A notion that one must perform a given task for the sake of one's family, nation, and/or religion. Such notions often include doing things that don't really make much sense, but that people are inspired to do with rousing music and stirring speeches.

According to George Eliot, God was inconceivable, immortality was unbelievable, but duty was none the less "peremptory and absolute."

Considering the Victorian view of duty, this is a poignant commentary on the predicament of Victorian agnostics.


In an age of fops and toys,
Wanting wisdom, void of right,
Who shall nerve heroic boys
To hazard all in Freedom’s fight—
Break sharply off their jolly games,
Forsake their comrades gay,
And quit proud homes and youthful dames
For famine, toil, and fray?
Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My father once said to me that life is not about doing what you want, but about doing what you are supposed to do. I was a teenager then. And my thoughts were similar to those in dew's writeup. Now I am older, I still resent those things I am supposed to do. But I do them anyway because I feel bad when I do not them. And sometimes, I feel very good when I do them. On 22 December 2023, I drove from Kaduna to Katsina. Along the way, I stopped at a small village 14 kilometers from Katsina to see an aunt, the widow to my father's brother. My father had lived his earliest years there in the 1930s after his own father died and his mother remarried. She had given birth to my father's younger brother. My father loved his brother very much. And I think it was reciprocated. My uncle died 3 months after my dad. When I went to see my aunt after my uncle's death, she said that when he returned from my dad's burial, she knew he would not live long. He was already an old man anyway. Maybe 78 when he died.

So, I stopped to see my aunt. An old woman with bad teeth. Bent over at the waist probably due to arthritis. No western education. Perhaps patchy Islamic education despite her husband being a malam. Her eldest son had been disappeared by the military on allegations that he was a member of Boko Haram. Living in a small, dirty house in a dirty alley that had a narrow gutter running down its center. That gutter is one of the most distinctive features of traditional northern Nigerian quarters. I gave her some money. N20,000.00. A sum less than $20 at current exchange rates. And I left. I would repeat this visit many times over the next 3 days in Katsina, visiting old relatives. Giving them sums which are small to me but which they are really grateful to receive. Visiting my peers and being grateful that my father left Katsina thus birthing and raising us in a less traditional environment and so giving us the opportunity to know a bigger world and different ways of living. I visited one of my cousins, whose father was my dad's eldest brother. He had been the richest man in Katsina at a point. Unfortunately, the cousin I went to see had done poorly in school, has 2 wives, 9 children and imagines he has a salary with me. He asks me for money monthly. Always with a sob story. I give sometimes, resentfully. The guy is still giving birth. And I have advised him to stop, even though it is not my place since he is older than me.

The reason for the trip was to attend a wedding. My sister's son was getting married to my cousin's daughter. There is a lot of intermarriage in my clan. I'd never really enjoyed our weddings because the wedding ceremony itself is a short and uninteresting affair held at a mosque. There is usually a walimah afterwards. These 2 events are the prerequisites. However, there are other more colorful events with dancing and mingling. I enjoyed those when I was younger. I cannot attend them now because they are for older women (mothers and aunts of the couple), and for young single people. I enjoyed this wedding because while at the mosque, I saw a cohort of 8 of my nephews who were born between 2000 and 2005. So they are in their late teens and early twenties. I saw all of them together and I felt so proud. They looked so beautiful together. I envied them their future, still full of possibilities. I was that age 20 years ago. I wish I could guide them away from the errors I made and even those I avoided but that I know of and they don't. At the same wedding, there were some nephews who were slightly older, born in 1995 & 1996. They have stumbled because they just recently graduated from university which is late because they should have graduated around 2016. And I think they had problems with substance abuse. Even though they are good looking guys, they already have lost the shine of the hope of an unblemished future, bright with possibility. They looked a bit shifty and skittish, as if they expected to be scolded.

The visits and intermarriage are relationship maintenance which we call zumunci. It is both a verb and a noun. So, when you visit a relative, you are doing zumunci. And when you are a person who does zumunci, then you have zumunci. It can be a tiresome thing to have to do and we call complain about it. It is especially annoying when people decide to nag someone for not visiting or calling to pay respects. But yet we do it. We also expand it because it can even be established with people who are not your blood but become kin because you have become close. Such closeness might be due to friendship. I have brothers who are friends from secondary school and university or whose parents were my parents' friends. Sometimes the closeness might be due to obligation.

My zumunci obligation recently increased. My gardener died around 18 - 19 December 2023. I am unsure of the exact date. He was a live in gardener. He left behind 5 girls with the eldest being maybe 17. He had been ill for months and had decided to go to his village for traditional treatment. I had been paying his hospital bills, but he had not gotten better. When he left, I wondered if I should have taken charge, got him admitted to the hospital instead of letting him go to his village. He had been receiving treatment as an outpatient. But if I had taken charge and if he had died anyway, his family might be resentful and say he could have gotten better if he had gone to the village. He comes from a village in Taraba state, which is in the northeast. It is one of the least developed states in the country. A tribe was discovered there in the 1980s that had had no recorded contact with any other tribe before the 1980s event. The late gardener was from a village which had only one location that has cellular service. Apparently, that location was on a hill outside the village. I have decided to unofficially adopt his kids. It would have been hard hearted to turn them out because their father had died. So, I have acquired 5 more kids. Thus will a new strand of zumunci be established. They are Christians from a tribe that mine preyed on in precolonial times. In fact, I heard that for the tribes in central Nigeria, the word which is analogous to boogie man can be translated to Fulani horseman. In any case, the right thing to do is keep supporting them. I cannot let those kids be ruined. Especially since the two youngest are the agemates and playmates of my own kids. I imagine that supporting them will at least enable them not to sink back to the poverty of their father's village. The same way that getting out of Katsina enabled my father to improve himself and ensure his children were better off than those of his relatives who stayed behind.

So, I have accepted these duties. And I will not resent them. I will honor the memory of my father by doing what he did. And doing what I know he would be happy if he were here to see me doing it.

Du"ty (?), n.; pl. Duties (#). [From Due.]


That which is due; payment.

[Obs. as signifying a material thing.]

When thou receivest money for thy labor or ware, thou receivest thy duty. Tyndale.


That which a person is bound by moral obligation to do, or refrain from doing; that which one ought to do; service morally obligatory.

Forgetting his duty toward God, his sovereign lord, and his country. Hallam.


Hence, any assigned service or business; as, the duties of a policeman, or a soldier; to be on duty.

With records sweet of duties done. Keble.

To employ him on the hardest and most imperative duty. Hallam.

Duty is a graver term than obligation. A duty hardly exists to do trivial things; but there may be an obligation to do them. C. J. Smith.


Specifically, obedience or submission due to parents and superiors.



Respect; reverence; regard; act of respect; homage.

"My duty to you."


6. Engin.

The efficiency of an engine, especially a steam pumping engine, as measured by work done by a certain quantity of fuel; usually, the number of pounds of water lifted one foot by one bushel of coal (94 lbs. old standard), or by 1 cwt. (112 lbs., England, or 100 lbs., United States).

7. Com.

Tax, toll, impost, or customs; excise; any sum of money required by government to be paid on the importation, exportation, or consumption of goods.

⇒ An impost on land or other real estate, and on the stock of farmers, is not called a duty, but a direct tax. [U.S.]

Ad valorem duty, a duty which is graded according to the cost, or market value, of the article taxed. See Ad valorem. -- Specific duty, a duty of a specific sum assessed on an article without reference to its value or market. -- On duty, actually engaged in the performance of one's assigned task.


© Webster 1913.

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