Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Long Life and Other Funny Human Desires


Obododimma Oha

Humans have so many interesting desires: desire for food, shelter, safety, their bodies, etc. Was it not one thinker, Abraham Maslow, that tried to arrange them in the order of priority (is that necessary?) and to predict them? That is not my concern here. You will realize my concern soon. But as noted, humans have many desires and they can kill one another to have any of them satisfied! Anyway, one of the chiefest of these desires noteworthy is longevity. Humans want to live long, if possible, enter the Guiness Book of Records as the longest ever living soul. So, let us clap hands for the longest living. After that, let us remind the soul that it should go to either Hell or Heaven, according to the order of Christian theology.

So, the first thing gained is the applause for being the longest living. Nothing more. We, as mortals, want to be the first and the best. But we do not forget that we are located in a shithole. One thing about the shithole is that it stinks terribly! So, remaining there longer is a great punishment. It is thus puzzling for one to stay in shithole where one is complaining of the terrible stench and be troubling the Maker for longer life! What longer life? Are you in love with self-inflicted suffering? What is the justification concerning all the prayer and tongue-speaking for longer life?

If there is anything that anyone in a shithole should be asking for, it should be immediate removal. One cannot stay a second longer in this terrible shithole. Deliverance! Immediate removal!

Who sets a goal then works against it? If we understand where we are headed, if we understand life, we should leave God alone to do what He will.

In the first place, it shows that we don’t really know what we we want and we disturb the Maker a lot with our confusion. We should allow the Maker some peace to face the ceaseless work of creation.

Further, it only shows that we do not understand what life is. We have put on the cloak of mortality on a planet called “Earth,” but if we know that Creation has to be Creation, we should figure out easily that it is endless, that the dress of mortality called human flesh is only one of the numerous forms made possible by Creation. Human form is not the only form and cannot be the only form. The Maker is working with other possibilities and wants us to join Him, not ask for long life or more time.

It is also important for us to understand that this human form has expiry date. It is configured to last for a period. Thus, being time-set, it is not going to last forever, even if there is something to gain from it. The Maker will crumple old technology that is the human form and re-use it for a hi-tech. In other words, short life (if that means anything) is part of Creation’s plan!

I like the beautiful way it is represented in an African thinking. Earthly life is understood as a market experience. One goes to the market and comes home after all the shopping. In Nigerian public discourse, anyone that remains in the market after their shopping, after market people have all gone home, is either a “gofment pickin” (metaphor and euphemism for the insane) or a vulture. And we do not aspire to be both. So, we have to return home to be reformatted and redeployed.

The problem is that of fear. Fear for what? It is a step into the dark. We do not know where we are headed; we cannot find our way in a darkness! So, we are afraid. Then, live well and just close your eyes and allow yourself to be transported.

Now, remember you are on a shitty planet still. You are in this shithole and you are bothering the Maker for a longer stay. Maybe 2,000 years! Imagine staying for extra 2,000 years in a shithole! You want to turn to a lizard or a fossil? 2,000 unholy years! Well, while you are bothering God with that request, do not tell him again that you are in a shithole and to deliver you. Because he may decide to make your stay shorter!

I like the Christian thinking that sees a thousand years in his sight as just an evening gone. In that case, the maker’s idea and signification of time is different. An evening (just few hours) in our world may be his 1, 000 years elsewhere outside this planet. In that case, his idea of time is different and we may be trying to humanise him, even make him our errand boy, by imposing our idea of time on him to follow! A thousand years in his sight being just an evening gone only reminds us that God has to be allowed to be God and we should our bit and stop bothering him!

