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The Okpara

Cultural expectations regarding the conduct, mannerisms, and functions which individuals perform in their families and in the greater general society form a uniting fabric shared amongst the Igbo peoples. From birth, individuals are hoisted into a complex cloud of social behaviors, norms, and roles which vary depending not only on gender, but also on sequence of birth.

The first male and female children born into a family are considered the prospective leaders of that homestead. Known in various dialects as either the ‘Okpara’, ‘Okwara’, Diokpala’, or ‘Opara’, the first son is the second-in-charge of his father’s family, and along with his oldest sister, takes precedence over his siblings in family matters. In preparation for his duties later in life, he is invited to observe and attend the meetings of elders and family leaders, where he would occasionally be allowed to offer his input. At the death of his father, the Okpara assumes the position of patriarch of his patrilineage, inherits a portion of his late-father’s property, becomes the custodian of his family’s Ofo, and takes up residence within his late-father’s personal domicile. From then onwards, he is charged with tending his family’s ancestral shrine and ensuring the welfare and integrity of his father’s wives, children, and property.

The ‘Ada’ title is solely reserved for a family’s first female child. As the female counterpart of the Okpara in the family structure, the Ada is equally apportioned with her share of powers and responsibilities, and together with the Okpara, her primary duty is to ensure the welfare of her father’s household. During social events and feasts, she is accorded with honors reflective of her position and is awarded the juicy hips of animals, hence her praise name: “Ada na-eri ukwu anu” (lit. “daughter who enjoys hip meat”). Throughout Igboland, families tend to be extremely protective of their Ada, and desire for her to marry locally and remain nearby, as is expressed by the saying “Ada adighi eje mba”, or in English: “the Ada does not leave home” The second child of a household is known either as the ‘Ulu’, ‘Ulunwa’, ‘Nwulu’, ‘Olu’ or ‘Worlu’, and in some communities, they are named after their maternal grandparents. In various dialects, last borns are known as the ‘Ibiime’ (trans. “last pregnancy”), ‘Nwibime’, or ‘Onhu ali’.

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