The cloth Igbos popularly refer to as Isi Agu, should it rather be called Isi Odum?
Is isi-agụ the right name for this cloth material that is associated with the Igbos?
Yes, isi-agụ is its correct name but what is on the cloth is isi ọdụm (lion’s head), not isi agụ (leopard’s head)
Does that nullify the name? No.
Is it the first time a wrong name has been given to something in Igbo, English, Latin, etc? No.
The people who named this cloth mistakenly called it isi-agụ. But that wrong name has become its name. It can’t be changed soon. It does not even matter anymore.
It is that mistake that contributed to the confusion many Igbos who are under 50 have over which animal is agụ and which one is ọdụm.
Ọdụm is lion.
Agụ is leopard.
That is why we say: Ọdụm na-egbu agụ (the lion that kills the leopard). That is why God is called Ọdụm nke ebo Juda (the Lion of the tribe of Juda).
Tiger never existed in Africa and was never seen or known by our forefathers. So they had no name for it. But in modern times, some people also call the tiger agụ. However, I have suggested that it be called agụ-ukwu (the big leopard), because it is the biggest of the big cats, while cheetah should be called agụ-ọsọ (the speed leopard), because it is the fastest land animal.
So should isi-agụ be changed to isi- ọdụm? It is not necessary. Languages don’t develop like that.
Similar mistakes had been made in Igbo before. Some months ago, I asked people on Facebook what is the Igbo name for library, since school is already called ụlọ akwụkwọ (book house), and what is the Igbo name for pharmacy, since hospital is already called ụlọ ọgwụ (drug house). It caused a lot of confusion and introspection.
School has been “erroneously” named ụlọ akwụkwọ. It can’t be changed anymore. Library will have to get a different name. Same goes for pharmacy.
In English, similar mistakes have been made countless times. When the world erroneously thought the earth was flat, they coined the words “sunrise” and “sunset”, believing that the sun rose from the east and set in the west. Centuries ago it was discovered and certified that the sun never rises and never sets. Rather the earth rotates round the sun. Centuries after, the words sunset and sunrise have not been abolished in English. We use it everyday even though we know sunset and sunrise are scientifically wrong and non-existent.
Similarly, the months September means 7th month (ie septuagenarian); October means 8th month (ie octagon, octogenarian); November means 9th month (ie nonagon, nonagenarian); December means 10th month (ie decimal, decade, decimetre). But in reality they are 9th, 10, 11th, 12th month respectively in the Gregorian calendar we use today. This is because the old calender did not capture 2 months. The current calendar captured them, gave them names and adjusted the months by 2 months, causing the mix-up we have today. But nobody bothers to change the names of the months to reflect their true meanings.
Again when Christopher Columbus set out for India through a different route, he landed in North America. Thinking it was another part of India, he called the indigenous people he saw there Red Indians. West Indies also got its name via that mistake. These names have stuck till today even though North America has no connection with India.
So isi-agụ was mistakenly named by those who didn’t know the difference between agụ (leopard) and ọdụm (lion). But that name has stuck. It can’t be changed now. Isi-agụ is its name.
Interestingly, some isi-agụ materials bear no animal pictures (as can be seen in some of the attached pictures), but are still called isi-agụ. Some even have the pictures of other animals but are still called isi-agụ. So it is no longer the picture drawn on this material that makes people call it isi-agụ. It is the material and what it represents. It is the cloth material that points to the Igbos as a people. The Igbos have adopted it as the cloth that gives them their identity. So isi-agụ is it!
If you don’t have your isi-agụ, nwanne, ndo.