Whimsy
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On Zeus and Amadioha

No, this isn’t some alternate reality fantasy fiction type piece. If you expected a refresher on the Greek or African pantheon, you were wrong.

 No, this is something else.

I visited Rome in September. It was my first time, and in true tourist fashion, I visited the Vatican Museum. It was amazing. It was beautiful. I spent over 6 hours on my feet, walking from room to room, taking pictures upon pictures, and I didn’t feel it. I could have gone on and on. I’ve visited other major museums; the British Museum and the Tate Modern. But this was the Vatican Museum, curated by the Catholic Church, the biggest Christian Institution in the world, and arguably the most prolific “missionary” church in the world. I was very excited.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

There is a room are rooms in the Vatican Museum that house statues and paintings of gods, goddesses and creatures from European mythology. Zeus, Apollo, minotaurs, nymphs…

Artemis - Greek Goddess of Fertility. No, those aren't breasts. They're testicles of bulls sacrificed to her. Legend has it that a woman who wanted to become pregnant should walk round this statue 3 times so they moved it against the wall so no one could walk around it. Lol.

Artemis – Greek Goddess of Fertility. No, those aren’t breasts. They’re testicles of bulls sacrificed to her. Legend has it that a woman who wanted to become pregnant should walk round this statue 3 times so they moved it against the wall so no one could walk around it. Lol.

It was an education in the events of the Greek and Roman pantheon. And I marvelled at how, centuries since their temples were torn down and converted into churches and museums, these characters and their stories  had managed to survive. Somewhere along the way, they had transitioned into art and culture, history and tradition. They had become woven into the tapestry that is human anthropology.

And I wondered why our own gods had fared worse. Make no mistake, the Catholic Church considers Zeus and his breed pagan gods. But their stories say a lot about the society that worshipped them. Greek mythology, by its existence, provides insight into the workings of the minds that dreamed them up, narrated them, passed it down to their children.

Why did Amadioha and his breed fare worse? Why is it almost certain that the little that remains of Nigerian mythology will die out within a couple of generations?

There are a number of recognized factors. Obviously, nobody owes us anything, much less space in their museums. If we want statues of Amadioha, we will have to put them in our own museums. And I don’t have the time or words right now to rant as I’d like to about our museums.

Secondly, Nigerians don’t seem to appreciate history and art the way Europeans do. Goes without saying.

Thirdly, our faiths (Christian, Muslim, New-Age) seem to look down on, ay even demonize, the history of our ancient religions. I imagine that the first converts, filled with evangelical fervour, would have burnt down (at the first opportunity they got) shrines to the gods their fathers worshipped. Whatever memories might have remained would have been stamped out to the point that no one remembers even their names. I’m half-Esan and I do not know the name of any Edo gods or goddesses except Olokun, the river goddess. Their names are not even mentioned.

And isn’t it odd that despite this national outward display of piety, there are still people (professed Christians and Muslims) who secretly worship these old gods? Who make sacrifices at orita-metas? Who truly, deeply believe in these powers? (And whether or not these gods hold any power is the subject for yet another blog-post. I’m convinced that, like Apollo and Zeus, they are mythological and not actual beings.) So on the surface, we banish their stories from existence. And underneath, we pay obeisance. Hypocrisy, self-sabotage, confusion? Why are our gods considered inherently evil in the way European gods are not? Because I honestly believe that if we didn’t judge people, if they could proudly come forward and announce “I’m pagan/animist” the way more atheists/agnostics seem to be coming out of the closet these days, we would have less pretend-Christians/Muslims.

I’m just saying. We need to have this discussion as a people. What are we to do with our mythology? Abandon to extinction? Or do we owe posterity more? Are our grandchildren condemned to learn Roman, Norse and Greek mythology via cartoons, movies, books, comics and learn nothing of their own history?

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Abdul says

    Great line of thought,
    Imagine the tourism ministry commissioning Disney to tell the stories of Orunmila. They have run out of stories and paying 3 million dollars will stimulate interest in Nigeria ala Susan Wenger of Osun-Oshogbo.

    • I mean. Look how the Thor movie renewed interest in Norse mythology. We couldn’t get enough. Look at Disney’s Hercules. Imagine, just imagine, Disney or Pixar (or Kunle Afolayan sef) producing an animated Oduduwa movie. Gosh!

  2. Olamide says

    I suggest a Sovereign National Conference on the Fate of our gods.

    • Lol! Someone will find a way to brand the attendees a coven of witches/wizards. The churches will start binding and casting. But seriously, our entertainment/Nollywood industry needs to do something.

  3. Omolola says

    I believe there are no statues of amadioha in museums overseas because there were none made back then in the first place, and I don’t think any museum will house statues of amadioha made in modern times. Contrary to your belief though, there are pieces of ancient Nigerian statues in museums overseas, the exact reason our museums are so empty in the first place. Nok statues, Benin bronzes, etc. So maybe we aren’t so despised afterall. ☺
    By the way, I’m only addressing your first point. I agree completely with everything else you said. Beautiful and insightful write-up.

    • Thanks 😊 I beg to differ on a few points, though. Our museums are also empty because we do not have the collect-and-preserve mindset. We must accept the blame for this. There are Picasso paintings in Britain; there are none in Nigeria. Picasso was not British. I saw the extensive collection of Bini art in the British Museum. I nearly wept. They were seized to pay for the Punitive Expedition in which the British sacked Benin City and banished Oba Ovoramwen. That was over a century ago. On the one hand, I want us to demand those pieces back. On the other hand, I despair that we will be able to maintain and preserve them the way the British have. So maybe it’s for the best that they keep that part of our history. Sigh.
      Can you categorically say that no figurines existed of the old gods? Even the Yoruba ones?

  4. chioma says

    You may not find images of amadioha cos he was considered the almighty god….above other gods and man.

    Secondly on our eroding tradition, like the benin crafts stolen or ceased our identity as africans and nigerians were stolen too. Our great fathers were made to believe that our gods were evil not powerless as they believe zeus to be. So we flee from anything that reminds us of who we are…of who our fathers were because we believe it to be evil. I was disappointed when i watched nollywoods protrayal of idemili, it was a far cry from the true story. I am sure that if churches had not placed strict requirements on criteria to be wedded in the church, a lot of people would have shunned traditional weddings too.
    We are not even intrested in our local stories…so our children would grow up with stories from ladybird story books.

    For us to know our roots and have a museum for our kids we have to stop being afraid.

  5. This post is spot on.
    So many times I wonder about why it was so easy for us (Africans) to abandon everything & seek to replace it with European ideas. When you look at neighbouring Ghana sef, you can see how much more they value their history & culture & tradition as compared to us. How were we so easily brainwashed? I took interest in my/our culture not so early in life, so little by little, I’m making up for lost time. I think Sango & Oya & all their friends are as valid, and as interesting as Zeus. Masquerades are pretty fascinating too. It’s all so great & so rich, we need to figure out how to reclaim / start to preserve this for our children.

  6. I thought about this two years ago and arrived at the only solution I can actively participate in: write their stories.
    I’ve read quite a bit of Yoruba mythology and it is rich. Now I’m reimagining the stories for a modern audience. Whether that audience wants them or not and if the stories will even be published, remains to be seen.

  7. Great article. I worry about the same too. I wrote a piece early this year about the urbanisation that is sweeping through my home town, Owerri, and destroying everything indigenous in its wake. Now, even at Christmas, you can hardly see masquerades on the streets, or even in the villages. The churches tell us they’re demonic. It’s really sad.

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