The Politics of Discovery & Realities of People without Roots By James Ogunjimi
“They will teach you that a white man called Mungo Park discovered River Niger. That is rubbish. Our people fished in the Niger long before Mungo Park’s grandfather was born.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the lands and the missionaries had the Bibles. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had our lands and we had their Bibles.” – Desmond Tutu
So, sometimes last week, I stumbled on a documentary where a man was explaining the developments and giant strides being taken in Physics. He explained that they were working on an equation in Quantum Physics that, if successful, would mean that human beings can ‘learn’ how to disappear (that wasn’t the term he used, just some mumbo jumbo in physics). I think he used the word ‘project’ themselves from one place to another. Now, when I heard this, I laughed. So, somehow after spending 5 more years and billions of dollars in research, they will come up with an equation and then lay claim to the discovery of how to make human beings disappear or ‘project’. Then, some of us will have to travel there and spend 4 years studying Quantum Physics’ approach to disappearing.
Get this straight: Our forefathers have been disappearing since A.D gbogboro. Egbe, Ofe, Kanako, etc, are disappearing techniques that our fathers have been using since the beginning of the world. But the white man came and told our people that it is occultic and satanic, and like that, we let go of our fundamental knowledge and tagged them ‘occultic’, ‘demonic’, ‘backward’. Well, our people will soon start to go to the white man’s land to spend 4 years learning that ‘occultic’ and ‘demonic’ lesson. They will spend millions learning something that a solid herbalist here in Ijebu-Igbo will teach them under less than 4 months. And again, the white man will take credit for ‘discovering’ something our ancestors have discovered since the beginning of the world.
In the same Physics, someone is working on something that can make HUMAN BEINGS (not planes o) cheat gravity and float for a period of time. Seriously? Our mothers have put gravity to shame since the beginning of the world. They have been flying inter state and cross country for classified meetings since 982 BC. But when the white man came with his religion, our people started giving our mothers names like ‘witches’, ‘bloodsuckers’, ‘flesh eaters’. Now, one kid from a laboratory will claim he ‘discovered’ how to make humans fly or float and the whole world will spend millions learning it. What happened to our mothers’ discovery? They have been flying before that kid’s ancestors were born.
I have witnessed cases where a man was shot with a gun and it didn’t enter. Our people call it different names here: ayeta, odeishi, etc. Now, somebody will conjure up some equation and string together some scientific mumbo jumbo and claim he ‘discovered’ how to stop metal from penetrating the human body. And the world will troupe after him – Africans included – and gape open-mouthed, at the wonders of science and exclaim, “After God, it’s the white man o.” They have forgotten too soon that the odeishi and ayeta that our fathers armed us with had been lying around for years, waiting for us.
It is the same way some people will tag the nice poems written by our fathers as incantations and demonic utterances, but can recite all of Merlin and Harry Porter’s magical utterances offhand. The same way some people will plead the blood of Jesus when they are confronted with egungun (masqurades) and scream subuhanalai when they see Sango worshippers in their attire, but will proudly dress up and celebrate halloween and ChristMass. It’s the same way our people laugh derisively when they hear stories of three-legged animals seen back then in ancient Ogun state but will readily believe the white man’s tales of fire-breathing dinosaurs that once lived billions of years ago. They will easily believe that a certain Samson killed a lion with his bare hands, single-handedly killed more than a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and with his bare hands, pulled down pillars holding a giant house, but will call stories of Sango’s strength, Ogun’s acts and Ailala’s inescapable wrath backward tales.
Before the white man started making drugs and tablets, before he discovered anasthetics, our fathers have been cutting leaves and making painkillers out of leaves (ewe ati egbo). Before all the talks about vegetarianism started. Before the white man ‘discovered’ that vegetables and green leaves were the best, our fathers have been healing with them. There was a time when African children could recite over 100 leaves and its usefulness for the body. But because of how we loathe our own things and lust after foreign things, we stubbornly refused to acknowledge its potency and lived for so long in denial of its existence. We took the white man’s Bibles and called our own things ‘backward’.
Now, there is the place of moving with the flow and leaving behind customs and traditions that can hold back our development. But I am yet to understand how embracing our culture and heritage does that. I am yet to understand the rationale behind embracing other people’s message and totally forgetting ours. Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) and Islamic Studies have been taught in our schools for a very long time. Now, a Governor wakes up and decides to introduce the learning of Ifa, and some people started screaming. What is it with us and our obsession for foreign things at the expense of our own things?
The truth here is simple and straightforward: a stream can flow deep and wide, but the moment it forgets its source, it begins its journey, not just to stagnation, but its journey to complete drying. No matter how tall a tree grows, the moment its root is disconnected from the soil, it slowly starts to dry up until it becomes impossible to stay alive. It does not matter for how long we have floated in the euphoria of other people’s history and tried to dig out our roots and plant it in other people’s soil, if we don’t embrace what’s ours and appreciate it, we will only succeed in advancing other people’s cause and progress while we leave ours to rot and die off.
Afrika, I have spoken.