Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Years, New Yearnings: Discourse, Time, and the National Voyage to a Becoming

by

Obododimma Oha

"What can be said in New Year rhymes
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year."
        --- Ella Wilcox.

I stayed awake in the night of 31 December, 2011, as I have been doing all these years, to witness the transition from a retiring year to another taking over. I wanted to witness that split moment of transition that made the difference between an old year and a new one. I didn't notice any difference; I didn't even realize that any change had taken place. I looked and listened; only the sound of fireworks and hooting of triumphant entry into a new year filled the air. Always the same noise of triumph, with varying embellishments. In our Igbo village, I recall, such witnessing of a transition to another year had some interesting folk ritual performances to go with it: the villagers usually plucked leaves and marched round the village in the final hour of the dying year, chanting.

Afo gbara aka laa oo!
Afo gbara aka laa oo!
Afo gbara aka laa oo!

Roughly translated as:

May the year go without a mishap!
May the year go without a mishap!
May the year go without a mishap!

In its literal translation, the chant actually says: "May this year go empty-handed!" This end-of-year ritual, called ichu afo, considered an important deployment of the powers of human speech, indeed communal affirmation, means expelling whatever evil that is waiting to strike anybody in the community. The forces of evil, it is traditionally believed, always stand by waiting at that strategic moment like a year ending, to poison the joy of the community with terrible grief. But a communal speech, representing the power of the many endorsed by Chukwu-abia-amuma, can foil such a spiritual conspiracy. So, no one needed to be reminded to join in the communal ritual and "chasing away" the old year, asking the old year to go empty-handed. 

So, caught in the unfortunate demands of my profession in the urban Nigerian environment, I was unable to travel home to my village to join the larger family in driving away the old year. That also came with the idle reflection of wanting to know what made the difference between an old year and a new one. An alienated soul is wont to seek such deep things, against its own happiness. And so it seemed to me that the idea of a "new year" is a mere fiction which human beings find convenient in trying to reassure themselves that a future is real, and that they are moving into it. 

A new year supposedly calls for newness, for a renewal, at least. Coming on the heels of the birth of Jesus the Christ, whom Christians consider the Son of God and savior of the world, the New Year celebration becomes a moment for the renewal of vows, or the making of resolutions. For Christians, it involves renewing the vow of living the life of the savior and depending on the grace of God to experience greater blessings in the next eleven months and after. Christians and non-Christians make resolutions, which are supposed to be serious statements about what they must do to show that the year has some newness and difference. Whether the resolutions are kept or not is another matter, but the fact remains that many would like to be part of that ritual of moving into a future that is different from its past. 

New years still have the old yearnings. When I look at the resolutions and prayers made on Facebook by my friends, I find that these old yearnings about personal dreams of greatness, of experiencing better days as a citizen in a troubled country and global environment, of overcoming the drawbacks experienced in the year just gone.

Here are some interesting randomly-selected samples of New Year wishes and messages posted on Facebook on January 1, 2012 and January 2, 2012:

(1) "We've stepped into a brighter light.
    Happy new year, friends."
          (Olisakwe Ukamaka Evelyn, posted 12.55am on Jan. 1, 2012)
(2) "01-01-12 watching my goodies coming."
         (Ayobami Omonijo)
(3) "I wish all Nigerians a Happy New Year. Now let's be reminded that this is a new year and in 2011 Nigeria suffered because we politicized religion. In 2012 this trend must change and we all must make a conscious and proactive effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past year."
        (Pat Utomi, Jan. 2, 2012)
(4) "My New Year Solutions, Not Resolutions
    This Year I want to be a monkey
    Jumping from tree to tree
    Next year I can be a donkey
    ...
    Why can't I be a bubble?
    Blow away and disappear
    Instead of getting into trouble
    Making resolutions every year."
        (Orok Duke, Jan. 1, 2012; 3.24AM)
(5) "This is the 12th year of the New Millennia (sic), let's write our 
    future with Big Ideas, enquire into all problems that afflict us. 
    Happy New Year, folks, friends and compatriots."
         (Abdul Mahmud, Jan. 1, 2012; 1.13AM)
(6) "Finally, 2012. Finally, a year with new clothes. Happy new Year 
    friends!"
         (Chitzi Ogbumgbada, Jan. 1, 2012; 1.04AM)
(7) "YES!
     Time to knot my shoe lace. 
      2012 ... another desert to be fertilized.
      As the journey begins!"
       (N'Time Joseph, Jan. 1, 2012; 12.55AM)
(8) "Thank you GOD for today -- jan 1st, 2012. 2012 the year of the 
     Dominion and Manifestation of the WORD. The WORD. The WORD. 
     The WORD. Happy New Year. This year is for you, by the power 
     of the WORD."
        (David Ishaya Osu, Jan. 1, 2012; 12.43AM)
(9) "Welcome to the Year of the Dragon. This also shall be the Year 
    of Sacrifice, and if it pleases the gods, a man who was born in the
    Year of the Dragon shall return through the Path of Thunder, and 
    a People shall either rise like humans, or perish on their knees like 
    animals."
         (Olu Oguibe, Jan. 2, 2012; 7.38AM)
(10) "I wish all a New Year filled with personal growth and 
     professional accomplishment. And may the year be marked by 
     peace and an end to senseless violence."
        (Okey Ndibe, Jan. 1, 2012; 8.54AM)
(11) "... he said to me 'drop ur map for this year (2011) cos tmrw u 
     shall take up a new identity, and a new map for the new year. 
     dust ur coat and tighten ur boot ... by this time tmrw, u shall be
     on the cool blue sea drifting on ur feet, without a boat, without
     an oar, without a lifejacket nor a float tyre ... cos the angel on
     the other side of d sea wud ve locked them in his barn.... but ... u 
     shud fear no tempest, for thou at (sic) with the wind and a fair
     weather to comfort u ... a thousand shall drown by ur side and 
     ten thousand by your right hand but shall not come near u, only 
     with ur mind eyes shall u perceive it "...but he quickly added,    
     'make sure ur eyes re closed thru d journey and only see with ur 
     senses ... if you opened (sic) ur eyes, d fishes ll call ur name, d 
     crocodiles ll give u gifts, d seagulls ll sing u a melodious hymn, 
     and d sea ll wink at u ... then u ll go dancing after them ... then 
     ... u ll begin again from d very start and the tempest ll rock ur 
     nerves, and d wind ll not be ur friend and all ll conspire and give 
     u a fear jacket ... but with eyes closed, u shall get to d other 
     side of the sea and only God ll be mighty in ur inside.
           (Alake Titilope, Jan. 2, 2012.)
(12) "May 2012 be better than 2011 for those who believe!"
           (Hope Eghagha, Jan. 1, 2012; 8.49AM)

Light-Dark images feature in the communication of the New Year wishes, indicating that indeed the main issue is about the picture of the new year that we create or carry in our heads, pictures that reveal whether we have fears or hopes, whether we have chosen an optimistic orientation or a pessimistic one. It is particularly interesting that the new year, which represents a future, is  configured as a sea of uncertainties in one of the Status posts. The sea has always featured as an archetypal imagery of fear in writings by poets, sometimes along with night, suggesting in a rather amplified way the magnitude of trouble for which deliverance is sought. This desired deliverance is imagined as Dawn or Light. Thus we find in Olisakwe Ukamaka Evelyn's post a resonance of that deliverance/hope imagery: stepping "into a brighter light." It is also noteworthy that her expression of deliverance is cast in a comparative degree -- "brighter" -- which suggests that we are already out of the zone of trouble; we are already in the "light" and not in the Dark.

