When Mbelu, my grandfather’s immediate younger brother, died, he left behind his wife, Nwaakụagbala and three children. Immediately after his funeral rites, the wife had to undergo the ritual of head shaving.
Shaving of the widow’s head was performed by the elderly wives of the kindred and the female relatives of the dead man. Once the widow’s head was shaven clean, the male relatives of the deceased were invited to line up before the new look widow who would be asked by the women to hand the agụba or the knife used for the shaving to one of the brothers or cousins of her dead husband.
Madam Nwaakụagbala handed over the shaving knife to her husband’s eldest brother, Nwosu Ezeechedolu, my grandfather. Right from there, my grandfather took her in as a concubine and was required to provide for her and her three children. She was expected to grace the bed of my grandfather, an exercise that led to the birth of Nwaakụagbala’s fourth child, a son. However, the son though sired by my grandfather was not regarded as his but that of Mbelu, his dead younger brother.
It is noteworthy that my grandfather didn’t have to seek his wife’s permission to accept the moral and traditional responsibility of taking care of his brother’s widow even though the wife might not like the idea but she had to live with it. It was our culture.
The event as described above, happened in Otolo Nnewi in the mid-1940s just as it had been practised from time immemorial until the coming of the whiteman “tinye mmiri n’opi ụgbọgụlụ” or spoiled things.
The act of a male relation of a deceased taking over the physical welfare of the widow as well as her sexual needs is called ịmachịlị nwaanyị or ịkuchi nwaanyị in Igbo land.
There were many of such well crafted protection mechanisms geared towards preserving the family stock, taking care of the widows and orphans of dead family members until the massive onslaught against Igbo traditional practices by Colonial influences and Christianity that was quick to condemn the practice of ịma chịlị nwaanyị without providing a workable alternative.
In Nnewi and in most Igbo land, it is rare to see a widow with children who would opt to remarry after her husband’s death.They usually remain as widows to raise their children. They need to stay to safeguard their children’s inheritance.
Even the building arrangement of a compound of an Nnewi man or yore known as ngwulu made the ịhachi Nwaanyị very convenient as a man never shared a room with his wife. A man had a hut to himself where the wife or wives visit on invitation. This made for it easy for both wife and concubine to freely visit a man’s hut without hindrance.
Also, Nnewi traditional doesn’t personalize a wife as every wife is called “nwunye anyị” or “our wife”. We had ịhachi nwaanyị in mind. No Nnewi suitor is allowed to pay the bride price of his wife by himself; it is done by his kinsmen.
In fact, an Nnewi suitor cannot be found in the vicinity where the bride of his wife is being negotiate with his inlaws or being paid. Hence, every wife married to an Nnewi man is the property of his kinsmen.
There were deliberate efforts by our ancestors to demystify marital selfishness in Nnewi in that no woman was allowed to establish a copyright to “amụ ụmụnna” or to take possessiveness to the level of overtly preventing her husband from inheriting his brother’s widow and the responsibilities that come with it. That was why my kindred or ụmụnna, Umuezenwegbu had to fine one of our wives a goat for holding her husband on the penis in an attempt to pull it out during a fight. An Nnewi man’s amụ or penis is the extended family’s or ụmụnna’s property.
Widows started suffering in Nnewi when a group of Catholic women known as Ndi Otu Kristi invented a way of denying their dead husband’s brothers the entitlement or reward for helping their dead brothers’ households. Widows of Ndi Otu Kristi didn’t want to commit adultery with their husbands’ male relatives and at the same time would want to enjoy the economic protection the male relatives offer.
My mum was one of the Ndi Otu Kristi women even though she was not the first to bell the cat in the Nwosu family. Her group tested the waters when Ogbonnaya, my father’s step brother died in early 1970s, his widow, Mama Ngozi in her 30s, shocked all the ụmụ nwoke nile kwụ amụ or able-bodied men in our extended family by giving the agụba or shaving knife to a two-year old Tochukwu, my younger brother. Mama Emeka did the same thing when Anthony, her husband died. She also gave the knife to another toddler.
My mum, Mama Obiora, took the new abnormality to another level when my father died in 1978 and she gave her own agụba or shaving knife to Obiora, her first son, my elder brother.
I don’t know if the men in the family held a meeting but I could tell that they didn’t like what the women did. That could be the reason why they told them “jezie nụ bulu afọ Ụkpọ ka ụnụ zụọ ka anyị fụ!” meaning “you widows think that you’re smart, come and get assistance from us by force”.
I guess that the annoyance caused by what Mama Ngozi, Mama Emeka and my mum did made Ozuomee, my father’s brother not to care much for us. I don’t blame him. Onye lukwe nya sị kwọ ọ wụlụ ya. Who can righteously blame Nnanyị Ozuomee?
It was unpalatable for the children of the aforementioned widows as we saw hell from our uncles as our mothers had to become alpha males to raise their children. Our uncles felt that if the women were selfish enough to deny them their cultural entitlement of bed warming, they should also bear the consequences of their decisions.
Reading Bible as an adult beyond where the European churches show me to read, I have read Genesis 38 time and time again especially verse 8 where Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife. Perform your duty as her brother-in-law and raise up offspring for your brother.”
Ọnan was to sleep Tamar, the widow of his elder brother named Er. Bible noted that God was involved as he intervened by killing Onan for not ejaculating inside the vagina of Tamar the widow. Bible noted his action as wicked.
Thank God my grandfather, Nwosu Ezeechedolu, didn’t pour his sperm outside when he was doing his own as he ejaculated right inside Nwaakụagbala the widow and sired a son for his dead brother.
Biko nụ, what is the difference between ịhachi Nwaanyị as practised in Nnewi and in other parts of Igbo land and the Jewish practice recorded in Genesis 38?
Current generation of Nnewi and Igbo people have bought the chicken known as christianity from the European sellers and are eating it without removing the feathers. By so doing, we have neglected what God permitted for the Jews which has also worked for us.
Even though some kindhearted and tradition beholding Nnewi men strive to meet the material and sexual needs of the widows of our dead relatives, there exists now a dangerous trend that scare the widow helpers.
Some grown up sons of Igbo widows, who themselves, have girlfriends could not stand the presence of any uncle or man who is ready to give their mothers a breast-depressing hug, not to talk of catching them in compromising positions. A glorified oedipus complex of some sort.
Ịnụkwọm, these boys would rather that their mothers remain celibate and prayerful even as she watches them, having fun with their girlfriends or wives.
Ndị Igbo, our widows don’t only need economic welfare, they also need to be kissed, cuddled and made love to. Their sexual needs didn’t and shouldn’t die with their husbands. Infidels and philanderers also need to be fenced out to avoid sowing of wide oats in the family lines.
Did I hear someone say that they should go an remarry? Not that easy as the remarriage will not favour the children of the dead. It would be a selfish act which we all know and have seen how it plays out.
Igbo men should find a solution to this problem we created by dumping the ways we were raised.