Monday, June 24, 2019



Obododimma Oha

We know the type of influence that celebrities, especially those of the media, have over ideas. They just have to identify with this or that or give their endorsement, their “signatures,” and those things achieve popularity instantly, too.  Let a celebrity wear rags and it becomes fashionable to wear rags. Let a celebrity, say a musician, turn their song to a classroom, and soon it is on many lips and many become their student.In that vein, the late Igbo highlife musician, Oliver de Coque, got hold of “Ingligbo,” a coinage that Igbo sociolinguists had been talking about for a long time, and, soon, many globally were talking about the phenomenon associated with English-language and Igbo in the Outer Circle, the previously colonised, even in speech! The phenomenon refers to a variety of hybrid speech in English and Igbo that reveals the speakers' wavering bilingual competence. Sadly, the speaker is losing competence in first language (Igbo) or has already lost it and cannot make a full sentence in it without adding a word or two from English. That unfortunate development, which is often associated with a predicted death of Igbo, is very common among the Igbo elite – lecturers, lawyers, media practitioners, traders, and even students.We can simply identify it as a sign of their sad linguistic hybridity, and growing forgetfulness or loss of competence in the first language. Oliver de Coque, in an album, playfully calls its “Ingligbo,” just like many Igbo sociolinguists, and proceeds to imagine scenarios and to give examples.

As Oliver de Coque enjoins fellow Igbo people in his song, “Onye asụzina Ingligbo” (Let no one continue speaking Ingligbo). Now, you have heard it from a beloved musician, Igbo speakers, not a normal teacher standing behind you with a cane! Teachers of language are sometimes idealized in the so-called "postcolony" as masquerades with their long, frightening canes, or, worse still that terrible imposition of fines on whoever would speak the other language, especially vernacular, in this class! So, I have to seal my mouth and only speak when the teacher unfortunately points at me!

“Ingligbo” has relatives in India (in Hinglish) and South Africa. So, it is in “bad” company. Ok; in "good" company! However, language activists are not giving up easily. Currently, they have mounted campaigns of various kinds on social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, etc), public enlightenment conferences, and even through advocacy in government. It may be too early to claim that they are succeeding. But the following, with particular reference to Igbo, are noteworthy: (1) Igbo ọja poetry performance, talks, and Igbo language advocacy in schools and social media by Nwaada Amarachi Atamah, (2) serious public and creative writing efforts, (3) important Igbo writings by Maazị Ogbonnaya and Chijioke Ngobili on Facebook and their popularly travel writings that invoke Igboness, (4) writing of books and softwaring for Igbo learning at the diasporic and global level by Nwaada Yvonne Mbanefo, (5) sharing of punchy Igbo proverbs on Facebook by Nwaada Chinemerem Mary Anyị, etc. Or, is it Nnamdi Kanu on video speaking faultless and attractive Igbo while answering questions asked by a BBC reporter (Just watch)? These are certainly heartening and do show that Ingligbo is carrently in trouble.

“Onye asuzina Ingligbo, “ as Oliver de Coque has advised, even consolidated by another Igbo highlife musician, Bright Chimezie. Ingligbo is a weakness not a fashion or “showing off” elite culture. Ingligbo is a signification of a loss: it says that its speaker is nowhere, is an ụsụ (bat) linguistically, and we know that the bat said that it knows it is monstrous and ugly and that is why it chooses to be nocturnal! Ingligbo indicates that its speaker is going downhill and needs an urgent help!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ime Obi Ndiụka in Igbo Discourse


