By Godwin Okondo
DOCUMENTING Africa’s cultural life is a huge task that is challenged by a lack of funds for private individuals and sheer apathy by government officials who do not understand their briefs and so allow Africa’s cultural heritage to waste away in stores they neither maintain nor open to the public for tourism benefits. This has made the task of preserving Africa’s cultural legacy and history through art a hard task.
However, this concern formed the core discussion on Saturday, June 11, 2022 when the Editor-in-Chief of ASIRI magazine, Mr. Oludamola Adebowale and culture activist and first Haitian Ambassador to Anglophone West-Africa, Mr. Onyeka Nwelue, guests of ‘Kulture Train’ on Spirit of Nigeria Radio to share their experiences in their various fields and what they aspire to accomplish.
Speaking on ASIRI magazine and his plans for the year, Adebowale, who was recently named Associate Fellow of Royal Historical Society, said, “We’ve been running this magazine for nine years, and we’ve done projects back to back. Prof. Wole Soyinka is still alive, and so we want to do something to remember his legacy called Timeless Mempries Project, as well as keeping his name out there for the coming generation. This year, we plan on doing something outside the box. This year’s event will be coming in the form of exhibition, and there will be illustration art books. We are also bringing artists and literary icons whom he has worked with.
“At ASIRI magazine, we plan on using technology as a means to preserve history, just like what we did with the 1851 ASIRI Chess Game which tells the story of the invasion of Lagos. We also plan to do short films and documentaries and also curate stories through augmented reality.
“A lot of people would say I’ve done more of Benin history than Lagos. The thing is that some tribes are not as tolerant as the Yoruba when it comes to their culture. They would think you want to propagate something. I’m also fixated on Northern history. We ran a project sometime ago to preserve the northern culture, and we had some students from Zaria who worked with us on this project.”
Adebowale also spoke about how his magazine project started, disclosing that a radio station devoted to history and folklore is underway to further project his ideas about historical preservation.
“The magazine started as a comic strip on Nigeria history. Over the years, we started sharing archival materials and we plan to do more. We are launching an online radio next year, which will revolve around Nigerian history and folklore. We plan to do a lot of work with the website also. We are also planning to start a collaboration with the British Museum and share their archives. There is also going to be a series of public exhibition in public parks.”
The Editor, Travu magazine, Mr. Pelu Awofeso weighed in on Adebowale’s work, appreciating it for its sheer importance, lamenting, however, that paucity of funding could be a challenge.
“I really appreciate what Damola is trying to do, and it’s a pity that there’s no funding for this project,” Awofeso said. “A country that is so much respected globally in terms of culture has no cultural funding. I’ve seen artworks in (Nigerian) museums and other places which are damaged because the people who are supposed to be caring for these works are not doing their job, and the people who are supposed to be funding these works are investing in something else instead of investing in the artists. We need to keep encouraging ourselves and hope the right people will come and take our country seriously, and improve our arts and cultural sector.
“The National Commission for Arts and Culture (NCAC) used to be custodians of these artworks, but they have no knowledge of what they are supposed to do. Go to the museums, you see the works locked up and you have to seek approval before you can get into the museum. If people come there to ask questions, they don’t know the answers to give. On the balconies of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization’s (CBAAC) building on Broad Street, Lagos Island, Lagos, you see the mighty artworks and they are not supposed to be there (outside), because they get damaged by the weather. There must be something that should be done to take care of these works.”
Nwelue spoke on his appointment as Ambassador to Anglophone West-Africa, saying he will use his new office to forge understanding between Nigeria and Haiti.
Nwelue said, “Working with Haitians is just like working with my own people; they are exactly like us. I know it will be difficult to understand the semantics of diplomacy, but it will all be a matter of time. Culture is the only way to connect Haiti and Africa. I spoke with the High Commissioner, and I told him that there are loads of Christians in Nigeria, and he was shocked, because most Haitians are into voodooism.
“Most narratives told to the Haitians come from the French, and it’s my job to dilute it to my own understanding and change the narrative. Today, you can’t go to Haiti from Africa without going through France or the United States. They know that West Africans are hardworking, and if Nigerians find a way to Haiti, the country’s economy will boom, and all the troubles the Haitians face will end, if they develop friendship with the continent of Africa.
“Things there look the same as in Africa, the people look the same. While I was there, nobody knew I was an African. Culturally, Haiti is the strongest nation on earth. If they were strong enough to fight the French, then they are capable of taking over the world. I want to use culture as a tool to connect our peoples together.”