as the case may be,
eight weeks of “apostolic work140” during the long vacation throughout
the years of training. If one adds the years of junior seminary education,
one may come up with at least fourteen to fifteen years of seminary for-
mation. Since this has been so right from the first day of seminary train-
ing in Igboland, this length of time has been taken for granted. A good
number of factors, most of them psychological in nature, helped to keep
this in shape: going from their experience of the first indigenous semi-
narians, the Faithful and the indigenous trainers (the bishops and the
seminary staff), mostly themselves trained by the missionary, look at the
long formation years as an indication and a guarantee for high quality
products. The seminarians see it the same way too; for them that is the
norm and the nature of seminary training. Some songs help to drive this
fact home and aid in promoting it to the level of an instrumental value.
For instance:

139 This point is supported by the fact that the first indigenous Catholic Local Ordi-
naries in Eastern Nigeria were not secular priests but native members of the C. S.
Sp.: Anthony Nwedo (Umuahia Diocese) and Godfrey Okoye (Port Harcourt Dio-
cese). Both were the first Nigerians to become professed members of the Holy
Ghost Congregation. Irrespective of the fact that John Anyogu and Dominic Ekan-
dem were the first indigenous Bishops of the region – ordained bishops in 1957 and
1954 respectively –, however, not belonging to any religious congregation, they
remained Auxiliary Bishops until 1963 and 1962 respectively. At the creation of
Enugu diocese in 1962, Anyogu was then made its first Local Ordinary, while
Ekandem became that of Ikot Ekpene diocese, created in 1963. According to the
Bigard Memorial Seminary Golden Jubilee Pamphlet, p. 28, Nwedo entered the
seminary in 1939, while Ekandem and Okoye joined the seminary in 1941.
140 This is a period of pastoral practice during the long vacation, which is actually
meant to keep the seminarian abreast with the concrete issues and questions of the
people outside the seminary and in the parishes. During this period the seminarian
is sent to a parish for a kind of practicum under the guidance and direction of the
parish priest of the area.

It’s not an easy road; we are travelling to heaven
For many are the thorns on the way
It’s not an easy road, but the Saviour is with us
His presence gives us joy every day
No! No, it’s not an easy road
But Jesus walks beside me and brightens the journey
and lightens every heavy load .

This song used to be eagerly passed on to every new generation of semi-

narians. Of course for the seminarian the long years of training, the hard-
ships and trials compound together to really make the road not easy,
dark, and the load heavy. In as much as the need to meet up with the
academic degree requirements of the Nigerian National University
Regulations helped to entrench and legitimatize the four-year academic
program for philosophy and theology respectively, the length of the for-
mation years is in its core still one of the missionary heritage, a reminis-
cence of the long catechumenate introduced by Shanahan with his infa-
mous “Circular No. 10” of 1924.142 The need to safeguard the institution

141 This is, no doubt, a very inspiring song and can be very helpful as a coping strategy
not just for seminarians alone but also for every Christian. It makes a special im-
pression on the new entrants into the senior seminary when it is sung with enthusi-
asm and devotion by the older students on the day of investment of the new ones
immediately after the latter had been clad with their new soutanes and walk into the
seminary chapel in a solemn procession.
142 According to Ozigbo, the Circula No. 10 introduced a “two-tier catechumenate.
The Inquirer or Aspirant stage, and the catechumenate proper. The first stage lasted
for 3-6 months, while the second endured for 2-5 years, depending on the progress
made by each individual catechumen [...]. It required that ‘a public retraction will
have to be made in the church before the congregation on three successive Sundays
and the public sinner must express sorrow. The priest will impose adequate pen-
ance before allowing him back to Confession’. Even then, it demanded that ‘a pub-
lic sinner is to be debarred for 3-6 months or more after the expression of sorrow
[...] public sinners may attend Mass but they must remain at the back of the
church’. The vicar Apostolic rained excommunications and interdicts like a medie-
val Pope on the understanding that ‘excommunication will prevent bad examples
from corrupting others’. Concerning marriage, the Circular ruled that ‘civil regis-
tration of all marriages is obligatory’. It banned all feasting on the eve of the
Christian marriage. The couples were to spend the day exclusively in preparation
for the reception of the sacrament. On schools, it insisted that ‘in places where
there are Catholic schools, no Catholic is allowed to attend a Protestant school [...]
A Catholic must not enter, on any account, a Protestant institution as a boarder. To
do so would mean mandatory excommunication for him’”. A few of the French

from interferences of any civil government precipitated its affiliation to
the Pontifical Urban University in Rome immediately after the civil war
in 1970. While securing a great degree of independence from any Nige-
rian political institution and authority, it bonded the seminary to the ex-
ternal tutelage of Rome. This affiliation made the curriculum of studies
subject to sanctions and approbations from Rome. Such a close bonding,
of course, has the effect that the curriculum gives more attention to those
courses which are in correspondence with those of Urban University,
both in name and in content. For instance, a look at the courses offered at
Bigard Memorial Seminary143 confirms this point:


Major Courses Credit loads
Introduction to philosophy 3 credits
Logic 18 credits
Epistemology 18 credits
Metaphysics 12 credits
Philosophy of Religion 12 credits
Natural philosophy 9 credits
Psychology 12 credits
Philosophical anthropology 6 credits
Sociology 12 credits
Ethics 18 credits
Politics 6 credits
History of philosophy 18 credits
African Culture/Thought 9 credits
Minor courses
Spiritual theology 18 credits
Introduction to scripture 9 credits
English 18 credits
Latin 3 credits
French 3 credits
New Testament Greek 3 credits

priests in the mission and all the Irish accepted the Circular. Many of the French
priests opposed it vehemently, describing it as “too harsh and ultimately ruinous in
its demands and implications”. Ozigbo 230-233. The quotation is from pp. 231-
143 The data on the courses shown below were received, with much gratitude, from the
Secretariat of the Seminary late 1997.

