IT IS A WASTE OF TIME TO DIVORCE A WIFE WITH A CHILD/CHILDREN IN IGBOLAND
Anayo M. Nwosu
Our ancestors had forewarned that “uzo eji nwa adighi èchí échî,” meaning that a marital relationship that has produced a child can never be deemed closed or ended. Even at that, it is natural for a man or woman, when fed up with a marriage, to decide to call it quits.
However, the superiority of the Western courts over Igbo cultural norms has now made it easier for many couples of Igbo extraction to sidestep the extant traditional ways and methods of resolving marriage challenges and now prefer to approach the regular courts for divorce rather than following the ancestral route.
Chief Ekwueme was confused as his head was being pushed out of his neck by the weight of the embarrassment caused by his wife’s sexual escapes disclosed by his cousin who presented him with proofs, dates, places and the names of her male accomplices. It was too much a pain for one man to carry.
He had it up to the hilt and a solution must be found.
Ekwueme had married Ukwunnu when she was 16 while he was 32. He was now 55 years old and the wife was just 39 with increased libido. Ekwueme not only deflowered Ukwunnu but was also responsible for her quick development of all feminine features that would make a woman delectable. Ukwunnu’s ‘adazi enu’. ‘adazi nnukwu’ and ‘adazi ani’ or ‘ogbe ndida’ were very well developed and more beautiful than the towns that bear those names.
Ekwueme was a stallion of a man as he mined his assets so deeply and so regularly that his wife Ukwunnu thought that sex was the main purpose of marriage. She was sexually very active and always very satisfied to look elsewhere for a top-up. Even with eight children (consisting of five boys and three girls) born within the first nine years of their marriage, Ukwunnu still looked unmined, untapped and full of allure.
Ukwunnu was nicknamed “Nwanyidiuto” meaning “a very sweet woman” by her hailers. If she was walking on the road or standing by the road side, her beauty could command even a pious man to take a second look at her. It was just glorious.
The near perfect marriage of Chief & Mrs. Ekwueme started experiencing a crack when the importation business of Chief Ekwueme suffered a downturn.
The sexual libido of every Igbo man is said to be tied to his financial health or his pocket and also to his state of happiness. Ekwueme began to ration the favorite sexual dish to his wife.
It’s known to Igbo men that only “obioma na-ebute utu nkeni” meaning that “only a man with no worries can experience a spontaneous penile erection.” Therefore, the economic woes were making it difficult for the real Chief Ekwueme to stand erect either spontaneously or through persuasion.
Most times, Ekwueme would not even touch his wife for weeks without knowing that he was creating a monster.
The sweetness of a good intercourse from a heroic man like Ekwueme was like a hard drug which must be withdrawn gradually from a sex-addicted wife.
A few weeks of denial to a woman used to a regular dosage of sex is like starving a cocaine addict of a day’s tincture of the whitish substance. Not the kind of blissful happiness Ekwueme shelled out from his loins! He had it in size, fullness and length and he could also last as long as it took Madam Ukwunnu to shout “nnamukwu gbuom kam nwuo!”
So only an experienced psychologist would understand why Ukwunnu went fishing for any other man who could help her feel masculine power as of old; she would no longer suffer in silence.
Inundated with reports of proven adulterous acts of his wife, Chief Ekwueme was forced to set a trap and was able to catch her in the alms of a well-endowed plumber right there in his house. Ekwueme had feigned that he had travelled, hung around with a cousin and resurfaced in the evening. He caught his wife screaming for more from a dirty looking plumber. What a disgrace!
In most Igbo communities, adultery was not a sufficient offence for a man to divorce the mother of his children. However, any woman guilty of murder or caught planting a juju for his neighbour, co-wife or any other person must be sent back to her people even if her husband wanted her to stay. She would be permanently banished from her matrimonial home and even possibly from the village.
It must be noted that a case of adultery in the most pre-colonial Igbo communities was not a mortal sin. In those days, when a woman was caught in the act, she would be publicly disgraced and fined. She was never even flogged or stoned. The indicted adulteress would be made to undergo a purification rite after which she would be left alone. Marital relationship with her husband would continue and after some time, nobody would remember her offence anymore.
