Cultural Rejuvenation through the Fourth Genre of Literature as Panacea to Ameliorating its Degradation: A Critical Reading of Agbene 1 & 2
Mohammed-Kabir Jibril IMAM
Department of Theatre Arts
Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education
P.M.B. 1033, Owerri, Imo State
GSM: +234-803-735-5827; +234-805-112-3410
Lucy Ada ONAIVI
Department of Theatre Arts,
Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education
P.M.B. 1033, Owerri, Imo State
This paper focuses on the re-construction and re-engineering of the Nigerian culture. One of the major concerns of cultural stakeholders today is how to rejuvenate or ameliorate our dying culture. The Nigerian culture partially, if not in totality has been swept under the carpet. We the culture bearers are seeing our cultures the way foreigners see it. This challenge could be as a result of cultural diffusion, globalism and mono-culturalistic tendentiousness of the imperialists or colonialists. However, there is wake up call for cultural revival. Despite the efforts by National Orientation Agency (NOA), National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Ministries of Culture and Tourism in the states of the federation and many others to rejuvenate our cultures. We are at the verge of celebrating the death of it (culture). Perhaps their struggles have failed because of the medium adopted. It is against this backdrop that this paper sets to look at how the medium of home video films can be used. The work does this by adopting the qualitative research and used the instrument of content analysis to analyze Agbene (Saviour) an Igala film. The study however observes that the medium of video film is superb in creating awareness on cultural revitalization. The paper therefore concludes that if this medium of film is adopted, it will help in the reconstruction and rejuvenation of the Nigerian culture
Culture has been described as the way of life of a people. It implies that culture covers the system of values and meanings shared to a group of people, even when there is change in the society. The changes in human society reflect the dynamism of culture; this dynamism is responsible for constant shifts in patterns associated with given cultures and the multicultural character of most if not all societies. Again, culture may be defined as the total way of life of a people. It can also be seen as behaviour peculiar to human beings together with the materials used as an integral part of this behaviour. One of the most generally accepted definitions of culture provided by Taylor is that, it is, “the complex whole of man’s acquisition of knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom and technology which are shared and transmitted from one generation to another” (21). This espouses that the language, artefacts, knowledge, dressings, laws, morals, beliefs of a people are part of their culture. Accordingly, culture is seen as: ‘’the integral pattern of human knowledge, belief and behaviour. It consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, among many other components’’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica 26).
Culture is therefore man-made and not God-made. Man created the culture because as a people, they want to live together; so, there must be norms and values that will govern the living together of such a people. Culture has life of its own. It flows down through the line from one generation to another generation. Apparently, culture can be seen as the most highly developed means of promoting the security and continuity of the existence of man in the society. Sola Balogun, lending his voice to the meaning of culture, defines it as: …an integral part of any society. It defines the pattern of behaviour or ways in which a person or a group of people choose to live. Culture is therefore most essential for the continued existence of any society because it has units and values, which bind the people together. …culture constitutes such tangible and intangible values such as food, dress, mode of behaviour, worship, language use, education, music, art and craft, literature as well as other creative or artistic efforts within the society (1).
Tugbokorowei explains those components that constitute the culture of a people that: Culture easily represents an aggregate of all modes and patterns of existence and interactions developed by a group of people as strategies for coping with the peculiarities of the environment in which they find themselves. In doing this, they create both material and non-material aspects of culture, none of which are superior to others as they complement one another (72).
The Nigerian culture is facing serious decline and difficulty and is obviously in danger of going into extinction or oblivion. There is clarion call from stakeholders on the way to rejuvenate the dying culture of the Nigerian people. Apart from the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, there are Ministries of Culture and Tourism in all the states of the federation. As if that was not enough, the Federal Government established National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), National Orientation Agency (NOA), as well as media houses in the campaign. This is done just to rejuvenate, reconstruct and reorganize the decaying and dying culture of the Nigeria. It is the position of this paper that despite the effort of the government and other stakeholders to help in the reconstruction of culture in Nigeria, we are still witnessing a dying culture.
Our culture is dying perhaps because of the attitude of the family: “culture is indeed something that a person learns from his family and environment, and not necessarily ingrained in him or her from birth” (Balogun 3). This is a place where we see a father or the mother speaking English language to the children instead of speaking the mother language. If we look at most of the meanings rendered by Taylor, Balogun and others in this paper, we realise that language was the cardinal components they mentioned; that is a signifier that language plays vital role in the growth of culture.
