By Dr. Chuks Osuji, Daily Independent
In February 13, 1976, in Dallas Texas, a group of Igbo ethnic stock gathered in my room for a kind of get-together when a telephone call came from Nigeria. It was indeed a bad call, as the caller told me that our Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, had been assassinated. What was more intriguing was the other aspect of the message; that he had already been buried in Kano. When I broke the news to my fellow Igbo, they were equally shocked. But they could not agree on one thing: whether it was proper to have buried such a Head of State so fast without giving other leaders from other African countries and beyond opportunity to attend his burial. The same thing happened in 1998 when Sani Abacha died and recently when Umaru Yar’Adua died.
In fact, from the first incident, the death and prompt burial of Mohammed, I have been saddled with the rationale of that Islamic injunction of burying every Muslim without any funfair. For quite sometime now, I have come irrevocably to the conclusion that, it is the best way to bid farewell to the departed and not by subjecting the living to untold hardship of getting ourselves involved in “brass-banding” and other orchestrated and unrealistic considerations.
Then I asked myself, what of my culture which puts a lot of burden on the living? This has further led me to begin to reflect on so many aspects of my people’s culture, which places a lot of emphasis on the cultural and traditional roles on the concept of first son as very inevitable in the maintenance of the family lineage.
Although as a solid Christian, I believe in the supremacy of the Almighty God, and Christ as the head of faith, I have undiluted belief in my people’s culture, which does not infringe on my Christian beliefs. Yet, within this general belief, I abhor some of the imported behaviours, particularly those that have come to downgrade our cultures and tend to regard them as idolatry and primitive. However, if in any given issue, there is a conflict between my religious obligation and my culture, I will rather defend my culture because my culture is under constant threat, but Christianity is ever gaining ground and is not under threat, except by the wave and influx of so-called “new generation prosperity evangelical pulpit magicians”.
There is one aspect of my culture which has constantly agitated my mind for which we, the entire Igbo ethnic nationality and others, such as non-Christian Yoruba, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhbo, Efik, Ibibio in Nigeria, can go to any length in search of a son among their children for one principal reason: to ensure the existence of the family lineage.
Today, having travelled far and wide and with experiences gathered so far, I realised that this issue of the concept of first son headache is more acute and entrenched among Nigerians than other cultures particularly outside Africa.
Added to this is the pivotal role ascribed to the first son in every family matter. Every father places very high premium on his first son. Even his wife too, although she may sometimes behave as if she has her choice heavily weighed towards her first daughter, once the issue of lineage and inheritance comes in focus, she will instantly recoil.
Today, in Igbo ethnic nationality, any man without a son is not a happy man at all. Even if you ask him the commonest greetings among our people “how are you?” although he is likely to reply “it is all well”, it will be preceded with an inaudible sigh. Why must it be so? On the other hand, if we see a man with several male children without a female child, he would in all probability be boasting that “I have special favour from my maker”. His wife may, inside her, be worried somehow, perhaps for social and economic reasons, such a situation may not cause her loss of sleep. But a man without a male child can do anything under the planet to get one. He may marry another wife. To do this, he may tactically chase out the first ‘helpless’ wife or reduce her to the status of senior housemaid.
Unfortunately, as it often happens, once the new wife comes in, the first may deliver a male child if she is still enjoying the favour of her husband. Otherwise she has done what she has not been able to do in the past for keeping faith in her marriage. And the husband will have neither the conscience nor the strength to ask her “what happened?” If she is chased out of the marriage and has only female children, in future, she may be brought back by her daughters, particularly when they begin to have financial influence in the family. And their father and his new wife become dependent on his daughters, who can now be deciding vital issues in the family? What is more unfortunate is that if the woman chased away is still within marriageable and productive age, if she remarries, she is likely to become a quasi-industry of procreation of children, males and females. Because she has been liberated from an ignorant and culturally imprisoned man, ignorant husband who does not know that sex selection depends more on the man than the woman, in Biology.
Fortunately, daughters in many families in Igbo ethnic nationality have become not only breadwinners for their families, but lifelines also.
Today, due to opportunities of migration, particularly to America, Europe and Asia, many daughters have either travelled out with their husbands or made fortunes under their husbands, or independently. With such opportunities today, many Igbo families have seen success through the efforts of their first daughters.
While they are in far away countries with their husbands, or on their own, and while desirous to build their nuclear family in their husbands’ homes, they could not forget their roots.
In fact, while many of today’s first sons have gone with the wind and virtually become a lost generation, first daughters in the Diaspora and at their biological environment, have not forgotten to take care of their ageing parents. In fact, it is an incontestable fact, within Igbo ethnic nationality, that many parents, ageing ones, would not attain mature age without the support of their first daughters, wherever they may be. First sons care less and think not of home, even when they are around. They rarely visit their parents let alone take care of them. Even if either of them dies, they are likely to depend on their sisters to bring money for the burial, and sometimes make fortunes out of the burial of their parents from their brothers-in-law. Sad again. These are some of the reasons that have persuaded me to have a rethink about some of our cultural emphasis on the concept and roles of first sons. No doubt, many will disagree with me. Fine, but I am sure that a few will stop for a moment to think about this. That is the essence of education and enlightenment.
In conclusion, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not against our cultural and traditional patterns and settings. What I am advocating here is for us to begin to appreciate the fact that in many nuclear families in those nationalities in the southern part of Nigeria, evidence abounds of the impact of daughters on their biological homes; and correspondingly, the lack of impact by some sons, particularly first sons. Quite a number of them in the Diaspora, particularly those in the U.S. and in Europe, have been deceived by western cultures in several behaviours. Marriage, which is the crux of our family growth and the growth of a nation, has been reduced to a casual matter. Training of kids and bringing them in the way of perceived cultural norms and traditional practices have been neglected.
In other aspects of our cultural set-up, as already alluded, the issue of maintaining an unbroken chain of linkage with our ageing parents has been eroded by the influence of other cultures. Although we may assert economic pressures and other mundane reasons, the well-known tradition of extended family system has virtually evaporated. It is a matter of fact that more of us with good qualifications, higher education and top level employments and appointments were beneficiaries of extended family system within Igbo ethnic nationality. These days, instead of practising extended family system, we are practising disintegrated family system. It is a matter of, “to your tents Oh Israel.” This is not the way it should be.
I strongly posit that our marriage must be strengthened. The roles of first sons must be de-emphasised and equal weight be given to our first daughters because modern civilisation has given them equal opportunity to contribute to the success of their biological families. Parents, wherever they may be found, must ensure that they do not forget their roots. And once they do this, their children will not forget such roots and the rising wave of lost generation could be reversed and reversed for the better.