In this interview, media veteran Chuks Emma Ilozue moved up close and personal with the esteemed Reverend Father Raymond Arazu, famous traditionalist, philosopher and priest. First published five years ago, it tells all about this enigma who remained a priest while being firmly rooted in his native tradition to the very end.
How will you to be introduced?
I am Reverend Father Raymond Arazu CSSP. I am a Holy Ghost Father. I went to the juniorate, Ihiala and from there I went to the Holy Ghost Novitiate Awomama, from there to Ishielu and so on.
In 1966 I was ordained priest, the last ordination Arch Bishop Charles Heery did before he died. Then that same year I was sent to Rome, and that same year the war started and my plane was the last to come to Lagos before everything was cut off. I arrived in Rome and the rest of it are in my book: ‘You have One FATHER who is in Heaven’ which I have given to you. Where I worked and so on are contained in it.
The enigma about you is your involvement in the practice of traditional medicine. How do you feel when people see you as a priest and a traditional medicine practitioner at the same time?
Father Raymond Arazu: Yea, you know the word ‘dibia’ (native doctor) in Igbo, Professor Onwuejeogu distinguished dibia afa, dibia aja and dibia ogu. There was one ‘dibia’ he missed, that is: dibia oje n’mmuo.
Now dibia afa is a fortune teller; dibia aja is the one that offers sacrifices and so on, dibia ogu is the herbalist, physician. The priest is dibia aja in Igbo.
There is no word for priest in Igbo. Ukochuku is not an Igbo word. Somebody coined it; the word for priest is ‘dibia aja’, he offers sacrifices for people.
Now, some of them combine the three – dibia afa, dibia aja, dibia ogu. I have decided to combine the three because it is my family heritage. My ancestors were ‘dibia ogu’. So, I happened to be ordained dibia aja so I took up with the one in my family, ‘dibia ogu’, quite late in my priesthood.
I was having a lot of problems and I decided to use during the war the knowledge I have. I knew about herbs without being taught because I have used quite many of them. So I decided in the absence of medicine to start using this. And as soon as I started using this, everything I touched improved. I realized that it was a vocation so there is no need, you cannot run away from it. I started using the knowledge I have to help people.
In other words when you were growing up, that is, when you were in the seminary, you did not get any signs?
Father Raymond Arazu: Not at all. No idea. Even after ordination, even when I went to Rome. It was during the war I realized that I know a lot of herbs that can help people and there were no medicine. I started using it and slowly and the thing developed. I realized that it is the heritage of my family that I can’t run away from it.
How big or famous were your forefathers, in the practice of traditional medicine?
In fact in Ihembosi town, I come from Otukpe village. My own clan is called Ezedibia, that is, king of traditional medicine. It is known: every man is a traditional medicine practitioner till tomorrow.
You said you were having a lot of problems as a result of your call to traditional medicine practice and you decided you cannot run away from it. In what way was it disturbing you?
For example, I wrote an article when I was in Rome and I sent it to my congregation and for no reason I was deported the next day. I landed at Uli Airport at mid-night sitting on a bag of rice. It went on and on like that. It was after the war that I was sent back again to finish up and I just got one year for the PhD.
I wrote an article and my superior didn’t like it, that I criticized Irish Holy Ghost fathers, their approach to things in Nigeria. He thought I insulted him and I was sent back to Biafra. The first plane I was to board, they told me that the five pilots were learning to land in Biafra because they were making a lot of money, that they don’t take passengers. So I waited for the next one. Those five pilots all died; they crashed in Biafra and they were buried there. I came when their plane was burning. If I go on and tell other stories….
Yes, I think you need to tell more to convince me that you were really encountering a lot of problems because that you wrote an article and your Superior General didn’t like it cannot be sufficient reason to say you were having a lot of problems?
Father Raymond Arazu: Except that I did not even know why I was encountering these problems. Even before ordination itself I was so being disturbed in my mind that one day I went to the Rector to tell him I want to quit. He said is it about those disturbance you are having? And I said yes. He said then don’t go, then I stayed. When I was teaching in the juniorate at Ihiala I was teaching Geography and Mathematics and at the same, time I decided to take Latin and English Literature at Advanced level, GCE, London on my own.
