Exploring Igbo Identity In The Igbo Diaspora: Notes From The 2012 Ama Ndigbo Symposium

Umu Igbo Alliance dancers perform a traditional women's dance at the 2012 Ama Ndigbo symposium in Chicago
By Chika Oduah

“The Igbo Diaspora has to go back and “Igbonize” the Igbo….we can be proud of who we are.”
Dr. Iheanacho Emeruwa

Vivian Nwakah did not know she would receive the reaction she did after posing her question before a panel of Igbo academicians. She inquired if Igbo people should focus on being Nigerian rather than on emphasizing their Igbo heritage.

It did not take more than a second for her inquiry to spark a stream of sturdy replies.

“Nigeria is an experiment that has failed!” panelist Dr. Samuel Enyia remarked with a startling passion.

Enyia, a professor of communications at Lewis University, had delivered the bold declaration at the recent 3rd Annual Ama Ndigbo Intergenerational Dialogue Symposium. The 3-day Chicago conference, which began on July 26, attracted a wide spectrum of Igbos from California to Washington, D.C. and beyond, representing the five states of Igboland.

Enyia was joined by Dr. Emmanuel Alozie (professor of Media Communications); Dr. David Koren (author of Far Away In The Sky: A Memoir of the Biafran Airlift); Dr. Ada Azodo (professor of African and African Diaspora Literature), Mr. Cajetan Iheka (a doctoral student of postcolonial literature and cultures) and Dr. Austin Okigbo (professor and ethnomusicologist.)

In a collaborative effort, Umu Igbo Alliance (UIA) and 100 Igbos USA Inc., organized the Ama Ndigbo symposium, seeking stimulation and an evaluation of Igbo identity. Various panel discussions included:

  • “The Role of the Visual and Performing Arts in Preserving Igbo Culture: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives”
  • “What’s Love Got To Do With It? Perspectives on Relationships, Sex, Love, and Marriage”
  • “Preserving Culture through Literature and Storytelling”
  • “O Bialu Ije New Una- Reverse Migration and Opportunities in Alaigbo and Nigeria”
  • “Understanding Traditional Igbo Religion and Christianity”
  • “One People, One Voice- Living Out Our Convenant With The Future”

With the unfettered dialogue stirred from the opening panel appropriately entitled, “Restoring Our Legacy- Exploring Igbo Identity Pre and Post Nigerian-Biafra War” a ripe exchange of ideas was well underway.

 

A Generational Divide
Nwakah, a 29-year-old writer and traveler, represented the views of her peers-- views that maintain that it is in the best interest of Ndi Igbo to work towards Nigeria’s unity, and any attempt to place Igbo before Nigeria would not only be impractical, but ethnocentric and un-democratic.

“I am Igbo first, but I don’t think that’s a good political stance to take,” she said.

“There’s a lot of us versus them mentality,” she said. “When I was growing up it was always Yoruba versus Igbo and that was confusing for me.”

Another attendant, 19-year-old DePaul University economics student, Emeka “Gozie” Anyadiegwu, holds an even wider view.

“I think we should focus on being African first, then Nigerian, then Igbo,” said the self-styled pan-Africanist. “Nigeria is a failed state and tribalism plays a big role.”

Throughout the conference, a clear generational gap had emerged in the attempt to answer the prevailing question: How should the Igbo people identify themselves?

The matured attendants of the older generation agreed that Ndi Igbo should retrace their roots and revive their cultural identity.

Azodo, who referred to herself as Igbo before Nigerian, said, ““You have to keep your family in good stead before you can go public,” Azodo continued. “If your house is not in order, you cannot be a good member of the community. So you take Nigeria to be your community and the Igbo nation to be your family.”

According to Enyia, the Igbo people have pursued oneness in Nigeria, but such a pursuit has not only been “counter-productive, but also a “distraction”…a costly distraction to say the least.

The argument follows that since the 1914 amalgamation, the Hausa and Yoruba have continued with the preservation of their ethnic culture and needs, while the Igbo people settled throughout Nigeria. Not only did the Igbo champion the fight for independence-- with frontrunners such as Nnamdi Azikiwe—but they were also the engine that ran the civil service, military leadership and educational institutions. With Zik’s concept of one Nigeria in mind, they were guided by their entrepreneurial ambitions and a character trait described by Azodo as  “expansive.”