Obododimma Oha

Many narratives about the relationship between Christianity and Igbo culture give the wrong impression that Christianity was all disruptive in Igbo life and had no good reception from Igbo people. Indeed, there were many areas of conflict, with Christian converts thinking that every aspect of Igbo cultural life had to be touched by Christianity and get transformed ("Christianized"). Some saw, and still do see, Igbo cultural practices as “old” bottles that must not contain the new wine of Christian life. Of course, there are areas of convergence and today, one can see Jesus Christ, as Chuks Ofojebe thought of in his musical album, Jesus in Africa, Jesus being indigenized in many ways, Jesus eating Eba and not dry Asian bread, and enjoying it! Those who see Igbo cultural life as “old bottles” got it wrong. In their over-zealousness, they cannot recognize a friendly global Jesus, only thinking of a Semite in a long gown! They, in their over-zealousness, could de-robe the masked spirit like Enoch in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, incurring the wrath of the masked spirits. But we are also confronted with a narrative of a friendly Christianity, as seen in the regular visit of the Christian missionary to Ezeulu in Achebe’s Arrow of God. We are told that, though each of the men showed commitment to his religion, none was aggressive but respected the other’s opinion a lot. At the end, each was the better for the meeting. But can we say so for many overzealous African converts? This is where this article comes with a punch! Given this early friendliness and mutual respect that flourished, the planting of Christianity in the Igbo society was easy; it was not something accomplished with the flaming sword! What more, this welcome reception of Christianity, which is evident today, had reflections on discourse. The Igbo inevitably appreciated that there was something good in Christianity and lived with the religion. One evidence of this respect for genuine Christianity is the expression, “obi ndiụka,” which is often invoked as an appeal to disarm the irate and injured. The offended is asked by the mediator, “Mee obi ndiụka” (Display the heart of the Christian, literally).

So, what is meant in this invocation; what is appealed to and why? The appeal is primarily to the spirit of compassion of forgiveness. Didn’t Jesus Christ preach it, a difficult sermon, when he said: “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do” and “How many times will your brother offend you before you forgive?” I would have have answered in agreement with tit-for-tat, saying “No forgiveness at all!” But Jesus would like us to look at the offender with compassion, which has to be based on a better understanding of the conflict.

Obi ndiụka overlooks hurt and thinks of the good of the offender! That is difficult. It is difficult if the cattle militia enter our village, burst into my hut, rape and slaughter my pregnant wife and decapitate all my children in my presence. I would say “To hell with obi ndiụka.” That thing that would happen tomorrow, let it happen today. Is it not death? What am I remaining alive for? Kill me, too! But be sure that you are headed for hell with me today!

You see how obi ndiụka is getting into big trouble and becoming impracticable in contemporary times. Yes, forgive us this day our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But it is also subject to this re-structuring: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who CONTINUE to trespass against us! And they do so arrogantly!

But let me not forget that in the ideal interpersonal conflict, the appeal to obi ndiụka is also an appeal to authority in a way. The addressee is being asked to consider the way an ideal Christian would have behaved or would have viewed the situation. Christianity is the authority. So, because of ndiụka (Christians), just forgive, not because you have not been mistreated. In that, Christianity becomes the winner, the hero!

I have already drawn attention to how difficult it is to obey that appeal these days when the offender CONTINUEs to offend. It is also a risky situation, for the offender that knows about how the appeal would disarm the other could take the other’s weakness and respect for Christianity the authority for granted. In that case, the Christian whose behaviour is predictable could wait like a mumu he or she is constructed as for God’s deus ex machina or army of angels and not take measures for personal safety. The offender capitalises on the weakness of the Christian who obeys obi ndiụka and finish all mumu off.

Obi ndiụka is a very bad Achilles heel; no wonder the contemporary Igbo have mainly discarded it, countervailing to put the fear of God into all offenders.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

ụtụtụ ọma, Abalị ọma, and Other Strange Greetings


Obododimma Oha

I know that language changes over time and place; I know this from my memory of our introductory linguistics class many years ago. But as a native speaker of Igbo who is familiar with speech in many parts of Alaigbo and also who grew up as a rural boy, at least, I know greetings in Igbo. I know what can be said and what cannot be said in the language. I also know when this change is taking a very funny turn. Mind you: I am not a language purist; in fact, one can no longer purify Igbo from colonial influences and un-Igboness! With this personal orientation, I nevertheless cannot help laughing when I hear greetings like “ụtụtụ ọma,” “abalị ọma, “ and so on. I wonder and ask: “What is happening? Has Igbo loss of linguistic memory got this far?” How can mere translations of greeting forms from English become Igbo greetings? Don’t we have equivalent forms of greeting in the language in the mornings or any other time, to make us now root for translations?

