Feast of the Passover

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

In my present state of lockdown and shutdown in metropolitan Europe, I’m reminded of the days of our childhood in Ekiti. In the near term, society lockdown has been the stock response to the uncontrollable outbreak of epidemic disease since classical antiquity. According to Prophet Mohammed ‘When you hear that (a plague) is in a land, do not go to it and if it occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it, fleeing from it.” I distinctly remember two precedents – the outbreaks of smallpox and cholera in the early 70s, I think, (in Okemesi) where similar response was deployed.

The shutdown was for the purpose of communal cleansing and purification rites. After due consultation with the superintendent deities and the consequent prescription of atonement sacrifices; the senior masquerades from each clan were summoned and mandated to bear the ritual sacrifices to portentous spots and locations in and around the town- road intersections, gateways to the town, shrines etc. Mass vaccination and inoculation were not quite forthcoming at the time and it took the personal intervention of my uncle to make arrangements for the vaccination of as many members of the clan as possible.This was double insurance for the lucky clan. To the best of my knowledge-subject to the limitation to which the boundless curiosity of this adventurous little child of the big man (omo minister) can be gratified, I can attest to the efficacy of the larger community spiritual fortification. News travels fast in the close knit community but seldom would you hear of any casualty thereafter.

On their return from the rarefied battlefield of the spirit world and the determination that the votive offerings have been accepted, the masquerades were accorded a heroic welcome and an adhoc Egungun carnival then ensued. For me, there is an outstanding puzzle to this sacred exercise. The ingredients comprising the sacrifice potions were usually inclusive of coins, food items like eggs, meat and the rest. And I recall that the notorious rascally urchins in the community used to sneak in to retrieve and pocket the coins, and make a feast of the food items! And they seemingly committed this sacrilege with impunity- they just go on with their lives unaffected by any noticeable repercussions, be they bodily harm, ailment or misfortune.This weird misdemeanor was also prevalent among primary and secondary school students. I wouldn’t know how these guys fared in latter life though. In the circumstance, I guess the important and relevant point was that those ritual appeasements and atonement appeared effective. Where, before the intervention, there was an outbreak- such trends were, to all appearances, halted in quick order. Anthropological speculators have adduced a measure of overlap between Yoruba indigenous religious sacraments and Judaism. It was while I was ruminating on this wavelength that my mind was arrested by an old testament exemplar- the pseudo historical account of the ‘feast of the passover’. On account of those who are not familiar with the narrative of the biblical exemplar, I will quote, at length, the scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy

“The Passover Feast commemorates Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Today, the Jewish people not only celebrate Passover as a historical event but in a broader sense, celebrate their freedom as Jews.

One day, through a man named Moses, God came to rescue his people. At the time Moses was born, Pharaoh had ordered the death of all Hebrew males, but God spared Moses when his mother hid him in a basket along the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and raised him as her own. Later, Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian for cruelly beating one of his own people. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and said, “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard their cries, I care about their suffering, and I have come to rescue them. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10) After making excuses, Moses finally obeyed God. But Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. God sent ten plagues to persuade him. With the final plague, God promised to strike dead every first-born son in Egypt at midnight on the fifteenth day of Nissan. The Lord provided instructions to Moses so his people would be spared. Each Hebrew family was to take a Passover lamb, slaughter it, and place some of the blood on the door frames of their homes. When the destroyer passed over Egypt, he would not enter the homes covered by the blood of the Passover lamb”.

