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Driving Sustainable Development Through Cultural, Natural Heritage


Egungun--23-8-15-kkk-CopyA most apparent point to start with is the fact that a Christian pastor has a job; an Imam has a job; a Babalawo has a job. These three well-known examples are occupations tied to knowledge, spirituality and religion. These are not just few jobs—they are in thousands, connected with the marketing of knowledge and skills. As professions, they are unregulated, undocumented, with untaxed incomes.

Like religion, all aspects of nature and culture are tied to occupations. Nature and cultural values can be commercialized in positive ways. Many are very well connected to the tourist industry, very many others to daily practices. In Bahia, Brazil, the Ile-Aye, a training ground for carnivals, is a school, a club, an apprenticeship, and many more providing jobs for hundreds of people. The Candomblé houses do the same. Both are connected to a limitless number of akaraje (word for akara in Brazil and most Caribbean countries) small stores all over Salvador.

Natural and Cultural resources generate points of attractions. Attractions are linked to tourism. Tourism is an industry that generates books, photo- graphs, training of experts in guided tours to visit sites. To be clear, natural and cultural resources on their own will not generate employment unless we develop them; announce our resources to the world beyond us, and anchor them to tourism which in turn will depend on uninterrupted electricity supply and good roads.

Assuming that I have convinced you that nature and culture are entry points to occupations, let me show you how to do it. The starting point is an elaborate compilation of all the available cultural resources in all our cities and immediate environs. In a recent book, Dr. Jide Fatokun, an illustrious son of Ibadan, has compiled a list of tourist attractions in the city. In his list are: David Hinderer’s house, Cocoa house, Cooperative Building, Western State Agricultural Investment Corporation Building (former WNDC), Agodi Gardens, Premier Hotel, Broking House, Lekan Salami sports Complex, Mapo Hall, and Bower’s Tower. This is an impressive list, a good starting point, to which we must add others.

Similarly, Babatunde Agbaje-Williams and Akinwumi Ogundiran have also compiled on Ilesa. A rigorous compilation of what we have, what we want to preserve, and how those heritage connect with tourism. A task force for the whole country should be established to engage in documentation so that hidden assets of nature and culture are revealed, both to and for the use of the rest of our national and to and for the international market.

A colourful brochure of this list has to be printed, with multiple photographs for distribution. In addition, they have to be part of an elegant website on every city with information on how to access them. Tour guides must be on locations to explain. The sites are history, but also sources of wealth generation.

For job creation and tourism, such sites can be divided into: the historical and archaeological; the festivals; the crafts/skill-oriented/industrial (e.g., soap making); the occupational—medicine, music, drumming, food, dance, weaponry, decorations, beauty; architecture — old compounds, old ways of construction, cenotaphs.

Following the cataloguing is the need to institute a host of apprenticeship system to learn the practices and crafts, and then to formalize and integrate them into the school system. Jobs are now created around them, jobs that have their own multiplier effects to create other jobs: Egungun— textile and costumes; Egungun carnivals—hotels, entertainment, tourism, facilities to promote tourism; Egungun knowledge—books and training in schools, etc.

Crafts — modernized and globalized, more beautiful products that are used for a diversity of reasons at the domestic level. Crafts of limitless range and possibilities, mats for curtains and floors; cloth weaving to use local threads, distilling of local wine, alcohol, clay for brick making, etc.

Agricultural and Industrial capacity—old and new. The old are the crafts that have existed for so long (textile, mat making, etc.) that use local materials; block making, clay bricks manufacturing, etc. The industrial production has to be part of the school system so that the skills can be transmit- ted and the new and next generation can modernize them by introducing new tools and technology that will produce efficiency. Through the school system, creativity will flourish as people create new meanings, new ways of doing things, and responses to global markets. Be it indigenous or modern, industries that rely on the use of local materials and basic tools will generate more jobs.

Modernization of festival days, songs, dancing, expansion of hotel facilities, food selling, etc.

Recreation centers: maintain the preservation and use of forest reserves; add more. Safe youth centers sporadically located in the city, just as some cities in the United States have done. These are centers meant to attract young people after school under strict supervision by adult volunteers.

Relaxation centers: old and new; older ones to fall on indigenous cultures, newer ones to borrow from abroad. Both generate revenues and create jobs. These examples are just a few. We definitely must explore teaching the youth in skills relating to nature, culture, industry, resources, and technology.

