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“The practices are part of our culture and difficult to change”




Dr. Pius Adejoh is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos. He explained to DORCAS ORE OMOLADE why some people still hold on to their traditional rites, despite their level of education and exposure.

Why do some people still hold on to some rites and customs in this time and age?
Before one can understand why people hold on to certain rites and custom in these days of civilization and modernisation, one must appreciate and understand what rites stand for in people’s lives.

Generally, one can describe customs and rites as core element of culture. Culture is the way of life of a people, who are as good as their culture, thus it is inseparable from them. It is people’s culture that makes them who they are. Culture is unique and is life to the individual. It is what differentiates man from animals. If you understand rites from the perspectives of culture, then you will begin to understand why some individuals hold on to their rites and customs.

Another reason people hold on to certain rites and customs is because they are able to express who they are through it. However, with regards to modernisation and development, one can say because of enlightenment, education, interaction and so on, people now appreciate positive cultures more than the negative ones. This is because not all the elements of culture are positive. Education, religion and civilization are some of the reasons that enable people to begin to appreciate the differences between negative and positive cultures.

However, these differences are due to individual’s level of awareness and enlightenment. And this is why certain group(s) of people regards some rites and customs as negative and barbaric, while some hold on to them because of their level of ignorance and backwardness.

The effect of customs and rites on people and the society cannot be underestimated over time, as it has been proven to have adverse effect on the people. Take for instance the idea of female genital mutilation, widowhood practice and burial rites, among others.

Female genital mutilation or circumcision is an example of rites and customs that are still in practice, but which can affect the innocent girl psychologically. The whole scenario behind this is to get rid of the centre of sexual satisfaction, which has contributed to frigidity. Frigidity is what leads to painful sexual intercourse and lack of sexual arousal, which have led to divorce in many marriages. Since one of the reasons a man marries a woman is for sexual fulfilment and gratification, when the woman detests sex because of some barbaric practice that her parents have performed on her without her consent, it creates problem. Many men may not be able to cope or understand this attitude, and then resort to extra marital affairs.

It also has health hazards, depending on the degree of circumcision. Recently, science has proven that it makes child delivery difficult.

There is also the psychological trauma and infection, among others that are attached to it.

Another unwholesome practice is the girl-child marriage. This is a violation of the law of the land, which states that anyone below 18 years is still a child. So, when a girl below the age of 18 is given out in marriage to a full-grown man, then, you are breaking the law. But beyond that, you are exposing the girl to sexual abuses, health hazards and so on. This practice is common in the North, and that is why they have the highest percentage of girls with Vesico Vaginal fistula (VVF), as the vagina is not fully formed.

With all these shortcomings, why do people still observe these rites?
This is because Nigeria is still very traditional. In the rural areas, there are a large number of people that are still immersed in tradition. And as long as they are not exposed to some level of awareness, they will continue to hold on to them. Even some educated homes still engage in circumcision. This has a lot to do with our level of development, exposure and awareness. Hopefully, in the course of time and as more people become educated, enlightened and see the light, it will reduce. The level we have today is not what we had 10 or 20 years ago. It is a gradual process.

Since the reasons for establishing them are no longer there, why expunge them?
It all still boils down to culture, which is passed down from one generation to another. It is somewhat difficult to change what you were taught, while growing up. This is because you believe it is the ideal. Socialisation is not light, it is a process that takes place overtime, and it becomes a part of you. For instance, when you have learned to use your right hand as a child and then as an adult, you are told to use your left hand, it will take a while before you unlearn, because you have been indoctrinated and imbibed it.

Culture dies hard. It is a continuous process of socialisation and reinforcement. So, changing it would take a conscious effort of providing alternatives that become acceptable to the people. It is very difficult to change what you have grown up with. So, there is need to work consciously to make people unlearn it. And the only way is through education, public enlightenment and deliberate demonstration of the consequences.

The solution to these barbaric practices does not lie with only government, but also with individuals; though government must play its part by providing enabling society for everybody to have access to education. However, this should not be left to government alone because every other agent of socialisation –– the church, mosque, media, non-governmental organisations, community leaders –– has a role to play. They all should work in synergy to propagate the message.

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