Major course Credit load
Biblical Studies 63 credits
Dogmatic Theology and History of Dogma 60 credits
Moral Sciences 33 credits
Religious Pedagogy 24 credits
Academic Exercises 20 credits
Minor course
Canon Law 18 credits
Church History 12 credits
Ancient Christian Writers 12 credits
Ministerial course
Liturgy 24 credits
Spiritual Theology 12 credits
Pastoral Theology 3 credits
Auxiliary subjects
Administration 6 credits
Accountancy 6 credits

Remarkable in this curriculum is the very few hours accredited to Afri-

can Culture / Thought in Philosophy and the abysmally low rating Pas-
toral Theology has of only three credit hours. This gives one the impres-
sion that this very important aspect of practical theology, the sphere in
which concrete pastoral ministration with its attendant real-life questions
is meant to be reflected on, is just on the program for want of courage to
drop it off entirely. One cannot resist the impression that dogmatists,
biblicists and moralists are being trained rather than pastors. From the
most recent Academic Calendar144 of the same Seminary there is, never-
theless, a great effort to integrate African Culture and Religion in the
actual program of lectures. For instance, a professor is designated to
teach Liturgy, Patrology and African Traditional Religion, while another
is designated to handle Church History, French and African Christian
Theology. In the faculty of philosophy O. Onwubiko, who has also pub-
lished a couple of works on the area, teaches African Thought and Cul-
ture. The seminarians for their part, see the affiliation to Rome as a mark
of excellence and prestige: One does not just have an academic degree,
but a foreign one for that matter.

144 BMS Academic Calendar 1997-1998. For the detailed charting of the lectures, see
Appendix B2.

According to A. Ekwunife three distinct periods mark the develop-
mental history of seminary formation in Nigeria. The periods are: The
early beginnings 1930-1960; the post-independent period 1960-1980; the
modern period 1980- and beyond.145 Since the early beginnings date
back to 1924 in Igboland, we put this period to read: 1924-1960. Each of
these periods is marked by some specific atmosphere and emphasis in
the formation.
The early period of 1924-1960 can be said to be characterized by
monastic “isolationism coupled with over-cautious selectivism and in-
stant dismissal, paucity in number, foreignness of the general curricu-
lum, unquestionable obedience, [and] [...] purely devotional spiritual ori-
entations without depth theology to prop them”146. Today the pioneer
indigenous priests of these early periods are generally regarded as ideal
priests. However, one can imagine the criteria of evaluation of their lives
and pastoral effectiveness: the more one internalized the foreign charac-
teristics of the missionaries and gave up every iota of inquisitiveness and
incredulity with regard to the authority of the formators and the more
alienated one becomes to his native culture, the more priest-like one be-
The post-independent period of 1960-1980: Three major events
helped to shape this period: the political independence from British co-
lonial government, the Second Vatican Council and the Nigerian civil
war. These events triggered off an avalanche of changes in and outside
the church. The process set off by these events has variously been de-
scribed as “indigenisation”, “self-affirmation”, “aggiornamento”, “cul-
tural revival”, “inculturation”, “Africanization”, “naturalization”, “ad-
aptation of Christianity”.147 The seminary formation of this period is
characterized by “indigenisation, vocation boom, structural growth and
minimal positive attitude towards African religious culture”148. While
this process was gathering momentum in the political and social arenas,
the seminary formation and the life in the church generally remained
relatively unaffected. The relationship between the seminarians and the
seminary authority was marked by blind obedience on the part of the

145 A. N. O. Ekwunife, African Traditional Values and Formation in Catholic Semi-

naries of Nigeria, 53.
146 Ibid.
147 Cf. also Mudimbe 56.
148 Ibid., 55.

former and intolerance towards seminarians’ individual initiatives and
creativity on the part of the authority.
Those three events aroused a strong clamouring for more respect
and tolerance towards indigenous cultures. While native music instru-
ments and songs in vernacular were being allowed in the seminary lit-
urgy, the students were at the same time meant to tolerate this as a sort of
spiritual excursion into some exotic domain and to believe that the ideal
liturgy is the one performed in Latin or English. The attitude towards the
traditional culture remained, nevertheless, hostile. Native dances, music
and masquerading were performed in the minor and major seminaries.
However, the aim was not so much that of affirmation and acceptance of
their cultural and religious values and signification. It was more or less a
demonstration of the superiority and victory of the Christian religion
over the native culture149, and at best a mere cultural recreation with no
religious connotations or content whatsoever. Out of a genuine concern
for a healthy dialogue between cultures and peoples and the Christian
Gospel Gaudium et Spes aptly asks:

What must be done to prevent the increased exchanges between cultures, which
ought to lead to a true and fruitful dialogue between groups and nations, from dis-
turbing the life of communities, destroying ancestral wisdom, or jeopardizing the
uniqueness of each people? How can the vitality and growth of a new culture be
fostered without the loss of living fidelity to the heritage of tradition? .

With this concern in mind, the Fathers of the Council went further to
identify some principles of proper cultural development as it affects the
spread of the Good News of salvation. Thus we read further:

149 The present author remembers the first time they were permitted to organize mas-
querades in the minor seminary as a part of the Easter celebration – that was 1974.
He and his fellow seminarians, together with their masked colleagues, made their
way into the nearby village just to show the villagers that if the seminary can have
masquerades, then the masquerades can impossibly be the ancestral spirits who
have returned to the world of the living as the tradition has it. And that if this was
the case, then all the attendant taboos were ineffective and meaningless. The vil-
lagers quickly got the message. As soon as we returned to the seminary that day a
delegation from the village followed, warning against any further such provocation.
150 Vat. II, GS Art. 56.

There are many links between the message of salvation and human culture. For
God, revealing Himself to His people to the extent of a full manifestation of Him-
self in His Incarnate Son, has spoken according to the culture proper to different
ages. Living in various circumstances during the course of time, the Church, too,
has used in her preaching the discoveries of different cultures to spread and explain
the message of Christ to all nations, to probe it and more deeply understand it, and
to give it better expression in liturgical celebrations and in the life of the diversified
community of the faithful. But at the same time, the Church, sent to all peoples of
every time and place, is not bound exclusively and indissolubly to any race or na-
tion, nor to any particular way of life or any customary pattern of living, ancient or
recent. Faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal
mission, she can enter into communion with various cultural modes, to her own en-
richment and theirs too .

In his encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi Paul VI reminds the entire Catholic

world that evangelization in the modern world with its sole aim of
“building up of the Kingdom of God cannot avoid borrowing the ele-
ments of human culture or cultures” and that “individual Churches [...]
have the task of assimilating the essence of the Gospel message and of
transposing it [...] into the languages that these people understand”152.
Even while talking specifically to the Bishops of Africa at Kampala in
1969 he impressed upon them:

You can and must have an African Christianity. Yes, you have human values and
characteristic forms of culture that can be brought to a superior and original per-
fection of their own that is truly African [...]. You will be able to remain Africans
in all sincerity even in your interpretation of Christian life; you will be able to for-
mulate Catholicism in terms that are completely appropriate to your culture, and
you will be able to bring to the Catholic Church the precious contribution of the
Black races of which it stands so much in need at this point in its history .

From the above citations it is clear that it is not as if the importance of an

open and healthy dialogue between representatives of the Christian re-
ligion and the African traditional culture had not been stressed even from
the highest quarters of the Church. No. We are rather of the opinion that
the inability to make any practical sense of these repeated injunctions
and fatherly exhortations is liable to the age-long and stratified negative

151 Ibid., Art. 58.

152 Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, No. 20 and 63.
153 Paul VI, 1969, in J. Osei-Bonsu, Christianity and Culture, 56.

bias against the African traditional culture and religion handed down
from one generation of formators to the next.
The period after 1980: As far as the Catholic Church in Igboland is
concerned this period seems to be the most viable. The seed of growth
which started budding in the 1970s blossomed in this period. It is also
the period in which the Church celebrated its centenary in this part of the
world. Furthermore, it witnessed the creation of many more dioceses,
archdioceses and an additional ecclesiastical province, not to talk of the
teeming number of new parishes. The religious congregations – male and
female alike – expanded and are still expanding enormously. This period
also witnessed the peak of religious and priestly vocation boom; minor
and major seminaries expanded their accommodation capacities greatly.
The startling numerical progressive leaps can well be illustrated by the
statistical data of Admissions into the Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu
between 1988/89 and 1997/98 academic session. The data below covers
only the admissions from the dioceses within the Igbo culture area under

Table 2: Admissions into Bigard Memorial Seminary 1988-1998

Acad. Stage 1988/89 1989/90 1990/91 1991/92 1992/93 1994/95 1996/97 1997/98 Total
Spiritual Yr 78 102 106 150 176 183 795
Philosophy 61 125 185 257 310 427 514 1879
Theology 329 318 281 256 209 170 161 168 1892
Total 329 457 406 543 572 630 764 865 4566
Source: Academic Calendar, Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu. For the distribution of
the figures according to diocese, see Appendix B3

The above phenomenon is indicative of a tendency in Nigeria and the

entire African continent. A 1985 Vatican statistical report shows, as
Mudimbe comments, that in Catholicism “the number of Diocesan
clergy is increasing in Africa, South America and Oceania”. In Central
America, the figures remain “almost the same”. In North America, the
report notes a “modest drop,” and “the most notable reduction [is] found

154 For statistical details on the overall enrollments in Bigard Memorial Seminary from
1924 to 1987 cf. Obi, The Development of Priestly Vocation in Igboland, 19-20.

in Europe”155. But the most significant shift is in the percentage of the
world’s major seminarians produced by different parts of the world. In
Africa it jumped from 6.7% in 1973 to 10.7% in 1983, while in North
America it dropped to 10.9% from 19.2% in the same period. In Europe,
the percentage went down to 34.4 % from 41.1%. If European Catholi-
cism seems to be aging dangerously, the dynamism of its African coun-
terpart belongs either to a holy nightmare or, if one prefers, to an in-
credible miracle. There is not enough room in seminaries for candidates
to the priesthood, yet despite the increase in vocation, particularly in the
countries with the highest fertility rates – Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania,
Congo (formerly Zaïre) – the number of priests is considered to be low.
In spite of this numerical strength of the Catholic church among the
Igbo with a largely indigenous clergy-men as formators in the seminar-
ies, the quality of formation seems to be devoid of deep cultural orienta-
tion which will encourage dialogue and a healthy cohabitation with Afri-
can traditional religion and culture. The attention paid to African
traditional religion and culture as a subject on the academic curriculum
appears more of a mere lip service since this seems not go beyond the
class room preoccupation.
It is undeniable that colonialism with its new political system and
the missionary Christianization crusade with its formidable school ma-
chinery and the establishment of a local clergy all helped to pave the way
and usher in an inevitable process of modernization.

8.4 Modernization and Technological Developments

To be human means to live in a world – that is, to live in a reality that is

ordered and that gives sense to the business of living within a given
space and time. It is a socio-cultural world. As such it is not divine and
eternal but rather human and transient. The events following the contact
with Europeans since the 15th century ushered in an ongoing process of
modernization in the Igbo “life-world”156. The power and force of the

155 Mudimbe 54.

156 Berger et al., The Homeless Mind, 63.

colonial machinery, the daring courage of the explorers, the wit and
mystique of the missionary, the charm and the power of the “House of
Book” – as the School is called in Igbo language157 – to turn paupers into
princes, and this is conspicuously the case with the priesthood, all com-
bined to conjure up in the Igbo consciousness an image of a great possi-
bility of overcoming hunger, disease and death. Once the seminarian is
ordained a priest, the destitute condition of his family background auto-
matically gives way to the status of one of the most powerful men in his
society! The psychological effects of such a sudden leap up the social
echelon must be overwhelming. All that is part of the magic of moder-

8.4.1 The Magic of Modernity

Modernity is always associated with the expectation of being delivered

from the forces of limitation and meaninglessness. According to P.
Berger et al., “modernity has about it a quality of miracle and magic
which, in some instances, can link up with old religious expectations of
delivery from the sufferings of the human condition”158. This direct con-
tact with modernizing forces coupled with the indirect contact with them
through the products and symbols of technological advancement159 unite
to create and disseminate the imagery of modernity in Africa. Examples
of such products are the transistor radio, the ballpoint pen, the wrist-
watch, journals and newspapers, television, school and books, aero-
planes, automobiles, tarred roads, different forms of clothing, etc. etc.
Through these various carriers and transmitters “a stock of knowledge
about the modern world, the character of advanced industrials societies,
as well as about what is going on in one’s own society and the prognoses
as to that society’s future”160 are widely diffused.

