Amarachi Attamah: For The Love Of Igbo Culture
Amarachi Attammah is many things, but one thing that stands out is her advocacy to preserve the Igbo language and culture. She breathes, eats and sleeps the concept of ‘Igboamaka’ taking that aura everywhere she goes, earning her recognition in the international media. Attamah speaks to Guardian Life about giving life to the Igbo experience.
UNESCO findings list the Igbo language as endangered, and your activities OJA and Nwadiorahmma aim at preserving the culture. Do you think that Igbo people have been receptive to your advocacy?
Yes, there is a change, the awakening of the people is improving. People are becoming conscious and are gradually beginning to open up to this such that it is hitting all spheres. For instance, we are now having artistes showcase their talent using the Igbo language. Honestly, I’m amazed at the improvement which makes me proud of those making baby steps towards this progress.
What is your take on revitalising the Igbo language through old forms of communication, like the Nsidibi and Ndebe scripts?
In my mbem chants performances, I embrace the use of Nsidibi codes and writing systems through my face art and even print the writing codes on T-shirts. This way, I draw awareness as well as try to bring back uli to educate people on the meaning because these were the arts that held the Igbo people together to become powerful. Uli, for instance, was not just art but a form and medium of unity that united the Igbo people.
Every aspect of our culture is very key. But more importantly, is making sure that we are awakening the right aspects. So we must allow Igbo people and Igbo culture to also evolve, choose and pick elements of the culture that can no longer fit. But then, that is why the word “preservation’’ exists. Ironically the name ‘‘ndebe, e de be ya ebe okwesilis di’’ means “preserve it to be good,” “preserve it for others to learn.” Hence, even if Nsidibi scripts are no longer used, that does not mean they should not be known. So yes, I am proud of those who are making that effort who are bringing it from that angle.
Would you say that the government is doing enough in terms of the preservation of the Igbo language and culture?
I will say that they are not because not much is seen of government policies toward the sustainability of Igbo culture. However, Anambra state is doing a little that I would like to see more Eastern states do. The Anambra government has really shown their advocacy to promote the Igbo language by sponsoring students studying the Igbo language at the universities. Anambra state promotes our festivals, igbu ichi, oha jiokwu and ofala. These festivals aid sustainability of our culture and promote our local dishes. Anambra state ‘na agbalị’.
Nollywood has portrayed Igbo culture in a demeaning way. What do you think can be done about that?
People are beginning to know what Nollywood is doing in terms of misinformation. It breaks my heart to see these false portrayals; like always placing traditional rulers against church priests to show battle of the gods. Another is portraying the gathering of Umunna (elders) as evil and having their meetings end up in a quarrel instead of where the elders sit down to talk about the progress of the society or the community without them fighting amongst themselves. How about Nollywood promoting how people go around building together?
Also, they poorly represent our foods. You watch Nollywood films showing you the house of a traditional ruler filled with foreign meals, whereas we have our native meals, ukwa, abacha and others that they neglected because they want to show that he is modern.
What steps should individuals take towards culture and language preservation?
Speak the language. This should be imbibed, especially in our homes. When you lose your language, other aspects are lost quickly. This is because aspects of our culture are embedded in our language. As such, you can’t speak as an Igbo person without knowing the proverbs. Gini bu kwa ilu? Proverbs educate, ilu is the Bible of ndi Igbo, ilu is the history medium. We can’t help but also talk about ”akuko iro”, our folktales, which are oral renditions passing history from one generation to another. You can’t mention akuko ifo, egwu ndi Igbo without knowing the language. Like my performance, how can you mention mbem (chant poetry) without language?
What is your favourite Igbo proverb?
“Onye tara amu ebule ji ibi ugwo” is the proverb I use often at my mbem performances and share on my social media platforms.