Isi-Agu dress which carries the Lion crested head emblem has been revered as the traditional dress of the Igbo people.
Little wonder you see Igbo’s glamorously clad themselves in this attire especially at ceremonies, festivals, and various occasions. The Isi-Agu dress has become synonymous with prestige, power, and affluence.
However, there is a large Misconception, and misrepresented on the use of lion head on the Isi-Agu dress, because Agu in Igbo means the Leopard and Odum means the Lion.
On the left is Isi-agu while on the right is Isi-Odum
What this means is that the famous ‘Akwa isi-agu’ cultural outfit which is worn as an emblem of honor and pride by the Igbo people is fake, flawed, alien, and a corruption of the original Igbo cultural totemic trademark. The original totem of the Igbo people is a leopard (Agu), not a lion (Odum).
As such the the ‘Isi-agu’ attire is supposed to bear the head of the leopard (Agu) but instead it bears that of the lion (Odum). As a result, what we have in practice is ‘Isi-Odum’, not ‘Isi-agu’ because ‘Agu’ and ‘Odum’ are not the same things even as both are of the cat family.
The Igbo are predominantly a Jungle people occupying the rainforest belt, just like the Leopard which is a Jungle cat. On the other hand, the Lion is a Savannah cat. It would be very objective, therefore, to question the rationale for misrepresenting ‘Agu’ with ‘Odum’ in the most famous Igbo apparels and the attitude of referring to it as ‘Isi-Agu’ when in actual fact, it is ‘Isi-Odum’.
The adoption and use of the lion head in the ‘Akwa Isi-agu’ is a recent development, which probably is due to the global trend seeking to make the image of the lion a symbol of might, resilience, and pride. The acceptance of foreign ideas by the Igbo people has allowed the lion head emblem to overtake the leopard head in the Igbo cosmology of Animal totem and this wrong.
The Igbo are an industrious people who face challenges and push to overcome just like the leopard. Unlike the Lion who is lazy and most times depend on the lioness to do the hunting while it spends most part of its day sleeping and having sex. The lion may be strong, but it is as much lazy as the civet cat.
It is important to note that the first generation of Igbo’s intellectuals did not make this mistake that why classic Igbo novels and books on the Igbo society gave the leopard (Agu) a special place. Novels like the “The Bottled Leopard” by Chukwuemeka Vincent Ike, ‘Eze Goes To School’ by Onuora Nzekwe, ‘The Leopard’s Claw’ by Cyprian Ekwensi, Anthills of The Savanah’ by Chinua Achebe and many others pays significant important to the leopard.
The influence of western culture and literature portraying the lion as long of the jungle, when in actual fact the lion should be king of the Savannah has eaten deep.
It is necessary, therefore, that the original head of leopard (Agu) be used to replace that of the lion (Odum) on various Igbo cultural outfits especially the Isi-Agu to correct the massive flaws and misrepresentation which has perpetuated over the years.