cherish traditions, and many of these have much to recommend them.
some of the traditions handed down by ancestors for centuries through
oral communication to moderate chaos and keep order on an even keel
have now lost their particular resonance. Some have their original
simplicity replaced by so much ostentation that those who originally
designed them anciently would now shudder with shock and revulsion.
many have become real liabilities with their values fading into
utterly stupefying wretchedness. Bluntly,
some like bride price, head-hunting, human sacrifice, expensive
burial ceremonies, and assaulting wives and children have no place in
short while ago, a friend wrote to me about how he dealt with one
evil cultural tradition.
work, he received a text message that his father had passed. Grief
stricken, he hurried home to consult his folks on burial
the elders demanded a cow from him because the father was a high
chief in the village council. This was in addition to seven goats,
twenty five tubers of choice yams, thirty cartons of assorted beer,
fifteen crates of soda, some boxes of cigarettes and snuff. For other
items they couldn’t readily name, the young man was asked to
shell out five thousand dollars in cash.
kinsmen and women demanded bales of cloth to sew and wear as uniform
during the mourning period and another set of dress materials to wear
at the burial ceremony.
the month-long mourning period, he would feed the entire village
thrice daily. He would slaughter a cow on alternate days and have
several bands on stand for entertainment.
dead man’s church in turn added an endless list of demands to
the family’s agonizing anxieties. These included a cow for the
officiating pastors, another for the women’s group and yet
another for the men. The church choir asked for five goats, some
quantities of drinks and packets of cigarettes. Of course food for
the church for the duration of the mourning and burial was a given.
the church said it had several bodies lined up for burial and could
only find an opening in its calendar in six months. The family was to
embalm the body and keep it in the house until then. It did not
matter that deadly viruses were taking a dreadful toll on lives, and
leaving a corpse for months in a house where entire families lived
was extremely hazardous.
now, my young friend had been unemployed for years after graduating
from the university. He coasted along foraging for the barest
gleanings, which barely put a shirt on his back. He became the target
of rude jokes and mean mockery in the village.
he kept applying for jobs until he landed one at an oil company. With
his new employment he kept himself and his extended family just above
water. And then, the father fell ill and he had to pick up hospital
bills in addition.
his death, the family was virtually penniless. So when these various
groups made the senseless demands, my friend was aghast.
and confused, he called his immediate family to a meeting. He
presented the bewildering situation to them and asked for opinions.
Some suggested selling their family home to meet the demands. Other
said to borrow money from the bank.
listening to all suggestions, the young man flatly rejected the
extortions. Churning with double disappointment, the loss of the
father and the heartless pressures by those from whom he expected
compassion and solace, he laid out his plans before his siblings.
That night he bought a casket. He
and his brothers dug the grave so they could bury their father the
the city where he lived he had joined a church that ordained him into
the Melchizedek Priesthood, with authority to officiate in certain
matters of life and death.
would consecrate the father’s grave and bury him if the dead
man’s church and villagers would not show up. Everyone agreed
it was the thing to do. The next morning, he sent for the church, the
extended family, and the village council.
announced their decision and welcomed those who wanted to stay and
witness the burial. Some people left while others stood by.
with the burial, he left for the city to resume his job.
sweated as I listened to his story. As a family head and a high chief
myself, I was awed by his wisdom and courage and absolutely approved
available information on the age of continents is true, Africa is the
most ancient of all. If this is so, it follows then that some of the
oldest human traditions are to be found in there.
of these traditions, the family, for instance, are the basis for
communal memory. We have from experience found that by banding
together and standing as one we can better deal with challenges.
we developed over time, strong tribal and family bonds to enable us
to survive threats to our personal and collective security. Since we
have not worked out the insurance systems that cover people against
calamities, we, however, have kinsmen and women to come to our aid
when fires ravage our property or when storms blow off our roofs.
folk act as undertakers when we die or caregivers when we are ill. In
rural Africa and even in our cities, there are no homes for the aged
because our elderly live with relatives to the end of their days.
are also a people faithful in the gospel. We necessarily hold on to
the hope the gospel offers because we are mostly neglected if not
altogether abandoned by our governments.
sadly enough, many previously time-honored traditions have been
corrupted into orgies of greed and repression.
can a church by any name demand from mourners, those in need of help,
comfort, and succor? To whom, then, can those beset by unfortunate
circumstances turn for solace? Are our churches thus not fulfilling
the prophecy that many shall be led astray and many shall call good
evil and evil good?
saw our times with clarity when he blasted it as “perilous
times” when many will be without “natural affection …
incontinent,” that is, lacking self-control, and “lovers
of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Such
perverts, he added, would have “a form of godliness, but
denying the power thereof … Ever learning, but never able to
come to the knowledge of the truth.”
demands made by tradition and by most Nigerian churches as they
exploit the vulnerabilities of ignorant folks are as reprehensible as
the fundamentalist decrees of Boko Haram.
horrors remind me of a cult in the village I was raised. When a
member of the Ekpo cult died, members went berserk, visiting violence
on women and anyone else without clout in village affairs. They
whimsically slew animals and with the same caprice, chopped down
plantain and banana trees even when the fruits were not ripe enough
to be eaten.
good could such cruel custom possibly serve?
were intended to give balance and control to society. But having
lost their vital impulses, many now reinforce tyranny, and as Thomas
Paine remarked, “Tyranny, like hell is not easily conquered.”
we have great virtues to share with the world, we also have tyrannies
to take down. Tyrannies everywhere make man less than human. We must
refuse to be hedged in by bad traditions, and expensive burial can
hardly be justified in a land beleaguered by hunger, disease, and
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North