Whilst polygamy is recognised as an integral part of the social economy of the Ibos, yet in actual fact one wife only is specifically acknowledged.
In native law the first wife alone is granted the position and rights of a legal wife. She alone bears the title of “Anasi” and, in virtue thereof, is accorded a measure of respect vastly superior to that given to any of the additional wives.
Her standing also endows her with a powerful influence over the life and affairs of her husband. She, as Anasi, is the priestess of the gods “ekwu” (small conical arrangements of moulded clay). These are kept in the apartments where she reigns supreme and none but she may serve them; it is her personal and sacred right as first and only legal wife.
In all public affairs, such as the taking of title, festivals, dancing and so forth, Anasi enjoys privileges which are totally denied to all the other wives. On these occasions she only is recognised and is embraced by the husband, and she receives equivalent honour and respect with him, the other wives remaining quite in the background.
During the celebration of feasts to the “ilaw maw ” (spirit worship), the husband will offer no food to the alusi (idols) other than that prepared by Anasi. In every way the distinction between the first wife and the others is clearly defined, showing that, in principle, the Ibo recognises but one legal wife.
Amongst the Ibos of Nigeria, by G T Basden, Pgs 104-105, (Seeley, Service and Co. London)1921.
Written by Barr Emeke Maduewesi