By investing in our resources, we will be able to export our treasures and in turn generate incomes and jobs. By teaching students about industrial works, we will be able to manufacture more of our own goods, possibly refining our natural resources. By adding technological skills to the curriculum, students would learn various skills and measure up to the global standard in technology.

We must thank Chief Odeyemi for this initiative. To the chief, I want to justify his interest and investments in museums by making a number of strategic and practical suggestions to advance our interest in nature and culture.

To Dr. Adisa, I want to justify his interest and promotion by making similar suggestions as a way of also advancing the mission of the natural history museum on OAU campus. For ease of reference, I will put my conclusions in bullet points.

• Significance of heritage and museums: Nature and culture, packaged into collective heritage and museums, bring out the salient elements in our people, our past, our aspirations. Heritage reminds us about cultural survival, cultural forms and their enduring meanings.

• Intellectual Decolonization: The division of the world into “traditional” and “modern”, Africa and West, is at the same time, a cultural project. When Africa is treated as “inferior”, a process of mental and technological domination is at work that affects how we relate to our nature. When Africans reject their categorization of inferiority, a cultural project of self-affirmation is similarly at work. We use ideas drawn from our heritage to perceive the engagement with the West. Anti-colonialism and anti-Western hegemony have in part been expressed in cultural and intellectual terms. The end of the colonial era has not necessarily changed many of the perspectives analyzed in this lecture. To those who blame the West for the under development of Africa, colonialism and neocolonialism are still regarded with condemnation.

• Nature, Culture and Development: The primary concern of people in Africa, as well as the governments, is to overcome underdevelopment. Economic issues are linked to culture and the necessity to overcome Western domination. Underdevelopment cannot just be understood in strictly economic terms but in political and cultural as well. Capitalism, class and culture are interwoven. The ways people make and spend money is in part dependent on values. Imported items have established a major impact in Africa, affecting how Africans understand development and seek progress. Items associated with modernity are not just the privileges of the rich or the elite—a revolution of rising expectation has produced a culture of demand and resistance to bad governments and leaders that do not offer economic benefits.

• Identity: Members of an ethnic group use common origin stories, myths, history, and religion to create a powerful identity that unites them in a way that they see one another as common people. Identities, based on culture and history, impact upon politics. Indeed, the invention and reformulation of ethnic identities represent the careful use of culture to engage in politics. The pattern is clear: modern Africa is created upon a layer of old indigenous cultures and nationalities. The European powers manipulated the ethnic and cultural diversity to advantage, using them to promote a policy of divide and rule. As Africans inherited power, the task of uniting their people falls on them, but they have not been successful to date. Loyalty to the ethnic is often stronger than loyalty to the country itself. Where warlords emerged, as in Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia, the ethnic or clan leader is more important to his people than the “national” leader. But there is a profound contradiction in this culture of loyalty and nationalism. The “national” leader is held accountable for all the ills of society, and he is expected to provide what the people want—jobs, education, health services, and other “good things of life.” The clan or ethnic leader may be held to a lower standard of expectation—he is a “good man” but for the “national leader” who frustrates his ambitions! If the requirements of ethnic loyalties are clearly spelt out and adhered to, that of the national is not—thus, there is no commitment to the national institutions, and symbols of the nation such as the flag and anthem hold no meaning. Contending with ethnic problems is compounded by the politics of managing scarce resources. Who gets what may be dependent on where people come from. One group tries to dominate the others to obtain major economic and political advantages.

• Language: Language is central to the organization of society, inter-group relations, and a host of cultural practices. The majority of the African population continues to use their indigenous languages, which make it possible to continue with established cultural practices. An elite profits from the use of European languages. A creolization process is at work, as indigenous and European languages are combined, as in the example of “pidgin”. As to the relevance of the European languages, there can be no doubt. From the point of view of the elite, they are the excellent media for the members to interact and to reach out to a wider world. Indeed, many have won interna- tional praise and attention in various disciplines and creative literature and art. Africans divided by countries, ethnicities and indigenous languages are united by the ability to speak in English or French. The attempts to construct modern nation-states are linked to the use of European languages: a variety of economic and political policies is dependent on the ability to read and use sources derived from Europe. In spite of the growing importance of European languages, the African governments and elite have not given up on the search for alternative indigenous languages. In North Africa, the use of Arabic is successful, as well as in the case of the extensive use of Swahili in East Africa. In other countries, political instability has made it harder to choose one of the indigenous languages as the official one.

