Acclaimed Canadian writer Margaret Laurence’s only work of Literary Criticism is about early Nigerian Literature in English. In Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952 -1966, originally published in 1968, she studies such internationally famous Nigerian writers as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. She also studies the work of two less widely known writers of Ijaw heritage, Gabriel Okara and John Pepper Clark. In her chapter on the work of John Pepper Clark she explains the Ijaw concept of the soul.
I am half Ijaw and I find it is very difficult to find information about Ijaw religious traditions beyond descriptions of deities in the pantheon. Unlike with the Yoruba, an ethnic group I am also descended from, there has not been many Ijaw writers who have written academic level studies of Ijaw religious philosophy. If you are aware of any works of this nature I would greatly appreciate information about them.
What follows in an excerpt from Long Drums and Cannons in which Laurence describes the Ijaw concepts of teme and biomgbo:
Ijaw View of the Personality
According to traditional Ijaw belief, before a person is born, a part of his soul decides his destiny. There is also a village destiny. The ancestors and the gods continue to play a parental role, and the living, as in most tribal societies, remain in the role of children. This, obviously, creates irritations for the adults in a community, but it also provides emotional security, for a man is never utterly alone. An individual’s fate is influenced not only by his conscious efforts but also by his lineage and by his teme, that part of his spirit which decided his fate before he was born and which will continue to live after his death. But-and here is the really essential difference between the deeply tribal outlook of the Ijaw and the deeply tribal outlook of the classical Greeks-according to the Ijaw, a man’s destiny can be changed. With the proper rituals, his pre-natal wishes can be altered. Unlike Oedipus, or Antigone, or Agamemnon, his destiny is not inevitable.
The personality, in the Ijaw view, is layered, just as it is in the Freudian view. The biomgbo or personal soul, containing the individual’s desires and feelings, corresponds to the conscious mind. The teme or steersman of the soul is comparable to the unconscious, whose aims are unknown to the conscious mind and often in diametrical opposition to it. If a man’s fate is to be changed, however, it can be done only with the proper observance of rituals, not by the individual acting alone.
I have often wondered how I would fit into Ijaw religious traditions as a person of mixed ethnic heritage born far away from my father’s ancestral village. If your destiny is also connected with the destiny of your village then what if you are born far away fromt that village and never visit it?
Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952-1966. Edited by Nora Foster Stovel. University of Alberta Press. 2001 Review available online
African Interests: White Liberalism and Resistance in Margaret Laurence’s “Pure Diamond Man” by John C. Eustace (essay available online)
Western mainstream medias’ perceptions of the Somali, as well as with many African communities, are often that they are mindless, crazy and violent, as seen in the film Black Hawk Down. The context for the violence is often ignored.
An important part of the story of the Somali pirates has only begun to be discussed recently outside of Somali circles. As shown in the short CBC documentary by Joe Schlessinger, the Somali pirates began as something of a makeshift coastguard after the collapse of the Somali government. Somali waters, rich in tuna and the source of the livelihood of many Somali, needed to be protected from illegal fisherman from various countries.
Another, and even more sinister encroachment on Somali territory came to light after the tsunami-the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters. Canisters of toxic waste washed up on shore during the tsunami, and the people became aware that their waters were a dumping ground for toxic waste, including nuclear waste, from Western and Asian countries. So the Somali pirates, a coalition of Somali fisherman and Somali street militias, originated in the rather legitimate cause of defending Somali waters from illegal fishing and the illegal dumping of toxic waste.
But, as so often happens, a noble cause became corrupted by greed. And in a poor developing country with little political stability, there aren’t many options for young men to make a living. So capturing boats and holding their crews for ransom became a Somali boom industry.
President of the Canadian Somali Congress, Ahmed Hussen, points out that although the pirates are making an estimated $100,000,000 year, Somalia is losing over $300,000,000 a year from illegal fishing. And who can predict the long-term consequences of the dumping of toxic waste? Hussen suggests that the best way to deal with the problem of Somali pirates is to reenforce the local Somali authorities and give hope to the unemployed Somali youth and militiamen that there can be other ways to make a living than piracy.
For more information see:
Somali-Canadian hip hop artist and activist K’naan on Somali pirates:
K’naan music video called Somalia, about the Somali pirates
K’naan interview on the BBC
Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates by K’naan
Joe Schlessinger’s CBC documentary on Illegal fishing, dumping of toxic waste and piracy off the coast of Somalia ran on the National on Monday April 6, 2009
Farid Omar writes about how British lawyers, negotiators, and security teams are profiting off of Somali piracy in a blog post on February 19 2009 It includes an interesting story about how the Somali pirates unknowingly hijacked a Ukrainian ship loaded with military weapons they were planning to bring to South Sudan via Kenya.