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CORAL BEADS AND TRUCK PUSHERS

PHOTO: THE OBI OF ONITSHA, HIS ROYAL MAJESTY, IGWE ALFRED NNAEMEKA ACHEBE.
PHOTO: THE OBI OF ONITSHA, HIS ROYAL MAJESTY, IGWE ALFRED NNAEMEKA ACHEBE.


Recently I engaged in a debate in the feedback section of an online Nigerian newspaper with a person blogging under the nom de guerre "Truck Pusher". Our exchange grew out of a food column article where I mistakenly believed that in an answer to a reference to Calabar, that he was advocating the eating of dog meat; this was not the case.

In my response, I questioned the historical validity of this established "trend" in South Eastern Nigeria. Given that prior to the introduction of firearms, dogs were indispensible as hunting animals, only a fool would eat his/her dog. For example, if you spear a feral pig, it might run for miles into the bush and only a dog will provide the poorly adapted human species a clue as to where the pig might have run, or even the tree it might be hiding behind as it prepared its own charge at its pursuers.

To buttress my argument centered on forgotten and "created" cultural mores and artifacts, I pointed to the practice in the Niger Delta of wearing bowlers and other western style hats as part of national dress as a Victorian era element introduced into our culture. Had I been quicker with thought than with the keystrokes I would have chosen a personal experience to buttress my thoughts.

Some years ago I returned to Nigeria to explore some business opportunities. One of these was tied to my personal experience in Benin City and centered on the busts and reliefs created from the "lost wax" bronze casting technique. One ubiquitous element of these cast historical pieces has been the representation of coral beads in the culture of the people of Benin. So rife was this that it lead me – mistakenly – to believe that coral beads were to be found locally, in other words a "river coral"!

I had an aunt who had been "active" in the coral business, and thus I asked her for leads to purchase coral "at local source". She went into her room and re-appeared with some business cards; each card had either Napoli or Venice as the city of abode of the dealer! Coral thus, while ingrained in our culture isn’t intrinsically ours; indeed now I’m grateful for the fake coral that is now available as the depletion of coral beds are a major concern for global sea ecosystems.

Coral thus – like many of our "mores" – is, and always has been an imported product! Either coming to our shores at the Edo fort called Eko in the 1400’s, or earlier through the Trans Saharan trade routes.

If Nigerians could – over the past 40 years – adopt Northern dress as their national dress, then we should have no problem celebrating the national dress of other regions of the country; pretty soon we’ll see Hausas, Fulanis, Yorubas and others wearing bowlers and Niger Deltan customary dress, the way – over time - we’ve worn theirs. Personally I’m a fan of bowlers and waistcoats and now I have an excuse to procure my first bowler!

 

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