Nigerian Culture Day II: Celebrating the South South

NigeriaPerhaps as a backlash to the reactions when outsiders hear we live in Nigeria, perhaps because of occasional life obstacles we face, our international community is defiantly proud to call Nigeria our home.  Therefore, students count down to our Nigerian Culture Day in the same manner as Christmas.  It is a whole school, all day event, and our PTO, teachers and community pull all the stops.  Stalls of Nigerian food fill the basketball annex, a traditional crafts market covers the tennis courts, and throughout the school, there are workshop sessions, cultural lessons and a variety of entertainment.  Our Nigerian faculty and staff relish the day as well; even the housekeepers from our campus apartments come out to witness the school’s transformation into a celebration of all that is Nigeria.  I saw Joy no less than three different times rummaging just through the food stands.  Despite our host country’s dangerous reputation and plummeting economy, this expatriate tribute glimmers with hope, and the Nigerians of our community rightfully swell with pride.

At the assembly

At the assembly

While last year we celebrated the Fulani and Hausa people of northern Nigeria, this year’s focus was the southern region, known in Nigeria as South South.  The predominant tribe is Igbo (pronounced ee-bo), who have a culture, dress and language distinct from the Yoruba, the tribe native to the western region of Nigeria, including Lagos.  During the late ’60’s, parts of the South South attempted to secede, creating the state of Biafra.  After a three year civil war and an import blockade that killed hundreds of thousands to millions from starvation, Biafran forces surrendered and the region was reabsorbed into Nigeria. That independent strength of the Igbo people, however, is still present.  The South South is also home to the Niger River delta, one of the largest wetlands in the world and the source of Nigerian oil,  which comes with a host of environmental and political issues.  The once verdant delta is too polluted to support its wildlife, and many residents consider the oil business a form of modern colonialism.  As a result, regions of the delta are now more dangerous than the northern districts infested with Boko Haram, and we regularly hear of sabotage and kidnappings in the South South.

Despite this, Igboland is still rich with culture and tradition.  White shirts are traditional, with distinctive black hats, wrap, and walking stick for men and beads with ornate head scarves for women.  Our students wore them with flair.  As I wandered around campus chaperoning my students, I would get an occasional glimpse of my own kids, also decked out in Nigerian garb with their schoolmates, whose nationalities span over fifty countries.  It was a profound reminder of how influential and extraordinary living abroad has been for our family.  At the American International School of Lagos, diversity is the standard, yet on Nigerian Culture Day, for just a few moments, we celebrate the adopted Nigerian spirit in all of us.



Nigerian Cultural Day

Our middle school assistant, Mrs. Agnes

Mrs. Agnes

We’ve been living in Lagos for almost three months, and although we definitely feel like we’re in Africa, we haven’t really connected with the spirit of Nigeria.  Like any other large city in a developing country, Lagos’ desperation to become modern, especially here on Victoria Island, superimposes on its culture, particularly those practices that appear “uncivilized”.  Like we witnessed in Jakarta, the result is a city of people who are disconnected and shun their society’s traditions and beliefs in an effort to appear more Western.  For example, you will notice scar lines on the cheeks of many Nigerians.  Part of a rite of passage, individuals are marked with distinctive patterns to designate their tribe, an important identity throughout subSaharan Africa.  In terms of body modification, it’s not much different than putting holes in your ears for earrings or getting a tattoo.  Nigerians from Lagos, however, are discontinuing the practice, severing some of their tribal obligations.  It’s an unfortunate and inevitable loss in the blind race towards development.  Ironically, there are now individuals in more developed countries straw-grasping to retrieve or preserve the cultural practices of their ancestry lost through moderization.

My advisory

My advisory dressed for Nigerian Cultural Day

We had a taste of our host country’s vast cultural diversity last week during Nigerian Cultural Day, sponsored by our PTO.  Nigeria is home to over 500 ethnic groups, with an equivalent number of languages. The focus at our school this year was Northern Nigeria, inhabited by the Hausa and Fulani tribes.  Predominantly Sahel in environment, the peoples of the north are intrinsic in their dress, traditions and beliefs.  It is a fascinating area of the world mostly unvisitable due to the capricious violence of Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations sequestered in the region.  Although we knew Nigerian Cultural Day was approaching, we were unprepared for its extravagance.  Students arrived in brilliant traditional dress.  The morning assembly included processions, native dancing, and performances by Nigerian singers and the attendance of other famous Nigerians from the north.  We were able to taste and learn about northern foods, shop in a makeshift marketplace, watch horse racing, and break into small group sessions to make drums, raffia hats, get Henna tattoos, and try our hand at a host of other traditional customs.  It was inspiring to see our students from around the world take such pride in their host country, as well as to see our Nigerian students and staff being honored by our school.