This post was inspired by the stereotypes surrounding African deities. Back in 2013, I visited a private primary school in Lagos to exhibit the Oluronbi app; a folktale app that captures the life of a childless lady who in desperation makes a careless vow to a tree goddess. I pointed out its colourful graphics, explicit moral lessons for kids, folksong as well as a review from Kirkus. But all that meant little to my host, the head teacher, who was quick to point out that she couldn’t recommend it to her pupils for the sole reason that a tree goddess was in the storyline. Familiarity with my society in respect of the sensitive subject of Religion meant I didn’t take it personal. Rather, it hinted at how much work needed to be done in creatively selling these inherent features that form a part of our cultural heritage vis-à-vis folklores.
The foregoing underscores one of the modern challenges facing the promotion of indigenous African Cultural heritage especially among Africans in the face of organized religious faiths. In fact, I can’t think of any area of our Culture that’s endured as much bashing as our traditional religions. Simply put, it can seem like these deep-rooted traditions and organized religions cannot exist side by side. But they can exist side by side! It depends on context and requires a spin!
Part of that thinking went into the design of the Yoruba101 mobile app tagged Legend Edition. In it, my team sought to give subtle introductions to some notable Yoruba deities like Sango,Oduduwa, Osun among others that have become synonymous with the Yoruba Culture. Though mythical, they form a part of its history and the mere fact that Yoruba Culture cannot be exhaustively spoken of without referencing them made it a good feature. Thus, we added carefully created animated characters to represent these Legends along with simple information about each. We also added a share button with which users can share their progress with others since they only get to unlock the legends upon successfully completing each topic related game.
What we didn’t anticipate was how much creativity could come from that feature. When we shared selfies of two customers who had unlocked a few of the Legends, they were so appreciative of it. Then, others wanted same. And now, we have an inbox of users who want to see selfies of themselves with the Legends they’ve unlocked. Suddenly, it’s become cool to hang out with the fiery god of Thunder, Sango and ilk; the same characters some would normally associate with wizardry.
However subtle, that’s a spin we’d just unconsciously unlocked. One that reinforces the argument that the Holy Grail to promoting these beauties of ours lie in the creative use of features to counter obvious stereotypes. It’s a lifelong process but one which when documented could be iterated upon to validate its workability. Time will tell.
All these taken together speak of how much fun and creativity we can consciously make of our cultural heritage to a larger audience.
By the way, if you’re looking to hang out with these deities, download the app (Yoruba101 for iPhone, Yoruba101 for iPad, Yoruba101 for Android), learn, play, unlock and share. We’ll have you up with them.