Westernisation of Igbo culture

source:  Nigerian Tribune, 26 Oct 2007

Igbo cultural values, like those of many other tribes, have been influenced negatively by Western culture, writes Sylvanus Eze.

A scene from a recent cultural festival in


Culture means different things to different people. It has to do with a people’s way of life which distinguishes them from others. It is the embodiment of a people’s life, ideas, beliefs and views.

Some others defined culture as the fabric of ideas, beliefs, skills, tools, aesthetics, patterns of thinking, of eating, talking as well as artifacts shared by people and socially transmitted from generation to generation.

How did the western culture swallow Igbo culture? It was through the religious process of evangelisation which had brought Igbo and European cultures into contact. It started from 1841 when white men invaded Igboland as missionaries, administrators and traders.

Through evangelism, Europeans introduced Western culture and values. Igbo people were made to accept the white man’s culture as a good way of life. The missionaries were the agents of Western civilisation in Igboland and other parts of Nigeria.

Consciously or unconsciously, they imposed western culture on Igbo traditional culture.
Since all the missionaries then were Europeans, a degree of westernisation was seen as necessary in order to help fulfil their roles in the school system, churches and shops where they established their trades.

The schools aided the process of evangelism as scholars and graduates of mission schools constituted the power house of missionary work and the manpower on which the colonial government used to administer Igboland.

Since then, Igbo culture had suffered because of the influence of western culture. This deepened conflict when the white men discovered the cruel aspect of Igbo culture. They used this as an advantage to do away with even the good sides of the culture.

Some gross, gruesome and cruel aspect of the Igbo culture was characterised by cannibalism, killing of twins, nudity, inter and intra tribal strife, blood birth, superstitious beliefs, fear of human at death, human sacrifice, slavery, sorcery, witchcraft, idolatry and mass illiteracy and it was these negative aspects of the culture that prompted the early Christian missionaries to adopt total condemnation of the Igbo culture.

The inability of the agents of western culture to appreciate the positive elements of Igbo culture constituted another cause of conflict. The Europeans did not seek to understand the pattern of Igbo traditional religion, psychology, customs, ethnics and values. Rather, they only saw the transient aspects of the culture.

Due to what was called ‘darkness’ of the Igbo world, lack of good morals, ignorance, pitiful condition of citizens and slave trade, evangelism by missionaries was seen as liberation from a state of awfulness and the picture of unredeemed condition of the people.

There was a deliberate propaganda mounted by the colonialists who found it necessary to paint the achievements of the Igbo nation black. This was partly to justify their invasion and economic exploitation of the Igboland and Nigeria as a whole. Because many of them had not travelled out, they were influenced through audio-visual media communications, radio, cinema and television which had in no small way helped to introduce foreign values and culture at the expense of Igbo culture.

Educated Igbo men forgot their culture in preference to western culture. They became external model oriented carriers of new ways and ideas. This contributed to the annihilation of Igbo culture.

Some of the educated ones, especially those who were educated abroad, looked down on all aspects of Igbo culture. They looked at it as bad and devilish. They spoke the English Language and other foreign languages to their kinsmen at the peril of Igbo language.

Western culture and civilisation in Igboland have created positive and negative problems on Igbo culture. Educated Igbo people did not help matters as they exhibited feelings of cultural inferiority.

Professor Chinua Achebe captured this situation in 1958 when he said: “now the white men have won our brothers and clan, we can no longer act as one, they have put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart”.

A picture was clearly painted of an Igbo professor who spent substantial number of years overseas. When visited by his mother, he ordered her back home because she did not notify him of her visit. Yes, a typical black-white man, who is purely individualistic and lacks Igbo hospitality; an example of the effect of foreign culture on Igbo personality.

Little did the Igbos know that by accepting western education, they had indirectly accepted western culture at the expense of their own culture. That is why for anything to be appreciated in Igbo land and accorded high prestige, it must be made in a foreign country. Degrees and certificates must be from London, America, Germany etc. A good shoe manufacturer in Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi markets must have his shoes tagged made in Italy, France etc to get markets for them. The same reason informs the type of buildings springing up in Igbo towns and villages. Many of them are designed like those in London, America and other foreign countries.

There is crisis in the lifestyle of an average Igbo man. He cannot fluently speak his language without mixing up with a foreign language. This equally applies to their religious life. They are Christians but they still have respect for traditional religion. It seems the Igbo man has lost his bearing.

There is need for the educated Igbo people to look inwards into their society and rediscover those values which form part of their cultural heritage. These values should form the basis for progress and development in Igboland.

Some of the cruel aspects of Igbo culture may need modification but uprooting and throwing them overboard as done by the colonialists is not acceptable. The present and coming generation of Igbo people must stand against the continued westernisation of Igbo culture.

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