A child belongs to his fatherland and not his motherland; and yet in Igbo, we say ‘NNEKA’ – ‘Mother is Supreme.’ Why is that?’
(Things Fall Apart – pg 106)
I was born in the eastern part of Nigeria, Igbo Tribe. It does not in any way represent the whole Africa, but allow me to tell you about my forefathers and the place of a woman in the ancient Igbo tradition and custom.
One of the biggest lies in the world’s history is the record that claimed that women were objectized in Igbo Land. There is no truth in it.
In as much as Igbos – like every patriarchal society of the old -prefered male children, their daughters were their pride.
A woman perpetually belongs to her father’s house. It is called ‘Okputolokpu’ – everlasting, that is why every Igbo community calls grown daughters born in a family – Umu okpu. This explains why a man can never finish the marital rites of a woman in Igbo land. During bride price, no Igbo community would accept everything offered as dowry. The reason is that the woman is priceless.
That is why, in Igbo tradition and custom, when a man beats his wife, the wife can return to his father’s house. It is not a taboo, and before the husband can take the woman he MUST -according to the tradition – go to his in-laws with a pot/bottle of wine.
NO ONE IN HISTORY HAS EVER FINISHED PAYING THE DOWRY OF AN IGBO WOMAN FOR SHE IS PRICELESS
One of my oldest relative had only sons and no daughters; he normally said to his sons, ‘You do not have a sibling yet.’
In the Igbo ethnic group, a child belongs to the fatherland but is referred to as the child of the mother. The term ‘Siblings’ is generally known as ‘Nwanne’ (trans. the child of my mother because men were polygamous, the children of your mother are your siblings).
A male sibling is ‘Nwanne m Nwoke’ (The male child of my mother)
A female sibling is ‘Nwanne m Nwanyi’ (The female child of my mother).
That is why the people of Igbo Ethnic group practise what is known till this day as ‘Nwadiana’ (meaning The Child of the Soil)
‘Your’ Nwadianas are the children whose mothers were married from your family.
Example: My sister’s children are my Nwadianas. In Igbo custom, I am their Nna Ochie – ancient fathers.
I represent their most reliable protector. No matter what they do – I repeat, no matter what they do, once they come to me, I must protect them. They have rights in my family. If they were ostracized in their fatherland, they can come to me and I must share with them our inheritance.
This is a tradition that lives in Igbo Land till today.
Like the most tradition of the old, women were not entitled to the possessions of their fathers, but in Igbo land, once a woman is married to a house, she inherits her hut (Mkpuke Nne – the hut of the mother) which she has the power over. It is customary for her to give ‘Mkpuke Nne’ to her last son, and neither the man of the house nor any of the brothers can influence that.
Moreover, when an Igbo man took a wife and did not reproduce before his death, his widow would inherit all his possession as long as she stayed back in his dead husband’s house and gave birth to children. Those children would bear the dead man surname; and if a man died without an heir but had daughters, one of the daughters would become his heir, and reproduce in his house. The daughter’s children would carry the family’s name.
Obiechina is the term that means ‘A Lineage would not Terminate’. It is the duty of the male child and the female child also.
(Ref: The Joy of Motherhood: Buchi Emecheta)
Though this practice is dying, the corpse of every Igbo daughter was always buried in her fatherland, not in her husband’s house. There was a popular saying in the days of our youth – ‘Ozu Nwada adighi ato na mba’ (the corpse of the daughter cannot be trapped in a strange land).
Igbos till today practice extended system of communalism, and the strongest unit in every family is the Umuada – the daughters. They participate in dispute resolutions, they were/are a part of the customary judicial system, and they are the owners of the dead. Till today, if you bury anyone in a family and Umuada – the daughters were not satisfied, you must repeat the burial or appease them.
Of all things observed by men of old, Religion is the greatest, and Igbo tribe had no Kings. Igbos were completely loyal to the gods. In the Igbo theology, spirituality has only five aspects:
Chukwu – the supreme.
Anyanwu – the revealer of everything. Symbol of omniscience.
Agbala – the fertility of the Earth, the fertility of the people, and the spirituality.
Chi – a sub-deity
Okike – the creator of laws that governs the visible and invisible.
Because AGBALA represents Harvest, the fertility of the womb, and high spirituality, it served as the Supreme aspect of God on the earth.
Men till today totally depended on Harvest and fertility, so Agbala was the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH of the ancient Igbos, and women were the POPES.
(In Chinua Achebe’s book,’Things Fall Apart’, two Popes were mentioned –
Pope Chika: the Priestess that reigned in the time of Uloka, Okonkwo’s father; and
Pope Chielo: the Priestess that warned Okonkwo not to speak while she spoke.)
Just to make this post short as possible, I would have touched how judgements were passed, the position of a woman that got pregnant in her father’s house (Ime Mkpuke), the case of the unmarried woman, and what happens when a woman did not like her marriage. All these are indicators on how women were treated in the Igbo land – old and present.
Women may not be the head of the house, but the family depended on them – the term ‘Nwa Nne’ means that the children belongs to the mother; and the Almighty aspect of God, Agbala, chose women over men.
Every clan revered Agbala, and her priestess were feared. So, I can say that we did not have a system that banned women from heading the clan. The only reason we do not allow Igbo women as Bishops and Cardinals today is because the new creed forbids it.
A child belongs to his fatherland and not his motherland; and yet, we say Nneka – ‘Mother is Supreme.’ Why is that?
‘It is true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A child belongs to his father when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland. That is why we say ‘NNEKA’ – mother is supreme.’
(Things Fall Apart – pg 106 – 107)
Credit: Ozii Baba Anieto