THE FUTURE WE WANT: LEVERAGING AVHIANWU CULTURE FOR SUSTAINABLE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN A CHANGING WORLD
Chris Osiomha Itsede, PhD, MNIM
BEING TEXT OF A KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE AVHIANWU SUMMIT HELD AT OGBONA ETSAKO CENTRAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT, APRIL 6, 2015
TABLE OF CONTENT
Culture in Traditional Avhianwu Society Exposure to External Cultures Coping with a Changing World an Agenda for Cultural Reforms Conclusion
The objective of this paper is to examine the nexus between Avhianwu culture and the social and economic development of the society. Over the past decade or so, development indicators and data on the cultural sector have cast into bold relief the evidence that culture can be a powerful driver for sustainable development with community-wide social, economic and environmental ramifications. In Nigeria, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially in recent times that it is now a significant sector in the nation’s new GDP classification structure. At the global level, lessons learned from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) demonstrated concretely the power of culture to respond to such challenging issues as gender, health, education and environment. What is more, the cultural sector has a high capacity for employment creation across the whole spectrum of the skills mix in the economy – absorbing thousands of unskilled, semi-skilled and highly skilled workers in direct and indirect employment.
What is Culture?
According to Gold bard (2004), culture is the sum total of human ingenuity: language, signs and symbols, systems of beliefs, customs, dance, arts, clothes, foods and cuisine, tools, toys, trinkets, the built environment and everything we use to fill it up. Like most concepts in the social sciences, culture has evaded a universally accepted common definition. Some see it as the sum of the beliefs, knowledge, skills, customs, festivals and ceremonies, fashion, and traditions that are available to the members of a particular society. For the purpose of our discussion today, we define culture as a way of life of a people, that is to say, the behaviors, knowledge, beliefs, values, customs, art, music, symbols that they accept, generally without thinking twice about them and that are transmitted from one generation to the next. In other words, culture is the collective programming of the mind that sets one group or category of people apart from another. Culture is a people’s group identity. Every culture is characterized by eight basic elements: Language; Daily Life, Economy; Religion; History; Arts; Social Groups; and Government. Every culture would include core values and beliefs, such as trust, honesty, integrity, respect for others, individualism, communal orientation, patience, determination and family devotion.
Although this is not an academic gathering, I will preface our discussion this morning with a rapid overview of the recent debate on culture whose importance has become so compelling such that the United Nations General Assembly recently passed a special resolution urging members to mainstream culture into their development policies and strategic calculus. The UN further underscored culture’s intrinsic contribution to sustainable development.
The Cultural Debate
As culture is dynamic and changes, albeit slowly, overtime, so has the notion and its place in the society’s scheme of things evolved over the years. Sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and economic development experts all agree that culture has a significant impact on the developmental trajectory of different societies. Adam Smith, arguably the founder of modern economics, argues in his 1776 seminal book, “The Wealth of Nations” that man is essentially motivated by the pursuit of his own interests, and contributes to the public interest in a system that is self-regulating. Smith nonetheless recognized that the “pursuit of personal interests’1 involved much more than just making money. Hence, his later work, “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, deals with what today we would call cultural values. Seventy years later, John Stuart Mill made the same point when he noted that cultural constraints on individuals could have a stronger impact on them than the pursuit of personal pecuniary interest.
Max Weber, the German social scientist, writing in the early 20th century, outlined how cultural factors, including religious values, could drive economic output. Weber contended that the Protestant work ethic, spurred by Reformation teachings that the pursuit of wealth was a duty, inculcated the virtues needed for maximum economic productivity. Thus, European Protestants were more productive than Catholics. He drew parallels between Germany and Great Britain, for instance, compared to the Catholic nations of Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Today, development experts have no illusion about the significant contribution of culture to developmental outcomes.
The Importance of Culture
What is it that makes some countries to do very well, while others fail to make the mark even when they all have comparable requisite economic factors in place? Why have countries like Nigeria, Indonesia and the Philippines, despite their relatively robust resource endowment and a well-educated population, lagged in development? The theory lists preconditions for economic development: good governance, a stable political system; rule of law backed with effective enforcement to ensure sanctity of contractual agreements; an enabling environment for domestic and foreign investors; an efficient and non-corrupt the public service.
Quite a robust list, but it still does not add up. What is the role of culture in the development process? Why do some ethnic groups that are even minorities in other cultures do so well in business that they leave others in the dust? Amy Chua raises this question in her book “World on Fire”. She tells us that ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, accounting for less than two percent of the population, yet they control 60% of the nation’s private economy. This includes the country’s four major airlines and almost all the banks, hotels and shopping malls. Chinese ethnic minorities also dominate business in other Southeast Asian countries, especially Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia. Chua observes that all over the world, examples abound of what she calls “dominant minorities”-ethnic groups that have demonstrated a remarkable ability to succeed in business wherever they may live. In Russia, six of the seven billionaires that emerged from the privatization of public assets following the collapse of the Soviet Union were Jewish. Coming closer to home, we are all witnesses to how the Lebanese and Indians stump the West African coast as the ‘resident entrepreneurs’. Clearly, some ethnic groups seem to be far more successful in business than others. What is the secret?
Why the Differences?
Culture is colossally important in tracking the inter-temporal and inter-generational developmental trajectory of a society. Cultural perspectives provide us insights into values, attitudes, norms and behaviors that shape socio-economic development. Hence some Chinese scholars posit that politics, economics and culture are the three gears of any society and it is only when they move in harmony can the entire society develop on sustainable basis (Xuewen, 1997). Nobel Laurent, Amartar Sen (1997), argues that the values held by a society will influence its development outcomes. Thus, the argument goes, China’s sustained economic development was the result of its sticking to Asian values and institutions, notably Confucianism (Herman Kann, 1979). Confucianism places a high value on education, promotes a thirst for worldly accomplishments in various skills, diligence and family devotion.
