In August 2019, a Facebook friend and user, Mr. Agunze Azuka Onwuka had, on his wall, asked what “Ógù” in Igbo meant. For more than 20 hours after he made the post, I have kept a tab on the thread following the responses and checking out for an important point but which I did not get to see.
The respondents were mostly middle-aged people and youths who were presumably in their 30s and below. Aside from the few brilliant and right responses to that, I realized that most Igbo in their 40s and below are not quite adept at knowing some of the deep foundations or “kpịm” (as the late Prof Pantaleon Iroegbu called it) of Igbo Thoughts and Philosophy. For this reason, I feel we might be having a future disconnect between the older generations and the younger in that space of ‘Igbo Thought’ if we don’t bridge the gap early now.
The truth is that we the younger ones need to do the catching up and not wait to be brought up. The problem is not the lack of passion but that we channel the passion to other people’s Thoughts and hardly ours. On the other hand, the heart-breaking apathy to our own Igbo language diminishes the curiosity and of course limits the comprehension of the Thoughts that have guided us and would still guide us for centuries. Be that as it may, let us attempt the explanations of concepts needed.
What is this thing called “Thought” in simple terms and how can we understand it in Igbo and from the Igbo Language?
Ndị Igbo na-akpọ ya “Echiche”. Dịka ihe dịịrị onwe ya, ọ bụ ihe ndị nwe obodo (ndị mbụ, ndị Egede ma ndị ugbua) chepụtara n’uche e ji wee wube obodo ma ọbụ omenaala, ma ọbụ nke e ji wee chekwaba ihe obodo ji wee biri. Ọ bụ ya bụ Echiche ka a na-enyefe site n’agbụrụ ruo n’agbụrụ ọzọ. Ihe e ji Echiche wee wube ma ọbụ chekwaba nwere ike ị gbanwe mana Echiche ná-adịgide.
In sum, Echiche is thought and it is handed over from generation to generation. Echiche is the foundational thought behind the establishment of institutions and practices in the Igbo settings. The practices and institutions inspired by Echiche may change or transform but the Echiche often does not.
- So, what is the “Echiche” (Thought) that’s used to found or back the institution of Ọfọ na Ógù?
It is simple. It is DUALITY — the binary principle that guides the echiche e chere eche. The Igbo Philosophical Thought is strongly rooted in duality and they are demonstrated in such Thought manifestations and expressions as:
Enu na Ana
Nne na Nna
Ikwu na Ibe
Úgwú na ndịda
Chi na Eke
Aka èkpè na Aka Nri
Egbe bere, Ugo bere
Isi na Ọdụ
Ọha na Eze
Mmụọ na Mmadụ
Ọnwụ na Ndụ
Akụ na Ụba
Ọpụpụ na Mbata (Uje na Ụna)
Ezi na Ụlọ
Mma na Njọ
Wee dịrị gabazie…
The Igbo were observers of nature and were very religious (as Omenaanị covered every aspect of their lives). They based their living principles on what they observed from nature. The mere fact that there are several dualistic manifestations in our biological compositions as human beings (such as two eyes, two hands, two testicles, two breasts, two lungs, two buttocks, two ears, etc) compelled the early thinkers to base their Thoughts on that natural principle. There are some other societies whose Thought development went through this trajectory too even though the manifestations would be different.
From the foregoing, we can see that the principle of duality in the common expressions the Igbo use often is also the foundation of the Ọfọ na Ógù that is the context here.
- So, what is Ọfọ?
First, Ọfọ is both a physical material and an abstraction. As a physical symbol, it is a stick of about 4 – 6 inches long and thick at one of the ends. Sometimes, it is a bundle of the same Ọfọ sticks. It is made from a tree called Osisi Ọfọ (the botanical name is: Detarium Senegalese). (Ref: IGBO PHILOSOPHY by Uzodimma Nwala).
As for the Osisi Ọfọ (Ọfọ tree itself) and what it looks like, check the majestic tree standing alone and spreading out once you’ve entered the University of Nigeria, Nsụka campus gate. Many have been to the UNN and have seen the tree but never knew it is Ọfọ tree. There may be other Ọfọ trees in the bushes or other places in Igboland but they are generally rare to be seen around.
As an abstraction, Ọfọ symbolizes “right is might” and ABHORS “might is right” because it was instituted to defend the weak and situations where our normal humanity is insufficient for knowing and judging the truth.
- But why the Ógù? Is Ọfọ not enough?
Remember here the duality principle that guides the Igbo Thoughts. The early Igbo thinkers who instituted Ọfọ couldn’t do without it. If Ọfọ represents “rightness”, then there should be “righteousness”. If Ọfọ is for defending the weak or the other (the just), then there has to be a condition which is “innocence”. Ógù, to put in two simple words, is Innocence or Righteousness. It is the condition of innocence and righteousness of the person who holds or wields or appeals with/to Ọfọ. If you want to use the Western philosophical and theological thought to explain the duo, you can say Ọfọ is the form while Ógù is the substance, but it does not exactly capture it because Ọfọ is both a form and substance to an extent while Ógù is a condition/state.
To show the duality upon which our ancestors based the Thought of the establishment of the institution of Ọfọ na Ógù, the Igbo left this in proverb:
“Mmadụ ji Ọfọ mana Ọfọ maalụ onye ji ya.” — “You can hold Ọfọ but Ọfọ alone knows the one holding it”, hinting at the same condition of “Ógù” (innocence/righteousness) we have examined above.
Let’s interact, Ụmụnne. I am eager to learn more from others. Daalụ nụ!