Childless Marriages and Child adoption among the Igbo

by John Kachikwulu Ekwunife (Author)
©2020 Thesis 376 Pages


At the heart of every marriage union among the Igbo people of Nigeria is the desire to have one’s own children, preferably male ones who will perpetuate the family name from generation to generation. Hence, no stone is left unturned to make sure that this aim is achieved in marriage. Oftentimes, this desire, despite every effort, is not realized by every married couple. Some marriages still remain childless. The precolonial Igbo were also confronted with childless marriages. But knowing the consequences of a childless marriage, they designed some methods of circumventing the problem. Almost all the methods they employed to make sure that no man died childless, which are extensively discussed in this work, are condemned by the Catholic Church. The Church proffered child adoption among other things as a solution to infertility in marriage. Child adoption, however, is frowned upon by some Igbo on the ground that it is against their culture. This situation, therefore, places some Igbo childless couples who want to remain faithful to the Christian faith on a crossroad of not knowing what to do in the face of infertility. The present work deals extensively on the meaning and ends of marriage among the Igbo people of Nigeria, on what it means to be childless among the Igbo, and on how the precolonial Igbo handled the situation as well as the importance of children in the Igbo family. The Church’s teaching on marriage before and after the Second Vatican Council and especially on childless marriages as found in Gaudium et spes is also discussed in a very elaborate way. Other important topics discussed in this work include the Church`s position on artificial reproductive technologies (ART); the meaning of child adoption; and the Igbo people`s knowledge, attitude, and perception about the practice of child adoption.
This work argues strongly that child adoption is something good and noble when it aims at the welfare of the child but at the same time not relegating the welfare of the adoptive parents to the background.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Childless Marriages and Adoption among the Igbo: In Defense of Child Adoption Based on the Igbo Traditional and Christian Values
  • Introduction
  • Purposes and Objectives of the Study
  • Delimitation of the Study
  • Methodology and Sources
  • Structure of the Work
  • Who Are the Igbo?
  • The Igbo Worldview in Relation to Childless Marriages
  • The Motivation for This Research
  • Part I: Introduction
  • Chapter One: The Igbo Concept of Marriage
  • 1.0 Introduction
  • 1.1 The Igbo Understanding of Marriage
  • 1.2 Stages in the Igbo Marriage Processes
  • 1.2.1 Enquiry Stage
  • 1.2.2 Payment of the Bride Wealth
  • 1.2.3 The Betrothal of the Bride
  • 1.3 Some Impediments to Marriage in the Igbo Culture
  • 1.3.1 Blood Affinity
  • 1.3.2 Established History of Sudden/Premature Deaths in a Family
  • 1.3.3 Extreme Case of Wickedness/Maltreatment of Women
  • 1.3.4 Infertility
  • 1.3.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: The Place of Children in the Igbo Marriage
  • 2.0 Introduction
  • 2.1 The Ends of Igbo Marriage
  • 2.1.1 A Few Igbo Names that Express the Importance of Children among the Igbo and Their Meaning/s
  • 2.2 The Importance of Children in the Igbo Culture
  • 2.2.1 Children as Old Age Insurance
  • 2.2.2 Children as Parents’ Hope of Immortality
  • 2.2.3 Children Are Proof of Man/Womanhood
  • Chapter Three: Types of Marriages and Traditional Solutions to Childlessness among the Igbo
  • 3.0 Introduction
  • 3.1 Monogamy
  • 3.2 Polygamy
  • 3.3 Nhachi Nwannyi
  • 3.4 Levirate Marriage
  • 3.5 Woman to Woman Marriage
  • 3.6 Summary of Part 1
  • Part II: The Church’s Teaching on Marriage
  • Chapter Four: The Place of Procreation in the Christian Concept of Marriage
  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 Procreation in Christian Marriage before Vatican II
  • 4.2 Summary
  • 4.3 The Place of Procreation in Christian Marriage in Gaudium et Spes
  • 4.3.0 Introduction
  • 4.3.1 Historical Evolution of Gaudium et Spes
  • 4.3.2 The Schema on Marriage/the Final Text of Gaudium et Spes on Marriage
  • 4.3.3 Ends of Christian Marriage in Gaudium et Spes
  • Conjugal Love
  • 4.3.4 The Igbo Marriage and Christian Marriage: Areas of Agreement and Discord
  • Chapter Five: Childlessness: Meaning, Forms, and Causes
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.1.1 Involuntary Childlessness
  • 5.1.2 Voluntary Childlessness
  • 5.2 Infertility
  • 5.3 Childlessness in the Old Testament
  • Chapter Six: The Church on Childless Marriages and Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • 6.0 Introduction
  • 6.1 What is Assisted Reproductive Technology?
  • 6.1.1 Artificial Insemination
  • 6.1.2 In Vitro Fertilization
  • 6.1.3 Sperm and Ovum Donation
  • 6.1.4 Surrogate Motherhood Arrangement
  • 6.2 The Igbo and Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • 6.3. The Church on Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • 6.3.1 The Nature of the Human Person
