In the book, After God Is Dibia, Procfessor J.A. Umeh talks about “Etu” as one of Igbo mystical philosophical concepts. This has been one of my favorite parts of the book as it discusses a concept that you hear in American scientific communities as First Principles.
Nowadays First Principles is a hot button topic in American scientific communities as it has been popularized by Elon Musk. The thought process that one can understand most things by reasoning from fundamental concepts, or breaking it down to the source/origin.
“First principles is…boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.” -Elon Musk
But this concept has been in IGBO from the times of our ancestors. In the book After God is Dibia, it is explained that:
“Etu, which is Igbo Afa Language is Aka Obi which is the context literally means “Mind of God” or “the Divine Essence” or “the Soul of the matter/issue/thing” as the case may be…
The nearest English word for Etu is “the How”. When Igbo man/woman requests of you Biko gosim etu e si-eme ya (please show me How it is done) or Biko zim etu e si me ya or Biko gosim/zikom etu e sili me ya (please show me how it was performed/accomplished/done), he or she is requesting the Etu principle behind it.”
This, so far has been one of my most favorite parts of the book After God is Dibia, because it really points to what I have come to love about Igbo language. The closeness of Igbo to the truth of how things are. The way Igbos discuss things is very fundamental. When you try to say things in English, they become more and more abstract (and that is not necessarily a good thing). The day Igbo begins to talk about scientific and technological concepts will be when the world will truly know the power of Igbo.
The Igbo language in its purest form is a technology all its own. It was designed to explain things in a world where there was no paper and pen…no laptops. It was designed to explain things so that information can be understood, remembered, digested, passed on, disguised without writing down a single word.
A proverb in the book After God is Dibia states: “Uzu amaghi etu esi-akpu Ogene, ya nee egbe anya n’odu.”
This means: “The blacksmith who does not know the how of fashioning/fabricating Ogene should observe the tail of the kite.”
The book goes on to say that:
“All things and events take their form adn become resolved in accordance with Etu. And this is so whether they are cooperating or conflicting, harmonious or turbulent. Etu which we have seen in afa language is Aka Obi which literally means God’s Obi is, in other words, first movemnet or original movement, or prime mover or prime move or divine movement; the first movement from the position of akwu, mind of God, the Divine Spirit, the divine essence, or the soul of the matter/issue/thing; first principles, divine principles; the how of issue or thing; how things happen; how things work…
Etu in Igbo philosophy is Absolute — both the path and the goal…
Etu, being the underlying principle in all that is created and all exists, in essence, Chi.”
This is only a sample of the deep concepts covered in the book, and I know I cannot understand all of it just reading it one time. I am sure I will go back and read some parts again as my knowledge of Igbo language goes deeper and deeper.
I just loved this concept so much that I had to pause and think it through, because it is the real beauty of Igbo, and why it is important for us to study and build and create using this powerful language.