BY VINCENT UJUMADU
AWKA- THERE is always joy and excitement in the family whenever a child is born in Igbo land. The way Igbo people welcome a new child in the family provides a unique culture among them. Caring for the new mother and child, otherwise known as Omugwo, is one issue the mothers begin to plan for their daughters weeks before the arrival of the baby.
In fact, omugwo is that period in the life of the new mother when her own mother or another very close relation (if her mother is no longer alive), stays with her for upwards of three to five months from the date of the birth of the child. Usually, the woman who would attend the omugwo visits her daughter with the necessary local delicacies which the nursing mother requires to return her body to normal after delivery.
A special and strict kind of diet is prepared for the nursing mother to make her body return to pre-pregnancy state. Among the special menu are yam pepper soup garnished with dry fish, ofe nsala (white soup) served with pounded yam and sometimes agidi, made from pap. The soups are fixed with a blend of spices that include the West African pepper or the African Negro pepper. The idea of feeding a nursing mother with lots of sizzling spicy soups is to enhance breast milk production and also to fight blood clots from the nursing mother‘s body. Omugwo also comes with plenty of massages for the nursing mother to reduce her stomach. Sometimes palm wine is served the nursing mother to ensure proper flow of breast milk for the baby.
During the omugwo period, the nursing mother does not do anything apart from eating, breastfeeding her baby, bathing, relaxing, sleeping and receiving visitors. The child’s grandmother or the relation, who came for the omugwo, does most of the cooking and other house chores. The idea of making the nursing mother do less tasks is to enable her regain her strength and prepare her properly for motherhood.
Women who have many married females are the ones that enjoy omugwo most as they travel from one daughter to another. Mrs. Maria Nwokeji, a mother of seven(two males and five females), whose five daughters are all married, told South-East Voice how excited she is, going round the homes of her daughters for omugwo.
She said: “I find it exciting going for my daughters’ omugwo. This year alone, I have attended three omugwo and another one may likely be due before the end of the year. Of the three I had attended this year, the second one lasted only one month because the next one also put to bed and I had to visit her because her mother-in-law is no longer alive.
“I usually spend about three months with each of my daughters during omugwo and by the time I am leaving, my daughters would have become strong enough to take care of themselves and their babies. The advantage I have is that I have retired from service, which gives me ample time to go for omugwo any time there is need for it.
“Once the pregnancy of my daughter enters the eighth month, I begin to make preparations for my journey. Out of my five daughters, one is residing in the USA and her omugwo was the last one I attended this year, during which period I stayed for three months.
“Because there is so much to eat during omugwo, I consciously control what I eat to avoid being overweight and that discipline is what has helped me maintain my shape despite the fact that I have six grandchildren and I was the one that nursed all of them and their mothers.”
Despite the joy that accompanies the arrival of the new child in the home, omugwo comes with pressure of sorts, particularly on the part of the father of the new born. Customarily in Igbo land, the mother-in-law who comes for omugwo must be given some gifts while going back to her home.
Sometimes the thought of what to give the mother-in-law brings friction between couples, especially if the man is not blessed with abundant resources. Usually, the mother- in-law goes home with items such as several pieces of wrapper, materials for sewing blouses, new shoes, head-ties and bags of rice, as well as bags of salt, cartons of soap and other gifts to be shared to the women at home to formally inform them of the arrival of a child in the family.
Some wealthy sons-in-law even buy cars for their mothers and fathers-in-law in appreciation of the assistance rendered by their mother-in- law during the omugwo.
Mrs. Nwokeji said though she had not received any car for omugwo, she always came back with lots of gifts, which she shares to her friends and well wishers.
While women cherish omugwo, some men dread the period, although they are joyful at becoming grandfathers.
Mr. Daniel Nwokeji, 72, said he usually misses his wife during the omugwo, which he described as ‘my wife’s globe-trotting period.”
He said: “I miss her attention and her cooking whenever she has to stay long out of the house. But I do not complain because it is for the good of the family, especially my married daughters.”
Nwokeji, however, did not want to be dragged into the argument that while mothers enjoy so much from their married children, the fathers merely get gifts of hot drinks. “Whatever is given to my wife during omugwo also belongs to me because we are one. I do not share this belief that men are relegated to the background any time the issue of omugwo is discussed,” he said.