  • 6.3.2 The Nature of Marriage, Sexual Intercourse, and Procreation
  • 6.4 The Church on Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • 6.4.1 Some Objections to the Church’s Teaching on the Moral Status of Human Embryos
  • 6.4.2 Moral Evaluation of Heterologous IVF and Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer
  • 6.4.3 Moral Issues in Homologous Artificial Insemination
  • 6.4.4 Some Objections to the Magisterium’s Stance on Homologous IVF-ET
  • 6.4.5 Moral/Ethical Problems in Surrogate Motherhood
  • 6.5. Summary
  • Part III:
  • Chapter Seven: Child Adoption: An Alternative to Assisted Reproductive Technology and Solution to Childless Marriages
  • 7.0 Introduction
  • 7.1 Defining Child Adoption
  • 7.1.1 Forms of Child Adoption
  • 7.1.2 Reasons Why Children Are Put Up for Adoption
  • 7.2 Reasons Why Couples Adopt Children
  • 7.2.1 Child Adoption in Antiquity
  • 7.2.2 Adoption in the Middle Ages
  • 7.2.3 Child Adoption in the Modern Period
  • 7.3 Traditional Models of Child Adoption in the Igbo Society
  • 7.3.1 The Tụmanje Moonlight Story: Pointer to the Igbo Knowledge of Child Adoption
  • 7.3.2 Analysis of Tümanje Moonlight
  • 7.3.3 Nhachi Nwanyi as a Form of Adoption
  • Analysis of Nhachi Nwanyi in Relation to Child Adoption
  • Woman to Woman Marriage as a Form of Child Adoption
  • Conclusion
  • 7.4 The Contemporary Igbo and Child Adoption: A Study
  • 7.4.0 Introduction
  • 7.4.1 Instrument of Data Collection
  • Area of Study
  • Methods of Data Analysis
  • Participants
  • Preparations before Administering the Questionnaires
  • Some Ethical Considerations
  • Questionnaire
  • 7.4.2 Data Presentation and Analysis
  • Rate of Returns of Questionnaires during the Field Survey
  • Gender Distribution of Questionnaires Not Returned
  • Gender Distribution of Respondents
  • Age of Respondents
  • Qualification of Respondents
  • 7.4.3 Presentation, Analysis, and Interpretation of Data Collected through the Questionnaire
  • Primary Aim of Igbo Marriage
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status, and the Primary Aim of Igbo Marriage Is to Bear Children
  • Childless Are Stigmatized in the Igbo Society
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status, and Stigmatization of the Childless in the Igbo Society
  • Child Adoption Is Alien to the Igbo Culture
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status, and Views on Child Adoption Being Alien to the Igbo Culture
  • Traditionally, Child Adoption Is a Good Option for Childless Marriage in the Igbo Culture
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status, and Views Whether Child Adoption Is an Option for Childless Marriage
  • Adopted Children Are Always Accepted as Full Members of the Igbo Society
  • Relationship Sex, Age, Educational Status, and Adopted Children Are Always Accepted as Full Members of the Igbo Society
  • Table 11: Question 6: An Adopted Child Has Rights of Inheritance and Succession in the Igbo Society?
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status and Adopted Has Right of Inheritance in the Igbo Society
  • Child Adoption Should Be Encouraged
  • Relationship between Age, Educational Status, and Child Adoption Should Be Encouraged and Promoted
  • Relationship between Sex, Age, Educational Status, and Lack of Education Affects People’s Attitude to Child Adoption
  • 7.5 Discussion
  • 7.6 Arguments of Some Igbo against the Practice of Child Adoption
  • 7.7 Summary
  • Chapter Eight: In Defense of Child Adoption
  • 8.0 Introduction
  • 8.1 The Igbo Cultural Values Perspective
  • 8.1.1 Sense of the Sacredness of Human Life
  • 8.1.2 The Igbo Sense of Solidarity
  • 8.1.3 The Igbo Sense of Freedom and Autonomy
  • 8.2 Nigerian Child Rights Act 2003 on Child Adoption
  • 8.2.0 Introduction
  • 8.2.1 History of Legal Child Adoption Act in Nigeria
  • 8.2.2 Children Who May Be Adopted
  • 8.2.3 Persons Who May Adopt a Child
  • 8.2.4 Nationality Required for Adoption in Nigeria
  • 8.2.5 Prohibition of Certain Payment for Adoption
  • 8.2.6 Adopted Children’s Register
  • 8.2.7 Legal Effect of Child Adoption According to the Act
  • The Possible Effects of Closed Adoption System among the Igbo
  • 8.3 The Christian Perspective of Child Adoption
  • 8.3.1 Adoption in the Theology of Paul
  • Controversy over the Origin, Meaning, and Background of the Term υίoөɛστα
  • Paul on Adoption in Ephesians 1
  • Paul on Adoption in Galatians 4:1–7
  • Paul on Adoption in Romans 8:14–15, 23
  • Paul’s Theology of Adoption and Its Implication for Believers
  • 8.3.2 Adoption as Charity
  • 8.3.3 Child Adoption: A Form of Responsible Parenthood
  • Child Adoption as a Form of Responsible Parenthood?
  • 8.3.4 Evaluation
  • 8.4 Adoption of Frozen Embryo (Moral Implication)
  • 8.4.1 The Church’s Teaching on the Moral Status of the Embryo
  • 8.4.2 Arguments against Embryo Adoption
  • 8.5 Arguments in Support of Frozen Embryo Adoption
  • 8.5.1 Embryo Adoption: A Personal Opinion
  • 8.5.2 Evaluation
  • 8.6 Solutions to Childless Marriages and Adoption Problems among the Igbo
  • Conclusion
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography

