Scripts, Glyphs, and Everything Else

Since school closed it’s been a race to catch up on my work on the Ndebe Project, and while I’m still deciding what to do with punctuation as far as Igbo is concerned, I’ve made some progress with the ability to write my script swiftly and legibly.

It turns out that my initial theory about the number of strokes in a letter was correct. (I theorized that the fewer the strokes in a letter, the easier and faster the letter is to write, leading to faster words and in general faster writing).

I’ve been writing in Igbo almost everyday since then and my memorized knowledge of the Ndebe alphabet and my ability to write it rapidly without referring back to the original alphabet chart has increased greatly with practice.

Here’s a shot of my notebook. On the left are English sentences translated into Igbo then Ndebe script (on the right).

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to fit it into the normal writing space of a regular notebook, and it’s surprisingly easy to read. I can now read most Igbo senteces in the Ndebe script without referring to the alphabetic chart! 😀

I left Facebook briefly because I needed to clear my head, but I’m back now. According to Facebook it will take a few hours for my Admin status to be reinstated in my groups so when that is done I’ll put up my updates. I don’t know if anyone is a member of The Igbo Academy on Facebook but if you are I’d love to know what you think and if you’ve tried any writing recently.


I found an Igbo dictionary that was published in 1913!!! Why is this great? It contains A LOT of Igbo words for things that people simply use English words for now. This is important because ensuring purity of language is key to TRUE growth (of the language I mean – rather than simply borrow English words for new things, we should form our OWN words that conform to Igbo grammatical rules). So, what did I discover upon discovery of this precious vault of information?

New Words and expressions (well Old words really but hey, how many times do you hear this in Igbo speech nowadays?)

  • Abandon – (A)bwanari
  • According to – Dika [Name here], e.g. Dika Sugabelly = According to Sugabelly
  • Absorb – (A)mila or (A)fula.
  • Albino – Anyali
  • Adam’s Apple – Udene Akpili or Akbo Akpili
  • Antimony ( used as eyeliner or mascara) – (O)tanjele
  • Armpit – Avu or Avo
  • Item of Clothing – Akolo ( I think this might refer to the different components that make up any full outfit or dress)
  • Bead – Aka
  • Beam (part of house) – Ufia
  • Beggar – Ayiyo
  • Beginning – Nkwadebe
  • Bend down – nyadata or nyado
  • Betrayal – Nkete
  • Bottle – Onono or Kalamam
  • Bracelet – Ebwaka, Njiaka (there are at least TEN synonyms for Bracelet so can’t write all)
  • Breakfast (to eat…) – (A)Bwa azi (I’m guessing this is a verb)
  • Bud (as in Flower bud) – Imifulu

Omg there is so much more that I would love to post here but it would make this too long.

Unfortunately this dictionary was written by a white man in 1911 (and published in 1913) and although he states that he did his research in Awka and Onitsha, I’m guessing that his ethnicity is the reason why there are no reliable tone indicators in his dictionaryand his spelling is iffy even though I have to say that he made a really great effort!

I’m sooo excited, I’m going to call my Grandma and ask her for the proper pronunciation of these words!

BREAKING NEWS: OMG according to this document, Enyi (with stress on the I ) or Nuno (NOO-NOH) means Sexual Friend (as in Lover, or friend with benefits. LMAO!)

The more common Oyi means Friend and covers ALL types of friends, sexual or otherwise.

To kiss – (I)susu Onu (I’m guessing only Isusu is conjugated)

And finally (Drums Roll Please!!!)

Agama – Clitoris

Totally cool. I had no idea…

Also, Does anybody know the Igbo word for SEX? Ask your Grandparents!!! I need to know!!

