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The ordeal of the descendants of first son who died before his father – Igbo Culture, Nigeria

By Anayo M. Nwosu

Nọnọ Uduji would not sleep well at night even though she had gone to bed. She knew what was at stake. The children of Ezeagha (her husband’s elder brother and the former monarch who had transferred the reins of Obiship of Nnewi and Otolo to Ifeluonye, her son) had not slept too. Ezeagha had deemed his numerous sons unfit to succeed him.

Even though her son, Ifeluonye the son of Ezenwa, had mounted his throne at a very tender age, he needed to quickly get wives for him to have children to attenuate the vengeance of of his transducers, his cousins who were still enraged that their father bypassed them and handed over the rein of power to him.

Ifeluonye Ezenwa later took an Ozo title of Ezeoguine. He was a ruler who lead his people from the front in so many wars and was to earn the title of “Ọnụọ Ọra” or a field marshal.

Nọnọ Uduji his mother, found a wife for her son in Miss Imediugwu, the first daughter of Dim Ogeli from Inyaba Umudim. Dim Ogeli was of Dim Naagu the first Obi of Umudim. Theirs was a family of warriors.

Dim Naagu was a great warrior who emigrated from Ojoto and settled on a swathe of land called Inyaba in the present day Umudim. He co-mingled with the children of Nnewi, married some of them and was able to take over the headship of the Umudim through clear act of manifest leadership in waging wars with neighbouring Ozubulu and Ụkpọ.

Uduji rightly believed that her son’s marriage of the first daughter of a warrior would help strengthen his stool.

That was how Ezeoguine, the Obi of Nnewi and Otolo married Imediugwu as his first wife.

Imediugwu immediately got pregnant and begot a son named Obiesie (which means that the throne has now been fortified).

In quick succession, Ezeoguine married another wife called Onyebuchi who bore him many children and the first of which was Ezechukwu.

Imediugwu the first wife, had problems with conception after her first child. She was however able to have another son and a daughter but that was after some other wives of her husband had given birth to many male children.

Her second child and a son was named Ojiakonobi. The child was later to take an Ozo title of Ezenwegbu that is the writer’s ụmụnna.

In line with “ụba madu” or “aggressively populating his homestead with children” plan, Ezeoguine married four other wives that bore him many children.

Tragedy struck as Obiesie the first son of the Ezeoguine and the child of Imediugwu, the first wife died before his father.

Obiesie’s mother, Imediugwu, was not only aggrieved over a loss of a son but also the loss of the throne of Nnewi and Otolo. Her other son, Ezenwegbu or Ojiakonobi had had other elder brothers from her husband’s other wives.

First sons who die before their fathers are not buried inside their fathers’ compound. They are buried outside.

Those first sons who had had children before they died are buried in a portion of land where the father of the deceased would later give to the deceased’s children as their homestead.

Naturally, Ezechukwu the first son of Onyebuchi and the eldest surviving son of Ezeoguine succeeded his father as the Obi Otolo and Nnewi. He inherited his father’s compound and his harem. That was how Umuezenwegbu lost the Obiship of Nnewi and Otolo due to the death of Obiesie the first son of the king.

In Igbo land, the first surviving son inherits his father’s compound and his Obi. He would also inherit the throne if that is by heredity.

If the deceased first son had married and had male children before he died, his children would be given the second position in the perking order or right to choose when assets or meat are being shared amongst the child of their grandfather.

But if a son died without any male child, whatever he acquired before his death would be inherited by his father and would later be acquired by the person who nature has bestowed the first sonship.

The tragedy of the death of Obiesie was double in that he had not married nor had any male child before his death and was as such forgotten and is not even mentioned when the sons of Ezeoguine are being called.

When Ezeoguine died in around 1754 and his eldest surviving son, Ezechukwu succeeded him, the perking order in the royal family was recalibrated.

In an Nnewi polygamous setting, all the male children queue behind their mothers.

The mother that begot the eldest surviving son of her husband would stand in front only with the very eldest of her sons who shall bring home his own share to be distributed among all his male siblings.

It is immaterial even if the mother of the heir has other sons are older than the sons of other wives. This tradition is called “mkpa” or a “block”.

The next on the sharing perking order is the woman whose first son is the immediate younger son to the eldest surviving son of the father. And so on.

In other words, only the first son of each wife of a polygamous man will step out in order of age or seniority to take a share of their father’s assets and liabilities.

Once the first son of a mother collects his share, he would now go and share same with his siblings.

There is an Nnewi saying that “ekechaa na nna, ekee na nne” meaning that “the first son’s share from a polygamous father’s assets would further be distributed among siblings of the same mother”

In the paternal and the maternal sharing sessions, the first son presides and nobody questions his modus operandi in sharing the assets.

But there are some rules that are sacrosanct.

One, the first son takes a double portion. One for the office of his Obi and the other for himself and his family or siblings as the case may be.

Two, the only son of a woman in a polygamous setting gets the largest share of a land as sharing is never based on the number of children a mother or beneficiary has.

Three, the first son reserves the unquestionable right to reserve any portion of land he decides not to table amongst those to be shared. That one too belongs to him.

Four, in the sharing amongst siblings, that portion of land housing the homestead of their mother or purchased by her belongs to the last male child except the mother stated otherwise.

Five, a father while alive could change the order or the ranking of his male children. He might choose any of the sons from any of his wives as the Obi.

Six, the new Obi so chosen by his dad shall preside over the sharing of his father’s assets and would be entitled to all that should have accrued to the first son. The demoted first son shall be treated as the second son in rank if he is not from the same mother as his replacement. He is given a land to establish his homestead outside his father’s obi or compound.

Seven, most often than not, a father shares all his assets (except his wives) amongst his sons before he dies in a traditional process known as “idu ana obi”. Whatever a father failed to share, automatically belongs to first son or he who succeeds him.

Eight, the first son only shares his father’s estate if his father failed to do so before he died. He can’t undo or redistribute that which his father had done.

It then happened that my ancestral grandmother, Imediugwu and her surviving son, Ezenwegbu were ranked 3rd by Nnewi tradition in the perking and sharing order in the palace where she was the first wife of the ruler and had the first son who died before his father.

But, Ezenwegbu, my great-great-grandfather, being the only son of his mother had the largest portion of land received as a share of his father’s estate.

He had no brother to share with. He had no “adị m na nne” or siblings.

Those who had many brothers had had to slice their shares according to their numbers.

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