This representation is in conflict with the posts that suggest that the "sea" of the new year on which we must travel is not the zone of light, or that it is left to us to create that future through the choices we make. The events following the removal of government subsidy on the local prices of petroleum products in Nigeria indeed indicate that Nigerians are not yet out of the Dark or tempestuous Sea  configuration. They have rather just entered a trying part of their voyage through that sea and will have to make the kind of critical choices suggested in Alake Titilope's post. Alake, in her status post, presents a very interesting configuration of the new year as a dark sea populated by dangerous creatures, such that traveling through it requires a special protection from the Almighty. In her interesting narrative, she reports that on the very night of transition to a new year (a passover night), an angel of the Lord appeared to her with a leather box containing gifts, asking her to drop her map of the passing year and take the map of the coming year. And how is that new map read? The map, as seen from the angel's narrative, says her journey through the new year is not going to be smooth, if that was what she was expecting, but that it would be a journey through a rough and dangerous sea of crocodiles. 

Alake maintains a highly engaging prophetic posture, her predictions apparently fulfilled in the violent experiences which occurred in Nigeria few days later. One, in fact, finds a disturbing relationship between the imagery of "the sea of crocodiles" in Alake's prophetic post and "the river of crocodiles," which is the English translation of the name, "Kaduna." Well, Alake might have been referring to what Nigerians would pass through generally in their journey to healthy governance and democracy, but, as in the Prophecies of Michel Nostradamus, this closeness in naming is highly suggestive, especially considering the violence and killings in Kaduna State recently, the Boko Haram terror, and the alleged conspiracies, which have set many Nigerians wondering if many people in government in Northern Nigeria are not secretly connected with the terrorist attacks. In fact, Alake uses the word "conspire" in describing the roles of certain mythologized figures in that imagined journey: "... the crocodiles ll give you gifts, d seagulls ll sing u a melodious hymn, and the sea ll wink at u ... then u ll go dancing after them ... then ... u ll begin again from the very start and the tempest ll rock ur nerves, and the wind ll not be ur friend and all ll conspire and give u a fear jacket...." Isn't terrorism about conspiracy and particularly the giving of fear (jacket)? Terrorism spreads fear, and, from Alake's prophecy (which applies to individuals just as it applies to government), this fear is meant to derail, to prevent one from focusing on one's goal and getting it accomplished. 

It is interesting that she deploys a mythical technique, effectively appropriating patterns of agency associated with derailment of mission, as one finds in Homer's Odyssey (or in Jason and the Argonauts) as well as in African folk narratives. Her "seagulls" might as well have been Homer's sirens using a melodious song to seduce the person on the mission. Could Nigerians also not be called "Naijanauts" making a journey on a dangerous sea and facing many forms of deception, distraction and treachery?

This deployment of myth in prophesying about the New Year for the nation is particularly evident in Olu Oguibe's Facebook post. The author of A Gathering Fear, Oguibe has consistently demonstrated a very radical posture in his narration of the Nigerian nation-state. Perhaps the title of that collection of poems of his utters its own prophecy which has started unfolding in Nigeria. His Facebook New Year post cited in (9) above, in a Nostradamus style, warns that: "a man who was born in the Year of the Dragon shall return through the Path of Thunder." 2012, he informs his readers, is "the Year of the Dragon." So, who could this man born in the Year of the Dragon be? 

The year 2012, according to Chinese astrology, is the Year of the Dragon. For the Chinese, the Dragon is a special animal and a symbol of power and uprightness. The following information available on the Sichuan-China.com is very helpful in this regard:


"... in Chinese astrology the dragon person born under this Chinese Zodiac sign tends to be a "doer" – they do things and achieve power by getting things done.

A dragon can breathe out fire so the person born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon can be a hothead. Watch out if you make them angry!

However, the dragon has a soft underbelly and so in Chinese astrology the dragon person born in this Chinese Zodiac year has a "soft spot" to them. They may get angry at someone who annoys them but they also show great compassion to people in need.

A dragon has a long tongue which is often seen.

So in Chinese astrology the dragon person born in this Chinese Zodiac year has a sharp tongue – they will say things that can be quite sarcastic and biting.

The person born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon can be quite a confronting person but if you can reach their "soft heart" they are worthwhile allies.

2012 is the Chinese year of the dragon. So what does 2012 hold for a person born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon?

Such people double their efforts in whatever they do - work, education and other projects. Their natural talent and abilities should stand out with great results.

However, watch out for that temper! Keep it in check and do not spoil your good work."


So, Oguibe's prophecy is about the fact that the new year is a historical turning point for a nation, a year in which citizens will either "rise like humans, or perish like animals." The Dragon avatar returns through the "Path of Thunder" (obviously a symbol of violence, derived from the work of Peter Abrahams with the same title and later the title of Christopher Okigbo's 1968 collection of poems, later included in Labyrinths), indeed suggestive of an opportunity for redemption (which could be lost, if there is no determination and conviction on the part of the citizenry).

Indeed, the New Year celebration calls for the making of resolutions, which involves setting goals and working towards them. This is obviously in line with the idea of the part the individual or society has to play in relation to the prophecies discussed earlier. Orok Duke in his poetic status post (see sample text (4) above) deconstructs "resolutions" to register his preference for "solutions." His erasure of "re" in "resolutions" shows that desire to remake things: it points to the idea of being fed up with the tendency to plan and not execute, to make promises without making efforts to fulfill them. Thus, Orok Duke's poem, sounding like a limerick, playfully interrogates this orientation which critics of the government in Nigeria have been reiterating. As it applies to individuals in the way they have to perceive the meaning of the New year, so does it apply to governments. 

Wishing that good things come one's way (or happen to one's society) is just a prayer, which needs to be matched with action. In contemporary Nigerian life, it has become common for individuals, aided by Pentecostal narratives, to imagine a new year in various utopian forms. There are such slogans as "My Year of Restoration," "My Year of Glory," "My Year of Deliverance," or even "This Year Is My Year." The slogans are produced as stickers that are placed on automobiles and walls of buildings or sometimes printed on T-shirts. These days, they also appear as wallpaper on mobile phone screens and computer monitors, perhaps as a way of making the message so pervasive that it invades and occupies the viewer's mind. The origin is the advocacy by Pentecostal pastors that church members engage in positive thinking and positive talking, as a way of spiritually invoking good or positive things to happen in their lives. The slogans also advertise their users as being spiritually triumphant. 

Positive thinking and positive talking may have their own good psychological advantages, but may end up being misleading if they are seen in themselves as the keys to miracles. Unless people get up and work to change their lives, no miracle-talking will transform them and their societies into civilized and progressive entities. That, by implications, requires that we do not repeat the mistakes we made in the past, mistakes that included making resolutions and not working towards solutions (as noted by Orok Duke). Quite rightly, Pat Utomi in his own New Year status post advises Nigerians to make "a conscious and proactive effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past year."

