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The Place Of Goats In The Igbo Culture
I didn’t make it to the village last Christmas but I stayed in touch with my people, flog President Obasanjo all you want but thank his administration for giving Nigerians GSM (pronounced gisim) mobile phones. It is a small wonder that I managed to stay in touch with my family, especially my uncle Igwe, Nna Ochie and the patriarch of my mother’s family who reminded me during our conversations that I have yet to ‘kill’ the traditional ewu nwadiana for my mother’s umunna. He reminded me that since my mother was a member of the venerable Umu Ada, we should try to include a ceremony in our plans for the New Year before we earn the humiliating description of efulefus.
I love Igbo tradition, but followers and admirers of Igbo culture will tell you that the Ndigbo have a thing for goats and cows, especially goats, an animal they don’t raise as much, choosing instead to rely on their Hausa-Fulani brothers of the North to satisfy all their protein needs. Probably as a result of oral tradition (passed down by elders over the years), but it seems that no event in any traditional Igbo family, clan or village is complete without a goat or two and even a cow being strung up on a pole or hanging wire and baking.
It makes me wonder how the Ndigbo would end up faring if their much hyped wishes and desires for the disintegration of Nigeria were eventually fulfilled and the wandering Hausa-Fulani herdsmen herded their rams, sheep, goats and cows back to the North. Could Ndigbo still hold feasts and other omenani such as igbu ewu nwadiana, ewu umunna, igba nkwu nwanyi and others in which goats play a major role?
Uncle Igwe thought it was high time I visited the Hausa-Fulani section of Eke Awka for some four-legged meal to be used in the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony. There was also a subtle hint from him that my ‘status’ now required me to consider killing a cow instead of an ewu because that would be more fitting, not that they wouldn’t be happy to accept a goat from me, but in Igbo tradition, it is assumed that your status ( assessed based on your ability to afford) should also determine whether you should be let loose with a goat, or pressed for a cow for your igbu ewu nwadiana event. By choosing the later, you can get the prestigious status of oke nwadiana or akku nwadiana.
If you read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, you will recall that Okonkwo fled Umuofia to Mbantu, his mother’s village after accidentally killing Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son at Ezeudu’s funeral, and was to spend 7 years in exile there. Therefore, traditionally the average Igbo man has always maintained a close relationship with his mother’s people, as a backup should the need arise to flee his own village as Okonkwo did. Although the reasons today may no longer be the result of the need to provide a second home in case of emergency, yet such ties to maternal lineage and community are still maintained if only to maintain the common and kindred spirit of Igbo culture. However, in order to be considered worthy of such privileges, you need to perform certain rites, one of which is the killing of a traditional ewu nwadiana, after which one’s status is automatically raised to that of agku nwadiana or oke nwadiana.
The Igbu ewu nwadiana is quite a feast depending on the size of the nwadiana’s pocket and also the size of his maternal family. Nwadiana comes together with his family members and close friends for the feast and the ceremony is usually held at the main family compound of his mother or obi. However, if the maternal uncles had all migrated from the main estate to their own houses which they may have built in the village, then the ceremony would be held in the estate of the eldest of his mother’s brothers, uncles or any other surviving patriarch in his mother’s family. There is plenty of food as well as a variety of drinks on offer throughout the day, all provided by nwadiana. All the elders present say blessings in Nwadian, libations are poured, and the spirits of dead ancestors are invoked to protect and prosper him. During the daily deliberations, while everyone is rejoicing, the elders would jokingly assign a certain project in the nwadiani village, it could be from awarding scholarships to school children, to grading village roads, etc. Such tasks were not to be seen as mandatory tasks, but a nwadiana was still expected to help her mother’s family and village in one way or another wherever she could.
It is assumed that after the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony, the nwadiana will be considered worthy to share almost equal rights with other children born in his mother’s village, which also means that he will be bound by the same local laws and customs, including the prohibition against marrying a wife of his own kindred. mothers. Among other rights, a nwadiana can be granted a piece of land for his own use and his mother’s people would no longer hesitate to slap him on the back whenever and wherever they see him to say the traditional blessing oga adili gi nma, and say Iga aka cha ibe unu, right down to nwadiana’s gentle and humble bow/spread wherever she sees her uncles, cousins and maternal brothers. Women are not excluded from such privileges, although some modern Nwadians have been known in the past to subtly resist such bows or to prostrate before their female half-brothers for traditional back-slapping rituals.
Women who are born of a wife or daughter are not known to be active in the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony; they may be present, but would generally remain silent. It is usually a male (wife’s sons) affair, although some other Igbo communities may do it differently. Even if such daughters of Oke Ada are more successful in life and sponsor the event, they still have to remain ‘quiet’. Igbu ewu nwadiana is simply a symbolic ceremony, it was traditionally meant to mark the day when the children born of the daughters (Umu Ada) of the community return to show their respect and love for the maternal lineage (Ndi Nna Ochie and Nne Ochie) through whom they were brought to the world.
