Thursday, 9 February 2012

Essay: The Amebo Principle In Chidi Anthony Opara’s "I Dey Shake Head 3"

By  Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
The Nigerian Pidgin English term  "Amebo" can be said to subsume the meaning of this poem, in terms of its subject, theme and  choice of language, as well as suggesting a larger  body of ideas in relation to the meaning of the pidgin English term. This larger body of ideas is centred in the  Amebo Principle as a demonstration of the positive and negative potential of communication beyond its role in fulfilling the most immediate needs   as a fundamental human quality and value, the expression of this principle in the figures  of Esu and Agwu in Orisa and Odinani cosmology and  these communicative imperatives as subsumed by the  interpretive and cosmological conceptions of the discipline of esuneutics.
The poem:
 "I Dey Shake Head 3" By Chidi Anthony Opara
No be only Naija security people
Dey argue well well,
Wey dey work with Naija Presido
Dey argue well well too.
Dem too dey argue
Dem work too dey suffer,
I don dey shake head again.

Presido carry dem go meeting for yonder,
Minister dem go,
Adviser dem follow,
Special Adviser dem follow.
Senior Special Assistant dem too follow,
Special Assistant dem follow,
Even Personal Assistant dem follow go.
Madam sef go,
Her worker dem follow go,
Naija government come dey empty,
Work dey suffer,
I come dey shake head more more.

As dem come back,
Instead to siddon do work,
Dem dey follow amebo dem argue.
Amebo dem talk say
Presido no fit win di meeting chairmo,
Presido people reply say
Presido no contest meeting chairmo.
Amebo dem talk again say
Presido contest but im no win.
Presido people come reply again say
Presido for win if im contest,
Come dey climb up, dey climb down,
Work dey suffer,
I still dey shake head.
Amebo: Origins and Adaptation
The term "Amebo" emerges from  Nigerian entertainment history and its subsequent filtering into popular discourse. "Amebo" is derived from the name of a character in the 1970s and 80s  Nigerian Television Authority  drama series Village Headmaster. She was a great gossip who acted as a tireless conveyor of news between various parties in the village. Her name passed into the popular lexicon to represent assiduous passing on of information, particularly in a non-formal and gossipy context.

The Amebo concept has been expanded and adapted in various aspects of Nigerian life, from music to engineering,  to refer to a broad range of phenomena subsumed by the activity of passing on information, and of engaging in discourse as a fundamental human activity.

General Social Contexts

Bella Naija's post "Amebo-Yes, I'm Talking to You" examines its expanded generic meaning as it entered into Nigerian public discourse as referring to gossip, in relation to personal and public demonstrations of this phenomenon in different parts of the world. 
Her illustrative picture sums up this sense of delight in sharing information in morally questionable sense :
The "Her Fiancee is Gay: Should I Do Amebo?" thread on the Nigerian social network Nairaland is a debate that highlights the social issues involved in communicating sensitive information. The question " Should I do Amebo?" in the thread title indicates a question as to whether or not to act like an "Amebo" in passing on sensitive information unknown to the affected  parties.

Bayo Ade's Nigerian Pidgin English music video,Amebo Dem Go Tire ,  its refrain, "Wetin you no see you see you see am", "what you dont see, you say you saw",  characterises an  "Amebo" as more of a person who makes up questionable depictions of reality on inadequate understanding of observations than a person communicating accurate information,  depicting  the negative potential of the Amebo concept in terms of spreading of information in a destructive spirit of gossip.

 Sadly, Bayo Ade was killed by kidnappers in 2011 even though they collected  ransom money from his family for his release.

State Secrets
The Amebo concept is invoked in connection with the tension between concealing and revealing state classified information to the public  by Nigerian Pidgin English news site Zazu Gist in the article " 20 Years Jail for CIA Wen Do Amebo".

The penetration of the Amebo concept in terms of the semiotics of engineering is represented by the Amebo- 1 drone, manufactured by the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Technology, this craft  being an unmanned aerial vehicle that seems to be of the  kind that could be used in spying.

Communications Platforms which describes itself as  "an online news and entertainment portal totally dedicated to giving you an authentic view of the Nigerian political and social situation" demonstrates the transposition of the Amebo name from its characterisation  in Village Headmaster to a generic term in informal Nigerian public discourse to its use as a means of organising and branding a formal  information disseminating organisation in cyberspace.

AmeboMind Your Business Blogspot plays on the gossip characterisation of the Amebo concept to brand the informal communications platform represented by a blog.

Social Actors and Institutions in General
Charles Dickson uses the term to represent various people and organisations in terms of their roles as agents of as well as points of convergence of discourse in  his article on the Nigerian energy crises of January  2012  "Occupy Nigeria According to 'Amebos'".

