As 2019 approaches and all our discourse has been taken over by the political mess we have found ourselves since independence. But there may yet be time for the more pertinent issue of why we are so blest. Truth spoken, it’s time we looked back at how we left the path of our forefathers for those of aliens in saviour clothing. A situation that has left the nation with all kinds of public holidays dedicated to these foreign beliefs but none to our indigenous faiths. Anyway…
Thus, that the recent Beyond Tolerance Event held in Abuja beamed its searchlight on the practice of our traditional religion(s) in Nigeria today came as no surprise to me. Held under the auspices of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, it left none of the participants in doubt of the great need there is for such forums. The more so if we ever hope to recover the years hitherto lost to the locusts of intolerance.
In the main, the event featured the premiere of the eponymous documentary film. It starred the likes of Dubi Imevbore, Ayinke Adefemi and Ifagbenusola Popoola who have individually found reason not to stray from our tradition based on personal conviction. Unlike many that have swallowed the foreign beliefs hook, line, sinker and pedestal, they have been able to discern the wheat from its chaff and stuck to their roots.
The event proper kicked off with a discussion on the mounting cases of the destruction of the few artefacts of our traditional religion yet standing. Mostly, these are carried out by fanatics of the revealed religions. Ever since they ‘invaded’ our continent from without roughly some two thousand years ago, their aim in view has been the extermination of what they met on ground. A role that has since been usurped other by their later-day cohorts in different clothing. As highlighted by Dr Hambolu of the archaeology department of the University of Jos, in ignorance, they willingly destroy these haloed sites.
According to another discussant, Ike Nwakanma, of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Traditional Religion, nowhere is this ‘stupidity’ as advertised as it is in Nollywood films. In his words, it has been the vogue in these video-films to cast our traditional belief systems in the worst of lights, as though evil is our second nature. A trend he wants checked before it rubbishes us as a people.
If anything, though, Beyond Tolerance has shown that although often derided and denied in high places, our past is yet undue for passage into premature desuetude. Quite aptly, it managed to highlight the enigma, stigma and dilemma of practising these pristine belief systems these days. All leaving a hanging question on all lips: But why not? After all, it guided our forebears through life; well, indeed, before the ‘invasions’ notably from the Middle East.
Like is encountered at every turn, these revelations that are only about two thousand years of existence. Yet they have more or less aimed at eclipsing aboriginal belief systems inherited with the earth peoples have trod since time immemorial.
Take Christianity, for instance. The attempt by Jesus’ apostles to supplant the subsisting other in Jerusalem with the new belief met a brick wall; one so strong that they could not but flee its incipient persecution. A development that was to follow them up until Rome till the powers that there be gave them reprieve.
The situation was to take a different turn when Africa joined the fray. Though the north of the continent was to gain from apostolic missions, whatever it gained was later almost wiped out to Islam, after close to four hundred years! So much that but for the Ethiopian and Coptic churches there would easily have been to Christian effort to cite up there.
Yet, the sub-Saharan effect which has slowly crept past its second centenary came differently. With the downward march of the Islamic Jihadists stopped by the combined forces of dense vegetation, tsetse flies and mosquitoes, the Christians could not come till following the rejuvenation occasioned by the Protestant Revolution. The earlier efforts, bulled by the Pope, having only scratched the surface before petering out with ignominy.
However, thanks but no thanks to the early Christian converts, being a Christian was made akin to disowning your past and patrimony. These proselytes introduced to the three Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘ritmetic soon progressed to weep more than their bereaved masters. This saw our god(s) labelled pieces of wood; our symbols, fetish. No sooner posted to man/woman the teaching positions in the missionary schools, they started feeding us with such instructions like that the Niger, on which our ancestors played, fished and travelled alive, was ‘discovered’ by a Scot!
And this is what makes the Beyond Tolerance Documentary and Event most evocative. While these neo-Christian converts revelled in their zeal, they forgot that time, according to the late poet/dramatist Esiaba Irobi, apart from wounding all heals, also has the capacity to heel all wounds. With most of these early converts now long gone, their children armed with more purpose-driven education are better groomed to see beyond the lies. Hence, there is no better time than now for us to think about the circumstances that led us into these various extraneous belief systems holding us by the jugular. For, if indeed the world is one, and there is no human habitation that did not have an aboriginal belief system in place upon their ‘discovery’, then it is up to none of them to enforce theirs on others.
In the final analysis, it is well known now that the confusion of civilisation with religion is a nonstarter in any modern-day argument. Nothing at all stops us from practising our ancestral beliefs in jackets and ties if we so choose. Or even in raffia skirts and jigida beads, for that matter. After all there is nothing religious about algebra and calculus. The Chinese and Japanese for all their scientific and technological advancement did not abandon the way of their forefathers. Till we do the needful, we may never have a day set aside for the remembrance of our forebears in the plethora of public holidays lining our local calendar. Which, perhaps, may be the reason for our eternal wallow in the mire of national disgrace.
- Isidore Emeka Uzoatu, author of the novel Vision Impossible, writes from Onitsha.