Tuesday, June 23, 2015

In the Presence of ụmụnnadị


Obododịmma ọha

Some people cannot stand unwarranted flaming that goes on in interactions on Facebook and other social media, and so choose to keep away from such interactions, or just remain lurkers, to avoid being unfairly attacked. Like some other social media, Facebook has gradually emerged as a replacement (or an online equivalent) of the African village meeting in which members of the community, following existing interactional norms, discuss issues, quarrel with one another sometimes, settle such quarrels, impose fines and sanctions, etc. This nzukọ obodo, the meeting of the community – which may narrow down as nzukọ otu ogbo (age-grade or peer-group meeting, nzukọ umunna (meeting of kinsmen), nzukọ ụmụada (meeting of the daughters of the community), nzukọ ndiinyom (women’s meeting), etc – serves as a context of personal training on how to live with or manage others in community. It is a context where people learn skills for dealing real challenges that arise as they interact with others in community, especially when these others may deliberately choose to be jerks that are not happy that one is happy, or who deliberately try to subvert the progress of their fellows. The Igbo refer to this deliberate subversion of the progress or happiness of the other as “ime nwannadị” (roughly translated as “mischief-making against, or subversion of, the other”) and the character that subverts the good of the other as “nwannadị.” In the community, thereofore, one has well-wishers on the one hand and the ụmụnnadị (the plural of “nwannadị”) on the other. Of course, it is one of the practised ways of the nwannadị to pretend to be a well-wisher!
Should one then avoid umunnadị completely, either in the physical community or in virtual community? Not at all. The more one runs from nnadị, the more one is disadvantaged, and the more the nnadị rejoice that they have succeeded, or that they can continue to harass the victim. The Igbo therefore advocate having an education on how to live in the presence of ụmụnnadị, to arm oneself properly with knowledge, to fight back cautiously and wisely.

From the perspective of indigenous Igbo paradigm of social interaction, one cannot really escape from the tackles of the nwannadị, even in modern computer-mediated forums of interaction – and need not – for nnadịness is an attribute of human engagement which the ancient Igbo tried to harness in their acquisition of, and training on, life skills. Part of the skills that one is expected to learn in interacting with others in community is how to recognise the deceits of the nwannadị, apart from knowing how to respond to the direct expression of subversion by the nwannadi. One’s survival partly depends on learning the effective ways of dealing with ụmụnnadị anywhere they show up in our daily struggles.

As the pressure of modern life forces the African world to begin to abandon its community ties and systems, one finds that the very opportunities for learning how to live in the presence of ụmụnnadị diminish and/or elude the modern African. With growing insecurity in public life, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the culture of nzukọ ụmụnna, town union meetings, age-grade meetings, etc in the Igbo society today or among ndigbo residing outside the Igbo homeland. Yet where these are still maintained, one finds that such a training still goes on. Those who avoid such interactions – for instance those who claim that their membership of Christian Pentecostal groups forbids them from being members of their age-grade collective or the nzukọ ụmụnna, or that such gatherings are dominated by individuals whose ways of thinking and behaving they cannot withstand – have only cheated themselves of valuable cultural and social education. Of course, in their Pentecostal group meetings where they assume that their hearts are one, that the Holy Ghost is in charge, they fail to realise that nwannadị is also at work, seriously at work because it is disguised! Look for it, not only in the appointment of the officers of the church, but also in deciding who sits where. Look for it both in the Bible passage selected for the day’s sermon as well as in the prophecies that are received. Look for it in the interpretation of the will of God and in the rhetoric of the prayers. Indeed, anytime human beings gather anywhere to worship, the politics of nwannadị is in their midst.

“Nnadị egbule m,” sang one Igbo female musician. And nwannadị is everywhere: in the workplace, at the place of worship, at a meeting, at the place of buying and selling, just anywhere human beings gather. The Igbo even have a joke that “Nwanndị nọ na mkpụrụamụ” (the nwannadị hides in one’s testicles)! That is to say that the nnadị is always and already too close to someone and can be anywhere, in church as in the family, at the place of work and in national politics. Ah, national politics? That one is obvious! The nwannadị of workplace politics delays promotions or uses promotions to continue other forms of politics, gives underserved queries, writes unnecessary petitions and mischievous open letters, gossips and spreads false rumours, etc. Those who get employed and forget to give attention to the nwannadi of the workplace would always be miserable in their employment.

