I was ten in year 5 when I was taught the victories of Oba Ewuare I; Ewuare N’Ogidigan (Ewuare the Great) of The Great Benin Kingdom. History was my favourite subject back then. The stories came alive for me; the colours, the songs, the battles, the victories and even the defeats. As a ten-year-old Bini girl, learning about my culture was the most beautiful experience thus, Thursdays became my favourite day of the week. Fast forward five years later; my younger brother comes home to let me know History wasn’t being taught at his new primary school. I heard my heart break.
I mentioned this in conversation with a group of friends soon after and I discovered I was one of the lucky few who attended schools that valued Nigerian history enough to teach it to the pupils.
Nigeria is a melting pot of over 200 ethnic groups and almost twice as many languages and cultures.
Every day we see another part of our history and our culture is torn down to make space for new memories: a colonial-era house is demolished for the erection of a modern day one in its stead; traditional attire seen more like costume than formal attire and kids can’t even greet in their mother/father tongue these days; it really does break my heart. It is said that ‘a man who does not know where he comes from cannot know where he’s going‘; it’s safe to say Nigeria does not know where she’s going. The culture of the preservation of history is so lost on us that we have become largely conditioned to believe that we were nothing before colonization. We have so imbibed and appropriated Western Culture that we are now more English than Great Britain.
Our culture is rich in its beauty and its flaws.
Nigeria is a melting pot of over 200 ethnic groups and almost twice as many languages and cultures. The people that make up these ethnic groups and established these cultures did not drop from the sky; they were conceived and birthed like every other living being on this earth and it is very unfair to their many hard, long years of blood and sweat and tears, to discount their hard work in establishing the richly diverse cultures that work in harmony and dissonance to create the beauty that has become Nigeria. These people we refer to as our ancestors were not anything before colonization; they were astrologers, farmers, traders, philosophers, Kings and warriors before the White Man even thought of life beyond his frosty borders. No, River Niger was not ‘discovered’ by Mungo Park and neither was America ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus. There was life and civilization in our land before the ‘onyibo man’. We had disputes, and we settled them, we acknowledged the harmony that must exist between man and force and nature; we had balance.
Yes, Western Civilization brought with it freedom from a lot of unnecessary and barbaric rites, but it also robbed us of our mental freedom.
Jomo Kenyatta eloquently put it: ‘when the Whites came, we had the land and they had the Bible; then they taught us to pray with our eyes closed, when we opened our eyes; they had the land and we had the Bible.
We have let what the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti termed ‘kolomentality’ rule our lives for far too long and enough is enough. We have consciously lived with the mindset that nothing ‘good’ can come from us; for it to be ‘good’, it would have to be something the White man would approve of which is why instead of buying that beautiful Aso-Oke skirt form Fruche, we’d rather invest in the Gucci shirt with the rose appliqué, instead of vacationing at Obudu Cattle Ranch or taking a road trip to see the Ikogosi Springs, we’d rather make sure our children get to see Disneyland and Madame Toussauds before the first ten years of their lives are over.
Exposure to foreign cultures is not in itself bad; it is the message we have passed down through generations with this foreign exposure that isn’t right. We were something before colonization. Our culture is rich in its beauty and its flaws. We had art, methods of documentation and mighty rulers; men and women who fought to keep their people safe. Our culture is enriched with its own stories of pain, hard work, determination, honour, love, sadness, beauty, inspiration, hatred and reconciliation, these things embedded as values in all Africans. If we would only preserve this wealth of history and learn from past mistakes, we would make some progress as a nation.
If we would only realize that we were something before colonization, and we can be so much more after it.