Towards a new face: A reassessment of essentials of the Umuada group of the Igbo race
ETYMOLOGY AND DEFINITION
Before delving into the profile of the Umuada in Igbo land and its activities it may be worthwhile for us to properly understand the concept of “Umuada” in Igbo land. African culture is mostly male-dominated, as is the culture of many native nations worldwide. However, the paternalistic propensity of African culture, especially the Igbo culture, does not indicate subjugation of women. On the contrary, women in traditional Igbo society are a force in political, legal, and social issues. Long before the colonists arrived in Africa, and even during and after colonialism, women have been a powerful part of the Igbo society. Women have many forums designed to present and protect their interests. The most important of these female forums is Umuada.
Umuada is a compound, collective noun formed from “ụmụ” and “ada. “ Ada means “daughter”; ụmụ is a generic plural prefix that confers the sense of many. Most naturally, every Igbo woman is “ada” (a daughter) of a certain community and is recognized as such for all the days of her life. Although it is used often in referring to the first daughter of a family (“adaobi”), ada generally means a female child. Viewed with a modern lens, ada is the origin of the politically correct term “Ms”—a non-distinguishing title for women and probably the English equivalent of “Ada.” Thus, “Umuada” connotes many daughters in a social group.
Umuada means native daughters, the daughters of a common male ancestor or “daughters of the soil.” Also called Ụmụọkpụ (in parts of Anambra State) or Ndịmgbọtọ (in parts of Imo State), Umuada is a collection of all daughters of a particular clan, village, town, or state… whether old, young, single, married, separated, or divorced. It is the inalienable right of every daughter of a particular place, without exception whatsoever, to belong to Otu Umuada, the society of native daughters. As a collective, Otu Umuada is a powerful sociopolitical setup in Igbo culture, a functional forum for females.
The membership of this forum is the absolute right of all women born of the same male lineage. Even if and when a woman marries outside the village or town setting, she remains ada of her father’s community. In other words, membership of the group is conferred patrilineally; that is, from the father’s side of the family. So, strictly speaking, any woman who does not belong to the group is either an outsider or she has been ostracized by her community for some abominable acts.
Two sorts of women's associations are relevant politically: those of the Umu nwanyi alualu (wives of a lineage) and Umuopku (daughters of a lineage). Since traditional Igbo society was predominantly patrilocal and marriage exogamous, almost all adult women in a village would be wives. Women of the same natal village or village group (and therefore of the same lineage) might marry far and wide, but they would interact periodically in meetings often called ogbako (an Igbo word for gathering).
THE AGE-LONG VALUES AND MISSION OF UMUADA
In our Igboland, Igbo women are historically known for their dignity, principles, strength, bravery, determination, no surrender, no compromise and fighting spirit. In fact, Igbo women were unique worldwide. They were among the strongest, liberated, independent-minded, fearless freedom fighters and cannot stand injustice. Igbo women or 'umuada” have special roles during community crisis as well as fighting for justice.
Behind the demon known stands a god within the shadow keeping watch above his own. As long as the cords of memory shall let me remember the Igbos have about seven indigenous approaches to conflict resolution:
(1) through the immediate family head;
(2) Ụmụnna, (the agnate);
(4) Otu ọgbọ (age-grade/peer society);
(5) Dibịa (diviner),
(6)village/town tribunal; and
(7) masquerade cult. In certain cases when the approximate male counterpart called “Ụmụnna” (“sons of the soil”) fail to agree on an issue, Umuada will step in and resolve the matter. In complex conflicts of conjugal character, the intervention of Umuada is always a given.
In such matters, the men (Ụmụnna) take a backseat and abide by the rulings of Umuada. Umuada also plays important roles in many matters of birth, puberty, marriage, and death—the four major cycles of life.
Umuada are strict but fair in their interventions and enforcements. For example, if a brother maltreats his wife and no one would stop him, Umuada will step in and straighten him out. On the other hand, if a woman married into the clan becomes unruly, Umuada will intervene and resolve the matter, even if it entails forcing the bad wife back to her own clan to cool off, make amends, and possible return to turn a new leaf. In extreme cases, they can ostracize and even place a curse on an intractable member of the clan.
