Sunday, November 25, 2007

Abuja Carnival

Driving through central Abuja just now, my journey was arrested by the 36 floats of the Abuja carnival, lined up from just after the Hilton all the way to the Federal Secretariat and up to Eagles Square. One lorry had morphed into a huge horse, another had transformed into gigantic tortoise. As I snaked past, many of Nigeria's cultures were pressed into the roadside - huge Ekpe masquerades danced on the curb; the skittering rhythm of fuji mixed with northern pipe music.

Despite all the culture on display, there is no one around to watch it. As with the past two years, advertising the event and attracting visitors seems to have been a low priority for the organisers. No one was really sure of the date. The only people present are those who have been bussed in from the various states to participate. Nigeria's multitude of cultures are among the richest and most fascinatingly diverse in the world, yet no one really pays them much attention (least of all perhaps Nigerians). A bit like the Abuja carnival really.


oguro,  4:08 pm  

any pics?

Anonymous,  4:21 pm  

"...Nigeria's multitude of cultures are among the richest and most fascinatingly diverse in the world, yet no one really pays them much attention (least of all perhaps Nigerians)..."

What a sweeping generalization. What an ignorant statement to make. Perhaps what you meant to say was that nobody in Abuja pays attention to the bleeding carnival. The carnival is not the 'culture' of any of Nigeria's peoples, nor is it an adequate reflection of an amalgam of our ways of life. Perhaps you want to find out about the number of people who go to the numerous Yoruba festivals, e.g. the ones celebrating gods and goddesses of the river, or the number who turn up for every other festival held in villages across the length and breadth of Nigeria, etc. Abuja is not Nigeria, and I find it particularly hilarious when people visit Abuja or other such cities in Nigeria, and without having set foot in villages where a good % of Nigerians live, make such an ignorant statement as the one quoted above.

Perhaps you need a lesson in what culture for the Nigerian is, or indeed what our 'multitude of cultures' means: It's the Hausa man strutting around in an agbada, or the Yoruba man borrowing clothing from his Edo brethen. It;s the Edo woman cooking amala or the Tiv woman cooking Edikaikon. THAT, my dear man, is an example of our culture, and our interpretation of 'cultural fusion' or 'multitudes of culture'. Making an annual pilgrimage from Oyo to Osun specifically to pray at a particular stream does not speak of a people who are not 'paying attention' to their culture.

From my experience, it appears 'culture' at least in the mind of Westerners in Nigeria or other expats who travel through the country, is something that must be served up, packaged and displayed in a week-long orgy of dancing, screeching and 'celebrating', much like the processed & packageed goods in stores in the European cities of their origin. Our culture entails much more than that: it's the languages we speak, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, HOW we eat it, etc. It's something we live and breathe everyday, and Mr. Jeremy, please be informed that not turning up for a two-day fest of insanity called the Abuja carnival does not in any way mean that Nigerians do not 'pay attention' to their own cultures. Get off your high horse and look beyond the tip of your nose.

Jeremy 4:33 pm  

I beg to differ anonymous. Just as many Nigerian languages are dying out, so too are many Nigerian cultures. I've looked well beyond the tip of my nose and seen a general pattern of rejection of heritage up and down the land.

I've been to the Osun shrine quite a few times - its surprising how few visitors it gets (apart from during the festival) not how many. The local govt tried to allow building on the site of the grove - which sent Suzanne Wenger to hospital in despair. As for Oyo - I travelled hours into the forest to see the ruins of Oyo-Ile (check an earlier post). The place gets about 100 visitors a year.

If all you can cite as examples of 'culture' are the agbada and amala, you're really just proving my point..

Anonymous,  4:49 pm  

I have to return to this because it surprises me that the interpretation of our culture has to somehow be in line with your own interpretation of your own European culture.

