By Michael Orie
The vexatious issue of increasing distortion of Nigerian traditional heritage and culture dominated discussions at a recent three-day seminar in Lagos titled: “Workshop on Youth and Nigeria ’s Intangible Cultural Heritage,” where speakers charged Nigerian youths to halt the adoption of foreign cultures and utilize their cultural heritage to engender development.
Participants also said the cultural content of the education curricular in Nigeria should be revisited because culture must be seen as a means of survival, adding that real development can not take place “on the womb of an alien culture,” and that the “copycat mentality” must be jettisoned.
It seminar was jointly organized by the Human Development Initiatives (HDI) and the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC).
Speakers included Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Prof Duro Oni; Director/Chief Executive, CBAAC, Prof Tunde Babawale; Acting Executive Director, HDI, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye; Chair, Board of Trustees, HDI, Prof S.B.A. Oloko, and Prof O. Soyombo.
Others were Deputy Managing Director of The Sun, Mr Femi Adesina; Dr ‘Sope Fagboungbe, Dr Ayo Yusuf, Mr Yinka Akanle, Mrs Funso Owasanoye, and Mr Akinwale Onipade.
Prof Oni regretted that Nigerian cultures have been altered to the extent that they are neither authentically Nigerian nor true replication of western cultures. Even Nigerian languages have remained undeveloped and grossly subordinate to the English Language, he said.
The effect, he said, is that most Nigerian youths do not take pride in communicating in their local languages, leading to “an unfortunate trend of progressively decreasing proficiency of mother tongue usage.”
To solve the problem, he said an important starting point should be to use the mother tongue as the medium of imparting knowledge to pupils and students.
“The first step is the need to agree on its desirability. The second is the political will to work out the details and modalities. A situation where our youths are not proficient in the use of the English Language and at the same time deficient in their mother tongue have grave implications for development,” Prof Oni said.
He urged Nigerian youths to show, through deliberate effort, more than passing interest in all aspects of Nigerian culture, of which a desirable starting point is language. “A man’s language is his strongest identity. To neglect it is to destroy one’s identity,” he said.
Prof Babawale said technologically advanced countries write their product manuals in their native languages first, before translating for the outside world.
According to him, no country can make progress without placing premium on culture. “Our democracy must be purged of foreign elements. We also need to promote our traditional religion to attract worshippers from abroad. We must promote our music, our dance,” he said.
Babawale said oral expressions and traditions, performing arts, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship constitute intangible cultural heritages that must be protected and preserved.
Preserving them, he said, will involve making and enforcing legislations on protection of intangible cultural heritages, intensifying propagation of knowledge about them, creating a database for those meant to be given immediate attention, and instituting programmes and incentives to encourage those connected with their preservation.
For Prof Owasanoye, the promotion and retention of positive aspects of culture enables young people to be aware of their ancestry, as well as the accomplishments of their race and society. Such historical and cultural awareness enhances self and social worth, he said.
He added: “Positive cultural sensitivity is also bound to positively impact what individual members of the community create, that is, products, or the changes that they propose to alter the culture of society or force evolutionary change, that is, processes.
“In other words, positive cultural perception will impact governance and developmental processes like politics, law, philosophy, ethics, the arts, and religion as processes of change. Similarly, technology as product of cultural change will also be positively deployed in harmony with positive processes.”Prof Oloko urged Nigerians to patronise local craft. “By buying our indigenous craft, we can help promote culture. For every modern art we have, there is a traditional counterpart.”