Most African immigrants in America generally agree that their children need to have a functional knowledge or a modicum of the African culture. Many African parents in the United States seem to indulge in all effort to provide their children with at least a smattering of their native culture.
Sadly, it is believed that the African culture, especially the Nigerian tradition among those residing abroad, is quickly fading away because the children are not adequately exposed to it, and they are sometimes not eager to enmesh in it. To salvage the unfortunate situation, it becomes imperative that the children must have some degree of Nigerian culture. For the Nigerian culture, especially the Igbo culture, to stay alive long after we’re gone, our children must have a functional knowledge of the ethos. However, imparting the African tradition to our children has been a daunting task for the parents, especially the Nigerian parents in the Diaspora due to the enormous influence of the dominant culture. The poser then becomes, what is culture and how best do we impart it culture to our children?
There appears to no standard definition of the term or concept called culture. In the same token, theories of culture as they relate to various realms of life abound. But simply defined, culture is a system of shared mores, values, symbols, beliefs, customs, etc. that have been transmitted from a generation to another, which a group uses to operate within and sometimes outside its environment. Culture is simply a way of life of a people. Not only that culture is learned, but it is also best learned in its original environment. Still, culture could be exported. However, it is the relic of the culture that is exported for the most part. In some cases the mainstream culture could be borrowed. For instance, the origins of some foods we eat in the United States are typical examples of borrowed culture. Culture also gives us an insight about people in a specific group. While individual behavior provides a framework in which a culture could be observed, people’s actions provide the context in which culture could be abstracted.
Scientifically, while DNA or one’s genetic makeup controls one’s physical characteristics called traits; culture and ecological factors are the determinants for behavioral tendencies of individuals within a group. This is why what is good or bad is culturally relative. Nevertheless, there are certain variables that are culturally universal. The acquisition of knowledge is culturally universal. Every culture values success.
Interestingly, the culture of a place is most appreciated with the knowledge of the gamut of elements associated with it. The culture of a society could not be fully understood without its elements, which have their individual roles and communicative meaning. Some of the elements of culture are symbol, language, cultural traits, religion, music, dance, food, fashion (clothing), and a host of others.
The foregoing illustrates the difficulty in passing down the African culture, particularly the Igbo culture to the children. There are many impediments to the learning of a secondary culture while in a foreign land and they have hampered our children’s capacity to learn the Nigerian culture.
But one of the fascinating elements of culture that has a transcending power is fashion. The clothing people wear in various societies has a communicative symbol. What one wears in some societies is a reflection of one’s activity and status in that society. There are different types of attires for different occasions. Our children are most exposed to our attires without understanding their communicative meanings; they seem to appreciate and wear African attires during traditional occasions.
Undoubtedly, fashion is derived from culture. In other words, culture, including environmental factors, dictates what people in a specific group wear. In the past, we rarely know how people dress except through pictures or when we could afford to visit the culture. Much of the information we acquire about other cultures came from cultural anthropologists who invested resources studying various cultures.
However, due to globalization and advances in cutting edge technology, we are much more exposed to other cultures, including the attires of various cultures. No other industry could one find more mosaic culture than in the food and fashion industries. The fashion industry seems to capture the tapestry of global culture. One could fairly say that the fashion industry is the medley of culture epitomized. What is contemporary fashion cannot be without the elegant looks of the models and the electronic media? Besides the looks, cultural diversity seems to be reflected in the fashion world. Obviously, other cultures have influenced the fashion industry today. Gaining cultural traction at a rapid pace, the fashion world is replete with faces of models from around the world. The primacy of culture is very much evident in every fashion.
In any case, in teaching the African culture to our children, we must utilize a holistic approach to capture all the elements of Igbo culture. We must teach the communicative meanings of elements of Igbo culture, especially the significance of our traditional attire. Also, in teaching the culture we must avoid misinterpreting or ignoring cultural signals that may create an environment for a cultural clash.
No wonder the Igbo communities in various parts of the United States have found a variety of ways to impart Igbo culture to their American children. Sometime ago, the Umuahia National Association held its National Convention in Dallas some years ago where members across the nation brought their children with them to Dallas. Among the activities the association organized for the children was the essay competition. It organized two categories of essay competition that required prior research in Igbo culture.
The first category was for ages 12-15 who wrote on “The challenges of growing up as a Nigerian-American youth in America.” The children that fell under ages 16-25 wrote on “Traditional Marriage in Igboland.” I was privileged to score the essays and it gave me an insight on the extent of our children’s knowledge of the culture and the implications of living in two cultures. One of the effective ways to teach our culture is interest-driven research. We must lay the foundation for our children to independently learn about the culture.