Childless Marriages and Adoption among the Igbo: In Defense of Child Adoption Based on the Igbo Traditional and Christian Values


The importance of children among the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria cannot be over emphasized. The family name and lineage is perpetuated in and through the children. In them, the parents live on even when they are dead. A childless marriage for the Igbo is, therefore, seen as a bitter fate, a condition that brings untold sorrow, hardship, and rejection to the couples concerned. Childlessness in marriage is also perceived by the Igbo people, as a negative indicator to the possibility of extinction of one’s name on earth. To prevent such an ugly situation, the traditional Igbo had their traditional ways of solving the problem of childless marriages. However, these provisions are found wanting when they are weighed on the scale of the moral teachings of the Catholic Church about marriage and its ends.

Among the options left for all peoples, who have embraced the Catholic Faith and wish to remain so, as a solution to childless marriages after all legitimate means of conception have been exhausted is child adoption. However, a majority of the Igbo people are of the view that child adoption is alien to the Igbo culture, hence their outright rejection or skeptical attitude toward the practice of child adoption. In some cases, the courageous childless couples who went ahead for adoption are cajoled and their adopted children discriminated against.

Some Igbo authors, who have written on childless marriages, mentioned adoption in their works as a solution to childlessness only in passing.1 None of them made an attempt to justify child adoption based on Igbo cultural practices so as to make the practice acceptable and by so doing, mitigate the ill and, sometimes, inhuman treatments meted to adoptive parents and their adopted children in some Igbo communities. I consider this a grave omission in their works and tend to correct it in this work. The reason for such an omission could be that the writers themselves do not even know that, contrary to the “popular opinion,” child adoption is not foreign to the Igbo cultural practices, at least in relation to childless marriages.

←17 | 18→

My major consideration in this work is: Childless marriages and the practice of child adoption among the Igbo-speaking people of Nigeria. That is, the Igbo attitude to childless marriages, as well as their perception of child adoption in general, and of adopted children and their adoptive parents in particular.

