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Symmetries and Dissimilarities in Matrilineal Practises among the Cross River Igbo, 1900-1999


Charles Okeke Okoko, PhD

Institute of Continuing Education,

Department of History and International Relations,

Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State, Nigeria, 08030609332, 08056987045



Evidently, in received literature on general Igbo history, especially those written by indigenous scholars, the socio-cultural history of the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area was not given due attention. This omission definitely was not deliberate but was either as a result of academic lethargy on the part of historians or that, as some commentators argued, the study of matriliny was the responsibility of other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, and ethnography. None of these contentions broached the solution. For sure, the initial crop of African historians did not receive the kind of training that prepared them for this task. This handicap was obviously one of the reasons that accounted for the neglect of the social history of the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area. Where written documents existed, they were narratives based on established paradigms which could not properly isolate the differences in matrilineal practices among the Cross River Igbo. The paper concluded that there were obvious symmetries and dissimilarities unimaginable. 


Keywords: Matriliny, paradigms, indigenous and omission.



THE SOCIAL HISTORY of the Cross River Igbo people provides interesting read in missed opportunity. Yet, it is more interesting if read in summation, which is a one-all consideration of its varied aspects. This is what this paper, which was the concluding chapter of a thesis, has attempted to do. 1

In received literature on general Igbo history, especially those written by indigenous scholars were omitted studies of the socio-cultural history of the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area. This was definitely not deliberate but would have occurred either as a result of academic lethargy or as some commentators argued that the study of matriliny was the responsibility of disciplines, such as sociology or anthropology. None of these contentions broached the solution. For sure, the initial crop of African historians did not receive the kind of training that prepared them for this task. This handicap was obviously one of the reasons that accounted for the neglect of the social history of the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area. It was, thus, an onerous task isolating and situating its social history properly within the maze of studies on matriliny, which gave the false impression that all matrilineal societies had been studied.

The inferences made and conclusions drawn in the process reinforced the fact that the people were really understudied. The much that was known were mere glimpses which became lost in the maze of studies on the well-documented matrilineal communities of neighbouring Cross River Valley area, such as the Ibibio, Efik, Yako, Ndembu and Adadamma, among others. The matrilineal system of the people portrayed often-conflictual strains, diversities and symmetries prevalent in the matrilineal practises of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa and it was inferred that these arose, in the first place, as a result of the structurally endemic contradictions between relations of production, which were individualistic in nature, and second, the processes of resource distribution, which were communalistic, and horizontal in character.

In essence, the contradictions resulted primarily from matrilineal inheritance and succession practises which ensured that wealth was spread across (horizontally and not vertically) among eligible adult members who had come of age, male or female, of the matrilineages. The matrilineal ideology and institutions that remained resilient over the years and within which were conflicts were vitiated by the principles of matrilineal inheritance and its operational strategies which limited cooperation among nuclear and bilateral extended family members; and discouraged investment in family enterprises because the contributions of affines (husbands or wives) accrued only to the matrilineage and not to individual members. The overall relationship between the direct patrilineal (patrilateral) and the generalized matrilineal (matrilateral) was moderated by exchanges in their double unilineal system which was actually practised by the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa. Put in another way, the problems that often arose from the distributive systems of the patrilineal and matrilineal aspects of the people’s social history were ameliorated by their double unilineal practises. It doused discontent since individuals benefited from either of the, or both, systems.

The thesis holistically examined the orchestrated disruptive impact of innovations on the existing social and economic institutions of matriliny vis-à-vis the internal dynamics of the communities, which were inclusive of the tensions, constraints, and contradictions that were matriliny-synonymous. More specifically, it reassessed the impact (qualitatively) of the Christian ideology and Western-type education on the behavioural changes in individuals and the structure of the families (ezi n’ulo) and groups (Ndi ikwu) among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa.

Of interest were the peculiarities, puzzles and paradoxes of matrilineal practises. Within the Cross River Igbo area context, the treatment of these peculiarities identified in the thesis could not have been given proper analysis by the earlier anthropologists vis-à-vis their preconceived notion of the concept of the universality of modernity. What is meant here is that the peculiarities observed in the thesis, which were not found elsewhere other than the Cross River Igbo area, were already analysed based on foreign non-African models. They have been given proper analysis in this thesis.

