Re-presenting case for Africa’s indigenous religions, cultures

Posted: April 26, 2012 in arts/culture

Amid growing concerns over the seeming decline in cultural and social values in the face of encroaching globalization and the attendant popular culture of the West on the continent of Africa, clamours by traditionalists groups, cultural experts and scholars alike have continued to be on the rise for the continent to revert to its traditional value system.

While on one hand a school of thought lodges the blame for the falling value system in Africa and by extension, Nigeria, at the doorsteps of the globalization which they stress tends to be inhospitable to smaller or weaker cultures, others believe the problem lies in the lack of any political will by African governments to accord greater positions to the traditional cultures that propagate these values in the society. However, many still posit that the problem is a totality of all factors thrown up in the discourse on African traditional cultures.

The rightful place of the African traditional cultures in the socio-cultural development of present-day African societies has always remained as contentious as the issue of culture and its adherents itself, in an age when the average African on the street is supposedly either Christian or Muslim, with being neither vehemently frowned at.

Government and other official documentation and data are collated without provisions for the traditional religions, in the same way as oaths of office are taken without any form of recognition for the traditional religion, thus flaring opinions in some quarters that this trend has continually fuelled corruption in the country and by politicians and other public office holders who pillage the economy.

The occasion of the courtesy visit by the Ayan Agalu Soungobi Foundation and the Association of African Traditional Religions, Lagos State chapter, last Wednesday, April 18, to the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Broad Street, Lagos, again provided another veritable platform for stakeholders in African culture to restate commitment at promoting African culture and protest their continued neglect by successive governments at the various levels.

Leading a delegation of the Association of African Traditional Religions (Lagos State chapter), to the CBAAC office, Chief S.L Shodiya, noted that African religion as the father of all the other religions by virtue of its being indigenous to the peoples of the continent has suffered undue neglect and disrespect at the hands of national policy formulators in the country who have persistently and deliberately refused to accord it its rightful place with others.

“Whenever the orthodox religions want to do anything the federal government appropriates allocation for them but when it comes to the traditional religion which is even the mother of all religions it is neglected and overlooked. And it is us who coronate the obas, emirs and other traditional monarchs in the country and yet they neglect us,” lamented Shodiya.

The traditionalist who also used the opportune occasion to announce the association’s Isheshe traditional festival slated for August 20, this year, further pleaded with the government to legislate on appropriate roles for the traditional religion with a view to promoting and preserving traditional cultures and the in indigenous value system, which, he stressed, was fast eroding in the country.

“We want financial support for our Isheshe Festival on August 20, in the same way the federal government accords the rights to the Christians and Muslims. We want holidays for our festivals also just the government gives to the other religions. Traditional religion has been cheated enough. We therefore want our own. We are their fathers. Even the oaths of offices in traditional religions have been overlooked which would have brought some sanity among public office holders in the country. Look, any time they call for national prayers, the traditional religions are never called upon to give theirs. And we are supposed to the father of all these religions in the country. Nigerians of today are all products of the traditional religions,” he stressed.

According to Shodiya, it has become imperative for the federal government to address this seeming slight on the strength of the fact that the risk of the people losing their cultures was staring the country in the face, in the same way as the identity and value losses that are already impacting on the everyday lives of the present-day Nigerian.

While reiterating support for the activities of CBAAC, which he described as a partner in African traditional cultures promotion and preservation, Shodiya said his association shared the same advocacy and cause with CBAAC hence, would continue to support the latter in prayers.

“It is as if CBAAC was created for us, therefore, when I look at the Isheshe festival coming up on August 20, we want you to be our mouthpiece for all we want to do on that day of the event. We thank government for also sustaining an agency like this to provide that platform for us to continue our advocacy for promotion and protection of the African traditional religions and cultures.

Also in the delegation, Chief Lekan Ajirotutu, explained that the body was a microcosm of all African religious bodies spread out in the continent and even beyond represented on the occasion by their heads at the local government levels in the state.

“We are custodians of the traditional cultures and on the basis of what CBAAC also does, we believe you can an intermediary between us and the federal government which is the reason for our visit to seek the assistance of CBAAC to lift our organization in its task of propagating, promoting and preserving the African traditions which forms the basis of our agenda as an organization. We seek your cooperation since we have come to realise that CBAAC is also doing the same at the government level,” Ajirotutu remarked.

Responding, Director General of CBAAC, while noting that it is organizations like the Association of African Traditional Religions, Lagos State chapter that are promoting the culture of the people and without whom ’our cultural values and traditions would have died with the coming of the colonialists’, then urged the members to pass on their knowledge to the future generations so as to sustain the culture.

Babawale who expressed support to the clamour by the group for recognition at the highest level in governance, noting that in Benin Republic there was a national holiday for the voodoo religion, however, urged the group to seek to co-opt their various local representatives at the Houses of Assembly with a view to starting the advocacy at the grassroots level in the country.

“On the national holiday for traditional religion, that requires concerted effort from us at CBAAC and also from you because the necessary legislation does not rest with CBAAC even though we are totally with you as the one of the aims and objectives behind the setting up of the agency are exactly the same as the ones your association n our part will begin the advocacy from the media. If you have members at the state Houses of assemble, begin with them there. In Benin Republic, they have holidays for their voodoo, so why can’t we have the same,” Babawale stressed.

In the same vein, the Ayan Agalu Soungobi Foundation while also soliciting the support of CBAAC ahead of its forthcoming Ayan Agalu Talking drum Festival slated for Ibadan from June 1 through to 7, reiterated its call for a much more realistic policy on the part of the federal government aimed at protecting and propagating the cultures of the various ethnicities in the country.

Led by Chief Yemi Ogunyemi, the foundation set up to promote African traditions and cultures through the teaching of the talking drums at its various schools in the country, had used the occasion of the visit to also seek further support presence, and international reach of CBAAC for its planned festival themed Beats and Sounds for Peace.

“We are doing everything to make sure that our culture does not die. Our culture is our treasure; and that is the only thing we have going for us now as a nation. It is the only thing that we can sell to the outside world at a time when practically every other industry we used have has collapsed. It is the only thing we have that does not need to go through the factory. So we should not allow our culture to die,” Ogunyemi stressed.

Responding, Babawale noted that the talking drums as a symbol of the country’s rich natural heritage had slipped in relevance in the same way as its significance in boosting national economic growth had remained unnoticed to a greater extent.

According to him, the job creation opportunities inherent in the drumming profession may have been neglected by the present-day policy makers as against when it time past it was a major occupation that sustained families and its practice was a heritage passed on from generations to generations.

“Do you know there over 400 types of drums on the land today? Drums are primarily not just for communication, ceremonies and others. It has provided job opportunities for people in time past. How many traditional drum makers do we still have today? We can globalize our drums and the making cottage industry to provide mass employment industries for the youth of the country,” he stressed.

He therefore told the Foundation’s members not to ‘relent in the project and future you are making because that is where our future lies. A people without past have no future. Those in the Diaspora better appreciate what you are doing and you can see that in the way they readily appreciate your work and yearn to be linked.’

Continuing, Babawale stated that: “If the West can refine our musical instrument and sell back to u, why can’t we instead refine it and sell it back to and earn the dollars from them. We used to have a lot with which we used to teach and educate the people of the land, but now sadly we do not have those things any more as they are lacking. The drums are a part of these heritages. The aura and myths surrounding the kings of old had a lot do with the drummers who those kings surrounded themselves with as they drummed for him where to go, what to do and so on. That was when the significance of the drums was better appreciated,” Babawale said.

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