Cultural tourism is one thing, culture quite another entirely. So all Nigerians are not particularly interested in traipsing through man-made forests like the Suzanne Wenger sites you mentioned. In other words, cultural tourism is not alive in Nigeria, except at times when Nigerians feel they can benefit from these sites. However, culture and tourism are two very distinct things. And if (as I know it is) in Europe culture is seen in buildings and tangible things like the Eiffel Tower, Nigerians choose to see it differently. It is, for us, both the tangible and the invisible, and not travelling year-round to Osun to take pictures as 'tourists' does not in any way suggest that people do not pay attention to their culture. There is a lot more to culture than taking pictures and admiring packaged goods, a point which is (sadly) lost on alomst all European visitors in Nigeria.

Jeremy 5:28 pm  

I disagree - there is not such a strong distinction to be made between culture and tourism. The origins of tourism in most societies lie in cultural (not photographic) factors: more specifically, in the visiting of sacred spaces/shrines etc.

If you go to India, you'll find many temples in out of the way places thronging with Indian visitors from other parts of the country. They are not there to take pictures or have a packaged experience, they are there to worship their particular deity.

If we use this non-western example of cultural tourism and compare it with Nigeria, we see a marked contrast. Whereas in India there is no shame attached to being Hindhu and visiting Hindhu shrines, one cannot say the same in Nigeria. To take a specific example: the worship of Yoruba orishas and the function of the Babalawo in Yoruba society. Although the main orishas (Ogun, Obatala, Sango, Osun etc) are still worshipped in pockets, many of the lesser orishas seem to be dying out. Visits to the babalawo are often clandestine. One of the main factors behind this widespread recession of culture is evangelical christianity - which brainwashes people into rejecting their local traditions and dressing it all up as fetish and voodoo. The result is a deep sense of alienation from one's culture, which reaches its extreme in the children of the elite in places Lagos, many of whom cannot speak Yoruba. This is in marked contrast to Yoruba culture in the Yoruba diaspora (such as among the Santeria in Cuba and in Bahia province of Brazil), where Yoruba culture is worshipped openly and without shame and in fact seems to be spreading to the hinterlands beyond (an Trinidadian anthropologist told me a couple of years ago that Yoruba is becoming the unofficial religion of Brazil, even among the European-descended population!)

If we agree that culture is most deeply enshrined in language, what better example do you need than the idea that many Nigerian cultures are sadly on the wane?

Your argument against me seems to be that I am holding a 'packaged and photographable' definition of culture. I do not. I am talking about a deep malaise, whereby an imported faith is denying many young Nigerians the opportunity to see the value of their own cultural traditions. Given how rich many of them are, this is a deep shame.

Rather than cultural darwinism - the view that says well cultures come and cultures go - so what can we do about it? I take the view that we can actually do something to preserve and re-define cultural heritage for the future. There are signs of this taking place (again mostly in the diaspora). It seems that too many people are in survival-mode to be able to focus on this in Nigeria just now.

Anonymous,  5:45 pm  

Might I begin by informing you that Nigeria extends well beyond the Yoruba and their ways. And quite apart from that, let me metnion a number of things.

