The Joy Of Fatherhood {Conclusion}

by Ephraim Adinlofu

However, in Africa and some Igbo tradition, when a new baby arrives, the husband hardly does the running around. Like I’d written in the first ‘stanza‘ of this article, members of the extended family and well wishers do the daily runs. In London, it is not the case, I virtually took charge of my home from the day she announced her pregnancy to the day she gave birth, and afterwards. I bought, I cooked and I served. Thank God, my mum thought all of us {her children} how to cook and take care of ourselves because according to her: “you never can tell how the future will go”.

That unpredictable “future” came when in 2001, I found myself in, strangely of all places, London, UK, a country I’d always been critical of right from my University days because of its dubious colonial policy of amalgamation and the daily impact of that fake policy on the psyches of peoples of Nigeria’s component nationalities. I have, since 1960, being suffering from “amalgamation syndrome”, a ‘disease’ whose substantial cure can only be proffered and initiated by those who created it in the first instance.

Anyway, those domestic chores my mum taught me became handy and useful. “Ofe Nsala” – a well spiced pepper soup with a refreshing aroma that often contains what my Yoruba people call “orisirisi” or assorted meat, mangala or dry fish, and snails – has always been my father’s favourite soup and so it has been for most of us – his children. So preparing it for my wife was easy. The soup goes with soft pounded yam and is enjoyed when eaten, steaming hot. Besides, massaging my wife’s tummy too with hot water to bring it back to its former shapely shape was mine. Relatives in London came but not as expected. They have got to manage their own family responsibilities in this clearly defined “I, Me, Myself ”and highly litigious society.

The baby sleeps, wakes, and cries shrilly every three to four hours each night yelling for breast milk. The cries become shriller if he is not carried or given attention. This keeps me sleepless. My paternity leave was a well utilised vacation. It would have been hectic for my second pillow alone, even though she now has as a matter of choice, a Labour-government approved extended maternity leave of up to 9 months to one year? Extended yes, but the more one stays at home, the more deductions one’s employer takes out of one’s monthly salary. Thus most full time working mums of African origin stay just six to seven months instead of nine and return to work. The provision of social security to mostly the elderly and other most vulnerable members of the Nigerian society is a taboo. This short coming on the part of our Nigerian leaders among others, propels most Nigerian mums to return to work plus, the fact that you have mortgage payments to make.

The child cries again, this time it is 1:15AM. I jostled up from bed, took him in my arms, his neck falls backwards as if it wants to fall off, not strong enough. I held it, then cuddle and pat him gently on his back, singing some lullaby or cradle songs, whilst warming his milk. His Mum, who happens to be my wife, was allowed to sleep and rest very well. The baby drinks his milk and gradually sleeps off. It is already 2:00AM. At about 5:45AM, he wakes again, literally crying blue murder, mum decides to breast feed this time. I then slept but with one eye open. At 7:00AM, his two sisters with their now well known rivalry, woke up and started chartering cha, cha, cha, cha, cha ala Mariam Babangida, denying me the much needed sleep.

“Daddy good morning”, murmurs the ‘propagandist’ and the senior one.

“Daddy good morning”, re-echoes the ‘agitator’ and the junior one almost immediately.

“Morning”! I’d answered both grudgingly even though there is nothing good about the morning. My eyes are just damn red as if I’d smoked class “A” igboo- marijuana, all due to sleeplessness.

That has been the pattern. I hope it ends soon as little Prince is gradually but grudgingly adjusting to our routine sleeping pattern which was different from the womb he had come forth where our day is night and night, day. I thank God for HIS bountiful mercies. I hereby welcome my little boy to the British world of opportunities { out there for the grabs}, irrespective of the diluting racial prejudices here and there. A caveat though: his ethnic anchor and root is in Nigeria – a country, with landmark ‘opportunities’ and bedevilled inchoateness, which is inhabited by citizens with sharply contradictory but amalgamated behavioural jigsaw puzzles.

Fatherhood In The African Context; A further Elaboration
There is the need to elucidate on the African concept and understanding of fatherhood pari passu its Western version. A father is a man who, under a marriage obligation, sired a child through a wife. In the proper African context, both man and woman must be married and as soon as a child arrives, the man is now a father and the woman, mother. While the wife is discharging her wifely duties, the husband works hard to make sure that the family does not live in lack. This definition is incomplete if one does not add to it the social responsibility which goes forthwith with the concept. A father is therefore a man who sired a child with a woman, under a marriage obligation, and sees to the growth and development of that child from birth, through the age of innocence, up, until adulthood.

In the days of old, African devolved various techniques to keep marriages on course without bitterness and rancour which had allowed for continuity in lineages. One of these is the African concept and practice of “woman to woman” marriage. Here, don’t try to get funny because it is not what you think. It is not same as the “same-sex marriage” as it concerns some female folks in the advanced clime and even in Nigeria and other third world countries. The “woman to woman” marriage in Africa is a legitimate system of Customary marriage and is designed to fulfil a certain functional obligation for a society. How does it operate? Simple: late Prof. Onwuejeogwu writes thus: “A woman who plays the role of a man, marries a woman by transferring the bride gift or pride price and is said to be the “woman-husband”. The married woman is allowed to have acceptable male friend with whom she co-habits and bears children. The children belong to the “woman-husband” and the woman. The “woman-husband” plays the role of a father.” Now, “don’t get surprise,” continues the learned Prof., “it works very well. Many respectable Nigerian men and women come from such family unit.” That is one strand of acceptable African fatherhood system.

