Family Organization in Arochuku

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October 1964

[This letter was written to my sister Bette, who was studying social work at the time.] I can give you a rough overview of what the social organization is like. Look at some of my old letters for more ideas.

Family relations are based on the extended family, with parental lineage. The extended family may consist of all the male descendants of one man, together with their wives and children, plus unmarried daughters or divorced or widowed daughters. If a man has recently come to a new village [as a trader or slave] he may have only his wives and children living in his compound.

An old, powerful family, such as the Okoroji family, rulers of Ujari, Arochuku, may have 30 houses in the compound with many sons of some old ancestor, plus many “brothers” who are traders or politicians or gov’t workers in other parts of Nigeria. Including those now moved away, there may be 1,000 people who call themselves Okoroji and this compound their home. Plus perhaps 5,000 slaves once owned by Okoroji (but rapidly losing their ties), who were on a nearly equal social scale, who consider this compound their home, altho they may not have been born or raised there. Thirty years ago all these people would return each year for Ikeji, the New Yam Festival. Needless to say the compound became crowded.

More representative, perhaps, is the Achinivu compound in Amanagwu. The patron of this compound died 12 years ago, perhaps 65 years old. He had 4 wives, 3 of whom are still living (each in her own house in the compound), and all had children, who range in age from 13 to about 40 or 45. The oldest is a divorced daughter who lives on the compound. Only one wife has young children (2) and only one adult male lives on the compound. The patron was fairly wealthy and sent all of his sons to school. They have since moved to the towns (all but one). The oldest resident male is the ruler of the compound, except for some provinces where the senior wife rules.

If a man has several wives, they alternate in providing food. Most often the wives get along like sisters, as there is almost no emotion in Igbo family living. Wives are not “loved”—they are good providers and bearers of sons. Children get no affection. Children and old women carry water, fetch firewood, etc. Young boys learn a trade from their fathers, uncles, or elder brothers, or go to school. Young girls help in the kitchen, help their mothers in the market and on the farm. The women do most of the farming. The men only plant and harvest yams and make the yap heaps. Women clear the bush, do all the work on cassava, cocoyams, vegetables, and collect fruits. Because the work is so sharply divided amongst family members, there are rarely disputes within a family or compound.

If a “brother” makes good, it is expected that several members of his compound will come to the town to live with him and share his good fortune. Probably every school teacher in this country is supporting two or three “brothers” in school. A young man who has a shop as a tailor or cobbler or mechanic or welder in the town has a never-ending stream of helpers who learn the trade (or some of it) and soon start their own shop. This makes for a proliferation of bush men in the towns and a traveler can be assured of finding someone from his village or village-group in every town!

I might add that I don’t think this society is primitive. It is at last as highly developed, socially, as ours. It is just different, but it works very well, and that is the only way we can judge it. [Ed: in hindsight the Igbo society works better than ours, because elders are not left alone and there are often many more adults available to rear children.]

Jim Ludden

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