My aspiration is to be one of the builders of a world of equality, a world where diversity is respected and value for people's lives is paramount. A world where religion and culture are not used as weapons of dispute and destruction, where leaders serve and not steal, where everyone does not pretend to love each other but does so straight from the heart.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Interview Thursday:" It is not and has never been our culture for a woman to take on the name of her husband"- Sugabelly
-->She is a defender of all that is good and progressive about Nigeria, she is a critic of all that is wrong and inhuman. She is an entrepreneur, a pro-woman and an intellect. Sugabelly is my guest on "Interview Thursday"!
I have come to view you as a very brave, intelligent, and no-nonsense taker kind of lady, what inspire you to start your blog?
Thank you! I originally started blogging as a way to deal with the overflow from my journals. I write a lot and once kids in school noticed they started stealing my journals. I couldn’t have that so I moved a lot of stuff online to a secret Livejournal blog (it’s been shut down now though).
What do you intend to achieve via your blog?
So my blog was originally (and still is) my personal purgatory for all my emotional troubles but it seems quite a number of people have begun to read my blog and so I find that I can’t exactly pour out all the gory details of my life anymore. To make up for that, I blog about other things that I’m interested in: Nigeria, Igbo culture, African music, and other random stuff.
As far as achievement goes, I recently discovered that a bunch of Asians actually read my blog. It never occurred to me before that non-Africans might read my blog, so I hope that any non-Africans that read my blog will come to see Nigerians (and by extension Africans) as real, multi-dimensional people with real lives who are intellectual, fall in love, go to work, have fun, etc. So many people from the rest of the world just can’t relate to or imagine Africans outside the context of poverty, AIDS, and disease. Everyone needs to realize that half the time these are not the things that occupy our minds. We have hopes and dreams and aspirations like everyone else. We have great loves and terrible enemies. We have amazing cultures but at the same time we are trying to negotiate a world that would rather rid us of our culture and we are trying to reconcile the two, so I hope they see that because lots of people will never visit Nigeria and our blogs are pretty much the only window they have into our part of the world.
You are an entrepreneur and you have started your clothes line as well as an Igbo Language Institute, how has the journey being for you?
There’s nothing quite like starting your own company. I think everyone should try it at least once in their life. I have probably learned more in a year than I thought I’d be learning from school. Running a tshirt company (albeit a teeny tiny one) is tough but it’s great because I’m an International Business major and it’s fun to learn something in class and then say ‘okay, how can I apply this to my business?’. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, some small, some big, and I even had to shut down after a year to re-structure (and have a better website built) so I would say it’s been one big learning experience. I changed the name of my company, I changed the logo, I changed so many things and I’m probably going to change more things, but I’m enjoying learning how to effectively manage a business.
As for the IgboAcademy, let me just say that nothing is without its challenges. I knew from the beginning that there would be lots of Igbo people that would be totally resistant to any change and I think what I need most is to be okay with that. A lot of the time I run around screaming ‘But something is so obviously wrong!!! Why can’t you see that??” Maybe I’m just impatient because I never had anybody to be patient with (I’m an only child) but I just realized that people will take their sweet time and I need to deal with it. (I’m not good at dealing sometimes). The IgboAcademy will continue because it is needed. We Igbos haven’t achieved language actualization yet, and until we do, we need to keep doing research on our language and coming up with solutions for linguistic problems.
I am super excited because I finally launched the blog for The Ndebe Project! Can I plug here? Okay, shameless plug – Please visit http://ndebe.blogspot.com where you can learn to speak Igbo for free online and learn to write it with the Ndebe script.
What inspired your passion for the Igbo Academy and what have you achieved by starting it?
I started the IgboAcademy because MASSIVE communication problems exist within the Igbo language. The reality is that no Igbo person can go through a full day in a city without saying at least one English word, and this is not because people do not know how to speak Igbo but because there simply are no Igbo words for half the things that we encounter on a daily basis. Even our great-great grandparents whom I am sure speak impeccable Igbo would be stumped on an average day in Abuja because the words don’t exist. Unfortunately the expansion of our language stopped when we came into contact with the Europeans. They brought new things with them and rather than create names for these new things we simply gave up on our language altogether, preferring to speak English.
