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The Translation Principle in Christian History: A Discourse of the Cross-Cultural Diffusion of Anglicanism in Ikwerre land, 1895-2009
Undoubtedly, the demography of Christianity as a global religion has shifted inexorably to the Southern continents, especially, Asia and Africa. However, much still remains to be seen in how the different Christian communities worldwide image, appropriate, and renegotiate Christian beliefs and practices in terms of local sensitivity or cultural contexts. This paper contends that it is the “translation principle” in Christian history which has propped up the geographical and cross-cultural diffusion of the gospel among different cultures and ethnicities. Utilising the ethno-historical methodology, the paper diagrams how the Ikwerre with their own culture, religion, and social norms, received, interpreted and transmitted the gospel to fit into the universal frame of global Christianity. The paper then goes on to illustrate this in relation to the controversies and challenges that confront the translation of the vernacular Ikwerre Bible.
Keywords :Translatability, Ikwerre, Niger Delta, Christianity, Anglicanism, Vernacular Bible, African Traditional Religions, Contextualization .
Christianity has had a continues history in Africa right from the era of Jesus Movement till date, and is always translated and “inculturated” in each local community or cultural context. Behind these concerns materialise the questions “What forms should Christianity take when it crosses borders and ethnicities? How did the Ikwerre converts utilize their indigenous idioms and metaphors in the cross-cultural transmission of the Gospel message to their kith and kin? What challenges do the recipients of the Gospel face while trying to understand the Bible through their cultural forms? These entanglements and tensions and how to resolve them provide perspective on the place of translatability of the gospel in the shaping of African Christian identity. This article therefore is a historical reconstruction of the diffusion of the CMS Anglican Churches in Ikwerre land of the Northeastern Niger Delta. It is intended to explore how the Ikwerre people with their own culture, religion, and social order experienced Christianity and the different ways they received and appropriated the gospel message. The conceptual framework utilized to tease out the answers is drawn from the perspectives of two renowned scholars of Christian History, notably Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh. The argument is that the discourse on “the translation principle” in Christian history is the dynamic for the dispersion of Christianity globally, in our context, Anglicanism into Ikwerre land. The paper then briefly explores the elements of Ikwerre world view to explore that the Ikwerre Anglican converts have accommodated in their expression of Christianity and in the translation of the Bible into vernacular Ikwerreand.
Conceptual Analysis: The Translatability of Christianity
Christianity has undergone remarkable changes in demography since the twentieth century. It is no longer a Western religion but global religion with centres spread across the Southern continents of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. This is due to its translatability; its ability to move and take on different historical and cultural contexts. Thus Christianity is not only a missionary religion but also a translated one without a single, revealed language. The translation principle accounts for the diversity today worship and liturgy in Christianity and the impulse behind the publications of several vernacular Bibles. Translation is therefore the second nature of Christianity.
One of the first perceptive scholars to notice and study this movement is Andrew Walls. He delineates the movements of Christianity into six phases : the Jewish; Hellenistic; Barbarian; Western Europe; Expanding Europe and Christian Recession. The latter coincides with the upsurge of Christianity in the greater part of the world, particularly Africa. Andrew Walls contends that African Christianity is practically and conceptually central to the cross-cultural story of Christianity in the 21st century (Walls, 1996, 85). He affirms that telling the story of Christianity in the 21st century may be determined more by the events and processes that occur in the southern continents, especially in Africa, just as the Christianity of the patristic period was moulded by the events and processes of the Mediterranean world. Andrew Walls goes further to highlight the areas that would constitute Africa’s strength in the new ecclesial reality: for example, doctrines, liturgy, ethics, and social organizational. He then ponders the way Christianity is transmitted and transformed across cultures, and attests, is through the “indigenizing” principle whereby, a people need not deny their identity – i.e. culture, history and language– to become Christians. Christian conversion does not isolate the individual from his community but instead takes the individual, family, community, society and culture along with it (Walls 1996, 7). Thus the Christian movement is usually greater and more prominent than any individual church can envision, which suggests that it reflects a huge amount of unity and diversity in beliefs and practices (Sunquist and Irvin 2007; Farhadian 2007; Jacobsen 2011). Narrating a faithful history of the cross-cultural diffusion of Christianity therefore obliges an accounting for these “continuities and discontinuities” without underestimating the perspectives of any. This is the serial nature of the Christian faith – forward and backward, advancement and recession – which has the potential to cross cultural frontiers of language and history (Walls 1995, 4-7).
Andrew Walls in yet another article titled, “African Christianity in the History of Religion”, writes on the relationship between African and the primal religion of Africa. He posits that it may be one of the anvils on which the Christianity of the next generation will be hammered. He attests that as Africans began to peruse the Bible from their own perspectives they drew out of the Scripture different emphases than had their missionary teachers. They found that those aspects of indigenous African religious culture, for example, dreams, divination, mystical vision, medicine and healing, spirit possession, and ancestral beliefs, which the missionaries either denied, muted or condemned were not completely censured by the Scripture. On the other hand, the Protestant missionaries read the Bible through the lenses of the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Be that as it may, now Africans are proclaiming the power of Jesus over alternate powers. This phenomenon also mirrors the persistence of the divinities and spirits in the new maps of the universe now re-drawn with Christian images (Walls 2002, 127).