2. Traditional Avhianwu Culture
It is difficult to say precisely when the Avhianwu, along with the other 12 clans that constitute present-day Etsako land, emigrated from Benin, ostensibly in batches or under which specific Oba’s reign they moved. But one thing is clear, the Etsako people were among several ethnic groups that left Benin in several waves during a period defined by what Aha Idokpesi N’Avhianwu described as ‘migration plague’ to seek more congenial living space during the reign of the Warrior Kings of Benin (circa 1300-1700). We also know that when Ivhianwu arrived at the present day Jattu in the 15th century they met other kinsfolk who had settled there earlier. They arrived imbued with the rich Benin culture that had informed their thought processes, words and deeds in ages past. This culture was expected to serve them as a frame of reference and a coping toolkit for generations unborn as they face the challenges of life in their new homeland. This culture embodied their language, beliefs, social organization, customs, technology, values, religion, music, arts, attitudes, moral code, norms, taboos, philosophy, and governance institutions.
Core Values of Avhianwu culture
The core values of the traditional Avhianwu culture in its pristine form, like that of the rest of the Etsako community, which were passed down from generation to generation were: honesty, integrity, hard work, justice and family devotion.
Strict adherence to and practical expression of these virtues, by the old and young, ensured a wholesome society that was characterized by a high sense of communal belonging, family devotion, business ethics, spirit of live-and-let’s-live, equity, fair play and justice. This homogenous cultural milieu engendered generalized moral rectitude, low crime rate, peace and social stability. In essence, the Ovhianwu was an archetypal of honesty, integrity and hard work. He manifested these virtues as a matter of course like a mammal breathing Mother Oxygen. Other than petty misdemeanors, heinous and violent crimes were few and far apart. Abominable homicides such as rape, stabbings and premeditated murders (which sadly have almost become the ‘new normal’ in contemporary Avhianwu society) were a rarity in the past. Indeed, once upon a time, it was a taboo of the first degree to shed the blood of an Ovhianwu kinsfolk under hostile or belligerent circumstances. It was also not in our character for an Ovhianwu to have his kinsfolk arrested by the security agents owing to a dispute. Violators of extant codes of conduct were promptly apprehended, tried and punished according to the laid down traditional laws and regulations and by the appropriate institutions of the community, depending on the nature and gravity of the offence or crime committed. This traditional system of conflict dispute resolution have not stood the test of time. Modern governance and diversity of the society, occasioned by the growing urbanization of the Avhianwu community, have entailed new mechanisms and institutions of conflict resolution.
Core Values at work
The traditional Avhianwu economy was agrarian and largely self-sufficient. Subsistence farming and hunting with crude implements, including hoes, machetes, bows and arrows and ingenious traps such as ‘uderu’ underpinned the economy. The people consumed the bulk of the harvested output. They exchanged the surplus for other goods through a barter system. Agricultural produce preservation methods included storage facilities and locations that bore eloquent testimony to the high degree of integrity and honesty that was emblematic of the Avhianwu society in the past. The men constructed on the farmsteads and in unsecured locations at home yam barns and corn stacks. The women used large earthen pots and artfully woven tall baskets called ‘okodo’ to preserve various crops such as peanuts and melon. Beans of assorted varieties were preserved in special grass folds called ‘ukhui-opa’ and hung on sticks on the farmstead or within the compound at home.
Despite their prized contents and easy accessibility, thieves neither looted nor pillaged these repositories of farm produce. In fact most people could go to the farm or even travel without installing elaborate locks on their doors. The traditional Ovhianwu played by the core values of the society. People were generally contented with their economic and social circumstances. For instance, those who reaped a poor harvest generally resolved to work harder during the subsequent farming season and offered sacrifices to the god of agriculture to bless them with a bumper harvest next time round. Resort to looting someone else’s crops or property for that matter, was not in the character of the Ovhianwu. Unfortunately, this generalized high level of individual and communal integrity that used to be taken for granted no longer exists in the Avhianwu community today. Over the years, most of the core values that were once the trademark of our culture have been severely eroded to the extent that it would be foolhardy for one to expose such valuable assets as a whole season’s harvest in the manner described above all in the name of preservation!
In centuries gone by, fashionable clothing was not high on the scheme of things of the people of Avhianwu. Most people went about scantily cladded in the only form of clothing they could make – the hand-woven cloth called ‘egbu’. The married women sewed the egbu into a miniskirt, called ‘utebe’. The utebe was designed to cover principally the loins of the women. As the Avhianwu people interacted with neighboring cultures with relatively more advanced forms of fashion, the pre-eminent place of the egbu in the wardrobe of the Ovhianwu was usurped by the dyed linen cloth called ‘osimhogbo’ which was introduced to Avhianwu by itinerant traders from Oshogbo in today’s Osun State.
Social organization under traditional Avhianwu culture was elaborated at the micro, meso, and macro levels. The social system at the micro level was moored principally on strong kinship relationships. The kinship relationship grew from the household level into family level, and then to quarters and into village level, and thereafter, clan level. Elaborate conventions, rules and regulations safeguarded and strengthened these social bonds. For instance, the over-arching task of socializing and educating the child was a shared responsibility of the parents, the immediate relatives and neighbors. All concerned took more than a passing interest in imparting moral education to the young ones and steeping them in the art of mutual respect for one another and peaceful coexistence. Respect for the elders and constituted authority was a directive principle of Avhianwu culture that was in the blood vessels of the typical Ovhianwu. It was a taboo for an elder to be assaulted by a younger person. Such infractions were swiftly dealt with through the elaborate justice system that stretched from the family level through the kindred, quarter and to higher levels of the society. The Enighie (Council of Chiefs) are at the apex of the Judiciary. Beneath them are the Iduevhos. Violations of a severe nature attracted a visitation by the dreaded special nocturnal groups such as Ikwawa or Ivhiabana, which played a highly regarded role in the maintenance and enforcement of law and order in traditional Avhianwu society, sans police force.
