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By Obi Enweze

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HomeArticlesThe SquareAuthorsBook ReviewsNews (beta!)Monday 23 November

Sat

04

Aug

2007
The Igbo marginal identity crisis leaves many questions unanswered
By Obi Enweze


THE IGBO MARGINAL – IDENTITY CRISIS LEAVES MANY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED.

Random Rambles – Obi Enweze


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As a young first year student I attended a public lecture at University of Nigeria, the speaker then, a well know professor talked about the concept of a marginal man. His illustration of a marginal man left me very angry.

The professor illustrated the meaning of a marginal man, with an Igbo man who traveled to America, spent a lot of time, then came back to Nigeria and found that he cannot integrate into the society he left a long time ago. The eloquent professor added that the "Americana" as these groups of Nigerians are called, is self-destruct and is a lost human being since he neither belongs to America nor Nigeria. The "Americana" is suffering from identity crisis he opined.

Angry, because then, 4 direct brothers of mine were in the USA, I fired back with multiple questions (packaged as one).

1. I asked the professor why he does not consider himself "lost", since he came back from the USA and speaks with typical American accent,

2.if our VC and almost all UNN professors are marginal men (since almost all of them were trained in the US),

3. whether people who live in Nigeria in cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Jos and so on , are better, since they try so hard to be different from the typical villagers.
Inspired by students who were then hailing me and chanting fire-on, I moved with two additional questions relating to the subject of discussion and pointed out some of the contradictions. By the
end of my questions, students were already screaming at the top of their voices and still chanting the "fire-on" battle cry, as done on one of the very rare occasions when a student "challenges" a professor. I became an instant hero (with a fringe benefit – mmmm let’s skip private matters).

Answers by the now thoroughly-surprised professor were drowned by students’ voice. From the little I gathered from his response, there is a concept called cross-culture, a process of acculturation. Some people gain from the process, others get carried away. Those who get carried away are the marginal men.
The noise was too much, by then I was already giddy with a feeling of fulfillment at what I wrong assumed was a mini victory over insult.

After the lecture an older student from my village called me aside, and told me that I will never graduate from UNN, if I don’t stop this kind of confrontation. He wisely cautioned that you never challenge a Nigerian professor in class or anywhere, and still expect to graduate. Visibly shaking, I asked whether I should go and apologize to the Professor (as cowardly as it may sound, nobody wants to be kicked out after working hard to pass the notoriously difficult JAMB).

My village brother cum moral-adviser, counseled me to simply run and dock when I see the powerful professor, until he forgets me and the incident. Additionally he stated, the Prof. likely know that you are an "IYC" and a "JJC" he concluded. Too surprised to ask more questions, I left thanking him profusely for his kind and generous advice.

Later on, from my senior student roommate, I found out the meaning of IYC (International Year of The Child) was a derogatory terms for students who looked too young in appearance to be in the famed UNN (you maybe older than 16 years, the age required for admission to universities, but to them you are just an IYC).

The other term, JJC (Johnny Just Come) I learnt was used to scheme out Ist year students from the hustle for female students during the famous "October rush" (fresh students were then admitted in October). You are a JJC my senior roommate lectured, never show up in female hostel in your first year even if your sister is there. Older students don’t want to see "toads" during October rush. Just stay off for the first term, after that then you may visit the prized female hoste he concluded.

Thanks goodness I became wiser, and never made the same "mistakes" again. You will be a full-blown knuckle head to risk annoying powerful people in Nigeria. But the issue remains that my question was never answered.

Taking Personal Inventory & Finding Validation In Little Things.

Years latter, a much older man, with kids and having spent years in the US, I sometimes wonder about the merits of the marginal man discussion. Surprisingly I often wonder whether too much of western influence creates a hybrid-man or as the sophisticated sociologists will say a marginal man.

Often I secretly rationalize that I am a typical Onye-Igbo. Whenever close friends talk about my too many town meetings, too much of Nigerian news, too much of Nigeria discussion, too many trips to ala-Igbo, I often internally, rationalize that yes!!, I am not deviating too much at the expense of my Igbo root.
When my very good friend, jokingly say things like you call people by traditional title names nobody else calls them, my response is often, we have to stay in touch with Igbo culture here in USA.

