Sunday, July 15, 2018

Discovering the Self in the Other in Knowledge-building in a Plural Society


Obododimma Oha

Is it not quite disturbing that the study of Africa, even by African scholars, is particularly supported by organisations and governments in the West? The West started long ago to study Africa, developing orthographies for African languages, building interest in the mastery of indigenous African systems, and eventually having deeper knowledge about Africa than Africans themselves. Many Africans had this wrong assumption that an embrace of Western education meant turning their backs on things African – their values, thought systems, education, etc. But the West, even if it has encouraged such hatred of self, still takes interest in Africa. Apart from planned study trips, many that have come to Africa on tourism still find time, or have as part of the tourism, the attention to African life. The photographs, the notes, the video and other recording, all may have a place in their published and unpublished records about Africa. In fact, the fuller knowledge about Africa is not in the records kept by Africans on the continent or in their heads, but outside there in the records by Western scholars and in the works of diasporic Africans who, since the days of Olaudah Equiano, have been struggling to do some remembering and to tell the world about it. Among them, of course, are African thinkers employed in Western higher institutions and whose research is strongly supported by their employers, at least, as a way of narrating such employers further as authorities on Africa. Yes; their studies may appear to elevate Africa, but they justifiably elevate the employers and international organisations that support their researches.

Having made this point about the West and its clear attention to knowledge about Africa, let me turn to orientations in contemporary Africa scholarship in support of having a fair knowledge of the cultural other, in line with the admirable example that those we emulate in the West have shown. Let me turn my lens to Nigeria, even though Nigeria does not represent the whole of Africa. It is, however, a context of pluralism with much of mutual suspicion, a very good example of a where the other, even if doing so out of self-interest, also approaches the other to shake hands with the other.

In line with mutual suspicion and an attempt to advance the interest of one’s ethnic group above those of other groups, is the commitment to research solely about the ethnic group. The idea is to feature the ethnic group as the champion among other groups in knowledge production. We are the knowers; they are the blockheads. Politics of knowledge! Normally those who posture as knowledgeable or as very intelligent are assumed to be in a better position to lead others who know less, or who have less luminaries out there. Add to this other promotional gestures like finding opportunities for your “own people,” helping to get promotion for those, finding jobs out there for them only, etc. You must dominate the other, even from out there. It is a continuation of ethnic politics by educational means.

What about extending one’s research interests to the values of the ethnic or cultural other? What about studying the life of the other deeply as the West has shown, even if this ironically means knowing the other much to compete with it? In another light, studying the other in a plural society helps one to understand the other better; helps one to drop one’s stereotypes about the other, and helps in building the fortress of postcolonial unity. It is possible that in studying things about the other, we come across ways of life better than our own and copy those. Copying and living them along with our inherited patterns is no crime!

In studying the other also, we are disarmed and made to drop our cultural nationalistic weapons and get transformed, seeing ourselves as people who could have been born in that other cultural world and who could have had those values. In a sense, we begin to have a different view of culture, not as things we have brought from the other life to this world. Moreover, we begin to view culture as software installed into our heads and which needs to be upgraded from time to time as it converses with other cultures in our world. Edward Said was right in saying in Culture and Imperialism that no one is purely one thing. We are not just Efik or Igbo or Yoruba. We get a little a little bit of each as we move around, what more when we read and write about these cultures in scholarship.

In line with what I stated earlier about reading and writing about the other in a multicultural context and how these help in remaking the learner, helps the other to make positive and not negative uses of difference, can you see why it is damaging when we recommend only books by our ethnic champions in our classrooms? When we recommend only works by those ethnic champions, we are indirectly teaching our students to be ethnocentric, to limit their thinking to those authors and to continue the learning process as an ethnic or cultural rivalry. It is indeed admirable if you are the learner is ijaw or Igbo but is helped to see the author as an author first, before the author’s ethnicity as a Yoruba or Hausa person. It would be beneficial to make learners, even right from fresh undergraduate class, to know that knowledge from the ethnic or cultural other is vital for academic growth and for other reasons hinted earlier.

I know that it is vital to have knowledge of self and that, in fact, the classroom for such knowledge does not have to be the formal school setting, with examinations and all that. The classroom is also the homestead where the elder or someone else tells stories after supper or about the family history; it includes practical lesson sessions from both parents about home life, about the umunnadi jerks in the society; it includes age-grade meetings, meetings of the umunna the kinsmen, women’s meetings, etc. A lot of knowledge comes from these and will have to converse with knowledge about the cultural other when the child leaves the home and goes to a university.