At the meso level, the society was structured into a plethora of organizations and institutions which acting, severally and jointly, ensured a peaceful, orderly, rules-based and enforcement-renowned society where people’s economic and social achievements were the products of their identifiable, honest endeavors. Today’s social cancers-organized crime, robbery, cultism, and violence, were, and remain alien to traditional Avhianwu culture. Ditto for all cultures in the world. Otherwise, those who engage in these ignoble and ultimately self-destructive activities would be encouraged and publicly honored for their troubles. The sponsors, promoters and practitioners of these anti-social behaviors should understand that they are roads to nowhere! What does it profit a man or woman if what all his/her exploits attract to him/her are public scorn and opprobrium?
Now, permit me to share an important secret especially with our youth: crime and anti-social behaviors have never been known to elevate their purveyors to enviable and respectable social statuses in any culture. Happily, there are limitless opportunities and avenues to achieve one’s noble ambitions in the society without recourse to ugly behaviors. Let those who have their eyes open see them! Peace, prosperity and contentment shall abide with them.
The Avhianwu social architecture was bed rocked on the age group system. Celebrated biennially, the age group (manhood initiation) was, and still is, a defining feature of Avhianwu culture and social organization. It is one of the beautiful and enduring ties or commonalities that bind the Avhianwu, and even beyond the geographical domain of the clan. All eligible teenagers who were to undertake the rites of passage into an age group-from Ivhiunone through Ivhiarua to Ogbona, through Ivhiurakhorto Apana (which is in Uzairue Clan) must have a common nominal ‘father’ or patron. The patron gives the particular age group he superintends a customary name by which all the initiates for that year would be identified as the ‘sons of XYZ’ for life. Put differently, the people of Avhianwu and Apana have always had a unified age group system that enables them to determine seniority or eldership if the need arises wherever their people were gathered.
The Age Group system was central to the defense of the community. Every initiated age group member was automatically a soldier in the virtual Avhianwu Army! The Okphe-Ukpi Nokhua or Clan Head is the Commander-in-Chief of this army. He heads the Defense Council, constituted by the Inu-Otu or Erotu – the society of the nominal fathers or Grand Patrons of Age Groups. Every Uki-Ugwhue (twelfth lunar moon of the year), the last initiated age group and the previous two groups before them would conduct impressive military exercises by mounting processions round the community, in a show of strength to assure their audience about how the military sagacity of the particular age group would ensure the protection and defense of the community.
The qualifying age for males to go through in the rites of passage was about 18 while that for females was 16. All things being equal, the age of a male teenager’s participation in, and the role played by him during the performance of the rites of passage, would have implications for his social status in due course. This would determine his chances of becoming the most elderly person at ad-hoc social gatherings, in his kindred, quarter, village or the entire clan, with the attendant functions, privileges and benefits pertaining to that generally venerable position. Furthermore, Avhianwu custom demands that only males who have performed the rites of passage of the age group initiation are entitled to inherit their father’s estate. The downside of the foregoing customs and traditions is that there has been a growing incidence of impatient parents performing the traditionally revered age group initiation rites of passage for their grossly under-aged sons or wards in order to position them strategically to qualify for age-based social status and recognition in the future. This development led to a skipping of the biennial age group initiation that was due in 2013 in order to allow for the maturation of the prospective initiates.
Arguably, one of the most significant, exclusive enduring social institutions in Avhianwu culture is the Okhe title. Its importance and exclusivity are attested to by the fact of the paucity of public information about what is actually involved in the initiation rites, details of which are known only to the privileged initiates. Initiation into Okhe title is the exclusive preserve of males only. Okhe title is so pivotal to the culture of Avhianwu such that initiation into its hallowed portals is sine qua non to conferment of any of the traditional titles that culminate in being an Ukpi drummer-the apex chieftaincy title in Avhianwu culture because you cannot be a traditional ruler if you are not an ‘Oboh’ – a titled man. The majesty of the Okhe title is such that the holders even have a special ecstatic dance -Ikphebor-which is performed only by Okhe title holders!
Largely as a result of the binding constraint to chieftaincy title acquisition, adherents of various religions who had shunned Okhe title as a fetish practice in the past had had cause to resort to seeking to be initiated in order to be eligible for the chieftaincy title they desired. Many of such latter day Avhianwu culture converts had been caught surreptitiously performing the relevant Okhe title rites in the wee hours of the morning to avoid embarrassment! I am strongly persuaded that this practice of nocturnal initiation at the behest of some aspiring initiates degrades the sanctity and essence of the ceremony. In development-oriented cultures, events such as Okhe title initiation ceremonies are actively promoted and given wide publicity to attract tourists to visit the host community. Discretionary adherence to the norms, mores and ethos of a culture is ultimately destructive of the integrity and sanctity of the customs, traditions and institutions of that culture.
Many critics of the Okhe title institution generally anchor their case on a wrong premise borne out of ignorance about the custom that they had never experienced in the first place. Unfortunately, tradition does not permit me to elucidate on the sacredness and mechanics of initiation into the Okhe titleholders’ community. Nevertheless, it suffices to say that at traditional and social gatherings of Avhianwu, titled men enjoy certain exclusive privileges, including a portion of the drinks served at such gatherings reserved for the most senior Oboh present. In the past, they were completely exempted from playing undertakers (ikhagba/igbudu) at funeral ceremonies as such functions were considered beneath the exalted status of a titled man. However, recent cultural reforms have amended that taboo. Nowadays, titled men may perform the functions of undertakers, but only in respect of the corpse of a dead titled man. The funeral of an Oboh usually includes certain special traditional rites that are not part of the burial rites of the uninitiated ‘Ogbhari’.
Some reforms have been carried out on the Okhe title rites in the past to accommodate the changing times. More may yet be required; but these should not derogate from the essence of the institution and its importance within Avhianwu culture. Rather, any further reforms should be geared to strengthening and popularizing the Okhe institution among the people, especially the urbanized youth many of who either do not remember to perform Okhe title initiation for their children or do not see any need for it on the ground of foreign religious beliefs. Yet such people make it an article of faith to rush to America to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving every year. The one is an annual traditional ceremony like our… while the other is akin to our Esi festival!
