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The Igbos and their unifying factors (2)


Kola nut

Kola nut

THE Kola nut is a central feature in all Igbo land. I have never understood why this is so except to guess that if people speak the same language there must be a single symbol that united them; and for the Igbos, it is the Kola nut.

It appeals to the individual soul, to the collective soul, to the unseen spirits that capriciously rule or ruin our lives; it is a symbol of welcome, a drama stage to concentrate all thoughts.

It is non-threatening – a simple nut to be divided according to divination, speech, manners and conduct. It is never rejected, except to declare war. (But the above can also be said of the Kola among the Urhobos, the Isokos, etc.) The closest and best answer to why the Kola is that central is that the eating and breaking of Kola is a near eschatological experience.

I think that we tend to underestimate the extensive influence of contact for many years. Some symbols are easier to assimilate than others. The Ijaws, for example, have no Kola culture, yet they have been close to the Igbos for over 500 years.

Among the Igbos, there are other spiritual places in Ogbunike, etc. But, as I have said, many do not push these new tourist resorts beyond Nri which itself is problematic for an acephalous people. The Igbos live in a family homestead surrounded by the family farm which may be large or small depending on the number of people in that family.

Thereafter, another family has its plot of land and farm and so on. There are few Igbo urban centres. This small cluster will live near a stream for water and there are market days where goods and services are exchanged. There are four important market days and these market days are used as calendars for when one thing or the other is to be done. But again, Onitsha, however, is a large native Igbo town.

There is a village square for meetings, announcement, etc. But the nearer the Igbos are to people of other or even similar culture, the villagers become bigger (i.e. they are more urbanised than the Igbos).

The Yorubas live more together in villages and go sometimes far distances to their farms. The social structures of the Igbos are based on Age Grades, especially in the bigger conurbation or cities, such as Onitsha, Awka, etc. The Igbos have always been a clever people, and took very quickly to missionary education and other aspects of Westernisation.

The Onitsha Igbo The Onitsha Igbo are made up of three ethnic groups – the Igala who followed the River Niger downstream from Lokoja to Onitsha, the Edo who came from Benin and the Igbo who lived in villages surrounding Onitsha. The amalgam of these three ethnic groups made up Onitsha which itself had off shoots in Obosi and environs. Because of early European contact, the Onitsha Igbo went to school early and embraced Christianity – Protestant and Catholics.

Onitsha is still a major education hub in the East of Nigeria with many prominent schools – the most famous Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Christ the King College, Holy Rosary Girls School, Christian seminaries and teachers training colleges.

This early introduction to education and commerce stood the Onitsha Igbo head above other Igbos, first Igbo doctors, lawyers, professors etc. The colonial service employed Onitsha Igbo – leading to their dominance in the professions, judiciary, politics, etc.

It is, therefore, no accident that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Justice Anyeagbunam, Chuba Ikpeazu, Ofodile, Prof. Chike Obi, Aje Asika, Sir Lious Mbanefo and a host of others were from Onitsha. So dominant were they that, at one time, the upper echelons of the civil service, permanent secretaries, and leaders in the profession in Eastern Nigeria, etc were all Onitsha people.

There was a backlash when other Igbo people thought the dominance was too pervasive and started asking for Onitsha Igbo to move out of positions. It took a long time to get some in Eastern Nigeria balances.

The Onitsha Igbo discriminated against other Igbo as uncouth and unpolished people and would not associate with them preferring their daughters to marry any one else except their non-Onitsha Igbo.

As a child, I often heard Onitsha Igbo drive away other Igbo children who came to play with their own children (sa, nwa onye igbo pu a eba – get away you child of an Igbo man), the Yorubas of Lagos have the same feeling for so called ara oke –Yoruba from the hills), the Saros of Freetown for people from the hinterland – (up-country people) the Parisians for all those outsiders not from Paris, etc.

Apprentice system Today, the Igbo have perfected the apprenticeship system. A successful car dealer, motor spare dealer, or mechanic, or trader in electronics, drugs – medicines and other pharmaceutical goods, or transport owner, etc., would have young boys, sometimes as young as 10 years, who have been to school for a few years.

The young boys are apprenticed to such car spare parts dealer, or a patent medicine shop owner, or a transporter. The apprentice is supposed in the 10 -12 years he works for his boss to know every spare part in an automobile (3000) the name and use of every drug sold in the patent medicine store, etc. After a long time, the owner of the store or transporter would give a substantial amount of money to the apprentice to start his own business in electronics, spare parts, medicines etc. else where. This is the classic way the Igbos do business; and it has benefited them well.

They are able to easily beat competitors because of superior knowledge of the product, accessibility and a burning desire to succeed quickly. Today, there is a virtual Igbo monopoly of spare parts trade (usually Nnewi people) local “pharmacies”, and transportation. The young man who used to be an apprentice bus attendant would soon grow to own a fleet of buses which will need spare parts, etc. The intercity luxury bus business is 70% in Igbo hands. They are also transporters for goods and small vehicle transporters. The car hire business is perhaps 60% in the hands of Igbos. • To be continued tomorrow. • Dr. Cole (OFR) is Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Brazil.

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