Impact Of Christianity On The Cultural Values Of Esan People

Project and Seminar Material for Theology and Biblical Studies

Impact Of Christianity On The Cultural Values Of Esan People


Abstract


The role of religion particularly the Christian religion in the development process of a society has continued to be a subject of study. Some people think that religion contribute positively to the well-being of the society, while others think it has negative effects. In Esanland, some people that are knowledgeable in the culture of Esan see religion as “Opium of the people”, this simply means that the Christian religion has negative influence on the development and cultural values of Esan people. This study aim at the impact of Christianity and western culture on the cultural values of Esan people. Particular attention was given to Eguare and Emaudo-Ekpoma, both in Esan West Local Government Area. It also shows that the traditional Esan society was a well ordered society, with a viable social structure, social institutions and cultural values before the advent of Christian religion and western culture. Historical-analytic method was adopted for the study. Two Hundred respondents were randomly selected within the Local Government Area for the study. Data for the study were collated through the use of self-developed questionnaires. The study also adopted the theoretical framework of Prudential Personalist Ethics theory of Benedict Ashley who was a 20th Century American theologian and philosopher. The result of the study showed that the impact of Christianity and western culture on the Esan people were both positive and negative. It is recommended that the Christian witnesses and missionaries should establish relationships of respect and love with those men (to whom they witness), they should acknowledge themselves as members of the group in which they live, and through the various undertakings and affairs of human life, they should share in their social and cultural life. The study concluded, that long before the advent of Christianity into Esan land, the traditional society has already been structured to reflect socio-cultural status. There were such socio institutions that serve the purposes of Integration and sustenance. Such institutions also promoted the well-being of the society.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Before the advent of Christianity into Esanland in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Esan society was a well organised society with a viable social structure, social institutions and cultural values. The Esan people occupy the Edo Central Senatorial District of Edo State Nigeria. It is made up of five (5) Local Government Areas viz:- Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North-East, Esan North-West and Igueben, with Ekpoma, Irrua, Uromi, Ubiaja and Igueben as Headquarters respectively. It is made up of thirty (30) clans; Ekpoma, Egoro, Opoji, Irua, Ewu, Uromi, Ugoha, Ubiaja, Ukhuesan, Emu, Ohodua, Ewatto, Ewosa, Ewohimi, Ekpon, Ebelle, Okalo, Amahor, Iria, Ugun, Ujiagba, Ogwa, Igueben, Ugbegun, Idoa, Uzen, Orowa, Udo, Onogholo and Ukhun (Okogie 29).

The people had a religion with certain basic beliefs similar to those of the Christian religion. They believed in an Almighty or -Overall God (Osenobua) to whom worship was given through the minor communal household gods known as ebo (Donatus Akhilomen 12). Ebo, divinities or gods who were worshipped by the traditional Esan society were only approached as intermediaries between Osenobulua, Supreme Being and them (the people). ‘They act for Him in the theocratic government of the world’ (Alli 45). As they,s the ebo were brought forth by Osenobulua, Supreme Being Himself, they have no absolute existence or authority. They were appointed and are commissioned by him to serve a purpose. Hence, their authority and power is derived from Him and delegated by Him. This is why in Esan, every act of worship or ritual has an ultimate reference to Osenobulua the Supreme Being who in turn sanctions it.

Apart from this, the traditional Esan society cherished their cultural values such as family unit or communalism, respect for elders and constituted authority, ancestral worship, to mention but a few. All of these were strictly adhered to as their guiding principles. This was the position in Esan when Christianity and western culture began to make inroads. The coming of Christianity with its civilizing influence has greatly affected the cultural life of Esan people. This impact has been greatly felt in the economic, political, educational, medical and in the overall cultural life of the people. In essence, it could be said that the presence of the Christian Church stimulated the socio-cultural development of the Esan people. These are, in spite of the deficiencies of the early Christian missionaries (who could not distinguish between the culture of Europe and the principles of Christianity). Those aspects of the Esan cultural values that were not in the best interest of the people (according to the missionaries) had to give way or abolished.

One could say here, that, it might be one of the reasons why in the mid-nineteen seventies, there was a constant call for the revival of culture in Nigeria. Every ethnic group in Nigeria was encouraged and motivated to revive the apparently dormant cultural values of its peoples. General Yakubu Gowon, a former Head of State, said at the fourth National Festival of Arts in 1975, that some people had wondered whether the aim of cultural revival was to abandon all modern amenities and conveniences and return to pre-historic times, or whether it was to raise a new religion which would replace the existing ones. He maintained that such views were wrong since Cultural Revolution is not synonymous with cultural bigotry (Kato 4). Nwafor Nduka, argues that Cultural Revolution or emancipation does not mean a call to return to the past. What he is saying is that there are much of our past that are no longer relevant to the society today and therefore, should be discarded (vi), but those that are relevant should be revived and reserved. This is because much of our past is no longer relevant to the society today. Matthew Omo-Ojugo, agrees with Nduka when he said that, Edo State and Nigeria have excellent cultural values which should be revived for the survival of our society and for our people to compete meaningfully wzith other societies in the world in the 21st century and beyond. He added that there are, however, some traditional and cultural traits which must be discarded because they are no longer relevant in civilized societies (2). According to Nduka, “we are culturally under-developed; therefore our appreciation of beauty is mundane and almost naive. We instinctively like or dislike what we see. The profound and the intriguing put us off” (7-10). This implies that our cultural values still exhibits the disabilities of adolescents, for, as yet, it has not assumed is final distinctive statures. Therefore, there is need of re-assessment, re-evaluation and development.

If Cultural Revolution is neither a return to the past, nor an introduction of another new religion, then what is it? According to Adrian Hastings, it means “rediscovering the wisdom of the ancestors, revaluing their ceremonies, reawakening their names, renewing their own language” (43). Nduka, opines that, it is; “a more discriminating, inculturating of foreign cultural elements with the indigenous cultural heritage, instead of just selling our cultural birthright for a mess of Western Cultural Pottage” (vi). In a nut shell, culture is an aggregate concept fundamentally characterized by the distinctive spirit, way of life, device for living and attainments of the people. Olive Ponting opines that culture determines how social institutions cultivate and impose behaviour that is communally transmitted from one generation to another. Culture is versatile and includes both material and non-material objects and concepts. It entails the totality of a people’s norms, values, beliefs, codes of socially acceptable conducts, mode of life, religion, philosophy and ideology. It also includes communal informal education and technology (430).

