- Elder Ifeanyi Odo, one of the victims speaks to our reporter
- Community dwellers say it is for the spiritual benefit of the deceased wife
James Onah from Amutenyi Obollo-Afor in Udenu local government area of Enugu state is a commercial motorbike rider popularly known as Okada around Nsukka metropolis, Enugu state.
As a Catholic and a member of Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, CCRN he preferred white wedding to traditional marriage known as Igbankwu.
So, when he met his fiancee, Ginika who hailed from Igogoro community, Igbo-Eze North local government area of Enugu state, James after performing little marriage rites, took her to the altar for white wedding.
He was optimistic that as soon as things improved, he would perform Igbankwu as custom and tradition demand.
But, unfortunately, things couldn’t improve as fast as he thought they would.
Months spanned into years and three years later, the couple had begotten two beautiful daughters.
In any case, in the year that the couple welcomed their second daughter, the wife was struck with illness. James ran from pillar to pole to save his wife and by extension his marriage.
He took her from one hospital to another till she was finally referred to University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH Enugu.
Like Igbo proverb goes, coldness does not know that there is scarcity of firewood.
After spending over N2m, James was informed by UNTH medical doctor that his wife was no more.
However, when James went to his in-laws to inform them of the death of his wife, he was told that she would not be buried until he “remarry” her.
For this reason, James had to do the traditional Igbankwu marriage ceremony of his wife, which eventually gulped over N300,000 despite the fact that she was already dead and he was stuck with over N2m indebtedness of her medical bill at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu.
The true life above vividly illustrates the true position of Enugu-Ezike people in Igbo-Eze North local government area of Enugu state.
Nevertheless, as obnoxious as the tradition seems to look, it has continued to wax stronger and stronger in the community with its attendant consequences on both the community and the victim of the tradition.
In any case, according to findings by WITHIN NIGERIA, Enugu-Ezike, collective name for over fifty communities in Igbo-Eze North local government area is known for such pre-colonial tradition.
In a chat with our reporter, one of the indigenes of the area, Douglas Eya explained that the tradition is as old as the community itself.
According to Mr. Eya, ” in our community Ikpamodo, Igbo-Eze North local government area of Enugu state, if you don’t do Igbankwu marriage ceremony of your wife, it is as good as you didn’t marry her.”
Explaining further, he told WITHIN NIGERIA that “the Umunna that is the kindred has not traditionally known that their daughter has got married. So, it is a must that you do the traditional marriage, that is Igbankwu of your wife before you call her your wife or take her to your house as your wife because should anything happen to her, you will sort of remarry her in death.”
However, in a chat with our reporter, another community dweller, Elder Ifeanyi Odo from Uda community told WITHIN NIGERIA that he who has not had Igbankwu of his wife is not yet married to the wife.
Narrating further, Elder Odo said that “I had fallen victim to this tradition. My elder brother got married to a lady from Umuogbo-Uno community but unfortunately, the woman died before he performed the Igbankwu ceremony.
“When we went to inform the in-laws of the sad event, they told us that the woman cannot be buried until the husband remarry her. It was my elder brother’s first daughter that stood as her wife during the Igbankwu ceremony.”
Asked why the in-laws do not enforce the tradition on the husband when their daughters are still alive, Elder Odo told WITHIN NIGERIA that “you know when suitors come seeking their hands in marriage in our community and of course every other community, they tend to be in a hurry to take their wives to their houses.
“Despite informing them about the tradition and culture of the community and the implications of not keeping to them, they usually flout them. Those who are not yet financially ready for Igbankwu are usually asked to be bringing certain quantity of palm wine every year after one year without performing Igbankwu.”
According to him, though this does not replace the Igbankwu ceremony, it goes a long way in assuaging the anger of Umunna towards the husband for not performing the Igbankwu.
“But unfortunately, many husbands do not do what their in-laws ask them to do and for that, they end up running helter-skelter when their wives die in that condition.”
However, when WITHIN NIGERIA visited the eldest man in Uda community, Onyishi Michael Ugwunayi in his house to speak on the matter, he was said to be not favourably disposed to talk to our reporter as one of his children said he was having some malaria.
In any case, a community dweller who gave his name as Chukwuka Eze told WITHIN NIGERIA that the import of the tradition is to make sure that the spirit of the deceased woman rest in peace.
According to him, “in this community, we have had cases of when a woman dies, her spirit starts wandering about, disturbing his relations, telling them that she is restless because her husband did not perform her Igbankwu ceremony before or after her death.”
Stressing further, Mr. Eze stated that “apart from making the husband prove to the kindred that he can take care of their daughter especially when she is alive, performing Igbankwu is also another way of making the woman feel happy whether she is alive or dead.”
Explaining further, he said that “though many communities outside Igbo-Eze North local government area may see this tradition as sort of wickedness on the husband especially when the wife is dead, we see it as normal thing. They call it another marriage of the deceased wife but take it that if you don’t do it when the wife is alive, you must do it when she is no more as long as she is or was your wife.
“The only exception here is if the couple has separated due to one situation or the other before the death of the wife, the husband does not have to perform the Igbankwu ceremony of the wife. But, as long as the couple live as husband and wife irrespective of whether or not their union produced any child or not, when the wife dies, she must be remarried by her husband.
“Again, even if the husband dies before the wife, any time she dies, either her children or the relations of the husband must perform the Igbankwu ceremony.”