Patrick Iroegbu - Umueze Umunumo
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The Concept of Igbo Kwenu in Igbo Life By


IntroductionUmuofia Kwenu, yaa! Kwenu yaa, kwezue nu, yaaaa! wrote Chinua Achebe in 1958 in his novel, Things Fall Apart. In like manner, this cultural heritage is everywhere in Igboland heard as it reverberates when prompted since the Igbo settled in Igboland. As such, we hear in a public gathering or in a village square or community centre, kindred meetings, and so on the cheering up when it is called upon: Igbo kwenu! Yaa! Some will say: Yorooro m, nke bu n’ezi (true to a fact); others will say, Ka obodo di mma (so that the community will fair well). In all such responses, we will hear hoo, like in tii! hoo, tii! hoo, or ya-mee or ya-gaa! – which will mean “amen” in a simple English translation. The resounding of Igbo Kwenu in every gathered opportunity for a purpose, one can say, depicts a pattern of Igbo dimension of solidarity making and ethos of traditionalism.

Some useful questions to guide this exploration of the concept of Igbo Kwenu include: what does Igbo Kwenu mean? Why do none Igbo speaking peoples identify the Igbo with that phrase Igbo Kwenu? When the Igbo say in a gathering, Igbo Kwenu, what exactly are they referring to or echoing out? Whose voices matter in the philosophy and culture of Igbo Kwenu? Of what origin has the concept of Igbo Kwenu? In addition to having the concept of Igbo Kwenu as a pivotal language onto community rally, it is also fundamental to Igbo names that gravitate around solidarity and agreement to forge ahead. In that case, people take names like Igbokwe (Igbo agreeing), Ohakwe (public agreeing), Ikekwe (strength agreeing), Alakwe (land agreeing, community agreeing).

Elsewhere (see “So, It Took Igbo Kwenu: Cultural Team Spirit as a Heritage” in: www.kwenu.con of June 15, 2007), I had posited the meaning of Igbo Kwenu to involve and mean, invaluable time, determination, imagination, originality, mobilization, resources, and efforts. I want to explain here the cultural logic and symbolism of Igbo Kwenu with respect to cultural identity, belongingness, solidarity and contribution to one’s society and then exemplify it with what I can today endorse as the Annual Igbo-kwenu of Umunumo Convention of the Umunumo Nationals in USA for development calls at home. It is worth recognizing the fact of the development philosophy embodied in the concept of Igbo kwenu. Success stories like the late Fr. Prof. Pantaleon Iroegbu (see also Father Prof. Pantaleon-Iroegbu Foundation initiatives in Umunumo) embodied and transmitted the notion of Igbo kwenu from the bottom up. Through his development and spiritual ideals and works, he impacted Umunumo to believe that connecting to the global community is a part of this sounding of Igbo Kwenu both in naming and collective belongingness. To go home to shout Igbo Kwenu to the poor and needy, in particular school children who cannot be given hope to look upon us as role model will be a wrong social empowerment and re-direction. The concept of Igbo Kwenu should not be misplaced because it is a call for a meaningful participation and contribution – physical, mental, and material as we possibly can – as opposed to shying away and not helping to bring about community good and spirit of cultural heritage.

The Phrase “Igbo Kwenu”A common linguistic analysis helps us to understand the phrase Igbo Kwenu. Here we have two words: ‘Igbo’ and ‘Kwenu.’ The term “Igbo” refers to Igbo people – men and women of all ages of tradition and modernism. On its own, “Kwenu” as a word refers to agreement, endorsement, solidarity, unity, bondedness, strength, collective will. The conception of the idea to stay together as a community and act as one is very important for the Igbo. The Igbo see the fact that to stay united in a direction or course of action will bring a shared honour to them. As a result, they value strongly to come together. Coming together is deterministic and central to all else. In gathering of all sorts, namely marriage, rituals, celebrations, age grade meetings, war, wrestling, hunting, masquerading, and village political affairs, and of course the Annual Convention of the Umunumo Nationals, the Igbo assert their emotions and psychology together through calls to order of solidarity by way of Igbo Kwenu. Today also, the Nigerian political class comes up with all sorts of slogans not far from the culturally enhanced idiom of Igbo Kwenu. When someone is to speak to an issue, he will call to order the gathered Igbo to listen to him through the application or summon of Igbo Kwenu. Women do not necessarily trouble themselves with the calling out of Igbo Kwenu. Gender wise, women bother with what is called ihia oro, such as amm seleehhh, Igbo orue nuoo! (Elongated high tone musical call out, which refers to – it is time to act and is consequently responded to with - Oh Yes!). Nuanced forms of this call to order by the women exist in different regions of the Igbo in Nigeria.

Traditionally, when a person among the gathered Igbo group intends to speak and has masterly and skilfully summoned attention with Igbo Kwenu, he is automatically granted audience. Igbo Kwenu is a supreme rallying call to attention and order to speak in a culturally appropriate way. Once the Igbo Kwenu is announced and responded to, all ears will listen, at least momentarily to the person who surely will stand out and speak to them. His (the caller’s) idea, point of information and facts, contribution and oratory skill will determine how much attention he will command. The Igbo can be noisy in public meeting sessions. Being noisy while discussing public affairs is not easily understood by the non-Igbo. Speaking out loud and clear is a well cherished Igbo cultural feature. It is not merely seen or viewed as shouting or yelling, rather as a form of strength of communication and emphasis. Noisy sessions will essentially prompt the call to Igbo Kwenu for calm and attention to help the speaker, rather than not, speak up and make his point.

