Monday, December 06, 2004

Of villages of yore and our cities of today

……and one can only think if we have left our villages behind?

It seems we are somehow set, more or less, in our views of reality by the time we get to about the prime of childhood. Our perception of the nature of things informs the vision of what we hope to become, albeit oblivious of the platform which nature will thrust on our way in acting out our chosen mission.

The dominance exhibited by certain individuals in our enclave was one of the factors that unconsciously shaped our lives’ desires. Somehow, as children we looked up to and are drawn to those individuals who seem to have control and influence over others in our community. In our impressionable young minds these individuals had power over nature itself, issues of life and death were easily within their ambit and control.

Growing up in the rural backwaters, persons welding these seemingly inexhaustible powers, in addition to influence and control were gifted, to our young minds, with abilities to discern mysterious occurrences. This was our chief source of attraction, as we saw them as commanding reverence and fear from other members of our community. The village oracle priest was one such person. The oracle priest had this special relationship with divinity, or so we thought. When our villages became afflicted with one infirmity or the other, the oracle priest was consulted to find what or who was responsible, and to do what ever is necessary to stop the scourge. Curiously though, it usually turned out to be that it was someone rather than something that was responsible. Typically, by way of transgression of the law of the gods, which may be of uncommon knowledge except to the oracle priest and some few elders, or by defying the gods, a charge only the oracle priest could make owing to his proximity to these gods. In essence, our oracle priest had a way with the gods, deciphering or interpreting their actions or inactions.

The solutions for pacifying the gods so as to mitigate the effect of the scourge usually came in the form of sacrifices. Foodstuffs were made available to the gods via the oracle priest. As a child I had this unspoken thought, which stood stubbornly on mind any time these appeasements were being made. I would wonder if the gods were gluttonous greedy pigs that could only be satisfied by the choicest pork or beef from the most cherished pig or cow, not forgetting too that they usually ended up with the biggest tubers of yam. The gods were so held in awe that this thought never escaped my unsafe lips, lest I became a meal myself. Occasionally, there were stories that trickled to our hearing about how the crime an individual committed was so grave, that the only solution was for the culprit to be sacrificed to the gods. As to what the gods did to the body I could not be certain, but I had the nudging feeling they also ate the poor fellow. One just had to think about their large appetite to come to the same conclusion, at least this notion was a consolation of sorts to assuage my wandering mind. Women more than men were usually to be found guilty of such heinous charges. Why the disproportion? I could not phantom.

Some of us became so consumed by the divinity of the oracle priest that we will often end up in a reverie, fantasizing on what we shall do when we became the custodian of the village rituals, the pathways to the gods. Like all things, our fantasies faded with the passages of time, the children of yore became the adolescent urchins, other set of realities creeping into our consciousness. The need to struggle for your own survival in the mist of competing mouths, your hand trying to grapple a big one time mould from the common bowl, succeeding to outwit other hands briefly, momentarily. And you knew your life depended on your success at this endeavour, which we took as feeding. Of course mother’s attention was now consumed by another, clinging always to her breast as she goes robotically about her daily chores, the realization that you are on your own was unmistaken.

Apart from our village gods which the oracle priest had the sole privilege of consulting and deciphering the meaning of their silences, we were also aware of other gods, or more precisely one particular god who we were made to visit on Sundays, usually sporting our best apparels. Generally we were made to believe that this god was more accessible and less alienating. He was often thought to be superior as supplications to him were often made in the foreign tongue, which we considered more potent at delivering our messages than when prayers were conducted in our dialect, which we were sure the priest had to interpret for him to comprehend.

Eventually as children are wont to do, we grew and these childish notions were quickly repressed into depths of our subconscious. Schooling and its attendant regimentation had done the trick. The wandering urchins were effectively made into noble young men, with a future to look up to in circumnavigating the radial paths of our individual universes. Along these chosen paths, some of us that were completely taking in by the glitter of western values and accomplishments, had no recourse but to run from our traditions and values as fast and far as possible in order to inculcate these foreign norms without question. The “superior” religion of the westerners or more precisely Caucasians was also embraced with the hope that their god will grant us also the accomplishments that will cast us as their equals, after all their religion was codified into a book and ours was largely whimsical and superstitious, at least so we thought.

The stage had now been set for us to be engaged in the competition that must have been programmed unrecognisably into our subconscious. The desire to better our childhood mates was such a driving force that we failed to give a thought to what our acquiring education would mean in terms of where we are coming from, and to what purpose we shall put the education, towards serving the needs of our community. Frankly, to us this did not matter.

What did matter and what we saw as the purpose of education, simply put was, a means of acquisition of social status and the attendant material benefits. We learnt all the ‘hows’ in the institutions we traversed. By so doing we thought finally we would overcome the nudging innate feeling that we were inferior as far as humanity is concerned. So consumed were we with the passion for peripheral actualisation that we aped everything Caucasian, from casual manners through the cultivation of what we believed were superior etiquettes. The eating with knives and fork, setting tables to dine thus confirming that we were far removed from those days when we struggled with our siblings grovelling, hoping to get a mouthful through the dexterity of our fingers. How far had we come we thought. The ‘whys’ of things to us was unimportant, as long as we are successful at aping, what did it matter? At last we can do as the Caucasians do, successfully repressing the nudging that we are mere pretenders.

Through our live of unacknowledged pretence, we became what we thought was important, being “somebody”. Brandishing degrees (initially in the arts to become colonial administrators, but latter in the sciences as university dons and much latter professionals), preferably from one of the western institutions of higher learning, becoming one of the distinguished fellows of society having survived the vagaries of the uncertainties in radial paths of life while our fellow siblings failed.

To celebrate our survival in overcoming the obstacles, we had formed professional associations, not for promoting our profession, but avenue to frolic with fellow survivors. Recently, we formed associations such as those of PhD holders (an ultimate apery), emphasising affiliations as accomplishments, betraying any lack of concrete achievement particularly when it comes to the realms of ideas, original and purposeful ideas that is, which will be useful in elevating our villages. We just ran away from our people.

Finally, we recognised our folly, or so we thought, having been versed in the ‘how’ but not comprehending the ‘why’, our recourse was to pacify or bribe through our fervent worship, the source that makes the ‘why’ accessible to the Caucasians, their god. Those of us that thought we understood the epitome of the sciences but were limited to the ‘how’ questions, but unable to probe into the ’whys’, gave up and bowed our heads before the Caucasian god, hoping the secrets of the universe will be revealed to us only.

Our childhood motives and desires having coming full cycle. The longing to be the village oracle priest now being played out on a national arena with a global audience, our party had began. We had now achieved what we set out to achieve. That is being the most dominant on our chosen stage, by being the custodian of the convolution of our childhood regurgitations of village displays of the oracle priest with our embrace of the rituals associated with the worship of the Caucasian god. We thus became the ultimate recognisable professional, the Pastor with the Pentecostal hue… Evangelist, Apostle, Reverend, Bishop, Pastor, etc, and now, wait for it General Overseer. Our propensity to acquire titles, religious, temporal and otherwise betraying our inner emptiness and reinforcing our innate acceptance of being humanly inferior.
Where do we go from here?


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