Now, let us sum it up: knowledge about self is a given. It is taken for granted that one has to have it and not leave to the West to keep in its custody. Knowledge about the ethnic other, including the other’s language, is what one needs to have in one’s goatskin bag as one travels around in one’s formal education, and come back home to bring out and show why the child who has travelled out there is more informed than the hoary-haired restricted to the local community.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Squandering One’s Life Watching the Image in the Mirror


Obododimma Oha

When I was a little boy, I took interest in the work songs that adult males sang while processing palm-oil at the palm-oil processing plant. It wasn’t just the way their songs facilitated their work, cheering them up and putting them in the mood to accomplish much. It wasn’t just the synchrony of the end of each stanza with the important task at hand, like the match of the song to the tightening of the presser to bring out the liquid. (I was always the synchrony of work and song and we village children often practised it on the way the stream to make our movement faster). No; their songs particularly revisited the culture of industry as one its themes, humorously elevating their difficult task as an engagement in nobility. One unique work song they sang satirized a young man who went to the farm with a mirror and from time to time looked into the mirror to observe his face to make sure it was neat:

X nwa Y
O jiri enyo jee oru,
O rukata o nyobe ihu
E hee, e hee !

(X son of Y
He went to the farm with a mirror
He worked and checked his face on the mirror
E hee, e hee!) (X and Y are my own substitute, meant to hide the actual identities)

That satirical song about working and checking one’s face in the mirror provides an interesting paradigm for me in reflecting on the strategic and deceitful deployment of the mirror (and its descendant the screen) in keeping Africans busy with themselves while robbing them of their values and being engaged in activities that narrate the dominance of one race over another. This is a difficult thing for a staunch believer in African ideas to say. If the West or the Orient had said so, one would have viewed it as a racial insult. But it is also important that we engage in self-criticism, telling ourselves the hard and bitter truth and being determined to change for the better. What is pronounced in postcolonial Africa is the rhetoric of blame – blaming the West – and now the technological and mercantilist Orient -- for Africa’s woes. But, are Africans free of blame? Yes, the West has used both military and deceitful weapons to overrun Africa, sometimes making Africans take over and continue Western domination in all spheres.

Now, how does the mirror feature in this business of domination?

Just imagine the possible occurrence of this in the early encounter between European explorers or adventurers and Africans: the probability of Africa’s ancestors having contact with Europeans who knew that it was better to use the form of technology the whiteman brought to mesmerize the host and keep Africans busy with it, while looting economic and other resources found in the African world! They could have brought the mirror to do this magic. Hitherto, Africa’s ancestors only saw reflections of their faces on pools of water, streams, and rivers. It could have been such a marvel for them to have a little piece of tablet showing one’s face. Oyibo bu agbara! The whiteman is a god, one of them must have exclaimed. How did oyibo place the water reflecting a face on this tablet? When one looks behind the tablet, the reflected object is not found there. One moves one’s lips and it is just the same as on the tablet. The image there also moves its lips!

One should excuse those Africa’s ancestors. Ihe onye na-amaghi toro ya. What one does not know is considered older than oneself. It could have happened in other places, too. Didn’t Africans have types of magic that puzzled the whites? For instance, the case of somebody walking in a heavy rain and not getting wet. Or, somebody not having access to any means of transport but is able to materialize at a place several kilometres away. It was amansi, magical art. Oyibo had his magic; Africans had theirs; many, in fact!

But Africa’s ancestors could not have known that the mirror was not really one of the amansi. They could not have known that it was a simple artefact and product of technology, o gbara Igbo gharii. Well, what was there was that one group constructed its superiority, its awe, through its knowledge and technology. African ancestors must have liked this tablet on which one could see one’s face. And they must have been ready to give out anything to have it: masks, gold ornaments, several artefacts, even slaves, etc. Today, those valuables of culture and history can be found in Western museums, apart from the ones that colonial conquerors forcefully took away, as in Benin Kingdom. Today they are worth millions of dollars and African governments only beg to make copies of them!

Africans must have since realised that the mirror is not amansi but it too late. The mission is already accomplished, the strategy of deceit successful. But that strategy entered another phase; only morphed. Since the Africans had shown themselves to be attached to spectacle, the other using the mirror as a weapon just needed to transform the mirror in ways they wouldn’t suspect and keep them busy still. So, our hypothetical mirror became the screen, journeying from television to android touch pad thrill.