Nigerian New Year yearning on Facebook becomes very significant in the light of the crisis over the removal of subsidy on petroleum products consumed in Nigeria and the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. The discourse generated by the Facebook status posts once more brings up the idea of a virtual Nigerian public desiring, questioning, correcting, and guiding the troubled Nigerian nation and how the online forum becomes a veritable tool for mass enlightenment and consciousness-raising. 

The New Year invites individuals as well as a society to some newness, but this newness cannot happen without a reference to the past. Indeed, it may be futile to expect the past to be locked away, with a Time boundary, a rift that must not be tampered with. One must expect the presence of the past, for the present and its achievements are never complete without a reference to the past, as T.S. Eliot says in his essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent." If like Capt. Jack Harkness and other characters in "Torchwood," a BBC series, we try to prevent the unlocking of the rift and the consequent invasion of aliens (including the dead), how far can we really go? The Nigerian dead, as a matter of fact, have been discursively brought back to life in some of the Facebook posts focusing on terrorism and the possible break-up of the country. One has read several posts by Imo Eshiet, for instance, bringing back Alhaji Ahmadu Bello back to our realm/universe to say again what he had said many years ago about the Nigerian entity. So, the Nigerian past cannot be wished away easily, even in spite of the priestly advocacy about positive talking. Bringing back the past may be, in fact, very important in the project of rethinking and remaking Nigeria. 



 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Multilingual Praise-worship as Pentecostal Triumph over Babel

By

Obododimma Oha

A Christian group meeting in our neighbourhood appears particularly sensitive to its multilingual and multicultural membership this afternoon, as these “children” of God sing every one of their songs in two or more languages at the same time – that is, assuming their songs are meant for the ears of members. But if the songs are indirectly addressed to Almighty God (as I suppose they are, pragmatically speaking), then they either assume God needs to be confronted with the confusion he caused at Babel or needs to be entertained with the beauty of that confusion. The myth of Babel, which traces multilingualism back to divine action, remains part of Christian explanation on the role of God in human affairs. But it also serves as a means of re-uniting worshipers and postponing their cultural and linguistic differences.

This following contextual information might be useful to an understanding of the role that language choice is playing in the interactions at the fellowship meeting. First, the meeting is taking place at the residence of one of the professors in a university. The “federal type” of university in which this meeting is taking place in a Nigerian city is inevitably a multicultural setting: its staff and students are drawn from diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. It also has a predominantly Black population. The host is from the Urhobo ethnic group of the Niger Delta. He is giving his daughter away in marriage to a Yoruba suitor tomorrow. And the wedding has two segments – which represent the biculturalism and double-consciousness of both parties: the traditional wedding, which will be held in the professor’s premises tomorrow, and then the “White” wedding or Church/Christian wedding, which will be held at a church downtown. The fellowship group meeting now at my neighbour’s residence is his local fellowship branch of his church, Assemblies of God Church, and the fellowship has membership from various Nigerian ethnic groups such as Urhobo, Yoruba, Edo, Esan, Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, and Ijaw. The group, as his larger “family,” is meeting to provide a stronger spiritual support for the traditional and church weddings coming up. So, discourse in this setting indeed promises to be cross-linguistic and cross-ethnic; it has already started with the multilingual character of the praise-worship.

I listen to the Christian group singing in the neighbourhood and hear them re-unite some competing languages in the Nigerian political space: English, Igbo, and Yoruba in one song, Urhobo, Yoruba and English in another, and then English, Ibibio, and Igbo in yet another. Here are some of the choruses in which many many languages feature:

(a) The Lord is good
The Lord is good
The Lord is good
The Lord is good
Is good, is good to me

Chineke dị mma
Chineke dị mma
Chineke dị mma
Chineke dị mma
Dị mma, dị mma

Oluwa dara
Oluwa dara
Oluwa dara
Oluwa dara
Dara, dara.

(b) The Lord is so good
Is so good
The Lord is so good
Is so excellent

Abasi ayaya oo
Ayaya oo
Abasi ayaya oo
Ayaya nanando oo!

Onyenweanyi dị mma
Ọ dị mma
Onyenweanyi dị mma
Ọ dị ebube ee !

On some previous occasions, I had heard Christian choruses with other combinations of Nigerian languages, as in the following:

(c ) Nagode Allah aa!
Nagode Allah aa!
Allah sariki!
Chineke nna ndeewo oo!
Chineke nna ndeewo oo!
I meela!

Sometimes, choruses from various languages are combined and sung in a stretch, as an option to the singing of the same chorus in its various translations. Such combination of choruses gives an impression that the singers are speakers of those languages. It rouses some feeling of pride that one is finally able to identify with the other linguistically (even if one does not possess balanced competence in these other languages or that one has not pronounced the words in those other languages correctly!) Thus the Yoruba Christian shifting from Yoruba to Igbo and Ibibio choruses is excited with transcending linguistic barriers, thanks to Jesus and Christianity. Same for Igbo and Ibibio speakers shifting from choruses in their local languages to say Yoruba and Urhobo.

The complex language situation in Nigeria is partly played out in this combination of various languages in Nigerian Christian praise worship. In the first place, the praise-worship symbolically locates the religious activity as happening in a multilingual context and accommodates to the demands of multilingual differences even in the context of religious worship. It recognizes the fact that members whose languages are not included in the worship in some ways could feel marginalized, no matter what the leaders of the group have been telling them about oneness in Christ, and not minding, too, that they signify their close relationship in Christ through the metaphorical uses of the kinship terms, “brother” or “brother-in-Christ,” and “sister” or “sister-in-Christ.” Indeed, there have been cases where such feelings of linguistic marginalization have led to the break-up of churches. And so, in recent times, some orthodox Christian churches in Nigeria arrange for language-specific services, for instance Igbo language church service/bible class, Yoruba language church service/bible class, English language church service/bible class, etc. In some cases where there is a large concentration of people from a language group in a geographical area, such a population have been allowed to construct their own church buildings and to have their services solely in their language. The Igbo language Anglican churches in Ibadan are some examples.

Christian churches in Nigeria, therefore, try to turn multilingualism that appears to be a challenge to an advantage in its evangelization and accommodation of every culture/language in the family of God. The praise worshipers in our neighbourhood are thus essentially celebrating their linguistic diversity as strength in Christ.

At the wider political level, there has been a competition among the various groups of languages in Nigeria, a competition that has been worsened by the provision in Nigeria’s Constitution that Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are the “major” languages that could be used for official purposes, in addition to English. At some point too, French was added as one of the official languages of the country. So, then we have some interesting patterns of the competition emerging: first, competition between indigenous languages on the one hand and European languages on the other; second, competition between English and French as European languages seeking stronger presence in Nigeria; third, competition between pidgin and English; fourth, competition between pidgin and indigenous languages; fifth, competition between indigenous languages and foreign languages such as Latin and Arabic that are particular associated with religious worship; sixth, competition English and Latin (in Catholic worship) and between Arabic and English (in the context of Islamic worship), and seventh, which is much more disturbing, is the competition among the indigenous languages that the various ethnic groups in Nigeria use in imagining and consolidating their identities, and by extension (which could be the eighth level), the competition between the so-called "major" Nigerian languages and the so-called "minor" Nigerian languages.

