On Nigeria’s Indigenous Cultures and Postcolonial Feminism


 

I was raised as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I was baptized when I was three months old and named “Loretta” after a noble European saint, but the church secretary or catechist got the spelling wrong, he/she wrote “Lorrita”. The mistake was not corrected and I didn’t care to correct it – even though, later in my teens, my father wanted me to. Anyways, I didn’t need the certificate until I was in secondary school and was required to provide my full names including my “English name” for the school’s records. So, I provided the baptismal card, I became Lorrita (don’t call me Lorrita, though. I no go know say na me you dey call). In 1994, aged 11, I had my first Holy Communion and was confirmed as “God’s child” on the same day. I remember that Easter vividly, the fanfare that preceded, accompanied and followed our – mine and my immediate older brother’s – ceremonial and spiritual initiation into the Catholic Church. It was a white affair: I wore a beautiful, fluffy, white gown, my brother wore a white “native attire” of white trousers and shirt made from brocade or muslin, all the celebrants wore white. The church was a sea of white and aglow with lit candles. I remember wondering what the fuss was all about. I remember, also, hyperventilating about eating the body of Jesus Christ and drinking his blood that I accidentally burnt the sleeve of my beautiful gown, and spent the rest of the night hiding the mishap from my mother – she would have freaked! However, I never thought to question why wearing white to eat the body of God’s son and drink his blood was acceptable behaviour, whereas wearing white to break kolanut and greet the ancestors before a clan’s shrine was decried an evil behaviour, until nearly two decades later. Granted I grumbled when my mother banned me from attending the aju festival in her village because it was ungodly, but I never questioned the inconsistencies in Nigerians’ attitudes towards our indigenous religions as opposed to our receptivity towards Christianity. Until 2012-2013, the intervallic period between my father’s death, his burial and funeral rites, I did not fully comprehend how Christianity had pervaded Nigeria’s cultures to the detriment of our indigenous  cultures and religions. It was during this period that I had my first full-on contact with the Umuokpu – daughters of the kindred, of which I am one; I danced the traditional dance of a grieving daughter – an Igbo custom – to Christian songs sang in Igbo amidst drum and ogene beats. It was during this period that I witnessed the unabashed contest for supremacy between traditional religious practices and modern (read: Christian) religious practices. Our Umunna and the Osili masquerade association wanted to pay their last respects to their fallen son in accordance with tradition – ergo, tradition in the sense they remember and practice it. It involved the attendance of a dreaded masquerade at the burial, killing of he-goats and cocks amidst prayers and incantations. However, as a Christian – albeit it a partially committed one – it was also expected that my late father would be buried by a Catholic priest, in accordance with Christian practice. Thus, a compromissory balance had to be struck: the parish priest of the Catholic Church at Enugwu-Ukwu will conduct a mass, bless the grave before and after the burial, and leave the premises before the funeral rites proper. Afterwards, the masquerade and his – it is a patriarchal belief that masquerades are spirits of male ancestors so all attendants are usually male – followers will attend to pay homage to the fallen icon. My oldest brother danced the dance of Diokpala accompanied by the masquerade and his followers while my mother prayed her heart out against “evil forces”. It was during this period too that I attempted to rewrite, creatively, via a fiction short-story, my taught knowledge of indigenous religions as faux and evil. Relying on folktales, stories and events I had witnessed and/or heard about, I delved into the world of precolonial Nigeria. Because Ogwugwu Said So was my first foray into historical narratives that are not tainted by the Europeans’ – Outsider-Inside – accounts of Nigerian cultures.

On encountering Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire during my first year at Utrecht University, I knew instantly that my passion as a feminist scholar was of the postcolonial model. Thus, I would like a Nigerian world wherein our Umuada/Umuokpu continue to be powerful institutions for women’s agency. I want a Nigerian world wherein the worship of Ogwugwu does not = evil or witchcraft. I want a Nigeria wherein our ancestors are not demonized and blamed for all the mishaps that befall us. I want a Nigeria where children are not branded witches because a Christian pastor said so. I want a Nigerian world where people think critically instead of swallowing everything a religion spews out. I want my Nigeria back, untainted by European falsehoods. Thinking back, the period between December 2012 and March 2013 shaped my quest for historical narratives and a retelling of Nigeria’s historiography. The quest for a presentation of our indigenous cultures not as evil but as relevant to Nigeria as Christianity became to England. Reading John Orji’s (2011) accounts of Nigerian cultures, I am propelled to agitate for a sustenance of Nigeria’s traditional cultures, for the preservation of our heritage. I ask that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria bring back the study of our History in our secondary schools’ curricula, lest we become strangers in our own lands.

 

Advertisements

About Egoyibo Okoro

Beautiful. Friendly. Opinionated. Feminist. Scholarly. Apolitical. Christian. Sometimes, I write in Engli-Igbo and/or pidgin English. Just so you know, I am naturally disgruntled about a lot of things, most especially gender inequality, human rights abuses, racism and corruption. #EndChildMarriage. #EndTerrorism. #EndPoverty. #EndRacism. #EndImperialism. The Igbo say, "egbe bere, ugo bere, nke si ibe ya ebena nku kwa ya" - Live and let live!
Image | This entry was posted in Serious stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On Nigeria’s Indigenous Cultures and Postcolonial Feminism

  1. egbuyugo says:

    Nice one, Lorrita *flees*. I’m presently at loggerheads with my extended family for what they term my quest for fetish knowledge. I’ve been touring shrines & trying to find out practices that are being phased out by the Christian religion. I’ve already booked my trip to Nri & Igbo Ukwu. It has been a mixed bag so far.

  2. I can never fully understand why the study of History was removed but even before that, most of us are becoming strangers already.
    I remember in 2012 when I asked my then Fiance’ who is an Igbo and from Ekwulobia(I’m from Igbo-ukwu) whether he knew how to break Kolanut, he looked at me strangely and said that it is ‘fetish’ to do so.
    When his dad came for ‘Iju ase’, he saw the ‘obi’ in my father’s compound and concluded that my family is ‘fetish’ too.
    I am proud of my heritage and culture and I know every detail about our tradition through my dad. That does not make me a lesser christian in any way.
    As for the white gown on Holy communion day, I can’t even remember what happened that day except the day before that I had to write out my ‘sins’ on paper for confession so as not to forget!

    • It is a demonization borne of ignorance. How can one hate his/her heritage simply because he/she was told it is evil?! BTW, the evilness of our indigenous religions and cultures was created by the European missionaries and colonialists who didn’t us and didn’t try to. Instead they imported their religion and cultures and fazed out ours. What pains me is that Nigerians helped them faze them out. When they called us inferior, we answered, like brainwashed zombies. When they demonized our religions, we agreed with them, like zombies. I am tired jare!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s