Posted by Valentine Obienyem | 22 August 2014 | 3,757 times
Myths and legends, no matter our views about them, play important roles in the explanation of phenomena, especially the seemingly inexplicable ones. For example, the origin of some words in human vocabulary could be traced to myths and legends. Think of words such as: Pyrrhic victory, Achilles’ heel, Pandora box, Hobson’s choice, Sword of Damocles, etc. But are we not digressing? What, some may ask, is the relationship between August and the recall of ageless myths.
It should be noted that months of the year have their own peculiar myths that seek to explain their etymology. It is with great reluctance that one is venturing into this explanation, convinced that some shallow Christians will be tempted to reject these months as having pagan connotations. January, for example, is said to be named for Janus, god of doorways and beginnings. March, research shows, represents the god of war, Mars.
August! August! August! This is the eight month of the Gregorian calendar, now in general use. It has thirty-one days. It corresponds, historians say, to the sixth month of the early Roman Republic calendar, called Sixtilis until 8 BC, when it was renamed in honour of Augustus Caesar, the then Emperor of Rome. Augustus, in turn, is a Latin adjective derived from the verb augere (to make greater), and the word carries the connotations of majesty and grandeur, still associated with the month.
August is an important month as testified by diverse events that had taken – and still takes –place in that month. For example, important Roman Catholic holy day of obligation, Feast of the Assumption, is celebrated on August 15; August 14 was the day in which the great powers declared war on one another: World War 1. The United States of America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 9 (Little boy and fat man). On our local scene, many important events in Nigeria occurred in August. Some parts of the country have already started experiencing a brake in rainfall, otherwise called “August brake.” Have you pondered on why August is used to describe important and cherished visitors/events? Hence we talk about August event, August visitor, August this, and that.
August is particularly dear to the Igbo because it symbolises fertility. It marks the beginning of the harvesting season, when farmers reap the rewards of their hard work, made manifest by the fertility of the earth. This explains why New Yam Festival, among most Igbo towns and villages, takes place in August. Plans are in top gear, I am told, to have a single date for the new yam celebration among Ndigbo. August, again, is seriously being considered.
August, in another sense, signifies unity and community development. Just like the farmer gathers the produce of his farm together, the Igbo, including their womenfolk, try to gather themselves together for the purposes of renewing the bonds of unity. Disputes are settled among women. Serious breach of discipline and familial duties are sanctioned with the aim of discouraging such in future. Fines are imposed on recalcitrant ones, even as well-behaved ones are encouraged. These, in a nutshell, explain the reasons behind “August Meeting,” which Igbo women highly cherish and look forward to every year.
But like most human ideas that were primarily borne out of the need to enhance civilisation, the concept of August Meeting is fast falling into disrepute: one is tempted to re-baptise it “August crisis.” Truly, the crisis that August Meeting engenders rages on to a degree painfully “unmendable.”
We may find it hard to believe, but it is true, that women do the unthinkable in the name of preparing for “August meeting.” Outrageous things, only metaphysically explicable, are often associated with that day due, proximately, to power tussle. Very soon, as happens every year, stories will be told of husbands who get into trouble with their wives for being unable to provide them with the necessary equipage – new cars, expensive cloths, designer handbags and shoes, headgears, etc – needed for the August show-off. Some women are even foolish enough to travel home for “August meeting” in defiance of their husbands. Stories abound of such women whose husbands asked to stay back as punishment for their disobedience. The irony of the entire thing is that these women travel longingly for the August Meeting, not because of their “utility value” but, to display the latest fashion in town and to make the intimidated ones to talk about them.
A woman who had participated in many of these meetings takes us behind the scenes and into the daily characteristics of these meetings: “Honestly, we do not achieve much as we are supposed to. To women, it is principally a time to show off. Watching what some women wear to the meeting, you cannot but believe that they are showcases of their husbands’ prosperity. This urge to outclass one another in gorgeous accoutrements was the reason why women now attend in uniform. Even at that, shoes, rings, hair-do, bangles, other jewel are still seen as opportunities to ‘outclass’ one another.”
Ironically, the more gorgeously dressed women are often the ones that contribute least to the meeting. Although they are dreaded from a distance, any close interaction with them, according to the woman that took us behind the scene, “shows that what they lack in intellectual power is what they actively seek to conceal by external posturing.”
Originally, August represented majesty and grandeur. It is about those acts that are truly ennobling. One of the greatest exemplifications of the month is encapsulated in the Igbo women’s annual August Meeting. Conceived as a forum to enhance the greatness of Igbo nation, the concept is gradually being corrupted due to what can easily be referred to as worldliness and the misplacement of values. Let us all join hands in advising our women go back to the ideals of “August meeting” for the greater glory of Igbo nation, and humanity.
•Obienyem, whose photo appears alongside this piece, writes from Awka.
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