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B Side, Film

‘Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story’ is a Culturally Authentic Depiction of Omenala Ndi Igbo

‘Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story’ is a movie which is culturally on point as it portrays intricate details of Omenala (Igbo culture).

  • Chiedozie Oji Ude
  • 3rd April 2024
Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi’ is a Culturally Authentic Depiction of Omenala Ndi Igbo

The artist plays a very important role in documenting the history and traditions of a community. One way the artist does this job is via storytelling. Through these stories, the artist becomes an embodiment and a custodian of culture, depicting elements of said culture and correcting several misconceptions in the process.


On this premise, one can affirm that it is in a bid to showcase several elements of the Igbo culture that led to the creation of Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story. In simple terms, this movie is culturally on point, as it portrays intricate details of Omenala (Igbo culture). 


The movie was first released in  cinemas in Nigeria to much acclaim in 2023, but gained a wider audience when it hit Netflix on March 29.


It tells the story of the well-publicised Igbo Apprenticeship System (IAS) alongside other aspects of tradition. The IAS, according to
Ndubuisi Ekekwe, is also known as Stakeholders Capitalism. This system advocates communal development, whereby a successful entrepreneur takes several interns (apprentices) from his community into his establishment and teaches them the nuances of his business.


These interns are later given the capital to begin their own practice. In this system, it is the duty of the successful man to ensure that he makes other kinsmen successful, thereby decentralising the concentration of wealth in the community. In Igbo, this entrepreneur is regarded as an “Onye Isi” (master) while his intern is known as “Nwa Boi”.


Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story was directed by Kayode Kasum, who does a really good job considering that he’s non-Igbo.  The movie features actors such as Stan Nze (Afam), Alexx Ekubo (Paulo), Kanayo O Kanayo (Odogwu), Bridget Atlanta (Amaka) and Segun Arinze (Inspector Shehau). The dialogue is done predominantly in Igbo, and is spiced with Igbo slang and proverbs. In addition, the colourful display of Igbo apparel, such as Isi Agu shirts and Okpu Agu caps, as well the use of Igbo music, marked by the harmonious sound of the oja flute, gives credence to the argument that Áfàméfùnà is an Igbo cultural artefact.


The story begins when Afam holds a celebration in memory of his father. This celebration is disrupted when the police arrive to announce that Afam is wanted for questioning on the death of Paulo. It is thus through a series of flashbacks that the mystery behind Paulo’s death is unravelled. In the process, viewers are also exposed to Igbo cultural practices. Therefore, a major merit of this movie is the way it fuses entertainment with cultural education. 


In the movie, Afam is a product of the IAS. As a teenager, he is nurtured on the do’s and don’ts of the business. At the first meeting, the master (Odogwu) lays down the sacred rules of engagement: he begins by telling Afam not to disrespect his customers and then warns him against stealing. Furthermore, he admonishes Afam to avoid any philandering with the opposite sex. It is of course these tenets that the protagonist embodies, thereby projecting himself as the quintessential “nwa boi” who succeeds.


On the other hand, Paulo contrasts Afam. While Afam represents the do’s, Paulo embodies the don’ts of the system. In fact, Paulo is the ultimate cautionary tale to those who think they can cut corners. It then becomes understandable when Odogwu decides to settle Afam before Paulo, despite the latter being the senior apprentice. The depiction of these two characters with their dissimilar outcomes helps in establishing the realistic nature of the movie, that is, it foregrounds that the IAS has its limitations. Hence, a comparative analysis of both characters shows that the IAS favours traits such as honesty, brotherhood, hard work, and diligence. 


Of course, the allusion to diligence is justified by the constant use of the term “gba mgbo”, which loosely translates as “be industrious” or “be diligent”, by Odogwu to admonish his apprentices. Thus “gba mgbo” represents a core value of the system as it encourages the young men involved that they can become successful if only they are ready to properly learn the trade. Surely, this is what Afam had in mind when he goes above and beyond to secure the clearance of his master’s goods being illegally held at the port by custom officers. 


In the same vein, the prevalence of issues such as “Apiriko” is one of the many ripple effects of the “gba mgbo” principle. To do or play someone “Apiriko” is to sell to them at a price higher than the market price. Here, we see these apprentices inflating the prices of goods in a bid to make extra profits for themselves. It is however important to highlight here that “apiriko” is entirely valid, as long as it is not done in a greedy manner. In the movie, Odogwu sums up the essence of “apiriko” when he tells Afam that  “Apiriko isn’t bad; it’s part of business.” Odogwu then goes on to vilify Obum’s avarice because Obum inflated the prices of goods exorbitantly.


Since the IAS is built on the premise that diligence deserves rewards, it comes as no surprise that Afam is handsomely rewarded for his services. The ceremony done to celebrate his freedom is marked by the breaking of kola nuts and offering of prayers by the master, blessing the now-former apprentice. The use of the kola nut (Ọjị Igbo) is culturally significant as illustrated through its use in different ceremonies. Also, the words spoken during the breaking of kola is what is regarded as “Kolanut Rhetoric”. Hence, we can state that the prayers done by Odogwu during the ceremony is a typical aspect of Omenala.


Apart from capturing the IAS, this movie also reveals the Igbo stance on paternity, which is, perhaps, its most contentious theme. For a while now, social media has been replete with discussions on paternity fraud. Recently, Geremi Njitap, a former footballer, filed for a divorce when he discovered he was not the biological father of his children. In Áfàméfùnà, Paulo and Amaka are initially portrayed as lovers. However, due to Paulo’s many indiscretions, Amaka marries Afam. It is later revealed that the child she bears in the marriage belongs to Paulo. It is this knowledge that Paulo uses to blackmail and extort Afam. Despite this, Afam still declares his love for Amaka and Lotanna. Note that Afam’s decision is not just one made in the throes of lovesickness — it is is one that reflects the cultural standpoint of the Igbos. When Afam claims Lotanna as his, he is simply projecting the Igbo worldview that no child is a bastard because any child born within a marriage automatically belongs to the woman’s husband. 


This is exactly the stance expressed by Chinwe Nwoye, who said: “…there is no concept of the bastard as there is always a known father.” So, in theory and practice (to an extent),  paternity fraud does not exist in Igbo land. Notwithstanding, it is worthy of note that not every family accepts these children. For instance, some of these children have been known to be ostracised by the family. Nwaubani illustrates this in her book I Do Not Come to You by Chance. She narrates how Boniface was not acknowledged by his kinsmen due to his “illegitimate status”. Nevertheless, as shown in the movie, paternity goes beyond biology and Afam is  proof of it.


To sum up, Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story serves as both an entertaining and educational piece of cinema. It entertains the reader through the unravelling of the mystery surrounding Paulo’s death and the romantic tension displayed through Afam, Paulo and Amaka’s love triangle. It educates the viewers by shedding light on aspects of culture and history, especially the effect the Nigerian Civil War had on Igbo businesses. Lastly, Afam’s success certainly reinforces the Harvard Business Review report that the IAS is the largest business incubator in the world as it is responsible for the development of thousands of ventures. A full appraisal of this movie will surely not be complete if the critic does not exclaim the expression “Igbo Amaka!”

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