One should quickly point out that what is referred to as “competition” here actually happens as struggles, choices, and actions performed by speakers of those languages, which deepen impressions about discrimination. Some Nigerian sociolinguists, for instance Ayo Bamgbose, Ayo Banjo, and Efurosibina Adegbija, have drawn attention to the fact that attitudes to languages, especially the so-called minority languages, may be extended to their speakers. In that regard, speakers of such languages are not just made to feel inferior, but also denied opportunities in employment, admission into schools, and of course, the governance of Nigeria. It can also not be denied that such language-based discrimination could feature sometimes in the context of religious groups that pretends to neutralize ethnic and linguistic differences. It could be the case that when Jesus, Ethnicity, and Language play cards, Jesus is cheated out, as Ethnicity and Language form an alliance. Since Jesus has no ethnic group, at least in Africa, it becomes difficult to recruit him against himself. Yet, the Ethnicity/Language alliance would turn round and claim to be among the disciples of Jesus the Christ, especially when it could present local prophets that work wonders in the name of Christ.

If there is anything that could make groups to suspend their prejudices against others in the contemporary world of conflict, at least one hopes religion has that potential. Given that a religion like Christianity tells us that we were all created by the same God, shouldn’t such a religion encourage us to treat one another fairly as members of one family? As I listen to the multilingual chorusing in our neighbourhood, it occurs to me that that Christian group is essentially saying so symbolically, even if its members are not immediately conscious of it. Indeed, Christian denominationalism has tended to deny and endanger the very idea of one “sheep-one-shepherd” that signifies our idea of one family of God’s people. Further, presencing the local has been an issue in many churches in Nigeria, and that using local languages, either separately and combined, in a religious worship is part of the doctrinal and political challenges of signifying practices featuring in these churches, and which they try to handle to minimize or discourage internal disaffections.

Musical albums produced by Christian singers in Nigeria, which are sometimes the sources of these choruses performed in Christian fellowship meetings, also exhibit a multilingual character, either in individual songs or in the combination of songs in such albums. The multilingual style of the songs is, in one respect, a tactic for getting a wider, cross-linguistic audience and patronage. In other words, the Christian singer also considers the fact that the album would not sell as much as it should if speakers of other Nigerian languages are not accommodated in the listenership, or the possibility of the musician being classified as being ethno-linguistically oriented. Many Christian singers in Nigeria therefore try to be sensitive to the linguistic diversity of the country and what this means for the marketing of their music and their image as non-ethnocentric musical evangelists.

From multilingual concerns in the interactional situation to the aesthetic blend of the voices of many worshipers: this is what one notices in the singing of the multilingual choruses even in contexts where all the members share one of the languages in use or are from the same linguistic group. Perhaps in singing the choruses in many languages in which the song has been crafted, they identify with the multicultural concerns of their religion as well as try to promote them. In another regard, they may be singing such songs out of sheer fascination that they could now worship God in many languages – something that projects a picture of Pentecost when the Apostles of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, started speaking even in languages other than their own and could understand these languages. In other words, the songs symbolically take them back to Pentecost experience as a triumph over Babel. Once more, Christianity unifies divided peoples under Jesus Christ, emerging as one important driver of globalization. Indeed, the Biblical Pentecost was a linguistic globalization, which suggests that the term “globalization” is just a new name for what started long ago.

Incidentally, these multilingual choruses and other types of Christian choruses were originally composed and sung in Pentecostal churches. Their singing in orthodox Christian churches were initially resisted by some conservative members of these churches, especially the clergy, who saw the songs and clapping of hands as signifying rebellion against the existing order of worship. They were worried about how the freedom exercised in spontaneous mode of worship generally constituted a threat to the idea of someone being in charge. They also criticized the choruses as being noisy and lacking in the type of humbling potential that the traditional church hymns held for worshipers. Some of the songs, some believed, said things that amounted to a corruption of Christian values. I recall one occasion when at St. Bernard’s Catholic church, Calabar, in the 80s, the then Bishop of Calabar, Bryant Usanga, who was concelebrating the Mass, stood up and silenced the choir that had started the following chorus:

Darling Jesus
Darling Jesus
Oh my darling Jesus
You are a wonderful Lord
I love you so
Oh my darling Jesus
Oh my darling Jesus
You are a wonderful Lord

His Lordship Usanga must have felt scandalized that the choir was singing a song that had amorous meanings and which, especially with the use of the word “darling” was capable of rousing deep feelings only associated with love affairs. He wasn’t going to tolerate a kind of signification that might cause some spiritual distraction in the celebration of the Holy Mass. His worries are understandable, but one wonders what His Lordship would have done if the choir had sung some choruses with strong sexual connotations, as found these days in Christian chorus performance in Nigeria. One of such choruses in Igbo performed by an Igbo gospel musician says:

Jizos, Ọ bụ otu a ka I dị e e?
Onweghi onye dị ka gi
Ihe gi atọgbue m oo
Ọ dị ka mmanụ aṅụ

Literally, the song says:

Jesus, is this how you are?
There is no one like you
The sweetness of your thing drives me crazy
It is like honey.

The Igbo expression “ihe gi” is used vaguely in referring to not only to someone’s possession (or thing, as in the literal meaning) but also to someone’s acts, ways, behaviour, etc. Obviously, it is not the literal meaning that is intended in the chorus, but the acts of Jesus as recognized by Christians and recorded in the Holy Bible too, in word, his "goodness". However, the appropriation of the context of discourse associated with love affair and other figurative associations, for instance the analogy “O dị ka mmanụ aṅụ” (It is like (the sweetness of) honey), conveys emotive meanings that make the chorus particularly unsettling. It is doubtful that listeners would process the meaning of the chorus without referring to situations in which this kind of expression features in actual human relationships. Perhaps this is where a pastor would argue that it is a matter of "as a man thinketh," that a thought life "touched" by the blood of Christ would not allow a corruption from sexual connotations! Well, well, well...men-of-God are not only in charge of biblical truths, they are also in charge of our minds and how our minds process experience. They also teach us how to take charge of our minds and their readings of the world.

Not that similar amorous expressions or associations are strange to Christian re/constructions of relationship with God. Songs of Solomon particularly features strong sexual images which have been viewed as extreme a representations of affection for the Almighty.The expression of love for Jesus Christ in some Christian songs may have started going beyond what many church leaders would be comfortable with. A conservative moralist may ask: even if the songs do not convey literal meanings, how can one be sure that some worshipers in singing them would not make some associations with actual reference situations and end up having their thought lives contaminated in the context of worship.

Such Christian choruses with amorous outlook are performed in many Nigerian languages too. One finds that Christian worshipers, at the spur of the moment, could translate the songs they are singing to provide some greater mix and reduce the redundancy of repetitiveness of the choruses. They may also find the need to provide such translations for choruses originally in their own languages, for the benefit of other worshipers who do not speak such languages. This, as explained earlier, is part of the Christian pursuit of being one’s brother’s keeper and design to include the ethno-linguistic other. As the amorous chorus travels from one language to another, it is capable of acquiring meanings and interpretations that might not have been originally intended by their composers. That, to some extent, suggests that the triumph over Babel is still incomplete, in fact, it could be a mere illusion that only temporarily supports an invention of Christian togetherness.

