Lawyer, historian and scholar Aduke Gomez says its high time Africans stopped evaluating themselves based on foreign standards and values. She made this point while giving the keynote address at the 5th annual LSA Conference, organized virtually by the Lagos Studies Association.
The theme for this year’s conference is: “Post-Colonial African Cities at 60: Continuities and Discontinuities”, and features 120 virtual panels and 600 scholars.
The early settlers in Lagos
Gomez’s lecture, “Shrugging Off the Postcolonial Shackles: A Lagos Story” traces the origin of the first settlers in Lagos and its earliest recorded history.
“Lagos has been continually inhabited for the past 500 years and was originally settled by the Aworis from Ile-Ife,” Gomez said in a pre-recorded speech played during the conference’s opening ceremony on 24th June.
According to oral history, they chose Isale-Eko (Downtown Lagos) as their base and the settlement expanded from there. At a point in time, she added, it served as a military outpost of the Benin Empire.
In situating Lagos as a pre-colonial and post-colonial city-state, Gomez also draws from publicly available archival records, the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (which she describes as ‘grotesquely efficient’) and her own Afro-Brazilian roots (her forebears were among liberated slaves who returned to West Africa from Brazil— and Cuba— in the 1840s).
“People don’t always appreciate how old Lagos is,” she said about the city’s Afro-Brazilian architectural heritage. “It is important to preserve these buildings, so that younger generations of Lagosians know that everything was not built yesterday.”
With such a rich and storied past, Gomez wonders how long more African cities in the same league as Lagos would continue to bear the tag “post-colonial”.
Post-colonial: to be or not
“Lagos is a major culture hub,” she pointed out, “Must we always be seeking validation from the West? And if we are always looking for outward validation, are we then really independent?”
It is important, she added, how Africans choose to evaluate and confront the vestiges of the past as typified by colonialism. But more importantly, Gomez put Africans to task about how they view their own indigenous culture.
How is it tenable, for example, that Africans choose to label their own art as ‘demonic’ and would want to have nothing to do with local masks?
“Why do we use the word ‘vernacular’ to describe our indigenous languages? Why do we think it is okay to use the word ‘native’ to describe our clothes? It is disparaging. We should be using our own local names for them, and not measuring them by Western perspectives.
“Why is pidgin or Nigerian English not considered suitable for serious discuss and only restricted to jokes? Why are we not writing novels in pidgin?”
In rounding off her presentation, she also made the point about historical preservation, by way of museums and archives. “We have to think about where we store our history. History is more than storing them in a building,” she argued. “History has to be made fun and alive. History has to be made available to everybody. And in doing so, we have to encourage people to ask questions.”
Pre- Covid-19, the LSA conference was usually held at the University of Lagos; this year’s virtual edition ends on 26 June.
According to an email notice sent out by the Lagos Studies Association’s president Professor Saheed Aderinto at the West Carolina University, All the 120 panels at the five-day virtual conference has been made free-of-charge to all participants across the world, “because of the financial support of LSA members, especially life members, the British Academy, the Nigeria Office of the French Institute for Research in Africa, the Tamar Golan Africa Center at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and the Lagos State Records and Archives Bureau”.