Wedding Wonder

Making Your Dream Wedding a Reality

The Place Of Goats In The Igbo Culture

The Place Of Goats In The Igbo Culture

I didn’t make it to the village this past Christmas but I kept in touch with my people, whip President Obasanjo any which way you like, but thank his administration for giving Nigerians GSM (pronounced g-i-s-i-m) mobile phones. It was through the small wonder that I was able to keep in touch with my folks particularly my uncle Igwe, Nna Ochie and the patriarch of my mum’s family who in the course of our discussions reminded me that I was yet to ‘kill’ the traditional ewu nwadiana for my mum’s umunna. He reminded me that since my mother was a member of the revered Umu Ada, that we should endeavour to include the ceremony in our plans for the New Year before we earn ourselves the demeaning description of efulefus.

I love the Igbo tradition but followers and admirers of the Igbo culture will tell you that Ndigbo have this thing for goats and cows, particularly goats, an animal that they do not breed as much, choosing to rely instead on their Hausa-Fulani brothers from the North to supply all their protein needs. Probably as a result of oral tradition (handed down by the elders over the years) but it would seem that no event in any traditional Igbo family, kindred or village is complete without a goat or two, and even a cow being strung on the pole or wire to hang and roast.

This makes me to wonder how Ndigbo would fare eventually if their much agitated wishes and desires for a break-up of Nigeria eventually come through, and the wandering shepherds of the Hausa-Fulani stock shepherd their rams, sheep, goats and cows back to the North. Would Ndigbo still be able to sustain feasts and other omenani such as igbu ewu nwadiana, ewu umunna, igba nkwu nwanyi and others where goats play a big part?

Uncle Igwe meant that it was about time that I visited the Hausa-Fulani section of Eke Awka for some four-legged take-away that would be used in the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony. There was also a subtle hint from him that my ‘status’ now required that in place of ewu, I should consider killing a cow instead as that would be more befitting, not that they would not gladly accept the goat from me but in the Igbo tradition, it is assumed that your status (judged on your ability to afford) should also determine if you should be let off lightly with a goat, or if you should be pressed for a cow for your igbu ewu nwadiana event. Choosing the later may earn you the prestigious oke nwadiana or nnukwu nwadiana status.

If you read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, you will recall that Okonkwo fled from Umuofia to Mbanta, 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 back-up should the need arise to flee one’s own village like Okonkwo did. Though the reasons today may no longer be as a result of the need to secure a second home in case of emergencies, however such bonds with one’s maternal kindred and community are still maintained even if only to sustain the communal and kindred spirit of the Igbo culture. To be considered worthy of such privileges however requires that one performs certain rites, one of which is the killing of the traditional ewu nwadiana, after which the person’s status is automatically elevated to that of nnukwu nwadiana or oke nwadiana.

Igbu ewu nwadiana is quite a big feast depending on the size of the nwadiana’s pocket, and also on the size of his maternal family. The nwadiana comes along with his family members and close friends to the feast, and the ceremony usually takes place in his mother’s main family compound or obi. If however, the maternal uncles have all migrated from the main compound to their own houses which they may have built in the village, then the ceremony would be held in the compound of the eldest of his mother’s brothers, uncles or any other surviving patriarch in his mother’s family. There are plenty of foods as well as assorted types of drinks on offer on the day, all provided by the nwadiana. Blessings are pronounced on the nwadiana by all the elders present, libation is poured and the spirits of the dead ancestors are called upon to protect and prosper him. In the course of the day’s deliberations, as everyone makes merry, the elders would jokingly assign a particular project in the village to the nwadiana, this could range from awarding scholarships to school children, to the grading of village roads etc. Such assignments are not meant to be viewed as compulsory tasks but the nwadiana would still be expected to help out his maternal family and village one way or the other where he can.

It is assumed that after the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony, the nwadiana would be considered worthy to share almost equal rights with other children born in his mother’s village, this also means that he would be bound by the same local laws and customs, including being forbidden from taking a wife from amongst his mother’s kindred. In addition to other rights, the nwadiana may be allocated a piece of land for his own use and his mother’s people would no longer hesitate in slapping his back whenever and wherever they see him to pronounce the traditional oga adili gi nma blessing on him, and the Iga aka cha ibe unu pronunciations, all to the nwadiana’s slight and humbling bow/prostration wherever he sees his maternal uncles, cousins and brethren. Women are not excluded from such privileges, although some modern day nwadianas have been known in the past to subtly resist taking such bows or to prostrate before their female maternal brethren for the traditional back-slap rituals.

