Friday, 20 July 2007

Me and the rest of them

As a victim of growing up under cultural clashes, and being a very observant person of the cultures and behaviors of the people around me, I have observed that the Nigerian culture is a very communal one. The Nigerian culture supports the idea of an individual gaining an ideal status with aid from the rest of the community. This culture encourages being responsible for those in the community you belong to. No matter how large of a city one lives in Nigeria, you are still connected in the very tightly stitched fabric of the community. The community can even range from your extended family, your neighbours, teachers and basically everyone you know. However, the western culture teaches individualism and independence. It doesn't allow reliance on others (even your family) for aid. I have come to observe that people here start getting independent from a younger age. They really don't form bonds with others in the community. I'm not saying people don't make friends, it's just that you aren't stitched to the community, as much as what we experience in Nigeria. I guess this is the reason why capitalism is popular in the west. I recently read things fall apart(which is the only written record of the igbo and even Nigerian culture, which I know of). It's a book about machismo, strength, communalism, colonization, self fulfilment and so on. Chinua Achebe emphasizes on the manner at which the community as a whole is more important than the individuals. Not only is communalism prominent in the east, but in all parts of Nigeria. This consequently leads us to be people who are highly conscious of our society, that when we make some choices, we think of the effects these choices will have on the society. Surprisingly, this subjective choice making is often reflexive.

There is always this constant battle between individualism and communalism. The former allows one to make choices based on his personal reasons and learn from those mistakes, while the latter usually does not give room for those mistakes, as you are expected the follow the laid out rules the community has set up. They both have their pros and cons. Although, individualism is often blamed for causing people to stick in their sometimes destructive shells thereby fostering anti-social behaviors(which is common in the west), while communalism puts pressure on people to place their society in high esteem, even more than themselves.

Still on the topic, and on Things fall apart, there is a part of the novel which I think depicts this topic.

Does anyone remember where Nwoye (Okonkwo's son) experiences an epiphany. On hearing the Christians preach, he embraces this new religion not for its teachings ,but the simple fact that it answers the personal and deep question plaguing him. He connects a hymn of two brothers who were in darkness, to his friendship with Ikemefuna. His personal choice to become christian and shun his community's beliefs enrages everyone, as he is seen as a traitor. Finally, I believe that a fusion of these two ideologies in moderation, can create a stable, free, and well knit society.

12 comments:

catwalq said...

Community dependent cultures uusally mean that most are content to follow and very little progress is attained as everyone is waiting for someone to step up to the plate.
Individualism strives to attain whatever progress is possible at any cost. Here, everybody wants to be somebody.

femme said...

i like that your post is reflective but im suprised you think achebe's work is the only one that depicts ibloand. this is very misleading. my all time favourite is christopher okigbo,esiaba irobi is another frigtful writer, and of course my own lecturer isidor diala.just read your post again and i see u actually said nigeria not just the igbo. does that mean you havent read any soyinka?
nigerian literature is vast and rich,with chiamamnda making waves this is so not the time to be uninformed

uknaija said...

I second femme's points- nice blog though

Oyibo! said...

My impression is that communal societies are more common where life is harder. They can be found in Europe too... Idividualism is perhaps a luxury.
Thanks for your kind comment on my blog. I would say that my experience of Nigeria is certainly not all negative. I think however that, in common with many writers, Maybe I find it easier to write about the frustrating and the difficult bits. Happy stuff can be a bit bland!

Afolabi said...

@femme and uknaija..It's my mistake. I shouldn't have put Achebe's work as "only record of igbo and nigerian culture". It is one of the many books that express the Ibo and Nigerian culture. There are books by Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta and so on, that give an insight to our culture.

Atutupoyoyo said...

Well written and insightful.

I envy the fact that there is an entire world of Nigerian literature that you are about to explore.

Z said...

Where are you going to school in Canada? I spent almost a year and a half in Nigeria and am now back in Ottawa trying to sort myself out.

Talatu-Carmen said...

As per your remark on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, I know you are aware of other literature because of your comment above, but try reading Flora Nwapa's Efuru side by side with Achebe's Things Fall Apart sometime--it's like the female side that got left out of TFA... and a good illustration of how it can be problematic to take a novel as representative of a culture's values rather than just one window, out of many, into them.

I like your observations on community, though.

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