By Daniel N. Freeborn
Keeping in line with the same topic as the previous article, I ended by asking: ‘if we are to maintain the idea that culture and traditions must be practised in ala-Igbo, doesn’t it imply we are not permitted to be Igbo outside of Igboland?’
What is generally expected of us Ndigbo who live outside of Igboland is that we must visit home for any of the traditions, ceremonies or rites, otherwise they can’t be legitimised.
This begs the question, are we Igbo people because we live in Igboland or because we practise Igbo culture?
Of what purpose is a culture if people who embody it cannot practise it or be themselves anywhere they are?
Is it not culture that distinguishes Igbo people from other ethnic groups?
Culture is an abstract concept that is brought to life by its institutions and practices. It is a biding force that guide the practices and sensibilities of the group who created the culture and its traditions, giving them tools to navigate the world with.
I will argue, therefore, that culture is what grounded human existence. To paraphrase Kwame Nkrumah: I am an Igboman not because I was born in Igboland; but because Igbo was born in me. It is the Igbo culture that permeates my being that made me an Igboman. For a person who is not of Igbo ancestry can be born in Igboland, their being considered Igbo or not depends then on how Igbo culture and sensibilities permeate their being.
Humans, analogically, can be seen as mere vessels in the form of computer while cultures and traditions as operating systems. So, when these two are brought together, a kismet can be sought from their use and existence, establishing a symbiotic nature to the relationship of both. So, Windows or Macintosh installed in any computer can also be allowed to run simultaneously on the same computer, followed by compatible software for each. Therefore, what it comes down to would be the exposure, purpose and proficiency.
So, that a computer is moved from its base to another place does not mean it will lose its OS, use or identity but fulfil these purposes, regardless of where it finds itself. Unless, of course, the OS is deliberately uninstalled for a different one. This is to say that people move away from their places and settle other places does not mean their culture and traditions cannot be practised in their host communities.
Culture being what it is, its absence will mean a loss of identity – and possibly the people in the world. This could be the reason Ndigbo in diaspora seem not to hold on to their cultural inheritances. That is, not being allowed to practise our culture fully in a ‘foreign land’, and therefore have no cultural institutions that would aid the continued existence of ‘Igboness’ in people of Igbo heritage.
This is worth considering because, contrasting Igbo with people of other cultural and ancestral heritage throughout history, you will most certainly find that people who migrated beyond where is their ‘culture capital’, or where they were known to originate, have always maintained their cultural practices – Yoruba and Fulani people, Europeans and Arabs, Chinese etc. The same goes for people of Indian and Lebanese ancestry (including Bangladesh and Pakistan) whom, today, boasts of having their natural settled status in Nigeria and other countries with all their cultural practices intact.
Like I have suggested above, we must resist the temptation of using a return to place as a measure of a bona fide Igbo identity or the legitimisation of its traditions. Its implications are grave. It disenfranchises other people who, for whatever reason, are not able to meetup with the requirements of such practice. It pushes some brothers into a, otherwise, life of bigamy, at the detriment of emotional and meagre material resources. Some stretching themselves beyond human limits, just to meet up.
Similar thing is applicable to some of our elderlies. Some returned after retirement. Possibly due to the gerontocratic nature of Igbo social arrangement in which the elders are supposedly the custodian of the tradition. Here, they believe that care will be available at an affordable rate.
The point that is often missed is the environmental difference, atmosphere and, maybe, quality of care. Consensus in gerontologic studies has it that the increase in human’s life expectancy is contingent on advances in medical technology and the environment that sustain us remaining the same.
Therefore, to move from a place like Berlin with its cold weather after a significant period of one’s life to Ọnicha, with its harsh weather and noisy environment would be pricing an early grave.
We must reassess our cultural inheritance and its place of practice with the aim of broadening its horizon to give life, sensibility and belonging to Ndigbo wherever we find ourselves.
Ndigbo must activate all the mechanism, within reason, that will enable us to fully practise our culture in a coherent, and purposeful manner anywhere we are. To do so, we must organise ourselves as both sociocultural and socio-political groups to advocate for the rights of Ndigbo and for the legitimate practise of our culture and traditions. Institutions such as marriage and rites ceremonies, the election of leaders, even Nze na Ọzọ, must be activated without reservation and people’s decision to elect any person as their leader must be respected by those in Igboland, and the person empowered. We must continue to strive for the inclusion of ‘Igbo’ as a stand-alone ethnic group in census forms wherever we are.
Elders, please resist the pressure of returning home at old age. It does not serve your best interest as explained above. Instead, volunteer in imparting the wisdom of Igbo culture and traditions to the younger ones. Play the role of patron and matron in ọgbakọ Igbo (Igbo organisations) near you.
The renewed force of our cultural practice will embolden Igbo people more, bring us together to face the challenges there are in Igboland that is our culture capital. It will help us to reinvigorate Igbo cultural practices among our younger ones and bring about a renewed cultural and social cohesion among those in diaspora.
Although, we have seen regressive steps in recent times: the rise of far right politics around the world; an exponential increase in the number of racist attacks reported; xenophobic and Islamophobic attacks, intensification of nationalism; and the politics of ‘know your place’ that is being pedalled, who knows? Maybe everyone might eventually need to pack their tents. But until then, we need to know that the option of settling in our various places of abode is open to us, as is everyone else everywhere, and we must endeavour to expand our cultural horizon to ensure the survival of Igbo culture and its people.
Daniel N. Freeborn is a Public Affairs Analyst.