Okwu Ndi Igbo na Ala Beke
(Igbo Diaspora Media)
Okwu ID is an independent platform of young Africans, telling their own stories and documenting their culture. Earlier this month I joined Okwu ID for the filming of a panel on sexism within the Igbo culture. On the agenda was:
How much to blame are women for enabling sexism within Igbo culture?
How much do you personally identify with your Mother’s/ Father’s view of manhood/ womanhood?
Okwu ID lady’s panel
These hard-hitting questions made for fascinating, passionate and often heated discussion which was amazing to observe from young Africans in London. As a non-Igbo (and non-Nigerian for that matter) learning about the Igbo culture in its own right in the organic form that is presented by Okwu ID has been incredibly interesting. So far it has been valuable to discover the nuances of Igbo culture as well as it’s similarities with my own.
My only exposure to the Igbo culture had been from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s depiction of the Igbo language and history in her novels. I also remember listening to a BBC World Service podcast entitled ‘Forgetting Igbo’ which was a fascinating account of one man’s exploration of the Igbo language and the idea that it is effectively ‘dying out’. I feel as though Okwu ID has tied all these themes together in a consistent platform.
Birthed Out Of Frustration
After the panel, I caught up with brother and sister Chukudubem (Chids) and Chinye, who form the sibling duo that makes up the founding members of Okwu ID. They discussed with me their motivations for creating the platform and what they see its purpose as. Chids who works in psychiatry and Chinye who works in the construction industry both run Okwu ID alongside their day jobs. However, the concept was the birth child of Chinye whose return from studying abroad ignited a frustration with the African community. “I studied and worked abroad for about 6 years and one of the things I learnt (especially in Denmark) was how societies work together to create a cohesive unit, and how having a unified identity and support system could change the face of a nation. When implemented this can allow them to direct their narrative.”
Thinking about her own cultural identity, Chinye realised that this was not a concept that was being applied within African/ Igbo communities worldwide. “When I returned from Denmark I came back to London wanting to know what Africans were doing across the board. I attended various events of different cultural groups trying to figure out what we were doing as a community. And to be honest I was quite disheartened as I felt like there were so many issues in our community that were not being addressed, and that if we do not act to direct our own narrative and to control our self-determination as people, looking into the future – where does the African stand?”
“Having a good cultural brand is important – it is important what people think of Nigerian people because it affects whether we get visas, our ability to travel and do business it is important that people respect your country and that’s what I learnt from living in a Nordic country. They have a fantastic PR system and we don’t and it affects the everyday lives of Nigerian people inside and outside of the diaspora and back home. Plainly, no matter where you go and whoever you are, you will always be African, so it is important that our image and narrative is a positive one. I think all that frustration just lead to a feeling that we had to do something.”
Chinnye decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own initiative. But after trying a few things that did not really work especially as she was going it alone she created a poster which called for African creatives to get in touch. This is where her brother, Chids who, with a significant Twitter following and social media presence came in. He shared the poster and it was met with great interest. “We then specified that we needed people to take part in a discussion especially after seeing loads of discussion panels out there. Once we started getting responses from social media we thought ok wow, people are actually responding to this let’s do a pilot and see how it goes.” The pilot went well and after its success, they along with their brother Ike began to build the Okwu ID platform.
Chids’ motivations for getting on board were aligned with Chineye’s, “Similar to my sister the project was birthed out of frustration from the lack of access to information and available networks within the Igbo and West African community. I also think Igbo culture can be quite individualistic and hyper-ambitious, so you have a lot of people that are not particularly concerned with group identity.” Chids also has a strong passion for dispelling misinformation about the Igbo culture, “there are a lot of things that you find online about our culture which is plainly incorrect. So part of the reason why we wanted to set up Okwu ID was to express a pro-Igbo and African narrative because we knew there was a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people narrating the culture in a way that is detrimental to our people in general.”
The siblings have since created a team behind Okwu ID with their complementary skills sets, “My sister came up with the concept and then it was lightning in a bottle: Chinnye who came up with the initial idea, my brother Ike who is quite tech savvy and myself who has a good network of people and a social media following so together we have consolidated our strengths and it has gone well from the first pilot.”
Okwu ID is currently a platform encompassing a Youtube Channel and Blogsite as well as the main social media platforms which currently each produce consistent content. This would be no easy feat for any content creator, but particularly for young people juggling full-time careers and education.
One of the main challenges I’ve encountered running Okwu ID is a constant conflict between the desire to do everything – keeping it in-house, within one small team of like-minded individuals, and not ‘burning out’” says Chids. “If all the major decisions are made between 2-3 people including organising and creating content, it’s easy to burn out and effectively create an ‘echo chamber’. In the future, it would be ideal to form a wider network of people who are truly interested so that we can delegate roles and have established roles but at the moment it makes the most sense to keep it in-house as we figure things out.”
Another challenge the siblings have encountered interestingly centres around the nature of the Igbo culture itself, Chinye mentions “an issue we’ve encountered is that certain people feel threatened by what we’re doing and it is quite disappointing as it is something that has plagued our community. Igbo people have historically democratic systems (i.e there are no Kings) and a lot of the cultural narrative is that you are your own King and that individualism can turn negative and can create unnecessary competitiveness. It would be better if we could come together. There is also a strange subculture amongst the older generation of Igbo people that want to keep Igbo culture in their pockets which is completely opposite to the premise of Okwu ID as we are about sharing, teaching and creating a network around our culture.”
I asked Chids and Chinnye what they have personally learnt about their own culture and history since launching Okwu ID.
Chids: “Getting an insight into different narratives. When you bring together different people across the Igboland you discover the impact of things beyond your immediate family or network e.g. when we discuss things like religion, patriarchy and gender dynamics I think – wow, these things have affected an entire nation of people in so many different ways”
“From observing our analytics it has also been fascinating to see what culturally, people are drawn to i.e. men and women, British and US audiences. We can almost anticipate which subjects are going to resonate with who.”
Chinnye: “Learning more about the Biafran war. How it’s trickle-down effect has impacted people like our parents. Additionally, I have learnt more Igbo and since launching Okwu ID my Igbo has improved greatly from often doing infographics and language learning content and simply creating an environment where we can ask questions and practise.”
There are also many misconceptions about Igbo people, culture and history. To Chinnye one of the most poignant to her is the idea that, “we are all light skinned. This narrative annoys me as often my Igboness is questioned as a dark-skinned Igbo woman” To Chids it is about the history of Nigerian Civil war and the view that “’Biafranism’ (the cessation of Igbo people from the rest of Nigeria to establish their own country) is something to fear. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Igbo people are causing trouble and antagonising with the country, but Igbo people are just at the forefront of airing their grievances but all the grievances that Igbo people are airing are universal. I do not think there is any ethnic group that is particularly happy with Nigeria. We are speaking for the majority of Nigerians who are unhappy with the system.”
Goals and Takeaways
So what do the siblings hope that it’s audience take away from Okwu ID?
“If there is one thing that I would like people who consume our content to know is that we (Igbo people) are African and we have been African since the dawn of humanity. There is another common misconception that we are descendants of Jews but we are not related to any semantic culture and our accomplishments have nothing to do with Palestine/ or Jews. This rhetoric is plainly anti-African.”
Through the Okwu ID platform, the siblings hope to encourage a pro-African narrative, the development of Igbo culture and language and create a network of young African people within the diaspora.
Are you Igbo? What is the most interesting thing about your culture? Okwu ID and I would love to hear from you, comment below!