Anyanwu (Sun) Image in Igbo World

Day Onitsha counts its creative wealth
For four hours, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe (Agbogidi) was in Lagos for a vital traditional function. The event was the maiden art exhibition of a group of Onitsha, Anambra State, born professional artists. Art collectors and Lagos based practitioners, including the chairman of the Society of Nigeria Artists, (SNA) Lagos State, Olu Ajayi attended. Nkiru Uwechia Nzegwu, an artist, art critic and associate professor at the Department of African Studies and Graduate Programme on Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture (PIC), Binghamton University, New York, USA in a speech at the event explores the importance of the fiesta held at the Pendulum Art Gallery, Lagos.

What does Olokoto: Songs of Chima mean? {Olokoto} means plenitude, abundance and fullness. In addition to these primary meanings, the word represents ideas that suggest luxuriance and bounteousness. {Olokoto} connotes abundance of riches, wealth, and rich harvest. To describe any year as {Olokoto} is to inform a listener or a reader that it was a year of bountiful harvest. The idea of abundance describes not only agricultural produce, but the wealth generated by people as well. As this exhibition makes clear, this wealth could include works of art some of which are on display as well as the artists who produced them, and who are part of the community’s highly trained human capital. The expression “Songs of Chima” directs our attention both to the nature of the art object under consideration and to the specific people and community that {Olokoto} is used to characterise. “Songs” metaphorically stand for creative products, works of imagination, and individualised artistic expressions that are perceived as harmonious. “Chima” refers to indigenes of Onitsha who trace the founding of their city of Eze Chima.
The exhibition, {Olokoto: Songs of Chima}, is a celebration of the abundance and luxuriant riches that belongs to Onitsha. In a certain sense, it is a clarion call to both friends and foes to take stock of all that the city has achieved both in the arts and its human resources. Reflection on the riches of the city is necessary given the contemporary condition of Onitsha, today. The city is marked by a catalogue of ills: garbage-strewn streets, unsanitary clogged and overflowing drains, squalid high rises, filthy premises, violent crimes, armed robberies and killings, inhospitable living conditions, lack of city planning, lack of solid waste management, impassable roads, and most important of all, total breakdown of law and order.
Transforming and gentrifying the city of Onitsha would require enormous effort. Seeing the city as a place with impressive human and material wealth is crucial since such a perspective provides the critical lens from which to envision plans for transformation. Thus, while this art exhibition purports to be about beauty, aesthetics and art appreciation, it also has a very powerful underlying message. Its speaks simultaneously about the plenitude of artistic resources in Onitsha, and it calls on indigenes and residents to renew their pride in this city and to spearhead it physical and moral transformation. In short, in calling for the renaissance of Onitsha, {Olokoto}: Songs of Chima is issuing a call for the urban renewal of the city.
From the end of the Biafran War in 1970, phenomenal transformations have occurred in Onitsha both at the level of infrastructure (roads, industries, and buildings) and in the building of the city’s social capital (the development of people’s potential). The rapid pace of growth has brought about a lowering of people’s moral scheme as the old moral order and its related political structures gave way to new political structures and new moral schemes.
Crime, corruption, mismanagement of public funds, robbery and cheating have become the part of the normative order of post-Biafran life. The nature of societal ills that occurred in this period has been exacerbated at the local level by the grand economic restructuring going on at the global level.
At the intermediate level of nation states, these economic changes have unleashed a season of poverty and decay of Nigeria and numerous other African countries. The conditionalities these countries accepted in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have proved destructive. The situation in Nigeria is particularly irksome because those at the helm of power continue to use their leadership positions to derail the country’s prospects of economic growth. They did this by turning the nation’s Central Bank into their piggy banks and by expropriating the country’s wealth.
