Thursday, November 12, 2009

The jealous God is an imperialist

One of the concepts that have come in handy for the imperial subjugators of African and black people is the concept of a jealous God. It has been applied to devastating effect on Africans by Arab and European predators that for long coveted Africa and its riches, using Islam and Christianity. Incidentally both are Abrahamic religions, which along with its third leg, Judaism have been deployed for violent purposes over time. Their pretention has often been that their aim was to enthrone monotheism, but in reality nothing was further from the truth. The true aim was to conquer and and enslave African people and take the riches found in their land.

The African people they claimed they were teaching about one God, had always known about the Creator. I am yet to find an indigenous African language that doesn't have a word for the Supreme Being, and proceeding on simple logic, it's not possible to name what you don't know. The name you give reflects the way you apprehend what you name, and while the African may pay obeisance to some natural objects or animals or other natural phenomena, he was aware that the Supreme Being manifested in everything in creation and appreciated the Creator in like manner. Indeed, Africa, as the home of mankind and civilization had given the concept of one God to humanity. From Ancient Egypt, Greeece learned and handed over to Rome,; and till date we remain captive to the Greco-Roman epoch..

Yet, the descendants of Rome and Mecca come running to Africa to teach the original source of the knowledge - one of the great ironies of life! But indeed the true aim was to conquer and dominate the African, dominate his mind and dominate his resourcesand keep him in perpetual servitude. Therefore, the Chrisitians say, the African must have no other God except the Christian God, as if there was any other God but God. In turn the Muslim insists that Allah is the only way, when he means cultural imperialism, a sharia that denudes the individual of all that makes him original and turns his gaze perpetually to the east.

And Africa is thorn, warped, twisted and befuddled by this so-called war between two civilizations, which is actually a war over who should control the booty that they saw Africa to be. A war with origins going back to some 500 years ago when Europe found a sea route down to West Africa and undermined the erstwhile middleman position which the Arabs occupied for centuries as traders of the treasures of Africa to Europe and the Far East. Most recently China has joined the scramble, but as with the longer-standing predators, the aim is also the same: to take what Africa has, and inevitably in the process, find a way to denigrate Africans as people who lack humanity and for that reason don't deserve the riches of the continent.

So what should be the best response from Africans in the face of the hypocritical but nonetheless grievious onslaught by the socalled Arab and European civilizations on their African forbear? Stand firm, don't doubt yourself because the life of God is already in you through creation. The fact of being alive justifies all existence and one owes the Creator a duty to live life fully. Don't be lazy, don't flee from work and most of all seek knowledge of that which is true. That will lead you to the knowledge that there is only one humanity and that Africa was the route humans walked as they came out of creation. With that knowledge at the back of your mind, please forge ahead to the promised land.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The onslaught on our African past

One of the biggest ironies of our time is that the very Europeans who denigrated Africa as the very heart of darkness, without a past, found possession of African art objects as evidence of high-minded civilization. In Western European homes, offices and establishments, having an African art object, especially an original dating hundreds and thousands of years back, is the height of cultural sophistication. It is a form of schizophrenia that I think hasn't been paid enough attention in current psychiatric scholarship.

It's other half, equally meriting psychoanalysis, is the fervour with which Africans are destroying their own cultural objects and other evidence of how their ancestors lived, perceived and celebrated their existence. With our governments busy with the plunder of our national treasuries, indifferent to the meaning of our past, various Christian denominations of the pentecostal bent have been on a spree of destruction cloaked with the hypocritical cloak that characterizes their evangelism, burning up and smashing up artefacts of African material culture that have not been stolen by thieves selling to Western buyers or that were spared the looting of the colonial phase of European passage through Africa.

As often happens with things African, Nigeria presents some of the worst examples of the ongoing despoilation.

Some two years ago, the authorities in in Lagos state suddenly decided that art traders selling modern copies of ancient African sculptures that are often mixed with originals trafficked from the interior where they were plundered by thieves, constituted squatters that needed to be removed in order to go on with the usual land rackets for which the Lekki Peninsula corridor has become famous. What did they do? The mobilized bulldozers to the scene while the art dealers were away, smashed up their shops and crushed the items on sale with the chain wheels and the metal excavators of the bulldozers. They couldn't be bothered whatever the historical significance of the works or even their commercial value to those who trade in them. Items damaged included artworks that had travelled from different parts of Africa through traders to come and meet their mostly Western buyers by the Lekki beach in Lagos, like slaves of old, enroute to Europe and the Americas.

A few years ago the Christian envangelist pastor Uma Ukpai boasted that he and his followers over a few weeks in one December were able to destroy scores of shrines across Igboland in southeast Nigeria. What did these places of traditional worship consist of? Usually made of mud houses, with walls decorated by Uli writings and paintings, they often contained naturalist carvings of African figures, featuring the cubist styles that became the inspiration of Pablo Picasso and modern Western art. These shrines, which exuded the deep, close, communing relationship between the African of old and his environment, that saw the unity of all things whether plant, animal or inanimate, were destroyed by triumphal philistines of African extraction in the name of evangelism.

This particularly corrosive form of evangelism has bred individual variants of the "prayer-warrior" - note the belligerent tone of the name - who wouldn't brook any sight of any of the items that formed part of the spirituality of his ancestors, whether personal or communal. Among the Igbos of southeastern Nigeria, where a thwarted variety of Christianity harking back to puritn inquisition has taken hold, individual prayer-warriors regularly invite pastors of similar ilk to make bonfires of cultural and spiritual artefacts they inherited from their forebears. Frequently they also form savage bands that steal out in the middle of the night, especially during the Christmas season, to burn and destroy communally owned artefacts.

One instance of this madness was played out in the town of Achina in Anambra State in December 2008. One morning the town woke up to find that the ikoro had been destroyed, butchered and burnt by a group of prayer-warriors. The ikoro was a giant wooden gong, reputed to be at least 400 years old, which sat in its own house at the edge of the Oye, the town's market. It was an instrument of mass communication for which a specialist player was appointed by the town in the olden days. It's sounds could be decoded by most people in the village. And whenever there was an emergency, the job of the ikoro player was to mount it and beat out messages which could be heard and intepreted by town people whereever they may be in distant farms or streams. It was a means of communication and mobilization and wasn't even as a religious object, apart from the fact that in the traditional concept of the people every aspect of life was infused with some spirituality.

Anyway, the ikoro of Achina was destroyed. It had survived previous murder attempts, when the prayer-warriors had attacked before and fortunately were seen by other town people who resisited them and stopped them. After one unsuccessful attempt, one of the age-grades in the town had contributed money to build a fence around the ikoro and put a lock on the gate into where it was housed. Then the prayer-warriors adopted stealth and came like a thief in the night to destroy the ikoro.

With an indifferent government concerned only with the plunder of national resoruces and doing the bidding of their masters in Western capitals, it's no wonder that the common good has gone to the dogs. Even officially designated government museums, where artefacts are supposed to be preserved for posterity, over the years became conduits for wholesale plunder of Nigerian art and cultural objects. The result is that there is a tripple onslaught by state officials, art thieves and evangelists against articles of Africa's past material culture that show who we are, what we were and where we're coming from. And as the reggae singer Ziggy Marley asked: "Tomorrow people, where is your past? ...If you don't know your past, you don't know your future."