In commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day, National Light’s, IJEOMA EKWOWUSI had a chat with, Mrs Uche Ume – Ezeoke, popularly known as Nne Mmonwu Ndikelionwu, the only female cabinet member in Igwe of Amichi’s cabinet and a frontline traditional Igbo woman . Excerpts:
Who is Mrs Uche Ume-Ezeoke?
I am the Nne Mmonwu Ndikelionwu. I live in New York and that sort of made it double edged for me. That is I live in New York and I do my traditional requirements here in Nigeria. I have my family also in NY. I read economics in Ilinois Benedictine College, Lisle, for my first degree, and a Masters in Business in the same college.
How did you get the sobriquet ‘Nne Mmonwu’?
Nne Mmonwu Ndikelionwu is a very rare title. It is so rare that people shudder when a woman is called Nne Mmonwu. It connotes strangeness for a woman bearing that name but that is me. I am Nne Mmowu. I am Adakibeya. I am Ezenwayi and also Iyamba.
These are my titles. The last Nne Mmonwu Ndikelionwu died about 40 years ago. They had to wait that long to get a replacement. A lot of process was involved before a replacement was found. I thank God that the lot fell on me eventually.
The name simply means the mother of masquerades and for me to be the mother of masquerades; I must enter the cult of mmonwu. The followers of mmonwu are celebrated and they celebrate me. We are good to each other. I think it is only in Onitsha that they have Nne mmonwu too.
I don’t know if there is still one because I know when the last one died. So in the whole of Anambra State, it is probably the lady from Onitsha and I that belong to that cult. I celebrate masquerade (spirits). I come out to watch them perform. It’s always awesome to watch the spirits dance.
Masquerades are good to me and I am proud to be their mother. I feed the followers of masquerades during Ikeji Festival as the masquerades themselves do not eat. Where I come from in Ndikelionwu, masquerades are highly revered.
How do you feel being the only female cabinet member of the Igwe Amichi Cabinet ?
That is another interesting one. First of all, I am honoured and humbled to be there as a woman. I don’t remember if a woman has ever been a cabinet member of the council before me, but I believe there is a reason why I was chosen and I will not let my people down especially my constituency- the women. I relate very closely with the men and they treat me cordially and with respect. I don’t feel like a woman in their midst, and I believe the men love it that way. They listen to me and I listen to them. I actually don’t remember that I am a woman while I am with them. Everybody relates well. It is so interesting. I simply feel honoured and humbled for the Igwe to choose me as one of his cabinet members.
You have broken the jinx in our clime, especially in our community that women can also serve in their capacity as being members of the cabinet. What change do you want to see about that?
My presence in the cabinet as the only woman (although I pray that more women will come in); first and foremost shows that our Igwe is a pacesetter with respect for women. It shows he is a very ingenious traditional ruler who knows the power of women. I thank him for that.
May he rule forever! My presence in the cabinet will definitely upgrade our women and I will not allow any retrogressive decisions on women. Men must not beat their wives; otherwise they will be severely sanctioned. Women must talk about the treatment they receive from their spouses openly so there could be help.
These and more are what I hope to achieve as a cabinet member. If we women don’t fight for our rights, we will remain stagnant and it will be business as usual. Nobody will fight for us- we must do it ourselves. So I tell them in various meetings to stand up for their rights.
Amichi women should please come to me to report things that need to be changed that are no longer tenable to modern living and I should be able to present it to the cabinet for their consideration. These are what I hope to achieve in the cabinet for my womenfolk.
You were honoured by the Igwe of Amichi in the recently held Ofala Festival as a firm believer of Igbo culture. What is your take on the gradual eroding of Igbo values and ethics? What do you wish should be done about it?