I am also looking for the Igbo word(s) for Vagina. I have found THREE different words for Penis in this dictionary but NONE for vagina. Either the writer or the Igbo people that he spoke to in particular were obviously sexist >:(

I’m looking at a different historical document and it contains this proverb which says:

Nwa-agbogho Ugwuta si nne ya na otu nwoke ka ya na-agara onwe ya, o
wee tuburu ya raa. Nne ya wee si ya gaa rakwuru. O gaa, a rachie ya ozo.

Translation: (An Ugwuta (Oguta) girl told her mother that as she was going on her way, a man came and thew her down and sexed (raped) her. Her mother told her
to go and retaliate. She went, and was sexed (raped) again.


Anaghi atu ikpu ukwu egwu maka na o bughi ya gaara ownwe ya.

Translation: One cannot be afraid of the wide vagina because it cannot sex itself


Nwanyi buru ohu, o si raba ya, na ohu bu ohu ya, ma mgbe o puta okwu, a
choba onye nwe ohu.

Translation: A woman carrying a vagina is asking to be sexed, that the vagina is her own, but when it causes trouble, the (real) owner (of the vagina) will be looked for


Nwanyi obi oma ragburu onwe ya na di.

Translation: The kind-hearted woman sexed herself to death

(No Igbo Original found but this is a certified Igbo proverb – need a translation):

The penis comes erect as if to kill but the vagina swallows and tames it.

My rough estimation from these proverbs (not my dialect – looks like Central Igbo which I always found tricky) is that the following words might mean Vagina: – Ikpu and Ohu (possibly even Oru)

The following words might mean to rape: – Tuburu or Rachie

The following word might mean to (have) sex (verb): – (I)ra or possibly (I)raba

[in the last proverb I think Ragburu is a construction of Raba (to have sex) and (I)gbu ( to kill) forming Iragburu (or Iragbulu – to sex to death). A very similar construction is (I)tagbu – to bite to death this is far more common and still used in every day speech.]

I am totally confused. Are there any Central Igbo speakers out there? Or anyone with Igbo-speaking parents or Grandparents nearby???

I need to know. Thanks !

There are 25 comments

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  1. All4Naija

    @Sugarbelly.Huh…!!! It’s like you enjoy people’s reactionary comments here. What’s so about agama(clitoris)in that language that so enlarged it for our attention. you are really a bad girl Ooo.Lol…Hahaha…you are very funny.I will ask my Ibo friend more about that. Just asked him, he said penis is anmu…I think that one sounds hot too.Hahaha…

  2. sugabelly

    @All4Naija: I just checked. In this dictionary it says that Penis is Amu. But I guess the spelling is debatable since it was a European that wrote it. yay!!!!! 😀

  3. eccentricyoruba

    lol @ all those proverbs. i found similar Yoruba proverbs when reading some article on feminism in Yorubaland or something similar. that was great i needed a break from thinking about research methods!

  4. chayoma

    Sugabelly ehh, see how you enlarged agama…lol.
    Ikpu i think means opening. will find out from my granny althou the shock of such a question cld send her into a heart attack! lol.
    Interesting topic all the same. writing igbo hasn`t been my greatest forte…
    learnt a few things today, i must say


  5. Moody Crab

    Sex or fuck is ILA (pronounced E-LA). Babe, looking at the ibo words, I can proudly say my Ibo is top notch. When I speak, I hardly use English words in place of the Ibo ones. Send me an email. We need to chat….a long chat. I’m in love with this project already!!!

  6. Nice Anon

    Kam gwa gi na otutu okwu ndi no ebe abughi owu centiral igbo. Ufodu ha bu asusu ndi Anambra.
    Penis bu Amu
    Vagina bu Ikpu na otu

    Mgbe ufodu kwa ndi mmadu n’eji ha nile akowa ma ihe nwoke ma ihe nwanyi.

  7. sugabelly

    @Nice Anon: Dalu! N maro na ufodu si Anambra. N fu ife i ku maka afa gi ‘Nice Anon’ ebe i si na onye ozo welu afa gi na de na ‘blogs’ ebe nine. Hahaha! Eyaa, n fugo na ia weachiago afa gi!