It was inferred too that the adoption of the “foreign models” in the analysis of the matrilineal systems of the people which resulted to a cultural misrepresentation: of what ought to be, thought to have been, extrapolated and given as a universally-binding concept vis-à-vis non-African matrilineal societies, did not augur well for the interpretation of the histories of acephalous societies. These extrapolations, on the long run, created more analytical problems which overtime hid the actual day-to-day socio-cultural practises of the people. Local historians who used these models in their studies further produced social histories based on wrong analogy.

This thesis, therefore, portrayed a mutually and constitutively gendered subcultural area where lineal, individual and group competitions underpinned social change. The full meaning of the terminologies ascribed to the functionaries of the matrilineal system could not be properly defined and labelled in the wider search for its origin. It was, rather, the comparative studies of the kinship practises of contiguous and non-contiguous communities, and the ethnographic findings in the course of the study, that helped in explaining matrilineal practises as it pertained to the communities that were used as case studies. Matrilineal practises among some of the Cross River Igbo communities were divergent even within its various segments or clans against the straitjacket postulate of matriculture by early writers. The practise was a cultural triumvirate of patriliny, matriliny and double uniliny, all of which created crosscutting forward and backward linkages of alliances and allegiances.

Matriliny obviously imposed a socio-economic responsibility on the womenfolk, but how this flowed into the political sphere until now was not properly studied. Though Leonard Mbah 2 had in his thesis espoused economically and politically powerful womenfolk, it was, nonetheless, more in the economic and domestic spheres when contextualized to their matrilineages. Suffice it to say that, the gendered character of the area brought more misconceptions about matriliny and its practises to the fore. Among these was that matriliny provided a domain for contestations between the people’s males and females.

The thesis, therefore, concluded that while there were these contestations, the communities remained against popular notion a male-dominated (patri-focal) subcultural area. This was in spite of the advantages matriculture, the agro-based economy and the environmental niche, which sustained it, imbued on the womenfolk. These contests were between the females within their domain, wherein they had peculiar institutions which enabled them to exert social control on the activities of the females and mediated their relationships with the menfolk; and between the males within their own domain, wherein they made decisions regarding the communities and essentially controlled the activities of the womenfolk. Perhaps, this informed Mbah’s assertions, in his studies on the Ohafia, when he said that the women prided themselves as being superior to the men, controlled so much political power and had “institutions with which they exercised judicial authority “over both women and men”. But this superiority was within the matrilineages where they dominated economically because they cultivated more farmlands, contracted enormous labour and ancilliary services and became ostensibly the breadwinners of their families.

This study inferred diversities, similarities as well as parallels and symmetries, instead of the straitjacket postulate of opposites between matrilineal and patrilineal practises. To fully explain these diversities, therefore, the thesis sought a balance between the traditional (past) and innovations (the present). It re-evaluated some of the assumptions and cultural representations of earlier anthropologists. For instance, the practises among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa were found to be actually double unilineal although there was a heightened bias towards matriliny. 3


Again, the activities of the fathers (husbands) among the people, which did not conform to, expected paternal roles were actually created by matrilineal principles. It amounted to a misrepresentation, therefore, when the events were presented as premeditated acts by the menfolk in the subcultural group to shy away from paternity or that they were lazy. Mba’s thesis portrayed that he was unable to understand how matriliny was operated among the Ohafia. His misconceptions became evident when he portrayed the Ohafia as matrifocal, therefore, matrilocal. Or that he interpreted the matrilineal practises of the people in the light of matriarchy. This is because a matrilocal state would have presupposed a matrifocality: where women had the authority to control and allocate ikwu property. It is doubtful if this was the case among the Ohafia. In Amaseri which was designated core-matriculture area, even when authority was reposed in the most senior female (aunt), she still lived among her husband’s kinsmen (umunna) in their patrilineal compounds, ezi. There were, and still are, no established matrilocal sections in the villages among the Abam, Amaseri, Ihechiowa and Ohafia.

Regarding the misperception that the men were economically handicapped, cultivated lesser number of staples and did not contribute much to the upbringing of their biological children except those of their sisters was seemingly true, but paled into insignificance when the real life activities of the men were analyzed. The menfolk cultivated crops other than yams. But because yam was regarded as a man’s crop and because it was more esteeming cultivating them, the other crops, such as cassava and cocoyams (nkasi or ede) were hardly talked about. What happened was that the men usually prepared land portions for the period’s cultivation, used some exclusively for the planting of yams and the rest were used for intercropping by their wives.