1) Yoruba cultural history & religion has never (at any point) been an (for lack of a better word)'organized' religion of the sort you mentioned with Hinduism in India. At no point in the history of the Yoruba have there been open temples or shrines of worship for people (and tourists) to throng through. Nor has the house of a babalawo ever been an open space inviting folks to come in for a 'spiritual experience'. It appears you are confused about the role of the babalawo in Yoruba society. It is impossible to draw any parallels between his role in Yoruba society and that of the temples in Hindu worship. One visits a babalawo often - for guidance on specific issues and I cannot imagine a babalawo opening up his household to become some sort of Big-Benesque attraction for anyone (Yoruba, Nigerian or otehrwise) to gawk at.
Next we move on to the issue of language. Smaller Nigerian languages will undoubtedyl die out. Mine certainly has. However, when you mentioned the Yorubas in Lagos example, I cannot but think of a similar alarmist article I read on Nigeriavilalgesquare earlier this year 'Death of the Igbo culture', I believe it was called. After the author went on and on about Igbo kids being unable to speak their own language, perplexed readers could not help but ask him: "What circles are you moving in? The <2% elite in Nigeria who raise their children on DSTV?" or the vast majority of people in Nigeria who actually live in reality? And that, Mr. Jeremy is the question I need to ask you. Lagos is not Yoruba land, and as a person who had acquired an intimate knowledge of Yorubaland, I can only assume that like most expatriates in Nigeria, you may have been moving with those 'olowo ojiji' folks who try to be more European than their masters. The vast majority of Nigerians speak their own language and speak it well - despite the elite who choose to reject their heritage. So, when next you talk about Nigerians and language, remeber the addendum: The elite in Nigeria, well under 2% of the population, may be culturally lost, may be raising their kids on DSTC, the vast majority of Nigerians - from the man on the streets selling rice to the school teachers in our schools - are going on with life, speaking their language and celebrating their own heritage. Nigeria is much, much more than the elite, and you only need to leave the Hummer-driving, DSTV-watching 'olowo ojiji' to see it. My own $0.02

Jeremy 8:44 pm  

thanks Mr anonymous - at least our discussion is highlighting our disagreement in I think a productive way. That said, you seem to have a real beef about expatriates, and have determined in advance that they can only have what you call a 'big benesque' perspective. I think you are being a bit blinkered and somewhat patronising in this respect. You appear to have pre-determined responses no matter what one might say or think.

The sad fact is that Yoruba culture (to continue with the specific example) is much more widely studied, analysed and interpreted by academics overseas, not by academics in Nigeria. These academics are not interested in a spectacular or commodified take on the culture - they are rather interested in its richness, complexity and beauty. In a way, they are preserving the culture.

By the way, I have to say you are completely wrong when you say:

"At no point in the history of the Yoruba have there been open temples or shrines of worship for people (and tourists) to throng through."

The function of the Oba's Palace in your average Yoruba town was exactly this - a place where the community would gather for events, sort out disputes etc. It is pretty much the equivalent of the Hindhu Mandir. And the traditional masquerade festivals are the equivalent of mass events such as the Kumbh Mela - drawing in thousands of people from the surrounding area. Even today, the Osun festival attracts 'spiritual tourists' from throughout the Yoruba diaspora. So we do have equivalents here which can be developed, and yes, packaged to an extent - to create jobs and upgrade towns and villages. There is such a thing as a sensitive development of tourist potential that doesn't degrade or spectacularise the culture.

Sadly, the erosion of cultural values is not limited to the elite or to Lagos, from what I have seen. Again, to stick with the culture I have studied and experienced much more than any other - the Yoruba - we are witnessing a recession of traditional culture and values throughout Yorubaland. It is only in pockets - Osogbo, Iragbiji etc that we see various heroic efforts (Suzanne Wenger, Chief Oyelami etc) to keep the culture alive in the face of evangelical clearance and intolerance. In Iragbiji, to take a very specific example, there are no men left to perform certain ceremonial roles during the annual Egungun festival - the sons whose role it should be have opted for a born-again perspective which utterly rejects any relationship to cultural origins/heritage. Fortunately, the women in the families concerned have taken up the roles and have been accommodated by the community - once again showing the tolerance for plurality which is a mark of traditional Yoruba thought-patterns and values.

Do you really think the vast majority of Nigerians are 'celebrating their heritage?' What heritage is this you are speaking of? My contention is (and has been, all along on this blog) that despite the obvious spiritual relief that it provides in difficult times, evangelical christianity (in the south, I cannot speak for the north) really is eroding any sense of respect for traditional values and cultures. We see this often in Nollywood films, where traditional belief is always portrayed negatively as fetish and juju.

