Eyoh Etim

What a question! You might say. But the current realities in the world should prompt us to ask this question. I mean the world has changed considerably right before our eyes. The evolution of the Internet and the social media phenomenon has made it easier for cultural incursions to take place, as it is evident in the dumping of European and American cultural objects and values in Africa. The multicultural fervour is at its feverish peak. African culture gets to be seen, appreciated and welcomed in different parts of the world by people of different races and cultures. This in itself is a welcome development. But what I tend to notice is the readiness of Africans to abandon their own culture and embrace that of others even when this is detrimental to their livelihood.

I was privileged to participate in a recent conversation with Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’O during which he, among other things, emphasised the imperative of Africans speaking their indigenous languages and not allowing their languages to die. It was an interesting and very rewarding conversation because Ngugi has a sublime way of connecting whatever agenda one proposes on the continent to the language question. This can be appreciated better when one realises that language is a carrier of cultural identity. It therefore follows that the less we speak our indigenous languages, the further we are alienated from our cultural values as the years roll by.

This then should explain some of the woes of our time like the controversial contents of Big Brother Naija, the utter disregard for human worth and dignity by the political class and the various incidents of gender violence recorded in our time. I can recall someone suggesting that African political leaders should be sworn in using traditional oaths. It could be because the Bible is too ‘grace-ful’ to punish these leaders when they blatantly default on their vows. Traditional values would have taught these leaders that ‘promise and fail’ is a dishonourable thing. But this is at the very apex of societal occurrences. Many more significant events occur farther down the strata.

Today I read that a particular local government area was banning the ‘ekpo’ masquerade rites, citing violence as the reason for the action. The decision has received mixed reactions on the social media as many believe that it is wrong to totally ban the ekpo cultural celebration. Some believe that the council is in the right because the time for masquerade celebrations, which they believe to be fetish, devilish and ungodly, is over. My take on the matter is that practices are either humane or otherwise depending on the mindset and virtue-set of their practitioners.

That ekpo is best remembered today mostly for its violent attributes does not mean that it did not serve serious societal purposes and functions in the past. Maybe the current practices have to be modified to accommodate the dynamics of the times. But to totally ban the ekpo institution is an unwelcomed suggestion. For me, we have many valuable lessons to learn from the continuous existence of the various traditional institutions in our society. For instance, the masquerade institution should teach us a lesson on the need to protect the weak and the defenceless members of society from the strong and the powerful. It also teaches us that the woman and the girl-child should be protected by the man – brother, husband, uncle and father.

As a child growing up in Ekpene Ukim village, I observed that boys who were initiates of the ekpo society were tasked with the responsibility of escorting the female folk in their household to the farms, streams and the markets during the ekpo season. As long as the female is seen with a male, the masquerade cannot and will not hurt her. The male child knows that there are certain tasks that could be performed by the female child to keep the household going; hence the necessity of offering her protection. This is an indication that the traditional society had structures in place to protect its vulnerable members. Thus, the male child grows up with the knowledge that he is to protect the women in his life, and not to hurt them. The girl-child also grows up with the knowledge that the male child deserves honour and respect as the guardian of the family. Today, the female child is not taught to respect maleness anymore and the male tends to use his superior strength to perpetrate the oppression of the female folk.

So many things will continue to go wrong in African societies if we do not inculcate traditional values in our people through encouraging our young ones to speak their indigenous languages and carrying out safe traditional rites and practices.

Is our culture still relevant?

What a question! You might say.

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