I have always wondered what local technology, besides word of mouth, existed in times past, by which people kept track of the movements of people, living in this age of the Global Positioning System, GPS, where we tend to have become blind navigationally without it; besides using it to track our gadgets, cars even humans amongst others, especially when we or they are lost. I say this in the light of how we easily forget the way we lived before technologies like the Smartphone, and social media for instance (that’s become like the extensions or our appendages) became the norm rather than the exception of our daily existence.
The answer I sought, came by accident, as I hadn’t asked a question in relation to that which had always bugged me in terms of direction, concerning ancient navigation on land, most especially. Direction and navigation is an issue for me because I have to visit a place severally to master the directions (even to my places of abode, in the first few days after moving house), and that for a frequent road traveler like me, for which the development of the GPS has been more than welcome. This past week, saw me visit some areas in Nigeria’s Niger Delta as well as the Southeast on business, pleasure, cultural and traditional reasons, including a funeral for a female, non-Christian (considered a pagan/heathen) but traditional Igbo religion practitioner, and afterwards the traditional wedding ceremony of a sibling amongst others. In the course of visiting members of my kindred, I visited the home of one who is also a traditionalist.
It is part of the Igbo culture for hosts to present their guests with Kola. In the Igbo homeland, even the predominant Christian religion haven’t been able to abolish that, as it had successfully done with many of the ways of the Igbo, under the excuse that they are linked with idol worship, something I now find quite ironic, considering that most of Christianity’s traditions are linked to, and have ancient pagan origins, making it a case of the ancient European pagan origins been accepted to be superior to that of its local African counterparts, by undiscerning Africans, whose minds thus become enslaved subliminally to think that nothing good could come out of the ways of their ancestors. The part of the presentation of Kola that remains only with the traditionalists, is that part that sheds a light on the GPS of the days of yore.
I had participated severally in the ritual of drawing four lines on the floor of my hosts houses, after been presented with “Nzu” (local chalk), followed by painting the nail of my big toe with it, but never sought to understand the rationale behind it, until this last visit to the Igbo homeland in southeastern Nigeria. Turns out that the four marks, represents the four market days of Igbo land namely, the AFOR, OYE, NKWO and EKE market days. Titled men can draw a fifth line, with something that’s akin to a signature also written on top of the lines. Some “church people” draw the “crucifix” in that space where it is normal to “draw” a “signature” or any mark that’s associated to the particular individual. I was told that in the past, the path of a man could be followed by studying those marks made by the subject over a period of time in the several places he’d visited, and should the one be lost, it could help in investigations aimed at finding such a lost person (the last twenty-four hours at least). This art of tracking was said to be helpful during the days of slave trade and when cannibalism was rampant amongst some tribes in Igbo land, when and after people just turned up missing, after falling into the hands of slave traders, or cannibals, who could’ve been close friends of their victims.
The only shortcoming with this system, is the fact that it covered only male adults (sometimes teenagers who’d accompanied an adult male to a meeting) and titled men, making the tracking of women a bit more difficult, and relying mainly on hearsay, without forensic evidence to prove that a woman had been somewhere or another. I believe that if the majority of Igbo land, hadn’t been brainwashed to consider that aspect of our culture unchristian, the likelihood that it would’ve been expanded to include the female gender, and maybe children would’ve remained viable, enough to be explored for our good. Sadly, once again even the little that’s left to practice is now gradually being eroded, while we rush to embrace foreign GPS technology because everything the whites does cannot be wrong, even when many of our towns and villages are yet to be connected to the realities and possibilities Internet Access avails one and all.