When the news broke last week that the renowned writer, Professor Chinua Achebe, died, a lot of us had occasion to revisit his works; we read and reread them. We talked about his writings and what they meant to us. A lot of us owe it to him that we write in our own voices.
Achebe is not described as the father of modern African literature for nothing. His classic work, Things Fall Apart, redeemed us as a people for generations to come. Where racists claim our various languages are meaningless mumbo jumbo and we needed to give them up for the civilizing power of English language, Achebe showed that our African languages are embedded with deep philosophy. And Achebe did things with words! He wrote fine prose. He wrote simply yet profoundly. He showed Africans were neither simple-minded bumbling buffoons nor barbarians.
For all his speak back, Achebe did not write a hagiography about a perfect African past. Our ancestors had their own shortcomings and one of them was the killing of twins. They were superstitious about the birth of twins. They had no way of knowing why it happened. They did not live in the times we do; they did not know what we now know.
They would never have known like we did when asteroids brushed the earth neither would they have conceived that man would land on the moon one day. They worked within the limits of their knowledge. They made up superstitions to sustain the social mechanics of their times. They did not know how sickle cell endangers babies and so they created stories of Abikus. They were not barbarians; they simply did not know certain things. What they knew, they knew. What they didn’t know are pardonable.
Fast forward to 2013. We live in a so-called Information Age that we can self-righteously hold up our noses against people who lived in the 16th Century Africa. We tend to take it for granted that everybody is informed and that we are a largely sane society. We all believe certain acts of barbarism should never happen. That is why we condemn Boko Haram in the strongest of words and some of us believe the sect members should never be granted amnesty; we speak against police brutality and that the case of Aluu Four in the University of Port Harcourt could happen at all shook the society to its roots. Those were barbaric acts that were easily identifiable and easy to rail against. Some acts are sublime but no less, insidious.
Recently, The Tribune reported that a man with both male and female organs was almost lynched in Sapele, Delta State. Why? Because the mob that was going to do so did not understand that someone’s anatomy could be unusual. And so they tried to destroy this unnamed man whose existence confounded the limits of their very limited intelligence. That is what the face of new barbarianism looks like: What you don’t understand, you destroy. Don’t bother asking questions, just grab a hammer and smash it! That solves the problem!
In ancient times, people would have at least consulted the oracle but in 21st Century, folk would rather luxuriate in their own empty-headedness; ignorance is their strength, ignorance is bliss, ignorance is a badge of honour that should be worn proudly. These young men are simply unenlightened yet I would not readily dismiss them or their act. They might one day end up as legislators and governors. After all, in Nigeria, as in Charly Boy Show, anything can happen!
The image published along with the report showed spectators surrounding this man, holding up their phones, and excitedly taking pictures of this curious sight; a case of stupid people using smart phones. It did not occur to them that the same phones could educate them on the “strangeness” of this man if they gave it a chance to shine a light through their hearts of darkness. With one click on the Internet, they would find that a man with female organs is neither unusual nor supernatural. It is a biological occurrence and not peculiar to any society. In fact, if only the mob knew that the man’s problem could have happened to any one of them. Scientists tell us that male and female embryos start out the same –with a female template- but along the line, the male child is “made” by testosterone and Y chromosome (which explains why men have nipples, even though a redundant body part) and anything could have gone wrong in the process.
Some of the mob reportedly fiddled with his organs; you wonder who the freak actually is here. While the abnormality of this man in Sapele is obvious, some other peoples’ are hidden within their bodies. Such people are not even aware of any hormonal imbalance in their anatomy.
Semenya Caster is an example of gender ambiguity. People like her and the Sapele man are examples that debunk the saying that everything God/nature made is perfect. Well, either nature sometimes gets it wrong, or the joke is on us. Mother Nature might be challenging us to open our minds to rethink what we call “normal.”
But while the mob’s act against this defenceless man is highly reprehensible, what do we make of the reporter who told the story? He starts the report by asking us, “Have you ever seen someone with both male and female organs?” I cannot stop wondering why it is important that we “see” before we either understand or empathise.
It is patronising of our intelligence to assume that we need to “see” before we know. This is not merely a case of good or bad reporting, this is pure voyeurism. The reporter assumes he can stimulate our (sexual) interest by inviting us to be fellow voyeurs. We should join him to “see” this man as if he is a laboratory rat. Between this reporter and the people of Sapele, we “see” a high display of barbarianism that erodes human dignity.
I assume this urgency to help us “see” and materialise his existence explains why Tribune didn’t even mask the man’s face. He must be crucified for what he is, what nature made of him and for where he was born. The reporter invites us to witness his crucifixion in their paper. They should have nailed him straight to the cross. It is such a shame, almost unspeakable.
First Published by Abimbola Adelakun/The Punch