Some parts of Igbo land that in Nigeria still observe ‘Igbu Ewu Nwadiana’. This is an ancient tradition which demands that children born to an Ada Igbo formally go back to their maternal home to receive blessings and ‘Ofor’ from them.
The tradition varies from one community to another but is usually one of thanksgiving and merry making. It is often the last rites of passage which accords a ‘Nwadiana’ his full rights and entitlements in his maternal village.
Ndigbo often say that when one is in distress in his father’s house or village, then his maternal village (Ukwunne) is always there for him to run to. We saw aspects of this deep rooted tradition at play in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart when the mighty Okonkwo had to go into exile for seven years to his maternal village Mbanta, after his gun accidentally went off and killed Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s sixteen -year-old son during the funeral ceremony of the great Ogbuefi Ezeudu.
Therefore in Igbo tradition, maintaining a good and tight relationship with one’s maternal home is not only encouraged but remains central to Igbo communal living. It is like having two homes in one, your father’s and mother’s.
My elder brother George, accompanied by my parents led us during the new year to perform our own ‘Igbu Ewu Nwadiana’ rites. The preparations started long before the day beginning with confirmation of dates by both families. Certain key items are taken along in different quantities. We took along 16 big tubers of yam, 16 big kola nuts (Oji Igbo), enough quantities of garden eggs and alligator pepper plus drinks as is the custom of my mum’s people, Adagbe Avomimi village in Enugwu-Ukwu. Of course, we did not forget to take along a big goat (Ewu) being the ‘sacrificial’ item.
Over time, many individuals performing these rights additionally provide a big cow too, in addition to the goat depending on their economic status. We did the same.
Group picture with my brothers, my mother and some of her kinsmen in the late Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu’s compound where she was born and lived.
We were accompanied by some members of our ‘Umunna’ as well as few friends and associates. Over time, my mum’s family have all migrated (Ipu Obi) out of their main family compound. This is normal in Igbo land. As fortunes change for the better and family sizes increase, people begin to buy land and build in not too distant places but usually within the same or nearby villages.
My late grandmother Nwuka Kpokwu Eduzor
I am told that my mother’s mother, Nwuka Kpokwu, who was the last of the over 15 wives of the late Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu of Adagbe Avomimi village had bought a piece of land for one pound, developed it and had then taking her brood of eight children (3 boys and 5 girls) to go and live there. This piece of information was quite instructive for me as women of that era were not given to taking such independent decisions considering the all powerful nature of their husbands at the time who lived as Lords of the Manor. My late grandmother, I am also told was quite hardworking and enterprising and ran a successful bush meat (azu mkpo and anu mkpo) business. This perhaps explains the strong natured character of my mother and her daughters (my sisters).
The late Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu himself lived a flamboyant life. He loved women, beautiful women at that. His personae could easily be interpreted as being intimidating as he had his ways of going after, and winning the hearts and hands in marriage of women he wanted. You can call him a conqueror in such matters. My mother’s mother for instance was living in Nimo with her husband but the moment Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu set his eyes on her, the story changed. Ultimately, he would perform the traditional Igbo ‘ikwu ngo’ on her head and took her as his last wife.
He was a prominent Warrant Chief just like his late father, Chief Ifeagwu whose sphere of influence covered the entire Akaezi division of Enugwu-Ukwu. Akaezi comprises of four villages namely Avomimi, Uruokwe, Urunnebo and Orji. While he reigned solely supreme, about five other Warrant Chiefs were however responsible for Ifite division (Ifite Enu and Ifite Ani), one of these Warrant Chiefs was the father of the late Osita Agwuna who was largely regarded as being authocratic and oppressive leading to popular revolts by a group known as ‘Otu Agada’ founded by my late grand father Nze Nwora Okeke and his other contemporaries.
Osita Agwuna would go on to become Igwe Umunri and Eze Enugwu-Ukwu in 1958, after the late M.I Okpara, former Premier of Eastern Nigeria abolished the old Warrant Chief system and introduced Ezeship and Igweship in Eastern Nigeria. Interestingly, Akaezi people produced the current Eze Enugwu-Ukwu and Igwe Umunri, His Royal Majesty, Ralph Ekpeh.
At the time, Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu made it a point to initiate all the first born male children from his many wives into the ancient Ozo society. Only five of his over fifteen wives had male children and the first born males were duly initiated. His first son, Ekwenugo at some point was ‘Onye Isi Ozo’ in the entire Enugwu-Ukwu. Initiation into the ‘Nze na Ozo’ society was a common practice in Igboland at the time as it was done not only for the prestige it confers but it was also regarded as an investment. This is because those already initiated can live off what they receive from intending Ozo title holders.
Surely, with time, I will like to learn more about the life and times of this great maternal grand father of mine.
Our party first arrived the compound of late Chief Walter Eduzor, my maternal uncle which now serves as our ancestral maternal home, the same compound my late grand mother had purchased. After a few formalities, my uncle Prince Fred Eduzor alongside other relatives announced that we would first visit ‘Obu Enugo’, being the original compound of Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu where my mother and her siblings were born and had migrated from.
My maternal uncle Prince Fred Eduzor hands over Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu’s ‘Oji’ otherwise known as Ozo staff to me inside his ‘Obu’. You can see the Ozo stools of his children in the background and skulls of animals hanging on the wall.
We undertook the short journey and arrived at the over three hundred year old compound. As we sat in the open ‘Obu’, my uncles broke kola nuts and prayed for us. They prayed for long life, good health and progress. They also announced to the ancestors our mission and you could feel their eerie presence. Afterwards, we undertook a quick tour of the compound which had remained largely in its natural state. It was as if nature itself was guarding, protecting and preserving the compound, the ‘Obu’ and the contents. Everything still remained near intact, skulls of various animals hanging on the wall, gourds used in drinking palm wine, carved wood works, various carved statues placed on a small platform where perhaps many prayers had been said to Chi, libations poured and sacrifices of animals made. I was fascinated by the fact that this compound has remained in its natural state right in the middle of the village with all the new buildings and developments enveloping it.
I told my uncles that we should all work towards preserving it as it is so that our children’s children will also experience what we were experiencing.
Entrance to Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu’s compound. Inset is his ‘Obu’.
We saw remnants of the hut where my mother was born and where her mother lived with her children. We also saw outlines of the other huts belonging to the various Eduzor Ifeagwu wives and their children. The compound setting appeared just like Chinua Achebe had described in his book, several huts belonging to the wives surrounding the big man’s ‘Obu’ which stood in the middle. Our fore fathers had it all, they sure knew how to enjoy life. I can picture him every night standing in front of his ‘Obu’ and surveying round and perhaps ticking off his fingers which of the wives will have the privilege of satisfying his pleasures.
This done, we made our way back to Uncle Walter’s compound for the main feast thanking God for life and for our proud heritage.
Written by Uche Nworah (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nworah is MD/CEO of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS)