The Igbo is one of the three major tribes occupying the south-eastern geopolitical zone of Nigeria. They have cultural traditions and customs, which help in maintaining their society. Just like the belief systems of other cultural groups; man has designed various institutions and webs of customs that regulate and order his social life. Hunter and Whitten (1976:294) note that “belief systems deal with everything man can imagine.”
A traditional priest who could be a witch doctor who cures those who have been be-witched.A herbalist who knows the powers of many roots and herbs.A diviner who tells fortune, he is consulted before any sacrifice is offered.The chief priest (Eze mmuo)- He is an official servant of a deity or oracle, who offers sacrifice to the spirits and generally ministers at the shrine.
The coming of Islam and Christianity into Africa had much influence on the African traditional religion in its entirety. The coming of Christianity into Igbo land in 1846 altered the act of living sacrifice most especially the human sacrifice. The Christian Missionaries were able to stop the burying of chiefs with living beings and the act of using human beings as scapegoats. Although some people still offer sacrifices but it’s no longer being celebrated as in the past.Another form of human living sacrifice is the Osu caste system among the Igbo where a human being is consecrated to a deity or shrine and his generation automatically belong to the deity. This group was set aside, isolated or confined to specific areas in the community. It was a taboo to have any social interaction with an Osu. Generally, deities and spirits represent an important aspect of traditional religion in virtually all African societies.
Although the names of these deities and spirits, their method and time of worship vary from society to society, their
significance and relevance in traditional observances cut across all the cultural contexts of Africa. The names and
worship patterns in any given African society are basically dictated by the culture of the given society. the worship of
deities and spirits, hierarchy in the cultural context of Abiriba in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State,
south-East Nigeria. Abiriba, like any other traditional African society has no classical work or records about her
Therefore, the research relied mostly on oral interviews,direct observations, group discussions, and interactive sessions with elders and traditionalists for data collections,analysis and inferences. In adapting this approach, we were able to ascertain the names of these deities and spirits, their individual and collective roles, the hierarchical organization, as well as the worship methods as strictly adhered to by the practitioners. According to the people of Abiriba, deities are god’s representatives on earth and sacrifices and prayers are offered to God through them.“God is the Supreme Spirit, the Creator of everything… but this Supreme Spirit has made many inferior spirits who are nearer to man and through whom man normally offers his worship to Him.” As regards the spirits,it is believed that they are of many different types populating the universe In all African traditional settings, the people recognize the existence of the Supreme God,called deities and spirits.The worshiping of deities and spirits in Abiriba community has gotten to the climax that even the government cannot protect it citizens against this evil ancient traditional practice.
Abia State government has practically admitted the helplessness situation of the government over the deity and circumcises rites,a traditional practice in Eastern Part of Nigeria, a traditional practice in Abiriba community whereby pre-teenage or teenage female children are ‘chosen’ to serve the Chief Priest as heir apparent to the traditional throne and the forceful circumcision rites as customs demand as the Child Chief Priest.The failure of the Nigeria Police Force to protect victims of the traditional practice remains a contradiction and a huge challenge “you may look at this from the perspective of clash of modernity and ancient practice.
When the Grassroots Publishers contacted the Police Chief in Abiriba about the wanted circular dated 23rd october 2015 from Abiriba Communal Improvement Union signed by the former President General Chief (Dr)Jonah Ndukwe Ezikpe Anagha and secretary declaring a teenager Miss Esther Onyekachi from Abiriba community and her family wanted defiling their customs and gods of Abiriba Community and demanded her father to hand over his only daughter for circumcises rites and sacrifice as customs demands and that for disobeying the gods of Abiriba land the entire Abiriba Communal Improvement Union declared the entire family of Esther Onyekachi dead or alive to the extend that the community issued a circular on 23rd october,2015 to all Abiriba sons and daughters in Nigeria to hunt for Esther Onyekachi and her parent for defiling their customs and traditions of their land and that she has put the wellbeing and lives of Abiriba people in jeopardy and that their gods will not rest until the Abiriba land is appeased with their blood.
When Grassroots Publishers confided to the Police Chief in Abia State was speaking from both side of his mouth on this saga and he responded ; we have an obligation to cultivate and maintain cordial relationship with the traditional rulers but also protect the human rights of citizens. It is obvious that the law takes precedence over traditional practices and we are therefore obliged to step in when any law is contravened. The challenge is that so far no victim has managed to show evidence of any law being broken”Confronted with the recent and specific cases of Miss Esther Onyekachi who were sought after for the traditional ritual but their parents, who are known staunch Christians, resisted strongly leading to all manner of torture, the Abia State Police chief declined to comment, saying “the Nigerian Police Force does not comment on individual cases but I can assure you that all matters in the nature that you have described are investigated in collaboration and consultation with the traditional rulers and if anyone is found to have contravened the law, actions will be taken” Asked how many cases his Command has prosecuted since inception or at least under his watch, the Police Boss declined to provide details. Meanwhile information available to us has it that apart from the notorious Miss Esther Onyekachi saga, there are over the past 10 years no less than 12 reported incidents, one of which resulting in the death of the 9 year old sister of the child Chief Priest due to complications from the gruesome circumcision she was put through. The child Chief Priest disappeared two years later, unknown today whether he is dead or still alive hence the hunt for a new one.
The Miss Esther Onyekachi case is said to be complicated by two factors. Firstly the child’s uncle,who is a High Chief
is a member of the community Traditional Ruling Council and by implication, one of the custodians of the age long practice. He is suspected to have given his tacit approval and suspected to regard the choice of his grand-niece as an honour. The parents of the teenage child Esther Onyekachi are known serious Christian believers. Indeed her mother who had announced that she is resolved to confront such practices against children and the girl child. Her husband resisting the abduction of the child Chief Priest led to his torture and release to enable him produce the child for consummation of the traditional ritual. When he absconded and would not produce the child on the appointed date, a delegation was sent to Lagos, their base and all over the world to fetch them. The Onyekachi’s are said to have escaped out of the country, possibly to the America.
All efforts to trace them have so far failed. The uncle of Esther Onyekachi could not be reached for an interview after initially agreeing to one but would not honour the appointments made.
By: Grassroots Publishers (www.grassrootspublishers.com)