Usually the ceremony is performed only once by each Ada family of the village, for example if a daughter of the village or a relative marries and has three sons and two daughters in her husband’s house, the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony would be performed on behalf of all the woman’s children on the same day , usually on behalf of the eldest son who is expected to lead his other siblings. The eldest son may also be sponsored or supported by his younger siblings assuming he is not financially well off, but tradition gives him the privilege of leading the others to the event. It is a one-for-all affair and does not require a repeat performance, although the nwadiana could always return to his mother’s village for a feast under other guises, but not in the name of igbu ewu nwadiana if this had already been done. Also, parents could sponsor igbu ewu nwadiana on behalf of their children even when they are still young or in their teenage years, which is also acceptable. If in the future the children wish to return to their mother’s village for a repeat performance, that is also acceptable, but it would only be considered a umunna feast, the Ndigbo hardly resist the opportunity to gather to eat and be merry with one another.
As for ewu and their role in Igbo tradition, it is surprising that the poor things have not died out yet judging by the way we slaughtered them for our various feasts and traditional ceremonies. Perhaps the coming generation may not have anything left to use for their own igba ewu nwadiana and other ceremonies. Perhaps someone should propose a bill in the National Assembly that would include goats in the list of endangered species. Despite the fact that the Hausa-Fulani goat herders are not known to apply any hidden biological techniques in goat farming, relying mainly on more traditional methods of grazing and feeding, it still remains one of the many wonders of this age that goats, rams, sheep and cows are still available in large numbers in the numerous markets of Eke, Nkwo, Orie and Afor in Igboland.
Perhaps the main culprits behind the goat conspiracy in Igboland are the much respected umunna. No traditional wedding or other ceremony is complete in Igbo societies without the provision of the famous ewu umunna. The Umunna usually require a goat as big as a cow from potential suitors, and in the past they have been known to abandon wedding ceremonies because of the size of the goat the suitor was leading. The Umunna have a different take on the ewu controversy, for them the size of the goat could tell whether a potential suitor or future son-in-law would be able to take care of his daughter, it also determines whether the future son-in-law would remember his in-laws in the future. The Umunna believe that any future son-in-law who brings a small goat, small chickens (egbene) and small yam tubers (Mbaji) to his future in-laws is already showing signs of stinginess and lack (owu ite ). Such in-laws are not desirable, they insist.
It would be interesting to see what animal rights activists would say about that, but before they even start thinking about poking their noses into traditional African things, they should at least wait until I kill my own ewu nwadiana. I don’t want their antics to cause goat prices to skyrocket. Imagine the igbu nkita nwadiana scenario, tufiakwa!
Index of articles
Ada – female child, but most often used for the first daughter born in the family.
Alu – sacrilegious act or insult, also considered an abomination.
Egbene – indigenous male hen/rooster
Efulefu – a worthless person in the eyes of society, one who has no regard for elders or culture.
Eke, Nkwo, Orie and Afor – native market days in Igboland, are also used to calculate the native Igbo week.
Ewu – goat.
Ewu Umunna – special goat intended for umunna.
Iga aka cha ibe unu – You will be more advanced than all your father’s people.
Igbu ewu nwadiana – a feast and ceremony where the nwadiana performs the traditional rites of killing a goat for his mother’s people, the killing of the goat is symbolic and aims to strengthen the bonds between the nwadiana and his mother’s people.
Igba nkwu nwanyi – traditional Igbo wedding ceremony
Umunna – a large group of relatives, they have so much authority and have the final say in most family matters such as marriages, land disputes, etc.
Umuada – daughters born into a particular community, lineage or family but who have now married outside but occasionally return to their communities, they are a very powerful group in Igbo societies.
Mbaji – Yam tuber
Nwadiana – means ‘son of our daughter’, referring to the male children of a woman born in a particular family, village or lineage.
Nna Ochie – Maternal term for Nwadiana male relatives
Nne Ochie – Maternal term for female relatives of Nwadians
Nnukwu nwadiana/Oke Nwadiana – a worthy nwadiana, a sign of acceptance and appreciation compared to other nwadiana who may be considered efulefu.
Nkita – Dog
Obi – a small outpost, right next to the main entrance to the complex, is used as a reception desk in traditional Igbo societies. The obi is traditionally built of mud and thatched roofs, contemporary Igbo men have tried to maintain such a ‘traditional’ look even when building their village houses with modern building materials.
Oga adili gi nma – You will be fine.
Oke ogo – It is also called oko ogo, a sign of respect and greeting, a greeting for a son-in-law who is highly valued by his in-laws.
Oke Ada – Greeting or praise for a successful daughter born in a particular family, lineage or family.
Omenani – refers to Igbo traditions, customs and practices.
Owu ite – A derogatory term used for someone suffering from poverty.
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