By Francis Ewherido
Women have been in the news for mainly good reasons in the last few weeks. March 8 was International Women’s Day. The theme of this year’s day is, “Time is now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives, with a campaign theme of “#pressforprogress.” I am not a women’s activist, but I love women; I have quite a handful of them in my life: my wife, mother, daughters, nieces, cousins and other relatives, friends, my home girls and other acquaintances, so their matter is my matter.
But charity, they say, begins at home, so today, I am concentrating on women in my part of the world: Urhoboland. Urhobo parents started educating their daughters much later than many parents from other ethnic groups. This late start in educating the Urhobo girl child stemmed from an ignorant and obnoxious paradigm of omot’ohwofa.
Literally, it means “a girl is another person.” But connotatively, it means it is a waste of resources to educate the girl child, because she would get married later, change her maiden name and become a member of her husband’s family. So, even though she is your daughter, she is just another person (ohwofa). This has changed and Urhobo parents have been educating their girls just like other parents. But the omot’ohwofa mentality is still very much on in other variants. For instance, if an Urhobo politician (male or female) wants to contest an election to represent his/her maternal people, there will be uproar. You will hear derogatory remarks like, “omo r’omote ke mu’ekpeti vw’etinee” (offspring of our daughter cannot represent us). If an appointive position is zoned to the area, they will also not allow an omo r’omote to represent them no matter how competent.
Another aspect of Urhobo culture that is against women is our attitude to Urhobo women married to non Urhobos. At a recent gathering organized by Urhobo Foundation in Lagos, Mrs. Joyce Onafowokan, daughter of internationally acclaimed Artist, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, was very bitter about how the Urhobo Nation treats her daughters who are married to non Urhobos. She said we alienate them and treat them as if they are no longer Urhobo people. A relative, married to a non Urhobo, also complained to me recently about the same kind of treatment.
When will the Urhobo Nation learn valuable lessons and appreciate our daughters and their husbands from other ethnicities? Have we forgotten so soon how the Delta State capital ended up in Asaba in 1991? The omot’ohwofa attitude and thinking has no place in a world that has become a global village. While many of us want our children to marry within our ethnic group, love works in mysterious fashion and is often not subject to legislation or control. That some Urhobo women marry from outside Urhobo should not make them outcasts or disadvantaged in any way. We must begin to embrace not only our daughters, but our sons-in-law from other ethnicities as our own. That is the way to go in our current times
There has been progress in the areas of inheritance. These days, many Urhobo people simply use their wills to distribute their wealth to their children the way they deem fit. But you still see some male children challenging what parents have put on paper, though this is not peculiar to Urhobo land. Where it is not on paper, it can really get messy; survival of the fittest more like it. In the villages, much work still needs to be done. Many families share family land among the males in the family as if the females do not exist. Some justify it by saying the females will get in their husbands families, so giving them land in their families of origin will amount to “double portion.” What is wrong with double portion? The arrogant and greedy males in the family, on the other hand, simply tell you that “omot’ohwofa.”
Times have changed, so must our culture, which should be evolutionary, not static. We must begin to look at those aspects, which prevent women from attaining their full potentials and do away with them. Inhibited women mean an inhibited society. Let us create an environment which enables women and indeed any deprived group to blossom and achieve their potentials. Where a woman represents our best, let us encourage her. Our best ought to be gender-blind.
Last Sunday, some Christian denominations also celebrated Mother’s Day. I am going to ask a similar question I asked previously in another variant. Who is a mother? In Africa, a mother is not just a woman with biological children, but one whose motherly love and good deeds transcend blood relationships. If the only people who see you as mother in Africa are your biological children, there is a question mark on your motherhood.
In the last few weeks we have read reports of a mother, who had under her roof a child whose hand was infested with maggots and rotting away and she did nothing about it. We had two others who poured hot water and used hot iron on other people’s daughters under their roofs. In the last case, even when “real mothers,” who saw the little girl’s badly burnt and lacerated body, admonished her to take the girl to hospital for treatment, she refused. They subsequently reported her to the authorities. So these evil women from hell also see themselves as mothers just because their wombs have played host to babies; they are not!
I have advised before that if you feel that little girl you brought from the village to help you in the house is wicked, a witch or has negative aura, return her to her people. You have no right to maltreat her. Many of these guardians are not giving these little girls a fair deal. You do not have to live in the same compound or neighbourhood with them to know. We see them in churches and other public places. Simply treat that little girl like a fellow human being or send her away if you cannot. And let us all continue to be vigilant and report such cases of child abuse because that is what it is.
I wish all mothers a happy Mother’s Day and pray for them to become better mothers, role models and home builders by the day.