Azuka Onwuka. Image: Facebook
BY AZUKA ONWUKA
Most Nigerians, like most Africans, love to imitate Western ways because of the long-held view that Western ways are better. This manifests in our lifestyles: dressing, food, language, religion, education, personal names, holidays, and the like. For example, it is a thing of pride to speak English, French, Spanish and other European languages. A young and educated Igbo can proudly say: “I don’t know how to speak Igbo.” But no young and educated person will proudly say: “I don’t know how to speak English.”
When school owners want to advertise their schools as premium, they show off their White connection. If there is only one Caucasian child or a child of mixed race in that school, such a child must be used in the photograph or video of pupils or students for advertisement. If the head-teacher or any teacher of the school is from Europe or North America or Asia or North Africa, their picture must be displayed to show that the school is “international”. In addition, flags of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and other foreign countries will fly proudly beside the Nigerian flag. On the signboard of the school, there is usually a large announcement that the school is a Montesorri school or uses the American syllabus or the British syllabus, and takes Cambridge examination and other international examinations. If the school has gone on an excursion abroad, the photos of such a trip are proudly displayed within the school and in all communication materials.
This also applies in all facets of our life. When people visit Europe, America, or some parts of Asia, they proudly display their photographs on the social media. At social events or religious events or business events, people drop comments that suggest that they were away in Europe or America on holidays or business meetings. Local trips are hardly mentioned because they do not add any weight to the status and magnitude of the storyteller.
However, in spite of the pervasive nature of this in Nigeria, it seems the people of the Yoruba ethnic stock in Nigeria are the least affected. Even though they accepted Western civilisation and modernity, the people of the Yoruba ethnic stock seem to make a conscious effort to fight back the erosion of their way of life by Westernisation. Let us look at some examples to make this clearer.
The first is the way local names are spelt. Of all ethnic groups in Nigeria, it seems to be only Yoruba town names and personal names that are not anglicised. Igbo names like Awka, Orlu, Owerri, Enugu should be correctly spelt as Oka, Olu, Owere, and Enugwu respectively. Urhobo should be Urobo, while Itsekiri should be Ishekiri, and Ijaw should be Izon. Sokoto should be Sakwato, while Zaria should be Zazau. Similarly, in personal names, Okafor should be Okafo; Ejoor should be Ejo.
Conversely, Yoruba town names are spelt the Yoruba way: Ibadan, Idanre, Osogbo, Owo. In other ethnic groups a town like Owo could have been spelt as Orwor or Orwaw, while Ilaro could have been spelt as Ilaroh. Similarly personal names like Omowunmi could have been Omorwunmi, while Adebayo could have been Adebayor. There are efforts to ensure that a few Yoruba town names which are not spelt exactly the Yoruba way are changed. Examples are Otta, Ebute Metta (with double t) and Shagamu, Shade (with “sh”). The double t is being replaced with only one “t”, while the “sh” is being replaced with an “s” which has a dot underneath.
Similarly, it is easier to see Nigerians from other ethnic groups bearing foreign names than the Yoruba. A Muslim from the North is more likely going to have their first name and surname as Arabic names. That makes the person feel like a true Muslim. Examples of such names are Ibrahim Abubakar and Aisha Abdulsalam. A Christian from the North-Central, the South-East or South-South is more likely going to have a first name or middle name that is European or Jewish to make the person feel like a true Christian. Some may even have two English or Christian names. Examples are John-Paul Okeke, Henry Osagie, Akpoghene John Kome, and Judith Peters.
However, it is hard to use names to determine if a Yoruba is a Muslim, Christian, animist or even an atheist. The reason is that unlike in other parts of Nigeria where Muslims insist on bearing Arabic names, the Yoruba Muslims believe that having Yoruba first name and surname does not make them less Muslim. So when you hear names like Mr Fola Adeola, Mr Tayo Aderinokun, Chief Akin Odunsi, and Senator Gbenga Ashafa, nothing will tell you that they are Muslims. They do not flaunt Arabic names nor flaunt the “alhaji” title to prove that they have gone to Mecca for hajj. Christian Yoruba also flaunt their Yoruba names over Jewish and European names.
Similarly, the Yoruba do not flaunt Arabic attire or European attire to prove that they are good Muslims or good Christians. They flaunt their Yoruba attire whether in mosque or church. It is rare to attend an event like a wedding, a church service, or a funeral and see a Yoruba person who is above 30 years dressed in jeans, T-shirt, dress shirt, plain trousers, skirt or even suit. The Yoruba person is most likely going to don the traditional Yoruba attire. For most men, such dressing is incomplete if the agbada and fila (cap) are not worn. The women’s wear is also incomplete without the gele on the head and the ipele on the shoulder.
Note the reference to “gele.” Even though the English name for female headgear is scarf, the Yoruba have ensured that the Yoruba name overrides the English name. This name has been copied by even Igbo people who have the name “ichafu” for the female headgear. Gele has become so common that many Igbo women who are under 30 do not know that there is an Igbo name for it. Similarly, the three-wheeled vehicle which is called tricycle in English has been effectively named keke in Nigeria courtesy of the Yoruba.
Let us look at the foods. Yoruba people are not known to have the best cuisine in Nigeria. The contest for that title should be between the Akwa-Cross and the Igbo. But the Yoruba have ensured that none of their local dishes is given an English name. For example, there are no English alternatives for amala, gbegiri, ewedu, efo riro, and the like. However, a meal like usi has been given the awful name “starch”: a name that will make someone lose appetite. How can you tell someone to eat starch when you can excite the person’s imagination and appetite by calling it usi? Akpu has been christened “fufu” or “swallow”; ofe nsala has been given the horrible name “white soup;” ofe onugbu has been baptised and upgraded to “bitter leaf soup;” ogbono is now “draw soup” (whatever that means); while nkwu enu is now “up wine” (as if there is any type of palm wine got from the ground).
Meanwhile, those who created pizza, cappuccino, sushi, samosa, spaghetti, macaroni, sake, shawarma, etc, did not bother to give them English names.
Why is it important for a people to be proud of their culture and project it? It fires a people up to be more innovative, thereby creating things that will make them stand out. That belief drove the Romans to fabricate and construct superior weapons that helped them to overrun much of Europe, Asia and Africa and plant their language and civilisation all over the known world. The United Kingdom used it too. The United States took over from the UK. Today, China is using it. That was why Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.”
No culture is superior to the other. However, if a people do not feel proud of their culture and project it, they will be subsumed by the prevalent culture. The duty of every ethnic group is to ensure that members project the essence of that ethnic group.