Archive for the ‘Cultural Events’ Category

Nigerian physicians from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic gathered in Chicago this weekend for the 17th annual Association of Nigerians Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) convention. Thanks to one of North of Lagos’s followers, I received a special invitation to write a story on this high-profile, yet greatly unknown event.

So excited to be surrounded by Nigerians again, I hastily put together a casual, Nigerian fabric influenced outfit and headed to the Swissotel in Chicago on Friday to talk to physicians and hear the speakers. I descended the escalator to see about 100 people dressed in business attire mingling around the coffee. The one or two men dressed in agbadas indicated that this indeed was the ANPA conference. Chris Eze, the physician who invited me, was there to welcome and introduce me to some of the most important players in the Association. Nigerians from every ethnic group are members of the association, so for me the convention was a good test of how well I can discern ethnic groups. It also made me realize I really should learn Igbo.

In the next week I will post stories about the interviews I had and issues that came up. Today, I want to post pictures of the party that ended the weekend–the ANPA gala. I was delighted to attend the party on Saturday night and see how Nigerians in the Americas are still so fashionable in the finest lace. Just because they live in America does not mean they have lost that Naija swagger, especially on the dance floor.

Chris Eze, one of my blog followers and a member of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, invited me to their 17th annual convention in Chicago.

Walking around to take pictures of the event, these ladies stopped me because they heard I spoke Yoruba.

My table mates and their friend. She must be important because her gele is the tallest and shiniest I've ever seen.

The packed dance floor at ANPA's 17th annual convention at the Swissotel in Chicago.

Me with the younger crowd, a couple of medical students in the Distinguished Nigerian Physicians of Tomorrow.

These Yoruba ladies were so nice. They beckoned me over to their table and before it we were all dancing together on the dance floor.

Lace iro and bubas with stiff, shiny head wrappers. Gorgeous!

Oji and I, the president of the Distinguished Nigerian Physicians of Tomorrow.

Aso ebi. Everyone was dressed in their fanciest lace that night.

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As the fateful day the Oyinbo’s will leave Nigeria draws nearer and nearer, the number of send forth parties gets higher and higher. Our Yoruba Flagship Center hosted a party for us on Wednesday. The party was a typical Yoruba function with a high table with distinguished guests, lots of prayers and people who spoke on forever about the importance of speaking Yoruba. Kayode and I gave short speeches in Yoruba and the five of us even sang a song that went :
O digba, O dabo
Ki Olorin sho pade o
Ka rira pe layo
Ka maa ma sunkun ara wa

The five of us, Kolade, Akinwumi, Me, Kayode and Abike all in our traditional Yoruba outfits

An incredible cultural troupe from Ibadan performed astonishing bata dances and Kayode joined in with his own Yoruba drums.

People told us a local television station broadcast the party on TV but unfortunately-like all of my prior television appearances here- I never catch them.

The send forth parties still continue in a non-formal setting with us and our Nigerian friends. Saying goodbye is a long process here because I am bombarded with questions from random people such as: Will you take me back to your country with you? When are you coming back? The prior question I get almost everyday. I have started giving responses like “No, because I am not a customs official and cannot give you a visa,” or “I can take you if you can fit in my luggage.” And to the latter question, I simply say “Mi i ni pe/I will not be long.”
Here I am making a speech to the crowd in Yoruba.

The crowd at our first send forth party sponsored by our program, the Yoruba Language Flagship center

Kayode in his Yoruba dress, an agbada made of guinea and a fila.

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Yoruba traditional religion is something that always fascinated me while I was learning about Yoruba culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Reading about it in books is nothing like experiencing it in person. We had the chance to travel to Osogbo last month with Kayode’s drum teacher to attend a festival all about the Yoruba deities, called orishas. The title of this week long festival is Osunita. People from all over Nigeria come to Osogbo to honor Iya Osunita (the Osunita mother). Guests sacrifice to various Yoruba Orishas, including Iyalode, Obatala, Eshu, Osun, and Ogun. Yoruba traditional religion and the practice of Ifa divination is a huge topic and I am not attempting to delve into it right now. Today you hear people calling traditional things “fetish”. If something has characteristics of traditional religion or culture, people fear it and call it “fetish”. With the widespread reach of Christianity and Islam, the number of people worshiping Orishas and practicing Ifa is diminishing but from what I saw that day in Osogbo, there is still a strong population continuing the tradition. I want to show these pictures to help you get a sense for what a modern day festival is like.