If the above statements are correct, then cultural revival are noble intentions that should be pursued vigorously. Africans generally and Esan in particular, has every reason to seek the revival of their cultural values since their philosophy, value, systems, identity, languages and indeed, all of their cultural values had apparently been threatened with extinction. They had been humiliated, exploited, oppressed, and denied self-determination (Kato 5), and this also applied to Esan people. They had become strangers even in their own land as a result of colonialism by the Europeans.

The white men had conquered them with their culture, and so anything that gave Africans a sign of relief was welcome, while anything that subjected them to the imperialists was resisted. That was why, what seems to be good was marred by those who conducted the crusade against Christianity, “the White man’s religion”,and directed their energies to the persecution of Christians. The Christian religion was rightly or wrongly identified with imperial Europe, therefore, all appeared culturally alienating. Those who felt that Christianity was detrimental to the cultural values of the people wanted a cultural revival without prejudice to the schools, medical facilities, architectural designs, and indeed the benefits of science and technology from Europe. Culture has been defined as the total life style of people. According to Edward Tylor, culture is; ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’(21). Also, culture comprises ideology, including ideas, beliefs and values, technology including skills, crafts, arts and material items; and social organization- including rules, regulations and roles (Hobbs and Blank 84).

In this study, we shall present the cultural setting of the Esan society before the coming of the Christian religion, of particular interest on the fact that the society was a religious one and given these ideas about cultural values, we observed a situation of cultural clash between the Africans and the Europeans at the coming of the Christian religion. A change in any aspect of a cultural value affects other aspects. This is more evident in connection with religion which has been regarded as the heart of culture. The Esan people, however, already had values that they would not give up. They liked some of the things Christianity taught and did, but it was not possible to throw away everything they had so cherished before the coming of Christianity. The result was a conflict of values. Conflict between the traditional Esan values and the Western Christian values. The westerners insisted on the superiority of their culture and religion and demanded a complete abandonment of the traditional Esan values such as their mode of worship, polygamy,communalism et cetera. This was not acceptable to the Esan people. Christians were persecuted, and on many occasions taken to court at Ubiaja (interview with Chief Samuel Omofumaat Ukpoke-Uhiele on June 5, 2016). The Esan people who accepted the Christian religion, did so mainly because of the benefits they would get from the civilizing influence of Europe. Their conversion was superficial; there was no deep commitment to the Christian religion. However their life-style was bound to change. Those cultural practices that were not in agreement with the new religion had to be completely dropped or modified (Ayandele 243). For instance, people were made to change their traditional names which expresses their philosophy and religion to Western names at conversion even without knowing the meanings. Those who answered traditional names on conversion to Christianity, changed them to Christian names particularly at baptism. Some who even answered meaningful traditional names considered a change necessary to march with the demands of the new religion. This trend almost destroyed the value in names as people abandoned meaningful names that expressed their cultural philosophy, religion amongst others. (interview with Omofuma at Ukpoke, June 5, 2016).

Some Esan people however resisted changing their names and have ever since not been any less Christians. A good example is the researcher whose father did not change her tradition name at baptism. Till today, she bears her traditional name. Apart from these, the Esan people’s cherished culture such as respect for elders, communal life, ancestral worship amongst others were distorted in the name of western civilization which was encouraged by the Christian faith.

Service Elman, affirms that, “the human race is proceeding toward greater and greater homogeneity-racially, culturally, and linguistically” (xiii). Regrettably, Elman noted that, through this process of homogeneity, many of the world’s ancient cultural values had disappeared. Elman continued that, while some cultural values are simply dying out or being exterminated, some are undergoing radical changes as they become involved in various kinds of functional relationships with expanding industrial civilization, and others are being ethnically assimilated (xiii). This is sad observation and it is not in the best interest of Africans who are endowed with their God-given cultural values. Some anthropologists have also expressed fear over such findings, such that the disappearance of cultural values has brought a great loss to human knowledge, art, history and science (xiii).

Is it in any wonder therefore, that, a people whose culture is threatened with extermination would seek means of protecting their cultures? They need to be sympathised with. Their predicament is caused in most cases by “the ignorance and sometimes the cruelty with which ‘civilized’ peoples had treated them” (xiii). This situation could be the sad story of the Esan people. They have complained about the apparent extinction of their cultural values including their language. Omo-Ojugo, “Time News” states; “A language is endangered when it is on a path toward extinction. A language is in danger when its speakers cease to use it in an increasingly reduced number of communicative domains and cease to pass it on from one generation to the next. That is, there are no new speakers, adult or children. In Esan today, there are many literate parents, who deliberately use the English language as the only means of communication between themselves and their children at home. Even among illiterate and semi-literate parents, it is becoming something of ‘fashion’ to use adulterated English, Nigerian Pidgin English or a mixture of both Esan and English or Esan and Nigerian Pidgin English, reflecting an apparent diglossie situation in a society that otherwise was homogenous linguistically” (81). There is need for Esan people to revive their language so that Esan language will not go into extinction. In the face of such apparent extinction, what could be the justification of the Esan society playing host to Christianity for these number of years? Could it be that the Christian religion has not done what it was supposed to do in the land? Is it also true that the total cultural values of the Esan people have been threatened with extinction? These and other related issues shall be examined in the course of our discussion.

In this work, we shall present some cultural values of Esan people as it has been affected both negatively and positively by Christianity and western culture. This thesis, therefore examines the impact of Christianity and Western culture on cultural values of Esan, the conflicts between Christianity and culture in Esanland and then proffer possible solutions to the conflict so that future Christian evangelists do not make the same mistake of the early missionaries.


