Nigerian Owanbe Party: Is it Custom, Craze, or Curse?Nigeria and Africa have quite interesting cultures and traditions, some of which are not necessarily progressive and plain senseless in my opinion. While many of these regressive traditions have been abandoned over time; however, one has stuck and has even spread like wild fire among Nigerians, particularly those in the Diaspora. This tradition is no other than the infamous OWAMBE parties.
The scene of a typical Owanbe party is aptly captured in a recent Baltimore Sun publication, here is the excerpt:
“At 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, the Nigerian music was thumping and the party, on the outskirts of Baltimore, was still churning.The remnants of a feast - goat meat, plantains, fried fish, moin-moin and jollof rice - littered rows of tables. Some of the hundreds of Nigerians, who had gathered to honor a friend, still swirled in circles on the dance floor in colorful, embroidered African outfits with head ties that regally swept up toward the ceiling. A cloud of paper money, which Nigerians traditionally throw to express appreciation while dancing, fluttered and twisted to the floor…”To the non-Nigerian readers, an Owanbe is a lavish party that usually last all night. It is usually characterized by the “Aso-ebi” (social attire)- a custom-tailored Nigerian attire worn by some (if not all) guests. The “Aso-ebi” is usually made with not-so-cheap fabric usually imported from Italy, Austria or Switzerland. Another characteristic of this social endeavor is “spraying”, which literally means to “shower” the celebrants and their relatives with bales currency notes just as the article describes.
Historically, Owanbe most probably originated out of the Yoruba culture of celebrating accomplishments and memorable events, particularly weddings and burial ceremonies. The emergence of the Juju music in the latter part of the twentieth century helped consolidate these parties in the psyche of Nigerians. Juju music is the favored music for Owanbes because the exponents of this brand of music typically sing praise to the celebrants and organizers of Owanbes, popular socialites, and whoever is willing (or stupid enough) to shower them with bales of cash during such parties. Juju music artists and the Owanbe socialites and proponents basically feed off each other in a way that mimics a symbiotic relationship.
Now-a-days, there is a wide spectrum of reasons for having an Owanbe party: from the most mundane and frivolous (for example: memorial, child christening/birthdays or house warming) to the more memorable and permissible (for example: burials, weddings and marriage ceremonies) occasions, it is Owanbe all the same. Even for the latter reasons, a good dose of modesty is necessary. I know many Nigerians in the US that have thrown all-night-long gigs just to mark the birthdays of their infant children…or for the remembrance of their long-gone (dead) parents or relatives. After many Nigerians have struggled and toiled to save to buy their homes, it is not unusual to have some throw lavish and outlandish house–warming parties. Where is the sense in all these, I wonder? Is ours a senseless and reason-deprived society?
In the United States where I live, it is not uncommon to hear or be invited to several Owanbe parties in just one weekend. Maryland, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago seem to the most notorious spots for this. It is a sad fact that the meager and disposable income of a sizeable chunk of Nigerians in the Diaspora ( and at home) is consumed by this utterly unproductive endeavor.
Some Nigerians work for pittance in the US, yet they can somehow afford “Aso-ebi” worth hundreds of dollars! I know of a Nigerian socialite in the southwestern region of the US that had an Owanbe that lasted one full week when the going was good!!! The guy even "imported" some well-known Juju musicians from Nigeria to play for whatever he was celebrating then. Outrageous isn’t it? Maybe if he had been more prudent he would have had some reserves to take care of his business and finances when things became rough. The guy is now flat broke and a ghost of his old self.
The Baltimore Sun article on Nigerians in Maryland- though positive in many aspects- is also a subtle criticism of our "Owanbish" social life, and it speaks clearly to this topic and quite poignantly too.
We have institutionalized and promoted Owanbe- an often meaningless, wasteful, and economically redundant practice- to the fore of our otherwise rich traditions and values. It has fast shifted from a craze of some well-oiled individuals and families, to a curse to many oridinary Nigerians. In our quest of doing “Parapo”, (togetherness) “Karimi” (show off) and "holding on to our culture", we have inadvertently demonstrated that Nigerians can be wasteful and have little or no economic acumen. Is this indeed not a fallacy?
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