Irokos don’t die; they give up their space to other trees and offer their bodies to other inhabitants of the forest. In his “Hidden life of trees” (2015), Peter Wohlleben weaved a beautiful web of narratives around the interdependence of trees in the forest. Today, his narratives offer us an alternative insight into the passing away of Fr Laurenti Magesa. Indeed, with all the great homages pouring in from every corner, one cannot but compare his demise to old iroko giving up his space for other inhabitants of our communal home.

An Iroko has indeed fallen, not into the cold hands of death but the rich soil of our ancestors. In Magesa, African has sown a seed of revival, as his fall initiates the new iroko into the pantheon of African ancestors. He has laid himself down like the old oak tree of Peter Wohlleben. “Old trees, he wrote, fertilize the forest, and help their offspring get a better start in life.” Magesa is like Wohlleben’s old tree, fertilizing the African theological forest. He took the often de-spirited inculturation and made it an essential theological category, thus, saving it from the western folklorization of African and native spiritual categories. And since his works on African religion and spirituality became widely accessible, we can now boldly say that the Holy Spirit speaks through our ancestors and their religious worldview anywhere in the world.

Besides, an old dead tree, explains Wohlleben, is vital to the entire ecosystem, as the survival of the younger trees and other inhabitants of the forestland depend on its apparently inanimate trunk. Thus, dead, it might appear, but alive it’s to the offspring who would benefit from its long-stored nutrients and the spaces its wide branches have created in the forest. Likewise, through his great works, Prof. Magesa, the great iroko, has secured a place for us at the table of world religion and contextual theologies. His legacy would go a long way to nourish the young theologians navigating modern theological conundrums. His towering light would shine upon our brethren already well rooted in the forest of theology. And his undying voice will henceforth guide those who have found their voices in the Barraza; and his (now) unfaltering dancing steps, their pacesetter in this ancestral communion of believers.

However, Magesa, the African theological iroko, and the world-renowned inculturation baobab might have fallen in the eyes of mere mortals, but an ancestor is like an old tree; their passing away is but a change of state. They keep walking on our sacred ancestral lands; they are nomads, so no country or state of life is a foreign land to them.

His legacy will be alive for centuries because, like trees in the forest, Africans, like every native people, are family-oriented people. Our ancestors live on because of our social life. Also, our family ties are as astonishing as the trees of Wohlleben.

Trees in a forest, he says, care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients and so keeping it alive.”

Magesa, like an old tree in the forest, might have fallen, but we will keep feeding his memories; we will share with him in the communion of the ancestors and together, dance with him to the tunes of our sacred drums and Tam-Tams. Today, he bows out, yet undead, for an ancestor, never dies. An ancestor resurrects even before he falls asleep. Today, we say, like the Ironborn in R. R. Martin’s Game of Throne, “What is dead may never die,” Magesa is not dead; he sleeps with our ancestors “laa be Chukwu, n’Obi ndi ichie”— in the Lord and with our ancestors. Let’s celebrate his memory by keeping alive the light he passed unto us, his sisters and brothers in this sacred territory and our ancestral lands.

Baba Magesa, nnọ na be Chukwu, zụrụ ike na nd(i)ọkwa, Nna!

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  • Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

« Je sais pourquoi chante l’oiseau en cage » (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) est le titre de l’œuvre majeure de la poétesse noire américaine, Maya Angelou. Dans cette autobiographie, Maya écrit :

« La vie était comme un tapis roulant. Elle continuait avec détachement, sans hâte ni précipitation, et ma seule pensée était de rester debout bien droite et de garder à la fois mon secret et mon équilibre. Me couper des gens ou ne plus les entendre était un art que je possédais au plus haut degré. »

Au cours de cette semaine, j’ai écouté des chanteurs de toute origine nous montrer qu’à travers les chansons, on peut réécrire l’histoire de tout un peuple. La 38e édition du Festival Innu Nikamu a été un moment exceptionnel dans l’histoire de la chanson autochtone. Dès le début du festival de cette année, le message était clair, Innu Nikamu — l’Innu, le peuple chante.

Malgré des siècles d’oppression, des techniques de persécution, de méthode de colonisation, d’effort de soumission, le peuple continue de chanter, l’oiseau en cage continue de chanter — Innu Nikamu. Chaque chanteur ou chanteuse en passage sur la scène principal ou encore sur le minibus installé devant l’église de Maniutenam avait un message d’espoir à transmettre ou encore un mal-être à dénoncer.

Jeudi soir, par exemple, j’ai écouté Kathia Rock chanter « Quand le jour se lève. » Elle l’avait exécuté avec un chanteur soufi et une chanteuse de gorge (inuite) du groupe Oktoecho, au son du ney, l’oud, et le tambour autochtone. C’était si envoûtant qu’on se sentait à un monde parallèle. Une jeune danseuse innue en plein regalia faisait vibrer les clochettes alors qu’un autre jeune « derviche tourneur » virevoltait magnifiquement, tout connecté avec l’invisible. C’était vraiment une séance de danse de guérison pour des âmes qui se laissent toucher par le Créateur.

