Monday, 25 April 2005
During the weekend of April 23rd 2005, a prominent Nigerian lawyer here in New York City, invited many Nigerians and others, including myself to his home for a jolly Sunday afternoon dinner suffused with wines, champagne and sumptuous foods of assorted varieties.
As is usual in these sorts of gatherings, heated but friendly banters ensued, and voila! It came to pass that the most animated topic or subject was how Nigerians and other Africans have managed to abandon and jettisoned cultural practices that have sustained Nigerians nay Africans for Millenniums, in favor of foreign Christian or some other practices for which they do not have complete comprehension, just as these Nigerians appear not to have complete appreciations for Nigerian and African culture.
These conversations were engendered by the fact that this Nigerian lawyer, had in his lavish home, paintings and other artworks representing the major ethnic groups of Nigeria as in Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, even though he is himself of the Edo speaking part of the potpourri of Nigeria’s wondrous diversities of ethnic conglomerations!
He purchased these artworks during his visits to Nigeria and he brought them to New York to be framed and they were simply gorgeously rendered and exquisitely finished, they glowed both in their forms and textures… we all marveled at the very distinguished works of the Nigerian artists who produced these artworks that were obviously very patiently and painstakingly done!
Two guests’ contributions struck me among the very important and very animated conversations that ensued, first was the fact that there exists, a non-Nigerian professor at New York University, my favorite school in New York city outside of University of Maiduguri and the Nigerian Law School, the non-Nigerian professor it is said, is a person who is more familiar and knowledgeable regarding, and in connections with the intricacies of Nigerian artwork, in contrast with most Nigerians, especially the Nigerian elite or educated middleclass who exhibit myriad conundrums in relation to things Nigerian!
It came to pass, as is often the case in these sorts of friendly banters, that most of us wondered aloud why it now takes a non-Nigerian’s good tastes in things Nigerian, in Nigerian art, in the idea that Nigeria is wonderfully endowed with charitable, hospitable people, and the fact that Nigerians constitutes a bunch of amiable human beings on God’s wide earth, but why do Nigerians have to have a non-Nigerian to awaken or enliven our interests nay, appreciation of things Nigerian?
And why, have our cultural practices that have nothing whatsoever to do with religion, are now forcefully relegated if abhorred by Nigerians in the name of modernity or “civilization” such practice which usually means undiscerning rejections of Nigerian things in favor of everything foreign, which means that, naturally made oils that served multi-purposes successfully for generations of Nigerians, usually had, for free or at little or no expense at all, have all been summarily rejected without examinations or without qualms, while non-Nigerians substitutes that posses less efficacies or no efficacy at all, are promptly accepted without any cost-benefit analysis, but instead with the blind-faith of, it is imported, it must be good and superior to Nigerian made! Objective independent evaluations by Nigerian scientists
As it turned out, Mrs. Oviawe’s who led the charge for cultural redemption, had her husband explain to those present, the molecular specificities and elemental structures of Ori-Oyo, himself a seasoned industrial chemist with an a reputable American company, informed us, how frequently he has found that the ingredients and chemical elements in their production processes are simply siphoned or pilfered from Nigeria and other African/so-called Third World or developing countries, and thereafter, there are generic spin-offs mass-produced from synthetic bases, which quickly renders the original Nigerian African natural products unnecessary or redundantly un-needed! He demonstrated this with his example of a unique Yoruba house oil called Ori-Oyo, perhaps from the Oyo empire? But popularly known in America as shear-butter, popular with ladies and fashionnistas or the fashion conscious. We were informed that this Ori-Oyo is made from palm-kernels or coconuts through a not so complicated process…. He explained how the public is made to pay $65 for 2 ounces and what is worse? Some Nigerians at home or here in New York would rather die, or pay $65 dollars for the 2 ounces of synthetic shear butter, instead of the home grown pure Ori-Oyo.. just as some Nigerians in Nigeria would not think their social engagement in Nigeria a complete success until and unless, there is imported orange juice served at such party, in complete substitute for home grown and fresh-squeezed more nutritive Nigerian oranges!
At that point, I was so moved and wondered if I have been having too much to drink, as there were ample supply of a cross spectrum of hard liquors of brandies, whiskies, vodkas, champagnes and assortments of wines…. But never mind, it was not my ingestions of alcohol at all, it was solely the profoundness of the subject that we had at hand and their national, continental or even racial and global implications/ramifications.
As someone from a formerly colonized country or society, I realized and continued to be embarrassed by the dramatic negative effects left on Nigeria, Africans and of course other formerly colonized peoples, by the culture of the colonizers, usually the Americans and Europeans! There is the jettisoning of local religions, morality and native cultures replaced with American or European cultures, religions and precepts.
In colonial days, Nigerians were forbidden from answering African names because such names were not from the bible or biblical for the Africans who are newly “integrated” into American and European ways. So that a Nigerian Christian male usually answers to Paul, Patrick, Joshua or Gabriel and female Nigerian Christians may then be named Mary, Sarah, or such other truly Anglicized Christian names, in derogation to Nigerian or Africa name! A Russian remains Andropov even if Christian and a German remains Ratzinger until he becomes Pope, but Nigerians Africans have been Paul or Sarah since baptism in the Catholic Christian Church.
