By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi
About a fortnight ago, a thought-stultifying myth created mass hysteria in Nigeria. Many Nigerians based on hearsay eagerly embraced the salt-water bath as otherworldly vaccine against Ebola. Seemingly, its efficacy was not questioned by the general public. Rather it was a moment of eureka. Our cultural pride ballooned, herbalists were elevated to Olympian Heights, although fleetingly. Many kept vigil, joyfully calling and sending messages to loved ones to inoculate themselves against the dreaded virus. This presents a poser. Why did many of our compatriots treat this “untested hypothesis” as proven medical fact? There are many possible answers to this question. Let’s consider some.
First, many Nigerians are lovers of myths. Given the fact that the vestiges of oral culture abound in our collective consciousness, our sense of what is really real is somewhat myth-based. Stereotypes are ingrained in the shared frameworks of ideas that shape our understanding of reality. How we derive meaning from lived experiences is susceptible to the influence of age-long assumptions. Second, we deeply hanker for quick fixes. Short-termism seems to run in our cultural DNA. Third, mythmaking fuels religious revival in Nigeria, particularly, the infusion of native esotericism and theosophy into monotheistic religions. Fourth, myths are the motif of Nollywood. Inadvertently, Nollywood has triggered a renewal of public interest in myths about black magic. Fifth, myths are part of urban reality, not peculiar to the uneducated, rural poor. They influence modern social practices even in echelons of power and prestige.
Recently, one of the leading national newspapers reported the plight of a homeless nonagenarian woman in Lagos. According to the newspaper report, the 90-something-year-old woman was sent out of her son’s house following the death of one of his tenant’s child. She was accused of killing the child with her “unusual supernatural power”. After the tenants gave her the beating of her life, her son sent her out of his house. Without honourable and viable options for survival she resorted to street begging.
In myth-oriented cultures, like ours, people are credulous. Healthy scepticism is not one of our intrinsic merits. Hence, the old woman was implicated in the death of a child that allegedly was a sufferer of sickle cell anaemia. This demonstrates one lesson: The rules of rational decision making are in abeyance wherever myths are more or less governing principles of life.
Myths have far-reaching effects on us. They fairly influence the way we harness natural resources for human wellbeing. For example, it is said that the Inachalo River in Kogi State is cursed, and so, fish from the river do not get cooked. Consequently, the huge economic value of its seafood is untapped by locals. Similarly, certain forests in Igbo land are designated evil, unfit for agrarian and economic uses.
Nollywood and demon-obsessed deliverance centres have accidentally become key reinforcing agents of myths that debar the spirit of equality. Their subliminal influences entrench a culture of social ostracism. A good example is the portrayal of “Osu women” as harbingers of evil. By rehashing myths like, if a man sleeps with an Osu lady, it will cause lumps to appear in his private parts, social harmony is deterred.
Governments’ spirited efforts to fight certain crimes in our society will not yield the desired results, if the root causes of such crimes are not addressed, particularly those induced by superstitions and cultic practices. A good example is ritual killing of albinos, which is on the increase, because it is alleged that they posses magical powers for prosperity and political stardom. They are often dismembered. Even their graves are dug up with ignominy by spiritualists and power-besotted necrophilia. For these debased acts to stop, agents and institutions of cultural enlightenment must stop glorifying myths and superstitions.
Due to our love for myths, we mystify success. Some religious profiteers parading as God’s spokespersons trade on this illusion. As a result, we hardly see success as by-products of internalised values, but of talisman. Evidently, our popular pastime of demonising the young-rich-and-handsome guy springs from this mistaken notion of success. For this reason, we fail to teach our children that hard work is a recipe of success.
There is a tendency to dismiss this skewed notion of success and power as peculiar to the underclass. But the sad encounter of Ambassador Sam Edem, former chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), with a sorcerer indicates that this thinking is widespread. It is reported that he spent approximately N800 million for a dubious sorcerer to help him woo fortune, ward off evil and consolidate him in power.
We cannot make giant leaps in our collective quest for an egalitarian society, if we keep considering questioning myths and challenging status quos as taboos. Great nations are not built on retrograde systems of thoughts, stereotypes, and hate myths. To build a society where the elderly are treated with love, human dignity and care demands that the portrayal of the aged as half demon and half angel should stop.
Aspiring architects of national transformation must muster the courage to question accepted assumptions. We need to rethink assumptions about who we are in relation to others, and pull down every oppressive structure built on myths. Very likely, a new day of glory will not dawn in Nigeria until our national psyche is liberated from the tyranny of myths.
Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi via Twitter: @omozuwaspeaks