The Tyranny of Cousins And The Future of African Traditions.
In his book, “The Origins of Political Order”, Francis Fukuyama gave a chronological description of how societies have evolved from prehistoric days to recent times. However, for the sake of the context of this article, I will be focusing on the part where he quoted the social anthropologist, Ernest Gellner, in his description of a concept that played a great role in disrupting band-level societies (societies made up of a handful of family members), which he termed ‘The Tyranny of Cousins’.
In a family hierarchy, cousins were supposed to be someone who shares the same bloodline based on the common grandparents you have. It can be paternal or maternal cousins, as the case may be. It has been proven that cousins have traces of genetical semblance.
That being said, one would begin to wonder what Gellner meant by the ‘Tyranny of Cousins’. This small society that is made of a group of families that share the same bloodline now set out rules. These rules determine what they eat, how they behave, how they get married, how they raise their children, how they make or gather food, their beliefs, and as a matter of fact, their lives in general. Anyone who shares a divergent view from what had been agreed as the ‘family rules’, will be severely resisted by the larger family. Unfortunately, this small society, as small as it was, disintegrated with time as more members of the family saw things differently from what had hitherto been described as the family rules. With the rigid nature of these rules, those who felt they could not abide by them broke out of the family.
In recent times, the same theory explained by Gellner over three centuries ago is playing out before our eyes and the custodians of African traditions don’t seem to see that doomsday is imminent.
Some years ago, my friend went to South Eastern Nigeria to get a wife. The father of the bride, after reading out the traditional obligations my friend needed to meet in order to get the bride, made a statement that stuck with me. He said, “left to me, I would have waved all these things, but my family members would not agree”. Who weree these family members? Cousins!
In Edo State, South-South Nigeria for instance, a father cannot just give out his daughter in marriage without calling on family members. Mind you, these family members are not just coming as guests to felicitate with the man. They will begin to reel out ‘family traditions’ of what must be done before the marriage can take place. They make you understand that it is not up to you to decide, it has been decided long before you were born by your progenitors. And irrespective of the prevailing social realities, you are bound to abide by it.
As it is for marriages, the same thing applies to burial ceremonies. They put so much burden on the bereaved before they allow the deceased to be buried. It is even more annoying when they tell you to the face that these traditions are non-negotiable, it must be done!
There is a new generation of Africans who are not in support of these family traditions and customs, and as Gellner has postulated, except something is done in time, they will break out from the band-level societies and create a new order. If this is allowed to happen, a vast proportion of our custom and cultural heritage would be gone. Westernization, which has already done enough damage to our traditions, will be given open access to put an end to what is left of African customs and traditions.
For example, the first thing you read about the history of Calabar is the stopping of the killing of twins by Mary Slessor. That’s what westernization can do when given the opportunity. The warlords in Calabar, who fought to their death in resisting colonization are completely erased and replaced by those who came to plough our resources. Before Mary Slessor visited Calabar, there had been cries from mothers whose babies had been taken from them and thrown into the forest, for the tradition to be abolished. Many had resisted at the expense of their lives, the tradition of the killing of twins, but the custodians of the traditions paid deaf ear; thereby giving the West an avenue to justify their description of Africans as barbarians.
If the custodians (Traditional rulers and Political leaders) of our customs and traditions don’t take urgent steps to turn the tide, and they allow the new generation of African children to express their dissatisfaction with the way and manner our customs and traditions work to the world, it would be too late to salvage the situation by the time the western world have harped on it. We should not forget that in time past, they have described us based on our traditions as savages, fetish, barbarian, and all whatnots.
In the words of Charles Darwin, the species that survive aren’t necessarily the strongest, but those who are able to adapt to constant environmental changes.
In the same vein, the traditions and customs that would survive and stand the test of time, are not those imposed on the people by force or by threats of invoking the wrath of some dead ancestors; rather, it will be those who were modified with the social realities of the time.
A social crusader writes from Edo State.
IDEDE Oseyande, a graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, is an unrepentant believer in the Nigeria project.
His concern for the actualisation of a prosperous nation and the continent, in general, is reflected in his written works.
He currently runs an online advocacy platform (www.socialwatchdog.ng) where he engages the government and the people.
Among his published works are ‘What is Left of What is Right?’, ‘The Portrait of a Revolutionary Leader’ and ‘Warri No Dey Carry Last’.
He is a guest writer for several blogs and his Attitudinal and Behavioral Coaching classes has transformed many lives.