As if Nigeria doesn’t have enough challenges, the fear of fast growing population has joined the queue. This problem is already being felt by some individuals, especially those that have about four or more children, who grumble about the increase in the family expenditure. As the economic condition of the country gets tighter, the bites of population increase deepen.
A lot of researches have been done and recommendations given towards bringing the population growth under control. For instance, my mother told me that there was a time teachers were trained on population control strategies so that they can train those at the grass root level. They did their best but it didn’t stop the growth. The health sector has carried out several campaigns on birth control but it still didn’t stop what was happening. Economists have done their own, where they recommended something about decentralising industries. But all these efforts have not really yielded the desired results so I think none of thems has been able to reach deep down to locate the underlying cause of the population increase – culture.
Culture is commonly defined as people’s way of life. The culture of a people determines how they live, act and think. There is need to study the culture of the different people in the country so that it will be easier to devise ways of battling uncontrolled population growth. When the strategy devised didn’t favour the culture of the people, it will fail.
Well, I am going to point out some cultural beliefs and practices among the Igbo’s that can encourage population growth. Being an Igbo, I can only discuss that which I am conversant with. So I’ll advise that those from other ethnic groups should also find out what can encourage incessant child birth within their communities.
So, in Igbo culture, children are treasures. Yes, I know it is the same thing all over the world. But our own is different. When I say ‘treasure’, I mean ‘treasure’ – literally. Children are seen as wealth in Igbo culture. The number of children you have determines the size of your wealth. My dad once told me that someone told him to have more children because five was too small, and that he can’t stand before other men and talk. You can imagine when five children were considered small. Anyway, I thank God that this ideology is gradually fading away because some men are beginning to grumble about expenses while some women are complaining about not having time for their jobs and businesses. But, we still have those that still think this way.
All children are special in Igbo land, but some are more special than the others (Lol). Gender inequality is still a problem in the Igbo tribe. That you have seven children is wonderful, but if they are all girls…well you have to continue bringing them out until at least one boy joins the number. A family without a son is considered unfortunate. Should anything happen to that man, his wife and children may end up thrown out of the house and the man’s properties taken away from them and shared among his male relatives. Daughters in Igbo land are looked at as ‘somebody else properties’ because they will get married and leave their fathers’ houses. So it is seen as improper for them to inherit any of their fathers’ wealth and take to their husbands’ homes. So for a man to be ‘balanced’, he and his wife (or wives) must have a son that will inherit his wealth and ensure that the family’s name didn’t vanish from the face of the earth.
Note that a family that has just a son will be uncomfortable because that son is the proverbial “one eye that owes blindness”. This means that if anything happens to him, … we know the rest. So, this family will continue trying for more male children till they arrive at a comfortable number.
I know you will be debating about a family that already has many male children but the mother is still producing. Honestly, the major reason behind this one passes me. But let us look at something about our culture. In Igbo land, a child is expected to take care of his aged parents. But then, the male children have been said not to do this very well because their wives won’t take good care of their mothers/fathers-in-law. Therefore, every woman wants to have a daughter that will take care of her at old age. Like I said earlier, this is something I believe that could be the possible cause of this. I believe so because women say so themselves. Besides, I have just two sons, and since I came back to work in the East I kept receiving queries like – you don’t want a daughter that will take care of you when you get old? Try more till you a daughter comes. Boys don’t take care of their mothers o. You don’t want to go for omugwo? (for sure, I’ll go for my omugwo now, in my sons’ houses. *smiles*). So you see our problem, boys are important for some reasons, while girls are necessary too.
I want to touch some aspects of our marriage institution. In Igbo culture, a man is free to marry as many wives as he wants so long as he takes care of all of them and the children they bring forth. The coming of Christianity, Western education and Western civilization has discouraged this. But that doesn’t mean it no longer happens. The only thing is that it is hard to see a man living with many wives. But our traditional marriage institution still allows a man to send his wife back to her father’s house and marry another one. Also, a woman that is being maltreated by her husband is free to go back to her father’s house and remarry. All that is needed is for the bride price to be returned to the man and the marriage contract will be severed. “How does this increase the population?”, some people may ask. Ok, let’s look at it this way – when a woman, who bore children for her ex-husband remarries, she will be expected to have more children for this new husband. This second set (or even third set) of children would have been avoided if the first marriage was still ongoing. In the case of the man that divorced his wife and remarried, the new wife will want to give birth to ‘her’ own children no matter how many children the man had from his other wife (or wives) because she believes that the children of another woman cannot take care of her at old age. Besides, she will also want to partake in the inheritance of the man’s properties (which can only be done through her male children).
Still on the marriage institution, a family that has just a son may decide to marry a wife for him when he is still tender. The essence of this is not because they want the son to be sexually active at such a tender age (nope, not at all) but to ensure that his linage continues should anything befall him. So this ‘wife’ will be giving birth to children that bears this tender boy’s name (please don’t ask me who gets her pregnant, we have other pressing issues here). But when this son grows up and is old enough to marry, he will still go out there to marry someone of his choice, who will come in to start producing more children. So you can imagine how many children this young boy/man has now.
A woman that bore only daughters is allowed to marry another woman that will bear more children for her. This tradition is quickly fading away because parents are beginning to query why their daughters should marry a woman, and the daughters themselves are no longer interested in having women as husbands. But it is still in existence, though it has a different format – they will discuss with the girl’s family in private and present a male relative to the public as the girl’s husband.
There are so many other practices encouraged by our marriage institution that increases the rate of population growth but they all centre on one thing – the quest for more children, especially the male ones. Maybe this is why the teachings and campaigns on population growth have not really been effective. Those campaigns have not really touched the major factors that encourage the increase in birth among the Igbos. So here is what I think should be done to control the birth rate in Igbo land.
Every Igbo family wants to have a male child but most of them don’t know how. Unless attention is paid to teaching couples how to pre-select their children’s gender, the ‘give-birth-to-the-number-of-children-you-can-train’ campaign may not work. In fact, I don’t think it is really working because couples only find out they have bitten more than they can chew after they have taken the bite. But if these couples are able to pre-select the gender of their children, they may consider taking a break after having like three of them. At least I know it worked in the small scale, so I believe it will work in the large scale.
This is a call to concerned medical practitioners, marriage counsellors, religious organisations, NGOs, and well meaning individuals and organisations – let our people have the power to choose the sex of their children so that they can have the number of children that they can train.