Sunday, October 06, 2019

Some Simple Rules to Live By


By

Obododimma Oha


1. Respect yourself. Then, respect others.
2. Listen, even to nonsense.
3. Don’t engage in fruitless debates and wear yourself out, especially when you find that minds are made up.
4. Don’t squander yourself.
5. Look for fresh ways of doing old things.
6. Don’t ever expect the other person to agree with you always, especially when there are divergent goals.
7. Keep yourself company so that your mind won’t be lonely.
8. Make sure your food and your drink are your medicine.
9. Don’t allow your music to become noise. Don't admit noise into your life.
10. Behave; who knows who may be studying you?
11. Work fully this crude machine that is you.
12. Know that your body is a mere habitation; always be ready to step out of it.
13. Always remember to thank yourself whenever you do good.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Agbirigba Spirit

by

Obododimma Oha


This essay is not a celebration of self or a blowing of the fire of a personal ego, neither is it a hyperbolic claim about being tough as a man. It is rather a written acknowledgement and a confession that tough women (mothers, aunties, sisters, etc)  have all played important laudable roles in making a manhood. Not that one has not benefitted immensely from fatherhood or from uncles and many other elderly men. In fact, growing up to become a man is a school involving sitting and learning at the feet of many, men or women, but choice plays a role here. If one spends time only with disgruntled male chauvinists and misogynists, be sure that one would grow up hating or mistreating women, or propagating an idea that they are inferior  beings whose ideas do not matter in life. Or if a boy stays all the time with women, he may grow up forgetting ascent to manhood. Every year, "Obi is a boy"! Be sure that "Obi" would remain "a boy," what more, one that is "blessed among women." Growing up with elderly men around still has its advantages for a boy. But one is lucky to have benefited equally from great men and women and would like to narrate some ways that some of these great and tough women have played important roles in one's masculinity.

It is only natural that I start from my mother, but she has an important maternal antecedent. Yes, my grandmother was the big picture. Granma who was known throughout our community as a highly gifted woman, an accomplished griot (one known for ita abụ egede) and panegyrist with a signature hand fan who can turn any hard heart with her praise songs, a great cook who was believed to cook even ordinary water and it would have a delicious taste and other women of the village would apprentice themselves to her so as to learn from her, a woman of substance who was said to excel and even outshine manhood to the extent that she was nicknamed "agbịrịgba tugburu ebule" (the little stray seed of a shrub that stuck to the hairy body of the ram and overpowered/destroyed it in the process), and so on. Grandma loved her grandchildren very much and was greatly delighted when the grandchildren devoured whatever she could afford. She also died as the oldest person in her village --- over 100 years, to be modest! She had that longevity that puzzled everyone and which could only be a special gift from her maker!

Grandma, Ajaanụbiụdụ (Would her fame ever cease being heard far and near?), Agbịrịgba tụgburụ ebule, was something else.  Smallish in stature, yet very tough as a survivalist. God must have started trying out the technology of miniaturization in human creation with her! She, as far as I could remember, would walk all the way from her village to ours, not requesting to be helped or aided by a walking stick. The companions she had were her handbag and her hand fan. That fan, made of raffia palm, was a kind of identity card she carried along (I called it her "signature" above for a reason!)

She was a great book of books and following after her in life was a challenging thing. It was clearly a case of stepping into big, OVERSIZE shoes. It must have been so for her daughter, my mother, Onyedumeziokwu (Who is truly on my side?), also called "Nwa Agbịrịgba tụgburụ ebule" (The offspring of Agbịrịgba tụgburụ ebule). Nwa Agbịrịgba proved the dictum that marriage is like transplanting a plantain sucker to one's farm, because like the tree and its produce and would like to propagate it and have its kind nearby. Nwa Agbịrịgba was everything excellent: a great and careful farmhand, a great singer who was often picked as ọgbannnaaya (one reserved for the last dance and who dances alone), and a wife who stood by her husband, helping him to train soldiers, not just children. Nwa Agbịrịgba saw the training of sons as a quest to retain her husband beyond death: in other words, to make sure that he is still there, to the disappointment of ụmụnnadị (the outside jerks)!

