A shrine in my culture refers to a place where sacred objects are kept. It could be just a corner of the room where the Ikenga lies or an elaborate and ornately designed altar to one’s Chi or to one god or goddess or another.
Since it does not have to be any particular way or assume any particular shape, it is evident that its significance lies in the sacred nature of its contents. And so any space, physical or metaphysical dedicated to things one considers sacred is in essence a shrine.
Since much of African culture was passed down through oral tradition, it is easy in today’s world of “documented proof” to distort or even altogether dismiss the vast heritage and wealth of knowledge that Africa has. Earlier, european writers in describing the indigenes of Africa and indeed all other unfamiliar places that they visited, portrayed the natives as mannerless and typically devoid of any particular guiding principles of behaviour, earning them a status slightly elevated above animals at best. Hence they needed to be “taught”, to be “reconstructed” in order to become “proper human beings”– meanwhile, their brute force could be harnessed into something meaningful.
While this conception is typically not the norm nowadays and a greater appreciation for the heritage and cultures of Africans and of all people in the world at large is evident, it is still important to keep sharing our beautiful art, music, cuisine and culture with the world. Not only as a way to provide the much needed “documented proof” of its existence, but also as a way to enrich the world and broaden her perspectives and overall, to make it a better, more beautiful place to live in.
Now, it is important to say, even though it amounts to stating the obvious, that technically, there is no single entity known as African culture- Africa is of course, one large continent. However, by virtue of our proximity one to another, we share a lot of similarities in the values, art, music and generally in the way we do things (culture). I am Igbo from Southern Nigeria and that means that although I might have passing knowledge of other African cultures, for the most part, I can only share with you snippets of my own culture- at least from a point of view of personal experience. I understand that it does not serve as a representation of African culture, but still, it is an important part (as are all the other cultures in this vast and beautiful continent of ours) of the fascinating melting pot that is African culture.
This little space, this shrine, is dedicated to the sacred bits and pieces of knowledge that I have been privileged, in this generation, to have trickle down to me. The burden of conventional living in today’s terms has definitely taken its toll on how much we experience or even know about our cultural heritage. Which is why I am grasping at what precious little I have of these ancient paraphernalia- I will not sweep them aside like some old toys or toss them away like an old and wrinkled rag, no, I will carefully dust them and build a pedestal, an altar, a shrine, so that they can take their rightful place among the sacred relics that they are a part of.
From time to time, I will polish them and present them- one piece at a time, like in an exhibition and hope they will be duly appreciated.