MBAISE AND THE CRISIS OF STEREOTYPED PUBLIC IMAGE
THE TRUTH ABOUT IDENTITY
Various theoretical approaches have been proffered to elucidate the ubiquity of contradictions, conflicts and crisis in human societies. However, some of these are often contradictory perspectives which often reflect distinct class positions, material interests and philosophical or ideological predilections of their proponents.
I am modestly attempting to bring into sharp relief our common concerns and premonitions, especially as they bear upon the prevailing and deepening crisis of Mbaise image.
Specifically, the burden of this topic is a critical and possibly unromantic examination of some important elements of Mbaise past and present institutional arrangement, core values, beliefs, attitudes, norms, socio-cultural practices and behavioral dispositions, which constantly angender and exacerbate external discords manifest in crisis of Mbaise and neighbor’s disunity.
The looming and deepening disunity crisis tends to arise from constant confrontations of various subgroups against the Mbaise man due to contradictory identities, divergent value preferences and mental strength.
Some time ago, a jaundiced musician by name Kabaka ignorantly excoriated the nature of the Mbaise man in his music titled, “Onye huru agwo, hu onye Mbaise, ya buru uzo gbuo onye Mbaise, tupu ogbuo agwo”. That of course was that the expected typical reaction from atypical anti-Mbaise ethnophobist.
The word Mbaise connotes a lot to a people. All sorts of stereotypes have been created by our neighbours out of ignorance, envy and unfounded hatred. To these “Mbaise” means untrustworthy, greedy, unreliable and cheats. It means people who must not be taken for granted in any of their activities, whether in the office or at business.
But the paradox of this is that many of these people still fight to marry Mbaise daughters despite the misconceptions. They strongly believe that our women are reliable, stable in marriage, hard working and hence make good house wives. They want the genes of these women.
However, ironically if these genes carry some of these stereotypes that make them stamp us as bad, why scramble to marry them?
"Rita" Ada Mbaise!
My question becomes: how can this man hate the Mbaise man and at the same time love the Mbaise woman’s gene? This is a complete paradox, Mbaise loved and hated at the same time.
To go further into the contradictions associated with our Mbaise, Agulanna (1977:1) stated: The word “Mbaise” sends cold shivers down their spines and immediately provokes envy, aggression disdain, political resistance, economic blockades and suppression.
Some see us as untrustworthy people you cannot deal with; terrible people you should not associate with. Paradoxically, the word “Mbaise” for other informed and unbiased people connotes hardwork, industry, perseverance, intelligence, chains of degrees, high fecundity.
Another Mbaise writer Pini Jason (1995:3) gave his own version of what people say about us. He argued that Mbaise suffers tremendously from bad image. The name Mbaise evokes negative images in the minds of people. The name represents somebody evil… Predators and all such unimaginable characterizations.
Most unfortunately, he argued, “Mbaise people are treated condescendingly based on these unsubstantiated and mostly foolish stereotyping. Even some policy makers have been misguided in basing their treatment of Mbaise people on these dangerous denigrations”. He concluded that those who malign Mbaise people on account of the characters of a few are “either deliberately mischievous, patently fraudulent or simply unintelligent or all of the above”.
In fact see some psychological basis of the Mbaise person’s behavior that arose some these images. Some Mbaise people are accused of being lord, assertive, aggressive, domineering and with a tendency to grab when it comes to struggling. At times, they are accused of trying to find short cuts to their problems. In fact sometimes, they are accused of showing “Mbaise sense” whatever that means.
Such behaviors, where they exist, have a psychological competition and struggle because of the dense population and limited resources. However the struggling or competitive tendency develops right from the home where a large number of children struggle to get a bit of the “fufu or garri or whatever food that is available. It should be recalled that Mbaise is the land of “eghu ukwu” and too many children. This competitive tendency or behavior could also be induced in other people who may even have enough to eat.
A struggling person is not always a gentle person. When he goes into the large society with his competitiveness induced by his environment, he presents a picture of aggressiveness or greediness and the tendency to domineer. Basically, he is fair and honest but he is not likely to allow you to cheat him. He resists being cheated.
However, it is natural for people who are not as enterprising as this Mbaise person to feel threatened. Unfortunately, the Mbaise person is not conscious of this threatening posture or picture he is presenting. If the outsider reacts with hostility, the Mbaise person’s so called aggressiveness is activated and aggravated. Then, he is accused of presenting a negative picture. These I see as the psychological basis of the behavior of some Mbaise people and perhaps a rational reason for our negative image.
Mbaise did not have as much negative image before the Biafran was as she had after the war in the 1970’s and beyond.
During the Biafran war, many of our neighbors flocked to Mbaise to take refuge. They were shocked to note that Mbaise people who worked in their farms as laborers; who did all sorts of menial jobs for them; people who pushed trucks and carried loads for them; people who they watched with sympathy as they traded on fermented cassava (ekpere ekpe japu); - many had good houses with corrugated iron sheets and some had their children already in secondary schools and higher institutions.
This observation was “too much” for some of our refugee neighbors who, of course, received very warm hospitality. They felt that Mbaise people were deceitful-people who portrayed the picture of poverty and hardship while at the same time were comfortable in their various homes. After the war, they carried away the picture of “deceitful people” to their various places and portrayed us in bad light.
The Mbaise person was not being deceitful. He solidly believed in the dignity of labor. He was ready to do any type of job just to survive. He also believes that charity begins at home. All these are but quantities of MBAISENESS which have been misinterpreted.
Someone was asked to give just one reason why he does not like Mbaise people. He replied “I hear that the people are bad”. Asked whether he had had any previous interaction with any person from Mbaise. He replied “No”. In effect, therefore, some people hate us because of “hear-say” and not due to personal encounter with any Mbaise person.
Naturally, bad and good people juxtapose existence in all place in this world and no place has a monopoly of good people or a monopoly of bad people. Thinking of it, I see in relation the bad image stamp on Mbaise man, to that of the Igbo man in the Nigerian content. Indeed being human beings; we have some bad people among us definitely.
I have tried objectively to examine the areas both real and imagined that have contributed to the bad publicity on Mbaise people. However I wish to ask a question I consider relevant to enable Mbaise people and our neighbors to get a clearer perception of the Mbaise person: Does any society have a monopoly of angels or devils? Every human society has its own share of the good and bad.
Hence to the Mbaise person, I say “Onye ajuru aju: Anghi aju onwe”. I consider this proactive issue most critical and relevant to the survival and resurgence of the Mbaise Image in Nigeria’s and Africa’s contemporary circumstance.
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