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…
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?