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ISIAGU IS MORE THAN A FASHION ?

    ISIAGU is MORE THAN A FASHION ??              



As a young man slowly coming of age in South East Nigeria, I was keenly aware of my cultural environment. I was fascinated by the colourful ceremonies and rites that emblazoned my people’s days with magic and beauty. I loved the masquerades and the mysterious fear they were supposed to strike in the hearts of children and women. 
The story began to change when I grew older. I became intensely aware of my ethnicity, my history and my place in the matrix of things and perhaps more tellingly, what it means to be Igbo in Nigeria. First, it was the war scar which I accepted with a deep sense of destiny; then the realization that the War had robbed my people of many things. I learnt that the sense of community that made pre-colonial Igbo towns pool funds together and offer overseas scholarships to their most promising children may have been shattered. Same with that sense of kinship that made the Igbo withstand the bullying from Nigeria and her superpower allies and finally, it began to seem as though the extraordinary genius that sired mind-numbing scientific and technological inventions during the war had gone on recession.
Nevertheless, I was aware that whatever the war carried away, it did not include the Igbo belief in a supreme being who created all things to please himself. It didn’t also take away the place of kola nuts as a totem of deep cultural signification and perhaps, most important of all, it left untouched the Isiagu (the lion’s head) and its timeless symbolism to the Igbo man. In fact, in an uncanny sort of way, I suddenly began to notice hints of this symbol all around me as though they hadn’t been there all along. It was a new kind of cultural awakening to me and I became deeply, deeply interested in finding out just how deep the Isiagu totem or Agu (the lion) in its entirety has permeated the Igbo world.
It suddenly dawned on me that it was not by chance that the seat of government of the old Eastern Region in Enugu was called the Lion Building with statues of a lion in various iconic depictions in strategic locations. It also struck me that it was not for nothing that the per-eminent university in Igboland located at Nsukka has the image of a roaring lion as its logo. Same with the Biafran coat of arms which has two lions guarding the crest on either side. I also discovered that the palace of the Eze Eri in Aguleri who sits on one of the oldest ancestral stools in Igboland is replete with the lion motif. But perhaps what I consider even more 
profound is the fact that the colourful Isiagu fabric is one of the most revered pieces of clothing among the Igbo. I concluded therefore that there must be something about the lion and Ndigbo! May be it is in the courage, the fierceness or even the gregariousness! Lions are said to be very gregarious and live together in little communes known as “pride.”








Whatever it might be, my curiosity or is it fascination with Isiagu has remained the same. I noticed that though it now comes in diverse colours to reflect the growth in taste and style among the people, it used to be a creative blend of red, black and white. However, no matter what colours it comes in, the dominant motif is the head of a lion. Sometimes, we see the head of a roaring lion. Sometimes the head is in a contemplative mode. But Isiagu remains the same. The Igbo-man is fascinated with it -So fascinated that it comes in different broad categories. No matter your social standing in the community, there is an Isiagu fabric for you. There is the very expensive type that only the very wealthy members of society can afford. And there are fabrics of Isiagu that are easily affordable to low income earners. Nevertheless, whether it is the high or low income fabric that one can afford, Isiagu announces itself in dazzling sparkles. It is to the credit of the designers of the fabric that they were able to perfectly transfer the mythical glory of the lion (ebube agu) to the Isiagu fabric and endear the cloth to the Ndigbo. The Igbo even have a saying; ebube agu n’eche agu, which can be loosely translated as “the glory of the lion fends off its enemies.” In some parts of Igboland, some people bear ‘lion’ as a name. In some instances, the name “Ogbu-agu” (lion-killer) is given to warriors in reverence to their exploits in war. That is how passionate the relationship between the Igbo and this special animal is. mean while the name Callistus means "most beautiful Warrior"

So, I said to myself, what is it about the lion that my people are so enamoured of it? 
I sought the views of Chukwuemeka Eri, the King of the ancient Eri Kingdom that is widely believed to be the ancestral home of the Igbo. Well, you guessed right; the Eze Eri who sits on what may be the oldest ancestral throne in Igbo land began his comment with a proverb. “If a child does not take its genes from its father, then, it would take them from its mother. Ndigbo came from the lineage of the Lion of Judah. That is why the lion insignia is always ingrained in the Igbo aesthetics. The Igbo is built strong, bold and courageous,” he explained. When I prodded him further for comments in support of his assertion he expressed regret that much of the history of the Igbo is not in a written form. “The lion symbol did not become our cultural symbol by chance. The lion is a very strong and noble animal which typifies the authentic identity of the Igbo. It reflects the intrinsic endowments of the Igbo. I regret that certain important aspects of the Igbo history were not properly documented in writing. If that were not the case, you would not be asking me questions about Isiagu today,” he declared in a voice full of wisdom.

                       Eze Nri Obalike sounding his bell
While one might have one’s doubts about the monarch’s vague allusions to the Biblical “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” research has shown that through several millennia, the lion has remained one of the most widely recognized animal symbols in human culture. The depictions of this animal span all ancient and medieval cultures in carvings, sculptures, paintings, national flags, contemporary films and literature. Indeed, the lion iconography has enjoyed a tremendous depiction as King of the Jungle, The Lion King and King of the Beasts in various media. Ancient Egypt venerated the lioness as its war deity. Ancient Mesopotamia adopted the lion as a prominent symbol of royalty. The Marijata of the ancient Mali Empire was fondly called the “Lion of Mali.” In much the same way, most medieval warrior kings who were reputed for their bravery were affectionately nicknamed “Lion.” Like King Richard of England (Richard the Lionheart), King Henry of Germany (Henry the Lion) and the Duke of Saxony who was known as William the Lion. So, the lion has been widely adopted by diverse cultures across the world as a symbol of bravery and valour. It has been storified in different folklore. It is clear therefore that the fulsome adoption of the lion as an iconic totem is a heritage the Igbo share with many advanced cultures across the world. It however says a lot about the advancement of Igbo civilization that only few of these societies, if any, wear lion clothes to show this affinity as the Igbo do.  

check out some of the modern isi agu in fashionable style













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