Can a universal cure come out of Africa, especially one that originates from mythology? “Nothing good or great comes out of Africa” is a settled statement of the many. Testing the truth of that statement can be either very difficult or very easy, depending on a person’s education and exposure. A reading of James Baldwin’s Stranger in The Village was my first encounter with this oft-heard statement cum conviction. Baldwin argues that the de facto creators of civilisation are Western and only the current civilisation matters. All previous civilisations are mere contributions. Therefore, any non-Western contribution to the present civilisation is necessarily either insignificant or illegitimate. This argument is valid notwithstanding, even when it involves the prevention of millions of deaths.
It is the simplest thing in the world to assume Sub-Saharan Africans were illiterate and uncivilised before the coming of the White man. Such is well-embraced by the African – if you are well educated. Empire Day celebrated throughout the Commonwealth colonies reminded Nigerians that the King or Queen of England liberated them from bondage. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, one of the best-loved works of Western literature describes the African as a savage and languageless, communicating with grunts like apes. The Father of Modern Social Anthropology, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, swore that Africans had no institutions until the White man arrived – Africans had no marriages, kingdoms, trade, hierarchies, architecture, alphabet, medicines etc. of their own. All these facts are false but very rarely challenged by African scholars. Literacy and education did exist in South-Eastern Nigeria, for a millennium before colonisation. Let us talk about Nsibidi.
Igbe is neither my personal nor family religion, but I lived in Urhoboland, where it originated and is still practised, long enough to observe the faith with considerable detachment. I have also seen its practice in the United Kingdom. It is an Urhobo religion but may not be exclusively so. In this brief article, I intend to look at the more gnostic and historical perspective of Igbe than its practices.
Igbe in the Urhobo language means “Dance” or “Joy.” Igbe worship is also an act of gratitude to God for life itself and consists of celebratory devotion. The “Gnosis of the Igbe” is a vocation in which the revelation of the knowledge of the divine occurs to male and female practitioners of the religion provided they have a pure heart and mind. The white attire and headwear of the Igbe followers in worship symbolise stainless purity which is reflected inwardly. The spark of the divine often awakens in the fervent celebration of God; this is why dance and song accompanied by drumming are indispensable. Music has the facility to stir the innermost emotions in people.
After reading Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco a few years back, the unusual happened. I developed a keen yearning to rediscover a dormant space in my mind for the appreciation of illustrated stories and cartoons. I remembered the political cartoons of Josey Ajiboye and Omoba (Dotun Gboyega) and the entertainment illustrations of Morak Oguntade and some others. The illustrations of these men were as political and useful as the illustrations of Joe Sacco, hence the yearnings. Josey Ajiboye was a pioneer and grandmaster in the print media industry. The depth and influence of the work of these illustrators are incalculable as was elaborated in The Role of Editorial Cartoons in the Democratisation Process in Nigeria by Ganiyu Jimoh.
There was a time in the ’60s and ’70s when several jazz musicians of repute had to visit Brazil for a new spark of inspiration. It was almost a “rite of passage” for many jazz musicians. Classics like ‘Song for My Father’ by Horace Silver; ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ by George Duke; ‘Jive Samba’ by Cannonball Adderley Sextet; ‘Sidewinder’ by Lee Morgan; ‘Big Band Bossa Nova’ by Quincy Jones were born of rips and sounds of trips to and sounds of Brazil. These are a few of the Jazz Giants that had made their most successful albums through the Brazilian inspiration. Grover Washington Jr, George Benson, Earl Klugh, Bob James, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Kenny Dorham and many others also had big lifts in their music by way of the Brazilian inspiration. The most Yoruba-influenced jazz group is apparently the Art Ensemble of Chicago (see picture above).
Formal education is one of the most overrated things in human development people on the African continent can gain, maybe elsewhere too. Education in the formal sense is an “institutional thing,” i.e. the stuff of institutions. It is not just the stuff of classrooms and ivory towers. Institutions rely on education and education has to be meet institutional and societal requirements through governance for it to serve any useful purpose in society. The symbiosis of institutions and education is both valuable and undeniable. In a nation where institutions are unenforceable, we must expect the education curriculum to be inadequate in many senses. Education is not just the acquisition skills but also the awareness of the requirements of civil participation in a just or improving society.
Oruru ro w’egbedere ko taghra
Oruru ro w’egbedere ko taghra
Obor ri guono ughwume sonobrughwe rovwo na’a
Obor ri guono ughwume sonobrughwe rovwo na’a
Oruru ro w’egbedere ko taghra
Oruru ro w’egbedere ko taghra
Abortu ri guono ughwu r’Okpan Oghene rovwo na’a
Itu ri guono ughwume Oghene rovwo na’a
When Manu Dibango invented disco music with his phenomenal hit “Soul Makossa“, it was staggering. Besides the breakbeats, jazz and soul influences it was complete with saxophone, trumpet, drum kits, bass and lead guitars, piano/keyboards et al. that made it the big success it was within the New York music scene and later worldwide. Its central sensibility as was developed and perfected came from somewhere. Africa. Subsequently, Fela, Osibisa, Mariam Makeba, Hugh Masekela also working within the breakbeat, soul, funk, and jazz found instant fame and recognition as innovators in the world music scene. And “Afrobeat” credited to Fela soon became an international art form with a strong legitimacy of its own.
