It was a humiliating decision any man could take but Mazi Maduako had to do it for the wife he loved so much and also to get his mother off his neck. He was the only son and had resisted his mum’s pressure to taking another wife because of childlessness.
He had hinted Mazi Ọkpọnkụ that he was going to be visiting him in company of his wife later in the evening. He was so apprehensive.
“What if he refuses and turns around to deride me in public?” he kept asking himself.
Maduako and his wife arrived Mazi Ọkpọnkụ’s house about 7pm that day with a keg of palm wine.
After exchange of pleasantries and breaking of kola nut presented by Rosa, the host’s wife, Ọkpọnkụ asked the visitors to deliver the message represented by the palm wine. It was a dehumanizing moment for Madụakọ but he had to brace up and speak up.
He cleared his throat and asked that the two women (i.e. his wife and his host’s wife) excused them, that the message he wanted to deliver was confidential. Obidiya and Rosa got up and recessed to the balcony waiting to be invited later but they stretched their ears like rabbits do but they heard nothing.
“Recall that I had told you at the market in the morning that I would be coming to your house this evening for an important discussion”, Mr. Ọkpọnkụ nodded. “To cut the long story short, our people say that if a man’s gun refuses to shell out a live bullet, his brother would help him. This is my 14th year of marriage and I have nothing to show for it.”
“I have moved from one church to the other, fasting till I developed an ulcer. Many doctors have used my wife and I as guinea pigs and our stomachs are now human drug stores. We are tired and have decided to seek help. You are my friend and my wife and yours are also friends. So, you need to help wipe off the shame of childlessness from me,” he concluded as he sobbed.
Ọkpọnkụ looked with pity at his bosom friend. He placed his hand on his shoulder and asked him not to feel depressed; that he would be more than willing and ever ready to do his best as he didn’t need to purchase from the market, the bullets required to fire the gun. He promised to help at no cost.
The work had to be done in house of the requester.
Maduako was required to work out with his wife the visiting days and the timing and get back to Ọkpọnkụ who shall be on duty until success was achieved.
Naturally, Maduako would leave his house before his helper arrives to reduce the pain of the feeling of inadequacy. He was expected not to sleep with his wife within the period the hired mercenary is at work.
The choice of Ọkpọnkụ was not without due diligence. He was very tall and handsome, a good Christian in words and deeds and had eight children with even spread of sexes. Nobody beat him in academics at both primary and secondary school levels. He didn’t not progress to the university as he had to take over his father’s trading business and help train his younger siblings, a task he performed excellently.
Rosa, Ọkpọnkụ’s wife was not a jealous woman but rather generous. She was as good natured as her husband. It was her who broached the idea with Maduako’s wife. She persuaded her to encourage her husband to come seek Ọkpọnkụ’s help as she was aware that Ọkpọnkụ had helped out Mazi Okoro, the choirmaster of St. Christopher, sometime ago.
Rosa actually hinted her husband about the mission of her friend and her husband and enjoined him to agree. She told him that such help was a corporal work of mercy and not an adultery. She believed that adultery was an unauthorized carnal knowledge of someone else’s spouse. She likened her husband’s fertility assistance as a blood donation to someone in need.
On the appointed day, Obidiya would serve her male visitor a meal of pounded cocoyam and ora soup which was believed to bring out the best in a man. The visitor would also be served a 4-litre keg of palm wine provided by her husband to help fire his nerves.
Ọkpọnkụ did his job very well. The fact that Obidiya was well tutored in man handling matters made Ọkpọnkụ looking forward to the next duty date. Both enjoyed themselves while performing an agreed task, though they knew that the act would end once the objective was achieved.
Ọkpọnkụ didn’t disappoint.
After three months, Obidiya fell sick. She fainted in market though she soon regained consciousness when was still rushed to a nearby hospital. Preliminary tests revealed that she was pregnant. She suspected so because she had not seen her period for two months running but she kept it to herself. She wanted to be sure.
Her ecstatic husband rushed to Ọkpọnkụ’s house to thank him, signaling the end of the contract. It was a great relief as he noticed that his wife was always happy after each Ọkpọnkụ’s duty visit. He knew how endowed Ọkpọnkụ his friend was as they had both bathed together in the dormitory when they were in the secondary school.
Obidiya was delivered of twins, two boys.
The whole village rejoiced with them.
Only the happy parents, Ọkpọnku, his wife and some nosy villagers who read meanings to frequent visits of Mazi Ọkpọnkụ to Maduako’s house in his absence would know how God worked the miracle.
During the children’s dedication service at their local church, the priest eulogized Madụakọ for his Abraham-like steadfastness and the wife for being faithful as Sarah and Hannah, the wife of Elkanna. He enjoined the congregation to emulate the couple and to believe that there was nothing God could not do.
Mazi Maduako named his children Afamefuna (i.e. let my name not to be forgotten) and Izuụmụnna (i.e. the outcome of a brotherly discussion).
In situation like this, the twins might resemble their true biological father but they are forever the children of the man who paid the bride price of their mum. That’s the Igbo tradition.
When I hear of Sperm Banking and Surrogacy, I smile. We had all these sorted out at Nnewi from time immemorial!
The scenario I related above worked where it was felt that the man was the weak link in the childlessness.
Where the wife, maybe one of the many, was suspected as the ‘culprit’, she would arrange a sister or close relations to be married for the husband not used as a mere surrogate.
The surrogate was required to be loyal to the barren wife, and her progeny was accepted willingly and fostered by her. The first wife was called Mama Nnukwu (i.e. Supreme mother) and the surrogate was called Mama Obele (i.e. Junior mother). Recall that Leah and Rachel offered their maids to Jacob for the same purpose as Sarah did to Abraham.
I guess this practice was not particular in just Nnewi but all Igbo land. Our Culture was very inclusive.
Interestingly, I don’t recall ever reading of such arrangement and understanding in Western Culture except in the Bible as earlier alluded. Or have you?
Relatedly, there is this culture of ‘Omerta’ or Secrecy in Western Surrogacy, Adoption, Sperm Banking and other aspects of Assisted Fertilization. Same applied in Nnewi/Igbo Assisted Fertilization. The parties were required to keep the issue private and not exploit that during quarrels. Breach of this understanding was not treated casually. Grapevine can only speculate or conjecture, based on resemblances, suspect nocturnal actions or flippant tales of a jealous co-wife.
It was a duty not a taboo to help a friend or relation to achieve procreation but terms and conditions applied.
Don’t ask me if I have helped a friend before.
By Anayo M. Nwosu