"Let me be more specific. In my childhood, my awareness of my heritage came partly from my primary school GHC (Geography, History and Civics) textbooks. I somehow had this picture of some form of village-based civilization. The different members of the community would be thatching their huts, or hunting, or fishing, or smithing in the village forgery. If you are given to flights of imagination, then you have probably managed to guess that all these pictures that I have described were contained right within the pages of my textbooks. I took what the books said literally, and believed that life was as they described it. I didn't have much to go on, and so couldn't embellish the pictures with my imagination.
"Furthermore, we all learnt about the different ethnic groups of the nation, their classification into different language groups, and their migration routes into their present-day locations. And then of course we had the folklore: "Why the Leopard has spots", "The Hare and the home-made horns", "Kapotei na Lulu." There’s nothing like the legends, myths and "fairy"-tales of one's own people to make one see things thru' their eyes.
“But is that really the case? Why is it that, after exposure to all this info about my ancestry, I still had a hard time imagining my ancestors as actual human beings with hopes, aspirations and dreams similar to mine? Why was it easier for me to identify with characters from American and British novels? Why couldn't I see the faith systems of my predecessors as being as real and valued to them as mine are to me? The answers to these questions would soon become apparent. "At the age of 12 years, thanks to my family's ongoing hand-me-down project, I inherited my brothers' high school literature books. In theory, it was still early for me to use them, but the twins had just graduated from school, and my father had sworn that there was no way that he was going to go through the ordeal of buying those expensive books one more time. So two or three years in advance, I had a literary heritage that, thanks to our overwhelming educational system, would eventually come to occupy my every dream and waking thought. Among them, were some unfamiliar titles: "The Concubine", Things Fall Apart", "Arrow of God"... The names behind them were just as unfamiliar: Elechi Amadi and Chinua Achebe, among others.
"This tale is about to take a predictable turn, my dear friend. Simply put, I read the books; I read every single one of them, from the front cover to the back cover. At the end of my experience, I was excited. I can't find the words to describe the awakening it was to me. That brief education in literature made me realize that (as stupid as this may sound) my ancestors were human.
“Let me explain myself. I was a child. I tended to accept textbook material without much analysis or criticism of the content. As far as I was concerned, there was absolute truth, and grown-ups had access to this truth. So the ones who published our books knew exactly what they were talking about.
"You know that our textbooks condemned colonialism. But, at the same time, they were ambivalent about it. The message I got was that colonialism had been a necessary evil, that it had introduced my people to true religion, education and healthcare, without which we had all been primitive.
“Now the very fact that I subscribe to the faith that our colonizers introduced us to means that, until recently, I looked down upon practitioners of other faiths. More so the polytheistic faiths that we had been told our forefathers practiced. We classified them as pagans, period. But what pagan actually meant, I can't tell you.
“Now I realize that they were different communities with different beliefs and practices. They believed in a superior being, and worshipped this being in accordance with their different environmental conditions and histories. All the aspects of these faiths that we today classify as witchcraft and superstition, I see parallels of in my own “civilized” faith.
"Thanks to those books, I was able to picture pre-colonial Africa as a place where ideas were born, and where different societies put them into practice. It ceased being the text book images that I had stored in my memory. Now I know that, unlike those authors, I am not Nigerian. The writers of those books were describing their people. They were a people that I knew little about. For some reason, though, history and popular culture ties all members of the so-called African race together. I am a victim of that mentality. Once these authors were able to demonstrate that their forefathers had lived as fully as them, and had had the same struggles with morality and the human condition that they do, I was able to apply that view to my own people. And with that came a series of changes in the way that I thought.
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The opportunity to learn from people from different walks of life has opened my eyes to the larger problems affecting us all.
I enjoy doing creative writing, poetry, and pieces on social issues. You can read some of my writing on my weblogs: KAHENDI'S BLOG, Ouagadougou's Weblog and Kahendi's Korner
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