Straight Talk With Olanike: Dangers Of Neglecting History; The Yoruba Abiku Episode


One phase of my life that cannot be easily forgotten is my secondary school life. Simply because the days were not only momentous but shaped me into the confident woman that I have become. I have the reminiscence of my romance with literature especially prose and poetry. I enjoyed writing and reading to the point of addiction. Then poetry well-crafted lines with interwoven depth and often obtuse-appearing meanings increased my interest in this art form. I remember reading and memorizing Wole Soyinka’s poem “Abiku” and never understanding the weight until my mum told us real life stories of abikus in our neighbourhood. “Abiku” loosely translates in Yoruba as “born to die” or “born to return yonder”.

An “abiku” child was then the dread of every woman. With medical advances, we now know that abikus are mostly children with genetic defects or blood disorders who died in childhood. No more, no less! 

An abiku child haunts the parents and it was generally believed that the dead corpse had to be discarded in certain ways to avoid the agonising haunts. More often than not, the corpse is damaged with machete cuts or burnt beyond recognition. Then and only then will the abiku stop its ‘mischievous pranks’. 

So it is with history. It is recurrent, just like an abiku, until it is rightly put in its place. The History of the people shows the pitfalls and victories of the fore fathers. It informs the younger generations of the mistakes that must be avoided to move things forward. It also equips them with the best kept secrets. Just like the Coca-cola and Guinness families have passed the secret ingredients for the drinks’ recipes only to their offsprings. No one in the world has successfully replicated the same drinks or success in the drink industry. 

So talking of history, we have seen generation after generation repeat the mistakes of their fathers. We have seen our brothers being sold into slavery again and again. Not just the traumatic trans-Atlantic slavery of centuries ago but economic and psychological slaveries of the 21st century. Simply because we have refused to be students of history.

It shocked me that my nineteen year old cousin, who was born and raised in Nigeria, know absolutely nothing of the gory civil war that happened in Nigeria between 6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970. I mean she had never heard of Biafra, the two million people killed, the ethnic cold wars that ensued and the tribal tension we experienced in our dear nation. It is therefore no wonder that the younger generation is quick to demand for blood shed via war or violence. The “leaders of tomorrow”, a euphemism often used to deny the youths access to power, do not know how we got into the mess we are in. How then will they proffer the appropriate solutions to our ever-evolving socio-economic challenges? 

History is taught sparsely in schools and where taught, often through the prism of ethnic lenses. Often, the historical accounts are at best comical and at worst, fictional. But we need our history irrespective. We need to know the truth about our past, why we are not developing like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries which are the evolving world economies. We need to know why democracies of the first and second republics failed and how we can avoid repeats. We need to know how and why our economic dependence has switched from the groundnut pyramids, cocoa, oil palm and coal to solely crude oil.

We need our children to know that being black is not synonymous to being cursed but rather, we were once world pace-setters and can once again, attain that status. We need to teach them that the ancient Egyptian empire does not only describe the present-day Arab-fluxed Egypt but the land of the black race. And that the empire extended its rule as far as East, West Africa and Britain. They only need to open the accurate books to discover.

Our children need to know that science and mathematics started from the African world when we built pyramids and giant edifices. 

If we refuse to learn our history, incorporate them into the school curricula, the danger of reading only European history, American history and that of Genghis Khan of the ancient Mongolian empire will become real. Ours then become a byword and a curse to consider in our history Iiesour future. The earlier we realised this, the better it will be for us.

Olanike Adebayo is a scientist and educationalist by training. She serves on the Management Board of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, UK. She also runs her private educational consultancy.

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