During the panel discuss, Dr. Austin Okigbo asked, “So, where does that leave Igboland?”
 

The Price of Unity

“Many of you wonder why your parents don’t talk. An extreme evil was done to us.”
Dr. Ejikeme Obasi, 100 Igbos USA, Inc.

More than one million Igbos, reportedly, died during the Biafra War. Some estimates report upwards of three million.

David Koren, an American volunteer, had learned to relish the Igbo culture while serving in the Peace Corps in Nigeria in 1964 -1966. In 1968, he returned to southeastern Nigeria, which was Biafra by then, and he saw the multitudes of starving children.


“I held their frail lifeless bodies in my hands,” Koren said during his opening address at the Ama Ndigbo conference.

Koren had joined the largest international airlift ever attempted. The World Council of Churches and Caritas International had mounted a relief effort to deliver thousands of tons of food and medicine to Biafra. The volunteers flew old aircrafts at night to avoid detection.

For Koren, a witness to unfathomable destruction and despair, his life had changed forever.

Speaking to an attentive audience that had fallen silent at Koren’s depiction of utter suffering, Koren said, “the world lost something when they lost the spirit that was in Biafra.”

Perhaps the Igbo people have never been the same since the Biafra War.  Some say the Igbo people lost their unity and phrases like “Igbo Kwenu” have become mere euphemisms with no real meaning behind them.

This, according to multiple Igbo cultural scholars and historians, has been the price of the Igbo people’s desire to make Nigeria a great nation.

Other perceived consequences of the Igbo expansion throughout Nigeria have manifested, such as the continued killings of Igbo people in the Middle Belt and Northern Nigeria; the endangerment of the Igbo language (UNESCO reports that the Igbo language may become extinct in the next 50 years); and the lack of sustained economic development in Igboland
 
“There is nothing happening in the Igboland area. Economically, it is almost paralyzed and cannot attract people from the North and the West,” Enyia, a former Biafran battalion commander said. He cited that there are virtually no federal government establishments in Igboland.
 

The Road Ahead
There is a sense that the lessons of the Biafra War have not been learned and thus history may repeat itself if the Igbo people continue bolstering business ventures outside Igboland.

The indispensable role of the Igbo Diaspora, both young and old, cannot be underestimated.

Dr. Iheanacho Emeruwa, the head of the Ama Ndigbo planning committee, may have said it best when he remarked that “the Igbo Diaspora has to go back and “Igbonize” the Igbo.”

A remarkable number of Igbo people living within Nigeria boast their inability to speak the Igbo language. “I don’t speak Igbo,” is what they say with puffing chests.  

With dreams set on making it big in Jos, Lagos, London and the United States, scores of Igbo youth have relegated Onitsha, Owerri and Umuahia to the back of their minds, because to them, such places are too “local, ” too “Igbotic” and are deemed only worthy enough to build colossal homes in, to which they can retreat at Christmas.

An alarming lot of Igbo youth pay little attention to cultural traditions that existed long before the existence of Nigeria.

The sense that we were “Igbo before Nigeria and we will be Igbo after Nigeria,” may be one largely held by the older generation, but it has not translated to the youth.

This disconnect is why many in the older generation fear that if Nigeria were to split in 2015, as the American CIA has predicted, it would be the Igbo people—not the Yorubas, nor the Hausas --- who would suffer the most.
 
However, with forums promoting cultural awareness, such as the Ama Ndigbo symposium, the dialogue continues.

“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am- and what I need- is something that I have to find out myself.”
Chinua Achebe

 

Chika Oduah
Twitter@chikaoduah

 

 

 

Comments
23 comment(s)
Post a comment

Comments

MY BIAFRA

Instead of aspiring to rule Nigeria, a failed state, Igbo should concentrate on freeing themselves from Nigeia and establishing Biafra. Nigeria is cramping Igbo style.

Edwin Clark challenges IBB to take a stand on Boko Haram

Chief Clark posed the challenge in Abuja on Wednesday following a statement released by General Babangida on Monday, the 6th of August, describing him as "senile and senseless" in his reaction to Mr Clark's clamour that Babaginda should come out and condemn Boko Haram.

