The Igbo language is really trying to drive me nuts. Let me tell you how. The other day, I was on my computer writing (not blogging) when I suddenly got inspired to add a twist to what I was writing, but to complete it, I needed the Igbo word for Lion. I was sure it was Agu, but then, I started reading a list of Igbo names on Google, and in the list, Agu was interpreted as Tiger. My people, that was how the confusion started.
So, naturally, I turned to my Facebook family where the conversation entered Part 2.
Some people said that the Igbo word for Lion is indeed Agu, while some said that Agu is for the tiger and Odum is for the Lion. With each comment, I got more confused. Then I called my grandma to ask her, and she said that Odum is for the lion. She buttressed her point by saying that “Chineke emechigo onu odum n’ime oyele.” [God has closed the mouth of the lion in the den]. So according to this saying from my grandma, odum is the lion.
I had made up my mind that grandma was right, but my friend, Nwadiuto confused me again by showing me this picture of this popular Igbo fabric, called “Isiagu.” Isiagu means lion head(s). So I started thinking again that if this fabric is Isiagu, then maybe Agu really means Lion.
I might be wrong, but I think that among the three main languages of Nigeria – Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa – the Igbo language is the hardest of them all. Although I don’t speak Hausa or Yoruba fluently, I certainly think that if I was not Igbo and I had to learn all three languages, Igbo would be the most difficult one for me.
But just when I was losing all hope, Adaure Achumba came in and saved the day. She said, “No word for tiger in Igbo language. Tigers are not indigenous to Africa. Agu is used as generic for ‘Big Cats’ like leopards and cheetahs, as well as lions, while Odum is specific to lion. I have heard Edi Abali used for panther.”
Now, this makes the most sense. Honestly, if I could enroll myself in an Igbo class, I would. I want to know beyond the conversational Igbo language; I want to know without a doubt that Agu stands for big cats. I want to know the Igbo language and culture in its entirety. Is this wishful thinking?