Friday, October 2, 2015

What "Igbo Kwenu!" Means

Edited by Azizi Powell

[revised February 15, 2016]

This post provides excerpts from online comments about rhe meaning of the Nigerian phrase "Igbo Kwenu!" (pronunciation IG-boh Quay-new)*

*Please share your correction in the comment section of this post if this pronunciation is wrong.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, sociological, historical, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publisher of the video that is featured in this post and the publisher of that post on YouTube.

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on African and African Diaspora rallying calls, chants, and interjections. Click this tab at the bottom of this post for more posts in this series.

From "The concept of Igbo Kwenu in Igbo culture, identity, and shared representation by Patrick Iroegbu Friday, June 15, 2007
'Umuofia Kwenu, yaa! Kwenu yaa, kwezue nu, yaaaa!' wrote Chinua Achebe in his novel Things Fall Apart (1958). In like manner, everywhere in Igboland, you will hear in a public gathering in a village square or community centre, kindred meetings, and so on the cheering up when it is called upon: “Igbo Kwenu! Yaa! Some will say: "Yorooro m, nke bu n’ezi" (true to a fact); others will say, "Ka obodo di mma" (so that the community will fair well). In all such responses, you will hear hoo, like in tii hoo, tii hoo, or ya-mee or ya-gaa! – which will mean “amen” in a simple English translation...

The Phrase "Igbo Kwenu"
A common linguistic analysis may help us to understand the phrase “Igbo kwenu.” Here we have two words: ‘Igbo’ and ‘kwenu.’ The term “Igbo” refers to Igbo people – men and women of all ages of tradition and modernism. On its own, “kwenu” as a word refers to agreement, endorsement, solidarity, unity, bondedness, strength, collective will.

The conception of the idea to stay together as a community and act as one is very important for the Igbo. The Igbo see the fact that to stay united in a direction or course of action will bring a shared honour to them. Therefore, they value strongly to come together. Coming together is deterministic and central to all else. In gathering of all sorts, namely marriage, rituals, celebrations, age grade meetings, war, wrestling, hunting, and village political affairs, the Igbo assert their emotions and psychology together through calls to order of solidarity such as invoking the “Igbo kwenu.” Today, the Nigerian political class come up with all sorts of slogans not far from the culturally enhanced idiom of “Igbo kwenu.” When someone is to speak to an issue, he will call to order the gathered Igbo to listen to him through the application or summon of “Igbo kwenu.”

Traditionally, when a person among the gathered group intends to speak and has masterly and skilfully summoned attention with “Igbo kwenu,” he is automatically granted audience. "Igbo kwenu" is a supreme call to attention and order to speak in a culturally appropriate way. Once the “igbo kwenu” is announced and responded to, all ears will listen, at least momentarily to the person who surely will stand out and speak to them. His idea, point of information and facts, contribution and oratory skill will determine how much attention he will command"...

From by brpsaplit
"At last Obbuefi Ezeugo stood up in the midst of them and bellowed four times, ‘Umuofia kwenu,’ and on each occasion he faced a different direction and seemed to push the air with a clenched fist. And then ten thousand men answered, ‘Yaa!’ each time." [From Chinua Achebe in his novel Things Fall Apart (1958)]

The Ibo people have a culture to which community, solidarity, and unity are important. Their phrase “Igbo kwenu” most literally means, “We the Ibo people stand together in agreement and collective will.” It is also a shortened form of a longer phrase, “Igbo kwere na ihe ha kwuru” which means roughly, “The Igbo believe in what they have agreed upon to think, say, and do." The phrase “Umuofia kwenu” is just like “Ibo kwenu” except that it focuses the community of the phrase from the Ibo people as a whole to simply their village of Umuofia."...

From!topic/soc.culture.nigeria/Npd3GH224U8 Nnamdi Oziri
"Igbo ekelem unu!

Apart from using the Kwenu as a signal to gain audience attension, Kwenu in the real sense means greetings from the speaker to the audience.

It does not make a difference what the occassion is all about. It can be used both as a rallying cry for action. For instance in Achebes 'things fall apart', when one of the daughters of Umuofia was killed, the eldest of Umuofia used this expression- Umuofia Kwenu to begin his address.

Kwenu can be added any prefix when addressing any crowd. One can say Igbo Kwenu or Imo Kwenu or Nigeria Kwenu. For instance in our past naming ceremony we even made most of the umu Amaerika in our mist to feel welcomed by also saying Amaerika Kwenu. Such greeting make everyone feel welcomed and of course feel that he or she is a part of the on going occassion.

Igbo Kwenu and Igbo Kwe are realy similar, the first being the long form used in formal occasion while the later is the short form, Igbo Kwe is use more as a triumphant expression of victory. It may be an occasion of victory for instance when during the 96 Olympics when the Nigerian Green eagles won the world cup.
It did not make difference which ethnic group one may come from Nigeria.

The chanting and response of Enyi mba Enyi follows such a jubiliant cry of Igbo kwe or Nigeria Kwe"...