1.2. Statement of the Problem

The common opinion by some knowledgeable and highly placed men and women in Esan is that the Christian religion is a mere “opium of the people”. Karl Marx used this expression to argue that religion functions as an instrument of maintaining stratification systems in society and of keeping the masses under subjection to a few privileged rich. By this position they contend that the Christian religion is detrimental to the development process of the Esan society.

The introduction of Christianity to Esanland was viewed as a threat to the old order and was therefore strongly resisted by the Chief Priests of the various traditional religions who were supported by village elders. It is not surprising that, most of the pioneer Christians in Esanland were persecuted in their attempt to win converts (Kio-Apori 63). The implication of this position is that, the Christian religion has no positive effect that it can offer to the cultural values of the Esan people. Such a negative view of the Christian religion in Esanland fails to recognize the contribution that Christianity has made in the areas of education, commerce, health, housing, politics, economy, social services, among others. These improvement have been a direct result of the coming of the Christian religion with Western civilization and culture. Instead of recognising this, these antagonists contend that in spite of the number of years that Christianity came to the land, its impact has been very minimal on the cultural life of the Esan people.

If these submissions are proved to be correct, they will have devastating effects on the Christian religion in Esan society. It is the burden of this essay therefore, to assess the impact of Christianity and Western culture on the Cultural values of Esan people. This task is carried out with the consciousness that whereas there is a difference between the Christian Religion and Western culture and civilization, on one hand, it is impossible to separate one from the other in the context of our present discussion. The reason is that Christian religion came into Esan on the wings of Western civilization and colonialism.


1.3. Objectives of the Study

The overall aim of this study is to critically examine the impact of Christianity on the cultural Values of Esan people. The specific objectives of the study, therefore, are to:

  1. Examine the negative and positive impact of Christian religion on the cultural values of the Esan people;
  2. Establish that the traditional Esan society was a well ordered, with a viable social structure, social institutions and cultural values before the advent of Christian religion and Western Culture;
  3. Prove that Esan people are not atheists: they were not irreligious, that religion guided their total life before the coming of Christian religion; and
  4. Make useful recommendations in addressing the conflict between Christian teachings and Esan cultural values.

1.4. Research Methods

This study relies on primary and secondary sources of information. It made use of historical and evaluative methods of research.

For the primary sources, copies of questionnaire were administered to respondents and key informant interview (K.I.I) was conducted among Esan people in order to get up to date data. The instrument used was the random sampling method. For the secondary sources, relevant materials such as journals, articles, books and other resources were consulted. The lack of ample literature in the subject area has made key informant interview and the use of questionnaire compelling and inevitable. It is expected that an objective historical and evaluative study of this kind would give fresh perspectives on the impact of Christianity and western culture on the cultural values of Esan people.

Theoretically, this study adopts the Prudential Personalist Ethics theory propounded by Benedict Ashley, which is basically teleological in nature, but different from emotivism and voluntarism or deontologism. “Prudential Personalist Ethics stresses that the “ends’’ of human action are always persons and the community of interrelated persons responding to each other” (173). This ethical model is qualified Prudential because this indicates the practical goal-seeking character and even the situational or contextual character of this ethics. Personalism advocates that morality is not solely a matter of obeying abstract rules, but to intelligently seek appropriate, concrete behaviour by which an individual achieves personal goals. According to Anthony Flannery, “the value of the law or rule is not denied, but the emphasis is on the fact that what makes such law obligatory is their helpfulness in guiding prudential decisions to successful goal-achievement’’ (955). The goals that are morally right for a human being are such that are determined by the nature of the human person and human action. Thus, this Prudential Personalist model of ethics is not based on intuitionism or idealism of any sort since its principles are derived from human historical experience, especially the experience of perfect human actualization (John Onimawhawo “Youths and Moral”16). Ashley claims that this ethics is called ‘’personalism’’ because it evaluates human goals and the means to these goals in terms of the self actualisation or fulfillment of the human person in the community (173). In Prudential Personalism, therefore, the consequences of any human act must be assessed not in terms of immediate pains and pleasures or even in terms of other immediate qualitative values but must have bearing on the actualization of the human person in relation to other persons (17).

In the debate on ethical issues, that ethical decisions are always taken within the context of some value system is an obvious fact. In considering any ethical debate within a historical-theological context, we need a paradigm which will help us make our conclusions not only consistent with historical-theological norms, but also that which takes into account the value systems of others. This is why this work adopts Prudential Personalism ethical model in evaluating the impact of Christianity and western culture on the cultural values of Esan people. It is an ethical model whose logic goes beyond those who take their stand on absolute principles or authoritative laws and those who argue only for pragmatic solutions. Therefore it is when Prudential Personalism logic is employed that we shall be able to achieve a synthesis of extreme positions on Christian religion and western culture on cultural values of Esan people.

In this study, a historical-analytic approach based on Prudential Personalism ethical model was adopted. With the historical approached, we were able to discourse, explain and analyse critically the negative and positive impact of Christianity and western culture on the cultural values of Esan people. The evaluative method of research was employed to achieve the overall aim and specific objectives of this study. The study, therefore, examined the impact of Christianity and western culture on cultural values of Esan people, using the Prudential Personalist Ethics theoretical framework to ascertain the significance of the solution proffered to harmonise the two cultural differences. This theory was considered basically because of the moral and cultural values highlighted in the work. It is an ethical model whose logic goes beyond abstract rules; it is to intelligently seek appropriate, concrete behaviours by which human personal goals are achieved.


1.5. Location of Study

Esan is made up of 30 clans and it is located in the northern part of the forest regions. It occupies longitude 5o 301 7o 301 and latitude 5o 301 north and 7o 301East of Benin (Olayinka 12-33). The area is bounded in the north and northeast by Akoko-Edo Local Government Area; on the south by Ika Local Government Area; on the west by Owan Local Government Area. It occupies an area of about 2,987.52 kms (Okogie 2).Before the colonial period, there were rigidly fixed geographical boundaries. The areas expanded and contributed under various political and social-economic circumstances which reflected possible strength and weaknesses of the period. The boundaries were often along roads and demarcated by geographical and environmental features such as hills, rivers and streams. Iyala or moat demarcated an in-group from out-group of Esan settlers (Okoduwa 1).


