My History Essay

Pages: 5 (1665 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Anthropology

Personal Ethnicity

Ibo Across the Water

This place is strange. Not just because people look, talk, dress, and cat differently than I am used to. Not just because the buildings and streets are different, or the colors, sounds, and smells of the cities are still unusual to my senses. All of these things make this place strange, yes, but that is not the strangest thing to me. What is so strange about this country is the incredible diversity of people who dwell in it and identify themselves as American. I am American now, too, I suppose, but American culture is not my culture. I am from Nigeria, but I would not even say that "Nigerian" is my culture. I'm not sure what truly defines American culture, or Nigerian culture, if such a thing exists. Both places have people that come from many cultures and traditions, some more interconnected than others, and some more friendly than others, but different. Not only different, but in both countries still often separate.

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My cultural identity does not come to me from a skin color or a nation, but from the Ibo tribe from which I am descended. To most Americans (whatever that means), I am "black" the moment I am seen. If I begin speaking with them, I become "African." Some continue the conversation far enough to make me "Nigerian," but it is extremely rare that anyone thinks there could be anything beyond this. Yet my cultural identity stems from a long tradition of history and pride, and though the word "Ibo" doesn't mean anything to most Americans, it means a great deal to me. In Nigeria, this identity is understood, but in America everything is blurred and blended in a way that makes cultures and identities indistinct, shaping them into amorphous blobs that are easier to be dealt with and understood. I do not sense a great deal of cultural pride in many Americans, and this contrasts sharply to the way I was raised.

TOPIC: Essay on My History Assignment

Both of my parents were elementary school teachers in Nigeria. They were well educated, and instilled the importance of learning and education in me and in my two brothers and two sisters. Accomplishment and success, it was understood, would come through the use of the gifts we had been endowed with, and it was our job to utilize these gifts to the best of our ability. Formal education itself is not a major part of traditional Ibo culture, and my parents' profession shows some of the changes that have occurred in my culture in recent decades. But although formal education does not exactly stem from Ibo culture, the values and principles behind it are very much a part of the ways of my ancestors and others of the Ibo tribe.

Respect for the knowledge of the past and for those who retain and transmit this knowledge is a major part of Ibo cultural heritage. Though this did not occur in schools such as those that the Western world has now brought to Nigeria -- for better and for worse -- it happened in ways that were arguably more fundamental in shaping both cultural and individual identity. Chiefs and other members of the ruling class in the Ibo tribe were respected and venerated for the positions of knowledge they held, and as keepers of the tribes security and traditions. Again, though they did not "teach" in the traditional Western concept of the word, they were leaders that advised, educated and guided the Ibo people. These are the gals of any good teacher, in the Western world or outside it, and my parents brought the sense of pride and respect that such positions held to their own positions as both teachers and learners.

Teachers in this country often do not seem to receive the same type of respect and reverence that I was raised to give them. Admittedly, I am not necessarily representative of the entire Ibo culture in this regard -- having parents for teachers and having been one myself, my views are certainly a little biased -- but the culture I have witnessed here is much less respectful in general than what I am used to among people of my own culture. I have encountered various forms of discrimination, including from the certain individuals in the education system despite my background and determination; the ethnic and cultural label that these individuals pin upon me -- be it "black," "African," or even "Nigerian" -- does not reflect my cultural identity so much as it reflects the cultural ignorance of these individuals. Perhaps it stems from the purported democratization and equality that this country still holds dear in its principles if not in all of its actions; when everyone is equal, there is no need to show any more respect for other than one has for themselves, I suppose. This thought could hardly be arrived at in the Ibo culture, however.

According to my father, my grandparents were members of the Ibo ruling class, chieftains that helped to crown the new Ibo king. Though my parents were both poor farmers and schoolteachers in the new era of Ibo culture, my heritage, I was always reminded, was as a leader of the Ibo people. This lesson was not meant to fuel ambition or a sense of a depravation of my inherent destiny, but rather s a responsibility to myself and others. In the Ibo culture, the status of one's birth means something; one can always act in ways above the status they were born with, but not living up to the expected standards is a cause for great shame. The importance of the actual social position in society had become less relevant by the time I was born and my parents were already peasants and farmers. There was no shame in this, but there would be in an individual that did not live up to his or her potential in these circumstances.

Because of this, hard work has been as much a part of my life as my dedication to my studies. I used to come home in the evenings after working in the fields with my father with blisters forming on my hands on top of the blisters that had barely begun to heal the day before; it was painful, and exhausting, but satisfying. A great emphasis is placed on the ability to produce a finished product and not simply on the wealth one can attain, and farming definitely provides this sense of hard work for a real payoff. In the Ibo world, I and my family were successful because our endeavors led us to be educated, showed our willingness and ability to work, and provided a livelihood. Of course we dreamed of earning greater wealth and possibly moving to the city, but the sense of work and pride is what drove this desire, and not a simple desire to be lazy or to live a life of luxury without any effort -- this is antithetical to Ibo ideals.

Another of my father's stories concerning my grandfather is the immense respect he had earned as a traditional healer, and somewhat ironically as a fighter in the inter-tribal wars (even the Ibo do not get along with others and with themselves at times). Being a member of the ruing class of chieftains did not exempt him from work in any way, but on the contrary it demanded a higher level of service and commitment form him. These are the ideals that still exist in the Ibo culture despite the massive changes that have occurred since the Westernization of Nigeria. The Christian religion has done much to supplant traditional beliefs and customs, and other Western traditions and ideas have followed, but the sense of pride that is taken in both the Ibo heritage… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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