Traditional Igbo men believed that children were better reared by their own mothers. Therefore, venial offences like adultery by a woman with children only attracted a fine or reprimands by the wives or ‘Ndinwunyedi’ association, daughters or ‘Umuada’ meeting and the men’s or Umunna meeting.
The husband of a woman caught in the act of adultery might decide to take a second wife and leave the first wife to her own devices. The woman would then go into discreet community service of ever present philandering men in the neighborhood. However, some Igbo communities allowed for a married man and woman to have an ‘iko’ or ‘agili’ with whom a sexual intercourse was allowed. Approved adultery by way of ‘iko’ or ‘agili’ is still being practised in some Igbo communities of Aguleri, Umuleri, Anam and local communities in Onitsha Ado. On the other hand, some communities categorized as “ndi na-akwa akwa Nwanyi” or “those who would rather kill than to share sexual experience with anyone else” like Umuowa in Imo State and Obukpa Nsukka in Enugu State still have institutionalized traditional juju that would make an adulterous woman married to their men go mad or fall so sick till she confesses. In a classic case of bias, their adulterous men are never so afflicted!
The early Catholic missionaries in Igboland, in couching the 8th Commandment, targeted the ‘iko’ practice by translating the English version of “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to “Akwana iko.”
If an Igbo man was insisting on divorcing his wife for any offence or no offence at all, he would simply visit his in-laws, accompanied by a relation or a friend, with a keg of palm wine inside which is inserted a leaf of “Ube” or local pear tree. The host in-laws or the wife’s relations would discover the Ube leaf while the wine is being served and get the unambiguous “we no marry again” message.
Alternatively, the husband’s people would present the keg of palm wine to the father of their wife or his representative and stylishly drop the Ube leaf atop the palm wine keg and leave immediately without saying a word. The Ube leaf delivers the divorce verdict of “Ube belu n’oke,” i.e. “We have drawn a boundary in our marital relationship with your daughter.” This is followed by a formal request by the husband or his people for a refund of the bride price which could be refunded whenever the woman remarries.
The in-laws whose daughter had begotten male children for her husband would just laugh off the whole exercise relying on the Igbo saying that “Uzo eji nwa adighi èchí échî.” They would just take back their daughter and wait for the appropriate time which is when the children of a divorced woman are of age. At that time, she would majestically go back home to live with her children, even though she would be addressed as “mother of Ekwueme’s children” not “Ekwueme’s wife.” But, does it matter?
Even in between that time she was divorced, a mother is duty-bound to attend any of her daughters’ traditional marriage ceremonies held in her estranged husband’s house. The woman is never prevented from performing the traditional role of the “mother of the bride” even when the father of the bride had married another woman who raised the bride.
Igbos say “Ozuzu zuchaa naa, onye nwe nwa, nwe nwa!” meaning that “a child still belongs to the biological mother no matter the efforts of a foster parent!”
Divorcing a woman who has begotten a male child or male children, either in court or via a traditional method in Igboland, is a mere waste of effort and time. A grown male child has every right and traditional cover to bring back his divorced mother to live with him in his father’s compound even when his father is still alive and active. This is faster when a son has built his own house.
A son can also bury his divorced mother beside his uncompromising father. He calls the shots and the man is lying silent in the grave. The dead couple would have to sort themselves out in the netherworld.
The foregoing is so because the first son, in Igboland, inherits his deceased father’s compound unless he was disinherited by his father before the father died.
Chief Ekwueme was a very wise man who was also well grounded in Igbo tradition. He considered all the implications of whatever choice available to him and had seen through the futility of pursuing divorce in either the regular court or following the traditional route.
Ekwueme couldn’t also take another wife because he neither had enough money to take care of the new wife nor enough erection to keep her at home; nobody allows the same wood to pinch him twice in the eye.
Despite the tar of their mother’s acts, Chief Ekwueme’s sons and daughters were doing well in their chosen professions. The proud dad loved his children so passionately and shared a strong bond with them.
Having carefully considered all options, Chief Ekwueme used cotton wool to plug his ears and never entertained any further adverse reports which could cause chaos in his home. After all, he had been nicknamed “Oti okwe ori okwe” by his close friends so he recalled that he too was not innocent of adultery.
He used to ring his testicles as a bell whenever his wife was pregnant or was breastfeeding.