It was wrong, then, to have inferred economically unviable fathers among the people. The principles of matriliny did not give the fathers the leeway to take care of their offspring who, according to these principles, belonged to their mothers’ matrilineages from where they were expected to get inheritance and make remittances to. The uncles and other males in the matrilineages, be it the wife’s or husband’s, were always protective of their sisters’ offspring, took good care of them in order to secure their allegiance and remittances which would have gone to their fathers if they were allowed to exercise paternity. A man was only poor in the context of the wife’s matrilineage. But in his own matrilineage, if he was the eldest, would be the natural custodian and distributor of ikwu property, received donations (ji-ali) from matrikins, and controlled other revenues accruing from leases of land and economic trees. While he was handicapped in his wife and children’s matrilineage, he was lord in his own matrilineage and inflicted similar handicaps on his sisters’ husbands, ad infinitum. Thus, the males could not have been described as economically unviable.

A concerted effort was also made to put to rest the contentious issue of the origin of matriliny. Suffice it to say that efforts previously made were at the level of probability. The oral traditions of the people were collected and analysed in comparison with extrapolations based on foreign models and certain inferences were drawn to include that:

  1. The theories that were put forward as the factors that made possible the development of matriliny among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, were actually the catalysing rather than the causative factors;


  1. The causative factors that accounted for the development of matriliny could not have originated from outside the ecological system of the Cross River Igbo area since their practises were significantly different from those of the communities of the Cross River area. Therefore, the reasons for the development of matriliny were found to be inherent in their oral traditions;


  1. The oral tradition that recounted the activities of a refugee Osa-Ibeku people in Ohafia who refused to accept bride prices from the suitors among their hosts, preferring instead to keep all the proceeds including the all-important offspring from the union of their daughters with Ohafia males after marriage accounted in part for the origin of matriliny. This was even when marriage was the only natural means of populating the matrilineages. This kind of relationship which emphasized the exclusivity of the Osa-Ibeku and was more rewarding since it meant keeping all the benefits that accrued from any affinal relations could not have been less appealing to the Ohafia;


  1. If it was borrowed from the Cross River area, for instance, why did the Aro, who obviously had more contacts with them and were their immediate neighbours and trading partners, not adopt matriliny. Although it cannot imply that because the Aro did not adopt matriliny the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area could not have borrowed and adapted it. Or were they already matrilineal and practised their brand before coming to their present territory?;


  1. The pervasiveness of matriculture among the Onyerubi, Udumaeze, Chiowa, Egbebu and Otutu peoples point to a certain degree of historicity. Thus, making it clearer why it has remained persistent among them. Matriculture became so ingrained into the people’s psyche that it defied innovations introduced from outside which naturally would have doused its efficacy by eroding the basic strucrure of matriliny, but they did not;


  1. The engagements which made the men to stay away for as long as between three to six months left a vacuum which encouraged the women to engage in the running of the affairs of their families, such as the upbringing of the children and getting involved in decision-making concerning lineage estates. While an oral tradition concluded that a man willed his property to a sister who provided a male child as indemnity to propitiate the gods for an abomination he committed against the earth deity could, as a matter of fact, have been a good reason for matriliny to sprout. But this one-off incident could not have accounted in its entirety the development, growth and resilience of matriliny among the Cross River Igbo;


  1. While the offending brother’s material largesse to the sister and her children was worthy of emulation, it was rather the long absence of the males from the villages on trading engagements or warfare that accounted for the females managing in proxy all Ikwu estates for the males. In fact, it made security and economic sense for these itinerant men to have entrusted ikwu estates to their sisters and not to their wives who were from other matrilineages and could, therefore, not be trusted; and


  1. Matriliny developed, as a homegrown culture with its basic structure not affected by innovations, such as colonialism, Western education, Christianity, industrialization and globalization. But it must be pointed out too that the extent to which these innovations caused changes in matriculture remained minimal. This is because matriculture had developed means of regenerating and perpetuating itself.


