Sometimes it takes another eye to see and encourage you for you to know that what you are doing really makes sense! Amarachi Attamah is just a young simple Igbo girl. She is someone who scribbles some lines and calls them poetry. Amarachi, by career is a broadcaster and she has worked with different radio and television stations.
As a young woman who loves who she is, Amarachi’s career draws from her identity, her roots and her cultural heritage. “My father would always say, ‘When you go out, remember that you have roots, so don’t go out and get lost’”, she says. Today, Amarachi is a performing poet specifically in Igbo language, and a writer. She has four published titles which include, “My Broad Daydream”, “Tomorrow’s Twist”, “Making a Difference” and her first Igbo collection, ‘’Akuko Ifo Nnem ochie koro m” (Folktales my Grandmother Told Me).
SLA contributor Onyekachukwu Asadu met Amarachi in Enugu to find out more about what she does and how it is contributing to the growth of her community.
Do you think you are making a difference? If yes, how are you making a difference in your community?
Of course, I think I am making a difference. If I am not, I wouldn’t have continued what I am doing. However, the encouragement comes from seeing that what you do, actually makes a difference, even if it seems so stupid sometimes or unrealistic. I was born in Northern Nigeria and I grew up amongst a people that know who they are and are proud of it. As a child in that environment, I would tell you that I never saw a northern child that couldn’t speak their indigenous language; be it Hausa, Gwari, Nupe or whatever. They speak their language. They were always proud of their local food, or dressing.
However, coming back to the east, I noticed that it was different; we were not even proud of our names. This got me worried and I made a resolve that the negative trend of denying our culture had to stop. I am proud of my identity and culture, and I have to make others see the same. So I thought to myself, ‘perhaps I should bring in this consciousness’.
Honestly, I can’t tell when it started. When I was doing my NYSC, I wasn’t quite fluent in Igbo language but in my local dialect (Nsukka). I had published my first Igbo collection in 2007 and it was during that time that I met the literary icon, Professor Anezi Okoro. Despite my challenges at speaking and writing the Igbo language (I had failed Igbo language in my Senior School certificate examinations!) he encouraged me to do something in Igbo. I remained resilient and kept learning. I decided to dress in Igbo attires, making Igbo hairstyles.
During that time, I started thinking of how to present my poetry and when I started displaying my craft on stage, I got a good response! So I continued, I never planned it but I saw the opportunity and so I started creating awareness about Igbo language and culture. I went to secondary schools, talking to students and teachers and parents; persuading them to speak the Igbo language.
From there, we got the inspiration to organize festivals where schools make presentations and cultural displays in the Igbo language, then we published a collection of poems rendered by students. Gradually, people started coming around and getting involved with what we do. We have not gotten there yet but we have engaged the community, we have increased their consciousness and we are restoring the dignity of the Igbo race.
Tell us about OJA Cultural Development Initiative. What plans are you making to reach and impact a global audience?
OJA is ‘Odinala na omenala jikoro anyi’, which implies the culture and traditions that bind us together. It is an NGO created out of my passion to unite people. As a broadcaster working in the civil service, I discovered that even with most employees coming from Enugu State, there was still discrimination and segregation along village and local government lines. This did not sit well with me.
I also realized that at the village level, certain positive elements/practices of our culture that united us was no longer there. For example, the women associations that changed the communities, the kinsmen and age grade meetings were no longer as strong and edifying as they used to be. This is because we accepted/adopted the foreign individualistic style of living that is not our cultural heritage. In as much as culture can be modified, we should not destroy our culture or lose the major ingredients that bind us together.
This is why OJA is working with the younger generation because they are the ones that are mostly affected by this. To achieve this, we introduce regular festivals to bring these kids together and remind them of who they are. We go around reviving positive cultural practices that are going down. We don’t promote clandestine practices, after all, beyond Nigeria; there are cultures that are repugnant to natural existence.
In addition to OJA, we also have a cultural outfit, Nwadioranma (The child that puts smiles on people’s faces) outfit. It is into cultural performances and all creative enterprise promoting our culture. People call us to perform at their events for entertainment. We also train young and consenting adults to work with us there to raise funds and further support our work.
You once worked with a Broadcasting house. As a Mass communication graduate, tell us how you perceived it was time to leave paid employment to becoming the one calling the shots?
As you know, world changers are not regular employees. The world needs people with passion to drive a cause. To drive a cause, you must be creative. People will say you are crazy, they will assume you are not well.