Purposes and Objectives of the Study

The purposes and objectives of this study include the following:

a. To study childless marriages and adoption as it affects the Igbo-speaking people of Southeastern Nigeria.

b. To make child adoption acceptable to the Igbo people, thereby mitigating the humiliations suffered by childless couples as well as the ill and, sometimes, inhuman treatments meted out to the adopted children in some Igbo communities. I intend to achieve this by proving that child adoption, contrary to the notion of many Igbo, is not alien to the Igbo culture, but rather, has been part of the Igbo traditional solutions to childless marriages, though under various names.

c. To investigate if child adoption actually solves the problem of childless marriages for the Igbo people, who strongly believe that children are meant to be ‘begotten’ not to be ‘bought,’ for people who believe that inheritance of parents’ estates is strictly the exclusive right of only the biologically born male issues.

The outcome of this study, I believe, will be of immense help both to childless couples and adopted children as well. Furthermore, it will serve as a clarion call on the Igbo society in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ and the Igbo cultural spirit of “Onye aghala nwanne ya” (brotherhood), to reevaluate the position of both adoptive parents and their adopted children in the society. This, no doubt, will also help the Nigerian policy makers to make laws that will protect and empower both involuntary childless couples and adopted children against any form of abuse and discrimination.

Delimitation of the Study

This study was carried out among and for the Igbo-speaking people of Southeastern Nigeria comprising five states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo.

The state of childlessness discoursed in this work is not the voluntary type of childlessness but rather the nonvoluntary childlessness. Nonvoluntary is a state ←18 | 19→of childlessness that occurs as a result of infertility that is congenital or accidental, be it on the part of the man or the woman. These conditions make conception impossible for couples, who were officially united in marriage as husband and wife. Because of the discrepancies on the exact age of the Igbo polity and their culture, I have divided the Igbo and their culture into two groups, namely (a) the traditional or precolonial Igbo. By this, I mean the Igbo and their culture the way they were, before their encounter with the Western world. That is, the Igbo and their culture before the 18th century AD. (b) The Igbo and their culture from the time of colonization till date. I shall use the terms traditional or prehistoric Igbo when referring to the former and the terms, the modern Igbo or the Igbo of today when referring to the latter. My study group is the modern Igbo, and most of our data will come from this section. But because no one can successfully study the present without reference to the past, especially as it concerns the subject under discussion, I shall constantly, where necessary, draw data or make reference to the prehistoric Igbo.

Methodology and Sources

The precolonial Igbo, just like most African countries, were poor peasants with a nonliterary culture. They could therefore not preserve their culture and traditions in written forms. However, they documented their events and thoughts or rather their philosophy and worldview in oral traditions. These oral traditions include their language, proverbs, idioms, short stories, and many more. These were transmitted from generation to generation. Edeh was therefore right when he wrote:

It is true that our Igbo ancestors left us no writings. But from them we have a legacy of stories, proverbs and traditional sayings, orally transmitted from generation to generation. Even now when Igbo literature is steadily gaining attention, contemporary Igbo authors rely very much on these stories, proverbs and sayings for their novels.2

The contention of Macgregor as quoted in Aligwekwe3 that there existed among the ancient Igbo a form of writing known as Nsibidi, which was used exclusively by the members of a secret society of Okonko, is yet to gain the approval of Igbo scholars. Based on these preliminary remarks, our data for this research would be collected from Igbo oral literatures as expressed in their culture and tradition.

←19 | 20→

The validity or reliability of oral tradition in itself as a key to understanding people with a nonliterary culture, like the precolonial Igbo, has, however, suffered severe attacks from anthropologists and ethnographers alike.4 However, people like Vansina and Hoopes share the opinion that oral tradition in itself independent of archeological or linguistic finds can tell us much about people of pre-historic times. Vansina, for instance, has this to say:

In those parts of the world inhabited by peoples without writing, oral tradition forms the main available source for a reconstruction of the past, and even among peoples who have writing, many historical sources, including the most ancient ones, are based on oral tradition.5

Sharing the same opinion Hoopes writes:

Things that have survived from the past, called documents, are the basis of historical knowledge. Most historians rely on books, letters, diaries, deeds, census and tax records, church registers, bill of lading, and so on. But houses, coins, tools, gravestones, furniture, ←20 | 21→and folklore or legends handed down from generation to generation are also documents and can tell us much about people who created them.6