The Amebo Principle
The scope of the use of the term "Amebo", therefore, suggests that it delineates a principle of human behaviour and activity one could describe as the Amebo Principle.

The Amebo Principle involves the seeking and communication of information as a compulsive  expression of being human,  in its transmission of information across borders, between  individuals, between governments and publics, between private and public spaces, communication that needs to be interpreted at various levels of decoding.

The Amebo Principle, as a demonstration of the urge-to-discourse in humanity, demonstrates both positive and negative qualities. The positive qualities consist in the sharing of information and reflection on and application of information, qualities that define human civilisation. Its negative qualities involve shallow understanding of information, indiscreet use of information and deliberately  destructive use of information.

The relationship between  information dissemination and the hermeneutic or esuneutic task of decoding and interpreting the various levels or possibilities of meaning of such information, as well as  the relationship of communication to insight as well as to deception,  is represented in classical Yoruba/Orisa and Igbo/Odinnani cosmologies by the figures of Esu and Agwu. The interpretive process of understanding  various possibilities of meaning in discourse, in relation to a cosmology related to the symbolism of physical and metaphysical  crossroads as representing the convergence and divergence of possibilities of interpretation and of the opportunities and outcomes that emerge from these interpretive choices,   is known as esuneutics, developing this idea from its use by Obododimma Oha in "The Esu Paradigm in the Semiotics of Identity and Community" , who describes himself as  getting  it from the Nigerian literary group, Krazitivity.

Chidi Anthony Opara and the Ameboization of Discourse
In Chidi's poem "I Dey Shake Head", I am shaking my head, a title implying shaking one's head in perplexity,  the term  "amebo"  refers to a group of people expressing opinions on the actions of the Nigerian government and the response of the government to these opinions from the public. One may describe the use of the term in the poem as summing up the poem's  transposition of  the term from its general meaning in Nigerian Pidgin English to refer to the swelling of discourse of various kinds, of varying degrees of analytical value, on the current crisis in the Nigerian polity, with particular reference  to a specific incident which I cant pinpoint.

The  "ameboization", of this expansion of discourse suggests that the Amebo concept   can be described in both negative and positive terms, as an expression of the need to examine public issues but also as demonstrating a compulsion in the demonstration of this human tendency that is not always exercised in a critical manner.

In fact, the entire poem can be said to turn on the "ameboization" of public discourse, radiating from government activity to the polity and back to its origin in the highly publicised activities of government and back to the public, in a continuous cycle.

All over the world, the behaviour of governments provokes responses from the public within and beyond the borders of those countries, and such responses do affect the conduct of the relevant governments in varying degrees.

Chidi's poem laments what he describes as the "ameboization" cycle in a specific incident in Nigerian public affairs, in which debate of dubious analytical value is allowed to superimpose itself upon the more valid activities of the government.

A beauty of the poem is its rhythm, centred in the parallelism of the second stanza, composed of  lines of identical or similar structure, often rhyming.

Perhaps the form of the poem, its content and its semantic thrust, its direction of meaning, could be seen as a dramatic reflection on discourse in the form of its symbolisation by the Amebo concept, in which the concept stands for communication and the various transformations it could undergo in a social context.

Esu and Agwu
In this regard, one could relate  the Amebo concept, particularly  as it is dramatised in this poem, to the trickster/communication/
cosmological figures from Yoruba and Igbo cosmology, Esu and Agwu.

In the spirit of unanticipated transformations, of upsets of expectation, at times in the context of various ways of managing or interpreting information,  that is the forte of Esu, a central interpretive medium in Yoruba/Orisa Ifa divination,  Chidi mobilises his poetry in projecting Nigerian Pidgin English from its oral roots into a written platform, while moving from its origin in the  localised orality of Southern Nigeria to a global electronic dissemination  via his commitment to widespread online communication. Chidi's poetry, therefore, is a demonstration of the transformations between oral and written traditions in African literature.

Like Agwu,   who enables  the dibia interpret the messages  in Igbo/Odinani Afa divination, information brought by Agwu  from its travels to distant lands, the feature of human society that  could be described as  the Amebo Principle involves the character of discourse as a compulsive and mobile expression of being human,  in its transmission of information across borders, between  individuals, between governments and publics, between private and public spaces, communication that needs to be interpreted at various levels of decoding.

 Agwu  is  described by Angulu Onwuejeogwu in Afa Symbolism and Phenomonology  In Nri Kingdom and Hegemony: An African Philosophy of Social Action ( a superb work, sadly not widely available, having been published in Benin by Ethiope and which forms part of a corpus of works operating from various forms and degrees of  insider and outsider perspectives on classical Igbo philosophy, spirituality and medicine including Annechukwu Umeh's After God is Dibia : Igbo Cosmology, Divination and SacredScience in Nigeria  and Patrick Iroegbu's essays and boook  on classical  Igbo medicine and spirituality ).

