BEFORE THE BLACKOUT
As I think about my new granddaughter, my daughter and what they know about me, about Africa, and about their tradition, a tormenting thought ran through my mind:
We, members of my generation, stand between the light and the void. And we are the last stand holding up the ancestral heritage. We must mine what is available and keep them in a culture bank, or too much will perish.
This statement came to my head as I struggled to remember a folksong that my primary school teacher sang about a mythological snake. It was in Primary One, and it was raining as my teacher taught us the folk story and sang the song.
I come from a culture in which animals, trees, rivers, mountains—everything–speaks with the human tongue.
It is a culture in which everything is alive—in this culture, everything is humanized, and there are no non-living things.
We all exist on a horizontal plane, not the vertical plane of the consumer culture that we now have: all of us are equally important, from the river to the tree to the human.
We are interconnected, according to my culture. What affects the trees affects the people.
Everything is spirit.
Everything is beautiful, according to its kind.
But we were taught to hate and abandon that way of thinking, of being, of conceptualizing life.
We were bullied, bribed, mauled and killed to forget about our way of life—and to start thinking in a western way, to talk in western tongues, to embrace western goods, accept western belief systems and worship western gods.
But I still recall the stories and songs that my primary school teacher, in Primary One taught us.
He taught us about the snake that raised its voice and reminded us that it is not to be killed:
Ejò dúdú alámù rere ò…(Black snake with lustrous skin)
Ẹ́ ẹ́ pa mí bí ejò kàn án pa (They kill me like the snake you kill)
Ḿ mè é surú ejò kàn án pa ò (I’m not the type of snake you kill)
Ebi lẹ́ ẹ́ pa mí mè é tàjò ẹ bọ̀ (It was hunger that drove me on the road)
Í i è, èró yéye ò….(I say, yes, this is painful)
Now I have tried to capture the trace of this ancestral chant.
But I have lost the details of it.
It’s the story of the snake that you must not kill.
Our tradition is a mother that you must not kill.
My generation is the bridge between the final void and the cultural light.
Once my generation disappears from the scene, it is over.
Now is the time we should be combing the villages to collect these folktales, songs, stories and proverbs because once we are gone—and we have maybe twenty more years—it is all over.
Does anybody know the story behind this black snake with lustrous skin?
It is an Ekiti folktale. If you know the song exactly as it is, please share it with us and contribute to this bank of ancestral traditions.
Otherwise, the generation of my new granddaughter will be left with….nothing.
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