Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Mbekwu the Tortoise and the Paradox of Outwitting Oneself


Obododimma Oha.

If there is anything that Mbe nwa Aniga (Mbe son of Aniga), or Mbekwu, is known for in Igbo folklore, it is that he takes advantage of others, applying his wisdom the wrong way to defraud others. Mbe expects others to be the victims of his tricks. In other words, he does not expect that he himself would fall victim to his own very machinations. We normally do not set out to work against ourselves! Far from it, it is always the other.

Mbe knows the politics of otherness at his fingertips, having a high idea of his wisdom, or that he is wiser than others and can deal with them. Gradually, the name has become a semiotic of the dubious.

Perhaps, driving this feeling of superiority is the desire to use the wisdom to benefit oneself, even at the expense of others. So, Mbe is selfish through and through, apart from his pride that he is better than other animals. But, to make sure that this selfishness appears to belong to wisdom, look at what Mbe nwa Aniga does: he goes and collects all wisdom in the land (so he thinks!) and puts them in a calabash, carries the calabash of wisdom and wants to go and hide it, so that only he would have access to it (to consolidate his false cerebral superiority!

All right, let’s see how Mbe makes the historic journey to the selfish monopoly of wisdom. He gets to a tree trunk that has fallen across the road. To get over the trunk, Mbe must put down the calabash of wisdom. If he does that, he considers, the wisdoms may spill and passers-by would access them. He just does not want people to know that that there are wisdoms in the calabash. He is not Father Christmas and won’t make any gift to any fellow or share it. You know, selfishness believes it is wisdom! But it is one of the unwise things on earth. Well, imagine Mbekwu struggling to get over the tree trunk with the calabash of wisdom. No success.

Then, a man comes along. He considers what Tortoise is doing; then, offers this advice. “No, friend, you have to put down the calabash and climb over first. Then, you can take the calabash alone, maybe from where you placed it on the trunk.” What? Tortoise sees this option as better but gets angry with himself. His anger gets excess, the type the Igbo refer to as ariri, and not just iwe (anger). In his ariri, he lifts the calabash and dashes it to pieces on the ground. I thought I had become the wisest person in the land, carrying all the wisdoms in a calabash! What is the use carrying all the wisdoms in a calabash when one is not wise enough to navigate one’s way over a tree trunk and is given wise advice by another person, he concludes. With that, he abandons the project and walks homes, feeling defeated.

How often we play mbekwu in our political and social dealings with others. Mbekwu puts his interest first, not minding how it affects the other. But the things of the world are not always a question of who has thrown the other in a bout and who is in a position to carry the other home as meat. What if our plans expose our rotten underbellies and turn us to victims? Onye buru aso n’elu buru onwe ya (The person who spits at the sky spits at self). For the spittle shot will obey the law of gravity and descend on the one who spits. The sky moves away, untouched!

The Mbekwu of today’s Nigeria looks for the way it would benefit him. It would appear that he is after how it would benefit his tribe; but, no. Mbekwu would rather eat and shit to eat again than give his own son a piece of bone. Actually, Mbekwu is also devouring his tribe in the tricksterhood.

Mbekwu would use the tribe and the family for own gain; in fact, for self-flagellation. It is everyone for themselves! Every Mbekwu ought to learn the art of tricksterhood. Is Ayuga his wife and the kid Mbekwus hoping to depend on his aghugho forever? Shouldn’t they begin at home, at least for practice? Like charity that begins at home, tricks and selfishness and greed also have to begin at home!

But when Mbe becomes the victim of his own tricks, his own attempt at protecting self-interest, something must have happened in the kingdom of conspiracy. The problem may be that Mbekwu has no control over the turn of events. Onye ma echi? Who knows tomorrow? Uwa na-eme ntughari. The world keeps turning, so the affairs of people. Yes, onye ma echi?

Uwa na-eme ntughari, not because it is basking in the sun; although it moves round the sun, your harmattan becoming my winter. Uwa na-eme ntughari, your night becoming my day. Have you not heard it said that Nne nwata lo ahia, o di ka nke ibe ya agaghi alota? When your own mother returns from the market and you are dancing and singing ‘Mama alota, oyooyo!” it would look as if mine won’t; that mine has gone to obodo afudebe, the land of no-return.