Cultural Origin of Igbo KwenuTo trace the cultural origin of Igbo Kwenu is a search for meaning and point of departure. An inquiry into knowing and connecting the dots of the origin of the idiomatic notion of Igbo Kwenu is hard to excavate and point to a specific historic and linguistic moment. Legends and creation myths told nothing to our common sense understanding about the first application of the phrase Igbo Kwenu. Yet important information gathered suggest that Igbo language, philosophy and manner of communication evolved as a collective praxis in charting their ways and transmission of life curiosities.

Some related stories asserted that the Igbo as a whole like to think and speak to and of things in a dynamic sense. There is an indication also of the fact that the Igbo reinvent any of their agreed upon matter of importance. As such, the concept of Igbo Kwenu captures their before, now and ahead of their time and events. Put practically, Igbo Kwenu cuts short the form of saying - Igbo kwere n’ihe ha kwuru (The Igbo believe in what they have agreed upon to think, say, and do). Classically, there is no record of history exclusive to the origin of the idiomatic connotation of Igbo Kwenu this writer came across in the search for knowing. Made to believe is that the phrase Igbo Kwenu is aligned to Igbo language process on solidarity register and shared meaning of holding to what is agreed upon. We can deduce that Igbo Kwenu is a psychic of a collective voice, the oratory skill and community action. Its origin and continuity have endured so much so that the significance of Igbo Kwenu has become a norm in gathering of the Igbo for Igbo affairs.

Igbo Kwenu and Symbolism

A central way to explain the symbolism of Igbo Kwenu is to refer to a local proverb which says: Ukwu diri otu, a kuo ulo gbam-gbam, ma ukwu adighi otu, a kuo ulo akirika (if we are united, we roof the house with a corrugated iron zinc; but if we are not united, the house will be roofed with raffia palm). The proverb simplifies the obvious fact that unity is critical to any form of collective discourse, agreement, development action, connection and result. As when there is unity of purpose, the result of any action is comparable to roofing a house in a solid iron sheet. On the contrary, discourses that lack unity of minds and actions will result in disorder and of achieving less such that roofing a house is comparable to using vulnerable materials of less durability. The powerful proverb unveils the notion of ikwere or ekweghi (agree or disagree; come out and belong versus stay out and do not come out to be part of the community).

Let us not diminish the meaning of disagreement. To disagree with an opinion does not mean refusal to belong and participate in a given or chosen action. In the process of a debate, disagreements do arise but at the end a consensus will be reached in which case every varied opinion will be fine tuned, reduced to, and harmonized with an acceptable ground to act as one for the communal good. This way, the phrase Igbo Kwenu signifies a process of engaging in discourses until an agreement is reached and carried out. One can boldly state that the phrase Igbo Kwenu corresponds with a reached Igbo mind or spirit for action in a given circumstance, such as the Second Annual Convention of the Umunumo Nationals in Houston Texas, 2008. Igbo Kwenu is a cultural tic-tac of agreeing to move on. So, it is ahead, we go on because when the Igbo agree (kwe) they will give productive and enduring results. They will mobilize and fight to achieve things with their cultural heart and soul. And that is, indeed, the reference term of Igbo Kwenu in the context of Umunumo Nationals, USA. Equally, it can be said to be a wooden gong in words for preparedness in line with any mutual community voice and action. Igbo Kwenu initiates the voices, due processes or rules, customs or laws and actions for the community of people involved. This is embodied in the group’s thematic forensic rituals of life adaptations and situations of deaths and identity renewals.


In this short contribution, I hope I have been able to highlight the cultural idiomatic expression of Igbo Kwenu. By bringing out the linguistic and symbolic expressions to the fore, we now realize that the concept of Igbo Kwenu is both ideological and philosophical enterprise in action applied to daily events among the gathered Igbo during discourses, communal and development action scenarios and even in dispute settlements and negotiations of varying dimensions. Not only is the idiomaticity of Igbo Kwenu a bold cultural reference to the Igbo of Nigeria, in particular the Umunumo Nationals, it essentially ties in with the Igbo sense of solidarity, belongingness, participation, and the fostering of their psychological momentum in a committed cause of social, cultural, economic, political, and global identity of who they are at home and abroad. Igbo Kwenu is a mark of Igbo cultural identity and heritage. It is their collective voice in action at a moment of need to move on and achieve things of honour for their valued meaning of life in solidarity. Having this convention moment of the year to mark the Igbo initiatives of the Umunumo population defines the cultural fact that agreement brings idea to action and action to celebration. As such, August 30th, 2008 has become part of the Umunumo Nationals’ history. This suggests that when we in the first place agree with our own self and extend this self unity to the other to respond to needs and challenges, we are, indeed, practicing Igbo kwenu in the spirit of Umunumo Nationalism.

I invite our Igbo experts in this lexicon field to join in exploring further the notions and dimensions of Igbo Kwenu in Igbo tradition and in diaspora. Given the high cultural impact of the concept of Igbo Kwenu, there is a need to hopefully reflect the Igbo beliefs and practices around it, on the one hand, and solve critical challenges resting on the social and cultural issues it embodies in rallying the Igbo and negotiating discourses and agreements, on the other. Cheehh!! Cheehh!! Cheeh!! Igbo Kwenu! eehh, Kwenu eehh! Kwezue nu! eehh!– meaning, it is done.

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