157 “School” is called in Igbo language uno-akwukwo which literally means “House of
158 Berger et al. 139.
159 According to the authors of The Homeless Mind, “technological production and
bureaucracy” are the key phenomena of modernization and the primary carriers of
160 Ibid., 140.

8.4.2 The City – The Mystique of Modernity

Cities and townships developed around centres of production and indus-

try during the colonial period – around mines, plantations, wharfs, colo-
nial headquarters and administrative centres, etc. Running concurrently
with these was the construction of a network of roads and railways to
connect these centres and the sea ports. These enhanced the means of
mobility and communication greatly. Soon the cities were beaming with
life and activities. The Igbo country, as we pointed out earlier, is one of
the most thickly populated areas in the country. With their teeming
population their land was becoming increasingly too small and over-
populated. Initially prevented from migrating into other parts of the
country due to the Aro menace and slave raids, now with the roads and
railways available, they flocked into the cities all over the country. Cit-
ing J. S. Coleman Agu expounds that

throughout the heavily populated Igbo country there were no cities with a popula-
tion of more than 20,000 even as late as 1931. ‘By 1952, however, there were four
cities, each with a population of more than 50,000, of which 85 per cent was Ibo.
The rate of growth of these eastern urban centres during the three decades from
1921 to 1952 (688 per cent) was far higher than elsewhere in Nigeria. Yet this
rapid and intensive urbanization of the Ibo peoples since the British occupation is a
phenomenon not only of the Eastern Region, their homeland. Ibos also constitute
more than one-third of the non-indigenous population of the urban centres in the
Northern and Western Regions [...]. These figures are important not only as evi-
dence of the intensive, rapid, and widespread urbanization of the Ibo peoples, but
also as a partial insight into their vanguard role in the nationalist movement .

The city and its correlate, city life, became powerful magnet, drawing
people from the countryside. The city became the centre of action and
attraction. To move to the city meant to move into that place where
things happen; it meant boarding the bandwagon of progress and a better
future. On its face value people moved to the city often with the expec-
tation of finding better employment and better material conditions of life.
But on the deeper side of this attraction lies something almost mystical
in character: the mystique of modernity, as Berger calls it. The city is
one of the most powerful manifestations of modernity. It is this mystique
that holds the myriads of stranded and uprooted souls whose hopes of

161 Agu 253.

better life conditions and other rational expectations have shattered back
from returning to their villages. “The mystique”, [...] Berger writes,
“tends to be stronger than the rational expectations. It survives the disap-
pointment of the latter. Whatever its frustrations and degradations, the
city continues to be the place where things are happening, where there is
movement and a sense of the future”162.

8.4.3 The Sacraments of Modernity

The symbols of modernity ensure a perpetual presence of the vision or

imagery of modernity in the African consciousness. The billboards, the
adverts, the films and the (very often unreal) hopes they suggest, prod-
ucts like coca cola, mineral drinks, chewing gums, maggi cubes, enamel
wares, tooth-paste and tooth-brush, books, etc, all bombard the tradi-
tional mind with new visions. Some of them, like the ballpoint pen and
the wristwatch, have even acquired a sacramental status, and therefore,
can be seen as the sacraments of modernity and its promises. They are
the outward, visible signs of an inward transformation of consciousness.
They confirm the credibility, the viability, and the power of the new vi-
sion over the traditional mind. The ballpoint pen stands for the school
and the school for a wealth of information spanning centuries of human
experience and vision.
The school, as we have seen above, is the most powerful symbol of
modernity and the most powerful instrument of cognitive transformation
among the Igbo. The ballpoint pen and the wristwatch symbolize the
modern status of the person who possesses them. The former represents
literacy, the power of the written word, and the immense new stock of
knowledge which literacy opens up. The latter represents that new
structure of time which is characteristic of modernity or modern society,
and which lies at the roots of modern technological production and bu-
reaucracy. It is no longer a cyclic event-oriented mode of temporality,
but a linear mode of temporality guided by the wristwatch; it governs
activities and human interaction in the modern society. Modernity runs
of necessity on the time that can be measured on a wristwatch. In addi-
tion, the traditional ways of life-planning (– the various initiation or rites

162 Ibid., 142.

of passage, modes of family planning) and of apprehending the stages of
biography became increasingly diffused as the process of modernization
proceeds. They became increasingly replaced by new ones like, school
age, work age, retirement age, baptism, first Holy Communion, Confir-
mation, marriage, etc. One began celebrating birthdays annually instead
of the various biographical stages, which were more “other-related” than
In any case, be it the school, the church, the automobile, the electri-
city, the “singlet” which Leith-Ross described as the “[...] Ibo’s first step
towards civilization”163 or the urban city, all of them express the colli-
sions, the conflicts and even the rituals brought about by the intrusions of
modernity into traditional life. All of them are related to the mystique of
modernity and its promise of a better life. All of them are inimical to the
traditional patterns of village life.

8.4.4 Modernity and the Redefinition of Reality

Naturally, as the process of modernization proceeded, there inevitably

occurred a drastic epistemic transformation, both in the organization of
knowledge and in cognitive modus, in what was known and in how it
was known. Reality got redefined and reclassified in almost all sectors.
Reality was no longer conceived as a living and generally interconnected
fabric of beings encompassing the visible and invisible realms, as a
unity, but as organized into components that can be apprehended and
manipulated in isolation. Consequently it had become possible to isolate
economics from politics, politics from art, art from religion, days for re-
ligious worship from days for work during which the religious is strictly
and purposeful bracketed out. To the extent that this idea of the possibil-
ity of being isolated from the corpus of one’s life-world extended even to
the realm of social relations and to the individual’s experience of him-
self, it tended to be experienced as uprooting and alienating.

