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« November 2006 | Main

January 22, 2007

Afrịkan Influence on the Child Jesus and Christianity

Abstract of Reflections during the celebration of the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt At St. Fortunata’s Church in Brooklyn on January 14, 2007
by Fada Jọn Ọfọegbu Ụkaegbu, Ph.D. -Igbologist- (Brooklyn, New York) ---- While humans deal with time because we are the architects of time, we know that God is eternal and transcends time. Afrịka has played significant roles in the history of the human race. Confirmed results from scientific research on Genetic Anthropology show that modern humans first appeared in Afrịka around 150,000 years ago, and Afrịka has become the patrimony of humanity, that is, the home of the first human beings.
(Cf. The Genographic Project. Human Migration, Population Genetics, Maps, DNA or [Geographic Project]).

Humans migrated from Afrịka by crossing the 100 miles- wide Isthmus of Suez to populate the earth. The Suez canal was built recently between 1854 and 1869, and before this period, people easily crossed from Afrịka to Asia. The term “Middle East” came to be used for the first time after the Second World War in 1945. Before then, parts of the area including Israel, used to be called “Northeast Afrịka”. In this regard, Israel was considered to be part of Afrịka. Contrary to some popular misconception, Israel is not older than Afrịka since it was assumed to be part of Afrịka which is older than Israel. Taking into account the fact that Christianity was born in Israel as an offshoot from Judaism, we wish to reflect on the influence Afrịka has on Israel, Judaism, the child Jesus and Christianity.

Coming to the American context, the Church in the United States is trying to live up to expectation by addressing the global issue of immigration. The U.S. Bishops see Christ in strangers. It is inspiring that attention has been drawn to the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. At least, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops used an icon that shows the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt as part of their logo in a January 2007 poster during the National Migration Week.

Back home to our Diocese in Brooklyn, our Bishop, Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio has a special agenda for ministering to immigrants. We understand that he has promising proposals for all immigrants, but with special reference to those from the bartered continent of Afrịka. To this effect, he has appointed one of us in the person of Most Reverend Guy Sansaricq, to take care of this all-important assignment. Father Caleb Buchanan will assist Bishop Sansaricq working in collaboration with the Catholic Migration Office in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The history of Salvation will never be complete without reference to the Afrịkan roles. On this note, I will appeal to all to get a copy of “Africa in Salvific History” by Deacon Okafor Uzoigwe, Ed.D. Starting with the Patriarchs Abraham, Joseph, Aaron and Moses, Judaism has Afrịkan roots and antecedence. Moses, who is the Father of Judaism, was born, raised and educated in Afrịka and he never reached the Promised Land. The climatic point was the refugee status the child Jesus had in Afrịka. Afrịka granted asylum to Jesus and his parents in Egypt when Herod wanted to lynch him. There is no written account of the childhood of Jesus in Afrịka, but tradition has it that the Holy Family spent some reasonable time in Egypt until Herod was dead and it would be safe for Jesus to return to Israel.

Our concern here is what happened to the child Jesus while he took refuge in Afrịka. Most of the early childhood of Jesus was spent in Egypt. There is no doubt that Jesus benefited much from his early childhood stay in Afrịka; and we know that what is learnt young, is learnt forever. The flight of the Holy Family into Afrịka was providential and not accidental. It was and is part of the divine plan in the history of salvation. The influence of Afrịka on the life of the child Jesus is deeper than we may imagine. This influence extended to his Church and has continued toll today.

As we consider the areas of Interest in the Afrịkan influence on the child Jesus and his Church, it may not be possible to give a detailed presentation here; but a brief outline will suffice. While it is not easy to reach out to all of Afrịka in this treatment, we shall focus on the Igbo world in terms of culture. Moreover, we have much in common between Igboism and Hebrewism. We are convinced that whatever that is Igbotic is truly Afrịkan. Using the Igbo cultural paradigm as a base, may we look at some areas that reflect the Afrịkan influence on the child Jesus and his Church.

1. Monotheism: As it is phenomenology of Religion, the Supreme Being is clearly identifiable in Afrịkan Traditional Religion. Judaism is an offshoot from the Afrịkan Traditional Religion. The gods and deities are mere intermediaries between the Supreme Being and the people as we have angels in Judaism and Christianity. In Igbo Traditional Religion, Chi or Chi Ukwu or Chukwu is the Supreme Being and he is known by many other names as we have it in Judaism. Early European missionaries who came to Igboland, could not understand the Igbo religion due to language barrier. Monotheism was ubiquitous in Igbo Traditional Religion before the coming of the Europeans around 1885. Igbo Traditional Religion was not essentially polytheistic; rather it was monotheistic.

2. Biblical Mentality: Dogmatic language wherein there is strong interaction between the spiritual world and humans. The arguments that follow will convince any inquiring mind that the Bible is natural to the Igbo world, especially in the Old Testament.

