The takeaway is this. There is an untoward tendency of our elite to so qualify the past as if their forefathers were simpletons, persons with big skulls but little brains. The matter is so much that sometimes the elite speak as if their forefathers were incapable of puns and metaphors. For the elite, their forefathers spoke only as children do, without depth, without subtlety.
Perhaps, we may take a turn to a detour. In the course of our earlier essay on Nwaubani, we had written that eze means excellence, philologically, and not king. An antagonist to that viewpoint turned almost violent, literarily. “How dare we say that. Does it mean” he asked “that when Igbo say Igbo enwe eze they mean igbo have no (sense) of excellence?”
We were duly scandalised. First the saying Igbo enwe eze is the very import and genius of being Igbo. Actually, that is the single most important quip by the Igbo, and its meaning is a supreme gift to humanity. Igbo enwe eze, is actually a (cosmological) summary of all the Igbo are and can be and stand for. It is Nietzsche-style word ordering, a playful one, an njakiri, on Igbo strength.
Literally, Igbo enwe eze means Igbo possess no (sense) of excellence. By the way, the word eze means, we repeat, excellence, philologically. It does not mean king. However, what that statement means is that excellence is and has to be competitively driven, and this without pause. That is, one excellence cannot be set up as the apogee of that given excellence or all excellences. This is decidedly and rightly un-monarchial. The implication of this is in line with the inspirational Igbo thumbing down of monarchisms. For the Igbo, and rightly so, monarchisms are socio-economic and anti-developmental drain on mankind, toxicities at best.
Monarchies, by the way, are systems of rule where the one-off excellence of one man is deceitfully institutionalised as eternal excellences down the family tree. That is, till the end of history, heirs and other descendants are paid preferences for no skills other than the fraud and deceit that their bloodlines are “one of the forces of nature.” This is what the Igbo rightly dissed as destructive of the riches and abundances of humanity, especially of our future.
Judging from what the world is today, this Igbo worldview should be evangelised and emulated for being historically and developmentally prescient. For instance, records show that America is the world’s most successful society in the last 100 or more years. Even more importantly, most enlightened societies are moving towards the American model today. And what the heck is America doing? If you asked, America is running on an Igbo-style template (she may have discovered independently).
The point is that were it not for this Igbo-inspired or Igbo-like insight, today, the governors and presidents and other rulers of America would have been sons and daughters of the founding fathers, the Washingtons and the Jeffersons, etc. The implication of this is that neither an Obama nor a Steve Jobs cum the entire Silicon Valley, etc, would have happened. And without these the concept of “Rags to Riches, from the log house to the White House,” as an Igbo-American normative, America wouldn’t have turned up the great country she is.
If we returned to nwa-chukwu, etc., it is evident that nwa as used in much of Igbo names including nwa chukwu, nwa anyanwu nwa aboshi, nwa nkwerre, etc., cannot mean son of. Of Nwachukwu, for instance, the Igbo are not and could not be so simple-minded as to think that the sons born to them by their wives are the products of the wives’ adulterous copulations with the gods, not their husbands.
And the fact of the gods not being in adulterous dalliance with our wives is human and not a wholly Igbo thing. The only firm instance of a son of god, is in Christianity. And even at that it was taken as so otherworldly, it is a never to be repeated phenomenon. In other words, there cannot be two sons of god in human history. But with the Igbo, nwachukwu is as common as twins are in Yorubaland, say. That commonness alone is proof that the Igbo were not about a pandemic of faithless wives fornicating their gods. In other words, Nwachukwu does not mean son of god.
At best, nwa prefixing chukwu, nwa/nkwerre, nwa/madu/nwa/chinyereugo, nwa/ubani, etc., is a metaphor, a figure of speech. And it is indicated nwa is used as a metaphor for beloved. Thus nwaubani, nwachukwu, nwanmuo, nwammadu, nwankwerre, etc., mean beloved of the wealth of god/beloved/chinyere uba/akachi of god/beloved of the deities/spirits/beloved of men/beloved of NdiNkwerre/humanity.
If otherwise, nwanmadu/son of people and nwankwerre/son of nkwerre people as names, for instance, would have been tautological if not nonsensical. We contribute to build society but one man’s ikenga/semen is enough for the production of his children. We do not require community semen to make our wives heavy.
The question then is how and why is nwa metaphorized into being beloved?
First of all, we wish to state as follows: Elite translators of nwa and many other Igbo metaphoric epithets get it wrong. For example there was a case in the Nigerian Senate years past. One of such elite characters translated nwachukwu in his popular ignorance as son of god and, even more disastrously, nwa agbara, as son of the devil. There is a danger here. And it is that because these men possess authority even as they are possessed by ignorance, many Igbo may take their translations acceptable. It is not.
However, urban users of Igbo language get their usages right. The reason we suspect is that they are being themselves speaking their Igbo. Even more, they are not stuck with pairing it against any metropolitan language, say English.
To give an example, there is an Igbo comedian known as “I go tuk.” There is a popular You-tube flick of his. In the flick, he was showing off his girlfriend and appropriately described her as ordinary Igbo would, as nwam, nwatam – literally, my child, my kid. But what he is saying and meaning is my beloved or in today’s dating lingo my babe, my bae.
The point is that he is pitch perfect in both meaning and words. This is because of the etymology of the word nwa as synonym for beloved. It is as follows. Today, children are ultimate blessing and treasure. The point is that they were even more so in the past, when infant mortality was sky high, etc. And that was the time Igbo language as we know it today was largely fixed.
So, nwa in the mouth of the forefathers who founded and fixed the Igbo language was both a child, and an asset, which happened to be a rare and supreme treasure. And rare and supreme treasures are necessarily beloved, especially when they are living things.
Now, in all languages, poets and public spin doctors are into the enterprise of transferring higher meaning to lower essences. In Lagos, for instance, commuter bus drivers are tagged pilots. And also just any pregnant woman, whether or not she is due for single or multiple births, is styled or praise-named iya beji, that is, mother of twins. Yoruba genius in this aspect of praise-spinning is a world beater almost as is their legendary fertility for making twins.
So, while spin doctors are attributed to men of power like Tony Blair and Buhari, etc., fact is that out there in the streets, spin doctors and poets are at their game. George Orwell spoke well when he said: “Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers.” It really is.
Thus, the evolution of the word nwa to a metaphor of supreme treasure by Igbo poets and spin merchants is very indicated. And is of ancient origins. Of course, those of us who are old enough can recall when on being naughty, our mothers and aunties would plead with us, nwam-nnem. They do not mean literally my child-my mother. They are saying my beloved in a most emphatic sense. Of course nne-ka, a common Igbo name, means mother is supreme (value). So nwam-nnem is like the English saying my beloved darling, my treasured gem, etc., it is thus evident that nwam-nnem does and cannot not mean “my child who is my mother,” its literal translation. One, that much is not biologically feasible. To repeat both nwa and nne are metaphors – used simultaneously for emphasis – for beloved.
(To be continued)