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An assortment of party favors you can expect to get at any big celebration 'ìnàwó" in Nigeria.

In the U.S. you go to your friends house for a dinner party, you bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine to show your appreciation. In Nigeria it is the opposite- the guests are the honorees. After a dinner party here, guests are the ones who walk away with bottles of wine. But a “dinner party” is not a realistic example for Nigeria because it is rare families have their friends over for a intimate three course meal. Fill a large room with plastic tables and chairs, hang some colorful decorations from the ceiling, hire a company to hand out glass bottles of Coke and Fanta and dole out heaping plates of jollof rice and amala and bam, you have yourself a true Nigerian party. At a true Nigerian party you will also always see the guests leaving with some type of personalized, pragmatic gift for domestic chores or living. What use is a t-shirt printed with the newlyweds’ picture when you could have a bucket with their picture printed on it to do all sorts of things? When I attended my first wedding here, I found it odd to be walking away from the chapel hall with a ceramic bowl, especially since the bowl had a sticker with the bride and grooms faces, date of marriage and a mention of who paid for the gift. After more and more parties, I am used to receiving a cup, a food cooler and a notebook all covered in stickers commemorating the celebrants and inside a personalized cloth bag.

Why do Nigerians do this? Kíló dé? What is the impetus for the brides parents to spend thousands of Naira making personalized clock radios, and the groom’s parents printing stickers to put on plastic fans all to give hundreds of guests at the wedding? Some people say Nigerians just love spending money. One of the names for celebrations like weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies is “ìnàwó” which literally means “money spending” in Yoruba. Others say everyone does it because everyone else does it, nítorí náà ó tí di baraku fun gbogbo omo Naijiriya lati na owó katikati fun àwon ebùn yìí. Maybe it’s because Nigerians go to so many parties in their life times that they need something useful, something they can use everyday for fetching water or writing notes to remind them of that wonderful “ìnàwó” they attended years back. If you are lucky enough to be be among the guests at a party where the celebrants are very wealthy, to lowó bajebaje, you might even get a Blackberry complete with the a picture of the newly wed’s faces on the back.

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It took months of reminding and asking our coordinator but we finally made it to Badagry as one of our “cultural tours” of Nigeria. Badagry is a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea, between Lagos and the Republic of Benin. On entering Nigeria by road, it is the first city you pass through. It is one of the many historical sites in Nigeria, known for being the major slave port in West Africa. Hundreds of thousands of captured Africans passed through this city on their horrific journey to be sold in America, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. The first Christian missionaries also landed here in 1842. Today, the city looks like a typical south-western Nigeria town but it is more slow paced compared to the hustle bustle of Lagos and Ibadan. It’s placement on the beach makes it ideal for tourism, so I was glad to see the early stages of construction of a massive boardwalk that would spark a tourist industry there.

The most interesting part of the trip for me was touring the Heritage Museum, a museum of artifacts and information about the slave trade in Nigeria. I was moved and almost shed tears when I picked up the left cuff of a real wrought iron wrist shackle slaves were to wear on their wrists at all times. I strained to lift it with one hand. Curriculum about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is mandatory in the U.S.

Wrought iron wrist shackles. I picked it up and was disgusted and appalled at how heavy it is.

I have listened to many lectures, read books and seen movies about it. But all those secondary sources paled in comparison to lifting one shackle or listening to our tour guide explain in Yoruba and demonstrate how slaves were to drink out of the deep cone shaped iron drinking pot without using hands. When we finished the tour of the rooms we came out onto a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Guinea. It reminded me of finishing the tour of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and coming out onto the balcony overlooking the land Jews call their own now. Our guide pointed across the water to an island covered in trees.

View when you finish the tour of slave history in Nigeria. The bridge across the gulf is the "point of no return."

“Se e ri afara funfun yen? Do you see that white bridge? We call that place the “point of no return” because once the slaves are transported from the mainland across to that place, they are boarded into the ship and there is no way they can escape.” Thinking about the brutality that took place on the very ground I was standing on is chilling but it is a very important history to understand so it can never happen like that again.

Feeling inspired, we went to the beach along the highway towards the Benin border. Except for a few souls, palm frond houses and fishing boats, the beach was desolate. The dull turquoise water receding fast down the shore crashing back with foamy tops.

The beach at Badagry.