Similarly, Lamin Sanneh shares the same sentiment with Professor Andrew Walls that Christianity has spread principally by a strategy of “mission as translation” (2001:29). In his landmark essay, Translating the Message (2001), Lamington Sanneh strongly states that it was the translation of the Christian scripture into the vernacular that opened the African’s eyes to know that the condemnation and muting of certain aspects of the indigenous religious culture by the pioneer missionaries were uncalled for (2001:189). In Africa, the continent of languages, the significance has been far-reaching. For as he has graphically put it, the import of Bible translation and its priority in missionary work is an indication that God was not so derisive of Africans as to be inexpressible in their languages but, rather, has endowed African languages with transcendental range. Thus, through the very process of Bible translation, “the central categories of Christian theology—God, Jesus Christ, creation, history – are transposed into their local equivalents, suggesting that Christianity had been adequately anticipated”, creating in the indigenous languages resonances far beyond what the missionary transmission conceived (Sanneh 2001, 189). Nowhere is the translation model of Lamin Sanneh feature more prominently than in the Protestant mission in the Niger Delta, where the Bible was translated into many indigenous languages of the region and became the vehicle of local cultures for political ferments and protests. The paradigm of West Africa is an affirmation that translatability of Christianity is the most factor in its impact on local cultures and contexts.
The salience of what Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh are saying is that the transformation of Christianity into a world faith is the direct result of ‘the triumph of its translatability’. This has been achieved not only at the level of language but also by means of objects, or images and movement. The translation principle in Christian History is the prop and impulse behind the shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity in terms of demography and ecclesiology. Therefore, for a nuanced understanding of the diffusion of Christianity to Ikwerre land we must acknowledge translation as praxis in line with variety of local idioms and practices of Christians everywhere.
Therefore, what follows is an examination of the social index and world views of Ikwerre to enable us to map out the trajectory of the diffusion of Anglicanism among the Ikwerre communities, and how the people have appropriate it in the translation of the Christian faith.
Ikwerre Social Index and World View
The Ikwerre (or Iwhuroha) inhabit the north-eastern part of the Niger Delta in what is now the Rivers State of Nigeria (Mackenzie, 1932, 2, Talbot, 1967, 15). According to Kingsley O. Amadi (1993, 34-38) the Ikwerre occupy a unique position as “a frontier society between the peoples of Igbo hinterland to the North and the Niger Delta communities in the South”. The demographic and social indicators of Ikwerre show that it is a large ethnic group with a population of almost two million people spread over an area of 32,000 square kilometres divided between29 clans, 20% of which is urban. The language spoken is Ikwerre, a cluster of Igbo, and Ogbah or “Igboid” of the Benue-Congo linguistic group (Williamson 1973, 1991).
The worldview of Ikwerre religion is composed of five categories. At the apex is the Supreme Being, who is called Chiokike, the creator God and also the sustainers of the universe. Essentially a spirit, there are no visible representations of Chiokike, though all the other beings in the cosmological structure are contingent on him. Beside Chiokike, other components of Ikwerre cosmology are the local deities (renwu), spirits (rumu-renwu) which inhabit natural objects, and often are personified and manipulated by ritual experts. Then there is the cult of the ancestors, known as rukani. The ancestors were once living, but when they died, they transited to the underworld, and continued to attract veneration from the living.The other component of Ikwerre cosmology includes objects of power or the guild of religious specialists: herbalists, rain-doctors, diviners, sorcerers, and so on. Chi is an Ikwerre word for guardian spirit, or the spirit double that is believed to be living within the household. In other words, it is the house keeper, believed to be ubiquitous and ever ready to attend to the individual when in need. However, if something untoward happens to the individual, it is claimed that his/her chi is not at home. In Ikwerre, some individuals who seem not to be prospering seek help from diviners and mediums to alter their chi, thereby improving their existence here on earth. Perhaps this is why in some African communities a man expends his energy and ingenuity to try to sustain the delicate balance between the various orders of his worldview, in order to ensure the continued welfare of his life and that of his family” (Ejizu 1985, 42). The Ikwerre cultivate similar sentiments, and hence it is possible to find some individuals seeking the services of a rain doctor to avert rainfall during ceremonies or public events, or consulting a diviner to ward off witchcraft or sorcerers from their families.
In Ikwerre, as in most African societies, life is not divided between the sacred and profane worldviews; rather both complement each other. What is real therefore has both visible and invisible aspects, and the reality of the universe is refracted in the things that exist. For example, human beings reflect the universe in the sense that they are made up of both the body (visible) and spirit (the invisible) elements. In the same sense, the family is made up of the visible (living members) and the invisible (the ancestors), or as Mbiti calls it “the living-dead” (1969, 83).Aspects of Ikwerre religiosity can be found in their beliefs, ceremonies, rituals, arts and symbols, and religious specialists. In fact, almost all their activities are rooted in religion. It is this deep-rootedness in religion that Wotogbe-Weneka could say that : “[E]very Ikwerre man…at the core of his being thinks traditional, behaves traditional, and lives traditional” (1990, 59-60). In a word, the Ikwerre like most traditional Africans are deeply religious.