1.6. Scope of Limitation of Study

This study is poised to explore the impact of the Christian religion and western culture on the cultural values of the Esan people. The area of concentration is basically in these five (5) Local Government Areas viz:-Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North-East, Esan North-West and Igueben Local Government Areas, all in Edo State. These areas have been selected by the writer because the writer is well abreast with these areas and quite conversant with the custom and cultural values of these areas.

In the course of the study, the researcher had financial and transportation constraints due to the deplorable situation of the roads in Esanland and such could not move round all the Local Government Areas; therefore, could not access those to be interviewed in such areas personally except through the questionnaires distributed with the assistance of some members of my church. Also managing my family as a widow with my job and the state of my health was quite demanding during the course of this study.


1.7. Clarification of Terms

Some key terms will be defined and explained for purpose of clarity. They include: Christianity, Culture, Value and Esan.

1.7.1. Christianity

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheist religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ who served as the focal point of the Christian faith. It is the world’s largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers or 33% of the global population, known as Christians.It is one of the most popular religions through the western world. Members of the religion are called Christians. It is a monotheistic religion, meaning it has only one God (Encyclopedia; Monotheistic Religion.Web 5th Febuary 2016). It is also the act of voluntarily accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and saviour and as such become his disciple who learns and behaves like him. In respect of this study, Christianity shall be referred to as religious activities carried out by religious people with the aim of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As an adjunct to the above considered definition; I have put forward my own definition of Christianity. Christianity is a term that refers to the beliefs espoused by various group of churches that derive their doctrines from the teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles. The most important thing for Christians is love and charity towards all manners of men. Christians group sometimes differ in traditions that come to surround their practices of faith. The expression of the basic tenets as indicated above is a unifying factor that shapes the outlook of Christians.

1.7.2. Culture

From the beginning of a person’s life to when he goes to the grave he is regulated by certain creations of man called culture. In spite of the fact that all anthropologists’ agree on the importance of the concept culture, yet no particular definition has a universal acceptable definition. Different definitions are given depending on the persuasion and perspective of the proponent. It must be noted here that men of letters have usually adopted a descriptive and practical approach in their effort to define culture. According to Paul Mussen, culture is; “a body of stored knowledge, characteristic ways of thinking and feeling, attitudes, goals and ideas” (Mussen 62). Edward Taylor defined it as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (21). John Fichter a sociologist has also concisely defined culture as: “the total configuration of institutions that the people in society share in common” (270). OnyerisaraUkeje summarized all the above mentioned definitions as an all-embrasive sort of descriptive definition when he said:

In general therefore, culture may be defined as the fabric of ideas, beliefs, skill, tools aesthetic objects, methods of thinking, of eating and of talking as well as customs and institutions into which each member of the society is born. In short it includes the way each individual makes a living the music he plays, celebrations and festivals, modes of communication and transportation, the house we live in and the food we eat. (3)

From the definitions we have attempted from above, it is very clear that culture is descriptive and complex concept with wide-ranging and comprehensive connotations and significance. It is also clear that culture refers to the way of life of a people-away of life that reflects their distinctive genius and spirit, their fundamental character or ethos, their values orientations, world-view, institutions and achievements in the various fields of human endeavors-Legal and literary, artistic and scientific, religious, philosophical and technological (Leonard Broom and Philip Selznick 50-51). Therefore, culture is an aggregate concept fundamentally characterized by the distinctive spirit, way of life, device for living and attainment of people.

1.7.3. Values

Values are important and lasting beliefs or ideas shared by the members of the society about what is good. Levi Ezeaku defines value as norms which refers to a set of ideas and of opinion commonly held against which member’s actions and achievements are measured and evaluated. It is these that determine what is socially accepted (89). Every human society has a set of moral issues, what is good or bad, right or wrong. These notions, which have a great deal of influence on the conduct of the members of that particular society are usually based upon some recognized authority whose sanctions are accepted and obeyed. To some, moral values, sanctions or ethics are derived from human society (Idowu 144). To others, common sense is the source of supernatural source. Whatever the source, moral sanctions have power to compel obedience (146, 152). African society are no exception although, their moral values are not uniform throughout the land. The moral values or codes of behavior are designed to promote good, right and healthy societal living (Dzurgba 60). They are to regulate the behavioral lives of people individually and collectively for peace, concord and social harmony.

The African traditionalist believes that the society belongs to the deity and the various divinities have been given certain duties to perform among their people. They are the final authority over all laws and moral codes regulating such society. He punishes evil not only here on earth but in hereafter as well. To avoid this punishment, the African traditionalists are required to live an ideal life here on earth to secure a sure good home hereafter. Ideal life includes honesty, kindness, truthfulness, chastity, loyalty, kindness, humility, obedience, devotion, respect, generosity, hospitality, justice and such other virtues.

One of the agents of cultural values are parents and elders. They are strictly charged with the up keep of the society, to govern their homes and society at large. It is their obligatory responsibility to keep orders and sanity in the society. They are the guardians of the laws, rules, and order regulating the society; hence they are greatly reverenced (Parinder 179). Others are ancestors, divinities and personal names.

However, due to new African modernism generating from western Christianity, civilization and political emancipation a lot of the valuable cultural values are either reinterpreted or set aside with total ignomity. Prominent conversational acts, taboos and rules of the past are no longer regarded today. However, from historical experiences, and for ideal ethical societies, the African (Esan) people have to rediscover their wealth or values to improve upon the present decadent society.

1.7.4. Esan

The word ‘Esan’ is the shortened form of the original Edo phrase “Esanfua” (which means they jumped off’ or they fled or escaped) (Omokhodion 1). It is generally believed that due to the oppressive measures put in place by the Oba of Benin in the 14th century AD, the people, who later came to settle in this part of the State ‘escaped’ or literally put, ‘jumped out’ from Benin kingdom and fled into the jungle. Today, those who descended from them are called the Esan people.