Like Mr. X who went to the farm with a mirror, from time to time inspecting his face, the spectacle of the television, then the handset, and particularly the global ilo, the Internet with its many satellites – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Imo, etc – all eventually rousing the mirror spirit and engaging the new African with all sorts of distraction. Yes, all sorts of mirror distraction while the rest of the world, especially the West, is busy with economic and other forms of advancement. Just like his ancestor, the young African student would be attached to the mirror thing, carrying the handset on the hand (and not a book) because it is called “hand” set. It has to be carried in the hand always, even when one is asleep. When one is reading (if one must, like before a test), the phone has be switched on and by one’s side. Even when one is praying, it is by one’s side, switched on. Maybe the rapture could occur and God may send one an alert that one is selected through the phone. So, it should be on. In case. In the examination hall too! Oh, don’t mention that. How many times has this wicked man seized phones ringing and disturbing other candidates? Even after several warnings at the commencement of the examination and warning in the instruction column of the question paper?

Like their African ancestors, the young African has been arrested by the mirror, by the screen, while other students elsewhere are producing those phones as part of their projects. Do you blame them? Why wouldn’t they be arrested by the screen when their parents are arrested by the spectacle of the latest SUVs, flatscreen televisions, etc. ? It is the same forest that houses all animals, old and young! In fact, if their ancestors were to be brought back to life, wouldn’t they have seen those handsets as oyibo juju, as amansi, or even creating deities for the devices? How could somebody walking down the street in Abuja be holding a device to the ear and be talking to another person in Lagos, if that person is not a witch, a powerful type?

So, you see why the handset is revered and kept close to the heart? Moreover, we hear this device of oyibo witchcraft now contains or could be used in accessing a lot of information, including one’s money in the bank!

Is it the television? Engaging lovers of spectacle has many departments, many strategies. The soccer in Europe is one and if you visit offices in some African countries, you are wasting your time. Unless there is a TV there. Then, the boss may be around, with other “workers.” I didn’t want to say “African idlers.” You are the one making that substitution.

You see; what really devours the okra is inside okra. People who have for long been distracted and dominated should look twice at mirrors that are given to them. One does not think the stride of the cattle is what would take it to Umuahia that is kilometres away. Africa must be careful in its consumption of cultural devices of spectacle from West or East. They are also part of what keeps Africa backward. Those that share their technology with you do not necessarily do so because they have your interest at heart. Mba; oyibo abughi agbara! The whiteman is not a deity. The whiteman is only daring and tries to use his technology to dominate others.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Voyage to English II: Bright Chimezie’s Highlife Music Language Classroom


Obododimma Oha

Since I wrote the article, “A Voyage to English,” I have had to cite the piece in other writings with much humorous stimulation and have even had to use the essay in teaching a course, “English Language in Nigeria,” just to expose my students to the interesting struggles of some second-language learners of English, struggles that have given birth to exciting narratives about encounter with English. As a teacher of English in the second-language context, the experiences of those struggles are important subjects for brainstorming in the language classroom and can be an input on the debates on English and Englishes. In line with that thinking, a musical narrative on “Ingligbo” by Bright Chimezie, which I heard again on a bus while travelling from Owerri to Ibadan after conducting examinations at a university in Nigeria’s South-East, set me thinking hard about the need to write a second installment of the essay.

Bright Chimezie of Zigima sound highlife music is a special toast for lovers of “new” highlife in the South-East. Is it his humorous lyrics? Is it his gripping and lively musical beat, often punctuated with the signature, “Shekina” or “Ice water,” to regulate the ecstatic beat? The very handsome Bright, beautifully costumed in a live performance, who shot into fame with “Okoro Junior,” is really bright behind the microphone and in rhythm and remains a special “take-away” any day!

But what is particularly noteworthy and remains a special concern in this essay is that Bright Chimezie, just like Oliver de Coque, tries to do sociolinguistics of English as a second language in his song on “Ingligbo,” “Because of English,” produced by Rogers All Stars (available on Youtube at ). It was Oliver de Coque that started it all, warning in one of his songs: Onye asuzina Ingligbo. Yes, the linguistic hybridity exhibited by contemporary ndiigbo who (1) do not speak Igbo fluently without adding an English word, (2) who can neither speak nor write Igbo, but bear Igbo names, (3) who can only speak Igbo fluently but cannot speak English well, even though they bear English or Western names, and so on, are worrisome cases that indicate a false “Englishness” in the postcolony. Ingligbo seems to be a major tendency --- which has moved from mere showing off with one’s little learning of English to an attitude that has gripped the new Igbo person.