It was challenging working for a media house, people didn’t understand why you would leave your office for a while to write a poem or visit a school to advocate for our passion. There were bureaucracies affecting my flow. Being a paid worker also meant I had to be at work every day. I love broadcasting because it’s a means of reaching the world. I have not stopped broadcasting, I can still make videos and audio files and share online reaching people all around the world. Yet, I needed to leave my comfort zone, I weighed my job against my passion and found that I needed to move because most people around me didn’t understand me.
If any African or young person here in this part of the world must pursue a just cause, they must learn to leave their comfort zone. For me, paid employment meant rest and I wasn’t ready to rest. If I listened to what people felt, I would be discouraged, so I also needed to go to where I will be inspired. If you must be in an office environment, try to create a difference so that when you leave, it will be felt. I do not regret it. The world might call you crazy because you are leaving paid employment even when many youths are looking for job. But because you have the vision, please go out there and make the difference you envision.
You seem so passionate about culture and the Igbo language. Most young people wouldn’t see opportunity in those areas. They would rather see it as being old fashioned. What drives your interest?
I wouldn’t really say I know what drives my interest but I grew up in a close-knit family that didn’t have much materially, but we were content and loved each other. As a child growing up in Northern Nigeria, I saw that trend of close-knit family relationships. When I returned home to the east, I was surprised to see that such relationships are not commonplace, even families are turning against one another, despite cultural and tribal similarities.
It’s challenging being a young woman trying to venture into an area which is expected to be driven by men. In the Igbo parlance, a woman is seen and not heard so being a young lady with my interests is seen as absurd because it is assumed that going into cultural matters is a taboo!
Most times when I perform, I am the only woman at the event and people look at me as if I am from another planet! It takes a lot because you have to explain your motive before presenting. Despite the challenges, I am not deterred. Like I tell people, I have decided within myself to follow my heart and remain focused, no matter what distractions coming my way. When people see your passion, they will support you. If I didn’t continue, you wouldn’t have travelled here to interview me. It hasn’t been easy, but we have succeeded.
If you could change anything about your community, what would it be?
It would be that seed of unity and individualism that has been wrongly planted in our families. I recall the first OJA seminar we organized in my hometown. While visiting a family, I heard a child refusing to run an errand for the mother, ‘’A ju mu’’ meaning, ‘No, I won’t go’. I saw it became a trend in the community.
That stuck out to me. It didn’t show respect and that was not how I grew up. I saw brothers fighting over land, married couples separating. This I know brought hatred, pride and rancor, therefore, my passion would be to plant a seed of unity, where we eat, laugh, pray, sing and dance together. Even the holy book says that there is the presence of God where two or three are gathered.
There is a philosophy I believe in and advocate for, it’s called, ‘Igwebuike’’ there is strength in our numbers. When we join forces in love, we will succeed together and the world will be beautiful. Families make up the community so I would like to bring that back.
Considering the cultural perception of women in African/Igbo society, would you encourage Igbo women to aspire to largely responsible positions of Influence? Why?
In any community where women are given the opportunity to serve in leadership, there is always a difference. I am talking about women who possess positive values. That is why feminity is divine, not minding people’s wrong notion, feminity and masculinity is divine. Even in Igbo culture, there is a beautiful narrative of Ani (Earth) as a goddess of fertility and Anyanwu (The sun) as the god who shines and on her to produce and give life. It is believed that the earth is a woman because she produces a lot of beautiful things.
Women are powerful but sometimes they don’t know it. That’s why they shy away from leadership position; the truth is that this world in practice is not a man’s world. This is because every man has a woman that influences him. I don’t struggle to be a man because I am first human then a woman. No matter how strong a man is, there is a woman that tickles his soft spot.
My point is, you must not clamor to be a government official before making an influence, you can start from your family, club, workplace, etc start from there, make an impact and the world will feel your positive touch, so I am saying that I support women in governance. However, it won’t be easy that is why you must know who you are, and when you get out there, stay strong because challenges will come. Please assume your real responsibility, let your strength be invested into building and not pulling down.
Finally, what favorite Igbo proverb/saying keeps you going even in tough times?
If you look at my notice board, you will see I pasted some proverbs in Igbo language.
‘Oborochi nwere olili anya, ike agwulagi’, despite your failures, as long as you wake up and you are alive, there is hope. I use this proverb to encourage myself. There is nothing wrong in feeling depressed sometimes, so when I do, I just recite this to myself and it always revives my spirit.
For others, I have a saying to encourage them, ‘Akwu ji ibe ya agba mmanu, Igwebuike!’, there is no one palm nut that makes sufficient palm oil, it requires several palm fruits to obtain palm oil. In other words, it is in our coming together bringing our collective efforts that we can overcome our challenges and achieve common objectives. I also have a time set aside every day for innovative thinking. It helps me find out better ways to make my work better. The world needs creative thinkers.
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