Among Africans, child bearing brings great joy and happiness and different traditional festivities go with it. For example, the birth of a team child of a woman among the people of Aboh Mbaise in Imo State, South-east of Nigeria calls for a greater celebration of fruitfulness traditionally called Igbu Ewu Ukwu.
The words Igbu Ewu Ukwu literally mean killing of goat for the waist. It is as old as the people and it is believed that the essence of the practice is to appease or calm the waist of the woman, viewed as a goddess of some sort for the disturbances it has suffered as a result of harbouring several pregnancies. It is also done in order to thank the Almighty God for the gift of children and for seeing the woman through many pregnancies and their attendant problems. So while God gives children, the waist harbours them until they are delivered and nurtured by the woman.
Failure to perform lgbu Ewu is believed to cause some indescribable ailments after a woman’s tenth pregnancy. And so keeping accurate record is so important in order not to incur the wrath of the waist with the ultimate penalty of untimely death.
ITEMS NEEDED FOR – IGBU EWU UKWU
There are four basic items needed for lgbu ewu ukwu. They are:
1) A She goat
(2) A special kitchen stool known as Ekwere
(3) A hen and
(4) Native chalk (nzu)
PRELUDE TO IGBU EWU UKWU
Before a woman qualifies for this ceremony, she must have given birth to ten children or more. Before this time a1so she is expected to have notified a group of women (i.e. ndom gburu ewu) who have had lgbu ewu ukwu of her intention to become a member. This she does by presenting the group with palm wine and specially prepared oil bean salad (ugba). Early in the morning of the agreed day, this group of women gathers at the would-be member’s house for the initiation. No Man is allowed there as the woman to be initiated or admitted will almost be naked with just her under wear on. In fact, this part of the ceremony is carried out in the woman’s inner room. The oldest among the initiated women performs the ritual. She starts by rubbing the woman’s waist with [nzu] clay made into powder. She taps the waist with white chalk saying words of appeasement and praise thus: “We thank you oh beautiful fruitful waist that has given us noble sons and daughters”. May you never be wary of giving us more! The other women from time to time give shouts of excitement. The woman being admitted intermittently sits on the kitchen stool until the end of the initiation.
With the ritual over, the she-goat is killed and skinned by the woman’s husband and his kinsmen. The goat skin is allowed to dry in the sun. The waist of the goat is carefully cut out, cooked and reserved for the women while the remainder is added to the meat to be used for the occasion.
From midday, friends and relations start taking their seats under thatch boots made in front of the family house. The high point of the occasion is when the celebrant, splendidly dressed, is ushered into the arena by some members of her new group amidst shouts of excitement and praise. As the woman dances to traditional music which mainly sings her praise, friends, relations and her husband spray money on her. After the dance, the woman is led to her new group’s stand where she is officially welcomed with great shout of praise before she finally takes her seat among these “accomplished” women. Cannon guns could be sounded at this point to add colour to the occasion.
Various kinds of delicacies are served at this ceremony. They include fufu, pound coco yam to go with specially prepared melon, oha, okazi and bitter leaf soup containing sizeable pieces of stockfish, beef, etc. Oil bean salad (ugha) and palm wine are never in short supply.
Special kind of melon cakes (mgham) is also served. Members of the woman’s group are served specially as theirs come in large quantities which they in turn share among themselves and even take away. One significant item, the waist of the goat is cut in pieces and shared by members of the group. Absent members shares are taken to them at home. This is believed to be a bond of unity among the initiated. From this time on, the new member has every right to attend the group’s meetings being a bona-fide member.
The dried goat skin serves as one of the major symbols of the woman’s new status. For example, she gracefully ties or hangs it on her arms as she attends functions. She may even use it in covering her wares in a basket when going to the market. Anybody that sees her, immediately acknowledges, praises and accords her due respect. Another symbol of the woman’s new status is the ekwere (kitchen stool) that she sat on the during the initiation.
This stool is reserved for her. As she grows older, the woman may decide to bequeath this stool to her favourite daughter or daughter in-law. The tenth child is often pampered and referred to as “nwa a muru gbuo ewu”, that is the fortunate one whose birth has brought about the celebration. Favours could easily be curried from this “fortunate” child once he or she is flattered as such.
Every woman in Aboh mbaise looks forward to recording a tenth pregnancy or child which ultimately translates to lgbu Ewu Ukwu. It is usually a grand occasion especially if her husband is rich. Not only does the celebrant receive numerous gifts from friends and relatives, before, during and after the occasion, her husband also spoils her with gift items which must include special new wrappers and other accessories that will compliment her dressing for this great occasion in which her fruitfulness is celebrated.
In thanking the Almighty God for his mercies on the woman and her family, a thanksgiving service is usually held in her honour.
Igbu ewu ukwu celebration is fast going into extinction as it is only being practiced now by die hard custodians of the tradition and not too educated members of the community.
Bearing as many as ten children is no longer fashionable considering education and the economic situation in the country as major reasons. Modernity and Christianity have combined to take their toll on the practice as Christians now prefer only church thanksgiving irrespective of the number of children.
Alika Cecilia Ngozi Is a staff of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja.