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Nigerian priest saves traditional artefacts from Christian converts

by Reuters Journalist

 A Roman Catholic priest is collecting and saving hundreds of traditional pre-Christian religious artefacts in southeast Nigeria that new converts to Christianity had planned to burn.

The collection includes carvings of pagan deities and masks, some of them more than a century old and considered central to the pre-Christian religion of the Igbo people, who traditionally believed them to be sacred and to have supernatural powers.

But Christianity is now the dominant faith in the region and many converts burn their artefacts, which the churches say are associated with evil spirits.

Reverend Paul Obayi, who is collecting the objects from towns across the region, said his aim was to preserve the local cultural heritage.

"So it is just for us to remember that these are cultural artefacts and nothing more, that generations will come here and see, 'oh this is what our fathers regarded as gods'. They will see it with enthusiasm," Obayi said.

The collection is being housed in a museum in the compound of his Saint Theresa's Catholic Cathedral, in the city of Enugu.

Not everybody is convinced that the artefacts are just cultural objects, however.

Akinmayowa Akin-Otiko, research fellow, Institute of African and Diaspora Studies at the University of Lagos said that, in his experience, it was not easy to completely neutralise the artefacts' reputed supernatural powers.

"I think he is keeping history, he is telling a story, but I am also wary because of my experience, because of my knowledge, those things don't go away easily," said Akin-Otiko.

"The potency in them doesn't go away but if he is so sure that he has neutralised them, then they are good enough for museums," he added.

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