The African culture is at a decline. This is undisputable seeing how clear it is that the culture for which we have been known is not as strong as it used to be during the Pre-colonial times. Many Igbo cultural practices ranging from festivals, solemnity and religions have been abandoned and are no longer in practice. Even today, many young Igbo people cannot speak their language! How much more know anything about their origins. How did this decline begin? Who are the people responsible for it?
Culture is like a thread that unites a people to their roots and origin and so when it begins to decline, the people become disunited from those things that unite them. Chinua Achebe in his novel, Things Fall Apart writes “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act as one. He has put a knife on the things that unite us and we have fallen apart.” Indeed things have and are still falling apart among our people since the advent of colonialism. But is the irresistible tonic of western education and religion brought to us by the white man to be blamed totally for our loss?
Most young Igbo people of my generation were born into and are still active in the Christian religion. It is worthy of note that we were born just about 100 years after the coming of the British colonial masters in the late 19th century. In such a period of time, there has been an almost total conversion of the people in the land from the cultures of the land. From the books available as historical record on this topic, we find that any of our parents and grandparents had been all too happy to abandon their own religion for that of the white man because it offered them the solace and closeness they didn’t have in their former religion.
From 30thAugust to 7thSeptember, we travelled round the Eastern parts of Nigeria especially seeking to do a documentary on African shrines in concert with African spirituality. In most of the places we visited, we were not allowed to see the shrines how much more make a video of them for some obscure reasons. Although we had explained to them that this was supposed to be a documentary to bring the knowledge to the myriad of people who were going to see the documentary that the African traditional religion was still in practice, we were still required to pay some money. At Okija shrine, we were asked to pay the sum of a million Naira, in another village in Enugu, we were asked to bring a cow. How does one become a partaker to a culture that is not easily accessible to you? On the 4th of September, we had visited the home to the chief priest of Iyioji-Odekpe and had not been able to see him and so were asked to return two days after. On the day which we returned and eventually saw the Chief priest, he practically insulted us and threatened to tie us all in his house for daring to come and make enquiries about his deity. This is the attitude we were shown for doing a job we should be paid for doing in a clime where promotion of culture is an agenda at all. The white man had succeeded in pushing us apart during colonialism but more than a century later, we are still pushing ourselves further apart.
What is wrong in making a documentary about a deity? We were told in many of the shrines that we visited that an attempt to capture the deity on screen would prove futile and the picture would appear blank. In some places, we were told flatly that the camera would get spoilt at the spot, yet we were not allowed to try. It was as though they were afraid of the image of their deity being broadcasted in the public premise. But the question is, a god that resists modern technology, is it a progressive god or a retrogressive god? The answer to this question should provide another answer to the question of why our indigenous religion among many other cultural practice of ours is on the decline. This is because the world is progressing at a fast pace of technological and digital innovation. And a god that cannot move or be made to move along will definitely be left behind. In the past, about 90% of the indigenes of a town are resident there. It didn’t take more than a town crier to assemble them together for a gathering or pass across an information. But today, especially among the Igbo people who are natural travelers, many sons and daughters of a particular community could be so widespread that they are scattered all over the world. How do we communicate to these people about their culture without the internet? Ignorance is not always brought about by the unwillingness to be aware but also brought about by the unavailability of awareness. If we do not create awareness on the dying African culture, how do we expect to resurrect it?
The trend among young people these days in our locality is to post pictures on the internet every 31st of October in celebrating Halloween day, an American culture that is still very much active today despite the country being a largely Christian nation. Many of these people have never attended a new yam festival in their own town, a good percentage of them know nothing about their culture. And many of these people use the internet everyday and this was how they came to know about distant cultures like Halloween but have come to know nothing of their own roots. It is sad to not that the greatest challenge we faced during our tour was nothing but accessibility. A total overhaul is needed in our mentality. The white man brought his religion to us all the way from his country through sea when there was no internet but we are scared of taking our cultures beyond the shores of our vicinity. It doesn’t matter if we do not practice the religion, what matters most is the preservation of these cultures and making them known to the people whose heritage it is.
There are many benefits of a well kept culture. Apart from the deep sense of identity it affords, it could as well become a centre for tourist attractions if well groomed and developed. Examples all over the world are the relics of Catholicism like the famous cathedrals like the St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, the Mount Horeb and Sinai both in Israel, Mount Calvary and many other significant locations in the Bible that have been preserved till date. Every year hundreds of thousands of people migrate to these places to see them and it has become a major source of revenue for their government. Do we forbid such things?
The time to wake up and realise all our losses has long been overdue. Our government and responsible agencies should wake up to the fact that our cultures are dying and need resurrection. These things should be taught in our schools, History should be reintroduced into the curriculum and these chief priests should be made aware of the fact that if their gods must remain relevant in this age, they should be convinced to drop their phobia for modern technology. And embrace it and other means through which these cultures can be promoted.