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  • Monday, 06 December 2021


Chief Anayo Nwosu


My father, Obiukwu, could not marry more than one wife, as did his father, grandfather or his immediate elder brother, Ozuomee. How would he, when he did with my mother, what he would have done with many wives? How could one explain the activity that caused my mother to give birth to 12 children?


That, to me, was too much a burden to one woman. Perhaps, my mother was all my father wanted in a woman. Even until she died at nearly 86, my mother was still charming with surplus adipose tissues in the right places and with comforting mammalian protrusions that served us her kids and our father as food and warmth.


But Nnanyi Ozumee, my father’s elder brother, decided to uphold his ancestors’ practice of polygamy. He married four beautiful women with different physical attributes. He married them plump, short, slender and petite as such; he never lacked variety.


With careful choice of the physical attributes he desired, my uncle properly settled down or was satisfied as a saturated carbon would be bonded after its four binding sites. Ironically, my uncle lived longer than my dad. While my monogamous and love-bird dad died at 64, Ozumee, his brother, died at 94 and both died of natural causes.


In the olden days in Nnewi, polygamy or the practice of marrying more than one wife was a preserve for comfortable men, not for those men who could be blown away by a mild wind of hardship or poverty. No wealthy man would be deemed complete without a decoration of his wives flanking him by the sides.


As a child in my time, it was glorious to watch foremost Nnewi millionaires, namely Late Chief LNE Nsoedo and Chief Augustine Ilodibe alias Ekene Dili Chukwu enter occasions with their beautiful wives flanking them by their sides. They were said to be big men in worth and in deed.


That a man in Igbo land could be said to be polygamous means that “na ọ chịrị inyom." A middle class or poor man could become polygamous by accident of fate. A man could marry more wives in search of a male child or more children. The majority of only sons whose wives had only two or three children were persuaded to take on more wives. Igbo names like Afamefuna (my name would never be forgotten), Madụka (humans are the most important), Madụbụuko (humans are the glory of a family) and Nwaka (Child is supreme) amplify the need for a man to beget as many children as he can.


In a typical polygamous family like my uncle’s, every wife knows the rule. The first wife is called Mama Nnukwu (i.e. Big Mama), whilst the last is called Mama Obele (i.e. Small Mama). Other wives in between are called by the name of their first child. It is the job of the first wife to draw the duty roaster for servicing their husband.


Every wife is expected to keep to her allotted number of days in a week. Care is taken to ensure that nobody is scheduled to be on duty during her menstrual period. When a woman is on duty, she would be saddled with the cooking of food for the husband, after which she alone would be seen around Nnanyị or the husband in his room at night. Any other wife who strays or trespasses into another’s turn is scolded by the first wife, who is the final judge on the matter.


But Nnanyị Ozuomee, my uncle, sometimes in the afternoon after enjoying palm wine with his friend, Udebuani or Chukwuchem and depending on the signals he got from his chief tendon, would without regards for existing duty roaster, invite any of his wives to his room for a brief discussion.


His wives saw this as a bonus. In one instance, I would overhear some other wives abusing the invited woman, usually the one he married from Calabar. They would not voice out much of their invectives to hearing children except the subdued shout of “onye oshi” or “thief!” It was later in life that I understood what was being stolen.


My uncle’s wives cohabited in the same compound, each in her hut or small house. But my uncle's house was positioned in such a way as to give him an expansive view of the entrance doors to his wives' huts. With this arrangement, any philandering wife could be caught. The children grew up together and are a large family. That was the beautiful side of polygamy I witnessed as it was practiced.


Surprisingly, the children of my polygamous uncle and I are deemed equal before God and are not discriminated against in the Christian churches, most of which have banned polygamy.


Chief Anayo Nwosu is a celebrated bank manager, financial and investment consultant and prolific writer

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