Women born to the woman or daughter are not known to be active in the igbu ewu nwadiana ceremony; they may be present but would remain largely quiet. It is typically a man’s (the woman’s sons) affair although some other Igbo communities may do this differently. Even if such daughters are Oke Ada, are more successful in life and are the ones sponsoring the event, still they have to remain ‘quiet’. The igbu ewu nwadiana is simply a symbolic ceremony, traditionally it was meant to signify a day when children born by daughters (Umu Ada) from the community come back to show their appreciation and love to the mother’s kindred ( Ndi Nna Ochie and Nne Ochie) through whom they were brought into the world.

Usually, the ceremony is only performed once by each family of an Ada from the village, for example if a daughter from the village or kindred gets married and goes on to have 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 in the name of the eldest son who is expected to lead his other siblings. The eldest son may also be sponsored or supported by his younger brothers and sisters assuming that he is not well to do financially, but the tradition accords him that privilege of leading the rest to the event. It is a one-for-all affair and does not require a repeat performance, although the nwadiana could always go back to his mother’s village to feast under other guises but not in the name of igbu ewu nwadiana if that had already been done. Also, parents could sponsor igbu ewu nwadiana on behalf of their children even while they are still toddlers or in their teens, that is also acceptable. If in the future the children feel like going back to their maternal village for a repeat performance, it is also acceptable but would be seen as a mere umunna feast, Ndigbo hardly resist the opportunity to come together to eat and make merry with each other.

On the issue of ewu and their role in the Igbo tradition, it is surprising that the poor things are not yet extinct judging by the way we have been slaughtering them for our various feasts and traditional ceremonies. Perhaps the coming generation may not have any left which they could use for their own igbu ewu nwadiana and other ceremonies. Maybe someone should propose a bill at the National Assembly that would place goats on the endangered species list. Despite the fact that the Hausa-Fulani goat shepherds are not known to apply any underhand biological techniques in breeding the goats, relying largely on the more traditional methods of grazing and fodder 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 many Eke, Nkwo, Orie and Afor markets in Igboland.

Perhaps the major culprits in the conspiracy against goats in Igboland are the much revered umunna. No traditional wedding or other ceremony is complete in Igbo societies without the provision of the famous ewu umunna. The umunna usually demand a goat as big as a cow from potential suitors, and have been known to abandon marriage ceremonies in the past because of the size of the goat the suitor brought along. The umunna hold a different view to the ewu controversy, for them it is from the size of the goat that it would be seen if a potential suitor or future-son-in-law would be able to take care of their daughter, it also determines if the future son-in-law would remember his in-laws in the future. The umunnas take the view that any future son-in-law that brings a small goat, small hens (egbene) and small tubers of yams (Mbaji) to his future in-laws is already displaying 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 to that, but before they even start contemplating poking their noses into traditional African matters, they should at least wait till I have killed my own ewu nwadiana. I don’t want their antics to lead to the prices of goats going over the roof. Imagine an igbu nkita nwadiana scenario, tufiakwa!

Article index

Ada – A female child but most commonly used to refer to the first daughter born in a family.

Alu – a sacrilegious act or offence, also considered an abomination.

Egbene – a native male chicken/cock

Efulefu – a worthless person in the eyes of the society, one who has no regard for the elders or culture.

Eke, Nkwo, Orie and Afor – native market days in Igboland, also used to calculate the Igbo native week.

Ewu – goat.

Ewu Umunna – a special goat meant for the umunna.

Iga aka cha ibe unu – You shall be more prosperous 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 mum’s people, the killing of the goat is symbolic and is meant to strengthen the ties between the nwadiana and his mum’s people.

Igba nkwu nwanyi – the traditional Igbo marriage ceremony

Umunna – a large group of kinsmen, they have so much powers and have the last say in most family issues such as marriages, land disputes etc.

Umuada – daughters born into a particular community, kindred 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 ‘the son of our daughter’, referring to the male children of a woman born to a particular family, village or kindred.

Nna Ochie – A term for the male maternal relatives of the nwadiana

Nne Ochie – A term for the female maternal relatives of the nwadiana

Nnukwu nwadiana/Oke Nwadiana – a worthy nwadiana, a sign of acceptance and regard in comparism to other nwadiana who may be considered as efulefu.

Nkita – Dog

Obi – a small outpost, just by the main entrance into a compound, it is used as a reception area in traditional Igbo societies. The Obi has traditionally been built with mud and thatched roofs, modern day Igbo men have tried to maintain such ‘traditional’ look even when constructing their village houses with modern day building materials.

Oga adili gi nma – It shall be well with you.

Oke ogo – Also called nnukwu ogo, a mark of respect and greeting, salutation for a son-in-law held in high esteem by his in-laws.

Oke Ada – A salutation or adulation for a successful daughter born into a particular family, kindred or family.

Omenani – refers to Igbo traditions, customs and practices.

Owu ite – A derogatory term used for someone suffering poor fortunes.