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.
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.