Defeated by penis

I’ve been speaking to Tot in his mother tongue since he was a few weeks old.

So far, God has blessed this particular hustle because he understands Igbo quite well.

  1. He knows all the imperatives; Sit down, Stand up, Stay still, Shut up, Come here, Move back.
  2. The different types of foods; Plantains, Yams, Potatoes,Fish, Meat, Eggs.
  3. Objects in day-to-day life; Tree, Flower, Chair, Book – and will bring you whichever story you ask for, –  Nappy, Wipes, Potty.
  4. And of course, parts of the body; hands. Head, Eyes, Nose, Mouth.

I cannot teach him ‘Penis’.


I’m not sure when I learned what penis was in Igbo, but I am sure it was in hush-hush conditions which is de rigueur for sharing all kinds of pseudo-sexual information. Before this, it was a thing that one pretended didn’t exist after they sat on their daddy’s lap, felt a bulge, poked it with an inquisitive forefinger and got told off in the sternest way possible so that one was sure daddy didn’t like them any more.

After I learned the word, everything changed. One minute I was minding my business, the next there was the word blazing a path through my consciousness, laying waste to the virgin forest of my mind. It’s still a post apocalyptic wasteland. ‘Penis’ as it turns out, is a gateway word.

Everything started making sense, even if I didn’t know the rudiments of thingsIn between studies and play I wondered about boys and girls and penis, penis, penis. I saw the word floating in the air above me, shimmering in heat waves, crawling like ants on my skin. Why was no one as restless as I was? Couldn’t they feel penis in the air?

It was if I was being tested. One morning, the driver was sent on an errand and decided he would drop my sister and I in school earlier than normal. She went off to her classroom and I to mine. I turned to the left in the shared, rectangular classroom, dropped my bag on one of the back benches and wondered what to do before everyone else arrived.

There it was, in black and white on the opposite wall/board belonging to Primary 2D in Igbo: Okechukwu has a penis’.

I looked around the empty classroom, walked to both doorways before approaching the board. My eyes were not lying. It was still there. Okechukwu has a penis. Why was it there? Who wrote it? To what end? Of course he would have a penis, Okechukwu being a boy’s name; but which one was it? Did I know him? Was he showing people his penis? When? Where?

I walked the length of the board/wall and back, studying the letters. It was as if someone had written it in a hurry. Why was I still reading it, I knew what it said already? I closed my eyes and the words appeared in white against my eyelids. Was I going to hell?

I heard footfalls outside and hurried back to my part of the double classroom. The two boys who came in were not in my class. They were two of the kids who trekked up the hill from Nibo/Nise every morning.  They sat down, rubbing at their feet with leaves to get rid of the dust. I couldn’t take the silence much longer.

“Are you in 2D?” I asked. One of them nodded. The other one kept scrubbing. “You people are going to get flogged today for writing that on your board.”

“Writing what? We didn’t do anything.” I knew they didn’t. I had a few of the Nibo/Nise kids in my class too. They could barely write.

“Well, somebody did. You had better clean it before your teacher gets here.”

“What is she saying?” the silent one asked. He turned to the board covered in squiggles. “There is nothing on the board. It’s just jaga-jaga.”

“There,” I stood up pointing. “Can’t you see?”

“No, no I can’t,” said the first. “Stop sighing and show us what you mean.”

“See? Here.” I traced the letters hidden under the squiggles with a finger.

“I see something there, but I can’t…I can’t…” The first boy squinted. “What does it say?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“I can’t see it properly. Just tell us.”

“Ok,” My heart was beating on the back of my tongue. “It says ‘Okechukwu nwere amu’.”

“What?” Silent-boy jumped up. “Where? Read it again.”

Okechukwu nwere amu.” The boys clapped each other on the back, and jumped around. They looked at me as if I was the funniest, most intelligent person in the world. I felt ten feet tall. I said it! I said the word. I eyed the boys. They had better not tell anyone.

The next person to enter the classroom had a scapular and small cross on brown strings around her neck. She went straight to her place on one of the front benches and sat down. The boys huddled giggling and nodding. “Uju,” did you see what someone wrote on our board?” asked the first boy. Uju looked up. She left her seat and stood by the board. Then she bent down, picked up the rag used for the purpose and wiped the board clean. The boys stopped sniggering. Uju sat down and opened her books.

My face and neck were on fire.


My son knows other parts of the body too: Knees, fingers, toes, tongue, teeth. He can hear the tonal difference between ears (nti) and cheek (nti). But I still cannot tell him the Igbo word for penis.

So, I have settled on ‘Mammiri’ – ‘Urine’ –  as a substitute. I think it is appropriate since that is what I need Tot to learn how to do in a potty right now.

As for the other thing, I am sure he will pick it up school, in the hush-hush way pseudo-sexual matters are revealed.

23 thoughts on “Defeated by penis

  1. LMAO @the primary school tale. I do rememebr the whispers about amu those days. Its interesting that I only found out about the Igbo name for the female genitalia recently. awful sounding name if i might

    My kids here know the word amu but they prefer to stick to ‘ike’ to describe both front and back. I am veeery okay with that :).

    p.s. Looking at your Tweets from last night. lol. Yeah Spice Girls really looked great didnt they? Did you notice Taio’s rounded belly? Ka ofo Beady eyes na agu egwu ka onye nsi no n’ike lol. His missing right hand did not help matters..