Now when the result came out they didn’t show me the result, three years after I got a mail from the post office and I went there. There were three certificates. I didn’t know I passed well in those subjects. They kept them. Probably they thought that I would go if I saw it. So I hid the certificates also I didn’t tell them. If you look at the back of my book earlier referred for example, during an oral examination for the Master’s Degree in Theology at Gregorian University, I wrote my Master’s Degree Thesis in Latin.
The professor took me to task; he said which language do we speak in this examination; Italian, French, English or German? I told him any of the four. He said ok. Where do you come from? And I said from Biafra, the Civil War was raging at that time. Then he said we take English Language. He looked more closely at me and then put the examination question to me: “Can you prove that God created this world out of free choice?” We never did such a course. So, my answer: This world is the worst that God omnipotent could have made. If he were not free in his choice he could have made something perfect like Himself. He knows why he chose this very bad one. The professor dropped his pen and looked at me again. When he recovered he said: my friend that was good, you can go. I was given full marks. That is me.
How do you combine your priesthood with the traditional medical practice?
It is not difficult. I have even co-founded an association for scientific investigation of the medicinal plants of Nigeria. We have published a book on it. We want to leave something for posterity.
It is not just a question of a herbal medicine like my forefathers. They learn things by oral tradition if they learnt anything at all. But now we have some thing that can be used even in the university to teach. My vice chairman is a professor in taxonomy; I am the chairman of the association. They don’t want to change me.
We meet every month in Enugu. We are about 45 ‘dibias’ and we go into the forest at least once or twice a year to look at plants in situ that is to say, in their natural environment so that you will be able to pick the plant you are talking about. And when we pick one the taxonomist will tell you the botanical name and the family so that if you don’t find it you can look for another one of the family. Then every dibia around who knows what he can do with that plant will come forward and begin saying this plant is used for this, or that. We now realize that by coming out with the knowledge you have, you learn more.
By giving, you learn, you get. To say this plant is used for malaria, for example, the leaf or plant of root, somebody says I use it for typhoid or I use it for ulcer then from the little knowledge you have of the plant you expand your knowledge and we have video and camera there and all these are documented and after some years they will be published, so that we are leaving something for people. Probably that is why I was brought into this, to leave something for posterity.
In Ghana now traditional medicine is one of the things they take as a Degree Course. In Yoruba land the hospitals are now using traditional medicine with the so-called orthodox medicine. I used the word so-called because the word orthodox means genuine but their own is not genuine because they don’t produce. It is the pharmacist that uses what we have discovered in traditional medicine to mass produce drugs. So, we produce the drugs we use. When somebody is sick you just listen to him.
And when you go to laboratory, I have learnt not to trust our laboratory here because they nearly killed me last year. I was so sick last year all my body was full of boils, my eyes were red, the itching I was having all over my body lasted for more than seven months. I couldn’t sleep. In the end I weighed 45 kilogrammes. And I went to India. The first thing they did to me in India was to put me on de-toxification to remove all the toxins, because in Nigeria they said my liver was malfunctioning and I had obstructive jaundice. So, after the test they carried out in India they came out with the result that nothing was wrong with my liver, nothing was wrong with my kidney and nothing was wrong with my heart but that I had prostrate cancer and that it had gone into the bone marrow, but that it has not got into the colon. In another two weeks if I was in Nigeria I would be dead.
At least I knew what was wrong and they started medication. At least I have drugs for prostrate, I have drugs for cancer. We have them in traditional medicine and I came back with their drugs after my treatment. In fact my prostrate the PSA 28.65. But the normal thing should be between one and four. That 28.65 was because of cancer. Now I used their drugs and my own and after three months I went back. They took the test again and it was less than one unit.
The oncologist there was quite surprised but I didn’t tell him that I combined my own drugs with his own. Now if the diagnosis here was correct I mightn’t have gone to India. So, all that expenditure and suffering wouldn’t have happened.
So I am happy that I am in this traditional medicine practice because I am getting the traditional doctors to work properly. I am the chairman of Anambra State Traditional Medicine Board; I was the Secretary before and we are trying to, if only Government will allow us and give us the necessary infrastructure to organize the traditional doctors well as the chairman of Lagos State traditional medicine board has done. They organize the Lagos one very well so it is recognized in West Africa. He is the only chairman of traditional medicine in Nigeria that is invited to Burkina Faso Meeting that they have, one of my directors attended last year, he said it is only Lagos State that is recognized there because they do it properly and it is not all the States in Nigeria that have traditional medicine board. We are lucky we have one here but we are not assisted very well to do the job well so we could organize traditional doctors in this State, call a meeting for them and teach them a few new things; tell them how to treat people and also register them so that we can know who they are. If they are going wrong we can caution them.