Before I go on to examine this funny orientation, let me explore some implications. One is that there are no other forms in Igbo that can be used as English “Good morning;” so, translation from English becomes the last alternative. Africa and her indigenous languages always signify lack, inadequacy, and Englishness, in all forms of cultural expression,  is the avatar sent by the maker to rescue or teach them. But this is a bad and unclever lie. Igbo people do not need the salvation, neither do they need English to come to the rescue. Long ago, I started hearing forms like “ị saala chi?” “ị bọọla chi?” “ị pụtala?” and so on. So, we have to jettison them as we have done to other forms of Igbo cultural life in order to be fully born-again as “English”?

If you look closely, you would discover that greetings like “ị bọọla chi?” and “ị saala chi?” are inquiries of a sort and do reflect a different perception of where the person waking up has come from. “ị saala chi?” and “ị bọọla chi?” are inquiries that remind us to think about the day, chi, as an opening or something an individual opens? We open it gently and are not aware of all it brings, all its contents. Even though the one greeting may not be asking the addressee to explain all these, it is still a subtle invitation to be mindful of the day. Only a true well-wisher can bother to ask one to do so, to lubricate our relationship with language.

Some other Igbo persons may simply ask: “Kaa?” “kedu?” “”ọlia” “kedu ije” which can be sad at any time of the day. Of course, they have their dialectal origins and variants. But to think that they do not exist or are incapable of expressing Igbo realities, such that we have to invite Englishness to the rescue by way of translation, is blatantly insulting to Igbo.

As indicated initially, this may have to do with forgetfulness. Many young Igbo do not know simple things again in the language, not to talk of speaking it faultlessly or writing it. They cannot remember names of types of yam, for example. They don’t know what days in Igbo are. They do not know names of various birds. They would even debate on social media the difference between leopard and lion. Is this not a dying society, such that it would take Fulani militia called “vigilante” to police their communities for them, apart from slaughtering Christmas goats for them!

ọ dị egwu! What is this greeting called “ụtụtụ ọma”? Where is it from? Is translation a trap or an assistance in this case? What is this attempt at translating the other, when it is unnecessary? I am watching this translation of greeting and the fact that the self has been tutored to take the linguistic enslavement over and to preach it and even indoctrinate young ones through the school system!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Courage To say NO.


Obododimma Oha

YES and NO, as expressions of consent and refusal, are central to numerous human affairs. I also suspect that they are found among many human groups. Among the Igbo, for instance, this expression is couched in a proverb that says, Nwaanyị obiọma na-aragbu onwe ya na di (A woman who wants to be seen as a good person would sex hersef to death). The assumptions in the proverb are that:

(1) She could have numerous male sex partners who want to benefit from her favours;
(2) The sex partners are more than she can handle;
(3) It is about impression! The numerous sex partners are smart and exploiting her poor jugment;
(4) Every one should know limits.

A tree that shelters all manner of birds will soon bend, apart from its branches breaking. She is a generous giver, it is believed, and that is her risk, her sore spot. That sore spot will kill her or is the surest way she could go down.

Interestingly, male sexual exploiters think that her logic can always be subverted. In Nigerian public life where one can find this male logic, it is thought that a woman’s thinking could be negatively predicted. In this case, when she says NO, she means YES. That means that her YES and NO are undecidable. Everything is left to the swing of her mood, her unpredictably predictable mood. Oh, did I say “mood?” Is she not seen as being moody, and that is in the province of pathos. She lives and moves in emotion. Her motion, is, in fact, an emotion or expression of an  emotion. So, she is MOODY sometimes.

This is fast becoming a gender thing! It should not be so.

The ability to say YES and to say No is an exercise of sound judgment. In the first place, one who cannot say NO to people sometimes, no matter the person involved, is in trouble, great trouble. The person is even a poor specimen! That all kinds of birds would want to rest on her branches is just a beginning of that tree’s problem!

