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A SOCIO-PRAGMATIC STUDY OF OHAFIA PROVERBS
1.0.Background to the Study
Human culture, social behaviour and thinking cannot exist in the absence of language. Language is the prime vehicle with which meaning is conveyed. According to Hall (1968:158) “Language is the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other b y means of habitually used oral symbols”. Jesperson (1933:1) remarks: “Language is nothing but a set of human habits, the purpose of which is to give expression to thought and feeling and especially to impart them to others”. ”Language is a set (finite or infinite) of sentences, each finite in length, and constructed out of a finite set of elements” (Chomsky, 1957).Leech and Short (2001) maintain that language performs a number of functions, and a piece of language is likely to be the result of choices made on different functional levels. Based on all the above definitions, Language is a semiotic symbol, by which man expresses himself, at the heart of which is communication. Proverbs generally constitute the mechanism of language that helps to spice up a communication process. Defining a proverb at the initial stage proved to be a very difficult task because different scholars always came up with different seemingly non-related definitions. Hence Archre Taylor‟s classic “the definition of a proverb is too difficult to repay the undertaking… An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not. Hence, no definition will enable us to identify positively a sentence as proverbial”(1934;25). Another common reference is from Lord Russel (1850), as cited by Meider (1993:67), “a proverb is the wit of one and the wisdom of many”. More constructively, Meider(1993) proposes the following definition “a proverb is a short generally known sentence of the folk, which contains wisdom, truth, morals and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorable form, and which is handed down from generation to generation”. For Akmajian et al (2008:91) proverbs are “…traditional sayings, having a fixed general sentential form, alluding to a common truth or general wisdom with some (rudimentary) literary value used to guide action, explain a situation, or induce a feeling or attitude”. Hence, proverbs can be seen as specialized and solidified chunks of language, with specific values that are cut out for a specialized usage, and based on the definition of style as „the way in which a language is used in a given context by a given person, for a given purpose‟ (Leech and Short, 1985), we can possibly see proverbs as an aesthetic effect achieved through language and as a kind of style in language use. One can deduce from the foregoing that proverbs are statements which aim at philosophical proclamations through the use of wit, allusion, and imagery, and most times are based on shared beliefs or assumptions held prior to, or during occasion of interaction (mutual contextual beliefs), and which can be found in virtually all cultures and languages of the world, including the Ohafia variety of Igbo culture.
1.1.A Sociocultural Background of the Ohafia-Igbo People
Igbo is the official native language of the Igbo people(often erroneously spelt and pronounced "Ibo" because certain Europeans had difficulty making the /ɡb/ sound), who are indigenous linguistic and cultural people of southern Nigeria. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River– an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section.(Ofomata, 2005). Known as Ndi Igbo in the Igbo language and sometimes identified by their respective Igboid dialects or subgroupings, such as the Anioma (many Anioma do not consider themselves as Igbos) and the Ngwa, the culture of the Igbos has been shaped primarily by Igboland's rainforest climate, its historic trades, ancient migration folklores and social ties with its neighbours as well as far-flung trading and political allies and lately with the Europeans through colonization and the entire Western World through globalization. They speak Igbo, which includes various Igboid languages and dialects, one of which is the Ohafia dialect, spoken by people from Ohafia. Ohafia is a town situated in the present-day Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State, in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. With an estimated population of 920,000 (NPC, 2011), Ohafia as an Igbo group or clan consists of 26 villages of varying sizes, most of which trace their ancestry to a common father, Uduma Ezema Atita. Thus, the people are often referred to as Ohafia Uduma Ezema. Their traditional homeland covers about 176 kilometres in the western part of the middle Cross River, and marks the eastern limit of Igbo land in that area. Some anthropological literatures have described Ohafia as a Cross River Igbo people. This description not only reflects their geographical location, but also the importance of that river to the people in the past. Ohafia has both Igbo and non-Igbo neighbours, the former include Abiriba and Edda to the North, Ihechiowa to the South, and Abam to the West. To the East, the latter include Biakpan, Agbanwan, Ikwun and Usukpam, all of which occupy a narrow strip of territory sandwiched between Cross River in the east and Ohafia in the west The traditional Ohafia society did not constitute a single centralized polity; it was instead composed of village republics united into a unique commonwealth. Each of the 26 villages of Ohafia is an autonomous democracy, exercising the highest level of effective political and social control. Ohafia is thus best described as a segmentary society. Nevertheless, all villages acknowledge the primacy of Elu village (Njoku 2000). The ancestors of the Ohafia people were renowned warriors. According to Ume (1996), in the past, the culture of Ohafia was hinged around one‟s prowess in war. They were constantly on the lookout for wars in which to take part. They were invited by neighbouring towns as mercenaries to help them defeat enemies. The Ohafia warrior history gave birth to the performance of the iri agha, which means „war dance‟. During the war times, Ohafia warriors were known not only to kill their enemies, but behead them and return home with the heads. To them, a human skull was a souvenir, and it was proof of a man‟s courage which brought to him different types of honour. Therefore, for the war dance, human heads, usually three, placed on a plaque was carried on the head by a young warrior who was usually accompanied by two or more warriors wearing nothing but a loincloth tied around their waist. They danced to a local drum and chants done by yet another warrior, narrating the story of their victory (Ume, 1996).
