By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Iniobong Obinna-Onunkwo is the creative head and CEO of Little Weavers, a couture brand that manufactures clothing and accessories for children, using purely African prints. As a Diplomat’s daughter, the former investment officer who has worked in the Engineering, Food and Beverage and now the Fashion Industry, has had the privilege of traveling to many countries outside the African continent. Her observations and findings in her travels, led her recently, to establish the Heritage Education for Youths.
So, what did you find in course of your travels that made you start the Heritage Education for Youths?
I mentioned to you that I have been privileged to travel to many places. Each country or place that I visit, I notice that the people embraced their culture and language and this is their identity. Also, when you travel to some countries, you see monuments, edifices commemorating events that had happened in that country. They have documented history about themselves even in movies. Take the World War for example: we don’t have that kind of thing. What do we have back home? I can only say I am a Nigerian and when they think Nigeria, they think footballers and entertainers. Is that the only thing we have?
So, I am wondering, how do we educate our children about past events in the country? Now, when I travel with my children, we go round such historical sites but, when we come back home, we don’t have such. Also, you find out that our youths are not grounded in culture. Our culture is fast eroding. Nigerian children can’t speak their languages. Nigerian languages are dying. It is very important that we have cultural identity. And this thing is not just with Nigerians. It is the same all over Africa. So coming back home, I thought I should do something to salvage the situation and that is what gave birth to the Heritage Education for Youths. We need to be able to tell our stories from different perspectives, collate and document them, and let young people know we have our history and even encourage them to celebrate ourselves even through our fashion.
For a long time we have looked to the West for trend. How do you begin to convince the Nigerian child or youth to embrace all things Nigerian including language and fashion?
There are so many things we plan to address with this campaign. Our objective is to educate, empower and revolutionize the cultural perception, embracing our culture and having an identity. In this regard, parents will have a lot to do to change that perception. We need to re- orientate the children. I’m guilty of this as a parent. I started off wanting my children to speak proper English. But then, I realise that when we travel and I want to say something to my kids privately, I can’t. You see Arabs, Indians, they all speak their language. Your language becomes a thing of pride when you are outside Nigeria. I remember being with a Jamaican once and all he was concerned about, was how we speak Pidgin English. I couldn’t understand the fascination. So, I think we should do a proper re-orientation and embrace what we have.
When it comes to trend, I can confidently report that our children are beginning to embrace our fashion. As a designer, I specialise in children’s clothes and I’ve done a couple of shows. When I get young models to wear my designs during shows, after the show, they don’t want to take it off. I did a mini collection for a parent once. She called me to say look, “I don’t know what you did with my children, but, they don’t want to take off the clothes”. So I told her its probably because people complimented them about it and that boosted their self confidence. Another parent once told me to make something for him which I had made for his son. I told him my focus was on children, he told me to focus on adults too. He said his son wore the outfit to church and everybody was admiring and asking where he got it from. So we need to build the confidence of our children that they can wear afrocentric clothes and still look good.
What project are you starting with?
We have started already. We did a short documentary on Ogbunike Cave in Anambra State. During the last Christmas, we were there, did the documentary just to show that something like that exists. When we talk about tourists places in this country, I’m not impressed. In other lands, they build shrines, people come and pay money to go see it and take photographs. One of our own mini shrine is the Ogbunike Cave. Why have they not set up hotels and mini market place around it? We got there and the whole place looked dead. But when we toured the place, it was fun. I couldn’t understand why the place looked dead. I’m hoping that when that video hits youtube, we are going to get a lot of likes and views especially from Nigerians in the diaspora.
This looks like what government should be sponsoring. How do you hope to finance this?
This is not really a project for one man. I need a lot of help and support from private entrepreneurs and people who truly believe that our culture is eroding. I’m just a lone voice trying to call us back to our heritage and this is not a Nigerian thing. It is also affecting other countries in Africa. My husband just came back from Rwanda and he had so many nice things to say about the country, that is in spite of the genocide. He took pictures of houses and places where they had the genocide. Where is our own? Where are those places that remind us of our history? We need all these for our history classes. We can even package them as education material for our schools. So I think it is time for us to begin to appreciate our culture and then celebrate it. And guess what, when the Europeans, the Arabs and other groups see you celebrate yourselves, they’ll join you to celebrate what you have.