Growing up under this great matriarch was a thing of joy and, indeed,  challenging but enviable.

Did she overlook  her daughters? No! She tried to replicate the Agbịrịgba spirit in them. I remember that whenever Nwa Agbịrịgba was away -- maybe for a meeting or for a ceremony -- these little amazons would see themselves as playing her role as mother. They would cook, sweep, wash, clean, etc. the way she would, just to make sure they turned her absence to presence. They did not want her to regret it, say for instance, in thinking: "If I had been at home...." They carried us on their backs, fought for us, fed us, etc. Indeed, inheriting their clothes or shoes was one thing we looked on to and which gladdened our hearts when that happened. It was not just the shoes or clothes, I now realize. No; it was something more. it was a bond; we had some trophies of relationship to inherit, along with their great pride. The girls among us inherited from elder girls, the boys from elder boys. We wore the materials and showed them off as people who had something great to celebrate, as continuations of the Agbịrịgba spirit. In these days of individualism and isolation, those trophies, those bonds, tell about people with a great value system, with an Agbịrịgba spirit. Such system cannot be replaced by social media sharing or Facebook friendship system!

Agbịrịgba spirit is Agbịrịgba spirit. Agbịrịgba spirit is daring and innovative, just as it is fearless. Was it not Agbịrịgba herself that counselled that I should not be frightened and run when I am confronted by monsters featuring in my dream? And when I slept and dreamed again of being attacked and stood my ground to fight back, did the monsters not turn and run, never to attack again but left me and my dreams alone later. Wherever I see Agbịrịgba spirit replicated (not contaminated!) in this or that relationship, I simply expect the fire and not just the smoke. I simply expect sufficiency, thoughtfulness, and independence.

Agbịrịgba spirit is a great value. It makes one unique, makes enormous demands, but one can be sure of becoming the fire when one lights the fire.



Sunday, September 29, 2019

Some Sacred Trees in Igbo Culture: Squirreling One’s Way through their Mysterious Branches


by


Obododimma Oha


Igbo culture extends signification to trees. Dating back to ancient times, the idea of some things representing or standing for other things has reigned in public life. Along this line, something representing another thing is based on the hope that communication obstacles would be surmounted and that the other person would finally understand what we mean. Lucky enough, we have bodies and organs saddled with the task of articulating representations of the representation. Maybe if we were from another lifeworld and do not need the so-called speech organs, we would order our representations of representation differently. Maybe we would just see other entities and use other means to figure out their intentions and respond appropriately, as shown in some science fiction movies and writings. So, that some trees in Igbo culture are assigned representation roles is not strange at all. It only reveals our limitation in our world and an attempt to deal with such limitations in communication.

There are some ancient cultures where trees feature in representing the mystic, something the Eurocentric would quickly dismiss as being animistic. The point is that ancient people might have known keys to what would appear to us as "mysteries" about trees that could "talk" and how, about trees that could give longevity, and about trees that could serve as traveling portals (what in some Christian Nollywood movies is featured as a demonic manifestation!)!

The trees one would like to focus on are interestingly perennial in nature (that is, the ability to survive adverse conditions and to live for a very long time!). I will reflect on this later and try to make the necessary connections. But let us for now name and reflect on the trees.

Ngwu

Ngwu is considered a sacred tree in Igbo culture, to the extent that it is not to be cut down and used for fuelwood at all. In fact, in the folklore, a song points to the sacredness of Ngwu and warns that it must not be cut down:

Anyuike egbule Ngwu
Na o bu oke osisi
(The axe must not cut down Ngwu
Because it is a great tree)

Interestingly, this particular song and saying in Uri is from the mouth of the masked spirit whose words are highly revered and taken entirely as "the truth." The actual referent in the song is not the tree, but something that is seen as standing in symbolic relation with Ngwu! Maybe the masked spirit itself! In that case, it is simply as way of cautioning: "Don't try to test the powers of the masked spirit or try to destroy it! It is risky, very!"