But everyone’s mother would return from the market. Meet me at the playground and let’s sing “Mama alota” together.

Mbekwu is already a personification (animalization?) of self-inflicted misery. It is not a praise name to be called a trickster. It is not a happy thing either to outwit oneself in this cerebral celebration of oneness.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

I Love the Songs of Harcourt Whyte: A Meditation


Obododimma Oha

I love the songs of Harcourt Whyte & Choir, especially carried with the golden pad of the poetry of Nnamdi Olebara. Oral poetry carrying oral poetry, supporting oral poetry, complementing oral poetry. I love those great songs that touch the soul and call one back to oneself, to be attentive to creation and one’s place in it. Ihe ju akpa, a machie ya onu. So, one carries on with shivering but directed feet in a world seeking to become. Ihe ju akpa.

Biko, then, chebe m ooo, chebe m nna. Here comes the tempest rolling over and rising high to pounce and howling and growling. Are you asleep on the boat? Are you waiting for the climax then before you say, “Peace, be sill!”? Chebe m, nna.

Listen, tikuonu Jehovah, na mma na njo, in bliss and in grief. In filtered voices issuing from these bodies outside these bodies. Voices made of the pleasures of that grief. There is a pleasant city in that valley of tears.

Can’t you see how Job has started enjoying his misfortune and his creator has become his ally? Ihe oma anaghi ekwe jide ya aka! How do you cling to that piece of laughter that becomes another cry? Job, you are a poem! You confront me with meanings. The stations of cross are only fourteen; yours, innumerable. You have become for me the travail of creation.

How I envy that vulture sitting on the roof in the marketplace! The butchers don’t bother about it. The women that jostle to buy chicken and turkey in the shopping mall don’t bother about it. It is not meat. Its relative the turkey chose a different destiny. So sorry for Maazi Turkey. So sorry, too, for that hen. She gives birth but hardly enjoys the consolation of motherhood. So sorry for the hen who plays favourite for the medicine man and even the priest. Somebody goes to Hell for another to go to Heaven.

Yes, I love Harcourt Whyte in a morning of an uncertain day. I love Harcourt Whyte. Nwa agadi laba nka, o di ka e jighi ego lua ya. Have I not travelled with you, from LP to CD? Have I not travelled with you from emotion to philosophy, from religion to science? Have I not searched for you in that galaxy and that star? In my father’s universe, there are many galaxies.

I am still following that heavily laden voice of Nnamdi Olebara. Following, still. Hoping it would still be able to carry me to that faraway star. Away from Ala Ekwensu! Away from those for whom I am fighting this battle that do not love me. Onwu m agaghi ewute ha; mba; it won’t. Agwo buru eririolu, agaghi m anya ya! Yes; I refuse to wear that pendant of evil poking out its forked tongue!

Those for whom I am waging this war are on the other side. Hostages on the other side thinking they are better off there. Grinning. Taunting. Scorning. They do not understand. They don’t. For how would anyone keep preaching when nobody is listening? Keep preaching still, Harcourt Whyte; my soul is listening. That tree and that bird are listening. That swiftly flowing stream can understand you. That silent moment is also listening and meditating and becoming.

Ekele nna. Ekele na nsopuru. You are great and are doing great things in creation. Initiating this and that form. Transforming this and that form. Artist and scientist! Artistic scientist. Scientific artist. And no book can fully document your overwhelming action. It is immense. We can only catch a glimpse of it in our world.

I can see you in that other Adam and that Adam and that other Eve. I can listen to you in that Harcourt Whyte song and that Nnamdi Olebara poem. Have you not become for me an enigma; yet a source of joy and strength? In that drop of life? In that breeze that touches my sweating brow?

I love the songs of Harcourt Whyte & Choir. They have become inspired chapters of a holy book.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Oriiwi Nkeni


Obododimma Oha

Chukwu the Supreme Being had withdrawn from our world to another world. Before, it was possible to visit the Maker and hold banter with Him, even play games with Him! It was such a pleasant thing to have the Maker around, to visit Him and break kolanut with Him. Wasn’t it how He was able to confirm that Mbe nwa Aniga the tortoise was a very great invention, a great crafty thinker that could match strategy with strategy? I am sure you have heard that story.