  2. The joys of parenting. Took me a while to realize no parents ever know what to do with their kids leading me to realize why some actions from mine seemed so bizarre.

  3. lwkm…………i think you should tell him (or not)
    what if he comes home and says something like “mummy, what is “amu”?”

    1. I’ll say “You’re pronouncing it wrongly baby. What you’re trying to say is ‘Amu’, it means ‘Laughter’. Chances are that the context in which he hears penis will be self explanatory though. Or better still, he could what? ASK HIS DADDY!

  4. This is good Nwunye, lol!

    This reminds of a discussion with my American friend not too long ago. Her sister-in-law was getting married and the groom-to-be, a former veteran had a serious injury which left him with one testicle. We laughed it off, and then she asked me what a testicle is called in Igbo. I couldn’t say it. I never said it to anyone, maybe i’m too disgusted by the way it sounds…

    Anyway, my daughter knows her parts down there as bom-bom. Saves us all.

      1. I really don’t see what the hue and cry is all about here. I don’t find the Igbo names of our genitalia amu, utu, otu, ikpu, ohu, etc (according to different dialects) disgusting or gross or anything like that. Maybe it’s just me but I do know that we tend to develop such feelings towards things/terms we rarely use or were made/warned/conditioned not to use. Usually, it takes a lot of mental adjustment to get used to new things. Take the case of War Against Indiscipline (WAI, Buhari/Idiagbon) and WAIC (Abacha/Diya) for example. People who were familiar with WAI wondered what school children in Abacha’s days would do with a term as “silly” as WAIC. But those kids got on alright. Probably not the best analogy but I hope someone gets my message. What better way to ensure our kids don’t grow up with the awkwardness some of us still feel towards these otherwise normal body parts than to start from Day 1 to make them see it for what it is- a special body part, clean and Ok to have and to talk about. I do hope that everyone here at least teaches their children the proper names of these things in English. Many a child molester has gone scot free or evaded justice for a long, long time because children would refer to the invasion of their amu & otu in some other ‘less embarrassing’ terms.

      2. Thanks for commenting. I understand your point, being one I’ve made myself. (I’ve also pointed out that perhaps it goes hand in hand with black/Igbo = bad, white/English = good. I mean I can say penis just fine!)

  5. Nwunye….i have died with laughter, gone to heaven and come back……when we were young, we dare not look towards that region….see me blushing now sef….even when i talk to my clients i still find it hard to use the word penis/vagina….but then school curriculum will always say to teach the appropriate term….but in igbo…mbanu…it sounds too vulgar….. i think you should just defer to his father when the time comes….cant wait to hear that story when it happens…….(rubbing my hands with a wicked grin on my face)

  6. lol. I’m simply imagining my daughter singing otu!otu!otu!, instead of bombom!bombom!bom!. Chei! Obi amapula mu o. Let pple think she’s saying sweet, biko

  7. Oh that word jaga jaga, conveyor of meaningless, scattered, untidy, and sometimes mysterious scrawl! Chei, you have transported me back in time, Nwunye!

  8. As an altar boy, how on earth am I able to say ‘amu’ and ‘otu’ without being tagged a bad boy…and how can I ever imagine myself standing b4 reverend father to say I mentioned those dammed terms…afterall when the two meet in an intimate way, it was called ‘ime ihe iberibe’.
    Thank God for medical Medical and in the anatomy glass, amu and otu were well translated into English words that i could pronounce without cringing, but if the policy of teaching students in ‘mother tongue’ is domesticated to become part of the official teaching policy in secondary schools and medical schools in Igboland, abeg who will then bail the cat biko? So I became comfortable with penis and vagina as ‘medical terms’ and to sound more politely…external genitalia comes to the rescue, but as an adult, amu is still not found in my mouth!

  9. All I saw was Nibo/Nise kids in the entire article, and I said ewoooooo did my people just get yabbed? Sigh! Itsorite! Ife di na Oba okwa ya? ok o…Its not where you where or came from, its where you are going!!

    LOL, ok I am done laughing at the rest of the article abi story! Growing up, even learning otubo, seemed like such a bad thing, even “ara” sef still sounds bad, let alone anything else. On another note, AMAZING job on this your hustle, I’m encouraged even more to steal this when the time arises.

    1. Hahaha! I have nothing but love for my Nibo/Nise brethren. And feel free to steal, but don’t forget to give credit! (Linking the source/back to my blog)

  10. I’m seriously late to this party but i found the post hilarious. Penis is Amu. Utu is another word for penis. I think you should teach your child all the names for his body parts. It’s ridiculous that most Igbo people don’t know the words for these parts.

  11. i love this piece. the igbo’s are among the most interesting people on planet earth. oyibo language is robbing us of our cherished language. otu and amu then were seen as sacred words and we pretended as if the words never existed even till now that we are adults whenever our parents are around. We still continue the pretence where our kids are. woo oooh

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