Society and Culture

The significant of time in Igbo culture

The Igbo do distinguish between time and what is time. For them, time is not an inscrutable property of events. That is, it is erroneous to think. “Time for the Africa is a long past, a present and virtually no future”. Admittently or a pre-literate society lacking a sophisticated numeracy like the traditional Igbo, the future is much too abstract and removed to be stated exactly. To the Igbo, the practical and cognitive relations towards the future are different from those towards the past.  The past has been experienced, the future can be known only indirectly by probable inference. Hence, in Igbo thought, it is better to talk of experiential time. Experiential time is centered in now. Always, when the Igbo pays attention to his time experience, he thinks of past and future as extent ion of the now; that is, the past as the sphere of reference of all memories, the future as the sphere of reference of all expectations. Unlike the past, the future could be said to have a limited certainty. Hence, the Igbo say, “Onye ma echi?” (Who knows tomorrow?).
Paradoxically, for the Igbo, the future is more certain than expressed in the above position. What to them are not certain in the future are the events. This idea is succinctly expressed by an Igbo saying “Echi di ime”, (Tomorrow is pregnant). The Igbo are certain of the future but uncertain of the events in the future. They express certainty of the future when they remark, “Chi Afo abola Nkwo; Eke adikwaghi Orie anya”. (After Afo you have Nkwo; then Eke is as longer far from Orie). In other words, for the Igbo, each person lives in what is the present. The experiential present is not a mathematical instant such as can be postulated in the Western Scientific view of time. Rather, time in Igbo thought is a moving and eventful present always in the process of being and is in the process of giving way to what is just about to be.Thus by indicating an awareness of the past, the present, and the future, the Igbo accept time as a locus of history. They say, “Anyi ebughi nku ewuri”. (Who never has been cooking with firewood). That is to say, before the use of firewood, they had been cooking, but with a different fuel. Time as a locus of history can be described as heteromorphic rather isomorphic. That is, each moment has its own total character which is not identical with the total character of any other moment being drawn from the entire sum of memories and expectances, whether conscious or subconscious that constitutes the living past and future of just that moment and no other. In addition to their notion of time being a locus of history, the Igbo also appreciate the irreversibility and interruptibility of the flow of time. Time cannot be arrested, they content; hence, things have to be done in their proper place and time.

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