by Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah
With an area of 356,669 square miles (923,768 square kilometers), Nigeria's size approximately equals the combined areas of New Mexico, Arizona and California. A coastal state on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, Nigeria is bounded by Niger to the north, Benin to the west, Cameroon to the east and southeast, and Chad to the northeast.
The November 1991 population census put Nigeria's population at 88,514,501. Nigeria's population is extremely diverse—more than 250 ethnic groups are identified. Ten ethnic groups account for 80 percent of Nigeria's population. English is the official language; however, Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa represent the principal languages, joined by Kanuri, Fulani, Nupe, Tiv, Edo, Ijaw and Ibibio. Like many other African countries, the distribution of religion can be broken down into three major areas: Christians, Muslims, and animists. In Nigeria, 47 percent of the population practice Islam, while about 36 percent practice Christianity, and 17 percent practice animism or traditional African religion. Nigeria's national flag, believed to have been designed by Taiwo Akinkunmi—a Nigerian student in London, consists of a field of green, white, and green, divided into three equal parts. Green represents the agricultural richness of the nation, while the white stands for unity and peace.
The name Nigeria was coined by Lord Lugard's wife in 1897 in honor of the 2,600-mile-long Niger River. The first Europeans to reach Nigeria were the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. In 1553, the first English ships landed at the Bight of Benin, then known as the "Slave Coast." The present day Nigeria came into existence in 1914, when the Colony of Lagos, the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and the protectorate of Northern Nigeria were amalgamated. Even before the arrival of Europeans, the many nationalities or ethnic groups were highly organized and had law and order. There were village groups, clans, emirates, states, kingdoms, and some empires. The Kanem-Bornu empire goes as far back as the tenth century. The Oyo Empire, founded in the late fourteenth century by Oranmiyan, a Prince of Ile-Ife, had a powerful army and maintained diplomatic contact with other kingdoms in the area. The Fulani Empire was established in 1803 by the jihad, or holy war against the rulers of the Hausa states by Usman Dan Fodio; it went on to become one of the most powerful kingdoms. Within two decades, parts of the Oyo Empire, Bornu, and Nupe were added by conquest to the Fulani Empire. Though there was no centralized governments, trade and commercial activities existed. Intermarriages flourished among the various groups.
One of the most prosperous trades even before the arrival of the Europeans was the slave trade. It was common practice in many African civilizations to sell war captives, delinquent children, and the handicapped; and Nigeria was no exception. With the arrival of the Europeans, slavery became more lucrative. Intertribal wars were encouraged by the Europeans so that more captured slaves could be sent to the New World. The British Parliament abolished slavery in 1807.
When the mouth of the Niger River was discovered in 1830, the British heightened their economic expansion into the interior of the country. Formal administration of any part of Nigeria goes back to 1861 when Lagos, a vital component of the lucrative palm oil trade, was ceded to the British Crown. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, geographical units and artificial borders were created in Africa by European powers without any consideration of cultural or ethnic homogeneity. Britain acquired what is now Nigeria as a result of this scramble for Africa. In 1914 the various protectorates were consolidated into one colony, the Protectorate of Nigeria.
After World War II, nationalism rose in Nigeria. Under the leadership of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigerians began to ask for self-determination and increased participation in the governmental process on a regional level. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country, but this independence brought about a series of political crises. Nigeria enjoyed civilian rule for six years until January 15, 1966 when, in one of the bloodiest coups in Africa, the military took over the government of Tafawa Balewa, assassinated him and replaced him with General J. Aguiyi-Ironsi. Later that month Ironsi was killed in a counter-coup, and replaced by General Yakubu Gowon. In early 1967 the distribution of petroleum revenues between the government and the Eastern Region, where the majority of Ibos come from, sparked a conflict. Gowon proposed to abolish the regions of Nigeria and replace them with 12 states. Colonel Ojukwu, a soldier from the Ibo tribe, announced the secession of the Eastern Region, and declared a Republic of Biafra. Events following this declaration resulted in the Biafra War, one of the most deadly civil wars in Africa, claiming the lives of over two million Nigerians.
Gowon was overthrown in a bloodless military coup on July 29, 1975, when he was attending a summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity. Brigadier General Murtala Ramat Muhammed became the leader of the government. He started a popular purging of the members of the previous government and announced a return of the country to civilian rule. On February 13, 1976 Muhammed was assassinated during a coup attempt. Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, chief-of-staff of the armed forces in Muhammed's government became the new head of state. In 1978 Nigeria produced a new constitution similar to that of the United States.
The country returned to civilian rule in 1979 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was sworn in as president on October 1. Shagari's government ended on New Year's Eve 1983 when he was ousted by a group of soldiers, led by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari introduced stringent measures to curb corruption. He imprisoned many former government officials found guilty of corruption. Under Buhari's government, the death penalty was reintroduced in Nigeria and freedom of the press was rigorously restricted. Many newspapers were banned and many journalists were imprisoned or tortured.
On August 27, 1985, Major General Ibrahim Babaginda led a bloodless coup d'etat, deposing Buhari as the head of state. Babaginda promised to restore human rights, establish a democratically elected government, and eradicate corruption, which has always been a part of Nigerian politics. Babaginda not only violated his promises, but imprisoned journalists who stood up for the truth. After repeatedly postponing, altering, or scrapping timetables for a return to a democratically elected government, Babaginda annulled the results of the elections held in June 1993, which were won by his opponent Chief Moshood Abiola. Under pressure, Babaginda resigned and left power in the hands of a handpicked and widely opposed interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan, who was prominent in business and supported Babaginda. The military still retains control of the country under the leadership of Abdulsalom Abubakar, who has promised free elections in the future.
