It is a mystery – why would elders always pour palm wine on the ground before they drink? Yes, in most African cultures, when elders gather, they always “waste” a portion of wine, making some incantations which include asking dead men to protect them! Of course the ancestors do not wake up and drink the palm wine. But “wasting” that palm wine is extremely important for safety.
As a boy who grew up in the village before they shipped me to the city for university educated, I observed one key thing: when the wine is poured on the ground, some elders check if ants congregate towards the wine. If ants do come towards the “wasted” wine, it means the wine is not poisoned and safe for drinking. But if the wine is poured but ants do not come around, run away – wine is not safe for drinking.
Also, there is another layer of safety: once the ants have validated that the wine is safe, elders will ask for the man who actually brought the wine to drink first. They will fill a cup and give him first to drink. Once he sips and drinks, the party opens. Practically, wine is safe for the community to consume.
Today, where most houses have been cement-floored, notice that men with solid understanding of tradition will never pour libations on cement floor, they always walk out where they can get sand. The key reason is thus: cement floor does not permit the ant-testing protocol unlike sand with bountiful ants.
You see, I grew up in the Scripture Union while in secondary school and I do not drink alcohol (purely on personal decision), but it was easy to use observation to connect the dots in cultures and indigenous knowledge. That is why I laugh when I see people poor libations with Star, Gulder, Budlight etc when technically the packaging has reduced the possibility of poisoning, and African ants are not consumers of chemicalized beers!. Traditionally, on safety frameworks, there is no reason for that. But most imitate without knowing the basis of the pouring. Yes, you can pray with your foreign beer without a need to waste a portion!
On the ancestral safety protocol, asking the messenger to take the first cup of wine, opens another interesting thing: the man that taps the wine (i.e. the wine tapper) who rarely makes the meetings (he is always busy tapping) where his wine is served is never in the equation. Elders never see him as a risk with any possibility of poisoning his brethren because largely most palm wine tappers die early deaths. It is one of the riskiest jobs in ancestral Africa: they always fall down from the palm trees. Because of that near-certainty that accidents will always happen to palm wine tappers, tradition has it that a tapper will pre-pay his kinsmen for the inconveniences and lost wages of entering bushes looking for him in future should an accident occur (his wife has reported that he did not return home as expected).
So, every minor or major week (in Igbo culture Nigeria, a minor week is four days but a major one is 8 days, rotating Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo), all the wine tapped by the wine tapper will be brought to the village square where kinsmen will consume it for free [four days make a week in Igbo and those four days rotate the market days. Some communities have major markets every 8 days and minor every four days]. Yes, on that day, everyone drinks for free, knowing that you are drinking for a potential loss of wage if something happens to this wine tapper in future.
Yet, despite the fact that the wine has been tapped by the wine tapper, other people bring the wine to the square. Those people that bring the wine must taste first before any party begins.
Simply, as you go deeper into indigenous knowledge, you will understand how even when there were no modern HSE (health, safety and environment) standards, people that lived therein survived, building safety frameworks in many things they did.
- Wisdom is not taught in any university, but it dwarfs every other knowledge one acquires.
There was no NAFDAC then, and palm wines are never sealed, so the elders worked out mechanisms to guarantee safety, and to sustain the practice, they had to invite the “gods”, so it remained for ages.
Our problem started when everything was demonized, and we became “born agains”, even without seeking knowledge to understand the deeper meanings of all the “fetish” things our forefathers did. What is not debatable now is that we have more funny creatures than back then, as truth has become a premium.
When we complete our 360° rigmarole, we simply go back to the basics and then relaunch our heritage to the world.
2. Mr. Oguaju, you continue to impress me with your deep understanding of some of the things which must be in place before we can move forward.
Right now, we are neither birds of the air nor creatures of the ground, we hurriedly discarded our indigenous ways and attempted to switch to the imported ways of our colonial masters. We have landed in a ditch in between with sad results.
We must make our way back to our roots, and after a careful appraisal pick what we need from the treasures left by our forebears, we can then pick what adds value from the foreigners, this is what the Asians did and the results are there for all to see.
We can cherry pick education, science, hygiene etc without jettisoning our religion and culture.