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This study examines the concepts of “Ikwunne” (material home) in Igbo cosmology with particular reference to Abatete in Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, “Ikwunne” as a form of kinship relationship found in Igbo cosmology, has been cherished and adored in Igbo land from antiquity. The study adopted qualitative research method or approach, while using survey research design which was constructed in such a way that the respondents were interviewed and their responses documented. The objectives of the study are as follows: (i) Maternal home relationship exists in Abatete, (ii) there are privileges accorded to grandsons and daughters by family/village members of their maternal homes, both social, financial and material, (iii) some changes have taken place in the system which can be attributed to western civilization and colonialism. The research therefore concludes that “Ikwunne tradition” is one of the spectacular traditions in Igboland and a symbol of the bonds of love, and unity offsprings and people of their maternal home has been affected by Christian beliefs and so recommend that efforts should be made to preserve the good aspects of the tradition so as to help keep filial relationship of the people and self identity alive from generation to generation.



1.1            Background of the Study

Igbo world view is essentially based on spiritual issues as opposed to the European cosmology which is basically scientific in outlook. According to Kalu, O.U (2002) the Igbo world view or traditional cosmology render explanations on how things came into existence. It also gives reasons for the different cultural institutions and practices as well as the place of a moral being in the scheme of the universe.  The entire Igbo world view is centered on man.  It sees man’s position within creation in relation to his life, destiny, fortune, misfortune, in the physical world intermeshed with the spiritual forces in the entire cosmic scheme including their ancestors.  The traditional Igbo is said to perceive the ordered reality in three structured ways, which include the sky above elu or Eme (eluigwe, Emeigwe), the earth (ala, ani) and the Ala or Ani Mmuo, the underworld which is the abode of the ancestors.  The people in addition believe in the Supreme or Ultimate Being that are variously known as Chukwu, Chineke, Chukwuokike abiama, Olisaboluwa, Obasidin’elu.  They believe as well in the very powerful deities such as Anyanwu Igwe, Amadioha/Kamalu that dwell in the heavens.  The earth is the abode of man.  It is referred to as Ala deity.  There are some minor deities, patron spirits, nature spirits and cosmic forces, the ancestors and numerous other spirits which are either benevolent or malevolent. Part of the people’s believe is the concept of reincarnation.  For this reason, Kenyatta (1989) opines that those who are alive and the one yet unborn and the dead are all bound together by the land in which the idea of rebirth expresses the unity and oneness in the holistic union.  All his perception and conception of the world is centered on man.  As man is pivotal to this concept it stands to reason that ndu (life) is believed to be very significant in the Igbo traditional cosmic structure.  Kalu, O.U (2002) also went further to explain that man’s (life) in this light is intricately bound up with the activities of the beings and forces of the other spheres of existence. Igbo pre-colonial world, like many other traditional societies is patriarchal in nature.  Gender roles are not the same.  Nature in some instances has assigned roles to men and women. While women are mothers, bringing forth new life into the world, men are the voice of the family.  They care and protect mothers and the lives they bring into the world.  While women are traditionally the heart of the home, procurators and caretakers of the house, men control the economy and support the family (Obioma, D.O. 2001).  Nature on the other hand has given each gender gifts according to the roles of each sex.  Men cannot bear the pains of pregnancy, women have the gift.  Women are stronger in this, while men are weaker.  It is on the basis of the different roles of sexes that tradition assigns functions to each sex.  Igbo tradition respects the individual persons without discrimination. A person is thought of, first of all, as a member of a particular family, kindred, clan or tribe.

Today in an Igbo village, one is rarely asked, “who are you?, but rather, “whose son (daughter) you are; as well as what lineage or clan you belong. (Obioma, 2001:18). Each individual Igbo man or woman belongs to a family and this is learnt from infancy.  The individual, the family and community are bonded bio-sociologically and spiritually. The system is so organized, such that each Igbo individual is respected in his/her family, as well as maternal home.  The feeling of belonging to a family is the spurring spirit that contributes to the well-being of the family to which one belongs. To this end therefore, there is need to look at the relationships and benefits that accrue to an individual, not just as a member of a family (patrilineal), but also from one’s maternal home as is obtained/practiced in Igbo Cosmology.