A comparative study of matrilineal practises among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa and between them and some contiguous non-Cross River Igbo communities was carried out in Chapter Four of this thesis and it was concluded that:

  1. The matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area can no longer be tagged matrilineal but would continue to be subsumed under the established categories of matrilineal institutions which were described in Chapter Three to be, namely, typologies I, II and III;


  1. The matrilineal communities in northern Igboland, such as the Afikpo and Amaseri while categorized under Type I portrayed a significant diversity. This is that the power to manage and allocate land, economic trees (also labelled immovable property) and run the affairs of the matrilineage was reposed in the most senior female matrikin (amitaculature) although she could delegate able-bodied males to carry out certain functions that required muscular energy;


  1. The other matrilineal communities, such as the Abam, Ihechiowa, Ohafia and Ututu, located to the southwest of the Amaseri and Afikpo, categorized under typologies II and III had authority reposed in the most senior male (avunculature) and also allocated property and managed ikwu affairs;


  1. The blanket label of avunculature in matrilineal systems would, therefore, be appropriately applicable only to the Abam and Ihechiowa, that fall under typologies II and III;


  1. The assertion that the Type I category of matriliny was associated with poverty, scarcity of male members, and paucity of land paled into insignificance when what that obtained among the Afikpo and Amaseri did not portray poverty nor paucity of resources. The matrilineages among the Amaseri had numerous lands as much as the matrilineal communities of the Abam and Ihechiowa; and


  1. It was anachronistic to insist on clear-cut typologies because some of the lineages, within types II and III, were poor and lacked land to the extent that they leased land for farming from bigger and richer lineages. 4


In the thesis was assessed the impact of modernity and innovations on the matrilineal practises of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa vis-à-vis its persistence and forecast demise. It will be stating the obvious, therefore, that African values and belief systems, land tenure processes and marriage institution were affected by the innovations. The impact of these innovations, viewed in the general Igbo contexts, will best be appreciated in the words of F. K.  Ekechi, when he said that:

Certainly, missionary criticism of “pagan” customs, particularly the condemnation of polygamy [polygyny or multiple male relations in the case of matriliny] militated against conversions. To the men as well as to the women, a polygamous household was an index of social well-being. In the Igbo scheme of things, to be rich is to have many wives and many children, and only a por man was expected to marry only one wife. Women also prided themselves on being the wives of polygamists, for to be an only wife was an indication that her husband was poor…. Moreover, the extended network of relationships which resulted from marrying from many places enhanced the diplomatic influene of the polygamist…. To ask a man to abandon all his wives except one in order to become a Christian was tantamount to stripping him of his social status and prestige. To the majority of the people the new religion appeared utterly irrelevant…and obviously disturbed the traditional order of society…. [it is a] religion which took no account of a people’s way of life [and] would maim a man’s soul. 5


As mentioned earlier, the effects of modernization on the cultural basics of the people helped to put into perspective the ways the people actually lived, how they gave meaning to their values and beliefs and showed the best approaches that would have been employed in the interpretation of their cultures. The writer was better positioned as practitioners, to do so.

The nascent elite made up of teachers, catechists and cooks formed the natural vanguard against the peoples’ cultures that they deemed unviable, un-modern and un-Christian vis-à-vis the new colonial regimen. Yet, it made economic sense to care for only one’s nuclear family rather than remain tied to the apron-strings of the matrilineage whose members naturally expected remittances from the few enterprising and educated matrikins who lived in the urban areas. As was contended, it was indeed a retrogression from the already advanced ‘kinship relations platform’ to the ‘immediate nuclear family platform’.

Still on innovations, the effects on the people’s land tenure system and agricultural practises did not assume the dimensions that were espoused. While it was difficult contradicting this, the fact remained that just like the slave trade where the vibrant members of the population were sold into slavery, the primal aspect of the matrilinages, being the youth, also left the villages to the urban areas in the colonial and post-colonial times in search of wage employment. As stated earlier, these out-migrations left so much unfarmed arable land among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa communities which the aged that were left in the villages could not farm. Those that were left in the villages resorted to the outright sales of the lands to non-ikwu members. This is presently ongoing. The resultant effect was that land which was the ikwu main resource got, and is still being, depleted. This was an infraction in the people’s traditional land tenure system, but not to the extent that matriliny and its structure was affected.

