The Catholic Church and abolition of Osu Caste System in Igbo land: Locating the problem

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Several efforts have been made by the Catholic Church and concerned stakeholders of Igbo society in South Eastern Nigeria for abolition of Osu caste system to free them from bondage, stigma, odium and to balance the equality of man at different stratum in our contemporary Igbo society as well as consolidate man’s reconciliation with God through salvation of Christ, according to the Christian theology.

Effort made by secularists to abolish Osu Caste system has yielded below 30% positive result due to man’s dogmatic attitude towards a traditional dogma developed for unknown reason. From a secular perspective, the total abolition of Osu Caste system requires a complete westernization of Igbo society at large, but some Igbo traditionalists like Nze Okonkwo of Umunze in Anambra state who promised to end the traditional dogma reneged arguing that its abolition will destroy Igbo language and identity. But from a diplomatic perspective, the total abolition of the Osu Caste dogma that has survived for over six hundred years as a tradition and before the advent of Christianity in South Eastern Nigeria requires clear understanding of the reasons behind the increase of Osu’s discrimination and strategic methods for its remedy through the Catholic Church in Imo State.

From available record, Osu caste system has been with us for over six hundred years even before the advent of Christianity in the East. It originated from the myth of ancient Igbo land when the gods (deities) require human sacrifices for their efficacy (according to Igbo mythology). Nobody can say exactly particular reasons “servers” were needed to assist the Chief priest of various shrines; inside the shrine were the servers who were domesticated to the gods and other group the chief priest might use for ritual practice. The assumed ‘Osus’ enjoyed aura of reverence in their privileged services just like the “Mass Servers” who assist the priest in liturgical services in the Catholic Church. The problem of discrimination the Osus experience today had its root from the propaganda machinery of the Nze na Ozo title holders who regard themselves as cabals of Igbo tradition. Whatever they decide in Igbo custom must be obeyed. They are the traditional cabals who influence and confuse “Dialla” to remain dogmatic and discriminate against Osu. They wield their influence and claim to rebuff with all their razzmatazz any challenge with the political connection at their disposal. They latched discounting propaganda Osus suffer today in Igbo land. How? When the Mazi visit the shrines with his offering as part of his regular religious rites in his traditional religion in ancient Igbo land, the Osu partake in the arrangement of the animals (Goat, cattle, ram, Sheep, and White Cocks) offered for propitiation in the shrine and happily saved his own minute share which “He” domesticate into large livestock in a small land assigned to him by the Chief priest.

Gradually, the Osu prosper with the livestock. Out of “greed”, the Nze na Ozo title holders manufactured scary hoaxes and propaganda against them to demote their statute and constrict them from economic growth by preventing them from engaging into trade of livestock with the Diala. Through their alliance with the chief Priest of various shrines and their traditional Rulers, the Nze na Ozo edged the Osus out from economic development because of their interest toward resource control in Igbo society and at the same time exert their influence directly on the masses with punishment against those who derail their concealed plots.

I had serious arguments with one of the Nze na Ozo title holder who became abusive when I asked him why “Nzes” discriminate against “Osus”. His answer to my questions was abusive. He strongly stressed that any attempt to abolish the Osu caste system will be rebuffed by the Nze na Ozo title holders in Imo State and beyond.

 

He maintained that removing Osu caste system means destroying Igbo tradition and identity. His comments were in support of what the Traditional Rulers of Ibeagwa Ani of Enugu State – EzeUgwu- said. The Traditional ruler saw (as one of the Ozo men) the difficulty of abolishing the forbidden system in Igbo and through a fanatical ideology. In Fact, he explained that the proponents of the abolition would be burnt alive if their initiatives are enhanced. As many researches in Wikipedia have revealed, the Nze na Ozo society is assumed as the highest Magico-religious and social group with the “Top secret” to wield prestige, power and influence in Igbo communities. One becomes a member through various forms of initiations, according to the Jeffrey in his article “The winge Solar disk, or Ibo Ichi Scarification” (1951). As top secret traditional society, they sort for every means for political dominance of the entire Igbo society along with the Ekpe society and the Okonko in Aro, and entirely wield influence over the legislative, judicial and political control; once you take up the traditional title, you become the Igwe (sky) meaning the highest level of Ozo title as the traditional ruler of a particular ethnic igbo clan.

From my observation abolition of Osu caste system will still be difficult through the Catholic Church because the Nze na Ozo title holders are still influencing the confused Dialla while still remain in many parishes of Catholic church with their fanatical attitude against the Osu, a discriminating act that has persisted in Igbo land for hundreds of years. For example, after four hundred and eleven years of slave trade and arrival of the Portuguese in South Eastern Nigeria, the Church Missionary Society established its first mission at Onitsha in Igbo land in 1857. The Team of the mission was led by Samuel Ajayi Crowther who accompanied the British expedition of 1857 headed by Dr. Baikie.

