Reinder Schoonhoven, Exploring Continuities and Contestations of Ancestral Worship in Igede, Benue State, Nigeria

This research project is concerned with exploring the religious convictions of the Igede people in Benue State, Nigeria where this research is planned to be carried out. At the time when the author was working there as a missionary doctor (1973-1980) the influence of the traditional, historical religious practices was strongly present in everyday life while the Christian churches were few. In 2020, during a short pilot-study visit however, he observed that the area had  Christianized to a large extent, evidenced by a great variety of churches at every corner even of the smallest villages. So far, it seems that the introduction of Christianity has been highly attractive to the local population  and  it is thriving and flourishing.

During  this short visit to the area in 2020 the author was invited to (and attended) many funerals and his impression was that although there is now much more and better health care available, both  children and adults still are affected by high rates of mortality. It could be said that in this regard the missionary aspects of the introduction of Christianity has been more successful than the medical part of this missionary endeavor. The main interest of the present research however resulted from what he observed of  the way in which certain aspects of traditional/historical religious practices maintain their relevance in spite of the otherwise successful and almost hegemonic presence of Christianity in this area. Despite the disappearance of a range of  traditional practices, such as infanticide, divination, wearing of charms, masquerade dancing to mention a few, the researcher was fascinated by the fact that the respect for the ancestors was apparently much alive and seemed to have a great significance for the citizens, including church members of different denominations. This development stimulated him to raise the question: how is the veneration of ancestors appearing in daily life as being one of the most prominent forms of  traditional religious practices in Igede ? And why is it that the respect for ancestors is continuing amidst a process of Christianization of the area? In short: Is ‘ancestor worship’ a resilient part of the local repertoire of religious practices and how do local social relations manage to produce this remarkable continuity ?


Researcher supervising: 
External supervisors: 
Prof.dr. Birgit Meyer
Project status: 
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