Christian accommodation to multilingualism in the singing of choruses in Nigeria demonstrates sensitivity to its Babelized membership and patronage, particularly the differences in the perception of language choice. In this case, the group does not want to take the collective acceptance of just any language for granted. Although it is not possible to render the choruses in all the languages spoken by all the members, or the languages they identify with, the fact that a chorus has been sung in some of the languages (in a kind of random selection of those languages) suggests some fairness already, it is assumed. Multilingual chorusing tends to signify the many-voices-in-one-risen-saviour and celebrates the fact that in Jesus Christ, linguistic difference ought to be viewed as an opportunity to build the strength of that one family of God. How one wishes that this same orientation in which the other’s language is found attractive and useful can be adopted in addressing the language problem that Nigeria still faces at the national level.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beyond the Rhetoric of Self-Representation in the Interrogation of Governance in Nigeria

By

Obododimma Oha

Suddenly, every Nigerian becomes a revolutionary, armed with rhetoric. From Facebook presence to listserv debate, from exchanges in street-side chance meetings to table talks in staff club unwinding, Nigerians are loud, combative, and amazingly creative as they critique the condition of the Nigerian state. For some, critiquing the nation state is already becoming a profession, as they explore one rhetorical strategy after another to impress their audiences. Perhaps this apparent renaissance of the spirit of revolution is part of the change that Nigeria, one of the most badly governed countries in the world, seriously needs. One is inclined to be sceptical, though, wondering if what one sees is the genuine spirit of change or some manifestation of a fraudulent desire to join the outraged multitude in saying what many want to hear and capitalizing on the popular emotions of the moment to achieve cheap popularity. Just as it is said in popular Igbo discourse, Ndi mekaniiki ekwezighi anyi mara ndi ara na-awi (Motor mechanics have made it difficult for us to know those who are truly insane), those who genuinely attempt to repair the broken down machine of the Nigerian civilization now seem to be competing with mad people in the art of wearing rags. Hasn’t it become difficult for us in Nigeria to tell the difference between the patriotic citizens and those opportunists who want to ride on the back of popular protest to answer revolutionaries, given that both seek legitimacy through their use of rhetoric?

Some benefit of democracy, we are told, is the right to free speech, the freedom to banish silence finally. Nigerians are talking. Yes, they have been talking and I like it. Nigerians are talking and asking questions, serious questions, about how they are being governed in their country. That is good. It shows that they want their rulers to be accountable to them. It shows that they themselves want to know how much about their country’s affairs they know. These days, when two or more Nigerians are gathered, some rhetoric about their failed nation state is on their lips. Goodluck Jonathan is on their lips. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is on their lips. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Diezani Allison-Madueke are on their lips. What else does one want them to talk about? What else? Is it about how to become committed themselves in their own personal assignments, subsidy or no subsidy? Stop for a moment to listen to the conversations and you would quickly find someone playing the role of a professor of Nigerian affairs, analyzing, explaining, pontificating, predicting. Every professor of Nigerian affairs is highly informed, knows all the theories of development and the appropriate model the government should have applied. Every professor of Nigerian affairs is telling the impressionable audience of discourse Nigeriana that they know policy planning at their fingertips and should have been the right advisers to government.

At a newsstand down the street, someone picks a newspaper that has been touched by several hands, flips through the pages, and starts talking about Nigeria’s bad government, ethnic rivalry, terrorism, industrial action, or any other hot issue that is associated with the contemporary Nigerian world. Other people who have congregated at the newsstand listen to this “lecturer” for a while and then someone loses his or her patience and interrupts the lecture. A serious debate starts. Isn’t it why it is called “the People’s Parliament”? Previously, the Parliament used to attract retired individuals and few unemployed, but now it attracts a crowd of idlers who, instead of helping to boost the day’s sales, only helps in creating a “bad market” for the vendor and for the newspaper house. Previously, it used to be a case of “read and return” with twenty Naira, the vendor smiling home with the gain and returning the unsold papers to the newspaper house. The vendor used to be happy doing this, not knowing that the problem of bad market he was promoting would eventually get to him. These days, the crowd would gather and the lectures would begin, later followed by endless debates, but after that, not many are willing to do the usual thing!

At religious services too, the sermon, expectedly, shifts to the state of the nation. And who has the right authority to speak about this in a way the congregation would believe than the ukochukwu, the mediator between God and humans, the” man-of-God”? It does not matter if the man-of-God is a teacher in an unfortunate Nigerian institution and has been sharing his time between teaching his students properly and “pastoring” or “imaming” his religious group. It does not matter if he barely has the time to prepare his lectures and teach his classes or to attend to his other academic responsibilities, simply because he has to hurry back to his religious location where he is truly doing the work of God, or if he has to return to his class later, too tired to be of any use to his students after conducting endless prayers and vigils. It does not matter if he enjoys our love offerings and tithes on behalf of God, given that the labourer is worthy of his pay. Now, given the much-talked-about failure of governance, the man-of-God or man-of-Allah must help the people of God to understand that God is not asleep and will raise men to change the country. Now, that’s consoling! The preacher is on our side, speaking as God-with-us!

As the” lecturers” and revolutionaries gather at the newsstands or other venues, performing their excellence as “knowers” and lovers of Nigeria, so do loud talkers gather in web environments to demonstrate their sainthood. What remains to be acknowledged is that these same Nigerians may have contributed in one way or another in making it difficult for Nigeria to experience positive change in public life. The Nigerian irony is amazing: the Nigerian that condemns ethnocentrism turns out to be its practitioner; the Nigerian that is complaining about lack of commitment in public service turns out to be the person who would not settle down and work to justify the wages received monthly; and so on. One, therefore, is worried: Who is really on Nigeria’s side?

The whole scenario is worth observing closely, with the various forms of rhetoric emerging, especially with reference to the widespread protest against the removal of government subsidy on petroleum products consumed in Nigeria. Expectedly, as the government and its agents deploy various strategies including news management, those confronting government have used the social media extensively. But within this use of the social or other media are subtle rhetorical pursuits that must be noted. There are many who never marched but have made the loudest noise about how they confronted security agents, backing up their claims with photographs taken here and there. Photographs and video clips are forms of rhetorical proof that we can supposedly easily accept, after all, “seeing is believing.” And they are even more persuasive if the narrators are located in the videos or photos. There are those who, like the character Obinna in Tony Ubesie’s Juo Obinna, never saw “the battlefield” of the protest but have been going around (even in online platforms) boasting about their heroic deeds in anti-government protest. There are also those who want to impress us with stories about how they religiously followed the debates in the media and how they displayed their anger by almost smashing their television sets and personal computers for relaying information they did not like, and how they have written “bad” rejoinders to question government propaganda. It is about heroism, it seems.

