Negotiating culture: Christianity and the Ogo society in Amasiri, Nigeria
Obinna, Elijah Oko
There have been two key difficulties concerning the study of indigenous rituals, religious conversion and change among the Igbo of South-eastern Nigeria, both before and after the missionary upsurge of the mid-nineteenth Century. First is the inadequate awareness or lack of reflexivity by some scholars regarding the resilience of the Igbo indigenous religions. Second is the neglect of oral sources and the overdependence on missionary archives. This thesis draws on field research on the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCN) and the Ogo society in Amasiri. The research method follows a triangulation research design which incorporates an ethnographic methodology. This involves participant observation and interviews, thus allowing for a set of guidelines that connect theoretical paradigms to strategies of inquiry and methods for collecting empirical data. Within the Amasiri clan it is expected that every male will be initiated into the Ogo society as a means of attaining manhood as well as incorporation into the adult group. Refusal to be initiated into the society amounts to ostracisation and a loss of social relevance. The thesis examines the establishment, growth and impact of Christianity among the Amasiri clan in its different phases (colonial and post-colonial eras) - 1927-2008. It demonstrates the interaction between Amasiri indigenous religions and Christianity, in order to show how and to what extent the Ogo society has endured over time. The thesis analyses specific beliefs and ritual practices of the Ogo society and Christianity, paying close attention to the resultant tensions as well as the dynamic of acquired and lived religious identities. In view of the complex patterns of interaction between Christianity and the Ogo society, the thesis explores the following questions: What makes the Ogo society an integral part of the socio-religious life of Amasiri and what powers and identity does it confer on initiates? How are these predominantly indigenous cultural features, expressed within Christian spirituality? What effect does the construction and negotiation of religious identities have on the interaction and co-existence of Christians and members of the Ogo society? Furthermore, three themes were central to this research: the first is the gender dynamic of initiation processes into the Ogo society. The second is the pattern of religious change, identity and politics of Christianity and indigenous cultures. The third is analysing the need for and limits on effective dialogue between Christians and members of the Ogo society. The thesis raises a crucial question, whether religious conversion is partial or total repudiation of indigenous cultures. These analyses propose a viable means of negotiation between Christianity and the Ogo society in Amasiri. It sets the stage for a dialogue between Christianity and the Ogo society, a dialogue that takes the indigenous context seriously.