As it was with the Passover so it was with the momentary shutdown of society in Ekiti of yore-so the scourge of the plague may be engaged and subdued. As the placement of the ritual identification (or anointing to put it in Pentecostal parlance) passover blood of the lamb on the lintel of the Jewish household was directed by the Jewish God, so was the ritual sacrifice prescription mandated by the Yoruba superintending deity or divinity speaking through the adept diviner. Now, sitting down at home, in part, in voluntary detention in Cardiff- and in part, in collective communal obedience to the directive of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, I was reminded of the Yoruba parallel of Ìséde (forbidden from wandering out of your residence) to enable a wholesome grappling with the essence of what plagues the community. Emboldened with inherent confidence in the supersonic, almost godlike technological sufficiency of the contemporary global superpower (Putin would not like this but I think there is only one left) my initial reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and attendant global panic was lighthearted trivialisation. This attitude was further encouraged by the initial medical briefing that it was no more lethal than the common cold with similar symptoms and pathology. And the logical conclusion that only geriatrics and those compromised by immune deficiency are the vulnerable population. Now I know better but the most critical lesson I have learnt from the raging pandemic is just how vulnerable humanity is at the hands of mother nature. And that maybe there is a potent spiritual dimension to all this.

Yet, even in my initial dismissive attitude, a fortnight ago, I acted in a manner contrary to my outward disposition of belittling the crisis-as all smoke without fire. Seizing upon the lull in social activities, light human traffic and creeping highway desolation in Oxford, my minder encouraged me to acquire a six months deferred enlightenment excursion to the historic tourist spots in the city-especially the museum. And among the places we visited was a six hundred years old church where I encountered the non visible antiquated apparitions who had been dwelling therein in as many years. On our way out I chanced upon a book of prayer requests and without hesitation I made the sole request that God should cure and rid the land of COVID-19.

As the scourge gathered tempo, worldwide attention became riveted by the going ons in America, the lone worldwide hegemon- a veritable case of when Washington sneezes (never mind it was actually China that did the sneezing this time around), the rest of humanity catches COVID-19. Never mind the theatre of the absurd that has become Trump’s America-. And of course, Trump being Trump, the American President has gone through his routine motions of blundering buffoonery, bearing false witness on about every topic reinforced with arrogant display of pre pubescent distemper in the glare of daily media briefing sessions. In his typical huff and bluster, he had declared himself a war time President squaring up to a worthy adversary called COVID-19. Yet we all remember how brave he proved himself when he was confronted with the prospect of being drafted for a real war at the prime of his manhood. And I now regret forgetting to include him in my shopping prayer basket at the antique house of God the other day. Next to the pandemic, the Trump Presidency would be my priority prayer point worthy of being extirpated from the company of decent humanity. Need we iterate that many world and African leaders today are plagues in human form?. And the opportunity of getting rid of the most virulent looms larger everyday in the run down to the November showdown. Insha Allah,Trump would go the same sneaky way (like a thief in the night) he alighted on all of us, his ruinous tenure to wrought. I’m appalled at his poll numbers- that a President this defective can command the unwavering support of at least 40 per cent of the voting age population of Americans beats hollow the imagination- ‘an unpopular president who still has a lot of Americans who like him’. While erroneously disavowing the possibility of Trump getting elected as President four years ago, Fareed Zakaria did not know how prophetic he would prove when he characterised Trump as a cancer on American democracy.Transiting from the enormous idealism signposted by the election of Barack Obama’s to the dangerously profane and perverse incumbent is a tough call. I have no doubt in my mind that the dark coronavirus patch the world is trending through is pregnant with providential meanings for mankind. In the inspired lyrics of my all time favourite musician, Bob Marley- ‘there is a natural mystic blowing through the air and if you listen carefully now you will hear, many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die, don’t ask me why’…

Unlike Bob Marley, you can ask me why and I will respond as follows: Remember the prophetic Zakaria branding of Trump as a cancer? Another befitting characterisation is sharing the profile of a bacchanalian Pharaoh of the orgiastic Cleopatra-ptolemy order. Trump, of course, cannot be the only Pharaoh in the universe. There is one in Russia, there is another in Syria, North Korea, Turkey, and some would add Nigeria. And remember, for every Pharaoh, there is the red sea. A spiritual cleansing is coursing through the world, the avenging angel of God is wielding the spear to hack down the workers of of iniquity (country by country) and perceiving the blood of the lamb identification mark on those who have not partaken of the iniquities- will pass them over.