THE FIRST NIGERIANS IN AMERICA
Compared with other ethnic groups in America, the presence of Nigerian Americans in the United States does not date back very far. However if the slave trade is considered, then Nigerians have been part of the American society as far back as the eighteenth century. Even though Nigerian Americans of the modern era do not want to be associated with slavery and put in the same category as African Americans, history bears witness to the fact that the coastal regions of modern day Nigeria were referred to as the Slave Coast. Nigeria provided a vast percentage of the Africans who were bitterly separated from their families and forced into slavery by European entrepreneurs.
World War I expanded the horizons of many Africans. Though European colonial masters wanted Africans in their territories to receive an African-based education with emphasis on rural development, Africans wanted to go abroad to study. In the early parts of the twentieth century, it was traditional for Nigerians to travel to European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany to receive an education and to return to their countries. Two dynamic programs emerged after the war: Marcus Garvey's military platform of Africa for Africans, and W. E. B. Dubois' Pan African movement. The colonial powers in Africa feared that the strong ideas of identity and freedom preached by both Garvey and Dubois would turn the Africans against their colonial masters.
The United States became a center of attraction for Nigerian nationalists who later became the revolutionary leaders. The Nigerians who came to the United States to study saw the white person in the same light as a black individual; white people were subjected to the same grandeur and malaise of human nature and were in no way superior to black people. The most prominent Nigerian symbolizing the spirit of freedom and human respect was the late Chief Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria and first indigenous governor-general of Nigeria. Arriving in the United States by boat in 1925, Zik, as he was affectionately referred to, entered Storer College and later transferred to Lincoln University and Howard University. While in the United States, Zik experienced racial prejudice and worked as a dishwasher, a coal miner, and a boxer to survive the difficult times in America. However, he later became a professor at several prestigious American institutions. Two other Nigerians from the Eastern Region used their American education in the 1930s to bring change to their people. Professor Eyo Ita and Mbonu Ojike became influential leaders in Nigerian national politics.
SIGNIFICANT IMMIGRATION WAVES
In its 1935 annual report, the New York-based Institute of International Education indicated that in 1926 there were three documented Nigerian students in United States universities. In its subsequent reports, the number of students increased to 22 in 1944. A steady increase in Nigerians continued when the oil boom in the 1970s made Nigeria one of the wealthiest nations in Africa and many came to the United States to study. Most students were sponsored by their parents and relatives both in Nigeria and in the United States, while others obtained financial assistance from universities and colleges in the United States. In the late 1970s and 1980s Nigeria was among the top six countries in the number of students sent to study in the United States. While many returned home, in the 1980s when Nigeria's economy began to decline at a tragic rate, many Nigerians remained in the United States and obtained citizenship. After becoming citizens many Nigerian Americans brought their relatives into the United States. According to 1990 census figures, there were approximately 91,688 people of Nigerian ancestry living in the United States.
Nigerian Americans, like many Africans migrating into the United States, are willing to settle almost anywhere. Family relations, colleges or universities previously attended by relatives and friends, and the weather are three major considerations for settlement by Nigerian Americans. Early Nigerians coming to the United States went to schools in the southern United States. Large metropolitan areas attract modern day Nigerian Americans, many of whom hold prestigious professional jobs. Poor economic conditions have forced many highly educated Nigerian Americans to take up odd jobs. In many metropolitan areas, Nigerian Americans with one or several graduate degrees are taxi drivers or security officers. The heaviest concentrations of Nigerian Americans are found in Texas, California, New York, Maryland, Illinois, New Jersey, and Georgia.
Acculturation and Assimilation
Mention the name Nigeria, and the average American conjures up the image of the jungle and children living in squalor. This perception is largely due to the erroneous depiction of Africa by Hollywood and the tendency of the American media to publicize only catastrophic events in Nigeria. Nigeria as a country defies easy generalization because the people are as varied as the cultural differences that characterize them as a nation. Nigerian Americans come from a wide variety of rich backgrounds not only in financial terms but in societal values. Despite the negative stereotypes Nigerian Americans have maintained their pride and cultural identity, and contribute immensely to the American society at large.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Nigerians have a variety of traditions and lore dating back to antiquity. For example, peeking at the eggs on which a hen is sitting was believed to make you blind. Singing while bathing could result in a parent's death. A pregnant woman who ate pork could have a baby with a mouth like that of a pig. Among the Yoruba it was believed that there were spirits hidden in rivers and hills in various cities. Since these spirits were there to protect the people, they were not to be disturbed on certain days of the week. In almost all Nigerian societies, there is a strong belief that most disease and death are caused supernaturally, by witchcraft, curses, or charms. Witches are usually elderly women. For a long time the Ibos believed that twins were an abomination and killed them at birth. Among some of the Hausa people, it was believed that marrying a Yoruba woman could result in mystical dangers such as serious sickness or even death. As the immigrants became acculturated into the American society, these beliefs and superstitions were forgotten.
In many Nigerian cultures elders are supposed to be served first during a meal but leave food in the bowl for the children to eat as leftovers. The proverb, "the elder who consumes all his food will wash his own dishes," attests to this belief. However, in many Nigerian American homes children are served before adults, an indication of the Western influence whereby the needs of the child come first.
The following are some common Nigerian proverbs: The voyager must necessarily return home; Death does not recognize a king; A foreign land knows no celebrity; An elephant is a hare in another town; The race of life is never tiresome; The nocturnal toad does not run during the day in vain; A child who does not know the mother does not run out to welcome her; If birds do not seek a cause for quarrel, the sky is wide enough for them to fly without interference; It is not a problem to offer a drink of wine to a monkey, but the problem is to take away the cup from him; Many words do not fill a basket; Truth is better than money; If the elephant does not have enough to eat in the forest, it puts the forest to shame.