One plausible scenario in a few decades time is that Nigeria loses huge chunks of its cultural diversity (including hundreds of its languages and stories) and really is reduced to the yoruba/igbo/hausa plus a few others that it is often portrayed to be. If most Nigerians share your complacency that the culture is going on fine thanks, then that is what will happen. As in other parts of the world, human experience becomes that bit more flatter and monochrome in the process. Just as we are losing species by the week, we are losing cultures by the week. Perhaps there is nothing we can do about it. Or perhaps not.

Taking it full circle, I guess I am saying there are many other ways to highlight the positive aspects of Nigerian culture (dress, dances, language, music, poetry, spirit-worlds, stories, food etc etc) without resorting to a meaningless, visitor-less parade in Abuja.

Anonymous,  8:58 pm  

I think mr/ms anon has a bee in his/her bonnet. seems to be hell bent on disagreeing without any reasoned argument. and as for you jeremy, all i can say is that you get time sha!

Anonymous,  9:41 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

Interesting discussion, and reminds me very much of one I had with you in London earlier in the year. Responding to the discussion, rather than the blog per se, I would tend to agree with the previous anonymous blogger. Definitions of 'culture' and what is meant by it in different contexts vary greatly. Most commonly, I would guess, it is thought to be more about a shared set of beliefs, values, ways of life, knowledge systems, etc, at any given time, and less about outward manifestations such as clothing and language. Culture is continually evolving (using this blog for example is an example of contemporary culture - in the future it will probably be seen as typical of the 20th c), and trying to 'fix' a culture as a particaular range of activities or habits that happened to dominate at a given time is quite a dangerous notion. Maybe it is true that 'traditional' culture is in recession - but what exactly to you want to preserve? Traditional culture of 50 years ago? 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? And if so, why focus on traditions in Nigeria: 'traditional' culture in the UK 100 years ago was centred around the church, which had both good and bad aspects, but I doubt you would argue we should all start attending church again. Things do, and should, change - culture is one of them. Sometimes this is positive, sometimes negative, but people have the freedom to make these decisions according to what seems best to them at the time.

An interesting (partisan) article is this one by Mamdani, which discusses the 'creation' of 'traditional' culture in the colonial period:
His book is better, but not (yet!) available on the net.

ama,  10:07 pm  

1st anon certainly does have a huge bee in his/her bonnet.
Determined to prove Jeremy wrong at any cost...... how dare a white man come to our country and tell us what culture is?

Na wah!

Jeremy. good write up!

Jeremy 10:16 pm  

Aha - C - I thought you might get drawn in...

The problem with a blanket statement such as your "culture is continually evolving" is that you make it out to be something like the weather - as if we have no control over it or say about how it unfolds. This is not a helpful model for culture and its relation to human agency. For example, if there had been no Suzanne Wenger, it would almost certainly be the case that there would be no Unesco World Heritage protection status to Osun Grove and the annual festival would have dwindled to nothing by now. One can make many other valid claims about other people around the world who have fought tooth and nail to preserve a cultural heritage for those yet unborn..

Humans always have potential agency, and do have the capacity to make decisions and commitments to forms of culture they wish to preserve or redefine. Why would you want to suggest otherwise?

The desire to go back and assess a culture need not necessarily be in order to fix it at a point 50 or 100 years ago as you suggest, nor need it be for reactionary or conservative reasons. You keep falling into the trap of thinking that this is the only reason why one would want to do this - as if acceptance of cultural dynamism is tantamount to sitting back and letting it all happen... From my perspective, the engine room of cultural dynamism is active engagement in culture, rather than passive acceptance of it, as you seem to hold.

Anyone who knows there history knows well enought there was no such thing as "Yoruba" identity over 150 years ago - rather those that spoke an earlier version of the language formed part of a collection of (often warring) city states. Wanting to challenge the evangelical virus in this instance is not to re-ify or essentialise an identity out of nothing, still less to hark back to some nostalgic fantasy. Rather, it is to make an assessment of the strengths and diversities of this particular (complex and plural) cultural context and redefine its terms for the future. At present, as with other cultures, it is simply being rejected explicitly en masse by the stupified converts to evangelism. What goes with that rejection is a rich aesthetic, ethical and political system, and at base, a world of value.

