Being a Text of the Speech rendered by Barr. Patrick Umoh, President; Essien Itiaita on the Occasion of the 2016 Annang Festival.
History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
I am humbled to be chosen to share my thoughts on the topic: Annang Cultural Heritage: Re-Inventing the validity Test for Cultural preservation. This topic is genuinely relevant particularly as we gather to celebrate the cultural heritage of Annang ethnic nationality to open up the tourism potentials of our land and boost the economy of our state and country. I appreciate the organizers of this colloquium for planning this session to our delight and for the generations unborn which we represent. Permit me to be expressive at this earliest point to state that this discourse is an intellectual exploration and may not necessarily represent my personal cum religious views on the subject; rather it is offered to keep all of us thinking about our common heritage as a people.
Our discussion is based on the some assumptions:
a) Annang nation posseses a rich cultural heritage with huge potentials that can transform our world;
b) This heritage has been wrongly explored or remains largely untapped and unexplored to generate the resources for the transformation of the land;
c) To sustain or preserve Annang cultural heritage, a validity test must be re-invented to measure up with the demands of modernity;
d) The interest of Annang sons and daughters must be psyched up to engender the preservation of our cultural ideas and values and language.
Our Heritage: Beyond the Hills and PlaneOur
Annang Cultural heritage assumes a multi-disciplinary status spanning across such disciplines as law, Humanities- Religion, Philosophy, History, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Economics, Linguistics, Political Science, Sciences etc.All of these disciplines have been subsumed into law cum theories to sever them from being understood as mere abstracts; particularly as they apply to the Annang cultural milieu.In terms of normative strength, Annang prides itself as the richest in culture; and has over the years evolved surreal but very attractive heritage which the present generation must tirelessly work to preserve, promote and protect from extinction. The unity of Annang is founded first and foremost on history which is rooted in culture; and the affirmation of the cultural identity of Africans is a common concern for all. Our culture constitutes for our people the surest means of overcoming our technological backwardness and the most efficient force of our victorious resistance to all kinds of blackmail ; particularly the imperialist blackmail that African culture is meaningless unless it plays a full part in the political and social liberation struggle, and in the rehabilitation and unification efforts. There is no limit to the cultural development of Annang people. A certain Annang philosopher recounts with nostalgia the Itok ankak dance- a moon light dance named after the Nigerian civil war to reflect the general tempo of the war which is a clear indication that even the civil war did not displace our cultural heritage. This gives me cause to wonder why my generation has thrown caution to the wind by abandoning what holds us together!
Our Heritage Versus the validity Test:
It is perhaps very elementary to state here that customary law defies any general acceptable definition. It is viewed from the point of native law and custom, native customary law etc.
In the case of Oyenwunmi v. Ogunsesan, the supreme court per Obaseki JSC described customary law as
the organic or living law of an indigenous people of Nigeria regulating their lives and transactions. It is organic in that it is not static. It is regulatory in that it controls the lives and transactions of the community subject to it. It is said that custom is the mirror of the culture of the people. I would say that customary law goes further and imports justice to the lives of all those subject to it.Customary law therefore represents the behavioristic patterns of a community or an ethnic group such as ours. It is a reflection of the imperative norm; beyond a causal social observance.
From the intercourse of history, the preservation of our ethnic cultural heritage has been the concern of law; and falls in all force within the domain of customary law. Unfortunately, the imperialist idea subjected the operation of Customary law to the validity test of English law. Over time, even our Nigerian courts have abolished our heritage by subjecting our cultural heritage to validity tests by imposing English standards. It is unnervingly difficult to appreciate the relegation or total surrender of our customs on the heels of English law standards! The burning question has always been whose standards such test should be? Nigerian Courts have theoretically echoed in a plethora of cases that a custom is not necessarily void because it is inconsistent with the English principles, neither need it be weighed against the standards of advanced societies but this in practice has proved difficult for judges whose standards by training ,background and background of the notion of right and wrong are often in conflict with the habit and conscience of the communities over which their judgments serve.
The validity test for our customary heritage according to English law span into three categories;namely:
a)The customary rule must not be regnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience
b)The rule must not be incompatible either directly or indirectly with any law for the time being in force;
c)The rule must not be contrary to public policy.
Annang people have the inalienable right to organize its cultural life in full harmony with its political, economic, social, philosophical and spiritual ideas; and all cultures of the world are equally entitled to respect just as all individuals are equal as regards free access to culture. This is the reflection of the spirit of the cultural charter for Africa which is in sync with the declaration of the principles of International Cultural Co-operation. It is also worthy of note that the African Cultural Charter is dedicated towards the liberation of the African peoples from socio-cultural conditions which impede their development; the rehabilitation, restoration, preservation and promotion of the African cultural heritage; the assertion of the dignity of the African person and the popular foundations of his culture; combating and eliminating all forms of alienation and cultural suppression and oppression everywhere in Africa; the development of all dynamic values in the African Cultural heritage and the rejection of any element which is an impediment to progress.