Another Igbo chant would say:

Anyuike gburu Ngwu -o
Isi adighi ya mma
Gburu Ngwu
Isi adighi ya mma!

(That axe that cuts down Ngwu tree
It is mentally unwell
Cuts down Ngwu
It is mentally unwell)

 It was observed in Black Orpheus of 21st April 167 as follows: "The Ngwu tree sacred and mystic; it  is a symbol of magic and super natural power" (see the following lovely poem of Odo masquerade published in that edition of Black Orpheus also):

I live by the Ngwu tree
Near the Nkwo market.
He who hastens to a fight
Knows not his death awaits him there.
Remember, my sons, the  day
You called upon me for help,
Remember the wilderness
Where I encountered the foe:
It is for you to say what happened.

You have needed an increase of wealth,
I gave it before you asked:
I knew you had no male children last year,
Today their cries are heard in your compounds.

"Living near the Ngwu tree" is total security. Which axe that is mentally unwell will come there to cut carelessly? One near the Ngwu tree has a protector, a shield of shields. That resident has no worries, for Ngwu is safety,  not just that it guarantees it!

Ngwu, in real social life, as indicated above, is also revered. it is used in marking off land boundaries, partly because it is perennial as a plant. It is also used in other serious rituals, but not viewed as a common tree. In other words, it has been selected by the culture to become a special tree and to feature in ritual functions!

The human being is also metaphorised as Ngwu or seen as being linked to Ngwu sacredness, as such names as:

Okongwu (okoro Ngwu, or a man that is or belongs to Ngwu).
Nwangwu (Offspring of Ngwu)
Ngwu (as a praise-name)

That the attributes of sacred Ngwu are copied to somebody means that the person needs to be treated just as Ngwu in the culture. Naturally, the ancient Igbo revere human life, and so would treat the human as containing or representing more than flesh and blood. The human is more than flesh and blood!

Anunuebe

Apart from Ngwu, another important tree which also features in the signification of the masked spirit is Anunuebe (Nnunuebe). Literally, Anunuebe means that "No bird perches on it" or "No bird has the courage to sit on it to rest." This is obviously frightening. If no bird has the courage to perch on it, it means that it has tremendous magical powers -- and it does! it means that Anunuebe is not just  an ordinary tree: it is a tree that is not just a tree. It is a tree that can transform and cause to transform. It is a tree that can do things. It is, therefore, special; in fact, sacred.

Why is Anunuebe a favorite among local herbalists and performers of the masked spirit? Is it just because of the attributed sacredness? There is something dark and frightening here: the mere mention of Anunuebe is scary: so, even birds are afraid to perch on the tree? That tree that is avoided by birds must be terribly potent and evil! Is that not enough warning? Thus, Anunuebe is descriptively named to warn and frighten, indirectly. The warning is analogical: if birds avoid it, which other warning (about danger) do you need? A naghi agwa ochinti n'ahia esula (No one informs a person hard of hearing that the marketplace is in some turmoil). That fellow just has to look and see!

Ogirisi

Ogirisi is also a very prominent ritual tree in Igbo culture. Perennial and used to indicate land boundaries, headsides of graves, and to handle ritual cleansing like washing of hands after handling corpses, digging of graves, and burial of corpses, Ogirisi is perhaps the most visit sacred tree in Igbo culture. The graves of those men die outside marriage (i.e. as bachelors) are traditionally symbolized with the Ogirisi "holding" the kitchen knife for them (Ogirisi ikpara ha mmaekwu). The knife in question (representing lack of fulfillment) is placed on the Ogirisi on the grave to mark the absence of a wife (to hold it, to mourn him!).