Here's the challenge back to you: just as we know we have a say in what happens to biodiversity and the future of our planet, we also can have a say in our cultural diversity. It seems from your model however, just like the first anonymous, that we need not bother, as culture is what culture does. That does make it seem like culture is like the clouds that hover above us..

Or maybe I have you wrong, and you do have a theory of culture and agency in all of this?

Anonymous,  10:36 pm  

"...The function of the Oba's Palace in your average Yoruba town was exactly this - a place where the community would gather for events, sort out disputes etc...."

The Oba's palace has never been a place for tourists or common people to throng through. In the event that there were problems or requirements to consult with the Oba or his men, then folks could go over to the palace, but any reports of people leaving the Oja-oba to 'see' the King as though he is a sculpture to be admired are the product of a fertile imagination.

"...In a way, they are preserving the culture..."

I won't even begin to talk about this, because to even claim that outside scholars (distinct from the diaspora) are playing a meaningful role in preserving Yoruba culture (whether the language or the dress or the lifestyle) is at best a high-horse approach and from my own experience, theoretical research about a people from a faraway university in the West does not preservation make. But that's just my own opinion. And I have never encountered a single scholar in Nigeria - whether there to study the people, their culture or their terrain - who hasn't at best a condescending, colonialist-style attitude towards the 'native'. It is hard to imagine these people doing anything to preserve the culture of those they look down on.

"...That said, you seem to have a real beef about expatriates..."

Completely untrue. I am just most skeptical when foreigners claim, as you, for example, did, that our culture (whether Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, etc) is being preserved by scholars from faraway lands, without understanding that the responsibility of preserving culture rests first and foremost (and indeed squarely) on the shoulders of the Nigerians themselves. Culture is dynamic, and will always be so. It's up to us - the Yoruba, Igbo, Nigerian, etc - to choose what we want to keep of our culture, and not what some Western scholar feels should be our own 'culture'. And another revolting aspect of Westrn attitudes towards culture is particularly when people continue to push for a commercialization of sacred events. To my horror, a few days ago, I was asked whether there was a tourist industry around the Hajj. The idea was so ridiculous for all the Muslims in the room, that we had no idea where to begin. It's much the same here for me.

Jeremy 11:29 pm  

Again you contort the argument in a strange way. You say, 'but any reports of people leaving the Oja-oba to 'see' the King as though he is a sculpture to be admired are the product of a fertile imagination.'

I didn't make this claim at any point so why are you arguing against it? The Oba's palace functioned in part as a spiritual centre for the Yoruba town, but also more prosaically as a court to adjudicate on disputes. In this respect, the comparison with the Hindhu Mandir holds. And yes, 'common people' went to the palace to resolve their disputes, in accordance with customary law. I was in Abeokuta recently listening to a long-winded account of such events by one of the guides there...

Again, you say, 'And I have never encountered a single scholar in Nigeria - whether there to study the people, their culture or their terrain - who hasn't at best a condescending, colonialist-style attitude towards the 'native'.'

I wonder if you would include the work of Farris Thompson, William Bascom, Pierre Verger, Ulli Beier, Nunez, Chernoff, Munoz, Hallen etc etc. in any of this. If your reports about scholars in Nigeria are correct (somehow I doubt they are), they are sadly approximately a century out of date. Please tell me where the colonialism is in any of the above writers? Its such a tired, lazy and above all anti-intellectualist thing to say - that anyone writing about Nigeria from the outside is a colonialist.. and a needlessly defensive reaction against the sad reality of the collapse of any serious social or cultural research in Nigerian universities.

