Michael Bassey Eneyo
We are in the world where frightening and tension-laden incidents are increasingly threatening the freedom; peace and liberty of humanity in such a way that many individuals have been left in the condition of constant fear because of the uncertainty of safety in their various living communities. In recent times, the most trending news on social media are such that bring the feelings of fear. We’re somewhat witnesses to the frequent broadcast on television and radio on crises in different parts of the world in both local and international communities. Frankly speaking, news headlines on daily bases are not without some incidents of fear. War and rumour of war across the globe are enough to create fear and panic. Terrorists’ activities and their destructive impacts are amongst the emerging factors and incidents of fear in the contemporary society. Apart from this global threat, every society has it peculiar prevalent type of fear, their causes and the season in which such incident(s) is believed to be more rampant than any other period. More often also, many of these incidents are directly caused by human beings. Examples of such fear factors caused by human beings are: war, terrorism, kidnapping, accident, arm robbery, etc, which are often instigated by human desperations to meet up with their daily challenges or the pursuance of their selfish goal. Most of these fears can be eliminated if human beings choose the path of peace, carefulness and love. But there are other incidents of fear that are beyond human ability to fully control or stop from happening. Such incidents are: earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption, death, etc. These are natural phenomena which may occur without man direct interference. The kind of fear these incidents generate cannot be completely overcome. However, it can be managed, subtly controlled or reduced if we inculcate the habit of observing what is going on in our environments and make steps to addressing them. Thus, human being is expected to familiarize himself with the happenings in his environment and also pay attention to seasons of events and try to know the impacts such events can have in the life of the people; thus, knowing the measures to be adopted in addressing them. But then, we must also know that some of these phenomenon cannot be completely overcome. Thus, the belief in the existence of natural disaster as part of human existential challenges can also contribute in eliminating fear; hence, reducing the impact of threat such incidents can cause us.
Another kind of fear is the one caused by certain belief systems or myths of a people. This type of fear is what I called “accident of fear”. This is what R. Michael Fisher refers to as “fear culture”. Accident of fear has varieties, but in this article, we shall be looking at the kind of accident of fear I called “periodic accident of fear”. It is under periodic accident of fear that the phenomena of the “ember” months and the belief that goes with is contextualized, using Nigeria as a mirror.
Thus, in this article, we shall identify “periodic accident of fear” as the ruling fear in the “ember” months within Nigerians context. But then, such fear can be overcome if we should separate myth from reality or superstition from fact. Before we go further, it’s important we make some contextual analysis on the above concepts so as to know their roles in this article. Hence, let me quickly define the above mentioned concepts in order to make our ideation more clearing and appealing. In my book Philosophy of Fear, I argues that fear is said to be accidental if what you’re afraid of is actually not real, but are created by your own imagination . Thus, “Accident of fear” as a kind of fear is founded on the belief in the superstition, falsehood or error which should not be taken as true. In other words, accident of fear is man-made fear either in his attempt to overcome other factors of natural fear or as means to instil the spirit of carefulness as it is common amongst the traditional folk tales and myths of different societies. In the same way, “periodic accident of fear” is the belief that there are certain period or time where certain negative things must necessarily take place more than any other time. According to this belief, such incidents are natural to the period or the time they occur. This notion is what I refers to as “generic fallacy” within Nigeria communities. It is a fallacy because such belief is not always the case in the real sense of it; it is just human creation which has affected the psychics of many individuals negatively, thus, creating unnecessary fear among people. A clear instance of this false belief is captured in the attitude of most Nigerians toward what is tagged “Ember Months”.
The concept of the “Ember Months”
The word “ember” as it is used here is different from the lexical meaning which has to do with a glowing piece of coal or wood from fire. In this context, “ember” is a derivation from the last suffix of the names of three of the four months in the last quarter of the year (September, November and December). October is also included amongst the ember months even though it doesn’t have the prefix “em” added to the suffix “ber” which is generic to all the four months, but for sharing the suffix “ber” ends it a membership of the “ember” school of thought. What then is the philosophy driving the belief in the “ember” months in Nigeria society?