There is a mine of proverbs in Pidgin English: "Man wey fool na him loss" (It is the fool that loses); "Lion de sick no be say goat fit go salute am for house" (Just because the lion is sick does not mean the goat can go to the lion's house to greet him); "Monkey no fine but im mamma like am so" (The monkey may not look handsome, but his mother likes him as he is); "Cow wey no get tail na God dey drive him fly" (God drives away the flies from the cow without a tail).
Ask anyone who has tasted Nigerian cuisine, and one answer is almost guaranteed—hot. There is no typical Nigerian American dish. Among the Yoruba, a meal may consist of two dishes: a starch form of dough derived from corn or guinea corn, or mashed vegetables that may be served with stew. The stew is prepared in typical Yoruba way using palm oil, meat, chicken, or other game cooked with many spices and vegetables, flavored with onions or bitterleaf leaves. A common Yoruba food is Garri, made from the roots of cassava (manioc).
Among the Ibo people, cassava, cocoyam (taro), potato, corn, okra, beans, peanuts, and pumpkins are common foods. In the northern part of Nigeria, grains constitute a good component of the diet. Tuo ("tu-wo") is a common dish in the north, and is eaten with different types of soup and sauce made from onions, peppers, tomatoes, okra, meat, or fish.
Akara ("ah-ka-ra"), Nigerian bean cakes, are fried patties made with uncooked, pulverized black-eye peas ground into a batter with onion, tomatoes, eggs, and chili peppers. Egusi ("e-goo-she") soup is a hot fiery soup made from Egusi seeds—pumpkin seeds can be substituted. Other ingredients required for a typical Egusi soup include okra, hot peppers, onions, any type of meat, poultry, or fish, palm oil, leafy greens, tomato paste, and salt. Chinchin ("chinchin") are fried pastries made from flour mixed with baking powder, salt, nutmeg, butter, sugar, and eggs. Kulikuli ("cooley-cooley"), or peanut balls, are made from roasted peanuts (called ground nuts in Nigeria), peanut oil, onions, salt, and cayenne pepper. Moi-moi ("moy-moy") is a savory pate made from black-eyed beans, onions, vegetable oil, tomato paste, parsley or fresh vegetables, salt, and pepper. Okra soup is based on meat, smoked fish, seafood and vegetables, and okra. This dish is similar to New Orleans gumbo. Pounded Yam Fufu is made from boiled yams pounded in a mortar with a pestle, and served with meat or fish stew and vegetable or okra soup.
Men from various Nigerian groups wear Sokoto ("show-kowtow"), a pair of loose-fitting trousers, a buba ("boo-bah") or loose-fitting overshirt, and a cap. Yoruba men wear agbada ("ah-bah-dah"), which is flowing robe worn to the ankle. It covers an undervest with no sleeves, and a pair of baggy pants. The women wear a wide piece of cloth that goes from below the neck to the ankles. A blouse hanging to the waist is worn over it. A head tie and a thin veil are also worn. Nigerian Americans wear their traditional costumes on special occasions such as National Day, October 1.
DANCES AND SONGS
Nigerian Americans boast of a wealth of traditional and modern music and dances because dancing and music form a focal point in life. At birth and death, on happy and sad occasions, and in worship, dancing and music are present. Traditionally in many Nigerian societies, men and women did not dance together. Western education and influence have changed this tradition, though Nigerian Americans who want to recreate their culture retain this separation.
Drums form an integral part in Nigerian dances and music. Juju music, a very popular form of music from Yorubaland, is a slow, spaced, and very relaxed guitar-based music. Highlife music is popular in all parts of West Africa, including Nigeria. Highlife music usually consists of brass, vocals, percussion, drums, double bass, and electric guitar. Nigerians from the North practicing Islam enjoy music that has origins in North Africa. Such music is varied, but the instruments commonly used include trumpets, flutes, long brass horns, percussion frame drums, cymbals, and kettle drums.
Nigerian Americans returning from visits to Nigeria bring back with them both contemporary and old music in various formats. Nigerian Americans enjoy music from all over the world. In addition to American and British music, reggae, calypso, and Zairian music are popular.
The major public holidays in Nigeria are: New Year's Day; Id al Fitr —end of Ramadan; Easter; Id al-Kabir —Feast of the Sacrifice; Mouloud —birth of the Prophet Mohammed; National or Independence Day—October 1; and Christmas. Nigerian Americans also celebrate the major public holidays in the United States.
National Day is one of the most important holidays for Nigerian Americans celebrating the independence of Nigeria from colonial rule. A whole week of cultural, educational, and political events are scheduled. Activities include lectures on Nigeria, traditional Nigerian dances and music, fashion shows, story telling, myths and legends from various Nigerian communities. Many Nigerian Americans volunteer to talk to neighborhood school children about Nigeria and the African continent at large. When the holiday proper falls on a weekday, parties and other festive celebrations are held on the weekend. The parties and festivities culminating in the celebration of Nigerian's independence are open invitations to Nigerians, people of other African descents, and others associated in one way or the other with Nigerian living in the United States. In New York, for example, the staff of the Nigerian Consulate attend these festivities.
For Moslem Nigerian Americans, Id al-Fitr or the end of the Moslem fasting season is the second most important holiday in the Islamic calendar. For the approximately 30 days of Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast from dawn to sunset. They also abstain from sex, drink, tobacco, and other activities that result in physical pleasure. To celebrate Id al-Fitr, Moslems say the special feast prayer in a community format and give special alms to the poor. Nigerian American Moslems also share food and gifts with relatives and friends, and children receive gifts of all kinds.