As for your point about sacred events and commercialism - well they tend to go together, and in many cases, for good reason. Its like the people selling flowers and refreshments outside a Hindhu Mandir, or even having a cafe near Stonehenge. The point in such cases is that the spiritualist aspect comes first, but support businesses crop up around the event in order to make it self-sustaining and offer a service to participants. As I said at the outset, the business of tourism begins in any culture with a spiritual-cultural aspect, so I am not sure why anyone should be confused when discussion turns to the commercialisation of sacred events. They've always been so.

Talatu-Carmen 5:56 am  

A fascinating discussion and one I can identify with on both sides. I, too, am nervous about the "touristization" and "elitization" of "culture..." At the same time, I am a "foreign" researcher and therefore also subject to the healthy skepticism of those suspicious of people who can sit in a university in the West and theorize from a few research trips here and there. I actually think that's perfectly fair... I'm fairly skeptical of such research, myself ...

But rather than talk myself in circles, the reason I am leaving a comment is because I was just reading Paulin Hountondji's "True and False Pluralism" today, first published in Acta and Diogene in 1973 and then in African Philosophy: Myth and Reality. It's a bit old, but still, I think, relevant to this debate... Hountondji usefully marries the two sides of this debate pointing out the danger of condensing the pre-colonial history of Africa into "a single synchronic picture, whose points exist simultanously and are uniformly opposed to the points in a different synchronic chart, symmetrical with the first, the two being distinguished in terms of what is taken to be the only important division in the history of the continent, the moment of colonization. We ignore, or pretend to ignore, the fact that African traditions are no more homogenous than those of any other continent, that cultural traditions are always a complex heritage, contradictory and heterogenous, an open set of options, some of which will be actualized by any given generation, which by adopting one choice sacrifices all the others.... Above all we ignore or pretend to ignore the fact that African cultural traditions are not closed, that they did not stop when colonization started but embrace colonial and post-colonial cultural life. So-called modern Africa is just as 'traditional' as pre-colonial Africa in the only acceptable sense of the word 'traditional'--tradition does not exclude but necessarily implies a system of discontinuities"....( 226)

He goes on to point out the dangers of ethnography in which the ethnographer tends to "isolate the cultural aspects of society and to stress it at the expense of the economic and political aspects...." (267).

But then, and I think, in some ways, this is the point Jeremy is making (and you can correct me Jeremy if you're not), Hountondji notes that colonization probably "checked and impoverished" cultural pluralism by "by reducing their internal pluralism, diminishing the discords and weakening the tensions from which they derived their vitality, leaving Africans with an artificial choice between cultural 'alienation' (which is supposedly connected with political betrayal) and cultural nationalism (the obverse of political nationalism and often a pathetic substitute for it)... We must therefore, as individuals, liberate ourselves psychologically and develop a free relationship both with African cultural tradition and with the cultural traditions of other continents....." (269).

I've been quoting from Paulin Hountondji "True and False Pluralism" trans Henri Evans, excerpted in African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, edited by Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Jeremy 8:41 am  

TC: thanks for bringing up Hountondji. One of my favourite passages of African philosophy is from the very same essay in the same book (African Philosophy, Myth and Reality. Indiana University Press, 1983):

What we must recognize today is that pluralism does not come to any society from outside but is inherent in every society. The alleged acculturation, the alleged 'encounter' of African civilization with European civilization, is really just another mutation produced from within African civilizations, the successor to many earlier ones about which our knowledge is very incomplete, and no doubt, the precursor to many future mutations, which may be more radical still. The decisive encounter is not between Africa as a whole and Europe as a whole: it is the continuing encounter between Africa and itself. Pluralism in the true sense did not stem from the intrusion of Western civilization into our continent; it did not come from outside to a previously unanimous civilization. It is an internal pluralism, born of perpetual confrontations and occasional conflicts between Africans themselves.' p165.

It would be a very interesting discussion to ask whether this text (and the ones you quoted) is dated in anyway. Might it be that the internal pluralism that Hountondji talks about persisting come whatever colonial encounter is now itself under threat - not this time by white missionaries, but by (mostly) African and African-American pastors, as well as by global media processes? Are we not quite some way down the cultural alienation path - with cultural nationalism playing its reactionary shadow role in the background (although in places like Nigeria, there is hardly any common culture to draw on, apart from the football team).