163 Leith-Ross 131-132.

8.4.5 Modernity and Social Distribution of Knowledge

The presence and availability of new bodies of knowledge brought about

a new social distribution of knowledge. In a society in which wisdom
used to be associated with old age there occurred a sudden reversal as the
young plausibly presented themselves as privileged interpreters of the
mysteries of modernity. The privileged traditional position of the elders
as the custodians of wisdom and knowledge about events and times be-
came critically challenged by the nouveaux sages. This kind of situation
produced mixed feelings about the change in the dethroned elders.
The change in the organization of knowledge called for a new clas-
sification of expertise or competence. Modernization legitimates new
experts and at the same time de-legitimates old ones. The legitimation
can be informal. For instance, the coal-miner of Enugu returning to his
village on leave suddenly acquired prestige as the man who has experi-
enced and can tell about the mysteries of the great city. There were, on
the other hand, highly formal and institutionalized processes by which
the new experts were legitimated. The most important of these legiti-
mating agencies was and still is the school – and the seminary. They be-
stowed honour and status upon those who have begun, in whatever
measure, to acquire the new lore. It did not matter much whether they
comprehended what they learnt or not. It is a part of the mystique of
modernity. As a matter of fact, it might be argued that something was
gained by incomprehensibility; somehow it adds to the mystique of the
new dispensation. In other words, it was not at all necessary that the lore
transmitted by the school be intelligible, let alone useful. This is, in most
cases, still the case with the words of the liturgy as well as the series of
prayers164 recited in musical rhythms by the catechist or the metaphysical

164 The use of Latin language in the liturgy, which many of the older generation Igbo
Catholics still long for in nostalgic reference to the good old days when the holy
mass used to be Holy Mass, was a case in point. Even till the present day such
terms like, Eucharist, Grace, Mass, Penance, Sacrament, Matrimony, Holy Orders,
Extreme Unction, Confirmation, have remained untranslated. In some way the at-
tempt to translate Eucharist as “eucharistia”, Grace as “grasia” looked ridiculous.
Not only are these words totally inexistent in the Igbo language but also the use of
such Igbo concepts like “nso” and “nwa aturu” to translate the English words
“holy” and “lamb” respectively only helped to augment the general cognitive con-
fusion. The word “nso” among the Igbo is used generally in connection with ta-

themes which dominated the seminary lecture hours and engaged the
seminarians in hours of heated discussions afterwards. They all belong to
that essential characteristic of modernity which we have called its “mys-

8.4.6 Modernity and Social Typification

Modernization brings with it new social typification. Every society has

its operating typologies, be it according to age, sex, class, groupings, etc.
Modernization entails reclassification, often of a more radical and vio-
lent kind, whereby declassification and reclassification go hand in hand.
In the Igbo traditional society where one’s fellow men and women are
classified in terms of tribal and kinship affiliations, these now are over-
laid by totally different social typologies like, Civil Servant – Non-Civil
servant, Student – Teacher, Ndi obodo – Ndi uka165 or Christian – Pagan,
Catholic – Protestant, Literate – Illiterate, Clergy – Laity, etc. Economic
status, occupation, political party and religious affiliation or urban

boos, prescriptions, and proscriptions in relation to a deity, a custom, a community,

group or a person. It does, therefore, neither translate nor describe the word “holy”
or “sanctus”. The lamb or sheep is for the Igbo one of the most stupid creatures in
the universe and has nothing to do with innocence. It is also not normally used in a
sacrificial rite. It is not clear what the Igbo actually thought about the Son of God
being portrayed as “Nwa aturu”. Certainly this was never reflected on since it all
belonged to the mystique of the new religion. The same is applicable to the foreign
words which the catechumen mumble away in the catechism classes.
It is also not clear what the translation of the prayer “Act of Contrition” as “Omume
nke ime ebele” – which actually is better translated as the “Act of being merciful” –
is intended to convey. Irrespective of the apparent dissonance in the wordings of
the text, it remains the most popular prayer of contrition among the Igbo Catholics.
In a way, this attitude of acceptance without reflection confirms the overwhelming
nature of the new religion, of modernity. It also confirms the fact that the mission-
ary enterprise and the continuation of the same by the natives themselves is intoler-
ant to dialogue.
165 Christians are called “Ndi uka” – i.e. “the people of the church”. Among them they
distinguish between Roman Catholics – “ndi uka fada” and Anglicans – “ndi uka
C. M. S.”, etc. Those who remained faithful to the traditional Religion are called
“ndi obodo” – i.e. “the people of the land or the natives”. One does not get the im-
pression that the people are aware of the note of estrangement contained in the ex-

neighbourhood now vie with tribe or kinship as relevant criteria for
grouping people. The epistemic distortion has gone so far that the people
are not even aware of the implication of the two definitions: the non-
Christians as “the people of the land or the natives” and the Christians as
“the people of the church” is a statement about estrangement. The Chris-
tians are not part of the natives any more but strangers; they now belong
to some foreign “organization”. Perhaps they have become members at
best of a universal community and at worst of some global organization.
No longer at home in the cognitive world of their own people and not yet
in tune with the spirit of that universal community, very many end up
somewhere in-between joining the company of those homeless souls
whose common characteristic is dislocation.
On the individual level a fundamental social psychological process
gradually sets in: as the individual’s apprehension of the social world is
changed by modernization, so is his apprehension of his own identity. If,
for example, it no longer makes sense for him to identify others in terms
of tribe or kinship only, it will sooner or later make no sense for him to
do so in his own case.166 This can have devastating consequences for all
concerned. Not only is the world redefined, with others reclassified, but
the individual no longer knows who he is. At this point all of reality be-
comes uncertain and threatened with meaninglessness, thus bringing
about the state of anomie which C. Achebe described so vividly in his
epic African Trilogy.167 Okonkwo’s suicide in the first book of this Tril-
ogy: Things Fall Apart, was an attempt to escape such an imposed
One might argue that these changes are similar to the changes
Europe underwent in her past. Well, there is no gainsaying that Europe
experienced similar social transformations. The difference, however, lies
in the manner the changes are brought about. Modernization in Europe
and North America is a product of an internal metamorphosis and re- and
evolution, a process from within. Not only is Africa a latecomer to mod-
ernization, but also the process reached and still reaches her largely as an
invasion, from without, from Europe and North America. Reviewing
John Reader’s Africa P. Hawthorne writes:

166 Berger et al. 152.

167 Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease, and Arrow of God.

