There is always the flipside of every narrative. It is called ‘the other story’. The other story is very unpopular, very turgid, very unassuming and lacks the currency and obstinate recurrence of ‘the story’, its twin sibling. The other story is ancient and as old as man. All over the world and since ancient times, the other story has always suffered acute discrimination and condemnation. The moment the world hears ‘the story’, it pushes the other story to the background, holding on to the story as a writ, the gospel truth. In many instances, however, the world has suffered greatly by its alienation of ‘the other story’ as it turns around to be the dominant narrative of the world, the compass that navigates global phenomena and even practices. One very peculiar thing about the other story is that, the moment it survives the onslaught of discrimination, ostracism and deliberate conspiratorial bottling, it lives for ages, quickly dethrones the story and transforms into becoming the real and enduring narrative. The other story has survived till this moment of modernity.
Take for instance the story of Galileo, Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician who was reputed to have played a major role in the scientific revolution of the Renaissance. During his period, Rome was the centre of the world and Catholicism ruled the globe. The dominant story of educated people of the world or ‘the story’ at this time was tilted towards the Aristotelian geocentric view of the earth being at the center of the universe with all heavenly bodies revolving around the Earth. Beefed up by biblical exegeses which state that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved” and Psalm 104:5 which says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” as well as Ecclesiastes 1:5 which states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place,” the world held on rigidly to its view. By 1615, Galileo championed heliocentrism and piqued by his affront, his writing was submitted to the Roman Inquisition by Father Niccolo Lorini and the charge was that Galileo and his followers were seeking to reinterpret the Bible. This was a crime that presented as a violation of the Council of Trent. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and found “vehemently suspect of heresy.” He was forced to recant his view and throughout the rest of his life, he was under house arrest. Galileo’s other story was later to shape the world and geography till today. He was preceded by Renaissance mathematician and astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus.
Or the birth of twins among the Efik and Arochukwu of current South and South-east Nigeria. The dominant story was that this strange pair of babies was an evil curse and taboo to be sired. In the belief of the natives which lasted for generations, the father of one of the twins must have been an evil spirit and the mother, guilty of a humongous sin. In a dilemma as to the determination of who out of the twins was fathered by the evil spirit, Efik and Arochukwu people gave the twins scalding treatment of abandoning them in the evil forest to die. Then came Aberdeen, Scotland-born Mary Mitchell Slessor on missionary journey to Nigeria. Mary, daughter of a shoe maker who lived in the slums of Dundee, arrived Calabar in September of 1876. Riled by this dominant story of the evilness of twins, Slessor adopted every child she found in the forest abandoned. She was harangued and called eccentric.
She even sent out her missioners to scan the forests for these babies whom she protected and cared for at the Mission House which soon stared brimming with babies. She lived in Okoyong, among the Efik, for 15 years. She learned to speak Efik and when she died, Efik gave her an equivalent of a state funeral, transporting her body down the Cross River to Duke Town and a Union Jack shrouding her coffin. She was also honoured by Clydesdale bank at the World Heritage Series, as well as the Famous Scots Series, even featuring her on the back of the bank’s £10 note. Her other story is the dominant narrative today.
Or even the story of the hundreds of years of the thriving slave trade. The history of slavery spans virtually every culture, nationality and religion. It was the dominant story from ancient times, even though relics of it have survived till present time. Indeed, the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BC) made reference to slave trading as an established institution. It was the dominant story in virtually every civilization. The Byzantine-Ottoman wars, as well as the Ottoman wars in Europe, came to bear as a result of the capturing of a large number of Christian slaves. Though it is yet to apologize to the rest of humanity, Britain was a major player in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. In almost all the thirteen colonies of America and Canada, the dominant story was that slavery was a legal institution. When the other story aside the thriving story of slave trade began, it was spearheaded by Denmark which became the first European country to ban the trade and the rest of the world took a cue. Today, the western world, kingpins of the earlier story of slavery, claims to be riled by the fact that it once partook of slavery.
