By Roland Odegbo
It is fairly evident that Igbo customs and values seemingly are on the highway to extinction. Their fleeting existence, already stark, shows very slim chance of surviving the ferocious erosion of modernity. Sadly, very little effort is being made by the Igbo people to forestall the progressive decline. Everybody, it would seem, acquiesces to the decay.
From the hallowed to the mundane – nothing is spared the buffet of the cruel fate. Coronation, title-taking, burial ceremony, marriage ceremony, breaking of kola nut, to the least of these customs and values have lost the touch of tradition. All are now in acute struggle against eroding influences that appear decided to lay them waste. Nobody is sure where the development is headed, but it certainly does not lead to any cultural flourish.
Each time I think about this development and the possible solution, I flinch from the thought, not so much for the decline as it is for the fate that awaits non-preservation of these customs and values for the coming generation. When did ndi Igbo get to this sorry pass? What, if any, are the redeeming possibilities? Any relics for the coming generation and what is the assurance the bequest will be appreciated?
Very little hope is inspired in this direction for two reasons. One, ndi Igbo have shown very little respect, if not outright disdain, for their customs and values to the extent that very many persons are no longer comfortable identifying with them. Many have found themselves discriminated against on account of their interest in propagating some of these traditions, wrongly dismissed by some culture-shy individuals as fetish. As it stands, few of the custodians of the culture are available today. Even those around are not particularly willing to vouchsafe information on some aspects of the culture when approached. And if ever they do, stint on the nuances, perhaps to humour their authority hitherto disdained. Two, younger elements of the Igbo stock take great joy in being overly cosmopolitan and are unimpressed with the idea of going through “the mill” to sustain a dying culture. Maybe, it will take more than the passive and uncoordinated effort currently being made by few individuals to stem the drift. It is only among the Igbo that you find a people very eager to assimilate the culture of other people and show it off with a lot of swagger. No other ethnic grouping does it. Unfortunately, competing influences have seized upon the lapse to make unfair inroad into the Igbo society.
Today it is difficult to draw the line. Time-honored traditions of the people are treated with levity just as values that define their spiritual essence are reasonably scorned. Though some of these traditions have become abhorrent with the passage of time, it still does not justify the brazenness with which others not as detestable – the innocuous – are treated. An extreme example of such obnoxious tradition that attracted public outrage but which has undergone reasonable modification is the practice of widowhood in some places in Igbo land. Even as there is nothing to be said in defence of such unwholesome practice, but the same cannot be said of title-taking, coronation, burial, breaking of kola nut, marriage, language etc some of which have suffered serious abuse if not outright disdain.
For example of the three widely spoken Nigerian languages (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) only Igbo language fails to command interest, even among its owners. Hardly is the language spoken even in official gathering of ndi Igbo and when spoken, is inflected with modals of these other languages. During hallowed events where Igbo should be the language of discourse, the creeping influences of these languages still manifest.
I almost went off the deep end during an occasion that had the trappings of a traditional event, but which was nearly queered by the culture-cringing emcee at the occasion. Apart from the introduction of guests which he deliberately anglicized, he almost conducted, if allowed, a purely traditional Igbo event in English. Not a few persons were embarrassed by that and were about slipping out when he was forced to recant the approach. He did not handle the breaking of kola nut any better.
To underscore the shabbiness with which he handled the breaking of the kola nut, age and title, two essential aspects in the sharing of the all-important-item, was disregarded. Even when his attention was called to the fact that the audience was strictly Igbo, he rebuffed it and continued on his decided slant. It took almost a walk-out from some of the guests for him to reverse himself.
The end to this type of abuse may not be in sight yet. I have on occasion interrupted an order of event just to correct either wrong presentation of kola nuts or a deliberate abuse of Igbo language. Nothing is revered any more in Igbo land. Worst still is the violation of Eze title. Apart from turning official traditional event into an éclat of language competiveness, the violation of Igweship has caused ndi Igbo to appear less serious in the eyes of their neighbours.
The sudden craze for titles and, in particular, the coveting of Eze Igbo title by arrivistes in various states outside Igbo land has further dwindled the authority of an otherwise elevated kingship institution. It is hoped that the current effort at reviving the dying culture would yield the desired change. Perhaps, this will be possible when, in the words of Plutarch the Greek philosopher, we become more sensible of what is done against culture than against nature.
•Igwe Odegbo, the Aborgu 11 Na Nteje, writes from Nteja, Anambra State.