Later Rev. John Taylor was added to assist in the English venture in africa. When the Portuguese in 1884 initiated the Bini method of rulership, the CMS first devoted effort in converting the first influential class- “Nze na Ozo”- who they thought would impose Christianity on their subjects. . The experiment failed because absolute rulership is never significant in Igbo tradition. As custodians of culture and religious tradition who co-ordinate various clans, absolute obedience to their practices is expected of them. Consequently, their fear towards the Osus, slaves, the outcaste and the rejected were despised by the Nze na Ozos and secluded from the Dialas in the church as the same saved reasonable converts but created villages for them because they envisage to create a nucleus of Christians through whom others could be converted; both the Dialas and the outcaste.

As tension and conflict became unbearable due to discrimination caused by Nze na Ozos, the Diala group came to identify the church with their members and shunned their association with Osu (Lemchi 2011).The leadership of bishop Shanahan created a more adoptive approach through school apostolate (Ikenga 1985) which assisted the Catholic missionaries in educating the natives. Soon the “outcaste” responded and large crowd were converted but the Dialas, at first , became skeptical but later embraced the Christian teaching as they saw western education as a means for economic improvement of statute but overshadowed the privileged Osus, through the influence of “Nze na Ozos” who wholeheartedly rejected the Christian religion. The school apostolate created a means to lessening the total social discrimination that exists between the Dialas against the Osus. To Shanahan, it was the first time Osu and Diala were able to sit on the same seat. Thus he stated in his letter of 1912 to Cardinal Gotti of the propaganda Fidei (Emefie, Metu, Christopher 1985);

“Slavery i.e. Osu is still found in Nigeria. For years past we missionaries have wondered how best to eradicate it……… slaves were once publicly marketed, and our Rev. Fathers redeemed them daily to the existent their meager resources permitted. Four hundred of these unfortunates were luring in the emission and it was no easy task to feed, clothe and house them and gradually to instruct them and charge them to a time, as well as all the money of the missionaries were devoted to these few, while thousands of others were completely unheeded. Then the missionaries concluded it was time to effect a change in their method…… the instrument chosen to lift these chains (or Osu slavery ) is the school”(P. 4)

As the mission became established through the Apostolate training, conflict of Osu discrimination became evident in the manner of Diala against the new converts who through the Apostolic program became teachers and Catechists. The Dialas through the same influence of the “Nze na Ozos” grossly usurped power from the oppressed outcaste and gradually edged them out from the religious tutorial role through blackmailing, propaganda, and domineering attitude and thereby preventing them from becoming masters, preachers, priests etc over them. With the heavy propaganda on ground, Bishop Shanahan succumbed to the Dialla’s discriminating pressure to prevent the reactions posing danger to Catholic evangelism as it was evident in another letter he wrote to the propaganda fedei in Rome stressing the position of the Osu and the discriminating attitude found in the church and the need to allow it to prevent disrepute and exclusion from the free born who had the larger numbers of the population (ibd p.86).

Sequel to the initiatives of His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna toward abolition of Osu caste system, other stakeholders of the Protestant churches (like the Anglican Bishop of Okigwe South Diocese, Rt. Rev. David Onuoha) are equally pushing forward and doing away with the indegeneous dogma of discrimination that has become a serious barrier to our co-existence and socialization in our contemporary Igbo Society. In One of his lectures in United State of America, Archbishop Obinna explained that a close reading of Jesus’ indiscriminate relationship with the Jews, Samaritans and the Gentiles and his redemptive concern for each of these human groups from different race opened his eyes, his ears, his inner hearts and his mind to a redemptive concern among our Igbo folks (Emeka,Vincent ,Anayo 2016). He further explained that identifying with all three groups in our racial Igbo family, recognizing the humanity in each sub-group, experiencing and realizing the deep dread, pain and misery borne by individuals in each segment and across Igbo communities, he found himself rejecting, denouncing and renouncing any identification with all three sub-Igbo groups. Again, the Parish Priest of St. Dennis Catholic Church, Bariga, Lagos – Rev. Fr. Joseph Nwanua -explained the stand of the Church on equality of both the Jew and Gentile in Christ from Christian theological perspectives, and the approach towards its abolition should originate from its root as the Osu people come from a particular village and culture. Therefore effort should be made as humans claim oneness of Christ to involve the traditionalists of each individual Osu clan (Chris Irekamba 2015).