Date: Fri, 9 May 1997 14:15:54 -0500
Subject: More on the Meaning of Igbo Kwenu
"Ndi Igbo Ibem:
... I have always thought that meaning in Igbo folklore is always multiple.

The exploration of the universe of meanings of IGBO KWENU will require the contribution of as many Igbo people as possible. It seems to me, therefore, that the contexts, functions, and meanings of IGBO KWENU can be interpreted at various levels of significance (aestheric, anthropological, cosmological, etc.)...

Why is all this discourse desirable? It is one of the means by which we can build the intellectual and philosophical bases
necessary for Igbo scholarship. Hopefully, one day we shall have a
>>conference organized by NONI where Igbo scholars can get together in panel sessions to discuss the high cultural and intellectual values of the contributions that
>have been made on the Igbo--net.

Let the debate continue. We have been to school and can speak for

...Akuma-Kalu, Okpa Asoghi Apiti (what #? and where?) wrote:
To the best of my knowledge, "IGBO KWENU" is an anticident call in
Igbo oral performative tradition. Its consequent response is "IYA" or "Yahh!!." It could be a cautionary command or call to order. It may also be used by someone who wants to speak to call attention to himself or herself. In this context, "IGBO KWENU" could mean LEND ME YOUR EARS.

T. Obinkaram Echewa in "I Saw the Sky Catch Fire" wrote {through the character of 'Mrs Ashby-Jones'}:
"Taciturnity is preferred to speech. Speech is slow and deliberate, and the greatest consonance between the mind of the speaker and that of the audience is achieved through the smallest number of verbal cues. Hence their habit of constantly repeating the hortatory ejaculative 'Kwenu.' "

...Kalu presented the general idea, I don't quite get the "cautionary command" aspect. You plead with "Kwenu"; you don't caution. The "provost" of a meeting should not use "Kwenu" to call people to order. "Kwenu" is a sacred call to umunna*.... after one has been allowed to address them. You don't jump up and start shouting "Kwenu" like you own the land. People agree to listen to you after "Kwenu." It helps you to clear your voice. You are
>>>psyched. The audience is alert. They listen. You speak. But don't bet on anyone agreeing on what you have to say. It rarely happens. You better keep it short or simple, unless you have a good command of the tools of Igbo communication.

Hence, in my theories of Igbo political philosophy, "Kwenu" is "The
Principle of Compromise." You agree to listen, to consider whatever request is put forward, and to act according to the facts presented, your knowledge of the issue at stake, and according to your conscience"....
*"Umunna" means your clan (those people who are related to your in the past and now)

Example #1: IGBO KWENU

uchyman0808, Uploaded on Mar 25, 2010

Notice that the many people in the audience continued talking in spite of the call for attention.

Example #2: Qik - unik umu ndi igbo kwenu of igbo community of st fortunta church. by Michael0102

Chekwubechi0102, Uploaded on Jun 20, 2011

Streamed by Michael0102 in United States.
I'm not sure if the man speaking said "Igbo Kwenu" during this video clip.

Also, notice the Nigerian (and other African cultures) custom of spraying money on performers and other people as a sign of appreciation and to wish good fortune to those who receive that tribute.


In addition to other YouTube video discussion threads, the phrase "Nigeria Kwenu" is found in a discussion thread of Wale's song "My Sweetie"*. That song is a remake of Bunny Mack's Sierra Leone hit song "Let Me Love You (My Sweetie). Wale (I think this first name clip is pronounced WAH-lay) is a Nigerian American man.


Instead of being used as a call for the audience's attention, I believe that "Nigeria Kwenu", "Igbo Kwenu" and similar phrases are also used in those YouTube discussion threads and others to express the concept of "standing up for" ("reppin"/"representing") their nation or their ethnic group.

The terms "stand up" and "reppin" ("representing") are from African Americans' Hip Hop culture. They both mean "to serve as a proud and/or excellent representative of your nation, community, race, ethnic group (and/or) organization."

Here are two comments from that discussion thread that include the Nigerian term "Igbo Kwenu" and the African American Vernacular originate phrase "Stand up!""

realtalkcali realtalkcali, 2011

ThePchukwueke, 2011
"Igbo people stand up!! Naija pride all day yee!!!!"
"Naija" (also written as "9ja") is a contemporary informal name for "Nigeria" and "Nigerian".

A pancocojams post on Wale's "My Sweetie" that includes more selected discussion thread comments will be published ASAP and a link to that post will be added here.

That post will also include a link to an upcoming pancocojams post on Bunny Mack's "Let Me Love You" (My Sweetie)".
Certain YouTube videos of Igbo culture appear to include the phrase "Igbo Kwenu) used as an alert that means "Igbo people, pay special attention to this video!. Two examples of this use are:

Igbo Kwenu! The Beautiful Dancers Of NdiIgbo Lagos

and Best of Nigerian Traditional Eastern Dance (Igbo Kwenu)

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Hi,
    In the word Igbo the g is silent and and the I is pronounced like in latin as a long e.

    1. Thanks for that information, Anonymous.

      I appreciate it!