How I wish that every Nigerian that claims to have stood up against government’s removal of petrol subsidy actually means to stand against fraud, including the fraud in the presentation of their involvement in the discourse on the Nigerian crisis. How I wish that all those who waged a battle against the removal of oil subsidy and against government’s squandering of resources are actually not squandering their own resources and cheating employers in their places of work. It is interesting that the situation presented by Benjamin Franklin in The Way to Wealth so very closely applies to Nigerians in this case: just as the crowd at the bazaar sales mentioned at the beginning of The Way to Wealth get ready to squander their resources while complaining about government’s heartlessness in its imposition of high taxes, so do many Nigerians who complain about the withdrawal of subsidy and government’s extravagance and corruption also overlook their own lack of wisdom in the way they manage resources to (re)build their society and their personal lives.

Indeed, Nigerians must go beyond the rhetoric of self-representation in the recent confrontation with bad governance in their country, to be able to make the protest more meaningful and well-focused.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

SubsiTalk: Subsidy, Subsidie, Subsidim

By

Obododimma Oha

Some public commentators interested in life in Nigeria have observed that Nigerians generally have a good sense of humour and are among the happiest people in the world. Whereas being the “happiest” is not synonymous with having quality in life or being pleased with one’s circumstances, Nigerian humour and happiness may be just a therapy for the difficult and unimaginable circumstances that Nigerians have found themselves over time on account of bad governance and corruption in public life. Displaying a sense of humour may, in this case, be a sign of resignation to one’s fate, or to say, one has to learn to live with what appears difficult to change. But there is also something admirable in learning to cheer up while confronting terrible circumstances, what the late Afrobeat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, humorously captures as “shufferin’ and smilin’” (suffering and smiling). Although Nigerians cannot smile away their social problems but must deal with them, they recognise, too, that humour could serve as a veritable sarcastic weapon in confronting the objectionable circumstances they have been living in. This presence of corrective humour has again manifested in the recent protest against the government’s withdrawal of subsidy on the cost of locally-consumed petroleum products in the oil-rich country. Nigerians embarked on a massive protest both within the country and overseas, deploying social media such as Facebook in circulating information and coordinating their activities, just as was the case with the Arab Spring.

Anti-government humour that has been featuring in the protest, it should be noted, exists in various modes such as still-life images manipulated with photo-editing software, cartoons, jokes posted as Status updates on Facebook, parodic adverts circulated as SMSed greetings, and several other creative pieces. Here is a sample of one of those humorous texts, this time parodying the advert of transport service (which is an aspect of life in Nigeria that would likely be badly affected by the removal of petrol subsidy):

Now available for sale in different sizes
-- Bicycle
-- Camel
-- Horse
-- Donkey
We can also train and equip ur dog, goat, ram etc to carry u around. They don’t use fuel or gas. Visit us at our office, No 1, Oil Subsidy Road, Alison Madueke Junctn, Goodluck Close, Off
Okonjo-Iweala Street, by Labaran Maku Avenue, Sanusi Lamido District, Abuja. Or call
080-ABUJA-GEJ. Enjoy the promised fresh air.

The parodist in the text above very effectively connects the proponents of the subsidy removal with the imagined location of the service provider/advertizer. Diezani Allison-Madueke (the Petroleum Resources Minister), Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (Nigeria’s President), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria’s Finance Minister), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank), and Labaran Maku (Nigeria’s Minister for Information) feature in the deixis of memory and imagined spatiality of the crisis. They are therefore being presented to us as the “direction” to the crisis, invariably being held responsible for the consequences on ground, which also includes a return, an unfortunate retrogression, to crude means of transport, an increase in mass suffering instead of its alleviation. In that case, the last line, “Enjoy the promised fresh air,” becomes an irony, for the ride entails a return to hardship, and not necessarily an attempt to experience a holiday-like fun of donkey ride!

One also notices an interesting penetration of the subsidy issue into the lexical repertoire of popular Nigerian (bilingual) speech in English. One does not suppose that such words that have been humorously created to capture the temper of the time would stay and become acceptable in formal communication. As vogue expressions of the moment, they are definitely bound to drop off public communication with time, or be merely remembered when it comes to considering how language documents and interrogates Nigeria’s historical and political experiences.

But one should also be interested in the semiotic structures of these subsidy-related expressions, their explicit and implicit meanings, as well as the basis for their use in the current crisis in Nigeria. The English word “subsidy,” which is at the heart of the crisis, and is defined in Investopedia as "A benefit given by the government to groups or individuals usually in the form of a cash payment or tax reduction. The subsidy is usually given to remove some type of burden and is often considered to be in the interest of the public," is also central to the humorous lexical creations that have featured in the discourse in social media in relation to the Nigerian protest. Indeed, “subsidy” has already proved to be a slippery term which the major actors in the crisis have been wrestling with too. Following the widespread condemnation of the withdrawal of the subsidy as heartless, the counter-discourse that there has indeed been no “subsidy” on local consumption of petroleum, which means that government is deceiving Nigerians in continuation of the culture of fraud, and the counter-argument in the public debate that government is not sincerely looking for a way of improving the Nigerian situation but looking for more money to share among the corrupt politicians, government representatives in their rhetoric have tried to reinvent the term to convince Nigerians. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, had, during the public debate on the subsidy issue (prior to its removal) offered a reconceptualization of subsidy as “rent.” This shift in the semiotic of subsidy was mainly because he discovered in the context of the debate that the term “subsidy” was in trouble and that sticking to it endangered his pro-government position in that debate. The option he took, as a clever and perceptive debater, was to abandon the term and shift to another that he considered favourable to his position, and which, in our thinking, presented technical difficulties for ordinary Nigerians to deal with. Rent is not exactly the same thing as in “house rent; its clarity only depended on “experts” like Sanusi Lamido to provide to Nigerian masses. Is it not the elite, Plato’s “guardians,” like Lamido and Okonjo-Iweala, who should mint signs and signifiers and feed the people with their meanings, and guide them towards lofty political goals? So, no more “subsidy” but "rent," this shift midway in the discourse obviously revealing the slippery nature of government, a government that seems to see governance as a game of hide-and-seek, or more preferably what Wole Soyinka calls “hide-and-speak” in his poem, “Telephone Conversation.” In conversing with Nigerians, government would either prefer that meaning continues to shift, obviously demonstrating its unwillingness to cooperate and work in line with people-sensitive democratic principles.

In the emergent humorous subsidy-related lexis, Nigerians have demonstrated their disillusionment in democratic governance in the country, their perception of what government calls “subsidy-removal” as a national tragedy (or a sign of the beginning of national tragedy). The term “subsidie,” a phonological play on “subsidy,” effectively suggests that there is a thin boundary between the phonological spaces of the two words, and, analogically, a thin boundary between what the Government's term is supposed to mean and what Nigerians think it means. (Of course, the use of “subsidie” by some Nigerians in their being sarcastic about the Government’s notion of subsidy interestingly recalls the use of “subsidie” as the spelling of “subsidy” in Middle English). However, Nigerian users of “subsidie,” in narrating a contemporary national experience, are not really interested in the old spelling of the word but in the occurrence of “die” in its structure (SUBSIdie), even if this is merely a matter of orthographic resemblance. The semiotic of death in the subsidy talk, what I loosely call “SubsiTalk,” draws attention to the conspiracy theories and fears circulating about subsidy removal. One of such texts issued on 11 January 2012 by Economic Intelligence Press Forum based in New York, titled “Who Is Behind Subsidy Removal?” points towards a grand international conspiracy, alleging that the subsidy removal is a “Lethal Option” which is “plan by the Billionaires and their surrogates … to kill the Black African people directly by imposing high cost of living … lamentable even more because their presidents have shown total ignorance and lack of sensitivity” (Ellipses mine).National death is therefore foregrounded in the reinvention of subsidy as "SUBSIDIE."

