Igbo n’asu n’onu n’onu is an Igbo addage that we all know, predates the colonial intrusion into Igboland. Prior to colonialism, infact, in pre Missionary Igboland, there was no such thing as Igbo language or even Igbo Ethnicity. What existed is ‘Igbo languages’ and this birthed the addage of Igbo n’asu n’onu n’onu — the Igbos speak in different tongues.
The first documented British man that entered Igboland in the mid sixteenth century, William Baike, the man from whom the corruption of his name by Igbo natives birthed the name ‘Bekee’ as a general tag on subsequent white men that ventured into Igboland, was quick to notice this when he wrote in his journal on West African Natives and It’s people that:
In the Eboe country, everyone hails as the sailors would say, from a particular district, but outside, they are all Eboes.
The fact about the pre colonial Igbo is that both Igbo language and Igbo ethnicity did not exist. Igbo was a term used by people to address their neighbors who speak any of the Igboid languages and by their non Igboid neighbors. Umuofia in Things Fall Apart was a tribe on it’s own.
A popular saying among the Nri Oracular agents regarding the ofor back in the day was: ofor ayi ji eli ndi Igbo. Loosely translated, we’ll have: the ofor with which we eat from the Igbos. Confirming same, William Baike also noted that a traveller in search of the Eboe country will go through the entire Eboe country without getting to Eboeland because in each Eboe clan and tribe, he will be pointed towards the next tribe or clan as Eboe.
Like no one was directly Igbo, so did no one speak any language called Igbo. What existed was people speaking Ikwerre, Etche, Owere, Ika, Enuani, Ika, Ukwuani, Onicha, Ezea, Nsukka, Arochukwu etc.
On arrival at Onicha, the Roman Catholic Missionaries quickly took to the Onicha dialect as their official Igbo language, unknown to them, Onicha did not go further than Asaba on the West and Obosi on the Eastside. They were shocked to learn that Onicha dialect was useless outside Onicha.
It was the Church Mission Society that saw the problem and decided to work on creating an Igbo language out of the many varying dialects. This they began at Owerri and upon completion, called it UNION IGBO. It was a new language formed by infusing words from different Igboid languages for general use by all Igbo speaking people. And most importantly, for the British and Missionary convenience.
The creation saw some Igbo groups becoming suspicious that other groups have connived with the white man to impose their language on them. These groups vowed never to accept the newly formed Union Igbo as a general means of communication. (Their action was based on the fact that the archbishop Dennis and his group did not carry any consideration among the different Igbo groups before venturing into the project and hence only few people were selected from few areas to work with Dennis and his team).
The result of this is many Igbo groups losing their original dialect as it became useless in the newly introduced Schools and at Churches since the Union Igbo was in use.
The Roman Catholic Church continued with the Onicha dialect until it dawned on them that unless they swallow their pride and follow what was created by their arch rivals, they will go nowhere. In his book, Ropes of Sand, Prof Adiele Afigbo narrated how children from Catholic homes were mocked by their Anglican counterparts for saying ‘yiolu ayi ayiyio’ of Onicha instead of the Union Igbo ‘yobara anyi aririo’.
The impact of the Union Igbo was not much felt outside the old Asaba District that ran from Agbor to Awka, the Enugu District and the Owerre District.
The point here is, all Igbo speaking people never used same words for a thing. In Enuani, we have Isi for head. In Ukwuani, head is Ishi. In Owere, what? Is called Nini? In Ikwere, it is kind? While in the okigwe axis, it is ginri?
Plantain in some places is Ogede while others say unere, unene etc. In Enuani, we have Oko. In Nnewi, they have Okolo, in Owerri and others, they have Okoro. So Okorocha is Okolocha, Okocha etc according to where you are.
In parts of Ikwerre, nna is spoken as nda. Obi in Awka is Ovi and Ovu in the Diobu areas of Ikwerre. So while an Enuani person says Obinna, the Awka will say Ovinna and a Diobu Ikwerre person will say Ovunda. While the person from say Oba or Obosi will say Ginikammelu? The Owerre person will say mmerenini? And the Ikwere person will equally say Merukini?
In the Diobu Ikwerre area, Umu is said Rumu. While in the Omagwa area of same Ikwere, it is Omu. In Ika and some Enuani areas, it is said as nmu. Some areas outside Orlu say it so nasally nmwu. The reality is Umu Okoro will become nmuokolo or nmuoko in some places, Omuokoro in Omagwa and Rumuokoro in Diobu. So the Diobu Ikwerre person will always say Rumu. That is their proper way of saying it. Rumuji, Rumuokwuta, Rumuomasi etc are the original names. I was once in a function in Porthacourt, Rumuokoro area to be precise, the visitors were welcomed this way:
Rumunem, anu biale wee!!!
In Union Igbo, it will be: umunnem, unu abiala o. Someone from Owerri, Ezaa, Ngwa etc will say it differently.
Those who think and believe the Ikwere started adding R to their names after the civil war are only being emotional. Those names were corrupted by the Igbos from areas where the Union Igbo holds power. The native Ikwere person will say Omu or Rumu, and the too know Eastern Igbo civil servant will quickly write Umu the same way white men wrote Asaba, Enugu, Kwale, Owerri, Onitsha, Orlu, etc when the natives were actually saying Ahaba, Enuugwu, Ukwuani, Owere, Onicha, Oka, Olu etc.
Will you say Enugu, Asaba or Kwale must be the real name if the locals revert back to the Original Ahaba, Enuugwu and Ukwuani? Will you label the corrections alterations?
Those of us with little knowledge of history should enlighten our people on these things. It is the different tones that makes the Igbo languages beautiful. Yes, the Union Igbo or Igbo nzugbe is good, but it is not totally good to loose our own dialects.
Do you know how the name Rumuigbo came about? It is the same as Umuigbo, Amaigbo, Akwukwo Igbo, Igbo Etche etc. In the Diobu Ikwerre dialect, Rumuigbo means Umuigbo.
Attacking an Ikwere person for writing or saying Rumu is simply you attacking them for being who they are. You should not fight the Ika for saying yinmarin ni because your people say imagi na or imala shia. You should not attack the Enuani person for saying Wa si or the Onicha person for saying fa si because your people say ha si. We still have ana, Ani, ala, ali and eli.
My surname for instance is Ijomah. When I was registering into JSS1, the Anambra lady heard Ijomah but decided knew it better and wrote Ijeoma. I just recently did the correction back to Ijomah. For those who do not know, Ijomah is a western Igbo name. It is actually different from Ijeoma. Ijeoma means safe trip; Ijomah means journey of the wise. Omah is a wise person.
The attack on the Ikwere for being Ikwere must stop. They should like the rest of us, speak their various dialects in peace and the union Igbo when they want to. It is completely unnacceptable for anyone to force them to abandon their main dialect because of a union Igbo created in 1930.
The union Igbo or Igbo nzugbe is a beautiful uniting point, but our dialects are us. And we must guide them too.