I’ve come to realize that the famous ‘Akwa isi-agu’ cultural outfit which is worn as an emblem of honour and pride by the Igbo people is fake, flawed, alien and a corruption of the original Igbo cultural totemic trademark.
The original totem of the Igbo people is leopard (Agu), not lion (Odum). Please, pay special attention to my writeup.
Now, this is what went wrong: the ‘Isi-agu’ attire is supposed to bear the head of the leopard (Agu) but instead it bears that of the lion (Odum).
As a result, what we have in practice is ‘Isi-Odum’, not ‘Isi-agu’ because, ‘Agu’ and ‘Odum’ are not the same thing even as both are of the cat family.
It would be very objective therefore, to question the rationale for misrepresenting ‘Agu’ with ‘Odum’ in most famous Igbo apparels and our attitude of referring to it as ‘Isi-agu’ when in actual fact, it is ‘Isi-odum’.
The absurdities associated with these two animals and their totemic significance in the Igbo cosmology, is one of the things this article intends to clarify.
We must understand that there is a clear difference between ‘Agu’ and ‘Odum’. While the former had the first contact with the Igbo people for finding comfort in tropical rainforests, the latter resides and finds comfort in the Savannah.
The Igbo people are indigenous forest people just like the leopard, and they occupy the rainforest zones, not the Savannah.
The first generation of Igbo Intellectuals made no mistakes about this very fact. In the classic novel, ‘Eze Goes To School’ by Onuora Nzekwe, the ravaging beast which held the people of Ohia hostage, which Eze’s father killed but later died from the wound it inflicted on him, was a leopard (Agu), not a lion (Odum).
In Anezi Okoro’s 1966 novel ‘The Village School’, featured a complex character and student, Ismael, who was popular amongst his mates because his father was a reputed hunter who killed a leopard and took the title “The Leopard Killer” (Ogbu Agu).
In 1950, Cyprian Ekwensi published a novel entitled ‘The Leopard’s Claw’. Chinua Achebe later published a short story with the title “How the Leopard Got Its Claws”. Achebe narrated an Igbo folktale featuring leopard as the ‘King Of The Animals’.
Achebe’s other book ‘Anthills of The Savanah’ narrates the incident when the leopard, the king of the forest, was to kill the tortoise and how the tortoise scattered sand and grass…etc.
Also important is that we have been taught that lion (Odum) is the ‘King of the Jungle’ by Western Literatures but this is wrong and not true at all. It is actually the leopard (Agu) that is the ‘King of the Jungle’. One of the reasons is that leopard resides in the jungle while lion resides in a grassland or open field.
Moreso is the fact that lion sleeps for about 18 – 20hrs a day. It is infact, the lioness that fetches food for the household and not the lion. Lion may be strong, but it is as much lazy as the civet (Edi Abali). On the other hand, it is the leopard (Agu) that gathers food for the family and not the opposite as it is with the lioness.
As an Igbo, you should have noticed that some of the animals that bear “Agu” have three direct features of the leopard (Agu):
(1) They are carnivorous
(2) They have spotted skins, and
(3) They all make stealth moves (secret moves).
Let’s take a look at few examples:
Agu-ulo (wall gecko)
Agu-nkwo (palm genet)
The adoption and use of the lionhead in our ‘Akwa Isi-agu’ is a recent development, which probably is due to the global trend seeking to make the image of the lion a symbol of might, resilience and pride. The Igbo being quite receptive to foreign ideas and practices, allowed the lion-headed emblem to hold sway as our animal totem. But this is wrong.
Ndigbo must learn from other cultures around them and retrace their steps back to their roots. No imperial influence has ever forced the Scots to abandon the Tartan. Nor has Centuries of persecution made the Jews to discard the Yarmulke. The Leopard is also the animal totem of the Zulu in South Africa and still is. Why then did the Igbo throw away their own?
It is necessary therefore, that the original head of leopard (Agu) be used to replace that of the lion (Odum) on various Igbo cultural outfits to correct the massive flaws and deceptions we have allowed to perpetuate over the years as Igbo totemic symbol.