Wednesday, 11 December 2013

At Port Harcourt Book Festival, Sustaining Cultural Heritage In Focus

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Anote Ajeluorou

A writer and his vision for any society will always resonate, especially if his ideas stand the test of time. ONE of the major panels of the festival was the one that dwelt on ‘Literature and the Sustainability of Cultural Heritage’. It threw up a lively conversation among the panelist, which gave Nollywood actor and Director of Rivers State Carnival, known as CARNIRIV, Sam Dede ample time to enunciate on some of the thorny issues plaguing Africa’s cultural standing. He paid tribute to late Chinua Achebe’s dismal outlook on what African culture would be in the character of Okonkwo.
  It ws moderated by Farafina COO and author, Dr. Eghosa Imasuen, with Dede, Ayodele Ayeni as panelists. First, Dede declared, “We have all killed the Okonkwo Spirit!”
  Okonkwo is the cultural ideologue and protagonist in Chinua Achebe’s iconic novel, Things Fall Apart, who refused to accept any foreign culture and domination and dies defending his ancestral heritage from any kind of contamination.
 For Dede, it is this Okonkwo Spirit that Africans now lack; it’s the ruin of their rich cultural heritage for which efforts must be made to resuscitate for Africa’s survival and identity in globalizing world order that is manifestly Western or Eurocentric.
  He said no one should blame China for taking its culture to heart, just as “We are rejecting our own African names for foreign ones. Now, we have all kinds of stupid names what without knowing what they mean. We need to be aggressive about what we have. We need to aggressively push what is ours – that’s what globalization is all about. Why are we not thinking? The Chinese are moving to take over the world while we are allowing our cultures to die.
  “Perhaps, that is why Achebe allowed Okonkwo to die. Achebe foresaw the death of our cultures, the unmasking of our masquerades. Okonkwo died in frustration for us allowing our culture to die. Perhaps, Achebe should have allowed Okonkwo to live. Like us, Okonkwo’s friend, Obierika watched his friend die by standing aside and allowed things to fall apart.
  “So, we need to be aggressive in promoting our culture. The world is waiting to see Africa. Early European historians had nothing good to write about Africa. The Transatlantic Slave Trade wasn’t a trade but a raid. Now, what do you see? There’s evangelical tyranny against our culture. We must begin to think and revive that Okonkwo Spirit in us!”
  On Nollywood, Dede also said the only way to reposition it would be through enlightened collaboration with experts so as to revamp content of films. He noted, “The problem we face in Nollywood is about those who started the business of Nollywood, although I give them credit for starting it. Nollywood wasn’t something I wanted to do because of (poor) content. Those of us from the theatre didn’t want to do anything with Nollywood, but we realized it was telling African story, our own story. So, it was an unconscious mistake made from the beginning when experts failed to move in and change it by chasing away the rodents and lizards. Now, it’s hard to change it as it is because of the lack of enlightened investors. People there put in a little but take away so much.
  “The way to go is enlightened collaborations with experts and Nollywood. Let’s make our culture for global audience. But we don’t know what to package because all sorts of people are doing it, which affects the content of films. Most people doing films don’t have background in film. So, we do not know what to package for foreign audience.
  “We need to create a new breed of directors and producers to change Nollywood through enlightenment. We need continued process of engagement with Nollywood the way it is currently constituted”.
  Like most independent cultural producers, Dede finds so-called cultural managers in the various ministries vastly illiterate about what they administer and so hard to work with. He stated thus, “Another problem is that the culture sector is 80 per cent in the hands of civil servants. What you see is that the culture sector is completely ignored. The civil servants work in the creative sector but are not creative themselves.
  “National Arts Festival (NAFEST), organised yearly by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Orientation, is just a repetition each year. We need to invigorate the culture sector by involving investors; it’s a goldmine but we need to package it properly. We need to encourage business people to invest. The same with film. We got investor for Mission to Nowhere, which was blown up to 35mm in Los Angeles, U.S. It stood side by side with Hollywood films.
  “We need to have more roundtable sessions to sensitise people about our culture. We need to look past hydrocarbon years and see the goldmine in culture. We want to globalize the culture sector, especially CARNIRIV”.
  The director of CARNIRIV disclosed that his organization has made a five-year development plan to build Africa’s Film Capital in Rivers State. The stated objective being to produce intelligent movies that would get world attention from Nigeria. He said The Lost Number, which was produced in Port Harcourt was making waves outside Nigeria, adding, “Nollywood is not only what we see on AfricaMagic; it can be made better than that!”

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