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Musings: Learning & adapting from the past for a saner present

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By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah

Looking at societal ills today, one wishes that our cultural evolutionary trend, pace and style were not altered again and again by outside influences. What we consider issues today that are difficult to deal with either had inbuilt mechanisms for dealing with them or would never had arisen in the first place in the past. We can place the blame on colonization, religion, modernization and, to some extent, technology, though these factors have some good to their credit.

Unemployment was not a word in existence. Even though history gave men in the then society the over-simplified description of gatherers, hunters, agrarian, etc, men were engaged in different disciplines. The man who went to hunt needed the tools which the smith forged. Though everybody was involved in building, someone did it better and was often invited to help. Same goes for roofing houses. Sick people were taken to the healer and spiritual matters were settled by the priest. There were experts at circumcision in cultures where that practice existed. In the arts, there were dancers, singers, drummers and flutists. Everybody was engaged.

There were no out of school children. Common to most cultures, every child took to his father’s trade, with only a few being attracted by other people’s trade. No family or clan could stand a child who would not work as this is seen as a disgrace to that clan or family. For the children, it was a pride to learn.

There were no orphans. That designation lasted for a short period only, till the family met after the burial of their deceased kinsman to apportion fatherhood figures for each of the children. The new fathers did not differentiate or discriminate between them and their biological children.
Widowhood also had the lifespan similar to that of being fatherless. By cultural designation, she comes under somebody’s protective canopy as wife, sometimes just for that and not for any erotic reasons. A few times there were widows indeed, those who were very old by which time their sons were fathers already who kept them close and cared for them.

Teenage pregnancy did not happen, neither were there premarital sex. The expectations were high and so was the family upbringing. They were naked, or clad poorly with leaves only, but no one raped anybody. Girls were betrothed from the cradle and grew to marry in relationships that lasted till death parted them.

So divorce was not common. Everybody understood what he/she was supposed to do in a marriage relationship. The process of divorce was tedious and issues were solved, not endured. Elderly women will counsel the young ones; so did the men. A threat to divorce will involve the whole family or clan and efforts to sort the matter will be applied at all levels (sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, clan heads, etc) because it was a weighty matter.

Theft, pilfering, burglary, robbery and all such were so great a disgrace to family and clan that they themselves may eliminate the fellow so you hardly heard of them. Same with other societal ills like lying, slander, rudeness, prostitution, etc. Drunkenness was discouraged though it seemed to be a bit better condoned. If drugs of addiction were present then, they only needed to be classified as taboo and nobody would produce, sell, transport or use them.

People did not just look for other people’s trouble but, where there were issues, the elderly met to discuss and legislate on them. Between communities responsible emissaries were sent to thrash out issues; war was last resort and was fought to finish which in a way is good because a new, calm order was immediately established. There were no refugees or IDPs as survivors will be servants or slaves in secure households.

The strongest, most worthy or most eligible heir ruled in a system that could tolerate no rigging. So thieves, misfits and people with no integrity or capacity could not smell thrones. Any confusion was cleared by the deity who is revered and feared. Nobody would receive from a thief lest the curses follow him also.
No destitution. It was also a disgrace to family for one to beg. If one was poor or could not work because of a physical disability, the family (which, in this case, could be as large as the clan) catered for him.

Today’s societies deal with these ills without any hope of finding lasting solutions to them. Yet we never pause to ask how we got to this and how we can improve. Can we import the past and adapt it to the present so that at once we can wake up one day to have a society where there are no orphans, widows, destitute, homeless, unemployment, out of school kids, etc? This will first of all take the submission of all that what we call development is deficient in many aspects and needs to be reviewed.

I witnessed the period of rapid transition from the old to the new in my clan from my youthful years till now. Before my grandfather died, he had all of what was wealth then. All my uncles, seven or so of them, each inherited cows (at least 50), horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs and poultry. Each had vast lands to his name. Then came modernity. Some went to school and took up government appointments, leaving their wealth to be cared for by others. These others at least sent their children to school and none of us (me, my brothers and cousins) learned how to tend our wealth to grow. Within a span of fifty years, only one or two of my uncles and father can boast of a few cows. No single chicken, talk less of horses! Those who did government work served as servants (civil servants), went working around the country and eating from hand to mouth, only to retire and find their wealth was gone. Modernity impoverished my clan. And only few of us are gainfully employed, even in the same hand to mouth vicious cycle like our parents did. We too are marching towards penury because we only had some work-directed training which will be useless at retirement from that work.

The decline in morals was equally rapid. About forty years ago, an uncle gathered us all to chide with us over the news that my cousin who just came back from another town stole a goat. He wept as he vibrated with anger over this unheard-of disgraceful act in our clan. I saw how my eldest cousin put the clan to shame by getting pregnant out of wedlock. We could not talk or raise our heads in gatherings any longer. Even more recently, what constituted bad habits were drinking of alcohol, chasing girls and smoking. Now those things are tolerated. Parents fear drug addiction, homosexuality, mysticism and cultism. They fear that their children join Boko Haram, kidnapping or banditry. Relatives and friends expect every public officer to loot government treasury sore and so at the time of his appointment he is told to ‘shine your eyes’.

Recovering our inbuilt mechanisms to deal with or make societal ills disappear should be possible. Colonization is no more and any shades of it like neo-colonisation are shades only. The post-modern age allows us the freedom to think and readjust. The opium of religion is losing its potency so we again can think. Since technology is a two-edged sword, let’s utilize the edge that favours our reasoning to rid society of avoidable ills. The past, certainly, was saner. Let us adapt what made it so to improve our present society.

▪︎ Dah, an Abuja-based medical consultant, sent this via talemohwdah@yahoo.com

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