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The codification of Awele in Ijeawele

Culture Africa
By Chijioke Ngobili

A very beautiful Ìgbò name, mostly borne by females. Its popularity resides more among the Ìgbò on the west of the Niger than among the Ìgbò on the east of the Niger. But the both (East and West Niger Ìgbò) invoke it a lot in songs, good wishes and prayers.

“Ị jebe, ije awele”, one would often wish and pray for a traveler. Among the Ìgbò on the East of the Niger, their most popular alternative to “Ijeawele” is “Ijeọma”. Which makes them say rather often to a traveler or even a dead: “ije ọma”, “jee nke ọma”.

Intriguingly, Ijeọma is same as Ijeawele but not the same in Ìgbò linguistic interpretation. While Ijeọma is definitive in meaning, Ijeawele is rather of descriptive and totemic/codified meaning.

Many middle-aged and young Ìgbò of today hardly recognise this disparity let alone think of it. But they so much desire to name their female children “Awele” or “Ijeawele” more—(I would think)—for its bling, uncommon sound and sweetness than the understanding of its symbolism.

At Ntọana Íkèụba where young Ìgbò men and women are working on redirecting the Ìgbò mind of the future generation to look inwards than outwards for their destiny, one of the things we do is to keep xraying and dissecting Ìgbò words, phrases and sayings that have been neglected in meaning/s.

This is so that we can understand the minds of our ancestors who sought inwards than outwards for the solutions to their problems and were greater people in thoughts than we are today.

Indeed, we have often unraveled layers of thoughts and codified messages which they left over centuries ago for those of us their descendant seekers.

Codification of “Ijeawele”

It was in Ntọana Íkèụba where we do ALL OUR conversations, activities and documentations STRICTLY IN ÌGBÒ LANGUAGE (whether spoken or written) that we recently came to see the deeper codification of “Ijeawele” in our joint inquiry. Please, note that the contention is actually the “Awele” in Ijeawele.

I had, in one of our conversations last year, raised the fact that the “ele” in “Awele” has to be in reference to a “deer” (a water deer in fact), for that is the commonest Ìgbò word for the water-loving animal. The water deer has masterful navigation skills in water and can do so for miles in a water body even though it does not live inside the water.

I mentioned that I had also known or heard a few myths about the popular “Mmiri Ele” in Nnewi (Ụmụdim quarter) which is the only water body in Ìgbòland I know that bears a name relating to a water deer. This intellection appeared to have some merit in interpretation and we agreed.

Mmiri Ele, Nnewi-Nigeria

We realised that the entire phenomenon is actually “áwá élê”

Chijioke Ngobili

But to complete it, Chukwuemeka Obinwugo had to assist with the unit word that precedes “ele” which is “Awa”. We realised that the entire phenomenon is actually “áwá élê” without the Olulo Ụdaume. Obinwugo helped us to understand that “Áwá”—(which is common to some parts of Bende Ìgbò as a name)—refers to PATH/WAY/STYLE/MANNER/SKILL, etc — just something consistently used to associate or identify someone or something.

In an Ìgbò saying that goes thus “anụ niine gbaa n’ọwa ya” (let every animal follow its OWN path), we realised again that “ọ̀wà” and “áwá” are referring to one another, like a twin.

And so, we came to see that “Áwá Élê” (which is singly “Awele”) is the ancestors enjoying, observing, imitating and performing the SKILL/WAYS/MANNER of a deer in a water body in their own daily lives outside the water and in their cosmos.

The “Ije” in Ijeawele is a simple locomotive referent for basic clarity when one is unable to comprehend the other deeper side. No doubt, there could be other related meanings and interpretations especially in the older generation senses and they’re welcomed to enrich us so long they make the true sense of the word.

This is one of the great values of Ìgbò people engaging IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, whether in writing or speech — they begin to see their world as Nature specially gave it to them. And mind you, no group on earth ever rises to anything significant without THEIR WORLD AS GIVEN TO THEM BY NATURE.

This is what we do at Ntọana Íkèụba. That is how we roll at Ntọana Íkèụba.

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