I listened carefully to Bright Chimeze’s song and could place him as moving from the narrative of his mean and deracinated teacher caning him for speaking Igbo in class (an experience most of us had to pass through in the English-language classroom in Nigeria) to an analysis of talk among learners who try to grapple with English and reconcile the semiotics of both, even from the letters of English alphabet to Igbo alphabet, “A B GB D…,” and the in-betweenness of “Chinyere nye m pensuru m o” (chinyere, give me my pencil). One striking thing about what Bright Chimezie is doing in that song is that he is teaching English in Nigeria through a song! He is turning his listeners into his pupils, listenership on the bus a language classroom! Yes, we are his students, anywhere and anytime we listen to that song. He is a language professor in his own right.

That sets me thinking hard. I am a professor of language by virtue of a pronouncement by a committee that I have become one. Yes; it was a long voyage through B.A. to Ph.D., with certificates to show. But these culture workers are also professors, apart from producing what makes my own work exciting and meaningful. What is even very outstanding is that he is using a musical medium to make the reception more welcome. He may not know all the theories that I know, but he surely produces theories that only patience and humility would help me to figure out.

What is it that Alastair Pennycook, for instance, is doing in The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language, only other critical second-language writers, that Bright Chimezie and others are not using music to communicate? I believe that these culture workers are sources of powerful theories, not just demonstrators of theories.

I know you would ask which theoretical issues Bright Chimezie has brought up or has introduced through his song about Ingligbo! No; don’t focus only on the beating in the English language classroom – which is worth exploring, though, on interaction in the classroom between teacher and pupil and creating friendly learning atmospheres. What of second-language learning as a humorous engagement? The alphabet of the indigenous language (although old orthography), “A B GB D….” especially as a song? Elementary school teachers should know the marvels of drill. When the subject matter becomes a song, it becomes more easily digestible and sinks deep into the learner, what more a language that is not yours but which you must learn! For me, this is cultural: whether at the corn grinding mill, or at the farm, even palm-oil processing – all manner of labour, Africans traditionally sing to enjoy their work. Work song is not a mere vehicle driving the work; it is the very breath of the labourer.

Now, what does it suggest to be caned in class because of English? What is the power of linguistic imperialism in the briefcase of a post-colonial enforcer of foreignness? To be caned because of a language not yours may seem to be a militaristic way making the colony utter what it does not mean, hoping that coercion is better than persuasion in the knowledge business.

Bright Chimezie might not have sat in the linguistics classroom but he was aware of acts tantamount to language death and language killing measures in the postcolony. So, he sang:

Because of English e
They want to kill my language
Because of English e
They want to kill my culture
English e
Who will save my language?
From English e
Who will save Africa?

Important questions: Who will save indigenous African languages? Who will save Africa? Who will save Africa from Africans who have taken over the task of imposing foreign expression of the self on African experience, so that Bright’s protagonist in the song cannot freely ask his classmate, Chinyere, “Chinyere, nye m pensuru (pencil) m”? Even when “Chinyere nye m pensuru m” is not fully vernacular, but a hybrid or interference expression standing between English and Igbo! The teacher is not interested in what this hybridity represents in the learning process. For him, it must be English fully, or English straight. The model of English Straight is implemented at the cost of great pain. Is the learning of the language still at the pleasure of the learner?

How very often the models we impose on our pupils seem to indicate that the learning of the language is not to the gain of the primary gain of the learner really, that they are only the guinea pigs for our tests and experiments? We are not really doing it for them but for ourselves and for the owners of the language who have to dominate and rule the other through it, give us grants and fellowships to encourage caning the postcolony. At language workshops and conferences, don’t we just talk to ourselves as professionals and only bring in the learners as fictional characters?

Now, I have fully become Bright’s student, Bright whose protagonist was caned mercilessly in class because of English, for us to learn the necessity of an alternative language teaching/learning model. In this painful voyage to English, Bright’s protagonist and I have suffered. The teacher’s joy has been to “wicked” us if we speak vernacular to transmit our indigenous values. Every singer of the song particularly in my type of in-betweenness is acknowledging being between English and Igbo in the classroom and receiving the strokes of the cane.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Ezeulu's "Eyes" and "Ears" in the Global Ilo


