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 ? By Dr. Peregrino Brimah

What precisely is culture? What is the meaning, significance and relevance of the ethnic groups we belong to and how real is our belonging? These questions appear simple, but are they?

We say we are proudly Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ga, Akan, Kikuyu, Idoma, Igala, Tapa, Kanuri and all the rest great African heritages. We identify with our ethnic group and then with being African, Muslim or Christian and so on. What do these mean? And what connection does this identification have with our loving and fighting as defined by these cultures?

There is no single definition for culture, but we can safely understand it by and relate it to these terms: Group, History, Shared, Beliefs, Habits, Education, Symbols, Home-land, Collective programming, Naming, Distinguishing, Religion, Values, Attitudes, Marriage, Meanings, Language and Communication.

An ethnic group is the labeling of a people with a history of shared culture, pretty much the same features above.

So when we say we are Ga for instance, it means we share a history, usually with a founding father actual or mythical feature, a migration history, actual or folk-tale, with other people who for several decades we have been living with in that qualitative locality. By living in the same social space, we have evolved, ?ethnogenesis? a common culture. The culture can be recognized by exhibition of the features above, ? shared, language, values, etc.

When culture is studied, there are aspects that can be more easily observed and then there are aspects that cannot. The symbols, language, facial markings, culture based practices are the surface of the culture, these can be observed. But at the core of the culture is its values, which are hidden foundations of expressed behavior and very hard to observe, elicit or adapt.

In the discussion and study of cultures and ethnic groups, there is the relativity theory, which views all cultural values as being relative and as such there is no better than or worse than. What this means is that even when you see a culture that indulges in cannibalism, you must not approach them from a self confident and superior vantage point of knowing you are right and they are wrong. It is relative, as far as human knowledge and interaction goes, what is right in your culture can rightfully be wrong in theirs, regardless of how much larger your cultural group is. This is called, cultural relativism. Anthropologists would explain that, to communicate with and if need really be, change a culture, you need to be able to learn, assimilate and become that culture.

Only religious doctrinal culture is by its nature able to address and praise or devalue other cultures. The religious cultures avail on a level of inspired?from God, the manufacturer?superior cultural standards. Consider two time pieces that may both have lost time. These cannot correct each other, unless they reset by the sun. This is the principle of religious culture surpassing traditional non-religious founded values, symbols and behaviors. Two virus infected computers may not be able to clean each other and depend on the programmer. Man agrees that he lacks the ability to contest what the Oracle/God dictates and submits to inspiration/revelation culture.

Politicization of ethnic identities: Ethnic groups are only as significant as they are loaded with the culturally affluent. Else ethnic groups are utilized for political, exploitative and ethnocentric purposes. Our reference to ethnicity should connote a presence of strong cultural determinants that will assist us in understanding and interacting with the social group. These individuals being classified by their culture should exhibit several of the markers listed above that define culture, and should possess cultural values. When ethnic categorization is canvassed and there are no cultural properties or similarities, mischief is intended, because culture is not inherited, is virtually not genetic and even worse than race, is not even skin deep.

When an individual exists outside his cultural habitat (mentally or physically), his claim to his ethnic group should be submitted for an individual based evaluation. We must determine the stronger cultural symbols, language, religion, habits, practices and see if he actually has these. Does he speak the language more often? Does he eat the food? Does he wear the clothes and feel comfortable in them? Does he prefer the mode of expressing joy, sorrow, thinking, talking, resting, worship? The many manifestations of culture need to be present to legitimize the ascribing of ethnic related culture to an individual as he conducts himself in life, love, war and death.

I prefer to eat chicken and chips, I regard suits and tie as formal wear, I speak English and believe that speaking vernacular should be penalized, I wear a perm, I get married in a tuxedo and white gown; I am European.  I have imbibed a European culture over mine. Culture is not limited to appearance, place of ancestral origin and ability to speak a traditional language; it comprises a whole host of social determinants and markers as we earlier introduced. Bourdieu views taste (food) as one of the stronger markers.

A great example to appreciate the true meaning of culture is the African American president of the United States, Barrack Obama. What is his culture or ethnic group? Few call him Kenyan, even though his father was a full-fledged Kenyan man, born in Kenya, who returned to fight for and die in Kenya. We do understand that Obama has the American culture.

Culture can blend, is dynamic, transferable and effervescent?can evaporate and be lost. We have certain families who travel to America and disallow their children to speak in their native tongues because they actively want all traces of their children?s ethnicity to disappear and for them to absorb wholly the American culture. They understand that culture and ethnicity is not genetic but an accumulation of social learning. Bordieu explains the ?Habitus? a combination of social factors that deposit upon and impress themselves on the individual. His environment and more specifically the particular ?field? or social network he exists within determines his culture.

Cultural transference is thoroughly experienced in Nigeria where many Hausa families in the north adopted the Fulani ?prestigious? heritage, the ethnicity of Dan Fodio. Many Kanuri?s are as good as Hausa-Fulani and vice-versa. Igbo?s who have lived up-north have literally adopted more Hausa culture than their remnant traditional Igbo culture. In past presidents, Murtala Mohammed, Abacha, we see cultural transference. Again in President Obama we see cultural blending, where his white maternal culture made him a happy choice for the Caucasian voters and his black side impressed blacks. In Nigerian names and popular individuals like, Kaduna Nzeogwu, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro, we see cultural integration and blending. In Ghana, the Ga are said by some historians to be emigrants from the Benin Kingdom. This ethnic group has borrowed words from Yoruba, Portuguese, Akans, pointing to a high fluidity and malleability of ethnic groupings.

In conclusion, as we increasingly lose our ethnicity, unfortunately, it becomes important to ensure that this progressively weakening feature of our societies is only utilized for good and not for fractionation and war. Some of us drive-out our employees who come to work in ethnic wear, yet have the effrontery to claim we are indigenous, cultural beings when it comes to ethnic feuds and dividend sharing.