Ah, can one forget that the social media even provide a very “comfortable” space for the ụmụnnadị in the age of information technology? The New Media nwannadị would easily use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other environments to attack or defend, to defend as a way of attacking, etc. The Facebook nwannadị would sniff around Facebook updates to read and misread, looking for signs of an infringement against own group and deliberately amplifying the errors or misdeeds of those they wish to pull down. If one looks closely, one would even discover that local village or town union politics that is characterised by vicious nwannadịness has gained from a Facebook presence. Someone on Facebook would create a group and once in a while post updates they hope would turn the hearts of their Facebook friends or group members against some forces in their local communities. “I am now on Facebook!” begins to mean “I am now using this New Media facility to continue doing nwannadi against someone or some people in our local community, state, or country.”

In an already divided context, nnadịness very frequently manifests as a collective conspiracy or attitude. Us versus Them. Or, Us versus him or her. If you do or say something against an nnadị, you can be sure that another nnadị is standing by, frowning and probably waiting for a turn to avenge the member and by implication an nnadi ingroup. Perhaps the collective practice of nwannadị is more devious, and has started manifesting as one major pandemic destroying community harmony in the postcolonial African world. Such collective nnadịness tends to legitimize ime nwannadị, and trains younger ones on the strategies of ime nwannadị. It, indeed, helps nnadịness to spread as culture.

We live our lives and die in the presence of ụmụnnadị. The nnadi is watching, always watching for lapses. Which is why one must always try to be above board. Since the nnadi is waiting to find something to use as the basis for doing mischief, one must be alert and fulfill one’s obligations in society. In the traditional Igbo setting, the nwannadị would look out for one’s disgrace and amplify it when one has made oneself vulnerable, either through involvement in scandals or even non-criminal matters like failing to pay a contribution in time! The nwanndị would advertise one’s failings, make one seem undersirable in community, etc. In a word, one indigenous thinking about nnadịness is that the nwannadi looks for one’s DOWNFALL. As a matter of fact, a dominant perspective or model of ime nwannadị is that of working against the good of the other. In other words, this model of nnadịness is already always part of the psychology of enmity: the enemy-making human (the homo hostilis), working with a hostile imagination, would expectedly devote energy towards subverting the imagined or real enemy.

Sad, isn’t it?

That is one major reason one must not think that the solution lies in keeping away from some interactions where the nnadi appears more visible and active. It is even in those contexts that one could get closer and study the ways of the nnadi. We can only gain mastery over what we have got close enough to study. Onye no mmadu nso na-anu isi eze ya (It is the person who is physically closer to another person that perceives the stench of that other person’s teeth). Those who think that interactions like those of Facebook expose them too much to the mischief of the modern-day nwannadi and therefore stay away from such interactions are not helping themselves. Yes, on Facebook, one gets insulted, attacked unfairly, maligned, etc. There are indeed several Facebook umunnadi waiting to post flame comments and updates here and there. We do not like it, yes. But we have to bear it if it helps us to understand the nature of the new Facebook nwannadi and to devise appropriate ways of handling such virtual nnadịness.

Let us get this right: ime mmadụ nwannadị – understood as deliberately working against the interest of the other – is normally viewed as an ignoble thing. But wrestling with the antics of the nwannadị, ironically, becomes one means through which the Igbo person prepares the self for survival in society. The semiotic of the nwannadị is sometimes even humorously used among the Igbo in referring to their close relatives – a way of teasing them about their being close critics whose actions in their discomfort motivate their targets to continue doing well. Indeed, an interesting attempt at playing with (or reconstructing) the negative meaning of “nnadị” in discourse and suggesting how the negative indirectly serves a useful purpose. The nwannadị is there to keep one on one’s toes and to be watchful. Is it not a paradox that nnadị teaches one to be ready to stand up and wrestle for survival? Nnadi indirectly contributes towards showing a man how to be a man, and a woman how to be a woman! The nwannadị creates discomfort but, through such, provides the target with the tool for engineering relationship in the context of competition and conflict. Indeed, nnadịness initiates, intensifies, and drives conflict between competing interests in society. One must learn the art of acting in the context of that conflict of interests.

The ụmụnnadị are also learning from the reactions of their targets. Perhaps through interacting with virtual ụmụnnadị, we prove to them the truth in “Ka ị ma nke a, ị ma nke ọzọ?” and that “Ihe kwụrụ, ihe akwụso ya”!

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