All right, back to our story about nkeni. Chukwu was very much around, creator and creature living in the same community. As you would imagine, Chukwu had a lot to worry about: too many visits from human beings and beasts. It was becoming unbearable and He did not like it. Every quarrel was brought to Him to settle. Every headache was brought to Him to cure. Every argument was brought to Him to resolve. Even how to pour out palm wine to drink was a matter brought to Him to decide! He did not like it. So, Chukwu had to separate Himself from human beings and beasts, living so far away so that they would not bother to consult Him that often.

Now, nkeni was a very rich person in the human world. He would have liked it for Chukwu to be around so that He would feel safer. He sent a message to Chukwu that He would like to come and keep his possessions with Him, that he felt insecure in the human world. He had vessels, estates, houses, and numerous investments and it was clear that some people were beginning to hate him for working hard and being affluent. But Chukwu disappointed him. He flatly said NO; He would not want human trouble again! He had had enough of it! Humans should try and sort themselves out!

Nkeni sent entreaties to Chukwu but the latter did not listen to him. Chukwu told him that it was good that he had grown wealthy. In a similar way, he should grow sufficiently wise to guard his wealth. Nkeni was surprised that Chukwu was acting this way and felt that He was probably joking, maybe testing him as He once tested the tortoise by offering him a stone for kolanut, as a visitor!

So, nkeni started preparing for a long trip. He wanted to give Chukwu a surprise, too. He started selling some of his investments and buying large ships to transport other wealth to Chukwu’s domain. All together he had five large ships for the long journey. Finally, nkeni was ready; he got adorned as a rich man, golden vestments and golden walking stick and boarded the lead ship carrying the choicest of his life’s material wealth.

After several days and nights, nkeni’s voyage was then really under way. It got to that point of where you could sight neither land nor creature to intervene to assist, if there was trouble. Then a tempest started. It flogged and lashed and bashed the ships that bad. It tore at this mast and that sail, and made a sorry sight of the regal trip. Then, it started happening: the lead ship went under and nkeni only managed to escape to another ship just as it went under. One after another, the ships foundered. Finally, all the ships went under, and nkeni only managed to cling to one dead tree on the sea. He would dive to see if he could pick that floating golden plate or cup or spoon. It was such a miserable sight. From grace to nothing, not even grass!

Then, as nkeni hung on the dead tree and lamented his life, Chukwu sent a creature to rescue him and transport him back to the human world. But Chukwu blamed him in strong terms for not listening to him, for being a celebrated stubborn fool. To this day, nkeni still dives into a pool of water, a stream, a river, an ocean… just any body of water, to see it he could salvage anything.

Perhaps, Chukwu knew what would befall nkeni but did not want to stop it so that nkeni would learn the hard way. Perhaps it was Chukwu that raised the tempest so that nkeni would not succeed in reaching His world. Whatever may be the case, we know that nkeni’s tragedy marked the beginning of the conviction that Chukwu was unreachable. It became clear to humans that Chukwu was dead serious in alienating Himself, that they were looking for Him at their own risk, that they were on their own.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ka Osadebe, Oliva, Wọrịọ, na Pericomo Rutere Alammụọ


Obododịmma ọha

Ka Osadebe, Oliva, Wọrịọ, na Perikoma rutere Alammụọ
Ekwe na ọja, udu na ogene
Malite tibe, kpọba, kpọtụba

Okemmụọ na ụkwụmmụọ kwụsị gebe ntị,
Olendi bịara, olendi ji egwu bịa?
Olendi mere mmụọ adịdịmaadị teta n’ụra?
Olendi bụ ndi a na ndi a na ndi a?
Kedu mmụọ bịakwutere mmụọ?

Osadebe tọpee ọnụ, ije awele...
Oliva tibe: ọ bụ nnukwu mmanwụ!
Wọrịọ bebe: ụwa a lee! Elu ụwa nke a leeee!
Perikoma amaba oji: mụ na ndee mụ na ndee mụ na ndee!