Social justice and equity was a cardinal value of the ancestral Avhianwu culture. It was based on the need for inclusiveness, fair play, Iive-and-let’s-live and justice. This principle of social justice and equity guided the kingship orderly succession arrangement. Each of the four villages is headed by the Okphe-Ukpi. The most senior Okphe-Ukpi assumes the position of Okphe-Ukpi Nokhua (Clan Head). The succession path to the posts of Okphe-Ukpi Nokhua, village Head or Okphe -Ukpi, Egboise, Ogbikpise and Utoko-Ukpi is well established, codified and known to all.
The title of Okphe Ukpi is not hereditary. Rather, it is rotational amongst eligible quarters and kindred. Once a person is installed as Okphe-Ukpi, only death can separate him and the title. When an Okphe Ukpi ‘joins his ancestors’, the holder of the next senior position in the Ukpi hierarchy (Egboise) moves one notch up to occupy that vacant position after the final funerary rites of the departed monarch. During the interregnum, the most elderly person at the Clan or village level concerned assumes temporary reign of government, pending the final funerary rites. The holders of Egbo-lkpise and Utokho-Ukpi Naebho titles also step up a notch, respectively. At this stage, the appropriate quarter whose turn it is to occupy the position of Utokho-ukpi Naebho, which is the base of the succession pyramid, would be called upon to nominate a candidate from the particular kindred in the quarter to occupy the vacant post.
The Okphe Ukpi title is not voluntarily transferable to another person either by the holder or by a decision of his kindred. However, the holders of the subordinate titles to the Ukpi hold them in trust for their respective kindred/family. Thus, if the holder of any of the subordinate chieftaincy title positions becomes incapacitated or deceased, his family is invited to elect another of its members to occupy that position.
The spirit of social justice and inclusive governance approach informed the distribution and assignment of common institutions and communal roles by the Founding Fathers of the Avhianwu Clan. The result was a closely-knit society where the members were motivated by a strong sense of belonging, commitment, patriotism, and participation at the family, kindred, quarter, village and clan levels. Such a sharing arrangement tended to minimize social neglect, lack of commitment, marginalization and feelings of second-class citizenship amongst individuals and groups in the community. In furtherance of the core value of justice and fair play, the Founding Fathers allotted High Places and functions that bind the Avhianwu, taking into consideration their historical, social and cultural antecedents and a fair spread (Table 1).
Distribution of High Places/Functions and Custodians in Avhianwu Clan
High Place Kindred Custodian Village
Ukpe Ivhiokpolimhi Ivhiunone
Ukwalimhodio Ughiogwa Ivhiunone
Obho Ukpudege/lviocha Ivhiunone
Iredioko Iviocha/lvhiadoko Ivhiunone/lvhiarua
Ikemanedio Ivhiadoko Ivhiarua
Inwu-oraighie Ivhiadachi Ivhiunone
Ugwhue Ivhiodeakhena Ivhiunone
Ituke Ivhiegwi Ivhiunone
Ogbhe 1 (Mother Ivhioroke Ogbona
Shrine) Ivhiapa Ivhiarua
Ogbhe11 Ivhiapa Ivhiarua
Utu Ivhiadachi Ivhiunone
Ewo Ivhiabhe Ivhiarua
Adaobi Ivhiebhone/lvhiokpolimhi Ivhiunone
Agwaire Ivhiapa Ivhiarua
Usapea/Usaegbea Ivhiapa Ivhiarua
Religion in Early Avhianwu Culture
Religious beliefs and practices by the ancestral Avhianwu were essentially a carryover from the beliefs and practices they brought from Benin. The ancestral Avhianwu practiced polytheism, the religious worldview, which the Binis had brought with them during their immigration from Egypt. They believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, – Otsanobua or Oghena- (later renamed Osinegba, under pressure from the Nupe invaders during the 19th Century). They also believed that their wishes and prayers could be-well received by only Otsanobua through the intercession of certain deities or Higher Beings. Thus, each family, sub-kindred or kindred or a larger section of the community established their own shrine in which they offered sacrifices to various deities for onward transmission to Otsanobua. They set aside certain days and periods or events during the year for worshipping the deities, often with fanfare. In addition, each kindred had a private shrine called ‘Adi’ through which they offered sacrifices to their ancestors and God of Harvest during the annual New Yam (Esi) and the traditional New Year (Ukpe) festivals, or upon specific demand by the ancestors or deities.
As a rule, the elders doubled as spiritual leaders of their families, kindred, quarters or villages. The most elderly man in the four villages, Anwu, was also the spiritual leader of the Avhianwu people. This social structure was replicated at the levels of the four villages. In times of uncertainties, troubles and stresses, the elders would consult the oracles to determine the cause or causes of the turmoil and the corresponding remedies. Necessary sacrifices would then be prescribed and promptly offered to appease the offended ancestors or deities. This done, there was usually a return to the status quo ante in most cases. Such was the state of religion among the Avhianwu until the arrival of the Nupes and Europeans in first and second halves of the 19th century, respectively. Enter Islam and Christianity.
The Arts in Traditional Avhianwu Culture
Avhianwu culture is rich with a potpourri of captivating arts enthralling festivals. Traditional Avhianwu arts and festivals served diverse and variegated purposes. In one sphere, they were coded means recording, communicating, and preserving the lives and times of the Avhianwu. On another level, they were a medium of communicating the Avhianwu understanding of transcendental knowledge, higher laws and manifestations of nature. They also effectively served the vital social function of the ombudsman of the moral codes and ethics of the community. Finally, Avhianwu arts and festivals were also veritable forms and outlets for social entertainment by the people.
