14th October, 2013
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Myth is derived from the Greek word mythos, which means story or word. Various writers have defined myth in diverse ways. William Bascom in his article “The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives” defines myth as tales believed as true, usually sacred, set in the distant past or other worlds or parts of the world, and with extra-human, inhuman, or heroic characters”. To Mary Magoulick, “myths are symbolic tales of the distant past (often primordial times) that concern cosmogony and cosmology (the origin and nature of the universe), may be connected to belief systems or rituals, and may serve to direct social action and values”. For many people, myths remain value-laden discourse that explains much about human nature. In most cases, however, myth is always a far-cry from reality. For instance, both myths and science put forward explanations to justify the existence of the universe. A major differentiation, nonetheless, is that explanations concerning the universe as offered in myths are not empirical, whereas that of science could be analysed and subjected to continual empirical assessment.
It is from the foregoing that one would like to examine the age-long belief in the country that the so-called ‘ember’ months (referring to the last four months of the year i.e. September-December) are naturally tragic periods. This conviction has become so entrenched that various religious groups and other institutions often organise special prayer sessions with a view to warding-off the ‘dangers’ associated with the ‘ember’ months. So, it not unusual to see faithful of the various religions engage in fervent spiritual warfare in a bid to dislodge blood sucking devils that are always on the prowl during these months.
The reality, however, is that the so called ‘ember’ months are not in any way different from other months of the year. Tragedy occurs in the ‘ember’ months just as it happens in other months of the year. Ascribing needless spiritual and mythical undertones to tragic happenings during the ‘ember’ months is nothing but the usual Nigerian way of trivialising serious issues instead of using methodical means to appraise matters of crucial public concerns. Rather than clothing the ‘ember’ months in a garb of gratuitous mystery, the pragmatic way of explaining dreadful events during these months is more human than mythological. The truth is that there is usually an increase in the tempo of public, private and corporate activities during this period. This is the period when most public and corporate institutions organise end-of-year events that involve massive human movements. Many religious organisations also arrange various events to fit into this period of the year mostly as way of rounding off during the year.
Consequently, in a bid to be part of the various end-of-year activities slated for the ‘ember’ months, most people throw caution to the wind by disregarding critical safety issues. Vehicles are driven in particularly reckless fashion, alcoholic drinks are consumed in amazing manner, social outings are organised with reckless abandon while the atmosphere is often filled with unusual allure and jollity. It is in the midst of this frenzied state that avoidable human blunders often result in diverse kinds of misfortunes leaving in their trail sorrow, tears and blood. In the past few weeks, cases of preventable tragedies in form of road mishaps and the likes have been reported in the media. Sadly, rather than tackle the real issues involved, our people, as usual, have started making the customary allusion to the peril of the ‘ember’ months and the need to take necessary ‘spiritual actions’.
When you have a situation where people are in so much haste to make all the money they have not made since the beginning of the year, there is bound to be bizarre consequences. When commercial drivers, who usually embark on five trips per day, but because of the aura of festivity and in an effort bid to make more money, now decide to go on ten trips, something must surely give way. Also, when you have a exodus of people from various parts of the country to other parts, there is bound to be a measure of uncertainty and disorder. The ‘ember’ months are always the busiest on our roads for obvious reasons and the tumultuous air of festivity do not really help matters.
To reverse the trend, it is important that the people must first and foremost change their perception of the ‘ember’ months. In doing this, it is vital that we make conscious efforts to disrobe the months of every garb of unjustified mysticism. It is only when we are convinced that the dangers associated with the ‘ember’ months are human rather than spiritual or mythical that we could really make appreciable progress in our efforts to systematically tackle the issues that are involved. In this respect, enforcement of existing laws and attitude change must be central to making any progress. The truth of the matter is that law enforcement agents, who ought to ensure that sanity prevails on our roads and other places during this period, are themselves involved in the mad ‘ember’ months rat-race. Therefore, in a bid to make some ‘extra’ cash to furnish the special festive ‘necessities’ of the period, they often engage in treacherous compromise that encourage law breakers to go unpunished. The result, of course, is the continuation of an avoidable circle of pandemonium and sorrow.
As we march towards the end of the year, it is imperative that we all modify our perception of the ‘ember’ months by making sure that we do not get involved in any pointless extra-ordinary end of the year ‘rush’ that could endanger our lives and, indeed, those of others. Those who have to organise social events around this period should do so bearing all safety precautions in mind. Commercial drivers and other road users must respect the sanctity of the human life by observing road safety measures.
Perhaps, more importantly, relevant government agencies must step up enlightenment campaigns as well as enforcement strategies to guarantee that ‘ember’ months crashes and other related tragedies are reduced to the barest minimum. The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, should be commended for their ‘ember’ months safety strategies, in Lagos and adjoining states. However, there is a need for them to intensify efforts in this direction while more relevant government agencies should also come on board the ‘ember’ months re-orientation and re-awareness project. Currently, the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy is embarking on an ‘ember’ months responsiveness campaign across the state. The objective is to change the attitude of the people towards these months and offer key safety tips.
In concluding, it is essential to re- affirm that ‘ember’ months are just like all other months. If only we could be modest in our approach to the months, we would certainly avoid the dangers and hiccups usually connected to them. One thing is sure, nothing is wrong with the ‘ember’ months; if only we could rid ourselves of what is wrong with us.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.