It bothers me what repugnancy to natural justice, equity and good conscience means and how this can be fairly understood vis-a vis our customary practices! In law, these expressions as summed up above, import technical meanings that disfigure the essence of our heritage. These validity test compass appear too nebulous to guarantee the preservation of our cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, the English law which we practice has largely hampered the development of customary law. It suppresses its full operation by subjecting it to series of test for it to attain the validity status. Besides these series of tests, some extant laws in operation in our country expressly prohibit the operation of cultures which hitherto were part of the unwritten customary law. A clear example of annang cultural practice which offends English law is ukang- which is christend by the criminal code as Trial by ordeal-.The criminal code Act prohibits trial by ordeal; in fact rationalizing it ejusdem generis with witchcraft, juju and criminal charms. It provides:
Any person who is present or takes part in any trial by ordeal which is unlawful or makes, sells or assists or takes part in making or selling or has in his possession for sale or use anything which is intended to be used for the purpose of any trial by ordeal is guilty of misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for a year…
It further provides:
Any person who by his statements or actions represents himself to be a witch or to have powers of a witchcraft or accuses or threatens to accuse any person with being a witch or with having the powers of a witchcraft is liable of a misdemeanor.
It could be remembered that ukang in ancient times in annang traditional history was the surest medium of adjudication. The modern day trial in courts are speculative, subjective and based on English rules which oftentimes do not guarantee justice; after all the technicalities involved in adjudication coupled with the subjective mind of the judge are the means to the ends of justice.
There are equally some kinds of cultural practices in annang which edify the cultural heritage of annang ethnic nationality and which bear the semblance of modernity. Mbiam- which continues to retain its potency as proof of title to customary land; the ekpo masquerade is the equivalent of the conventional police. It operated with signs and symbols among the initiates.-equivalent to the espirit de corp for police officers today. Ekpo cult served as law enforcement agents in traditional annang culture. Our forefathers viewed the ekpo cult as a culture for the maintenance of law and order and for special feasts, and pecuniary benefits. With the advent of Christianity, the ekpo cult gradually lost membership and the few that were left turned it into a cult for destruction of lives and property.Another is the Ajei which serves as traditional injunction to preserve the res which is equivalent to modern day equitable reliefs available in civil proceedings; the Trinitarian ndem annang: Ndem ukot; a god in annang which forbids hurting an in-law; Ndem ajejen-a god in annang which forbids hurting a grand -child; Ndem Nsang -A god in annang which forbids hurting a friend all of which lay foundation for the receptivity of the English law notions of consanguinity, affinity and fiduciary relationships in modern law practice. Annang indigenous religion prescribes elaborate burial rights for elderly people. This is because of the belief in the ancestral enclave. There is equally the Nduk akpe rite ; aspect of annang rite of passage –the Widowood practice. In Annang custom, it symbolizes a temporary divorce between the deceased and the spouse and this is ritually performed. It was a rupture of alliance with the death of of the husband. Since Annang culture is patrichial, only women are expected to be initiated into widowhood. This is the practice where a widow is subjected to mourn the husband. Within the period, she remains in her house without bathing or shaving until after the husband is buried. After the husband’s burial, she shaves her hair which significantly ends the period of mourning. In the annang of today, the practice has become largely modified. This custom which we now view as barbaric has come under the influence of civilization and is becoming milder but it should not be allowed to lose its essential characteristic as a custom; particularly in this age. In ancient times, this was not the practice as the woman was forced on any elder of the family and she consequently reserved the obligation to bear children which will be named for the deceased brother. In contemporary annang the woman elects to marry a member of the family instead of marrying outside. Most times, she names her son (sometimes a younger son) as the new husband without conjugal rights and attendant obligations. Another form of customary practice is the Adia akpa which exemplifies the annang customary rule of intestacy, wherein the property of the deceased is shared among the male children of households of the deceased excluding the female children.
Ijiok practice symbolizes remembrance of a dear one. It flows from a ritual to address specific objectives and purposes. Any default in compliance is fatal to the victim. The similitude of ijiok in English culture is equivalent to the presentation of flowers or wreath at the grave of a dear one. Whatever these practices signify, it is worthy of note that point to be made here is to vehemently condemn the replacement of annang cultural values with English options. We have a collective duty to preserve them as we dutifully owe the future generations these explanations.
Another deified customary practice is ekpo nkagwo! Permit me to pause here and pose a puzzle:What is the face of ekpo nkawo in this age of lesbianism ( and in fact same sex marriage purport of western culture) which is filtering into our culture or common law traditions particularly as a trajectory of human rights freedom?
For benefit of doubt, the god of ekpo nkagwo is held in Annang culture as an extremely jealous god that strikes to death an adulterous wife. It is a self-executing deity; that takes life. It is doubtful if by consciousness, this exteme jealousy covers this trajectory of right expression which is clearly abomidable and unacceptable in Annang tradition.
Annang culture must not be seen as that which is shrouded in superstition; but that which is based on the established norms and standards for the benefit of all. Our young people have thrown caution to the winds. Most Annang parents have laconically arrived and so Annang language must be replaced with English! The Annang culture is primitive and so must be jettisoned. Such ideas are illusory, imprescriptibly nonsense, and should be redressed. The beauty of our culture is in our language. The tone of our language and the voice modulation of a true Annang man comes with emphasis of truth and precision.
we must not abandon the real essence of our culture which is our language. Our “ young daddies and mummies” should not for reason of modernity or class sacrifice our heritage on the altar of ego . Our children should enjoy the fun in Annang language. Annang language is priceless, invaluable and it defines our cultural heritage. As stakeholders; we should be interested in rooting for the inclusion of Annang language in the education curriculum. This is to engender the preservation and sustainability of the language before it fades into extinction. Our sons and daughters in the cities should teach their children their first language. Nature had modeled these children with their first language (Annang) to enable them think first with it for their ideas to be autochthonous.
Annang Mmamma…iya! Essien itiaita mmamade…o iyaaa…iyai!!!Annang heritage endorses unity, Annang ewo ke Afang aselime ke ulim ke atuum.Let us be united in preserving our cultural heritage.It can only get better.