Mission as Diffusion: Indigenous Discovery of Christianity in Ikwerre land
The date that Christianity was introduced into Ikwerreland is a contentious issue and this need not detain us. However, the Christian Church was first established on the island of Bonny in the eastern Niger Delta in 1865 by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (Epelle, 1955) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS Thereafter-effect of such contacts paid huge dividends: schools, medical facilities, charitable institutions, materials, goods, and diplomatic and military presence. The coastal towns became commercials hubs and indigenous peoples became middlemen in trade with the hinterlands. In the Niger Delta, the wealth of Bonny, Brass and Abonnema (New Calabar) produced beautiful church buildings, hence many invitations for missionaries (Kalu, 1978, 316).
The diffusion of Anglicanism into Ikwerre land reveals that those communities close to the coastal towns of Bonny, Kalabari and Okirika received the Anglican faith from the conversion experiences of itinerant fishermen and traders. Other parts of Ikwerre, however, especially those located in the hinterlands, received Anglicanism as a result of the internal metamorphosis in the United Native African Church (hereafter UNAC),a coalition of African Churches that separated from the CMS Anglican Church over complaints of European domination in the Church management and its insensitivity to African modes of worship. The UNAC, which was formed in 1901, was led by the church warden Jacob Kehinde Coker (Godwin Tasie 1978). Ultimately, the spread of Anglican churches in Ikwerre land is best treated by culture area or clan by clan (Onu 2005) which is not to suggest that it began from a particular Ikwerre clan and spread to other clans and villages. Such an evangelistic drive was rare in the formative years of Anglicanism in Ikwerre land.
However, one remarkable strand in the story of Anglicanism in Ikwerre land was the role played by indigenous agents and “Bible women” in the transmission and appropriation of Christianity in the various communities. The Anglican Church was planted in Oduoha-Ogbakiri through the agency of Beniah Ihuordu, and others from Ogbakiri community. The Church amalgamated with UNAC, which had been established in the area since the 1920s, to become St John’s Anglican Church in 1940 (Orlu1991).UNAC members were not happy with the weak and fledging nature of their church and opted for the CMS Niger Delta Pastorate because the latter was more dynamic and progressive. In similar circumstances St Paul’s Anglican Church Okporowo-Ogbakiri was established in 1911 through the agency of Isaac JohnOrlu and his brothers. The family’s conversion to Christianity could be considered a reciprocal gesture fortheir deliverance from thedisasters, sicknesses, and sudden deaths that had afflicted them. Such inexplicable affliction, more often, was attributed to ancestral spirits and witchcraft.A handful of converts joined the young church and, to illustrate their conversion,they abstained fromsome traditionalpractices which were considered un- Christian. In 1933 a few converts sent a “Macedonian call” to the CMS agents in PortHarcourt to help set up a primary school. Help came and the Central School Okporowo-Ogbakiri was set up.A lot of families took advantage of UNAC’s disinterest in education and joined the Anglican Church. Then there was a crisis. The way the pupils pronounced the English orthography– ABCD EFGH IJKL – became a source of embarrassment to many families. The Ogbakiri people had misconstrued the articulation of IJKL by their children to mean literally “we will confiscate the land” (Anyi je ke Eli). Numerous families were frightened that the Anglican Mission teachers were intending to assume control over their territories (Onu 2005). As in most Ikwerre communities land was a scarce and contentious issue, and often leads to communal conflicts and deaths.. They withdrew their children from school on the basis that education and the church were disintegrating forces they could not bear to admit into the community. Eventually, however, this was resolved and education proceeded. As in most oral cultures, the problem of translation was common at the beginning of missions, especially in Africa (Lamin Sanneh 2001). This kind of misjudgements or improper attention to nuance could every now and again bring about misunderstanding of the message being passed on as a result of missionary encounter with indigenous cultures. Thus, the case of the school children of Ogbakiri was not an isolated example. St Paul’s Church Okporowo-Ogbakiri was later elevated to a district status in 1950 and remained the headquarters of 18 outstations for many years.
Emohua and Ndele communities received Anglicanism because they wanted schools for their children and wards (Obinna 2007, 13-23). This coincided with the period when cost-intensive education became the prominent form of Christian presence. The initial presence of other denominations like the Baptist and UNAC Churches in the communities could not be sustained because of poor funding and weak organizational or institutional base. Between 1935 and 1939, a decline had set in as poor funding stunted the growth of their schools and government inspectors refused to approve them for financial intervention. Specifically, St John’s Anglican Church, Ndele, was built up in 1938 as an after-effect of the refusal of the UNAC School at Abonnema to offer admission to Mr. Sunday Okannah to Class 5. The Ndele community regarded the denial of admission to one of their sons unjust and a deliberate attempt to put them in darkness in perpetuity (Agbaru 2000). So they chose to welcome the CMS Niger Delta Pastorate, which had better funding and institutional foundations, to set up in the town.
