|Print | Back||September 29, 2015|
African VoiceDoing Away with Darkness
by Imo Eshiet
“Education,” so writes Will Durant, “is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” The more I think back on a number of folks beliefs in Africa and elsewhere, the more I seem to agree with Durant. In my growing up years, feeding eggs to kids was taboo, for in the minds of the people, it was one sure way of bringing up such children to become thieves.
I do not know by what logic my folks arrived at such a hilarious conclusion. I definitely know kids from homes where such belief held sway possibly ended stunted in height and deprived in diverse other ways, of essential nourishment.
I remember sauntering out with a half-eaten boiled in my hands and running into an old aunt. I was about five years old and up to that time I had not seen anyone so stricken by horror the way my aunt was. Her already gnarled face suddenly developed more wrinkles as her jaws opened wide and seemed to drop on the ground.
When she managed to find her voice, she invoked a long line of ancestors I never knew we had and moaned that they had failed her by allowing her to live and see when kids were groomed to become thieves. Swaying with mawkish self-pity, she eventually asked, “Who gave you that thing you are nibbling at like a wharf rat?”
Bemused by her choice of imagery and not knowing why she looked so drained of blood, I casually answered it was my mom. Like sparks flying from the forge of an ironworker, her eyes showered me with flints as she made past me to confront my mother. Before long I heard the mouths of both women unsheathe long knives and carving each other out savagely and brutally.
“Now I know why every goat and fowl that ever leaves our pen never gets back home because your folks can never set their eyes on the property of others without stealing it,” my aunt hissed at my mother. “Not satisfied with breeding a community of thieves, you are now training my brother’s sons and getting ready to recruit them into your family business.”
When Mother figured out what made her sister-in-law so mad, she too was livid and fired her own broadside.
She reminded my aunt that because her family ate eggs, that was why they had a school’s principal and other professionals at a time my folks were soaking in moonshine and sloth about like lemur. “Perhaps,” she added with vicious emphasis, “that explained why my aunts never managed to stick it out with their husbands who were retarded enough to ever marry them in the first place.”
I was stumped, seeing both women fly into a rage just because Mother had given me an egg. I wondered why they should fight over so simple a thing.
A mother hen had failed to hatch all the eggs she sat on and Mother, not wanting to waste anything, boiled the unhatched eggs. Most were bad, but a few had both the yoke and the white came out looking frozen and hard when boiled.
The two women would possibly have come to blows if other villagers did not step in to arrest the flow of verbal abuse running from their mouths like rushing flood water from a broken dam.
Our little dog helped diffuse the situation when it leaped up and snatched the rubbery egg from my fingers. Everyone fell to the dirt, laughing in agreement that eggs were actually meant for thieving dogs and cobras. From the animal’s behavior I knew why folks assumed eating eggs predisposed kids to stealing.
As I mused over the incident some years later, I concluded that the only good our meager folk ways served was to prepare us for the hardships we might experience later. Later on I realized my concerned aunt reacted based on information she had and that she would have acted differently if she had the sort of education I got in my later years.
With that awareness, I appreciated President Harold B. Lee’s remarks that, “You cannot lift another soul until you are standing on a higher ground than he is.”
But that was just one of several folk customs that bewildered me. In my childhood it was forbidden to wash up after dinner. We only did dishes at the river in the morning. The belief was that at night the spirit of unborn children visited homes in search for families that could support them when they came to life. One way of deciding that ability was the evidence of leftover food the spirit children saw at homes they visited when everyone was asleep.
That tradition worked fine for me, for it left me free to participate in storytelling sessions and other traditional ways of recreation under the moonlight. Folks believed in large families, for they assumed one was as rich as the number of relatives one had.
Since many never made it past childhood because of the high incidence of infant mortality, many parents tried to raise as many children as they could in the hope that after death had taken its toll, it would leave some kids behind for them.
So if food debris could lure in more siblings that was just fine with me, for as a saying goes, the more the merrier.
But some traditions simply left me breathless. For example, because we had papaya in great abundance, we nicknamed that great fruit, hog-feed, and many turned their back on its richness. Folks went to great extent drinking herbs for laxatives when the fruit trees just behind their homes could have done a better job cleansing their colons.
With development pushing in and turning villages into towns, many came to know that the fruits that fell to the ground rotting to the delight of boars, could earn them money and also help them maintain good health. Once folks got that knowledge, pigs lost out on papaya.
I get the happy feeling that with time too, folks will wean themselves off other limiting beliefs such as faith in witchcraft and the thinking that there are no natural causes for death that people die not because of poor hygiene and diseases but as a result of secret combinations. I guess as more schools and hospitals become accessible to the people, the mindset will turn around.
To me the lesson learned from all this is what Joseph Smith taught several generations back: “Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is.”
A seer and a prophet, Joseph was no stranger to false folk beliefs. While he gallantly fought to the last drop of his blood views that were profoundly at odds with the truth, yet he was equally steadfast in the possibilities that the light of knowledge brings to believing minds.
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