Let Tompolo’s God be returned
By Odimegwu Onwumere
"If we were to lose indigenous African religions in Africa, then diviners would disappear, and if diviners disappeared, we would not only lose an important spiritual specialist for many Africans, but also an institution that for centuries has been the repository of African history, wisdom, and knowledge," Mr. Jacob Olupona, professor of indigenous African religions at Harvard Divinity School and professor of African and African-American studies in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences once said to Harvard Gazette in an interview.
Recently, a Niger Delta leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, (popularly known as Tompolo), on June 29 2016 called on the leadership of General Muhammadu Buhari-led government to return the spiritual symbol of his Gbaramatu Kingdom that he said was taken away by soldiers who invaded his town of Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Warri South-West of Delta State, and took away the symbol of the God he is the Chief Priest.
On the said June 29 2016, Tompolo told Buhari in an advertorial, “Your military has not returned the golden sword (symbol of authority), as well as the palace staff picked up at Oporoza town, on Saturday, May 28, 2016, to Gbaramatu Kingdom.
“Today is exactly 31 days after the invasion of the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oporoza town, by your military, led by Brig.-Gen. Faruk Yahaya of the 4th Brigade, Benin City, in search of me, with the allegation that I am the one behind the bombing and destruction of crude oil facilities in the Niger Delta region, and the incident happened in my absence...
“As I said in my previous publications, the military made away with the Symbol of Authority of the Gbaramatu people from the Egbesu Shrine, which I am the Chief Priest. They also made away with other valuables, worth several millions of naira from the community...”
Weeks have gone by and nothing seemed to have been said about the symbol of the God of our people in Gbaramatu Kingdom. The stillness that has characterised the outcry by Tompolo goes a long way to show how demeaning we are to our cultures and traditions for the alien religions of Islam and Christianity. Be it as it may, if such a heinous act was carried away in the church or mosque the way the supposed soldiers desecrated the Egebsu Temple where Tompolo is the Chief Priest, the whole world would have been rattled with noise and nuisance of how a God in Jerusalem or Mecca was disrespected.
Some persons would even be saying if the God that Tompolo was talking about was powerful, the God should fight his battle. But this notion is wrong and balderdash. After all, we have had Muslims and Christians killed by apparent assailants in their places of worship and their Gods never protected them. So, the God that Tompolo was talking about should be accorded with some respect like every other Gods. Taking Tompolo’s God without a blink is like a case of throwing the child with the bathtub; it is like beating up a child before the mother and asks what the mother will do.
Like Christianity and Islam which the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives upper hand against the aboriginal practices due to the toga of mental slavery that still characterises our clime and institutions, Egbesu is not different from other spiritualities of African diaspora that have spread in other parts of the world as a result of slave trade starting in the 15th century. These African spiritualities are revered all over the world, except in Nigeria, due to mental slavery.
In the United States and Europe for instance, Cuban Regla de Ocha, Haitian Vodou, and Brazilian Candomble are among the African spiritualities that the peoples of those areas do not toy with, except in Nigeria. Professor Olupona, said, “There is even a community deep in the American Bible Belt in Beaufort County, S.C., called Oyotunji Village that practices a type of African indigenous religion, which is a mixture of Yoruba and Ewe-Fon spiritual practices.”
Professor Olupona, added, “If we lose traditional African religions, we would also lose or continue to seriously undermine the African practice of rites of passage such as the much cherished age-grade initiations, which have for so long integrated and bought Africans together under a common understanding, or worldview. These initiation rituals are already not as common in Africa as they were only 50 years ago, yet age-grade initiations have always helped young Africans feel connected to their community and their past. They have also fostered a greater feeling of individual self-worth by acknowledging important milestones in one’s life, including becoming an adult or an elder.”
This is how seriously the outside world takes our aboriginal spiritualities. The Professor, enthused, “One of the things these diaspora African religions testify to is the beauty of African religions to engage a devotee on many spiritual levels. A follower of African diaspora religions has many choices in terms of seeking spiritual help or succor. For example, followers can seek spiritual direction and relief from healers, medicine men and women, charms (adornments often worn to incur good luck), amulets (adornments often used to ward off evil), and diviners (spiritual advisers).”
When the professor said that there are signs of the revival of African indigenous practices in many parts of Africa, Nigeria and her government are taking the spirituality in Tompolo’s kingdom away.
But no matter how forces against traditional spiritualities try, the professor would said, “Modernity has not put a total stop to its influence. Ritual sacrifices and witchcraft beliefs are still common. Moreover, the religions developed in the Americas impact Africa in that devotees of the African diaspora have significant influence on practices in Africa. Some African diasporans are returning to the continent to reconnect with their ancestral traditions, and they are encouraging and organizing the local African communities to reclaim this heritage.”
We can see that the world is returning to Africa, yet, we in Africa are ignorantly destroying and taking away our spiritualities and their symbols to the marines. This article is to join in Tompolo’s call that the symbol of his native home town’s spirituality that he said soldiers took away should be returned if not yet. No one should take the pluralistic nature of African-tradition spiritualities for granted. The professor said that it was as a result of this pluralistic nature of the indigenous spiritualities that has earned their success in the diaspora.
“African spirituality has always been able to adapt to change and allow itself to absorb the wisdom and views of other religions, much more than, for example, Christianity and Islam. While Islam and Christianity tend to be overtly resistant to adopting traditional African religious ideas or practices, indigenous African religions have always accommodated other beliefs. For example, an African amulet might have inside of it a written verse from either the Koran or Christian Bible. The idea is that the traditional African practitioner who constructed that amulet believes in the efficacy of other faiths and religions; there is no conflict in his mind between his traditional African spirituality and another faith. They are not mutually exclusive. He sees the “other faith” as complementing and even adding spiritual potency to his own spiritual practice of constructing effective amulets. Indigenous African religions are pragmatic. It’s about getting tangible results.”
So, let Tompolo’s God Be Returned!