Another Creation Story
By Mewhenu Hosu
The last two articles in the series of Cultivating Timeless Thoughts were devoted to how humans can either be humans or fail to be humans by thinking or failing to think. This episode is a short exposition on how safe and unsafe societies are created through construction of culture.
Culture is not biology, it is constructed. A crucial aspect of it is a people’s repertoire of wise-saying into which catch-phrases and handy expressions are constantly generated. Like other forms of folk wisdom, this stock is a common property of a community, and the contents are believed to be jointly owned by the people. For this reason, they are respected like sacred expressions. Any enactment is taken to be the voice of the people, or the voice of the elders. Sadly, there is no check on how contents are generated and added to the stock.
This has implications for the kind of societies that evolve. For the reason that they are stamped into a people’s thought system, the expressions are enacted and re-enacted as needs arise. In this process, they become part of the people’s quotidian experiences and rituals. This is how thoughts evolve and philosophies crystallise. It is instructive to know that people’s philosophies inform their perspectives and outlooks on life. With the potency of that creation process, humans hold the tool with which they can create both humanity and inhumanity.
To illustrate this point, I analyse two Yoruba proverbs: “Ojú ọrun t’ẹ́yẹẹ́ fò láì f’apá kan ara wọn (The sky is spacious enough for birds to flock without hitting one another.)” and “Bí t’ẹnìkan kò bá bàje, t’enikan kìí dára (Someone’s fortune requires another person’s misfortune).” These are contradictory! The first proverb and others like it create room for healthy competition, exploration, adventure, ambitions, aspirations, diligence, etc. But the second one and others in that category pitch humans against one another. Why must someone’s endeavour hit the rock before someone else can make it in life?
These two categories of adages exist side-by-side in a culture, and get diffused into conversations and cultural products such as the media, music, movies, creative texts, and so on. In these forms, they travel fast and become parts of humans’ daily encounters. Naturally, people get drawn to each side, interpret and make sense of them. Informed by their interpretations, thoughts are shaped and behaviour get directed. Obviously, two societies are well underway, or at least, two parallel inclinations develop within the same society.
Whether or not we know it, the existence of the second category of proverbs engenders culture of hostility, destructive tendencies, brutish nature, among others. Unwary people get the impression that someone must be eliminated before another one succeeds, and that others must be exploited before another one’s business thrives. When these scripts begin to play out in the society, we are shocked! When some people, under the influence of some “preachers” go back home to chop off their relations or parents’ heads for allegedly being responsible for their woes, we are surprised. When prayer points in popular prayer sessions turn awry and seek to curse “enemies” with vigorous and ceaseless invocations, we do not have explanations for them! When some are inclined towards sacrificing other people’s lives for wealth we are confused! The explanations are not far-fetched. Cultures are not just created. They must be lived.
The indigenous texts are a potent weapon in the hands of men. They are never value-free. Through them, ideologies are constructed. Humans invest what they want with attractive values while they demonise what they hate. Interestingly, the two are achieved through language and its facilities. Therefore, scrutinising the motives behind the creation of some contents becomes important.
If we cannot control what comes into the cultural system, should the motives behind some creation not be interrogated? If we cannot stop the creators of such contents, can we not sift the contents? Can we not decide on which are healthy for application? These decisions are also part of thinking. Dare to think!
In the garden of words and thoughts, timelessness is courted!
© Mewhenu Hosu (2023)
Lagos State University International School, Ojo, Lagos State