  8. aweleuju

    I love ur blogggggggggggg sugabelly.

    I dont speak igbo as well as I would like to but im working hard on it and ur blog helps tres much. Also after discovering ur blogs only 3 wks ago i can do quite q few letters in Ndebe….lol….

    Uju O “LJC”

  9. sugabelly

    Hey Uju! Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you’re trying out the letters 😀 Which ones can you do and which ones are you finding difficult? I like to try out lots of different words each day so I really get a feel for writing, and I found that it gets a lot easier the more you do it. I can write pretty fast in the new script now. Thanks! Let me know how your progress goes! 😀

  10. NwaChi

    I love this post!!! I am also trying to get better it just itches me to hear my parents speaking it like no mans business and yet I can’t. BTW Sugabelly ibu onye ebe? i get the whole dialect thing mixed up sometimes too but hey i am trying my best 🙂
    For anyone that cares there is a convention “Umu Igbo Unite Convention” coming up the last weekend in july for those interested great way to meet new peeps and understand a little more about Ndi Igbo! there are also groups like Suo N’igbo on fbk and so on so please join them and learn more…

  11. kay9

    @SugarB: I’m igbo (yes, igbo, not ibo), i grew up in Anambra, wrote the language as a subject in WAEC(know what it is? senior high exam in west africa) and made a B2. So i guess that gives me some boasting rights. 🙂
    Ok, i’m really interested in yo blog, Ndebe, and all. so i’m gonna take it bits.

    For starters, i noticed from your reply to Nice Anon that you used N for the pronoun I/me; well, central igbo demands M. Words and names like nmanu =(oil) and Adanma are actually wrongly spelt; they should be mmanu and Adamma.

    About the other words,
    (I)gbanari (or as you wrote it abwanari) can be better translated as “escape” or “out-run” (as in igbanari onwunwa = to escape temptations). I think a better translation of abandon is (i)gbahapu, eg: Emeka gbahapuru m ebe a = Emeka abandoned me here.

    Dika, well, that word could mean a lota other things too. For example, “O dika isi a dighi gi mma” actually means “It seems you’ve lost your senses” (like you you’d say to someone misbehaving). So I’d suggest using the clause “… dika Sugarbelly siri kwuo.” instead.

  12. kay9

    Ayiyo actually translates as “begging”, or better still (i)yo ayiyo = verb “to beg”. The word for a beggar is onye-ayiyo.

    “Beginning” is translated as Mbido, eg: Na mdibo = “in the beginning”. Nkwadebe (or its variations nkwadobe and nkwado) actually means “preparation”.

    All in all, i’m really impressed with what you’ve put up here, considering you don’t even speak the language often (or do you?). I’d even forgotten words like “gba azi” (though you wrote it as “bwa azi) and kalamam. Its really refreshing to see folks proud of their heritage.

    Biko jide ka i ji; i mere nkeoma. (Do i have to translate? :D)

  13. sugabelly

    @NwaChi: I’m from Anambra, and where is the convention thingy holding?

    @K9: I don’t speak Central Igbo, and I actually I’m against the use of Central Igbo. I think everyone should be able to speak their own dialect and be understood by everyone else. I believe we should embrace our differences not eliminate them. I dunno, I guess Central Igbo just doesn’t work for me.

    LOL. That’s the long explanation. The short explanation is that I don’t use Central Igbo.

    Also, I did stress that this dictionary was written in 1911. This is important because some of these words had different meanings THEN which is why I’m pointing them out. With such an old dictionary we get to examine the words in their authentic form.

    Ayiyo actually does mean beggar. This Ayiyo is different from the Ayiyo that means begging.

    Ayiyo (High ‘a’ Low ‘i’ High ‘o’) = Begging

    Ayiyo (High ‘a’ High ‘i’ High ‘o’ – also this ‘o’ is pronounced as in OH) = Beggar.