If language plays a central role in the promotion of culture, the different communities we have in Nigeria have their roles to play in the development, propagation and teaching of Nigerian culture. Obviously, wherever you come from must always reflect in your behaviour. Going through the various positions above and applying them to the heterogeneous society like Nigeria with diverse languages, it is clear that each ethnic group in the country feels, thinks, and reacts to issues differently. This is because we are from different societies with variant languages. The attitudes, goals and ideas of the people must reflect and depict where they come from.
A very pertinent point that is worthy of note is that every citizen is into his culture and tradition; hence, he would not behave otherwise. That culture and tradition of the society must always influence the way such a person behaves. It is the culture that helps the citizen to fashion and direct his character, behaviour and attitude towards issues raised during his childhood and old age. Therefore, if we allow our culture to die, everything about the people dies – the language, artefacts, values, norms, knowledge, morals, arts, laws, customs and other capacities acquired by man as a member of the society. Thus, the call for cultural rejuvenation and reconstruction is imperative if we want our society to grow. This is because through cultural performances like festivals, proverbs and others, the society can significantly gain social, economic and political developments.
Functionalism is one of the cultural theories of the 1930s that emphasized human ability to innovate, accumulate, and diffuse culture, profoundly influenced by social and cultural anthropology. Many sociologists concluded that culture was the most important factor in accounting for its own evolution and that of society. They did this by developing specific methods for the study of society. French sociologist, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), prominent in this regard, argued that various kinds of interactions between individuals bring about certain new properties (sui generis) not found in separate individuals. Durkheim insisted that these “social facts,” as he called them – collective sentiments, customs, institutions, and nations – should be studied and explained on a distinctly societal level. To Durkheim, the interrelations between the parts of society contributed to social unity – an integrated system with life characteristics of its own, exterior to individuals yet driving their behaviour.
Later anthropologists, especially Bronisław Malinowski and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, developed a doctrine of functionalism that emphasized the interrelatedness of all parts of society. They theorized that a change in any single element would produce a general disturbance in the whole society. Functionalists view the society as a system made up of interrelated parts, all interacting on the basis of a common value system or consensus about basic values and common goals. Every social custom and institution is seen as having a function in ensuring that society works efficiently. Notably, French Sociologists, Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons, an American, assumed functionalist approaches for their studies on the society.
Hinged on this study is the position of the functionalists that any form of distortion in the parts of the society would lead to catastrophic tendency or nature of that society. The researchers strongly posited that based on the abovementioned, any alteration in our cultural system would lead to a general disturbance in the existence of the whole. That is why all hands must be on deck for the resuscitation of the decaying and dying cultural practices. That is, we must use every means available to bring our culture to live again.
‘Fourth’ Genre of Literature: Explained
The researchers like to start this segment with Lanre Bamidele’s position in his book, Literature and Sociology, where he posits that, “the cinema has become a unique form of visual literature that attempts to eclipse the novel and traditional verse as the bell tolls for their future death” (40). This is apparently an unarguable fact. It is glaring from all ramifications that the video film has partially taken over the position of the texts, drama prose and poetry. Film is enslaving the reading culture, especially in the literary stronghold; thus, craving for itself the ‘fourth’ genre position.
In the same vein, Olayiwola and Binebai take the same position with Bamidele when they argue that: “…the world over, the reading culture is being replaced by the viewing culture with the former readers of bestselling novels and plays deflecting as audience(s) of the popular films in the theatre and video shops” (1).
The video film has truly become the fourth genre in literary discourse. This is foregrounding the fact that it has a vital role to play in the protection, preservation, promotion and above all, in the rejuvenation of the debasing culture of the Nigerian people. The proper repositioning of the diverse cultural practices is one of the major roles of video film. Substantiating this assertion, Olayiwola and Binebai argue that: “film is, unarguably, a new form of visual literature documenting popular culture among the people of vast cultural diversities in Nigeria” (1). They go further to submit that: “the Nigerian video film industry is thus gradually becoming a literary colossus bestriding the people’s socio-cultural landscape” (2). Since the video film has become a giant in the literary canonical palace, it is binding on it (video film) to do an adequate representation and repositioning of the socio-cultural landscape of the people and not the stereotypical representation of the Nigerian cultural background as witnessed in the years gone by. This is because the Nigerian video film reads, interprets and contextualizes the Nigerian societies. In line with this, Klarer argues that: “film is now the fourth textual genre, coming after the three traditional genres of drama, prose and poetry in the way it reads and interprets human societies, making it the most viable cultural text as it combines all elements of pre-existing art forms” (27). Owing to the foregoing, Olayiwola and Binebai strongly posit that: …the film text is seen as a potent medium for cultural globalization. Like the three canonical literary genres …film becomes a textual form through which the writer (that is, the filmmaker or filmwright) peeps into the social contexts of his/her audience, thus reshaping contemporary world order (2).
