Igbo names and spellings for various settlements
Abakaliki is Abankaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzö; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owere; Oyigbo is Obigbo... any more will be added.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ágụ́ is the Leopard

A 'lost-wax' cast vessel in the form of a shell surmounted by a leopard. Igbo-Ukwu, 9th century CE. National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Dirk Bakker.

The leopard is the prestige big cat in Igbo tradition and that of most southern Nigerian cultures. It is the king of the forest, noted for its wit when hunting and avoiding traps and for its dexterity, it is the latter that had inspired the nsibidi mimetic movements of the Ekpe leopard men's society (ekpe means leopard in Efik and some Igbo dialects). While the lion is the symbol of power and authority in other cultures, in Igbo society this position is held for the leopard, in fact the lion is nowhere near as significant in Igbo folklore as the leopard. The particular species of leopard found around the Igbo area is the West African forest leopard (P. p. leopardus), the reverence of leopards could be down to the greater prevalence of leopards compared to other bigger cats, especially the grassland-dwelling lions.

It is common for leopard skins to be collected and displayed in the homes of high-ranking individuals in society, titles were also given to those successful in leopard hunts which were regarded as no mean feat, this is reflected in names such as Ogbuagụ, leopard killer. Conversely, leopards were revered as a cult symbol in some communities and their killing expressly forbidden, certain lineages were believed to possess the 'medicine' (ọgwụ) enabling human-to-leopard metamorphosis (ịhi agụ), in such communities, hunting a leopard could be seen as good as hunting a potential kinsman.

The use of agụ as a praise name or compliment further goes to show the reverence the leopard and its nature has in Igbo society, calling someone agụ or agụ nwanyị denotes that the person exhibits the abilities and attributes of the most admired, valued, respected and revered animal in Igbo folklore.

Originally posted on Facebook August 29, 2017.

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