 Agwu's Household : Ulili, the Small Forest Rodent
The  negative potential of  the Amebo Principle is  evoked by Chidi's poem in terms of the drive to communicate and discuss information as  reduced to  shallow analysis  bordering on gossip;  time for focused thought, discussion and action is dissipated in fruitless debate; the pervasive motion of Agwu, the pervasive mobility of discourse represented by ulili, the small forest rodent, Agwu's pet, movement which ulili, the rodent  combines with cautious reexamination of his motions as he stops to reexamine his trail, evoking the need for similar pausing and reflection on the past in human life, is reduced to unproductive repetitiveness in Chidi's  poetic exploration of the question of forms of action, verbal and otherwise, in the incident in  Nigerian political history that inspires his poem. 

Charles Dickson decries a related development in his article on pervasiveness of analyses on the Nigerian energy crises of January  2012 in his "Occupy Nigeria According to 'Amebos' '.
Agwu's Household : Ulu Mbekwu, The Tortoise

Within such a context, can ulu mbekwu, the tortoise, Agwu's other pet, not be deeply implicated ? To what degree is such debate a demonstration of the intelligence defined by human sentience, sentience that defines  what it is to be homo sapiens, the sapient being, who is aware, is aware that he is aware and is capable of critically examining his own awareness, a form of reflexivity  that may be deployed in terms of the Chinese general and  philosopher of strategy  Sun Tzu's conception in The Art of War  of the relationship between self knowledge and knowledge of others:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

a strategy  of understanding self and others that may be related to the tortoise's embodiment of intelligence and the manifestation of this intelligence  in his constant trickery and  creative subversion of deceptive, embodying another of Agwu's  range of related values and their positive and negative possibilities, qualities of the tortoise  evident in folklore from Southern Nigeria.

Agwu's Household : Udene, The Vulture
Hovering over the entire tableau is udene, the vulture, another Agwu pet, who , flying high above the social terrain, can  "identify  [people] who through their actions are polluted by 'social dirt' '', enabling Agwu, in the form of another manifestation of the Amebo Principle in its positive aspect, the Poet, Chidi Anthony Opara, who is  simultaneously Agwu, and the members of Agwu's household, the forest rodent, the vulture and  the tortoise  in his positive aspect, carrying the world on his back, as the tortoise carries his house on his back, as Ulli Beier describes this bearer of burdens in The Return of the Gods: The Sacred Art of Susan Wenger, in the spirit of Wole Soyinka's description of the artist as the voice of vision in his time, a vision that literary history shows may emerge in various forms, from the realistic to the fantastic.

 References . Accessed 7 February 2012.

Amebomindyourbusinessblogspot. Accessed 7 February 2012.

TheArt of War, Wikipedia. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Beeg Eagle,  "Amebo-1 Drone: Product of Nigeria's Air-Force Institute ofTechnology", 

December 5, 2011. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Beier, Ulli, The Return of the Gods: The Sacred Art of Susan Wenger.

Dickson, Prince Charles, "Occupy Nigeria According to 'Amebos'". 16, January 2012. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Thy Glory,O  Nigeria!...: For the Voiceless and Resilient People Called Nigerians,  " Chief Eleyinmi (Oba Funsho Adeolu) is dead" , September 11, 2008. Accessed 7 February 2012.

"Her Fiancee is Gay: Should I Do Amebo?" November 2009 thread from Nairaland. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Iroegbu, Patrick, "Introduction to Igbo Medicine", Parts 1-4. Accessed 7 February 2012.
 Accessed 7 February 2012.

Healing Insanity: Igbo Medicine and Culture in ContemporaryNigeria. Xlibris, 2010. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Introduction to Igbo Medicine and Culture in Nigeria. . Lulu, 2010. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Naija, Bella, "Amebo-Yes, I'm Talking to You", post of April 22, 2009 at bellanaiija. com. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Opara, Chidi Anthony, "I Dey Shake Head 3". February 6, 2012. Accessed 7 February 2012.

Oha, Obododimma, The Esu Paradigm in the Semiotics of Identity and Community", CBAAC. Accessed 7 February 2012.

 Onwuejeogwu, Angulu,  Afa Symbolism and Phenomonology  In Nri Kingdom and Hegemony: An African Philosophy of Social Action. Benin: Ethiope Publishing Corporation, 1977.

Sahara Reporters, "Kidnappers Kill Popular Benin Based Musician AfterPayment of N500, 000 Ransom", September 6, 2011.  Accessed 7 February 2012.

Umeh, Annechukwu, After God is Dibia : Igbo Cosmology, Divination and SacredScience in Nigeria. London: Karnark House, 1998.

Zazu Gist, "20 Years Jail for CIA Wen Do Amebo". January 24, 2012. Accessed 7 February 2012.

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