In the same corroboration, Olayiwola and Binebai cite Ogundele as saying that, the video film has “become the most dominant technological medium of popular culture and entertainment” (2).
The place of the Nigerian video film cannot be underestimated; because it has assumed the most dominant technological means of propagating, rejuvenating and above all ameliorating the Nigerian society. The Nigerian home video industry has lived for over two decades in the society. Corroborating Olutoba Lawal and Olatunji Aikomo that, “there is no doubt that, the Nigerian video film industry christened, “Nollywood,” has come of age. In the last 20 years, it has witnessed a lot of transformation in production, distribution and exhibition of its products” (87). During this period, it has helped in the presentation of the Nigerian society to the rest of the world. It has presented the Nigerian heterogeneous cultures (dressings, languages, marriages, etc.). There are many unanswered questions. Whether the video film has presented Nigerians and Nigeria in the rightful pictures, the most callous aspects of the Nigerian cultures are what we see mainly in most of the films. Odeh succinctly captures it thus: “…efforts will now be concentrated on the development in the production of good films that will not traumatize the nation psychologically especially impressionable youths of this country or portray us negatively to the outside world” (45). It ranges from witch craft, widowhood subjugation, cultural gender inequity and many other cultural maltreatments and negativities. These are what we see through Nigerian video films. Many scholars have captured this menace in their works. For instance, Marcel Okhaku laments that: “there is so much violence, so much cultism and so much blood to the extent… that Nigerians want to buy blood” (190). Acholonu, in her way, states that: “ritual, murders, and witch craft are becoming the order of the day in Nigerian home video movies, thus driving more jobless youths towards this satanic exercise” (55). That is not to say that these films do not have, paint or present good pictures about the country and its people, but the dwell more on these negativities thus painting a bad picture about the Nigerian people. The unanswered question is: Does it mean that apart from the aforementioned cultural bastardizations, our culture does not have good sides anymore?
However, despite all these, the development in the film industry is overwhelming. Now, the umbrella body of the industry (Nollywood) is rated 2nd position after Bollywood in India, Olutoba Lawal and Olatunji Aikomo cite Alamu as submitting that: A global cinema survey conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics in 2009 named Nigeria as the second largest producer of film in the world. Though the survey did the ranking according to the number of films, that is the quantify [sic]…Nigeria has edged out the United States, (Hollywood) who before now was second to India (87).
Contending this position, Odeh argues that: “we are the largest home video producers in the world. There has been massive growth without development” (45). As it were, down here in Nigeria, Nollywood is now giving birth to other woods, like Yorubawood (which has to do with Yoruba video films), Igbowood (also has to do with video films in Igbo) and Kannywood (that has to do with the video films in Hausa). Apart from the above mentioned woods, others are coming up sporadically. One of such is the Igawood (which has to do with films in Igala language). One such films is the case study of this study; it tries to assist in the rejuvenation of the Nigerian cultures through Igala language. Ali Ojodale categorically points out that:
The Igala film industry (Igawood) is an offshoot of Nigerian film industry. It was influenced and encouraged by the existence of other tribal video films. It takes its cue from the global industry borrowing largely from myth and tradition of the society (131).
The Igala film, according to Umar Ojodale, started as far back as 1995. In his words: “I recalled that Idachaba Amstrong shot the first Igala film, Am’boni in 1995 on cassette” (131). Just like every other filmwright or screenwright, Idachaba built his thematic thrust on the happenings and issues bordering the Igala society. In the same vein Umar Ojodale opines that: Just like the larger society influences the Nigerian Movie Industry, the Igala movie industry cannot operate in isolation, they borrow from the society. The thematic bent is centred on the societal world view…the industry has remained irresistible to the local people in spite of the poor thematic and aesthetic thrust (131).