Urhobo Blow or UB, Ubi ejeh [meaning: service of punches] or Ohore r’ubi [meaning: battle of punches], is a traditional martial art developed or modified by the Urhobos for military purposes, initially, but has been witnessed in recent times as a ceremonial contest of strength by young males at annual or seasonal festivals. UB has its similarities with mainstream boxing, but the differences are quite divergent. Many ethnic groups along coastal West Africa have their idiosyncratic boxing and wrestling arts. Still, the main distinguishing feature of UB is that the knock-out punch hand is placed by fighters on their backs just above the buttocks during fights. UB is gradually becoming extinct due to lack of interest, funding, organisation, and exposure but may make a glorious comeback as a mixed martial art of international importance. UB was once and can still be a source of great community pride and make heroes. What makes UB unique and worthy of attention?
At the moment the Urhobo nation is both essentially saviourless and leaderless, forget the ethnic bosses. Chiefs Mukoro Mowoe, Michael Ibru, David Ejoor, Great Ogboru, and James Ibori have all been arguably seen as saviours of the Urhobo nation. However, only the legacies of Mowoe and Ibru remain as genuine saviours unperturbed and Mowoe the singular unobstructed unifying leader of Western, Central and Eastern [Isoko] Urhobo. This is shocking considering that Mowoe, the foremost Urhobo nationalist and first president-general of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), died 70 years ago. This no disrespect to (Urhobo Progress Union) UPU and its host of influential leaders. The Urhobo people have produced many illustrious sons and daughters in many endeavours of life, some even rivalling in achievement the five named saviours. One may wonder what it is that distinguishes these five men as saviours to Urhobos but not necessarily leaders? Continue reading
As ridiculous as it may sound, if Anioma were to be granted a State today, the new capital of Delta State would be either Koko (Itsekiriland) or Bomadi (Ijawland) or even Oleh (Isokoland). However, some Urhobos are crying for a [reinstated] “voice” in federal politics at the 90-day suspension of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta: APC) from the upper house of the National Assembly but they cannot even handle themselves well politically within Delta State. Is this not the time for the Urhobo nation to look inwards and sort its cohesion challenges out?
Fejiro Oliver of Secret Reporters recently wrote about his utter disillusionment with the Urhobos (his full heritage) and his embrace of the Anioma people. He cited his betrayal by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as the reason for his chosen ethnic preference. He was poached by Omo-Agege from NTA to be a staff writer with Urhobo Vanguard newspaper set up to assist Omo-Agege in his gubernatorial ambitions. When Fejiro was kidnapped in Niger State for investigative journalism in 2014, Omo-Agege and the entire Urhobo nation turned their backs on him giving mostly unbecoming excuses. Continue reading
The bickering between Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and ex-President Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd) continues. Sometimes simmering sometimes crackling it will never stop. There is no love lost between the two men. Obasanjo is the hedgehog and Soyinka is the fox if one uses Isaiah Berlin’s understanding of great characters. However, the bickering in question is over the contents of the memoir “My Watch” by Obasanjo which has seen Soyinka caught out with a hat trick; Obasanjo 3 Soyinka 0!
Djomuu! Continue reading
Wole Soyinka is famed for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 based on his significant contributions to poetry and drama. Though his award was highly controversial and the Nobel Committee’s ‘choice’ felbious, Soyinka won the prize anyway, deservedly. He was the first African to win the prize. There are very few urban Nigerians that do not know who Wole Soyinka is; he is a living legend. Continue reading
In everyday Nigerian parlance the word “combination”, regarding food, connotes meals that consist of unlikely combinations. Meals are essentially combinatorial products; chips and chicken; a stew made of vegetable oil, tomatoes, pepper, fish and condiments; pineapple fried in batter. People effortlessly appreciate these combinations as customary, but others appear shocking and strange to them.
Take a look at a meal of ‘kola nut and akamu’ (a.k.a. ogi, kunu or pap)! I have seen someone eat that and when I told some people about it, they said maybe the guy was using it as a prescription of magical traditional medicine. I have seen someone eat an ‘amala sandwich’ (bread, butter with a wrap of amala in the middle)! When I first saw an uncle of mine eat ‘bread and coconut’ I was shocked, but a trial convinced me that it was not bad at all. Even ‘rice and yam’ with stew seem odd to many while millions of others eat it.
It was an autumn evening in 1996 when I visited the up and coming French jazz bassist, Collard Romain, at his flat in Camberwell, London. Collard shared the flat with an up and coming pianist, Javier. Theirs was a flat of jazz music. I had met Collard and saxophonist Christian Brewer a few months earlier at one of the evening jazz duo sessions at Café Boheme in Soho, and we became friends.
It had rained hard just before I set out to meet Collard at his flat one evening and cold. When I knocked on his door, a black guy in jeans pants and a jeans shirt opened the door and asked me who I was looking for in an American accent. A quick and apt description of the guy was that he looked like the father or older brother of rap artist Snoop Doggy Dogg. On entering the flat Collard warmly welcomed me as usual and then enthusiastically introduced Clifford Jarvis to me. I was amazed.
The guy [who confessed] was overcome by frustration, hopelessness, sadness and non-existent self-esteem. The problem he had was quite unusual or perhaps very usual, but it deflated him. He found out overnight for some strange reason and maybe exacerbated by diabetes that he was impotent, yes impotent. In his own eyes, he was no longer a man. A few women who had fancied him quickly gave him up when he failed them with non-performance at a time when his stature, muscles, looks and height, at face value, wildly suggested he was capable of gonad-watering performances.
Whether Nigerian intellectuals like it or not, Europe and its extensions were built with the ideas of intellectuals. I cannot imagine a Europe without its prodigious history of great intellectuals in all spheres of learning. The intention here is not comparison but waste. It would appear that in recent times of democracy post-1999 Nigerian intellectuals are increasingly a waste of space because they are not needed. The only intellectual pursuit of note is transient (political and doctrinal economic) consultancy/advice for profit. Is that all they have got though? Continue reading