Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Establishing Igbo Community Tradition in the United States: Lessons from Folkloristics

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Establishing Igbo Community Tradition in the United States: Lessons from Folkloristics

Article excerpt

Since 2000, the goal of my teaching of Igbo cultural heritage in the United States has been to resuscitate suppressed Igbo community traditions and neglected traditional knowledge among educated parents so that they can pass their Igbo culture on to their American-born children. It is for this reason that I have chosen to be called, and have come to be known in Igbo American communities as TICHA, which stands for the Teaching of Igbo Cultural Heritage in America. This article shows how I have been using lessons from my over thirty years' study of Igbo folklore to reacquaint Igbo people in America with Igbo cultural heritage, thereby shaping their preparedness to resuscitate and establish their ethnic community tradition in the United States.

since 1979, i have been paying close scholarly attention to the nature and organizing principles of folktales, heroic recitations, libations, rituals, and festivals and culturally reflecting on them as social processes in the real life of the Igbo in Nigeria. It has become evident to me that Igbo traditional knowledge, amamihe Igbo, is the conceptual focus of the enactment of folklore forms. The enactments of Igbo games, folktales, and ceremonies continue to be a part of lifelong learning, and the bases of character formation and community life in many Igbo villages. But it is also evident in contemporary Igboland that the interface between amamihe Igbo and social action no longer leads to the direction of Igbo cultural expectation, as most Igbo children go to schools that do not include Igbo traditional knowledge as a part of students' intellectual development. Schools in Igboland force Igbo students to abandon their language while they are in schools, and the more formal education Igbo students get, the less attention they pay to their village traditions. When they graduate and move from their villages to major cities and industrial centers, they tend to acculturate themselves in their new urban social environments and consciously suppress their cultural heritage. The educated Igbo in Igboland largely ignore the Igbo language, disregarding their traditional sacred signs and symbols-things like the palm frond, white clay, kola nut, and drinking gourd (iko agbo). The radical Christians among them have become antagonistic toward customary practices and have harmed Igbo sacred groves and objects. In the village of Akanu Ohafia, for example, a highly respected reverend gentleman told me that he led a team that destroyed the ancestress filial urns-the sacred ududu. I have noted that major trees like the one representing the Akanu tutelary spirit have been cut down-in the name of what the Christians call "deliverance."

The revitalization of Igbo cultural heritage seems to be the greatest challenge facing the Igbo in the twenty-first century. Faced with the real danger of their language becoming extinct, the Igbo at home and abroad are making deliberate efforts to speak Igbo, thanks to Professor Pita Ejiofor's Suwakwa Igbo ("Better Start Speaking Igbo") initiative. Along with their concern for the Igbo language comes the need for the regeneration and revitalization of Igbo community traditions. Educated Igbo people abroad are realizing that after decades of ignoring their language and community traditions and regardless of the heights they attain in their education and professions, they are socially expected to be Igbo. This is perhaps truer nowhere else than in the United States, where the responsibilities of firstgeneration Americans include finding ways to maintain some cultural traditions that they brought with them from their respective countries or regions of the world. Thus, Igbo people in the United States, though still homebound, find that the longer they stay in the United States, the more intense their ethnicity grows. Many Igbo parents and organizations have started to pass on Igbo cultural heritage to children in the United States,1 and a new sense of a diasporic Igbo community is emerging. …

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