The foundation of Anglicanism in Ibaa and Evekwu communities is intriguing. It relates to the role played by “Bible Women” in the history of Christianity in these communities. In a male-dominated society these women defied all odds to preach the gospel message in respective communities that tolerated such traditional practices as human sacrifice, killing of twins and their mothers, widowhood rites, and the observance of sacred days for the local deities. The invisibility of women in the cross-cultural process of Christianity in Africa, and indeed elsewhere, is commonplace. The story has always privileged male agency to the utter neglect of women. According to Fiona Bowie the women were regarded as “adjuncts to men rather than as historical protagonists in their own right” (1993, 1). But the bigger picture is that women as missionaries, wives, “Bible women”, teachers, nurses and doctors were crucial in the historiography of world missions (Robert 2009). For example, not only here in Ikwerre land but also in Isoko in the western Niger Delta African women played important roles in the foundation of Christianity in their communities (Akama 2000).
Writing on the evangelistic zeal displayed by Ada ErinwoWojiewhor in bringing Christianity to Ibaa, Gogo Somba (1980) avers that “her story will be told in Ibaa for a long time”. Ada Erinwo, the “spiritual Church leader” of Ibaa, was converted to Christianity through her trading contacts at Abonnema (New Calabar). Motivated by the modernizing impact of Christianity in this Kalabari city state, she then introduced the gospel message to Ibaa. It all began in 1901 when she and her nascent band of believers set up the first Anglican Church at Ibaa, dedicated as St Agnes’. Ada Erinwo Wojiewhor and her Christian band condemned traditional beliefs and practices which marginalized and dehumanized womanhood in the Ibaa community. Such beliefs were anchored in the fear of repercussions from Eli, the arch divinity of Ikwerre.In 1905 a church agent, Festus Abibo, a native of Okrika, was sent to pastor the youthful church in Ibaa.
Again in Evekwu it was the conversion experiences of a woman, Ada Jessy Daniel, a former member of UNAC that prompted the foundation of the St Michael’s Church in 1939 (Orlu 1991; Onu 2005). Oral testimony has it that she had the ability to predict events and interpretdreams. Her gift of psychic powers attracted much confidence and she was able to persuade the former members of the UNA Church to declare for Anglicanism. The other Odegu coastal communities of Rumuji, Rumuewhor, and Rumuodogo adopted Anglicanism as a result of the conversion experiences of the indigenous agents or through the internal crises that rocked the earlier denominations that had preceded the Anglican Church in the territories. For instance, St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Rumuodogo, owes its provenance to the series of crises in the early days of UNAC. Furthermore, the UNAC schools were ineffectively financed; they couldn’t afford better educational facilities which most Ikwerre communities craved.
Anglicanism came to Elele-Alimini, Elele, Omerelu and their neighbourhoods through trading contacts with some Kalabari merchants and itinerant fisher men along the New Calabar River. Through the conversion experiences of one Osah Oyinah and his friend Isaac Hart, a native of Bonny, the Anglican Church started at Elele-Alimini in 1912, the same year as EleleOkani-eli. The communities of Omerelu and Apani received their conversion to Christianity through English missionaries. In 1911 the Reverend Brown Williams, a European, went to Omerelu to begin a mission there and he and his assistants were warmly received by the chiefs and people of the community. The outcome was the foundation of St Stephen’s. In a related situation, the Apani community received Anglicanism after the visit of Mr.Douglas Talbort, the colonial District Officer in Degema (Orlu 1991).The purpose of Mr. Talbort’s visit was to dissuade the people from engaging in human slavery and sacrifice as well as other social vices, and it coincided with that of the Reverend Brown Williams and his team. The missionary party demanded that the people destroy their amulets, charms, and objects of Ikwerre indigenous religious culture and embrace Christianity.
Isiokpo communities, according to E.M.T Epelle (1955), were evangelized by Anglican missionaries under the leadership of theReverend Boyle who arrived in Nkarahia, Isiokpo, in 1907; St Peter’s, Isiokpo, was set up in 1914 with Mr Alfred Blackduke as the first Anglican pastor (Tasie 1993, 37; Onu 2005, 70). The first rites of confirmation for Isiokpo converts were held in 1922 by the Reverend Alphonsus W. Howells. The Ikwerre communities of Omagwa, Ozuaha, Ipo, and others within the environs of Isiokpo, desirous of schools and other “civilizing” forces of Christianity, then invited Anglican missionaries to set up mission stations in their communities. For instance, St Martin’s Church, Omagwa, was established in 1914, St Mark’s, Igwuruta, in 1916,while St Thomas’ Church, Ozuaha, and St John’s, Ipo, were established in 1935.
Christianity in the Apara, Evo, and Obiocommunities like Elikahia, Diobu, Rumuola, Rukpokwu,Elikohia, Oginiba, Woji, Rumuokwurusi, and Elelenwo is traceable to conversion experiences received from Okrika traders. According to E.M.T Epelle, during the nascent stages of their development these Ikwerre communities travelled to Okrika weekly for divine service because there were no decent places of worship (1955, 71). The use of the Igbo translation of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP)Ekperena Abu was widespread throughout Ikwerre land. This was a source of concern as most Ikwerre found it difficult to understand.
