Saturday, November 28, 2020 1:43 pm
By Chris Anyokwu
Have you ever heard the song: ‘East or West/Home is the best’? Although the short minuscule poem- song appears to scramble the iambic-dactylic metrical pattern the lyrical joyfulness, the mellifluousness of its rhyme scheme more than makes up for such niggling prosodic deviance: ‘west’ and ‘best’ intimate and bracingly approximate rest (read: HOME).
But the question to ask is: Whither home? Where is home? The question, without a doubt, sounds nonsensical, given that we all have a place we call home: a hut, a thatched-roof hovel, a mud-house, a face-me-I-slap-you room-let or in a tenement, a house or a well-appointed castle for the upwardly-mobile and well-heeled among us. After all, every Banana Island has its Makoko. Just in case you are not familiar with Lagos metropolis, and, thus do not know where the two diametrically opposed and oceanically-divergent living-spaces are, please ask Google.
The former is home to Nigeria’s filthy rich class while the latter is a roiling inferno in which Lagos’s disinherited subsist and try to chase after the vanishing illusions of existential meaning. Whither home? To the average villager, his or her village is home as he or she is secure within the reassuring ambiance of the living oral-aural poetry of common speech spoken by all and sundry including the odd settler. Moreover, the festivals, rites of passage (birth, puberty or initiation, nuptial, funeral, inter alia), traditional customs, norms, mores, taboos, etc. add tone and texture to the beauty and utility of home.
To be sure, the vital factor of language, the mother tongue, in this connection, cannot be over-emphasized as itconstitutes the linchpin of cultural pride for the native son or daughter. By the same token, however, this same linguistic identify can and does give rise to misunderstanding andmisunderstanding can and does degenerate into conflict, ranging from mere tantrums and hollow shouting-matches to duelsinvolving fire and fury.
For instance, in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame, Odewale, the tragic play’s protagonist, commits parricide and regicide on account of the victim mocking his (i.e., Odewale’s) ‘bush’ dialect of the larger Yoruba communicative idiom. Thus, even speakers of the same language can and do go to war with one another over mere diacritical and, thus, dialectal variation on the parent tongue. Just think about it: tone or tonality as bone of contention and some members of the homo sapiens duel to the death! Whither home? To the city dweller, the so-called urban drift, the equal-opportunity, zero-sum, winner-takes-all, weitgeist tends to complicate the plot.
In point of fact, the lure of lucre and the pursuit of progress drives the individual from place to place, moving and striking camp at will as s/he follows money, as the saying goes. Formerly of the hinterland of primitive innocence, s/he now drifts about in the belly of the beast bedazzled by the legendary gold-dust littering the cobbled byways and paved boulevards of the city. Like William Wordsworth’s persona in “Tintern Abbey”, his or her wanderlust is exacerbated by the anonymity of urban life, the alienation and fragmentation of experience, the loneliness and crass self-centeredness of urban dwellers.
Thus, the resultant loss of touch with village values in the city, the absorption of foreign ideals and belief-systems, including language, culinary arts, dress code, music and religious practices practically drive him or her to the edge. Now s/he is truly homeless. A fragmented ego, s/he loses all sense of personal identity and self- authenticity. And a split-personality syndrome or crisis of consciousness sets in for this child of a multiple worlds. S/he is remorselessly assailed by the crosswinds of cultural mongrelism, hybridity, mimicry, leading inevitably to psychic vertigo; or, what W.E.B DuBois famously dubbed ‘double consciousness’ in The Soul of Black Folks.
This parlous and precarious situation is much worse for the émigréwhose soul is riven by contending and irreconcilable allegiancesof home and exile. The many sweet sorrows of the exilic condition are memorably captured by Chimamanda NgoziAdichie in Americanah, a post-colonial novel which poignantly dramatizes the sad and heartrending ways and means our kith and kin in the diaspora rough it out in the face of institutionalized racism, both in the USA and Britain. Perhaps one of the most inspired and touching aspects of the narrative is Adichie’s deployment of Nollywood home video films as alternative simulacra of home away from away.