There are many other holidays and festivities observed by Nigerian Americans to preserve their cultural heritage. Ibos in large metropolitan areas make it a point to celebrate the New Yam Festival every year. Traditionally, the yam has been the symbol of the prowess of the Ibo man. Just before midnight, the ezejis or elders offer prayers of thanksgiving and break kola nuts. Drums are played while blessings are offered. Other participants perform libation using Scotch or other similar liquor by pouring from a ram's horn. During the ceremony, prayers are addressed to an almighty being, and to the ancestral gods who control the soil, through whose constant kindness and guidance yams and other foods of the land bear fruit. The ceremony also includes dancing, eating, and exchange of greetings.
There are no documented health problems or medical conditions specific to Nigeria Americans. However, like all black people, Nigerian Americans are susceptible to sickle cell anemia, an abnormal hereditary variation in the structure of hemoglobin, a protein found in the red blood cell.
A 1994 deportation victory by a Nigerian immigrant brought the health issue of female circumcision to light. Lydia Oluroro won a deportation case in Portland, Oregon. If she had been sent home, her two children could have had their clitoris and part of their labia minora cut. Nigerian Americans reacted differently to this decision; some praised it, and others expressed concern that Americans might consider female circumcision a common practice in all of Nigeria. This issue is definitely going to be a future health concern among Nigerian Americans.
English is the official language in Nigeria, but it is estimated that there are between 250 and 400 distinct dialects. There are three major ethnic languages in Nigeria: Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa. Yoruba is spoken by over 15 million people, primarily in Southwestern Nigeria. Belonging to the Kwa group of languages, Yoruba is a tonal tongue. Depending on the tone used, the same combination of sounds may convey different meanings. Ibo is also spoken by over 15 million people in Nigeria. Formerly considered as a Kwa language, recent research has placed Ibo in the Benue-Congo family of languages. Hausa is spoken in the Northern part of Nigeria, and is considered to be the most widely spoken language in Africa. It is a member of the Chad group of languages frequently assigned to the Hamitic sub-family of the Hamito-Semitic family of languages.
Pidgin English has become the unofficial language in many African countries and Nigeria is no exception. It can be loosely defined as a hybrid of exogenous and indigenous languages. It has become the most popular medium of intergroup communication in various heterogenous communities in Nigeria. Nigerian Americans from different tribal entities who may not communicate in English can communicate with each other in Pidgin English.
The first generation of Nigerian Americans speak their native languages at home and when interacting with people from the same tribal groups. English words have found their way into most of the traditional languages spoken by Nigerian Americans. Children born into Nigerian American homes speak English and may learn the native languages if their parents teach them or speak the languages at home. Since English is the official language in Nigeria, and is used for instruction in schools, many Nigerian Americans prefer to have their children learn English as well possible so that upon returning home, the children will be able to communicate with others or do better in schools. The American accent acquired by younger Nigerian Americans is of spectacular interest to people in their home country.
It has been proposed several times that Nigeria needs an African language as its official language. This laudable desire may never become a reality because there are too many languages and dialects to consider. The existence of the diverse tribal and cultural groups makes it hard to single out one native language as the national language.
GREETINGS AND OTHER POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
Common Yoruba expressions include: Bawo ni? ("baa wo knee")—Hi, how are things?; Daadaa ni ("daadaa knee")—Fine. Common Hausa expressions include: Sannu ("sa nu")—Hi; Lafiya? ("la fee ya")— Are you well? Common Ibo expressions include: Ezigbo ututu —Good morning; Kedu ka imere? —How do you do?; Gini bu aha gi? —What is your name? Popular expressions in Pidgin English are varied: "How now?"—How are you? or How is the going?; "Which thing you want?"— What do you want?' "How body?"—How are you health-wise?
Family and Community Dynamics
The first Nigerians came to the United States for educational purposes. Since transportation costs were high, it was common for them to leave their family behind. Painful as this separation was, it also afforded them the opportunity to concentrate on their studies. They saved money and later sent for their wives or children. In some cases, though, Nigerians sponsored by governmental agencies were accompanied by their families. In the modern era, Nigerians who migrated to America were sponsored by their families. Nigerian Americans have always had the reputation of living comfortable lives and maintaining high standards of living. Their industrious nature has made it possible for a great majority of them to purchase cars and houses, or rent nice apartments.
There is no typical Nigeria American household decoration. Depending on which region in Nigeria they come from, Nigerian Americans decorate their houses with various art forms. Many of them bring such artifacts when they travel home to visit. Other Nigerian Americans become so westernized that their households do not have any indication of their heritage.
Jide Nzelibe, a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (from "A Nigerian Immigrant Is Shocked by His U.S. High School," Policy Review, Fall 1993, p. 43).
"D on't misunderstand me. I love America. The freedom, tolerance, and respect of differences that are a part of everyday public life are some of the first things a visitor to America notices. But I also saw a public school system disconnected from society's most important institution—the family. In Nigeria, with all its political and social problems, the family remains strong, and by doing so helps to define the social and economic expectations of the nation."
Africans in general have strong family commitments. It is traditional in Nigeria to have extended families. Unannounced visits are always welcome, and meals are shared even if no prior knowledge of the visit was given. Nigerian Americans continue this tradition. However, as a result of hectic work schedules and economic realities, it is common for Nigerian Americans to make a phone call before paying visits to relatives or friends.