The Ohafia people have different cultures which form their worldview. One of these is their matrilineal belief. They believe that a child belongs more to his mother and her family than to his father; therefore, in the event of the death of bo th parents, the child goes to his maternal relations. Also, because the family of the child‟s father is considered distant relatives, it is permissible for a person to marry his paternal relative. There are certain gender restrictions in Ohafia such as clothing restrictions, where women are not allowed to wear certain wrappers and cloths. There were also access restrictions where women are not allowed to go to certain places especially certain shrines, and initiation activities. There were serious consequences for going against these restrictions. In Njoku‟s opinion (2000), another important culture of the Ohafia people is the age grade system; people of a particular age bracket, usually between two and three year‟s bracket come together as youths to form an age group. They work together for years to develop the community through various services such as vigilante services, peace keeping, and sanitation. When they get to a particular age, usually mid-life, they pick up a major project such as building a particular road, providing electricity, and even building a library or school for the community. When this is completed, they retire from active service to the community, and are celebrated in a huge retirement ceremony, after which they will be regarded as senior citizens of Ohafia. Other well embraced cultures include secret societies, which only men usually belonged to, honorific societies, which men who had done „exemplary‟ deeds such as fighting in a war belong to.
The Ohafia people, like other Igbo speaking communities acknowledge four market days: Eke, Afor, Orie, Nkwo, where groceries as well as other day to day needs are bought. Food stuffs peculiar to the Ohafia, and some other Igbo speakers are sold here also. The dominant religion in present day Ohafia is Christianity, but before the advent of Christianity, deities such as Kalu, Kamaalu, Ikwan di Orie (Ikwan, the husband of Orie), Orie and many others were worshiped and reverenced. It is in light of this that festivals were done in Ohafia to appreciate deities as well as Chineke (the creator) for different gifts. One of such festivals is the New Yam Festival. This is usually celebrated after a yam planting season, and is done to thank the creator for a bountiful harvest, and the new yam is eaten only after this festival.
Ohafia people have various other belief systems which form their worldview. According to Ume (1996), the Ohafia man considers himself to be the major protector of his wife, children, and even his clan, because women are considered to be frail, weak and very vulnerable. Therefore, the Ohafia men see themselves as demigods to their women. This therefore subconscious affects the way they treat their women. On the good side, the women feel shielded from danger, and safe, but on the other hand, it always makes some of them feel unimportant. However, Njoku (2000) notes that “…this line of thought is fast fading, as western education has come to play large role in giving women a voice”. There is also belief that trouble should be avoided at a ll cost, and peace should be reciprocated. Hence, a person or guest who comes in peace is welcomed with an equal amount of peace. This is taken so seriously that most Ohafia men usually have nzu (local clay) in their houses. This clay is smeared on a visib le part of the body of theeir out-of-town guests. These guests then walk around the village freely, without fear of molestation, because anyone who sees this clay on them will know that they are legitimate guests, and that they have come in peace. On the other hand, a person who brings war with him is always met by the ready Ohafia warriors, who are trained with the skills and coordination to fight major battles (Njoku, 2000)
1.2.The Ohafia People and Proverbs
Among the Igbos, the art of conversation is regarded very highly. Besides the wealth of folklore, in the form of fables and legends, the Igbos have a generous store of proverbs, which are constantly used in specialized and everyday discourse. It is common knowledge among people of Igbo descent that indigenous Igbo proverbs play vital roles in speech, communication and exchange of knowledge and ideas among them. They are so profuse that often, it is impossible to understand the full meaning of a conversation without knowing some of the more common proverbs it is bound to contain.