    Actually I speak Igbo very often. Pretty much every day or every other day. I call my grandmother every day and we chat in Igbo and then I ask her for the proper pronunciation and meanings of the list of new Igbo words I make periodically. 😀

    And no, you don’t need to translate. I know exactly what you said. Thanks.

    If you’re interested in the Ndebe project, the alphabet is pretty much almost done. I’m putting up the new videos on punctuation today but I haven’t started numbers. Also, while I’ve completed tone, I have a serious dilemma concerning how to represent Igbo tonality.

    I have two options:

    1. Use tone markers (like we use now on top of the letters)

    2. Create THREE sets of vowels (high tone A, Mid Tone A, Low Tone A, High Tone B, etc)

    The second option might initially make people grumble (two extra sets of vowels to learn) but it has a superior advantage because it will solve the problem of tone permanently and it will make reading and UNDERSTANDING written Igbo ten times easier.

    The first option is okay and people are more likely to like it better but if I use it it might cause problems when people forget to write the tone markers (and we all do. Frequently).

    What do you think?

    Either way I have a group on facebook where I should be discussing all this. It’s called The Igbo Academy. Hope to see you there.

  14. sugabelly

    Sorry I forgot to mention that while the alphabet is almost done, we’ll be moving into the second phase which is grammar development next. (This is the fun part. We get to make up new Igbo words!!)

  15. ChinenyeN

    Hehh.. anyway, judging from what I saw in your post, I’d have to say that those translations seem largely dialectal. We don’t use those words where I’m from. As for “enyi” meaning sexual friend, that as well seems dialectal. Where I’m from, our “enyi” serves the function of “oyi”.

    As for central Igbo.. I’m not really a fan of it.

    Sugabelly, you said you found 3 words for penis? What are they, and how did you get a hold of the dictionary?

  16. sugabelly

    @ChinenyeN: Yeah, I totally suspected it was dialectal issues, plus all this stuff was recorded by a European dude so I am guessing that his difficulties in Igbo spelling/comprehension are reflected here.

    I actually met another person for whom Enyi means Oyi, but again, I guess it varies from region to region.

    The words I found for penis are: Amu, and Utu (but here the first U has a funny mark on top of this. I’m betting this changes the pronunciation)

    Sorry I made a typo. I meant to say two words for penis.

    The dictionary is part of a massive report on Igbo land made by the British Empire to assess us for colonization. It’s fucking old so I have to turn the pages with tweezers wrapped in cotton wool. Seriously. But I got it from the library at Columbia University. The thing is, I realised that there is almost no useful information on Igbos online, but there is a wealth of books, reports, and stuff written about us in BOOK form.

    So if you want to do some research, I advise you head to the nearest university library. University libraries are always the best ones. Definitely.

  17. Aik

    i think that we should understand that all languages have dialects that differ but for the purpose of teaching such languages in schools, a “central dialect ” is used so that no matter what dialect you speak you will be able to go through the academic pursuit in the language of sturdy.

    we all love and appreciate our different igbo dialects but written igbo language should be in central igbo language.

    i studied igbo language in secondary school and university, central igbo language is the dialect used for all academic studies. you are also encouraged to recognize the words or mode of speech from all igbo speaking communities but please note that for written igbo language, central igbo dialect should be be used at all times. Ekenekwe m unu, igbo ndi oma.

    • sugabelly

      Sorry but I don’t believe in the central dialect of Igbo. It was cobbled together badly in the aftermath of the Biafran war to foster a fake sense of unity. The Onicha Anambra dialect of Igbo is the BEST dialect for writing, teaching, academic, and speaking purposes and that is what this project is based on. Thanks.

        • sugabelly

          Yes it’s my dialect, but there is a very practical reason why I use it.

          Onicha Igbo is the most widely understood dialect due to historical travel of traders.

          It is also simple in structure, so it’s easy to learn.

          I understand multiple dialects as well.

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