The translation of Anglicanism into Ikwerre land has resulted in the consecration of three Ikwerre bishops. The first indigenous Ikwerre bishop was the Rt. Reverend Sam Onyukwu Elenwo, who was consecrated in 1981. The others are the Rt. Reverend Blessing Enyindah (Ikwerre Diocese) and the Rt. Reverend Innocent U. Ordu, (Evo Diocese). There is also a crop of Ikwerre clergy, evangelists, Bible women, and catechists. It could be estimated that the number of Anglican parishes in Ikwerre land is over ninety considering population trends (Onu 2005).However, the diffusion of Christianity in Ikwerre does not suggest that there has been mass conversion of the Ikwerre to Anglicanism. Some Ikwerre Christian converts still straddle indigenous religious culture and the Anglican faith. This can be attested to by the persistence of some traditional beliefs and practices during burials and age-grade ceremonies. This implies that the “microcosm” has not collapsed completely along the rational theory of Robin Horton (1971; 1975); but the gods are well and alive. What has happened is that they now belong to the penumbra of the new shape of AfricaChristianity; which emphasise power encounter and betterment of life.
Translation of Indigenous Ikwerre Ritual Objects and Symbols
Ritual processes are a series of symbolic action which are both highly complex and multi-dimensional. They involve actors, actions, use of time and space, as well as other symbolic agencies and agents. Ritual symbols or the use of concrete objects are visible elements in several religious traditions or denominations. Their visibility can be observed in the profusion of religious emblems, ideograms, rituals, songs, prayers, myths, incantations, vows, customary behavior and personifications (Nabofa, 1994:4). The symbolic use and significance of water, sand, oil, salt, palm fronds, leaves, feathers, kaolin (native white chalk), and other ritual objects is commonplace in Ikwerre ritual system, the context under which the Anglican Churches exist. By locating these religious objects within the precinct of the host, religious and cultural substrate, some features suggestive of affinity and discontinuity in both worldviews become manifestly clear. In many religions, water (“mini”) is an ancient symbol of “life” and “power”. The Anglican Churches use holy and sanctified water to perform both therapeutic and prophylactic functions after it has been sanctified through prayers. It may be used in bathing, ingested as a purgative, drunk to restore spiritual powers and to heal physical ailments, sprinkled or wetted on a space to confuse and chase away unwanted malevolent spiritual forces. Such water is added salt, which in biblical imagery is to destroy or neutralize or render impotent such evil powers. The Anglican Church also uses water as ritual of baptism. The rite of baptism represents an important ritual of passage for any Anglican. According Wotogbe-Weneka (1997:57), baptism consists of two parts; “the visible and invisible sign and the inward and outward grace. The outward grace is water ‘in which the person is baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’.” Thus water (“mini”) and the name of God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are regarded by the Anglican Church as the essential parts of baptism in which the individual is incorporated into the Anglican Communion. The Church does not discriminate between baptism by total immersion or sprinkling, both are allowed. This probably explains why some Anglican Churches make provision for baptismal fonts suited for both immersion and sprinkling. In the absence of baptismal fonts, baptism can be conducted from a flowing stream, river, lagoon or sea,in after the appropriate prayer and sanctification rituals have been offered.
Another important ritual symbol used by the Anglican Church in its healing ministry is sand. The sand here is understood not its biological sense but it symbolizes the source and ground of all humanity true existence. It is everywhere, and on it everybody moves. From the earth also comes food for all creatures and to the earth will creatures return at the end of earthly existence. Thus, the earth symbolizes power and real existence. According Venerable Chikodi Wachukwu (2010) sand is used in prayers of healing and judgment. The idea is that sand which is everywhere is a living testimony to the action or inaction one takes and ,if one tries to tell lies or break the covenant the impartial mother will judge him in several ways which includes sickness and other calamities that may result in death. In Ikwerre cosmology, the Earth goddess (“Eli”) is the guardian of morality and any moral infraction (“nso Eli”) against it is visited with sickness or even death. No Ikwerre man can have sex in the bush or bare ground because it is a taboo against the Earth goddess. Besides sand, the Anglican Church also uses anointing oil for its healing ministry. The oil is used for consecration for holy works and to empower the individual against enigmatic malevolent forces which afflict humans with various diseases and sicknesses. The Scriptures in several passages enjoins the believers to pray for the sick and anoint with oil within the context of prayer of faith.
The point being made here is that the symbolic use of water, sand, oil and other ritual objects for purposes of healing, fertility, purification, prevention, and spiritual empowerment has been re-valorized and reinforced in the ritual system of Ikwerre Anglicanism. Thus as Afe Adegome has argued that:
What has changed in this sense is not the attitude towards and the motif behind the ritual symbolism, but rather the medium or object to which the rituals are directed. Such symbols are seen as a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is a symbol which helps to strengthen and reinforce faith of the members (Adegome. 2000:74)
Thus the affinity and continuity of features or elements from the indigenous Ikwerre religious culture in the healing praxis of Anglican Church cannot be over-emphasized. There is no doubt that as the indigenous Ikwerre begins to see elements of continuities of Ikwerre ritual cosmos in Christianity; it will impact significantly upon the inner meaning of his faith. After all, during the early stages of Ikwerre Anglicanism, some Ikwerre people testify that their conversion to Christianity was due to their healing, which they attributed to the Christian God. Such persons as Beniah Wosu and John Orlu from Ogbakiri became Anglicans after hearing the biblical accounts of healing miracles (Orlu, 1990).