“Ikwunne” is a form of kinship relationship found in Igbo Cosmology. Literarily, it is translated as “one’s mothers’ relations”.  This concept has been cherished and adored in Igbo land from antiquity.  However, it is one aspect of Igbo life which scholars have not really researched into or fully explored.  However, “Ikwunne” is not synonymous with the concept of matrilineal system found in certain parts of Igbo land.  The Igbo generally see this type of affinity with their maternal home as the foremost kinship relationship.  It does not exist in the form of a formal organization when juxtaposed with the popular matrilineal system where members have grouped themselves into male and female associations of men and women who are able to trace their descent through the oldest ancestral woman.

In Igbo land, there exist other forms of kinship relations. They include matrilineal, “Ụmụada”, patrilineal, “Ụmụnna”, “Ụmụnne”, etc.  Matrilineal is a form of kinship system where descent is reckoned through the mothers’ side and inheritance of material property may also be reckoned through the same line. This system of kinship consists of people who are able to trace their descent through one great grand mother, while patrilineal system refers to those who are able to trace their descent through a great grand father or whose inheritance goes to the first born (male) of the family. “Ụmụnna” are comprised of kindred of the same great grandfather. In Igbo land, such people who are capable of tracing their kinship to a great grandfather reside within a defined enclave known and called “Ezi” (compound). “Ụmụnne” are men and women who are born of the same parents in a patrilineal system of kinship. However, where the matrilineal system is more recognized than the patrilineal, the siblings that are not from the same mother but are from the same father are known as “Ụmụnna” (Uncles and Aunts). The kinship relationships mentioned above are quite distinct, and as well can be distinguished from that of “Ikwunne” in all its forms. The only similarity that apparently could be noticed amongst matrilineal, “Ụmụnne” and “Ikwunne” is that their descent is traceable to one ancestral mother. Barnard and Spencer (1996), observed that through the rules of matrilineal kinship, a man is reproduced not through his wife, but through his sisters; he inherits from his mother’s brother and rears children who will belong to his wife’s brother.  In line with the above view, Haviland (2011) defined matrilineal descent as a kinship system where a descent group traces their ancestral lineage via the maternal (uterine) side of the group.  This does not exactly flip patrilineal descent systems on their head, such that women are the more powerful gender, but it can, as in the case of Moso of China.  Women often share power equally with men, and occupy some of the more powerful roles in society (often alongside men).  Matrilineal groups also pass wealth through the female line, and women often own or control land and production.  The wealth stays at their dwelling, which often houses all living females in a matriline as well as many of the brothers, sisters, and in some societies, husbands of that matriline. Male status and property pass through their sister’s sons, rather than their own.  The uncle of the children is the one who “distributes goods, organizes work, settles disputes, supervises rituals, and administers inheritance and succession rules” in a residence (Haviland, 2011).

In a patrilineal system, the father of a child is often the most important male member of the extended family, where there is a matrilineal system, it is often the uncle of the child (the mother’s eldest brother) who is the primary male figure. The father of that child is the primary male figure in the lives of his sister’s children, instead. This is because the children of any man are considered to be in their mother’s descent group, and so the closest male relative to her (the children’s uncle) is often the chosen male figure (considered the only male blood-kin of the child).  He also manages the house and affairs, though that position can also be occupied by a woman, and who often serves as the guardian to the matriline. To Haviland (2011), one supposed function of matrilineal system is that they often provide continuous female solidarity within the female work group.  This system is often found in horticultural societies where work tends to be concentrated inside the house and nearby gardens, often because those societies highly value womens’ labour as crop cultivators. The food that horticulturalists (women) cultivate near their dwellings tends to be much more important to their diet than the hunting or fishing that men do (though not always).

