7 THINGS I’VE LEARNT AT THE OPENING DAY OF THE 5TH ANNUAL IGBO INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE 2016
Friday 1st of April was the first day of the 5th annual Igbo Conference Igbo Fusions: Past, Present, and Future. The conference takes place over two days, in the Brunei Lecture Theatre at SOAS, University of London. Igbo Fusions creates a platform for discussions that explore how Igbo culture has been influenced by and influences other cultures. Some of the topics covered so far include the Act of Re-dressing the Igbo/ Ibo play, My Name is My Logo, and Igbo Attire and its Influences.
This is the first time I’ve attended the conference. One of the things that struck me about Igbo Fusions is the high level of engagement between the audience and the panellists speaking. Many of the contributors and speakers, like me, have an Igbo upbringing, so we all have our own opinions and ideas about how the culture has evolved and where we see it going. The opening was focused on the language and its cultural influences. Despite my thoughts about red caps chiefs or whether Imo is still considered the Igbo heartland, I attended the conference opening with an attitude to learn something new. And I did!
- Before his oral essay on My Name is My Logo, Chimzulum Ezigbo honoured the ten peaceful protestors who were killed by security agencies in Aba, Nigeria. The pro-Biafra event was protesting about the continued detention of their leader and radio director Namndi Kanu. The killing occurred in February and Ezigbo paid a tribute to the fallen by inviting the audience to sing a song of solidarity. To hear the room fill with the voices of men and women in the traditional Igbo language was engrossing.
- Ezigbo recounts his father responding to him about wanting to adopt an English Christian name. His father replied: ‘I will give you an English name when I find an English man with an Igbo name.’ Ezigbo went on to ask why there aren’t any saints with Igbo names in Roman Catholic Saintdom. I also didn’t know that Chinua Achebe’s middle name used to be Albert. He purposefully dropped his middle name as a political act of defiance against the legacy of oppressive colonial masters.
- Israel Meriomame Wekpe’s An Act of Re-Dressing the Igbo/Ibo Play explored the dangers of misinterpreting the tropes of Igbo culture in drama. He said: ‘I thought the Igbo don’t have kings; I thought they were republican.’ Wekpe’s states that it is necessary for directors, writers, and producers to do extensive research about the Igbo culture for the projects that tell stories of the people and their culture.
- The first Ingliigbo— English mixed with Igbo (which is another fascinating topic in itself)— word came from the surname of a Scottish explorer called William Balfour Baikie. The Igbo noun bekee is adapted from William’s surname ‘Baikie’ and is translated as meaning ‘white man.’
- I learnt the difference between a womanist and a feminist: ‘ A womanist is to a feminist what purple is to lavender.’
- I also discovered that people are concerned with the idea of an ‘authentic Igbo story’, which came out during a discussion of through Flora Nwapa’s landmark novel I didn’t even know about the 50 year anniversary of the novel until I attended the conference!
So far, the highlight for me has been the audience and their reactions. Despite the academic feel of the venue, there is a relaxed air of engagement that makes learning about the Igbo culture fun and exciting. I will leave you with the seventh and final thing I learnt from Igbo Fusions; an Igbo proverb:
Onye ajuju anaghi efu uzo (He or she who asks questions does not tend to get lost.)
The 5th Annual Igbo International Conference, Igbo Fusions: Past, Present and Futures will be finishing tomorrow on Saturday 2nd April. Ticket can be brought here:
The conference partners are Centre for African Studies, University of London and SOAS.