My question is: how do you combine your priesthood with traditional medicine?
Father Raymond Arazu: What is priesthood actually? I say mass. I teach in the junior seminary. I was parish priest once. Now you could have asked me, how I combine it with music because I have produced 65 psalms of the Bible into Igbo music, Igbo lyric, Igbo language and poetry. It is the best production in Igbo language so far in music. 65 Psalms and the Exultet (Mkpu Onwu nke Pasca). They are so good that the cassette went to University of Nigeria and they invited me and I gave them the cassettes of all these. The faculty of music spent six months putting them into Solfa and Staff Notation. And they gave me an award. Ask me how I get time for all these. I am now revolutionsing church music so that Arch Diocese of Onitsha sent my name to Rome in 1999 as nomination for Religious musician for the Millennium.
If you are interested in anything you find time for it, and find that it even enhances your performance in other sections. In the end what we are here for is to find how we can help human beings, how we can help people not only physically and materially but also spiritually and psychologically. That is why I moved into this area. If you read this book: ‘You have one FATHER who is in heaven’ you find out that we have gone a little further to move our people towards the understanding of God in a universal way with Hinduism, with Buddhism from every aspect of religion all over the world. As the saying goes, you don’t watch a masquerade standing at one spot.
So, we are attacking the human problem from every aspect. Even from economic aspect, I employ almost 60 people who are working for me in traditional medicine in so many clinics, in harvesting and in preparing, now that is a way of solving the economic problem of our people. I did a borehole about 15 years ago when I was building this place and the water is certified as good for drinking and is given to people 24 hours free of charge. For so many students living around here, this is where they line up and get their water.
What can we do for human beings? That is why I am here. So when I am gone I will be very happy that in my life time I helped a lot of people to drink water, to get medicine, to improve on their knowledge of God- so many aspects and until there is no more energy left in me then I stop helping people.
So, priesthood is the basic aspect of my life because as a priest you can stop me anywhere and go to confession. We have mass every 7am every Sunday and that mass is one and a half hours. My sermon doesn’t exceed 10 minutes and people can go to mass and go and do other things.
We have also every first Monday of the month here esoteric class; things like Hebrew Kabala, I teach it here so that people will not be looking for other esoteric organizations or cult organizations. We have it here. We can teach you everything from Blavasky and dean of fortune, even occult masters, how it is done.
If you read my booklet on Witchcraft, we now know that what is holding us down here is witchcraft. Other people use witchcraft to undermine their fellow human beings; they use witchcraft to make sure people don’t progress more than they do. The knowledge of witchcraft is very important, to know how it operates. I have in my book ‘Man know thyself’ I have discovered what can be used to counter that witchcraft with herbal medicine.
These are issues that I feel that God has used me to help people around here. I don’t know whether I have answered your question.
You have but another question I want to ask is: how do you cope with the conservative Catholic Church?
Father Raymond Arazu: When they say the Church, I am part of the church. So that you cannot rule me out. For example, Francis Cardinal Arinze came here two months ago to visit me and I took him round and showed him some of the traditional herbs and so on. When I showed him something that is used for witchcraft he asked how do you know. I told him how I knew and the Cardinal was nodding. The Cardinal eventually turned to the people and said that we need people like Father Arazu. He said that God has created these plants and they can be used to cure people. But there are people who can find out how they can be used and that is why we are grateful to Father Arazu. I was happy the Cardinal said it before so many people; that he didn’t rebuke me for going into traditional medicine, he was praising me.
Which Diocese do you belong to?
Father Raymond Arazu: I am a Holy Ghost Father. As a Holy Ghost Father I belong to the Diocese of the world. We are missionaries. We are in every country of the world; we send people out but our headquarters here is at Onitsha. We have our own set up. We have our superiors and so on. If you are posted to Onitsha Diocese then you are under the Bishop of Onitsha. If you are posted to Owerri you are under the Bishop there. If you are not posted but you are within the congregation itself like this place, it is a Holy Ghost congregation house. It is not part of Awka Diocese but we are in Awka Diocese.
I asked you that question because I cannot recall seeing you during church activities where Reverend Fathers renew their obedience to the Bishop?
