Animals in human skin

Wilson Orhiunu

First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu

Email: Twitter: @Babawilly

Life started as a tale of two tortoises for me. As a youngster I heard folk tales starring the incredibly crafty tortoise who could outwit the other animals with his mischievous improvisations. He landed in hot water from time to time and this was an opportunity for the story teller to slip in a ‘moral of the story’. Every African folktale seemed to be embedded with a moral lesson. In primary school we heard folktales on end from our teachers who I suppose were instilling the tools that would make us upright citizens who would build the country to great heights.

On getting home the Black and White TV also had its own tales for me. Touché Turtle the brave fencer on hand to fight for anyone in distress. This was a cartoon from the Hanna-Barbera partnership that was almost as prolific as William Shakespeare.

The animals in the above stories had been given human traits and they could speak. We did not call it anthropomorphism then but that is exactly what it was; attributing human emotions and intentions on non -human entities. These animals were humans in animal skin. They kept us entertained and educated until we grew older.

Soon talking animals were no more interesting. The never ending faceoff between Tom and Jerry and the high speed rivals Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner had lost their appeal.

In secondary school one was reunited with the animals for one last time courtesy of George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm and I was left with just one lingering aftertaste as I promptly forgot the plot of the novel – all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

From then on in my life all I saw was animals in human skin. In church we were warned of wolves in sheep clothes. John the Baptist called some of his audience brood of vipers and even Jesus on hearing about Herod’s plans to have Him killed replied thus – “go and tell that Fox…”

There were even tales of spirits in human skin that appeared on great market days among the crowds of people in the village. The only way you could identify these creatures was looking at their feet for they never left foot prints as the soles of their feet never touched the ground.

I soon learnt that the childhood age of innocence was over and the world was full of all sorts of people battling all sorts of demons inhabiting their psyche.

From the teenage years and beyond, my friends and I attributed names of animals to people as the mood took us. The slim fine girls strutting were peacocks and the ones we did not like were Vultures. Those who sought to live above their station were observed and later talked about. The rhetorical question, “who dash monkey?” was always branded.

So what happened to all the moral instructions of childhood? Did our generation not learn moral uprightness and good citizenry?

Judging from Fela’s song ‘Beast of No Nation’ (Not to be confused with the book and film of the same name) the African folktales pregnant with anthropomorphisms had failed to deliver a generation of well-adjusted individuals; rather the corridors of power are littered with, “animal e wear agbada” and “animal e put on suit”.

Fast forward to my present reality. I see so many friends on Facebook talking about “beast mode”. Perhaps they infer they have the strength of a beast such as the tiger to complete a task at hand. The lawyers say you cannot be a judge in your own court, so perhaps people should wait for others to tell them they are in beast mode to avoid bias.

Ask people to name animals that best describe them and the guys say lions, stallions, tigers and cougars. However, these same guys will be described by their ladies as sloths, monkeys, dogs or green snakes in the green grass. Nemo judex in sua causa indeed!

One of the most loved animals on earth is the dolphin. It is social and interacts well with humans.

There is an estate in Lagos Nigeria bearing its name. Hated animals like mosquitoes and vipers have no gated communities named after them. Would you buy a house in Vampire Bat Estate?

In conclusion, there is no conclusion. I was just thinking aloud.

PS: Never call a man or a woman a dog. It might come back to bite you one day.