Since the advent of the comatose state of the Nigerian economy some twenty years ago, religion, especially the Christian religion have become the growth industry, apart from the recent telecommunications boom of the GSM revolution, so, the newly passionately Christian youth are quick to destroy their parents ancestral arts and ornaments at shrines, because such items have been deemed “fetish” names, have been changed or switched from Igbineweka to Igbini-Jesu, or from Igbinogun to Igbinosa, explained Mrs. Oviawe who is a Bini/Edo born, she stressed that these name somersaults are engaged in by some Christian Nigerians, just so, any homage to Iron, as the Americans would name their persons after trades, such as Goldsmith and no American Christian would say Mr. Ironsmith or Mr. Goldsmith names are fetishes!
Recently, I guess it was in mid February 2005, more than 18,000 Americans gathered in the state of Pennsylvania, to watch the famous Mr. Ground-Hog come out of its hole to predict early Spring weather or prolonged Winter weather, upon which some irate members of the mammoth audience proceeded to boo the burrowing ground animal which looks more like a giant rat, they booed the poor creature for delaying a bit, in emerging from its hole! The very technologically advanced or well developed Americans relied superstitiously, on this mindless animal as predictor of season’s gestations! Instead of reliance on some metrological equipments!
How also, about our recent witness to a Catholic Church ritual of a most silly-quality? Burning to generate black or white smokes to signal the agreement or disagreement in the selections processes of a Papal successor? Nigerians or other Africans will be laughed at, and scorned derisively, were we to engage in these superstitious silliness, including the heavy reliance on phone call to astrologers, soothsayers, palm-readers, fortunetellers who are irrationally believed, trusted by and patronized by millions of Americans to be capable of predicting fortunes, happy marriages and other earthly blissfulness and, on which they spend billions of dollars every year.. reading and interpreting birth signs or birth-date-stars! Wealth, health and happiness are all wonderful progenitors of good birth-sign, birth-date-stars! Just as some Nigerians willingly give their last Kobo to boisterous hustlers parading Nigerian landscapes as men of God, but merely operating what I understand some old lady in Benin described as Jesus Enterprises! Any sale of shares from these Jesus Enterprises will be good business practice, as I learnt that donors of a thousand Naira receives its worth vice versa a donor of a Kobo who gets a Kobo prayers’ worth…
Nigerians used to get arrested fined and jailed for having local gins, brewed from grains and alternately called Ogogoro, Kai-Kai, Push-me-I-push-you, or Crin-kana etc, which were replaced promptly, with the now ubiquitous aromatic Schnapps that soon assumed and retained unsurpassed status symbol among the old men in your hometowns and mine!
Then imagine the fate of the Ogogoro brewer-maker and the distributors of Nigeria’s homemade alcohol spirits? We have unwittingly kept foreign producers of Schnapps busily employed, while our people who produced items now imported, are unemployed and impoverished as consequences of switch from these uncountable Nigerian items to their foreign counterparts, for which we have been convinced are top rate or second to none! The same fates have befallen our native religions, our native attires, our delicacies, our language our entire cultural practices and way of life! What colossal losses to us?
The herbs that your great grand parents knew and used to great efficacies, are replaced by aspirins and panadol etc, without even a scintilla of debate… Nigerians, Africans and other formerly colonized peoples have become the “other” meaning, other than themselves or former selves, as in pre-colonial societies, before someone foisted foreign gin, foreign soap, foreign medicines, foreign languages, foreign religions, foreign names, foreign orange juices and more and more foreign concepts and precepts that are not necessarily as good or superior or suitable to local use and circumstances
Have Nigerians, Africans and other colonized peoples neglected or omitted to engage in assertive self-definitions? Did we miss opportunities for self-assertions and self-definitions? Were we in the alternative, actively prevented from doing these?
It is not too late! There is now information and knowledge, a re-awakening!
A consensus was reached, that Nigeria, Africans and other peoples of formerly colonized societies, need to urgently reclaim the useful and relevant portions of our pre-colonial cultures, ways of life, whether through refinements of local Akpokavins-gins, Ori-Oyo or Burukutu or the retention of African names even when we become new world Catholics or some other sorts of Christian or religionists.
A Nigerian gentleman adamantly insisted that we from now onwards, do better business of documenting the vital ways of our cultures and lives, so that we avoid extinction, complete extinctions of the unique ways of our forefathers and foremothers, ways and things which sustained them for millenniums, in pre-colonial Africa for example; Africans were sustained for quite a goodly long time before the advent of European incursion into our societies, with their accompanying insidious impositions, through brute force, persistent marketing and a preachment of their superiority complexes, which have been ingrained in too many undiscerning colonized peoples. The gentleman insisted we all write, write and write our ways, our cultures into history and into world consciousness
We should now be asking the following questions: Who are we? What constitutes our culture? And ways of life,… in pre-colonial times? What have we lost? What can we regain?