Instead of acting as bulwark against matriliny, the mechanization of agriculture, which was at low ebb in pre-colonial times, encouraged the persistence of matriliny. Human labour, which the matrilineages had, and were famed to be able to recruit, formed the basis for agricultural productivity. The Asante matrilineal kin groups, for instance, circumvented the impact of plantation agriculture on matriliny by sponsoring prospective kin members with enough lands and labour. While there were sponsorships in some of the communities of the Cross River Igbo area, for instance, in Abam where there existed farms, such as the Ogbuagu and Ndi Ebeleagu Farms, it was generally minimal. However, the recipients of Ikwu largesse were expected, in return, to fend for other members of the matrilineage who were not very fortunate. This later created tensions among matrikins especially when the beneficiaries of ikwu benevolence wanted to transfer the plantations, so developed, to their biological sons and not to their matrilineages.

The Cross River Igbo people were actually a double unlineal people but tilted preferences towards the matrilineal. But the socio-political imperatives created by matriliny vis-à-vis patriliny and double uniliny, which were glossed over in earlier studies on matriliny generally, included that:

    1. Members of the matriclans did not join together as clans, independently of the patriclans, for any activity at the village levels except at the intra-lineal levels;


    1. As a matter of fact, the matriclans did not have special domains of operation in the villages; and


    1. The matriclans did not act distinctively in the elders’ groupings at the village level but took part alongside members of the patriclans in village affairs.

The inferences that have been drawn while seemingly tentative are no longer mere assumptions. For instance, the influence of the refugee Osa-Ibeku on the Ohafia could not be replicated in the other patrilineal societies which the Abam, for instance, were famed to have founded. A closer survey of the Umuerinma community in Alayi (who traditions recounted were founded by a renegade Umuerinma lineage from Abam), the Lodu and Lohum in Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government Council (said to have been founded by a set of unsuccessful Abam warriors who could not return home out of shame), and the Nchara Oloko and Ndoro (Ndi Oru) in Ikwuano Umuahia, shows that they do not portray matrilineal traits. Perhaps, the population of those immigrants and warriors were not large enough to influence the cultures of the peoples in whose communities they settled. Naturally, the migrants became circumscribed.

The thesis inferred that matrilineal practises varied from one community to another within the Cross River Igbo area and withal. The conclusions drawn in this regard are that:

      1. Contrary to popularly held opinion that matriliny was strongest where residence was matrilocal, it was equally strong among the Abam and Ihechiowa where matrilocal niches were absent. Even among the Amaseri where although women ran the affairs of the matrilineages especially in pre-colonial times, matrilocality was not the norm;


      1. There were communities, such as the Amaseri, where inheritance was female-biased, fell into Type I category and yet, residence was patrilocal and virilocal and the functions of the males were less dominant. The females operated effectively from their husbands houses just the same way the males/uncles operated from among their patrikins (umudi);


      1. In some communities, such as the Abam, Ihechiowa, Ohafia and Ututu, where residence was virilocal and the system vacillated between Types II and III, the males (uncles) dominated socio-cultural and political activities in the matrilineages but were less intensely matrilineal than the Amaseri and Afikpo in Ebonyi State; and


      1. The uxorilocal residence pattern was glaringly not obtainable among the Abam and Ihechiowa since the menfolk naturally lived among their patrikins. Although poverty constrained some men in pre-colonial and colonial times, and even now, to live in their wives’ houses, it was, however, not frowned at.


Still on the effects of modernity, some recent studies showed that matriliny survived in perfectly modern, industrializing and exchange economies. For sure, events in the social history of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, affected matrilineal practices. Until recently, biological fathers among the people were divided over allegiance to the matrilineage and on who to make over inheritance to. However, certain factors, such as the innovations introduced by Christianity and western education compelled them, across board, to rethink the matrilineal system and they began consequently to emphasize their nuclear, and not extended, families.

Peripherally, matrilineal practises seemed like polygamy where the presence of many mothers and few fathers made the children become more bonded to their particular mothers. Among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, an individual was strongly related to his mother’s brother but weakly related to his father’s brother. It was intriguing how descent was traced to a woman who would go to live with a man in his patrilineal compound and village. The resultant pattern of residence then would have been matrilocality. But matrikins, inversely, lived in dispersed settlements among their patrikins from where they still operated as corporations and surprisingly in cohesion.

