• Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

A Homage to Prof. Laurenti Magesa — A Sacred Iroko never dies


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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