Traditionally, in many Nigerian communities, a man marries as many wives as possible. However, Nigerian Americans marry only one wife. While in their native country large families are common, Nigerian Americans have fewer children so that they will be able to give them the best education possible. The early immigrants were educated people and they instilled in their children the importance of education as a component of a successful life. Over half of Nigerian Americans between the age 18 and 24 go to four-year universities and obtain bachelor degrees. About 33 percent of Nigerian Americans 25 years and over who entered the United States between 1980 and 1990 received masters degree. Close to ten percent received doctoral degrees. About 50 percent of women aged 25 or older received their bachelor degrees. Masters and doctoral degrees for women in the same age group were 32 percent and 52 percent.
Years ago in Nigeria it was traditional for women to stay home and take care of children; however in modern times, both in the United States and at home, educational opportunities are opened equally to men and women. The areas of specialization are not delineated between the sexes.
Children are required by tradition to be obedient to their parents and other adults. For example, a child can never contradict his or her parents; and the left hand cannot be used to accept money from parents, or as a gesture of respectful communication. Nigerian Americans try to maintain these traditional values, but as a result of peer pressure in American society, young Nigerian Americans resist this type of strict discipline from their parents. Even though children are treated equally in Nigerian American families, girls are usually the center of attention for several reasons. With teenage pregnancies on the rise in the United States, many parents seem to keep a closer eye on their female children. As part of sex education, many Nigerian American parents alert their children to the problem of teenage pregnancy and its ensuing responsibilities.
Different groups in Nigeria have different types of weddings. Usually, marriages are a combination of the traditional and the modern. Even though the traditional marriage ceremonies seem to be fading, many Nigerian Americans continue to perform it at home and then perform a Western-type wedding in a church or a court of law.
Among the Yoruba for example, on the day of the traditional marriage, there is feasting, dancing, and merriment. At nightfall, the senior wives in the family of the groom go to the house of the bride's family to ask for the bride. At the door, the senior wives in the house of the bride ask for a door opening fee before they are allowed in the house. In addition to this initial fee, there are several others to be paid—the children's fee, the wives' fee, and the load-carrying fee. The family of the bride must be completely satisfied with the amount of monies given before the bride can be taken away. The senior members of the bride's family pray for and bless her, and then release her to the head of the delegation. A senior wife from the groom's family carries the bride on her back to the new husband's home. The feet of the new wife have to be cleaned before she can enter the house. This symbolizes that the new wife is clean and is on the threshold of a new life altogether.
When there are no close relatives of the bride and the groom in the United States, friends take on the roles of the various participants in the traditional wedding. After the traditional wedding, if the couple practices Christianity, the ceremony is performed according to the tradition of the church. Friends, relatives, an well-wishers from the home country and across the United States are invited to the ceremony. Though many guests may stay in hotels, according to the African tradition of hospitality, friends and relatives of the couple living in the immediate surroundings will house and feed the visitors free of charge. The accompanying wedding reception is a stupendous feast of African cuisine, traditional and modern music and dancing, and an ostentatious display of both African and American costumes.
CHILD NAMING CEREMONIES
In many Nigerian American homes the child naming ceremony is even more important than the baptism. Among the Ibos, when a child is born, the parents set a time for this ceremony to take place and friends, relatives, and well wishers are invited to this event. Grandmothers traditionally prepare the dish that will be served, but in modern times all the women in the household take part in the preparation of the food. At the ceremony benches are arranged in a rectangular form with a lamp placed at the center, and guests are ushered in by the new mother. Kola nuts (the greatest symbol of Ibo hospitality) are served followed by palm wine. When the guests have had enough to drink, the new mother asks her mother to serve the food, which is usually a combination of rice, garri, yams, or fufu, and soup and stew made with stock-fish, ordinary fish, meat, and other types of game meat. After the meal, more palm wine is served. The host, usually the most senior man in the household, then repeats one or more proverbs, orders the baby to be brought, and places the baby in the lap. The grandmother gives a name, followed by the child's father, and then the baby's mother. Guests can also suggest names. After more drinking and celebration the guests depart and the household gathers to review the suggested names and to select one, which becomes the name of the child. Possible Ibo names include: Adachi (the daughter of God); Akachukwu (God's hand); Nwanyioma (beautiful lady); and Ndidikanma (patience is the best).
The Yoruba naming ceremony takes place on the ninth day after birth for boys, and on the seventh day for girls. Twins are named on the eighth day. By tradition the mother and the child leave the house for the first time on the day the naming ceremony takes place. Relatives, friends and well wishers join together to eat, drink, and make merry. Gifts are lavished on the newborn and the parents. An elder performs the naming ceremony using Kola nuts, a bowl of water, pepper, oil, salt, honey, and liquor. Each of these items stands for a special life symbol: Kola nuts are for good fortune; water symbolizes purity; oil symbolizes power and health; salt symbolizes intelligence and wisdom; honey symbolizes happiness, and liquor stands for wealth and prosperity. The baby tastes each of the above, as do all the people present. The name of the child is chosen before the ceremony. After dipping his hand in a bowl of water, the person officiating at the ceremony touches the forehead of the baby and whispers the name into the baby's ears, and then shouts it aloud for all around to hear. Some Yoruba names are: Jumoke (loved by all); Amonke (to know her is to pet her); Modupe (thanks); Foluke (in the hands of God); and Ajayi (born face downwards). Nigerian Americans preserve the traditional ceremonies, modifying as needed. For example, an older relative or friend plays the role of the grandmother when the real grandmother of the child is unable to be present.