Not to talk of the story of Egyptian civilization and its encounter with religion. Tagged as cradle of civilization, Egypt, divided into Upper and Lower, came into contact with religion as a result of practical reality. River Nile had become a huge cross to carry for Egyptians of the time. Seasonally, it overflew its banks and killed hundreds of Egyptians, swept away their homes, livestock and crops. Their survival was largely threatened. The dominant speculative belief was that the gods and goddesses were angry with the people. Egyptians thus veered into totenism as a panacea to their problems and worship of gods which however failed to ameliorate their problems. Gradually, they encountered Babylonian astrologers who told them that whenever the Sirius star shone, the next moment, there would be heavy rain and that no god was responsible for their fatalities. They were then able to construct a big basin which they perforated and were able to divide the day into 24 hours, the day and night, using the sun and moon to measure time. They created embankments against flood and thus moved from the speculative story of the anger of the gods into science, alchemy and mummification of bodies, all leading to the great civilization that Egypt later became.
Down here in Nigeria, there are a thousand and one dominant stories that had to gradually vacate the scene for ‘the other story’. The most readily available is the political story of a man who later became the political and cultural avatar of the Yoruba people. After leaving the Western Region as Premier, with the strings of developmental firsts he brought the way of the west and his mental investments in the future of mankind, like the writing of the Pathway which he wrote after examining virtually all constitutions of the world, Obafemi Awolowo thereafter leapt into political witch-hunting and heavy adversarial machinations.
He was jailed in 1962 and hundreds of his loyalists left him. Indeed, his adversaries made jest of him and claimed that he had effectively entered his political darkness. The then dominant story of power was SLA Akintola, the Premier, which was told by his coterie of loyalists who had become the reigning avatars of the time. Shortly after, ‘the other story’ overtook the story. Awolowo’s innocence of all the charges from his enemies became the other story; he became Nigeria’s Military Government’s Federal Executive Council Vice President and by the time he died in 1987 and till today, he had become a recent ancestor of the Yoruba people, worshipped in veneration and reference. Many of those whose forefathers tried to smother ‘the other story’ of his messianism are today converts of his ‘the other story.’
What the above stories point at is that the world had always regretted its rigid abidance by the centrality and unimpeached nature of the dominant story. The lesson it teaches is that there is always the other story to the story and it would be akin to self immolation not to listen to it. Thank goodness that modernity has sharpened the critical nature of the human brain, it would be difficult to sell to the world an ‘another story’ that is devoid of logic and common sense. Thus, using logic, both inductive and deductive, man is able to critically examine both ‘the story’ and its twin, ‘the other story’ and to come to conclusion of the truth for all seasons that it must underscore.
Which brings this writer to the story of the tragic spousal violence that trended a couple of months ago in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The hero and heroine of that story are a couple called Lowo and Yewande Oyediran. The Lowo, the story has it, got killed by his wife while brawling over a child sired by the former out of wedlock. It has been amplified by the media, contours created, variants moulded out of the story and sold to a thirsty audience. Just like the feminine advocacy that world history was written from the perspective of man, with several matriarchal ingenuities and developments shrouded from global view. Now, women want to get world history to be her-story, from woman perspective and not strictly his story.
If we would not be committing the same fallacy that our forefathers committed by holding on tenaciously to ‘the story’, shutting their minds from ‘the other story’, we should begin to ask questions and critically appraise and interrogate this tragic spousal brawl story that we have heard. For instance, two people witnessed the death of Lowo that fateful morning – Yewande and Lowo himself. One is deceased and the other, alive. Granted that Yewande may want to tilt the story to favour her, would it be wrong to listen to her story? Isn’t there the possibility that the world has been fed half-truths by its belief that Yewande, said to be a brilliant, incorruptible Director of Public Prosecution in the Oyo State Ministry of Justice, was the aggressor and the murderer? Has the world listened to her version of the story of a 2-year matrimony that was riveted by in-laws’ acute hatred, alcoholism, on and off love and hatred by a man she swore to live with till death did them part? Did she really kill her husband?
While not asking for an abandonment of the story the world has, can it please listen to the other story and make its judgment? The danger of holding on rigidly to our verdict of Yewande Oyediran being guilty-as-charged, is evident. The 35-year old lady could as well be our daughter, our sister, our cousin, our wife. By refraining from hearing ‘the other story’ on the dawn of February 2, 2016, we would be no better than Father Niccolo Lorini of the Inquisition who stampeded the author of ‘the other story’ of world geography and astronomy, Galileo, to his death.
–––Aina is a Lagos-based attorney and human rights activist.