WHAT VALIDATES PATERNITY IN IGBO CULTURE.

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Before I begin this article, I’d like to warn us that this article would not settle well with many of us. Still, the idea is not to promote social recalcitrant behavior but to share information on the Igbo stand on genetic testing for a child’s paternity. While it is a hard nut to swallow, I’d appreciate it if we hold on to our emotions and seek a good conversation.

To understand the mindset or logic behind the institution of most cultural practices, it’s essential to look at the realities of those who instituted them, cross-reference them with the realities of today to seek redress or to preserve such culture, and that being said: “What validates paternity in Igbo Culture”.

Within our social structure, the “Bride Price/Bride Wealth” is the only established structure that determines the paternity of a child and not necessarily blood affiliation. This practice shelters the needs of men who are unable to impregnate their wives and would encourage them to meet with someone from either the family or an outsider to procreate. In other circumstances, a man could want the genes, personality, etc, of his fellow man in his linage “Agburu”, he would as well encourage his wife to lay with the man in order to have such qualities in his linage, these various circumstances of procreation can only occur because our society traces paternity to the man who paid the bride price of the woman“Onye mere ego-isi  nwaanyi”, regrettably, we can look at it as purchasing a piece of land or making an investment and whatever yield the land or the investment would produce would belong to the person that made the purchase whether or not it was planted by he who made the purchase.

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While this practice specifically shelters men who cannot impregnate their women, in cases of infidelity or what we refer to as paternity fraud, the same principle applies after the woman has undergone traditional cleansing rituals of “Ikpu Aru”, the product of the infidelity would belong to her husband and he is expected to take care of the child as though they were biologically his, and as for the woman, the aggrieved man would choose to continue living with his spouse or to send her home to her parents, but traditionally, he is expected to keep living with her, nonetheless, the product of her infidelity belongs to her husband, hence, why in Anthropological term, we call the non-biological father the social father and his role becomes more important than the biological father in this context.

To safely understand this practice without bias, we need to understand “THE CONCEPT OF INFIDELITY” within the African context.

As Ndi-Igbo, we have diverse cultural contexts whereby a man encourages his wife to be intimate with another man, in order to fulfill a duty. But in Igbariam community, they have the practice of Ime Ego Oyi “Friendship Price” which is paid by a young man to the mother of the woman, in the presence of her husband and this practice enables them to have intimate relationships. This particular practice is targeted at teaching young men, how to be good fathers and husbands to their spouses. Therefore, the evidence of these varying practices in our community has led me to postulate that Cheating or infidelity within the African-Igbo context differs from the Eurocentric concept of stepping outside the marriage, rather what we consider as cheating is the “Ignorance of this fact” that is considered cheating and would demand some restorative and appeasement rituals for the woman to continue with the marriage. It is also important to note that whilst this practice is prevalent in Igbariam, it is not done by every member of this community, hence it borderline falls on people or families that wish to practice it.

Should This Cultural Practice Be Encouraged In This 21st Century?

In terms of paternity being traced through our socio-cultural context, should it be continued in this century where issues that led to its institutions are no longer viable or can be handled or managed through alternative means?

Just as I earlier pointed out, cases of a man being impotent, and cases of high child mortality within our ancient society all contributed to the institution of this practice, and whilst that was the case we currently have modern interventions such as; IVF, Sperm Boost Therapy, Surrogacy, and other medical equipment that can detect early danger signs prenatal maternal health, and this reality has in return limited child and maternal mortality. This social shift has made the social foundation on which the practice of tracing a child’s paternity through the paying of the bride price to lose its footing in this century, therefore, every other culture that was built with this foundation has inadvertently lost its foothold, which makes “Paternity Fraud” an immoral act.

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Genetic Testing Is Not Part Of The Igbo Culture.

First, we cannot make such claims for obvious reasons which borderline fall on the reality that genetic testing technology didn’t exist in our ancient society, although we can say that if our ancestors had wanted to be sure of a child’s paternity, they could have used their knowledge of alchymy “Ogwu”, to determine paternity. Nonetheless, because we already have an established system whereby paternity is tied to our cultural system of marriage, it invalidates the pursuit of genetic testing, because it didn’t matter as at that time.

Secondly, looking at the reality of today regarding economic factors, it’s obvious that the economic constraints or resources that are necessary for the adequate raising of children cannot compare to what was attainable in the past and also we need to bear in mind that the resources and its accompanying burden are not just provided pr places on the father alone, but the entire extended families chips in, therefore, unlike the realities of today such provision can only be provided the man, hence such loyalty and steadfastness can only be appreciated and encouraged by bonds of familiar ties and not that of playing the role of the social father. Therefore, judging by the realities of today, we can categorically state that “Paternity Fraud” is an immoral act, even if it doesn’t have any cultural backing within our cultural context.

In summary, we need to understand that every cultural practice we assimilated now or in the past, should have one function, which is the promotion of our standard of living whilst enabling us to live life to the fullest and for whatever reason, a culture fails to achieve that, those interacting with the culture are at liberty to allow it die a natural death or evolve it into something that would boost our natural affinity to survive.

check out my book “chi na ezumezu na ihe di na Igbo”, if you are interested in learning Igbo culture and cosmology.

This brings me to the subject of “Polygamy”, this particular practice makes women uneasy with the tendency to lash out, even though it has a cultural foundation and at the same time, the acceptance of a child that is not biologically tied to a man, also make our men uneasy, but we need to understand that our culture to some extends seeks to maintain an equilibrium, hence, it would occasionally make us uncomfortable. Hence why, in our personal lives, we need to use empathy as our guiding principle and know that our culture can be useful in some contexts while in another context it can be used to disenfranchise or demean each other, therefore, before culture learn empathy.

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