The Involvement of the “Nze na Ozo” title holders toward the abolition of Osu Caste system through Groundbreaking programs is my major motives for writing this article. The secret behind the controversy over the abolition of Osu caste system in the church is the presence of the NzenaOzo title holders with their fanatical influence on us – the confused “Diallas”- who professed to be “Christians” inside the church. My Question is, what is Onye Nze na Ozo doing inside the church with his “magico-religious” tradition that is garnished with secret Igbo metaphysical tradition?

To become an “Ozo”in Igbo tradition implies that the initiate will be ‘Nze’ implying “living spirit” and “an ancestor”(Jeffreys, M. 1951), and It must however be recognized that until about 1930, nnukwuOzo had a fourth (and highest) grade of Ozo referred to as Igwe (Sky, god) which only the EzeNri, the spiritual leader of the Ozo system, held. This has however changed with most Igbo communities being led by a senior Ozo holder referred to as Igwe or Eze. Infact, one of the “Ichies” cited in most of the works of Elizabeth Isichie explained that to be an Ozo is to be an “Ezumezu” Man in Igbo Tradition; meaning that the candidate is a complete initiate into a recognized secret (occult) religio-magical group that foster a different tradition that advances spiritual mysteries of Igbo Tradition; a practice that is far from the tenet of the Christian faith. Going by this analysis, it is incredible that most Catholic churches and other Christian denominations in rural communities of Imo state worship with two groups of believers. The first group adheres to the principles and traditions of the apostolic faith and dedicated to its service to God while the second groups are secret traditionalists, the “Balak who propagate the tradition of Balak and the deeds of the sect of Nicholas” with their Occult practices and mystical orientation. This group of Cabals made what Osu Catse system is today a forbidding fruit and influence the faithful and bias the gullible who seek for their salvation in the church to believe in Osu. The Nze na Ozo title holders incubated Osu’s Dogma, nursed it to grow to adulthood and infused them with spiritual virus as a Dogma into the African traditional religion which has infected the entire Diallas in Imo State.I ask again; “ Kedu ihe Onye Nze na Ozo na eme n’ ime Ulo Uka With his Occult Magico-religious mind?” because they are theCabals who influence the confused “Dialla” to remain dogmatic against Osu despite their solemn profess of “Love for one another in Christ”!

“…..it is incredible that most Catholic churches and other Christian denominations in rural communities of Imo state worship with two groups of believers. The first group adheres to the principles and traditions of the apostolic faith and dedicated to its service to God while the second groups are secret traditionalists, the “Balak who propagate the tradition of Balak and the deeds of the sect of Nicholas” with their Occult practices and mystical orientation. This group of Cabals made what Osu Caste system is today a forbidding fruit and influence the faithful and bias the gullible who seek for their salvation in the church to believe in Osu. The Nze na Ozo title holders incubated Osu’s Dogma, nursed it to grow to adulthood and infused them with spiritual virus as a Dogma into the African traditional religion which has infected the entire Diallas in Imo State.”

The complete abolition of Osu caste system in the church requires 1 the involvement of the NzenaOzo title holders on several programs of the Catholic Church organized for the abolition of Osucatse system to spearhead the campaign against the traditional discrimination through strategic pathways for restructuring of various Igbo traditions that contradict the Christian doctrines. The Pathways can be establishment of chivalric bodies like Knight of Nze Chineke, Catholic Order of Nze Chineke, or the Catholic Forum for Christian Nzes where the traditional title holders and other custodians of Igbo culture will represent the Catholic Church as church ambassadors for restructuring Igbo tradition. They will be identified with their new Knighthood regalia. With complete renunciation of Osu, Umeh, and Ohu catse system as their first stage of initiation into this new Catholic Order, this religious Order will serve as opposition party against the fanatical Nze na Ozo of Osu’s Caste discrimination. Another method through which Osu’s abolition could be realized requires 2a complete renunciation of membership of NzenaOzo secret society,forChristians who want to profess the Apostolic faith, as part of their first sacrament of the Catholic Faithor 3Inclusion of Nze na Ozo title Holders as public speakers against social and cultural discrimination in Igbo society through the Odenigbo Lectures since African scholars who are religionists now want to blend African tradition with Christianity.

I expect good reaction to this effect but if anybody decides to write contrary to this articles, I will be prepared to unfold the secret atrocities committed by Nze an Ozo tiles Holders against Osu from the beginning.

 

Professor Nwaocha Ogechukwu FRSA ( uk), FRSAS (uk)
Distinguished Professor of Religious studies
Academician of Social sciences (Florida)
Nominee of Gold Medal in Social Sciences and Humanities (USA)
Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri
+234(0)7052779808

 


 

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