The trending philosophy of the ember months in Nigeria
This article was necessitated after receiving hundreds of well intended messages of prayers from my numerous friends, relatives, colleagues and well wishers on the 1st September, which is the first day into the “ember” period. Such messages like: “you shall not experience death throughout this ember months”,” blood sucking demon shall not taste your blood in this ember months”, “there shall be no accident on your way as we begin the ember months”, every evil altar raise against you in this ember months shall be destroyed” and many of similar prayers. These were prayers I received wholeheartedly with a faithfully affirmative “amen”, knowing fully that no well intended prayer is useless. Before 1st September, I had also witnessed many evangelical and ministerial billboards and churches posters along the streets and some members distributing fliers; inviting the general public for the ember months programmes with similar inscriptions as the ones I received through text messages and calls. Putting the inscriptions on these various billboards, fliers and the messages I received together, I realized that the central message was an invitation to re-awaken our consciousness of the ugly experiences people always observed during the period, I also understood that it was an appeal to people to rise up to conquer this fear(s) through the belief in a God who can rescue them from the terror of the devil and the challenges which is believed to be associated with the ember period. Most importantly, I realized that the blame of the ugly and bitter experiences of the ember period were put on evil men/women and their master; Satan, rather than putting it on the desperations and carelessness of the people.
Ember months are always believed as the period in the year where different rituals, sacrifices, festivals, spiritual rites, etc, are performed for appeasement of some gods and deities. The sacrifice that demands spilling of blood whether human or animal blood is often called rituals  This is always done to appeal to the gods of the land for a particular favour or to appease the gods for the misdeed(s) of the people or of a person. It is a strong belief among people including Christians and other religious that people ought to be very prayerful during ember months in order to break any forms of satanic covenant(s) that was made against them for the period. During this period also, there’s always “full load” of religious activities in churches and prayer houses as people pray against the spirit of death, spirit of accident, spirit of sickness, spirit of bad luck and other forms of bad spirits. Also, many prayers have been channelled to rebuking every kind of demon on assignment to execute any of these ugly incidents. In short, it is a period in which expectancy of bad incidents is at its maximum horizon, thus, increasing our fear(s).
Separating myth from reality
This article is not targeting at negating completely the philosophy or the belief characterizing the ember months, rather, it is an attempt to refute the exaggeration of attributing every of the ill of the period to demon, Satan or evil people as if ember months is a period dedicated to the devil, without looking at the desperations in the part of human beings to fulfil all his budget before the end of the year. In as much as I don’t deny the existence of some supernatural powers and principalities with their corresponding influences on the affairs of men, I do not agree with the belief that ember months are always characterized with ugly incidents caused by demons. This work shall therefore separate the myth and the fallacious notion about the ember months from the fact or reality surrounding the period. This separation I believe shall help us go about our normal businesses throughout the period with care and caution. We need to separate the myth that demons is always at work during the ember months, that demons have positioned themselves in strategic junctions to collect human blood by causing accidents on the road. We must conquer the myths that ember months is the only time the ritualists have kept to appease their gods and deities; using human beings as sacrificial lambs. We must separate the actual state of affairs of the period from the belief that satanic manipulations are always at work in our society during the ember months. These are the main trusts of this article, which I think is timely and demanding.
Myth is a story or an idea that is believed by the people but then, not true . Such story may be the one that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence . Thus, myth is a folklore genre consisting narratives that play a fundamental role in society, such as foundational tales  Using the above definition as a mirror, we can argue authoritatively that the over emphasized threat of death, accidents misfortune as the effects of the activities of spiritual interference in the affairs of men during the ember months is mythologically conceived and such belief ought to be refuted. Empirically speaking, there is never a period of a year that has ever been celebrated as death and problems-free period than will justify one to think that death or misfortune in any other time of the is caused by some demonic forces. It is therefore counterproductive to raise the feelings of fear when there’s actually nothing to be worried about.