Mmụọ achọbazie ịghọ mmadụ
Agụụ ibiri n’ahụ, iku ume, agụbazie
Mmụọ, mmadụ abụrụzie nṅomi mmụọ
Mmadụ, mmụọ-gara-njem-dị-njem-n’ime
Lọta, mmụọ achọbazie ịghọ mmadụ
Alammụọ amakụọ Alaigbo, nara ihe o jiri bịa!

Ka Osadebe, Oliva, Wọrịọ, na Perikoma rutere Alammụọ,
Ka anyị matara,n’ezie, na egwu bụ ọnya na-ama ndimmụọ
Ma bụrụzie akaraka mmadụ chọrọ

Umuigbo, anyị agaala ụwa gakwaa ụwa!
Anyị agaala mmụọ, gaa mmadụ!
Ogene na opi, ihe mere anyị.
Udu na ọyọ, ihe akarịa!

Friday, September 15, 2017



Obododimma Oha.

Finally, it is Igbo-against-Igbo,
Isu kworo mma gbue onwe ha!
What the guns could not kill,
The treacherous words of the kinsfolk will.

Listen to the painful refrain
Of the spiteful song:
Hate yourself and deny yourself
Hate yourself to deny yourself
Hate yourself to upgrade yourself
Deny yourself to win applause !

But if you could betray yourself in the changing colours
Of patriotism, to try to impress the ilo
Would you then be trusted …
At last, a good Igbo out there?

The spreading stench of self-hate poisons the morning breeze,

Finally kinsfolk,
Self has ruined self
Trying to be the other.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Igboness and the Posture of E Me Sị


Obododịmma ọha

Very long ago, Simon Ottenberg, an anthropologist, took interest in the nature of the Igbo person, and, in an article titled “Ibo Receptivity to change” which he first presented at the Northwest Anthropological Conference, Eugene, Oregon, held from May 11 to 12, 1956, and later published as a chapter in Continuity and Change in African Cultures edited by William R. Bascom and Melville J. Herskovits (1959), he wrote as follows:

The Ibo (sic) are probably most receptive to culture change, and most willing to accept Western ways, of any large group in Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of them have migrated to other parts of the country as a result of culture contact following the British conquest of their country between 1800 and 1915. The majority of them have moved to urban centers such as Zaria and Kano in northern Nigeria, Calabar in the southeast, and Lagos in the southwest. Cities, which were nonexistent in the Ibo area previous to European contact, in the last fifty years have developed rapidly around transportation, trade, and administrative headquarters. Many Ibo have migrated to these centers, such as Aba, Port Harcourt, Umuahia, Onitsha, and Enugu. Despite their rural background, the Ibo find urban life stimulating and rewarding. Urban Ibo sometimes speak of their rural counterpart as “bush people,” or “primitives,” in a manner reminiscent of that of some British in Nigeria in the early part of the present century. (1959: 130 – 131)

It is interesting that at the time Ottenberg was doing his research on Igbo receptivity to change, Chinua Achebe was also concerned about changes in both Igbo behaviour and community spirit in the face of Western colonization and cultural influence. Achebe, whose novel Things Fall Apart appeared in 1959, would speak through one of his fictional characters about how Western influence has put a knife in what holds the Igbo community together (and by extension, what ties the Igbo person to his or her sense of self-worth and to his or her culture) and “we have fallen apart.” Ottenberg in his article attributes Igbo receptivity to change to Igbo individualism: “The Ibo are a highly individualistic people. While a man is dependent on his family, lineage, and residential grouping for support and backing, strong emphasis is placed on his ability to make his own way in the world” (1959: 136). The Igbo elder in the colonial period, just like Chinua Achebe’s Ezeulu in Arrow of God, saw that change was inevitable, not just because of the Igbo orientation to making one’s way in life on one’s own, but because the life of the colonized had indeed become like mmanwu performance – no one sensible would want to watch it from only one spot. Thus, it was only appropriate to ask the young ones who would live and act in the unknown future to go and interact with the oyibo people, to worship the gods of the oyibo and learn the magic of the oyibo, with a clear mandate of being the “eyes” and “ears” of their Igbo ancestors and Igbo communities.

