By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Chinenye Ozor, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu &
IN Igboland, the first son is generally accorded high recognition and respect by the family. He also wields enormous traditional powers in the family’s decision- making.
Whether he is rich or poor, his opinion is always sought and respected by members of the family.
This age-long tradition has not changed and may not likely change in the near future. Question is; what is special in first sons of Igbo families?
According to the revered monarch of Abriba ancient kingdom, Enachioken Abriba, Eze Kalu Kalu Ogbu (iv), Igbo accord high recognition to the first son because he is the family’s first hope for continuity. The first son, he said, is the first proof of his father’s strength and symbol of hope for the family’s continuity, hence, the special place he occupies in the family. This strong position, he explained, stems from the tradition and common mentality among the Igbo that male children are sine-qua-non for the family lineage to be maintained.
“The first son is the first male blood of the man; his alter ego,” the monarch explained, “and he is considered the heir apparent of the family. Besides,because male children unlike their female siblings carry on the family’s name, it becomes necessary that the first son who is also the evidence of the progenitor’s manhood, is highly revered.
“Ndigbo have the culture that female children will eventually be married off; so any family without a male child is seen to have gone into extinction. That is why the first son has much respect”, the monarch said, but however, noted that some first sons tend to get carried away by their coveted position while some act irresponsibly.
He noted that such unbecoming attitude is not enough to deprive them of their birthright as doing so is not without some consequences.
The Enachioken also cited a case in his kingdom where a certain wealthy subject who trained his first son abroad and upon graduation, he returned to the country and he assisted him to secure a lucrative job but unfortunately, that man’s son was later got involved in stealing of the firm’s property, a situation that landed him in jail.
“In those days when there was bucket latrine, the boy, from prison, would carry bucket of faeces past their house and the father who felt disgraced stripped him of his right as the first son. But till today, that family has not known peace.”
In the opinion of the traditional ruler of the Iggah Ancient Kingdom in Isi-Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igwe Herbert Ukuta, the respect being accorded every first son in Igbo families is because he represents the father, whether dead or alive.
According to Igwe Ukuta, because the daughters of the family would be married off eventually, only the first son bears the family symbol with or without the father of the house.
“The culture has been there from time immemorial. In Igbo tradition, he inherits whatever the father left for the siblings. It is left for the first son, whether he is a good or a bad one to be in unity with the siblings, especially after the death of the father.
“Sometimes, the first son can be the last born of the family but the sisters still nurture him and accord him huge respect in Igbo tradition,” the monarch said.
The Chairman, Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Ndubuisi Nwabeke, agreed that it is the tradition of the Igbo people for the first son of the family to enjoy special privileges and explained that enjoyment of the special privileges has nothing to do with whether he is rich or poor.
According to him, most families treasure the training of the first son because he is expected to take care of the family on the retirement of his parents.
The respected monarch noted that such special privileges include the fact that the family cannot take any major decision without the consent of the first son and taking over the control of the family when his father dies. “It is a known fact that in Igboland, high recognition and respect is accorded the first son of the family. He is accorded this respect not minding his financial and social status, wealthy or poor.
“The family cannot take any major decision without seeking the opinion of the first son. Most times, a father may want to dispose of his property but the buyer of such property will like to get the approval of the first son because if he didn’t get the approval, there may be problems. In most cases, you can’t buy a property from a family without the consent of the first son. Such transactions are invalid until the first son appends his signature. It is a tradition in Igboland that in the absence of the father of the family, the first son takes over the administration of the family. He is expected to take care of the mother and assist his siblings.”
Eze Nwabeke further explained that on the sharing of the family’s wealth on the death of the father, the first son gets ther largest share.
“At the demise of the father, the traditional system of sharing the father’s property allocates bigger shares to the first son. The father while alive takes time to show the first son his property, his money in the bank and even his liabilities. The father also tells his first son his life story. Whenever his father dies, the first son is answerable to the kinsmen on the burial plans and other issues pertaining to the sharing of the father’s assets and liabilities. So, the first son enjoys special privileges in the family.
It is a revered and time-tested tradition in Igboland,” Eze Nwabeke declared.
In his contribution, the traditional ruler of Amandim Olo in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igwe Hayford Agana agrees that the first son plays vital roles in the administration of his late father’s property. The position under the customary law of succession in Igboland, according to him, is that the first surviving son takes over the leadership of the family when the father dies.
Igwe Agana, however, noted that in Olo heterogeneous cultural affinity, the first son does not enjoy all the property without responsibilities.
