was born into a vigorously oral society, a world of griots. The
spoken word was basic for communicating experience.
fondly remember living in an atmosphere of charged lyricism, riveting
anecdotes, startling wisecracks, needling jests, pithy proverbs,
witty riddles, intriguing word play, nuanced conversations, stirring
songs, and melodic chants, all of which continue to haunt my
imagination. Every day was a learning experience in the power of the
Christian missionaries invoked these oral cadences to bridge the
barriers of language and culture. They appealed to the oral
resonances in our tradition to win the hearts and minds of those they
proselyted. To get their gospel message to stay in the heads of their
non-literate audiences, they worked their way through such aural and
auditory elements like arresting stories and catchy songs. Knowing
parables have folksy structures that echo our oral narratives, they
cashed in on these too.
from the familiar storytelling devices honed in them, parables
carried over with other staggering appeals well loved by the people.
Like our folktales, the parable was not only aesthetically satisfying
but also morally instructive.
master teacher, Jesus Christ, used parables to dazzling effect. With
its surface and underlying meanings, he used parables to connect with
audiences who sought entertainment and those who sought knowledge. In
addition, the setting of the Lord’s society in some ways
resembled mine where withering illiteracy compelled rustics to rely
on oral traditions to preserve and pass on knowledge.
parables were a common method of instruction in his culture, the
Savior used them with such telling force and power that his audiences
were “astonished” at his “authority.” Little
wonder that centuries after, his impact still proves true that, “The
influence of a good teacher can never be erased.”
my childhood, this heritage was a lively incentive to memory. Songs
and stories easily enabled my people to connect with the light and
truth they were taught. The long-lasting effects of these on the
minds of the people burned in them a desire to know more.
missionaries keyed on to this interest by introducing literacy
programs. If the people could read and write they could enjoy and
live Bible principles when the missionaries were recalled or went
maternal grandfather, Jacob Iwok, was so smitten with these stories
upon converting to Christianity that he bought a Bible even though he
could not read. Flush with love for learning even at old age, he got
his only son, Monday Jacob, out to school, picked up a few alphabets
himself and recorded events on the blank pages in the book.
he died before I met him, I was thrilled by what he scrawled and
highlighted as his favorite scriptures. These inscriptions
transported me back in time so that I could see him groping for truth
and forging a future for his posterity.
often told us he would sit on a wooden recliner, giving thought and
attention to the Bible he held. He loved Psalms, Proverbs, and the
story of Job. He had lost and grieved over relatives, so Job’s
assurance that if he died he would see the Lord again in the flesh
had especial appeal to him. He pondered the virgin birth and the
empty tomb but knew God was all powerful enough to do the impossible.
were quick to vilify him for holding a book he could not read.
“Jacob,” they taunted, “isn’t that thing
supposed to be read with the eyes by those who know how? It seems
you’re reading it with your nose,” they mocked.
he would tell them that, “Edisana Spirit,” meaning the
Holy Ghost, was his teacher. Lifting the Bible up, he would add that
somewhere in that book was a promise that the Holy Ghost would teach
him the truth of all things.
he spoke like that, those who were not converted to his faith jeered.
It maddened them that he, the son of a chief and a chief himself,
abandoned the religion of his ancestors for Christianity, so they
scowled and barked. Yet others feared his Bible was a powerful juju
which prevented him from the curses they placed on him for choosing
the new religion.
who scorned him for giving up his status to pursue the new religion
hardly knew his preference conferred on him greater relevance.
the scoffers were folks who had court business to do in a nearby small
town. At court instead of the charms they swore at back home, they
were asked to place their hand on the Bible and swear they would tell
the truth and nothing but the truth. If anyone needed proof the Bible
was voodoo, that was it.
was unperturbed. Rather he made a shelf in his living room for his
Bible and his Church Hymnal. Since they had no idea what a library
was, folks concluded the shelf was a shrine and the sacred books it
held had magical powers.
who ridiculed his efforts at reading knew nothing of its ability
to change life and encourage good citizenship. But Uncle Monday,
his son, did. Perhaps that was why he inscribed on the father’s
tombstone, “Here lies the body of a great nationalist.”
old man desired his scriptures be placed in his coffin. Before the
coffin was sealed, however, Mother, infected by her father’s
love for the Bible, reached out and stole it when no one paid
attention. She sneaked out and hid it so that not even her mother
could see it. For a long time, she retained and handled that Bible with care
like a curator with a delicate artifact.
I gently flipped through the fraying book one day under her watchful
eyes, something caught my attention. In laborious handwriting
Grandfather wrote the names of his family members, apparently
consecrating them to the Lord. His desire was so electrifying I felt
a powerful connection to him.
meager writing, probably the only one he knew how to write keenly,
turned my heart to him and challenged me to live his love for God,
family, and learning. Of all the treasures Mother lost during our
civil war, the loss of that Bible remains the most painfully
he was not a teacher by calling, yet the few lines he scribbled in
his Bible taught me the values he cherished. Reflecting on his
highlighted verses, I found the example he bestowed on his posterity,
his choice of a worthy cause and longing for deity uplifting. Without
really knowing it, he pioneered my belonging in the Church where I
have come to deeply appreciate the succinct statement that, “A
teacher affects eternity.”
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North