Published in BusinessDay Nigeria
4 June 2006
Reproduced in reference to this week’s Chiswick ReConfined Blog
I have often written of my respect for Nigeria’s deep rooted traditions and respect for her cultural heritage. I was thinking of that as I went to a typical social event for Lagosians on Friday evening. Many of the people there were wearing ‘smart casual’ (as the invitations describe it) and many were wearing their traditional dress. There was food with a regional bias. There was music and, as always, the comedians were there as MC’s. The one thing you can guarantee at these events is that the comedians will tell jokes at the expense of the different tribes’ characteristics and this party was no exception. There was also a traditional musician and a display of traditional music. In fact, the whole event was held by the Lagos community from a particular tribe who endeavour to keep their own traditions alive in an alien environment and who like to meet a few times a year and celebrate their unique characteristics and language. While they recognise they are part of a wider national structure they are keen to retain their own identity. In fact, there are still those that argue for increased self-determination and self-government. In particular, they complain that their region is marginalised by a government that sits in its ivory tower and does not understand the needs of the individual regions. Despite being responsible for the greater part of the nations oil revenue they have some of the worse figures for health and housing in the country. However, they do have the hope that a ‘son of the soil’ of theirs will shortly be made the head of the political party that is in power and therefore become Prime Minister.
‘Prime Minister’? Don’t you mean ‘President’ I hear you say? No, prime Minister. What, do you think I am talking about Nigerians? No, I went to a meeting of the Lagos Caledonian Society. The Caledonian Society is where exiled Scotsmen and women meet to celebrate their tribal customs. This was the meeting where we elect our Chieftain for the year and celebrate with a ‘Ceilidh’ (pronounced Kay-lee). This means a party in Gaelic, the traditional language of the Celts the ancestral peoples who fled the marauding Angles and Saxons across the sea to Ireland or took to the Caledonian hills of Scotland. (The welsh hid down their coal mines!). There was traditional food. Actually, in this case it was curry which although it comes from India is the most popular dish in UK restaurants according to recent surveys. The Scots of course have strong dishes of their own; Porridge, Oat Cakes and the ‘chieftain o’er the pudding race’ (as described by The Scottish poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns), The Haggis. There was traditional dress. The new Chieftain (congratulations to Glenn) was resplendent in his warrior’s Kilt and Sporran in the tartan of his tribe or Clan. Some of the music was modern (the Spice Girls were not wearing traditional dress) but the highlight was the Scottish Dancing to the sounds of the bagpipes played by the Society’s own Piper, Norman of the MacLeod Clan. Each of these dances or ‘Reels’ has very specific steps and can be quite difficult. They have names like; ‘Strip the Willow’ or ‘Highland Barn dance’. For many years a Scottish lady, Dee, has kept the standard of steps and trained new comers in the necessary technique. Some are in honour of famous military exploits by the Scottish regiments of the British Army such as ‘Gay Gordons’ or ‘Reel of the 51st Division’ which is only for men as it was danced by soldiers away at war. The Chieftain honoured the elders of the Society with a dram of uisge beatha, the water of life, from the official Quaich (a drink of Scots Whisky from the Cup of Kindness). As for tribal comedians; I heard at least one comic song that described the Irishman as ‘contemptible’ and someone who sleeps in his boots and claimed that the Welsh cheat and are small like monkeys! The big joke against the English, the ‘auld enemy’!) is all the achievements they rely on but which were invented by the Scots. That the English wear a raincoat patented by Charles MacIntosh of Glasgow and drive a car on tyres invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dundee. He telephones (Alexander Graham Bell of Edinburgh) home but his wife is watching the television (John Logie Baird of Helensburough) and his daughter is out on her bicycle (Kilpatrick MacMillan of Dumfries). His son, a Doctor might be administering anaesthetic (Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate) or penicillin (Alexander Fleming of Darvel). Even the King James of the first Bible was a Scot (King James VI of Scotland who became James I of England)! The English would retort with a few rejoinders of their own……….not least possibly the unhealthiest culinary invention in the world; deep fried Mars bars!
Although this was a social occasion the Scots have a strong political tradition. Their Presbyterian Church formed the backbone to much of the early labour movement. However, a strong nationalist feeling also led to the formation of a Scottish National party that fought for devolution for many years culminating in the creation of a Scottish Parliament which has reclaimed some power and taxation rights from the hated ‘English’ Parliament in London. It is interesting to note that some of the agitation for this was prompted by the fact that Aberdeen in North East Scotland is the home of the British oil industry. There is hope that their ‘son of the soil’ Gordon Brown will succeed Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party and therefore as Prime Minister.
The Society does have a serious side and though its events during the year are celebrations of cultural days; for the Patron Saint of Scotland (Saint Andrews) or the heroic Poet, Rabbie Burns, there are events to raise money for charities. A Committee ensures funds go to deserving causes. Last year some eight million naira went to hospitals, schools and orphanages. Interestingly, one such was the Mary Slessor Foundation. Mary Slessor was a Scotswoman who came here in 1876, worked with children and died in Calabar in 1915. In recognition of her work and the link with Nigeria there is a bust of her and pictures and map of the area where she worked on the Scottish ten pound note.
So that is how I spent a cultural evening in Lagos; traditional food, dress and music with tribal politics thrown in for good measure. Am I Scot? Well, each of my Grandparents was one of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English. So I am a true Federalist!