Geographically, Esan is located on a plateau of about 134 miles above the sea level. This Esan plateau rises from river Orhiomo in Esan East Local Government Area and it is drained by river Utor, Orie, Obhu and Oha, including Iyagun stream, Utobo stream and a few other minor streams. The group of people referred to today as Esans can be found to the North-East of Benin. These people form the bulk of the people in the former Esan division of the Benin province. On the North-West and North of Ishan land, there is the Ivbiosakan land (owan) and Etsako Divisons while on the South and South-East you have the Western Ibo, the Agbor and Asaba people. On the East, it is boarded by the River Niger and Igala people (Omokhodion 1). Today Esan division is divided into five Local Government Areas, namely; Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North East, Esan East and Igueben Local Government Areas.

The Esans possess a well-defined social political structure in which the family plays vital roles as its unit generates dual social and moral systems (Akhilomen 12).Akhilomen contributed that, Esans as a people had a democratic and egalitarian system of government before the advent of the Europeans. The families form the bases for social unity and thereby exerts great influence on its members. Members consult one another before major decisions was taken. The Onogie directs the political wheel of the community, while the Odionwele functions at the level of Idumu or quarter to ensure that administration is run smoothly (12).


1.8. Organization of the work

This study is divided into five Chapters.

The first chapter is the introductory chapter. It deals with the statement of the problem of the research, the aim and objectives of the study, Research methodology, location of the study, scope and limitations of study, clarification of terms, and organization of works.

Chapter two gives the review of related literature of some Scholars on Esan people history of origin, occupations, traditional religion, social structure and major institutions of the Esans. With these, one was able to appreciate the organisation of the traditional Esan society.

In Chapter three, we examine the cultural values in Esanland. In this regard, a brief definition of the concept of culture was given.

We also examine how the economy and religion of the Esan evolved. This was to show that, the Esan society was richly endowed with values that enhanced its integrating and survival before the advent of Christianity into the land. A brief history of the advent of Christianity into Africa, and Esan is given in Chapter four. The Chapter also focuses on the spread of Christianity in the land of Esan, such advent and spread were not without conflicts.as is the case when there is clash of two forces, there was a conflict between the Christian church and the cultural values of the Esan people. This is carefully evaluated in this chapter. The impact of the Christian religion on the cultural values of the Esan people was also discussed. Each cultural value is carefully examined to see how Christianity has affected it. A further look is also taken at what role the Christian religion has played in the religious, social, educational, and economic development of the Esan people.

Chapter five focuses on the evaluation, summary, findings, contributions to knowledge, conclusion and recommendations.


Chapter Five


5.1. Evaluation

Elizabeth Wilkins was right when she said “social structure is not static although the actual form which it takes may remain constant over a very lengthy period and any changes which takes place within its framework will only have a very gradual effect on the structure itself” (43). This is very true of the Esan society. The simple social structure with the village council at its apex and the lineage and family down the ladder have given away to a highly stratified society today. Yet, it has maintained its form.The simple subsistent farming population of the Esan have since grown beyond that stage. Elame Service describes traditional societies such as the Esan. According to him, “the economic division of labor is by age and sex, the family is the productive unit Egalitarian relations between segments are fostered by the reciprocal exchanges of goods as gifts” (4). As we have seen, the coming of Christianity and its civilizing influence has brought about certain changes. Education has created means of social mobility at least in 3 ways; upwardly, generationally as well as career-wise. Those who have been moved upwardly have moved from lower to upper classes. Generationally speaking, peoples achievements can now be measured in comparism with their parents and great differences are noticed. There are also those who as a result of their career have had to move up or down in the course of the years.

On the whole, the Christian religion has had tremendous positive influence on the culture of Esan. There has been changes in the traditions and customs of the people. For instance, the Arebhoa or Arewa custom has since been abandoned. Christian teaching on the biblical views about marriage and the civilization and education that came with Christianity has enlightened the women to reject such debased treatments that reduced them to the statue of harlots. The observance of traditional sacred days have since been discovered to be not only a religious disaster but also an economic waste. Many man-labors are lost on those days as people are restricted from doing any labor. There is thus a reduction in production and sources of income.

Sacred places, objects and shrines that were awe-inspiring have been discovered to be empty. They are now understood to be only symbols. The substance reality deserves more respect and honor. So, many people have turned the regard they used to have for those things to the most High God. Also, there has been flexibility as against rigid position in the worship of deities and traditional shrines as was maintained in the past. For example, worship of deities and traditional shrines were by compulsion or coercion but that is no longer the case for Esan people as worship of these deities is now as of choice.

The rate of diseases and death have been greatly reduced because of the presence of medical facilities. Traditional medicine men have lost most of their customers to the church and orthodox medicine. Sickness and diseases have been seen from their proper perspective. Indeed, the Christian religion has socialized the Esan society.

It should be noted that the mission of Christianity is primarily spiritual, aimed at changing men and not structures. Christianity is not expected to accomplish its task through politics or violence. That is why those who think that Christianity has not done much for Esan in terms of infrastructures, should re-examine their position. Melvin Hodges compared the situation in the Roman Empire at the inception of Christianity to any culture where it goes. He said, ‘certainly, the Roman empire with the dictatorship of the Caesars’ presented a sad picture of political and social oppression. Slavery was everywhere. Yet both Paul and Peter urged obedience to the governmental powers (Romans 13:1-7;1Peter 2:13-15)’(87). When the lives of people are influenced and changed there will definitely be changes in the society. That is also true of Esan as we have noted earlier. Christianity has changed people and so there are changes in the society for the better.