Umuada are, as a group, decent and dynamic in their decisions and actions. They are great arbiters probably because they are not a part of the problem, and they do not have to stay back in the community to face anyone on a regular basis. They come to make peace in marriages having problems within their lineage such that they deal with men who misbehaves and also teach the unfaithful and uncaring wife a lesson in a hard way in fact the fear of umuada is the beginning of wisdom this is aimed towards deterring future wives from misbehaving
The male members of the clan respectfully repay the role of Umuada as judges and enforcers. Whenever one of their daughters is maltreated in her matrimonial home, they go to war, literarily. So, while their brethren would prefer that they marry locals, they do not frown when umuada marry outsiders because the men too marry outsiders. Hence, when ada marries locally, she is called “Adaejemba”—a daughter who did not marry out. When she marries out, they hail her “Adaejiejemba” (the daughter with whom you go places), probably because they act as spies, expand the community network, and help to broaden the worldview of the community.
Umuada do not regard the wives of their brothers as sisters-in-law or equals; in fact, they call them “wives,” signifying that they are the “husbands”! To counter or at least minimize the sometimes-overbearing influence of Umuada, the women married into a particular community (Ndiinyomdi) form “Otu Inyomdi”—the society of sister-wives. When the two are strong, mutual respect reigns or returns. In all social functions, from marital rites to title taking, Umuada play important roles. They are pampered and treated right, or they would raise hell… and no one wants to tango with them as a group. In many marital rites, the intending husbands give them special treats to win their approval because a no-vote could cause a rejection of the proposal by the Ụmụnna. In many cases, Umuada act as middlepersons, steering assumed good guys from their husbands’ community to potentially good girls in their native community.
Recall that you play with umuada or Umuopku or women in a traditional Igbo society at your own peril. They have ways of exerting influence and moral authority The Umuopku's most important ritual function was at funerals of a lineage member, since no one could have a proper funeral without their participation – a fact that gave women a significant measure of power. The Umuopku invoked this power in helping to settle intra-lineage disputes among their 'brothers' as well as disputes between their natal and marital lineages. Thus, this linkage is given institutionalized form and the women born in a village are connected not only to it but to each other in their meeting. In these series of meetings, women were able to network between diverse villages and towns as well as through the market system.
They perform various rites and sacrifices.umuada acted as the custodian of religious morality for their communities, responsible for ritual cleansing (ikpu aru) of the patrilineage, the performed purification rituals for lineage houses and other desecrated areas in the lineage. They play important roles during funerals. They act as support network for the lineage widows, conducting vigils and providing material support for the funerals of lineage men. They are highly dreaded and so powerful that they could make the men or even the council of elders to take actions contrary to the latter’s wish. They were however peacemakers in their lineage. Though the Otu Inyomdi (association of lineage wives) was another body acting as lower court trying cases involving and concerning lineage wives and their young daughters difficult cases were referred to Otu umuada. These two acts as part of checks and balances in sociopolitical organization in Igbo race
The ceremony of the ritual for consecrating an okpala (i.e. elder) cannot be complete without the indispensable role played by umuada. This involves the ritual purification of iju uno (i.e. ritual purification of the elder’s sacred house) and iju aru (ritual purification of the okpala’s body) and the scrubbing of the iba (i.e. elder’s sacred house).they also sing the praises as the ceremony goes on
As mothers, sisters, wives and often times as widows of powerful men, they were customarily called upon to determine land boundaries, and ownership of economic trees. As daughters-of-the-soil (umuada or umumgboto ), women were very active in group politics, arbitrated disputes occurring in their paternal homes and exercised tremendous influence in the community As midwives before and after the advent of missionary hospitals, traditional women delivered and nurtured generations of young babies. Because marriage does not obliterate the identity and obligations of daughters, the daughter identity is the enduring, significant identity for females with their corollary responsibilities and rights intact. As the formidable association of umuada or Umuokpu (patrilineage daughters) attests, they are always in active service and are often called back to fully shoulder family responsibilities. On such occasions, some of the rights of a daughter (e.g. access to land, place of dwelling, etc.,) which had been suspended during the course of her marriage are activated. It is significant that in the past less so in contemporary times, these rights were restored should the daughter have reason to return home.
