Which way Nigeria takes a new dimension on a very sensitive and crucial issue in our society.
This issue cuts across every society in Nigeria but I will concentrate on my region Igbo land. This is the issue of childlessness in marriages. I ask, Which Way Nigeria? Where are we heading with marriages being broken due to childlessness? Agreed this is fairly under control but if not checked, with time, it will become a bigger issue to handle. It is gradually becoming a big deal.
A man falls in love with a woman and proposes marriage to her. After a while they tie the knots and become one body and soul having exchanged marital vows. They promise to stay by each other in sickness and in health, for better for worse, till death do us part. Then all of a sudden the marriage breaks down. In the western world for instance, marriages breakdown due to such reasons as infidelity and lack of trust, change in sexual orientation, lack of support from either partners, to mention a few. Unlike the western world, the major factor for most broken marriages in typical Nigerian society is childlessness. This aspect of marriage is often questioned by family, friends and the society. Questions such as has the woman taken in, why have they remained childless up to a certain period, who is to be blamed for absence of a child in that family are often asked. Everybody is waiting and watching for the newly established family to begin raising children. We care too much and look out for family members.
Marriage Among Igbo people
The Igbo people are patriarchal in nature and so â€œmarriage is deemed an indispensable factor for the continuation of the family line of descentâ€, according to Obi (1970). Children occupy the pivotal position in Igbo marriage. To a woman the birth of a child is a practical vindication of her womanhood. Children are the pride to their parents, a joy and inspiration in the family and the essence or foundation to every union. No wonder they are called Salt of the earth or Light of the world. They lighten the path and so are the future leaders. A child makes marriage complete, and becomes a joy to the mother. Every woman looks forward to having this immeasurable joy for a fulfilled marriage as it portrays the woman as complete.
Based on the above, fertility becomes the first and foremost consideration in Igbo marriage. Every parents long for this and every father, regarded as the head of the family, requests this every morning during prayers (for Christian religious family) or in his kolanut prayer (traditional religious family). Because of the importance attached to it as evidenced by the committed prayers, if you ask the ordinary Igbo man or woman why he or she desires to marry, the response is usually “to have children and for love.
Childlessness in Marriages
The inability of a married woman to have children usually constitutes a big problem to the family she is married into. Such a woman is often regarded as a monstrosity and universally recognised as chi ojoo, observes Obi (1970). Where are we headed with name-callings? Furthermore such a childless marriage is a source of disappointment and leads to big trouble between the couples, Obi conclude (1970). Most times the woman is blamed to be the root cause of the problem. She is accused of having lived a reckless live and may have had series of abortions in her younger days. This may or may not be true. Therefore she is constantly nagged by her mother in-law. No wonder most woman will rather not have mothers-in-law; they go to the extent of wishing their prospective mothers-in-law dead. How could they wish the mother of their husband dead? Such wishes could boomerang in the future when their own daughters-in-law wish them also dead. So take heed of the wishes you make for mothers-in-law. But at times they are not to be blamed totally especially when they narrate the horrible physical and emotional trauma they pass through. Sometimes also the sisters-in-law contribute to making the womanâ€™s life a living hell. They are so quick to forget that some day they may become a victim either directly or indirectly.
The fate of a sterile woman is very hard one indeed. She is often made the object of conversation and ridiculed and taunted by some of her female neighbours or husbandâ€™s family. If an occasion for a quarrel arises, she gets the most painful telling off. Her women rivals would call her heart-breaking, painful and derogatory names such as Nwanyi-aga (which literally means the sterile woman, the barren one), sterile monster who has her maternal organs for mere decoration, notes Obi (1970). Therefore a woman going into marriage has the issue of child bearing to contend with and should be physically, emotionally and psychologically ready to face the challenges.
Often times childless woman (especially the practicing traditional woman) never get tired of visiting Dibias – native doctors who sometimes can only give a psychological help. For their Christian woman counterpart in contemporary Nigerian society, she becomes very prayerful and visits prayer houses. She strongly believes that one day her sorrows of childlessness will be over when her prayers are answered and she eventually becomes a mother.
In typical Igbo society even in contemporary times, the position of a wife in her husband’s family remains shaky and unpredictable until she begets a child. She becomes really secure after the birth of a male child, notes Obi (1970). The male child issue will be discussed in another piece. Meanwhile the woman now gains her respect in the society, among her women folks and most importantly in her husbandâ€™s family.
Most times the husband who is supposed to protect his wife from attacks from his family and stand by her is either scared or is lily-livered or he is not man enough to stand his ground for his wife. He does not want to offend his loving mother as believes his dear wife would understand, she knows that is how mothers-in-law are. He is playing safe. Agreed every man wants a child but the physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing of his wife should be of importance to him.
That woman is as hurt as she visibly can be. What she would not understand is why the man would not be man enough to stand up and fight for the woman he says he loves. He is assumed the backbone, pillar and strength of his new home, and should be protective of anything that would hurt his wife. The woman is very vulnerable and so should be protected and given physical, emotional and mental security.
Though I strongly agree that family members and relations should be concerned about the woman yet to conceive, but they should not make life a living hell for her. I think it is between the married couples to sort the problems themselves. Interference often leads to the collapse of the marriage â€“ the woman and her husband have had enough of each other after listening to outside opinions. Marriage is â€œfor better for worse â€¦â€ Many will question why stick with a woman who cannot have children. If loves her both couples should do what they feel is best for them without outside interference. We now live in a contemporary and enlightened society and so should know better not to let this very important issue â€“ child bearing, break a wondering union of for the couple.
There are other equally important aspects of marriage such as love and happiness. A marriage devoid of these, even though children abound, is equally heading for the rocks. No woman would want to be unhappy in marriage. Sooner or later she would follow their heart. The point I am trying to make is that despite the vital importance of having children, they should not be seen as the sole purpose of getting married. Love, companionship and happiness are as important as having children. Therefore in getting married, both couples should ensure that all they hope for in their union are in place. But if they are not all there, will the couples be willing to make unusual sacrifices or go the extra mile?Â
Have the childless couples considered adoption? Reactions to this issue range from tufiakwa may the gods of our fathers forbid, etc. Yes that is expected. A lot of people will query and totally disagree with the issue of adoption. What is wrong with adoption? Personally I do not see anything wrong with adoption. Certain things happen for certain reasons. There are many motherless children waiting to be adopted as much as there are many childless couples looking for children. It therefore makes sense that these kids are adopted by couples who need children. Children are children whether biological or adopted. The same love merit by a biological child can equally be transferred to adopted child. In that way marriages are saved from hitting the rock and also people who kick against polygamy on account of childlessness can have respite. We all know the numerous problems that usually accompany such polygamous families. Â Â
So I ask again Which Way Nigeria? How much longer should we allow issues that have a way around it constantly ruin a beautiful union of married couples? Itâ€™s high time we realized that children are as important and vital as other aspects of marriage. We should not prioritize over one so you donâ€™t break a happy marriage.
Celestine A. Obi (1970). MARRIAGE AMONG THE IGBO OF NIGERIA Unpublished doctoral thesis submitted to Pontifical Urban University, Rome. Available online at http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/igbo-marriage.htm on 15th March, 2009.