In the last four years, in particular, the attack on Onitsha and the well being of the community has come from the Anambra State House in Awka. With the breakdown of the rule of law and of law and order, the moral restraints on people correspondingly broke down as a segment of Onitsha residents and indigenes engaged in all kinds of nefarious practices – armed robbery, killings, swindling – that eroded the moral fibre of the community. The question we now face is: how do we regain our moral compass and undertake the rebuilding of the city?
As history reveals, possibilities for change exist. The survival of Onitsha depends on the strategic decisions that we make now for the development and growth of the city. These decisions must come from imagining and subsequently reinventing the city into the clean bustling city it once was. But men alone must not do this planning as has been the case in the past seven decades when men arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to make decisions for the community.
In those decades, a male dominant way of doing things was fallaciously justified on the basis of tradition. Yet, historical evidence does show that as far back as 1857 and 1872 the Omu and Ikporo Onitsha were critical participants in the determination of matters of national importance. It was only with the advent of colonialism and its male-privileging ideology that Onitsha men gained educational advantage. Since then, they used their advantage in gender discriminatory ways to advance their own cross-cutting interests.
Against this background of male-privileging ideology, it is not surprising that only one woman artist is participating in this exhibition even though numerous Onitsha women are trained artists. The issue should not be “But there are no women artists?” The question should be, what is militating against their practising of their craft? Future deliberations about the new model of Onitsha must replace retrograde sexist ideas and questions with a generative view of life that affirms Onitsha women.
It makes sense to ask: why is it that artists rather than economic planners or development theorists are initiating this dialogue? The simple answer is that artists are visionaries. The late internationally renowned artist Ben Enwonwu contends that it is “(t)hrough his or her work the artist warns against what can disturb or destroy the interest of the community and society.”
Evidently, the day-to-day matters of earning a living tend to distract people who then become afflicted by existential blindness. Artists provide the way out of this blindness because the artistic process is a process of apprehension and metamorphosis. It is a process of grasping and translating forms of thought and awareness into reality, forcing audiences to think about and contend with new issues.
Enwonwu provides a model of this during his Negritude phase when “art is tied with…. political motivations …phrased in political terms. He states that to free [one]self from the ties of foreign domination… Negritude meant…. the revitalisation of African force, both in art and in all forms of creativity.”
He demonstrates negritude by “painting with definite aims in mind and… visions [that] were… characteristic of Black expression.”
Although publicly Enwonwu appears “wedded” to the Western view of art, one needs to pierce the façade to get at the meaning of his cryptic comments about art, and to see that his works are about things he hardly discusses. Installed on the façade on the Nigerian Museum, Anyanwu has incorrectly been translated as {The Awakening}, created as it was just before the independence of Ghana and Nigeria. Many interpreters have correctly hypothesised that it is a prophetic prognostication of the impending wave of independence that swept the continent in the decade of the 1960s. However, there is a missing metaphysical dimension that explains the relationship of the sculpture, Anyanwu, to the divine force, Anyanwu.
In everyday colloquial terms the word ‘anyanwu’ refers to the sun. In standard lexicon, the word is made up of two conjuncts ‘anya’ (eye) and ‘anwu’ light. This literal translations “the eye of light” construes the sun as the eye of light. The questions this raises are, Whose eye is the sun? And to whom does it belong? The logical direction of these questions alerts us: a) that more is being asked than can be answered by our everyday framework; and b) that the meaning of the standard lexicon must derive its intelligibility from elsewhere.
In {After God is Dibia}, John Anenechukwu Umeh discusses how the everyday meaning of ‘anyanwu’ (the sun) is parasitic on the underlying esoteric framework of Igbo metaphysics. On this framework, ‘Anya Anwu’ is the “Eye of the Lord or Divinity of Light,” which is also the Supreme Force of Chu Ukwu (the great being/God) of anwu or light.
Umeh describes Anwu (Light) as another name for Agwu, the Holy Spirit that is a part of Chi Ukwu. According to him “[a]s Ose Obala, Agwu is God of Light (Anwu) whose Eye is the Sun (Anyanwu). At times Agwu is also regarded as Anyanwu, the Sun God.”
