In the ancient communities of Amucha, Nkume, Atta and Okwudor in Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, there is an age-long custom where a man is killed for protecting his wife from performing rituals in the village square in an issue relating to her infidelity. DamianDuruiheoma visited the communities and came out with this report.
Amucha, Nkume, Atta and Okwudor are ancient Igbo communities in the current Njaba council area of Imo State. The communities are referred to as Nnenasa (born of seven mothers) because of their relationship with three other communities that share same father with them. That is the history. But the communities have since multiplied to become 11 following the autonomous status given to them by the state government. They include Amucha, Amucha Ebeise and Umuamusa all from the old Amucha; Nkume, Okponakuma and Umuokpo from the old Nkume community; Atta, Egwedu and Umunam Atta from the old Atta and Okwudor and Ihebinowerre from the old Okwudor community.
It is from one of these communities, precisely, Amucha community that Njaba River originates. The communities hold a unique place in the cultural history of Igboland.
Ndi ochie, Ndi ishi, Ndi okenye or okposhi is a custom that prevents any woman married in any of the communities from having extra-marital affairs. In the area, it is a serious abomination for a married woman to sleep with another man. In fact, it is gathered that such an act comes with dire consequences on the part of both the sinner and her husband.
On the part of the woman, she is usually struck mad after years of concealing her offence from her husband. What she says in the markets and on the main roads during her madness usually tells people her sins.
On the part of the man however, he is struck dead within a space of two weeks through an acute vomiting and diarrhea. This is usually so if the man has an inkling of his wife’s adulterous acts without bringing it to the notice of the village people. It is the usually the elders in the village that should be given the notice of the woman’s sins for necessary land cleansing and communion.
According to Nze Charles Onyedika from Umuokoroezike Umunam Atta community in Njaba council area, it is usually the woman who unwittingly breaks the information of her infidelity to her husband.
“This may take more than 10 years before the information is broken by the woman. Upon hearing this, a man who loves his life will promptly suspend the relationship between his wife and the rest of the members of his family by sending the woman to her father’s house. This is because any of them that eats anything from the woman will be gone. This is not a joke. Just go to other neighbouring communities to ask them and they will tell you better. It is from the woman’s home that she will come and appease the land, if she is still interested in the marriage.
“So, when this is done, the next step is for the man to inform members of his family and the alders in the village for prompt action to save the entire family and the woman”, he said.
The 81 year-old Onyedika disclosed that this is followed with the relative of the woman bringing her to the village square on appointed date so that she will come and name the names of the men that had slept with her since she got married.
“In the past such a woman will come out to the village square stark naked but because we are in a civilised society, such aspects are partially removed. The woman now comes out the village square half-naked in the presence of the entire community. She kneels before the people and begins to name the men she has slept with. Mind you, she cannot hide any of them because doing that is at her own risk. After doing this, she now begs to be reintegrated into the fold of the people.
“It is at this moment that the woman is given some vegetables to pound in a small mortar with a pestle. It is from this mortar that everybody in the community will eat to complete the process of reintegration. This whole process is usually followed to save the woman, the man and the entire community of impending calamity that may befall them if ignored”.
He disclosed that this affects any male indigene of the area living anywhere in the world, saying that most of the people affected were those living abroad who think the custom exists only in the community.
Interestingly, it is also an abomination for a married man in the area to accuse his wife of infidelity no matter any compromising situation he sees his wife with another man.
According to the traditional ruler of Nkume Community, HRH Eze Anthony Onyeka, “the reason for this is because such an allegation if heard by another should be defended in the public”.
He told our reporter that what is involved in this is that the accused woman is summoned to the village square where four pieces of kola nuts are kept on the floor in the presence of many people for her to declare her innocence by kneeling down with her two hands behind her.
“She then bends down to collect the kola nuts with her mouth and without the aid of her hands. This is called ikpu oji. Ordinarily, you can do this in your bedroom and find out that it is an easy exercise that you can do effortlessly. But, if you are guilty, there is no way you can get the nuts no matter the magic you may have.
“But, if the woman gets all the four kola nuts on the floor without any problem, then her husband will be made to do whatever the woman and her people requests. That is one of the major reasons our men don’t accuse their women of infidelity”, said the octogenarian.
To some people in Imo State and Igboland however, such a culture does not exist, and if it does, it is fetish. But the people of the area say those who had doubted and tried it in the past had only few weeks of telling their stories before the consequential tragedies struck them.
But, how did this custom begin? The monarch, Eze Onyeka and Nze Onyedika could not trace its origin. Rather, they said the custom is as old as the communities and that there is nowhere it has a shrine.
They said they the overall intention of their forebears who instituted the custom was to instill fidelity among married women in the area.
Why does it not affect men? The duo argued that men are ordinarily polygamous in nature and that a man is culturally allowed to marry more than one wife.
Interestingly, several unsuccessful attempts had been made in the past to proscribe the custom. Some women are accusing the men taking the advantage of the custom to cheat on their wives with reckless abandon, calling for sustained effort to stop the custom.
Community sources told our reporter that a former parish priest of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Nkume(names withheld) who served at the parish in the 1990s, had challenged the efficacy ofNdi Ochie and told his female parishioners not to go to the community to confess such sins any time they mistakenly fell into the temptation of adultery. The priest was said to have rather told them to go to the Almighty God to confess their sins. This, it was gathered, led the men in the church to stop attending the church, until the priest apologized.
Also, at the annual general meeting of Umunam Atta community in July 2013, Rev. Fr. Donatus Mba, a native of the community, canvassed for the abolishment of the custom.
According to him, rather than engendering peace in the family, the outcome of the land cleansing tears apart the family and affects the man the most.
Chief Magnus Okwara from Okwudor community called for the communities involved to come together and find a way of abolishing the custom because according to him, “rather than affect the woman, the men are the ones that die as a result of the sins of their wives”.
Chief Okwara recalled that apart from few women that had gone mad in the area as a result of refusing to confess their sins, “it has been our men that have been killed in the last 20 years. Check most of our illustrious sons that had died in the last 15 years. They died for trying to shield their wives and avoid public disgrace. So to me, we should have a second look at the custom.
“Some people instituted it some hundreds of years ago and our people say that if a people come together with one mind, they can do anything. So, what I’m saying is that our people need to come together and do something about it. I know what happened to one of my kinsmen, a former local government chairman, who because of his position in the church and the society protected his wife from defending herself in the community. Today he is no more but that his wife he was trying to protect from coming to the public to confess her sin is still living her life, though no longer in our community”, he said.
According to findings in the villages, most of the people usually affected were the rich and the influential people in the area who, for the shame of seeing their wives half naked in the village square, try to consult spiritualists and dying in the process.
However, to Eze Onyeka, such attempts at and demands for abolishing the custom might not be possible because according to him, there is no particular shrine that could be linked to it.
He said several Pentecostal pastors and churches had tried their best neutralize its efficacy to no avail.
“But if you ask me to lead its abolition, that will not be possible because our people generally believe that that has enhanced the fidelity of women”.
For Nze Onyedika, somebody could think about the abolition but not actually expressing it in public because nobody wants to listen to that.
“If not that you are a journalist, do you think I will be telling you all this. Let me tell you. We’ve heard something like that before from a priest in this community. They can only say it during their homily and not make it an issue of discourse because elderly man can join in that kind of discourse. That is how serious it is”.