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Squandering ancestral resources

By J.K. Obatala   |   06 October 2016   |   2:48 am

Igwe Festival

Igwe Festival

“Archaeoastronomy” is a cumbersome compound word, denoting a discipline in which Nigeria would stand out globally—were it not for the purblind abuse of indigenous cultural resources.

Especially perturbing, is the failure of cultural policy makers and administrators to appreciate the immense importance of relics, whose design and orientation evince early astronomical awareness.

Such relics are the purview of archaeoastronomy, a comparatively new field of study. It encompasses mainly archaeology and astronomy but also history, anthropology and ethnology.

“Relic,” in this case, refers not only to physical structures, such as stone or iron monuments, but also to the ceremonies and rituals of traditional festivals.

Nigeria is abundantly blessed, with festivals and monuments that are keyed to the periodicity of the Sun, Moon planets and/or certain stars.

But ill informed administrators are blindly “cleaning up” many of the events and changing some dates to coincide with colonially imposed holidays. A number of festivals have been abandoned.

Festivals are actually timekeeping devices—a form of intercalation. Pre-industrial cultures staged festivals, chiefly to reconcile their lunar calendar with the tropical year of seasons.

The Moon-based calendar, which most human cultures use, is pegged to the synodic cycle of lunar phases–the 29.5-day period, between successive new Moons.

But it is the Sun, rather than the Moon, that causes the seasons. Hence over a 12-month period, the sum of lunar cycles falls some 11 days short of the tropical year.

The lunar calendar must thus be adjusted, to ensure that seasonal migrations, agricultural activities and religious rituals occur at the right time and under the proper climatic conditions.

Many West African tribes, for example, have nine-month calendars. If their festival days are added up, the total will usually equal the solar year.

A case in point is the Igwe Festival in Benin, which was originally three months in duration. But the principal generally holds for the cultures of Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

“Survival” is the highest priority of all living organisms, whether plants, animals, fungi, bacteria or whatever. Survival, in turn, makes reproductive activity centrally important.

Hence many traditional festivals (and most modern performing and visual art!) have a fertility theme, often expressed symbolically in rituals depicting male prowess and female sensuality.

This, to a very large extent, explains the cultural mayhem, committed under cover of “cleaning up” these festivals —and frequently at the prompting of feminist.

Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism is also wreaking cultural havoc, particularly in the area of archaeoastronomy.

Cross River State’s decimated Stone Circles invariably comes to mind, as does Otobo-Ugwu–the astonishing iron slag structure at Lejja, in the Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State.

The latter is a crescent Moon, with a circular mound erected in its cusp. The mound undoubtedly depicts the planet Venus, during one its nine monthly visual alignments at new Moon.

Otobo-Ugwu is the centre of cultural activity, for Lejja’s 33 villages, which have fortunately preserved they physical structure.

But the dramatic disavowal of evil, a community-wide ritual marking the end of the lunar month, has faded into disuse, due to resistance from Christian religious zealots.

Misdirected zealotry is also partly to blame for the continuing loss of carved monuments from the Stone Circles—early astronomical observatories–in the Ikom and Ogoja L.G.A.s of Cross River State.

But according to Vincent Etop, Secretary of the Ikom Tourism and Cultural Committee, “governmental neglect” is a much more important factor.

Concurringly, Clement Umina, general manager, Operations, at the state’s Tourism Bureau complained that policy makers “simply don’t show serious interest”.

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