What is pornography? – Francis Ewherido


BY Francis Ewherido

I was one of the judges at the Urhobo Cultural Day celebration held at the Urhobo Cultural Centre, Uvwiamughe, Delta State, as part of Urhobo Progress Union 87th Annual National Congress, in December last year. The President General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Olorogun Moses Taiga, and his executives had mandated my club, Urhobo Social Club, Lagos (USCL), to constitute a panel of judges. Other members of the Panel are: Chief Simeon Ohwofa, Immediate Past President, USCL; Olorogun Jacob Diedjomahor, first Vice President, USCL and Chief Bright Apinoko, Financial Secretary, USCL. Two members of UPU America were also in the panel, with Chief Johnson Barovbe, Chairman, Board of Trustees, USCL, observing proceedings.

We were meant to rate the cultural dances from the 24 Urhobo Kingdoms in terms of appearance, originality, uniqueness, “Urhoboness,” among other criteria. One after the other, the kingdoms took their turns. Then it got to the turn of Ughievwen dance troupe. They had two bare-breasted maidens, covered in “isele” (camwood powder) in the troupe. The reactions that followed were mixed; some spectators were excited, while some were filled with nostalgia, happy that many aspects of our dying culture were still alive. But a reverend gentleman was upset. He took his phone and started recording. He was shouting, “This is pornography,” as he recorded and vowed to use the recording as evidence at God-knows-where.

After I had completed my job as a judge, that age-long question flew into my mind: What is pornography? Pornography is not an easy word to define. Take a look at these two definitions from Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia, respectively:  “Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.”

“Pornography (or porn) is the name for writing, pictures, and films which feature sex for the sole or primary purpose of arousing people sexually, either to help them masturbate, or to prepare them for sex with a partner. When, however, writing, images, and movies feature or deal with sex, or images show naked people or people engaged in the sex act, not to arouse readers or viewers sexually, but to deal with sex as a reality that is moral, psychological, cultural, or aesthetic, people do not call such works ‘pornography’.” There are many other divergent and opinionated definitions because pornography has slipped into the realm of individual perception.

Following the first definition, the breasts of the maidens were bare, but will you call that “display of sexual organs?” Even if they were displayed, they were not “intended to stimulate sexual excitement.” Rather they were just depicting an age-old culture. So it does not qualify for the pornography tag. Maiden dance was very prevalent in Urhobo culture in those days. In my town, Ewu, it is called “Odudu.” The maidens danced round the town bare-breasted. Foreign culture has eroded much of our culture. What they called primitive and we abandoned is now prevalent in the western world, not as culture, but part of a large scale sex trade.

Using the parameters of the second definition, the act of the maidens is clearly not pornography. The bare breasts were simply cultural and not meant to arouse. But this display of sex organs and arousal bits of the definitions can lead to confusion. I went to an office one day; a lady was waiting at the reception with her back on the staircase. She was wearing a G-string and three-quarters of her bum was out. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she was not aware. Now, if a voyeuristic person stands by the staircase to feast on the lady’s bare bum, will you accuse the lady of pornography? I belong to an old students’ WhatsApp group that operates with GRIP+E (Gender, Religion, Indecency, Politics and Ethnicity) rules. We are supposed to avoid or handle issues relating to these areas with care, taking note of other people’s sensibilities.

Some time ago, a member posted a video of a couple dancing. They were well dressed; nothing was exposed, except the lady’s laps when her free-flowing gown rose in the course of the dance. Soon after, there were numerous protests that the dance was sensuous and breached the “I” in GRIP+E. Sometimes while driving on the road, the bums of the ladies sitting behind on the bike in front of you are exposed. As they ride on our pothole-ridden road, their bums bounce provocatively. Can you accuse such ladies of pornography? But for space, we can go on and on with more examples. What about ladies, who expose more than half of their breasts when they lean or bend forward? Again, are breasts and bums part of the sexual organs the definitions are referring to or sexual organs are simply the penis and the vagina?

It is partly to avoid being caught up in the divergence of opinions on pornography that former United States Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, famously said in his 1964 Order that he could not use words to describe pornography, but “I know it when I see it.” The same thing applies to me. I know pornography when I see it. I saw the two maidens, I saw their firm and erect breasts, but I was not aroused; no movement in my groin. What manner of pornography is this that does not make the groin of a virile man rumble? I was just happy that they debunked the stereotype that village girls are now more “rotten” than city girls. Here were two young virgins who grew up in the village. Even though the number is not representative enough, it reinforces the fact that environmental factors notwithstanding, the home front – the immediate environment – is still very critical in the proper upbringing of children. I was also happy when I saw them because it showed that our culture, although being eroded, is still very much alive.

Just as an aside, the Uwheru wrestlers, the Okpe Dance troupe, the Ema dance from Ughelli and, of course, the dance troupe from my town, Ewu, and the other dance troupes also made me happy. As I sat, the other thought on my mind was how the cultural day can be packaged and made a national and international fiesta. The Urhobo Nation, Delta State and indeed Nigeria, is blessed with enough cultural activities to match, if not surpass, oil in income generation. We just need vision to package these events and make them revenue earners. They will also keep many of our people, especially the youths, gainfully employed. The UPU can achieve this feat on the long run. But we need to begin from the 2019 cultural day.

UBA Wise savers

The leadership of the eight local government areas in Urhobo land (Delta Central) should partner with the UPU on this. This is our matter, we do not even need to disturb the state government, although they can support if they feel like it. This is partly what governance at the local level is all about. For once our local governments should take a break from waiting for and distributing monthly allocations from Abuja and use some initiative.

Back to the matter on ground; Reverend, I put it to you that the appearance of the Ughievwien maidens on December 1, 2018, at Uvwiamughe, was not pornography, but a cultural display. If anybody got aroused, that is the person’s problem, not the girls’ or UPU’s. Meanwhile, when you finally decide to take UPU to court on this matter, please remember to join me in the suit as a co-defendant. Certainly, I cannot define pornography, but “I know it when I see it,” and what I saw was not pornography.


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