Were it not for the ‘importunities of Europe’, [...] Africa might have enlarged upon
its indigenous talents and found an independent route to the present – one that was
inspired by resolution from within rather than example from without. It was a
‘moment passed’ and lost forever during the 15th century .

8.4.7 Modernity and Cognitive Bargaining

It is important to stress that the transformation of consciousness brought

about by the collisions that took place did not occur at the same time in
every person and in all situations. In some the change was rapid and
devastating. In others it took longer. Besides, the effectiveness of the
transfer of the carriers of modernization, such as the technological prod-
ucts, to other areas of social life also varied. In some places they were
broadly accepted, in others they were resisted. Even after their introduc-
tion, their modernizing effects were contained within a highly specific,
limited sector of social life for a considerable period of time. In other
words, modernization may be encapsulated, contained in a kind of en-
clave, around which the traditional patterns of life go on substantially as
before. This later form of coping with the invasion of modernization –
encapsulation – is one extreme in a continuum of coping strategies. The
other extreme is the one previously mentioned: a total identification with
the vision of modernity, a total readjustment of one’s identity to fit into
the new definitions, (reclassifications), of modernity.
Between these two poles there is a great variety of cognitive ar-
rangements possible. These kinds of arrangements are described by
Berger et al. as “cognitive bargainings”169. By this they mean the com-
promises on the level of consciousness which the individual daily makes
between traditional and modern patterns. For instance, one witnesses
such a bargaining in the job market sector. A person, with the necessary
qualifications, looking for a job often activates all traditional channels of
communication and influence – unconsciously bringing the traditional
principles of communal cooperation or solidarity and beneficial reci-
procity into play around the modern bureaucratic and technological
structures, – and very often with startling success. This, no doubt, breeds
nepotism, partisanship and favouritism, in a modern setup with an insti-

168 P. Hawthorne, In and Out of Africa, in: Time, November 3, 1997.

169 Berger et al. 155.

tutionalized impersonal criteria of merit and fairness. It is, therefore, not
surprising that a good number of modern economic and political struc-
tures cannot function properly or at all in such a situation. The same fate
awaits long term economic planning in a society where immediate re-
sults and satisfaction of achievement needs constitute one of the central
forces in the social interaction of its members. If such cognitive bar-
gaining is possible on other sectors of social interaction without the indi-
vidual necessarily getting the feeling of having at any point abused, for
instance, the criteria mentioned above, it may not be that easy on the re-
ligious sector.
Religion is the most powerful integrative force in traditional socie-
ties; an integration which is critically challenged by the onset of mod-
ernization. With religion reduced to just one out of many other sectors of
life in a modern society, it loses that overall integrating power. Law and
order in social interaction are no longer determined by religion but by
that sector of the new system of government called Law, be it Church
Law or Civil Law. Not much compromise can be undertaken here, ex-
cept perhaps between the Igbo traditional and the Christian religious be-
liefs and practices. We agree with Berger et al., when they say: “Once
traditional religious jurisdiction begins to be eroded it becomes increas-
ingly difficult to arrest the process”170. The process in which the tradi-
tional religion became radically displaced in its function as the general
integrative force in Igbo society is in fact no longer retractable. Practi-
cally the entire events have forced it into the defensive position; on the
surface level one wonders how much longer it can withstand the on-
slaught. The continuous downward trend observable in the number of
overt adherents of the traditional religion in Igboland can be traced back
to this phenomenon.171 The fact that there is a continuous decline in the
number of those who openly confess the traditional religion does neither
indicate nor confirm a complete disuse of and/or disaffection for the tra-
ditional belief system in the daily life of the Igbo. We feel more com-
fortable to see it rather as an indication or symptom of an imposed
change from without. Such a change brings about transformations of

170 Ibid., 158.

171 The fact that many Igbo Christians still surreptitiously practise their traditional re-
ligious beliefs can be explained by the fact that the hour-hand of their clock of con-
version to Christianity did not turn full circle.

consciousness quite alright, but in many cases they are more or less su-
perficial. In any case, the crisis of traditional religion reveals in a very
dramatic way the essential nightmare of modernization, namely, the col-
lective and individual loss of integrative meanings. The same factor can
be said to be responsible for the crisis of Christianity in the West172; and
if this pace of modernization is maintained, it is very likely to invade
Christianity in Nigeria, as well, before it reaches five hundred years of
One can say that at the end both the originator and the user eventu-
ally suffer from the same viral infection for which there have been de-
veloped as yet no proper vaccines. However, while the originators of
modernization – the West – may have accumulated a lot of experience in
the use and application of modernization and its by-products in the
course of the centuries, thus its effects are not totally unexpected, the
“latecomers” and end-users have presently no time to spend in the accu-
mulation of such experience. Often not comprehending the logic and the
history of the machinery of industrial production they respond only to
the enticing and glistening end-products; the effects are sudden, bewil-
dering and negative especially on the level of their sense of self-worth,
of their consciousness of the other and of themselves. The Igbo expres-
sion of bewilderment and awe at Western products: Bekee bu maa! or
Bekee wu agbara! (“The white man is a god!”), attests to this.

172 It is also co-responsible for the crisis of modernity itself. The paradox of the chief
carrier of modernity, technology and technological production, is that, on one hand
it is the passport and creator of modernity, and on the other hand it has provoked an
uprising against modernity, especially, the self-alienation and bunch of homeless
souls it has produced and still producing. There are more isolated, homeless and
disconnected individuals in the industrialized, technologically advanced nations
than in the so-called Third World. The present obsession with globalization and fu-
sion on the economic and industrial market can be seen as an attempt to cope with
the unavoidable product of modernization: turning human beings into machines of
production and consumption.