Out of his strong critique of Tempels' 'ethnophilosophy' - what he takes to be an essentialisation of Bantu culture by the Belgian anthropologist, Hountondji makes a case for an African philosophy that is free of cultural bias. This seems to me to be his one false move. Philosophy is always conditioned by culture (whether philosophers care to admit it or not). It is hard to see for eg Descartes' work for instance outside of the cultural and historical context in which he was writing (where everything, including venerable religious institutions, were finally being put into 'doubt').

The quote you finish your comment with:
"We must therefore, as individuals, liberate ourselves psychologically and develop a free relationship both with African cultural tradition and with the cultural traditions of other continents."

says it all and definitely is still relevant today. One sees a restricted relationship with African cultural tradition in Nigeria all the time, which pops up in terms of discussion on gendered identity, clothing vs nudity and over-loaded/bastardised interpretations of 'tradition'. More than anything, this is his most lasting message: for autonomy within culture, one needs to be able to access and interpret it as one might wish (to jettison certain aspects, to develop and re-define others). With evangelical bias and the lure of global media shallow meaning, this cannot happen today. Cultural alienation is the consequence. This is the point my opponents in this thread are simply not able to see.

The Pseudo-Independent 8:44 am  

since arriving .ng in June 07, have followed your blog with keen interest...thanks for a different perspective and the consistency. Your views should not be blithey dismissed.

btw: hope to catch up with you soon, either here in Abuja or Old Blithey

Anonymous,  6:58 pm  

Ugh. Well, I was going to reply earlier, but decided I wanted to read all the contributions properly first and so put it off. However I have just printed the blog comments, which run to a hefty 12 pages, so forget reading them! In which case, the response that springs to mind is basically that the conversation can't really be carried forward until we define what we are talking about a bit more clearly - I don't think people are as much in disagreement as it appears, it is more a matter of semantics.

I also agree that events such as carnivals or locations such as the Oyo shrine are important aspects of culture - and worth regarding seriously and making every effort to preserve, use and appreciate. But I think there is a more fundamental sort of culture (maybe 'popular' for want of a better word, though I don't mean that exactly either) which is more a living, evolving thing. And no, it doesn't evolve by itself - it evolves through all the daily decisions that people, individuals and communities, make about what is important or intersting to them. These decisions - to wear an agbada, to cook amala, to go to an evangelical church, to go to a festival, or to watch a carnival - all have equal legitimacy. Some choices are more conscious than others, and of course some are more directed. None of these things is 'passive acceptance'. But it does seem to me that you are privileging some aspects of culture over others according to what you feel is more important rather than letting people and groups decide for themselves. You say that people should be able to 'access and interpret [culture] as one might wish', but then contradict yourself by saying that an evangelical bias erases this. Evengelicalism in Nigeria, even in different parts of Nigeria, has different characteristics precisely because people are chosing and responding aspects of it. This IS pluralism, not a turning away from it. I remember once being at an Evangelical event in Nigeria, where a group of (male) Yoruba dignitaries were sagely nodding in accordance with the pastor, who was talking about monogamy, with their (numerous) wives sitting beside them. New processes, even evil 'global media processes' are mapped onto existing institutions and values and ways of behaving.

Another example might be that you are learning Yoruba, wear an agbada and go to festivals. In this maybe you are defending and representing certain aspects of Yoruba culture. But a belief in 'juju' (as in your blog above) is something that you cannot identify with, and so you react against this part of the culture. Another person living near you might not go to festivals or wear an agbada, but goes to an evengelical church, still believes in juju, and eats eba or amala every day. This person would probably consider themselves Yoruba, and situate themselves within a yoruba cultural heritage. Why should one of these be 'right' and another 'wrong'? A Scots person might feel that identification with Morris dancing and stories of Bonny Prince Charlie are part of a Scots culture, but they might spend their time instead at the Edinburgh festival and watching Rab C Nesbitt.