Despite the avalanche of criticisms against oral tradition, the case of Lemba People of Southern Africa has demonstrated that oral tradition can play a very vital role in understanding a group of people and their own traditions.7 Again, oral tradition played an important role in the investigation of Iron Age and industrial life in Africa. Oral testimonies of former iron-smelters were used by historians and archeologists to obtain information on the sites, locations of smelting and resources used, as well as rituals surrounding such activity.8

Green, in her article, “The unwritten literature of the Igbo speaking people of South-Eastern Nigeria,” maintains that among the unwritten literature of the Igbo are Nkwa ọǹ u nwa (songs of rejoicing for a child). These songs are not written anywhere except in the memories of the women who sing them, and they were passed on from generation to generation only by memorizing and singing them. These songs, as she rightly observed, “are song by women in connection with the birth of a child. They deal with the relationship between husband and wife, with the desirability of having children, with sexual matters in general….they throw much light on cultural values,”9 especially on the Igbo cultural value of reciprocity and hospitality to the less privileged. These songs and similar others will be examined in order to determine what they have to say about the subject of our discussion.

←21 | 22→

I shall discuss more on the Igbo hospitality and some other traditional values for which the Afro-Igbo are known as we progress. My justification of and proposal for child adoption as a solution to childlessness in marriage shall, to a great extent, derive from them.

Part of my data will also come from questionnaires as well as from literary sources: books, journals, and electronic resources on the subject under consideration both by the Igbo and non-Igbo scholars alike. The essence of the questionnaires is to help us assess the situation well with the intention of arriving at best possible solutions to the problem. Our participants shall consist of both young and old among which are necessarily involuntary childless people. The responses of especially childless couples will help us to understand more about the Igbo society’s perception of childless marriages, of a childless woman or man, as well as their perception of child adoption in general, in a patriarchal society that seems not to have a place for adopted children.

The rules guiding such questionnaires will be strictly adhered to. Hoopes outlined some of these rules and they include: privacy, background research on the issue in question, and written interview guide among others. The idea of in-depth or semistructured questionnaires is necessary to this work because, up till now, there has been no literature written either by the Igbo themselves or by outsiders that has based its justification or denial of child adoption as an alternative solution to childlessness based on the Afro-Igbo traditional values. This, however, is one of the tasks I have set out to undertake in this work. Volumes, of course, have been written on child adoption; but, in my judgment, they lack in the concepts that are familiar to the Afro-Igbo.

I shall also review some documents of the Church dealing on the subject matter of this study: Gaudium et Spes, papal encyclicals and exhortations, pastoral letters of bishops, and other ecclesial documents. The review shall examine the teachings of the Church on childless marriages and adoption in order to determine its stand on the problems of childlessness and child adoption.

Part of the data would also be sourced from my 12 years’ experience as a pastor in some parishes in Igboland. In the course of these 12 years of active pastoral work, I was confronted with the pains, agonies, and the inhuman treatments suffered by the childless in a culture where more than 90% of its inhabitants are now Christians. I also took part in negotiating for adoptive children for the courageous childless couples, who wanted to swim against the current of acceptable cultural norms and practices. The negotiations, however, suffered, most of the time, strong oppositions. The major reason for the oppositions was based on the assumption that child adoption was alien to the culture of the people. Part of my project, therefore, is to establish the falsity or the veracity of this ←22 | 23→assumption through questionnaires and the review of literatures available on the issue. A critical analysis of the data collected will be properly done. At the end, knowing that the essence of theology is the liberation of the whole man after the teaching of Jesus Christ, I shall propose solutions to the Igbo childless marriages and adoption. My status as a participant observer in this subject, that is, as one who was not only born and brought up in the Igbo culture and traditions, but also exercises his pastoral ministry among the people, is one of the main strengths in doing justice to this study.

Structure of the Work

Structurally, the entire work is arranged in three parts with a total of eight chapters.

Part one, which is composed of three chapters, examines the Igbo concept of marriage and family. The overriding objective of this part is to inquire into what constitutes the end of the Igbo marriage as well as the place of children in the Igbo society. This part also investigates the Igbo attitude to childless marriages and the means employed to rescue such a situation.

Part two, which in turn has three chapters, investigates the Christian concept of marriage before and after the Vatican Council II. In this section also, the Igbo and the Christian concept of marriage are juxtaposed with the intention to find out their points of agreement and their points of divergence, especially in respect to childless marriages.

