A group of young Londoners who got together in 1998 to learn about their ancestry have grown into a major community organisation
GOOD MOVES: Members of the ICSN dance troupe
IT’S OFTEN claimed that young black Britons are losing touch with their cultural roots.
In fact, many debates have ensued among communities in recent years, sparked by troubling issues such as the involvement of black youths in gun and knife crime; that the language, cuisine and cultural values of Africans and Caribbeans who emigrated to Britain in the 50s and 60s are being lost.
However, one London based group is determined to change that.
Back in 1998, a group of Nigerians whose families originated from the Igbo people of south eastern Nigeria, decided they wanted to form a group that would celebrate their west African heritage.
Igbo people are one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria (together with the Hausa and Yoruba). Igbo-land is the home of the Igbo people and it covers most of south east Nigeria.
The Igbo Cultural and Support Network (ICSN) was born with only a handful of members.
But since its formation, the organisation has grown to an impressive 1,600 members and has organised a number of networking and social events that have been hailed as an example of what young African Caribbeans can do if they work in unison.
And the ICSN has also garnered some high profile celebrity support. In October, Olympic 400 metres silver medallist Christine Ohurugu MBE and Game of Thrones actor Nonso Anozie, who had previously taken language classes run by the ICSN, joined 500 others as guests of honour at the group’s New Yam Festival, a harvest festival that has been celebrated for centuries and remains an important tradition. The abundance of yam was often important for survival in lean years and so its arrival is an occasion of great joy and thanksgiving to God for a good harvest.
STAR PERFORMER: Amale dancer in traditional Igbo costume performs a routine at the Iri-ji New Yam festival in London
“ICSN was established because there was a strong sense in the Diaspora that second generation Igbo people and those who had relocated did not know as much as they would have liked about their heritage,” says Amaka Edomobi, president of the ICSN.
“We wanted to create a channel which would help people maintain a cultural connection to Nigeria. We the current executive committee, and those before us, are passionate about our rich cultural heritage and are committed to enhancing cultural awareness amongst people of Igbo heritage. That is why we volunteer limitless hours of our spare time and resources to the organisation. We host a general meeting every second Sunday of each month which includes cultural presentations, debates, health awareness discussions, business networking, open mic sessions, book reviews and guest speakers,” adds Edomobi.
Among the things that the ICSN celebrates is the aspect of Igbo culture known as “Umunna wu ike” (community is strength).
VISION: ICSN President Amaka Edomobi
“Power and authority are bestowed on the community not on individuals,” explains Edomobi. “Traditionally the community, the Igbo believe, is made up of the living and dead ancestors and gods of the land. Greeting is also a very important aspect of Igbo culture. Everyone is expected to greet their elders first. There are greetings for different times and situations.”
Among the group’s major achievements are the establishment of an Igbo Language School in Holborn, central London, in 2010 and a dance school.
Many black Britons of Nigerian Igbo heritage whose parents and grandparents came to Britain in the 1960s were not taught the language because of fears that they wouldn’t be able to integrate into mainstream society.
“Inherent in everyone is the desire to know their mother tongue,” says Edomobi. “I founded the Igbo Language School with other past and present execs. Interest in the Igbo Language School has been so overwhelming. Since its creation, 165 students from all walks of life have progressed through the course where they learn core principles of the Igbo language, from basic grammar and vocabulary to the etymology of the Igbo words themselves.”
This year will mark the 15th anniversary of the ICSN, providing an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the milestones reached since 1998.
“We want to participate in more charitable and community work, such as supporting schools in Nigeria, hosting business seminars and mentoring schemes for our members and maintaining and adding to our cultural enrichment programmes,” says the president of the ICSN. “We believe that ICSN’s emphasis on maintaining cultural heritage is important in multicultural British society, we our often told by our members that ICSN gives them a sense of belonging and purpose. When you come to the meeting as an individual you will leave as a part of a family which is key to out ethos.
ICSN provides a support system that can benefit the wider black community in the UK by providing a forum to learn, be celebrated and belong.”
Written by Vic Motune