In light of Heroes Day today (30th May), I wanted to share some of my views and general experiences of being a young Igbo woman who was born and raised in the diaspora (UK). Although I was born in Leeds and raised in London, I can honestly say that my parents did a great job with acquainting my siblings and me with our Igbo roots and I still feel quite in tune with my Igbo heritage.
One thing about being Igbo that is pivotal to me is the language as I see this as a way to network and connect with other Igbos. If you’re like me and you have a strong understanding of spoken Igbo then attempting to speak and differentiate between various dialects/tonal sounds would be a step in the right direction because it is never too late to learn to speak fluently. Although it’s not ideal, it’s still given me some kind of foundation in my attempt to learn to speak and write it proficiently. I am very much grateful for the handful of Igbo lessons I took at ICSN as it has helped me immensely with my reading and writing of Igbo just knowing the basics that will allow one to start formulating sentences. At this moment in time, I have more confidence in writing and reading Igbo in messages and on Twitter I still have a way to come in terms of speaking fluently but it is much better than the last two years. It is an ongoing process me and one that I am very much enjoying!
Additionally, my parents really came through when it came to exposing us to traditional Igbo cuisine. Because of this, I thoroughly enjoy eating foods like isi ewu, nkwobi, ofe akwụ, abacha and many more. I think it helped that I’m not a particularly fussy eater so I never really had a problem with taste or being grossed out by the ingredients used for each dish. As a community, I believe that learning from each other is both pivotal and refreshing. I’ve learnt so much attending various events designed for young Igbos such as the annual Iri ji festival and also forums/disussions hosted by groups such as Okwu ID, YIWA and ICSN. Now among the British Nigerian community, Yoruba’s definitely make up the overwhelming majority. I’m also sure I’m not alone having felt like the “token Igbo” amongst their Nigerian friends. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s also nice to be part of a network of people who come from the same place as you thus having a bit more in common with you. Upon attending the 7th Annual Igbo Conference hosted at SOAS, the message that seemed to echo throughout the event was the importance of archiving our material. Artefacts such as pictures, videos, sound recordings will all be incredibly important for the future and I feel that it is our duty to preserve our culture and pass it down to our future generations no matter where in the world we are. It was also a pleasure to witness my father give a keynote speech about the history and evolution of masquerades and their connection to theatre and performance (you can see the video of the speech HERE!).
Something that I’ve noticed speaking with more Igbos is the somewhat clash between Igbo traditional religions and Christianity. I am a strong Christian and my faith is a major part of the woman I am today. However, I am (well only recently) aware of how exactly Christianity was introduced to Igboland. Therefore, I can’t be obtuse to the fact that the initial knowledge of Christianity in Igboland was not exactly the message of love that is highlighted in the Bible. Having said that, reading about the traditional Igbo religion and the different deities will not sway my faith. I see it more as a means to simply be informed about an aspect of my Igbo heritage. The way I see it is when it comes to learning about aspects of your culture and history, you have to take in the good, the bad and the downright ugly truths that encompass what you are researching. The ugly truths about the Biafran war and how Nigerian “independence” came about are also things I have had to learn about and accept to gain a full understanding of where I am from. On that note, I want to quickly address some of the insensitive things I see on Twitter telling Igbos to “forget about Biafra” quite simply you can’t expect us to forget something that affected our parents and grandparents directly which had catastrophic consequences for our people. The Biafran War took place and it is not something that can simply be swept under the carpet because of the ugly nature of its occurrence in history. This is important because I am pretty sure there are young Igbos out there that don’t know much about the Biafran War besides “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or the fact that a war even took place in the first instance. For decades, our families have kept quiet and shielded us from discussing it with us but I for one am glad that more young Igbos are taking active steps to be more knowledgable on what happened during the war and also hearing first-hand accounts from our relatives.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the idea of marriage and relationships. The idea of marrying Igbo to make it easier to pass down the traditions to future generations is a lovely idea, however, I personally don’t want to be closed off because of this. Can I see you as a father to my kids regardless of if you are Igbo or not? If the love of my life loves God and is compatible with me in all aspects happens to be Igbo then it will be lit! But honestly, the choice of who I marry is a very big and important decision that can’t be taken lightly because I refuse to settle out of convenience and what others will think. Furthermore, I believe that I am proactive with learning about my Igbo heritage now to the point that if I do not marry an Igbo man I will still be able to pass it down to my children. This is contrary to the belief that the wife’s heritage is somewhat recessive to the husband’s heritage when it comes to raising children. Having said that, from my perspective, more Igbo men emerging from the woodworks so who knows what my future holds? However, it is impossible for me to be happy with someone who does not accept my Igbo heritage and culture if you can’t accept all of me then you cannot have any part of me period, it’s all or nothing baby!
All in all, I have always been aware of my roots because of my parents despite the fact even though I have been brought up here in the UK. The older I get, the more initiative I have taken to make sure that I stay in touch with my Igbo roots whilst learning about some of the histories that I was unaware of before because the onus is really on me ultimately. Igboland in Nigeria is where I am from and that is where my family line gets traced back to.
Until next time
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”