In an article “Tradition of same gender marriage in Igboland,” published in the Nigerian Tribune, Lagos: Friday, June 19, 2009, Leo Igwe wrote: “One of the contentious issues in the debate over homosexuality and same sex marriage is whether a marriage between persons of the same gender is totally alien to African culture and tradition. Those opposing same sex marriage have continued to argue that same gender union is foreign to Africa. On the contrary, I have tried to draw their attention to the fact that there is a strain of the same gender marriage in African tradition particularly in Igboland.”
Contrary to Leo Igwe’s opinion, there is absolutely no tradition of same gender marriage in Igbo land. One would normally ignore the article if Leo Igwe had not tried to drag a whole Igbo nation into his pseudo-philosophical exegesis
Firstly, what is “tradition” and secondly what is “marriage?” “Tradition” from various definitions is a practice, custom, mostly outside the written system, passed down from generation to generation by a people, tribe, race or religion, sometimes deemed as unalterable but like all things human subject to modification and sometimes abandonment. “Marriage” traditionally characterized in Igboland as “Alum Di na Nwanyi,” [the union of a man and a woman] is considered solely as a union of a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship, mutual economic and emotional support and procreation. It had no religious or spiritual dimension and no religious or doctrinal ceremonies were involved. It was for all intents and purposes a social contract witnessed by the families, relations and extended families and often the kindred and village community of the man and the woman in question. Marriage in Igboland legitimizes sexual relations between the couple and makes for the formation of a new family unit, the procreation and nurturance of the children that issue from the union. It also creates succession and inheritance recognized and legitimized in Igbo society. In Igbo tradition, a marriage can be dissolved, annulled or abrogated [Igba Alukwaghi m] which is not the pur
view of this article. In traditional Igbo Land marriage could be polygamous or monogamous. Polygamy was not the norm but it was neither encouraged nor deprecated.
Leo Igwe is definitely wrong in suggesting that there is a tradition of same gender marriage in Igbo Land. In my short life and I am nearing seventy years, I have never seen, heard or witnessed or even read about the union of a man and a man in traditional Igbo society not in fairy tales, not in real life, not even in dreams. We must rush to denounce Leo Igwe’s mis-characterization of Igbo society and marriage. The union of a man and a man does not exist in Igbo society. That notion must be swept under the carpet, in fact, buried deeply under the earth with the indelible sign: DO NOT EXCAVATE. Leo Igwe claims he hails from Mbaise in Imo State in Southern Nigeria. I was born and bred in Emekuku, Owerri, Imo State in Southern Nigeria four kilometres from Mbaise and my wife, Dr. Rose Ure Mezu, is from Ihitte-Afoukwu, Ekwerazu, Mbaise in Imo State. Leo Igwe’s assertion is a figment of his imagination and is not based on history, anthropology, sociology or even mythology.
What of the union of a woman and a woman, does this exist in Igbo Land? There is no traditional marriage of a woman and a woman. For traditional Igbo society, marriage is primordially and predominantly for the procreation of children and the continuation of the lineage. A powerful, strong and wealthy woman, [Madame X] if barren or infertile for one reason of the other, or even if she has only one child, sometimes, and this is not the norm or the “tradition,” may decide with the husband’s [Mr. X] consent to bring another woman [Ilu bata nwanyi] [Madame Y] to the husband’s matrimonial home for the sake of procreation. Madame Y remains under the control of Madame X. The children issuing from Madam Y, the new wife, and Mr. X, the husband of the two women, are joyfully brought up, educated and equipped by Madame X and the family. This is not a marriage between Madame X and Madame Y but a “ménage a trois” [a threesome union]. To infer, as does Leo Igwe that “the woman brings her “wife” home and they start living together as “husband” and “wife”. Nobody frowns at it. To have children – both the “woman- husband” and “woman-wife”- will agree to allow a man from the same village or neighbouring town to sleep with the wife.” – This is nothing short of, in the words of the critic, Rene Girard a veritable “mensonge romantique et verite romanesque,” [a romanticized fibulation and and truth emanating from hallucination.]
“Marriage” traditionally characterized in Igboland as “Alum Di na Nwanyi,” [the union of a man and a woman] is considered solely as a union of a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship, mutual economic and emotional support and procreation. It had no religious or spiritual dimension and no religious or doctrinal ceremonies were involved.
