Umuada represent one of the veritable tools in the government of traditional Igbo setting. Before the advent of the warrant chiefs, county council or Igwe as the head of a community, Umuada and Nze na Ozo society were the only government of the time. Therefore, Umuada (daughters of the land) has been as old as Ndi Igbo and has been in the vanguard in socio cultural and socio-political development in the community.
African culture is mostly male-dominated, as is the culture of many nativenations worldwide. However, the paternalistic propensity of African culture, especially the Igbo culture, does not indicate subjugation of women. On the contrary, women in traditional Igbo societies are a force in political, legal, and social issues.
Long before the colonists arrived in Africa, and even during and after colonialism, women have been a powerful part of the Igbo society. Women have many forums designed to present and protect their interests. The most important of these female forums is Ụmụada.
Umuada is a compound, collective noun formed from “ụmụ” and “ada.“ Ada means “daughter”; ụmụ is a generic plural prefix that conveys the sense of many. Most naturally, every Igbo woman is “ada” (a daughter) of a certain community and is recognized as such for all the days of her life. Although it is used often in referring to the first daughter of a family (“adaobi”), ada generally means a female child. Viewed with a modern lens, ada is the origin of the politically correct term “Ms”—a non-distinguishing title for women and probably the English equivalent of “Ada.” Thus, “Umuada” connotes many daughters in a social group.
Umuada means native daughters, the daughters of a common male ancestor or “daughters of the soil.” Also called Umuokpu (in parts of Anambra State) or Ndimgboto (in parts of Imo State), Umuada is a collective of all daughters of a particular clan, village, town, or state… whether old, young, single, married, separated, or divorced. It is the inalienable right of every daughter of a particular place, without exception whatsoever, to belong to Otu Umuada, the society of native daughters. As a collective, Otu Umuada is a powerful sociopolitical setup in Igbo culture, a functional forum for females.
The membership of this forum is the absolute right of all women born of the same male lineage. Even if and when a woman marries outside the village or town setting, she remains ada of her father’s community. In other words, membership of the group is conferred patrilineally; that is, from the father’s side of the family. So, strictly speaking, any woman who does not belong to the group is either an outsider or she has been ostracized by her community for some abominable acts.
The Igbo have about seven indigenous approaches to conflict resolution:
- Through the immediate family head;
- Ụmụnna, (the agnate);
- Otu ọgbọ (age-grade/peer society);
- Dibịa (diviner),
- Village/town tribunal; and
- Masquerade cult.
In certain cases when the approximate male counterpart called “Ụmụnna” (“sons of the soil”) fail to agree on an issue, Umuada will step in and resolve the matter. In complex conflicts of conjugal character, the intervention of Ụmụada is always a given. In such matters, the men (Umunna) take a backseat and abide by the rulings of Umuada. Umuada also plays important roles in many matters of birth, puberty, marriage, and death—the four major cycles of life.
Umuada are strict but fair in their interventions and enforcements. For example, if a brother maltreats his wife and no one would stop him, Umuada will step in and straighten him out. On the other hand, if a woman married into the clan becomes unruly, Umuada will intervene and resolve the matter, even if it entails forcing the bad wife back to her own clan to cool off, make amends, and possible return to turn a new leaf. In extreme cases, they can ostracize and even place a curse on an intractable member of the clan.
Umuada are, as a group, decent and dynamic in their decisions and actions. They are great arbiters probably because they are not a part of the problem, and they do not have to stay back in the community to face anyone on a regular basis.
The male members of the clan respectfully repay the role of Umuada as judges and enforcers. Whenever one of their daughters is maltreated in her matrimonial home, they go to war, literarily. So, while their brethren would prefer that they marry locals, they do not frown when umuada marry outsiders because the men too marry outsiders. Hence, when ada marries locally, she is called “Adaejemba”—a daughter who did not marry out. When she marries out, they hail her “Adaejiejemba” (the daughter with whom you go places), probably because they act as spies, expand the community network, and help to broaden the worldview of the community .
The Umuada Igbo in Igbo cultural group is one of the most organized, peaceful and endowed women groups in Nigeria. As individuals and as a group, their contributions as farmers, civil workers and managers of human welfare are central to the ability of households, communities and nation to tackle the challenges of poverty and conflicts. It is to be noted, however, that the Umuada Igbo like other women groups from other nations suffer from decreased access to resources and paternalistic domination. However, their traditional and modern contributions make them to be no “pushovers” in the political, economic, religious and social life of the nation. Their roles in these areas are acknowledged. Their developmental efforts are remarkable in the families, communities and the Church. In families and communities, their reconciliatory roles are unsurpassed in support of their husbands, and the empowerment of rural women since they appreciate that empowerment is essential for a new world order and essential to find solutions to many conflicts. To achieve this, an environment for peace has to be created. As an organized group, they have established goals and strategies to pursue peace.