The implication of all this, is for Anglican mission to harness elements of African religious culture for use in church life and worship so that there would be a down-to-earth and meaninigful contextualization of Christianity. A serious attempt should be made to translate foreign vestments, vessels and other ritual objects with local ones to ensure the emergence of a dynamic, original, and indigenous Christianity.
Mission as Translation: The Vernacular Ikwerre Bible
The question of vernacular Bible translation – in our context, the Ikwerre Bible – has remained a critical discourse in Christian history. The fear has been whether it would open the Scripture to corruption and unauthorized access by the gullible masses, and lead to diminution of clerical powers. Opponents contend that prayers have been said, and worship of God performed, in too many languages already to warrant another, with the suggestion that the limits have been set (Sanneh, 2011, 93-94). The position adopted seems unassailable ifone grants the premise that the truth of God is diminished by one national appropriation. The critics also insist that the crises and divisiveness in Christendom today over the ordination of women and gay bishops and the sanction of same-sex marriages are the result of Bible translation into different languages.Lamin Sanneh asserts that “the historical case for Bible translation rests squarely on the primacy of divine encounter rather than on the claims of cultural advantage” (2011:93).
However, a critical look at the Ikwerre vision of the world shows the ubiquity of spirit beings in their life and thought. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this section, the Ikwerre,Ikwerre like other Africans, are notoriously religious: every activity is hedged around with religion. Although there is a belief in a Supreme Being,Chiokike, it is the reality and fear of the gods, ancestors (rukani),and the supernatural forces (renwu or rumu-renwu)that the Ikwerre have had to confront daily. As a result the Ikwerre believe that various diseases, miseries, misfortunes or deaths are causally the effect of the evil spirits or supernatural forces such as Eli the Earth goddess, mami-wata orowumini and nchemjelemorabiku(literally “children born to die”).These spirits are so powerful that they may exert great influence on man both in his earthly life and hereafter, a precarious vision which induces the people to weave covenants with the good spirits of the sky, water and land in order to ward off the malevolent (Kalu, 2001:238).
This has raised serious concerns among some African (Ikwerre) scholars and theologians, leading them to argue for the expression of the gospel message within the African analytical system; a view point supported by many African scholars and theologians (Kwesi Dickson 1984; Benezet Bujo 2006; Wotogbe-Weneka 2007). Wotogbe-Weneka insists that there is the urgent need to express the gospel message using “African spectacles” in order to make “the Christ event” meaningful to Africans. The wider implications of all this are enormous for the Ikwerre Bible project and hymnals. It points to the significance of translating the Bible into Ikwerre language so that many Ikwerre people can access the original sources of Christian revelation mediated through African traditional terminology and ideas. Then Jesus Christ can be discovered through faith inIkwerre as an alternate power as the Ikwerre wrestle with their existential problems, rather than throughtheology invented from the West. For it is as Andrew Walls has noted, Christianity has no sacred language, unlike Islam that was fixed and mediated through the Arabic language (Walls, 1995). In Ikwerre, as in many African societies, the God whose name has been hallowed in indigenous languages in pre-Christian tradition was found to be the God of the Bible (Bediako, 1995, 54).
Pre-Christian Ikwerre society was oral; there was no indigenous literary culture. Much of their communication was coded in myths, legends, folktales, artefacts, proverbs, riddles, songs, pithy sayings, symbols and so on. Most of the catechists and Church agents that worked in Ikwerre land were the Saros, Igbo or the Ijaw who were foreign to the territory.Theuse of Ikwerre language in worship and liturgy was discouraged in favour of the Igbo language because in most parts of the Niger Delta, the Union Igbo Bible published in 1913 was used even though most of the people were not Igbos and could hardly understand the Igbo language (Onu 1997, 160); the perception was that the Ikwerre were part of pan-Igbo nation. The catechesis involved learning by rote the Igbo orthography in Sunday Schools and using Igbo primers. For example, as late as 1967 at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Elikahia, an Ikwerre catechist was suspended by an Igbo evangelist for preaching in vernacular Ikwerre (Onu 2005, 253). It was not until the end of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) that the said catechist was reinstated.
Some Africanist have argued that this disrespect, to say the least, for Ikwerre linguistic sensibilities and aspirations in church worship and liturgy has amounted to the “colonization of the mind” or distortion of their religious identity (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991). This is because the gospel message is always shaped by contexts: that is, languages, cultures and identities. As Christianity translates from one national frontier to another it must always contend with the problem of cultural difference or it is condemned to the scrap heaps of superstition. Thus, the principle of translatability is the hallmark of Christian inculturation and expansion, and resistance to it by ecclesiastical authorities would result in crisis of identity, especially at the level of popular religiosity.