Perhaps no other activity demonstrated the sublimity of traditional Avhianwu culture like the majesty and context of the various arts and festivals. Solutions to perennial existential and moral questions were encoded in the grandeur of the songs, music and dance steps performed at splendid ritual ceremonies and festivals, which had been elevated to high art. The older men and women performed the Agbi dance, mainly during the harvest season, as a form of entertainment. Other colorful dances, festivals and ceremonies were staged periodically to celebrate epochal events or appease specific deities. These included the ‘Umhomhe’ dance is performed by the young men ongoing the rites of passage to manhood, ‘Atsamhukhokho’ that was performed by women and young girls during Ukpe (traditional New Year) and Esi (New Yam) festivals. The versatile ‘Uke ‘ was danced by women at virtually all occasions. Some of quarters had flagship dances: ‘Ogagaigo’ by Ivhiavhia, Ighiagbede by Ivhiapa. Ughieogwa and Ivhiokhile quarters were leading exponents of Igieoge dance. Every quarter had the ‘No’ brand for burial and other ceremonies. Various professions also had their unique songs and dances for specific occasions. The hunters danced the Ishoko.
Songs and music were artfully used as positive and negative cues to either reinforce or discourage certain social behaviors in the community. For instance, young girls and women used to organize street plays called ‘Ugheagbai’ during which they would sing and dance, either praising one another, or casting aspersion on members of the rival groups. In fact, most of the songs sang during the Agbi, Umhomhe, Atsamhukhokho, Igieoge, Ogagaigo, Ighiagbede and other dances were either songs of praise in honor of the individual or family for noble deeds and exemplary behavior, or songs of discomfiture targeted at the lazy, perfidious and morally insolvent members of the society. Awkward as this practice was, depending on which side of the divide one placed him or herself, it served as an effective bulwark against unacceptable behavioral excesses by members of the community as people were mindful of the song next time!
Entertainment was not all about dancing and singing. After a hard day’s work on the farm and especially during the moonlit nights, professional storytellers (Ighaoba) thrilled their audiences of the young and old, with stories, innuendoes and anecdotes that promoted the core values of Avhianwu culture, including patience, perseverance, tolerance, and the consequences of good and evil acts. The constant moral lesson in these greatly socializing tales, which were enriched with authentic Avhianwu proverbs and idioms, was that everyone has his day in the Supreme Being’s court.
A People and Their Cycle of Life
Most of the economic and cultural activities of Avhianwu are organized within the timeframe of the traditional year, which is divided into thirteen lunar moths. A noticeable exemption is the male rites of passage, held biennially. That of the females is an annual event. Every month in the calendar is ear-marked for some component(s) of the robust economic, social and religious cycle of activities that sum up the Avhianwu way of life. Space will not permit us to detail out these exciting and sometimes breath-taking activities in this address. It suffices to note that the year opens on Adu-lkukua Day (traditional New Year). This usually falls in late February or early to mid-March. It is a special day with special greeting; a day of forgiveness, reconciliation and rebooting of frosty relationships. The day begins with the Ivhiomupke people of Ebadi quarter marching to the River Obe to perform the symbolic washing of dirt before people from other quarters could then follow suite.
The build up to Adu-lkua actually begins towards the end of the twelfth lunar month when the women of substance in the community perform the colorful ‘Akhe Ikpe-Nokhua’. This elite ceremony, which must be performed within a window of only two days every year. The first day is usually reserved for the ‘Amhaya’ while the ‘Idegbe’ take their turn the following day. Akhe Ikpe-Nokhua involves the celebrants cooking almost all the types of foods that known to the people of Avhianwu. They convey the foods, complemented with assorted drinks and good cash, in a colorful procession and present them to their husbands. Only women whose mothers had previously performed the ceremony are eligible to do so. For those whose mothers could not perform it before death, they are obliged to do that of their late mothers before they could be qualified to do theirs. Also only women who have attained the age of menopause are qualified to perform the Ukpe-Nokhua. A woman who has performed Akhe Ikpe Nokhua may don the traditional red cap customarily reserved for only Okhe titleholders.
After the Adu-lkukua, people then get busy on their farms until July, which is Uki-Okhuiozibo. From now until the end of the traditional year, it is one form of festival or ceremony (Table 2).
SUMMARY OF AVHIANWU TRADITIONAL CALENDAR
March Uki Aduikukwa First moon of the year
April. Uki- Ozeva. Second month of the year
May. Uki-Ozelai. Third month of the year
June. Uki-Ozejie. Fourth month of the year
July. Uki-Okhuiozibo. Fifth month of the year
August Uki-Utu. Sixth month of the year
September. Uki-Oghie. Seventh month of the year
October. Uki-Aghie. Eighth month of the year
November Uki-Ogbhe. Ninth month of the year
December Uki-Ughue. Tenth month of the year
January Uki- Asiukpe. Eleventh month of the year
February Uki-Ukpe. Twelfth month of the year.
Avhianwu Culture under Pressure: Consequences of Exposure to Other Cultures
For ease of narration, we will classify the infiltration of Avhianwu culture by foreign ones into two Phases. The first wave of cultural intrusion coincided with the conquest and occupation of Avhianwu by the Nupes (circa 1830-1897). Four cultural attenuations stood out in bold relief among the foreign cultural influences on traditional culture during Phase 1. The relatively short Nupe era witnessed the Avhianwu first experience with a clash of cultures. By the time the British dislodged the Nupes at the end of the 19th Century, they had left an indelible mark on traditional Avhianwu culture. On the religious plane, many people had been converted to Islam. Moslem/Nupe names like Musa, Adishetu, Adiza, Asana, Zenebu, Momoh, Bello, Kadiri, Usman, etc. had become a prestigious status symbol among the Avhianwu. The Nupe slave merchants were adroit practitioners of the notion of catch-them-young: Nupe children were tasked with subtly changing the long-term social aspect of Avhianwu culture by teaching the host kids Nupe indoor and outdoor games and songs! The influence of the Nupe presence threatened the essence of Avhianwu culture for the first time. Scholars have continued to debate the amazing ease with which a heavy dent was embossed on Avhianwu culture over such a relatively short period.
