International Studies & Programs

Youth Essay Contest: Third Place

The Fall of my Heritage

Oluchi Okparaocha (Age 17, Nigeria)

The New Yam festival is a ceremony that takes place once a year. No farmer is allowed to eat yam until the king says the new yam festival has begun. Children, young ladies, and young men are usually excited. New attires are bought, new songs and dances are learned. There are acrobatic displays, masquerade performances and a lot of food to go around. It was a festival to look forward to. This is the story my grandmother told me two years before she died. The way her eyes lit up as she told me about this story and so many more, made me wish I was there. Her face radiated with joy of the past.

Comparing the present with the past, I fear for the future. Gone are the days when speaking my language was a thing of pride. Gone are the days when tribal marks were things I could show off. Gone are the days when my native attires commanded respect. Here are the days where I want to learn every western language in the book. Here are the days where I would use concealer to cover up the little marks that grandmother gave me; tattoos, I call them. Here are the days where my native attires are out of vogue. My African culture has turned to folklore instead of a way of life.

I hold myself responsible for the fall of my heritage. I consider western as best. I allow them to look at me like I'm small—almost like a student being bullied by her own classmate. I do not fight this, instead, I join them. I copy their ways. I have even become whiter than the white. The government does not fight against what I do but rather they support me in pushing my heritage to the fall. They are also importing from the west, forgetting that we have these imports. We are blessed with a lot of natural resources: Nigeria with crude oil, Ghana with gold, Mozambique with aluminum. It's so sad that even with these blessings, we still waste revenue on importation. An example, Nigeria that still imports petroleum even though she's blessed with crude oil—which she could have been refining at home, yet she has refused to fix her refineries. This is so saddening!

The media, custodian of information, have also backed up the fall. Africa is the most linguistically diverse continent in the world, according to the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). People speak close to 2,000 different languages, which is a third of the world's linguistic heritage. The question is how many people still speak our language? They project the other culture while forgetting ours. On their radio and television shows they talk like they are British, American, or even French; they forget to talk like Africans. They dress like westerners, forgetting we have our own attires. Our movies depict westernization, a great hand that crushes my heritage deeper into the ground. Music videos and songs project immorality that comes with westernization, neglecting the moral base my heritage is built on. We are all supporters of the fall of my heritage.

Partnership with the government and various other institutions could pull my heritage from the fall. The government could work harder and make beneficial use of our resources. This would strengthen my morale and make me realize that our resources are not inferior. I would be proud to say I am a Nigerian, a country where we produce petroleum and human geniuses. The media should stop assimilating to fake ways of life and open their eyes to reality. They should organize talk shows that display the beauty of my heritage. Seminars should be held that will give me more insight about my heritage; competitions in different schools that will encourage me to put into practice what I learned in those seminars and talk shows. Movies should depict the awesomeness of my heritage. Songs should make me wish I had seen the light earlier.

Change begins with me, a saying I will live by. I shall speak my language and be proud. I shall eat my native food with all boldness even in a public restaurant. I shall wear my native attire and raise my head high. I'll clean off the concealer and show the beautiful little marks my grandmother gave me. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a step—a step I am proud to take. Hopefully my steps will encourage others and they'll take these steps with me, so we can all incorporate my heritage to create the Africa of our dreams. An Africa where our dresses are considered top-notch. An Africa where our languages are spoken always and not referred to as vernacular. An Africa where our art and artifacts have more value than Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. An Africa where I can eat my native food proudly and not be referred to as razz. An Africa where our traditional rites and rituals are practiced without condemnation. An Africa where I can proudly be African.