Imparting Igbo Culture to the Younger Generations in a Foreign Land

By Obindigbo December 8, 2015 13:55

Imparting Igbo Culture to the Younger Generations in a Foreign Land

MOST Igbos in America generally agree that their children need to have a functional knowledge or a modicum of Igbo culture. Many Igbo parents in the United States seem to indulge in all effort to provide their children with at least a smattering of their native culture. Sadly, it is believed that Nigerian culture, especially the Igbo tradition among those residing abroad, is quickly fading away because the children are not adequately exposed to it, and they are sometimes not eager to enmesh in it. To salvage the unfortunate situation, it becomes imperative that the children must have some degree of Igbo culture. For Igbo culture, to stay alive long after we’re gone, our children must have a functional knowledge of the ethos of Igbo culture.

However, imparting the Igbo tradition to our children has been a daunting task for the parents, es­pecially the Igbo parents in the Diaspora due to the enormous influence of the dominant culture. The poser then becomes, what is Igbo culture and how best do we impart it culture to our children?

There appears to no standard definition of the term or concept called Igbo culture. In the same token, theories of culture as they relate to various realms of life abound. But simply defined, Igbo culture is a system of shared mo­res, values, symbols, beliefs, customs, etc. that have been transmitted from a generation to another, which Igbo use to operate within and sometimes outside Igboland.

Igbo Culture is simply a way of life of Igbo people. Not only that Igbo culture is learned, but it is also best learned in Igboland. Still, Igbo culture could be exported. However, it is the relic of Igbo culture that is exported for the most part. In some cases the main­stream culture could be borrowed. For instance, the ori­gins of some foods eaten in the United States are typi­cal examples of borrowed culture.

The culture of Igbo societies could not be fully understood without its elements, which have their individual roles and communicative meaning. Some of the elements of igbo culture are symbol, language, cultural traits, religion, music, dance, food, fashion (clothing), and a host of others.

The foregoing illustrate the difficulty in passing down Nigerian culture, particularly the Igbo cul­ture to our children. There are many impediments to the learning of a secondary culture while in a foreign land and they have hampered our children’s capacity to learn the Igbo culture. But one of the fascinat­ing elements of Igbo culture that has a transcending power is Igbo fashion. The traditional clothing Igbo people wear in various societ­ies has a communicative symbol. What one wears in some societies is a reflection of one’s activity and status in that society. There are different types of Igbo attires for different occasions. Our children are most exposed to our attires without understanding their communicative meanings; they seem to appreciate and wear Igbo attires during traditional occasions.

Undoubtedly, Igbo fashion is derived from Igbo culture. In other words, Igbo culture, including environmental factors, dictates what Igbo people wear. In the past, we rarely know how people dress except through pictures or when we could afford to visit the culture. Much of the information we acquire about other cul­tures came from cultural anthropologists who invested resources studying various cultures. However, due to globalization and advances in cutting edge technology, we are much more exposed to other cultures, including the attires of various cultures. No other industry could one find more mosaic culture than in the food and fash­ion industries. The fashion industry seems to capture the tapestry of global culture.

One could fairly say that the Igbo fashion industry is the medley of Igbo culture epitomized. What is contemporary Igbo fashion cannot be without the elegant looks of the mod­els and the electronic media? Besides the looks, Igbo cultural diversity seems to be reflected in the Igbo fashion world. Obviously, other cultures have influenced the Igbo fashion industry today. Gaining cultural traction at a rapid pace, the igbo fashion world is replete with faces of Igbo models from around the world. The primacy of Igbo culture is very much evident in every Igbo fashion.

In any case, in teaching the Igbo culture to our children, we must utilize a holistic approach to capture all the elements of our culture. We must teach the communicative meanings of elements of Igbo culture, especially the significance of our traditional attire. Also, in teaching the culture we must avoid misinterpreting or ignoring cultural signals that may create an environ­ment for a cultural clash.

Two Examples of How Igbo Groups in Diaspora Have Attempted to Impart Igbo Culture to Younger Generation

  1. Sometime ago, the Umuahia National Association held its National Convention in Dallas where members across the nation brought their children with them to Dallas. Among the activities the association organized for the children was the essay competition. It organized two categories of essay competition that required prior research in Igbo culture.The first category was for ages 12-15 who wrote on “The challenges of growing up as a Nigerian-American youth in America.” The children that fell under ages 16- 25 wrote on “Traditional Marriage in Igboland.” I was privileged to score the essays and it gave me an insight on the extent of our children’s knowledge of the culture and the implications of living two cultures. One of the effective ways to teach our culture is interest-driven re­search. We have to lay the foundation for our children to independently learn about the culture.
  2. Also, for several years Igbo Community Associa­tion of Nigeria (ICAN-DFW) has been teaching Igbo language and culture to Nigerian children during the summer holidays. Similarly, the Igbo Community As­sociation of Nigeria (ICAN) in Dallas, Texas celebrate Igbo Day every year with a showcase of repertoire of Igbo culture. The aims of Igbo Day celebration this year were two-fold: on one hand, the Igbo community wanted to share our rich culture with the community at large. Secondly, it was a means of continuous exposure of our culture to our children through various activities, including cultural performances.

Igbo culture is truly a window through which we could see our people and vice versa. It’s also part of who we are and it deserves to be passed on from one generation to another. We cannot afford to drop the ball; it’s our indi­vidual responsibility to ensure that our culture lives on.


Written by Dunu Okigbo



By Obindigbo December 8, 2015 13:55