*They are peacemakers, speak truth, preach love in families — Imo monarch
*They are caring and peacemakers — Eze Ajomiwe
*Their impartial nature earns them respect — Enugu Ozo title holder
*Umuada are peacemakers, character moulders — Chief Okenwa
*An institution that protects women’s dignity, sanctity of marriage,
family life — Ebonyi community leader
By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Dennis Agbo, Peter Okutu, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu & Steve Oko
IN every typical Igbo community, Umuada/Umuokpu, who are women from the community but married to other places are formidable Umuada are well respected in Igboland.The opinions of Umuada/Umuokpu on traditional issues where sought, are highly regarded. They are always invited to intervene to resolve family/kindred issues in their maiden communities/families, even protracted ones. They wield enormous powers; they are dreaded by women married into their families and even their brothers also dread them. It is an age-long unique administrative institution in Igboland, whose opinions and actions are usually not ignored. They are seen and respected as peacemakers.
The traditional ruler of Ogbor Community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, Eze Matthew Oweni, said the respect being accorded Umuada flows from the fact that they speak and stand for truth. This, he said, is the reason they are always invited to intervene and resolve disputes.
“Umuada are our daughters married to other places. Whatever occasion we are having in our community, we still extend an invitation to them and there is always a provision for them in whatever is shared in the community. They will be given their rights and nobody jokes with that. For instance, if one fails to give Umuada their rights in a burial ceremony and they go home angry, the implication is that the burial is incomplete.
“This means that Umuada are still our daughters despite the fact that they have been married out, if they stay with us, there will be no space for us in the family.
“Another important thing the Umuada do is whenever there is dispute in the family, they are invited to settle the matter. I am talking of the Umuada that speak the truth.
“We give so much respect to them because they stand for truth and uprightness. However, some of them do not say the truth.
“I remember when we abolished Osu caste system, the Umuada were there to assist us achieve it. They must be there. What they do is to speak in affirmation for the abolishment of the Osu caste; this is to fulfill both the physical and spiritual demands that all us have agreed to abolish the Osu caste practices,” Eze Oweni said.
According to the traditional ruler of Oriendu autonomous community in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State, Eze Philip Ajomuiwe, Umuada have special recognition and respect in their ancestral families and communities because they are caring and peacemakers.
Ajomiwe, a former Chairman, Umuahia North Council of Traditional Rulers, said the Umuada have special love and interest in their ancestral family or community more than women married into the family some of who rather see themselves as strangers.
He said that the Umuada are more passionate and concerned about the peace, prosperity and future of their ancestral families, and are prepared to sacrifice anything for the good of the family unlike most women married into the same family.
The royal father said a man could be reserved with the wife but would hide no secret from his sister who is Nwada because he knows she would hardly hurt him.
According to him, this special attachment, uncommon love and interest that Umuada usually show on issues affecting their birth family earned them the special respect in that family.
He noted that Umuada play key roles in ensuring their male siblings get married for the continuity of the family linage as well as command the full respect of their wives.
In his contribution, Chief Vincent Oyigbo Ekwueme, an Ozo title holder in Aku, Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State, said that the Umuada are respected in Igboland because of their impartial nature. Ekwueme explained that they are not easily influenced by material gifts on issues of importance, unlike their menfolk who can easily thwart justice over a bottle of beer or other common inducements.
“Men who are on the side of justice are rare in our clans now. They can easily be influenced, unlike the Umuada who do not thwart their judgment carelessly. They are mostly on the side of justice.
“Most times, when a conflict reaches a stalemate amongst most clans in Igboland, Umuada are invited for settlement because of their impartial nature,” he said.
In his own view, the National President of Association of Traditional Prime Ministers in Nigeria, and the Traditional Prime Minister of Ibeku Ancient Kingdom, High Chief Uche Akwukuegbu, the special respect the Umuada receive in Igboland could be traced to the Igbo tradition of ‘Onye aghala nwanneya’ (be your bother’s keeper).
According to him, Ndigbo believe that marriage does not deprive a daughter her birthright, hence, during payment of bride price, the groom is usually made to understand that the bride is not for sale.
Akwukuegbu said caring and homely attitude of Umuada earned them the special place they occupy in the hearts of their male siblings, saying that the special recognition Umuada have in their ancestral family made their opinions and verdicts highly revered. He said no reasonable man in Igboland will challenge or flout the decision of Umuada as doing so is akin to challenging the gods. He noted that the tradition of placing high value on Umuada had survived many centuries and had come to stay.
