Loosely translated to ‘Akala’ –Lines ‘Akam’– my palm
“In most cultures, palms were very important not just because they were useful for work and living but because just like your head was important as the thinking part of your soul, the lines on your palms could tell your future through a reading done by gifted people so they claim. The lines on our palms look like vines from trees that stretch out around us.” CAO.
The lines on my right palm are different from the left. One hand is more usable and stronger than the other which seems more delicate and manicured but helpful. The fingers on my hand are not equal and with billions of palms and fingers around the world, nature is unique and enforces that you will never find identical lines or sizes of the fingers or palm on any creature, even identical twins. That is the wonder of creation and nature.
Seven weeks ago, I reached the age of eighty-five and I decided to take a medical vacation from writing this column. During this period, I trusted the weekly writing of this column to readers and some writers across nations and I must thank them immensely for keeping the light of the torch shining. Writers like Mr Akin Olukiran and Bunmi Obanawu wrote a few of them from London. Mr Onuorah Aligbe wrote from Atlanta with the title, ‘The Chickens have come home to roost. Dr Dike Okwuelum wrote on Health and Environment from Asaba and Oluebube Okafor wrote ‘Newton Jibunoh, the man in every sector’, and Chiamaka Onyenekwe wrote ‘Barnacling’ from Lagos.
It is a novelty to know that this weekly column that I started five years ago mainly to change the narratives and conversation on some of the very topical issues plaguing Nigeria, Africa and the Earth has continued and is thriving to date, and I am appreciative of the effort that has been put into it.
“If we must become part of the emerging nations of the world, we must first seek out our truth and live it.”
Living as if in a wilderness here in Asaba, Delta state over the past ten years, I have communicated with lots of inhabitants that share the planet earth with us, the ones we see and ignore and the ones that silently observe us through coloured eyes, some in the wilderness and some domesticated. I have come to realize that those that have been equipped with such powers of communication, observance and respect for the earth can begin to address the issues confronting us today and may destroy us if care isn’t taken. Issues like climate change, security, undocumented migration, the issue of air pollution we take for granted and water scarcity and the tiny dots that connect all these phenomena.
I have come to realize that akalakam has bestowed it upon me to share my concern over these issues for I think it is in my destiny to speak without fear for this earth which seems like a pile of rocks and dead streams to people disconnected from nature.
For hundreds of years, thinking outside the box was a crime punishable by death. The divergent, people who had the ability to function outside a flock were viewed as different and sometimes hated because of the ability to ‘differently do things’ or solve simple problems with an outstanding level of genius. These people were hunted, maimed, and killed to various degrees. However, in today’s world, thinking outside the box is lauded and viewed as the presence of valuable genius IQ and that takes me to the concept and existence of the amu osu – witchcraft in Igboland. A practice that for a very long time was feared and revered but recently, this form of intelligence is feared and doubted because of the advent of other religions. Some scholars even believe that there are two positions of people on witchcraft in this century: one, as a result of African and European encounters and the other, a developed perception which is rare but traced to pre-colonial times.
Once in African culture, the ability to be different with powers connected to nature and sometimes creativity was revered. People like herbalists, indigenous physiotherapists, animal communicators, and those rumoured to be able to hold and summon rain and other elements were respected, given positions in the land and believed to be connected to the deities and divinity responsible for the existence of humanity and the cosmos. In some places, they began to be feared because humans fear what they do not understand and most times become jealous of abilities they cannot obtain by force for we lack the patience to learn and understand. As long as fear existed and grew with the abundance of foreign influence, violence prevailed.
Our culture before colonialism wasn’t perfect as no culture is. We could identify various aspects of our culture that were unfair, for example, the killing of twins at birth by some parts of the south-east like the Igbo, Efik, Bassa Komo ethnic group etc. due to strong belief that twins were bad omens, harbingers of evil and possessed supernatural powers, unlike the Yorubas who revered them exactly because of the belief in their special powers and believed divine status. There was also the Osu caste system in Igboland that enabled the segregation of people who were deemed either slaves from other communities during wars, cursed by divinity and therefore not worthy of equal rights in the community and opportunity to mingle or marry with nwadiala– ‘free people’. If that wasn’t enough, then came colonialism which gradually and systematically convinced us that black and melanated people from Africa were made to serve the western nations. Claiming that the features we had, our strength and gait were because we were animals and scum of the earth.
Forced into slavery, they were made to farm their plantations in the worst conditions possible and develop their infrastructure because they believed that Africans existed for the sole reason of service to another race of people. Therefore, my akalaka has brought me to a point where I question the creation/creator that created the earth with all the best components before we, the humans. What is our purpose and do our lives truly reflect this purpose?
When we study the folds and creases on our palms, a lot of people see them as just that. They assume that they were the exact line they were born with, they forget that we acquire lines as we develop and scars which fade out or form deep creases and darken to replicate the lines on our palms. The same thing goes for our purpose in life and how we acquire skills and habits that we do not realize that we have. We also acquire fear and doubt and sometimes, we acquire confidence along the way. I came to this world alone with the lines on my palm and maybe laid lines that became paths that I had to follow and later ones that I decided to follow because it was me and sometimes pleased the creator. My passion for art and the environment were huge paths that I followed and still follow to date. I wonder about my twin boys who are now in their forties and as I watch them grow, I have never stopped thinking about what would happen if they were born about two hundred years ago. How many more of such beliefs do we have with us today? We no longer kill twins, why? What changed? What made us believe that white people were superior to black people because some of us have become leaders and influential to white people?
In the part of the country where I come from, I have decided to extend an invitation to all known witches and wizards to a workshop so that some deliberation will begin over the substance of the powers they seem to exercise and I hope to be able to channel the outcome of the workshop into a useful innovation known as Artificial Intelligence. This is so because not too long ago, a traditional ruler requested that all trees in a town be cut down claiming that was the meeting place of the witches and wizards in the community. I think it is a sense of importance that humans exercise; the feeling that we are so special and that there is someone or something out to get us or sabotage our existence. When I saw the trees being felled, it felt like a knife had been thrust through my heart and the efforts I had put into educating people about desertification through tree planting in many parts of the country had been a sham.
I wondered why nature had to suffer because of fear, a learned fear that has continued and will continue for a long time. For over five decades, I and a team of people have continued to plant trees in and around Nigeria. I started FADE Africa for projects like the MAKODA- Kano State tree planting project and re-greening, a Garden of 95 trees in Asaba (now over 20,000 trees), Planting of trees in Ogun State and more.
If we continue cutting trees that belong to nature because we are afraid of a group of people who may not even know we exist or don’t care, what message do we send to our creator and the earth? In the past, we had beliefs that protected nature from harm through worship and reverence. Some of those archaic beliefs that are still with us are useful because they were meant to bring about checks and balances and the division of power. In my workshop, therefore, with the witches and wizards, those belief systems would be properly documented for the sake of posterity.