In as much as we recognize and appreciate the tremendous positive impact the coming of Christianity has had on the Esan cultural value, it must be noted that there are also areas of short comings or negative impact.Every religion without exceptions, is the product of a particular culture. It is therefore unfair to impose a culture on others in the name of religion. That was what the early Christian missionaries did in Esan. They failed to appreciate the values of the Esan culture. In their zeal to convert the people from their traditional religion and customs they disdained all their practices. Adrian Hastings admits frankly that Europeans in general and European missionaries in particular ‘‘admitted little of any culture of value in Africa, just as many had denied that it really had any religion… other than fearful superstitions’’ (37). Oliver Onwubiko agreed in this regard when he said;‘‘Some results of this negative approach were the retardation of the development of god African culture on is total elimination, the undermining of parental authority, the weakening of traditional sanctions and the creation of divisions within the African society’’ (215). What Onwubiko said about African culture is particularly true of the Esan culture under review. One has to be in the society to appreciate how some cultural values have been recklessly abandoned. Some of the things that would not be accepted in the traditional society have become things winked at. For instance, unchastity that attracted serious sanctions and penalties have been tolerated because of the seeming liberty given by modern civilization and enlightenment.

In the traditional Esan society there was nothing like an individual’s consciousness of his distinct personality from those of the other members of the community. Each individual cherished and lived the life-in-community. In that direction, Levy-Bruhl’s observation aptly applied. ‘‘For the man of even the most primitive societies, maintenance of his own being, the original and immediate expression of his need to live , includes safeguarding the existence of the social organisms to which the individual belongs in the full sense of that term: he feels that his own being persists only if the social organism resists destruction. His own continuance is neither separable nor distinguishable from that of the social organism’’ (qtd. in Acquaviva86).

This has become a thing of the past. Individualism has taken over the communal attachment of people. The best one can find today in our (sense of) communalism is a limitation to one’s family or village. This is why people are now more personal and selfish. The advent of Christianity enhanced the sense of communalism to some extent. People were taught to love one another, particularly those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). This is followed by the Christian teaching of ‘‘come out from among them and be ye separate’’ (2 Corinthians 6:17) which call for segregation. Those who become Christians therefore began to keep away from ‘‘unbelievers’’. They slung only to those of the household of faith, Christian religion then, brought an unintended result of what one could call segregated communalism, more than that, it promoted a sense of individualism. The cultural value of life in which the community comprehend the individuals, support and surrounds him with a cocoon of relationships from the living to the ancestors was therefore significantly affected.

Respect for elders and constituted authority has been an important value among the Esan people. However, with the coming of Christian religion with its western culture, this value has made Esan society seriously lose this value in the name of rights and freedom which allows young people to do anything they like without regard for the aged rather have more regards and respect for social age (the affluence or the wealthy people), that is anyone who is able to attain any status either by education or achievements is highly respected as earlier noted above. Some of the traditional method of greeting have almost disappeared. It is a common sight now that young people address their elders by their very name. All of these are due to the influence of the western culture and the education that it brought thereby disrupting the Esan value of respect for elders and constituted authority.

Some of the traditional music of the Esan people which were cherished and talked about some historical events of the people were relegated to the background and as such were forgotten and lost as a result of Christianity. This was so because the missionaries infused their own music and selected the music of the Esan people which they felt were appropriate and right as against those historical music of the Esan people. In so doing, some historical events of the Esan people have been forgotten which could have been easily ascertained through these traditional music.

In the area of names,Esan names were used to buttress competency, identity, and mastery of life or situations. They are interpretations of situations and give insight into the future. The coming of Christianity has made those who answered traditional names on conversion to Christianity change them to Christian names particularly at baptism. Some who even answered meaningful traditional names considered a change necessary to match with the demands of the new religion. This trend almost destroyed the value in names as people abandoned meaningful names that expressed their philosophy, religion among others for European and foreign names that they did not even know what they mean.

Christianity brought about Western education which inculcated the English language among the Esan people. Flowing from this, there are many literate parents who deliberately use the English language as the only means of communication between themselves and their children at home against the traditional Esan language. Even among illiterate and semi-literate parents, it is becoming something of ‘fashion’ to use adulterated English, Nigerian pigin English or a mixture of both Esan and English, or Esan and Nigerian pigin English reflecting an apparent diglossie situation in a society that otherwise was homogenous linguistically. So therefore, most children born into Esan society can barely speak Esan language fluently let alone communicate in Esan language which has adversely affected the cultural value of Esan society.

The early Christian denominations did not favor indigenization of either their religious practices or ministers. Their policy was that of maintaining control over the churches. This did not augur well for the churches. It made adherents remain strange and evoked the rise of nationalist reactions from the African Christians. In Esan, as in other parts of Africa, there was a lack of total commitment on the part of the ‘Christians’. To them Christianity was to be accepted because of the benefits of education and civilization it carried along. The true essence of the Christian gospel reconciling people to God was not there. In this regard, Osadolor Imosogie observation is very relevant to the Esan Christians. According to him, ‘‘the observed lack of total commitment of the average African Christian to Christ is due to the lack of ‘fit’ between Christian theology and Africa life. This lack of fit is, in turn, due to this same failure of western orthodox theologian to take African world views into consideration in their theological formulations’’ (12).

This lack of commitment is responsible for these Christians resorting to traditional religious practices in time of crises. People were not truly committed to God and so they had no serious trust and confidence in His deliverance and protective powers. According to Chief Akhuatie, when there were communal clashes in Esanland, most people ran to native doctors and medicine men for protective charms. The same is true in times of sickness or any disaster in families or individual lives.

It has been said that, the Esan believed in faith-healing. Although this was done through the traditional perspective, yet all the elements that one would expect in the Christian explanation of faith healing process were there. For example, there were the elements of prayer, faith, objects of faith and even means. A brief summary of the Christian perspective of the Christian perspective of faith-healing will help us to clarify the point.

There are several accounts of healing of people who were sick all through the bible. In the Old Testament, we find some of these healings. In some cases, in respect of the Old Testament, it is not very clear whether medical means were used or not. The general tendency is to attribute them to divine intervention. A few example may suffice.
In Numbers 12:1-15 there is a record of the murmurings of Aaron and Miriam against their brother Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. The Lord struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses, however, interceded for her healing. In response to that plea God healed Miriam. In 2 Kings chapter 5, there is the account of the leprous Naaman. The kings of Syria and Israel could not help him. He was sent to Prophet Elisha, who gave instructions to Naaman on how to get healed. He was asked to go and wash himself seven times in river Jordan. Even though Naaman initially complained about what Elisha asked him to do, when he was persuaded to obey the prophet, he was healed. There are more instances of healing in the Old Testament. Let this suffice to illustrate our point.