Part three, which is the last part of the work, is composed of two chapters. This section investigates the concept of child adoption from antiquity up to the modern period. Drawing from the outcome of the investigation, an attempt is made to justify the practice of child adoption based on some fundamental values contained in both the Igbo and Christian tradition.

Who Are the Igbo?

Prior to the British colonization of the Igbo (1880–1918), not much was known about them by the outside world. Even though much has been written about them from the time they were colonized till today, Historians, Anthropologists, Ethnographers, Linguists, and Archeologists both of Igbo extraction and foreigners are yet to agree on when the Igbo as a people began, where they came from, and on the actual meaning of the word “Igbo.” Much of what has been said either begins or ends with the word “probably” or with the phrase: “until latter archeological findings prove otherwise.” This research does not, however, intend to discredit the efforts made so far by both historians and archeologists or of those who, in ←23 | 24→one way or another, have involved themselves in the project of reconstructing the pre-colonial Igbo history. Neither does it intend to throw away the results we now have until better ones emerge. The question, however, remains, when will certainty replace probability? The pre-colonial Igbo project is therefore to some extent still inconclusive. The reason for this is that the pre-colonial Igbo, as mentioned earlier, were not literate. They were nonetheless able to transmit their culture and tradition to other generations. According to Afigbo, a celebrated Igbo Historian, it was assumed that to be born and raised in the culture makes one automatically a carrier and transmitter of the Igbo culture and tradition. In other words, for the pre-colonial Igbo, “merely to be born and to live was to be trained, instructed and educated as well as to do, that is to have the opportunity to put into practice.”10 Again stories and information were preserved as records in the form of oral traditions. In addition to these, the people’s proverbs, parables, myths, names, titles, languages, body gestures, and so on speak volumes about their culture and traditions.11

Worthy of mention here is that, apart from the early work of Olauda Equiano12, an Igbo slave sold into the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, who later bought his freedom and wrote his autobiography in which is contained a dim image of the pre-colonial Igbo society. Much of what the world knew about the pre-colonial Igbo and their world were things written after the 18th century either by the colonial masters themselves or their agents and, of course, by the missionaries. The Igbo themselves joined the enterprise later.13 These works of foreign authors, irrespective of their merits, lacked, however, objectivity and depth. Part of the reason being that the writers depended mostly on what their interpreters told them, since most of them could not speak the language well or at all. The few of them, who could speak the language, lacked in-depth understanding of the language and the profundity of its concepts.

The first official ethno-anthropological study done on the Igbo was carried out by Green and Leith-Ross 18 years after the Aba women’s riot of 1929–1930.14 ←24 | 25→Prior to this time, the Igbo were depicted by some colonial officers and authors as people without history and culture. For instance, Fredrick Lugard, the architect of the indirect rule system and first Lieutenant Governor General of Nigeria, portrayed the Igbo people as being in a stage of primitive savagery.15 Perham, a prominent colonial officer and writer, perceived the Igbo sociopolitical organization as “unorganized” and particularly barbarous and intractable.16 Be that as it may, it is now no longer controverted that the Igbo had a culture ever before they were colonized.17 By culture here I mean: “That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”18 When these are acquired and shared by men and women, who occupy a particular geographical location at a given epoch and time, they become the people’s culture.

The people known today as the Igbo are found predominantly in the Southeast of Nigeria. That means, in the states of: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. They are also found in parts of Delta, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, and Benue States.

The Igbo are one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, the remaining two are the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. The Igbo have an estimated population of 35 million and occupy a total landmass of about 15,800 square miles.19 According to Jeffreys, the word “Igbo” means “forest dwellers” or the indigenous inhabitants of the forest region.20 Onwuejeogwu in his contribution maintains that the concept “Igbo” simply means “a community of people” who shared common values and ideas.21 Ifemesia postulates that it is associated with the ancients (Ndi-Igbo) who lived in the forest region.22 The origin of the Igbo as ←25 | 26→a nation as we said earlier is till today an issue of debate, the archeological and linguistic finds notwithstanding. What is not under contention is the fact that, based on linguistic findings, the Igbo language as well as those of its neighbors—Edo, Yoruba, Idoma, and Igala—belong to a group of languages which has been described as Kwa which itself belongs to a group of languages known as the Niger-Congo stock.23