A matrilineal people would naturally have had the matrilocal pattern of residence. Rather, many types of residence patterns were identified among the people in addition to new ones. The irony in an highly acclaimed matrilineal niche was that residence was patrilocal instead of matrilocal. But it was common among the Yako and Agbo of the Cross River valley for patrikins to live together in a compound because they belonged to common matrilineages. Whereas among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, only those that were related patrilineally lived in a compound. A new residence pattern which the writer coined and termed ‘endoxorilocality’ was found to exist among the Cross River Igbo. It was a convenient type of residence pattern instanced by a marriage of convenience between peoples from differing communities and lineages who could not abandon their social responsibilities in their respective communities of origin to subsist as husband and wife in a definite or different loci.

The thesis equally discerned a new type of kinship, which was made up  of offspring from a mother who was not from any of the Cross River Igbo communities. The offspring were co-opted into their fathers’ matrilineages, which was against matrilineal norms. 6 The offspring were thus recruited forcefully into their father’s matrilineage when, as a matter of fact, they should have belonged to their mother’s matrilineage if she came from their matrilineal community. The relationship between such offspring and their father’s matrikins were often strained. This introduced some ambilineality: a subsisting lineal structure among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa where the offspring often opted out of their father’s matrilineage to his patrilineage or to none.

That matriliny was compatible to only poor and egalitarian economies is no longer tenable. It was found out to be compatible with competitive, modernized and expanded economies. Even after the introduction of innovations, matriliny continued to thrive because what was needed was labour and not material resources (capital) for the plentiful of lands that needed to be farmed in a subsistence agriculture. Matriliny flourished in modern market economies because there was high demand for labour than the demand for land or other material things. Even in the event of wage employment and out-migrations from the villages, the matrilineages had more labour to export to urban centres than the patrilineages. It has been inferred that it was not necessarily the number of matrikins that migrated to urban centres that affected matriliny but the growth in individualism among the human exports from the matrilineages. Individualism particularly affected matrilineal cohesion and created tension over remittances regarding who it would accrue to.

Rattray and Poewe 7 agreed that modernity and westernization   influenced changes in the peoples land tenure practises. But the extent, to which tenure practices affected property ownership, inheritance, and marriage, is yet to be evaluated except that it redefined paternal roles and authority within either of the unilineal systems, especially in matriliny. Matriliny in itself delimited individualism because of its “unnatural” mode of inheritance which prevented individual kins from owning land. It also inhibited productive individualism and economic development because among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, matrikins preferred parcelling out lands to only enterprising kins who were expected, in return, to make remittances and cater for less fortunate lineage members, which still made it an ikwu venture, although to a lesser degree.

Regarding assumptions and extrapolations on which the analyses and interpretation of African social systems were based, it will be restated that the Europeans came from societies which were diametrically opposite to African communities and immediately sought for cultures that had semblances with their own. Thus, in the event of a discerned cultural similarity it was interpreted based on the European models imported into Africa. This was a kind of pigeonholing of data, which resulted to the misrepresentation of the cultures of African communities.

Significant complex shifts in kinship relations had occurred in Europe and America before 1860. The transposition of these new kin types on Africa at the onset of colonialism, created a chasm between the natural and cultural kinship domains. Although the innovations in procreation, transposed to Africa, have not had disrupting effects on the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area, there have been cases where children have been adopted and some begotten through invitro-fertilization. It has consequently been concluded that it was the cultural domain that was affected by the innovations introduced by colonialism on the traditional milieu of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa. The picture in Europe and America before the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was that of a continuous shift in lineal relations and social structures. The new forms of kinship, such as those emanating from gay and lesbian relationships, the adoption of offspring and individualism (which introduced ambilineality or bilineality) had evolved in Europe and did not have, as at then, equivalents in Africa and especially among the matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area. It was indeed difficult for the earlier writers and commentators, coming from these backgrounds, to have been able to interpret African cultures and events properly via-a-vis their paradigms.

