Leadership Stories

“I Was Born a Leader” – Ada

Among the hundreds of tribes in Africa, very few view the role of a woman in the household as a significant leadership role. I am a firm believer that a woman’s role in the family is huge and plays a key part in our community. Being of Igbo descent, I have been fortunate enough to see our mothers and grandmothers directly impact the community through their individual organizations for the sole purpose of contributing positively to the village, tribe and beyond.

It is true that African culture is patriarchal. However, the paternalistic tendency of the Igbo culture, does not indicate subjugation of women in some cases. In fact, women in traditional Igbo societies are a key player in political, legal, and social issues.

Long before the colonists arrived in Nigeria, and even after colonialism, women have been a powerful part of the Igbo society. Women have many forums designed to present and protect their interests. The most important of these female forums is Ụmụada (community of Igbo women).

But today, I really want to talk about being an Ada and, in my personal experience, what it feels like being born a leader, literally.

But first, “who is an Ada?”

For my non-Igbo readers, an Ada is a term used to describe the first-born daughter in an Igbo household.

I am the first of four children born to first generation immigrants on the southwest side of Houston. So as a child, I was groomed to be very cultured (thanks to my grandma), take care of the household in the absence of my parents, manage conflict among my siblings and work hard to set a good example for my younger ones. Regardless of all the responsibilities that fall under this prestigious title in Igboland, one of the major roles/duties of an Ada is to be a strong and effective leader.

As a little girl, I helped my mother and aunt a lot in the kitchen. In very little time, the kitchen was no longer theirs. I had mastered how to cook most of the dishes, so it was handed off to me. I was expected (along with my sister) to plan meals, cook and serve the family. This past December, I was tasked with cooking for our house opening in the village. Two 20kg bags of rice and two large pots of soup later, unable to feel my legs from standing all day, I could not help but feel accomplished after all my hard work when the compliments starting coming in.

“Nri gi ahụ na-atọ ụtọ” (Your food tastes so sweet)

“Biko tinyere m efere ọzọ” (Please, dish me another plate)

While it was exhausting and almost impossible to keep up with the mouths in the house, I knew I was fulfilling my role as an Ada to help my parents while they entertained visitors and attended to other urgent family matters. The feeling you get when your parents entrust you with such a large task is indescribable.

In my twenty-something years of life, I’ve always been the first to go through many experiences before my siblings – the first to start college, the first to start driving, the first to attend large family meetings, and probably will be the first to get married. And with these new experiences, I have developed the skills to adapt and openness to learn new things and share information with my younger ones.

I remember when I was in high school, I used to always think of myself as the “guinea pig” of the house (to some extent, I still think I am). After moving back from Nigeria to the states, I had to learn how to assimilate back into the American culture. It was particularly difficult in high school especially when it was time to get involved on campus and prepare for college. The truth is, I had no background and very little guidance around how to put in college applications, SATs, ACTs, apply for scholarships, etc.

I just remember, every month before I graduated, my dad saying in Engigbo, “I ga ewe scholarship, ị ga-aga community college.(If you don’t get scholarship, you will go to community college)

And I did not want to go to community college (HAHA). Little by little, through my friends, guidance counselors, teachers and financial help from my parents, I navigated through the tedious process of college and scholarship applications. In all, I obtained almost a full ride to college.

Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

While there were some things that I wish I had done to get more money or be more qualified for a certain school, I was able to share, both failures and successes with my siblings. And boy, were they grateful to tweak my scholarship essays for their applications.

The biggest challenge for me has been navigating through new waters with limited guidance from my parents. It’s not that they are not willing to help, it’s just that you don’t know what you don’t know. Going outside to gain information and learn from others, helps put things into perspective and has diversified my guidance as a leader.

I mean, being an Ada is all I know. But sometimes, I wonder if I didn’t have the pressure of my siblings watching me, if I would still have the drive to be as hardworking as I am now. Maybe or maybe not. But I can say, my family is my greatest motivator.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes, being the Ada has its perks. You get the largest piece of meat (after your parents of course), you get to ride shot gun and your allowance was way more than everyone else’s. But just like anything, it came with its challenges. Growing up in an Igbo household has thought me leadership skills I apply to so many other areas of my life.

Ivery Arie
Author: Ivery Arie

5 comments on ““I Was Born a Leader” – Ada

  1. Kamapala Chukwuka

    This is such a beautiful post! I can do relate to this post as I too am an Ada 🙂 Even though we don’t call it that in Cameroon 😊 I totally agree that I gained a lot of leadership skills from this role. Such an enjoyable post❤️

    • Thank you Kamapala! Even at a young age, you can learn what it means to be a leader. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Pearl Anonymous

    Very nice write up! I just wished you wrote about the other difficulties Adas also face. For example, how difficult it is being a guinea pig sometimes? Or pressure, if any. I’m not an Ada so, from observation, I always thought it was pure privilege. But growing up, I have learned, it can be really tough also.

    • Thanks for your response Pearl. For the most part, being an Ada is all I know. I can’t compare difficulties because being an Ada has been my experience. I will say, it can sometimes be frustrating relaying info to my siblings and they refuse to listen/ take advice. But you also have to learn how to coach and support without advising (very distinct difference lol). As for pressure, I would most of it was (is) self inflicted lol. I’ve always had this drive to be better and set a very good example for my siblings to surpass.


      Excellent experience by Ivery Arie (Ada maramma). Ada in Igbo land has may challenges starting from the family background, the family norms, values and responsibilities as well as financial status. Another thing to consider is what the Ada takes herself to be.
      Ivery did not struggle because the element i mentioned above were all embedded well in herfamily. However her disposition to learn helped her to grab everything she needed to be the best of ADA.

      Any family without norms and values and no one to encourage the younger one (Ada), it is a struggle. Ivery tried her best to be a role model automatically the young siblings had to follow suit. Her ethos spoke for her . well done my sister.
      But truly Adas do have challenges even sacrificing for the younger one to be educated, receiving harsh training or given out early for marriage for the family to have money to eat and so on. Any Ada who is open to learn and has good support always do well and will not experience challenge even when they are there.

      I am not an Ada but i watch people a lot to pick the good character they have.
      Thanks sister and Ivery for your writing i think it will help my daughter. She is Ada, 9 years plus but does not want to take responsibilities no matter how i tried to teach her as a mother. though we are in southern Africa but my intention is for her to be a real Ada despite the fact that we are not in Nigeria Ala Igbo precisely. She always resist.
      Three months back out of frustration, i encouraged her to google what Ada Stands for in I

      Igbo culture. Good enough today she decided to google Ivery’s article was the one she picked. She was reading openly with smiles whenever she meets the advice and the couching words i normally use for her. She admitted that i was right on all i have been telling her.

      I hope she can start looking forward to improve herself so as to positively influence her three younger ones
      Thanks Ivery Arie and other readers.

      I stand for the best and i want the best

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