How ‘village’ has harmed the Igbo people


2 months ago

During the Yuletide, the hashtag ‘Igbo village mansions’ trended on social media. The hashtag, which started on Tiktok, was a reaction to a denigrating remark someone made about the Igbo people living in huts in rural communities.

Those travelling to Igboland for Christmas and New Year began to post photos and videos of their houses and other buildings in their communities, while urging people from other parts of the country to also show their own indigenous communities. It quickly spread to X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and Facebook.

To some, it was a show-off; to others, it was some sort of enlightenment for many who had never travelled to Igboland and never knew that such edifices could be built even in the remotest places.

But there was a reason for that confusion. In Nigeria, the only people who call their ancestral communities ‘village’ are the Igbo people. By calling their hometowns and cities ‘villages’ over the years, Igbo people created a picture of a people who live in thatched huts built with mud. Conversely, other parts of Nigeria use terms like ‘town’ and ‘city’ to describe their own ancestral communities.

For example, growing up I had relatives who lived in places like Zonkwa, Funtua, Mubi, Owo, Ikare, Auchi, Gboko, etc. While talking about their place of residence, they would use words like “town” or “city”, but when talking about home, they would use “village.” Friends from other Igbo towns and cities had the same experience. Imagine the absurdity of hearing indigenes of cities like Onitsha, Owerri, Aba, or Enugu, who live outside Igboland, saying: “I am travelling to my village.”

Unconsciously, the Igbo people internalised ‘village’ to mean “ancestral home” as opposed to “place of residence.” Village is interpreted to be where family members live, where childhood friends can be met, where childhood memories exist, and where the traditions of the people hold sway.

But because of the disconnect between this meaning of ‘village’ and the dictionary meaning, many non-Igbo mistake that expression for something else.

How does the dictionary define ‘village’? defines a village as “a small community or group of houses in a rural area, larger than a hamlet and usually smaller than a town, and sometimes (as in parts of the U.S.) incorporated as a municipality.”

Using a hut for illustration, National Geographic explains ‘village’ to children between Grade 5 and Grade 8 or Primary 5 and JS2 this way: “A village is a small settlement usually found in a rural setting. It is generally larger than a ‘hamlet’ but smaller than a ‘town.’ Some geographers specifically define a village as having between 500 and 2,500 inhabitants.”

Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says that “a village consists of a group of houses, together with other buildings such as a church or school, in a country area.” Note that “country area” means rural area. Similarly, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines it as “a very small town in the countryside.”

Two features run through all the definitions. The first is that a village is “small.” The second is that it is in a rural area. Being rural connotes lacking in modernity and facilities as a result of being far from the city where urbanity exists.

The large number of Igbo people outside Igboland also helped to accentuate the belief that they are running away from their rural communities which lack modern infrastructure to places where life is better. In every state of Nigeria, after the indigenous or ethnic population, the Igbo people are usually the second largest population. Outside Nigeria, the Igbo people also have large populations in many countries of the world. This has led to the creation of a saying that is used as a joke in Nigeria: “If you get to any part of the world and don’t find Igbo people there, please run away from that place.”

Some non-Igbo who had travelled to Igboland had asked me two interesting questions: Why do you people call your towns and cities ‘village’? Why do your people love to leave your beautiful and big towns and cities to relocate to other places, including places not as developed as yours? Such people say that even in remote communities in their home state, there are Igbo people.

But I always smile and say that such is the nature of the Igbo. They simply love to fan out: that even within Igboland, many Nnewi people leave Nnewi to settle in Owerri, while many Owerri people leave it to settle in Nnewi. Some people even relocate to smaller or less developed communities. Some even relocate to worn-torn countries. There is a belief among Igbo people that there is a need that can be filled in every community, no matter how big or There is a belief among Igbo people that there is a need that can be filled in every community, no matter how big or small mall.

Without these factors, especially the use of ‘village’ by Igbo people to describe their hometowns and ancestral homes, there would have been no need to start a campaign of showcasing their homes to other Nigerians. But despite that display, it will still take a long time to erase that image of ‘village’ from the minds of most Nigerians. The first reason is that not everybody is on social media. The second is that not everybody who is on social media saw those displays. The third reason is that mental pictures and narratives are not easily wiped off or replaced.

Because of this wrong nomenclature, many years ago I made a decision never to say “my village,” given the massive developments that have taken place in Nnewi in the past 40 years. I began to use the terms “my hometown” or “my home city.” Initially, it was not easy to say. But eventually, it stuck. Today, I don’t have any problem using the term “hometown” or “home city.”

Some people have argued that the use of ‘village’ gives the nostalgic feeling of leaving the noise and aloof lifestyle of the city for the idyllic and convivial ambience of ‘home.’ They argue that using the term ‘hometown’ does not create that mental distinction. However, there is a price for every action. If you call your hometown ‘village’ while other ethnic groups call theirs hometown or city, naturally yours will be viewed as rural, backward, and poor. You will have the taxing duty of occasionally proving that it is not so. And like Nigerians say in pidgin English: You go explain tire; no evidence! (You will explain and explain, but all will be in vain.)

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