Cultural revival through the screen: Imasuen’s filmic statements on marble – Part 1
By Being an excerpt of a paper presented as guest speaker at a colloquium, which is part of activities marking the 50th birthday anniversary of Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen at the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Nigeria, on June 17, 2021.
The focus of this presentation is the promotion of culture, as encapsulated in the films of Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen (LOI). I find this lecture very significant because LOI, as one of my students at the Department of Creative Arts (now Theatre and Film Studies),
University of Port Harcourt, has distinguished himself, making all his former lecturers to be proud of him. Every parent here will attest to the fact that once your child is doing very well, you do not blame the mother for not doing enough. Thus, I can aver that in line with the Nigerian parlance: LOI is representing Crabites and Unique UNIPORT very well.
As an academic son in whom I am well pleased, I have done critical readings of some of LOI‟s film productions. Consequently, I can say, without equivocation, that LOI‟s filmic statements are words on marble in the Nigerian film industry, popularly called Nollywood. Put succinctly, we are celebrating a man that has committed his post-UNIPORT days, time and personal resources, to fertilise and crystallise our film industry. This he has done from a very humble beginning. Today, LOI is like an oak tree, raising and mentoring star actors, actresses, directors and many other practitioners, as far as film production is concerned. The Benin Film Academy (BFA) is one of such bold and laudable platforms.
This paper adopts contextual analysis, which is a critical approach in reading films. Contextual framework involves a literary approach to make conceptual distinctions and organise ideas to address problems with regards to cultural backgrounds, beliefs, moral values, organisational structures and so on. It is an analytical tool with several variations and contexts, and applied in different ways to get a clear picture on an issue is needed. As it were, it is assumed that a strong conceptual framework captures issues realistically and accomplishes this in a way that is easy to recall and apply. In other words, a conceptual model represents a system made of a composition of concepts, which help people to know, understand, or simulate a subject the model represents.
In terms of methodology, I will be using descriptive and analytical approaches in reading some films of LOI. The main goal is to analyse the atmosphere under which the productions were carried out and the strategic place of the films in the industry. To Kendon (1990), contextual analysis is “a given act, be it a glance at (another) person, a shift in posture, or a remark about the weather, has no intrinsic meaning. Such acts can only be understood when taken in relation to one another.” For instance, SWOT analysis, which is a critical aspect of context analysis, allows an analyst to gain an insight into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats posed by the operational environment. Any study of the contributions of LOI to Nollywood implies equitable consideration of the context under which he produced his films.
A Word on Culture
Since the focus is imperative of cultural revival from films, let me spare a moment to examine the concept or nature of culture. The Cultural Policy for Nigeria (1988) explicitly states thus:
Culture is the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenge of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organisation thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours.
In essence, culture is all-embracing. It consists of two major components: material (tangible) and non-material (intangible). The material dimension of culture consists of all objects, physical traits, instruments and tools, which the people design and use in their daily existence. These objects are seen and they include things like furniture, drums, cutlasses, brooms, hoes, pots, pipes, masks, clothes and so on. On the other hand, the non-material aspect refers to processes and ideas, phenomena, which are abstract but are part of the way of life of a people. These consist of the cognitive aspect encapsulating ideas, knowledge, attitudes, values and beliefs of a people; while the normative aspect of their non-material culture consists of the rules and social actions – the accepted ways of doing things.
From the above, it could be deduced that perceiving culture from the negative perspective is a sign of ignobility; seeing culture as fetish, archaic, old ways of doing things, ancestral or deity worship, and so on, amount to misconception. Culture differentiates one group of people from another; it gives a people unique identity; and it enables people to adapt to their environment. Put simply, culture encapsulates our languages, dressing, music, dances, foods, types of buildings, occupational disposition, marriage and burial traditions, religious practices, political inclination, belief system, value system, artefacts, and so on. Thus, these tangible and intangible aspects of culture are relative to a people.
Furthermore, it has to be noted that culture is dynamic, in the sense that it changes continually as people adapt to current developments. As a point of fact, a child is born into a culture; and he learns about it as he grows up. He is guided by that cultural background and conforms to the precepts. A deep understanding of one’s cultural background confers on one a sure sense of pride and satisfaction. One learns to conform to the happenings in that cultural milieu. Where the reverse is the case, such a child becomes a social deviant or a non-conformist. In other words, the actions of such a child become an aberration in the given society.
Incidentally, culture has not been given a pride of place in the Nigerian society, probably because of the wrong indoctrination and foundation laid by the colonial masters. Ironically, the Europeans made our forefathers to believe that their culture was primitive and not worth imbibing; that African traditional religion (ATR) was not an enduring way of life; that civilised people worship God and not “lesser gods and ancestors;” that people should drink spirits like Gordon’s Dry Gin and not ogogoro (local gin); that people should listen and dance to Western music, not “meaningless” African traditional music; or that people should not wear native attires but dress “corporate.” The list is actually endless, to say the least.
The implication of the above is that the younger generations continue to lose our cherished cultural values. For instance, there is lack of respect for elders and the traditional institution; immorality has become the order of the day with regards to nudity in dressing and sexuality; the youth take pride in exhibiting their sexual preferences – lesbianism, bisexualism, trans-gender or gay tendencies are proudly promoted; children no longer take pride in their native languages; human life means nothing to the present generation because of the get-rich-quick mentality; Pentecostalism has swept through the continent in such a way that Africans now export religion to other countries and not the other way round. Also, the political, educational, social, architectural, music, and marriage cultures, among other facets of our way of life, are being reinvented by the day.
One thing that readily comes to my mind, in any discourse on cultural revival, is the good old ways of our fathers. Today, parents celebrate openly once a son returns from the city, flaunting his new found wealth. For those of us who have seen more years, we know that this was not the practice back in the days. Such a son must answer probing questions from the parents; they would insist on finding out how he came by such sudden wealth. We are now living in a country where a man enters town, displaying wads of dollars and naira notes, and nobody questions the source of such wealth. Rather, they will praise him to high heavens, all in the bid to get a few notes from him. Ironically, our traditional rulers quickly offer these men of questionable characters chieftaincy titles, as they can easily afford the price tags for such chieftaincy awards. There are sad news reports of ritual killings almost every day. Paradoxically, some of these heartless criminal acts are even perpetrated by our supposed “men of God.” The reality on ground is that there is no longer sanctity of human life in contemporary Nigeria. This is to the extent that, as public analyst averred, there are no longer “brothers‟ keepers” but “brothers‟ destroyers” in the Nigerian society.
Elsewhere, I have noted that, back in the days, goods/wares displayed for sale in the village were never stolen or touched by anyone. A buyer comes along and calls out to find out the cost of what he/she wants to buy. The owner (or a neighbour), who may not even bother to come out of the kitchen or the house, tells him/her the amount. He/she drops the money on the wooden tray or bamboo stand, takes the item and goes away.
The money could be there for hours, without anyone touching it, until the owner comes at his/her leisure and picks it up. In other words, yam barns, pens of chickens or pigs, fish ponds, farmlands, firewood stacks, and other such possessions were safe at every moment in time. Thieves never broke into houses that had no doors – only mats served as doors and window blinds. Unfortunately, all of the foregoing amount to “tales by moonlight” to the present generation.
The scenarios are by no means definitive. We all know how things were back in the days; and we know how things are now with regards to the various aspects of our culture. There is no arguing the fact that these phenomena bring to the fore the imperative of cultural revival. Significantly, film is an invaluable medium for engendering the much needed cultural revival.
Ayakoroma is the Head, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT), Bayelsa State, Nigeria
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