Diversifying culture for contemporary relevance
By Theo Adebowale
Culture is evidently a powerful force and a people that sacrifices or abandons its culture is in danger. The month of August 2019 in Akure Ondo State capital brought to the fore, the power in the culture of a people. Mid August, and a forth night later, a tradition regulating commerce in Akure and its neighbourhood was in force, as it were, twice within two weeks. It forbids buying and selling, that is, hawking, street trading. Market stalls and neighbourhood stores were shut by the force of the tradition. Violators of the restriction, that is, those who dare the tradition, risk heavy financial losses including bankruptcy, because they are aware that bandits have an immunity to operate. Ignorance is no excuse as the few traders who opened their stalls were promptly dispossessed of their wares.
Akure South Local Government council officials as well as those of the state government had a running battle with traders at the main market every day of the week as they make to keep them off the road, but not on the two days. The market stalls were locked, no wares, the road was free. It is in the character of the people to keep the tradition, to respect the culture otherwise, the consequence could be disastrous. This means that if only we would be guided by our culture, there are traditional guidelines, controls and reward system to make the people more orderly and law abiding. There is no intention to suggest that we should revive all traditions and begin to enforce them. Rather, we may see the need to review such traditions by studying their historical background.
That leads us to appreciate the prevailing socio-economic environment and the moral essence of the tradition as well as relevance, suitability, adaptability to the contemporary social system. This is necessary bearing in mind that no tradition would have evolved to bring hardship to the people or in any way threaten their welfare. In other words, in all circumstances, every tradition is to enhance safety, security, comfort and confidence of law abiding citizens. Dudududu, and Amole could not be an exception.
On both days, the people voluntarily respected the tradition and suspended commercial activities such that Traffic Wardens, Vehicle Inspection Officers, the Police Motor Traffic Department, and Federal Road Safety Corps officials were off duty in Akure and its environs. This shows that the people, after all, are self respecting. Indeed, the people would willingly make sacrifices for the larger society even when they have not been educated on the essence of such a tradition. We find obedience to the rule for the fact that it is a tradition.
Naturally, every culture frowns at stealing, fraud, robbery, and banditry. There are traditions to take care of such tendencies from community to community notwithstanding that over time certain subcultures may also evolve as deviants. But in the Yoruba social system there is no tolerance for criminal elements, no indifference or licence or accommodation for fraudsters. Again, we need to be clearly educated as to the significance, scope and morals of a tradition like amole or dududu so that miscreants and felons do not find justification or solace in them.
A few days ago, some internet fraudsters were banding a theory about the pillage of Africa by European colonial officials and traders. According to them the wealth of Europe and the Americas was substantially made out of African resources which continue to be siphoned there by African politicians and bureaucrats. Since public officials continue to make life more miserable through unemployment and deteriorating economic situation, internet fraud is a natural means of revenge. As plausible as they seemed to themselves, their argument comes crashing before the Yoruba belief that no argument or excuse can justify crime. Reparation is better pursued in a lawful manner or otherwise through a more sophisticated science and technology that makes the former exploiter dependent on his former prey.
Healthy competition would bring about a superior civilization with a more equitable, more abundant, and more acceptable wealth distribution system that makes life safer and more secure. Attainment of this objective is of urgent importance in the contemporary world where values seem to be collapsing fast. A rescue operation would be easier to achieve here where the traditional institution had just demonstrated its ability to enforce.
Closing down the Akure economy for two days in a space of a forthnight is justifiable only to the extent that there is power in our culture, the traditional institution has legitimate power. But we need to move further by deploying the traditional authority for productive purposes. If it could enforce an effective curfew on commerce, it has a potential to prohibit the business of saboteurs of commerce because they are fewer in, yet are an irritant to community. Enforcers of tradition that were on standby to effect closure of commercial activities can take the whole year to identify fraudsters, compile their dossiers for the monarch to summon them during the next festival and excommunicate them. On the long run the potency of the palace to forbid corrupt characters from aspiring to elective and appointive public offices could be activated to make way for men and women of honor to preside, govern or represent the people of the land. Just like electric power continues to be diversified to supply light, heat, force in various forms, so must the traditional authority begin to diversify to address various challenges in the community.
The Yoruba monarch would have to wait endlessly for the constitution to confer responsibilities on it. Rather, by invoking traditions that enforce instance judgement on antisocial behavior without fear or favour, that guarantee full protection of law abiding citizens and their means of livelihood, the formal institutions of the state would conserve their energies for strict business in the absence of distractions, and concede to its peculiar authority.
The kabiyesi of the old made policy pronouncements at their festivals in accordance with contemporary issues and challenges, and resolutions of ‘government’, the gods and their ancestors were there to guide them. Today, knowledge abounds, science and technology are rational to make the monarch more decisive in recognizing banditry, abduction, rape, fraud, and sundry anti-social behaviours as more rampart among those that have lost their identity and employ anonymity to wreak havoc on society. But criminal elements in society know better to engage in activities that attract blessing from the palace than commit felony and stand the risk of being cursed.
Updates, diversification, innovation will surely make our traditions dynamic. When we can see socio-economic advantages delivered by them, they earn acceptability and confer respect to us as a people. Several traditions have died a natural death because they seem not to have relevance, they lack benefits. As many as contained advantages must be revived, repackaged and adapted for the contemporary community. This calls for revival of Yoruba social values in which the family, community and pursuit of knowledge is paramount. The socialization process that recognizes the family tree, and in which incest is taboo must be explicitly ingrained from early childhood to avoid corruption of the mind which in any case is worse than material or economic corruption.