He is responsible for the upkeep of the spouses of his late father in a polygamous family. He also takes care of the needs of the younger ones from the inherited property which he cannot shy away from.
The paramount ruler of Isuochi, Eze Godson Ezekwesiri links the special recognition of the first son to Jewish tradition which he said lends credence to the theory that Igbo have their roots in the Jewish tradition. According to him, birthright is a serious matter even in the Bible as seen between Jacob and Esau following the animosity by Esau against Jacob for taking over his birthright. The monarch said the first son is also revered in Igbo tradition because the responsibilities of his father squarely fall on him upon the death of his father.
According to him, the first sons sometime deny themselves of certain pleasures and opportunities in their bid to cater for the family or ensure their siblings are reasonably trained. He cautioned that under no circumstance should the first son be robbed of his birthright.
According to him, the first son even if he happens to be the last born of the family, should be accorded his rights and privileges.
“The first son indisputably inherits the father’s Obi (ancestral compound), his gun (if there is any), machete and other personal effects. He then picks a choice parcel of land as the right of first son before the remaining property of their father is shared among him and his siblings.”
Eze Ezekwesiri noted that even if the first son is irresponsible or insane, Igbo tradition forbids that he be denied of his rights.
For the traditional ruler of Ogrute autonomous community in Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Enugu State, Igwe Wilfred Ogbonnaya Ekere, the first son has same authority as his father in a family.
He said that the first son in Igbobland is designated to inherit his father’s property as the heir- apparent, adding that he is the successor of his father. He said that a woman may love her first son more than her husband because the first son determines her power in the family.
Noting the importance of the first son to the Igbo, the monarch also linked it to what happened in the Old Testament and said the first son was the one who normally received double inheritance. However, he notes that God sometimes reverses this order, as he did with Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:21-26.
“The first son is known as the Okpala and he plays a very important role in the administration of his father’s property. The first son is the chief administrator of his father’s property. In the absence of any direction by the father, the right of the eldest son cannot be taken away. “If a woman is married and has not gotten a male child in that family, it is assumed that she is not established because that first son is the heir-apparent of that family. That first son is the representative of the family. Our people are more interested in getting a son when they get married because of his role in the family.
“In a polygamous family, any woman that bears the first son is assumed to own the family because the first son must be consulted before anything could be done. Women have more love for their first son than their husband. Without a son, nobody will represent you when you are gone.
“If someone wants to marry my daughter and my son doesn’t approve of it, the marriage will not hold. As a family, if you want to sell a property like land and the first son doesn’t sign it, it will not augur well because he can contest it in the law court. In a family, any property that the father wishes to sell, he must make the first son a signatory to perfect the deal. It is the first son that represents his father in the meetings of the kinsmen when he is dead.”
For Chief Clifford Iloegbune Okoye, a legal practitioner, the first son has prominent roles to play in a family upon the demise of his father.
According to him, in the family circle, the first son is regarded as head of the family.
The decision of the first son, as the family head, in terms of moveable and immoveable property, is given priority attention as against the decision of any other family member.
For Nze Dozie Nweke, a community leader and President-General of Aboji Akanano Union, Oba community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, the issue of first son is Biblical, just as Jesus Christ is the first son or Diokpala of God.
Nweke noted that the first son being the symbol and representative of his father owns his father’s property with his other siblings such that when sharing their father’s inheritance, he will take a special share and then share the rest with others.
Chief John Alumona of Echera Nsukka ancient kingdom said that the duties of the first sons in Igbo culture and tradition are in varying degrees.
“In Nsukka cultural zone, before a man dies, he may have given his male sons portions of land without any sentiment to build their own homes as at their entitlement. In the same vein, the first son, Okpala, inherits his father’s house, farmlands while the last make son inherits the mother’s kitchen.
However, in cases of encroachment into family lands, invasion and disputes, the first son must be consulted before any decisions could be taken. His voice must be heard in any decision of the family. The first son in Igboland is the custodian and administrator of any given family that upholds the tenets of social justice, norms and values in Igboland.
For a resident at World Bank area of Owerri west local government in Imo state, Chief Dele Amadi, the first son of the family is considered as the foundation of the family.
According to Amadi, “the reason is that you use the first son to lay foundation of how you want the family to look like in the future. If you want an organized family it begins with the son, who considered being the second in command of the family.
“Whenever you are not around the first son will be in charge to lead and direct others. It is not as if your wife will not be there. In most cases, even your wife will be looking up to your son to act, anytime her husband is not at home. The first son is important if you succeed in getting it right by way of training then he will guide others”.
