A strange thing happened at Adikpo, Kwande Local Government, Benue State, in 2012 that I will never forget for the rest of my life. This was the burial of Late Barrister Geoffrey Anande Yaaju. Yaaju was for many years a respected Roman Catholic; he wedded in the church and was a communicant. In our parish, St Ann’s Parish Adikpo, he was one of the leading contributors and what I would say, staunch members; he was also a member of the Knights Of St Jonh’s International. His wife was at a point in our church, the President of Catholic Women Organisation (CWO), she also belonged to numerous associations in the church. For such a deeply rooted catholic family, there is nothing more glorious than, at your death, having the priests celebrate a Requiem and the choirs call on the angels to welcome you.
The burial of Yaaju was very different. Although he was a catholic who had rose even to the Knighthood, but about two or so years to his death, he was reported to have told his family, brother Knights, friends, priests and anybody who cared to listen that he had become “BORN AGAIN”;and as a result, had left the catholic Church, and joined a “Bible Believing Church”, The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministry.
Any researcher on the early years of Christianity in Tivland will still find Rubingh, Eugen, The Sons Of Tiv, published in 1969, very useful; other works by indigenous Scholars like Professor Akpenpuun Dzurgba’s On The Tiv Of Central Nigeria: A Cultural Perspective. John Archers, Ibadan. 2007 is also another compelling read. The Dutch from South Africa who came with the religion in 1911, and the Germans who brought Catholicism in the 1920s had their peculiar challenges and most of these writers have captured such challenges vividly. They, for instance, had a cultural; significantly, language barrier to surmount to be able to preach Christianity in Tivland. All these would take years to be taken care of; but the challenges that face Christianity in Tivland today, after over a 100 years, like the scenario painted above are, to some of us, much more complex than those the early missionaries faced in those days in Tivland.
The missionaries, for one, where looking at anybody among this “primitive” tribe who would abandon their “old ways” and accept Christianity. This task today, might appear simple, but for a whole year, it is on record that, the missionaries preach extensively in Tivland but could only get three converts for their efforts. This should be by the dawn of 1912; now almost 100 years after in 2012, when most of the tribesmen had acquired requisite education and could by that, read the scriptures, Tivland by the standards of many, is not yet ready for Christ or properly Christianised. That was why Christian groups would converge at a funeral and be almost struggling over who takes over the burial rites that would “usher a brother into heaven” as it was what happened at the burial of Barrister Yaaju between the Catholics and The Lord’s Chosen.
To the Dutch Reformed Christian missionaries (DRCM) who founded the NKST Church in Tivland and the Roman Catholics German Priest, the Bible and their Catechisms were very important in their christianizing process. When the new converts had accepted Christianity, they were taught the basics and when, it was adjudged that one had had good knowledge of the scriptures and the catechism, one was baptised and regarded as a Christian-it was that simple. At most, especially common among the Catholics, the new convert would take a new name; preferably a name of a saint like John, Augustine, Agatha and the likes.
The Tiv Society didn’t have outcasts; the social caste gave allowance for any man to rise and become great; it didn’t have slaves per se, but there were many in the Tiv society still, who, maybe due to the nature of their births or strange ailments they had; were being stigmatised. That the missionaries were ready to accept everybody and with their medical facilities which, later on, became part of the evangelism, they were to get more converts in the following years. But perhaps the major reason that pushed or up till now pushes many Tiv people to Christianity has always being the fear of Mbatsav and Akombo. The missionaries, promised converts liberation from witches and wizards; those who gathered in the forests causing birds to sing, those who were in charge of epidemics, those who caused the deaths of young people or their enemies – The people could see, since they believed and could see the effects of Mbatsav on society. Although some scholars like Professors Daniel Shirshima of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, Benue State University, while I studied African religion under him, claimed of the existence of good and bad Tsav ; the former was allowed and the latter was the one responsible for the general evil, but Christianity came with a promise of liberation from Mbatsav and a promise of heaven and that those who refused Christianity would end in hell. For many years they took this message across Tivland and were winning converts.
