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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

If you ever find yourself conversing in Yoruba and don’t understand something the other person says, you can always answer with “amin” because it will probably make sense at least 50 percent of the time. Amin means amen in Yoruba. Nigerians are very religious people for the most part and you can be sure that in any conversation you have in Yoruba, one person will say a prayer. For example, I have been talking about my upcoming exams with my Yoruba friends lately. Whenever I mention studying for an exam, everyone says “e máa se aseyori / you will pass,” and the response to that is “amen / amin”. Or if I tell someone I am returning to the U.S. at the end of May, they say “aá de layò / you will arrive in happiness,” or “Olorun yóo sin e lo / God will be with you on your journey”. Once again, the only response to this is “amin or ashé / amen.”

Nigeria is an extremely religious country. Massive billboards that just say “JESUS” in bold letters span over highways. You pass a church or a mosque every few kilometers. Every party, meeting and event almost always starts and ends with prayers. Inserting “Olorun / God” into any sentence automatically makes that point important. For example, if you say “Mo fi Olorun be / I am using God to beg you” you will certainly get that thing you want. When my mom landed at the airport in Lagos, I used phrases like “E joo, fun mi laye lati wole nitori Olorun / Please let me in because of God” and the security man escorted me through the door that is usually off limits to people receiving travelers. “Lagbara Olorun / By the grace-power of God,” is another ubiquitous phrase. People say things like “I will be in my office to attend to you tomorrow at 3 lagbara Olorun.

The 180 million people who make up Nigeria are either Christian or Muslim. Most Christians are either Baptist, Catholic or Anglican. Churches are some of the richest establishments here because they do not have to pay taxes, one of the reasons there are more churches here than schools. You see pastors riding around in the nicest cars and wearing the finest cloth. Religion is overwhelmingly divided on geographical lines. Most of the north is Muslim and the south is Christian. Politics must take this dichotomy to heart by ensuring that any president/vice-president ticket is Christian/Muslim. A Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket will never pass. I have had so many experiences with administrators or business people here saying “Lagbara Olorun a máa pari ise yen lola / By the grace of God we will have that work finished by tomorrow,” and I am thinking You either do it and finish it by tomorrow or you don’t, God is unnecessary in this circumstance.

Nigerians also love asking me about religion. Any time I am out of my house on a Sunday, people always ask me if I went to church and or which church I go to. Questions like this, which we consider private matters and off limits for casual conversation in the U.S., are questions people ask without even knowing you here. Politics is a more sensitive subject here than religion.

I am an open minded person; I accept believers of any religion and all peaceful displays of religion. Religion is a strong part about who Nigerians are and a part of identity. I think some people are too religious in Nigeria and leave things up to God to a debilitating extent. People also use the veil of religion to validate their criminal actions, like thieves or money launderers praying that their crimes go well. The way some people practice religion here undermines critical thinking and self-empowerment. Praying can only take you so far and after a while a person needs to take matters into his or her own hands. Many Nigerians are religious but not Godly and use “lagbara Olorun” as an excuse for actually doing work. I hope extreme believers can use their minds more and not leave as much for God to work out. When this happens everyone will benefit, even God.

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Church on Sunday

Like the vast majority of people on the University of Ibadan campus, on Sunday morning I went to religious services. My family is Christian and attends the Chapel of the Resurrection. The chapel is not far from our house – about a 10 minute walk. I put on an outfit I considered Church-appropriate, a blue t-shirt and a flowery skirt, and by 10:30 a.m. Wura (my 6-year-old sister) and I found seats in the crowded pews.

The church was packed tight, each pew completely full with little children, teenagers, adults and elderly, quite a departure from the emptiness of the churches I’ve been to in the States. Easily 400 people dressed in all sorts of bright outfits filled the church that morning. It shocked me how involved young adults were in each part of the service. When the band and 3-person vocal group came on and started singing religious songs in a mix of Yoruba and English, everyone danced – and not just the sway side to side dull dance. These people were into it, butts shaking, arms up in the air, full body movement. I finally let loose, shook it a bit and even mumbled Hallelujah a few times.

After the songs, the pastors spoke a bit, we sang a few hymns (all in English) then they asked the newcomers to the church to raise their hands. Of course I put my hand up. The pastors beckoned me to come to the front to receive a special praise. On my way up I shook hands with everyone I passed, all of them kindly telling me “You are welcome.” To my surprise I met Kevin, a student on my program, also a first-timer at the church, at the front, and with a middle-aged Nigerian man. Our special treat was to sit in the first pew to enjoy the service. Kevin and I entertained ourselves by playing with pew of kids across from us who laughed every time we even glanced at them.

When the service ended, a woman led us Kevin, Kayode and I to a “welcoming room.” She handed us each a form to fill out with the basics: Our name, residence, phone number and reason for attending church today. It said to check one of four boxes for our purpose in attending church. 1) I want to commit my life to Christ. 2) I want to be baptized. 3) I want to be confirmed. 4) I want to recommit myself to Christ. These options posed a problem for me seeing that I am Jewish and have no intention of converting. I sat there for a while weighing the options and finally wrote in my own answer reading “I want to observe the church services,” checked it and handed in my form. Then I respectfully explained to the women welcoming us in Yoruba that I am a Jooo and wish to attend services but not any other religious groups. She said OK and proceeded to lead us in prayer for five minutes. My plan is to buy a bible written in Yoruba so I can learn the language and pretend I’m seriously following the church service.

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