Sunday, 1 February 2009

Talk with Dr Celestine Chidundu on Mbari

Celestine used to be the Director of the Ministry of Culture at the Arts Council in Owerri and was an ex-student of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in the 70's.

He defined “Culture” as a continuum like a running stream which carried anything with it pebbles, mosses etc. and some things get left behind. The used to kill children with teeth in the wrong places and twins which were a sign of the gods distaste, but the culture is constantly changing. Contact with Europeans gave them water, and better fertility, a sense of value and power. Now the community only focuses on and respects what money can buy. They have moved towards an emphasis on things that bring status such as a house and flashy cars, so nobody values Mbari anymore.

American researchers today did not give them ‘dashes (or money) for information, so the informants no longer value the research as it does not bring them in any money and therefore do not gain anything personally. So he says they do not rate researchers. In this respect they do not have any reason to keep the Mbari alive. 5 (£25), 6 (£30), or 10,000 naira (£50) was expected for this information! [This is not strictly true as l contacted Herbert Cole personally about this and for his part he certainly reimbursed them for their favours as this is research etiquette, although we cannot speak for everyone].

Not all figures or symbols are devoted to the gods in the Mbari – a lot are purely about everyday life. The government has destroyed the Mbari tradition and actually bulldozed one down, as it is considered pagan.

If someone has done an abomination in the eyes of the god, the corpse has to be brought back to the Mbari (not buried), other wise the god will kill another person in the family. He saw this recently. The power of this in the psychy is so strong the other members of the family may die because of their belief in the power of the god eg. Juju.

Some Mbari are not attached to a god but can be dedicated to a beautiful Igbo woman, or a young girl, who is a virgin.

The morality behind Mbari is the reason it still exists not necessarily the gods. The traditional morals of the people are the things that matter! We must not destroy what we African have. White people said Mbari was pagan and did not understand the traditional ways. White people saw it the way they wanted to and therefore misinterpreted it.

[This might also have been in part due to the Igbo language, where the spelling of a word although being spelt in one way could be pronounced in three different ways. Therefore a word could have three entirely different meanings – hence the missionaries often mis-represented the meanings of things, but also interpreted things through their own eyes in keeping with their expectations, religious or cultural indoctrination of the time, or just ill informed!]

He got involved in the Ahjoku lectures when he came back from SOAS in 1977, after studying there in 1976. This initiative wanted to resurrect the Igbo identity and culture. Adjoku means New Yam Festival, which celebrates a good harvest. He equates it with an intellectual harvest, as the people gain from this ‘fruit of knowledge’, in the past a fertility rite. People understood the traditional ways even if they did not go to school, which Mbari gave them. Red earth for building the Mbari is used just because it is available.

Since he has left the Ministry of Culture he is concentrating on setting up a dispensary and charity work with the homeless, so any donations or assistance would be gratefully received. His contact details are: Dr Celestine Chibundu, c/o Mrs Augustina Chibunda, Federal Medical Centre, PO Box 1010, Owerri, Imo State. T: 35406019 / 08035406019 and his own 08032761628 email

Celestine has been to Rome recently and said that he noticed his shoes were so clean that he could have sold them when he got back!! Unlike here where they get worn out by the dust. He liked the European way of life with more order and less corruption, etc. but he felt that Nigeria was where he belonged and wants to do a lot of charity work for the poor – hence his request for the dispensary and bore hole, etc.

Tomorrow we are supposed to meet an artist, whose name is Gogo, involved with Mbari. He lives near where Celestine and would perhaps complete the picture for the research (having interviewed the high priests and a diviner but not any artists yet connected with it).

No comments: