I have thought over it on a number of times, more than I could record, the stability of the very cores of my culture in an ever changing world. Yoruba as it is, is prosperous in values and a vital question tebowing in plead for an answer is whether part of the values should be shed and dumped into the trash can of historical forgetfulness, or be spared, owing to their relevance in the a dispensation of rapid globalization where reason and truism are rattling spouses.
In the corridor of academic discourses, the subject of culture’s evolution & its dynamic nature have been a familiar topic. Early theorists in sociology, the Emile Durkheim, Max Weber among others explicated the importance of a set of belief morphing, over time, into a system that duly fit a people’s way of life at a point in time.
In time past, an example, peculiar to a good number of Nigerian civilizations, saw men give off their children’s hand especially females in marriage to a rich man, usually; A man that might be old as the father or even older in some cases. Such a nuptial union was seen to foster two families’ ties & for economic gains. These are two among many possible reasons. As of now, one will almost cast sight on a well-fed camel in Edumanum forest in Niger-Delta before he meets a father willing to indulge in such ‘primitive’ practice. This is not to say however, that parents do not have a significant influence on their children’s marriage. That is said among a number of outdating practices palpable in old African traditions.
Respect however is a concept embedded in any culture whether for elders or ancestors. Respect & culture are not mutually exclusive. I am yet to come across any with utmost disregard for respect.
As a Yoruba boy, I am expected to prostrate (with chest at near ground level) to my parents, first thing every day as a long as I stay with them under the same roof. An act of solid respect. As we grew, my brother & I found it quite strange & at times awkward to go down so low before we express regard for which it was due. We began to bend our torso while we slide our right hand down our right patella. At first, my father didn’t comment on this new pattern of greeting. It was a chronological phase. He would ask if that’s how to dobale with a deep corrective tone. That was another chronological phase. Now, he cares less how low we stoop to greet him. Things have changed & the times surely have not suppressed my obeisance.
Gradually we were leaving some values behind or ‘funkifizing’ them but while some of us carefully treaded the terrain of culture with a liberal orientation. The conservatives usually the older generation rue the perceived damage western culture is telling on traditions. Hence a standoff between the present & preceding generation.
Furthermore, I recall a provoking conversation with a friend who talked of her roommate, a Yoruba girl, which swore not to marry a man from her tribe because of reasons she found ‘inhumane’. For her the culture ingloriously degrades a bride before her in-laws especially those younger than her. Imagine a bride giving reverence to a six-years-younger husband’s little sister, calling her ‘aunty’. Absolutely embarrassing as most educated women would see it. I had to explain to my Esan friend that demanding such is an excessive demonstration of that particular Yoruba family’s norm. Some might give me sticks on this taking it beyond the family circle.
With my friend’s example, we can see a request to subjection under the guise of asking for respect. If the bride deses not comply, hell might break loose on somebody. You wouldn’t want to pick up fight with your in-laws. Trust me.
In the case of my father, there is the question whether the case that he demand that I literally subject to him under the guise of respect to the one who raised me. Sometimes greeting gestures do not suggest a crumb of genuine deference. We are required to do whatever just to please the elders in the society. We’ve been taught to believe telling elders they are wrong is inherently inappropriate and an act of disrespect & mutiny. African elders are seen as ‘godettes’ dwelling in mortal bodies. They define what is just and not. Morality basically revolves round their dictates. These excessive, saccharine slices and others are what I think we ought to discard from our culture. Here we are in the 21st Century, many of our beliefs ridiculously (no offence) depict us as savages with the odious intent of hindering the law of the universe that says culture must evolve. Societies hedging on negative principles hardly prosper.
Needful to mention, the gender problem confronting Africa, stems from culture & religion. African cultures, most of them, are essentially patriarchal. Though women have been seen calling shots in political, economic & social upper echelons, the feminist movement’s minimal claims seem to be rickety at lower planes. A campus security personnel once seized my Identity Card & a female colleague’s after we were harassed for rendering humanitarian service to prospective students of our university moments before they wrote their entrance examination. While he was questioning the eligibility of our activity (if we had obtained a permit from higher authority) he expressed distaste at my colleague’s manner of reply after I had spoken. “I am disappointed in you”, he grimaced with a tragic head-shake as if he just beheld the death scene of a loved one. He apparently was into her than me. Afterwards he threatened to have our studentship withdrawn in no time by every means within his might. Well. He was expecting her to go effusive & maybe start kneeling down to beg. He queried us further in tensed mannerisms. My friend, a fourth year student of Law was articulately polite as she could, maintained her stance & our innocuous motive (we had no approval though. Not compulsory here). I didn’t exist in space before him, while he concentrated on her till he demanded our cards. Funny scenario.
Such is common to men who view a refined lady’s conscience (in that kind of occurrence) as confrontation cum emasculation. They go abrasive. He was moved by her reasonably unsubmissive attitude while she tried to clarify herself. He put a call through to the Division of Students’ Affairs and the rest is history.
That ‘defiant’ story might show the security personnel as a ‘cultured’ man demanding to be appeased with libations in his Sango-mode by a classy young lady who he thought disrespected him. Such a shame.
Conclusively, an African philosopher, Segun Oladipo prescribed the roles of African philosophers in contemporary African society while charging them to eschew arm chair theorising & be actively involved in social development- by distinguishing the good values from bad ones in our culture. Our adherence to this, should transcend the esoteric realm as a united force then we would have one less baggage off our resolute shoulders on the craggy path to sustainable development. Not a bad idea if we awake the consequentialist in us- we make the world a better place to live with the consciousness of what posterity says of us.
The readiness to treat with scorn the noxious values is what is beyond me, however.