With regard to where the Igbo first settled before dispersing to other areas where they are today found, Afigbo and Onwuejeogwu favored the Northern Igbo area. Afigbo, for instance, contends:

Apart from looking towards the general area of the Niger-Benue confluence for the origin of the Igbo and seeing Igbo culture history as spanning at least six thousand years, the historian of Igbo culture has reason to suspect that the Northern Igbo area occupies a place of first importance in the story of the emergency of Igbo culture. From all the available data it was the first place to be settled by the Igbo after they came into the forest, it was there that they evolved a distinct culture, it was from there that they moved out to occupy the other areas they now inhabit.24

The pre-colonial Igbo society had agriculture as their main source of sustenance. Writing on the agrarian nature of this time, Equiano has this to say: “our land is uncommonly rich and fruitful, and produces all kinds of vegetables in great abundance…agriculture is our chief employment; and every one even the children and women are engaged in it.”25 To be able to produce enough for one’s family, many hands were required since their system of agriculture was not mechanized. One’s labor force consisted mainly of his family members. A few that could afford it hired labor. A small household was in this relation considered a disadvantage whereas a big one was deemed a blessing. Lack of a household at all, either as a result of primary or secondary infertility or as a result of whatever reason, was viewed as a catastrophe, a danger not only to the family but also to the society as a whole. This is so because neither the family nor the entire society will grow demographically.

It is from this perspective that one can really understand the rationale behind the craving for many wives and children by the pre-colonial Igbo society. Although agriculture alone is no longer the main source of the Igbo economy, the craving for children by the Igbo families has not changed so much from ←26 | 27→what it used to be. This shall be discoursed in detail as we progress and show the reasons why this is so.

The Igbo family system structure is patriarchal and inheritance of property along this line is taken very seriously. This seems to give the males more power over the female folk. For the Igbo people, hard work is highly esteemed while idleness is strongly condemned.

The Igbo Worldview in Relation to Childless Marriages

The Igbo have a saying that it is only death that defies human solution. Every other misfortune, in so far as it is a human problem, has a human solution. Man has the ability to manipulate the world to his advantage. Uchendu is of the view that the Igbo see the world as a market place where bargaining is the rule of the game. Nobody wants to be cheated; the upper most intention of every one in a market is to make profit. If one does not succeed in a particular line of trade, one must change to another. One keeps on doing so until success is achieved. To give up without having tried all other available options is a sign not only of weakness but also of ignorance of the rhythms of life. In this case, therefore, one is held responsible for his successes and failures in life. Borrowing the words of McCall,26 “in the Igbo view, destiny is neither entirely chosen nor completely given. It is negotiated.” The implication of this type of approach to life is that, for the Igbo, the word “determinism” does not exist. They believe strongly on the saying: Onye kwe chi ya ekwe. Meaning, if one says “yes,” one’s Chi will equally say “yes.” For the Igbo, Man is what he makes of himself. Nobody was destined to be poor or to be rich, to have children or to be barren. All these can be negotiated with one’s Chi.

Chi in the Igbo life and thought is one’s personal guardian spirit, which is assigned to one at the moment of conception by God. There is nothing that happens to a man in life that his Chi is not aware of. In other words, his fortunes and misfortunes are in the hands of his Chi. If one cooperates with his Chi through hard work, one is bound to record success in all his undertakings; otherwise, one will fail woefully in life.

The above line of thought, otherwise, known as the philosophy of “onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe” on a closer examination seems to contradict the Igbo second theory or principle concerning Chi as expressed in the saying: O mebelu ma chi ekwe ←27 | 28→si a tana ya uta (do not blame someone who has tried all he could but does no succeed.) (It is his Chi that is to blame). This implies that sometimes one can say yes but his Chi will say otherwise, pointing to the fact that no matter what one does in life, the outcome has already been determined. No one can grow more than his chi. The chief character, Okonkwo, in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a case in point. Okonkwo who inherited nothing but debts from his lazy father Unoka vowed to be one of the greatest men in Unuofia. In the words of Achebe:


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
Adoption Gaudium et Spes Assisted reproductive technology Childless marriages Igbo people
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 376 pp., 9 fig. b/w, 35 tables.

Biographical notes

John Kachikwulu Ekwunife (Author)


Title: Childless Marriages and Child adoption among the Igbo