This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about African culture. Of course I know that culture differs from country to country within the continent, but there are common themes that I have identified through my meetings and experiences with various people.
My attempt to analyse and critique what I perceive to be typical Nigerian, and in particular, Igbo customs and traditions, will be done through my Second Generation Nigerian (SGN) eyes. I anticipate I may be prone to bias, as I have dual cultures and therefore part of me – and I have to say, a larger part of me – does not relate to certain Nigerian/Igbo customs. I describe myself as SGN because my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but they chose to settle and have children in Britain. In my opinion you do not have to have been born in Britain to be an SGN, but you would have spent the majority of your life living here, including during your formative years. Similarly, if you were born in Britain (you can also read America here, or any other Western country), but grew up in Nigeria, you probably will not identify as an SGN.
The SGN experience will of course differ from person to person. In sharing my personal experiences, I do not purport that they are shared by all SGNs but I feel there may be some commonalities. I’ll come to language first. If I had a pound for every First Generation Nigerian (FGN) that, with a face twisted with disgust, spat out the words “you don’t speak Igbo?” I would be a very rich woman. The moment created thereafter is always painful, awkward, and embarrassing for me, yet I don’t judge the speaker too harshly. After all, the heart of any people is their language. It is what unites them. It is often how they can seek each other out in a crowd. However where does that leave the SGN who was not taught the language by their parents? As an outsider, a foreigner, and a fraud. Notice how the SGN is the one castigated, even though it is the PARENT of the SGN that has failed in their duty to pass on the vital element of belonging. I am tempted to say so much more on this point alone, but I may save it for another post dedicated to the (decline of the) Igbo language.
On a separate note, what happens when Nigerian culture clashes with the other culture experienced by the SGN in the land of their habitation? I am speaking of when the FGN feels that things should be done in a certain Nigerian way, as though Nigerian culture is superior to all else. The SGN may have experienced something different, and might have a different view on things, but the FGN, (usually the parent) will rarely question whether the Nigerian way actually is the best way. For example, my experience of the Igbo culture is that parents see themselves as demigods who are to be obeyed by their children in all things no questions asked. This continues even when said children are actually grown adults. From a British perspective, parents guide their children as best they can, but when they are adult, they acknowledge that they can no longer tell them what to do. In my opinion, on this particular point, what is typically British, is a better way. But an SGO expressing a desire to do things another way, can lead to a lot of friction and uproar.
Another problem an SGN is likely to face is, where do they belong? For an SGO that has known a Western environment for all of, or most of their life, living in Nigeria is not an option. This is simply lost on a lot of FGNs. When I am on holiday in Nigeria I’m often asked by my relatives “when are you coming back home (to Nigeria)?” This question presupposes two things: 1) that I left Nigeria, when I actually I did not start out there, and 2) that Nigeria is my home. If Nigeria is just a foreign place to the SGN, why is it expected that they will decide to live there, especially when all they’ve known is a life of relative comforts. It also begs the question, why do the parents of the SGN invest in so much land in Nigeria, under the assumption that their SGN offspring will want to leave everything that they are accustomed to go and inhabit the land, in order to ensure it remains in the family?
It is so tempted to go on and on at this point as I find these topics very interesting, and would like to see more discussion about them. However I will stop here, and leave certain other topics for other posts. It will be revealing to see how many traditions and customs survive into the Third Generation, and whether the dominant Nigerian culture will finally begin to adapt and synchronize.