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The Guardian Nigeria

Friday 27 November 2015
Daily Newsletter:

Science and human sacrifice (1)

  • By J. K. Obatala on July 2, 2015 2:28 am

Photo; cbsnews1
Photo; cbsnews1

I HAVE long contemplated a column on human sacrifice—its evolutionary (survival) value and the various scientific disciplines that impinge on the practice.

These disciplines include Astronomy, Psychology, Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology and the little known, (but extremely important) science of eugenics.

What prompted me to stop mulling and pen this column was a stopover at Shandees, a fast food restaurant in Port Harcourt, a couple of days before my publication deadline.

When I sat down to eat, the U.S. space film, Independence Day, was playing on a wide screen. I had arrived just at the point of resolution, when a white pilot nobly sacrificed himself, and saved humanity, by running his fighter plane into an aperture on the alien spacecraft, which then exploded.

This, of course, was symbolic human sacrifice, camouflaged as modern cinematic art—a common thematic gimmick in American film and fictional writing. Similar scenes in The Exorcist and The Magnificent Seven reminded me that evolutionary logic governs art and most other human activity.

Human sacrifice is a powerfully evocative subject, especially in light of a recent spate of newspaper reports about gory ritual killings in Ibadan, Lagos and elsewhere.

Indeed, I have, on two occasions seen the fresh remains of children, who had fallen victim to ritual murder on the previous evening—one an albino with its eyes and organs removed and the other a headless torso that once belonged to a 10 to 11 year old boy.

So I don’t take the issue lightly. Nor should this column, or any comments it contains, be construed as an endorsement of such sadistic and barbarous murders.

“Murder” is precisely what contemporary ritual killing is: Whether it is committed for illusory material gain or by misguided traditional rulers, with no understanding, either of their own culture or the rules that govern human behavior in general.

Something else needs to be made clear too: It is the distinction between the practices of our ancestors, which had underlying motives that are scientifically defensible, and those of modern butchers.

The present-day ritual killer catches innocent and unsuspecting individuals and cruelly deprives them of their lives. A true sacrifice though, entails giving up something that is precious to you—something you would ordinary want to keep. It must be your own life or that of someone who is valued.

Cases in point often make the news in modern India, where human sacrifice remains a serious social problem for the Government. Some mothers reportedly knife their own children, before the Hindu god Shiva, while farmers occasionally offer up village girls, at the beginning of the planting season.

In traditional African, and other pre-industrial human societies, the person sacrificed was almost always part of the culture and shared its values. Some even volunteered to become offerings. Warriors often did so, to demonstrate their courage and their loyalty to the state

What is more, self-sacrifice was very common in many human a. Among the ancient Mayans, in pre-European Peru, for instance, both sexes sacrificed themselves. In a recently discovered tomb, Wikipedia reports, “the Queen had a [poisonous] ceremonial stingray spine placed in her genital area…”

The most famous contemporary instance occurred in Japan, during the 1960s, when the writer, Yukio Mishima, sacrificed himself before the Emperor. Protesting Japanese pacifism, he used a traditional knife to cut out his own intestines—and then ordered his attendants to behead him.

But human sacrifice has always been more widely practiced, as well as more generally misunderstood. This has created serious psychological problems among Nigerians, characterized by racial self-hatred, cultural disassociation and pathological religious escapism.