Consider, for instance, the impact of the introduction of Western education on Avhianwu culture, and hence, the social, economic and political development of the people. The introduction of Western education to Avhianwu in the 19th Century brought in its wake salutary and deleterious effects on Avhianwu culture. For instance, the establishment of schools spiked literacy rate among the people. Many of the graduating students had to travel to distant towns and villages to take up jobs in the public and private sectors of the economy. They earned incomes and remitted proceeds back home, thereby boosting the local economy. The increasing literacy and workforce participation rate of young couples changed the nature and role of parenting in the society. Socialization of the child moved from the parent to the house help at home, and the teacher in the school, most of whom invariably had a different cultural orientation. Furthermore, many Avhianwu youths left for other places outside the clan to study, thereby missing the opportunity to imbibe the rudiments of Avhianwu culture at their formative stage of social development. Thus, while many of our youths acquire impressive qualifications in modern education, they emerge with a below average score in Avhianwu culture with its dependable moral compass to navigate the charted and unexplored waters of the ocean of life.
In traditional Avhianwu culture, girls were initiated into adulthood at about age 15 or 16. It was a taboo for an unmarried girl to be pregnant. This is no longer so. Girls spend many years in the education system these days before they contemplate marriage. Nowadays, regardless of whether teenage girls are betrothed or not, they can be initiated into female adulthood. This reform of the female rites of passage to adulthood obviates the scandal and shame that was associated with being a pregnant unmarried woman. In general, the values of the present generation contrast sharply with the traditional values held by our ancestors. We can attribute this situation to differences in the environment and conditions of living, improvement in education and material wellbeing, globalization, technology, internet, and other factors. Secondly, freedoms that were largely unavailable to older generations have influenced the values of the contemporary younger generation. These include freedom for women to work and regulate their own reproduction, freedom of mobility for both sexes and to define their own style of life.
The puberty age of 18 for boys to perform manhood initiation is no longer observed. Rather, adolescents, some as young as 9 are now stampeded through premature initiation. This practice has a positive correlation with the rise of education and affluence of young parents, increasing individualism with the attendant weakening of kinship relationships. People also want to ensure that their first son inherits their estate. Otherwise, the right of inheritance goes to their younger brother as Avhianwu custom stipulates. Now this practice of juvenile manhood initiation is a mockery of one of the core components of Avhianwu culture. It is high time the Council of Elders proscribed it and restore this pivotal aspect of Avhianwu culture to its old glory.
Nowadays the Umhomhe and Atsamhukhokho dances that usually heralded adulthood initiation have been done away with ostensibly to circumvent litigation for libel since the ceremonial songs were sang to embarrass or insult the targeted individuals or kindred. The downside is that the moral restraint that the fear of the next Umhomhe song had on people’s conduct is gone! Also gone is the great entertainment function of the initiation ceremonies. To my mind, jettisoning the dancing of Umhomhe as an integral part the manhood initiation process owing to the nature of the songs is tantamount to casting away the baby with the bathwater. Rather, the content of Umhomhe songs should focus on the contemporary developmental strides of the community, promote and popularize the values, vision and aspirations of Avhianwu Clan from time to time.
The introduction of these two religions marked a seminal moment in the annals of the religious and spiritual life of the Avhianwu. The Abrahamic religions, themselves that are fundamental elements of the Arabic and European cultures, brought in their wake many irreversible harmful and helpful cultural, social, and economic ramifications that have markedly changed the worldview, cultural integrity, self-awareness and character of the Ovhianwu. The effects permeate virtually every aspect of our lives. These include the language, names, clothing, folklore, arts and entertainment and, wait for it, food of present day Avhianwu! We are talking about a near total change of identity!
To what do we attribute the seeming feeble resistance offered by traditional Avhianwu culture to the invading cultures of Nupes/lslam, European/Christianity, and of recent, globalization and all its trappings? Did Avhianwu culture succumb to a superior firepower or more effective organizational competence on the part of the intruders? Did the ancient Avhianwu culture that encapsulated our ancestral moral code surrender to a higher moral order? That is a moot point. What we do know today is that traditional Avhianwu culture has undergone almost irreversible mutation by the combined effects of its exposure to other cultures over time. Sociologists and anthropologists argue that the most plausible explanation one can reasonably proffer is what the Moslem scholar, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) called ‘weak group feeling’ may have been prevalent in traditional Avhianwu culture which made it possible for foreign cultures with strong group feeling to dominate and overwhelm it.
Whither the Avhianwu Language?
Language is the spinal column of a people’s culture. It is a medium of expression in distinct vocalized or written form as social interact that gives the cultural identity. The ancient cave dwellers realized that language was the only effective means of forging greater understanding among one another and moving forward. Language is integral to cultural identity that even in multicultural societies with a dominant language, the minority cultures make every effort to preserve their cultural heritage intact by conversing with one another through their native dialect. The Avhianwu language is a legacy passed down to us over centuries as a heritage. Unfortunately, the language is now an endangered species as young parents, even if father and mother are Etsako indigenes now socialize their young children and wards in English and other Nigerian languages. The illiterates are not ready to be out-done in this bizarre race to the bottom: speak English and any other local language at the expense of the Avhianwu language in an effort ‘to belong’. Indeed, one can safely bet that the Avhianwu language is trending inexorably towards a gradual, but assured extinction over the next century or so, unless something is done to reverse the frightening trajectory.
