We’ve been living in Lagos for almost three months, and although we definitely feel like we’re in Africa, we haven’t really connected with the spirit of Nigeria. Like any other large city in a developing country, Lagos’ desperation to become modern, especially here on Victoria Island, superimposes on its culture, particularly those practices that appear “uncivilized”. Like we witnessed in Jakarta, the result is a city of people who are disconnected and shun their society’s traditions and beliefs in an effort to appear more Western. For example, you will notice scar lines on the cheeks of many Nigerians. Part of a rite of passage, individuals are marked with distinctive patterns to designate their tribe, an important identity throughout subSaharan Africa. In terms of body modification, it’s not much different than putting holes in your ears for earrings or getting a tattoo. Nigerians from Lagos, however, are discontinuing the practice, severing some of their tribal obligations. It’s an unfortunate and inevitable loss in the blind race towards development. Ironically, there are now individuals in more developed countries straw-grasping to retrieve or preserve the cultural practices of their ancestry lost through moderization.
We had a taste of our host country’s vast cultural diversity last week during Nigerian Cultural Day, sponsored by our PTO. Nigeria is home to over 500 ethnic groups, with an equivalent number of languages. The focus at our school this year was Northern Nigeria, inhabited by the Hausa and Fulani tribes. Predominantly Sahel in environment, the peoples of the north are intrinsic in their dress, traditions and beliefs. It is a fascinating area of the world mostly unvisitable due to the capricious violence of Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations sequestered in the region. Although we knew Nigerian Cultural Day was approaching, we were unprepared for its extravagance. Students arrived in brilliant traditional dress. The morning assembly included processions, native dancing, and performances by Nigerian singers and the attendance of other famous Nigerians from the north. We were able to taste and learn about northern foods, shop in a makeshift marketplace, watch horse racing, and break into small group sessions to make drums, raffia hats, get Henna tattoos, and try our hand at a host of other traditional customs. It was inspiring to see our students from around the world take such pride in their host country, as well as to see our Nigerian students and staff being honored by our school.