One greater problem is the impression that that person is too “soft” and cannot reason well, or bends too easily. That is vulnerability! The person bends too easily! Sad. That is a symptom of the nature of the person’s thinking. It warns us not to depend on it, to avoid it . Every bird of opinion can perch on the branches of that person’s mind! Life invites us not to be naive, to test every wind of doctrine. Was it not why  the Ancient Greeks in their philosophical orientation said that an “unexamined life is not worth living”? These days they examine the life and deploy intellectuals to give an imprimatur to idiocy as a way of life!

Do you see why being able to say NO is a kind of virtue, especially where things are standing on their heads. Being able to express an objection is a risk, and that risk is worth taking. It is manifested not only in expressing an unpopular opinion, but also resigning (which is why one must admire Theresa May) and speaking out when it is considered dangerous to do so.

When your community is going down, you should have the courage to say NO. When the unacceptable becomes acceptable, when the abnormal is considered normal, you should have to courage to say NO.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

ịwa anya and ịjụ anya oyi in Igbo Thought


 Obododimma Oha

As somebody who grew up in the rural Igbo community, I am convinced that one of the significant differences between ọkụkọ Igbo (local fowl) and the ọkụkọ agrịkọlchọ (agricultural fowl) is that the former is stupid, very stupid to the extent that it would see a flame of fire and want to peck at it! Is fire chicken feed? That inability to distinguish what is its food from what is not, or its generalization of food (the “unpeckable becoming the peckable” for it), is a good symptom of its stupidity. Similarly, there is the assumption among many local Igbo people that those born and raised in the local community are far wiser than those born and raised in the urban areas, worse still, all in the diaspora (the “abroad people”). Of course, this is a faulty generalization, for we see situations where some Igbo located in Nigeria (even in local areas) raise children who cannot speak or read Igbo), those born and raised in Western countries can even speak and read the language. That cleverness extends to other things, not just the language. Thus, the local assumption is not entirely correct. But this is all about how the culture considers the necessity for ịwa anya (which I could roughly translate as “cleverness” or “smartness,” in fact, “active awareness”) and ịjụ anya oyi (being cowardly; literally, being “cold eyed”). While Igbo people generally admire ịwa anya and privilege it as a very important life skill and disposition, they deplore and maintain a good distance from ịjụ anya oyi. One can then understand that parents and relatives look out for a demonstration of this ịwa anya by their children in public, and that it constitutes one of the high points of competition in the society. One has to try to be among the best, at least among one’s age mates!

wa anya does not mean getting a sharp cutlass and slicing the eye-balls with it, as we could humorously put it. The word, “iwa,” in isolation from other words, could state that it means “to slice.” But ịwa anya is a figurative expression, not a literal one. Same for ịjụ anya oyi. One oriented to the former does not have to pour very cold water or water from a refrigerator over his or  her eyes.

Another thing is that the person oriented to ịjụ anya oyi may think that it is good training, civility, or self-control! But it is not so to the Igbo. It is simply cowardice. The person merely wants to be seen as a good individual by others.

It is possible that ịjụ anya oyi may have been made worse by the incursion of Christianity into Africa and the misinterpretation of the life of a Christian. Don’t you see how Nwoye behaves or runs errands zealously in the colonial church but is not ready to do anything other than imprisoning the royal python in a box at home? Christian like him may not have considered the meaning of the teaching of Jesus: “Be as WISE as the SERPENT, but as INNOCENT as the DOVE.” Even if one’s personal name is “Innocent” and one has not thought is reasonable to look for or woo wisdom, one is terribly guilty of ịjụ anya oyi!

Thus, one may be present when discussion on who would be a service chief in a plural society and who would not is tabled, and people from only one region, ethnic group, or religion are preferred, and the ịjụ anya oyi fellow, wanting to be called a “good,” “desirable,” or “detribalised” other, would not raise any objection!

