Thoughts on promoting and harnessing our diverse cultures for national good
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen of other Commonwealth realms, Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, passed away on September 8th, 2022 at ninety-six years old. Since then, royal traditions and British culture have been on full display for the world to see as they prepare for her funeral.
I was quite obsessed with the British royal family growing up. My parents bought books on the subject for me, and I would read anything remotely concerning the royal family and its history, including encyclopaedia and magazine articles. At some point, I probably knew the line of succession to the British throne by heart, who was related to whom and how they were related, and what the tabloids were saying about which member of the royal family. I was (to be understood as “I am”) a fully certified royal watcher.
I vaguely recollect my first visit to Buckingham Palace. You can imagine how excited I was seeing a palace I had read about and wondering whether the Queen would step out and say hello. My primary school classmates never heard the end of it, and I am almost certain that I exaggerated my experience.
Looking back now, a major attraction for my interest was probably discovering how well they had preserved and communicated their history. They had well-developed information on many of their important royal personalities and events dating back centuries. The genealogy was clear, their relatives were known, and there were a lot of stories about key people that had shaped Europe and the rest of the world. The cultures and traditions of each era were well documented. The average British person has more than enough information about their past and takes pride in their history.
It was probably this early exposure to British royal history, culture, and tradition that encouraged me to start asking questions about my culture and history. I had many questions which my parents were always available to answer, and they taught me about my Itsekiri and Yoruba ancestry. There was probably a book that provided some information and additional context for questions they were unable to answer. I was also taught about other indigenous Nigerian and selected African cultures in primary school. I knew early on that we had a very rich heritage.
Reflecting on the British royal family and how celebrated they are, I can only wonder why we do not appear to have consistently celebrated our cultures and traditions as much as they have. Don’t get me wrong, each tribe has ceremonies, festivals, and tourist sites worthy of note and most of our tribes maintain their traditions. There, however, no longer appears to be either state or national plans promoting our cultural institutions. Could it be that the Brits find it easier because they have one royal family, and it’s harder for us because we have hundreds spread across the country? Probably. It is also easy to cite the security situation as a major reason for downplaying many cultural activities. In my opinion, I believe this situation started many years before our internal security issues escalated.
As a child, it was common for people to either attend or watch cultural events such as the Argungu fishing festival, various new yam festivals, the Eyo masquerade, and the Lagos carnival parades on television. I grew up seeing various cultures on display, and we often had cultural events in school. As I have grown older, the focus on promoting these events appear to have waned. If you ask the average Nigerian child about the cultural practices they are aware of, chances are that many would draw a blank. Many schools appear to facilitate cultural day only when the Independence Day celebrations come up. If the future leaders of our country are largely ignorant of our various cultures, how then do we expect to preserve these cultures?
Our multicultural nature is a plus for us. It is one we can harness for good to enhance citizens’ cultural identity, engender mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence, engage national PR, and even earn tourism income, from both local and foreign sources. We have so many rich and diverse cultures and histories but we are not benefiting from them as much as we could. This is something that many of our African relatives such as Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, and Rwanda are already harnessing.
A key selling point for many people visiting the UK is experiencing that culture and the Brits know it. UK tourism benefits largely from the royal family and its history. We need to harness our selling points as well. Imagine going all the way to the Africa section of the British Museum in London to see various Nigerian artwork and not having enough galleries here that display our artefacts. We have so many cultural sites across diverse tribes each with its own stories which we should commercialise. Imagine being a foreigner and visiting Nigeria for a full cultural experience, visiting such cultural sites as the Osun- Osogbo grove, the ancient gates and the city wall in Kano, and the National War Museum in Umuahia.
Promoting our cultures should be done at a national level with input from the state and local governments especially as this is where chieftaincy and cultural issues are often situated. With a national agenda, we can craft and implement deliberate policies and plans around how we would promote our various cultures, first within because we have to patronise ourselves and then externally.
To successfully harness value from our cultures and traditions, we need to emphasise the role of our various traditional rulers. Seeing as they no longer have a political governance role with the institutionalisation of democracy, there is a greater need to emphasise their roles as culture custodians. Their existence remains critical to the promotion and survival of our diverse cultures. Involving the private sector would also be a good idea to bring in excellent ideas, efficiency, and accountability so that the economic benefits of cultural promotion can be better acquired.
We have so many cultural traditions and such rich history that we need to ensure it passes on from generation to generation. If we do not celebrate what we have, who would? We need to begin again to take pride in our indigenous cultures and practices so we can showcase our rich cultural diversity to the rest of the world. We have so much to offer ourselves and the world, and we need to take advantage while we can. As always, this is the way I see things today.