Culture is internally too intricate to be understood from the outside. This perhaps is one of the critical messages of Professor Chinua Achebe. That perhaps again explains why his novels, especially Things Fall Apart, are such global hits. Much of the world came to see how finely woven a society is. The point is that an Achebe understood and portrayed his Igbo society from inside out and not otherwise. And a grateful world pays tribute.
Lately, I have seen “Diaspora Igbo” and other nationals bemoan the frequency with which the Igbo visit home for “new yam festivals.” Of course, new yam festival is the generic term for Igbo travels back home. It could be for burial, marriage, house opening ceremonies, etc. The point is that those who criticise the frequent travels home may be doing that from the outside. They want to read a culture with the register of another culture.
But like Things Fall Apart tells, full understanding is beyond the eyes of a tourist outsider, no matter how glazed. From a recent whistle tour of several Igbo communities, I can report that the Igbo have to travel home. And this is as frequently as they can happen.
Now, of virtually all Nigerian groups, the Igbo are the most peripatetic or footloose. Igbo have a genius for radiating towards all the parts of the known world. From Calabar to Kano, Tokyo to London, the Igbo are traditional faces to behold. The implication is that, added up, the total Igbo Diaspora is becoming a significant and growing percentile of its population.
There are opportunities and dangers to this. The opportunity is that the Igbo get to be some of the most educated and cosmopolitan people of the world. The fact of being cosmopolitans is obvious. But, fact is, to travel beyond one’s culture zone is a form of inquiry. It thus follows that to travel is also to be educated. And the most travelled are thus the most educated, by implication. It is just that, sometimes, we travel by eye movements, reading books, and, other times, by being footloose.
But the danger is that the Igbo, in being too Diaspora-heavy, may be de-Igboidized. Thus to save their Igboticness, the Igbo are prone to touch base, to travel home. And it becomes a form of education and re-education. And this Igbo “to and fro-ness” is an ancient rite.
For instance, Opobo, despite political correctness, is essentially an Igbo settlement. Its first potentate and founder, King Jaja, and his lineage, are from present-day Imo State. Igbanke in Edo State, despite false posturing, is a radiant outpost of Igboland. (See Emma Okocha, et al). But those matters need not delay us here.
Let us now illustrate this matter of continuing education and re-education for the Igbo in travelling home. I was in Nkwerre, Imo State, early April to witness the funeral rites of Mrs. Margret Nwagbogho Obialor, nee Onyejiaka. In the spirit of full disclosure, Daa Maggi, as we called her, was my beloved aunty.
Having lived a worthy and fulfilled life, Daa Maggi has gone to be with the Lord. She was aged 90. She is survived by her two remaining children, Mrs. Ezinwanne M. Ketcha and Mr. Okwus Samuel Obialor, and numerous other relations.
And her interment was as much an occasion for solemn rites as it was for a reunion of the family and friends. So many of us who are as scattered in several diasporas, as far apart as Kano, Aba, Ibadan, name it, came around to meet and to reminiscence.
For instance, it was easy to recall that Ezinwanne was and still is the kindest sister you could ever pray for. One could recall that it was due to her loving genius that it was possible to feed the multitude literally on a morsel. And in recalling the magnificence of a shared dinner pot, one is led in utter humility to the great man of Galilee. When Christ hit Bethlehem, there was the myth of feeding the many with a few loaves. That miracle was achieved not by magic but by Christ scattering sacrificial love onto all humanity. To share is to be in eternal abundance. That was the message Ezinwanne taught us. Thus if you can share the least morsel with the most love, you would be surprised the multitudes that would be so fed. I bear witness.
This is not banter. These were the stories some of us who have become elders told the kids as we gathered outside the events proper. It was a form of historical education. The takeaway for the kids was that we all have to hang together however far apart we appear to be. This is because that is why and how we have come this far.
If you went beyond the personal notes, there were also lessons of the public kind. Take this: as the burial processes were going on, there was a brimful basin. It was filled with palm kernel. And it was too obtrusive. So everybody asked what about? And the education came.
