Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa (Conclusion)

The preceding instalments of this series were written as a single 3600 word essay in 2006 about my personal experience of south east Nigeria in the late 1970s and early 1980s. People wrote and read lengthy essays in those days. If you are interested you can read the entire unedited version here at the Elysium Chronicles. I have to keep the posts short now out of respect for shorter internet attention spans.

A lot has changed since then and none of it for the better. I have changed. So has my writing style. I wrote the essay before the disillusionment, before the anger, before I started working with international development. Before the Beast was born and slayed! (Another story) So I certainly didn’t change for the better. Neither did the south east or Nigeria. We all went south together.

In those days the end of the civil war was a fresh memory and spoken of frequently, independence was recalled with pride, everything seemed possible and the rural areas of south east Nigeria still offered a vibrant if simple life. Those were the good old days when village people made kola with Fanta and cabin biscuits or bananas when you visited, Nelly Uchendu idealistically crooned ‘Love Nwantinti’ on the radio and the biggest hit of the day was Nico Mbarga’s ‘Sweet Mother’.

Now when you go to the village you must go with bags of money, no one offers you kola and sharing is an anachronistic indulgence or a cynical demand for political allegiance.  What am I saying? Who goes to the village anymore? Not even the politicians. Everyone is scared of kidnappers. Your own kinsmen will arrange your kidnap for a few bucks certain that you are just not sharing all the money you’re making ‘abroad’. The natives still take sharing very seriously.  The big hits are Naeto C ‘Owu No de Touch’ and Ade Piper ‘Bad Guy’. Go figure.

The green eyed monster was kept at bay in the old days with songs like ‘Onye Egbula Nwanne Ya’ by Dr. Sir. Warrior and his Oriental Band. They sang songs full of wisdom, advice, admonishment and proverbs. They sang about how to live a good life and why you shouldn’t kill your nwanne. In Igbo language ‘nwanne’ or ‘nwannem’ is transliterated as ‘child of mother’ or ‘child of my mother’ but applies to all your lineage members, male and female, who you were ritually bound not to harm. Of course no one takes these old fashioned ideals seriously anymore, we’re all modern now.

Food still plays a central role in people’s lives but children don’t eat from one plate anymore, people hide their food when someone is coming just in case they accept an invitation to come and eat, daughters are discouraged from staying home much less being in the soup pot, and few can afford feasts or use gang labour cookouts. Everything is catered nowadays because only the rich can afford feasts and they usually hire caterers from outside the village, frequently from outside the state all together.  Materialism and individualism has made everyone less sharing and less caring.

Am I nostalgic?


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