…thoughts on culture, heritage, and tradition
The whole world stood still on Saturday, the 21st of August, 2021 as the Itsekiris of Delta State, Nigeria, crowned a new King.
The new King, Ogiame Atuwatse III, Utieyinoritsetsola Emiko, is the first son of Ogiame Atuwatse II, Godwin Emiko who joined his ancestors in September 2015. His uncle, Ikenwoli I, Godfrey Emiko, who reigned after his father, passed away in December 2020.
Being Itsekiri, I was very excited. Our language, cultural attires, songs, dances, traditions and observances were showcased throughout the festivities. Indeed, the coronation was an effective brand marketing tool in creating awareness about the Itsekiris. Many people marvelled at our rich culture. Some friends asked questions about the meaning of names, titles, salutations, and other aspects of Itshekiri culture.
The coronation was a highly anticipated event preceded by a massive social media campaign. Many people, irrespective of tribe, nationality, and location viewed the event. Dignitaries from around the country were also physically present: royals from different tribes, As well as business, political, and religious leaders. Prominent Itsekiri men and women were also on hand at different points of the event: Patrick Doyle and Alero Edu were the event comperes, Omawumi sang the national anthem, and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor officiated at the thanksgiving service on Sunday.
I sat glued to the screen all day, wishing I had made up my mind to attend this epochal event. The coronation took place in Ode- Itsekiri (also known as Big Warri which is the ancestral home of the Itsekiris). It commenced with a boat regatta by different Itsekiri cultural groups and then the Olu-designate performed some final rites in private before proceeding for the actual coronation ceremony.
The coronation inspired my thinking about the value many Nigerians place on their indigenous cultures. Some people, whilst commenting about the coronation, said they wished that their cultures were so elaborate. This was a bit surprising because I believe all our different cultures are beautiful but many of us do not know much about them. I don’t think we celebrate our cultures enough. When last did you attend a cultural event that wasn’t an engagement ceremony? Even those have been diluted with Western influences.
I am lucky to be exposed to two cultures, my father being Itsekiri and my mother, Yoruba. I will admit though, that being born and bred in Lagos has ensured that my exposure to Yoruba culture has been greater. My mother’s family house is in Lagos Island and a good part of my childhood was spent there, watching the Eyo masquerade and other Brazilian influenced carnivals, eating amala and ewedu, and reluctantly watching Feyikogbon on Sunday afternoons.
My father also ensured that we knew our roots. He would take us to his Itsekiri professionals’ meetings where we got the opportunity to meet other Itsekiri children. We also got to eat Banga and Owo soups which Itsekiris love. I must admit that my mastery of the Itsekiri language is not so strong. I could easily blame my father for constantly speaking English but the truth is that he did try to teach us at some point but our interest had waned. Conversely, it was easier for me to learn Yoruba as I heard it all around me.
Our indigenous languages are an important gateway to our many cultures but how many of us can speak, understand, or write in our native tongues? Nowadays, we find that many parents do not speak their native language to their kids. Speaking English has been touted as being more proper than speaking local languages.
On the one hand, speaking the language is important but what about understanding the nuances of the language? The proverbs, wise sayings, prayers, etc? Understanding these typically come from some form of immersion that the home should offer but this is absent in many homes.
Religion has played a significant role in how our cultures have evolved especially Christianity. Many people baulk at the thought of participating in some cultural ceremonies because they believe these are fetish. Many cultural practices have either been cancelled or eroded to accommodate religious leanings. Some people wonder how the new King would fare considering that many religious rites are involved which may conflict with his Christian faith. That is a question many would love to hear him answer.
Intermarriages have aided cultural integration but sometimes, one finds that rather than the new home bringing up more exposed children who understand at least two cultures, these children end up not understanding either of their parents. This is because those parents have unconsciously or consciously decided to raise them as Westerners.
We have assumed that in preparing ourselves and indeed our children for global relevance, we would need to focus on foreign languages and practices to ensure success. This cannot be further from the truth. Case in point: the Chinese. They are spread out all over the world but the majority of them are still well-grounded in their cultural practices and language.
Many non- African black people long to share in our cultural heritage. That is why you very often find them doing genealogy tests or travelling to African countries to experience the culture. That longing for identity is present. We native Africans have it freely but what are we doing with it?
How do we ensure that we retain our very many cultural identities? I believe that we need to establish the relevance of culture to our societies. I often wonder, what is the real work of a traditional ruler aside from being the custodian of culture? How does his or her role fit into the governance structure of society? How can we ensure that they play a more significant role in society?
A lot of work needs to start from the home. We need to acculturate our children and even ourselves. We need to speak our languages, wear our clothes, eat our food, listen to our music, celebrate our history. And while we are doing that, we need to be curious about other cultures. Learn about them, disabuse our minds about all of the misguided stereotypes we have heard.
We need to understand ourselves so that we can fully understand others. It is only then that we can inspire the true strength of our nation, and this is the way I see things today.