Daa Maggi was from Umuko quarters. In Nkwerre, there is a universal proverb, owu akpo gnu umuko ota akii gi anyara nkume na olu. If you are said to be from Umuko, famous for eating palm nuts, must you now announce that by wearing necklace of slabs and stones?
But why Umuko? Are they the only Nkwerre peoples who eat palm kernels? No, it is just a matter of the a historical requirement, their historical requirement. It is that, at a burial or ceremonies like that, when their daughter dies, the visiting contingent has to be served with brimful of kernels.
Perhaps, it is, as Nkwerre people would say, owu iji tashiri obi ike. The easiest translation would be that they are munching it as a consolatory act. That is, something you do to take your mind off present difficulties or tragedies. And the sociologist in me took interest. Perhaps it is not for nothing that Nkwerre peoples quip: Nkwerre wu college ooh, oyoyo. It comes to, Nkwerre/society is a university, but the many may not know.
The moral is that there is some education at home that you can’t get abroad. And this though not particular with the Igbo has a specific Igbo angle. Igbo are a travelling band and need to retouch at home every now and now, just like the Jews. For the Jews, the return home, Aliyah, has come in the form of carrying their scriptures around as they go into their Diasporas. Since the Igbo have not authored scriptures or retrieved in full the scriptural works and words of Mother A’Endu, etc, coming home is and remains canonical. And it is true as the Igbo say Ulo wu chi – one’s destiny take roots from his homestead. So one needs to renew and be renewed in it.
Lest I forget, there is Okwus, the only surviving son of Daa Maggi. Okwus is one of those great characters. He is perhaps the wisest man you never heard of in the whole of Christendom. Gifted beyond measure, Okwus is an artist, philosopher and precocious guide. Now in middle age, Okwus presides over the community almost as deposed king. That is, he is still universally revered and held in honour for his irreplaceable wisdom and fearless social courage, even while holding no statutory offices. And sharing moments with him was just as great as taking a second Harvard MBA class.
Our prayers: May the soul of Mrs. Margret Nwagbogho Obialor, nee Onyejiaka, rest in perfect peace. And may God grant Ezinwanne, Okwus and us all the strength to bear the irreparable loss.
A tale of lazy youths and their hardworking fathers?
In all this President Muhammadu Buhari “the youths are lazy” brouhaha, one thing seems to be missing. It is the question of interrogating the locus of the thrower of the first stone, President Muhammadu Buhari. (See: https://www.thisdaylive.com/…/buhari-under-fire-over-comme…/)
In a word, the president called the Nigerian youths, a lot of them, efulefus. First of all, let us grant Buhari his claims on youths. But what of their parents, and uncles? The real question is, are the parents and uncles of these youths, the Buharis of Nigeria, any hardworking?
The answer is clear. Judging by results, they are a complete failure and disappointment even to themselves. And one of their kind, in fact their most accomplished flag-bearer said and affirmed this. According to Prof. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s only Nobel Prize winner, his is a wasted generation. That is to say by results there is nothing to write home about the parents and uncles and aunties of Nigerian youths.
And if you came to political leadership, where Buhari is a participant, what is the score? It is and remains a complete disaster. From unforced genocidal civil war to Boko Haram, from unemployment to endemic poverty, Nigeria as a politically-managed entity, remains a failure. And that is not the work of the youth. It is the output of the fathers and uncles of these youths.
So, if the Nigerian youths are graded as lazy by their fathers, etc, they learn off Chinua Achebe. In his Things Fall Apart, the following was reported:
The Oracle said to him, “Your dead father wants you to sacrifice a goat to him.” Do you know what he told the Oracle? He said, “Ask my dead father if he ever had a fowl when he was alive.”
That is, if the Nigerian youths are “degraded” as efulefus by their fathers and uncles, they should quickly respond: we are only improving on our guardians who by their own best confessions are a wasted generation. Lazy? Perhaps, yes, but we are not yet a wasted generation.
•End of discussion. Next topic?