Whither home? There is now an interesting dimension to the emigrant dilemma. Nigerians who have left our shores for greener pastures overseas and are having to raise their kids abroad have resorted ingeniously to importing “natives” from Africa to help teach their mother tongues to their children. This practice is catching on and becoming prevalent in the USA, Canada, the UK and continental Europe. The Yoruba and Igbo in particular deserve praise and commendation on this score, particularly as they have succeeded in mainstreaming their decamillionaire tonguesthrough their official adoption in some school curricula abroad and as the language of broadcast by the BBC. Movingly, the foregoing circumstances bring to mind Sound Sultan’s hit- song “Ajo da b ile” (‘However comfortable exile might be, home is still home’); an ephebe-song that was a large part inspired by Lagbaja’s precursor/master-song, “Afro-calypso”, a lyrical parable that threnodises the unforgettable horrors of the Middle Passage, the roots of the Black Experience and contemporary crisis of Afropessimism.
Now, let us come back home: where is home for the Nigerian child? Where are the ‘Tales byMoonlight’, the folklore which constitutes the basis of pedagogy and hortatory traditions through which the child’s limbs are earthed in autochthonous values, which in turn act as ballast against wayward winds? How much of the mother tongue [ more on this next week] does the child possess and can utilize with felicitous ease? Who, indeed, shapes his/her outlook on life? Is it the parents? I think not. We all know, in all good conscience, that it is now the peer group, social media, the internet, television, and all what not.
The parents, even when conditions are ideal, are nearly always missing in action as both parents trade blame and parry responsibility over whose business it is to cater to the child’s needs, linguistic and all. According to Terry Eagleton in his book entitled After Theory, the hearth which traditionally irradiated bonhomie, camaraderie, solidarity, and allied familial values has now been corrupted, swamped as it is by postmodern pathologies and alien malodorous influences spawning caricatures, mongrels and human grotesquerie among cognate monstrosities.
The home or hearth is now the zone of zombies! It bears reiterating that home is a place of comfort and security, the infinitely reassuring hearth, cozy and warm with family and friends; a place teeming with memories of the good times and sometimes of the bad. It is rooted in history and tradition and oral lore, protected by time- honored cultural traditions, rites, festivals, and ancestral memory. Home is, in this connection, more than a living-space, a geographical locus or accommodation. It intimates and evokes feelings and values of kinship or consanguinity, affinal fellowship and oneness, of charity and compassion, a one-for-all/all-for-all philosophy. It should, nonetheless, be readily admitted that home has evaporated like fog under the pitiless glare of the so-called post-modern condition. Home has changed address from a physical location to a psycho-spiritual one, namely: the human heart.
Given the geographic dispersal, the rootlessness and the dislocation of the modern self as homo viator, an existential flaneur or hobo, s/he peregrinates and perambulates with his/her ‘home’ like the tortoise or the snail, seeking watering-holes in this wilderness we call earth. His or her condition is worsened by the most confounding malaise of our post-apocalyptic epoch in which reality is virtuality and vice-versa.
Now, all is flux: exile can become home and home, when rendered unlivable, turns exile both literally and figuratively. Small wonder, then, today’s Nigeria is a Frankenstein’s laboratory, a DantesqueInferno, and a Hobbesian Dystopia, no thanks to a snowballing slew of socio-economic and political problems including killer herdsmen terrorism, banditry, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and insurgency, thereby transmogrifying our geo-political ecosystem beyond recognition.
You have to, from time to time, pinch yourself to reassure yourself that you are still living, nay, surviving in the postcolonial hell-hole called Nigeria. As always,we can only appeal to those whom fortune has made rulers over our collective affairs at all tiers of the social contract and all levels of governance to work conscientiously to make Nigeria great again, especially for the next generation: our children.