2012 IgboFest Program
It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child
It Does Take a Village to Raise a ChildThe people and the language they speak are both referred to as Igbo, and their ancestral home known as Igboland. They are one of about four largest groups in Nigeria. The size of the Igbo population varies by source, with estimates ranging from 24 million to over 50 million people. It is worthy of note that there are extensive areas of land that are sparsely populated, which is to say that population size is not necessarily determined by land mass. All the same, this characteristically ubiquitous, visible, achievement oriented, and highly populated ethnic group shares a common ancestry and a rich cultural heritage.
Defined in a broad sense, culture is the way of life of a distinct group of people that sets the group apart from any other group. It is a way of life that characterizes or identifies a particular group of people, usually manifested in the traditions and customs of the group. Mwangi (2009) wrote that many anthropologists define culture as the embodiment of “moral, ethical, and aesthetic values that form the basis of a people’s identity and their sense of particularity” (p. 12). Igbo culture inheres in their language, religion, arts, attire, music, dance, rituals, values, architecture, social habits, cuisine, festivities, and the way children are raised.
IgboFest is an occasion in which the Igbo in Minnesota display their cultural traditions and customs. Our guests, friends, and well-wishers at IgboFest 2013 will see Igbo men, women, and children in traditional Igbo attire, women and children dancing to traditional Igbo music, a display of masculinity by masquerades that dance at intervals to indigenous songs enriched with sounds of special native musical instruments rendered by men and male children that accompany them. Other features include a fashion show in which men, women, and children show off their attire in style and pride, assorted and delicious Igbo cuisine for your enjoyment, Igbo arts and artifacts in display, and women and men’s sartorial display for sale.
All important Igbo functions, including IgboFest, cannot begin until the presentation, breaking, and eating of the kola nut. My understanding is that there is no Igbo cultural symbol that commands the degree of attention and importance accorded Igbo kola nut. Legend has it that the Igbo founding fathers were granted the option of selecting a fruit of their choice from the orchard of gods during a visit to the abode of the gods, whereby they chose the kola nut as the fruit above all fruits in importance. This helps to explain why the kola nut plays a central role in Igbo culture. Further evidence of the cultural primacy of the kola nut in Igboland is to be found in the creative way the letters in the word Ọji were represented as an Igbo acronym, which as a matter of coincidence, stand for “Ọmenana (Ọmenala) Jikọtalu (Jikọtara) Igbo (Ọji),” or “the custom that unites the Igbo,” in English. The variants in parenthesis indicate that the Igbo language has different dialects. It is our custom to speak only Igbo during the kola nut ritual.
Nothing can serve as a substitute for kola nut. Unless the kola nut is served initially, drinks, food, and meat offered will not impress the people at any important Igbo function. The reason is that kola nut symbolizes good omen, hospitality, unity, peace, friendliness, goodwill, clean mind, and pure intentions.
To be acceptable for use at important Igbo functions, the kola nut must be the autochthonous variety known as cola acuminate or atrophora. It is called “Ọji Igbo” in the Igbo language, which means “Igbo kola nut.” Unlike cola nitida, known as “Ọji Awusa or gworo” that has only two cotyledons, Igbo kola nut comes with varying number of cotyledons, ranging from one to seven. The number of cotyledons is very significant because of the associated interpretations. Igbo kola nut with four cotyledons is the most common and most acceptable of all. The four cotyledons correspond with the four Igbo market days of Eke, Oye or Orie (differences in Igbo dialects), Afọ, and Nkwọ. Ọji Igbo (Igbo kola nut) with four cotyledons is called “ọji udo na Ngọzi,” the English translation being “kola of peace and blessing.” Ọji Igbo (Igbo kola nut) with seven cotyledons exists but very rare, and signifies plentitude in terms of people (increase in procreation). Igbo kola nut with one or two cotyledons is rare and considered dumb kola, and is not used for Igbo rituals. This is why Igbo people may break and eat cola nitida, but will not use it “for rituals or in serious traditional celebration.”
The eldest man at an Igbo function gets the honor of offering a prayer while holding up the kola nut for those in attendance to see. He offers prayers to the ancestral gods, the spirit world, and God the creator who the Igbo refer to as Chukwu, meaning the great God. The eldest man may either pray and break the kola nut, or pray and hand the kola nut to a young man to break and serve the people, depending on the part of Igboland. In most cases the prayer starts with the statement that “Ọnye wetalu (wetara in another Igbo dialect) ọji wetalu ndu,” translated in English as “One who brings kola nut brings life.” Here is a prayer that was used with the kola nut ritual culled from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, “We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”
The prayers offered during the kola nut ritual invariably involve requests for the gift of children, long life, and prosperity. In the end, the broken kola nut is eaten with alligator pepper or a paste composed of ground peanut, crayfish, red pepper, and other ingredients as needed. Palm wine or other beverages imbibed after chewing the kola nut with the alligator pepper or paste serve to wash the kola nut down.
Recall that the prayer offered during kola nut ritual includes asking for the gift of children. Since children are the living messages we send to a time we will never see, the Igbo take raising their children seriously. In Igboland parents do not spare the rod and spoil the child. Janet Achebe, the mother of Chinua Achebe the globally known author of Things Fall Apart, used to say that “She who leaves all the house chores to the servant is raising the servant and not her own children.” To be raised in the Igbo culture is to go through a socialization process in which a sense of responsibility, caring, respect, good work ethic, achievement orientation, receptivity to change, strong family values, accountability, and insatiable drive for knowledge are emphasized and inculcated in the child. Igbo parents go to a great length to ensure a bright future for their children by the way they are raised and the importance they attach to education.
Education for children is considered an investment that yields unparalleled dividend, and it remains a very important factor in the upbringing of our third-generation Igbo children in the Diaspora. One of the reasons why the Igbo converted en masse to Christianity in colonial Nigeria after resisting it for so long was due to the observed economic and status gains from education, which was an important proselytization tool the European missionaries used. Today, the Igbo are arguably the most educated ethnic group in Nigeria. Western and African researchers have written about the Igbo in terms of their excellent work ethic. In his 1966 Dreams and Deeds, Robert A. Levine wrote among other things: “In contemporary Africa the rise of certain ethnic groups noted for energy, achievement striving, and enterprise has been remarked by many foreign and local observers. The Kikuyu in Kenya…the Igbo of Nigeria are examples of groups noted for their opportunism and industry.”
It is to showcase this culture that Umunne Cultural Association of Minnesota organizes and presents IgboFest as an annual event aimed at acquainting our children with our rich cultural heritage and to proudly share it with all our guests, friends, and well-wishers in attendance. Please enjoy our culture and may your journey to and from IgboFest 2013 be safe.
Dr. Anthony Ikechukwu Akubue, Professor of Environmental and Technological Studies, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud Minnesota.