By Prof. Nwaocha Ogechukwu
Originally, The assumed ‘Osus’ enjoyed aura of reverence in their privileged services as Monks who assist the priest in liturgical services and in carrying out specific rituals for various functions including celebration, festivals, or according to the covenant of each clan. Traditionally, they were regarded highly. Respect was accorded to them as the agents and property of Oracles though most were forced into the spiritual carrier. In fact, the names, Osuji, Osuagwu, Nwosu etc; did not confer extraordinary negation; it was declaration of piety. when the Mazi visits 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, as they chose a life of complete surrender to the deities and seclude themselves from the social world (as ascetics) . They lived within the vicinity of the shrines of major deities and for all practical purposes exclude themselves from routine engagement with the rest of the community, just like the Roman Catholic Monk lives a communal life in a monastery, abbey, or priory under a monastic rule of life. But according to Enyi Oha ndi Igbo blog report 2012, Osu was part of the complex priestly system to the Igbo ritual world, because, then, the Igbo world was a highly spiritual system in which all the four elements in nature were created and symbolized :Ala (earth) Ogwuwgu/Ime muru Ochie/Idemili (water) Agwu (wind) Anyanwu ((fire) Sun).
Achebe’s definition of Osu as a “taboo” was contrary to the original purpose of their development and practices in Igbo tradition, rather he misunderstood that different shrines of ancient Igbo communities had their various distinctive aims for their services based on the nature of their culture and tradition. Some communities prefer a voluntary assistant to the shrines’ priest, others needed a sacrificial Lamb to the deities to save the community from calamity (just like Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to save the world), while few communities forcefully dedicated to the deity an “Innocent person” as a Monk for the live shrine’s service. The discrimination of Osu started at the height of the slave raid in Igbo world in the 19th century. By then, 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 out of greed. It is quite unfortunate that my honorable professor Achebe was ignorant of this event as it’s evidence in his Osu’s definition. His definition was a duplication of an established hoaxed propagated by Nze na Ozo during the colonial Era when their discrimination was at its peak. From the beginning, traditionally, there was nothing like hereditary of as some confused irrationalists propagated within the society to gain political power and recognition of social status. Aside from the fact that it contradicted the Igbo view of the individual and the world, it also totally negated the very principle of the ritual purity of those traditionally dedicated to the Alter of the Mmuo (deity), according to the recent research of Silva Enyi Oha ndi Igbo blog. Osu in Igbo tradition did not mean slave, and traditionally, it had no negative connotation! In African traditional religion, places for worship or ritual or religious activities as regarded as sacred, including the shrine preists and their assistance. In Bori cult tradition of Hausa Land, the Priestesses and the helpers (equivalent to Osu of Igbo Tradition) were revered highly as sacred Properties of the Bori deities to extend of mandating a “sacred” royal priestess to carry their corpse when they die. In fact, some scholars like John O. Hunwick in his book, Religion and National Integration in Africa: Islam, Christianity, and Politics in the Sudan and Nigeria (Series in Islam and society in Africa) (1992), that it is believed that thought (philosophy) is an antecedent to Yoruba religion. Values such as respect, peaceful co-existence, Sacredness, loyalty and freedom of speech are both upheld and highly valued in Yoruba culture. Societies which are considered secret societies often strictly guard and encourage the observance of moral values. Today, the academic and nonacademic communities are becoming more interested in Yoruba culture. More research is being carried out on Yoruba cultural thought as more books are being written on the subject.
If all the Ethnic Tribes in Nigeria had sacred value for their Shrine’s priests and Assistance (including Monks) in their ancient civilization, then how come the discrimination of Osu in Igbo Tradition since its concept of discrimination negated the very principle of the ritual purity of those traditionally dedicated to the Alter of the Mmuo? The discrimination of Osu was a conspiracy designed by the Nze na Ozo and the priests of Shrines during the slave trade era to edge them out from economic dominance and conscript them from interacting with the then Igbo social world.
And the concept of Osu’s heredity was a hoax and propaganda fabricated by the same agents of conspiracy to gain political power and permit their voluntary subordinates to gain social statute as “freeborn.” The earlier we, Dialas, understand the Slogan “ Ala adighi mma bu uru ndi Nze”, the better for us.
(c) The definition is a fiction work writing from a subjective perspective.