From these, we observe the roles of prayer, faith and intermediary in the healing process of the sick. Casually, a look at the above instances will appear as if the demonstration of faith, which was eminent in the effecting of the healings, was done only by the intermediaries, in the case of Miriam, Moses and in the case of Naaman, Elisha and Naaman’s servants. This is not totally true. The sufferers would have demonstrated some amount of faith themselves. Theirs may not have been as strong as that of those effecting the healings, yet they believed.

Healing in the New Testament are predominantly those performed by the Lord Jesus Christ and some of the apostles. The healing of Christ are recorded in the Gospels, while those of the apostles are in the Acts. Some of these were of individuals, while others were of groups of people. Those healings were effected in several ways, and by different methods. For instance, ‘some were healed at a distance, some with a word but without a physical contact, some with physical contact and ‘means’ … (223).

It’s significant to note that the Lord Jesus used ‘means’ in healing. By ‘means’ here we mean something that enables some purpose to be fulfilled, in this case, healing. One may ask why He chose to use means in the process of healing on some occasions when He could just as well only speak the word to effect healing as He did on other occasions. Probably, He did that to demonstrate the fact that God was not against the use of means in healing. It might, however, be more authentic to suppose that He did that to aid the patient’s faith.

In the New Testament, healing depended on the demonstration of faith. It is on that in almost all the cases of healing done is done by the lord Jesus Christ, none was without demanding the exercise of faith. On some occasions, He deliberately asked the sick, “what do you want me to do for you?” (New International Version Matt. 20:32). The response showed faith, and by faith they were healed.

Others demonstrated faith on their own and were commended of the Lord. The centurion at Capernaum requested the Lord Jesus Christ just to speak the word. The Lord replied in recognition of his faith, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even Isreal” (New International Version Luke 7:9). The woman with the issue of blood exercised great faith she said “if only I touch His cloak, I wiil be healed” (New International Version Matthew 9:21). The Lord’s response was that ‘‘your faith has healed you ’’ (verse 22). The woman was healed.

The Syrophoenician woman was equally commended. She persevered in spite of all odds. The Lord said to her, “Woman, youhave great faith! Your request is granted” (Matthew New International Version15:28). In all of these, their faith brought about the fulfillment of their desires. Conversely, there were those he had to rebuke for their faithlessness. Even the disciples were so rebuked because they could not perform miracles of healing because of their lack of faith. Examples of each of the groups above be multiplied. The significant aspect of each is the emphasis and prominence given to faith. Faith, therefore, was the determining factor in healing. God acted on faith so as to reveal His power. According to Harry Cressey, “it was faith which made whole, which made the difference between the mere creation of an impression and a saving communication of His revelation of God” (61). The faith was faith in God who was the focus.

After the time of Christ, the one of the prominent features of the Christian mission was healing the sick. The Lord Jesus Christ on commissioning His disciples for service was quoted as saying, ‘‘heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leperosy, drive out demons.Freely you received, freely give” (New International VersionMatthew 10:8 and Luke 9:1). So the ministry of healing continued. Indeed, there are several accsounts of healing in the book of Acts. There were the healing of the lame man in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1-11), and that of the lame man in Lystra (Acts 14:8-10) whom Paul “had seen that he had faith to be made well”.

There is also reference made to Paul’s handkerchief (or cloth) taken to the sick who touched it and became well. Peter’s shadow was reported to have healed the sick too (Acts 5:15). James advises that prayer for the sick should be accompanied by the anointing of oil (James 5:13-20). Like the spittle of Christ, the oil may have been recommended as a reinforcement of faith. The same can be said of the handkerchief and shadow. The healing power was not in those things as they simply acted as visible means of reinforcement. It was faith in God that brought the cure and healing.

A comparison of the Christian mode of faith healing and that of the traditional Esan society will show that they both have the following elements: prayer, faith, object of faith, and ‘means’. One would have expected the early Christian missionaries to take cognizance of these and make proper adaptation for more effective results. Rather than doing that, they condemned every African and claimed that the Africans could not conceive God. A careful examination of the Independent and Pentecostal Churches will show that their rate of growth depended to a large extent on their adaptation to the African cultural value. This, however, is based on what the scriptures teach, particularly the Old Testament.


5.2. Summary

This study examines the impact of Christianity and western culturea a on cultural values of the Esan people. The Esan people have a long history with the Benin kingdom as her ancestral home of origin. It was seen that the traditional Esan society where richly endowed with the cultural values before the advent of Christian religion and Western culture in the first decade of the twentieth century. They had a religion with certain basic beliefs similar to those of the Christian religion. They believed in an Almighty or overall God Osenobua to whom worship was given through the minor communal household gods known as ebo.

The Christian religion in having contact with the traditional Esan ignored the cultural values of the indigenous people and imposed upon them their own values which was alien to the people. The result was that although the people cherished the new religion, they did not like to relinquish their own God-given values. As a result of this, there was a conflict of values particularly as the new religion was seen by the traditional Esan people in most cases, cannot meet their essential needs. However, this is not to say that missionaries were out to destroy completely the indigenous cultural values of the people. Since their contacts, there have been some significant development in their religious, social, educational and economic lives. Also there are some remarkable improvements in the standard of living of the people. For example the traditional Esan society which practiced subsistence farming has developed to commercial farming thereby increasing the economy of the people. In the same vain, the formal education introduced by the missionaries has brought educational enlightenment thereby making the Esans to become literate people. Today, many schools including a University has been established in Esanland.

