Passionate about culture in search of promoting African cultural facts, values and heritage, Gbemisola Bisi-Taiwo, General Manager of Tell Africa, is gradually realizing her dream. With an OND in Mass Communication from the Polytechnic of Ibadan, she was admitted to study her dream course, Law at the University of Lagos, after an unfulfilled accounting program at a private university. Describing herself as a “jack of all trades, knowing a lot”, she earned an MA and PhD in law from the University of Maynooth, Ireland, specializing in intellectual property rights. In this interview with NZUBE OGOKE, she talks about the preservation of African cultural heritage in the diaspora through the Tell Africa Festival taking place in Ireland.
Why are you passionate about telling stories about Africa?
There is a dearth of information that is given out about Africa. Diaspora people think that Africans are poverty stricken people; they even think that anyone who is black comes from Africa. They do not know that Africa is not a country, but a continent. The stories we tell have to do with our culture, our traditions, the way we greet our elders, the language, its beauty, our food, our socio-cultural heritage. This is what we bring into the spotlight so that people see and understand who we are, and good things come out of Africa. This will be the central idea of the festival this year. We first held it in Dublin in 2019, then due to COVID-19 it was virtual. This year we are returning to a physical festival.
How important is it to tell these stories through our culture, why not through education?
It is easier for people to learn when they are not structured to learn. For example, children of African origin living abroad are not structured to learn them, but when you show them films, feed them, show them the beauty of our clothes, when they see a fashion of life, it becomes a part of them. We don’t want civilization to take our culture away from us. That’s why we thought it was important, especially now that most of our children don’t speak our local dialect. So there is a way that we have to revive all the values that we have lost for civilization. This is what Tell Africa does.
We decided to go all over the world to show what our African culture is. During our festivals there will be exhibits, Fuji artists and other musicians including two prominent Ooni monarchs of Ife Oni, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II and the King of Accra, Akintaki Tekotutu. It’s going to bring all of Africa to pieces in Ireland for people to experience the beauty of African culture.
You’ve been living in Ireland for a few years now, what’s been the response for African content in that part of the world?
I have lived in Ireland for over 17 years now; the Irish people received us. It’s hard to break into the system, but we have to do what needs to be done. Space is limited at the moment, but I think we can create that space for ourselves because we have the right environment and the Irish government is doing very well.
There will then be a Nigeria-Ireland Investment Summit to increase partnerships between Festival exhibitors. We have, however, received invitations from New Jersey and the United States and hope to take the festival there.
There seems to be a small identity crisis among young Africans in the Diaspora, to what extent do you think Tell Africa can help solve this problem?
That’s one of the things we’re looking at. African children abroad are a bit confused about this, but it starts at home. Parents have a lot in their hands to expose them to what we enjoyed and the training we received in Africa. Parents should try harder so that children are not confused. We do not want to forget our origin.
What do you think of the opinion of some that African culture is fetish?
Many people think that African culture is fetish, but the fact is that there is nothing fetish in African culture. There is nothing that can be achieved within the African framework that cannot be achieved outside of Africa; it’s just the presentation that matters. People are entitled to their opinions, beliefs, culture and traditions.
What drives your passion for culture?
My education. My father loves culture; he was commissioner for culture and tourism in Ondo State at the time and later became commissioner for education. I had the idea of loving education and culture from home, and I like that.
Growing up, my dad exposed me to a lot of things. There were times when we traveled to our hometown, Oke Igbo, just because we wanted to attend the Egungun Festival. Whenever I visit Ife Island, Osun State, and people see me as someone from outside who cannot speak Yoruba, when I speak the language to them, they are shocked. Besides my own dialect, there are other dialects in Nigeria that I can speak. There’s hardly any party I’ll hold that I wouldn’t invite cultural troupes to perform, that’s how much I love my culture.
Is there a way to use our culture to correct the ills of society in Africa, especially among young people?
We have wonderful young Nigerians; they are not lazy, but rather creative. Nigerian youths are doing well, but they can do better, given the right opportunities. The evils of society began a long time ago.
I wonder when the young people will grow up, because the affairs of the country have still been in the hands of the old people since they were in their thirties; culture can help in this situation. People who walk into government offices, if they take an oath with Sango, Ogun instead of the bible, let’s see who is doing something wrong. If we could embrace African culture as has been done in the past, that might help.
As a lawyer, what is your opinion on the legality of certain African cultures that are against human life or affect human rights?
No system is perfect; it’s about balancing patent rights and human rights. If there is excessive movement used by the traditionalist, it could be balanced. Regarding the burial of human beings with kings, it has been abolished.
If there is a practice that infringes on human rights, there is no problem in warning and foreseeing the consequences. But that doesn’t mean our culture shouldn’t be promoted; we should point out the good side of our culture.
What challenges do you face in promoting Africa globally?
Most Africans are more British than the British. There is a way Nigerians speak but when they travel abroad they change their accent. This is the major challenge, most Africans are fake and it’s time to stop.
What do you think of our culture and our patriarchy?
It’s the spirit thing. I was brought up in a way that there’s nothing a man could do, that I couldn’t do better. It is only the mind that can limit us; if you don’t limit yourself, no man can limit you. I understand morality; when they ask girls to dress decently, it’s not because they’re girls. It is part of the culture to dress decently; it has nothing to do with sex.
If women know the enormous power we have in our hands, we will know that no man can cheat on us unless we let him. If you have something to offer, you will not be a handicap; they will come after you. It’s a women’s world.