Of Vanishing Symbols and Decaying Value Structures in Biafran/Igboid Cultural Areas: The Ehi/Efi Igbo as a Metaphor

Posted by FactNews | 7 years ago | 2,806 times



In the next few days, I shall publish seven (7) short essays on the vanishing symbols, totems, and cultural foundations of the Igbos and explicate on the implications of these on the Igboid/Biafran question. The thrust of my thesis in all 7 essays is that the recent Biafran agitation grounded in understandable grievance with the Nigerian state is itself ill-prepared, intellectually crippled, and in crying need for internal introspection.


The seven essays focus on 7 totems/ symbols, and foundations of the Igboid nation. I used each totemic symbol and /or cultural foundation as a metaphor for the crisis afflicting the Igboid nation. The seven metaphorical totems/cultural vehicles are, the ehi/efi Igbo, 2, Ji-Yams, 3, Oji-Cola nut, 4, Ofo tree, 5, Ala/Ani-land and location, 6 Nsopuru na Ikwubaka oto-Equity, mutual respect, and accountability in governance, and finally, 7, Asusu Igbo- language.
The spirit and character of nations are embodied in certain totems and cultural foundations. Just as Scots are associated with tartan clothes, so are menorahs associated with Jews and the Jewish state. An Igbo person who does not speak the Igbo language is not a complete Igbo. Yes. Quote me.


And now, I deal with cows. Igbos and the Igboid have a curious relationship with cows. Generally speaking, Igboland is in the rain forest, a geographical terrain inhospitable to the hundreds of species of cows. The tse-tse fly is a major threat to cows in these parts.
For thousands of years however, and before the colonial encounter, traditional Igbos bred a species of cows resistant to the tse-tse fly. The Igbo species of cows, otherwise known as the West African suck-horn, is a special cow in many respects. Though the maturation period of the Igbo species of cows is much longer than the other species introduced from the northern parts of present-day Nigeria, the West African suck-horn or Efi Igbo/ Ehi Igbo thrived and became a symbol of wealth, prestige and affluence. To slaughter the native breed of cow for one's kinsmen became a mark of great honour and achievement. Such was the prestige that honorifics and titles commemorating such gestures became embebbed in Igbo culture. To take the title, Ogbu Efi, was no mean feat. Till date, many Igbos bear the surname "Ogbuehi/Ogbuefi." 


Every burial ceremony in Igboland attracts the mandatory gift/promise of a cow. Weddings. ceremonies are hardly conducted without cows gifted or exchanged. Cows are not cheap. Cows are expensive. The most expensive of the species of cows was the Efi Igbo. 
But consider this: the Igbo species of cows is now almost EXTINCT. Yes, this totem and potent symbol of achievement in Igboland is virtually in the Intensive Care Unit, on the verge of death. There are less than 150,000 of this species of cows alive today. And such is the ignorance of many in the Igboid cultural areas that today, few Igbos can distinguish the Igbo species of cows from the other species slaughtered, gifted and exchanged in Igboland today. 
And I dare ask, if you cannot take care of one of the major cultural symbols of Igboland, if the end-product of thousands of years of careful breeding by your forebears is dying under your watch, why should I believe you that the future of the unborn generations would be safe in your hands? And why I should I believe that you know enough about your people to take me to the promised land where all things Igbo and Igboid shall thrive?


Worse still is the economy of cows in Igboland. More than 90 percent of cows consumed or gifted in Igboland today are imported from northern Nigeria, Chad, Niger Republic, Cameroon, et cetera. Our contemporary Ogbuefis should pause and ponder.
The trade imbalance in the Igboid relationship with imported cows is another matter. A good-sized cow retails in these parts for 500,000 naira or little below that. The average herdsman from the north has no less than 10 heads of cattle in Umuahia, Enugu. Aba, et cetera. On the average, the naira value in tow is at least 4-5 million naira. The herdsman has little or zero overheads: no rent, no taxes, no levies. He is the classic child of the heavens, living off the land. 
But that is not all. despite being in charge of millions of naira in assets, the herdsman is in fact a shrewd and savvy businessman. It is curious that a herdsman in charge of millions of naira worth of assets will not have landed property in the South East. Check in Enugu, Onitsha, Umuahia, Aba et cetera and show me the houses or landed property owned by our herdsmen brothers from the north. A millionaire who shares bed space with hundreds of other millionaires has a lot to teach you in management of expectations and trade imbalance. 


In essence, the decline of the Igboid areas and worse still the inattention to the manifold evidence of the decline points to the shallowness of the Biafran agitation. You cannot secede in anger and expect to succeed. Do your homework. Put your house in order. Better still, know who you are.

Prof. Ikechi Mgbeoji


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