by Abdsalam Ajetunmobi
Submitted on 2011/12/28 at 1:28 pm
The analysis of the story of Emotan, the mother saint of Benin City is something worth reflecting upon.
True it is that heroine Emotan was a dedicated local market woman whose occult skills were put to good use by Oba Ewuare in the 15th century. Perhaps I should add this: Once upon a time during the colonial era in 1950, a commotion was caused in Benin by the pulling down of the tree sacred to Emotan, either by a tornado, by lightning, or as others said, by a French trader, during a demonstration with a hand-winch. The report had it that, for the atonement of this pulling down, 200 cows, 200 goats, 200 dogs, 200 cocks and hens, 200 rams, and 200 kola nuts, were needed, with 200 human beings, or their equivalent in cash. Of course, the items required for expiation in this instance were more than the execution of the Son of God as atonement for the sins of the world. Anyhow, in 1951, the Director of the British Council in Lagos, John Danford, assisted in re-modelling a 6 foot statue of Emotan at his studio in England to replace the one that was blown down.
But Madam made a profound statement “about African art in general … that they are closely tied to our past, our history, our religion and our social life.” Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, wrote in The Times (Nov 26, 2011), that the “God of Israel is the God of all humanity but the religion of Israel is not the religion of all humanity.” For, while “God later makes a covenant with Abraham … it is not a universal one. Neither Abraham nor his descendants are commanded to convert the world. On the contrary, they are given the task of being different, countercultural.”
Given Lord Sacks exposition, why should an ethnic group embrace a foreign religion to the detriment of its own culture and heritage? This is the basic question which has arisen here. Religion is a system of ideas governed by cultural rules specific to a particular ethnic group. May the spirit of heroine Emotan, and others like her such as Obatala, Sango, Oya and Ogun raise, at least, the authentic consciousness of the African peoples and especially of Nigerians that, in the words of Lord Sacks, “God creates cultural diversity just as he created biodiversity. There is only one God but there may be more than one path to his presence.”
Dr. Ajetunmobi lectures in the U.K. and contributes to public discourses, including here.