On the need for the Union Ikwerre Bible, the Nigerian Bible Translation Trust in collaboration with Ogbakor Ikwerre in 2003 published some portions of the Bible in Ikwerre: The Gospel of Mark (Izi Oma Maki) and Epistle of James (Okwukwo izi Jemisi). The efforts by the Ikwerre Christian Literature Trust (ICLT) headed by Dr Tony Enyia to produce the first complete Bible in Ikwerre have been hampered, however, by challenges and controversies.
The first has to do with the multiplicity of dialects. With a population of nearly two million people, Ikwerre has more than twenty-four dialects, making it unwieldy to standardize (Williamson 1991). It was therefore suggested that the Ikwerre of Evo/Apara should constitute the standard form because it is more intelligible and is spoken by many around Port Harcourt, a cosmopolitan centre. A few members of the group disagreed on the grounds that this will subordinate their dialects and eventually lead to their extinction. The members were therefore split down the middle with Dr Tony Enyia leading one faction and the renowned novelist Dr Elechi Amadi leading the other. The result was the production of two parallel versions of the New Testament.Elechi Amadi’s group called their version Tesitamenti Ikne, an “Anglicization” of the New Testament. Consequently, a splinter group emerged and decided to adopt the standard Ikwerre as suggested by Kay Williamson. In their meeting they resolved to adopt an eclectic approach and to jettison all loan words that do not resonate with Ikwerre sensibilities and nuances. The proponents of the group included Mr Emenike Wodi, the Reverend Jonas Wagbara (late), and the Reverend Canon Otonti (late). They published a different version,Baibulu Nfo N’Onu Iwhnurohna (Ogbanjehni Ikhne) in 2005, under the aegis of Ogbakor Ikwerre, a pan socio-cultural group of Ikwerre.
The second problem, according to the Reverend Canon E. N Worlu (2010), fixates on the proper rendering of Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity. Onegroup wanted it translated asenine nso Chiokikeconnoting “holy shadow of God”. Enineis an Ikwerre word that is commonly translated as “shadow of a human being”, or “inner spirit”, or the principle or “the spirit of life”, depending on the tone. In a sense, the shadow is a sign that a person is living, and spirit beings, dead people, or corpses are said to lack shadows. Those who disagree with the translation of the Holy Spirit as enine nso Chiokike argue that only corporeal objects have shadows and since God was imperceptible, he could not have shadow. Others wanted it translated asrenwu nso Chiokike. Reading this, opponents felt it was abhorrent since renwu in some Ikwerre dialects carries the odour of evil spirits and as such contorts the biblical intention.
This is not an isolated case, as instances of it abound. For example, some missionaries in the Sudan, struggling to interpret the “Holy Spirit” found themselves speaking of “clean breath”, which introduces the incongruous ideaof washing, for the people associated cleanliness not with godliness but with washing away dirt. The literal interpretation of the Greek word pneuma stirred a hornet’s nest. To the Zanaki people of Zambia, translating the sentence, “Behold I stand at the door and knock” (NKJV Rev. 3:20) implied that Christ was declaring himself a thief, for in their culture only thieves make the practice of knocking on doors (to be certain no one was in). An honest man will come to a house and call the name of the person inside, and in this way identify himself by voice. The appropriate translation, therefore, would be “Behold I stand at the door and call” (cited in Sanneh 2001, 193). A missionary to the Katanga people of Congo spent years looking for the right translation for “Holy Spirit”. Although there were many words for “spirit” in the local language, none satisfied him because each had a negative connotation or association. Finally, he learned that there was a court messenger known as Nsenka, who acted as a business advocate and intercessor between the people and the chief. It occurred to him that the mediatory role of Nsenkacorresponded to the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology. He therefore adopted the term and turned it to Christian usage in his translation (cited in Kaplan 1995, 13-14). As many scholars have noted, the discovery of the right terms for basic biblical concepts has been one of the most serious difficulties facing evangelists in the field(Togarasei,2009). Misunderstanding or inappropriate regard for subtlety could now and again result in the total misrepresentation of the message they endeavoured to pass on. So there is the need for a translator who is firmly grounded in both the local language and the culture in order to adequately express Christian ideas.
Another word that confronted the Ikwerre Vernacular Bible translators was the rendering of the word “dragon” in Revelation 12:3.Naturally, much of the animals, birds, reptiles, and vegetation of the biblical world are not found in Sub-Saharan Africa and mythical beast such as the dragon has no direct equivalent in Ikwerre mythology. Historically, the dragon is revered in the East, dreaded in the West, but alien to the sub-Saharan Africa. The Bible depicts the dragon as hideous and evil, emitting hot water and fire from its mouth. Bibletranslators sought equivalence in the local dialects but found none and eventually had to settle for the giraffe, known in Ikwerre as Igwuilo. The giraffe has intriguing characteristics as the tallest mammal with the longest neck still living and is found almost everywhere in the savannah and woodlands of the sub-Saharan African region. Its lizard-like shape is also distinctive. So the translators, after an arduous task to find resonances in the dialect, decided to scapegoat the giraffe as Igwuilo-renwu(meaning the evil giraffe or the giraffe of the devil) in order to settle the issue. The scapegoat motif can be traced back to ancient times as part of the sacrificial dynamic with a deity or spirit beings. The ritual community expressed their angst by cursing the animal before sacrificing it or allowing it to roam into the wild to die. The belief was that the scapegoat carried the sins or curses of the community with it thereby restoring the ritual purity the community had enjoyed. However, the word dragon at another place in theNew Testament is rendered asAgwo Okpotokpo ke Nweru Risi Esau(meaning “a big snake with seven heads”) a descriptive form as rendered in theEnglish version. It is a transliteration with which a few members of the Ikwerre Bible Trust disagreed because, unlike the dragon, the snake is a reptile that has no legs and therefore contorts the Bible story.
