Growing up, I didn’t know much about our culture, because I grew up in Lagos (just like a lot of us), which isn’t a place you see much of the Yoruba tradition, or any other tradition. It is a place that in fact, the Yoruba spoken is a very different dialect from the other Yoruba dialects. So, I did not even care about knowing about our tradition, apart from the tales I was fortunate to hear about.
I remember the first time someone told me Yoruba people had ‘h’ factor, I later got to know what it was, and as a Yoruba girl, I became very cautious of my inherent ‘h’ factor, making sure that it doesn’t sound whenever I speak, I also became attentive to other people’s ‘h’ factor.
It was not until I became more exposed, that I realized the beauty of our culture, flawed, but still beautiful. It signified a sense of belonging, with traits that made us special people. I also realized, after reading books, that with the advent of colonization and the acceptance of religion, our culture had now become a dying specie. What is worse now is the fact that because our culture is almost extinct, there is the need to protect the part of our culture that still exists fiercely, regardless of whether the act is harmful to a group of people or not.
It is very true that colonization and religion have helped our society in ways, e.g ending slavery, stopping the killing of twins, bringing education and law, stopping the barbaric act of burying slaves alive to escorts their dead owners in the after life etc. In fact, the acceptance of modernization is one of the best things that has ever happened to our society, but our society has accepted the western ways of life so much that our traditions which are normally harmless are now tagged as ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’.
For example, green tattoos have been part of our culture, but with the acceptance of religion, tattoos have become a bad thing, so much that you get harassed by SARS for having a tattoo.
Another example is the need to hide or change our accent, as though it is a bad thing. To the extent that having a British/American accent makes you stand a higher chance of getting specific job positions such as an OAP, talk show hosts etc, even though you would be addressing Nigerians with Nigerian accent.
We also have the religious part, the one that has driven the people who accepted Christianity to think of our traditional gods as ‘smaller gods’, which are therefore wrong, instead of just allowing everyone practice their faith in peace without fighting for superiority.
A huge part of our art and craft making have been abandoned, these art works are no longer appreciated in our society, and so there are barely any need to pass the skills to the younger generation. A lot of our arts and crafts like pottery, tie and dye, wool making and even farming, are slowly going away. We would rather import most of these things, than make them ourselves, despite the fact that these are crafts that were part of our heritage.
The list of our beautiful and harmless traditions that have now become ‘wrong’ is really endless. And we still battle with whether we should still hold on to certain traditions that are clearly wrong, because we do not want to totally lose our culture. What is important for us to note is that, preserving customs should not pave way for preserving toxic beliefs or bigotry at the same time. An example is the issue of homophobia which is widespread to the extent that it is even a crime according to the law of our country, and the major defense for it is that our customs do not give room for it, even though we know that our customs were never perfect, and for that reason, we have let go of a huge part of our customs. Homophobia still continues to be preserved by tradition.
Preserving culture is a terrific idea, but it will take whole lot of learning and unlearning, because it’ll mean reclaiming some part of our traditions that we have tossed away, and doing away with the toxic and bigotry ones that we chose to keep. We have to begin to take pride in our accent, in our tattoos, our wears, ways of life, products etc. If anyone has a problem with our hair, facial structures, the way we speak or eat, let them take it up with our ancestors, as long as these things do not harm anyone. Doing this, we will not feel like we are losing ourselves by the time we begin to dispose the harmful parts of our customs.
Our culture is beautiful, and we shouldn’t be willing to throw it all away, because without it, we’ll become people without heritage and history. Without it, we are lost. Culture is very important, and civilization shouldn’t mean throwing our whole heritage away.