Now let us examine briefly the religious impact on Avhianwu culture. Churches and mosques of almost all hues of Christian and Islamic denominations and sects today dot every nook and cranny of the Avhianwu religious landscape. In stark contradistinction, our traditional places of worship, sanctuaries and spiritual purification have all but vanished – herded off the ecclesiastical highway by the combined blitzkrieg of the Abrahamic religions’ juggernauts. The names of the traditional deities and sacred places of worship that effectively served the spiritual and moral needs of our people in the past hardly get a mention where two or more Avhianwu people are gathered these days. The traditional breaking and sharing of the Kolanuts at organized social events-a symbol of peace and oneness in Avhianwu culture – is now observed in the breach. Many people have convinced themselves that it is a ‘pagan’ practice!
Today, an alarmingly growing number of persons can no longer speak the Avhianwu language fluently without flavoring it with some English words. The proverbs and idioms (Igbo in Avhianwu language) that used to be taught to kids in tales by moonlight and in everyday socialization of the youth by parents and elders are no longer a given factor in Avhianwu language. In fact, the tales by moonlight sessions that were a popular pastime with the youth and their mentors, have been displaced by the television and lately, home videos.
Should it be so? No. It is perfectly possible to take advantage of modern technology to record these tales and idioms in videos and similar media that people can watch in the privacy of their homes all over the world. The point I am stressing here is that we can leverage modern technology to enhance and perpetuate some aspects of our culture to tackle of the biggest challenges feeing the community today. This is how to create wealth and employment for our youths. Instead of abandoning the memorable and educative tales by moonlight under the guise of ‘old school’. Consider the amazing commercial opportunities lurking in the idea of recording, mass-producing and marketing of just the tales by moonlight and local idioms in home videos and similar modern day communication and storage media!
A Universal Group Identity
Recall the Avhianwu core values -integrity, honesty, trust, and hard work. What do they really mean? Have they been our guide in ages past? Can they serve as our hope in years to come? The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”. It defines honesty as “always telling the truth – never stealing or cheating”. The same authority informs us that trust is the “belief that somebody or something will do what you hope or expect of them, and will not try to harm or trick you”. Finally, our source tells us that hard work is “putting a lot of effort into a job and doing it well”. Earlier generations of Avhianwu who went study or work outside the community an embodiment of these core values, and hence, good ambassadors of the community. Most people who encountered them as teachers, employers and business partners praised them for being hard working, loyal and dependable. That was generally the universal public profile of the typical Ovhianwu. The result was steady progression in their chosen careers and fields of endeavor in the public and private sectors of the economy.
These values were so identical with Avhianwu that the inimitable Avhianwu musical icon – General Bolivia Osigbemhe – of blessed memory, had no hesitation in immortalizing this group profile of the Avhianwu in one of his 1979 popular albums. Do not make the mistake of thinking that fraudulent, unethical, immoral and other socially deviant behaviors were not rampant in the society when the Ovhianwu was a personification of virtue. All forms of vices did exist; the Ovhianwu chose not to be part of the monkeyshines. Why has the present generation been unable to maintain the high standard set by our ancestors? How did we arrive at almost a state of anomie before anyone saw it coming? How do we get back on track? Who will initiate and implement the Avhianwu Cultural Reforms Initiative (ACRI)?
Avhianwu Core Values as Enablers of Modern Business
Almost everyone is fascinated by the idea of a good understanding of culture. It impacts politics, economics, and even the ways we live our daily lives and define what we are as human beings. If we can tamp down the usual reflex of viewing culture in abstract terms—this way of thinking about culture can be comforting, awe inspiring, empowering, and in harmony with sustainable social economic growth and development. This way of looking at culture will permit us to use the acquired or learned cultural capital to cope with the challenges of the modern world.
We have argued above that our revealed (inherited) ancestral core values of trust, integrity, honesty, hard work and justice are getting scarcer and scarcer in contemporary Avhianwu society. This should give the elders and leaders of the community serious cause for concern. Why? These values are intrinsic to humanity. Cultures all over the world recognize and cherish these values. Little wonder then that the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Avhianwu embedded these values in the behaviors that underpinned interpersonal and communal relationships. In modern times, the relevance and importance of these values are such that they loom large in the diplomatic, economic and commercial relations among individuals, firms, and nation states in a globalized world. In fact, the modern market economy operates smoothly on a seamless flow of credit from creditors to borrowers. Creditors and lenders extend credit facilities to capitalists, borrowers and entrepreneurs believing that they would honor the contractual agreement by repaying as and when due. That is to say, the lender or financier convinces him or herself that the borrower is a woman or man of integrity who can be trusted to honor the terms of the trade agreement. Indeed, trust, integrity and honesty are the ingredients that underpin modern business combinations.
These business combinations include partnerships, cooperative societies, limited liability firms, publicly quoted companies and conglomerates that drive the production, distribution, and marketing networks of the global economy. Financiers and investors increasingly see the model of sole proprietorship as a business formation strategy fraught with enormous risks. A sole proprietorship business entity cannot meet the increasingly demanding and complex conditions for accessing most of the incentives, schemes and intervention funds regularly rolled out by governments and donor agencies. Yet, this is the dominant structure of most businesses in Avhianwu Clan.
Do not be deceived by the phrase suffix – “Nig. Ltd” – usually tagged on to the company name. Some questions: why are we passionate lovers of solitude despite the obvious advantages of teaming up with others to incorporate a modern business entity? Is this due to a general diminution in the perceived level of trust, integrity and honesty amongst the present generation? Could this attitude be indicative of an underlying weak group ties in Avhianwu culture – unlike the strong group ties inherent in the Chinese and Mexican cultures? Note the marked differences in the relative success or failure of these cultures in dealing effectively with exposure to foreign cultures. While diligently preserving the core elements of their cultural heritage, they have embraced, with alacrity, non-traditional approaches to modern business organization to create employment, wealth and incomes in their rapidly modernizing societies.