Notably, the implication of all this for the Ikwerre is justifiable, especially considering the dialectical differences in Ikwerre language, cosmology and spiritual sensibilities. Conceding that translation is a complex and laborious task, translating the Holy Spirit as renwu nsowould be a structural device to deconstruct renwu, removing any evil connotation or association, and to jettison any loanwords in the receptor language. I think that was what the translators of the Ikwerre New Testament had in mind when producing the sub-title Baibulu Nfo N’Onu Iwhnurohna :Ogbanjehni Ikhne. The word Njehni Ikhnein Ikwerre literally means “a new engine” for an automobile or a machine. In this context the translators borrowed the idiom of dunamis: a dynamism, energy, or force that would energize changes or conversion in the lives of the Ikwerre. In other words, the reading of the vernacular Ikwerre is expected to act as a transformative agent in the lives of Ikwerre Christian converts. If this understanding is applied to the Holy Spirit as renwu-nso, the Ikwerre would be able to see meaning in what they believe, and also the power of God to overcome malevolent spiritual forces that afflict humans with sicknesses and misfortune. Ultimately, Bible translation in any language is a translation of other translations (Togarasei 2009, 95).Therefore old symbols can be reinterpreted and given new meanings. What needs to be constant is the faith of the community and its social symbolic actions, not the symbols and words through which they are lived and expressed. This is the principle of dynamic equivalence as advocated by Charles Kraft (2005).Similarly, Andrew Walls has noted that conversion does not mean the total destruction or jettisoning of one’s religious and cultural categories but implies “turning”; that is, what exists in one’s context for Christ (1996).However, despite the publication of some portions of the Bible in Ikwerre, most of the Ikwerre Anglican Churches barely make use of them in their church services. The Reverend Canon Charles Eleonu puts the blame on the lack of literacy in Ikwerre and “the overdose of stranger elements” in Anglican Dioceses in Ikwerre land as a result of urbanization (Eleonu 2010). This, however, does not diminish the imperative for a vernacular Ikwerre Bible, especially considering its salutary effects in galvanizing Ikwerre political consciousness and the making of the Ikwerre nation (Godwin Tasie 1977; Lamin Sanneh 1983; 2001)
This paper has examined the principle of translatability in Christian history and considers it a tensile strength for the cross-cultural diffusion of Christianity not only globally but also locally in Ikwerre land. The appropriation of Christianity by different cultures and ethnicities has given rise to hyphenated Christianities: Indian-Christianity, American-Christianity, and Ikwerre-Christianity, among numerous others. In these places, tribes, ethnicities and nations, the people are engaging and interpreting Christianity to suit their local and cultural contexts. Christian practices and worship have become diverse and Christianity has become a global religion. The cross-cultural diffusion of Anglicanism into Ikwerre was mainly undertaken by Ijaw, Igbo, and saros (ex-slaves from Sierra Leone). In this process they were greatly supported by some Ikwerre indigenes: chiefs, pastors, catechists, interpreters and “Bible women” like Ada Erinwo Wojiewhor of Ibaa.Recently, Ikwerre Christians have been confronted with the challenge of how to translate the Bible using indigenous religious categories. Hitherto, the use of vernacular Ikwerre for preaching and worship was strongly resisted in favour of the Union Igbo Bible which did not resonate with the Ikwerre sensibilities and identity. Andrew Walls cautions that conversion to Christianity does not mean total change but “to turn what is already there in a new direction; turning it in the direction of Christ (Walls 1997, 8).The translation of the Bible into vernacular Ikwerre, rather than being criticized as divisive and one too many, should be seen as semilla verbi – “seeds of the divine word” – or evidence of God’s revelation, or even traces of a distant evangelization by Jesus’ disciples(Orta, 2004, 3).The Ikwerre Anglican churches have confronted this pastoral challenge by exploring resonances with vital aspects of indigenous Ikwerre spirituality to correct the contortions between the Ikwerre converts and Anglican beliefs and practices. The division over the rendering of the Holy Spirit and other loan words is diversionary. The translators of the vernacular Ikwerre Bible should know that translation is a work in progress; there are translations of translations. Africans (Ikwerre) must express their Christianity in such a way that the faith has great meaning and understanding for them within their social location. Indeed, Christianity must become Ikwerre before the Ikwerre become Christians (Peel 2003). As Ikwerre and Anglicans, they demand that the Anglican Church explains to them their destiny, health, and general wellbeing in this precarious vision of the world. This makes the vernacular Bible imperative now that the centre of gravity of Christianity has moved to the Southern hemisphere, especially Africa.
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