Thursday, September 1, 2005
By: Swallehe Msuya
The Igbo community in Minnesota with their invited friends celebrated their 12th annual Igbofest on the open grounds of the University of St. Thomas at St. Paul on Saturday, August 13. It was the first out-door event of its kind that left many who saw it, including Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mary Kiffmeyer, with lasting memories of the enormously rich Igbo cultural heritage.
The Igbo who have earned for themselves the title of “The Jews of Africa” come from South Eastern Nigeria and have distinguished themselves as successful business men and women, highly educated, vibrant, sociable and a God-loving people. Presently the Igbo tribe, numbering about 45 million account for one third of the Nigerian total population, Africa’s most populous nation. According to the 2005 Igbofest Chairman, Francis Onwualu, the theme of this year’s event was “Our children, Our pride, Our future.” A magnetizing festival that showcases the culture and heritage of the Igbo people.
This year’s main event that attracted a number of participants was a raffle whose first prize was a 2005 Mercedes Benz C-230 which was won by Henry Kesr by his winning ticket number 642 which he purchased for only $ 50. The second prize was a Velux Motorbike and the Third Prize was $ 1,000 gift certificate for the Mall of America. Proceeds from the raffle would be invested in building a Cultural Center in Minnesota. In paying tribute to the Igbo people, Governor Tim Pawlenty acknowledged the IGBOFEST as a window that “unites and educates Igbos, their families, and all Minnesotans about culture, art, music, and values of the Igbo tribe.” He went on: “your organization demonstrates a noteworthy commitment to celebrating diversity, fostering relationships, and encouraging research and discussion.”
The Igbo people do not just preach theory, indeed they practice what they preach. One of their greatest milestones associated with their excelling in education and culture is the Igbo school located at Higher Ground Academy on 1381 Marshall Avenue at St. Paul. In this school, the Igbo prepare their youth to uphold their tribal language, culture and customs.
The Igbo people have gone through some hard times, like during the 1960s when their leader General Ojukwu wanted to create a separate Igbo state by the name of BIAFRA. What kind of a legacy did Ojukwu bring to the Igbo people? I put this question to Mike Anunike, President of the Umunne Cultural Association: “Our people were being targeted for killings. It was genocide. The media only characterized it as a rebellion. It was a bitter struggle for three years and our people stood firm. Anyway, that is now history and Nigeria is a united country and General Ojukwu is a respectable member of society on whom people go to seek advice on solutions to day to day problems.”
I also asked him what the West can learn from Africa; he replied: “Africa is the cradle of mankind. Africans are a productive and creative people. They observe strong family and ethnic ties as well as remaining sociable to fellow human beings. In Africa we believe that it takes a village to raise a child and these are the values that we can share with the West.” He went on: “Ofcourse we have our problems like poverty and a few pockets of human right abuses, but we are putting in our weight to address
On Igbofest, he had this to say: “Igbofest has brought and shared Igbo arts and culture all across the state to communities that might not otherwise experience Igbo cultural theatrical performances, traditional dances, masquerades, African fashion, or hear ethnic music and seasoned keynote speakers. IgboFest has helped art-revolving inhabitants of Minnesota widen their artistic perspective to keep with today’s changing environment.”