Oji

Am I forgetting Oji the kolanut tree? This tree is also special in Igbo culture, partly because the nut is used in so many ritual ceremonies. Is it in welcoming visitors, to commence ceremonies, to sue people, etc? Oji the kolanut is highly revered and so its tree.

A tree accorded so much honour, maybe for being the goose that lays the golden eggs (that produces the symbolic and revered nut), it attracts the following treatment, among others:

(i) One person is not understood as the owner of Oji, although one person can plant it. It is always communally owned, making many share in its wealth. It, therefore, stands as their bond, just like the nut is used for traditional communion.
(ii) The branches of the tree are not normally cut for fuelwood, even if the tree could be pruned;
(iii) The tree is valued above all other trees around and used for cash cropping.

Thus the tree of the kolanut is a great narrative, just as its nut through its symbolic mathematics could tell something about a ceremony. It is as if it narrates space and time as phenomena of our lives and nodes of inheritance. The tree is not the only tree around, but is seen as symbolizing the connection of the past of the ancestors and the present of their survivors. It is the present that inherits the past, that continues the past and its narratives.

The presence of kolanut tree in that homestead is the presence of the womb of life, the continuity of the narratives introduced in the distant past.

The main worry one has about these trees is that there are many Igbo people are beginning to forget what the trees represent in their culture, especially when some such people have lost touch with their roots mainly due to wrong attention to Western modernity and education. Does “education” require you necessarily to forget? Does it ask you to strip naked and walk the streets in a new madness? Is the education gained at school not supposed to be a complement of the one dispensed by the home and culture?

One knows that, since signification is  generally arbitrary and is relative to the age and civilization that shares it, it is bound to shift in time. But to forget signification that makes one’s thinking unique and to cling to the foreign is to expose oneself to ridicule. And which ridicule is worse than forgetting oneself and being neither here nor there?


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Iri Mpanaaka

By

Obododimma Oha


The idea of “mpanaaka” (literally, handheld meal) should be familiar to many children who grew up in rural Igboland. In some Igbo dialects, the term is used in referring to a kind of emergency bush lantern, normally held in the hand, too, with a thread to draw paraffin and give light while cooking or looking for something in the dark. It also speaks of poverty and ancientness and is hardly found in many parts of Igboland today.  But “mpanaaka” as food gift is not a happy term, for it conjures up a marked distinction between proper feeding from a dish, administered by a parent who really cares, and another parent who feeds a child that is an outsider, just for the fulfillment of all righteousness. In other words, somebody who calls it “mpanaaka” has already encoded an attitude of objection to it, as not being “real caring.”But let us even take its very context further: giving “mpanaaka” to a child occurs when that child has visited the homestead, maybe that child’s parents are away or have not got food ready. Greedy children observing a family devour a sumptuous meal may prompt this giving of “mpanaaka” as a way of “reducing” the weight of the observation or a response to the pathos evoked by an embarrassing stare. The child given “mpanaaka” or who eats “mpanaaka” (“iri mpanaaka””) may also get it as a reward for the usual visit, called “ịpụ ufere” or “ịpụ ọrịrị” (going out for recreation). Usually, this “ufere” is to another homestead believed to be on friendly terms with own homestead. Although children sometimes spend their “ufere” in the “enemy” territory and may be given “mpanaaka” out of additional spite, spending “ufere” is usually in homesteads approved by adults. In that context, “mpanaaka” is not really given to the child at “ufere” but to the “invisible”witnesses of the “kind” gesture performed, witnesses and visitors who may have come to spend “ufere” along with the child.