After the traditional naming ceremony, if the family is Christian, another day is set aside for the child to be baptized in church. Hausa children born to Islamic parents are given personal names of Moslem origin. The Moslem name is often followed by the father's given name. Surnames have been adopted by a few Hausa people, especially those educated abroad. Some given Hausa names are: Tanko (a boy born after successive girls); Labaran (a boy born in the month of the Ramadan); Gagare (unconquerable); and Afere (a girl born tiny).
The African concept of death is considered a transition, not an end. The Ibos, Yoruba, and the Hausa, including those practicing the Christian and Islamic religions, believe in reincarnation. Even though Western education and religion may have changed many traditional African beliefs, many Nigerian Americans hold on to those beliefs. Thus, if a person dies, he is born into another life completely different from the one he had. In addition to our visible world, there is believed to be another world where ancestors dwell and exert influence on the daily activities of the living. In many Nigerian societies, when a person dies, the entire community becomes aware of the death almost immediately. Wailing and crying from family members and unrelated people fill the town or village where the death occurs.
Funeral traditions vary in Nigeria according to group. For example, at the funeral of the Kalabari people of Eastern Nigeria, unless a person dies from what are considered abominable causes such as witchcraft, drowning, or at childbirth, every adult receives an Ede funeral, which consists of laying the body in state and dressing the chief mourners. Traditionally the dead were buried the day after death. In the case of an older person, a whole week of ceremonial mourning was set aside. In modern times, the dead are kept in the mortuary up to eight weeks or more so that elaborate preparations can take place and relatives both local and abroad could come to the funeral. The initial wake is usually held on a Friday, and the burial takes places on a Saturday. After elaborate traditional burial ceremonies, those who practice Christianity are taken to the church for the established funeral rites before the corpses are taken to the cemetery. A week after that the final wake is held on a Friday, and the funeral dance and ceremonies on a Saturday. The day of the final funeral is filled with elaborate activities; relatives of the dead person dress up in expensive garments.
Many Nigerian Americans prefer to be buried in Nigeria when they die. For this reason they buy enough life insurance to cover the transportation of their bodies home. Bodies in the United States are usually kept in the funeral homes till the wake is done. When the body is flown home, in addition to the traditional burial ceremonies, Nigerian Americans who practice Christianity will be buried according to established rites. Nigerian American Moslems whose bodies are sent home are buried according to the Islamic tradition.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS
Nigerian Americans interact with other ethnic minorities and the community as a whole, though most Nigerian Americans will first seek out people from their own tribes. At one time, as a result of the Biafra War, Nigerian Americans from the Yoruba tribe would not interact with others from the Ibo tribe and vice versa; but this situation has improved in contemporary times. Interaction exists between Nigerian Americans and people from other African countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Most Africans see themselves as brothers and sisters in the United States since they all left their home countries to come here. There are some Nigerian Americans who prefer not to interact with people of their own heritage. There have been many cases of fraud, crime, and drug smuggling involving Nigerian Americans and some want to avoid any implication in such criminal cases.
As is the case in many African countries, Western religion was imposed on Nigeria. Traditionally, Nigerians believe that there are two types of divinities: the Supreme Being, and the subordinate deities. The Supreme Being can be likened to God and the subordinate deities to the saints and others through whose intercession people can communicate with the Supreme Being. The Ibos, for instance, refer to the Supreme Being in powerful terms, such as Chukwu — the Great Providence, and Chineke —Creator and Providence. The traditional religion of the Yorubas focuses on different gods, representing aspects of one almighty, all-encompassing God, Olodumare, Oluwa, Olorun —owner of heaven and earth, who is too sacred to be directly approached or worshipped.
Through commercial contacts and colonization, Islamic and European religions were introduced in Nigeria. The majority of Nigerian Americans hailing from the northern states in Nigeria are Moslems. Islamic groups in the northern part of Nigeria include the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuris, Kanemis, Bagirimis, and the Wadayans. About 40 percent of the Yoruba population also practice Islam. The majority of Nigerian Americans from the Ibo tribe are Catholics. While many Nigerians worship with the American community in places of worship, members of the Nigerian American community have their own groups in which they can worship together. For example, in Boston, the Igbo community has formed a group that worships in the Catholic tradition, using the native language in both prayers and songs. They inculcate traditional practices such as dancing and drumming into their worship.
A key development in religion in Nigeria was the establishment of Aladura or spiritual churches. Aladura is a Yoruba word meaning "one who prays." The Aladura movement started among the Yoruba people in Nigeria during the first decades of the twentieth century and spread throughout Africa. Among the many practices of this movement, all participants put on white robes while they worship. They may worship in a church building, along the beach, on top of hills, or by the mouth of rivers praying, confessing their sins, healing, singing and clapping. The Aladura movement can be likened to the charismatic movement in the United States. In many cities in the United States, Nigerian Americans have established their own Aladura churches where they gather to worship.
Employment and Economic Traditions
Early Nigerian Americans came to the United States to study, acquired terminal degrees, and returned home. This ambitious habit was copied by many Nigerian Americans settling in the United States. Through their status as American citizens or permanent residents Nigerian Americans were able to acquire prestigious jobs in academia and other professions. Other Nigerian Americans without the academic qualifications accept jobs in various sectors of society. Many Nigerian Americans establish their own businesses in the United States. For many, trading in Nigerian and other African costumes has become a profitable business. This requires travelling between Nigeria and the United States to arrange importation of items. In many American cities, it is not uncommon to find Nigerian and other African restaurants owned and operated by Nigerian Americans. Nigerian Americans have established their own small businesses, including travel agencies, parking lots, taxi stands, cultural exchange programs, and health and life insurance agencies. Even though they target the general population for their clientele, Nigerian Americans invest time in acquiring Nigerian and other African clientele.
