The Religious Role of Women in Igbo
In the Igbo society, women played and still play significant roles in the religious activities of their communities and villages. It is very certain in Igbo land that women both participate in the religious activities of their society and make their own contributions to the spiritual welfare of their families and society at large.
The women in traditional religions, and in Christianity have the diverse ways through which they played and still play active roles. In some Igbo communities women were and still are women Priests (Priestesses), known amongst the Igbos as Eze Nwanyi and as Nne Mmanwu. A good number of the women belonged to the various masquerade cults and play very active roles. The women priestesses offer prayers for their families and communities and consult the oracles to seek for direction and instruction for the society. Women were and still are traditional healers, and some of these female traditional healers handle women and children’s ill health. They have also delivered pregnant women of their babies
Amongst the Christians in Igbo land, the women played and still play very active roles in the churches, the welfare of the priests in charge of the churches are more often than not taken up by the women. It is well known that amongst the Pentecostal Churches, the women Ministry take the welfare of the Pastors as their responsibility. In the 1980s, as a young child, I witnessed first hand the shared responsibility amongst women in my local Church to send in cooked food to the Priests and church workers especially the single ones amongst them.
In the contemporary Igbo society especially amongst the towns in Anambra State,women are very actively involved in church projects and all sorts of levies ranging from Church hall building fund, Church building fund, children church fund are imposed on and collected from the women by and amongst themselves. The popular and annual August General Meeting of some of the Churches have been turned to avenues of raising funds for the Church projects through the women thus giving room to unhealthy competition and rivalry, which are very common and noticeable during such meetings.
Furthermore, a good number of modern day churches are beginning to support women’s ordination as Pastors and Ministers of the gospel and encourage women to hold positions of leadership, unlike in some of the churches introduced by the colonial masters who still treat women in accordance with St. Paul’s instructions in the Bible. In the Anglican communion in Nigeria, women are not ordained as priests, rather they could become lay Readers.
Thus in the religious sphere, the position and roles of the Igbo woman cannot be overlooked as they are like the pillars holding up their society.