Obododimma Oha

It has become quite clear that many African societies that cling to Western orientations in religious values, criminal justice, education, and so on, pushing aside African values in these or even seeing the acquisition of Western practices as implying dispensing with African values completely, do not quite get it. The idea that African values are antithetical to Western approaches is wrong-headed. There may be areas of tension, but then, it is the challenge for the individual living between these values to resolve them. Indeed, in many cases, it is a matter of complementation; it is not everything that Western approaches can handle alone in Africa. The novelist Chinua Achebe was quite philosophical in creating the protagonist of Arrow of God, who, as a visionary African elder, allowed his son, Oduche, to interact with the whiteman, to be his “eyes” and his “ears” in the incoming system. Being his “eyes” and “ears” could mean any or a combination of some of the following: being his or his culture’s (1) representative, (2) spy, and (3) his ally. Being a representative of the indigenous system is not only an assumption of the role of an observer, but also a combination of a contributory with a defensive role. One cannot just look on in the global ilo, without establishing a presence and showing what one has to contribute. It is said by the Igbo that only the foolish, onye nzuzu, would be around and not know when the fuelwood from ukwa the breadfruit tree has been shared out, without the fellow being given a share.

Unfortunately, some contemporary postcolonial societies in Africa are acting like that onye nzuzu in many spheres of life, following the West blindly as if the West must lead and they must follow. It is as if they merely accompanied the West to this world and have little or nothing to contribute. The case of Nigeria is particularly exasperating! Its democracy is authenticated by a presentation of a political talk or manifesto at Chatham House or a visit to a white leader for handshake and endorsement, even when the politician has not paid a visit to local constituents, or when the country is in one political crisis or another! Nigeria and some other African countries must recognise what they bring to the ilo.

That onye nzuzu who thinks that being the “eyes” and the “ears” of the African society is to play dumb and slavish to the rest of the world remains Africa’s major problem! That onye nzuzu could be found anywhere – in politics, religion, education, security services, business, just anywhere. That onye nzuzu thinks that he or she is a mere consumer of ideas from elsewhere, that home has nothing to offer.

Let us reflect on politics. Oh, it’s obvious. I have already mentioned the authentication from Chatham House and other Western settings of endorsement. What is Africa’s democracy if it is not an assignment given by the West the classroom teacher and evaluated by the West? The school of politics in the postcolony must have some assessment from the West, the only authentic authority. Just as you need a “safitiket” in the world of learning, you also need a testimonial from the school teacher for the rest of the ilo to take you seriously.

Do you need to know what this politics legitimised by the ex-coloniser has done with indigenous political institutions? Do you still want to know? The indigenous political institutions have been turned to fictions re-narrated by the irresponsible “eyes” and “eyes” of new postcolonial Africa. The Oba, Obi, Igwe, Obong, etc have become mere fictional characters in the storybooks badly written by the descendants of Oduche in the political sphere. If you live in Ibadan Kingdom, you are no longer a subject of the Olubadan as you should, but of a governor who may have touted his way into office for six years or so. But, if you have eyes in your head still and if there is still an element of Ezeulu left in you, you should prostrate to the Oba and encourage the governor to do so, as he must have done initially during his political campaign. For governors come and go, but the Olubadan remains!

In education, too, you could shed tears if you still have some to spare. The way you follow soccer clubsides in the Western league, is the way you have heroes in the Western circumference of knowledge. You Chelsea it there and Manchester it there, in order to win Western fellowships, grants, employments, etc. If you have no heroes from whom to learn academic languages, poor you, indeed. You are marooned. You are lost at sea. In fact, in some cases, it is obvious or made clear to you, as it happened to me sometime in 2000 or thereabout when, as an academic looking left and right in trying to make a living the European Association of Feminists bluntly taught me. I had submitted an abstract for its conference in Italy and it was accepted. I was to be sponsored by the association and I was glad. But when my invitation and sponsorship letter arrived (then I was resident in Senegal and teaching at Universite Gaston Berger in St-Louis), I was addressed in it as “Ms Obododimma Oha.” I felt that mode of address might be a problem for identification; visa officials or airlines might not consider it trivial and might think one desperate Nigerian was playing tricks with femininity. Then, I wrote to the host organisation to clarify my sex, saying that I was male and that it should change “Ms” to “Mr.” The email was delivered but was never replied. Oku anyuo. The fire was extinguished. My participation at the conference of European feminists ended right away!

If you are in this ilo and you are ready to say that your mother is a prostitute and your father is an armed robber, then, the West is ready to listen to you. It is like the politics of newsworthiness in periphery of the ilo called Africa. Unless things begin to get very ugly in the periphery, unless countless numbers are slaughtered in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, it is not news for the ilo controlled by the West. Your tragedy is my entertainment. Oh, why would you not be encouraged to reduce your number? Why do we bother to save Africa from Africans? Allow Africans to turn Africa to a gladiatorial show. We missed the sport when the Roman Empire fell!

