Among many people of Igbo land, there is a customary inheritance system called “Iri-ekpe”, a common practice among most Igbo communities with a central belief that a man is inherited at his death by his surviving male children. Where a man dies without marrying or is not survived by any son(s), his estate is inherited by his brothers at the death of his wife.

It is also a belief and practice here that daughters are “Ama onye ozo” i.e they belong to another man and lineage, hence the custom of ‘bride-price’, a symbolical exchange of daughters for a specific price as requested by the father or in some cases the male relatives of the bride. Daughters are expected to never live with their families. They will ultimately marry and remain in their husband’s house forever. If a daughter is divorced, she will marry again. If she is widowed, her brother-in-law will inherit her and take care of her and her children.

Thus, it is strongly believe that a woman has no name, community or god until she marries. And that’s why fathers will give their wives the names they bear (Example) “OBI DI YA, AHU DI YA, MMA DI YA” etc. Her house, her community and her gods are now those of her husband eternally. She does not carry her father’s wealth to her husband’s house. She is not expected to be included in the “iri-ekpe” tradition and even in her husband’s family, any inheritance that will fall to her is solely dependent on whether she has sons. If she has no child or only have daughters, then she is empty handed both among her people and her husband’s people. To remedy this, women are forced to “stay put” while their husbands marry more wives in order to have a son, or more sons.

In the case were the husband is dead, the tradition of wife inheritance comes in. It’s a custom called “Nkuchi nwanyi” where a dead man’s brother marries the widow so that she can have sons for his late brother. In the same vein, if the woman does not want to be inherited in the family, she is allowed to go out and continue to bear children for late husband. This is called “Azu di.” This permission is also given to women whose husbands are impotent. The children so born will answer their late father’s name and inherit his estate.

In some special cases, the Igbo custom permits the widow to marry another wife in the name of her late husband, who will now bear children (sons) to inherit their late father (whom they never know nor were they his blood, but were his sons by customs and tradition). This explains the concept of same sex marriage and female husbands in Igbo land.

If the widow have a daughter or daughters, tradition requests her to remain in her father’s house and bear sons who will carry on their father’s name and inherit him. (Male daughters)

The focal point of this essay entails that in Igbo traditions, inheritance is patrilineal, sons are paramount and it is the duty of women – wives and daughters in special cases to produce these sons. Women in general are appendages to men whose main purpose is to produce sons for the continuation of patriarchal lineages.


Written by Onyinyechi Ishiwu-Pat.

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