The “Umuada” – daughters married outside the community – who would come home to their brothers who are proven to be abusive to their wives. I know that it was in force in my childhood days. I don’t know what became of it.
THE POINT OF OVERTURN:
The Place of Greed, Revenge, Injustice, Abuse of Human Dignity etc.
The cases of cheating or injustice e.g.: denial of personal hygiene, isolation, false accusations, ritual cleansing, taunts by the Umuada (women of the family) etc. We help to identify this violence against widows and take appropriate measures to prevent and eliminate such violence.
The competition of change of jewelries and wrappers and other material values such that many use walking sticks taller than them and this ends them up in all sorts of misdemeanors so as to meet up with the trend of belonging to the group.
Violence on widows, coming from revenge to the widows in ones own family and the cycle continues.
Greed as funeral of a brother will now be turned to time of acquiring what one felt the wife was an obstacle forgetting the children are to be trained
A time to revenge on whatever the woman had done when the man was alive
Korieh suggests that some daughters of the village married to other places rally at the death of their brother to revenge the punishments they got from wherever they married and lost their husband on their sister in-laws. This is more of a chain reaction and it goes on and on.
Moreover they alleged that the widow might be spiteful to others while the husband was living. The umuada of the clan would come at this difficult period to punish her for her spitefulness. She was also punished if she was rudely living with her husband, umuada would come at their brother’s death to avenge the ill treatment of their brother on the widow. This is the time an unfaithful and caring wife pays for her behaviors
In cases where these punishments are purely for satisfaction of the ego of the umuada they go as far as beating up the widow if she refuses to consent to what I may call humiliation and belittling. They also ostracize fellow members who involve in abominable acts and also mete out other forms of punishment for different kinds of misbehaviors on the members. What more could be said of this group about their deviation from their values like sheep that have strayed away.
In some cases the way the approach their rituals like shaving of hair of the widow could be so painful that at the end you begin to ask; is this woman dealing with a fellow woman? What shall we say about they issue of forcing the widow to drink the water used in bathing the husband’s corpse to prove her innocence as regards the husbands death; worst is the act of locking her up in the room with the corpse for days or telling her to go sleep at the cemetery
A CALL FOR CORRIGENDA:
Having gone this far one would say that this long and desolate corridor which seem to have no exit signs at this point will turn out to be one of every foot is an exit sign so that the dreams and values of this group will not be plunged into the abyss of annihilation.
The cases of cheating or injustice e.g.: denial of personal hygiene, isolation, false accusations, ritual cleansing, taunts by the Umuada (women of the family) etc. We help to identify this violence against widows and take appropriate measures to prevent and eliminate such violence, as a funeral is now a nightmare for widows. This is a clarion call to restore and revalidate the values of the umuada since human right is never a barrier between people and their custom. However a scenario of this attributed to the group is on one hand a canker worm of greed and revenge, dubiousness wrecking the group of its essence. Such that an African who becomes civilized does not disown himself rather takes up the age old values of tradition “in spirit and in truth” (jn4:24)
This is a call of redress to those values that make them who they are and what they are. Let them put in more time in service than in self-aggrandizement and gratification. They should bear in mind that they are more of a humanitarian and peacemaking society than a dehumanization society.
As regards revenge of what is done to one in her husband’s place such a person should listen to Mohandas k. Gandhi as he warns “if we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.
The umuada should not forget that in revenging for maltreatment for their brother from the wife is like trying to recover from a spilled milk the should come in to make peace in marriages while the two are alive since is one of their main values to resolve marital conflicts. let the umuada be more redemptive than punitive since their aim is peaceful coexistence among members of their lineage such a burning zeal for peace and other in their native homes that is worth recommending that even when they are married the welfare of their families are their concern.
We look forward to that day when everybody will vehemently say with one voice no more violence and revenge on our deceased brother’s wife because she is a human being like us and has got some rights that is inalienable from her.
- ORAL TRADITION FROM MY MOTHER, EZINNE NNEKA EGBUFOAMA
- ORAL TRADITION FROM LEADER ISUBOM UMUADA LOLO NWAFICHI OKORONWU
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