Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An African Anthropologist

So people,
I discovered these blogs (here, here and  here)written by Cara Harshman aka Titi and her friend – They are 5 American students who are spending their gap year in University of Ibadan (greatest Uites!!) in order to steep themselves in Yoruba language and culture.
Most of you must have seen Youtube video (here) in which her Yoruba put some of us to shame J. Well, I read her blog once in a while trying to keep up with her gist about my alma mater. I must say I find her quite entertaining. I love seeing the pictures of UI and it is always interesting to hear new perspectives about things we prolly take for granted. Like her post about observing that her class mates jot the words of the teacher VERBATIM had me shaking my head. With hindsight, you realize that it is true. Rather than listening, assimilating and picking salient points, the Nigerian school system makes us robots in class. Half of the time, you are looking over your shoulder to see if your neighbor caught the last word/sentence from the teacher. I still do it. But I am improving. Lecturers providing FREE copies of lectures hardcopy/online PLUS a functional library help too.

Anyway, this isn’t a review of Titi’s blog, but her blog got me thinking.

When Oyibos (Westerners) go to any exotic location (e.g India, Africa), even the smallest child becomes an anthropologist, eager to write about the ‘different’ culture and society of his/her hosts. Their eyes are open to notice the sights and smells and sounds of their new locations.
Why then, does the opposite happen to us? When we are in exotic locations e.g. America, Britain, Norway (Black Panther!!!) we just jump right in and adjust like fish to water. Or like Asians who transport their culture to their new location, we seek out fellow Africans and stick to their cooking pots like glue? The familiar huh?
I rarely see cultural comparisons of the West and Africa. Not in the negative ways I see like when we try to run them down or insist that we too are better, but you know, well thought out comparisons. Where you find out the origins, ask your hosts why this is so? or evaluate why etc. We don’t take pictures of run down areas; again not being negative but just to show that like back home we have the rich and the poor everywhere. Are we afraid that if we do, we’ll be denied Visa? lol.

I won’t deny that the culture of care and maintenance of something as simple as roads can make you stop in your tracks, I mean the roads in my county Durham are always being re-tarred and what not. Not even major roads, just some side streets o! I am awed cause there I am looking and thinking – but this road looks fine na. What’s the fuss? Yes our poor maintenance culture in Nigeria can give you the disease of ‘mediocre expectations’.
I also remember the day I took the Apocalypse ride in Drayton manor, a theme park in Birmingham. 
I kept thinking what if one of the bolts holding me in fly off? What if the managers of the theme parks in a bid to cut costs did not carry out a pertinent upgrade or replacement of parts? What if the maintenance engineer played hooky and did not do his scheduled maintenance check for the day/week? What if? what if? These are thoughts that are very legitimate in Nigeria but here less so. I mean what Theme park Owner wants to pay the claims if an accident like that should occur?? You’ll be bankrupt in 3 seconds.
So I must confess, with those Nigerian thoughts flying through my head I didn’t enjoy that ride. I was screaming not in exhilaration but more like ‘Oh Lord, if I survive this I won’t risk my life so foolishly again please’.
I guess I have to ask Him to overlook that foolish prayer cause I plan to go to Alton Towers sometime soon and I heard their Thrill rides are 'too die for' literally. And maybe Bungee jump or Sky dive. fingers crossed.

Anyway, what am I saying, let’s start looking at our environments with new eyes. Find out more about where you are. Understand their cultures. Heck write a book while you are at it. Take pictures of starving naked children. Okay don’t. But hey, we can be anthropologists too. We can host our ‘This is Britain’ series too.
And maybe, just maybe if the truth is told, Nigerians will stop running away from home in droves for ‘greener pastures’.

p.s.  Ehh, @that last sentence - I am kidding right?
p.p.s. An Idea had just popped as I was writing this -  Action - I am going to host a Tuesday specials of "This is Oyiboland". In words and pictures. I'll be nice don't worry. Just comparing and contrasting. And if you have tidbits, questions, pictures please forward to me by mail. I shall use, acknowledge and even gift :)!
What do you think?


  1. Nice post. I also catch up with Titi and co sometimes for the same reasons as you.

    There was a blog by one Northern Bush girl, and I looked forward to reading her posts - intro said they would be of her experiences in her new UK city - but she didn't continue.