The truth is that, in all honesty, I love these high sounding Nigerian title names: Oke Osisi Ojebe Ogene 1 of Enugu State, Ichie Okwuluora Ogalagidi Gburu Gburu Dim 1 of Umuoji , Ogbuefi Nzeaku Na Obi 1 of Nimo , Dakawsenyi 1 of Awka Etiti, Dike Anagbulu Izu 1 of Nkpor, Ofo-aka na agwu aju 1of …, Afu Egwu Atuba 1 of Ojoto, Odogwu Igaliga 1 Of Oba, Ebeku Dike Na Agba Ogu 1 Of Nnewi, Aka na Akpu Uzu 1 Of Awka, Ogbuefi Ike 1 of Osile Ogbunike, Ozo Diegwu na kpaghiri 1 of Abagana, Odogwu Igaliga 1 of Ogidi, Lolo di egwu 1 of Mbaitolu Ikeduru, Ozo Nwanyi 1 of Ideato, Mazi Okaka 1 of Arondizuogu, Ichie Iyasele I of Onitsha Ado etc) I most sincerely apologize for other equally powerful names omitted.
Who in his or her right mind will not love these names. If you for a minute think that these names does not exist, please attend one event in the Baltimore, a city filled with powerful Nigerians. The Mee Cees are well paid to praise people.

Strange as it may sound it helps me to keep in touch with ala-Igbo. For one, I am in total awe of these powerful men with triple names. One have to be near super human to work around with such powerful names ….. my obeisance sirs.
However, all my personal escape mentality has not truly cured my insatiable desire for real answers. Who is the typical Igbo Marginal Man?

Searching For Answers
To find answers, I decided to venture into the esoteric theories of Sociology. I found that the concept was invented by a great sociologist Everett Stonequist, who used the term marginal man to explain the situation, where a person caught up in the tussle between two distinctive cultural systems. His theory suggests that threats to identity may lead to higher levels of deviance, excessive anxiety and psychiatric instability. The marginal man is the person who straddles two cultures in society.
The marginal person may be rejected, and feels alienated, by one or both culture, by home or by school another sociologist added.
Too much of high phrases I lamented, and then sought refuge in dictionary.com and found a simpler answer, "a person who participates only slightly in the life of two cultural groups without feeling identified with either group."

Self-Alienation?
The underlying problem of a marginal man, was attributed to self alienation, leading to an identity crisis. Simply said, people who alienate themselves from a culture will eventually become alienated and then are called this inauspicious name, "Marginal Man".

Searching For Answers Among Ideological Peers
To bring it home, I tactfully introduced the topic in mixed gathering of Ndi-Igbo, where I truly belong.
It was a nice social event with lots of green bottles (dark bottles for the brave), people were a little light headed. It started gradually and soon developed into a full-blown discussion. Yours truly here, listened attentively, knowing that here lies a possible solution to a difficult puzzle. The answers by the "Group" were a varied as the many names in attendance.

Compilation of the responses:
People who do not want to remember their home. Thundered one man, a Chief on a read cap with expensive beads. He has to be a powerful Chief, I thought inwardly.

Every politician, no matter who they are, except Ngige. All Igbo politicians are thieves, they pretend and impoverish Igbo states. They cry of marginalization, but they are hypocrites, added an attorney. How do you go home, when there is so many thieves. They have killed so many US based Nigerians. The place is not safe, he added. The looters and abuses of poor people are the marginal man, he concluded.

People who will deny that they come from their own town and claim another. Responded another man.

People who do not want anything to do with their culture, whether their names, town association, not marrying Igbo daughters, selling out to politicians. Added a quiet but highly introspective man in his late fifties or early sixties dressed in a simple traditional kaftan, in a room filled with flamboyantly dressed people.

The answers rolled one:

People who call their kids English names only.
People who have never visited their hometown, or attended town meetings, conventions and other town association. I later found out that this respondent is the president of a town
association.

People who get upset if you speak Igbo to their children. Added a newly married professor, with his brand new wife by his side.

People who disrespect elders.

Women who will never live with any man, because they are too Americanized. Wives who will not respect their husband, because this is America! This male response ignited a firestorm of response from a well "ornamented" woman.

Decked in a full blown traditional gear, with very colorful headgear and lots of gold chains. The woman first stated the problem is stupid Nigerian men!. They cheat on their wives, beat her, and divorce her in a world where she has not too many options. The men do this because they can marry anytime and at any age even when they are very old. And because women in Nigeria chase them because they are from US………she kept on. With her dazzling gold chains and about 6 bangles in one arm she let the man who blamed women know that she will not take nonsense (she is very tough I inwardly told myself).

The man she challenged could only say " C…..nyere only you know why your husband left you. I told you to respect you husband, so do not think that I cannot speak my mind because you are a divorcee…heeey! (I was becoming very uncomfortable at the exchange).