Is the manifestation of nzuzuness not present in Africa’s justice system? What have African societies done with indigenous methods of identifying criminals and preventing crime? Didn’t the “eyes” and “ears” of Ezeulu push for indigenous justice practices to be eradicated, saying they were fetish, so that those “eyes” and “ears” would remain usu the bat, neither a bird of the air nor a ground four-footed, animal? The usu postcolonial society then carries on, pretending to hang on to the values of Western justice system it neither understands not practises. The criminal cannot swear by the oracle because his or her religion forbids it, but that does that same religion forbid committing the crime? Or, maybe because judgement and punishment are deferred matters. Only after death will they happen, and no one is sure whether they would happen at all. No one is certain. So, the criminal can carry on for the moment.

What really do the “eyes” and “ears” of Ezeulu do in the ilo? Have they come to watch a foreign egwugwu performance on behalf of the priest-king? Do the “eyes” and “ears” of Ezeulu still look into the soul of their hosts to understand what they are thinking? Ezeulu’s “eyes” must have gone blind if they can no longer see beyond looking at what is happening at the ilo. Ezeulu’s “ears” must have gone deaf if it can longer hear the sounds of the ikolo that are following it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Kinsman in a Yoruba Village


Obododimma Oha

Igbo and Yoruba are relatives by virtue of their belonging to the Volta-Niger family, according to a recent classification by Roger Blench. But apart from this linguistic classification, some semiotic similarities between both languages are amazing. That suggests that the idea of a “Handshake across the Niger” which was recently made an important ideological expression in the current relationship between Ndiigbo and Oduduwa children west of the Niger in a ceremony at Awka did neither start with Nzuko Umunna, the frontline Igbo organisation that hosted it, nor by Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu who recommends it in his book, Because I Am Involved. Indeed, Ojukwu was a great Igbo leader who read the indelible ancient signs of the closeness of two brothers and emphasized the need for them to put back their differences in their goatskin-bags and embrace each other. Similarly, Nzuko Umunna, through its studied and mature discourse based on Igbo Onye Kwue Uche Ya, heard the ancient voice of truth and re-engineered it on the path to mutual understanding.

As one commends Nzuko Umunna for being the new voice for this eternal truth, one would like to make a journey to a Yoruba village to see and listen to one’s kinsman. I do not mean the current Igbo person who left his local community (like the one who went to work in the cocoa plantation in Ondo in those days) and maybe bought a parcel of land and built a house, becoming a landlord in a Yoruba village! He feels comfortable there and, if you go to his house, it is possible that the language of communication among family members is Yoruba. Maybe one Yoruba man has even taken one of his daughters in marriage and one of her children is called Arinze Segun Ayo Olapade. No; I am rather referring to the Igbo person that is defined as the child of Oduduwa and whose cultural home is the South-west! Does that sound like an abduction? Does that sound like a cultural assimilation, an attempt by one forest dweller to devour another? It can as well be a child of Oduduwa that is defined as onye Igbo and whose space is the South-East. Whatever may be the case, what is very important to this essay is that onye Igbo and omo Yoruba are possibly relatives that have forgotten where it all started. These days that there is a great emphasis on identity as what is invented, one runs the risk of being called an inventor of relationship that has always been a fiction!

All right, then; guilty as charged. Watch out for interesting semiotic evidence in that inventive act! Let us start from Ekiti. Do you think my choice of Ekiti is informed by the likelihood that I may be invited home for a sumptuous meal of pounded yam and meat from the hunter’s stable? No qualms if that happens before the end of our excursion. By the way, doesn’t the name “Ekiti” sound like “Etiti” in Igbo? Actually, some Igbo towns are called “Ekiti,” with a different tone-mark but sharing a similar meaning, “middle.” Indeed, “Ekiti” is an Igbo variant of “Etiti.” And who is bothered much about the difference in the tones in the Igbo “Ekiti” and that of the Yoruba? Don’t we have tonal variations from one Igbo dialect to another?

You recall that I mentioned meat from game and pounded yam. My village has that as a favourite course for industrious souls, too. Then, fresh palm-wine. One must drink down this handshake across the Niger! But, let’s wait for the master hunter, the person who knows the smell of the forest, to return in the evening. He went on “ndide” (stalking, targeting, and trying to get a clean shot at the “anumanu”). I hear the Yoruba prefer to call the master hunter “ode” (I suspect “ode” literally means “One who stalks, targets, and kills the game, too). Just imagine that! The verb and morpheme, “de” is the same sound and meaning in Igbo, “stalking and targeting”). Do you see why I have to welcome the “ode” who went for “ndide” back with open hands and look into his bag?

