Point

Point/CounterpointWorldtravelafrica Aug 23, 2000

Nigeria May Be A Developing Nation, But It Is Rich In Culture

By Zach Spence, University of Vermont Junior

Ever since taking West African History 201, I've been fascinated by the rich cultural tapestry that is Nigeria. Professor Olson really opened my eyes to Nigerian accomplishments in art, music, and literature. What an incredibly cool place!

It's sad how the media always dwell on the negative aspects of African society. Granted, Nigeria faces some economic challenges (the result of centuries of colonialist exploitation), but I'm sure Nigerians don't concern themselves with thoughts of shallow materialism when they are surrounded every day by such stirring, dynamic expressions of the human spirit.

Nigerians don't need money for stereos or CDs: They make their own music! Along with a huge variety of drums, traditional instruments include many kinds of flutes, xylophones, and wooden clappers. Music permeates all aspects of life there, including public assemblies, festivals, weddings, funerals, and storytelling sessions. In fact, in Nigeria, music literally is a language: Giant slit drums are used to relay messages between villages situated along river systems. (At first, I figured it was like Morse Code, but I learned in class that it's actually an extremely sophisticated tonal language system!) There's a West African djembe–a large, goblet-shaped drum–at this store on University Avenue for $450 that I totally want to get.

The various ethnic groups of Nigeria all specialize in beautiful dances. The Ishan stilt dancers twist about in the air wearing their multi-colored raffia-palm costumes. The Ubakala people resolve conflicts and mark the seasons of the yam and cocoa-yam harvests with slow, ritualistic stomping while wearing these huge, intricately carved wooden masks. Doesn't that sound amazing?

Of course, I would only be reinforcing racist stereotypes if I just talked about Nigerians playing drums and dancing. Have you ever heard of the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe? He's a Nigerian writer. It's definitely one of the best books I've ever read. Then there's Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright who won the Nobel Prize in 1986. He had to flee the country because the government wanted to kill him. Fela Kuti, the famous musician, is also from Nigeria, and his stuff is really funky. He's, like, the African James Brown.

But for all that culture, the most wonderful thing about Nigeria is the warmth and hospitality of its varied peoples. Whether they speak Yoruba, Edo, Ijo, Igbo, Igala, Idoma, Nupe, Gwari, or a dialect of the Benue-Congo subgroup, all Nigerians will greet a visitor to their homes with a piece of boiled meat and a ceremonial food bowl holding a sauce for dipping. It's this kind of generosity and kindness that I would really love to experience firsthand someday.

As you can see, the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria gives its people the strength to overcome the many challenges that a developing African nation such as itself faces. It must be such an exciting time to be in Nigeria right now. I've got to get over there!

Counterpoint

Get Me Out Of This Godforsaken Hellhole

By Bitek Okoye, Nigerian

Ever since my parents and three brothers died in the gasoline explosion last month, my mind has been dead to the world. Please, God, let me leave this place. I have no hope for my country.

I see it in the glassy-eyed stares of the people on the street. We have nothing. We have been ruled by fat generals who promise elections but steal all the money from the people. The oil money, billions and billions of dollars, it disappears. Millions of us live here in the Lagos slums with no electricity or sewage system. I don't want to smell the garbage rotting in the streets anymore.

No one is safe. The police chase people in the streets and beat them like dogs. This new general, Abubakar, he is no better than the rest before. President Babangida, he stole $12 billion from the Nigerian people. When people ask where the money goes, they are shot. They shoot people every Sunday on Victoria Beach. The bodies always wash up on the sand after they throw them in the ocean.

Last month, thieves broke the oil pipeline to steal fuel. Many people rushed out to scoop up the fuel that spilled out, to use, to sell. Then, everything was in flames. Seven hundred people died. I saw the tractor throwing the burned bodies into a hole in the ground. My family is somewhere in that hole.

The month before that, the soldiers threw my grandmother out a window. The soldiers, they set up roadblocks. They stop anybody trying to drive past, and they take all their money. I see people walking down the street in broad daylight who are attacked by criminals. Men with knives, sticks, broken bottles. They attack you and beat you down.The people sometimes chase a thief who steals a bag. The crowd chases him and throws him down and beats him to death. The streets are very bad. There is so much hatred.

If I could get just a little money, I could try to leave. But I must save my money for food. There is no good food to buy in the streets. There are no doctors. I am still young. I don't want to get sick and starve. I don't want to be killed by the police. Please, God, save me. Shango, Ogun, Ifa, protect me. I don't want to die. I have to get out of here.

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