Attesting to this position, he goes further to submit that, “the thematic and aesthetic contents of Igala films cannot be said to [sic] good enough because it is not inconformity with the standard and quality needed…” (133); these are critical and occupy sensitive positions in the making of Igala films. However, the current study align itself with the scholarly positions above; hence, the thrust of the study is to examine how the film under study has helped and can assist in bringing back to its position our falling cultures as a result of diffusion, globalization and technological advancement
Synopsis, Analysis and Interpretation of Agbene (Saviour) 1&2
Agbene, from the title, is completely an Igala film that explores some cultural practices of the Igala people both good and bad. Agbene is the name of the protagonist. The film has a young lady who visits her village and having a house under construction. She embarks on sight-seeing in the course of this she runs into a man (carpenter) in his workshop. They exchange greetings in English initially. Thus through the man it was revealed that the lady is an Igala girl with exclamation: “Eeee… omagala e cheeonwunekenefuabayi.” Meaning: “You are an Igala girl and you speak English like this?” She replies: “Uma kakini e gbenefu no.” Meaning: “I never knew you understand English language.” Thus, this is the notions of most of us in the city when we return to our country home we want to make them believe that we are special people and we know more than them. But unknown to many of us that some the people in the village are making their own efforts to grow too. However, this is not the thrust of our discourse. The thrust of this study is to take critical observations of how she was corrected by the carpenter in the village. He says: “e chalukumenejuonwuawade n.” meaning, “it is not the way you think about us that we are.” Meaning: “To some of us we would want of measure up. We look at it as if they have come to belittle us or debase us.”
This paper argued strongly that there is the need for us to take bold steps into correcting this menace of debasing and devaluing our culture, which is done through paying lesser attention to our language. This is strongly seen as a challenge because in most of our homes we speak English language instead of our dialects or our languages. A critical look at the ugly scenario shows that everybody complains about it but no vehement attack has been given to it. When you ask the Yoruba man, he will respond: “Our people don’t like speaking their language.” If the same question is thrown to an Igala man, his response will be that; go to other places, people speak their languages; but when get to Igala land, they speak English to themselves and so on. This, however, is a signifier that there is a problem already. If all of irrespective of the community we come from can be like the carpenter in the film then the issue of cultural reconstruction and rejuvenation is a thing of the past.
As the film proceeds, we see the lady again the house of the carpenter asking after the man, simply because there is roofing job by the lady who is also from that village. The carpenter’s wife and her child are picking palm fruit, which is their business and means of livelihood. In topical village like this, the city girl comes to tell them ‘hello.’ How on earth can hello be part of such people? She is hiding under the banner of city girl. Apparently, this is what is seen with most of us living in the city when we visit our villages. It is imperative to note that this act is killing our culture; because without language, there is no place for culture. Language is the spine of every culture. If you kill the language of any people or race you kill everything about that race. Therefore, from the reading of the film, the researchers strongly opine that language should be held with high esteem.
Agbene, who has been away for a long time, comes home after the killing of her mother. A woman that was picking palm fruit in the village was killed by the lady because she thought the lady was snatching her husband. So, she could not curtail it. However, she over-reacted and that makes the young lady to over-respond too. This at the end results to the death of the woman and the young lady takes her husband. When Agbene comes back home and she is told that her mother was dead, she then visits her mother’s grave. In the process, after much wailing and sobbing by Agbene, the woman’s spirit comes out of the grave, and enters Agbene’s body so that she can embark on vengeance mission, unknown to her (Agbene).
This is another critical aspect of the people’s culture portrayed in the film: that the living can communicate with the dead and the dead hears. That again explores the Africans’ three world circles: the world of the living, the world of the dead and the world of the unborn as Wole Soyinka postulates in his theory of the ‘fourth stage,’ in his book, Myth, Literature and the African World. The ‘trance stage’ is the ‘fourth stage.’ Therefore, the unconscious state of Agbene can be classified as the fourth stage. The living is Agbene; the dead is Agbene’s mother; and finally, the vengeance mission is the future in which they want to correct. This is a very critical aspect of our culture that must be glorified and gratified in high reverence.
Again, Agbene gets to a cross-road on her way to unravelling the secret of the lady, who snatched her stepfather from her mother. A boy appears to her asked her to go straight leading her to the target’s house. This is equally the handiwork of the gods in the African world view too. The small boy could be said to be her mother appearing to her in that nature or otherwise. The truth is that somebody came from the great beyond and helped her out of the confusion. This can never be swept under the carpet or be underestimated in the culture of the Nigerian people. Agbene went through many ordeals. One of such is that she was knocked down by an oncoming car and the driver thought he had killed but before he could get out of the car, Agbene is seen going behind the car. That is to tell us that she is no longer herself; rather, she has a spirit that controls her now.
