Wednesday, November 4, 2009
UK expats learn Nigerian culture
If you want to mary an Igbo man, you've got to know how to cook egusi soup" --Ebere Nwosu, school owner
By Ellen Otzen, BBC News
In one corner of the room, a bespectacled teacher, Alex Tetenta, talks lengthily about Igbo political customs.
Mr Tetenta is a radio presenter and politics graduate currently writing a book on Nigerian democracy.
He is surrounded by a handful of attentive young men, all Igbo, who have grown up in London.
Michael's family hails from Abia state in south-eastern Nigeria.
He is here, he says "because learning about my own culture gives me a sense of pride, something to hold on to, instead of just the Western stuff".
At the other end of the room, the school's founder Ebere Nwosu instructs a group of women in cooking egusi soup.
Dried chicken bones sizzle in a pan of palm oil. Red pepper, bitterleaf, and ground crayfish are laid out on a large steel table.
Lack of pride
Ms Nwosu, dressed in a striking yellow traditional dress, is a legal practitioner.
She grew up in north London and says she set up the school to resolve a lack of pride in African culture.
"I think a lot of us who have migrated from Africa to the UK or the United States tend to neglect our culture and adopt that of where we are, which is wrong."
Does she think the neglect happened as newly arrived immigrants tried to assimilate?
"My father is a solicitor and my mother a social worker. Not an ounce of Igbo was spoken to us as we were growing up. They spoke it between themselves, but never spoke it to us children. We were the victims of a 'pro-education' drive," she says.
Igbo culture and what sets it apart from the surrounding Nigerian culture is stressed again and again on the course.
"Egusi soup is a very common soup amongst Nigerians. There's a way in which the Igbos prepare it in comparison to the Yoruba - we don't put as much oil in our food, and we use more vegetables," Ms Nwosu explains to her students.
Each course lasts six weeks and comprises Igbo custom, history, arts and crafts and, of course, cuisine.
"If you want to marry an Igbo man, you've got to know how to cook egusi soup. If you can't cook anything else, at least have that under your belt and you're through the door," laughs Ms Nwosu.
Igbo culture has given rise to many great names.
Olaudah Equiano, one of the most prominent Africans involved in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade, was believed to be an Igbo.
Other famous Igbos include Nigerian writers Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as well as British athlete Christine Ohuruogu.
Kate Njoku has been following the course for six weeks.
"I wanted to learn more about my roots and my culture. I grew up in London and I've only been to the village in Nigeria where my family comes from once, when I was very young. It's a full course that teaches the language, the arts and the history - so I thought it would be perfect for me."
But not everyone here is Nigerian. Students come from the Caribbean and southern Africa as well.
Diana is from Zimbabwe but is going out with an Igbo man.
"It's time I learned how to cook Igbo food. That's the food my boyfriend eats. We've been coming to this restaurant for two years, buying take-aways. It's best I cook from home," she says.