One of the most articulating issues in Ika nowadays is the breath-taking social change on one of the oldest cultural organizations, the ‘extended family institution’, which is becoming weakened by more weighty demands ranging from the pursuit of lasting happiness, quest for professionalism to financial independence. Noted also are the rising unemployment rate, effects of globalization making marriages and family creak at the seams, while women are continuously demanding more gender rights. Strikingly, this disintegration of the traditional society was sudden and dramatic and the transformation was breath-takingly fast-faced and capable of overwhelming even the society itself.
It does appear nobody anticipated anything like it, neither are the Ika people thinking about how heavily bruised this most common traditional pattern of family institution have now become. Respect for filial ties, the strongest point of the extended family has been shattered as the younger generation drift into cities, towns and in recent times, across the shores of the country to imbibe new value system. In the last two decades, some of such happenings revealed quite a bashing in Ika culture.
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The cities and towns offered the young glittering opportunities, which allowed them to carve out a future outside village life. Eventually, they are rewarded for their initiative that conferred a new status on them. Many have more value than anything else; for example, marriages became easily contracted, sometimes, without the approval of the family. And although people are massed together in the urban areas, they are scattered rather than united by the emerging society.
At the turn of the 20th century in Ika, the extended family “Ebon” was still a factor of economic unit. Its component was closely related and the blood relationship was acknowledged in the continued recognition of the office of the patriarch and the use of genealogical method was adopted to trace the relationship within three or four generations. Wealth, joy and sorrow, were shared together. Status was not as today conferred by material success or standard of education. The system formed a distinct legal and administrative unit under a head. It was the group within which children were born, reared and trained in conduct and methods of work, and members performed the ceremonies connected with birth, marriage, death and other rituals.
But such factors as Western education added to the economic system along foreign influences, which changed all that led to the transformation of some of the roles performed by the extended family in Ika traditional society.
Certainly, the colonial powers, following their own policies, had powerful economic effects, of which the most important were the disruption of predominantly subsistent economy by introducing and developing cash crops. With the monetization of the traditional society, communal ownership of means of production was privatized. The result was that more people began to migrate to seek for paid employment.
With colonization also came formal education. Before long, this form of education created a revolution of rising expectations. “Nothing has caused more suffering in post-colonial period than the constantly rising threshold of educational qualifications and considerable shrinking of employment opportunities relative to the demands.”
The scenario was different from what obtained in the traditional Ika society where education was seen as a means to an end and not an end in itself. In Ika traditional education, functionalization was the guiding principle. It was generally for an immediate induction into the society and a preparation for adulthood. Ika traditional education emphasized social responsibility, job orientation, political participation and spiritual and moral values. Irrespective of the level of education and training given during the pre-colonial days, it was functional because the curriculum was relevant to the needs of the society. Unemployment, if it existed at all, was minimal and very few young men roamed the villages and towns.
Since Western education was sought as an escape from the grinding and poverty of rural life, it soon became inevitable that its products should leave the villages. The influx of primary and secondary schools and recently the university graduates leavers into the towns produced numberless social problems. In the end, unemployment drove the boys into crimes of various types and the girls into prostitution. In turn, this led to the growth of concentration of population of urban areas, to new trades, new customs, to rising tide in social change, swamping local tradition in the towns and creeping through disturbing rivulets to the very depths of the rural areas.
The extended family, so far, appears to be worst hit by the changing trends. Today, there are Ikas who do not know their home towns. They do not know anybody outside their immediate family. Some do not even know their parents.
The Ika society’s culture and values are fast changing. Issues that were considered abnormal and seen as taboos now pass without any eyebrows raised. There are now single parents of either sex. Even the incidence of female-led households is on the increase. Children brought up by single parents will grow up maladjusted. When these children grow up, they may not see the need for starting a family. When they do, they will not be committed to it because they did not have a normal childhood.
One would like to ask what happens to the Ika extended family institution in the next 100 years; will it survive?
This Column will welcome any reactions from the public.