Ordinarily, issues like “Ezi na Ulo” concept and Uzi” practice in Arochukwu tradtional setting appear simple in context but when you try to discuss them deeply you may discover how rich and complex the issues are in content. Perspectives on such issues are usually many and diverse. And so the more conversations we try to have on them, the more opportunities we offer to others, especially younger generations, to learn and understand these uncommon aspects of our culture better. People always say: ‘Aro is deep’; and nobody can claim he knows it all. And they say: “Aro di ogbu”. That’s why we keep exploring Arochukwu traditional and cultural issues and practices by discussing them more deeply from different angles as much as we can, from time to time.
In Aro culture, “Ezi na Ulo” may mean different things to different people. For our discussion here, “Ezi na Ulo” is preferred to mean people in diverse relationships with others, in one form or the other, in a typical Aro traditional inclusive and extended family setting. It is commonly applicable to men. Aro man’s inclusive and extended family is his “Ezi na Ulo” which usually includes all his extended family in and out, his nuclear family and household. A man’s nuclear family comprises the man, his wife or wives and all his children born by his wife or wives. His household consists of members of his nuclear family, his house servants, other people living with him in his compound house, including his concubines and their children. The “Ezi” side of his complete family relate to all those members of his extended family that are found outside his nuclear family’s home and household. There include all his extended relatives of different classifications,’ known and unknown, “Ikwu na Ibe,” including his mistresses and their children. The “Ulo” side of any man’s ‘Ezi na Ulo’ refers only to his nuclear family and his household. Most often, the man himself may find it difficult to know all the people that constitute his “Ezi na Ulo”. On the other hand, it is easy for any man and others close to him to know those that are members of his “Ulo” side of his “Ezi Na Ulo” larger family.
The men of Ezi na Ulo”, usually of senior citizen status, are always proud and happy of the complete inclusiveness of their nuclear family, household, extended relatives, mistresses, etc as their ‘Ezi na Ulo’. That is the reason most men are happy when people meet them and greet them with enquirers about their “Ezi na Ulo” (his household and the other people outside his home). They will gladly reply you that all are well. But you dare not meet and ask any Aro woman about her “Ezi na Ulo” because that may suggest infidelity on her part which is an abomination. Women don’t meddle with “Ezi” issues; they manage only the affairs of the “Ulo” side of the “Ezi na Ulo”. Therefore no one is expected to ask any Aro woman about her “Ezi na ulo”; you limit every greeting to her to merely asking her about her people at home (“ndi Ulo ya”). Such polite felicitations or friendly enquiries about her “ndi ulo” (her people at home) is a good remark on her. But that does not mean that women don’t care after their kindred, their siblings and parents. They do even better than the men.
Any discussion on issues of “Ezi na Ulo” in Arochukwu kingdom brings to the fore the place of “Uzi” practice in Aro culture and tradition. This is because you cannot discuss “Ezi na Ulo” issues meaningfully without discussing “Uzi” practice as well. “Uzi” is a term used to describe some relationship between two matured adults of opposite sex who are not married to each other, but are having intimate affairs. It is a relationship between a matured woman (not a prostitute) and any matured married man who is not a husband to the woman he is having intimate affairs with. The “Uzi” lady may be the man’s concubine when she cohabits with the man she is not married to; or she may just be the man’s mistress when she stays outside the man’s family home and continues to have intimate affairs with him. Traditionally, “Uzi” practice is not seen as a bad thing if it is practiced in line with certain standard rules.
Originally, the practice was conceived to protect widows from any act of promiscuity. It was meant to provide some support systems and intimate relationship window for some widows who deserve and desire such. It is a practice reserved for deserved adults of certain age and status in the community. Men who play the Uzi game are usually wealthy and healthy, long and happily married, and most often over 50 years of age. Some women go into “Uzi” affairs as a result of widowhood, divorce, or on special personal choice to stay unmarried for some good reasons. Uzi practice is traditionally not considered as prostitution on the side of the qualified women who get involved in it; because such women are usually responsible, wholly reserved for their respective specific chosen male partner and are not in the affairs for the main purpose of giving sex in exchange for money. They are in it for succor and protection.
Traditionally, “Uzi” was made most suited for widows who may not want to remarry after the death of their husbands; they may want to remain in their late husbands’ family to take care of their children, or to conceive and have more children for their late husbands. All the children born by such a widow after her husband’s death are traditionally legitimate children of her late husband. Such children are permitted to bear her late husband’s name and partake in his inheritance. Any widow is allowed by tradition to carefully find a responsible qualified man to relate with as a mistress after observing one full year of morning for her late husband. The family of the widow who wants to go into “Uzi” relationship usually approves her choice. The relationship is entered into with mutual respect for all the parties involved in it. And it is also not expected that it be abused by any of the parties.
“Uzi affairs” may equally be permitted for a divorced woman who may choose not to remarry again, probably because of her bad experiences in her earlier marriage. She may then opt to remain unmarried; and can find herself a responsible man who is capable of meeting her needs as his Uzi” of a mistress class.