According to the National President, Ngwa Patriots Forum, a socio-cultural association of the Ngwa clan in Abia State, Chief Uzo Ihuka, the first son occupies a powerful position in Igbo tradition because the Igbo society is based on patriarchal lines where the first son takes over the leadership of the family after the death of his father
“In a patriarchal societal structure practiced in Igbo land, the father lords it over the family. Upon the death of the father, the first son naturally assumes this position, thereby, taking over his father’s sacred apex family position, lording over the family affairs and controlling his father’s wealth including his wives, especially in the case of a polygamous family.
“For a patriarchal political family structure to be plausible, the law of primogeniture which means the right of succession belonging to the firstborn child, especially the feudal rule by which the whole real estate of an intestate passed to the eldest son, is practiced in Igbo land.
“Peradventure the father of the family dies without leaving behind his Will, the first son gets 60% of his father’s properties including his house, while his younger brothers irrespective of their number are left with 40% of their father’s wealth. He is endowed with the sole right of showing his junior brothers where to build their own houses”.
Ihuka also noted what he described as the “autocratic privileges” the first son enjoys in the family such as in marital issues where his younger brothers are advised for in line with customs, to wait for the first son to get married before others and enforcing of rules and regulations made by his father.
“However, despite the huge inheritance allocated to the first son, when there is expenses to be made in the family, other sons will be encouraged to spend more with an adage “whosoever that has money should offset their father’s burial expenses as it was not the first son that killed the father.
“The first son of a family in the Igbo society is a demigod. He is always accorded recognition and respect in every family issue. Any decision taken in his absence is tantamount to reversal. Such is the power of the first son in Igbo cosmology.
“In Ngwa land, which is the largest clan in Igbo land, there is a saying that not until the death of an imbecilic first son, the wisest second son can’t head the family. This means no matter how poor, mentally derailed, poorly educated a first son may be, he cannot be left out in the decision making. It is a sacrilege to do so. That is how much the birthright title is revered in Igbo cosmology.
“It has biblical backups. The book of Genesis has in its many chapters’ scenarios where this ideology metaphorically affirmed. The story of Esau and Jacob keeps resonating in my mind. How Esau sold his birthright just for a plate of porridge. It is a part of the Igbo cultural heritage. It is our unique political family structure; the Igbo practice and hold it to high esteem.”
For the traditional ruler of Ihitte Okwe, Ngor Okpala local council area of Imo State, Eze Barnabas Obirieze: “Ndigbo have huge respect for our tradition and custom. The place of the first son in Igbo custom and tradition, cannot be disputed. The mantle of the family leadership automatically falls on the first son, the moment the father drops dead.
“His position is respected and his voice is always heard in issues concerning his family. Where for instance, his late father has more than one wife, it is expected that he will do his best to cater for all that his father left behind”.
Due to the importance of revered custom and tradition, the families that circumvent the powers of the first son suffer the consequences as it is believed that ancestors do not take kindly to those who neglect the position of the first son.
Even in situations where members of a family decide to share everything left behind by their father, the first son usually gets the lion share, although he could still decided to leave their father’s property for his younger ones, particularly if he is well to do. But all the personal property of their father belong to him.
Some well grounded people in Igbo tradition who spoke to South East Voice say the way the first son is treated could make or mar the progress of that family. Nze clement Nwafor, an octogenarian in Nibo, Awka South local government area of Anambra State said no family can afford to look down on the first son either because he is poor or handicapped.
He said: “The way a family treats the first son is by extension, the way the community treats the oldest man in the area. It is a right bestowed on him by God and nobody can take it away from him, Even if the first son is incapacitated, family meetings are still held in his house because that is where binding decisions should take place.
“Some people who, because they acquired wealth tend to ignore the position of the first son of the family usually suffer the consequences and that is why Igbo people are very careful the way they treat the first son in every family.
“It is the first son that prays for any girl from the family getting married and he is the one that traditionally breaks the kola nut in any gathering. If any of his brothers feels that he can sidetrack the first son because he is poor, the consequences are often grave.
“It is the first son that is the custodian of the family’s property and it is he that gives the directives on who gets what in the family. In fact, in situations where the first son is poor, while his other brothers are rich, those rich ones can contribute money to build a house for him because that is where they go for family meetings”.
Another person who understands the Igbo tradition, Chief Obiadi Enemuo narrated the story of someone in a family who usurped the power of the first son in the family and died not long after. According to Enemuo, the young man wanted to build a house on their family land, but their eldest brother objected on the ground that it was a communal land. Because he was wealthy, he went into the land and started building a mansion. He said the house was not halfway completed when he died mysteriously and the villagers attributed his death to his action.