These days when children can easily be kidnapped or used for ritual, apart from postcolonial elitist alienations from community, “ịpụ ufere” and “mpanaaka” are casualties. They are fast-dying practices. Moreover, children may be sternly warned by their parents not to accept “mpanaaka” (in which case the child would be in a dilemma whether to accept or not, especially if the child finds the food particularly irresistible or is hungry. It brings up a big probem for risk-taking in “iri mpanaaka.” Is accepting “mpanaaka” to be decided by the child who has a conscience and is pushed by other variables, or should the child, who is considered a minor and is denied his or her rights, listen the guiding voice of the adult who has obviously been distorted and spoilt by the politics of the world?

Another thing: “mpanaaka” may become “more delicious” than the dish the child has known all along in his or her parents’ homestead. It may even be of poor quality and badly prepared, but the child who receives an “mpanaaka” could value it much and rate it higher. In that case, the child has an additional psychological reason to take “mpanaaka” out there. Have stolen apples stopped being tastier than the ones properly bought or harvested? In that line, too, “mpanaaka” could be attractive and taste “better” because it is from that other homestead.

As one recollects “mpanaaka” and its presence in the childhood of many that are Igbo elites today, one thinks, too, of the psychological and philosophical issues it brings up, especially childhood as the context of personal choice and decision-making. Also, are adults training children to continue prejudices or to end them, to build community or to destroy existing ones?

What of the macro-level of “iri mpannaka” in global “ịpụ ufere?” Are not some countries perpetually greedy and watching the lips of another organized nation-family at table? Are they not perpetually begging with their eyes, following the morsel as it enters the mouth, and even swallowing nothing except their saliva when the other swallows the food? “Mpanaaka” countries amuse me in their attachment to discarded things, alias “tokunbo.” “Mpanaaka” countries wait for others to produce, even theories! Then, they queue  up hungrily to receive pieces on the palms of their hands, hoping to impress the less-fortunate fans who bring up the rear. “Mpanaaka” countries do not understand who owns and controls this global playground and how. “Mpanaaka” countries, in their hunger for food from the other homestead should know that they are symbolically saying very sad things about their own homesteads and their mothers.


Now, you can see that, in spite of some good things in “mpanaaka,” I am on the side of those mothers who frown when their children eat it!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Spirits Eating on Behalf of Spririts

by

Obododimma Oha

In the catechism class in those days, we learnt that mmụọ (spirit) was "ihe a naghị ahụ anya, maọbụ nụ olu ya maọbụ metụ ya aka" (what we cannot see, neither can we hear its voice nor touch it). You know how the religious discourse of that nature goes. You have no hand in the idea; it is only "repeat after me." You have no choice in the matter but to just repeat after the instructor. The instructor's saying is your saying; the instructor's thought is your thought. The instructor even has no thought independent of what the book says. So, it is our saying. Well, operating from this ultra-conservative world of established, nailed-down truths, children are sometimes recruited to perform some acts, to complete a ritual, which is in consonance with the fortune or misfortune of being born into a belief system. You have no say in that, too. You just grow up  being a believer, continuing the belief of your parents, even their madness! If they say, "Kill somebody," you  do it faithfully without asking questions. In fact, you can even over-do it, to show that you are a super-believer!

In those days when the tree tops were a highway for squirrels and roads passed respectfully under the breadfruit tree, those of us who were children were privileged to eat meat and fish on behalf of the spirits. I know that in our local area, there was this idea (sometimes voiced out by some people), that "ụmụaka bu mmụọ" (children are spirits). Whether this idea emboldened us or it was sheer greed, our eating on behalf of spirits was something unique. I am going to recall how it played out in one interesting instance in which a late paternal uncle, a worshiper of traditional Igbo religion, asked us to go and drop food in "ihu mmụọ" (the presence of the spirits, indeed their altar).

