“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Garvey
“A culture is dying, fading like the embers on a cold freezing morning. We neglected our gods, a tradition that held our clans together. We embraced the white man’s religion, and things are no longer the same” – Ba’Ruu
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures” – Cesar Chavez
“All objects, all phases of culture are alive. They have voices. They speak of their history and interrelatedness. And they are all talking at once” – Camille Paglia
We were all seated inside the makeshift Obi. The elders were seated amongst us. Kola, drinks and snuff were on the center table. The Ogbu Opi was outside, serenading our guests with his Oja as they walked into the makeshift Obi. They have come for Akunne’s Iku Aka – Introduction ceremony. The groom – Emeka – was smiling delightfully.
For the past couple of months, I’ve decided that I would be attending such traditional events more frequently. The only way I could learn from the elders is by watching them partake in these cultural duties. So that when my time is ripe, and I decide to seek a Nwa Baby to marry – my Tomato Jos, these cultural practices wouldn’t be alien to me. So on this day, I sat amongst the elders and watched keenly to learn from them, as they partook in the traditional ceremony of welcoming our potential in-laws to our clan.
The eldest man proceeded to say the prayers and performed the traditional rite of breaking kola. Afterwards, a young man presented the broken fragments littered on a tray to the visitors to take. We also took ours.
Then they were encouraged to introduce themselves. The first man that stood up was adorned in a kaftan made of cheap satin material. He spoke at length about how important it is for a ‘ripe’ young man to seek a companion when the time comes. When he eventually finished his ‘long sermon on the mount’, he identified himself as the groom’s uncle. Others took turns to introduce themselves.
“Kedu Mpa ya – Where is the boy’s father”, Dee Elezie asked. Rumblings and mumblings and hushed whispers were heard after the question was asked. And then the man adorned in a kaftan made of cheap satin material stood up and said thus: “We are sorry, our in-laws. Iwe ewela unu – don’t be angry. It is unfortunate his father cannot be here today. He is a pastor and he had an urgent engagement he wanted to attend to, so he couldn’t make it today. That is why I, and other uncles of his, am here today. Thank you”.
Our elders became furious. Dee Romanus was visibly angry. “Is his religion more important than our traditions”, he thundered. Our elders deliberated for a few minutes and came up with a verdict. “Traditions demand that the groom’s father must be present at an Iku Aka ceremony. The only exception is if the groom’s father is dead. Without the groom’s father being present, nothing would go on as planned”, Dee Elezie said impassively.
Many minutes later, the visitors stood up and left the makeshift Obi. The Iku Aka ceremony couldn’t proceed as planned. Akunne was dejected. Her mother and the other members of umuada consoled her.
Later at night, Akunne told me the truth. She confided in me that the real reason why Emeka’s father didn’t attend the ceremony was because it was against his beliefs. He was worried that the General Overseer of his church would label him a heretic if he went against the church’s ethos by attending the Iku Aka ceremony.
The neglect of our traditions and culture! Before the white man came, we had cultural tenets that bound us together in our respective communities; beliefs that guided us. Some were out-rightly evil while others were harmless. The white man brought civilization and religion in exchange for the destruction of our beliefs. Some historians insist that some rare and exceptional artifacts were carted away to museums under the guise of destroying idols.
Decades have passed and many moons have ebbed away since these inglorious escapades happened. Presently, we live in a society where the vestiges of the white man’s plunder still abound like stubborn weed amongst corn stalks and scarecrows. Folks that claim to be under the influence of the spirit refuse bluntly to identify with anything that has to do with the African culture. Antiquities and artifacts that could fetch communities revenue via tourism are labeled idols and destroyed by bible-wielding firebrand men of God. In destroying these idols, the pastors that perpetrate these heinous acts aren’t different from the ISIS terrorists that are infamous for destroying World Heritage Sites.
I remembered when one of my Sunday School tutors came to visit us in our house one time when we were young. When he entered the living room, he beheld some wooden artifacts that adorned the living room. Immediately, he started speaking in strange tongues while screaming ‘JESUS’ ‘JESUS’. Obviously, he was compos menti but was kabashing upandan. Subsequently, he encouraged us to convince our father to do away with those ‘evil idols’. According to him, such things could habour evil spirits that would eventually torment us. Did I do what he advised? Hell No! I didn’t because I couldn’t bring myself to tell my father to do away with harmless works of art just because my tutor said so.
Over the years, I persisted in my vexation about the dearth of our culture – an innocent lamb slaughtered on the altar of the white man’s religion and served on the platter of Oyinboism. I still persisted with this notion well into adulthood.
One time, I went to a local arts shop to purchase shamballa bracelets and locally made medallions. As I was perusing their collections, I started hearing voices exchanging insults at the cashier’s desk. The accent of the lady that was shouting was that of an individual that had lived all her life in England. There was a tinge of ‘Victorianesque’ flavor to her accent.
As I turned around, I saw a fly chic adorned in a bohemian dress. She had long dark flowing hair that sat comfortably over her shoulders. I couldn’t see her face so I walked closer. Damn, she had a phat booty. All the while, she was still exchanging abusive words with the cashier. When I reached the cashier’s table, I quickly dropped the shamballa bracelets I had collected. At that instant, the Victorian lady turned and I beheld her face.
It took me just a fleeting second to recognize her. Lo and behold, it was Azunna, Mama Azunna’s daughter. She sold petrol at a filling station somewhere in the outskirts of the small town. But there she was, at a local arts shop, all different and speaking phonee. Which day did she go to oversea, I asked myself. I remember vividly that I saw her sometime last week when I went to purchase petrol for my ‘I-Big-Pass-My-Neighbor’ generator. Maybe she went to yankee in her dreams, I guess.
Such people abound on a daily – folks that have decided to live lives that are alien to the reality that beckons glaringly in their face every day. They are the hoi polloi; folks that have sworn to keep wallowing in brazen pretentious lifestyles. Does switching to oyinboism and phonetics guarantee that the individual would be more accepted in the society? Who played these mind tricks on these folks? Others have chosen not to give a shit about their culture and traditions.
In all honesty, I choose to be communally and socially incorrect. If it makes me different, so be it. If I get ostracized from this forlorn land of deception, I’d go away in peace.
It is time for folks to go back to motherland – our root – and seek the essence of our existence. As much as we can, let us embrace those good tenets that bound us together in the past. We could start by encouraging the learning of our indigenous languages and cultures in our schools. Let the kids be taught in their local languages. The era of oyinboism and phonetics should be obliterated and a fresh era born; an era when Africans would be proud of whom they are. It is no crime to share a glass of palmwine with the elders at a village square or during the Igba Nkwu festival. It is not a crime to watch the theatrical displays of the masquerades – Ojionu and Agaba – at the market square during the Ichu Afo festival. It is not an abomination to partake in the Iri Ji festival with a traditional medicine-man beside you, adorned in Nzu and Omu leaves. Just because the preacher says it is evil doesn’t make it evil.
If we choose to murder whatever is left of our culture, no wahala – fair enough. But just be rest assured that there would be no imperialist to mourn with us during the funeral.
Preservation of our culture should be non-negotiable. The time has come and is now, when the true custodians of our culture would preserve the culture in spirit and in truth.
Now Playing: Africa by Toto
Word to Mutha: This work is STRICTLY the opinion of the writer. No Love Lost; No Love Found…It is what it is!