By Bamidele Johnson
My friend, Wale Adedayo, a tough-as-nails dude with concrete for intestines (Olusiji Oyesile can testify), is spending a lot of time trying to correct the view Esu, enforcer of Olodunmare’s wishes in Yoruba cosmology, is Satan or the Devil. I have no real knowledge of Esu, so I do not know, for a fact, if he is Satan or the Devil. I do not believe that what Adedayo is doing will yield any fruit. His efforts and those of others committed to rebranding Esu are being and continue to be undermined by the popular media’s characterization of indigenous deities (Esu inclusive) as capriciously malevolent bullies.
This is widely believed to have arisen from Bishop Ajayi Crowther’s rendering of Esu as Satan in his translation of the Bible from English to Yoruba.
Yoruba movies, of which I am a consumer, are very guilty of this. Igbo films, I believe, are the same. Both seem to have, as primary objective, the portrayal of Muslim and Christian clerics as genre heroes and their God as omni-benevolent. Indigenous deities routinely suffer reputational injuries, as most often, earthly afflictions seen in movies-and in real life- are blamed on them or their agents.
Solutions to afflictions are routinely provided by Muslim and Christian clerics, with the latter usually seen pointing a copy of the Bible at the afflicted when carrying out exorcism and bringing death/insanity to the evil person (backed by an indigenous deity) responsible for the affliction. I always wonder why pastors in movies need to jab the Bible at the scourges. I think the authority pastors claim to have should make them not need to do so. Deliverance from afflictions recorded in the Bible were not executed that way, as the Bible came into existence after those times. Small matter, though.
There are, of course, movies that depict priests of indigenous deities as solution providers, but these are the ones in which there is no head-on collision between Islam or Christianity and native faiths. Head-on collisions between local deities and Christianity/ Islam, can have only one outcome: Triumph of the latter. This helps to reinforce the view that local deities, despite the powers attributed to them, are still powder puffs, a state of affairs attributable to most filmmakers being Muslims or Christians.
Often, if not always, when freedom from afflictions is provided by agents of local deities, it is depicted as coming at great cost to the recipient in the shape of, say, sex with prospective recipient’s own mother or a lunatic, demand that the toe nails of a long-dead relative be found, seven-day siesta at a cemetery or some other revolting requirement. So, even in their benevolence, movies still make local deities come across as mean bastards inclined to be megalomaniacal, pestilential and sadomasochistic.
Their spooky-looking priests and worship places help lengthen their rap sheets. Priests and worship places, perhaps, require makeovers to make them visually-appealing, at least. Local deities, sure, make insane demands. Oro devotees, on whom I made a post last week, acting on the orders of Oro, want the streets cleared of human traffic, especially women, when there is a procession. It does not matter whether or not others give a toss about Oro.
We are just required to be in bed snoring, with lights out. A bit of megalomania, I think. But the negative depiction hardly affects priests/devotees of Islam or Christianity. Aside from Out of Bounds, a 90s movie on pastoral philandering, I cannot readily recall another treating misdeed such as scriptural manipulations for power/influence or wealth accumulation and clerical sex abuse.
It is, however, possible that there are many more, but I think the frequency is low.
I do not believe that there is a paucity of materials for such. The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church famously involved one Rev. Father Cyricus Udegbulem, a priest of Orlu Diocese, who was alleged to have raped a woman in the US. There was also the case, in 2020, of Reverend Rufus Adepoju, an Anglican priest suspended for not just fancying the wife of a parishioner, but going ahead to shag the woman. So was there Reverend Father Rufus Pariola, who fathered three children. There is the more recent example of the Abuja-based Pastor Joseph Iginla who, along with his wife, admitted to having sex with other partners while married.
Some other clerics, Muslim and Christian, have been arrested for spiritually fortifying robbers, Yahoo boys and other members of the criminal community. These do not interest our filmmakers, who are minded to keep pushing the story that churches and mosques are chock-full with the good guys and indigenous worship places, the monsters.
We should have stories flipping this, so as to speak the necessary truth and yield a more balanced view of other faiths.