By Azuka Onwuka
The ancient Igbos understood the science of genetics better than the Israelites of the Bible, the ancient Egyptians, the English, the Italians, the Arabs, and many other old cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. While these cultures allowed their people to marry even their first cousins (to maintain the bloodline), the Igbo culture made it alụ or abomination (a serious offence against the Earth goddess) for one to marry anybody related by blood even to the 7th generation or more.
It is forbidden to marry from within the ụmụnna, (ụmụnna literally means “children of the same father” – they are descendants of one man for many generations). If any sexual relations occurred between people from the same ụmụnna, purification rites had to be conducted to avoid the Earth goddess (known as Ala, Ana, Ani or Ali, depending on dialect) visiting her wrath on the community.
So for members of the same ụmụnna who live in different villages, it poses a problem. A man may meet a lady far from home and fall in love, only to be told later when plans for marriage commence that both of them are related and and cannot marry.
Maybe that was why the Igbos didn’t have any name for cousin, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt, second cousin, half-brother, half-sister, and other blood relatives – each of them was called “nwanne m” (my brother/my sister). If the person was a maternal relative, he or she was “nna m ochie/nne m ochie” (my ancient father/my ancient mother). This was to further ensure that such people saw one another as blood relations between whom no sexual relations must occur.
Science has proved the ancient Igbos right by showing that marrying one’s close relatives is “inbreeding”, which causes different diseases in the offspring both in human beings and mammals.