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Adebayo Adegbembo: Examining Our Cultural Heritage Through the Eyes of an African-American

Adebayo Adegbembo

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African Culture“A legacy building mindset is preserving your culture and traditions. It builds the foundation of identity and purpose.” Tambra Raye Stevenson

Recently, I watched Tambra Raye Stevenson, an African-American Nutritionist, and founder of NativSol Kitchen speak on the subject of her African lineage. Paraphrasing a statement she made during the Impact Africa show hosted by Tope Fajingbesi:

Yes, I’ve met other Nigerians who fully want to become Americans and they pass off their traditions by not picking up their native languages… And I’m like, Are you serious? I want what you have! Why would you do that?

My heart melted hearing those lines as it echoes everything wrong with the mindset of some Nigerians today towards our indigenous Cultural values.

What Tambra expressed said more than she probably did verbally. It spoke of the pain of coming to grips with her roots as an African-American, exploring the long lineage encapsulated between the throes of slavery. It had the very emblems of Alex Haley’s background to the bestseller Roots that took him on a personal journey spanning 3 continents.

But Tambra isn’t alone. Neither is her concern over how the primary beneficiaries of our rich African heritage feel about it. These beneficiaries are the ones who were born, bred on the African continent and know their roots with certainty without having to undergo DNA tracing. Ironically, these same ones exude little or no pride in the heritage that people like Tambra cherish even though she discovered hers – Fulani heritage of Nigeria and Niger – via AfricanAncestry.com.

I’ve experienced enough of this passionate affection by the likes of Tambra, igniting both a sense of excitement and bewilderment given the contrast in perceptions of our Cultural values among Nigerians and African-Americans. Ironically, for the latter, it’s not cosmetic. It’s real and perfectly normal. I’ll share with us what isn’t normal.

What isn’t normal is when one who’s blessed with a heritage as rich as ours fails to see it. It’s happening here in Nigeria and being exported to the West. I encountered it firsthand during my time in Texas. Here in Lagos, I hear heard colleagues make expressions like “What’s the worth of our native languages?” in conviction. In other words, passing them off as valueless. Even from an institutional standpoint, lip service is paid to policies that relate to indigenous cultural promotion and preservation. To some, commanding a good mastery of every language other than the Native tongue is a status symbol. Inexplicable scenarios that make me wonder not about them but the root causes.

Whatever leads one to denigrate his language to the point where it becomes a relic with little or no value today? What makes these native languages so unappealing to a self-acclaimed class of people or society so much it becomes a status symbol? What’s convincing about the argument that some educational institutions make to deter children from speaking their native language? How can a people gain the respect of the world or others when it runs from its very own? Cultures evolve; hence, it explains why some traditional practices have since outlived their times. But language, I find is dynamic. It goes with us. There isn’t anything particularly harmful about our native languages. If any, please share. Our native languages like every other language in the world are beautiful. The way they are expressed in body language, accent, gestures and other features, awesome!

I’ve been told that I couldn’t fathom how much Yoruba tradition means to the people of Brazil. The more I hear, the more my heart yearns for my forthcoming trip. And the more I hope to share with those who feign ignorance to the richness that we possess. Like Tambra, we must speak up about the subject whenever, wherever and however we can.

Photo Credit: Foto.com.ng |Nsoedo Frank

Adebayo Adegbembo is the founder of Genii Games Limited; creators of interactive mobile apps, animated videos and workshops to make African Cultures fun for kids. A trained Engineering Surveyor from the University of Lagos, Bayo went the route of entrepreneurship in fulfillment of his passion for writing, technology, arts and culture. Follow him on Twitter @technobayo

10 Comments

  1. @edDREAMZ

    March 24, 2016 at 10:32 am

    a.k.a EDWIN CHINEDU AZUBUKO said…
    .
    Like seriously i just cant pin point what i just read shah……
    .
    .
    ***CURRENTLY IN JUPITER***

  2. Tosin

    March 24, 2016 at 11:31 am

    We proud. We rich. Thank God.

  3. zzzzzzzzz

    March 24, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    What u said is true. I think the problem is that most of our indigenous languages apart from the 3 major languages are not documented. I would really love to learn more about and speak my mother tongue unfortunately it doesn’t have any literature maybe except the Bible.

    • Adebayo Adegbembo

      Adebayo Adegbembo

      March 24, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for your response. I agree with you on the need for proper documentation. Interestingly, religious books are a good way to preserve some of our languages. I would love to know your language. Please share.

    • Ides of March

      March 24, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      I totally agree with you. Both my parents speak 2 languages (Taroh and Bachama) i would love to learn but i can’t find any documentation to save my life. I’m even willing to pay for tutoring but my options are very limited….sigh.

    • Adebayo Adegbembo

      Adebayo Adegbembo

      March 25, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Especially harder when you’re based in the city. One has to find a way to preserve these languages especially with the advent of computer software.

  4. Idinma

    March 24, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Very nice piece. Also very true. We need to teach our children their native language(s). If we don’t, how do we expect them to learn. Except, of course, we don’t want them to learn or we are ashamed of our roots.

    • Adebayo Adegbembo

      Adebayo Adegbembo

      March 24, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      Thank you Idinma. I agree with you, thus the subject must remain within our focus. That’s one way to spark interests from parents, policy makers and organizations.

  5. Tee

    March 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    To the columnist, i commend you for making the effort to bring the issues out and creating awareness. Language is part of our culture and identity,
    Nigeria is a blessed country, my heart bleeds when i think about her.
    The majority of our problem lie with many unpatriotic people at the helms of affairs in Nigeria mainly due to bad policies, the education sector for instance has been neglected i will say deliberately to give way to privately owned institutions which mainly foster foreign ideas and base their curriculum on external affairs in other to portray a higher class (posh). This mindset has had detrimental effect on the nation. however the apparent neglect of culture , tradition and heritage has been going on for some time now anything cultural is now seen as archaic and bad,language and culture are intertwined. even on social media i sometime message in my language and people reply in english, these are people i know can speak the langaue but choose not to, i see here some commenters saying to use bible as a means i say no; over the centuries religion has been the basis of most of the wars and destruction; the fact of the matter is that after the advent of the new age Christianity which is mostly sponsored from abroad; so many has been brainwashed that they have lost the sense of reasoning. in some communities in these pastors destroy cultural edifies of over hundred years old claiming that it is evil, we lack self worth collectively, imagine the pyramids of Egypt if Egypt did not preserve it how do people of today come to know of their capabilities and their ingenuity? it is now tourist center and generating income for Egypt; these new age Christianity have detrimental effect on our nation, they preach mostly in english and some of them are not even able to express themselves properly. its another form of colonization though subtle.The government should put in place a curriculum that encompass our main local languages and make it compulsory, so as to imbibed in our youths from early development years ;kindergarten to secondary school. we need to encourage good writers and publishers to bring out new materials that reflects our reality as a nation that will go a long way to reverse the situation. all the nations that use their language as main communication are thriving in economy and technology (isreal, china, india russia germany,uk and many others) we really need to change focus now for the sake of future generation and Nigeria as a nation.

    • Adebayo Adegbembo

      Adebayo Adegbembo

      March 25, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      I couldn’t agree more with most of your points. Thanks for sharing.

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