Should IBB take a stand on Boko Haram?

Vote Yes or No now at http://www.stateofNigeria.com

Yes: Everyone will be better off when Nigeria breaks up

Ibos in particular will be better off when nigeria breaks up. What is the use having a big country when a large swarthe of it is off limit
for your business, settlement or worship? Were you sleeping when you took your wealth to Lagos and Abuja? Were you not warned? Are there no cities in Iboland? So what is your solution to the Ibo problems you enumerated above? To hide hehind unworkable nigeria or to confront the Ibo problems headlong within an Ibo state? Get real man.

EVERYONE WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF NIGERIA BREAKS UP.

Before the British came to Nigeria and made things fall apart, each region was doing well. Yorubaland was progressive. Hausaland was moving forward. Biafraland excelled technologically. Nigeria benefits only the criminals who are ruining it. Unless you are one of these criminals, you have no good reasons to support a failed state. Igbo wealth is in our culture, intellectual capital, and in our minds--creative initiatives and success drives. Igbo own properties within what was Nigeria would be protected according to UN charter. Igbo are not disorganized but are republican, which is our strength.

Everyone would be worse off if Nigeria Breaks up

I find it horrifying that someone is praying for Nigeria to break up before 2013. If i may ask this individual, what contributions have you made to unite igbo's or to move Nigeria forward ? Lets look at some facts, As igbo's we fight amongst ourselves a lot, There are generations of igbo's who are keen to distance themselves from our traditions, culture, food, language many even refuse to visit igbo land. Majority of igbo wealth is concentrated in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. Why dont we like ourselves.

Everyone would be worse off if Nigeria Breaks up

if you want Nigeria to break up what plans have you made to sustain our economic future. If you agree to break-up you have cut yourself off from the sea, Have you spoken to South-South and have they agreed to come with you, would South-West come with you as these regions would also seek their own independence which would cut the igbo man off from key trading ports, cost of imports and exports would hit the roof the igbo manufacturing industries would suffer as our goods would become too expensive for anyone or nation the flood gates would be open for every region or state to demand their own independence and you can deny them that since you started it.

Everyone would be worse off if Nigeria Breaks up

If Southern and Nothern Nigeria go their seperate ways if there is no other way forward or if we are forced to then Southern Nigeria as a Country might be feaseable but any country to work we must all agree with each other respect each other and work together because if we dont believe in ourselves then others wont believe in us. As Ndigbo we should search within ourselves revisit our values and what made us great and then come as a united front. Nigeria breaking up is not the answer as does latent difficulties that we have would still raise its head. God Bless Ndigbo God bless Nigeria

JOHN SON OF WOMAN IS NIGERIA OF TODAY THE SON OF WIFE OF LUGARD

John who tried to established his New Nigeria of the Mother and Son with his own power as Military Coup on jan 15, 1966 failed, like Moses who first wanted to free his people of Israel from slavery with his own power when he killed an Egyptian who was fighting with a Hebrew man: which made Moses to ran away when Pharaoh had the news of Moses venture. Moses ran for his life for and was in exile for 40 years before God raised the Pharaoh that knows not Joseph like Boko Haram and Sharia Law in Nigeria today which the Israelites to remember their covenant of God with their fathers. Moses returned and led his people to promised land. John will return as new Holy Host of Christ The Most High God of The Livings and Dead to free Ndigbo and Nigerians from salvery of Gods of Nigeria. Nigeria The Son of woman as John Beloved was Son of woman. Mother behold your son , Son behold thy Mother.

BIBLICAL JOHN BELOVED IS AN IBO MAN OF TODAY

You shall know the Truth and Truth shall makes you free. Our freedom is anchored in truth and truth is the Spirit of Christ who teaches you all things. John Beloved whom Mother and Son New World was given is an Ibo man of today the old Hebrews. Nigeria as a nation is New Nation of John beloved because the name Nigeria came from the wife of Lord Lugard who married The North Songhai The Sun and South The Earth 1914, and they gave birth to a son called Nigeria. John the Nigeria been under captive of the fathers like Moses of the old came on Jan 15, 1966 with soldiers of Five Majors Coup the ex students of St John's College Kaduna to overthrew the fathers which led to the death of Late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Brig Gen Malami, Col Unegbe, S.L Akintola and Francis Okotie Eboh. None Ibo leader was killed although it wasnt the plan of the five Majors, their plan was to kill Dr M.I Okpara, Gen Ironsi, K.O Mbadiwe and some top Ibo leaders but Emmanuel Ifeajuna in failed.