Whether the Igbo who have had close interaction with both the oyibo and other groups in Nigeria know or see themselves as cultural ambassadors is another issue altogether. Would their tendency to ask “O nwere onye na-achara m moto?”(Is anyone navigating the way in the traffic for me?), which is a clear sign of their individualistic orientation, allow them to give some serious thought to their being the eyes and ears of their people in a world where no one can still pretend that group identity does not matter? As the Igbo locate themselves here and there in the space of the ethnic or racial other in Nigeria and elsewhere, what is their attitude to their Igboness (or being Igbo), to those with whom they share this identity, and to Igbo ethnic rights? It is my intention to stimulate debate around these important questions. In what follows, I reflect on an aspect of Igbo attitude to Igboness, a negative self-rejection, denial, and self-hate, which could be termed “E Me Sị” (simply translated as, “For the other not to say X” or “For me not to be poorly rated by the other); to define and treat themselves according to the assumptions and prejudices of the other. I must quickly add that “E Me Sị” is not entirely a bad orientation to life. We live and act in the presence of the others and must necessarily present ourselves as acceptable human beings, “acceptable” in this case referring to proper conduct as expected of rational humans. Thus, even though I may have the desire to make love to another woman who is not my wife, I do not have to climb the roof top and tell my neighbours that I want to make love to so-so-and-so woman. I do not even have to announce that I want to make love to my wife. It is taken for granted that I do my sexual duty as her husband! I do not have to announce that, e me sị na isi adịghị m mma. To some extent, we have to pretend in order in order to be approved of in culture and society. Isn’t that what underlies most of the human delineation of proper conduct, refinement, and etiquette in the social drama of our lives? Yet, when our attitude to life, to people, and even ourselves is entirely shaped by pretence and indeed the fear that others might not give their approval, we could be said to live false lives. It is in this zone where “E Me Sị” becomes a kind of phobia that I explore Igbo attitude to Igboness.

With the clarification about how I use the term “E Me Sị” in this talk thus clarified, let me return to the issue of Igbo readiness to embrace change and to take their adaptability into the space of the other. The late Igbo highlife musician, Oliver de Coque, expressed a great liking for his Igboness in one of his songs, “Igbo na-edozi obodo,” asserting that the Igbo build and repair community, even communities in which they are strangers, and proclaimed, “M bịakwa ụwa ọzọ, a ga m abụ onye Igbo” (If I come to this world again, I would still want to be Igbo). More than being mere expression of ethnocentrism or ethnic chauvinism, Oliver de coque’s proclamation of his preference for Igboness raises a whole question about the nature of Igboness, the maintenance and use of Igboness in a plural postcolonial environment and in a changing world. These are large and controversial issues which some Igbo thinkers have dwelt upon and are still debating. Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria and J. Obi Oguejiofor’s The Influence of Igbo Traditional Religion on the Socio-Political Character of the Igbo, for instance, discuss some of the common stereotypes of Igboness such as the Igbo being boisterous, stubborn, clannish, arrogant, and domineering. These are negative stereotypes that other Nigerian groups have about the Igbo. But there are also positive stereotypes that the Igbo have about themselves. They believe and assert, for instance, that they are wise (even wiser than some other Nigerian groups), resourceful, industrious, resilient, and dependable. They also believe, as noted by Oguejiofor, that they are receptive to change, democratic, and community-conscious. As an Igbo person myself, I should like these positive stereotypes, at least as means of encouraging them or working towards achieving them myself, if I find that I really do not possess them. My worry rather is that stereotypes that the Igbo construct about themselves and feel that they possess them innately may become sources of failure for their Igboness. In other words, the Igbo view of their excellence may have suffered defeat in the lives of the Igbo themselves particularly in their attempt at trying to escape from the negative stereotypes other groups have about them, as well as their pursuit of attributes they think would present them to other groups as individuals that could be approved of. I refer to this tendency to escape from an endangered Igbo image as E Me Sị, roughly translated as “So that X may not complain.”