Another circumstance where Uzi is also traditionally allowed is where a matured daughter of a man who has no “sons” of his own in the family is persuaded by her family to remain in her father’s house to conceive and bear children to populate her father’s home with sons that will answer her father’s name and inherit his wealth. The lady is usually deemed to have been forced to remain unmarried by her family’s persuasion for some good reasons. She is then permitted to find herself a suitable man outside her father’s home as a mistress to the man. Ordinarily people and tradition frown at ladies who have children outside marriage arrangement. But in this case, there is no shame in it because the lady is encouraged to remain at home, stay unmarried and bear children for the family. Such a lady is most often praised for accepting her family’s request to remain single, select a suitable man as her Uzi and bear children to populate her father’s home at the expense of her potential possible happy marital life.
Uzi practice is exclusively reserved for qualified and capable matured adults. It is not a game meant for young people (young men and ladies) who are not yet married or qualified for the game. It is not a child’s play; and it is not meant for men who may not be able to take good care of their own wives and children at home. It is also not meant for men who will not be able to meet financial needs of their mistresses or concubines as well. It is not a poor man’s game. The men who are involved in ‘Uzi practice’ are expected to provide adequate funds to care and maintain their wives and children at home and also provide for their mistresses or concubines every Nkwo market day for their respective families. Nkwo market day obligations are to be met every four days. The man is expected to provide adequate Nkwo market day money for all his wives, concubines and mistresses respectively. “Uzi” affair is therefore an expensive game mainly meant for those matured men who could really afford it.
Certain consequences of “Uzi” practice are very critical to “Ezi na Ulo” concept. According to Aro tradition, any man who impregnated any of his mistresses or his concubine is only “a labourer” to the lady he impregnated. The reward for his labour is the pleasure he enjoyed in the affairs that led to the pregnancy. He has no right of ownership to the child of the pregnancy he contributed to achieve. Consequently, ownership of every child of “Uzi” practice belongs to the family of late husband, or the father of the mistress or concubine that begot the child; and not to the Uzi man who impregnated the lady to beget the child. But still, the man who impregnated his “Uzi” lady to beget any child is still expected to cater for his “Uzi” (his mistress) and the children of the “Uzi” affairs. This is so because any “Uzi” (mistress) and her child or children from Uzi relationships are usually part of the “Ezi na Ulo” of her Uzi man.
The traditional beneficiary owner of any child of Uzi practice is the father or the husband of the “mistress”, and not the “Uzi man” who fathered the child. Any child of “Uzi” cannot traditionally bear as surname the name of the man who fathered him or her. This is part of the unfortunate consequences of “Uzi” practice. It may sound funny. But that is what the tradition says. But times and civilizations are changing some of these rules. Some children of “Uzi” relationships are, these days, opting to bear the names of the men who fathered them contrary to the original rule of “Uzi” practice per tradition. This is also because tradition itself is dynamic and many things of certain traditions are changing rapidly for something better.
“Ezi na Ulo” concept which provides some cover for Uzi practice usually comes with some immoral behaviors on the part of some men and women who are involved in “Uzi” affairs. In reality, Uzi practice thrives more in polygamous environments. Many marriages today are built on the principles of one man one wife, under a monogamy laws. Unfortunately, most men are polygamous in nature and action; and many of them have practiced Uzi affairs at one stage in their married life or the other.
Some men take cover under the canopy of “Ezi na ulo” to cover up some “mess” in their outside relationships affairs. The smart men of “Ezi na Ulo” always try to find some ways to curtail some challenges the concept may tend to create in their home.
Every man of “Ezi na Ulo” wants to have inclusive and peaceful relationships in his “Ezi na Ulo” affairs. He believes the more his “Ezi na ulo” people are made to understand and relate well with the others, the stronger his inclusive family system will be and the happier should everybody be. And so in a pure Aro traditional family setting, the man makes sure “he owns his wives and all their children” as they all (the wives and their children) belong to him and bear his name. He ensures he secures the support and loyalty of his wife or wives, his children and all the other members of his “Ezi na Ulo”. He pampers his wife with some gifts and calls her some beautiful names such as Obidiya (the heart of her husband), Ugodiya (the crown of her husband), Okwerenkediya (the wife that obeys her husband), etc, to make her happy; even as he goes further to support his wife’s family to ensure his “Ezi na Ulo” is not thrown into disarray by any family conflict. He also provides well for his mistresses and their children too. He also ensures his wives, concubines, mistresses and their children know and understand themselves and relate well as one large family.
The traditional Aro man is very much interested in his “Ezi na Ulo” which tends to expand his family size by births derived at home (Ulo) and births derived from outside the family (Ezi) through “Uzi practice”. The family size of his “Ezi na Ulo” can also be expanded, without Uzi affairs, through strong links with his extended family relatives, adoption and absorption. But women, except where childbearing becomes an issue, are usually more interested only in children derived from births within the ‘ulo’ family.
Uzi practice has been massively abused these days by those who traditionally should have nothing to do with ‘Uzi’ affairs. Based on Aro tradition, “Ezi na ulo” concept and “Uzi” practice thrived and complemented each other in real polygamous environment in the past. But modern civilization with new value system has made ‘Uzi’ practice an ‘immoral act’ and should be avoided. Some of its unfortunate practices have broken many homes and brought some tears and sorrow to some people. Its unfortunate consequences are complicating and damaging. The practice may have worked out fine in the times past when polygamy was in vogue. But it is no longer suitable in this present time where monogamy is in vogue. We believe “Ezi na Ulo” of ‘Ikwu na Ibe’ concept in Aro kingdom can still exist without ‘Uzi practice’ being part of it.