They accepted anybody amongst the tribe who were leaving behind their traditional way of life.
Two events worked for the missionaries and caused an increase in their numbers. First, it was in 1926, the Haakaa and 1929; Nyamibuam – these events which had the blessing of the government, were primarily targeted at cleansing the land of those Mbatsav who had been accused of cannibalism and ritual murders through articles like amulets, charms, talismans etc and were using same to cause trouble in the land; those indentified to have such, were requested or forced in some cases, to come and haakaa (drop) or naakaa (give) as others regarded it. It was same with the Nyamibuam. Although these events happened around the time of another important change that was brought by the Bristish, abolition of exchange marriage (yanishe) and introduction of kemkwase (marriage by bride price); many scholars see these as natural revolts by a society that was undergoing a radical transformation; yet In all these, the missionaries accepted the people; all of them who found solace in Christianity as a way out of this gridlock.
I wish to use this opportunity to commend those early missionaries for their courage and determination as they went about their way preaching to the people. Their tolerance, their disposition and abilities to co-exist with the locals; in spite of the language barrier; many of them died as it was in this case which Dzurgbah has recorded:
“While Loedolff and Weyers were at Adikpo, the latter wanted to kill a hippopotamus for Jato Aka because he had been ‘most helpful’ to them. Mr Pierter Weyers was a hunter. He invited Rev. Laurie Roux to join him and the latter travelled from Mkar to Adikpo. On May 14, 1923, they went to River Katsina-Ala, boarded a canoe and were armed with guns. That hunting expedition was one of the most tragic incidents in the history of Duch Reformed Church Mission. While they were in the boat, a hippopotamus came and went underneath the canoe. One side of the canoe was lifted out of the water the boat was full of water. The boat sank. Weyers, Laurie Roux and Kpum, their Tiv assistant, all tried to swim to the land.Kpum reached the land safely, but Weyers and Rev Laurie Roux disappeared under the water. They died in River Katsina-Ala. This incident happened at the very beginning of their construction work at Adikpo Station. It was reported at the headquarters, Saai Station. Rev Botha and Rev. Malherbe came to the unfortunate scene and a search was made for almost a week before their maimed corpses were found many kilometres downstream. They were buried at Sevav where they had been stationed for several months”. Read Akpenpuun Dzurgba, On The Tiv Of Centrat Nigeria: A Cultural Perspective. John Archers, Ibadan. 2007. Pages 76-77.
These were some of the sacrifices that many paid to Christianise Tivland.
Today, almost all Tiv people say they are Christians but as http://www.britannica.com/resources/images/header/eb-logo-header.png puts it “ Some Tiv have converted to Christianity, and a lesser number have adopted Islam; but their traditional religion, based on the manipulation of forces (akombo) entrusted to humans by a creator god, remains strong. The akombo are manifested in certain symbols or emblems and in diseases that they create. An organization of elders who have the ability to manipulate these forces meets at night to repair those manifestations of akombo (e.g., epidemics) that affect the group; these phenomena require human sacrifice or its metaphorical equivalent.”
So today, just like Barrister Yaaju did; leaving the catholic Church and becoming “born again”, leaving behind his baptismal vows and all the other sacred rituals to join a “Bible believing Church”; Christianity faces a new challenge in Tivland. Many today are continuously seeing “the light” and leaving the traditional churches, whose foundations were laid by the toils of missionaries; many dying in the process, to what they refer to as “new generational churches”
Yes today, although the Tiv society has lived with the faith for over 100 years, there are some people who have not been to a church or believe in Jesus Christ or anything; but in Tiv land today, the new churches, unlike the missionaries who targeted the unconverted tribesmen wallowing in what they called “darkness”, the new churches seem to focus their attention on “converting”, rather, members of the Orthodox Christian churches which they now tag, “dead churches”; in this category of dead churches, to them, are the Catholic Church, NKST, Anglican Church and the others.
An interesting aspect of these new churches is what they call testimony time.
Read concluding part of this article next week Monday
Iorliam Shija is the Editor-In-Chief, Nigerian Peoples Post