By Jonathan Ugbal
The fusion of ancient cultural practices with Christianity is a challenge still faced by many communities in the twenty first century.
This played out in Abonkib clan in Urban ward one of Obudu local government area of northern Cross River state recently as the community excommunicated the Bebua (Children of) Idoko family over alleged refusal to permit certain traditional practices in their compound among other things.
A member of the Idoko family, had drawn the attention of CrossRiverWatch to the incident, calling on human rights activists to intervene after alleging that fellow Catholic frontliners in the community “connived” to sanction their family over “refusal to worship idol and accept fortune tellers.”
A member of the committee that allegedly brought up the idea of excommunication, Akana Akawu, who is a photographer while speaking with CrossRiverWatch said the allegation was all lies as the decision was taken strictly on a traditional premise with no relation whatsoever to the church and accused the family of speaking from both sides of their mouths.
“There are a lot of things going on in that family, two of their sons who are outside called on their age grade and said look we are not feeling fine and it seems our problems are originating from the family, so we went there and said to the family we want to know the root of the problems faced by several members of your family, so bring a fortune teller who will throw his amulets and tell us what is wrong, they refused claiming they are Christians, if they are; then why did they accept the position of Clan Head?
“When a son of theirs died on February 14 this year, they brought out a goat and as customs demands used it for traditional rites to cleanse. they have no case. They have an idol which demands their wives as sacrifice which even forced one of their relatives to send the wife away as a preventive measure.” he said.
The Clan Head and head of the excommunicated family, Chief Linus Ikashi denied that rituals were performed before he became Clan Head and stressed that his family members have their freedom to express their religious faith as a right like every other Nigerian.
His words “Any one who says rituals were performed before I became clan head is the biggest of liars. My selection or appointment was done in the daytime, there was so much acrimony as all the heads of the nine families wanted the position, two were disqualified and the youths asked the remaining seven which included me to form a quorum and choose among ourselves a clan head. I was going to nominate someone when that same person nominated me. On the accusations of witchcraft, my family and I are Catholics, we don’t do such things. The same people who they say we want to kill are alive and when we called they say they were fine. They imposed fines of 100 thousand naira, 12 crates of beer, 25 seeds of kolanut, Palmwine 1 cow and other things which is rather ridiculous.
“We want the church not only in Ogoja Diocese but Nigeria as a whole to see what our Catholics are doing, why do these, we don’t worship idols and the church (laity council) chairman of R.C.M St. Patrick’s Obudu is even among them.” he said.
Reiterating the position of Chief Linus, Dekas Ikashi who first raised the alarm said “this is not the first time they are disturbing and tempting our faith, this has never been done. Chief Ikashi used to see people do this fortune teller thing when he was young but since he encountered Christ, things changed. They even pushed Dr. Agorye (a relativel) shouting at him that day and it was someone younger than him. This has never happened”.
The laity council chairman, Mr. Placidus Ugbadu who allegedly spearheaded the plan to bring a fortune teller told CrossRiverWatch in an interview that the Bebua Idoko family were just playing to the gallery to win sympathy.
“I heard about the post he (Dekas Ikashi) did on facebook and wanted replying but was advised against it. They are only calling on you (CrossRiverWatch) and the world so they can win the sympathy of people and the governor elect, Ben Ayade who coincidentally is a relative, to see if he can influence people to reverse the decision.
“You came to the right source, a lot of things have been happening in that family and when two of their sons who are members of “Naira” age grade, which I am the serving Secretary called in and complained we moved in as custom demands and said look what is happening here? what is wrong with our colleagues? why are all these things happening? one of your child just died among other deaths, another mad and the other blind and these two are complaining again? we need a fortune teller to tell us what is happening here, they refused and drove us out, we said okay we will come back with the entire community and they drove the community out.
“Which family exists without a community? which is autonomous, the family or community? Which is larger? they drove the community out of their compound so we went to the village square and took the decision to excommunicated them and impose those fines. No one is to greet them and they should not greet us. They don’t pass through our compounds and we don’t pass through theirs and so on.
“On the issue of Catholicism, this was purely a traditional affair. That I am the Laity Chairman does not mean I will forgo customs and our culture, even the priests hail from somewhere and they have traditions.” he said.
The parish priest of R.C.M Obudu, Rev. Fr. Columba Abi declined official comment but told CrossRiverWatch in a friendly chat that what happened was a family affair and he cannot “pocknose” into it as it has not been brought to the church officially.” He said it is only when it is brought to the church that the church can discuss the issue. He also absolved the church of any complicity in the matter saying all information reaching him were informal and pointed out that excommunication was a rare thing in the church.
As at press time, CrossRiverWatch can authoritatively report that the Abonkib clan is currently without a Clan Head but questions keep filtering in from different quarters as close watchers claim the issue of fusing tradition and Christianity has come with a lot of problems with one of the most notable being the stoppage of community fellowships.
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