Culture and tradition is what we Igbos call our values. When a practice becomes the norm, we say it is our tradition. We have been neglecting our tradition and our culture because we want to be like the white man. That is not possible. We are Igbos and we are made in our own unique way. We have been drastically brainwashed by the white men and something has to be done to restore our old ways of lives and selves. There is nothing wrong with calling our ancestors for help, just like we call on the Catholic Saints for help. I don’t even know how this is so hard to understand. These saints died a very long time ago and these white God worshippers told us blacks to pray to them for help. But we must not invoke our dead ancestors because doing that will take us to hell fire. Excuse me!! You must give them (ancestors) kolanuts, you must tell them that you are around; that they should protect you. This is the truth. That does not stop me from calling on God of Christians. I actually do but also call on my ancestral gods. They are complementary to each other: One is God of Isreal, another is God of my forefathers. I am asked to pray to different saints in my Catholic Church. I do. But I also pray to my ancestors that I know. They are all ancestors. One, white ancestors, the other, black ancestors; both are very effective if you get to them the right way. Blacks must reach their ancestors in the language and fashion that they know. When we ignored this simple fact, and embraced the white man’s God and tradition, we lost out and our Igbo values were eroded. This is what, in my own subtle way, I am trying to bring back. I talk about it openly and demonstrate it in my style of living and doing things. Igbo language is almost dead because they prefer the white man’s language. What sort of inferiority complex is that? Our children must speak Igbo language first, before English language. It is doable. Yorubas do that and so we can do that too. All these and more are why the Igwe Amichi honoured me with that speech he gave on Ofala Day. He too, as the custodian of Amichi culture and tradition, loves doing things right. I am a staunch Catholic but I should not be told that giving kolanuts to my ancestors or libations to them is wrong. It is not wrong at all. In fact, it is very right to do so. I know their history, and I share the same DNA with them. I actually don’t know the saints I am asked to pray to and do not share my DNA with them. I rather work with people I know than people I don’t know. But, there is nothing wrong with invoking both sides for protection and guidance.
So, we should be held responsible for our failing values. We must all resolve to teach our children the Igbo language. We must stop our fake life style and be real and truthful to ourselves. We must resolve to hand over our values to our children undiluted. All these and more is why our esteemed Igwe honoured me with that speech. I am a very traditional woman. I thank God for that because I am trying to bring awareness to the fore. If people should see a woman who resides in America and the same woman comes here and takes up traditional role that should encourage the younger ones. There is nothing wrong with it. I am an Igbo to the core.
How do you hope to use your traditional role to enforce the Igbo traditions in the diaspora?
Sometime in mid last year, Igwe of Amichi came to New York. There was this Amichi forum going on in the city. Everyone knows Nne Mmonwu but foreigners do not call me by that name. But on that day in New York, I dressed traditionally on white for the event and the foreigners, who did not know me, were asking who that woman was. When Igwe saw me, he was impressed with my dressing and was kind enough to introduce me elaborately to those that didn’t know me. The foreigners were awed. I always try to hold on to our culture no matter what it takes and where I am. I try to show people how to greet an Igwe and how to greet a titled man because even with my titles and everything, I still bend my knees when I want to greet titled men. I know I have given some lectures to women especially where it concerns our language and how things should be done there in America. That effort has been paying off. More efforts are needed in Igbo culture. For instance, a woman should know her place in her home (marriage), no matter what because it is her that holds the home.
We have gone astray in that aspect because of our false belief. Marriage is sacred and we ,the Igbos are known for holding fort the fortress. Today it is a different situation. All those things are the way I try to project our culture to the society at large. We must go back to our roots. Our fore fathers were not fools. But, it does not mean there should not be modifications, given the facts that some of their traditions have become obsolete. We must, however, retain most of them for our own good. Even the white man does that from time to time.
How have you been able to balance your office as a traditional title holder in representing your people and balancing your role in the family?
That is not a big deal at all because it is easy to do both. If you can learn how to multi-task early in life, then you can handle anything effectively. I had a very understanding man as a husband. It is easy to balance things up with the type of relationship I had with him. He has passed on now, and he remains one of the Ichies that I make libations to for guidance. I thank God for him. I have been multi-tasking all my life, so there is no problem about that.
What are we expecting from you as one who charts the cause for women?
What you expect from me is what I expect from my fellow women. I will be the mouthpiece of women in the cabinet. I am representing them. When they bring problems that need to be talked about, we deliberate on them and action will be taken. For instance, the women are not happy with the way some of them are being treated with the death of their husbands. So many things need to be changed regarding that like Ikpucha isi, the shaving of hair after the death of a woman’s husband. I did it when my husband died. They don’t practice it again in some Igbo land, but Anambra is still holding closely to it. It needs to be abolished in our society because the hair did not kill the man; neither will hair shaving make the man to come back to life. That particular tradition must be modified or abolished altogether.
A lot is being done already, but more is expected until it becomes a realistic norm that does not hurt the women who lost their husbands. Until the women give me something to do before I can do anything. Remember that these current cabinet members are relatively new. Therefore, our women should come together and give me a task. It is then my duty to see to it that it is actualised.
Any plans joining politics?
Not yet. Although so many times I have been asked to jump into the arena but I cannot leave my work over there and be politicking here. Politics is time consuming. I really don’t think I can handle that. I am in retirement now and loving it.