In the Igbo society that I know, there are no circumstances where a marriage between a woman and a woman is permissible. Even in a situation where a woman’s husband dies, with or without an issue, Igbo traditional society allows and expects the woman (if willing) to remain in the home and would normally become the wife of, [“be inherited by”] one of the brothers or relations [sometimes younger than the woman] of the deceased husband. When my paternal grandfather, Mezuma Okoroukwu, died in 1928 at the age of one hundred and ten, the oldest man then in Emekuku, he had three children [Agnes, Obi and Clement, my father] from his wife, Ada Opara whom he inherited from his father Okoroukwu, son of Akagbarankwu who married Ojukwu Okoro of Umuaghalu, Egbu, Owerri. Okoroukwu had other wives (Ada Mgbagwo and Abubaocha] and had one son, Chukwuowhe, from Ada Opara before he died. Mezuma himself also had another wife, Ulu Ike. In the village Ezeogba, Emekuku, today, there are at least two cases of younger brothers, in Manukwem and Ekeagwu families, who inherited and married the young wives of their deceased elder brothers. There is also the case of a very prominent lady in Ukwa Local Government [now Abia State, Nigeria] who married a “woman for her husband” for the sole purpose of begetting children whom she nurtured and educated. This, in Igbo Land, does not constitute a “woman marrying a woman” or in the words of Leo Igwe “same gender marriage.”
Just as the world is not static, tradition is also not static. They evolve and change. There are accretions and deletions. There was a time in Igbo Land when twins were abandoned in the evil forest to die. Even then, some brave women, secretly smuggled one of the babies to another town to a childless mother to bring up as her own. For long in Igbo Land, tradition definitely unjustified has rendered it unacceptable because of the Osu Caste system for a Diala (free born) to marry an Osu who has an equal right and claim to have been freely born. These traditions have changed or are changing. Igbo society considers it an aberration for men to be pregnant (for a man to be a woman) and for women to fight in wars (for a woman to be a man) – Nwoke turu ime, nwanyi eje ogu. Ihe ala n’aso nso.- [For a man to be pregnant (be a woman), for a woman to fight in wars (be a man), this is a veritable abomination.]
Advocates of same-sex union should come out openly and plead their case but they should leave alone genuine Igbo mores and lore. They should not misquote our Igbo tradition to suit their purpose and justify their individual sexual orientation on the false altar of tradition.
Leo Igwe got it completely wrong when he suggests that “in a situation where a woman has no son or no child, if the husband dies, it is culturally allowed for her to marry a wife. And in this case, she becomes the husband. Like in every case of marriage, this woman goes out, inquires and gets a wife of her choice. She pays her dowry and fulfills other traditional rites as it is done when a man is marrying a woman. After that, the woman brings her “wife” home and they start living together as “husband” and “wife”. Nobody frowns at it. To have children -both the “woman- husband” and “woman- wife”- will agree to allow a man from the same village or neighbouring town to sleep with the wife.” Such misinformation does great violence to Igbo culture and tradition and needs to be corrected.
Advocates of same-sex union should come out openly and plead their case but they should leave alone genuine Igbo mores and lore. They should not misquote our Igbo tradition to suit their purpose and justify their individual sexual orientation on the false altar of tradition. That said, I personally see nothing wrong in two people [male-male, female-female, sister-sister, brother-son] forming a company with a memorandum of association and articles of incorporation and registering the same at the Corporate Affairs Office in Abuja, Nigeria, and granting to each other the rights of survivorship, inheritance, succession and the common use of a place of work or habitation. This is a constitutional right but advocates of such companies, or companionships, whether scripted as a partnership, a corporation or a limited liability or public company, should leave the word marriage out of such associations at least in Igbo Land where marriage is considered a natural union of a man and a woman for the purpose of economic and emotional support and predominantly for procreation and the continuation of the family lineage.
Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu, a graduate of Georgetown University, The Johns Hopkins University (MA. Ph.D) and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris) (Diplome d’Etudes.) Dr. Mezu has also a Law Degree from La Salle Extension University and is the publisher of Black Academy Press, Inc.