Nigeria used to be a green haven with many natural landmarks and wildlife reserves: a place blessed with many waterfalls, dense rainforest, savanna and rare primate habitats. Fortunately, we haven’t lost it all despite abysmal attempts at preserving it and curbing damage to our environment. Many of the trees around us, some ripe with fruits that we pluck without needing to pay for, were not planted by us or planted by those before us. These trees and grasses came to be through the migration of animals, through biodiversity and past human activities. Nature has always catered for the future. The ones that came before planned for the ones to come. Here, we see decades of preserving and conserving nature. I once mentioned in a previous article titled, ‘The Songs from the birds and the Dance from the trees,’ that I love going to my village mostly because of the trees and other vegetation. My favourite part of waking up early is listening to the birds chirping away amongst themselves in a language I may not understand but I certainly enjoy. I often joke that when trees move, they must be dancing to the songs being sung by the birds and carried by the wind. It is music to my ears and a sight to behold.
As a young boy who grew up in the village, I remember moments when I would walk from my house to the plantation giddy with excitement with a skip to my walk as I knew that I might have the pleasure of enjoying some of the produce of the plantation during harvest season. The opposite was the case during the planting season. My father’s plantation was about two and a half square miles. I know it was very old as it has been in my family for many generations but the exact age of the plantation is a difficult one to ascertain mainly. I doubt even my father knew which of his parents or grandparents started it. Many of the cash crops on the farm are hundreds of years old.
This year, the planting season came later than usual. After some months later, it is about to come to an end. The planting season started immediately after the first rains which gave way to the various harvests that we are now experiencing. With the harvests come the traditional festivals which have also begun and are being celebrated all over the nation and beyond. The most notable for me is the yam festival which is a big part of my yearly celebrations. I believe that the Americans must have copied that from us with their thanksgiving celebration. The national holiday is now viewed as a period to eat with friends and family and share things they are grateful for but what many don’t know is that thanksgiving which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in America originated as a harvest festival.
Just like our harvest festivals, it is a period of reflection and renewal with nature; and the wonders of creation. It is about the seed that has given us so much joy and food over a short period. Following tradition, regardless of yield or harvest – big or small; good and not so good; you must pray to the almighty so that the coming year’s yield will be better and be thankful that this year’s yield wasn’t worse than it is. At this time of the year, people look better and healthier during the festive period. We have Kings and Queens in my part of the world that are not able to dance in public but can dance during the harvest festive period.
I, for instance, will be dancing with my king; the Obi of Issele-Uku during the climax of our Issele-Uku Cultural Festival on the 14th of September. Per our culture, this period will enable us commune with the gods and sacred deities of our kingdom dovetailing into a season of purity where a fast will be observed and members of the community will abstain from any excesses that can render their celebration unacceptable. If you want to see me dance, and see how well I dance, you’re invited. Still, it’s a pity that I don’t expect some people will be willing to attend. We have come to see all these celebrations as a fetish. They are not; they are simply a traditional peace week. It is a period to enable people commune with nature with a clean body and soul to bring about some renewal. In days gone by, people will go into total abstention for a whole lunar month. Today, it has been modified to a four market day in accordance to the tradition.
Across Nigeria, different tribes and cultures had (some still do) their different harvest festivals, people travelled from all over the work to attend. In addition to the yam festival celebration happening in my home town, I will also be joining a similar celebration set to take place in Dallas, Texas in October. Some of my brothers and sisters in the diaspora haven’t given up on the tradition and I am humbled by this. If we still had a connection with nature by celebration her offerings, we would feel more in tune with her needs and be far more willing to protect her. Losing our tradition is costing us our environment. We don’t value the ‘evil forests’ again so we are quick to cut it down; we don’t value participating in the harvest festivals so we don’t have mini-farms in our backyards; we don’t value the rivers so we drain it and fill it with sand.
To conclude, I go back to the story of my father’s plantation. I recently returned there and walked around its massive area to see that the mangoes, udara (also known as agbalumo or cherry), ube (also known as pear) and more, no longer bore any fruits. I asked the farmers managing the plantation why this was so and they all gave varied responses Loss of nutrient in the soil, lack of biodiversity or is it just their time?
The state of my father’s plantation is a clear sign to me that we are quickly losing nature’s support. The fruit trees that we had to manually plant still existed but the ones that have been fruiting nonstop in the plantation for hundreds of years are no more. We still have the birds that congregate early in the morning and at different times during the day to sing their songs but the bush animals have more or less gone hiding due to their threatened existence. Thinking back, my plantation life and experiences have stayed with me and enabled me to discover my love for open spaces like the forest and the desert. It has also enabled me to spot how many areas are gradually changing from the rich natural farmlands that they used to be, to depleted forests.
These forests, wetlands and grasslands have been sacrificed at the altar of development. An article by environmental journalist, Josh Clark describes it in an interesting manner. He said that humans have come a long way in gaining our independence from the whims of Mother Nature. We’ve learned how to build shelters and clothe ourselves. Through agriculture and irrigation, we can control our own food supply. We’ve built schools, hospitals, computers, automobiles, aeroplanes and space shuttles. All these, however, we have done for a price. The price is that a bunch of plants, animals and simple organisms have died out. But so what?
Here’s the problem with the loss of biodiversity: The Earth functions like an incredibly complex machine, and there don’t appear to be any unnecessary parts. Each species — from the lowliest microbe to humans — plays a part in keeping the planet running smoothly. In this sense, each part is related. If a lot of those parts suddenly vanish, then the machine that is Earth can’t function properly. Like the common saying, a word is enough for the wise. I have said many words; may the wise hear.