A lot of Igbo people don’t like to admit it but Igbo is a stilted, sadly limited language. Let me say for clarity’s sake that if Igbo had been nurtured and encouraged to grow as new technologies and new things emerged it would be one of the richest languages on Earth but the truth is that as a people we have not nurtured our language and we have not helped it to develop. Igbo people are among some of the most ardent followers of all things European and only in the last five years has there been some sort of cultural renaissance among us. For a long time we’ve been all about slavishly adopting western culture, language, and behaviour even to the point of self-effacement. The truth is, there are a lot of Igbo parents out there that refuse to teach their children Igbo. There are a lot of Igbo parents that give their children only English names. There are a lot of Igbo parents that honest-to-God believe that English is far superior to Igbo. I believe that while English has to be by far the most expansive language in the world, it is not superior to Igbo or any other language for that matter.
Perhaps the most positive thing the IgboAcademy has achieved in its short existence so far is renewed interest in Igbo language and culture. I think that because I’m sharing some of the findings of the research on Igbo culture and language that I’m doing under The Academy more Igbo people that read my blog or that are members of the group are now more interested in their language and their culture and I think more people are now actively seeking out information about Igbo. Hopefully this spreads out to the greater Igbo population and the Igbo language will develop and expand while retaining its authenticity and cultural purity.
Can you tell us more about your clothes line and how we can get to patronize you?
I design t-shirts that have to do with the social, cultural, and political mores of Nigeria. The sensation I try to evoke when I’m sketching is nostalgia. I’ve lived in America for two years now and I’ve become homesick for even the smallest things that are essentially ‘Nigerian’. Basically, I could sit on my bed and cry about how homesick I am or I could make a t-shirt that reminds me of home. I’d rather do the latter. Maybe because I save the tears for when I really need them, like for my non-existent love life.
So as I mentioned before I am currently restructuring my t-shirt company. It used to be called Barcelagos, and then for a hot minute it was Barcelago, but now it is called Dinka, which I feel, is a far more culturally appropriate name (Dinka means artisan or artist in Igbo). Dinka’s logo is a zebra wearing the traditional red Igbo hat with a feather. I love that zebra. I’ve named him Mazi Zebra. Looking at him makes me smile J
There is a new website. Dinka’s new home. Currently the website is under construction but a few weeks ago I put up a screenshot of what it looks like behind the scenes. It’s very cool actually. Fans will be able to upload pictures of their Dinka t-shirts, there will giveaways, a sale mailing list so you never miss a discount, etc. It’s a whole new look for the brand. The website will be live hopefully before the summer is over. Otherwise it will launch early in the fall term. I’m totally excited about it. Unfortunately I am currently unable to get t-shirts to people outside the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe, but I am working on it, and as soon as this is possible, especially shipping to my beloved Nigeria, I’ll let you know! :D
You started quite a discussion on the Next online Newpaper about women not changing their names after marriage and I admire your courage, does this make you a believer of women's rights and independence?
I am completely pro-woman. I believe that women are full human beings and deserve equal rights and independence as have men. I think there are lot of women, especially Nigerian women who are the unwitting victims of brainwashing and social conditioning to the point that it is more often the women than the men that defend practices that are meant to dehumanize or subjugate them. A classic example is Female Genital Mutilation. On any given day you will find more women in support of it than men. Sometimes I think Nigerian women need mental decommissioning. It’s like some of us are robots that have been programmed with a certain set of instructions and we just act without really questioning the motives behind some of these so-called cultural practices. We need to be decommissioned in order to see the truth.
