Heritage is something that is handed down from generation to generation, it could also be a status acquired by a person through birth such as a birthright or inheritance. Heritage is not something you choose, it is something you are born into and you can either abandon it or embrace it.
I hail from the Niger-Delta part of Nigeria in West Africa; we are the “Mmong” people (Water people) because that area is mainly surrounded by water. We are a strong and proud people. We are one of the smaller tribes in my country however our land produces the oil that my country is so famous for.
My culture is something I just started taking interest in. I grew up in a very Americanized household. My parents had already had four children born in the states and had lived in Hartford Connecticut for over fifteen years. We had cereal for breakfast, Macaroni and cheese for lunch in contrast to the pap (cornstarch) and Eba (Pounded Cassava starch) that other kids had.
We observed Siesta (Afternoon naps) and had tutors when other kids where outside playing, we were forbidden to use our native dialect (Ibibio). We were left to learn about our culture by what we picked up in school and when ever my grandmother came to visit. As a child I lived for those visits. My grandmother was a small woman who always seemed to have a smile on her face. Being the last girl in my family, I was her favorite, I would run to her and although she was small she could still lift me up and give me one of those toothless smiles. After dinner I will go to her room because I know there will be gifts from the village for me and also folk stories that she never seem to run out of.
Ma Nko as she was fondly called by her children and grandchildren was the one that taught me about my heritage, she already considered my older siblings as lost cases and I was the only impressionable one in the family at that time. I will sit for hours with her just listening to her broken English, she never went to school and only picked only enough of the English language in other to communicate with us. You are of the Water People she will say, strong and proud; do not allow your father to turn you into an Mbakara (white person). She taught me the Heritage of the Ibibio people.
The Ibibio are descendants for famous Calabar people, back in the day. This tribe consisted of mainly fishermen and farmers. Their culture is also very similar to the Calabar people. The Ibibios are known for having various types of seafood such as shrimp, catfish, tilapias and oysters just to name a few. She will tell me that the Ibibio woman calls her husband “Obongowo” which mean “my lord” because that what he is to her, the women of my tribe are known as good cooks and good housewives. Men of other tribes seek wives among us because of this stereotype.
Knowing my love for dancing, my grandmother encouraged me to learn the dance steps of my people much to the annoyance of my father. The dance which involves continuous and very vigorous shaking of the waist and backside is usually performed during festivals and Ceremonies. Another thing that is handed down from generation to generation among the women of my tribe is the initiation and preparedness for womanhood called the Fattening Room although this tradition is slowly dying out with our generation.
The Fattening Room is an aged old tradition of the Efik/Ibibio people which has been greatly modified for today’s generations. This ancient tradition is the training given to young women while they are in seclusion to prepare them for marriage and womanhood. Although I will never go through the ceremony (my dad will have an apoplexy). Enough has been instilled in me to make me love my heritage.
Coming back to the States has not dulled out any of the things my grandmother instructed me on but has made me embrace it more. I love everything about my place of origin, the music especially now that it is being incorporated with Hip Hop. Happy music as one of my African American friend calls it, the Afang soup and Foo-Foo (cassava) my favorite food, our traditional textiles and dressing, I look forward to weddings and events just so I can get the Ankara Asheobi that I know will be sold to friends. All this makes me the woman I am. Even though I live in a land far far away, I know I have roots, the roots might not run deep but roots they are all the same. I am of the Water People, strong and proud. I am Water Girl.