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THE CASE OF SANGO AND RITUAL

Historically, a 15th century King of  Oyo, Sango was deified as god of thunder and lightning after he did not hang himself in shame or regret arising from the destruction wreaked on his own house and family by his own experiments in lightning conduction. He apparently wished to punish his adversaries by invoking the elements hence he is also now viewed as a god of retributive justice. Hid
contemporary identification with electricity which is marked by Ben Enwonwus sculpture in front of the electricity corporation of Nigeria in Lagos, is actually a very formal obeisance to Western science and the intelligence of the American statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin who, as Jacob Bronowski notes in his Ascent of Man (Macdona Futura Publishers, 1973. p.170)   .proposed that lightning is electricity and in 1752 he proved it how could a man like Franklin prove it?  by hanging a key from a kite in a thunderstorm. Well, like Benjamin Franklin, Sango is linked with electricity in the sense that his fate was similar to that of experimenters in lightning conduction in the history of Western science who ritually (consistently) destroyed their houses, laboratories and surrounds with their experiments while  copying Benjamin Franklins simple experiment before he invented the lightning conductor. Bronowski notes that Franklin turned his experiments into a practical invention .and made it to illuminate the theory of electricity..By arguing that all electricity is one kind and not, as was then thought, two different fluids. Of course, those who link Sango to Benjamin Franklin’s science are aware that one science was of the inter-subjective variety while the other, Sangos, was sheer mysticism. Or better to say the world is still wondering how much of it was science and how much mysticism. Well, it  is as mysticism  that Soyinka views  .Sangos case, ..  the agency of lightning, lightning in turn being the cosmic instrument of a swift, retributive justice.  From the perspective of his own aesthetics, what Sangos story yields would hardly be ritual, however. As he sees it: The narration of a moment in the history of the Oyo, even a tragic conflict involving their first king, might result from it, but not the drama of the gods as a medium of communal recollection and cohesion, not the consolation which comes from participating in the process of bringing to birth a new medium in the cosmic extension of mans physical existence. Clearly, Soyinkas scheme of ranking the gods consigns Sango to a terrain of history that hardly allows the god a mythical station in the matching of Yoruba gods to Greek ones. Hence it is Obatala and Ogun, not Sango, that are matched or juxtaposed with Apollo-Dionysus. It is a fascinating matter, at least as Soyinka presents it:

The special case of Ogun, Soyinkas patron deity, although discussed also within the ambit of Yoruba history and culture creates a different kind of problem from Sangos because the historicity of the god as well as that of Obatala, the god of creation, is less advertised. Part of the problem is that unlike Sango who travels clearly as a Yoruba god with Oyo history weighing him down, Obatala was hardly ever viewed as history. The personage was consigned in all secular discussions to pre-history and the other-worldly. The tendency has been to treat this other-wordly as a Yoruba site or zone. This was so implacably asserted by missionary scholarship that, given the nature of early colonial award of identity according to ethnographic imprimaturs, there was hardly a chance of manifestations of the god being properly acknowledged outside the sites of the original discoveries. Such that although Ogun is shared with so many other ethnic groups and nationalities in ways that contest  its exclusive Yoruba-ness, the discourses of the god have been haggled almost to the complete exclusion of other nationalities which share the same myths as a vibrant part of their ethos. Largely this has been due to two factors. The first is the tendency noted by Isidore Okpewho for every myths deviation from the norm of historicity to attempt to survive by doing two things: it must lay claim to a past that can no longer be investigated as to fact and in order to be successful as hermeneutic device in the culture, it must seek to accomplish the contradictory self-positioning as the authentic definitive of the core of history. The success of the Ogun myth in this regard is that it is often de-terrestialized and consigned to a region of the Yoruba imagination whose relationship to terra firma is a matter of poetic licence. Still, the necessity for the rituals, as rituals do, to reach back to the past that it has to recast calls attention to a terrain that cannot be divorced from history. The result is that, in spite of aporias and motiveless or teleological roughing-up of the myths, it is possible to trace linkages, no matter how vaguely, to precedent events in historical time. It happens to be a historical time whose integrity relies on oral traditions. The introduction of scribal culture adding a new twist creates the second factor. It is the common tendency noted by The historian, Ade Obayemi, to make Nigerian ethnic groups appear as if they are culturally and historically distinct from one another. Linguistic differences (which must have prevented cross-boundary forays by researchers) may have been partly responsible for it but more aggravating has been the work of the anthropologists in their (traditional?) propensity for tribal monographs. Nadels Nupe, Bradburys Edo, Bostons Igala, Meeks Jukun, or his Igbo, Fordes Yako, Harris Mbembe, Lloyds Yoruba,, etc)  By drawing hard lines around the language groups, theyve had the effect of rupturing pre-colonial commonalities between neighbours; with the result that they  ..All appear to have so little in common that they have helped to perpetuate the mentality of tribal compartments.(quoted in Elizabeth Isichei A History of NigeriaLongman London,1983, p 4).  In Nigerias environment of ethnic competition, in which there is so much projecteering to make every tribe look like a nationality and every nationality a race, compartmentalization has tended to lead to insupportable allocation of values for purposes of identity-making and political gerrymandering. The impact on the narratives of the gods in secular space can be imagined within the constraints. It has called for a special effort of mind to distinguish the mythology from the nationalist histories which, conjointly, constitute official credos against the emergence of genuine scholarship, as I hope to show presently.

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