8.5 Summary

The period between the second half of the fifteenth and the first half of
the twentieth centuries can be considered as the periods in the history
and development of the Igbo consciousness which have brought the most
violent and humiliating experiences, the most dislocating economic and
social changes, and the most estranging encounter with an alien culture.
The commercialization of slavery and the brutality used by the
European, especially Portuguese, slave dealers in the procurement of
their human cargo left untold humiliating and depopulating impacts on
the African continent. This and the wedge of hostility it drove into the
relationship between villages and clans on account of their collaboration
as slave-hunters or victims served as forerunners that set the stage for the
onslaught of colonialism and missionary activities among the Igbo. The
body of knowledge put together by the explorer and adventurer provided
the final preparation for the invasion.
The strongest and far-reaching cognitive changes were brought
about by the school through the missionary. This is so because the school
aimed at children and the youth and attacked the religious mainstay of
the people, thus cutting off the source of continuity of the traditional way
of life and discredited the ultimate foundation on which the traditional
culture rests. To ensure some permanency and continuation of their ef-
forts trained personnel was envisaged. The mission stations and the vari-
ous colonial structures served as constant reminders of the presence of
the conquerors. The introduction of seminaries became the last safeguard
for continuity and an assurance that Christianity and European Christen-
dom have been firmly planted in Igboland. The overwhelming numbers
of seminarians and seminaries attest to the apparent success of this mis-
sionary enterprise.
All these set the stage for the entrance of modernity with its mys-
tique which was to erode what was left of the traditional culture and
subject any resistance to the position of enclaves and to the status of an-
tique. It thus perfected the confusion by providing disintegrating poten-
tials not only for the traditional way of life but also for Christianity itself.
In the next chapter we shall discuss the impact of these changes on the
Igbo consciousness especially on the formation of seminarians.


I must now admit that I adapted myself with remarkable

ease to the conditions of life in my cage [...]. I even grew so
accustomed to this situation that for more than a month,
without feeling how outlandish or degrading it was, I made
no attempt to put an end to it [...]. My superiority over the
other prisoners [...] made me the most brilliant subject in
the establishment. This distinction [...] sufficed my present
ambitions and even filled me with pride1.
Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes

We have already discussed the impact of the slave trade on the Igbo so-
ciety and consciousness. Since colonialism and missionary evangelism
broke into the life horizon of the Igbo simultaneously, we shall consider
their impacts together. This methodical decision is supported by the fact
that they complimented each other in their various individual objectives.
Modernization, which can be considered as the seed sowed by both, has
long budded and is waxing stronger and stronger. Although we have
touched on some of its impact while discussing it as the fourth agent of
change, we shall mention briefly some of them again.

9.1 Emergence of New Commodities

The trade in palm produce which replaced the heinous slave trade led to
the opening of many markets and trading centres in the interior of Igbo-
land. It also paved the way for some European firms. As soon as the Igbo
realized that the export of palm produce had become the sole means of

1 Boulle 101.

procuring the European goods which were now increasingly being re-
garded as essential for a more comfortable life and as status boosters,
they dived head-long into the business. The introduction of European
goods was an irresistible bait. Farming and animal husbandry which had
been the sole source of economic subsistence and livelihood gave way
substantially to external trade. Trading, for instance, which hitherto was
the reserve of women found men now actively participating in it. Even
though the traditional Igbo man, for whom yam was the most prestigious
food item, and who depended on his farm for his sustenance, made fun
of those male traders with such contemptuous expressions like, or mgbe
aha lr (one who feeds only by buying from the market), trading, never-
theless, had now become a social reality and an accepted source of live-
lihood on its own footing. With it emerged a new value system and new
status symbols.2 The new commodities and food stuff were immediately
absorbed into the traditional set-up. This initial, so to speak, peaceful
contact through trade prepared the way for the later total colonial occu-
pation of the Igbo country.

9.2 Emergence of a New Social Order

The school and direct contact with the Europeans led to the emergence
and acted as great catalysts of dissemination of new forms of social
manners and norms of interpersonal interaction akin to European ways
of life. The European form of clothing and the uniforms of the school
children, the layout and structure of the Mission compounds3, the bun-
galow and/or the storey-building of the missionary and the colonial ad-
ministration, introduced new patterns of clothing and architecture. Those
natives trained in the schools of vocational education as masons, car-
penters, brick-layers, etc., helped to spread the new patterns. I. Ozigbo

2 Cf. Agu 246.

3 This comprised very often of the house of the missionary or Fathers’ house, school-
church building, the Teachers’ quarters, garden etc.

New forms of house furniture were popularised. The frock replaced the semi-nudity
of the women. The loin-cloth was exchanged for pairs of shorts, sometimes com-
plete with stockings and shoes. New culinary habits – of food and beverages – as
well as new mannerisms and etiquette, became symbols of social prestige. It was
easy to pick out the convert from the crowd by his attire or social manners. Eating
with fork and knife, seated at dining table, replaced the earlier squatting on the
floor and the licking of the fingers. The blessings of literacy, new standards of
sanitation and modern scientific medicine were objects of wonder and curiosity .

9.3 A New System of Law and Order

As the colonial army and the missionary conquered their way through
the Igbo country, they tore into the central nerve of the society. The bit-
terness and grief at realizing this too late can be felt in the discussion
between Okonkwo and Obierika over the court settlement of a land dis-

‘What about that piece of land in dispute?‘ asked Okonkwo. ‘The white man’s
court has decided that it should belong to Nnama’s family, who had given much
money to the white man’s messengers and interpreter.’
‘Does the white man understand our customs about land?’
‘How can he when he does not even speak our tongue’. But he says that our cus-
toms are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our
customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have
turned against us? The white man is clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his
religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has
won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the
things that held us together and we have fallen apart‘ .

In dire need to create an atmosphere congenial for the achievement of

their various objectives: the missionary sought the soul of the people
while the colonialist sought the material benefits thereof, they unsym-
pathetically subjugated, humiliated, and in many cases, destroyed what-
ever integrative forces that held the Igbo society together. Desperate to
win as many souls as possible and to report back to his home country an

4 Ozigbo 284.
5 Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 144-145. The quotation is from p. 145.

ever rising figures of those baptized he lost no patience with those Igbo
cultural elements which did not fit into his own cognitive grid. He sim-
ply bulldozed his way through the spiritual and cognitive fabrics of the
natives. J. Munonye captures this point vividly, when he writes:

In this our early phase, with so many Christian denominations literally pouring into
that pagan world, our first emphasis must be on statistical successes. We must
bring the Word of God to as many as possible at the same time. We want on our
side the vast numbers who in Africa of the future will sustain the church with their
numerical strength. Call it vote of the masses if you like. In pursuit of that objec-
tive, I am afraid we have got to be impatient with the culture of the people. There
just is not time to sort out first and label their customs as acceptable and unaccept-
able. To be ruthless in our method and yet successful in our aim, we must ensure
that all along we present to the people good tangible evidence of the advantages of
Christianity .