If I were to take Late Professor Chinua Achebe’s work as a “research Non-fiction work”, I will still have a problem in verifying the authenticity of his work because “Osu” practice is one of the integral practices of Igbo Traditional Religion which requires sense experience to get an Objective picture of the real practice. In the academic study of Religion and its practices, there is Insider vs. Outsider’s perspectives. Here, we need to study Religion ‘from the underside’, if we want to thoroughly understand it. In other words, it is not sufficient to have top-down knowledge of a religion. We need also to examine how ordinary, ‘unimportant’ people operate within a religious culture within the context: what influences them and what they can (and cannot) influence; how they see their role in the society and how others see it. The outsider views from the outside: the perspective of the (theoretically) dispassionate observer whose observation does not influence the observed. This can be called the academic view. In the academic discipline of Religious Studies, it is sometimes called the etic perspective. While, the insider view is an experience of the practitioners, the people who are engaged in and more or less committed to the group or religion in which they practice. In Religious Studies, the view from the inside, the perspective of the practitioners, is called the emic perspective. This is a central distinction in the study of religion. The Canadian scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith expressed that no statement made about religion can be considered valid unless an insider would agree with it. By the Way how many traditional Rulers, Nze na Ozo or the traditional chiefs in Igbo Land as well as Imo state (where Osu’s discrimination is intensified by local forces) have witness (as an insider) an Osu in his shrines’ service to agree with Chinua Achebe’s definition? Because I know that more than 80% of the current Traditional Rulers were business men and politicians who are still learning the hybridized Igbo culture upon their conferment in this modern society including Modern Scholars in Arts who are currently referencing academic works of 1990s and 2000s. Achebe’s definition lack principles of Objectivity and a paradigm shift from Phenomenological definition of religion and religious practices to a fictitious fabrication. After all, how many Igbo youths, literalists, Scholars in Arts and Humanities and students of literature have visited a traditional Shrine or Oracle to acquire an Objective knowledge of shrine practices in relation to worship of Oracle. I repeat, how many Igbo youths and Scholars in Literature have visited Ala-Ugbaga shrine in Mbaise, Igwekala Shrine of Umunneoha, Kamalu Ozuzu Shrine of Arochukwu in Abia state, Obohia shrine of Okwudor, Okija Shrine of Anambra state or even Aro shrine of Nsukka in Enugu state, but more than 90% of total youths and Igbo oriented Scholars parade with fictitious propaganda of Achebe’s academic conjecture, since his definition serves as a base for their credulous analysis of Osu coupled with the superstitious fear instill on them by fanatical and ill proponents of Osu’s discrimination in Igbo communities.
That Professor Achebe is an Icon does not mean that his Osu’s definition in his fiction works should be accepted and exaggerated as “revered Gospel”. Many ideologies – theories and hypothesis- have been subjected to rational scrutiny, intellectually criticized, and others, scientifically disproved because of lack of empirical evidence. I would like anybody to review Achebe’s two fiction works and tell me how real the generation curse developed by imagination could be. I mean, what is the reality in the imagination of a man transmitting genetic taboos from generation to another generation, apart from the biological errors of Imbecility, Sickle cell anemia, Mongolian genetic disease or Albinism which numerous “Dialas” suffer?
My good friend, Chibuzor Nwankwo of Alvana Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, sent a text message to me regarding my honorable professor Achebe’s definition of Osu. He said, “Dear Professor Nwaocha Ogechukwu, the tenacious holding of the views/opinions of Chinua Achebe on the Osu caste system by many literalists and learned folks is nothing but hero worship, an exaggeration of the genius of the Commonwealth Medalist! Achebe’s definition of the Osu is not Gospel. His excellent skill does not confer or make impeccable his view on any subject! I disagree with him”
Late Professor Achebe’s Novels, No Longer At Ease and Things Fall Apart, are fiction works i.e. stories derived from imagination, perhaps not based on fact! In other word, fiction writings are the composition of Non-factual or unreal imaginative prose texts or simply something invented by the imagination or feigned as most Merriam Webster Dictionaries put it. Achebe’s Osu definition has indoctrinated the Students of Literature, Scholars in Arts and Humanities into the religious culture of discrimination ideologically, thus making an academic institution and secondary Schools an Agency for facilitation of youths Empowerment for preservation and sustenance of future discrimination since the fiction works along with Osu’s definition has remained an academic material for indoctrination of Nigerian Youths, and Scholars into the Arena of social discrimination in Igbo society. As his influence gains momentum in Nigeria Scheme of Education through Literature particularly, Parents and the Ministry of Education Should understand the tremendous implication such deceptive influence has on the youths of South Eastern Nigeria precisely by developing a diplomatic mechanism to reshape their minds towards understanding Osu practice as a respected part of Igbo traditional religious practices in ancient Igbo civilization which its service was lost due to influx of global culture, western education and intervention of Christianity than relying on Achebe’s Osu hoax and fictional propaganda as they set academic priority through the Pathways of Literature from the Age of Ordinary Level . In fact, Osu was a Monk in Igbo Shrine whose primary role involves assistance to the Priest, but a profession existing without a genetic curse or hereditary profession unlike the descendants of the Aaron who inherited priestly profession in ancient Israel. Although My Late professor may be defining the Osu as a Caste system as the current concept of the colonial era when the Osu’s discrimination was at its peak, and not as a religious practice, as a Scholar in Literature. Even “as a caste system”, the definition still sends a wrong signal of discrimination, odium, abhorrence and existence of an indelibly genetic curse in the blood of an Igbo Man. Therefore, I suggest calling the current copyright Owner of the good work to amend the definition of “Osu” from the Objective insider’s perspective than allowing the propaganda and hoaxes of Nze na Ozo to continue spreading through academic Institutions and spoiling the minds of Nigerian Youths and Scholars.