English Language & Literature

A Socio-pragmatic Study of Ohafia Proverbs

A Socio-pragmatic Study of Ohafia Proverbs


This Dissertation titled “A Socio-pragmatic study of Ohafia Proverbs” was embarked upon by the researcher to draw the attention of the Ohafia dialect speakers, proverb users, linguists, and the world to the dynamics, as well as the peculiarities associated with the use of Ohafia proverbs. This is done by pointing out the necessity of interpreting Ohafia proverbs within the confines of the cultural contexts in which they are used. This research answered questions on the relationship between the proverbs and the worldview of the people, the reason for the preference of the use of proverbs, instead of literal sentences in conversational situations, the role of context of culture and situation in the understanding and interpretation of Ohafia proverbs, and the place of social demography in the use of proverbs. In the course of reviewing related literature, it was observed by the researcher that although several works have been done on proverbs, and more specifically, on Igbo proverbs, little or nothing had been done on Ohafia proverbs, especially when placed side by side with the Ohafia society. The researcher, therefore, studied Ohafia proverbs, using Leech‟s Socio-pragmatic theory and Sapir-Whorf’s linguistic relativity hypothesis as models, side by side with a look into the elements of background cultural knowledge, and the possible contexts of culture and situation contained in the proverbs. For easy assessment and analysis, these proverbs were arranged in a tabular form and categorized into two: opaque and transparent. After the tabular analysis, a general discussion followed, where the researcher evaluated the authenticity of the linguistic relativism hypothesis by finding possible relationships between the world view of the Ohafia people and their proverbs, and the use of proverbs. In this process, the place of the Ohafia cultures, climate/weather, food, ways of dressing, social hierarchy, age, gender, relationships, and beliefs, in the understanding and use of Ohafia proverbs were ascertained. It was, therefore found that among other things, the proverbs of Ohafia people cannot be used without background knowledge of their worldview. Also, the predominant preoccupations of the Ohafia people (warring or serving as mercenaries, and hunting/farming) are very much reflected in their proverbs. By getting educated on the Ohafia proverbs and their peculiarities, a person becomes familiar with the philosophies, traditions, culture, and overall worldview of the Ohafia people.

Chapter One


1.0. Backgrounds

To properly situate this study, certain phenomena relevant to its direction need to be given a considerable explanation at this point. These include the socio-political and geographical entity known as Nkporo, the subject of this study, and the concept of the proverb. A proper examination of these phenomena is important because the entire work is hinged on them.

1.1. Nkporo: A Socio-historical and Cultural Survey

The geographical area known as Nkporo occupies an area in the present-day Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State of Nigeria. Upon the creation of Abia State by the military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in 1991, Nkporo became the northernmost town in Abia State. It is bound in the north by the Akaeze clan and the Oso Ẹdda village, in the South by Ẹbiriba, in the Southwest by Ohafia, and in the West by Item. According to Obasi Igwe in his Nkporo: The History of an Igbo City-State from Antiquity to the Present, “Nkporo, after Ohafia, was, according to the census figures, the most populated community in the then Arochukwu/Ohafia Local Government Area” (4).

According to both oral and written sources, the Nkporo people migrated from parts of the area that make up the present-day Akwa Ibom State. More than 900 years ago, the people we know today as Nkporo lived with another group of people who later became the present-day Efiks, in an area that can be identified as today‟s Nkana/Ikot and Ikoro Ngon/ “Ikpe” zone in Akwa Ibom State. The people of Nkporo claim a three hundred years-long movement from their original places of abode in Ibibio land to the current place of settlement. This migration took them through many other towns like Arochukwu, Ohafia, and Ẹbiriba where they settled for specified periods before their eventual arrival at the area now called Nkporo.

At present, Nkporo is made up of eight villages – Etitiama, Amerie, Obuofia, Elughu, Nde Nko, Okwoko, Agbaja, and Ukwa.

1.1.1. System of Government in the Nkporo Traditional Society

Like many other Igbo traditional societies, leadership in Nkporo revolves around the age-grade system, which performs the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government. In the case of Nkporo, the age-grades are supported in their leadership responsibilities by a system of village and sectional representation, the elements of the civil society, such as the title and „lawful‟ secret societies, special interest and grade groups like families, lineages and professionals.

This is of course not to say that the royal or chieftaincy institution has not existed. But the monarchies remain more or less an indicator of a link with tradition or the past. In conformity with the popular parlance about the leadership system of the Igbo, “Igbo enwe eze” (the Igbo has no king), the Nkporo society de-emphasizes heredity monarchs while emphasizing hereditary statuses. According to J. O. J. Nwachukwu-Agbada, “Political power in Igboland has never been exercised from a central place, the Igbo being a stateless polity” (The Igbo Proverb, xix).

Despite this, in the history of Nkporo, there is significant reverence for the Ezeaja, whom according to Obasi Igwe was the fulcrum around which the Nkporo people had an organized system of migration …, defended themselves against diverse, malevolent forces such as hunger, disease, the Afachima Achi-led Ibibios, and other enemies of wars, protected and cared for the ever-increasing population of men, women, children and the elderly, the sick, wounded and disabled … (261).

1.2. The Concept of Pragmatics

Pragmatics is one of the disciplines/methods of investigation of language which emerged in recent times. Considered a later subject than Semantics, Semiotics, Syntax, Phonology, and Phonetics, Pragmatics developed in the late 1970s. Pragmatics studies how people comprehend and produce a communicative act in a concrete speech situation which is usually a conversation. According to Shaozhong Liu, Pragmatics distinguishes two intents or meanings in each utterance. “One is informative intent or the sentence meaning, and the other is the communicative intent or the speaker meaning” (1). While the former generates meaning from the utterance considering certain external situational and context-bound factors, without reference to what Kempson calls “a performance account of the interaction,” the latter sees these as the fulcrum of meaning generation.

For Rudolf Carnap, Pragmatics is “the field of those investigations which take into consideration … the action, state, and environment of a man who speaks or hears [a linguistic sign]” (qtd in Akmajian et al. 362). For Carnap, “action,” “state” and “environment” are all external, extra-linguistic factors without which complete meaning of the utterance or speech is impossible. Carnap also raises the issue of the hearer and the speaker sharing what Inyang M. Udofot calls “previous knowledge” or “cultural background” (English Semantics 128). Perhaps, it is Jacob L. Mey who provides one of the shortest, but all-encompassing definitions of Pragmatics. For him, “Pragmatics studies the use of language in human communication as determined by the conditions of society” (6). And by society, Mey is not only looking at what he conceives as a “societal context” which is determined by society‟s institutions, but also a “social context” which is primarily created in interaction.


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