3. Biblical Names: Some prominent biblical names have Igbo equivalents that are absolutely the same as they are in the Bible. Some of these names include Michael, which means –Who is like God? In Igbo we have the name Onyedịka (Chi) which means –Who is like God? Gabriel means –The power of God. In Igbo, we have Ikechukwu, –The power of God. John means –Gift of God. But in Igbo, we have Onyinye (Chukwu), –Gift of God. Ana means –Favored one. Also we have Chiọma which means –Favored one.

4. Understanding of the Incarnation: It is very simple for Afrịkans to believe in the incarnation because of their Biblical mentality. Mythical mentality was one of the most primitive or primordial features of humanity. There abound tales of divine intervention in human life, especially the idea of gods begetting children with humans. In Igbo, we have names like Nwagbara which literally means –Child of a god or deity. This phenomenon predisposes the Afrịkan mind to understand the Christian teaching on the incarnation and related dogmas.

5. Linguistic argument:- The brothers and sisters of Christ. Many English –speaking peoples and other peoples of the earth think and claim that the Virgin Mary had other children. They base their argument on the reference to the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Till today, Igbo language retains the primordial format of family understanding wherein the uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins are referred to as “brothers” and “sisters”. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic were of the same nature as present day Igbo where these kinship terminologies were absent. In this sense, the Bible appears to be natural to the Igbo-speaking peoples while they seem foreign to some others like the English-speaking peoples. Igbos have no problem with the teaching that Mary had no other children who were the biblical brothers and sisters of Jesus.

6. Vocations: This has much to do with cultural than biological factors. Vocations are nurtured in the family and communities. Igboland has the greatest population index on the planet because of the spiritual saturation of the culture. Seminaries in Igboland are flooded with priestly vocations and there are many vocations to the religious life. Igbo families in the U.S. lack vocations because of cultural differences. Some detractors have some cheap arguments to explain the vocation explosion in Igboland. If Igbo Catholics in the U.S. have the freedom to worship in their cultural manners, they will get vocations as those at home have. If their liturgy and spiritual lives don’t reflect their cultural life style, their children will become the same as other American children. The suffocation of Igbo culture in the Diaspora is analogous to the killing of the hen that lays the golden egg.

7. Family as Domestic Church: In the Afrịkan Traditional Religion, there are no Churches. The Father is the priest of the family celebrations. Everyone is part of the religion. Charity begins at home. It may not be surprising that a lot of men and some children are missing during the celebration of Mass in parts of the U.S. The Church’s teaching of the Family as a Domestic Church helps bring the faith to the family as its base. Where the men are not actively in the Church, they seem not to have any incentives to come to Church.

8. Cult of Ancestors and Communion of Saints: Afrịkans venerate and honor their ancestors as Christians do for the Saints. We don’t worship our Ancestors. Some Christian sects confuse the devotion in honor of the saints and the veneration accorded to them in the Catholic teaching with the worship of God. In a similar manner, some people confuse the Afrịkan cult of the ancestors as Ancestor worship, which it is not.

9. The place of Mary in the Church: Every village in Igboland has “Ala” or “Earth goddess”. There may be other deities, but the Ala is peculiar. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is very strong in Igboland. In fact, the mothers are mostly responsible for the nurturing of vocations in the Church. Igbo Christian mothers may not be ordained ministers in the Church; but they form the bedrock of the progress of the Church in Igboland.

10. Names of Jesus: Jesus called himself the Son of man in order to avoid being accused of claiming to be the son of God. One of the charges against him was that he claimed to be God. Providentially we have in Igbo –Nwachukwu, which means -Son of God. Other appropriate names for Jesus in Igbo may include:- Ọpara or Ọkpara which means first son. Uchenna or Obinna mean the Father’s will or wish. It is amazing how the idea of Son of God is offensive to the Hebrew but is delightful and acceptable to the Igbo. It is thus logical that the Igbo did not receive the concept of Son of God from the Hebrew who dissent the idea. The European missionaries to Igboland did not bring the idea of Son of God to the Igbo. Rather they brought Christianity to a spiritually saturated culture area.

11. Circumcision after 8 days of birth in Igbo and Hebrew cultures: Circumcision is practiced among many Afrịkan communities and it is not always done at infancy. Some gentile adults in the early Church were circumcised in order to become Christians. What is peculiar in the Igbo pattern of circumcision is that it is done on the 8th day of the birth of a child; and Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day of his birth. This writer was circumcised on the 8th day of his birth and this circumcision culture is kept strictly in Igboland. As children, we used to refer to some of our uncircumcised neighbors as gentiles. One dramatic and historic event was how the uncircumcised Nigerian soldiers raped Igbo women at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in January of 1970. It was a great humiliation for the Igbo to have their daughters raped by the uncircumcised Nigerians. Majority of the Igbo believe that they are the original people of God.

There abound cultural facts to prove the cultural affinity between the Igbos and the Hebrews; but that’s not our mission in this discourse. Suffice it to say that Christianity is the child of Judaism as Judaism is the child of Afrịkan Traditional Religion. A closer look at Igboism and Hebrewism reveals the strong link between Afrịkan Traditional Religion, Judaism and Christianity. In conclusion, Christianity owes much of its legacy to the influence from the Afrịkan Traditional Religion.

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