Ndigbo Should Consider Broadening Igbo Cultural Horizon – Pt 1

Ndi Igbo or Ndigbo (onye Igbo, singular) are demonyms used in Igbo language to address Igbo people who are predominantly located in the southeast of Nigeria. We are believed to be everywhere to the point that I personally will be surprised if there aren’t some of us who live in outer space already! If there aren’t, it will not be because space isn’t conducive for human habitation, but because the daredevil Ndigbo are yet to figure out a way to get there!
I once joked in a different article that Khan, Cerf and Sir Barnes-Lee must have had some connection to Ndigbo and understood how dispersed and yet connected we are to have had the idea of inventing the internet and world wide web.
Like the internet, Ndigbo’s conception of space knows no bound; they will brook no barriers to get to anywhere they set their eyes on. And like the internet, they bring about a seismic change to the commercial landscape of the places they are, and in a lot of other professions. Believe it or not, Ndigbo are packaged blessing to the world from Chukwu okike (god of creation).
Word on the street has it that Ndigbo have practically made the world their village. To that, I argue, it seems we are yet to figure out how to settle in it.
This may be owed to the political instabilities, particularly in Nigeria, and social discomfort people generally encounter in other places where they are not considered ‘indigenous’.
However, our conception of culture and where it can be practised play a role in this. Or, perhaps, an interplay of both. This is what I hope to examine in this article and, also, the idea and implications of rooting culture to a place and what it means to individual’s sense of identity and belonging.
I suggest instead that we endeavour to broaden our cultural horizon and make places beyond Igboland home too.
The idea of settling in a place is an authority one give to themselves to live in a place of their own choosing, to their fullest potential. It means to live in a place and become part and parcel of the community one is settled in while, of course, holding on to their identity. And as a collective, it means to live in such a way that your cultural identity constitutes a force that will bind you together with other people. One needs not to be born in a place to make this claim.
To belong to a place is to practise the culture, norms and values of the place. It is in participating in the activities and living up to the standards that make up the community. It is also in the experiences people have of the place and the feelings that is attached to that experience.
As Igbo proverb has it: ‘ị bia n’obodo a na a ta ntị gị were otu ntị gị tinye’ – verbatim: when you arrive at a place where the people chew on their ears, you put one of your own! These sage words of our people suggest belonging to whatever is happening in your milieu, but not to the extent that you forget yourselves. But this is hardly the case for Ndigbo, majority of whom dream to return ‘home’ in life or death. The few who do settle, appears to put two of their ears!
This seemingly inability to settle in a place, is magnificently captured in an article, ‘The Igboman’s Dilemma’ by Prof Kenneth Amaeshi urging us, Ndigbo, to ‘reflect critically on our cultural inheritances’ to ascertain the ‘reasonableness and suitability’ of some of our cultural practices. I agree with this view, given that cultural practices and the interpretation we give to them impacts on how we operate in the world and determines, for the most part, how much of our potentials are realised.
An example is our interpretation of Ala (land). (In this instance the word ‘land’ will not quite capture the exact meaning and cultural importance of what ala means to Ndigbo; I will therefore use ‘Ala’ henceforth for this purpose.)
In Igbo tradition and belief, Ala serves several purposes beyond farming and building structures, its basic purposes. Ala is a deity that people call upon for guidance and protection – Ala duwe gị chewe gị. For adherents of Igbo worldview like myself, Ala is a medium, through the performance of libation and ọfọ, we communicate with our ancestors and make offerings to the gods.
Ala is also a symbol of affluence, an avenue through which wealth is expressed – the harvest of crops and erection of structures.
Ala-obi is the place from whence one originates. Obi means heart in Igbo language. Here Ala is equated to a human’s heart that pumps blood, help to circulate oxygen and nutrients in human body and remove carbon dioxide. It is a vital organ without which what becomes of one is mortuum. In this tradition, it is a disgrace or an indication that something is wrong, for a person to visit his or her village without visiting their ala-obi.
Situated within a village, ala-obi is, in fact, the place where Igbo cultural institutions are allowed to exist, and traditions practised – marriages, rites of passages, funerals etc.
There is also political dimension to this need to return home. While social discomfort is a factor for those outside, Nigeria’s political instability has meant that Nigerians live with their boxes packed and ready to board a bus or flight, to return ‘home’.
One recent example was when the Arewa youths from the north issued a quit notice to Ndigbo, mandating them to leave the northern region within 30 days. Times before, there have been pogroms, civil war, riots and killings, a lot of which Igbo people appears to be on the receiving end of. This also play out during elections when people, for the fear of their lives, will send their children home till election is concluded.
This has arguably impacted on the psychology of people. For Ndigbo who are, arguably, mostly affected, and has not been favoured by Nigerian history, it appears imperative for us to keep alive our links to our ancestral homes, just in case.
So, etched in the psyche of an average Igboman is the notion that one must build a house first in their ancestral home so that ihe mewe ka Ị hụ ebe Ị ga agbalata – as a place of refuge.
This is ala-obi, inside of a village where you live without having your identity put under any kind of scrutiny. It is a place where your existence is assured, it is believed. Ala then becomes our life mission – one we live to protect, at the expense of other essential resources, happiness and wellbeing. We become ala; ala becomes us!
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?

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