For octogenarian renowned woman activist, Mrs. Maria Okwo, Umuada should diversify their traditional role of unifying their communities to tackle the prevailing insecurity challenges in Nigeria, particularly in Igboland.
“Women’s government is usually tough. Not every woman is like me, they are so petrified. I am now 85 years but I have told the younger ones that we should now go for lobbying so that insecurity could stop. I have never seen Nigeria so bad. We should lobby the President because the buck stops on his table and he knows what is happening. All these insecurity problems are because of Islamisation and nothing else.
“The Bishops in a conference have made statements and I feel also the women should make their own statements, even if it means going to lobby, let us do something. I reminded our women what the Abia women did in 1929; they sent the colonial masters packing. I am no longer active as I used to be.
“Umuada are powerful in Igboland. Look at what happened in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, they could not allow us to choose our own leaders. Are we slaves in this country? We have a lot of problems in this part of Igboland and so, it is my thinking that we should have a women’s conference because we cannot continue to keep quiet, even though I am no longer active but there are younger ones who are working with me.”
To demonstrate their authority, theUmuada of Ihite village in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, recently, organised a mass return of their members to their maiden community to prevail on their male relations to end a protracted land dispute that had claimed many lives in the area.
According to their leader, Mrs. Nwanyinma Okoloji, the land dispute had created so much animosity among their families, adding that their brothers could not settle it because of vested interests.
“But for us, there is nothing like vested interest; what matters to Umuada Ihite is peaceful coexistence in the community. So, when we discovered that many people were dying mysteriously in our community, the Umuada held a meeting, after which we invited all the elders in the community.
“We prevailed on them to ensure that peace returns within one month, otherwise we will parade the village square naked. That frightened them and they had to invite all our brothers both home and abroad and before the end of one month, they asked us to come for the final peace meeting.
“This was an issue that had lasted for over 40 years and throughout that period, the various families were not visiting each other. On the day the problem was resolved, we, the Umuada, cooked all the food eaten at the village square and the hitherto feuding families hugged each other and pledged to sustain the peace in the community,” Mrs. Okoloji said.
And for Mr. Odoemenam Nwadialu, the oldest man in Umuaro, Azia, the main role of his community’s Umuada is settlement of dispute among married women in the community and attending funeral ceremonies. In such situations, he added, they stay for upwards of four days depending on the age of the deceased and women married in the village contribute food throughout the period.
Nwadialu explained that his people are always careful not to incur the wrath of Umuada as they are capable of anything. “These sisters, Umuada, are very powerful and we are careful the way we handle their affairs, otherwise the community would run into trouble,” he said.
For the Regent of Oba community, in Idemili South Local Government Area, Anambra State Chief Prince Noel Ezenwa, respecting the Umuada is the beginning of wisdom in Igboland.
“The Umuada help to re-certify or re-invigorate that value for our tradition. It may seem archaic but we believe it is a warranty that depicts our value before the advent of the white man. Respecting the Umuada is the beginning of wisdom.
“For us Igbo, our custom and tradition are held in high esteem. Our value for tradition in real life is very important. The Umuada help to recertify that value for our tradition; development or modernisation cannot stop or change the important roles they play in Igboland. Some may see it as olden days practice while others may see it as archaic, but no matter how archaic it may seem, we believe it is a warranty that depicts our value before the advent of the white man and it cannot be changed because it will amount to destroying Igboland without them.”
Mr. Samuel Chukwukelu, a legal practitioner and incumbent legal adviser to Nkpor Development Union, in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, attributes the high regard accorded the Umuada in Igboland to an age-long tradition, hence their decisions are oftentimes regarded as the final, saying that they are treated as sacred cows.
Chukwukelu, a former town union executive, however, explained that in Idemili area, Umuada and Umuokpu differ a little. According to him, Umuada are a combination of women married both within and outside Nkpor community, while Umuokpu are those married only within Nkpor town. He explained further that minor decisions are taken by Umuokpu in the community, while major decisions are taken by Umuada which is a combination of all women married both within and outside Nkpor town.
He stressed that both Umuokpu and Umuada are very powerful to the extent that when a man dies and if they do not come for the burial ceremonies, it means that there is definitely an unresolved issue between them or the community with the bereaved family. And they must be appeased to attend the burial. Also, when a fellow woman dies in her husband’s home, no matter the distance, both Umuokpu and Umuada must travel to the place and show their presence until she is buried.