Our teachers would not even let us put one foot in the water because they feared the strength of the current would pull us, all experienced swimmers, out to sea. I found fun in taking pictures instead.

That makes the cities I’ve visted: Abeokuta, Badagry, Osogbo, Ilobu, Oke Omu, Sekonna, Ilesa, Eko, Oyo. We still have to get to Ife and many others. Hopefully soon!

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We weren’t exactly sure why we were there. The five of us sat with straight faces and glassy eyes around the shiny conference table, listening to the voice of the CNN reporter discuss the implications the natural disaster in Japan will have on the electronics market. We were tired–Oyinbos dislike waking up at 5:30 a.m. All we knew was we had arrived at the girls’ college in Ikeja, Lagos to do some sort of speech that required us to wear Yoruba outfits. Finally a Madame entered, wearing a lovely collared shirt, black skirt and high-waisted belt-a stark contrast to our brightly colored long ankara outfits. She hugged each of us, told me she loved my latest video on YouTube and passed out the programs for the day. This woman turned out to be the director of Vivian Fowler, Mrs. Funke Amba. After that day, I now refer to her as Aunty Funke.

Yoruba Day sign

Yoruba Day at Vivian Fowler and we are the special guests.

Thursday, March 17, 2011 was deemed Yoruba Day at Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls–a day for us, the Yoruba speaking Oyinbos, to plant a little seed of shame, amazement and most of all motivation in the hearts of ajebota secondary school children who don’t care to speak their native language. Yoruba Day started with giving us a tour of campus. Once you enter through the main gate, just past the hedge trimmed to spell V-i-v-i-a-n-F-o-w-l-e-r, you cast your eyes upon a impeccably kept courtyard with more impressive bush shapes–a horse, a man and woman are among the bush figures. The tour, led all in Yoruba on Yoruba Day of course, brought us to the fully stocked chemistry labs, home economics rooms, art gallery full of works of students’ art, a full court basketball court, and the peaceful, sparkling library with an impressive collection of worldly books. I was impressed. Students in tidy, well ironed light orange and blue uniforms greeted us politely in English as we roamed the campus. Any child would be lucky to go to a school like Vivian Fowler.

The program started like all Yoruba events, introducing the important guests. Among them were very important people in education in Lagos State, the King of Lagos’ chiefs, and us! We sat on couches on either side of the stage-boys on one side, girls on the other-covered in adire cloth and stood up to wave to the audience when they introduced each of us. We heard speeches from University of Ife Professor Wale Omole, one of the king’s chiefs and Mrs. F.O. Erogbogbo, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education in Lagos state. After a few interludes of Yoruba entertainment we heard speeches from students from each of the secondary schools present. When it was our turn to speak I was nervous, as usual. I wanted to make a comprehensive speech that not only impressed people, but also conveyed a serious message to the students about reviving their native language. I started by going down on my knees to greet everyone, a proper Yoruba greeting. I spoke about our experience in University of Ibadan and how we really shock people when they hear Yoruba come out of our mouths, but they still speak English back to us. I told them that they should use us Yoruba speaking white people as an ipenija, challenge. N ko fe ki oju ti won, mo fe fun won ni imisi lati ko Yoruba sii. I told them to watch Mainframe movies, listen to singers like Asa where they can hear ijinle Yoruba. They can also read books, but sometimes Yoruba books can be very difficult to get through (I’m reading ‘Alo Ijapa’ right now and it can be hard for me to fully understand at moments.) I think I spoke well for not having any time to prepare or practice. I left the stage feeling pleased, like I said something that might actually ignite a fire in some of the students’ hearts for the Yoruba language.

The event went smoothly, as to be expected from such a fine school like Vivian Fowler. Mrs. Funke Amba, the director of the school, organized event after seeing us in the Punch newspaper and saw that it did not fall victim to too much Africa time. They gave us beautiful cloth as gifts (adire for the girls and guinea for the boys). After the program we moved outside where we stood in one spot smiling for almost an hour while groups of students and adults filtered through and clicked obscene amounts of pictures. All the while, journalists and camera crews stood by desperately trying to interview us. I felt a little like an animal in a zoo, but it was all for a good cause. Right before we got in the car to leave, a young girl, she must have been no older than 12 ran up to me and asked, “can I hug you?” She wrapped her hands around my waist, pressed her head into my chest and gave me the tightest hug. Hopefully that’s a sign we got through to them.

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