E me sị features in the lives of the Igbo in contemporary Nigeria in the following ways:
• Pretending not to speak Igbo, or not being fluent in Igbo
• Being reluctant or even unwilling to explore and utilize indigenous Igbo ideas in contemporary academic or public discourses (One must acknowledge the efforts of some Igbo Catholic priests and reverend brothers who have been exploring Igbo ideas as part of their vocation on African spirituality).
• Being ashamed or afraid to be identified as Igbo outside the Igbo cultural environment, for instance through mode of dressing.
• Not wanting to associate with other Igbo.
• Being unwilling to hire other Igbo or to allow other Igbo be part of an activity one is involved in, especially as one of the key figures; in short, not wanting to bring another Igbo in.
• Keeping silent when issues concerning the Igbo are being discussed by non-Igbo persons.
• Teaming up with persons from other Igbo groups to humiliate or destroy another Igbo.
• (Directly or indirectly) endorsing the narration of the Igbo cultural world as an uninhabitable world.
• Championing or supporting the decivilization of indigenous Igbo ways of life and Igbo world-view.
• Accepting the status of “the stranger from nowhere” and submitting to cultural assimilation.

The Igbo desire to rewrite the narrative of iniquity which other Nigerian groups have created about them has led them to begin to distance themselves from their Igboness. They want to be accepted by other ethnic groups, in the belief that when they deny their Igboness and/or disappear in the cultural world of the other, then their problems are over. Unfortunately, other groups can always create new negative stereotypes of the Igbo, which would re-member the “disappearing Igbo” in their midst. Denial of Igboness is simply not enough in the conflictive context of Nigerian ethnic politics.

It is interesting too that some of the stereotypes the Igbo consider positive turn out to be means through which E Me Si is vigorously enacted.

It is as if the Igbo have to be sorry that they are Igbo and repent of their Igboness. They seem to want to show others how sorry they are for being Igbo, and how willing they are to give up their culture, language, and other expressions of their Igbo identity. These days, when one attends a traditional marriage ceremony in Ibadan, Abeokuta, or Oshogbo, with the Igbo as bride and the groom as Yoruba, one does not find any Igbo tradition being observed neither does one hear the events directors addressing the audience in English, not to talk about Igbo language. No, the audience is addressed in Yoruba, sometimes with a little compensation and humorous “Igbo kwenụ”! One would have thought that it is the tradition of the Igbo family whose daughter is being given away in marriage that should have been followed. Listen to the songs too: they are all Yoruba! The anchors of the ceremony do not render any apology to guests for their use of Yoruba or non-use of English (even though many understand English). In one so-called traditional marriage of one of my kinsmen’s daughters in Ibadan, the announcer had the shameless temerity to tell the audience that the reason for the use of Yoruba was that if Igbo was being used, no one in the audience would understand a word of what was being said. And many nodded their consent! He didn’t even consider the fact that the man who was giving away his daughter was an Igbo person and that some of his kinsfolk were present. And come to think of it: did everyone present understand what was being said in Yoruba? As one of those who could not comprehend what was being said in Yoruba and who desired hopelessly for an English translation, I felt terribly offended and had to take my leave. That was not until I had walked up to my kinsman giving his daughter in marriage and had told him, “I reela obi gi!” (You have sold your obi). I wonder how my Yoruba brothers and sisters would have taken it if in the traditional marriage of their daughter, Igbo language and customs had been imposed, with or without any apology. Definitely, no marriage would have taken place!

The same story about selling one’s obi has been re-enacted at reception ceremonies in Christian weddings with Igbo men as grooms and Yoruba as wives. As usual, the Igbo language suffers. And the Igbo hosts accept it, E Me Si! The Igbo are those who have to search for and maintain peace, otherwise they would be reminded about the negative stereotypes they have been working hard to escape from. Add the Christian doctrine of submission to the will of God to it and the picture is complete.

Consider even what the Igbo wear as their “traditional” attires to those traditional marriage ceremonies. It is either babariga or agbada. They are afraid to dress like the Igbo, when their Nigerian neighbours like the Yoruba, the Urhobo, the Bini, etc would dress proudly in their own traditional attires and try as much as possible to observe their traditional marriage customs. Indeed, the efforts made by these Nigerian groups to preserve their cultures are highly admirable. They don’t have to help the Igbo to preserve or respect Igbo culture. As far as culture wars in multicultural environment are concerned, if the other does not complain about an infringement on their own cultural rights, why blame the other that wants to make own culture visible, even dominant? The fault certainly is that of the Igbo who want to show the world that they are so very wise and adaptable to change that they can afford to destroy everything Igbo.