Le lendemain, c’était le tour d’une jeune innue de Maniutenam, Kanen. Elle fait partie du groupe émergeant, Nikamu Mamuitun. Kanen avait un talent d’une grande conteuse, racontant, à la manière de Naomi Fontaine (Kuessipan), le quotidien de son peuple. Avec une écriture unique et une voix angélique sa musique dessinait un avenir prometteur d’une jeunesse en pleine conscience de son rôle dans la construction de ce nouveau peuple qui chante sa résistance.

Et puis, vendredi soir, c’était le tour du groupe métal septilien qui, à travers leur amour de guitare et de la batterie, ont fait vibrer la scène annexe de l’Innu Nikamu. Avec notre cher (maître) Jonathan Gernest Jourdain au micro, ce groupe métallique Septilienne a pu rassembler presque tous les amoureux du hard rock de notre beau coin du pays.

Avec leur style contre-culture, ils ont réaffirmé que la résistance peut aussi passer par un plongé à une spiritualité qui n’est pas forcément religieuse. C’était une soirée folle avec les spectateurs dansant à la technique shredding and tremolo picking de la guitare et à une voix gutturale du Maître Jourdain.

Ensuite, le samedi soir, lorsque Shaouit et Scot Pien faisaient sauter les participants ainsi que toutes les tentes installées au site, un jeune rappeur Wendat, Dan l’Initié rappelaient à ses auditeurs que l’heure est maintenant pour le peuple de prendre leur destin en main. Dans son mélange de spiritualité, militantisme et vérité, il appelle le peuple autochtone à se relever pour reprendre leur place dans la société.

« Kuei, les temps se rassemblent,

on a tellement […] ensemble,

allô, levez-vous,

c’est justice pour nos à,

rien de moins, levez-vous… ».

À travers sa voix engageante il réussit à mélanger la spiritualité autochtone, le christianisme, et d’autres enseignements sacrés des autres communautés de foi, il démontre la nécessité de se réunir pour lutter contre toute forme d’oppression.

Et samedi aussi, nous avons vécu quelque chose d’extraordinaire. Des chanteurs de tout genre ont pu élever l’esprit de participants en les faisant découvrir la force de travailler ensemble — autochtones, allochtones et d’autres nations présentes — pour vaincre l’oppression et freiner la destruction du néocolonialisme.

Bref, la 38e édition d’Innu Nikamu a été un temps fort pour montrer que même en cage un oiseau vivant peut bien continuer de chanter sa liberté en pause.



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Introduction

In today’s mass readings, one can hear the situation of Nigerian society denounced in both the first reading and the Gospel. The first reading is about the prophetic vocation of Amos, and the Gospel is about the healing of a paralytic. Listening to these readings, I heard them speak to our Nigerian situation.

Historic condition of Amos’ time

Amos was initially a shepherd who had no plan of doing any special ministry than taking care of the sheep. He was also a sycamore dresser. When the Lord called him, he went to the neighbouring Kingdom of Israel, where the rich freely abused the poor.

Israel was enjoying relatively economic stability by this time. The rich had enough money to buy whatever they wanted. And to ensure they had the upper hand over the poor, they freely bought the poor or took away their belongings without difficulty. It was under this condition that the prophet answered his call to speak in the name of the Lord.

Historic Condition of Matthew

The author of Matthew wrote his Gospel around 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. It was also around ten years after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. It was around this time that Mathew wrote to his Jewish brethren, who were by then new converts to the new way that Christ inaugurated with his life, death and resurrection.

Nigerian Historic condition

Looking at Nigeria and the situation of her citizens today, one can see a replica of a community of Amos with our leaders who constantly sell our future to the highest bidder. Like in the time of Amos, the destiny of future generations of Nigerians has been mortgaged.

Also, like the community of Matthew, Nigerians have lost many of their worship centres to different Islamic empires and capitalist gods. Believers like the community of Matthew, we are neither at ease with our traditional spiritualities nor our new accepted credos.

The reaction of prophet Amos (Amos 7:10-17)

Given the situation of the poor, Prophet Amos decided to stand by the poor and the abused members of his community. He went headlong against the ruling class:

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks! The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.… Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.” (Amos 4:1-2;4)

The reaction of Jesus (Matthew 9:1-8)

In the Gospel of today, Matthew presents Jesus as a healer to his community. He has just calmed the sea showing his power over nature, and then cast away demons from two possessed men. Now he completes it by showing his power over sickness.

For the community of Matthew who seems to be undergoing an identity crisis - are they Jewish or new converts? — being sure that Christ is Lord over nature, evil spirits and sickness were crucial. For this community that was in serious difficulty, they needed to know that the Lord was still in control.

Reaction of Nigerians

In the light of these two communities, Nigerians need revolutionary prophets to speak the truth to the occupants of Aso Rock and other government quarters. There is a need to rise and denounce all the vampires socking the blood of our citizens and vultures feeding on the bodies of our dying nation.

We also need our citizens to stand their ground, holding firm on the Lord who can stop even the deadliest enemies of our land.

Conclusion

Like in the time of Amos, our nation is hostage, and the condition of the poor is unbearable. The rich have taken control of the entire society and are ready to sell our citizens to the highest bidders. The situation of Nigerians is like that of the citizens of Israel in Amos’ time. Our leaders pretend to be religious; they offer sacrifices and pay tithes hoping to bribe God. But the Lord will never give up on his people. He is like the Jesus of the Matthean Gospel. He has power over everything. Yet, Nigerians should continue to fight for their deliverance.

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