He, however, frowned at a situation where in some cases, Umuokpu or even the enlarged Umuada abuse their privileges and over step their bounds by dabbling into certain issues in their communities, such as land matters, chieftaincy matters and others which ordinarily should have been handled by the town union or the traditional ruler and his royal cabinet.
For Nze Dozie Nweke, a community leader in Oba, in Idemili South Council Area, Umuada are so powerful that one cannot ignore them in matters affecting their respective communities in Igboland.
Nze Nweke said the Umuada institution could be likened to the Biblical Eve who had extensive control over her husband, Adam, which explained why a woman could easily trap and kill a powerful man, once he has carnal knowledge of her. He contended that the Umuada have more command in their place of birth than in their place of marriage.
Chief Okenwa Balagwu of Edem community in Nsukka Local Government Area, Enugu State said Umuada are well respected in a community because they are peacemakers, character moulders and mothers of men.
According to Okenwa, the Umuada are a formidable and coordinated institution that cannot be bought with money and nobody can defy the authorities of Umuada as they would always maintain their stand.
“Umuada are the mothers of the people. They mould people’s characters. Someone can hate his father but can’t hate his mother because of the existing bond between them as such love continues to grow right from birth to old age. Umuada are recognised as peacemakers. They don’t involve themselves in land issues as land problem divides families.
“It is the function of the Umuada to keep vigil if a relation dies. They are the people to ensure that everybody comes and if you fail to come, they will not come when it happens to you.
“Umuada are a formidable group that instills discipline and sanity in the minds of their people. So, nobody defies the authority of the Umuada, rather they can defy the authority of men.
“They are the mothers of men and daughters of men. If women rise against you, you are gone. They are resolved, united and not looking for material things, not interested in land grabbing or chieftaincy tussles. They maintain their stand, you cannot buy them with money,” Balagwu explained.
A community leader in Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Chief Eni Uduma Chima, described the Umuada as an administrative agency in traditional Igbo society which comprises both married and unmarried daughters from the same village.
As an institution, he said Umuada preside over residual issues such as abortion, infidelity, husband battering, husband snatching, enforcement of widowhood practices and investigate cases where a widow is suspected of having a hand in the death of her husband among others.
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“Umuada is an administrative agency in traditional Igbo societies, especially in Anambra State. It comprises both married and unmarried daughters from the same village. As Nwada, she does not lose her right to participate in decision-making by reason of being married outside her village but may lose such right as a punishment for misconduct.
“Umuada have a restricted area of influence in communal matters. As an institution, it primarily seeks to protect the woman’s dignity and sanctity of both marriage and family life. They preside over residual issues such as abortion, infidelity, husband battering, husband snatching and enforcement of widowhood practices, and especially investigate cases where a widow is suspected of having a hand in the death of her husband among others.
“These are issues considered beneath men’s attention and properly within the purview of women because they have greater insights on them. Women accused of any of the abominable conducts above feel free to confess to fellow women who in any case, know how to probe and prod the accused, than men. Yet, in the spirit of protecting their dignity, Umuada may impose a sanction on an accused person without disclosing the sordid details of what actually transpired to the menfolk to avoid stigmatisation.
“Umuada wield special jurisdiction to impose binding settlement where the village head is unable to settle a matter pertaining to family life. Ordinarily, such matters may include wife battering, dereliction in providing for the family or desertion.”
In the view of D.I.O. Ewelukwa, Umuada wield more expertise in female psychology and can tease out more information from their fellow women; they can understand the motivation behind certain female conducts and can impose sanctions on their likes without being accused of having ulterior motives since gay practice was unknown to traditional Igbo societies.
“In times past, the decision of the Umuada was binding but in contemporary times, accused persons may invoke their constitutional rights to fair hearing to circumvent such decisions. Again, it should be stressed that the Umuada institution is more pronounced in Anambra State, yet, there are similar female agencies with the same mandate across villages in Igboland. For instance, in Ekoli-Edda community of Ebonyi State, the role of Umuada is played by married, retired, elderly mothers as presided over by the Eze Nwami.”
For Chief Johnson Okolo, Umuada are powerful and respected in Igboland because they are not partial, any matter or issue they judge, adjudicate, discuss and take a decision on, is never faulted.
They play major role particularly when a married woman in their community is becoming so stubborn and destructive to the community.They will all gather and discuss the issue of the woman and take a decision on her. They can send such woman or any other woman trying to destroy their community packing without the husband’s authority. They play very strong role as the custodians of culture and tradition, peacemakers in their communities and role models as well as act as checks on the women married into their communities.