Apo Calypso,” I said to him as he sat drained from his tirade, “it might interest you to revisit the ancient Egyptians, those early black Africans who achieved a high level of organized culture.” And I handed him three copies of the famous Egyptian book, variously translated and titled The Book of the Dead, or The Book of the Coming Forth By Day, or The Book of Resurrection.
In their written accounts of the after-life and the Last Judgment, the ancient Egyptians accord a central place to the ofo or afa (the ritual declaration of innocence which dominates our traditional African prayers and is known by various names in the various languages of the continent). The deceased citizen, now a spirit-being, is ushered into the Hall of Maati or Double-Truth where the Grand Ancestor Ausar (Osiris) is seated on the Throne, flanked by the Maati (the Goddesses of Justice and Truth), the Hall lined on both sides by the Forty-two divine Magistrates and Guardians of Virtue.
The deceased addresses each Magistrate in turn, reciting the ofo, declaring how he lived an upright life in keeping with the particular virtue which is the god’s domain. The ofo is a recitation not so much of the good things one has done as of the bad things one did not do, which is why the Europeans dubbed it a Negative Confession.
I had bookmarked each volume at this dramatic scene so that Apo must stumble on it as he flipped through, comparing the translations.
“Remarkable! Remarkable!!” he exclaimed. “I haven’t seen this book in ages, so long has my soul been covered in the dust of material production. . . . O.J., I had quite forgotten that you’re a religious man!”
“Of course! I only get angry when I hear any religion claiming to have a monopoly of Truth . . .”
“I am the Truth, the Way, and the Light, and the rest of you are in the dark, lost in the wilderness and beating about the bush,’’ he mocked the true believers in a nasal whine.
“What insufferable rubbish! The arrogance of it!”
“God is too big to be contained in any one religion or revelation,” he declared flatly.
“I say Amen to that.”
“And when they say Amen (Amin, Ameen), they don’t even know they are calling on the ancient Egyptian god Amen (Amen-Ra, Amon) to validate the truth of their words and the genuineness of their feeling.”
“Don’t mind the bloody ignoramuses.”
And then he read aloud, skipping lines and modifying phrases.
Homage to you, O Great God, Lord of Justice and Truth
I have come to you, my Lord, that I may bask in the glow of your magnificence
Homage to you, O ye gods that dwell with him in the Hall of Maati
I know you, and I know your names
You are the Forty-two that sit in judgment on this Day of Reckoning,
Weighing the hearts of men and holding jurisdiction over the virtues
I come before you with integrity and innocence
My hands are clean, my mouth is clean, my heart is pure
I have not told lies nor given false witness nor withheld the truth
I have not revealed information given to me in confidence
I have not stolen, I have not short-changed my customers
I have not seized land or other property that belongs to others
I have not killed anyone nor arranged for anyone to kill
I have not caused anyone to weep or go hungry or suffer pain
I have not slept with another man’s wife
I have not taken milk from the mouths of children
I have not mistreated the widow nor encouraged others to mistreat her
I have given food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and a boat to him that needed one
I have not eavesdropped nor meddled with things that do not concern me
I have not been violent
I have not intimidated or terrorized anyone
I have not been talkative or irresponsible in my speech
I have not been impatient or hot tempered or angry without just cause
I have not been sullen or resentful or unnecessarily unhappy
I have not been arrogant or boastful or claimed to be what I am not
I have not blasphemed or cursed God
Deliver me therefore from your knives of slaughter
Deliver me from the monster Amemit, Devourer of those found deficient in virtue
Let my heart be found unencumbered, light as a feather
Let me be approved and transfigured to join the company of Ra
To sail with him across the sky in his Boat of the Billions of Years.
“Man, this is poetry. And religion. And truth.” I was truly touched.
“Yes,” said Apo, “something the fraudulently wealthy, the Untouchables of Nigeria, have lost touch with.”
“An upright life . . .”
“A life governed by Truth and Justice (Maati) . . .”
“A life doubly armed with the palm-frond (ogu) of truth and the staff (ofo) of justice. . . .”
Jemie is the Editor-in-Chief of BusinessDay