By Charles Adingupu

The loss of their son naturally brought grief to the family of Mr. Nwaeke Okolie (not his real name). And the entire community of Ogbe-Ubu Quarter in Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom, Delta State shared in their misfortune.

 

The boy never fell sick. That cast some mystery on the death. He just went to sleep and did not wake up in the morning. While the whole community was still in a mournful mood, two weeks after Mr Okolie Nwaeke had buried his dead child, another of his sons died, also in a mysterious circumstance. As tongues began to wag on the misfortune that had befallen Mr. Okolie’s family, their first son died, also in a questionable circumstance.

This time, the sympathy from the community members turned to suspicion, that Mr. Okolie’s family might have offended the gods of the land. For a man to lose three sons successively in one month was one tragedy too many. About two weeks after the third death, Mr. Okolie’s wife, Ijeoma, for fear of losing another child, confessed to her husband her flirtatious acts outside her matrimonial home.

Her husband had to expose her, not knowing what other misfortune could come their way if he kept her unfaithfulness secret. He still has three children left: two boys and a girl.

The three deaths were said to be a consequence for Ijeoma’s infidelity brought upon her children by the ofor; that is, the deity that protects the people of the community. (Every quarter in the kingdom has its own ofor.) In Ogwashi-Uku, when a married woman commits adultery, there are consequences, explains Rafiu, the oldest man in Umuti in Agediasie Quarters of the kingdom. In the traditional parlance, Rafiu is known as Diokpa. According to him, adultery is an abomination in Ogwashi-Uku and any woman legitimately married to an Ogwashi-Uku man would pay dearly if she engages in it. “The husband or relations of an adulterous wife may be ignorant of the woman’s extra-marital escapades but the ofor will expose her by the deaths of her children and eventually her husband”, explains Diokpa Rafiu.

Though death is the ultimate consequence for the unfaithfulness of a married woman, says Diokpa Rafiu, not all acts of female infidelity eventually lead to death. “If the unfaithful wife notices mysterious happenings to any of her children after the act, she may get scared that it is a consequence of her infidelity and may quickly confess and the cleansing takes place, to avert death”, he says. But if she is initially stubborn, like the case of Ijeoma, the children would die one after the other till the husband too would die. However, he says, “it hardly gets to the stage of the husband dying as an Ogwashi-Uku man would immediately become suspicious of his wife if his children start dying in quick succession, and he would confront her.”

Interestingly, Ishi does not strike a family if the Ogwashi-Uku woman is married to a non Ogwashi-Uku man. It will still strike if a non Ogwashi-Uku woman marries an Ogwashi-Uku man. It is therefore not uncommon to find Okwashi-Uku girls preferring to marry from outside their place to avoid the consequences of Ishi in any eventually of a game outside the matrimonial home.

In the case of the marriage not having any issue, it is the husband who dies. Diokpa Rafiu adds that if eventually the husband dies, the wife must undergo all the purification processes before the man would be buried. He also says this death wage is only efficacious on a couple who are traditionally married; in other words, when a woman’s bride price was paid.

A people rooted in deep traditions

“In Ogwashi-Uku, every quarter has its own chi or deity; that is, personal god that protects the interests of the people against external aggression or otherwise”, Diokpa Rafiu explains. “At Azugwu Quarter for example, they have Obida-Nwaegene. At Ogbe-Ubu, Ubu remains the deity and so it is in virtually every other quarter.”

In the case of Ijeoma, Obida-Nwaegene, the ofor at Azugwu Quarter, was responsible for the calamities that befell her family because of her adulterous lifestyle. But after the tragic deaths of three out of her six children, Ijeoma had woken up to reality one early morning and confessed her crime to her husband.

However, for the love of his three surviving children whose lives still hung in the balance, her husband had no choice but to forgive her, though under the condition that she must izo ishi; in other words, undergo the purification exercise before he could accept her as his legitimate wife again. The next morning, Mr. Okolie reported his wife’s adulterous act to the Diokpa and other elders of the community.

Ishi, the cleansing ritual

“When a woman commits adultery and her husband is still interested in the marriage, the woman would be compelled by tradition to cleanse herself, that is ife-ahu. Otherwise, she would have to severe relationship with her children. In other words, she would not cook and eat with them or have communication with them until she purifies herself before the children could fraternise with her,” says Diokpa Rauf.

The adulterous wife, according to him, would be expected to go before the shrine of the quarter with the women folk known as umu ada, which consists of women from the husband’s community but married to men outside. At the shrine, a kola-nut would be broken and this marks the beginning of the woman’s confession. She starts mentioning names of those men who had carnal knowledge of her.
Diokpa Rafiu discloses that there is an expected fee to be paid for each of the men involved in the act. The umu ada make some demands from the adulterous wife at the shrine.

However, at this point, no man is expected to go near the shrine or partake in the purification exercise. Upon completion of this stage, the umu ada would report to the Diokpa what transpired at the shrine. First will be to disclose the amount of money the adulterous wife would pay to them.

The adulterous wife would then be taken to inyemedi; that is, women married to men in that quarter. They would perform certain rites on her and request that a particular fee be paid by her. Thereafter, the wife would visit the men folk in the quarter who would finally decide the punitive measures to be taken against the adulterous wife.

As part of the punishment, the woman would be required to cook. The woman and her children would jointly eat the food, which may not necessarily be solid food like eba or pounded yam, but perhaps just kola-nut.

The next step would be for the men to fetch a boy of about five or seven years of age to sit directly facing the woman. The little boy would push the food with his hand into the woman’s mouth and the woman would be expected to do the same.

After this exercise, the men would eventually agree on a fee the adulterous wife would pay as a fine for desecrating the land. This fine is circumstantial because the woman could claim that she was raped and she never gave her consent to the advances of the man. In that case, the three parties involved, umu ada, inyemedi and the men folk would be lenient in deciding the total amount of fine as the adulterous act was not intentional. But the whole exercise will be futile if she lies. It is better to tell the truth and go through proper cleansing.

The fine is heavy if the man or men who committed sacrilege with the woman have connection or are related to the husband. In this case, the punitive measures taken against the wife would be very severe.

At the confession stage at the shrine with the umu ada, the adulterous wife must be sincere otherwise the cleansing process would be distorted and the effects of her action would rebound. First, she must be compelled by tradition to surrender the clothes or wrapper she wore on the day she committed the adultery. The people involved in the act who she earlier mentioned would be visited and they would be fined a cock each. They are also expected to replace the clothes she wore on the day each one of them slept with her.

Similarly, if the men who slept with the woman are relatives of the husband, they are fined eight he-goats and expected to replace the woman’s clothes she earlier surrendered to the umu ada at the shrine.

In the same way, if the bed-sharers are not from Ogwashi-Uku, perhaps they are city-dwellers and cannot be reached as at the time she made her confession, Diokpa Rafiu says the woman becomes responsible for everything. “She has to provide all the materials for the purification exercise, including the goats if need be”, Diokpa Rafiu affirms.

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