Change the narrative, Keep the story

People from Thalikuta, they would sell you out when it matters the most.” These words rang in my head for days, and then I discarded It.

My life has been an exciting story, my education especially; it starts with Nursery education at a State government owned school, Port Harcourt Primary school, to be precise. It was the one closest to home and an excellent school at the time. I can still recollect my experiences there; it was time for primary education my parents would have a change of mind and transfer myself and my siblings to another school, the first of a series of the federal government owned schools I’ll pass through in my life.

This experience would form the building blocks of what would become my view of people from various ethnicities that constitute Nigeria. Amongst other things, I’m grateful for the perspective interacting with people from a majority of these tribes, and even a few from other countries would give me.

Uncle Johnbull, about 6.5 ft tall, fair in complexion with sparkling white teeth, always in his white etibo. He was one of the only uncles who didn’t make me feel bad for not speaking my dialect fluently, although in his storytelling he’ll switch many times to our dialect, which I found profound at the time. How would you not love Uncle Johnbull? He was one whose advice I sought at the time; I consider him a custodian of history although it has nothing to do with his course of study or profession, but a keen attention to detail, a vast knowledge of folklore that was a result of hours spent at the feet of elders. He considers himself the favourite grandchild of his grandparents and child of his parents, and if anything, his being a custodian of their accounts of events that transpired in their time attests to that fact.

Some of these stories would end with me and a few others my children will hear, of course, after I’ve revised the script and changed the narrative. I’ve come to realise that folklore forges in no small measure how people in a family, Clan, tribe, and ultimately a nation see life.

Amongst his many stories were a real-time narration of tribal wars, pre-colonial interactions of our tribe with traders that will now become colonial masters from Great Britain and with other kingdoms and those that now constitute Nigeria. How there were ordinances that stipulated that my kinsmen don’t inter-marry with people from another tribe and the events that led to such pronouncements. Betrayals, alliances, bad blood, truces kept and others that were broken; in a nutshell, reasons why I should inherit the enemies of my forefathers or at the very least be careful around them.

Life, as it usually does, would change my view of things, as my experiences with people from the various ethnic nationalities the folklore spoke about were a far cry from what I had heard about their forefather’s interactions with my forefathers. I realised that their forebears behaved in the way my ancestors narrated because they didn’t know any better.

I’ve watched their children behave in ways totally unlike them, exposure to education, civilisation, religion, and interaction with a broader diversity of individuals than their forebears could ever have met.

One instance stands out among all of them, in one of our tete-a-tetes, i told Uncle Johnbull about a new friend, Theophilus while I was in the university, and he asked about this my new friend’s tribe, I told him Theophilus (real name withheld) was from Thalikuta (actual ethnicity withheld).

After about thirty minutes of silence, I was left wondering if I said something I shouldn’t have said.It won’t be long Uncle Johnbull would break the silence with a story, it was an account of the tribal war between our tribe and my friend’s. This account starts with a union of one of the founding fathers with a woman of Thalikuta extraction. He went on to recount how she would betray her inlaws and give intel to her people that the chiefs had gone to offer sacrifices to their gods in another location. This leads to an attack on the settlement with the wives and children, which was somewhat averted by a Chief who didn’t join the other chiefs on their voyage because of an infirmity and though outnumbered was able to scare them away.

The chiefs noticed a few signs that made them know there was trouble and they needed to return home, this account climaxes in the almost total annihilation of Thalikuta people as a retribution to that betrayal before the intervention of a deity. In the aftermath of that conquest, A pronouncement went forth that no marriage between my kinsmen and another from Thalikuta would end well, after which they poured libation.

At the end of his narration of the events that followed that conquest, he will end with these words, “Be careful, People from Thalikuta, they would sell you out when it matters the most.”These words rang in my head for days; if there was anything my education had done to me, it was that it taught me to look behind the story and see the narrator’s intentions.

To immerse myself in the plot, putting myself in the shoes of both the protagonist and the antagonist, in no particular order, and then as a neutral viewer, bringing myself entirely out of the story and judge it’s credibility. In this case it was to imagine myself narrating this story to Theophilus, and seeing the expression on his face knowing that his kinsmen were moments away from complete obliteration at the hands of my forefathers.

I imagined how he would then see me as the descendant of a heartless people who would go to just about any extent to exert supremacy.”Be careful, People from Thalikuta, they would sell you out when it matters the most”. Uncle Johnbull’s closing statement would keep lingering in my mind until I decided to discard It; I chose never to judge a man by his father’s misdeeds. With all due respect to my ancestors and all that stood and fought and bequeath to me and my generation, I promise them this one thing I will not inherit their enemies, I’ve trained myself and keep retraining and reminding myself to assume the best of people until they prove me wrong, and even afterwards.

It’s boring to assume the worst of people even if you end up being right about it, no ethnicity has a monopoly on good people. Of the people who have shown time and time again that they can give everything for me, only a small minority are my kin, the people I call best friends today are people whose forefathers my forefathers considered inferior, or even worse slaves or enemies. If anything, I want to be remembered for allowing people to correct the wrong impression people’s forebears gave my ancestors, bringing down walls and building new bridges Instead of extending ancient walls.

This same story can be told describing how bad resulting to wars as a means of settling difference is. If we’ll make more progress than we have as a nation, as a continent, it’s essential we keep the story as folk lore is an integral part of culture, but by all means change the narrative.

50 thoughts on “Change the narrative, Keep the story

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