MY GREATEST PROBLEM IS IGNORANCE OF NDIGBO AND NIGERIANS

A man in honor and no not that He is in honor is like a beast that been perished with power of men. Ndigbo in honor and no not that they are Christ not like Christ are being destroyed by beast of Boko Haram and Northern Elders. Awake Ndigbo from slumber. Take the fullness of Christ as your armour of deliverance and defense. The fullness of Christ are all faith, things in the heavens, on the earth and all under the earth. Free Holy Ghost your Mother Grace from being The Slave of the Fathers, who was given as gift of the Father to men. Who are The Fathers of today all religious body that denied women the right to be Pope, Pastor, Priest, Imam or head. The issue of ignorance of ndigbo who see the acts and word of Christ as what have made for Jews instead for them to know it's made form us. Take eg: Mother and Son issue Jesus Christ declared on the cross. Through his biological Mother Virgin Mary and John Beloved. The John Beloved is an Ibo man.

STOP TALKING OF SEPARATION OF NIGERIA

Ndigbo died for Nigeria, they were sacrificial Lamb, escape goats of Nigeria sins which came from Western election between S.L Akintola and Awolowo groups. Talking of separation of Nigeria is acts of cowardness. We must proved to Nigerians that Nigeria belong to us. Dr Azikiwe fought and died for Nigeria, even Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his four Majors who led Nigeria Revolution that freed the Minorities from bondage of the Big three. We must have our right to be the President of Nigeria. My power to free ndigbo is not of man or of Boko Haram of Muslims but the Power of Grace from Last salvation which freed the Holy Ghost from being the Slave of Muslims and Catholics who are the Fathers.

NDIGBO ARE OLD HEBREWS WHO KNOW CHRIST MORE THAN JEWS

Before the coming of White Man in IboLand who came with Christianity, Ndigbo knows Christ more than the Jews. Their knowledge of death and resurrection made them to honor new Yam.Death and Resurrection is Baptizing of Water we died with Jesus Christ and resurrected to life. Which is the death of unfruitful old Earth with Water of Darkness before the coming of Light 46 Billions years ago. They see the old yam planted inside the earth as our old self who died and resurrected to become a new man which is new yam that comes from dead old yam. Ibos has Yam harvest barn where they store yam for preservation called OBA Ji, which use to be a sacred place before. From Obaji the name OBAMA came. Obama is Yam Harvest Barn in front Gate. The front gate of Jerusalem was where Jesus Christ was crucified.

I commend the diasporian

I commend the diasporian Igbos for this conversation. It is timely especially now the Ogun Oduduwas, Bayelsa and Ogoni south southerners, and Boko Haramites are adopting their own coats of arm and Anthems. But trust me, the Igbos can never be placed at dis-advantage in the event of dis-integration of Nigeria. Instead, being naturally in the 'expansive mode' they will be shoulders above the rest. Unknown to many, Igbo intellectuals are also strategizing. Forget that Igbo Politicians are as clueless as they come.

Nigeria: A Country of Losers

LOL. They did not win even a wood medal in the Olympics.

Anyway, the New Federal State of Biafra is a coalition of the willing. It will incorporate only Ibo areas. Areas belonging to resentful, moaning and unwilling minorities WILL EXCLUDED. Sadly, that will include even Ibibio/Annang areas even though they arethe most reliable, honorable and trustworthy of all Ibo neighbours. The 1966-70 error of including 5th columnists in Biafra cannot be repeated. Iboes will go it alone. To your tents oh Israel.