Politics and Government
Nigerian Americans as a group do not have political clout in the United States. They do work in small groups through established associations or where they reside to raise political consciousness when appropriate issues arise. When the press in the United States reports sensational stories that create stereotypical impressions about Nigeria, Nigerian Americans react in unison to correct such impressions.
RELATIONS WITH NIGERIA
Nigerian Americans maintain a high sense of pride for their country. They remain attached to Nigeria no matter how long they stay away from it. Many go home to visit occasionally while others make a visit to the motherland an annual obligation. Basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, who recently became a citizen of the United States, expresses the attachment Nigerians have for their country: "There's no place like home. I will always be from Nigeria" ("Hakeem Becomes U.S. Citizen," The Houston Chronicle, April 3, 1993).
When Nigerians first came to the United States, they would gather with other African students to promote nationalism and protest against colonial domination in their homeland. In contemporary times, Nigerian Americans have been vociferous in protesting against injustice and despotic rule in Nigeria. In 1989, when Nigeria's military leader Ibrahim Babaginda summarily dissolved several groups that aspired to be registered as political parties to compete in elections, Nigerian Americans throughout the United States held demonstrations to protest against this act of despotism.
In 1993, when Babaginda refused to accept the June elections and proposed a second election in August, Nigerian Americans added their voice to those of freedom-loving people around the world to protest against his disrespect for the choice of Nigerian voters, Chief Moshood Abiola. As the political situation in Nigeria remains in turmoil, Nigerian Americans constantly express themselves and gather to ensure that justice will prevail.
Nigerian Americans forge strong ties with their motherland. By working strongly with both private and governmental groups, Nigerian Americans have succeeded in organizing exchanges between business people in the United States and Nigeria. Individual organizations also pool their resources together to assist their motherland. A good example is the Network of Nigerian Engineers and Scientists whose members sometimes offer free services to the government of Nigeria. As a result of these efforts there has been a boost in trade between the United States and America and a boost of tourism in Nigeria. African American tourists visit Nigeria in huge numbers every year to explore their heritage.
By working closely with universities, other institutions of higher learning, and research centers, Nigerian Americans have ensured that prominent authors, artists, and other researchers visit the United States on a regular basis. Wole Soyinka, the Nobel prize winner from Nigeria, has been a regular visitor to many campuses and art centers in the United States. Chinua Achebe, renowned novelist and scholar comes to the United States to lecture on college campuses and at other literary and cultural events. Top known artists and musicians such as King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Sonny Okosun, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti have been invited by Nigerian Americans to perform throughout the United States.
Individual and Group Contributions
Nigerian Americans vividly portray the philosophy of life evident in all African societies: as long as God has given you the strength and power to live, you have to contribute to society as much as you can. Small in percentage as they are to the American population as a whole, Nigerian Americans distinguish themselves. The following is a sample of notable Nigerian Americans working in various arenas.
Known as one of the world's top three scientists in the fields of robotics, Bartholomew Nnaji (1957– ), came to the United States on an athletic scholarship in 1977 and is currently a professor at the College of Engineering of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; author of six books and editor in chief of the International Journal of Design and manufacturing, Nnaji has won many awards including the 1988 Young Manufacturing Engineering Award.
Through the popular journal African World, Bartholomew Nnaji (1957– ), professor of industrial engineering and operations research and past interim federal minister for science and technology in Nigeria, has been working with Okey Ndibe, former editor of African Commentary to educate Americans about the distortion of the history of Africans and others of African descent.
Titilayo Rachel Adedokun (1973– ) was a finalist in the 1993 Miss America pageant and was the 1993 Miss Ohio. Adedokun graduated from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.
O. J. (Orlando Julius) Ekemode (1942– ) born in Ijebu-Ijesha in Nigeria, started playing drums at age eight. His combination of traditional African music with contemporary jazz, religious, reggae, Afro-beat, and soul music in the fashion of James Brown has made him one of the living legends of real African music in the United States.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
One of America's top engineers, Olusola Seriki, currently development director for the Rouse Company in Columbia, Maryland, has distinguished himself; born in Ibadan, Oyo, Nigeria, he is a Howard University graduate who has worked on several large-scale international projects; the countless awards he has received include the prestigious African Business Executive of the Year in 1989; an accomplished author and scholar, Seriki is also active in various professional organizations.
According to George Karl, coach of the Seattle Supersonics, Hakeem Olajuwon (1963– ) is the second-best player in the world. Akeem, as he is affectionately known, led the University of Houston to three consecutive trips to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament. Olajuwon led the Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.
Donald Igwebuike (1961– ), kicked five years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team; when he was released in September 1990, he was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings for the 1990 football season; soon after he was arrested and charged with being an accomplice to heroin trafficking, but was later acquited. Christian Okoye (1961– ), known as the "Nigerian Nightmare" is a superior discus thrower and a great football player; his sports career in the United States started when he came on a track scholarship to the Azusa Pacific University in 1982; he is also a former Kansas City Chiefs running back who became the NFL's leading rusher in 1989.
Because Nigeria's official language is English, publications regarding Nigerian Americans come out mainly in the English Language. The following are just a few of the available newspapers and similar types of publications on Nigeria.
Nigeria Trade Journal.
Published quarterly, this journal is an important resource for Nigerian Americans and others interested in establishing businesses in Nigeria.
Contact: Nigerian Consulate General.
Address: 828 Second Avenue, New York, New York, 10017-4301.
Telephone: (212) 752-1670.
Quarterly journal published by the Nigerian Consulate in New York. This English language publication provides a vast array of information on Nigeria, and issues of concern to Nigerians at home and those abroad, as well as non-Nigerians interested in Nigeria.
Contact: Nigerian Consulate General.
