Home Opinion Of Igbo culture and paradox, By Osy Agbo

Of Igbo culture and paradox, By Osy Agbo

Igbo chiefs

There are certain compelling traits that make some people refer to the Igbo man as the black Jew. That am sure doesn’t include interchanging ‘R’ with ‘L’ when sounding out those letters of the alphabet or donning a yarmulke the way of a Rabbi like our brother, Nnamdi. Truth be told , I don’t even like being called anything else other than an Igbo man. Jews are Jews and we are whom we are. Period. Yet both groups are known for their unmatched brilliance, doggedness and my new favorite word, grit. For those never-Igbos, please feel free to argue this with yourself. The Igbos and Jews both rose from the ashes to excel way beyond the imagination of those that pillaged and left them for dead. But then there are some ugly contradictions that make you feel like our people as like heroes fatally flawed.

Early last year, a dear friend from Ikare Ekiti was my guest in a wedding reception held at Onitsha, Anambra State. It was a traditional Igbo wedding that turned out to be a showcase of the Yoruba aesthetic culture. It would be his first time being in such an event  east of the Niger and so Yomi came all the way from Lagos, mentally prepared to observe a sea of men with heads covered in red caps festooned with feathers. But Instead, it was a groom’s train populated by boys dressed in crisp ashoke paired up with heavily embroidered, double-winged fila hats. Surprise, suprise?

Well…I tried to make excuses for the young  couple by bringing up the famed Igbo openness to accept other cultures but he wouldn’t buy it. “You cannot love other cultures more than your own”, Yomi quipped. “How many Hausas or Yorubas have you seen lately wearing Isi-Agu on a regular day let alone in a family occasion like this?” he queried. “And don’t get me wrong, it has nothing to do with not liking Igbos or any other culture for that matter”.

Then he continued…

“In Yorubaland we just happen to love our culture so much. I don’t get that same vibe with the Igbos which I think is a shame. Bros, the white man spends millions to preserve his cultures and institutions and that’s why the British Monarchy is so revered. The black race should do the same”.  

I thought it was in my place to be angry but instead Yomi was pretty pissed off and so I yielded. Besides, I had no idea he was such a strong cultural ambassador until then.

Needless to say my encounter with Yomi in that wedding rekindled an old set of realities about our people, our culture to me. I remember my kids trying to impress their cousins in Nigeria by speaking Igbo but it turned out many of them proudly admitted to not understand the language. How come many would rather go with their English name and prefer to converse in the language of any other culture other than theirs? Why are we so self loathing that we love to embrace just about anything else but quick to throw away our own? My mind was seriously agitated but unfortunately I had more questions than answers.

I remember a big part of my childhood with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Though brought up in a Christian household, we were still able to enjoy that aspect of our culture outside the sphere of traditional African religion with idol worship. One of the highlights was the mystery and thrills of watching the village masquerades perform. It was nothing fetish or occultic, just pure artistry. Our Christmas was incomplete without getting to see the Agaba Idu with a huge smokes billowing atop his head, displaying raw masculinity. Following him around without getting scared was one way to show girls you have come of age. Now all those things are gone and I fear that my son will never get to enjoy that rich part of our culture. Talk about culture, in Igboland, we still have the evil of the Osu caste system hanging on our neck like an albatross till this day.

Few years ago, a young man from Abia State got engaged to his sweetheart of many years. A month to the wedding, the marriage got called off upon the bride family learning the man is an Osu. The so-called freeborn families are always up in arms against any of their members who wants to marry an outcast. The young man himself was born and raised in Lagos and such a cultural stigma attached to his family was unbenoknowst to him. As at the last count, he was still going through cycles of depression and suicide attempts. Stories abound of young men and women of Igbo extraction who suffered heartbreaks and emotional traumas as a result of this anomaly of culture.

Efforts have been made in many fronts to address the discrimination including through legislation without success. In fact on March 20, 1956, the Eastern House of Assembly sitting in Enugu passed law to abrogate the Osu caste system. The problem is the apparent lack of willpower even among our Christian faithful to denounce one of the greatest sins against humanity. Most families though condemn it but are not  brave enough to break the jinx for fear of generational blow-black.

I have often wondered how we interpret Christianity in Igboland or better still what we understand to be the qualities of a good Christian. The biggest paradox here is attempting to understand the rational for throwing away our beautiful culture sometimes in the name of Christianity while on the other hand still clinging on to a crude, vicious and outdated one that makes less a human being out of God’s creation. That confuses the heck out of me.

It’s most unfortunate that for generations  we have failed to stand up against evil and compromised on our spirituality. Good news is that the Igbo millennials are fighting hard to rid themselves of those shackles that retard our collective progress as a people. It’s time we face the demons of our ugly past ,atone for our sins and come clean. To do that while preserving our cultural identity is the only way to push forward.

Agbo MD, FCCP writes from Houston, Texas

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