The erosion of Nigerian cultural values

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Jide OjoBy Jide Ojo:


How do you identify an American, Indian, a Ghanaian, and an Australian? What tells them apart? It is their culture. Their geographical locations, languages, food and drinks, fashion and style, literature, music, names, mores and values, all serve as means of identity. Recently, I have been reflecting and getting worried at the way our African, nay Nigerian identity, is being gradually eroded by a largely western culture.

The affliction called neocolonialism has made us to despise our own customs and traditions while upholding American and European ways of life. The Information Communication Technology has been largely used by the western world for cultural imperialism. Through the traditional media (radio, television, billboard, newspapers, etc) and the social media (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs powered by the internet), we’re being systematically and subtly brainwashed to jettison our own cultural identities. The more we watch western films, reality shows, beauty pageants, news, fashion and styles, the more we desire to be like them. There is no gainsaying the fact that cultural diffusion is desirable as no nation is an island unto itself. However, when there is a tendency and deliberate attempt to portray our culture as inferior and get us to believe that western values are the superior, civilised and acceptable norms, then we need to watch it.

Today, many Nigerians are no longer proud of their traditional names which were carefully chosen for them by their parents based on prevailing circumstances within the family. Nigerian and indeed many African names have meanings. Names are very symbolic in this part of the world and not just arbitrarily given unlike what is obtainable in the western world.  Our mode of dressing too has been badly affected.  Our traditional attires such as the  agbada, buba and sokoto, iro and buba, kaba, gele (headgear), fila (cap) which are the native attire of the Yoruba are being jettisoned for foreign designs. It is not uncommon these days to see our ladies indulge in all manner of artificial beautification that shorn them of their natural beauty. If you want to verify my assertion, take a look at some Nigerian ladies before they take their bath early in the morning and see the difference after they put  on their wigs, padded bras, fake buttocks, false nails,  fake eyelashes, concoction of bleaching creams for make-up and skimpy clothes to complete the dress up. Some have western tattoos all over their bodies while some, in addition, pierce and wear rings on their tongues, nose and navels. I thought it is called ear-ring!   We may not have jewelry but we do have coral beads and in Yorubaland, local cosmetics such as tiro, laali and osun.

Hair plaiting is now fading except perhaps in the rural communities. The different hair styles that distinguish and beautify Yoruba women such as suku, patewo, koroba, kojusoko have all given way to wigs, “perming” and jerry curls. Brazilian and Peruvian hair extension are now in vogue and I learnt these weaves do not come cheap. Some men have now joined ladies in ear-piercing, hair plaiting, tattooing, and skin bleaching. In addition, some also “sag” their trousers thereby revealing their panties. These, to my own mind, are unwholesome ways of dressing.

In terms of greeting, rather than the very respectful way we salute our elders in the Yoruba tradition (boys/men prostrating and girls/ladies kneeling), we now have a generation of “chop-knuckle”, “Hi dad” and “Hi mum” children. This is untoward and disrespectful. Call me old fashioned if you like, this mode of greetings depicts nothing but a lack of proper home training.

Our food menu these days is so exotic that one would think we do not have local dishes before the slave masters and colonialists invaded our shores. We now breed “Indomie children” who practically feed on noodles, custard, oats and pasta.  Yet, we have grains like maize, sorghum and guinea corn with which we make pap and other food. We also have yam, cocoyam, rice, plantain, beans, vegetables and fruits with which we make good meals.  Unfortunately, western nutritionists and doctors are today counselling us against eating pounded yam,  “eba” or “garri”, “amala”, and “fufu” made from our local flours. They say those foods cause diabetes and we should now be eating wheat which is produced by western farmers and imported into the country.

Contrary to what these western ideologues would make us believe, it is the exotic food, condiments and supplements that are gradually killing us. The preservatives used in many restaurants, fast food joints and hotels, the frying of many of our food in cholesterol filled oil, the sugar-laden  snacks and drinks on sale in many of our eateries that are the harbinger of diabetes and coronary heart diseases. Many of the local dishes we’re being asked not to eat again are what our grannies ate and lived till old age with little or no health issues.

While no big celebration in Nigeria is complete without Champagne (Nigerians are the second largest consumer of champagne in the world according to Euromonitor International in 2013. We spend an average of N41.41bn on the drink yearly), Hennessey, Schnapps, Whiskey, Beer and other foreign drinks; our indigenous Palm wine, Burukutu, Zobo , Kunu and Fura-de-nunu hardly get served at many parties. This is sheer imperialism!

What about our music and movies? An average educated Nigerian knows more foreign artistes and buys their works than their Nigerian counterparts.  Pop, Rap, R&B, Rock, Country, Jazz, Reggae music  are preferred by the Nigerian elite and youths  to traditional Nigerian music such as Juju, Fuji, Highlife, and  Afrobeat, with their philosophical and inspirational lyrics. The only Nigerian artistes who have gained some international recognition from the western music genre are those who are able to indigenise and give it their own local flavour.

Gradually, we are losing touch of our indigenous languages as more and more Nigerians take fancy in English as their primary means of communication. Many young children are hardly able to speak their parents’ local languages let alone speaking the dialect. Not even the government policy of making sure that a child learns one of the indigenous languages in school has been able to effectively address this uncomplimentary development.  Let’s not forget that that it is through language that we learn our societal mores and values, proverbs, idioms, folklores and oral history. English as a medium of expression cannot effectively communicate all of these to us.

This is a wake-up call for us all to start taking practical steps to redeem ourselves from cultural imperialism we’re gradually enslaving ourselves. Let us stop aping the West with reckless abandon. Let us take pride in our local delicacies, drinks, names, fashion and style, music, theatre, language and literature. That is our niche. It gives us identity. It markets us to the rest of the world.

I salute the management and staff of Daar Communications owners of African Independent Television and Ray Power for making it a company policy for members of staff to use their native names and dress in traditional attire while on official assignment. I have noticed this among their newscasters and presenters. Newscasters on the Nigerian Television Authority also wear native attire. These are commendable steps. I also thank the Nigerian Nollywood crew for producing films and movies that are rich in Nigerian culture.

On the whole, while I recognise that it is within our fundamental human rights to live our lives the way we want, it is in our overall best interest to showcase our rich culture and heritage and thereby let foreigners know that we are not people without history and that we take pride in our traditional values, mores and customs.

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