Address: 828 Second Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, New York, 10017-4301.
Telephone: (212) 850-2200; or (212) 808-0301.
Nigerian Students Union in the Americas Newsletter.
A monthly publication that provides information on Nigeria and the world at large to Nigerians and Nigerian students studying in the Americas.
Contact: Nigerian Consulate General.
Address: 828 Second Avenue, New York, New York, 10017-4301.
Telephone: (212) 752-1670.
Formerly the African Enquirer.
Contact: Chika A. Onyeani, Editor.
Address: 368 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, New York 10013.
Telephone: (212) 791-0777.
This is a daily evening music broadcast featuring music from all over the world, including Nigeria.
Contact: Lois Reitzes, Program Director.
Address: 740 Bismark Road, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30324-4102.
Telephone: (404) 827-8900.
Fax: (404) 827-8956.
"African Experience" is a two-hour program from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays with emphasis on music, opinions, interviews from Africa, including Nigeria.
Contact: B. Kai Aiyetoro.
Address: 1083 Austin Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30307.
Telephone: (404) 523-3471.
Organizations and Associations
League of Patriotic Nigerians (LPN).
Founded in 1985, the LPN has a membership of 10,000 Nigerian American professionals, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers. It promotes professional behavior, and the importance of good citizenship, respect for the law, and community involvement.
Contact: Alex Taire, Vice President.
Nigerian American Alliance (NAA).
Formerly known as the Nigerian American Friendship Fund, the NAA was founded in 1988 and has a membership of 300 business people, government officials, and educators interested in Nigeria and American-Nigerian relations. The NAA promotes improved understanding between the two countries on political, social, and economic issues.
Contact: James E. Obi, Agency Manager.
Address: c/o James E. Obi, 1010 Washington Boulevard, Stamford, Connecticut 06901.
Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC).
The NACC is a trade group trying to develop closer economic ties between Nigeria and the United States.
Address: 575 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10021.
Telephone: (212) 715-7200.
Nigerian Students Union in the Americas (NSUA).
Disseminates information about Nigeria and Africa; cooperates with other African student unions in the Americas and with Nigerian student unions in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
Contact: Granville U. Osuji.
Address: 654 Girard Street, N.W., Apartment 512, Washington, D.C. 20001-2936.
Organization of Nigerian Citizens (ONC).
Founded in 1986, the ONC has a membership of 700 in 21 state groups; it is made up of people of Nigerian ancestry, and works to increase the understanding and awareness of Nigeria and its citizens by promoting educational programs. It also serves as a networking link for people interested in Nigeria. The ONC seeks solutions to problems encountered by Nigerian Americans.
Contact: Chuks Eleonu.
Address: P.O. Box 66220, Baltimore, Maryland 21239.
Telephone: (410) 637-5165.
World Union of Nigerians (WUN).
Promotes democratic principles of government, protection of civil liberties, and economic development within Nigeria.
Contact: Sonnie Braih, Executive Chair.
Address: 2147 University Avenue, W., Suite 101, P.O. Box 14265, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114.
Telephone: (612) 776-4997.
Museums and Research Centers
The Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum.
Maintains a vast collection of African sculpture and artifacts relating to Africa and the slave trade. Nigeria is well represented in the collection.
Contact: Nannette A. Clark, Executive Director.
Address: 701 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106-1557.
Telephone: (215) 574-0380.
Black Heritage Museum.
Holds a vast collection of art and artifacts of black heritage, including many tribal artifacts from Nigeria.
Contact: Priscilla G. Stephens Kruize, President.
Address: Miracle Center Mall, 3301 Coral Way, Miami, Florida 33257.
Telephone: (305) 252-3535.
Museum for African Art.
Has an extensive collection of art from all over Africa, including Nigeria.
Contact: Susan M. Vogel, C.E.O and Executive Director.
Address: 593 Broadway, New York, New York, 10012.
Telephone: (212) 966-1313.
Museum of African American Art.
Has preserved a large collection of Arts of African and African descendant peoples, including Nigeria.
Contact: Belinda Fontenote-Jamerson, President.
Address: 4005 Crenshaw Boulevard, Third Floor, Los Angeles, California 90008.
Telephone: (213) 294-7071.
National Museum of African Art.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum has over 6,000 objects of African art, wood, metal, ceramic, ivory, and fiber. Its collection on Nigerian art is extensive.
Contact: Roslyn A. Walker, Director.
Address: 950 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20560.
Telephone: (202) 357-4600.
Fax: (202) 357-4879.
Sources for Additional Study
Burns, Sir Alan. History of Nigeria. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1929; reprinted, 1976.
Essien, Efiong. Nigeria Under Structural Adjustment. Nigeria: Fountain Publications Ltd., 1990.
Footprints of Our Ancestors, edited by Ben Okaba. Port Harcourt, Nigeria: Pan-Unique Publishers, 1998.
Hair, Paul Edward Hedley. The Early Study of Nigerian Languages: Essays and Bibliographies. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
Nigeria: A Country Study, edited by Helen Chapin Metz. Washington D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1992.
Offoha, Marcellina Ulunm. Educated Nigerian Settlers in the United States: The Phenomenon of Brain Drain. Philadelphia, Temple University, 1989.
Shepard, Robert B. Nigeria, Africa, and the United States: From Kennedy to Reagan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
Sofola, Johnson Adeyemi. American-Processed Nigerians: A Study of the Adjustment and Attitudes of the Nigerian Students in the United States of America. American University, 1967.
Udofia, Paul E. Nigerians in the United States: Potentialities and Crises. Boston, Massachusetts: William Monroe Trotter Institute, 1996.