Wednesday 28 May 2008

Nigeria: Our Culture adopted for criminality

Our masquerades and culture

Those long varied conversations with Iya (my mother) the other day veered into the amusing, if not incredible but depicted the complete lawlessness that is eating into the fabric and peaceful co-existence of society in Nigeria.

We have always enjoyed the masquerades when we all come out to see the dances, the acrobatics, the drummers and sing the folk songs that make the Yoruba tribe the most given to festivities of every kind.

Our folklore or read superstitious inclinations, consider masquerades heavenly beings, to be respected and revered but they are never touched – their colourful garments sometimes identifying a clan of masquerade pedigree renowned for having powers that instil irrational fear in the onlookers.

[Reading some research material, the masquerades known as Egungun in Yoruba are considered people risen from the dead – bones (skeleton) made alive, hence the assumption they are heavenly beings – benign as people would want this to be, we do in ways worship our ancestors and give the dead a lot more reverence than the living in Yorubaland.]

The criminality of masquerades today

The masquerade festival usually lasts a week, however, it appears these heavenly beings have decided to take up abode on earth – I quipped to Iya – the masquerade has become a menacing chief of criminals that runs through the market grabbing condiments and ingredients that included two live goats - A recipe for masquerade stew?

His cohorts bear whips, harass people and demand under duress monetary gifts whilst creating traffic jams and rolling over bonnets of cars that people are so terrified of menace and aggression, they are completely pliant parting with “gifts” for idle men who can get away with it.

This enterprise has become so lucrative, the festival has been running for 3 months and there is no end in sight except when it rains – in which case the masquerade probably changes into waterproof garb to keep up the game.

It would appear masquerades are no more the harmless entertainment with some underlying traditional rituals and a public cultural spectacle; they have been co-opted into criminal enterprise and have become a lawless and menacing clique in the pay of powerful and shady masters.

Oro in daylight

This whole matter was escalated to a more terrifying spectacle when in the middle of the afternoon, the chiefs who at one time were respectable elders of the community but now have their noses in the trough of relieving people of their effects through menace, gathered in the centre and allowed Oro to come out to play.

According to the earlier research material - The word Oro means fierceness, tempest, or provocation, and Oro himself appears to be personified executive power, Oro is supposed to haunt the forest in the neighbourhood of towns, and he makes his approach known by a strange, whirring, roaring noise. As soon as this is heard, all women must shut themselves up in their houses, and refrain from looking out on pain of death.

One would ask, what is the haunt of the forest doing in the middle of town, in the bright light of day - The Oro only visits the town centre at night when surely all women would be in their homes and completely out of harms way.

Menacing the women

Iya in her car, returning from church, resolved that any Oro that comes out in the daytime wants to be seen of women and should not by any right menace women when it has violated its nocturnal cover.

How I wish other women were able to stand their ground on this matter but she talked of women abandoning their vehicles in the middle of the road and running off to seeking cover in what definitely was a completely illegal and lawless activity.

Iya safely manoeuvred through the melee but it was not a sight for the faint-hearted, it took the governor to call these criminals masquerading as custodians of our traditions to order.

Apparently, as the governor would have learnt, it is one thing to enact a law banning street parties but if it is not policed and the law upheld by law enforcement measures; it would be flouted by all those who think they can do things with impunity.

But Oro in the centre of town at 14:00 hours just really takes the biscuit, big time.

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