Evangelicals Threaten Nigerian Artifacts

Earlier today I wrote about the repatriation of some Maori remains, this next story is a little more bleak. According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch priceless pieces of Nigerian heritage are being destroyed by fundamentalist Christians – usually native Nigerians (from the Post-Dispatch article):

As poverty deepened in Nigeria from the mid-1980s, Pentecostal Christian church membership surged. The new faithful found comfort in preachers such as evangelist Uma Ukpai who promised that material success was next to godliness. He has boasted of overseeing the destruction of more than 100 shrines in one district in December 2005 alone.
Achina is typical of towns and villages in the ethnic Igbo-dominated Christian belt of southeastern Nigeria where this new Christian fundamentalism is evident. The old gods are being linked to the devil, and preachers are urging not only their rejection, but their destruction.

A number of groups are trying to prevent the destruction, offering to house the items or protect them. Unfortunately, the spread of fundamentalist Christian religion isn’t restricted to Niger – witness the recent attempts, by Christians in Kenya, to force the National Museum of Kenya not to display their hominin fossils – so we will probably see more stories like this. Remember what was said about the Hadzabe?:

Marmo said the Hadzabe — who until recently had no use for money, organized religion or standard time — are “the one backwards group in the country.”
“We want them to go to school,” said Marmo, who is Tanzania’s minister for good governance and represents the valley in parliament. “We want them to wear clothes. We want them to be decent.”

And:

Missions to spread Christianity have also failed. “We just go to church as if we are pictures,” one man said. “Our hearts and minds are not there.”

The upshot is that people are being dispossessed of their history and heritage merely to satisfy the ego’s of the zealous. Think I’m exaggerating? Think again (from the Post-Dispatch article):

“Since the curses and covenants do not automatically disappear when we repent, Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai is a man called by God for the total liberation of mankind,” he says on his website, claiming to have the spiritual backing of Jesus to break the curses.

If that is not ego speaking I don’t know what is…
Update 1: Yahoo News has a longer version of the story (Hat Tip to Tainted Ideals)
Update 2: In case you are wondering this is what is being destroyed along with the artifacts

12 Responses

  1. If that is not ego speaking I don’t know what is…
    And just who the heck, do you think you are? To pass judgement on this guy? Do you live in Nigeria? Maybe you should try it and see what it is like from their perspective. You might see things differently. Quite a few people in the United States, complain about dumb redneck Christians. I’m fairly certain you would not stand up and say that the culture or heritage needs to be protected. You probably would be screaming,” castrate them!” so get off the high horse on this one.

  2. Your analogy is inadequate. It would be more like Americans calling for the destruction of priceless native American artifacts. It’s absolutely disgusting that you would defend such a thing.

  3. Your analogy is inadequate. It would be more like Americans calling for the destruction of priceless native American artifacts. It’s absolutely disgusting that you would defend such a thing.

  4. Hmm – No, I’m not defending it. I think it is pretty heinous in fact.
    Playfullheart –

    You probably would be screaming,” castrate them!”…

    That’s a pretty ugly thing to say, care to back it up with evidence? No, I will not get off my high horse. The destruction of these cultural items is horrible and needs to be stopped.

  5. The attitude basically stems from “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!”. Witches, of course, are anything that isn’t [placeholder for name of religion]……………

  6. I don’t see where these commenters are getting that you’re defending the practice. I say, “Your horse isn’t high enough, what are you going to do about it.” I sent a donation to The Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

  7. Playfullheart,
    Your analogy is, as has been pointed out, quite wrong, almost ridiculously so. This very thing did happen here in the US, and the ancestors of the “Redneck Christians” that you produce as hypothetical victims played a role in what happened here.
    Native Americans were, like the people in the articles quoted, forced to “become civilized,” to adopt cultures and practices they didn’t want, forced to forget their native languages, their culture, and then placed back on reservations that were no longer homes to them. Their personal identifiers as members of their native cultures were taken away from them, if they attempted to use their native languages, they were beaten, imprisoned, sometimes worse. Their sacred places and the remains of their ancestors were dug up, torn down, and placed in museums at the same time the living members of these cultures were forced to become “white farmers.”

  8. In hindsight, I am positive that Hmm was responding to playfullheart rather than me – I say that just to set the record straight.
    dogscratcher – Can you leave a comment with the address for Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments?

  9. Afarensis,
    I sent a $10.00 check to:
    Nath Mayo Adediran
    Deputy Director
    National Commission for Museums and Monuments
    Curator
    National Museums, Calabar
    Old Residency
    P.M.B. 1180, Calabar
    Nigeria
    We’ll see if it actually gets there. From this page:
    http://www.ggwinter.de/icom/nb2_nath-mayo.htm

  10. Although Afarensis suggests that the preacher at the center of this episode is arrogant, and he probably is, suppose that many of these culture-destroyers really believe the destruction will bring them salvation in this world and the next.
    Is it cultural imperialism to suggest that the native people don’t know what’s really good for them and need to be rescued from their ignorance (which, I cannot say enough, need not be of a Christian flavor to burn things up)?
    We have heard some concern about repatriated objects in the US being not only removed permanently from the larger community’s study but also allowed or encouraged to decay (and how about the curation in Bagdad, eh?).
    How would the US scientific and/or anthropological political community feel about a conversion to whatever iconoclasm (what if they had relatively good proof that certain objects really truly attracted hanta virus, an fine provable form of damnation) in a tribe seeking repatriation of ancient goods? Would it make any difference if the conversion also affected some of the scientists?
    Whose cultural heritage is it anyway?
    Personal note: It is hard being a liberal and wanting to steal things and lock them up (also shoot selected individuals and censor just a few books). I figure if preserving idols is the worst thing God can get on me I’ll be very surprised.

  11. We have heard some concern about repatriated objects in the US being not only removed permanently from the larger community’s study but also allowed or encouraged to decay (and how about the curation in Bagdad, eh?).

    That is a disingenuous argument. Are you seriously comparing the the results of a US invasion followed by a civil war with the normal state of affairs in most museums? It also sounds like you are arguing that unless we let the fundies engage in cultural imperialism and destroy these artifacts we are engaging in cultural imperialism?

    …suppose that many of these culture-destroyers really believe the destruction will bring them salvation in this world and the next.
    Is it cultural imperialism to suggest that the native people don’t know what’s really good for them and need to be rescued from their ignorance…

    Suppose the “natives” really believe their ancient religion is true and incalculable harm comes to them because the fundies destroyed it. What then?

    It is hard being a liberal and wanting to steal things and lock them up (also shoot selected individuals and censor just a few books)…

    What are you talking about?

  12. Laura – as a follow up thought, you mentioned censorship at the tail end of your post. So how is it that Christians erasing the heritage of the Igbo by destroying their religious symbols is not censorship?

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