Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Daddy, Mommy, Mah, Sah...

We call our washman/ironer Baba (his real name is Emmanuel). As he's old enough to be the everyone's father, the appelation is appropriate. Calling an older guy Baba is normal in Nigeria (hence el-Presidente earns his nickname). So far, so good.

Meanwhile, Baba-the-washman calls Bibi 'Mommy'. Somewhat incestuous you might think. Bibi keeps telling him to desist, but he reverts back to type every time. Our former cook Jo used to do the same.

Mommy/Baba become markers for power-over in this culture, via a compound-based dynamic. In my experience, Nigerian organisations tend to have this compound-based power structure as a motivating principle. The result is that someone twice the age of their boss refers and defers to them as their parent: an intrinsically infantilising mechanism.

This deferential structure is a crucial aspect of the patronage system which stops any form of criticism dead in its tracks. The result is a manichean structure, where the senior figure is either a saint or a deadly enemy. Hence in the papers, we see paid-in-full articles which drool on about some banker or politician as if their faecal matter were the sweetest fragrance. The enemy aspect is reserved for prayers (although I did hear some vengeful obituaries of murdered people on the radio in Benin City once, the curses imposed for generations yet unborn).

Criticism cannot open a space when the patron is being worshipped as Baba. As soon as one criticises anything (however constructively), one is positioned as 'the enemy'. This is part of the reason turbo-charged evangelism works so well in this culture: the rhetoric of 'the enemy' and of 'dark forces' suits a patronage-based symbolical system. It conjurs up a world of angels and demons. There are no sprites of critical intent in between. I suspect it is also why some people get so heated about my blog from time to time.

The mah-sah society has its tragic-comic moments. There is an Abuja fable of a Lebanese guy who was enjoying his house help as she was backed up against a table. He asked her to turn around so they could face each other. Not fully understanding the request, she turned her head to him and said 'Sah?'


Madam de Madam,  12:10 pm  

Lol!! Feacal matter having the sweetest fragrance lol!!!

So Oga Jeremy warrabout you ?? ya shit dey smell ???

ababoypart2 12:25 pm  

Ignoring the smell of – you know what…

Like the tale about the Lebanese guy.

More seriously, your comment

“turbo-charged evangelism works so well in this culture: the rhetoric of 'the enemy' and of 'dark forces' suits a patronage-based symbolical system. It conjurs up a world of angels and demons. There are no sprites of critical intent in between” is spot on.

Jeremy 12:32 pm  

I asked Bibi to conduct a scientific assessment. She went to the toilet after me for a sniff. When she came out, her first words were, 'lavender on a Provencal field, geranium essential oil, sandalwood burning gently in a Buddhist monastery high in the mountains near Kyoto, fresh cut grass on a cricket field in rural Herefordshire...' etc etc.

Anonymous,  12:35 pm  

you lying long rat. Those are not my words.


The Pseudo-Independent 1:06 pm  

and this is the society man has created ...i wonder the reason why...if only Mr bellytuck above would be a housewife

twinstaiye 1:47 pm  

Jeremy, Your washman or any other person that serves you personally would always not call you by name in Nigeria, which they count as being respectful. Some House staff will even call their Daddy's son or daughter "Small Oga" or "Small Madam"

Fred 3:30 pm  

I find it interesting that in the same breath with which you pillory the deferential system which, as you have astutely and correctly pointed out, retards real growth, you also regale us with the cute tale of your old washerman/ironer servant.

This archaic system of elder/superior worship is a mental hangup that would take generations to wipe out because it's so ingrained and because, sooner or later, everyone will get to be the Baba whose words are inviolate and thus and so the system self-perpetuates.

Keep hitting on this though; I believe this point, more than any other in fact, is the reason Nigeria remains mired in shit.

Lolita 4:32 pm  


ROTFLMAO!!!! Lying long rat, ohh, too funny!

I said it, you this Jeremy, you like enjoyment too much, ah ah, washman and cook.