Indeed, “Igbo na-edozi obodo ndi ọzọ” as Oliver de Coque sang! They have accepted that their villages are terrible environments for human survival and that they owe their local communities neither some re-education nor initiatives in physical development. Their hosts in other Nigerian cities encourage them to buy parcels of land and build mansions where they could retire to and live in peace. Some even go into the remotest parts of the towns (indeed villages) where they live in other parts of Nigeria to build mansions, the very mansions that they think their own villages in Igboland do not deserve. They have to build other places in Nigeria so that no one would accuse them of being interested only in Igboland, or accuse them of trying to resuscitate the Republic of Biafra. Why should they rebuild and reinvigorate an environment of defeat? Isn’t that part of the desire to deny their Nigerianness? To reassure other Nigerians that they have repented as secessionists, they have to turn their backs on their local Igbo communities and values and try to show how terribly detribalized they are.
There is nothing wrong with an odozi obodo ideology, but there is everything wrong with an ideology that promotes thatching other people’s huts while the roof of one’s own hut is leaking like a sieve! Let the Igbo build anywhere they like, but let it not be the same narrative of E Me Sị through which they try to escape from themselves.

E Me Sị annoyingly features in the life of the Igbo as a system of self-hate, as a form of tribalism turned against self. The Igbo practitioner of E Me Sị in a position of authority would not want to hire another Igbo person because that amounts to reproducing the undesirable self. We should not have those like unto us, lest the other should notice and complain! One undesirable Igbo is more than enough! And who should ensure that this doctrine is observed? Certainly the E Me Sị Igbo, who is truly Igbo in spite of self.
There is no question of the E Me Si practitioner intervening to save an Igbo person that is being persecuted. It is rather better to become an instrument of such ethnic cleansing. Gbuo onye Igbo ibe gị, e me sị!

Let us attempt to summarize the fears that underlie the posture of E Me Sị:
E me sị na onye Igbo ibe m ka m ka hụ n’anya.
(So that it would not be said that I have greater love for my fellow Igbo)
E me sị na m bụ onye Igbo.
(So that I would not be identified as an Igbo person)
E me sị na onye Igbo m bụ na-atọ m obi ụtọ.
(So that it would not be said that I am happy for being Igbo)
E me sị na onye Igbo m bụ na-emebi m isi.
(So that it would not be said that I am intoxicated with being Igbo)
E me sị na m chọrọ ka ndi Igbo nọchisie n’ọkwa niile.
(So that it would not be said that I want Igbo persons to occupy all positions)
E me sị na m ….
(So that it would not be said that I....)

The posture of E Me Sị seeks the approval of the non-Igbo and the Igbo hater and promotes an anti-Igbo ideology:
Deny your Igboness in order to be welcome to the non-Igbo group.
Deny your Igboness in order to be the acceptable Igbo person.
Work against the interest of the other Igbo person in order to be approved of as a detribalized and progressive Igbo.
Don’t associate with other Igbo people so that you would have friends among those who complain about the Igbo or those that ridicule Igboness.

The posture of E Me Si that seems to have taken hold of the Igbo mind in recent times is a sign that Igbo identity, more than ever before, is greatly endangered. When a group that is highly disliked turns round to display its own discomforts about itself, it is on its way out. One does not need to be a prophet to see clearly that if the Igbo themselves buy into the prejudice that Igboness means everything undesirable, they themselves have become the instruments of their own erasure as a group. Don’t we already have a growing population of Igbo people who cannot speak Igbo? Don’t we already have a large population of Igbo people who cannot remember Igbo cultural practices? Don’t we have a staggering number of Igbo people who tell you that what you call Igbo culture is a set of backward-looking, pagan and devilish ways which took their ancestors to hellfire? The Igbo themselves will keep Igboness and remain usu the bat which is neither a bird of the air nor the beast that walks the earth.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Onwu Egbu Akuko (Death Does not Kill the Story)

A goodwill Message

Sent to

The Department of English, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, Purulia,


A One-Day Seminar on "Discourses and Representations: Chinua Achebe and the Aftermath,"

on 23rd April, 2014.