    On Naija Stories, we have an ongoing memoir series by a Nigerian Author - Diary of a naijaboy in the Diaspora. He chronicles the good, the bad, the ugly, and I never miss it.

    For me, I try to have the picture weekend on my blog, but I don't go out of my way to anthropologicalize (is this a word?) it sha.

    Food for thought.

  2. Exactly. No one ever talks about the quirks of the West. I think it's a great idea! This Is Oyinboland lol. Looking forward to it


  3. I'm going to check out Titi's blog! i think the thing is, most of these countries (canada, UK, USA) are all over the tv screens in Nigeria anyways. We consume hollywood movies just as much or even more than nollywood movies, u dnt even have to be a rich "dstv/cable" owner to watch american movies, series, etc.. so in a way, the average nigerian knows a lot about most of the popular western countries even without stepping foot in those countries. On the other hand, foreigners arent really exposed to african culture so ofcourse everything is new to them and they "must to" document lol. Maybe if i go to somewhere exotic and foreign like Indonesia or nicaragua, i would do a mini-series lol, but as for boring old texas..i dnt think there's anything i'll say about it that nigerians would find unique,lol.

  4. My husband has been to Africa, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, most of the world in fact. Alex says that the thing that is the most striking is that people are so much alike and the issues are the same where every you go. I think he's more right than he is wrong.

  5. LOL at your theme park ride experience... Only an African can talk like that :D.

    KitKat made some good points... And just to add to what she said, most Africans come abroad with the mindset of staying, so we don't see the benefits of chronicling our new experiences.

  6. @Myne - thanks for the feedback. I did go to Naija stories to check Ifeani. Wow he is a good writer. His diction is good. Puts me to shame. He is coming from a different angle than I want to though. And really I gotta say here that you're doing great with the site.
    @Cornershop - Quirks is the word. I hope not to disappoint.

    @Kitkat - Tell me you've not heard of our Titi. She's a treat.

    @Mom- Word Mom! We are basically the same and want the same things.

    @Prism - lol@ the theme park experience. I had to let go of the shame to blog about it. You shoulda seen how "I shall not die, I shall live" was flying from my lips!!

    You made excellent points Kitkat/Prism. I must admit that hollywood movies played a large role in my adjustment but...there are things that the movies dont tell you of. The everyday mundane things about Western society. That is the culture I hope to bring up/out.

  7. We are definitely far more exposed to western culture than Westerners are to ours. And we seem to take it for granted too. So much so that when Naijas come abroad for the first time, it's such a culture shock. Everything is so different to how it is in the movies!

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  9. Mmm..I guess most Africans are 'hustling' when they first arrive abroad - so they have litle or no time to observe from an anthropological point of view. Most likely, the earliest days abroad will be spent getting over the shock of how 'abroad' in real life is so different from 'abroad in movies' (Adura's point)

    However, in my exprience the average Nigerian is not willing to accept that living abroad is not a bed of roses.

    I recall trying to dissuade a young Naija graduate from leaving Nigeria. His reply...'If it's so bad, why are YOU still living there?'
    Nuff said :)

  10. LOL at your theme park ride. I love thrill rides.

    As for anthropology, i have a distrust of anthropologists. When they write of ancient European cultures they use a totally different language that when they write of both ancient and current African culture. I end up being a tad pissed off with their description of the people's way of life.

    No wonder the entire world still think we swing around on trees.

  11. @Naijamum in L: Couldn't agree more!

  12. @Adura - we do take it for granted..and yet we find in movies is not real life. Can you package a culture, a way of life in 90mins of a movie? I dont think so.

    @NaijaMum- youare quite right. Who had time to understudy the people the live with when they are swimming along in the same

    @Lucidlilith - I feel you babe. But then we are the ones who have refused to look at their culture as exotic. after all what is exotic. But o an extent I do understand the foreign anthropologist. Studying your cities/towns which are westernised is a waste of time cause there's nothing new. So they prefer the fascination of small nucleus villages which still retain their own systems and beliefs.

    @Ifeanyi - So when you are asked why you are still living abroad what do you say?



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