The quiet but highly introspective man, a seasoned and well-accomplished individual, rapped
up the discussion.
We need to teach our kids how to be Igbos, take them home as often as we can, learn to exist together as a community so that our kids can inter-marry. Look at Asians, Indians, Chinese and other groups. No other group is as dysfunctional as Igbos, he added. Always fighting, stealing public funds and looting. Talk about culture, the Igbos in Lagos and other big cities are the biggest fools. They never speak Igbo to their children, the act so foreign while living in slums. Here in the USA people are making efforts. The Igbos in Nigeria are the real problem. We really have a long way to go as a tribe, concluded the introspective gentleman. This quiet, simply dressed, seasoned, accomplished and highly introspective man provided lots of answers to a question that had been elusive for years.

With comic relief, I left, entered my car. On my way home, I listened to a nice music by Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Who said music is not food for the soul?

Disclaimer:
The author does not necessarily agree with all the views by the various contributors.




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Your Comments
Please make The Square an enjoyable experience for everyone by refraining from gratuitous ad-hominem contributions, defamatory comments and off-topic posting. Such posts will be removed.

Robot

# 1 | 04.08.2007 23:30

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THE IGBO MARGINAL – IDENTITY CRISIS LEAVES MANY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED.

Random ...Read the full article.






WayoGuy

# 2 | 05.08.2007 02:57

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Nwa nna:

Good and entertaining article.

I live in Washington but I have never left Igboland. Physically, I travel to Nigeria at least three times every year. Mentally, I have never left Igboland.

I have made it a practice of repeating to any person who cares to listen that while self-examination (such as depicted in your article) among Igbos is healthy and a commendable indication of intellectual maturity, to take it one step further to the alarmist mantra of predicting the demise of the Igbo culture or language is, at the very least, na├»ve, and at worst… (well, I will tell you the word at a family meeting because izu ka nma na nne-ji).

Historically, every ethnic group loses a certain percentage of its members to other cultures. For example, the Caribbean nations of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have huge populations of Chinese and Indians who descended from ancestors who left their countries decades ago and never looked back. Igbo, like Yoruba, and many other smaller ethnic groups in Nigeria have always and will, inevitably, continue to lose some of their members to America and Europe and each ethnic group will still continue to flourish in spite of these losses.

Just think of this: there are ethnic groups in Nigeria with populations of only Ten Thousand people and even Five Thousand people that have existed for centuries without fear of extinction. There are ethnic groups in the Northern part of Nigeria and even in our backyard Rivers State that you have never heard of in your entire life because they are extremely small. They are not fearful of extinction any time soon. Igboland, by contrast, has millions (at least 20 million inhabitants) mostly resident in traditional Igbo geographical locations in Nigeria. Do I need to say more?

The Igbo nation, the Igbo ethnic group, including language and culture, is healthy, strong, vibrant, and is not in any danger of erosion, whether or not the marginal man (in America, Europe, Lagos, or even in Igboland) returns to his culture. On the contrary, there are more Igbos in Igboland today than there were two decades ago or five decades ago or ten decades ago speaking the language and practising the culture.

Again, this is a very good and entertaining article. I particularly enjoyed reading the timber and caliber traditional titles. Well done.






tomr

# 3 | 05.08.2007 03:10

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I read somewhere (I am not sure of the exact words now) that "Education is man's going forward from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty" (author unknown, i think). I am glad to meet a fellow traveller. I hope I am learning still. I hope your old professor - if he is alive - reads this ...






tanibaba

# 4 | 06.08.2007 08:41

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A very brilliant and thought provoking article. It affords everyone to look himself or herself in the mirror and ask : am i a marginal person.

The disclaimer was also a brilliant move. Otherwise you would have been called names by now.

@wayoGuy

You wrote


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Igbo, like Yoruba, and many other smaller ethnic groups in Nigeria

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I disagree with you not because i am a Yoruba man but it is factually wrong categorise Yoruba with other smaller ethnic groups as can be inferred from this sentence. Yoruba is not a small group in Nigeria . You may want to check the history of the Yorubas. They come from ancient civilization and even had their own empires eg the old Oyo empire.

taslim






nero africanus

# 5 | 06.08.2007 09:23

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here we go again

cant we read before we post






tonsoyo

# 6 | 06.08.2007 11:15

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=tanibaba;197690>A very brilliant and thought provoking article. It affords everyone to look himself or herself in the mirror and ask : am i a marginal person.