In the schools and the Catechism classes a lot of indoctrination was car-
ried out. The teachers and instructors had little, if any, theological or
biblical training. What they had in abundance was enthusiasm and they
employed it to the full. The actual polemics against the traditional beliefs
and practices were carried out in the villages by the converts themselves
under the superintendency of the catechist-teachers. Their weapon was
Fr. Lejeune’s Catechism. The expatriate missionaries merely encouraged
them, and supplied the necessary “spiritual” backing. The missionary, no
doubt, believed in the rightness of his course and the absoluteness of his
mission. Consequently he was most often unaware of how much his
cultural cognitive background coloured his apprehension of the people
among whom he was working. E. Nida reiterates this fact saying: “Fully
equipped with our own sets of values, of which we are largely uncon-
scious, we sally forth in the world and automatically see behaviour with
glasses coloured by our own experience”7.
The traditional religious belief is the base on which law and order in
the traditional society stood. It served as its integrative force and the le-
gitimation of order. While the missionary attacked this ultimate integra-
tive force, which had to give way if he was to succeed in establishing an
alternative force, the colonialist attacked its political and socio-economic
expressions. Both assaults brought about a more or less general feeling

6 J. Munonye, The Only Son, 193.

7 E. A. Nida, Customs and Cultures, 2.

of resignation and disillusionment in many Igbo, especially in the con-
verts, with the existing traditional systems. The missionary preached his
way through with hospital and school, building church-schools on places
dreaded by the natives as being “alive with sinister forces and powers of
darkness”8, gathering abandoned twins, breaking exactly those taboos
which, according to the belief of the natives, usually would have merited
the instant wrath of the gods. The greatest shock was not these but the
fact that days and years passed by, nothing pernicious happened, neither
to the strangers nor to their converts. If any thing at all, the number of
converts grew constantly and the influential power of the missionary
grew. The gods seemed either defeated, incapable and/or unwilling to
fight their course. The following narration of Chinua Achebe offers some
insight into the great disappointment the people felt:

‘They [the missionaries] want a piece of land to build their shrine,’ said Uchendu to
his peers when they consulted among themselves. ‘We shall give them a piece of
land.’ He paused and there was a murmur of surprise and disagreement. ‘Let us
give them a portion of the Evil Forest. They boast about victory over death. Let us
give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory.’ [...] They offered them
as much of the Evil Forest as they cared to take. And to their greatest amazement
the missionaries thanked them and burst into song. ‘They do not understand,’ said
some of the elders. ‘But they will understand when they go to their plot of land to-
morrow morning.’ And they dispersed. The next morning the crazy men actually
began to clear a part of the forest and to build their house. The inhabitants of
Mbanta expected them all to be dead within four days. The first day passed and the
second and third and fourth, and none of them died. Everyone was puzzled. And
then it became known that the white man’s fetish had unbelievable power. It was
said that he wore glasses on his eyes so that he could see and talk to the evil spirits.
Not long after, he won his first three converts [...]. It was well known among the
people of Mbanta that their gods and ancestors were sometimes long-suffering and
would deliberately allow a man to go on defying them. But even in such cases they
set their limits at seven market weeks or twenty-eight days. Beyond that limit no
man was suffered to go. And so excitement mounted in the village as the seventh
market week approached since the impudent missionaries built their church in the

8 Achebe, Ibid., 123. In those days “every clan and village had its ‘evil forest’. In it
were buried all those who died of the really evil diseases, like leprosy and small
pox. It was a dumping ground for the potent fetishes of great medicine-men when
they died. An ‘evil forest’ was, therefore, alive with sinister forces and powers of
darkness. It was such a forest that the rulers of Mbanta gave to the missionaries.
They did not really want them in their clan, and so they made them that offer which
nobody in his right senses would accept”.

Evil Forest. The villagers were so certain about the doom that awaited these men
that one or two converts thought it wise to suspend their allegiance to the new faith.
At last the day came by which all the missionaries should have died. But they were
still alive [...]. That week they won a handful more converts. And for the first time
they had a woman9.

The effect of such an overt and ignominious capitulation of their gods on

the consciousness of the people was devastating. With their inferiority as
against the apparently more potent and superior god of the white man,
the Igbo who adored the successful and have not much time lost for the
weakling, of course, knew they have sooner or later to change camps, at
least to have a share in the secrets of that success.
With their military subjugation, the thing they cherished most and
protected jealously was the very first thing to be put out of action,
namely, their independence and ultra-democratic political system. The
forced labour, taxation, military presence and occasional harassment and
imprisonment10, and worse still, the imposition of artificial “miniature
monarchs” in the form of Warrant Chiefs were the concrete signs of this
humiliating loss. Through the introduction of the inglorious system of
Indirect Rule with its paraphernalia of District Officers, Warrant Chiefs,
Native Authorities and Courts, Court Clerks and Court Messengers, a
new political superstructure was imposed on them. It was no longer their
Omenani which determined what and how things were to be done but the
missionary and the colonial government. The opinion of the gods was no
longer binding on all. A process of polarization was set in motion.
An undeniable positive effect of their intervention was definitely the
liberation from the ignorance which was at the root of the idealization
and deification of the white man, at the root of the killing of twins, the
practice of ordeals and other barbaric acts. These and such other prac-
tices like “child marriage11” were taken for granted by the people until

9 Ibid., 123-125.
10 Cf. Ibid., 143-145, 156-159.
11 This is the practice whereby parents or guardians destine that their child will marry
another particular child. Often the nuptial ceremony, which normally consists of
several stages, is initiated when both children are as young as a year old by the lit-
tle boy’s family in order to forestall that another person approaches the little girl
with the same intention. In some parts of Igboland this is called “igbanye mmanya
n’eju” (pouring wine in a jar – i.e. proposal of a bonding). The period between this
first declaration and/or celebration of the intention and early adolescence or when

they were opposed by the missionaries and their converts without any
negative repercussions. In as much as such acts were in tune with the
world view of the Igbo12, they served as grave sources o