THE MENACE OF THE SINGLE STORY NARRATIVE

by - December 12, 2018

 The recurring narrative we all seem pleased with is something we are supposed to get rid of in order to emancipate ourselves from that mental slavery that has beleaguered our psyches. The single story narrative is never the complete story,it is always a part of a story which has been repeatedly told to make it look like the only story. Now,it is interesting to note the fact that a single story might not automatically be a real story. It might be a false narrative that has been passed around for far too long to make it believable.

The  effect of the single story narrative was what made up the horrifying experiences of the Africans years ago. In the 15th century,John Locke;A London merchant sailed to west Africa and he kept a fascinating account of his voyage. In one of his stories,which he shared with his fellow Caucasians. He described Africans as beasts without houses,who were basically not better than the average animals we have around.Of course,the western world bought heavily into this false narrative. In fact,several white authors continued with this narrative which for a while became our only image as Africans as a whole. A good example is "The Heart Of Darkness" By Joseph Conrad. It actually took several years for our African writers to combat this terrifying narrative,to make the western world understand the fact that;though we were not as developed as they were several centuries ago,we were definitely not beasts as they had described us,and we definitely had our own unique culture which can never be found wanting in any society irrespective of the race.

This actually led to the publication of "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe centuries later and other books by several respectable African writers followed suit,which has had a tremendous effect on the African continent which in a sort of way;redeemed our various images by celebrating our culture and reinforcing the premise that we had our unique way of getting things done before the arrival of the colonial masters. This is not in anyway ruling out the fact that some Caucasians till date still believe that every African still lives on tree and eat worms for breakfast. They have simply refused to get rid of that false single story narrative they grew up with,which has actually become the only story they are well vast in about Africans.

It is the single story narrative that is responsible for the mild hatred between the Yorubas and the Igbos. There is this stereotypical tag attached to anyone from either of these two tribes. The Igbos readily call the Yorubas "Ofemmanu" which literally means: One who eats excessive oil. They are also referred to as the "Ngbati Ngbati" people. They see the Yorubas as "Deceptive people and betrayers who can never be trusted" They even go further to call the Yorubas dirty people whom any of their kin must never be unfortunate enough to associate with,or God forbid get married to.

The Yorubas on the other hand see the Igbos as criminals who can readily do anything just to make money either legally or illegally. They are seen as people whom one should be wary of,because of their mischievous behavior. All these stereotypes are not in anyway true. But,they have been passed around for so long to make them look real.
Now,it is interesting to note the fact that,this deep seated hatred among these two ethnic tribes in Nigeria was not in existence prior to the civil war where so many Igbos were slaughtered most especially in the Northern part. So what exactly brought about this animosity? 

In the mid 1960's during the peak of the massive killing of the Igbos in the northern part of Nigeria,Obafemi Awolowo visited Ojukwu in the East and made a statement which actually showed his solidarity towards the impending secession of the Igbos.  In his words,he said "If the East goes,West will go" Meaning that if the Igbos were allowed to secede to form their own republic,then he was also going to lead the Yorubas to secession.
This statement of his actually brought about a ray of hope for the secession of the Igbos. 

After they seceded,Awolowo reneged on his promise. He did not lead the western region into secession. Instead,the West joined the North to fight against the East during the civil war. Awolowo later became the vice president and commissioner of finance for the federal republic of Nigeria. As the commissioner of finance, he made a drastic decision in the economy of Nigeria, by changing the Nigerian currency from Pound to Naira. This single act made it impossible for the Biafrans to make transaction with Nigerians to buy the goods needed with the Nigerian currency they had in their possession which was "Pound". This act also devalued the Biafran currency. Also, several barriers were put in place to block the easy access of supply for the Biafrans which led to starvation and multiple deaths.

Many Igbos of that era actually felt betrayed by the actions of Awolowo.But,should that really be a yardstick to judge other Yorubas with? Is this not the single story narrative which is not the full story? Some notable Yoruba elites like Wole Soyinka (who was almost killed because of his interference) Tai Solarin etc. Actually spoke against the gruesome killings of the Igbos, why is that being swept under the carpet? The actions of one person from a tribe should never be used to judge every other person from that tribe. Although, the Igbos and the Yorubas cohabit in peace now, and even inter marry. But that silent hostility is still there.

It is also the single story narrative that is responsible for that disturbing label referred to as "The Yoruba Demon" Who is a Yoruba Demon? He is usually a very attractive Yoruba man who derives joy in treating women as play things. He is basically a player. Now, almost every cute Yoruba man is always seen as an "Unrepentant Serial Lover" or better still
 "A Yoruba Demon" why is that so? Are there no attractive serial lovers in other tribes too ? So why must the mistake of just one person from a tribe be used to crucify others?

There are just too many instances of the single story narrative we encounter in this present dispensation. Someone somewhere still actually believes that all Calabar girls and its environs are "Nymphomaniacs" whom are never readily satisfied sexually. Some people still have mentality that all Ondo indigenes are "Dog eaters". Some people still see all Hausa people as terrorists, and the list goes on. We actually do a great disservice to ourselves if we keep pushing this single story narrative. Never ever judge a person based on his or her tribe. Never ever attribute a negative trait to anyone from a particular tribe. Always know that you are dealing with an individual, who can never ever represent what other people in that tribe stand for. People have different personalities, which have absolutely nothing to do with ones tribe or race. We will all thrive better once we ditch the single story narrative. 

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4 comments

  1. It should be noted that modernization started in Egypt also in the 14th & 15th century, it was noted that Africa and the western countries were developing at the same pace. Another fact missing in this write up is the fact that history will always determine the present day relation of human life politically and socially, It now depends on the documentation.

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  2. This piece, is informative, compelling and purposeful thoughts laced in a language that is accessible.Your historical underpinnings has a way in the beauty of this piece. Thank you Ayobami.
    Yes. I read a book recently, titled: Lagos Nawa I swear by Edia Apolo. The book talks about these stereotypes of sex fitness assigned to a particular part you wrote up there. I hope our people can just grow from their illusion confined room.

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