Now before you (the Igbo/African Christian) begin to tear yourself apart on this, I would want us all to pay attention and take these lessons of our history. If you must understand why the Igbo practice Christianity as opposed to Odinani, you must do your best to trace back to when it all started and how it all started. This is not an attack on Christianity as presently practiced by the Igbo – No. This is me educating you on why a good number of Ndi Igbo refused to become Christians and have remained with the ways of their ancestors (Odinani).

The Igbo people met the Europeans face to face in the nineteenth century and that collision was to change the Igbo history (both culturally and religiously). Although European slave traders had exported a great number of Igbo people from the Bight of Biafra to Europe, up until 1830, no European had penetrated the Igbo hinterlands. And so after the abolishment of slavery, Europe and America realized they needed other sources of economic interests in Africa; this drove them to venture into the Igbo interior. Between 1832 and 1854, expeditions up the Niger River risked devastation tropical disease, but they continued despite these risks.

The forceful introduction of Christianity to the Igbo cannot be separated from the quest of the British to annex the Igbo land; first as a business colony and then a political one. The traders made up their minds to control the trade along the Niger, which certain Igbo towns sat along. The British traders signed a merger in 1879 which resulted in the formation of the Royal Niger Company – a company whose forces and influence was vital in the suppression of the Igbo. To defend their position against the French traders and other British newcomers who had taken positions on the Niger, the company decided to seek a Royal Charter. They also started to conclude treaties with the Igbo and other African people living on the different parts of the river. According to these treaties/agreements, the Igbo communities accepted the sovereignty of the company, although it was clear that the Igbo signatories were not aware of the full implications of what they signed. Some of the treaties which gave the British trading companies control over the Igbo were also deliberately forged. But knowing full well that these papers which gave away certain rights of the Igbo were forged, the British consul went ahead and signed them. Oh what treachery!!!

Increasing European demand for palm oil and an expanding African demand for imported European goods encouraged the British to establish trading posts in Agbor/Aboh (in present day Delta state), Onicha (Onitsha), and Lokoja in 1857. Satisfied with the booming trade, a couple of Igbo communities welcomed European traders and missionaries to come and live among them (that was the Igbo mistake). But these friendly relations began to crumble during the depression of the palm oil business that followed in 1875. The drop in palm oil price and rise in the price of European manufactured goods led to trade disputes between the Europeans and the Igbo. Igbo chiefs collected tolls, duties or tributes to maintain the peace along the Niger River and the surrounding mainland. European traders paid these tolls initially, but when British gunboats began to patrol the river in the 1880’s, the Europeans arrogantly refused to pay their tolls. They made excuses about the chiefs not been able to provide enough security; so that led to the chiefs relaxing security. There was then an increase of robbery cases on European trading posts and vessels.

The British first act of terrorism was registered on the October of 1879. Following a report of mistreatment of British citizens, as a result of trade disputes, the British war office authorized Captain Burr to bombard Onicha (Onitsha). Mind you, Onicha was a town of armless civilians. But because the British people saw themselves as Gods, they went ahead to lay siege to a town of innocent Igbo people, just because a few British men were attacked in a quarrel (not killed). After bombarding Onicha for two days (in a manner akin to the Islamic State Militants of Today), Captain Burr led his men into the town and destroyed every object they could find. What other words could be used to describe this act if not terrorism. The warriors of Onicha fought back but were no match for the better-armed British, who were out to kill and dominate. And in 1883, three British warships shelled Agbo (Aboh) and killed its citizens, on the grounds that some Agbo citizens had attacked a British citizen. Of course, who would be silent in the face of bullying, which was the attitude of the British traders/citizens in Igbo land? They saw themselves as lords over the Igbo (Africans).

Now because the British army had succeeded in scaring the trading towns into partial submission by brute force, the missionaries in turn demanded for military security. Protecting the missionaries was more tactical than the traders. The Christian missionaries carried their propaganda into the heartlands and hinterlands of Igbo land, provoking indignation among the inhabitants. These missionaries were the first to venture deep into the Igbo villages; and their ignorant and biased opinions of the Igbo ways of worship were what set the tone for the British ambition to rule and to decimate Igbo religion. In light of the foregoing, Chinua Achebe said: “… The Igbo had adopted a conciliatory stance in their early dealings with the missionaries, because the Igbo religion was pacific and the Igbo themselves respected the religious views of other people. The Igbo usually listened patiently to the Christians and then expected the missionaries to pay equal attention to their own viewpoints. Some Igbo saw the missionaries as essentially harmless, and shrugged at the uncomprehending priests who fraternized with outcasts and gainlessly occupied themselves with preaching.” It is recorded that most missionaries painted ghastly pictures of Igbo society, which they sent back to Europe and incited European governments and traders against the Igbo.


The British colonial agents raided more villages in the guise of protecting the missionaries. They did these without recourse to how the proud Igbo natives would feel. They treated the Igbo man like a spineless sheep. But they never for once thought that the Igbo man would defend himself and his religion. The missionaries were emboldened by fierce British military presence, and so they intensified their assault and attack on Igbo customs. They saw their brutality as just; they referred to their campaign as a fight against darkness. Their misunderstanding of Igbo tradition was enough conviction for them to lay siege on a tradition which was over 5,000 years old – a tradition which had sustained the Igbo people. It took the Igbo a long while to realize that the missionaries were more dangerous than they appeared. In Obosi, the chiefs accosted Bishop Crowther and protested the pulling down of their objects of worship and shrines by the Christians. The Christian converts were demanded to confess the wrongs done to the Igbo Gods, pay for the damage, and promise not to repeat those wrongs again. In Illah and other villages to the South, the Igbo in defense of their religion, tradition and lives, burnt down churches and drove the Christians away. At that juncture, the Igbo felt betrayed and started to fight back. They had to repel the terrorists at their gates.

The Igbo decision to defend their age long religion and tradition from the abusive Christian missionaries led to more violence and attacks from the British army. The British army, under the Royal Niger Company, attacked various Igbo communities in guise of protecting the missionaries. Incited by missionary complaints that the people of Asaba still practiced human sacrifice, the company forces raided Asaba in 1888 and destroyed half of it. This type of careless attacks and oppression was to be recorded in various communities in Igbo land. The British, who nursed dreams of annexing Igbo land (politically), used the missionaries to infiltrate the Igbo. They used the Christian missionaries to decimate and terrorize the resilient Igbo into being Christians. If the missionaries had gone about their teachings and allowed a majority of the Igbo to accept Christianity on their own terms, then maybe we could attribute the Igbo conversion to the Biblical Holy spirit. But in this case it was not – the Igbo were shelled, bombarded, killed and terrorized by the missionaries and British soldiers.
In conclusion, it is my opinion, and born of actual facts that Christianity was forced on the Igbo. No wonder there are still pockets of resistance to the European fangled version of Christianity that was brought to Igbo land.

By Chuka Nduneseokwu



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