It is sometimes through discourse that we remember people: the tone of their voice, their style or choice of words, their favourite expressions, etc. Indeed, discourse remembers these people for us. We know why we have to keep searching for the dead among the living; it is to be able to deal with absence which tortures us. My own father died many years ago and I strongly feel his absence. I can see him in his cherished expressions such as the ones examined here and his characteristic but symbolic "washing of hands." Moreover, who says that style, to some extent, is not the person? My father's favorite sayings (later, one would also examine that of the mother and maybe compare them) are part of his style. Absence is forcing one to go back to discourse to look for him.
The following are among the peculiar Igbo expressions that I associate with my father:
(1) Ebe iheoma dị ka Ekwensu na-aga ọnwụnwa.
(Where there is something good that is where the devil goes to enact temptation)
(2) Nwata ahụ bụ obu afọ ebu uche.
(That child is somebody who carries a belly but not a mind).
(3) A sachaa ezi ahụ, tee ya ude, gbaa ya "perfume," ọ ga-alarịrị n'ụrụ.
(If one gives a thorough bath to a pig, rubs sweet-smelling pomade on it, and perfumes it, it would eventually return to a muddy pond).
(4) A bụkwala meyi emeyi, chere echere.
(Don't be that person who starts something and turns later to pretend to be combatting it).
(5) Onye emeghị ihe dịịrị ya, ihe dịịrị ya emee ya.
(If one does not attend to one's responsibility, the responsibility would become one's liability).
(6) Nkịta m na-egburu ngwere asabeghị anya.
(The puppies for which I am killing lizards are yet to open their eyes).
(7) Ehi anaghị ama uru ọdụ ya baara ya tutuu e bepụ ya.
(The cow does not know the value of its tail until it is cut off).
(8) Ehi ga-eji ọdụ ya tere ihe ọ nyụrụ.
(The cow will mop up what it defecated with its tail).
(9) Onye zọrọ ụkwụ n'ala mara ụkwụ ya.
(One who steps on the ground should recognize the footmark).
(10) Ihe onye na-asọ na-abịara ya.
(What one detests is what comes one's way).
Yes; the Devil, it is predictable, would oppose what is good, or, at least, make it a disappointment. But, psychologically speaking, what one values most is close to one's heart. If one's heart is there, it becomesa trap to one. whatever happens to it touches one in a special way. One, therefore, needs a reasonable measure of detachment from every thing.
But from a spiritual perspective, such a trap can be used by the evil one. It was in that sense that my father saw the trap as being promising for the Devil. In other words, he was not just asserting what was possible; he was also warning all those who keep certain things closer to their hearts.
To carry a belly but have little or no sense is regettable. That means that the person has made his or her stomach a deity to be worsipped with eatables. That statement was a warning for one not to make one's stomach another trap. If one's enemies can get or seduce this stomach, one is finished. Poisoning may be the simplest weapon they would try to use in the circumstance.
Now, the pig. Even the word "pig" has become a natural metaphor for dirtiness. So, the saying is a bullseye in the discourse. The pig has no blame for returning to the mud and refusing to be turned to what its life cannot understand. The saying, unfortunately, can only be used to refer to an incurable habit. It is a confirmation of a futile effort to transform Hell to Heaven, devil to saint, and shit to delicious meal for the human.
Also, starting a problem but pretendingto be solving it is a manifestation of hypocrisy. If somebody has benefitted from evil, the person can be sure that that very evil would eventually consume him or her. What we promote or exploit is what eventually takes us. In that case , the "benefit" or reward comes in ways we cannot predict or control.
This brings in the issue of responsibility. If we fail to attend to a responsibility, are we free from the consequences? Not at all. We are warned again that this responsibility unattended to becomes a liability we have to pay a huge price to solve. This warning is very frightening and worse still, it is much later that the transformation of responsibility to liability occurs. The miserable condition is unimaginable.
It is natural for puppies not open their eyes the very day they are born. Nature says that they have to wait and grope about in their temporary blidness. So, killing lizards for them in their blindness is a waste of time. They only need breast milk. Keep your lizards for yourself. But that one is wasting one's time killing lizards for animals that need breast milk is a statement of regret or a confession of regret. The killer of lizards is ahead of time, expecting the diet of the puppies to change. The killer needs to be patient, if possible. But puppies need to open their eyes and grow up, to become big dogs. They should not remain puppies forever.
Now, cows. Hmmm, cows. Did I say anything? That a cow does not know the value of its tail is literally disappointing. What does it hope to use in driving away flies? If it waits to value its tail when it is already too late, that's futile. I believe this is a warning. Particularly for those who insist that they have to be the head and not the tail! Tailless cows!But cows with tails have to thank their stars and also value their tails. They should not wait for the tails to be butchered off.
Is one surprised that the cow is promised that it will eventually mop up its defecation, its shit, with its tail? We know that it is not a pig; neither is it a dog. But natural justice holds sway: karma is karma. Its tail has multiple functions; it can also be used to do other important things. One should not be this kind of cow and also wait for the defecation to be mopped up. It could be terrible. Is this not clearly a warning of warnings?
Then, that we should be able to recognise our very footmarks is to say that the human being is the centre of signification and of crime detection. Apart from the palm of one's hand, one should be able to KNOW one's footmark, even if one has to hide one's foot in shoes and sandals or slippers in modern times. Being able to recognise one's footmarks means, as the ancients say, you have to try to KNOW THYSELF, and when that self is replicated.
The one saying that makes one very uncomfortable is the one that claims that what we dislike as human beings is what comes our way! That is shocking. So, one has to be prepared to wrestle with opposition. That opposition is predictable and needs attention. One ignores it at one's own peril.
It appears that my father wanted to summarise his thoughts for his audience, and these that concern our being, our interaction with others, and the dialectics of earthly likes and dislikes. Obviously, those thoughts have continued to live in and through discourse.
If it is true that when the mother-goat chews the cud, her children just watch and learn, then, my father's favourite words are lectures that were delivered now and again and from which one could learn.