This is the first post in a series I call “Everyday People,” a preface of sorts. Observing humanity as we go about doing what we, as individuals, do that collectively become acts of humanity (the drops becoming the ocean) I witness discreet islands of poetry in the discrete components of humanity. People become animate figures of speech: a child dances with abandon despite surrounding squalor; a person falls in love with someone who breaks another’s heart; women/men become gods and forces of nature. Despite the evident poetry in all people, some lead to the burgeoning of self-introspection which, if you find the time to properly order and catalogue your thoughts, become essays and they hold as much beauty. It is only fitting this preface be my formal introduction.
Who am I then? I am the eloquence of thought refined to fluid purity/poetry. I am the twilight that presages dark, and light. I am the water you paddle and the wind in your sail. I am the horizon, the journey, and the destination. I am the muddy shallows and the fathomless deep. I am a tempest in a bottle capped with a broken sea, leaking errantly. I am decadent, nonchalant, care free, with an aversion for responsibility. I am a believer in God and fate yet a person of science and technology. I am the good, the bad and the ugly. I am an escapist with a perversion for beautiful things and fantasy. I am many things, and more. I am, simply put, mundane. My friends called me Beast, and some still do, but would I have been any different if they called me Daffodil instead?
Are we bodies with souls or are we souls with bodies? I cannot say exactly, I’ll leave that to mystics, religious demagogues and scholars. We undeniably have a body and cannot deny the presence of a force behind life. Another undeniable fact is the solidity of the human brain (mind?), be you a nihilist or a religious fanatic. In a poem by Emily Dickinson, she writes that “The Brain is wider than the sky … The Brain is deeper than the sea … The Brain is just the weight of God.” The full extent of the cognitive functions of the brain cannot truly be defined. There are IQ tests that try to judge human intelligence, although they are largely successful, there is more to the brain than just intelligence. Ethos, morality, compassion, communication, et cetera. Besides, I think there are different forms of genius. Lionel Messi is a genius with the ball, so is Mozart a genius of symphony and Tesla a marvel with numbers. Take each from their respective fields and put in the other’s, I’d like to think they would fail horribly. As much as there is a genetic pathway to the development of our neurons, they are still shaped, to an extent, by experience.
Back to names and naming, both of which are just an elaborate part of communication and never has it been as eloquent as modern-day allows, I reckon. Humans are social beings and as such desire companionship, there therefore will be a concurrent desire to communicate. Good communication leads to the sharing of technology, emotions and history. And just as communication evolved with time, so have our names, possibly from long sentences like “The Man who lives on the Hill and has forty-three sheep” (maybe even longer) to names like “Crouching Tiger” and, now, we have arrived at names like “Bell”. Names. Do they become the person or do we become the name? The pertinent question is are our names simple representation of who we are or is there a deeper symbolic meaning to names and naming? Are men born great, do they become great or have greatness thrust upon them?
In the face of an egalitarian society and globalism, much of the Nigerian culture is slowly, but surely, being eroded by the frontier of westernisation. Only time will tell as to the consequential effects of present day situations and how they will eventually shape our society. However uncertain the future may be, the past is almost set in stone. “Almost” because there are different perspectives from which reality is experienced. Bicycles were once seen as “Iron Horses.” Some names, in the Yoruba culture, gives indications as to the circumstances surrounding a birth (I cannot say much about other Nigerian cultures), but your name does not really define you. What defines you will be a complex interplay of genetics (genes and their expression, your ancestry) and the environment where such genes will be expressed and influenced. How others define you will be dependent solely on their perception of you. So how was it my friends came to call me Beast? What does that say about me?
Your name, however, can define the environment you are in, albeit, slightly. It creates first impressions, creates an ambience, agreeableness, et cetera. “Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day,” says Bertrand Russell. One of those convictions has to be your name, the power of it. It reminds you of who you are, your identity, and, in some cases, family lineage/ancestry. The Yoruba’s have epitomised this with the Oríkì. In literal terms, it means to praise the head. An Oríkì is an encomium, a eulogy. It is a form of poetry that appraises a person and is tied to the person’s name, clan and community. It was/is as unique as tribal marks, and just as vital. A sign of proper Yoruba heritage, your Oríkì is purported to have spiritual significance, to be able to soothe and calm, to rouse and excite. Men and women wooed and seduced each other by singing their partner’s Oríkì. Not truly a Yoruba child, but the idea of an Oríkì excites me too. What then is my Oríkì?
In a relatively superhuman show of will and discipline (relative because this probably would have been easy for someone else), I would not divert and digress to begin talking about local cultural decay in the cosmopolitan waves of globalisation (western civilisation if you’re more of a conspiracy theorist) and egalitarianism. The Nigerian cultural decay is evident, whether it be good or bad remains to be seen. So on this note, I conclude with a quote from the Bible and the Qur’an. Religions with the same roots yet a majority of the adherents from both faiths hold a mutual disregard for the other.
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field,
and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam
to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam
called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”
“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air,
and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not
found an help meet for him.”
– Gen 2:19-20
“And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He showed
them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these,
if you are truthful.”
They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except
what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You
who is the Knowing, the Wise.”
He said, “O Adam, inform them of their names.”
And when he had informed them of their names, He said,
“Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens
and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed.”
– Quran 2:31-33
A name is one thing, associated with that one name is a whole host of experiences. Do not name me, but for your sake, call me Beast, B, Killa Impekkable, the first of my name, fourth of my brood, son, brother, friend, fiend. And I am an everyday person. At the end of this, I wonder how much of me remain outside the boundaries I have drawn.