We ain’t gat no History, the title of a Chelsea FC blog I once stumbled on. It’s a swipe at the Football Club’s recent success, aimed at rival supporters who dissed the club for having no history. I feel one can say the same thing about Nigeria and even humanity. Not that we do not have history, we simply do not know it, and what good is owning a thing you don’t know about?
I have been intrigued about history for some months now. Especially black history. And the universe being aware of this, littered my path with books and articles on history. One cannot talk about Black history without talking about slavery and racism. These two prongs in the fork of history have altered the path of humanity over the past one hundred years. It’s intriguing to discover that even before the White man came with his evil house floating on the Atlantic to cart tons of slaves away, slavery have been a thriving business in Africa. So when pointing fingers, Africans should look in the mirror too.
Slavery wouldn’t have achieved the success it did without an extensive network of local slave invaders, middle men and traditional rulers. These local networks made the work easier. To understand this better, Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming though fictional did a thorough job in telling this tale. Yaa weaved an eccentric story across two continents and several generations. She dealt with a complex theme so beautifully that she shattered the core of my heart and climbed to become my number one literary crush. Homecoming is a story of two half-sisters caught in the web of slavery. One shipped off to the West, the other stuck at home. The story is told through the eyes of their descendant across several generations.
One fascinating part about it is that the lineage shipped to the west got to a point where they lost connection of their ancestral home. At this point, we can safely say they ain’t gat no history. This books makes me empathize better with African-Americans, because though it sounds controversial, they are lost. A blade of grass blown by the wind into a strange land. This really is not that depressing because a few steps down history avenue and we will discover the White men who currently call America home where once strangers in that land. A land they actually stole from The Indians — another controversy I am delving into. This trend is similar across all continents. Where people are forced to settle down in a strange land, exterminate the original inhabitants, or cohabit and interbreed until a whole new breed is born. Sapiens— a brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari covered this analytically.
History, favors the narrator. It appeals to whoever tells it. Unheard voices are most often villains. If Hitler were alive today, we would probably have a different perception about him. But since he didn’t oversee the writing of his history, we know him as we know him. This brings me again to 1984, where history is updated regularly to suit the current narrative. George Orwell must have been clairvoyant when he wrote that book because so many of what he wrote then are staring at us. Government spy on its citizens, co-operations control the media narrative, wars are still being fought with constantly changing enemies. One day the war on terror is against Al Qaeda the next it is ISIS and only God knows what it will be years from now. We swear allegiance to political parties who mud sling to get our conscience and when they get into government they change the tune. Leaving us to wonder if we all suffer from collective amnesia. The list goes on and years from now what we read as history might be totally different from what history should be.
For Nigerians, history is even more alien. The Nigerian Civil War is still mentioned in hush tunes and most young Nigerians know little about it. Some people feel teaching about it foster hate and since Nigeria is already a country fueled by tribal allegiance it is better to just bury it. So we have Nigerians who do not know about Pre-colonial Nigeria, the Pre/Post-Independence struggle, the 1st Republic, The various Military coups and even history as recent as the return to democracy in 1999. Isn’t it safe to say then that we ain’t gat no history too?
I believe there is only one thing worse than not knowing your history, it is knowing the wrong history because somewhere along the line the narrative was altered. I am always skeptical when I read stuff and would want to get it from different perspective so I can form my own opinion on things. It’s a common saying that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Likewise if the devil was fortunate enough to have written the bible, God surely would be the villain and angels savages.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. We still owe it to ourselves and the future generations to learn about the past, document the present without prejudice and be careful of the narrative we promote. One do not make progress by heading backwards but surely one measures progress by looking backwards. And with history, we look back to see where we are coming from and to know if we are repeating the same mistake over and over again which ironically is true. A careful study of the collapse of past empires will reveal to us that many of such empires fell due to repeating the same mistakes. Man has been facing the same problems from the beginning of time and knowing better about these problems will guide us in making better decisions.
An African Proverb says “If you do not know where you are going to, you should know where you are coming from.” I believe, humanity ought to take a critical look backwards to take the right step forward for without history, we won’t be here and without us here, there will be no tomorrow which most of us always look forward to, forgetting that we are not even promised tomorrow.