On the issue of women changing their names, I’m maintaining my position. It is not and has never been our culture (any of the myriad Nigerian cultures) for a woman to take on the name of her husband. It’s a silly European practice that infected us via the missionaries and the colonists. The annoying thing is, it’s not even a CHRISTIAN practice as many Nigerians believe, neither is it a MUSLIM practice. It’s just plain old European culture being mindlessly copied by Africans. I say no to that kind of mindless imitation. There is no justifiable reason for a woman to take on her husband’s name, and even when it comes to the children I take offense. Women do 85% percent of all the work related to children so why should the MAN be the one to get his name passed on through them?
Women suffer through pregnancy with backaches and swollen feet, then there’s the horror of giving birth, then there’s the headaches that come with incessantly crying babies, then there’s the day to day care of the child which most Nigerian men either distance themselves from or only play a very secondary role. At the end of the day, most children in a two-parent African home spend probably about 80% of parental time with their MOTHERS, yet their fathers get to beat their chests in satisfaction of the continuity of their lineage. I call bullshit. Not only will I not be changing my name when I get married, but my children MUST have a double barrel surname consisting of my surname and my husband’s surname. I deserve to have MY lineage perpetuated and I won’t accept anything less. Women do most of the work in this world and it’s about time we started getting rewarded for it.
What do you think we can do to change the wrong portray of Nigeria out there?
Nigeria is portrayed in very negative terms in most of the Western media, and my recent experience with The Philanthropist show (from NBC) made me realize that the western media is too caught up in its fantasy of Nigeria as this bad terrible place and itself (the West) as our glorious saviour for any real change to come from their end.
It is up to us as Nigerians to put out media that portrays the REAL Nigeria. Nigerians need to show the world the reality of Nigeria. We need to show the world the reality of what is good in Nigeria, and the reality of what is bad in Nigeria. Sure Nigeria has electricity and water problems, government problems, ignorance problems, but we also have amazing food, hot people, intelligence, vibrant creativity, a beautiful country, many fantastic languages and cultures, and a great sense of humour. THAT is the reality of Nigeria, not mythical hurricanes that blow floods in as far as Abuja and create mudslides in Sokoto.
Nollywood has a responsibility to do this and unfortunately, they are not stepping up to the plate. The subject matter of Nollywood movies is so poor and predictable that I am honestly amazed that people actually sit down and watch them. Nollywood movies are a huge export to the Black communities of the western world and the Carribean and there is a lost opportunity in these movies to depict Nigeria as the great place it is which the filmmakers are not taking. In the end, the Black people in other parts of the world have even more inaccurate ideas about Nigeria compounded by an unfortunate combination of Hollywood and National Geographic.
I understand that Nollywood is meant to be funny, but when you look at the messages non-Nigerian people glean from these movies, it’s not funny at all. Wasn’t it ABC or CBS that did a Nigerian scammer special based off a song that Osuofia sang for one of his comedies?
But Nollywood is not the only industry in Nigeria. All industries in Nigeria and Nigerian owned businesses should do as much as they can to be proudly Nigerian and provide good service so that people will come to associate Nigerian businesses with good service and quality products. On our end as citizens we must demand better governance and utilize the power of our votes. If it means protesting after botched elections then let’s get to it.
Is there a way we as Nigerian can better our own very image?
I think the best way for Nigerians to change our image as Nigerian individuals is by being ourselves and showing the world that Nigerians are a diverse group of intelligent, good, capable people. We need to spread into more areas of expertise not just the run-of-the-mill Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant, Engineer mold we limit ourselves to so often. A lot of people that have bad ideas about Nigeria have never met a Nigerian and have never been to Nigeria. It’s up to us to live our best lives and acknowledge and be proud of our country along the way.
I’ve said before that I don’t like people that hide the fact that they are Nigerian. If you’re successful then please claim Nigeria in your success. It’s a chicken egg situation. People that deny Nigeria always claim that Nigeria has a bad image and so they don’t want to be associated with it, but Nigeria’s image won’t get better if honest successful people do not acknowledge their Nigerianness.