Ikwunne (maternal home) relationship, which usually has different names depending on the part of Igbo; for instance, in Obodo Ukwu, in Imo State, it is called “Umerenne”; in Umuahia, Abia State, it is called the same thing (Umerenne), played important role in the life of the people before the era of colonialism, but it has been greatly affected by external influences and acculturation. This is why this research is being undertaken to investigate as well as understand the changes that have occurred and what has remained of this very good traditional relationship.

1.2            Statement of the Problem

This research is on the concept of “Ikwunne” as part of Igbo cosmology, with special focus on Abatete community in Idemili North L.G.A of Anambra state.  The tradition of “Ikwunne” is very much highlighted in the culture of the Igbo people and is well celebrated when some occasions arise, especially during the birth of a child, important festivities and during deaths.  This is in contrast with other kinship relationships which are organized into women, youth or men associations, thereby making such kinship relations popular. With the intervention of colonialism and acculturation, most of the traditions and customs of the Igbo people have been completely phased out or only some remnants of the real traditions are left. Some of examples of such traditions that have been phased out are: killing of twins, scraping a widows hair, female circumcision. The coming of western civilization in Igbo land in the nineteenth century had a goal more than bringing Christianity to the people. This hidden goal of the Christian missionaries brought in changes in the system of inheritance, ancestral succession, and the complete destruction of the matrilineal system of inheritance of the Igbo people. Autochthonous hereditary right, like the authority over the land of a matrilineage, which rests on the mother’s brother was alien to these missionaries. Westernization to some extent therefore meant a complete change of that system.  Yonariza (2004) observed, that today in the matrilineal belt of Central Africa, there has been a general drift from matrilineal towards patriliny or bilateral descent under the influence of colonization, Christianity and increasing involvement in money economies. Also, the matrilineal Akan people of Ghana have also noticed the lowering of status of the previously powerful women as a result of westernization.

Nsugbe (1974) earlier, noted similar transformation where the secular headship of a matrilineage which carries the responsibility for protecting the property and the resources of the matrilineage would remain in the matrilineal line while the ritual headship vested in the female head of the matrilineage, was, likely to vanish as more and more Igbo females (in whom lies the hope of perpetuating the office) become better educated or come to accept the Christian faith.  Westernization and Christianity today have transformed the traditional belief of the Igbo and this change is in conflict with the autochthonous matrilineal and other systems of kinship relationship.  Most of the elders who are supposed to be the custodians of the people’s cultural heritage are now Christians or church adherents. The people’s tradition currently received minimal attention, while most of the people’s traditions are now referred to as paganism. The “born again syndrome” is also in vogue.  Consequently members of the community refuse to attend any gathering that is not of the church or Christians.  Such assembly is termed to be yoked with unbelievers or seen as meeting of those who are not yet born again.  Aspects of this attitude of the people have the effect of eroding such traditions as the “Ikwunne” tradition together with similar traditions and customs of Igbo people.  It is this damage to the people’s cultural heritage through colonialism and acculturation that prompted this investigation which seeks to salvage the fast disappearing aspects of Igbo relationships especially the concept of Ikwunne kinship in Idemili North L.G.A. of Anambra State which is fast disappearing. If this is not done, this very beautiful aspect of Igbo culture, like others, would be lost to generations of Igbo to come.

1.3            Research Objectives

The general objective of this study is to examine the concept of “Ikwunne” (Maternal home) in Igbo cosmology with particular interest in Abatete in Idemili North Local Government Area. The specific objectives are as follows:

1.     To ascertain the manifestation of maternal home relationship in Abatete in Idemili North L.G.A. of Anambra State.

2.     To examine the privileges accorded to grandsons and granddaughters by the family/village members of their mothers.

3.     To investigate the changes which have occurred in the practices of the concept of maternal home.

4.     To examine how the changes that have occurred in the “Ikwunne” traditional system affected the people.

5.     To identify the problems and prospects of the maternal home tradition in present Igbo land, especially Abatete.

1.4            Research Questions

To address the above issues under objectives, the following research questions are raised.

1.     How does the concept of maternal home manifest in Abatete?

2.     What are the privileges accorded to grandsons and granddaughters by the family or the village members of their mothers?.

3.     What are the changes that have occurred in the maternal home tradition in Abatete?

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