Tag Archives: Idemmili

White Jesus, brown Mami Wata

I remember how betrayed I was when I found out that Jesus might not have looked like he did in the popular ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ film. He did not have piercing blue eyes. He did not have blonde hair.

In fact, if he was alive now he might be in a detention centre, arrested on terrorist charges for fitting the profile (Arab-looking, visibly vocal with loyal following). It’s a good thing he walked on water because with that profile, nobody would let him near a plane – at least not without some serious body cavity searching (“What’s that barrel for? You wanna turn water into wine? I’m sorry sir, Imma have to search you. Spread ’em.”)

Recently on doing a bit of light reading for a short story, I discovered that our popular image of Mami Wata was not only done by  German painter in 1926, but is based on a chromolithograph of Samoan snake-charmer.

Hear me out before you start crossing yourself, screaming ‘Obara Jesus’ or singing All Other Gods Are Sinking Sand.  I can understand that Christianity is an imported religion and so should reflect imagery from where it came from (even if it doesn’t really), but isn’t it a bit….pathetic…that even in African traditional religions, modern images of deities that are revered, that have been revered perhaps by our fathers and their  fathers etc, cannot even be found to have originated from them? Yes, this Mami Wata is close enough but no cigar. 

I wonder how much this contributes to people’s religious self-esteem in Nigeria if on either side nowadays, God has no physical  resemblance to you. I wonder if this translates to self-esteem in other areas; if your god is represented as blue-eyed and blond-haired or straight-nosed and wavy- haired, could it mean that you view anyone with these set of characteristics as closer to God somehow? And where does that place you with your flat nose and kinky hair and dark skin?

I suppose the Catholic church is ‘trying’ in this regard since we have some black saints but it’s telling in other ways that I couldn’t find women amongst them. If you know of any black women saints, let me know.

(Remember to show this blog post to your garri vendor in the market because you’ll get a discount.)

In other news: Jesu Kristi onye ebere, what is this? I tried to find an image for the goddess Idemmili (who is often mistaken for Mami Wata) and this came up.

Where do I begin? The girl’s brown underthings with sexy hint of bum-crack? The boy’s noticeable lack of poster originality?  By picking my jaw off the floor?

His name is Gentle O. I can’t tell you what his music is like as all the links don’t play but it must be true that when God closes a door, he opens a window – he is from Chinua Achebe’s hometown.

Gentle O, carry go, nothing do you!

In defence of (my) Igboness

This blog is NOT about a hatred of Igbo people and things, especially Igbo men.

I do not hate being Igbo.

As a child I didn’t necessarily know I was Igbo. Yes, I spoke the language and I soaked in the culture as if I was a sponge, but when you grow up with everyone singling you out as ‘Nke a muru na obodo oyibo’ (the one that was born abroad) and making it out to be something special, you start to feel you are – somehow – above being Igbo. It’s not something you think about with a conscious mind. You don’t sit for hours pondering your uniqueness. It’s something that thrives in the warmth of admiration but has nothing really to do with who you are. Much like being able to grow your hair past your shoulders or being a lighter shade of black.

I was black. To a large extent, I was white – colourless even; the books I read, the music I listened to, the voice of my subconscious: white, white, white. (If you were born into the middle class and upwards before the mid-90s you understand what I mean. Let’s not get bogged down.)

It took moving abroad to make me appreciate all the things I took for granted growing up; unique forms of expression, smells, sounds. It was like my I-chromosome had been activated. This didn’t happen immediately – nor consciously, at first. It’s true that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you let people, they will define you. In my case, many tried.

Yet there is no one definition of Igboness – how can there be?  (I am aware of the irony because the blog seems to hold up a certain type of Igbo as the norm.) I took exception to condensing my life to its purest igbo droplet.  Did this mean I could no longer (unashamedly) enjoy 80s Brit pop? Motorcycles? Spanish culture? Rollerderby? Travel? Trdelnik? World literature? Did this mean I could no longer admire or date anyone not from ‘our side’?  Does discovering other sides to myself make me any less ‘Igbo’?

I don’t think so.

If anything, it has helped to appreciate being Igbo more. I no longer take language for granted, ‘Oh it will always be there’, because it is constantly changing, evolving. More than half the words my maternal grandmother spoke when I was more interested in charging around than listening no longer exist. The paradigms of beauty have shifted so that my dark-skinned paternal grandmother whose teeth were sharpened into points to offset her cheekbones might no longer be considered stunning.

I stopped caring where I was born years ago and considered where I was raised. I know that the English fox is crafty but that the Igbo tortoise is craftier. I know that an Akpu tree is not the same as a cassava plant although they both share the same name. I know what to do with a ripe head of Ukwa even if it is a bloody tough job. Burning tyres will always remind me of New Year as opposed to lynching. I cannot hear ‘Kom Kom’ without being transported to ndi uzu oka. I am from Oba of the nine villages, and my village Ezelle is the youngest, responsible for keeping Idemmili in priests. I can forgive you if there is no ojii when I come to your house, but if you sweep my house at night you are my enemy. Why are you sweeping away my wealth?

I belong.

I do not hate Igbo people. I can take the mickey out of my brothers and sisters, out of my culture because it is mine. I can see our flaws and I can laugh at our mistakes. This does not mean I do not appreciate the beauty of who we are.

After all, you do not throw your baby away just because it has bitten you on the breast.