The Decline Of A People’s Cultures

by Femi Olawole

ONCE UPON A time in the western part of Nigeria, there were witch doctors. Their major responsibilities included the provision of guidance and counseling to the people in the area of religion, medicine, politics and commerce. It was they that took care of the sick, the barren and the distressed. For spiritual guidance and deliverance, people looked up only to them. And they must be consulted before a King could ascend a throne. The rectitude of an entire community revolved around them.

The witch doctors abhorred lies, deceit and unfairness in all ramifications. It was common then to see them clad in white apparel, apparently to display their individual state of transparent honesty. They were always afraid of the wrath of the gods who, they believed, had placed such enormous responsibilities on their mortal shoulders. And the witch doctors were never rich. It was their belief that material wealth would corrupt their spiritual attainment.

This was the state of affairs until the arrival of the white missionaries from England. Through divinations and the benefits of hindsight, it was quite clear to the witch doctors that, in spite of their religious façade, these so-called missionaries had the fundamental mission to prepare the mental ground toward the achievement of the political and economic objectives of their home government and financiers in England.

The witch doctors advised, cautioned and, indeed cried out in alarm against the white strangers who, they warned, were emissaries of potential colonial masters. But the Kings of their respective domains would not listen, more so when many of them had already been bribed with specially-crafted crowns, damask and other exotic items by the white missionaries.

Incidentally, while in the area now known as Nigeria, one of the most difficult assignments faced by these white missionaries was in Yoruba land, in the western part of the country. It was here that they met an overwhelming civilization. Unlike many of the other parts of Africa where they had seen people go stark naked, the Yoruba people were seen clothed in an assortment of garments and donning fanciful foot wears.

The people had a thriving textile industry. They had a monetary system under which cowry served as an instrument of exchange, a measure and store of value. The people knew Arithmetic and had a well-structured grammatical expression of their language in place. And their expertise in poetry, drama and other forms of arts were already legendary.

The Yoruba were spread over cities, towns and villages and under kingdoms where sophisticated social, economic and political dispensations held sway. It was indeed very shocking for the white missionaries to discover that the then Oyo Kingdom, for instance, was absolutely similar to their own United Kingdom in Europe.

This was a monarchical system of government headed by the Alaafin of Oyo just as the English had their Queen. And there was an equivalent to the English House of Lords that the Yoruba called The Oyomesi. Their proceedings and indeed, modus operandi were quite similar in content and practice with the English House of Lords. The missionaries were aghast. They had come to impress these Africans with an imported culture and orientation. But they had, only themselves, been impressed by what they met on the ground.

The greatest challenge faced by these white strangers however came from the witch doctors. Their enormous power and influence over the people absolutely compounded the initial obstacles encountered by the missionaries in the accomplishment of their religious mission and political agenda.

Consequently, it took all the enticements, blackmail and divide-and-rule tactics they could muster to defeat these powerful witch doctors. The evil designs and wars of attrition against the witch doctors took quite a while to achieve success. But they finally did. And to consolidate their gains, the missionaries embarked upon a very ruthless campaign of calumny against the Yoruba culture and traditions, as practiced by the people.

Once again, the witch doctors warned their Kings against the activities of these white Missionaries. “Their sermonizing is a mere hypocritical ruse.” The witch doctors warned. Incidentally, the Kings actually listened to their spiritual advisers. But the corruptive activities of the white people, which involved the regular presentation of assorted gifts to the Kings, were found to be too attractive to ignore. The royal fathers, as the Kings were otherwise known, therefore chose to satisfy their personal interests. And this proved to be their undoing.

Soon, the contradictions began to manifest. The white missionaries who declared every aspect of the golden rules and moral regulations as contained in the Yoruba culture as superstitious, soon imposed their own brand of superstitions. The new superstitions started with “Thou must not…”

The white missionaries who condemned as idolatry, the practice whereby animals, foods and money were offered as sacrifice, now turned around to request for the same items. They however branded their own requests under different titles such as offerings, tithes and harvest thanksgivings.

The missionaries who condemned the custodians of the Yoruba culture as evil cults soon proceeded to invite the potentially great among the new Yoruba converts to join the Lodges of Freemasonry, Odd Fellows, Sheperdson and others that were imported from England. Yoruba avatars such as Obatala, Obaluaye, Sango and the rest of them were branded as evil principalities while their English counterparts were declared saints. Medicinal herbs were described as evil concoctions. Yet, the same herbs were subsequently shipped to England and other European nations to be converted into tablets and tonic.

The witch doctors could see through all these deceits but they were helpless before their self- centered Kings and the brainwashed people. Suddenly, the Yoruba who had been converted into Christianity, especially those of them with English education, began to jettison their African names to embrace meaningless names from England and the Middle East. References were no longer made to Yoruba historical heritage but to the Galatians, Ephesus and some other lost races and cultures in Europe and the Middle East…

This is an excerpt from the literary novel, The Price of a Reckless Past by Femi Olawole. Although the primary theme of the book is sexuality education, it’s also an analysis of relationships, an insight into the institution of marriage and a grand excursion into the cultures, the traditions and the orientations of an African society. For more info on the book, please visit: or write the author at

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