But none of these thoughts are very systematic, and I've spent enough time on this now and have other things to do - maybe I'll carry on later!

'Gbenga,  8:26 pm  

As with most informed debates, there is often truth in the case of both sides. Yep, external influences (Hollywood, foreign religions etc) have an effect on traditional culture - and not always positive - but does not necessarily obliterate it. Yes, urbanites in particular misguidedly abandon local culture in some respects in favour of perceived 'superior' foreign attitudes but even among them it would be unwise to underestimate the traditional culture.

Take the specific point of 'evangelical Christianity' - and you'd be surprised how many urban christians, including 'pastors', still resort to traditional sources. Even the brand of 'evangelical christianity' that is
pervasive in Nigeria owes a certain amount of its success to synchretism by playing to raditional beliefs, concern and even methods both subtly and overtly.

Returning to the Abuja carnival which generated this debate, it should be pointed out that while that farce does display aspects of Nigerian culture, it is ultimately superficial. Apart from everyday living of the culture, as 'Anonymous' points out, there is also the fact that 'spectacles' of culture are best seen in relation to the small communities to which they are particular; go and watch Eyo festival in Lagos; Jigbo or Eluku in Ijebuland etc etc and you will see the Abuja 'carnival' for the sham it is which is seeking to pander to western mindsets and also why it is rightly ignored by Nigerians.

Finally, culture evolves over time: in the UK, how many people go Morris dancing or to the traditional/classical ball ----- compare, discos, raves etc?

Waffarian 3:42 am  

@gbenga, there is nothing wrong in celebrating culture and once again it is fascinating that nothing in this country can be encouraged!

Everybody is always so ready to critisize, how then, would you suggest we bring together different traditions, dance, music, all in one platform without travelling all over the country?

It has worked for many countries, why can't it work in Nigeria? I think when people try to do something positive in this country, they should be commended. Haba!

If you have another idea, the one that is not a "sham", please, share with us.

Anonymous,  6:35 pm  

are people still talking about this or have we moved on to something else? if not, here's my ten-pence/kobo whatever-worth.

first - point about definition of culture, it's everything and nothing, isn't it? maybe better to talk of heritage, or cultural heritage, to describe what jeremy's talking about. but as soon as you say 'heritage', you've put it in the box suggesting something 'old' and not current, therefore implicitly opposed to 'live' culture. which can of course as much be eating amala. completely agree with the thing about context - go and see Eyo in Lagos, v diff from seeing some display of dancing or something put on for dignitaries after dinner. So it's an Abuja thing too - of course noone goes to abuja carnival, noone lives in abuja. BUt go just down the road to Nyanya and you'll see masquerade societies. Not 'traditional' masquerade societies, cos it's mostly a new town of migrants, but a new masquerade. Like everything else about the city's design, Abuja carnival just gets us facing the wrong way.

I think the elite thing IS important though - as big spenders, they set the market to some extent - and as regards tradition or culture it's just symptomatic of an ingrained lack of confidence which would rather have imported furniture than locally crafted, for instance. Look at the virtually-absent market for local antiques as compared to the high prices fetched by korean antiques in korea, or american quilts in america. Meanwhile 'it's imported' continues to be the mark of prestige in nigeria. we can argue for a long long time about whether that is due to colonialism, military rule, elites who have been generated by an outwardly, not inwardly-accountable political economy, or whatever. Whichever the reason is, it's a noticeable thing that at an elite level we don't value the nigerian past in its cultural richness as much as we could. There's one very very big exception though:


Obj did his best public works when he wore agbada in a pic full of besuited morons on the world stage. I don't care if it was because he looked really fat in a suit, it still made a great statement. And by the way, Morris dancing's not scottish. It's very very english.

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