The facts and realities of the ember months
The main reason for the seemingly increase in the mortality rate during the ember months is not mainly as the result of certain spiritual manipulations by some gods or deities as it is often alleged, neither is it because of the activities of the ritualists. Rather, it is as a result of desperations on the part of the people in trying to meet up with their financial challenges before the end of the year: this is what many pastors, preachers, teachers of times and seasons have failed to tell us about the ember months. Since the beginning of the ember months marks the beginning of the end of the last quarter of the year, it is pertinent that people will work even harder to put finishing touches in their projects for the year and it is logically true to say that, it is a period in which people check their scorecards to know if their outlined plans have been achieved or not. It is always a period of stock taking and account balancing. Ember month is a period of business and self evaluations; those in business must take stock to know if their business is growing or not; if they make profit or loss. People want to know if their budget for the year is deliciously executed. It is the period where many financial institutions, both public and private are rounding up their financial year and as such; all debts are expected to be paid to ensure that account book and the transaction thereto is in order. So it is always a challenging period to those indebted to these institutions. Parents must pay their wards school fees; prepare them to return to school. It is also a period that many people struggle to complete their project before crossing to another project year, this is predicated on the tradition of people making budget and drawing of proposal in the beginning of the year for what they wish to achieve before the year is ended.
The fact is that people are always desperate to accomplish their given budgeted projects before the end of the year. The pressures which many people found themselves during this period are capable of changing their psychics and then alter their senses of reasoning and behaviours, and this can affect their lives in a more devastating way such that it can lead to death. Since the ember months are made up of the last quarter of the year, it is always a period of clashed programmes and activities. In Nigeria, ember months always come with its unique fanfare, variety of feasting and other kinds of celebrations in the families, communities as well as in the states. For example, Calabar Carnival that is always celebrated from every 1st December to the end of the year demands so much financial involvements from those who may desire to have a full dose of the period. Many families and communities always fix their get together during this period. Everyone wants to travel home to reunite with their love ones. Many marriages are fixed for this period; all sorts of social anniversaries, end of the year parties, visits to friends, welcoming loved ones for a holiday, etc, are the common experiences of the period. Another demanding celebration among Christians at the last month of the ember is Christmas celebration. Here, parents, whether poor or rich are expected to buy Christmas wears for the children, the husband must buy for the wife, while wife must visit her parents with gifts. Earnestly speaking, ember month is a month of huge spending.
From the above, we can see why there are always so much desperations; everybody wants to meet up with the fanfare and the obligations of the period and nobody wants to be left out. And the result of these desperations is displayed in the careless driving by commercial drivers, absence mindedness of other commuters as well as roughness exhibited by different road users while applying the road; all in the name of meeting up with the demands of the season. The end product of this is an increase in road accidents and death. We need not to work in medical laboratory to know that too much of thinking can lead to High Blood Pressure and can affect our brain as well. We must not be medical practitioners to know that commercial drivers who overwork and deny themselves rest and sleep are bound to sleep while on steering (car steers well). We must not wait for a nurse to tell us that our failure to eat well just because we want to meet up with some financial commitments can make us collapse. We all know if we overwork ourselves without corresponding medical attentions, we can die at anytime. Many people because of the desperation to travel home, they don’t care about servicing their cars before embarking on the journey. For those who do, they often be in a hurry to move without test-running the vehicle before putting it on a far distance journey. All these are parts of the carelessness associated with the ember period. These and many more are the real causes of high mortality rate during the ember months and not the devil as we believe it to be. More often, during this time a lot of people only think about money and forget about their health. Human desperations during ember months have caused more death within the period than what demons may believe to have caused, but this is the truth that many have refused to know.
To overcome the fear of ember months therefore, we must shift the focus away from demons to human beings. We must not blame the ritualists, rather, we should blame ourselves for setting a goal that is difficult to achieve to ourselves. We can overcome the fear of the ember months if we stop wasting our time in church to rebuke Satan, but use such precious time to face our challenges even as we call on God to go stand by us. The fear and tension of the ember months can be overcome if we choose to be careful in all our dealings during the period, knowing fully that others will continue with their lives of desperations. Fear will depart from us if we pay attention to our health, knowing that the demands of the season might make us work more than needed.
*Don't drink too much.
*Don't drive carelessly.
*Don't set a goal that is difficult to achieve within a short time.
*Plan your life within your income.
*Always make sure you keep to the rules.
With these, you will be able to overcome the fear of the ember months.
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Fisher, R.” ‘Fear’ Studies, 12 Years Later: Progress and Barriers”. Technical Paper No.74, In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute, 2018.
Jeremy. “ Alternative Mythologies-The Efik Religion”. jeremyvarner.com. 7 Oct 2014
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