I am greatly pleased to know that you are holding a special seminar in India in honour of the late African novelist, Chinua Achebe. I wish I had the opportunity of being physically present at your seminar, to listen to the presentations and draw inspiration from the insights. I would, if I were in attendance, have tried to entertain you with some Igbo folktales and joke lore – the type that Achebe loved so much and used very masterfully in his writings and public presentations. Not just out of fascination with the narrative practices of the late writer, but, as a matter of fact, because I, too, happen to be an Igbo person and someone with a strong attachment to indigenous Igbo performance traditions.

Achebe’s town, Ogidi, is not very far from Uli, my hometown, and both towns are in Anambra State, Nigeria. Uli, which some of you must have read about, featured as an important town in Biafra during the Nigeria-Biafra war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. Thus it inevitably featured in Chinua Achebe’s lifewriting, There Was a Country. But that is not the only place you would encounter Uli in Achebe’s writings: it is also mentioned in his novel, Things Fall Apart, where the novelist narrates the congregation of egwugwu, masked spirits, from various towns, following the alu (abomination) committed by the Christian convert, Enoch. The alu was so terrible that the Mother of Spirits – the night spirit—walked the length and breadth of the land lamenting for her “murdered” son. The spirit wailed in a way never heard by humans before. One of the terrible egwugwu that arrived to confront the Christian iconoclasts was Ekwensu, and Achebe said it came from Uli. When I read about this in my high school days, I went to my hometown and inquired from the elders whether there was a masked spirit in Uli called “Ekwensu.” They confirmed that there was indeed such a masked spirit in the past and that it was the most terrible that ever existed but was no longer featured in their cultural performances. Hmmmm. Maybe the Enoch syndrome in postcolonial Igbo life had caused Ekwensu to really become fiction!

Achebe borrowed immensely from Igbo life and culture in writing his stories, but his craft and commitment will remain exceptionally engaging. As an Igbo person, I am beginning to see greater meaning and significance in Achebe’s stories in contemporary postcolonial Igbo world. I could see Chinua Achebe’s fictional characters taking human form in recent Igbo experiences! No, do not think about Okonkwo; his case is too obvious. Think about Nwoye (whose apparent weakness as a boy makes Okonkwo very sad) and Oduche (who is sent to become Ezeulu’s “eyes” and “ears” in a present-future overrun by Western modernity and Christianity). I tell you, dear friends, that, if Achebe were still alive, he might have considered seriously a continuation of his story, writing about the descendants of Oduche and how they have moved from their father’s imprisoning of the sacred python in a box to using the sacred snake for a weekend barbecue! And who knows whether he would have written about how the new masked spirits of the Nigerian world, armed with AK-47s and general purpose machine guns, abduct village heads and elders and ask relatives of the abductees to buy back their half-dead bodies with millions of Naira!

I am inclined to think that Achebe was inviting us to see Africa’s past, present, and future through his stories. There may not be one-to-one correspondence between the stories and real life, but one realises that there is clear, intimate conversation going on between the two. What would a society that has fallen apart give birth to, especially when its citizens have not learned where the rain started beating them?
Chinua Achebe lives in his stories. Those stories will never die. Onwu egbu akuko – death does not (and cannot) kill the story.

In celebrating Achebe in faraway India, you are indeed helping to confirm the philosophical truth in onwu egbu akuko. Incidentally, India has got the enviable reputation of being a society that constantly beckons on the rest of the world to return to contemplation and creative thinking. In celebrating Achebe, you are inviting the world to see greater meaning in his stories and to peep into Africa’s future.
I send my warmest felicitations to Professor Aparajita Hazra and her team of scholars and students for holding this important seminar.
Thank you.

Obododimma Oha
Professor of Cultural Semiotics & Stylistics
University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Photographs of the event (Courtesy of Prof. Aparajita Hazra, Chief Organiser of the seminar)