The food to be served the spirits (which nobody should touch anyway) was mouth-watering and special. It had the best part of the meat and the special portion of the fish from the soup pot. Eyes were on them, anyway, as the children fought to be the ones chosen to go and serve the food. I think the food was deliberately made unique; things served the invisible by the fan (not the fanatic) should be extra-attractive. Also, children were chosen with an assumption that they were innocent, naive, and more straightforward. It was assumed that the innocence would please the spirits and persuade them to accept the food offering. Adults were considered too morally stinking and stupidly wise and would even annoy the spirits with their presence. Look at them with their flags with so much stain! So much stench. So, only children, who were also spirits and an offering, should bring the food and the spirits would accept to eat!

Well, the spirits liked us, especially when we fell on the food, eating on their behalf. That was when Uncle was not looking and we had gone far from the house towards "ihu mmụọ." Since he trusted us with  the food, being a believer, it should be between spirits and spirits. And the spirits watched spirits eat on their behalf in their presence.

We ate fast so that any delay would not make Uncle suspicious. What he wanted to see  was the empty plate, anyway, and had no business asking how the spirits ate his food. The important thing was that the spirits accepted it and ate it. And didn't spirits eat it?

Recently, this situation was even vocalized by Osụọfịa in one of the Ikuku films he acted. Osụọfịa is the acolyte of Ikuku and charged with the task of looking after Ikuku's property -- mainly sheep and goats offered by people as sacrifice. Well, Osuofia did not ask for sheep or goat colony, neither did he make a law to impose RUGA. Instead, he proclaimed that a devotee of the rich Ikuku should equally be rich and driving an SUV! His table, too, should speak of wealth: "O bụ anyị ga na-atara Ikuku anụ" (We are the ones that should be eating meat for Ikuku). Osụọfịa, I am with you completely. Does Ikuku, as a spirit, have a mouth? A mouth is a human form, not a form for spirits. Those that have human forms are in a position to use those forms as humans. Food or meat is not for entities without human form, and can only through mediation be consumed by human-spirits.

So, as children growing up in the African countryside in the religion of our ancestors, we had enormous power as spirits. We ate on half of spirits.




Thursday, August 15, 2019

Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri

by

Obododimma Oha

I know that some husbands give their wives all kinds of pet names, sometimes to their own doom, especially when the names are weapons used in dealing with such husbands. One of my late paternal uncles added "Eme Oyiri" to his late wife's name, "Mgbọkwọ," and preferred to call her "Mgbọkwọ Eme-Oyiri" (Mgbọkwọ that is excellent and has no comparison, a unique Mgbọkwọ, an exceptionally good Mgbọkwọ). Those of us children that clustered around her shortened or transformed the name to "Mgbọkwọmori" or "Mgbọkwọmoyi." Not that we were linguists or that we knew what we were doing in transforming the praise-oriented name. We did not know about the addition then, what more the significance of our clipping.  But the great pet name, nevertheless, preached to us, showed us the meaning of love between husband and wife and convinced us that there was something sweet in marriage. Uncle was superb, too, and liked children. A good storyteller and knower, he easily won our hearts and did not need to preach to us to scratch his elderly back.

Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri was patient and understanding; she bore my uncle's masculine excesses and deviations and because of her attitude won the hearts of many. Some people that knew the couple closely can testify to how their fights were enacted as humorous encounters of the other. The "fights" only consolidated their love life, cementing the relationship and making Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri really incomparable as a wife and lover. Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri was Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri, unique and lovable!

It was a common discourse about how Mgbọkwọ extended her caring attitude to the many children that clustered around her, that preferred to spend their ịpụ ọrịrị (casual visits associated with children) at Mgbọkwọ's house, by not only giving them food when they are hungry, but also breastfeeding the babies among them on behalf of their mothers who had gone to market or village meetings. This author was, indeed, one of those who would courageously enter her kitchen and collect food to eat without being challenged! One nickname he earned easily, given his use of Mgbọkwọ's kitchen (as if it were his own mother's) was "Mgbọkwọmoyi a biara m iri ukwa" (Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri, I have come to eat breadfruit pudding)! The nickname stuck, especially because he continued his acting and Mgbọkwọ continued her caring and understanding response.