Ndigbo are the best dancers on the planet

Recently, a friend sent me the Abia State Arts and Cultural Dance organized by the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWdBSz4wjk)
Watch it and see why Ndigbo are the best dancers on the planet – especially Abians and Riverine. As a lover of culture and tourism, I have never seen any dance so artistic and beautiful like an Igbo girl doing a traditional dance. It’s artistry, sensual, brilliant, and beautiful. The Opobo Nwaotam and Ugandan Ndhote cultural dance are among also the best in the world.

OBITUARY--- NIGERIA IS DEAD

IGBO KWENU-YAAAH, KWENU-YAAAH, KWEZUENU-YAAAH.

My brothers and sisters, it is with great joy that I announce to you the death of our oppressor--- Nigeria. Our people are finally free to pursue their own destinies without hindrance from Nigeria. Rejoice brethren for the Biafran sun is rising and shining brighter than ever.

MAY GOD BLESS THE LIVING BIAFRA.
.

To Igbonize, we must begin with a Diaspora Ciity...

To Igbonize, we must begin with a Diaspora Ciity in Igboland.
All cities and places (Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja etc.) Ndigbo helped to develop are all neutral to boastful claims of "son of the soil" to any particular Igbo clan. This is why Awka, Owerri and Umuahia shall remain administrative cities. There are other social-cultural factors that encourage Igbo settlement in mega cities away from uncomfortable inquisitions of clanship and heritage, unlike a neutral multi-cultural city.
Solution: We need to appropriate, design and build a neutral city in Igboland in the likeness of Anuja. I suggest we adopt the area marginally appropriated from the five Igbo states by Senator Anyim Pius Anyim for the proposed Igboezue state, and turn it into a Diaspora city called Obodo-Etiti or whatever!. It would become the neutral equivalent of Abuja, a modern western city with Belt-ways, Metro, Malls etc. with relative equi-distance to current Igbo state capitals.

Ibos are 419ners. Thieves

Ibos are 419ners. Thieves armed robbers. Cheats. Move above Indigbo kano, kaduna, lagos, ibadan, warri, yobe, abuja, osun and ondo state. Any government in power.

Nobody can teach me who I am.

Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am- and what I need- is something that I have to find out myself.”
*****************************
...like swindling, armed robbery, kidnapping, ritualists, 419ers, creditcard frauds and God knows what else. please no more "finding out about yourself" e don do before we wake up one morning in togo and togolese in nigeria.

Well said welldone.

Well said welldone.

Ndigbo cannot be worse off if Nigeria breaks up! (2)

In Biafra, we did not plan to secede or to form a nation. We were forced out of Nigeria by the pogrom, the massive killings of Ndigbo throughout northern Nigeria and a few in southwest Nigeria. I recall that Mr. Achilefu, then Personnel Manager of Nigeria Airways was murdered by a group of marauding Nigerian soldiers in Lagos.

When we declared independence, the world abandoned us to be slaughtered by Nigerians and they did so with relish and gusto. However, in spite of deprivations and massive bombings of the civilian population and deaths, the first two years of Biafra's existence witnessed thousands of our youths, mostly Anayadiegwu's age, joining the armed forces VOLUNTARILY to defend the young nation.

A nation is built on the collective positive spirit, willingness and resolve of the citizens to develop and progress and it begins with the mindset and unselfishness of the No. 1 leader. In Nigeria of today, these attributes are glarinly missing.

Ndigbo cannot be worse off if Nigeria breaks up! (1)

In the event that Nigeria breaks up and I pray it does before 2013 (not 2015), Ndigbo would be the most progressive and not the worse off. Chi, I do not know how old you are but those of us who witnessed the war would tell you that if the Nigerian authorities had allowed us to be, we would have built the enviable economic showpiece, indeed the JAPAN OF AFRICA, by now.

All you write about here do not make an economic giant. It is not whether Igbos speak Igbo language, which they do, of course, or a 19 years old Anyadiegwu wants to teach you that you have to be a Nigerian first before being Igbo or lack of federal presence in Igboland!

Beautiful Igbo Women!

Charity, they say begins at home. Even a fulani or a Yoruba will identify themselves ethnically first in front of Nigeria. As one of the presenters said, Nigeria is a dead country. One can not agree less.

By the way Chika, where can one meet one of these beauties pictured above? Goodluck to Ndigbo!