Beauty Is In The Eyes Of The Ancients

by Uche Nworah

A friend of mine arrived from Lagos recently with a wonderful gift, he knows that I enjoy traditional music of the highlife genre and so felt that Sonny Bobo would be up my street. The dude did not disappoint. If you love Owerri language and enjoy Owerri delicacies such as Nkwobi and Ofe Owerri, then here is something that would aid the process of your enjoyment at home or at your local bar. What I enjoyed most in the song (an extended play experiment) was the artiste’s lyrical flow in his native Owerri language, a language that I love so much but have been struggling to learn, many thanks to Uche who but for the odd word here and there can not even speak her own language.

(left) Portrait of an African woman

Being that my friend brought a bootlegged copy, I couldn’t see what Sonny Bobo looks like on the CD sleeve to judge his assertion that he is truly a fine man, something he says that his mum, dad and the priest who baptised him all confirmed. Sunny Bobo may have carried this vanity a bit too far in the album as his name was constantly mentioned every step of the way through out the album but his vain style should not take away from his fine effort to immortalise his language, while at the same time entertaining his listeners.

While narrating the story of his encounter with the fine lady whom his mum set him up with, Sunny Bobo resorted to an adapted version of this phrase made popular by the Oriental Brothers – Elewe ukwu egbuo ewu to describe her virtues, his attempt at translating the phrase into the English language I am told is the main reason why the album has become a bestseller, as school kids and adults have since adopted the phrase which are now used commonly. Quoting directly from the record, Sunny Bobo describes the girl as a ‘looking nyash killing goat’ type, (words his).

You would have to go deeper into the Igbo culture to truly appreciate the true meaning of the phrase, taken out of context a modern day cosmopolitan girl may feel offended if addressed in such manner, as she may feel that she is being ridiculed or that her natural endowments are being riled, but to women of the old school, in the days of the fattening room experiment when women were well rounded and appreciated by men, such adulations were indeed to be savoured.

One could easily see that the ancients sure knew how to appreciate beauty, and our women knew how to wear and show it. For some of us that didn’t witness the real African beauty in our women long before Fashion Fair and Mac Cosmetics took over, we are comforted by the stories and pictures of our women praised in songs such as Sunny Bobo’s, and also told in books and magazines, the ink of which are fast fading. Such portraits usually depict the women in adorable poses, eyes shining and skin glowing like burnished bronze. The hairs are usually well plaited in different styles to highlight and accentuate their beautiful faces, what skin that is visible from below the chest area down to the waist line (which are covered by beautiful pieces of Akwete clothes) are painted with Nzu and Uri in many different patterns, of course not forgetting the Jigida beads nicely tied round their waists which jiggle in sync with the movement of their waists as they glide about their daily routine, going to the farm, cooking family meals with firewood and earthenware pots or visiting the village market square to sell home grown vegetables.

Those were the days.

The men of old rewarded the women with praise, for taking out time to adorn themselves. Such praises found themselves in local folklores, songs, names and even titles. For this reason adulatory names and titles such as enenebe eje olu, (looking woman no going work – borrowing from Sunny Bobo), mkpulu mma (paragon of beauty), akwa ugo (the egg of an eagle) and so on would forever remain evergreen.

Beauty would always be in the eyes of the beholder, while Sonny Bobo may consider the girl in question to be an Asa; Emeka may however regard her as Mgbeke. It is customary to hear some women in Alaigbo being called Asa Mma (the beautiful one), or Asa Mpete (the most beautiful) to signify either their beauty as beheld by the beholder or caller. Such women may then go on to assume the names which eventually become their traditional title (Afa otutu). You would not hear men calling women Mgbeke to their faces because it is a derogatory term for a naive woman as Mgbeke does not necessarily signify a not-so-pretty woman.

Other cultures may have their own ways of adulating their women, In America for instance it is normal to hear American rap artistes calling their women unprintable names, it probably works out for them, but surely our own ways of appreciating our women uplifts rather than downgrade them. Many thanks to Sonny Bobo and his likes, Onyeka Onwenu and Nelly Uchendu before him and all the many up and coming Nigerian artistes who have remained true to their culture. They are indeed true sons of their fathers.

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2 comments December 30, 2006 - 6:14 pm

Hi Uche!

I just saw this write-up. I absolutely love Sonny Bobo. I don't even understand half of what he is saying, but I love it (and I love the sound of it <Owerri language> too)

Rosie October 31, 2006 - 2:34 pm

Thoughtful. Something to ponder.


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