The universal and natural kinship domain implied that kinship was established if procreation was derived from sexual activities between father and mother. Thus, kinship was based exclusively on biological or marital ties and blood brotherhood and sisterhood. This left yearning answers to persistent questions, such as at what point or where would the so-called illegitimate child have fitted into in the kinship structure? The phrase “so-called” has been used because illegitimacy was abnormal in a patrilineal system but found ready acceptance among the matrilineal communities of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa. This was because matriculture accommodated the “illegitimates” into its fold vis-a-vis its normative processes of membership recruitment. Thus, a child without a traditionally accepable father was protected by the clichés: nwa enwogu nna nwo nne (where nne was the matrilineage) or nwa enwogu nne nwo nna (where nna was the matrilineal head or uncle).

What obtained in Europe by the mid 20th century was not a contest between the natural and cultural domains, as was the case among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, but between the biological and social domains. Concomitantly, kinship relations were viewed within the areas of the natural (or biological), cultural (dynamics within normatively acceptable indices) and the social (being new forms of kinship).  It was difficult drawing a line between what was social and cultural. But practises among gay and lesbian “communities” who often adopted offspring from orphanages fell into the social. At present, kinship is more of the social and emotional rather than the biological or consanguinal. But to what extent was children among the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa, from whatever source, coveted in pre-colonial times.

The ability of the peoples of the Cross River Igbo communities to produce more foods, as it is presently, has been tied to matriliny. The matrilineages owned, and still own, the greater part of arable land among the double unilineal people; had well-contrived labour recruitment strategies; and consequently farmed enough of these lands with more lying fallow. The productive aspects of matriliny and the fact that it was women-specific informed the suggestion that matriliny could be an Afrocentric alternative to feminism.

It is important to restate that this thesis has drawn inferences and explored diversities, some of which evolved owing to the internal dynamics within the societies of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa and by the innovations introduced by colonialism. The underpinning factor was the existence of a strong core-culture area – Amaseri – which was hidden in the cosmetic embellishments of foreign paradigms and unsubstantiated extrapolations. The Amaseri core area became our cultural reservoir or referral enclave which, in turn, according to Robin Horton, constituted the “cognitive rationality” common to all cultures and peoples in all places ever since societies began to be  properly organized in human social systems. The Amaseri, in fact, provided the comparative basis and the pivot on which our analysis was made meaningful. This thesis, in spite of the emphasis on the ‘secondary’ present or innovations, drew its resources from the ‘primary’ past anchored on the Amaseri which it re-evaluated dispassionately vis-à-vis earlier extrapolations. This was done in order that the conclusions that have been drawn will be found to be in consonance with the reality of the present.

The social history of the Abam, Amaseri and Ihechiowa and the entire matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo sub-cultural group of Eastern Nigeria definitely have received necessary space in history, especially from its primary past. This thesis, which explained lots of contradictions and omissions and has put the practises of the various matrilineal communities of the Cross River Igbo area into historical perspective, is, therefore, an important contribution to Igbo history and ethnographic literature.



This paper is the summary and conclusion of the author’s PhD Thesis: Charles Okeke Okoko, “Matriliny and Gender Dichotomy among the Cross River Igbo, 1900 – 1991”, Department of History and International Relations, Abia State University, Uturu, December 2015.

  1. N. Mba, “Emergent Masculinities”, PhD Dissertation Fieldwork, November 20, 2012 in Daniel Interview,, retrieved: 13/09/2013.

Okoko: Chapters Three and Four of  “Matriliny and Gender Dichotomy among the Cross River Igbo, 1900 – 1991”, 2015, pp. 408 – 411.


Felix K. Ekechi, Tradition and Transformation in Eastern Nigeria: A Socio-political History of Owerri and its Hinterland, 1902 – 1947, England: The Kent State University Press, 1989, pp. 62 – 67.

Charles Okeke Okoko belongs to this caste of new kinship since his mother came from Olokoro in Umuahia North Local Government Area, Abia State, Nigeria.

  1. O. Poewe, “Matriliny in the Throes of Change: Kinship, Descent and Marriage in (Luapula, Zambia”, Africa, Vol. 48, Part 1, No. 3, 1978; PDF; and R. S. Rattray, Ashanti, London: Oxford University Press, 1923; retrieved from google

Dr. Charles Okeke Okoko obtained B. A. (Hons) in History from the University of Port Harcourt in 1983, M. A. Political History from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1986 and a Ph.D in History and International Relations from Abia State University, Uturu, in 2015. An accomplished writer, he has published more than 32 peer-reviewed papers in notable books and journals.


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