Another element of the people’s culture that can assist in the amelioration of the culture is proverbs. Conspicuously, proverbs were used in the film to buttress points; or to make their spoken language more profound. This is study upholds strongly that proverbs are vital aspects of our culture that cannot be taken for granted. Proverbs must be wholeheartedly accepted as part of any culture and can help in the growth and development of that culture.
It is instructive to note a salient point that towards the end of the film, Agbene’s step father returns from Abuja. Already Agbene is in the house already. Immediately the man comes in, they excused them; that is the man and his wife now. Instead of calling the woman ‘My Love’ like it is most likely common in most Nigerian homes, the man quickly addresses his wife as: “Uyonabalo mi,” meaning, ‘My Love.’ This kind of attitude towards our language will go a long way is selling and propagating the language as an integral part of our culture.
Though the negative part of our culture was revealed how the lady went diabolical and killed Agbene’s mother, she equally joined a cult group where she amasses her power to disintegrate the entire family. She also went diabolical so that she can be in control of the man’s mind, so that anything she tells the man is final. On several occasions, she tries to kill Aladi, the half-sister to Agbene. Agbene has always interceded and saved Aladi through her supernatural powers. Aladi is the instrument behind the coming of Agbene into the house unknown to her that that was her half-sister. She hates Aladi and the hatred increases when Aladi brought Agbene to the house to stay with them; unknown to the lady too. Agbene is the daughter of the woman she killed before taking her husband.
However, the suspense in the last part of the film must be commendable. All of them were in the same room and never knew each other until the last scene where it was revealed that they were somehow connected to each other. Even the man never discovered Agbene to be his step-daughter. That equally explains the level of suspense in the film.
The above does not imply that there no technical flaws in the film. There are numerous technical flaws like proper scripting as Emeka Nwabueze rightly notes that: “without a good script, there can be no good film” (40). In the same vein, Umar argues that: “Igala movie industry lacks proper scripts production…most films produced in Igala land have no script or has no proper scripting…” (131). Furthermore, the camera was not a standard one. For a film of that magnitude that is well grounded in culture, the costumes used were not ‘cultural costumes,’ the people’s costumes. They used costumes from the Western world: skirts and blouse, which is not part of our culture in Africa. If they had adopted the African costumes (Igala’s costumes), it would have given the film what the researchers would call: ‘a complete cultural look.’ The costumes veered off from the contextuality of the film; and that is a very big problem; not even now that scholars are craving for Afro-modernist approach to African problems.
This study calls for a more engrossed attention in the proper utilization of the film medium in the wake-up call for cultural reinvigoration. There is cultural erosion; our culture has been eroded as a result of globalization, modernism and post-modernism. Apparently, there is need for cultural revival. Stakeholders have argued in different fora at various levels that we have to re-awaken our dying and decaying culture for the survival of our nation. The current study toes the same line and upholds the same view of reviving our culture. However, the paper calls for the reconstruction of the Nigerian culture through the medium of Nigeria film video. The study strongly sees the medium of film, fourth genre of literature as a veritable vehicle for cultural rejuvenation. Owing to the method analyzed above by this paper, the film medium, if embraced and adopted wholeheartedly, is a means towards getting our culture on its feet.
Based on the foregoing discourse, the study strongly recommends that:
- Culture is a vital aspect of the people’s live. Therefore, it must be held with utmost respect and dignity. All hands must be on deck for the repositioning of our cultures. This is because if you kill a culture, you kill the custodians of that culture (that is the people).
- Language is one of the concrete parts of any culture. There must be concerted effort towards the preservation of our languages. The researchers call on the family, the schools, the religious institutions and other agents of socialization to come to the aid of our languages by enforcing the speaking of indigenous languages in their environments.
- Parents have a big role to play in this direction. They should try as much as possible to speak their Mother languages to their wards at home. By so doing, it will build language consciousness in the younger generation. This will help greatly in the propagation, protection and, above all, the preservation of our languages.
- Other components of our culture, like farming, costume or clothing, laws, knowledge, morals and many others should be held in high esteem. This is because all these elements of culture are very vital. Every part of the whole components has its value to add to the people’s lives; therefore, they must be kept well.
- Stakeholders like NICO, NOA, vernacular teachers, Ministries of Culture at the federal and states levels that have been struggling for cultural revitalization should reinvigorate their efforts. The method adopted for the struggle should be reviewed. If they are reviewed and discovered that those methods are obsolete. They should device other means of doing the good job; they should not be tired until their goals are achieved.
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