Given the frightening and alarming nature of "the Lethal Option" mentioned above, wouldn't a spiritualization of hope for redemption or protection become attractive to embattled Nigerians? A friend circulated a joke about an Igbo person naming his son who was born during the subsidy crisis “Chibusubsidim,” which means “God is my subsidy.” Igbo speakers in Nigeria sometimes demonstrate their bilingual and bicultural attributes by mixing English and Igbo, even to the point of creating lexical items that are half Igbo, half English. Oliver de Coque, a major Igbo highlife musician, had, in one of his albums, condemned this speech orientation, which he calls “Engligbo.” The refrain of the major track in that album says, “Onye asuzila Engligbo o o!” (Let no one continue to speak Engligbo). What needs to be noted, however, is that Engligbo is not only a representation of Igbo cultural hybridity but that it also has some deliberate creative relevance in postcolonial Igbo speech. It also comes handy in the Igbo practice of language-based humour. Surely, Igbo speakers, just like other Nigerians, have cause to play with language and laugh at themselves and their situations.

In the coinage and use of “Chibusubsidim,” the fictional Igbo person that gave his son that name is actually continuing what has been there in Igbo cultural onomastics. In Igbo tradition, people could be named in remembrance of particular events or situations, or as a means of fashioning a philosophy of life for the bearer of the name. In this regard, there are such names as “Aghadi” (There is War, or War is On), given to a child born in wartime, for instance the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967 to 1970); Uzoaro ("On the road to Arochukwu," which registers where and how the bearer was born); etc. Some Igbo people, given their orientation to Western life and culture as well as the influence of Pentecostal Christianity, consider such names backward-looking or obsolete, preferring the use of Igbo names with “Chi” in their structure, or such names that have no Igbo outlook, like “Favour,” “Promise,” “Miracle,” etc. The name “Chibusubsidim,” stands midway between a modern Chritianization project in Igbo culture and an orientation to hybrid semiosis. The English word “subsidy” is harvested and inserted within the lexical structure of “Chibu—m” (Chi+bu+X+m), as in “Chibuikem” (God is my strength). In such insertion, “subsidy” is phonologically transformed to fit into the host Igbo phonological structure; in other words, it is by virtue of its transformation functioning in that context as an Igbo part of the compound word. It is therefore an Igbo-based lexical semiotic transformation, even when the ordinary Igbo speaker in the local area would find it difficult to figure out what that part means.

One can find similar lexical practices in Igbo Christian evangelical music. In one of Obi Igwe’s songs, one finds such forms:

I na-aga church na-ezu ohi
Ekwensu mere gi something
Ekwensu gburu gi nwaayo
Eziokwu o finishiri gi
Ekwensu deceivuru gi

Words like “finishiri” and “deceivuru” are as humorous as they raise interesting issues about the structures of English words patterned as Igbo words. One cannot help laughing at the recreation of the English suffix (-ed) Past marker as an Igbo Past marker, “-ri” and “-ru.” Nigerian lexical playfulness and creativity in relation to social experience is therefore a significant aspect of social semiotics in the country and which one needs to follow in studying trends and the life of signs in Nigerian public culture.

The name “Chibusubsidim” might as well be treated as a percolation of perspectives expressed in the media, especially social media, where many Nigerians go in recent times to share ideas and benefit from the views of others. I had, in fact, also written in my Facebook Status Update on 6 January 2012 (at 12.48AM): “God's SUBSIDY in my life has not been withdrawn. God isn't as heartless as those who present such withdrawals to their countrymen and women as a New Year gift!” Perhaps I am one of those already bearing the name, “Chibusubsidim,” without even realizing it!

The joke about petrol subsidy crisis in Nigeria also features in local greeting forms. One could hear neighbours and work partners in the South-Western part of Nigeria softening the tension of the crisis by jokingly saying to one another, “E ku subsidy!” (Well done for subsidy). Generally, Yoruba culture admits and encourages the use of greeting for almost every situation, indeed emphasizing the necessity for communion and the idea of being with the other in life experiences. So, there are greetings for existing human situations, as well as greetings for situations that are yet to unfold! There is greeting for working as well as for resting. Why shouldn’t every aspect of life matter? And why shouldn’t the removal of petrol subsidy be something encoded in the greeting ritual so that as people meet and mix, they have to reflect on emergent social problems instead of pretending they don’t exist, or that they don’t need to be confronted? E ku subsidy therefore suggests an invitation to action, a reminder of an obligation to think about a problem, as well as an opportunity to laugh at the idea of subsidy and governance in Nigeria.

Nigerian SubsiTalk is Nigerian public discourse telling the story of the country's travails in a way that invites closer attention to language and human condition in the contemporary Nigerian society. Mikhail Bakhtin, operating under the pen name “Volosinov,” argues in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language that the sign is a site of struggle, a location where meaning is contested, or is the focus of power struggle in society. That position is very true in relation to the semiotic of “subsidy” in current petrol crisis in Nigeria. It is particularly gladdening that many Nigerians are aware of the fact that government and its functionaries are doing things with words with the Nigerian people and are determined to interrogate it and demonstrate that their own semiotic also matters in giving the nation state a direction.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Texting Christmas and New Year: the Fun and the Craft in a Phatic Communion

by

Obododimma Oha

Christmas often occasions the exchange of goodwill message between friends, acquaintances, relatives, and professional colleagues. The message has become quite stereotyped, not just in content but also style. A finely-worded Christmas greeting card could obviously add to the joy that a celebrant hopes for during the Christmas season. In spite of the stereotyped nature of many Christmas messages (which has been mainly caused by the copying and reprinting of existing messages for commercial benefits), some individual recipients of Christmas cards still pay attention to what those cards are saying, and try to imagine the senders of the cards as actually "saying" those words to them. Even when buyers of such cards are not the authors of those messages, they ultimately assume responsibility of authorship by selecting those cards from the stores, buying them, signing their names as those saying those things, and mailing them! In other words, even if one has not read the words on the cards before buying, signing, and mailing them, one has committed oneself by sending them. As a matter of fact, it is extremely risky to pick a card marked "Christmas Greeting" in a card store and simply sign and mail it with the assumption that it must be saying the usual good things of Christmas. That is extremely risky, for the card goes to represent the sender before the receiver without also saying, "Oh, he or she picked me in a hurry," or "he or she assumed the card could not have said the wrong thing"! What if the Christmas card is saying more than the simple words of Christmas? What if the card expresses a deep affection, the type that only a lover can say to another lover, and the sender, impervious of this fact, picks it and sends it to his or her boss, to a married woman or man, etc? Cards create lasting impressions!

