The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

THE ROLE OF THE BIBLE IN THE IGBO
CHRISTIANITY OF NIGERIA
Anthony O. Nkwoka

The Igbo people who constitute one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria and inhabit the south-eastern States of Nigeria received Christianity relatively late. The Church Missionary Society's (CMS) Niger Mission of 27th July 1857 led by Revd Samuel Ajayi Crowther marked the beginning of the Christian enterprises in Igboland. In that team was an Igbo ex-slave and catechist, Mr. Simon Jonas (Ross 1960: iii). As stated in another study, the massive embrace of Christianity by the Igbo People and the speedy retreat of the African gods, has remained a puzzle (Nkwoka 1991). Islam, which arrived in Nigeria in the 13th century and spread to the northern and western states, kept knocking unheeded on the tightly closed religious doors of Igboland until Christianity came and met with an open floodgate of acceptance.

Christianity is a religion of the Book in Igboland. Much of Igbo Christianity may be summarised by the phrase “Is it in the Bible?” The first and to date, the only standard Igbo Bible was translated by Archdeacon Thomas J. Dennis between 1913 and 1917. Archdeacon Dennis was an Anglican clergyman and as a result, this Bible was mainly used by Igbo Anglicans. When I was a boy, the Roman Catholics used to taunt us by offering us “aju,1 to help us carry this Bible on account of its volume (1,075 pages) and also because of the superstition that we would all go blind as non-priests attempting to read what was meant for priests alone. In those days no one might be baptised or confirmed as a young adult without possessing an Igbo Bible and being fluent in reading it. But nowadays all the new denominations from “non-Christian” “messianic, revivalistic, and nativistic” Sabbath Churches (Kalu) to the most vibrant Pentecostal Churches, and in some cases even the Roman Catholics use the Archdeacon Dennis' Igbo Bible.

____________________
1
Aju is a cushion-like object made from old soft clothes or banana leaves used for carrying loads on the head in Igboland.

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