Perhaps making this bond stronger was the fact the Mgbọkwọ and my own biological mother lived once under the same roof like sisters. This made it possible for them to share things, including the fact that they both saw each other's child as her own. It was this understanding that made both try to care for the other in the other's presence or absence. My siblings and I saw Mgbọkwọ as our own mother. Indeed, she was our own mother and cared for us beyond measure. If my own mother went to market or to a meeting, we felt at home with Mgbọkwọ and my mother would be relaxed knowing that we were still in her own hands. We were always in our mother's presence if we were with Mgbọkwọ.

She is now long dead, but do I sill hear her voice in my head? Yes, I do. I see her in her children who walk and talk and act like her. I also remember that her voice awoke me every morning when, as the odi griot, she went round the village singing:

Atamiri, ihi gi egbule m eee!
Atamiri, m ji eje mba ee!
A si m ihi gi egbule m ee!

And villagers that hear her voice would respond:

Odi, odi, odi!
Odi anu odi azu!

We could translate these to mean:

Atamiri, spare me in your awe!
Atamiri, with whom I go places!
Please, spare me in your great awe!

Response:

Odi, odi, odi!
Odi festival, of sumptuous fish and meat!

Her being a village griot meant that she was a great singer. She always sang her work, and we children listened and learnt from her voice. We learnt to sing our tasks  and performed such tasks happily. Although we did not sing about the goddess Atamiri, but Mgbọkwọ as a professor taught the power of songs. That was in agreement with her husband telling us many exciting stories and, in fact, teaching us indirectly how to tell stories and to get people to listen.

When I think about Mgbọkwọ, I realise how African femininity has changed today greatly. The African elite women can wear their colourful had-ties and lace to gatherings, but cannot be Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri. Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri is Mgbọkwọ Eme-oyiri!


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Slowness in Igbo Thought

by

Obododimma Oha

Naturally, being slow in doing things or going slowly is deplored in human affiars. It is associated with such negative behaviours as habitual indolence, indecision, poor judgment, and incompetence. But slowness lauded is the one that is as a result of being thorough, calculating, and cautious. So, we can say right away that there is ambivalent treatment of slowness in the Igbo world.

What is particularly interesting is the way that slowness and fastness are configured in Igbo thought. These may suggest an analogy, for it is mainly the behaviours of animals known in reality for slowness and fastness that are used in framing ideas of these behaviours in human affairs. We find these figurative constructions in public discourses, in similes, metaphors, synecdoches, etc. Animals that are associated with slowness and which are used in talk about it are: ejula (the snail), mbe (the tortoise), esu (the milipede), and eke (the royal python).

Ejula the snail is biologically burdened to carry its shell around. Its shell is its primary abode, although we can say that it is part of "snailness." A snail without a shell is not known. it is only fiction and a monster in our world! So, a snail's shell is its identity card. It has been naturally created to have a shell and carry it around. Maybe Plato would have something to say about this in his theory of forms. But some of us associate the snail with ancient hybridity. It is a kind of strange creature, even a monster! Its strangeness is obvious: it has what many creatures do not have, even being between maleness and femaleness, being a hermaphrodite. The shell, too, may have other strange qualities. For instance, it has no claws but can dig the soil. It has no teeth but can bite and eat through hard things. It can even travel on risky surfaces. Is that not why the Igbo say in a proverb: Ire oma ka ejula ji aga n'ogwu (The snail travels through thorns with the sweet/polite/good tongue). The three options suggest other possibilities in translation of the proverb. It could be literalized (with some playfulness) as the "good" tongue, and connotatively as "politeness." The snail is a slow animal and its slowness, though natural, is also an advantage. Is it not one of the creatures that have taught humanity the science of sensors? In another Igbo proverb which says, "Ndidi ka ejula ji awa ala" (It is with patience that the snail digs the ground), we are directed to its ability to dig, even though it has no claws! So, you now know that the snail is an important character in Igbo folklore.