Movement away from one person or family-centric business structures is the winning strategy, ceteris paribus, of constructing enduring, modern economic institutions and structures that enable individuals and communities participate actively in the local, national, and global economy. All over the world, different cultures have found that the adoption of this modern approach to business organization is an efficacious and participatory way to unleash their economic, social, and political capabilities to create employment, wealth and incomes, thereby enhancing their economic and social wellbeing on a sustainable basis. It is high time the Avhianwu cultural dynamic keyed into this successful formula. First, we must realize that a precondition to the success of this desired approach to ramping up our community’s take in the national and global economic space is to return to basics. The Ovhianwu must once again embrace and live by the traditional core values of honesty, integrity and hard work. He was proudly associated with these characteristics in the not so distant past. The Ovhianwu youth in particular, must eschew the mentality of get-rich-quick by any means, fair or foul, which appears to have eaten deep into the fabric of Avhianwu society. We must return to the basics of our culture and mainstream its core value into the social economic aspirations of the Avhianwu people.
Going Forward – Avhianwu Cultural Reforms Initiative (ACRI)
A cultural reform agenda that aims to effect attitudinal and behavioral changes in members of the community is a difficult, but surmountable proposition. Like most other cultures, Avhianwu culture has been influenced by the customs and traditions of other cultures with which has interacted either through person-to-person contact or other media of communication over the ages. Unfortunately, there was no coordinated framework for dealing with phenomenon. In the process, the language, core values, basic customs, traditions, mores, and ethos of Avhianwu culture have been diluted to the extent of changing the character of the Ovhianwu. There was nothing wrong in embracing some elements of other cultures. Rather than swallowing them hook, sinker and line, they should have been accepted selectively within a coordinated, strategic framework to ensure that potentially corrosive aspects of foreign cultures were prevented from overpowering Avhianwu culture.
We have seen how culture influences a people’s attitude and willingness to embrace emerging ideas, practices and technology to boost their economic performance. Specifically, we observed how the Avhianwu culture of individualism tends to be out of step with the best practice of modern business organization such partnerships, company limited by shares, public limited liability, (PLC) etc. Going forward, Avhianwu must now take deliberate steps to strengthen and reform some aspects of its culture with a view to synchronizing it with game-changing modern knowledge, institutions and technology to drive economic and social development on a sustainable basis. In what follows, I shall attempt to outline some areas of Avhianwu culture needing urgent reforms and reinforcement within the context of a globalized world. The list is by no means exhaustive. It could serve as a working list for a broad-based coalition of stakeholders that should be constituted by this Summit to consult widely and identify those aspects of Avhianwu culture needing reforms, to align them with the economic and social development aspirations of Avhianwu Clan in a dynamic global environment:
An Agenda for Action
1.Stick to the Distribution of High Places by the Founding Fathers of Avhianwu in order to ensure social justice, which engenders a sense of belonging and lasting peace in any society.
2.Allow rule of law backed with effective enforcement: suspects apprehended by the police to go through the full process of the law to deter other lawbreakers.
3.Restore and enhance the celebration of Adu-lkukua, Uruamhi Emo, Esi, Ugwhue, and other traditional festivals to their old glory
4.Unify the celebration of the Esi festival.
5.Preserve the sanctity of the Okhe title institution; reform the procedures to be Abrahamic religions-friendly
6.Make demonstrated high degree of integrity, honesty, trust, and hard work necessary preconditions for the award of chieftaincy titles
7.Honor only persons with identifiable sources of wealth, if wealth must be a criterion for recognition
8.Community cemeteries should be built to discourage house burials
9.The practice of compelling a widow to remarry her late husband’s sibling should be discarded
10.Reform the inheritance system in line with modern legal stipulations
11.The estate of a deceased man or woman (less family assets he/she held in trust) should be inherited by the spouse and children, without regard to the gender of the children
12.The minimum age for adulthood initiation should be pegged at 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls
13.Avhianwu language should be taught compulsorily in primary schools
14.Preserve iconic institutions, places and traditions: Inwato, Ogbhe, Ukwume, Aki-Ugba, Utagbabor, Ukwalimhodior, Aloukoko Shrine, Ifi, Edaogbake, Adaobi, etc. as cultural heritages.
15.Revive and reform festivals and dances such as – Ugwhue, Oghie, Agbi, Umhomhe, Atsamhukhokho – reform the songs to inspire people to positive achievements; record contemporary history
16.Purge burial ceremonies of Anawis of the destructive component – bring in something inspiring the departed was identified with.
17.Institutionalize Avhianwu Day to celebrate our culture heritage, among other activities
18.Patronize and encourage Avhianwu-owned businesses
19.Avhianwu youths should unleash their entrepreneurial acumen to commercialize the production and sale of Tales by Moonlight
20.Fundamentals of Avhianwu culture should be promoted with vigor, including printing and distributing them as aides for young parents.
Development practitioners have no illusion about the significant contribution of culture to developmental outcomes. We have seen how Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines have lagged in development despite their abundant resource endowment. The Chinese and Mexicans, who have embedded their cultures in their development strategy, have a different and salutary experience. History tells us that modifications to culture take place slowly; but when they happen, they trigger changes of seismic proportions. The Avhianwu culture is ripe for positive changes. First, we must return to the basics, that is to say, once again living by the tenets of the core values of Avhianwu culture. As a group, it behooves us to mainstream these core values into our growth paradigm thereby allowing the Avhianwu societal gears of politics, economics and culture to move harmoniously to achieve sustainable development.
1.Okhaishie, N’ Avhianwu Aha Idokpesi, The Descent of Avhianwu
2.Etsezeobor, 5. The Effect of Modern Civilization on Avhianwu/Fugar Culture – the View of a Youth.
3.Ede, Stan-William, The Origin of the Etsako People
4.European Council Conclusions of 17 December 1999 on Cultural Industries and Employment in Europe (2000/C/8/7)
5.Exploitation and Development of the Job Potential in the Cultural Sector in the Age of Digitalization, European Commission. DG Employment and Social Affairs, Munich, 2001
6.Hatto, Fisher, From Productivity to Creativity – the Cultural Economy in the Making.
7.UNESCO, 2012. Culture: a Driver and an Enabler of Sustainable Development