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RELIGION AND SOCIAL CONTROL ATTA COMMUNITY, IKEDURU L.G.A IMO STATE
1.1 Background of the Study
The maintenance of social order is a universal phenomenon. If societies should function well, there must be social order and if social order must be achieved, systems of social control must be operational. To this effect social control becomes a necessity in Atta community which is in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State.
According to Iwe (1985):
The real survival of every village or community within the Igbo traditional setting is maintained by the verity of the ways in which the values and norms of the community are preserved and ensured. This process is called social control1.
Generally speaking, social control is nothing but control of the society over individuals. In order to maintain the organization and the order of the society, man has to be kept under some sort of control. This control is necessary in order to have desired behaviour from the individual and enable him to develop this social qualities.
Society in order to exist and progress has to exercise a certain control over its members since any marked deviation from the established ways is considered a threat to its welfare. Such control has been termed by sociologists as social control.
Social control is the term sociologists apply to those methods by which any society maintains a normative social system. It refers to all the ways and means by which society enforces conformity to its norms.
In order words, social control is all the means and process whereby a group or a society secures its members’ conformity to its expectations. Infact, social control in Igbo land exists to promote order, stability and predictability in social life. Atta community has some system of social control, a set of means of ensuring that people generally behave in expected and approved ways. These are embodied in the indigenous religion of Atta people. Atta people have fears and strong beliefs in the efficacy of the gods and the deities of their religion. In Atta community, the religion and social control methods are sets of interpersonal attitudes that forecast rewards for those who obey the rules, and punishments for those who refuse to conform to the rules of the community. Therefore, to maintain an orderly system of social organization and social relation, people are subjected to some degree of compulsion.
To safeguard the welfare of the community, there are many taboos concerning what should not be done and consequences of doing so. There are many things held to be morally wrong and evil, such as robbery, rape, telling lies, stealing, being cruel and saying bad words, showing disrespect, practice of sorcery or witchcraft, interfering with public rights, backbiting, being lazy, greedy or selfish, breaking promises and the like. These and many more are moral vices in the eyes of the community and whoever does them is considered to be a bad or evil person. In extreme cases, sanctions may include social discrimination and exclusion. Good deeds earn praises while bad deeds earn curses, punishments or fines depending on the degree of the deeds. Kalu (1989) supported this view when he affirmed:
In the preservation of social norms and values, a society teaches or inculcates acceptable norms and values, it restricts individuals or groups from breaking those norms and values, punishes those who break acceptable norms and values2.
On the other hand, there are many things that are held to be morally right and good, such as kindness, politeness, showing respect, being truthful and honest, being reliable, keeping promises, hardworking, being hospitable, being considerate, helping others, looking after the homestead and many more. Whoever follows these precepts is approved by society and considered to be a good person.
Generally, social control is classified under the following two forms:
(a) Formal social control and (b) Informal social control.
Societies depending on their level of development may use either the formal or informal methods of social control. In the enlightened societies formal methods are preferred and these include the use of police, army, law, constitution, punishment etc. But in the indigenous society, such as Atta, the informal methods are used and they include: ritual, sarcasm, criticism, ridicules, negative sanction, gossip, ostracism, fines, oath-taking and physical tortures.
According to Kalu (1978), “Social control is based on four models– Acculturative, Restrictive, Punitive and affirmative”3.
A little explanation of these modes may be necessary. By acculturative mode, Kalu refers to the roles and influences of the family – nuclear and extended, formal and informal modes of education, age grades (peers), secrete societies, women association (Umu Ada), kinsemen (Umu nna) among others.
Also by restrictive mode, he refers to the impacts which joking relationship, gossips, praise and blame, ridicule and satire-some of which are clothed in proverbs, music, dance and pantomime make social controls.
By punitive instruments, he refers to the activities and the impacts social structures such as the titled Elder (Ndi Nze na Ozo). These enforce negative sanctions on the offenders. On the affirmative, the society underscores social order with positive sanctions, rewards which affirm achievements, and other accolades that attract admiration to acceptable values.
Consequently, to study social order, one would have to identify the types of social and cultural instruments which tend to prevent breaches of norms, and be able to indicate which agents are used to apply any of the models and what sanctions are applied. This goes in line with Ekeopara’s (2011) view when he said:
Social control can only be meaningful when applied to the situation of life (sitz –im-lebem) in the society. It relates to human society, living in communities where individuals perform their correct functions in the society in relation to the traditional norms, values, customs and structures, which constitute the society4.
The high level of social disorder and moral breakdown in most communities have cast doubts on the ability of the Christian religion in the maintenance of social order in Igboland, hence the quest to investigate the influence of indigenous and Christian religion on social control in Atta community, which is in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Before the advent of Christianity, the traditional religion of the people of Atta in Imo State used to have the most stringent measures for social control in the community. This was due to the fear and beliefs which the people had in the gods and deities of the religion. The fear of instant punishment and even death penalty which was meted to any individual who went contrary to the norms, culture and traditions of the community provided the needed anchorage for peace and stability. Thus, social control was therefore easily maintained in Atta community.
But with the introduction of the Christian religion into the community in 1912, the stringent measures of social control are no longer completely operational. Although the Christian religion did not condemn all the traditional systems and beliefs of the indigenous religion because in some cases, it believes in “letting the wheat and the tares grow together until the final judgment”. It is not as though the Christian religion is weak in its method of social control but its belief in mercy and final judgment by God at the end of time sometimes weakens social control process.
Recently, traditional social control methods have also been challenged by the modern social control methods. These have brought about some changes in the informal traditional social control methods.
The question now is to what extent has the Christian religion influenced the indigenous religion in the social and religious life of Atta Community and how can the two religions be effectively used for social control in Atta community without one working against the other.