One of the greatest philosophers that has ever lived on this planet Earth left us with a lesson that “an unexamined life is not worth living”, while the Igboman encapsulates these facts in his adage which says that “Odi mkpa ana eri ana enyo afo”.
Odenigbo lecture series which was established in 1996 by His Grace Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna is 19 years old this year. So far, we have witnessed 18 lectures in the series and this year which is the 19th is to be delivered by one of us, Rev. Fr. Prof. John Obilor, a lecturer at the Imo State University Owerri. The topic is Obe Jesu: Ofo Ndu, Ogu Ndu.
The primary goal of Odenigbo cultural festival is the promotion and propagation of Igbo Language and Igbo traditional values and the transmission of the gospel message in our own native language and culture. It is the authentication of our Igboness. Odenigbo cultural festival aims at re-awakening of the consciousness of the Igboman to his rich cultural heritage which is fast diminishing. The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri prefers to call it a new life festival. It is a good morning addressed to the real Igbo men and women.
History has it that before the bold introduction of Odenigbo lecture series, the Igbo Language and culture suffered from carefree neglect. The white missionaries who brought Christianity to us, out of ignorance branded everything in Igbo culture as fetish and pagan. This position of the missionaries and our colonial masters got worsened by the attitude of some Igbo elites who furthered the uncanny approach by becoming ashamed to identify with Igbo Language and culture. As a result, our collective identity as ndi Igbo was rapidly heading to extinction.
Describing this ugly situation, a historian friend indicated that the chains of slavery with which the Whiteman came to Africa are no longer on our necks, legs, waists and hands. The chains are now on our minds. That is why some of us still laugh at our people and look down on them and even use derogatory terms on them for being unable to write and speak the Whiteman’s language.
That is why we bear the English names with gifted pride. It is only the Igbos that bear Ebuka and Joseph or Ngozi and Agnes at the same time. Some of us even pride ourselves with double and even triple English names like John Jude Donald or Mary Blessing Victoria. No ones cares about the meaning or the moral import of these names, the joy is that they are foreign names and they make us appear different. We are all victims of this mistake. No thanks to our missionary parents. The Russians are proud of their culture, same as the Chinese, the Germans, French, and Koreans etc. But the Igbo nay African keeps drowning in the ugly waters of self-hate and self debasement.
Even today, when a woman is pregnant, the family is already shopping for two names for the unborn child, John for the English and Ekene for Igbo. The Whiteman does not search for other people’s name for their children. No matter how long a Whiteman lives in our midst, none of the kids will bear Igbo name.
Here in Nigeria, certain people say that English is our official Language but should this Language also be the official Language of our homes? What happened to our indigenous Language – our mother tongue? Some of us are comfortable that we cannot read and write our indigenous language but we are proud that we read and write English, French, and German etc. Odenigbo therefore is a wake up call. It is a warning for us never to go back to the mistakes of our fore-fathers. The alarm is clear and loud enough. The clarion call is for you and for me.
It is important to note that the UNESCO Red Book of endangered Language has long indicated that Igbo Language is dying. For some people this situation makes no meaning. Some others are instrumental to placing our collective Igboness on the danger list. For instance, in 1996 a military governor in Imo State aided by our Igbo brothers and sisters banned the popular Ahiajioku lectures out of a make-believe religious inclination. Fortunately, it was in this same year that His Grace Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna enacted the Odenigbo Lecture series. It could be presumed that the banning of Ahiajioku lectures in 1996 gave rise to the institution of Odenigbo lecture series, a rebranded and religious form of Ahiajoku.
One of the major goals of Odenigbo Lectures is the recovery, re-inauguration and strengthening of Igbo values, ethics and norms. Good behavior and decent life are bedrocks for Igbo life and those should not be allowed to be inundated and swept away by the hurricane of the Western life. Again, Odenigbo lecture is geared towards the resuscitation of Igbo Language which is not much patronized by her owners in their day to day linguistic transactions and functions.
Many Igbos find it difficult to read and write their Language. Therefore Odenigbo Lecture which is written and delivered purely in Igbo Language is designed to inculcate into Igbos the need for writing and reading their Language. Good cultures, customs and tradition are being upheld and exhibited in the two days event beginning from every first Friday to every first Saturday of every September of every year since 1996 till date. Thanks to God we are daily witnessing the fruits of our Labour.
Today, there are as many Igbo organizations with diverse names, Igbo Taa, Suwakwa Igbo etc. Some individuals have single handedly spearheaded some Igbo programs and instituted essay competition in Igbo language while some others have given scholarships to students to study Igbo language and culture in the Universities. Our brothers and sisters all over the world have continued to manifest gifted interest in Igbo language and culture. In far away Maryland USA an Igbo village has been erected by the Igbos. Many publications in Igbo language have followed this interest. Almost every summer for the past ten years the Archbishop has received invitations from our brothers and sisters in Diaspora for lectures in Igbo language.
Last year he was in the USA and this year he is at Torino in far away Italy for a lecture. In almost every part of the world, there is an Igbo community where masses are celebrated in Igbo language. Here at home, various parishes in Owerri and beyond, the addresses to the Bishops on the pastoral visits are now written and read in Igbo language, while most priests and pastors struggle to deliver their sermons in unadulterated Igbo language. Some houses of assembly in the South-South are gearing towards mapping out a day in a week when their session will be in Igbo.
So far this lecture series has continued to come up with thought provoking topics that help the Church in its evangelization mission. The lecturers are selected carefully. The attendance has been encouraging and the Odenigbo Committee has been on top of it all. We can therefore say without any fear of contradiction that so far Odenigbo has done very well. Kudos to the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, his clergy and religious, the entire Catholic faithful of Owerri Metropolitan and indeed all well meaning Igbos all over the world.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu is the Director of Communications/Media Catholic,
Archdiocese of Owerri