On this metaphysical scheme, Agwu, the Holy Spirit, is a female force “Nne Nwanyi (the Old Lady of God, i.e., the Divine Lady Mother Spirit)” as well as the Supreme Force of eternity and the ruler of everlastingness.
When this information is brought to bear on Enwonwu’s sculpture, Anyanwu, we find the artist speaking in two modes: at the superficial level for the general public, and at the deeper esoteric level, for those who understand the symbolism and forms of esoteric language. While the public level dwells on history and political transformation, the esoteric level addresses some truths about the structure of reality. The series of paintings and sculptures on this theme function as divine truths. The sculpture, Anyanwu, correctly identifies as female the divinity Anyanwu, the “Spirit of Light and of the Rising Sun,” who is both Agwu and the Divine Old Lady of God.
Enwonwu is clear about the esoteric meaning of his work as his following comment reveals. He scribed his sculpture, Anyanwu, as the “genetic forces embodied in womanhood….. flowering into the fullest stature of a nation, a people.”
This description both recognises the female character of his work, and of Anyanwu, the Divinity. Through his work, Enwonwu is telling us that emanations of the God of Light are embodied in women.
The sculpture, Anyanwu, not only marks the “compelling idea of the spirit to be found in Africa” it proclaims the centrality of women in the regeneration of the future Africa. He seems to be suggesting that the dynamism of life, of wisdom and of truth do not totally reside in men, as most nationalist male activists and postcolonial African males assume.
For him, a significant dimension of the future of Africa rests on women because of the presence of this God of Light residing in women folk.
In a compelling way, Enwonwu’s sculpture resists and undercuts the current fashionable attempt to reconstruct societies in Africa as traditionally male dominant and patriarchal. It is for this reason that his work asserts that there is little historical validity to this masculinist view as well as to the constructed histories being peddled by those with limited knowledge of Igbo conceptual scheme. Anyanwu asserts in deep metaphysical language that bringing women into the political process augurs well for the future of the continent. Recognition of the mystical basis of his forms and of the visionary character of his creativity establishes Enwonwu’s linkage to an older artistic universe in which the search for deeper spiritual fulfilment is of paramount concern.
For him, the concept of art for art’s sake is hardly an intelligible option for political actors, which is what every social being in a society is. In fact, for him to opt for a non-political position is really to make a political choice, one that is steeped in irresponsibility, because it amounts to an abdication of one’s social and political rights.
It is fitting to end this essay with Enwonwu’s evaluation of the works of younger artists, if only to raise the metric bar and critically engage the artists who are participating in this exhibition. Reflecting on the state of art two years before he died, Enwonwu stated: ” Recent contemporary Nigerian art of today is largely experimental. My general is that it is based more on techniques that true lasting values. It will survive only if it expresses that aspirations of African people, which in essence is their yearnings for a better way of life. It must represent the intrinsic value and the significance of life that is at the core of our political and social being.
“And it is not true that there is nothing for them to say.… There is a vacuum. There are techniques, but it is not sufficiently anchored to the aspirations of people in Africa. If Africa art is to evolve these issues that must be addressed, the younger generation of artists must realise the power of images, and what it can achieve within a political context. ”
In concluding, {Olokoto}: Songs of Chima is much more than a mindless displaying of objects and colored canvases. At a serious level, it calls on Onitsha Ado indigenes and residents to reflect on the material, and spiritual richness of their community. Although, very much unacknowledged, these riches are the vital resources that must become the engine of social transformation. As citizens, we must imagine a better future for Onitsha and deeploy enabling myths to pull us out of the morass of decay.


2 Responses to “Anyanwu (Sun) Image in Igbo World”

  1. randka Says:

    There were grammatical errors even in his silence.

  2. bankruptcy lawyer marketing Says:

    After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment.
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