“Hoputara Onwe Unu, Onye Unu Ga Na Efe”…”Select for your selves who you would worship”
Growing up a Chiist was hard. In Nigeria, my high school had a Reverend Sister as the school principal. I was 14 -years old, living on campus, and away from the safety of my family. I loathed the school with fervor! Because of my Chiist faith, I was singled out for derision. I was ridiculed as a “sinner” and had countless sad days of having few if any buddies. In front of the morning school assembly, the school principal shaved off my hair. The students laughed as the Reverend Sister took her time to share her disdain for me and my father, the “black devil” who demanded that Africans had the right to go to Chineke the way they understood best…within the context of our African traditions.
Living in the dormitory was nightmarish. I have committed to memory incidents of summons to the senior girl’s dormitory for disparagement. They were notorious for their religious zealotry. These members of the SU (Student union) spat on me, and forced me to kneel before them while they took turns calling me horrid names. These “Born Agains” took delight in taunting me and sternly reminded me of my date in hell with the devil. I did not understand why people who believed in Chineke could be so angry. If Chineke did not want me to pray the way of my ancestors, would not Chineke be the one to mettle out the punishment?
…They did not want me to call God “Chineke”
…but why is that word a part of our language? Did Christians, Muslims, Jews or who gave us that word?
…It is heathen
…the word or the meaning?
…the people and their word.
I was truly befuddled. And yet, it was during those difficult days that I found my courage, and grew closer to Chineke. I learned an African spiritual song that helped me to overcome adversity…“Atula Egwu nwata atula egwu, n’ihi Chineke nke na edu gi bu dike…Fear not for Chineke who directs you is powerful!
I learned to smile when mocked. “Omenala awughi ihe ojo” (Tradition is not a bad thing) I would say proudly… Soon some students became curious about me. I would tell them stories my parents told me about how powerful our ancestors were and how they created many great things in the world. I told them how Chineke loved us as Africans, because Chineke created us too and to love Chineke, we must show gratitude for all the blessings of culture, tradition, race and ancestry. I cherish the inner light that I saw gleaming out of eyes who have embraced the realization that there was nothing odd about me. I was simply stating the obvious…we are all Chineke’s children…even those on the shores of Africa.
Over the years I have come to be grateful for what I experienced. The discrimination has not changed drastically within the African community. Fearful Africans continue to seek to marginalize those who refuse to conform to the foreign religions on our shores. Christians kill Muslims and vise versa. Whereas Chiists do not begrudge any religious traditions, we demand the right to practice our own without bitterness and quarrels. We see no need to kill people to have them adopt our way as the only way that the goodness and mercies of Chineke can be invoked.
“Nwata kwo aka ya, ya na okenye erie nri.” …“When a child washes his or her hands, he or she dines with the elders” This is a reminder that to be on equal playing field, you must accept yourself, culturally, spiritually and intellectually. You must bring something to the table. As Chiists, we sit at the table with the rest of the world proudly proclaiming that we are good enough, spiritual enough to connect to Chineke…directly with pride and dignity. We applaud our commitment to the preservation of vestiges of our culture; irrespective of wanton resistance. I welcome the challenge because I know the greater world community appreciates the audacity of self preservation. Like leafless trees waiting for morning, something as great and as constant as the Earth holds us up and turns us ever so slowly toward the light of Chineke. Our task is only to be entrenched and enduring.
Time and again, we are asked to outlast what we fancy and anticipate, seeing what’s there. Most of our life experience bears this out. Unless we labor to be ourselves, we can by no means accurately know others or the mystical world we subsist in. Chineke is enough. I am fine.