The sayings that refer us to the slowness of the snail are mainly those that deploy analogy, comparing someone's slowness to that of the snail. I think this is universal. Even in English, don't we have something like "snail-speed"? The speed is very slow in our reality, but in another, it may be great speed. We hardly think of the earth and the sun as moving, but, scientifically, their movements are noted. So, the slowness of the snail may be incredible speed in another world!

The slowness of the snail is often grouped with the slowness of mbe the tortoise. Biologically, these creatures are carrying excess luggage that could make them slow-moving, but the reality of their slowness provide some material for thought in Igbo culture, as elsewhere. The slowness of mbe the tortoise is linked to its being calculating and cunning. As a crafty animal, it has to weigh things, even if its is finally and ironically the victim. In many Igbo tales, it sometimes uses its slowness as convincing evidence to work out a trick. Some very fast animals also can take its slowness for granted and lose out, as when mbe enters a race with nkita the dog, or with ururu the hare. Sometimes the bad loser is the monkey or the stupid goat that can be fooled on the way with some juicy and tempting thing to eat. It would eat this and forget the race and would be overtaken by the slow that calculating me! No wonder slow and steady wins the race.

If they snail and the tortoise have to battle with excess luggage biologically, esu the millipede is also impeded by numerous "legs" it has to count as it puts them down. This unusual statistics makes it a slow animals. Anything that wrestles with a plural entity or identity is in great trouble. Esu wrestles with plurality and is understood as being clumsy and slow in the culture. That slowness is its encumbrance and victimhood. The Igbo would not want to be like the esu, vulnerable and slow kinetically.

Perhaps the champion of slowness in the culture is eke the royal python. Many Igbo people view it as the presence of one goddess  or the other and so cannot kill or eat it as a totem. To kill it meant to incur the wrath of the goddess. A typical case is the imprisonment of the snake in a box by Ezeulu's son who has become a Christian convert. That is seen as an alu or abomination in the culture. It is as if the python knows this reverent attitude to it and it adds to its royal slowness. But the truth is that it has come to see the environment as a non-hostile and threat-less one! It can, therefore, afford to be slow, lie about carelessly, and live casually without being molested.

Thus, it enters into Igbo thought as an icon of slowness informed by spoilt living. It is the one that takes its slowness for granted, not another animal. In fact, that slowness is also deployed in its feeding. It targets -- house mice -- that want to enter its lazy mouth can try it. It would show that animal that it can still bite and kill.


My late father used to counsel me: E mee ngwangwa, e melahu odachi (If we hasten up, we can escape tragic circumstances). That is true. But I have to add: E nwekwara ike ime ngwangwa, jekwuo ihe mberede (One can hasten up only to plunge into or meet tragedy). The idea of slowness in Igbo thought is clearly an understanding of kinetics of things. The culture understands movement comparatively, but limited to its reality. Slowness, as measured in and through the lives of these animals shows that we have depended much on observation, but need to observe more.

Now that the world is moving to faster life and faster ways of doing things (thanks to Information Technology for giving us the computer that can accomplish the task of many in a shorter time!), fastness seems to be more admirable. But speeds are relative to things and to worlds. One type of speed is not necessarily better than the other, except with reference to realities and the particular activities in question. In that case, judgment is again relative to realities involved. Interestingly, humans think that their idea of speed or movement is the norm. Maybe exposure to other realities would shatter that myth. It  is worse when animals are selected to gauge this idea of speed and we encode them in our discourses in measuring speeds. Currently the shift to abstractions like seconds and minutes and hours and days or weeks are just attempts to replace imagination with imagination. Even light years as very great distances, measuring distance as time!

Slowness  initiates thinking about things and their motion, from our perspective and from an analogical angle. Ancient Igbo were into this dark and confusing aspect of philosophy of  science. They were inviting us really to reason about motion beyond analogy encoded in our signification as humans.