Cultural conceptualization of women in Igbo Proverbs

  • Ngozi U. Emeka-Nwobia
  • Roseline I. Ndimele
Keywords: Igbo Language, Culture, Proverb, Igbo Women


There is a popular narrative that women are the weaker vessels and depend on men for confirmation of their thoughts and actions. This narrative is expressed linguistically through the pejorative and diminutive portrayal of women in Igbo proverbs. Proverbs are powerful and potent vehicle for culture dissemination from one generation to the other. The functionality and cultural essence therefore transcends generational sayings and performances. Proverbs are metaphorical statements and reflection of the people’s cultures, indigenous knowledge, cosmology, value, spirituality and essence. They provide channels for intergenerational transfers from old to young members of the society. Among the Igbo of the south eastern Nigeria, it is said to be the oil with which words are eaten. Applying Lakoff’s concept of Women language and Critical discourse Analytical theory, this paper examines the representation of women in Igbo proverb. The objective is to examine the nexus between language, gender and culture. It specifically analyses the traditions, views, perceptions and roles of women in traditional and contemporary Igbo society. Forty five Igbo proverbs about women were selected from both written and oral sources. These include Igbo proverbs that literarily mentioned women (old women – agadi nwaanyị, young woman/lady - nwaagbọghọ, wife - nwunye and the woman’s body) and explored its portrayal without much attention to the contextualised meaning which may vary according to usage at different context, though being one of the fluidities of proverbs. Findings reveal that in spite of the changing role of women in Igbo society, the cultural interpretations/conations attached to these proverbs are still untainted. Women are still stereotyped as subservient, weak, vulnerable and evil using proverbs. This cultural representation extols hegemonic masculinity and feminity.

Keywords: Igbo Language, Culture, Proverb, Igbo Women


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eISSN: 1595-1413