The disclaimer was also a brilliant move. Otherwise you would have been called names by now.

@wayoGuy

You wrote



I disagree with you not because i am a Yoruba man but it is factually wrong categorise Yoruba with other smaller ethnic groups as can be inferred from this sentence. Yoruba is not a small group in Nigeria . You may want to check the history of the Yorubas. They come from ancient civilization and even had their own empires eg the old Oyo empire.

taslim

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@ Tanibaba,

Pls read again, he did not say that Yoruba is a small group. How could you miss the phrase "Igbo, like Yoruba and many other smaller group....."



I agree with WayoGuy that the fear of loss of our culture is over amplified by alarmists among us. While it is true that the trend can be scary sometimes, but I entertain no fear whatsoever about the loss of these cultures.

Just like the Igbos are entertaining this fear so also are Yorubas. I can assure you that Igbos are still doing better than Yorubas where the issue of cultural association is involved. Yorubas may be better where one on one relationship is concerned, but majority of them are repulsive to a mere mention of Yoruba Association in foreign land, what they are quick to tell you is that I am not interested.
Whereas I have seen Ndigbos campaigning for their associations executive posts like it is some Nigerian Presidency, you may have to beg the Yorubas sometimes to accept any.

No shaking brother, we live in an ever changing and evolving world we will find our levels.






tanibaba

# 7 | 07.08.2007 08:36

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Tonsoyo, you are my pal and i want to thank you for your post on this matter.

however is there a difference between these statements

Igbo, like Yoruba and many other smaller group....."

Igbo, like Yoruba and many smaller groups (other omitted)


thanks

taslim






Odinaka

# 8 | 07.08.2007 11:48

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Wayoguy himself, I have been unable to respond to your assertion that there in no clear and present danger to Igbo culture and language for some inexplicable reason. Well, you are right if you consider everybody to be at par with you or close to your level (I envy your level of written Igbo). But that isn't the case. I am of the firm belief that indeed, there is fire on the mountain. We don't have to wait for the arrival of a heavy downpour before we start looking for shelter. In any case, I will be contacting you on this issue but on a different level.

Tonsoyo agrees there is a problem with our cultures but somehow downplays the situation. I quite understand his viewpoint, if he is as good a Yoruba man as quite a number of people I have come across: I regard Ndi Yoruba as the most responsible set of people in the South of Nigeria when it comes to preserving language and cultural heritage.






tonsoyo

# 9 | 07.08.2007 13:15

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=tanibaba;197953>Tonsoyo, you are my pal and i want to thank you for your post on this matter.

however is there a difference between these statements

Igbo, like Yoruba and many other smaller group....."

Igbo, like Yoruba and many smaller groups (other omitted)


thanks

taslim

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tanibaba,

I understand what you are saying now, but I personally do not think he meant it that way, coming from WayoGuy, I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt, he has never been known to be an ethnicist.






WayoGuy

# 10 | 07.08.2007 13:55

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=tanibaba;197690>
@wayoGuy
I disagree with you not because i am a Yoruba man but it is factually wrong categorise Yoruba with other smaller ethnic groups as can be inferred from this sentence. Yoruba is not a small group in Nigeria . You may want to check the history of the Yorubas. They come from ancient civilization and even had their own empires eg the old Oyo empire.
taslim

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Taslim, Tonsoyo, et al., if una no dey too far, I for say make we meet somewhere to drink root beer :

When I saw the “complaint” about my alleged categorization of Yoruba as a “smaller” ethnic group, my eternally Igbo mind immediately went to Atuo ilu nkirinka nkata, ndi tara ahu ewebe iwe (Whenever a tattered basket is used in a proverb, skinny and emaciated people automatically rush to conclusions and become offended)

But then I looked more closely at the handle and saw tanibaba, and that proverb evaporated from my mind. It must have been an honest misunderstanding on his part because, in my book, he is a gentleman.

Frankly, folks, it was just not my intention to categorize Yoruba as a smaller ethnic group because it is not. I had a more serious subject on my mind about Igbos to waste time on inter-ethnic swipes because Onye bu ehi n’isi anaghi eji ukwu achu nte (A person carrying an elephant on his head does not pursue crickets with his feet).

But since it was my “error” that started this, I owe tonsoyo, tanibaba, Odinaka, Nero, et. al. one bottle of odeku each (although I don’t drink and I suspect tanibaba doesn’t either).
Would it help if I were to delete the word "other" from the offensive sentence?







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