In another angle, some of the Christmas and other greeting cards found in the shops today may have other language problems, for instance grammatical errors. If a professor of the English language should pick such a card printed in bad English and mail it to another colleague, maybe overseas, wouldn't that be terribly damaging on his or her reputation? The receiver may understand that the sender did not print the card, but cannot excuse the fact that the sender subscribes to the bad English the card speaks. An exception here, of course, is the deliberate use of dialect in writing the card, maybe to evoke humor, negotiate linguistic identity, etc. For instance, one can find some peculiar cards written in Nigerian pidgin, which say such things as: "Make we celebrate as Mary don born Jesus for Bethlehem to save man pikin," "Tank you Jesus for to come become like me," and "Dis na true love, Papa God come become man."

Further, the design of a Christmas or any other card is part of the language the card speaks. Senders of cards can and do select from a wide range of designs, each choice being dependent on the sender's personal preferences, assumptions about what the receiver would like, focus on how the design would communicate an aspect of the Christmas that the sender is interested in, etc. With the emergence of the personal computer and availability of photo editing software, senders can easily generate their own designs, edit existing photos or designs, or select from a range of templates available on the Internet. 

Also, the emergence of mobile telephony and the sms writing has greatly affected both the tradition of buying and sending printed cards and the exchange pattern of messages at Christmas. Electronic writing of the mobile telephone type is a tradition of paperless communication. It also solves the problem of postal delay in some countries, which sometimes causes printed cards to get to their addressers only after the celebration. Further, whereas printed cards require expending energy and time to obtain them from shops, and do cost more, sms and other electronically relayed cards are far cheaper.   An individual can also send just one type of card to 1000 recipients in his or her phone or computer contact list, at the click of a button. The sender doesn't have to address 1000 separate cards and post them, and still be able to enjoy Christmas like others!

One challenge that attends to electronic messaging in Christmas and other social celebrations is the deluge of such messages and how to deal with them. If postal delay is painful, at least it ironically postpones the stress of having to respond to all the messages from one's multitude of acquaintances. But with electronic messaging, one has to respond to all these coming in, at least to be fair to the senders. It would, of course, amount to an impoliteness and lack of civility for one to receive a message of good wishes at Christmas and not respond to them or to reciprocate! So, one has to share one's Christmas time punching the keys of one's electronic device, almost endlessly. With one hand one grabs the turkey leg and with another hand types a message to respond to an incoming good wishes of yuletide. And, as one is trying to complete one, another Christmas message arrives. 

With electronic writing comes what one could refer to as "electronic Christmas," which requires special skills of navigating the computer or cellphone and creating images of Christmas that are, in their own right, a remarkable demonstration of creativity. 

Some of messages are also particularly amusing and playful, adding to the design of cheering up the receiver during the period. One of such playful SMSed Christmas messages which I received from an old schoolmate read as follows:

"B4 pple begin to send u fake and insincere New Year wishes, let me send u & ur loved ones my family's original New Year Wishes. Belovd, in 2012 God will open up new horizons in ur life, turn ur pressures to pleasure & all ur obstacles to miracle, in Jesus name. Amen."

So, there are "original" as well as "fake" season's greetings? One could easily identify a re-registration here: the language of commerce used in Nigeria obviously becomes re-used here in referring to type of season's greetings. Nigerian business persons often try to draw the attention of their customers to the difference between the genuine products they have in stock and the fake versions also in circulation. The analogy implied in my friend's re-use of the language is revealing, for season's greeting comes to feature as something being marketed to service tenor, in this case to maintain close inter-personal relationship. I would obviously prefer to value an "original" greeting meant for me to a "fake" one merely transferred to me, it is assumed. 

Competition is also clearly implied in the message, for the sender is not just sending what he feels I would treasure more, but is interested in the time of its arrival as a variable. What arrives first creates and maintains lasting impression in the recipient. In that case, the arrival of the genuine message in good time would make me treasure my relationship with the sender more than I would for later senders. Late senders, it is assumed, don't think highly of the relationship with the recipients!

I particularly like the poetry in the language of the SMSed greeting cited above. One notices internal parallelisms: "turn ur pressures to pleasure," ur obstacles to miracle." "Pressures" and "pleasure" share phonological features, with some minor phonemic differences --indeed those differences accounting for the expressed divine transformation. If the phonemic changes do not happen, no matter how minimal, then no (divine) transformation of the addressee's circumstances has taken place. One's pRessureS have to drop their significant "R" and plural "S" for the "pleasure" to emerge and happen as the acceptable semiotic. Similarly, one's OBSTacles have to dough off the first four letters (OBST) and allow a reinvestment with MIR for MIRacle of change and difference to happen. Indeed, a demonstration of the desired transformation through the structure of the verbal elements used!

Some of the SMS messages also try to introduce an element of surprise which, in fact, is connected to the whole idea of creating excitement and pleasant experience in the sharing of Christmas goodwill. Two of such messages I received read as follows:

(1) Credit alert. Acc. No: Year 2012
    Acc Name: The favoured by God
    Depositor: Holy Spirit
    Amt: Grace, Glory, and Peace.
    Avail. Bal: Good health, long life, prosperity and joy in the Holy 
    Spirit. All for you and your household. 
(2) ALERT: CREDIT! ACCT: 1/1/2012 of Dr Obodo Oha
    Amnt: Divine Fav'r. 
    Depositr: Almi'ty Gd. Aval. Bal: Gud health long life, prosperity
    Remark: Congrats & Happy Nw Yr, Sir.

Obviously, the two messages above are variants of a type of Christmas/Christmas message with bank alert as its textual frame. The emergence of this re-registration of religious message as banking discourse in the Nigerian context is somewhat linked to the introduction of electronic messaging by banks in Nigeria, particularly through SMS and email alerts. As always, one discourse learns to borrow from another to support its own type of rhetoric.

The framing of the Christmas message as a bank credit alert is particularly attention-grabbing, partly because many people want to know what is happening to their money in the bank, what more when it involves information that deposit has been made. They want to know immediately the amount paid in, who made the deposit, etc. Second, at the time many people using cellphones are dealing with a deluge of Christmas messages and the frequent arrival of the sms becomes a disturbance for one wanting to enjoy the Christmas in other ways, some people may not want to bother to give fuller attention to what each arriving SMS is saying. They might say, "Oh, same Merry Christmas again!" So, an sms Christmas message crafted as information about money is a special trick to win attention. 

it should be noted that there is already an existing sub-genre of Christian tract evangelization that tries to reinvent the Christian message about repentance, salvation, and the consequences of sin as a financial transaction. Some evangelical tracts in circulation in Nigeria are designed like currency notes or bank cheques. Interestingly, it is hard currencies like the dollar and the Euro that feature in such designs and not the Naira, the local currency. The reason is clear: the dollar and the Euro are stronger than the Naira in the market, and to be wealthy in the hard currency is to be above many other citizens. From that paradigm, one can imagine the Chrtistian tract saying implicitly that it offers a form of truth or salvation that is higher than some others being preached.

Ordinarily, the messages circulated during Christmas and New Year celebrations could become stereotyped and boring if the same old forms and contents are present. But the presence of Information Technology makes a great difference: IT provides opportunities through multimedia facilities for the same old content to be reinvented so that sharing them becomes a very wonderful experience that makes the season desirable to many. Visual and audio Christmas and New Year messages created with smart phones and PCs add to the artistic recreation of the  season as cultural performance and help in compensating for the problem of message stereotyping.