I Spent My Easter Watching Afamefuna. It Was A Missed Opportunity To Dive Deep Into The Igba Boi System

“The Igbo business empire is built on core values like brotherhood and hardwork,” Odogwu (Kanayo O. Kanayo), in a melancholic voice, began to narrate the foundation of the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit, not just Igba Boi, to Afamefuna (Stan Nze).
Afamefuna: An Nwa Boi Story

It was a scene that captured the attention of anyone who has heard about the Igbo Apprenticeship system known as Igba Boi. For those unfamiliar, Igba Boi is a communal business framework where successful entrepreneurs (Oga) train apprentices (Nwa Boi) in their field of expertise. After years of service, the Oga provides capital and a portion of their customer base to help the Nwa Boi launch their own business.

This rich cultural practice forms the foundation of the critically acclaimed movie ‘Afamefuna: An Nwa Boi Story,’ directed by Kayode Kasum. But how accurately does the film portray the realities of Igba Boi?

When movies hinge on historical or cultural narratives, their failure to accurately portray that essence might outweigh all other positive aspects, from acting to cinematography. Cultures and histories aren’t fabricated entirely from the imagination of the writer or director. They are (or were) realities of people, whose depiction, if not exact, should not lack the core details that make up the culture.

With this in mind, knowing my Easter holiday wouldn’t be packed with events, I eagerly awaited the release of ‘Afamefuna: An Nwa Boi Story’ on Netflix.

The night before, on a call with a friend, I mentioned the film should do justice to the Igbo Apprenticeship System, Igba Boi. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time.

But did it deliver?

Kanayo O. Kanayo’s role was nothing short of classic. He embodied his role as someone with an absolute in-depth knowledge of the Igba Boi system. Through him, viewers were taken on the history and culture on which the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit was built.

If you’re here for a traditional movie critique – acting, cinematography, setting, and storytelling – you won’t find that from me. (Let me tell you, my last movie, ‘Suit,’ took seven months to watch, from August 2023 to March 2024!) However, as someone who pauses movies to research meaning of words in movies, places, proverbs, and even the historical underpinnings of science fiction films, I can share some hidden insights about ‘Afamefuna’ if you stick around.

The movie opened beautifully, with a powerful message that perfectly encapsulated the story’s core: the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo people and how the Igba Boi system functions as a business incubator.

It reads in full:

“The Igbos in Africa have been practicing for centuries what is today known as stakeholder capitalism. The Igbo apprenticeship system (IAS) has been recognized as the largest business incubator in the world as thousands of ventures are developed and established yearly through it. For the Igbos and some Africans, it is a working system which has brought equality and peaceful coexistence in communities.”

What followed, however, dampened those expectations.

A group of young men playing football under the Niger Bridge sent an entirely different message to me compared to the movie’s opening. What if the film had begun with the bustling market scene typical of Ariaria in Aba, Abia State, or the main market in Onitsha, Anambra? Would it have affected the discovery of the body? Honestly, I paused to recheck the movie’s title during this first scene.

‘Afamefuna: An Nwa Boi Story’ opening with a football scene simply to introduce the discovery of Alex Ekubo’s body, Paul, fell flat.

Even if the football scene could be overlooked, the way Afam was inducted into the Igba Boi system was, to put it mildly, inaccurate. In its true cultural form, the Igba Boi system is an agreement, albeit oral, between two families. It involves a meeting between the families – the oga’s family and the nwa boi’s family. Afam traveling with his mother without any elder from the village accompanying them exposes a concerning pattern currently observed in the system, where the oga’s accountability for their promises is compromised. In Igbo cosmology, a child (nwa) doesn’t solely belong to the immediate family. They are considered a product of the community. This concept is rooted in the proverb “otu onye anaghi azu nwa,” which translates to “one person does not raise a child.” In Afam’s case, with his father absent, other elders in the family should have been directly involved in the crucial decision of placing him as an apprentice.

Segun Arinze as CSP Gidado

Another opportunity to showcase the intricacies of this culture was missed when Afam’s mother and Odogwu negotiated the terms of the Igba Boi system without Afam present.

Induction into the Igba Boi system, as accurately depicted when Afam received his blessings and was settled, should be a gathering of both families. This gathering serves as a platform to discuss the agreed-upon amount, the number of years of service, and other vital agreements. It’s not a simple dialogue but a deliberation that follows the Igbo tradition of an elders’ council, where opinions are sought and conclusions are reached.

Having grown up witnessing this practice firsthand, I can attest to its prevalence. My best friend’s father, Nwaogeikpe, has trained and settled over 10 nwa bois. In a recent exclusive interview with him and some of his apprentices, the challenges and advantages of the practice were openly discussed.

“Before I started, I brought witnesses from my side, and he [my oga] too brought witnesses. But there wasn’t a formal written agreement,” Ugochukwu, the eldest apprentice of Nwaogeikpe, told me.

Nwaogeikpe himself said, “The Igba Boi System isn’t always an easy journey, specifically due to human differences and shortcomings.”

Additionally, I found Afam’s settlement before Paul’s puzzling. Did Afam complete his agreed-upon service years? Was Paul due to be settled when Afam was chosen instead? Remember, the movie portrayed Paul as a good apprentice. He managed Odogwu’s business effectively, even growing it and training other Bois. Why was he overlooked simply because Afam found a way to resolve Odogwu’s business issue at the Wharf? This again highlights the potential problems that arise when the elders aren’t involved in the initial agreement stage.

Induction into the Igba Boi system, as accurately depicted when Afam received his blessings and was settled, should be a gathering of both families.

It was, however, a feel-good movie that embodies the culture of a people. The Igbo speaking, and the translation, was spot on except for few mistakes like when Afam’s mother called him Nwam nwoke and it was wrongly translated as ‘Good young man’ instead of ‘my son.’

Odogwu deserves his crown. His scenes were not only captivating to watch but were culturally educational. His explanation of ‘Apiriko’ as the means Nwa Bois’ make money by slightly increasing the price of goods is nothing short of correct. It was reassuring to see him further explain that Obum’s style of ‘Apiriko’ was greedy because he inflicted the price so high that a customer, on discovery, will not return.

Put in simpler words, Odogwu showed that ‘Apiriko’ is not bad but a way nwa boi can make extra money. It is, in fact, encouraged.

Afamefuna was a feel-good movie that embodies the culture of a people. The Igbo speaking, and the translation, was spot on.

The scene where Odogwu blessed Afam was another sight that speaks volumes to culture. He embodied all his roles like one who knows the intricacies and nuances of the tradition.

In all, apart from some of the cultural misses, which I feel were necessary to better shine a light on the practice of Igba Boi and all the issues it is currently facing, the movie was an absolute enjoyment that made my Easter eventful.

Related TopicsAfamefunafeatureIgba BoiIgbo Apprenticeship system‎Kanayo O. KanayoStan Nze

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