In spite of the seeming declining membership of traditional religion in Esan, there appears reasons to conclude that traditional religion will continue to be a living religion in many years to come because traditional religion continues to be the source of meaning, direction and security for traditional Esan people including followers of other well established religious traditions. Traditional religion is a fundamental genitor of Esan ethos and world view. Through its spiritual and moral values: profound sense of sacred of the existence of God the creator and of the spiritual world; importance of family life, love anda respect for life, sense of solitary and community life among others. Traditional religion has been recognized as part of the religious and moral patrimony for mankind. This tolerant and respectful atmosphere has given confidence to the followers of African traditional religion. Many are no longer ashamed of their religious heritage as they were in the past. They are proud of being its heirs and consider it their duty and right to pass it on to the next generation.


5.3. Findings

At the end of the study the following are the findings:

  1. That the advent of Christianity in Esanland made some people to abandon the cherished cultural values such as respect for elders, communal life, sacrifices, ancestral worship, Chastity, observation of sacred days amongst others, in the name of western civilization encouraged by Christian faith;
  2. That the Christian religion has had tremendous positive influence on the cultural value of the Esan, there has been changes in the traditions and custom of the people for instance, the Arebhoa or Arewa custom that reduced the people to the status of harlots has since been abolished;
  3. That the incursion of Christianity in Esanland, made some people to abandon their meaningful traditional names that expressed their cultural philosophy and religion to march with the new religion (Christianity), particularly at Baptism;
  4. That the deviation from cultural values creates serious social problems in Esanland;
  5. That the principles of the Christian religion are definitely different from the cultural garment in which they were brought into Esan; and
  6. That the Esan, as in other parts of Africa, there was a lack of total commitment on the part of the ‘Christians’, to them Christianity was to be accepted because of the benefits of education and civilization it carried along.

5.4. Contributions to Knowledge

This study has contributed to knowledge in the following ways:

  1. It showed that the Christian religion propagated in Esanland is an instrument of transformation;
  2. It reviewed that Esan culture of religion has infiltrated Christian practices through the royalities of Esan traditional relgion; and
  3. It established that Christian evangelical pressure has made some Esan to abandon some cherished cultural values.

5.5. Conclusion

Long before the advent of Christianity into Esanland in the nineteenth century, the traditional society had already been structured to reflect its social cultural status. There were such social institutions that served the purposes of integration and sustenance. Such institutions also promoted the well-being of the society

The economy of Esan people have gradually evolved over the years as a result of the contact of the people with other cultures. Through assimilation and accumulation of the dominant western culture, the Esan society has continued to witness changes and development in its culture. We have seen for instance that Esan was richly endowed with certain cultural values. These include communalism, respect for elders and constituted authority, chastity, observance of sacred days and festivals, maintenance of unity, regard for music, belief in life after death and sanctity of life and importance of name to mention but a few. The challenge for the Esan Christians especially these days of the clamor for cultural revolution is whether these values (the traditional values) are to be maintained and revitalized as they now stand or whether they can be given a new form or even rectified.

The Christian religion came to Esan with its values and the values of the European culture through which Christianity came. A further challenge therefore is how to link the values from Christianity with the traditional values in order to resolve apparent conflicts and create a conducive atmosphere for peaceful coexistence. For example, the two traditions believe in the existence of the spirits of the dead. Do they, the departed influence the living? The Esan traditional belief will answer in the affirmative whereas the Christian tradition will say no. The way to go about it is to seek a middle ground to resolve this and similar issues. There has been conflict of values and such conflicts must be resolved

In evaluation, we evaluate how the teachings and values of Christianity have affected the values of the Esan traditional society. It has clearly been shown that there is a difference between the essential spirit of Christianity and the culture of Europe. In other words, the principles of the Christian religion are definitely different from the cultural garment in which they were brought into Esanland. After the evaluation, there are some recommendations for the effective presence of the Christian Church in Esanland.


5.6. Recommendations

In the foregoing, recommendations are based on the perceived problems in the body of the work. With the impact of Christianity on the cultural values of the Esan people to consider, there are obviously stages in this historical narrative that present issues that give rise to the comments. The following are therefore recommended.

  1. That the Christian missionaries and prospective workers in Esan should:
    • Use Bible models and images in preaching which make great sense to those within the culture;
    • Use images and models which makes sense to the natives of the culture; and
    • They should appreciate other cultures and allow the persons within them to express their new found Christian faith in modes comfortable to them.
  2. The missionaries above everything else should have proper appreciation of cultural validity (or what is popularly called cultural relativism), this demands that an observer should be careful to evaluate a culture first in terms of his own values, goals and focusses before venturing to compare it with any other culture.
  3. That Esan people should be encouraged to bear their traditional names that are meaningful and expresses their cultural philosophy, religion among others so as to maintain their identity and further demonstrate their recognitions of God. In that way, they will be able to pass on to succeeding generations the valuable virtues in names.
  4. Since the Western style of singing during worship does not appeal much to the Esan people, they should be allowed to make music in their own way; such music should be accompanied by local instrument, clapping of hands and dancing, and should be theologically sound.
  5. Since is need for reevaluation of the content of the Christian massage and practices in Esan were there had been mistakes in presentations, for the overall benefit of the church.
  6. Those cultural values in Esan traditional society that are no longer relevant to the 21st century should be discarded.
  7. That Esan people should be grateful or should appreciate the significant contributions and tremendous sacrifices that Western missionaries have made towards the development of African nations generally and Esan particularly.
  8. The church in Esan should reexamine its role in the society with the view to properly identifying with the hopes and aspirations of the people because the church as a social institution has certain social function.
  9. That the Esan people should accept and use all the good things the Western Christianity has brought on its wings as the adage goes ‘‘you cannot throw away a child with a dirty water in which he was bathed’’ Christianity has been of tremendous benefits to our society and culture.
  10. Christian witnesses and missionaries should establish relationships of respect and love with those men (to whom they witness), they should acknowledge themselves as members of the group in which they live, and through the various understandings and affairs of human life they should share in their social and cultural life.
  11. Europeans should respect, accept, and not reject elements of the subordinate Esan culture because there are some good elements in Esan cultural setting, especially the religious aspect.
  12. European nations should not assume cultural arrogance and superiority complex on Esan culture as this will bring about strife between Esan culture and Westernised Christian institutions.

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