Time is an essential commodity that nature have subjected all beings even though some school of thoughts believe time is only known by man, while some are also of the belief that it is a product of the mind. But from humans to animals, time is a determinant of many factors such as hunting, feeding, reproduction, gestation, and many more.
Over the years there has been a common phrase among people, “African time”, which people have not devote efforts to find out what this phrase is all about. Is it the African time zone or an attitude that most people of black origin have decided to stick to against the western prompt time conscious behavior. While time can be defined or explain in many ways, the Merriam Webster dictionary defined it as “the thing that is measured as seconds, minutes, hours, days, years; a particular minute or hour shown by a clock; the time in a particular area or part of the world”. With this definition we can exact that the word ‘time’ can mean many things.
With the Wikipedia definition of African time as the perceived cultural tendency, in parts of Africa and the Caribbean toward a more relaxed attitude to time, It shows vividly that African time is a common time orientation that is noted with people of African origin. “This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense, about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events. This also includes the more leisurely, relaxed, and less rigorously-scheduled lifestyle found in African countries, especially as opposed to the more clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries” adding that this lifestyle can also be observes in some other non-Western culture regions. But according to the African foremost theologist, John Mbiti, he defined the African concept of time as “activities of events which have occurred, those which are occurring and those that are yet to occur. This idea of time correlates to the ideological structure of ‘past-present-future’.”
Even though Mbiti’s concept of time was based on his own culture, that is, the Kikumba of Kenya, he was able to explain that traditional African concept of time is totally different from the idea of the West. While the West are time conscious and time is seen as a commodity that have to be run after, bought and manage judiciously, Africans sees time as a factor that must be created as there are no strict rules as seen in the pragmatic style of the Westerners life. He posits further that in traditional African concept, man is not a slave of time therefore he chooses to do things at his own pace. And as Mbiti puts it ‘African people do not waste time, but rather wait for time or produce time’.
While some school of thought believe that the lax behavior of the blacks can be traced to their multi-tasking behavior as exemplified in most African cultures where a person will engage him/her self in more than one assignments at a time even in conversations, another school of thought believes that such example is not actually applicable in all traditional Africa because in some cultures everybody is expected to finish one assignment before embarking on another due to the value for sound finishing and originality.
The concept of African time has become a key topic of self-criticism in modern Africa. With many scholars and concern individuals blaming the continuous underdevelopment of the continent on this chronic behavior noting that ‘the problem of punctuality has become so endemic that lateness to any function is accepted and explained off as ‘African time.’
It is against this background that Taiwo Aiyedogbon, a contemporary performance artist of Nigerian origin enacted a performance art piece titled “African time restaurant” as a way to explore this common phrase and examine it’s benefits and demerits not only to the development of man but also as a need for people of African origin to change this orientation for the benefits of all mankind. Through this piece, Taiwo question what is generally refer to as “African time”. With the help of other performers, she used the performance to test and brings to light the damages that the idea of African time have caused not only in Africa but across the globe based on the careless attitude of people to assignments or commissioned given to them.
The performance was staged in a restaurant so as to explore the importance any given assignment or job is using the essentiality nature of food to man’s survival. With customers entering the cafeteria and waiters taking their orders, it shows that for any activity or assignment to be there is already a goal to be met. For example, for a customer to enter a cafeteria, such individual or person have already budgeted such money to eat at a particular time in a particular place.
One of the striking feature of the performance was the way these workers meet the customers even though they knew that no matter how hurry you are they will only serve you at their own convenience. This can be linked to the nonchalant attitude by some workers who doesn’t see any reason why they should attend to any given assignment promptly most especially among the civil servants. The way the waiters in this African time restaurant tried to cajole some of the customers to wait that they will be attended to when they are about leaving is another great of the performance, this feature shows the way some of these lazy workers try to convince their contractors by giving excuses for their incompetence and carelessness.
As part of efforts to fight against this languid tardiness, many programmes and efforts are now embarked upon by varied organizations such as the campaign launched in Cote d’Ivoire in 2007 with the full support of the President, Laurent Gbagbo, which received international media attention when an event theme “Punctuality Night” with the slogan “African tme is killing Africa – let’s fight it” was held at the country capital Abidjan. This event was aimed by the organisers to increase the awareness of how missed appointments, meetings or other bad behavior affect the growth of the society where nonchalance is the soul of the people.
As it is well known that one of the main features of performance art is its ephemerai nature, there is urgent need for people to invest in this art genre in Nigeria so that instead of staging such masterpiece in foreign lands, Nigerians can see it physically and learn from it rather than watching the recorded video or pictures of the performance. Funds and support should also be geared towards this contemporary art type so as to make it a veritable art practice in Nigeria.
Taiwo Oladeni Aiyedogbon is a new generation creative visual artist of Nigeria origin where she currently practice and study. Over the recent years, Taiwo has developed her own artistic language in performance art which centres on indiscipline, time and bad behavioral patterns. She is one of the product of Afiriperfoma (African Performance Artist Association) lectures and seminars where her talent was discovered under the tutelage of Jelili Atiku, Odun Orimolade, and Wura-Natasha Ogunji. She is a dancer, articulate writer, rap artiste, and strong lover of music.
Photo Credit: Taiwo Aiyedogbon