I used to go but because of my sickness. I am 75 and I was so sick in the last three years. But I used to be in all these before. In fact in Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, I used to sit in the marriage tribunal. I was once what you call lawyer or solicitor in the marriage tribunal. Then the Bishop of Nnewi was the chairman.
Also, there was rumour some time ago that you had a problem with the Church and was barred from celebrating mass?
Never! I heard it myself. Somebody told me that and I asked him; can you be barred without being told? I have no problem with anybody.
This place has existed for 15 years. How did you muster the finance to build a place like this?
As soon as I started traditional medicine things get in tow for me. Everything I touch succeeds. I was a civil servant for 23 years even during that time I used to give people medicine under the tree near the Government House. I retired in 1999 and went full time and started getting favours. Everything you see here, people came to beg me to come and buy this place. They needed some money and it wasn’t too expensive – N90,000.00 a plot. So I was able to get that and wall it and put borehole water and I started molding blocks.
I was living in other places like Abagana. It was when my landlord complained that my boys insulted his wife that I had to go. I came here and lived under the deckin and then finished the rest solely. The God with us wanted to help me. I built this place; I supervised it and I didn’t use contractors. There was no help from anybody, everything you see here is a help from the bush.
From my own observation, it appears workers in the dispensary of your clinic keep changing. How do you guarantee the quantity of the drugs sold and produced for you? Are you still in control?
I have brought in my nephew who is the Chairman, Chemical Society of Nigeria, Enugu branch. He is now the Managing Director because traditional medicine is in our family. He now supervises everything we do. If you notice we have got some powdered drugs in their packets. You see that science has entered the thing proper. Slowly we are moving into powdered drugs. With this we go to NAFDAC and get things properly done.
My nephew is an expert, so he is taking charge completely, but I give him the recipe because I discovered you will marvel. Like the drug I call psychic powder for curing mental sickness. It is not the plant only but the root. Only one plant.
God has given us so much but we don’t exploit them. What gets me worried is the amount of bush burning we have around here. People don’t know what they are doing in bush burning. If you know the amount of money that you are just burning, you can’t believe it and some of these plants, when they are burnt they don’t germinate again. We are losing so many of medicinal plants we have here.
There is law against bush burning but nobody enforces it; and especially Fulani cattle rearers. They go to a big forest and get it burnt so that it becomes grass land for their cattle and we don’t seem to notice it. People just mow down big forest for no reasons. Animals like leopard that used to be around here have gone because there is no forest they can stay. If you watch this compound it is about 13 plots altogether. I did the buildings along the edges so that there will be enough land left for planting of medicinal plants and so on.
People should become more conscious of trees. If you go to Enugu, some places like Polo field that has trees have been bulldozed and there are people who don’t know the value of trees even for the oxygenic we breathe.
Do you get some traditional medicine men who prepare drugs for you to buy?
No. I produce about 45 different kinds of medicine. We are getting more everyday. I notice that almost every traditional medicine man specializes in one area. We now know that antibiotics don’t do much anymore. If you take too much of it, it can cause blood cancer and that is why HIV/AIDS can now be cured. For venereal diseases people now turn to traditional medicine for those who can handle it well. So, we are coming in areas where so-called orthodox medicine, so-called because orthodox means genuine but it is our own that is genuine.
The so-called orthodox medicine, a lot of it is fake. So many people are new manufacturing it in Okpoko and they go to Taiwan and bring empty capsules, come here and fill it and sell to people. So, some people die while taking medicine, why? Because the doctor doesn’t produce the medicine, he has to buy and doesn’t control those who sell it to him. There are doctors that are doing very well but they cannot produce the medicine. They have to use the medicine produced by the people he can’t trust.
But that gives you the challenge, the traditional medicine people should go into producing their orthodox stuff in powdered form as it is done in Western Nigeria?
What they are doing now, some traditional doctors have joined us. We have about three or four medical doctors even pharmacists are now joining into producing their medicine in traditional way and some are coming to us now to collect drugs for treating people. The more we get these people we will be happy.
Congratulations on your 75th birth day. How do you feel at 75?
Last year I was sick; I was almost dead. But now I feel younger than when I was 60. I can now do a lot of things but I can’t play football again.
When you are finally gone, what will you like to be remembered for?
That is why I am writing these books, you have them. They are there in the books.
You will also like to be remembered as one Priest who did the much he can….
… to help human beings, in whatever way I can. Just solve human problems in whatever way God has given me the talent