Let me close this long lecture by thanking two people. First, I would like to thank Chief Odeyemi, the initiator and sponsor of this annual lecture series. We need visionaries like him that value knowledge in its research and public faces. Sir, may you live long, blessed by the ancestors who are now part of the spiritual system. Oduduwa will provide you with a long umbrella to cover your household and continue to let you prosper. God will replenish your energy and resources to promote outstanding initiatives such as this.

Let me also close with inspirational words directed at our host, the second to receive my warm appreciation. What Akaraogun saw in Igbo Irun- mole can be replicated in a natural history museum! Fortunately, Dr. Adisa, our host and friend, needs not collect charms and bullets and does not have to look for Kako, Onikumo Ekun, to wander in the jungle. A nice building is here for him and his companions and path-breakers to do his journeys and battles. As I have pointed out, the natural and cultural resources are there to draw upon. Dr. Adisa and his companions are able to conduct research into our cultural and natural history resources and heritage. We have to support them to tell us all that matter in Nigeria’s biodiversity. When we visit this great university and the museum, we should see a first class repository, containing our most import- ant natural objects. High school students should come and be able to press computer buttons that will display our natural objects, and an exhaustive list of the country’s taxonomies. The students should be inspired to study nature, culture and sciences. When the members of the public see unusual specimens, they should be able to come forward to let experts determine their knowledge value, and may be their economic value as well.

The more the specimens, the greater the science. Results have to be made public, to display our resources, to announce new findings, to show how resources can connect with entrepreneur- ship.

Politicians, administrators, and members of the public must realize the importance of nature in the configurations of culture. If only for self-interest, they must see its contributions in terms of job creation, tourism and national glory. We must keep emphasizing the importance of museums of natural history. Yes, we all can see all the wonderful displays of botanical and zoological objects that a natural museum highlights, and we can be entertained by them, but we also want to be educated.
An annual lecture like the one I am giving today can complement the works of Dr. Adisa, aka Babadi, our Akaraogun and his akoni team, to popularize what the museum stands for in relation to our nature and culture. They preserve, educate, and entertain. But they teach, and promote economic values in various ways:
They assist us to protect our nature from danger. One ongoing aspect is how foreign seeds and plants can damage our own. Those of you who travel abroad must note how your food items that contain seeds and insects are confiscated—they seize your yams and plantains at the airport not because they don’t want you to eat your cherished meals but because they do not want to contaminate and destroy their nature. Just as Western countries protect themselves, we too should protect ourselves.

Of what impact are genetically modified organisms (GMO) affecting our lives and nature? Do our taxonomists have enough resources to study what we import and how they affect our seeds and plants? Do we know whether our species can endure the impact of interactions with foreign ones and with GMOs?

We need Museums of Natural History to give us a complete inventory of our fauna and flora and to update us about what we are losing, what is being destroyed by our activities and by nature itself. Taxonomists contribute to ecological studies, and also have a crucial role to play in telling us about contaminants, most especially the damages that chemical like pesticides can cause to our environment.

Because museums of natural histories combine a multiplicity of knowledge, they serve to promote education in general, and science in particular. The objects, the database, the exhibits should be used to encourage younger ones about scientific knowledge and the importance of nature. Museums as tourist spaces can generate incomes.

Let all our cities and villages be aware of the need to promote natural history, to set up societies that will keep records on plants and plant use, fungi (to improve our mycology), birds (to improve our ornithology), insects (to improve our entomology), and animals (to update our knowledge on mammalogy).

The Nigeria Conservation Foundation should encourage activities at the local level. Natural History Societies will improve the interest in our surroundings, and enable our natural history museums to extend their collections on specimen. Dr. Adisa and fellow heritage professionals must always be contacted when we dig for big projects to avoid losses, and before we clear large forests for constructions and buildings.

Remember how the great Ife pieces were recovered? Professionals should give public lectures in various cities and towns to provide awareness on heritage so that they can recognize pieces when they run into them.

We need to train more heritage professionals who in turn will teach our people at the grassroots level, enhance capacity in research and heritage values, create new forms of natural and cultural entrepreneurship.

Constant reminders to those who manage museums and borders that selling pieces to treasure hunters and raiders is like selling one’s birth right, one’s heritage. Once sold, they may never be recovered. Finally, we need more and more individuals to come forward to do what Chief Odeyemi has done to promote research in the academic world and to support the growth of our museums.
Excerpts from the Second Chief (Dr) John Agboola Odeyemi Annual Lecture delivered by Prof. Toyin Falola on May 14, 2015 at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife

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