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The Vanishing ‘owambe’ Culture by aloyemeka1: 1:53am On Jun 05, 2011
[size=14pt]The vanishing ‘owambe’ culture[/size]
SOMETHING serious seems to be happening to the age-old “owambe” culture in Nigeria, a reflection of the dynamism of culture and of the telling manner in which economic conditions impact on socio-cultural expressions. The “owambe” phenomenon is one of the established patterns of social life, particularly among the Yoruba speaking people of Nigeria. By the 70s and 80s, up till the 90s, no weekend was complete without someone throwing a lavish party: every social incident, including the purchase of a new car, even a second hand car, or a refrigerator for the household, deaths, birth, a promotion in the office, weddings, a journey- pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem, or any trip overseas, or return from such trips occasioned huge celebrations; if a new house had just been completed, it had to be “warmed,” and if it was a car, it had to be “washed”, not with soap and water of course, but carton loads of drinks, greedily consumed by neighbours who were called upon to share the glory of success.

The social station of the celebrant determined the scope and richness of the celebration, but for major events like funerals, child naming ceremonies, weddings, graduation parties, there was a conventional template which social pressure turned into an obligation. The character of that template is like this: to really belong to the “owambe crowd” , a Yoruba word that means “we have it, so we can flaunt it”; no party is complete without the notorious “aso ebi” (group attire) which every invitee is expected to buy and wear as a tag of identification with the celebrant; the party itself is deliberately loud, with food and drinks generously provided, and wasted (owambe!); and there would be a musician on the bandstand, the more popular the artiste the better. The venue of such parties used to be a school field, or the streets, deliberately shut down to attract more attention, until state governments banned the holding of parties on main roads. One notorious man once shut down the Lagos-Benin expressway for his mother’s funeral party! Soon, it became fashionable to rent events centres, really expensive events centres; and the party could go on all night-long.

The owambe parties became so frequent and often resulted in armed robbery attacks, and high rate of vehicle accidents the morning after; consequently, some state governments banned night parties. Still, this did not discourage the party goers and the generous celebrants. Parties held during the day-time were just as robust and showy, and the Yoruba were the most notorious promoters of this culture, with the men’s expansive, parachute-like agbada, and the women’s headgears of different designs, shapes and sizes, all creatively embroidered and worn with accustomed grace.

On a typical weekend, an average couple could be invited to about five parties, with five different “aso ebis”, changing from one attire to the other, rushing from one end of the city to another. Usually what was meant to be a lot of fun, was invariably a lot of work and quite an expensive pre-occupation. Most persons woke up on Monday morning, completely worn out, groggy from weekend partying, and broke–celebrants expect gifts, the musicians expect to be decorated with cash: and this is a spectacle unto itself, naira plunking, later demonized by the Central Bank of Nigeria as an abuse of the national currency, but no one has listened, is a special art, easily converted into an entertaining spectacle by those who have mastered it. So common was the owambe among the Yoruba that other Nigerians who seemed to be more restrained soon began to organize owambe parties too: the oil boom had made easy money possible, and for years, Nigerians really lived it up. One contemporary English dictionary, describes the Yoruba as “the fun-loving people of West Africa!”

But the culture of ostentation was not just a product of the oil boom; it resulted in a certain madness in society, an inversion of values. Even the poor felt compelled to borrow money to throw lavish parties just so they could meet public expectations. Funerals in particular provided special excuse for indebtedness or bankruptcy. Driven by folk beliefs that it is compulsory to give one’s parents a befitting burial, persons who could not afford to feed themselves took loans to feed guests - among the local people, the cow and the drinks could be purchased on credit, with the understanding that the guests will donate money to the celebrant, and after the party, careful accounting is done to settle all outstanding debts; where the guests fail to be generous, the result could be the gnashing of teeth and embarrassment by creditors. Home video producers in Nollywood have dramatized aspects of the contradictions in this owambe culture: poor people struggling hard to please others, irresponsible children who would not take good care of their parents while they were alive, preferring to bury them lavishly, how owambe parties provide fertile grounds for cuckoldry- what with the men and women dancing seductively, gyrating suggestively, all under the influence of alcohol; and how persons who choose to be restrained are stigmatized as stingy and anti-social.

These days however, the owambe culture appears to be vanishing. Perhaps, it is safer to state that it is reducing; the creeping epidemic of poverty is compelling a revision of expenditures, even among fun-loving persons. The rich, those who can afford to indulge themselves and their guests still throw lavish parties, and I guess, no one can stop the rich from having leisure. With their hard-earned money though. Government officials who steal public funds to organize owambe parties, or company executives who loot the till, just so they can be seen to belong to the “jollofing” class cannot be excused. But among ordinary people, the owambe culture is being modified, a culture of restraint is emerging, although it is difficult to predict how long this would last. It used to be a sin not to have a musician on the bandstand at an owambe party; many families these days make do with musical sets, or a one-man band, with the sole musician stealing all possible copyrights and providing entertainment all the same.

Re: The Vanishing ‘owambe’ Culture by sbeezy8: 2:11am On Jun 06, 2011
edited no point in really discussing stoopid opinion esp that of nigerians
Re: The Vanishing ‘owambe’ Culture by sbeezy8: 2:33am On Jun 06, 2011
“owambe crowd” , a Yoruba word that means “we have it, so we can flaunt it”- LIE!

I hate to read articles where the journalist PUSHES hard to try and invoke some type of sentiment in readers by stating things that are false.

since when did Owambe (you are there/here) mean “we have it, so we can flaunt it”? i mean really?

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