Woman-to-woman” marriage operates in different social context and in different forms. It all depends on defined situations. For example, in some African societies where a male child is held in high esteem, because of the rigidity in the application and administration of patterned inheritance system built around the concepts of “Premogeniture” {a system of inheritance that revolves principally around the oldest son in a family} and/or, “Ultimogeniture” {a system of inheritance that revolves principally around the youngest son} and, for the ultimate sake of continuity of a lineage, a man whose children are all females may be at a loser’s end.

It becom

es even worst when the man dies without a stand-in male child. In this context, one of the daughters could stay behind in the father’s homestead, to marry another woman who will try to beget a son for the late father. In that sense, that daughter, who does the marrying, becomes the “woman-husband”. The children born out of this functionally acceptable union belongs to the “woman-husband’s” late father. Alternatively, she could stay behind to try and beget a male son by herself for her late father. This she also does by consensually allowing a man of her choice to go into sexual relationship with her. Customs and tradition allows it. If therefore she is fortunate to beget a male, her wish and prophesy becomes fulfilled. The male child, with the solid backing and support from other members of the extended family, continues the late mother’s father’s lineage. The mother, ably supported by the extended family unit too, stays to nurture the child to maturity. What a sacrifice and what a culture!

Now, most of us get carried away by some of the poisonous teachings of the West that we seemed not to reckon with these developments in our culture. These practices are still there in our villages though fading or being done discreetly because of the fear of Western imbibed and defined negative stigmatization brought about by the same Western cultural invasion, generated distortions and ‘regrettable’ dislocations.

One could also deduce other forms of fatherhood. These approved forms were, like I’d written, meant to help promote continuity within lineages; sustain social equilibrium, cohesion and homeostasis. For example, Professor Onwuejeogwu supporting part of the above, writes again thus: “in patrilineal system, the problem of getting a son to succeed a father has been solved by using several methods such as marrying a pregnant woman, marrying a woman and her child, transforming a daughter into a male and getting her to stay in the patrilineage bearing children and adopting male children from other lineages”.

That these practices obtained in most village communities showed that cultures had – at a once historical social phase – evolved solutions in their own way which had helped to deal with some daunting family problems. These behaviour patterns were embedded in individual and group social relationships. Some of those socially approved behaviour patterns are still going on in some African communities. A proper African, who went through normal and undiluted traditional socialization processes sees nothing wrong in these practices because he or she can discern with the “eye” of an African and not with the “eye” or nosy nose of the white man, whose sometimes penchant for creating mischief and promote inferiority complex knows no bounds.

The African marriage institution has therefore virtual but generally acceptable solutions to both envisaged and un-envisaged problems in marriages. These solutions were institutionalised, patterned and, were often followed as norms of practice, deviations from which could cause social catharsis and disequilibrium.

In a “ghost marriage”, for instance, which was allowed and practiced among the Nuer of the Sudan, a junior brother whose unmarried senior brother had died was permitted by tradition to marry and beget children for his late senior brother before he could venture to go ahead and marry his own wife. The children which were born under such arrangement belonged to the late senior brother. Thus writes John Beattie “the Nuer would consider it improper” if the junior brother does otherwise. The marriage is made on behalf of the late brother so that the deceased lineage is not closed: the lineage would have to continue courtesy of the living brother.

In “Widow-inheritance”, as practiced and allowed among the Igbos of old and some other African communities, if a married man dies, the dead man’s wife is inherited by an agnate who is either a brother of the deceased or a son from another mother of the deceased who has come of age. She then becomes the wife of her new spouse. The children she bears thereafter belongs to her new spouse. Unlike the practice under a “ghost marriage”.

In a “Levirate marriage”, as practiced and allowed among the Bedouin of Arabia and North Africa, and the Nuer of the Sudan, “if a married man dies, his widow may be taken over by his brother, or sometimes by his son, so long as the son is by another wife. But there need no be no new marriage; the levir does not necessarily become the woman’s husband” but she is a wife to the group; that is, the late husband’s group. The children she bears thenceforth still belongs to the dead husband.

Ghost and Levirate marriage” were forms of what some Igbo communities of old call {Igbulu-nanzo or Igbu-nanzo}: a practice in which an Igbo woman married to a particular agnatic Igbo group is not allowed to go and remarry elsewhere after her husband’s death. She is ‘remarried’ into her late husband’s lineage. It is still done in modern times but, with, in some places, a caveat: no sexual intercourse is permitted, not because neither party does not want it but because our jealously guided but Roman-imposed culture of monogamy and modernisation has made such a choice impracticable. Some however still “do”, especially where both parties are still very young. I hope this article will help or has helped to debunk some claims and mischief among our Westernised African brothers and sisters. “Before Abraham, Jesus was”. I rest my case.

{1} “Kinship as an Elaboration of African Community Life” by late Professor Onwuejeogwu in the book AFRICAN CIVILIZATION: Origin, Growth, & Development {2000} co-authored with Dr. Bana Okpu and Mr. Chris Ebighgbo

{2} Other cultures {1980} by John Beattie, Routledge and Kegan Paul publishers, London.

{3} THE WAY WE LIVED: Ibo customs and Stories {1969} by Rems Nna Umeasiegbu; Heinnemann publishers, UK.

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YFI October 20, 2010 - 11:56 pm



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