Author Archives: ogbuli

“Nwata adi ebu orika”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Nwata adi ebu orika”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Nwata: child
      • Adi: does not or should not
      • Ebu: carry
      • Orika: heavy
    • Full Translation: A child should not carry the responsibility of the entire house or the responsibility of taking care of themself, meaning that parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children do not carry a burden that they cannot yet carry.
      • Explanation: My dad grew up in Nigeria and learned this proverb from his father[my grandfather]as a child. He remembers it well because it’s an important aspect of the community when he was growing up. He talked about the fact that “It takes a village”, meaning that it was important for adults in the community to support and help a child develop and grow. This is why it was stressed heavily that children must not be burdened by responsibilities that cannot carry.

Thoughts: I found this proverb to be quite compelling and that it really speaks truth to how I was raised. I am Nigerian American so I grew up hearing proverbs like this from my parents. This proverb is one that I have heard often, and I understood its meaning to be that as a child I should not try to overload myself or overextend myself. After talking with my dad about this, the meaning became more clear. While I should not overburden myself as a child, it also puts the responsibility on my parents to make sure that they handle their responsibilities and give me what I can manage. Indirectly this proverb has influenced a lot of my decisions because I always consult with my parents when I plan on taking on a new responsibility. Every decision becomes a dialogue and I always make sure that I understand now, that some things I cannot do by myself and I am grateful that my parents are around to alleviate and take on some of my burdens. 

Bride-price~Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Traditions

Context: This is the second step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Bride-price
    • The bride price is a token for raising a wonderful young lady and paid by the parents of the prospective groom. Once the bride price is presented the money is divided to the father and his kingsmen[uncles, cousins…etc], the mother[sisters, cousins..etc], the uncle, and the auntie partake in the money. 
      • Thoughts: I found this step to be very interesting to me. When I was listening to my parents explain this my initial thoughts were that it appeared that I was going to be sold off and married when I was old enough, however, my perceptions changed when they told me why this payment was so significant. A bride-price is not a means for which a man pays to marry a person, instead, it is a symbolic gesture paid by the prospective groom to give thanks to the family of the woman he intends to marry. The bride price is an offering of thanks for raising such a well brought up a young woman who the man now wants to marry. It was really interesting learning about this marriage custom, and I hope to witness this process one day or possibly the day that I or a female member of my family will be approached by someone who wants to marry us.

Inyo uno-Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Tradition

Context: This is the first step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Inyo uno
    • If a man wants to marry a maiden, he must go to the home of the maiden’s father accompanied by his kingsmen[family members]. With them, the man must bring hot drink [alcohol] and kola nuts[object of prayer and goodwill] to tell the parents of the maiden that he wants to marry their daughter. He must break the kola nut with the girl’s family and give them the kola nut and hot drink that he brought for the girl’s parents to keep. The parents of the girl then think over the marriage request and look into the man’s past and his family’s past to check for illness, health issues, and bad qualities like lying or theft. Once the parents are satisfied and they determine the man is good, they will call their family members and will break the kola and drink the hot drink brought by the man in question. Once this has been done, they will call the man’s family and start making arrangements.
      • Thoughts: I found this step interesting because of the process of asking for someone’s hand in marriage. The dialogue between the prospective groom and the parents of the family is very structured and there are specific steps that have to be followed[i.e. bringing your kingsman and bringing kola and hot drink as an offering]. In addition, the prospective groom really has no means of telling whether he has done enough to appease the parents. The man engages in this grand gesture, bringing kola nut and hot drink [symbols of his marriage request] and presenting them to the women’s parents as a sacred offering. What further intrigued me was the full background check undertaken by the parents of the prospective bride, in that they would extensively move through the family history of the man in question and make sure that he presented no bad traits that would make him unfit for marriage. If the prospective groom is found to be unfit for marriage, traditionally the parents will not support the union and their daughter will not be getting married. This a very interesting marriage custom and appears to be the most crucial before any real steps towards a union can take place.

Shaving a Path to the Future- Congolese Funeral Tradition

Context: This is a tradition that takes place when a Congolese woman’s husband passes away. My informant [OD] learned of this tradition from her dad and witnessed it occur when her uncle passed away.

  • What occurs?
    • When her uncle died, her cousin[his daughter] and aunt[his wife] shaved their heads as a means of honoring him and paying their respects. 
  • What was her opinion?
    • OD thought the tradition was very symbolic and powerful. By shaving their heads, her aunt and cousin marked a new phase in the life of their family. In addition, OD believed that it was valuable to maintain these traditions as Congolese Americans. Given the fact that they were in another country, maintaining these traditions was very important to her and those within her community.
  • Thoughts: After listening to OD’s explanation of this Congolese tradition, I agreed with the aspects of maintaining tradition as I am Nigerian American myself. Shaving one’s head to honor the life of a loved one may be viewed as very extreme from an outside lens, but because I have witnessed similar acts it was not that odd or strange to me. When my grandfather passed away, my parents flew back to Nigeria to attend his funeral. From my mom’s accounts, because of my grandfather’s status within his community, it was a tradition that all of the members of his family[wife, children, inlaws] dressed like him to both honor and emulate his spirit. This was a really powerful and symbolic gesture similar to OD’s tradition, it marked a new phase in my family’s life. While my grandfather had passed on, his spirit and legacy would live on in the members of his family. While it’s difficult to maintain traditions away from home[Nigeria or the Congo], in both cases, it is important to preserve them because they have such important value and continue to teach those who practice them more about themselves and where they come from. Traditions are important to me and I am inspired by the powerful meanings behind simple acts as shaving one’s head and even dressing like a deceased loved one. These traditions take on new subjective meanings to the families and communities that practice them and continue to preserve the connections between them and their respective cultures.

Udala~ Folk Object/Legend

Context: Udala Tree is a folk object/legend native to my dad’s village of Onitsha. He knows about this legend because he is a titled man just like his father before him, hence why knowledge was passed down to him.

C: Udala tree is a sacred tree in Onitsha that can only be used by titled men[Ozo title and members of Abalenza] who are the spiritual and cultural leaders within the village. The Udala tree is a powerful tree that is kept as a means of communing with one’s ancestors. Titled men receive what is called an Osisi, which is made from parts of the Udala tree. The Osisi is a staff that has immense power as it too is a means of communing with one’s ancestors and is connected to the Udala tree. No portion of the tree can never be given as a gift because it holds immense power that could possibly be used for evil doing and should not be given to those without the proper understanding of its potential.

Thoughts: I think this is really interesting and is something that I never really understood until now. Growing up my dad was always telling my brother and I stories revolving around his childhood and in particular my late grandfather who was a titled man who was widely respected in his village. Similar to my grandfather, my dad is also a titled man and is designated as a spiritual and cultural leader within his village and in our family as well. The description of the Udala tree is eye-opening because it represents a sacred folk object for men like my dad. Tapping into my memory, one instance stood out to me that became more clear because of the description of the power held by titled men. I remember that my dad would refuse to pray when he was angry. I never really understood why, but in seeing the power he held it makes sense[i.e. It would not be wise to pray angry because you could unintentionally wish harm or do harm to someone out of anger during prayer].  I am unsure in my dad’s description, however, as to whether this tree is real or only a legend passed down by titled men. I know there are some things that my dad refuses to tell me because I am not yet ready to learn or even understand the things that he does, but I hope to eventually verify whether or not this sacred tree is in fact real.