The ịjụ anya oyi fellow would see gross injustice and treat it is as justice. Because the person is really “cold-eyed,” having thrown the ice-cold refrigerator water on his or her eyes! Is justice no longer relative? Is black no longer white? Is the abnormal no longer normal in Wonderland where Humpty-Dumpty is the sole author of reality and dictates what means what?

But ịwa anya is a confirmation that one is a trouble-maker. Those singers from Owere who said: “Onya ụjọ abịala nga anyị na-awa anya!” (One who is easily scared should not appear where we exhibit our smartness”) got it right. Don’t ask me what smartness they are exhibiting. Sit down and watch. Just sit and watch with your heart!

wa anya is about courage and show of courage.  jụ anya oyi is about cowardice and the display of cowardice.

The local Igbo, in spite of the faulty generalisation stated above, deserve a handshake. One should not be like ọkụkọ agrịkọlchọ and go and peck at the flame of fire. That does not belong to ịwa anya. It belongs to ịjụ anya oyi. It is stupidity!

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Voice of a Woman Singing but the Legs of Men Dancing


Obododimmma Oha

It is difficult to understand how one could think of enviable old-time Igbo highlife music and not pay due homage to Theresa Onuoha when one mentions names like Osita Osadebe, Mike Ejeagha, and even the handsome Bright Chimezie. It is almost unforgivable. In those days when roads passed under the ụdara tree and treetops belonged to the squirrel and not the vulture, was it not the golden vioce of Theresa Onuoha that one heard singing in one’s father’s transistor radio, “Ijere erubele, mụ n’onye ga-agba egwu?” It was not the voices of Nelly Uchendụ and Onyeka Onwenụ, though these were great and adored much, too. It was the voice of the undisputed queen of Igbo women’s traditional music, Theresa Onuoha. And many around listened and drank wisdom from her voice as she sang. Yes; Theresa sang. She sang for everyone.

But this thing about traditional old-time music. In present-day Alaigbo, that type of music is tagged egwu tara nchara! It literally means music that has gathered rust (because it is not played much)! Who told them that it has gathered rust? It is forever playing on my mind. Only few music shops care to sell such and many see it as blocking their way to selling cut-and-nail hip-hop albums. But the old generation remembers it and prefers playing it. So, you can insert Theresa Onuoha in that egwu tara nchara category. She is loved and perfect there.

In discussing her music, where does one begin? Is it the fact that she is the main figure in Igbo women’s traditional music? Is it that she sings about gender, too, but not that women are oppressed  in the Igbo society? Is it that she theorises nwokeness, not as an oppressive force, but as an enviable idea of masculinity? Is it that it the voice of a woman singing but the hips and legs of men dancing for her? Is it her royal costumes? There are many entries to a rich and rewarding discussion on Theresa Onuoha.

Is it really proper to call her music egwu tara nchara when the issues it brings up are very relevant to contemporary times? Let us classify her music as egwu tara nchara in respect of time and timing. But we know that she is evergreen and forever dispenses rich insight to those who listen with their minds, not just their ears.

That songbird of Igbo women’s traditional music helps me to remember. When I was only a child, my mother would be working in her garden and would be singing Theresa Onuoha. I listened. The women of our village would be working in the farms or weeding them and they would be singing the songs of the woman of Unubi. Theresa’s songs were on every lips, except the lips of the pretentious!

I know that the men of our village are singing Theresa Onuoha, too. Although they did not vocalize it, I knew they were singing her. In fact, if some had the chance, they would have tried to woo her and to marry her, promising her heavens and kingdoms!
The undisputed queen of Igbo women’s traditional music deserves to be celebrated. My blog celebrates her!

Let us be sincere: I am one of those many men of our village who admire her. The voice of the queen also sings for us. Her voice sing and men are dancing happily. They have not lost their heads. Their dance steps are properly guided by her voice.