Acculturation and related economics: African countries lose billions of dollars annually in importation of European cultural clothing. Billions of forex are wasted purchasing polo shirts that bear a Caucasian atop a horse ridding after a ball he hits. As far as culture goes, we should buy our blouses, uwe and buba?s, keeping this foreign-exchange within the country while enabling our industries to grow. This is the true value of culture?for self preservation. The government has nothing to do with this billion dollar loss that acultural citizens dole out every year. Patronizing our cultural clothing alone will bring African nations out of poverty. The suits and ties in hot Africa! This is meaningless cultural brain washing; that feeling that you are not dressed formal in native wear until you wear a colonial master?s suit and fasten a tie to your neck. Dress-down Friday, which is only one day a week and expresses a disregard for traditional wear, whereas if we were truly cultural, all days will be for traditional wear and then perhaps we?ll have a dress-funny day, during which we wear the many-layered heat conservative suits and fasten ties around our necks.

It is sad to note that Africans have lost so much of their culture to the economic advantage of the colonialist that African nations even purchase used suits, ties and shoes which they would rather wear to the office, bank, etc, than wear their available genuine clothes. The desperation where many managers buy second-hand, aka, bend-down boutique clothing to appear western, leads to further cultural conflict and mental deterioration.

Language, diet, clothing, these are all the symbols of culture. The trading of these for European second-hand culture is an epic crisis in African societies. It is preposterous that African teachers in schools penalize students for speaking their native tongues, ?vernacular,? as it is referred. In Europe, the most successful group are the Jews, these tribalists have done a lot to protect themselves. If ethnocentrism and tribalism has a use in today?s world, it should be utilized as the Jews do. It is said that a dollar bill recycles several times within the Jewish community before it ever leaves if it does, whereas a dollar bill that enters a black hand leaves to a non black at the next turn. And teachers dare not castigate Jews for speaking their ethnic Hebrew while in school.

Westernization should not be confused with advancement however. Wearing a suit is westernization; the suit has nothing to do with technology. Lightening skin, permed (and now fake) hair, the suit and tie, these are westernization and cultural colonization. Seeing the white women swish their hair is said to have been the inspiration that African American Madam CJ Walker who invented the hot comb to begin the process of straightening hair, saw that made her put a hot metal comb to head.

Again in considering ethnic politicization; in parts of Africa, like Nigeria and Kenya, colonial occupiers intentionally worked on aggravating ethnocentrism to promote tribalism that prior did not exist in Africa. Tribalism refers to strict intra marriage within the single ethnic constellation. The Jews are tribal and we read of the 12 tribes of Judah. African nations were not tribal, as we had so many migrations, intermarriages and ethnic transferences and blending as mentioned above. The example of Nigerian ex-President Murtala Mohammed suffices. Murtala?s dad, Pam Azatus Iyok from Dogon-Gaba, near Vom in Plateau state, Nigeria?s Middle Belt, became Muslim, an ethnic change, he married Ramat a Kano Hausa-Fulani woman; and their son Murtala married a Yoruba woman. Murtala was accepted and considered Hausa-Fulani. The colonialist provoked ethnic segregation to secure their divide and rule technique. The 1910 colonial state promulgated Land and Native Rights Ordinance was set out to distinguish Hausa northerners. The Cantonments Proclamation of 1914 institutionalized the Sabon Garuruwa system of residential segregation with establishment of ?foreign quarters,? ?Sabon Gari,? in Hausa states. In 1920 when the National Congress of West Africa called for colonial reform, Sir Hugh Clifford pulled out the ethnic card. Okwudiba Nnoli?s ?Ethnic Violence in Nigeria, A Historical Perspective,? is an essential read on this subject. In many West African nations, due to the purposeful colonial manipulations, regional and sectional ethnicism are radically trumped, whereas when many of these nationals  travel abroad, they hardly ever stick to their ethnic people and fail to impress African or national ethnic pride on foreigners they encounter. True ethnic and national pride appears to correlate with ethnic peace. Hence the true love and understanding of ethnic significance appears to correlate with its utility for peace and developmental purposes only. Ghanaians and Senegalese abroad for instance, usually appear more proud of their ethnicity, living in closer communities which powerfully maintain their culture and these peoples have relative peace and stability at home. The sense of national ethnicity also appears to promote true regional ethnicity.

New cultures: Ethnic, group and geographic cultural markers are not indelible. Culture is a dynamic process, and a cultural group today is usually bound by a new set of rules that may be recognized as totally foreign to the founders of that culture. For instance, sadly Nigeria is known for a culture of corruption and crime. This is a shared new ethnic culture within Nigeria?s different ethnic classifications. The elite class also transcends previous cultural barriers. Elite raise their kids to bourgeois standards; their IV league schools provide the ?field,? that imprints the cultural products, food, fitness, speech, etc. Religious cultures also replace traditional. Social media cultures are shared, and when members are abusive toward each other, what they fail to realize is that they are brothers in a new social media cultural group; more closely related than to their known and proclaimed ethnic appellation on whose basis they spar and shed blood. Increasingly these new social and class ethnic groups are being recruited for socio-political missions. To appreciate your cultural outlook, it is necessary to try to visit and look upon yourself and your group if you have such from an external perspective and possibly through an ancestors eye. Your dress mode, rituals, recommendations, mannerisms, diet, thoughts, language, etc. How do these appear from the outside?

As a last deposition: You are not what you say you are, you are not what you think you are, and you are not what your father is, you are what you are, and you may be surprised when you figure out what that is.

Dr. Peregrino Brimah
http://ENDS.ng [Every Nigerian Do Something]
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @EveryNigerian

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