Okay, seriously, this is me agreeing with you, spot on!

Don't get it twisted, people cannot agree with you all the time, you are not always right, just like I am not always right...sometimes there will be a difference of opinions, that's what makes us human and in control of our own mental faculties.

You should not get defensive and try to justify how you feel about certain issues, you make observations and regurgitate them on your blog then you allow us to pontificate, it's a fair exchange. None of us is a true expert on any of these issues, it’s really just everyone calling it as they, individually, see it.

I just prefer that you spend more time talking about the things you find positive about Nigeria and living there, that would really be refreshing, savvy!

Spook E 5:18 pm  

what a read! oga onyibo...you know say na you people get dis englis language. abeg sah, i know say na philosophy wey you dey write but take am easy wit de grammar, na ordinary school wey i go. thanks sah!

Jaja 1:01 am  

I agree about the Patronage system stopping any form of criticism and how that isn’t the best for society… But then I believe we evolve. Culturally even.
Since am in my most optimistic tonight I will say we are changing to the Better. Even in the structure of Indigenous Organisations.

Sah and Ma, I Know.
I don’t know about Mummy and Daddy, Baba. I guess that most be more of a Yoruba culture. About the south-South we leave it at Oga/Madam. But then I guess same principle carries. Haven’t we won our own medals in sycophancy??

There was this time, years ago; I started calling my elder brother “Chairman”. He was a bit wary of it at first. Looking back now I realise how I had my way, more often in those “Chairman” days.

And yes Jeremy, Faecal what?!
What in the hell is wrong with all of you here? How rude. Faecal matter!
I do not engage in such practise. Am beyond that. The last time I remember was in my distant past. Its fragrance was of crusty-flour and cream.

Cake and Ice cream????

Eminie 1:54 am  

hNaija !
I remember when I was in secondary school my PHE teacher refused to call our principal MAMA but call her MRS ..... It wasn’t funny but there was nothing MAMA could do about it ! Every once calls her MAMA eventually the man left my school
Obj said the only grouse he was with Uzo Kalu was that he refused to respect him and he has no respect for elders . Imagine his lordship could say that on NATIONAL TV.

2plus2 9:20 am  

Jeremy, I could not agree with you more. Infact a mutual friend based in Abuja once wrote an long piece in a magazine about the "mummy" syndrome and it's effect on women in the office and our emanicipation. As for me. I insist everybody calls me my NAME. Simple. Nothing special, no aunti mi, no sister, certainly no bloody mummy because when I will tell you off, calling my mummy will not stop me from giving you a real telling off.

Waffarian 12:40 am  

I agree with you, the oga/madam/mummy/daddy thing cripples progress and development. Yes, sorry, we are living in 2007, I understand respect, and I am willing to say "Mr" or "Mrs" or "Miss", whatever they want to be called, but to take that shit into a professional setting? For example, I was in the Nigerian embassy of a European city, the receptionist (only person to be found there) was extremely rude to me for no reason at all. I was polite and humble, yet she refused to even return my greeting. I was baffled. I mentioned this to my friend and her first question was:"did you call her madam?".She adviced me that the next time I go there, not only should I call her "madam" but I should "hail" her as well. Since I was desperate, I followed my friend's advice. As soon as I walked in, I said "Madam, good afternoon oh! una well done!". Needless to say, I was attended to. That shit is not funny, to do her job, she had to be called "madam" first, a job that she is being payed for. It sucks!

catwalq 12:24 am  

Please can u explain the lebanese-househelp-tryst-response again?
About the Mah-sah issue, I believe it's one way we Nigerians, especially Yorubas hinder themselves by creating unnecessary cultural protocol that does nothing but feed some egos and relegate others to a subbordinate position. It helps us in the way we treat each other but it absloves the adults of responsibility especially when they have made mistakes.
Will you tell you "mommy" or "madam" that she has erred? If you can or u have, let me know how it turned out and include directions to ur hospital so I can send some bournvita

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