Friday 29 October 2010


I don't really understand what people mean when they ask what tribe are you from? I mean of course I know what they literally mean. Are you Igbo? Or Hausa? Or Yoruba? Or Ijaw? Or Ibibio? Or Itsekiri? Or Nupe? Or one of those lines along which Nigeria is divided. But I don't know what they mean in concrete terms. It's all very well and good to label me Igbo because my father is Igbo or mixed tribe, because my mother is Yoruba, but what does this actually mean?

"It's your blood," a relative of mine once said to me when I denied that I was Igbo. "How can you deny your blood?"
This relative of mine is generally quite lucid so I knew he didn't mean if you spilled my blood on the ground it would start singing the theme tune to Things Fall Apart.

"What do you mean?" I asked and he replied something along the lines of, "There are certain things that will show up in your character that will make people know you are Igbo."

"So even if I don't speak Igbo and I don't understand the symbols in a traditional wedding, I'm still Igbo."

"All those things are superficial."

"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I'm talking about the Igbo character."

"And what is that?"

"Like," he paused to gather his thoughts. "Like... like, Igbo people are naturally sharp."

And then he went on to list a few of the other general 'characteristics' of Igbo people. Money savvy, smooth talkers. The traits he gave were positive but there are the more negative ones. Stingy, bourgeois, grabbing, tacky.

"And what about Yoruba people?" I asked. "What are their characteristics?"

"They always know where things are happening. "

"And Hausas?"

"They are gentle."

And the more he talked and the more you listen to many Nigerians talk, the more apparent it becomes that what we call tribe is actually stereotype and has very little to do with culture. Of course there are cultural differences between an Itsekiri man and an Igbo man. Language, food and dress are a few of these but the fact of the matter is that most people speak English in addition to their native language, most people eat rice, few people turn up to work in their full traditional regalia. The more urbanised we become and the faster we move into the 21st century (willingly or unwillingly) the more desperately we try to cling to what we see as our 'tribal identity'. We can no longer identify our ethnic group by markings on our faces or secret hand shakes and so we run behind these stereotypes. Yoruba men are this, Nupe women are that.

And this thing of classifying people along stereotypes just to preserve our identity and sense of apartness, is very dangerous. It led to the Holocaust; it led to genocide in Rwanda and it has led in more recent times to this idiotic thing that the PDP call 'zoning.' As if there is any difference between an Igbo thief and a Hausa one.

I am Nigerian first. Any day and everyday, Nigerian first. Then Lagosian (not Yoruba). I make the distinction because Lagos is a cosmopolitan city that time and time again defies tribe. Then I suppose if I had to fill a form that didn't allow me to explain my lengthy views on tribe, I would tick Igbo and Yoruba.

This is the last post in Nigeria month. It is not the last time I will blog about Nigeria but perhaps I will retire from this topic for a while. Hope you enjoyed.


  1. Patriotic Chibs!! Good good point! We should be loyal to Nigeria and not some tribe!

  2. I actually do have the same problem about culture and I refuse to ascribe to some tribal affiliations or whatever. It just makes us blind honestly. Like you said, it fosters the prevalence of stereotypes which are at the most unfounded. I'm saying this from a personal point of view, I've had arguments about it with my Dad countless number of times.

  3. Can't say I haven't been guilty of that. Not to that level, though...

  4. I totally agree. We focus too much on dividing ourselves.

  5. There's a video floating around on this. I think it is very difficult to discount what influence tribes have over people. And not just Nigerians. We just have to have a higher unity is what I think..

  6. It's just really funny that he said, "Igbo people are naturally sharp." That's the general saying in Nigeria. Stereotypes build into our realities.

  7. I agree with all of you esp Jaycee. Stereotypes do build into our realities and then you forget where reality stops and fantasy begins. And @ Azuka, I suppose we've all been guilty. I guess even acknowledging that there's something to feel guilty about falling for these stereotypes is a step in the right direction.

  8. Hi Chibundu! Love what you have going on here!! It's funny that I found your blog today because I just wrote a blog on this earlier today, but I was actually arguing the other side. Thanks for leaving a comment on my other post, btw :)

  9. I see. Written by someone whose cultural identity is restricted to pidgin. Nice

  10. we should let the things which unite us override the things which separate us

  11. OKunoba
    Dear Chibundu Onuzo, You should know better, using the word tribe to describe the different ethnic groups in Nigeria is old and played out. The World as moved on from the use of the word, due to it`s negative connotation. Next time u are talking about the different groups in Nigeria, please use ethnic groups instead of tribe.

  12. But at the end of the day that's how we still refer to it in Nigeria. What tribe are you from is a normal question and its not meant in an insulting manner. Too much political correctness can be a bad thing.

  13. I am Malick from Togo. When it comes to tribes, understanding is what we need; not denial. And definitely not ignorance. Our big cities are melting-pots with everybody mixed together trying to make a living; and constantly reaching to the modern world and modern gadgets.
    But let's not forget this:
    Comes dinner time:
    - Our yam comes from a group of tribes
    - Our fish comes from other tribes
    - Our meat (beef) comes from other tribes
    Complementarity is the key!
    Differences are there so that at the end of the day, we can put it all together and enjoy life to it's fullest.
    I live in USA but I'm still a Tem from Togo and I have my special partition to play in the world symphony. :-) Love & Peace.


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