You should not be surprised; it is a long story. Do you see those rocks, “okuta, “in Ekiti, which the Igbo call “okwute” ("okwuta") or just “okute” in some dialects? They hold the mysteries of my encounter with the master hunter from Ekiti called “Olosunta” which travels back to 3000 years! That “ode” is also one interesting statement about the handshake across the Niger. You doubt it? The name of the “ode” is just clipped in Igbo as “Ochunta” or “Oshunta” (O’chunta)! Ochunta means “One who hunts game” or “master hunter”! Olosunta or Oloshunta in Yoruba is also “One who hunts.” Don’t mind that “Olo” that is prefixed. The Yoruba sometimes identify what one does as a profession with that prefix. Now, don’t I deserve to peep into his bag?

Oloshunta is my kinsman in an Ekiti village. Honestly, that “ode” knows the smell of the forest! I strongly suspect that H.E. Ayo Fayose is his son, skin and blood. Did you see how he put those grazers of free-range cattle destroying crops in their place? I suspect that the name “Fayose” in Igbo means “Put pepper in the eyes (of your enemy))! No further explanation is necessary.

Now that my invention of relationship is done, can I have my pounded and bush meat, to be sent on an errand to my stomach with fresh palm-wine, “ike-emetu-ala”?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Looking for the Living among the Dead


Obododimma Oha

As a researcher with a keen interest in cultures that are fast going extinct and a great enthusiast of my indigenous Igbo culture, I am shocked to realise that cultural materials I look for in my research or send my students to collect and analyse in oral literature or folklore programme, are simply not there in the cultural milieu, not even in the memory of present-day Ndiigbo. I could as well have sent them to construct and analyse fictions. You know what happens when people imagine things. They could spice the experience here and there, after all, we enjoy it more when there is a lot of fabrication! The folktales are now fabrications and in the place of their performances, we have Nollywood films or Hollywood films. Chiwetalu this. Ezemmuo that. Mama G those. Aki and Pawpaw these. And gradually we lose the skills of the cultural telling of the folktale. Black Panther learning to pounce! Season of mimesis and reinvention of self.

Is it the proverbs? Who remembers to cite them? They are a text of your pastness, the fact that you belong to years ago. Why not cite Obama and Trump or the referee of FIFA? Why cite the dog and say, according to the dog, those it requested to buy mat for it in the market should bring back the money because it is used to squatting? Who told you that a dog could talk? At least, not in your world, unless you are into the strangest science fiction in our time!

Worse still, when you expect listeners to exhibit their reception or processing skills by knowing your meaning and intention, citing your ancient culture again as saying that if you throw a proverb at someone like a petrol bomb and the person demands an interpretation, the dowry paid on the head of his or her mother was a colossal waste. Imagine that! Does it not raise an objectionable gender oworosu? And who says that your ancient culture is still the norm in our modern discourse, after all your education and programming in the ways of the West? Don’t be stupidly anachronistic!

I think that you should be interested in the different realities that these proverbs enact, the emergent discursive changes, and realise that you should not be looking for the living among the dead. Same for your folktales and all that.

Just listen to this mocking voice and feel how I feel over endangered Igbo cultural materials and oral literature or other related studies that feed on them. The new Christian fanaticism in Igboland and some other parts of Africa is, of course, a major source of threat. While other cultures are getting energised, building museums for cultural materials and declaring even their sacred forests important cultural sites that can become money spinners through well managed tourism, your soldiers of Heaven are busy demolishing ancient sites and shrines, declaring them evil. They are told by their pastors that the problems in their businesses and employment are from those cultural materials and sites. If they destroy the sites, their businesses would suddenly bloom! They would experience “breakthroughs” even if they spend hours in church and few minutes at work. God will do it, God the patron of laziness; God who punishes those who work hard and gives them the keys of Heaven, but sends those who work hard to Hell! You see your life, your miserable life in 21st-century Africa characterised by fundamentalist religiosity?

I am reluctant now in oral literature of folklore to send my students out for fieldwork, to collect and analyse what is no longer there, to look for the living among the dead. Rather, I am changing direction in oral literature studies. Now, I am interested in making my students understand that there is a new oral literature out there: this new oral literature is hybrid and holds an ongoing conversation with other cultural practices, even with the facilities of the new media. It is an evolving oral literature in which the tortoise drives a jeep or flies a private jet over bad roads and could sit in the National Assembly. Even the State House. If there is anything Tortoise the trickster should be able to do, a trickster that grows, it is that if it could marry a beautiful maiden with only a grain of corn, it should be able to get into the State House, to rule a nation of 200 or so mumus! A trickster must grow, must be made to appropriate modernity and changing times.

Rejoice, students of new culture in Africa. No more being made to cross the timeline, to return to the past, to look for the living among the dead. Unless you are looking for fossils. Unless that. But you may not even find the fossils. Rather, look for what is looking for you at the moment in time and how it is doing it. That is all that matters.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Why a Town Union Matters


Obododimma Oha

Every month, I attend our town union meeting and join my kinsmen in examining little or big issues relating to our lives. That I am a highly educated person around, perhaps the person with the highest university degree, does not make me have my head in the clouds. My very high university degree and my rank all belong to my community, by the simple logic that I belong, as a person, to my community. I am my community’s ambassador, just like every other member, and the town union is happy for it, provided I do the things an ambassador does, and do not bring shame to our community.

I mentioned above that I may even be the most highly educated in the town union meeting. That does not mean that other members – groundnut sellers, commercial motorcycle operators, petty traders, etc. – do not have their own legitimate cultural or professional education that I may not have, and so, could also be said to be highly educated. Do you see why I said that my very high university degree does not make me the person with the highest educational degree around and does not make me lose my head as a member? Even though once in a while, a member, in his contribution to a debate, refers to my being the most educated person around who could confirm some facts, I don’t like it at all! For one, I do not like being pointed out as different, what more the person to decide the correctness of a view when in a meeting of the union.

Yes, my being the most educated person does not mean that I am outside authority in the community meeting, that I am exempt from what every member is required to do. The town union – a typical image of the Igbo umunna, has its officers whose authorities must be respected, whether they are highly educated or not, whether they are the oldest or the youngest in the group. Do you see why and how the town union is a test for your sense of submission and humility, in spite of your high education? The chairman may not be richest but that does not mean that, because a member has millions or estates or companies, such a member is above the chairman.

Sometimes, I hear educated Igbo elite proclaim that they do not attend their town union meetings or are not members and I shudder. How do they hope to change or contribute meaningfully as grown-ups to their communities? How do they hope to get closer to ordinary people in their communities?

The town union is also a very good context for learning. Any person that has stopped learning is dead! Ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya! (If one relative does not know, another relative can teach that person). Is it in how to talk in public, how to address issues in public? Is it in ita okwu eze were ekwu? Is it proverb lore and situations in which one could deploy a type? Is it how to look at issues critically? Is it in knowing who is who in your community, who to consult when the occasion arises, and who is what nwannadi? Indeed, ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya. The town union meeting is an important classroom, and each time a member misses a meeting or an activity organized by the group, such a member has missed important matters (You could say important classes for learning). The person would need to update notes! When members who missed meetings or activities are asked to pay fines, we see such as ordinarily a punishment. Really, such members are losing double. They are losing money, plus the knowledge they could have gained if they had attended.

Yes; sometimes one is asked to pay a fine for defaulting. That is an important corrective measure. You have lost more money as a defaulter and it makes you sad. Next time, don’t flout the group. But there is something you have lost more as a defaulter. That thing is called respect. It is integrity. The amount may be small and affordable. But it is symbolic. It indicates that you have erred and your name would be put down in the record books as a noisemaker, late comer, absentee, as the case may be. So, it calls you to order, asks you to come back to your senses.

Sometimes, I hear some educated elite give, as their excuses for not becoming members, their dislike for those ways of “traders,” ways of thinking and doing things! Isn’t this an unfortunate negative stereotyping? Some members who are traders may misbehave – and are usually disciplined for it – but it is unfortunate for one to keep away due to objectionable ways of life noticed. Even in wider society or country, do we all behave alike? Do we all have to behave in the ways you necessarily like? And would you cease to be a citizen because of the other person’s ways you don’t like? I think that people who give such excuses are confessing that they have a problem, one being culture shock – they have kept outside the culture for too long and have lost touch with its ways, and are, therefore, coming back to it strange! They have alienated themselves and need to bring themselves back to community.

I am aware of the fact that some people join their town union meeting so that there would be people to carry their corpses to local communities and bury such when they die. And the educated elite would think they do not need such favours. Well, you do not join your town union because of death. Death is just one occasion for a community to demonstrate its obligations. Town union is where you belong and you simply have to be there. It is good to be where you belong. Your church or professional group can bury you when you die (or use your corpse for barbecue, who cares) but cannot replace your town union. Remember: ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya!