The number of times my sisters came to me asking why women were not allowed to do one thing or another in this culture crossed the double figure mark barely 5 days into our trip to the village. Being at home always provides an opportunity for me to learn more about my people; who we are today as a community and glimpses into our way of life before colonial invasion.
Some things make more sense than others. For instance, it makes sense to me that palm wine had to be drunk on the day it was tapped. It is taboo to drink day old palm wine in the presence of a freshly tapped keg. It made sense at the very least as a tribute to the artistry of those who made it their business to ensure freshly tapped wine by the next morning, as it would rightly be considered disrespectful to their craft that one subjects himself to the displeasure of stale wine as a result of hoarding. We even have a saying to the effect - Kama oga do na ite, ya doro na afo - Rather it be in the stomach than in the pot.
On the occasion of this visit though, I'm forced in no small part thanks to my own concern for the interest of the women in my life, to interrogate and challenge some of the practices that have for generations and still continue to serve the exclusions of women from empowerment.
So my sisters, 11 and 10, asked in frustration why girls aren't allowed to drink the uza mghi (sedimentary parts of a cup of palm wine), or why they could not pour libations even for their own sake and why the kola nut did not acknowledge their presence?! When my father told stories of the stories he had been told as a child, They pressed on why the girls had to be in the kitchens even after farming like the rest of the men, why in a culture where yams were by far the most valuable crop, women were only allowed to cultivate coco yams? or why it was okay for men to marry other women if their wives were unable to have children but the same liberties were not extended to women married to impotent men?
I did not hesitate to tell them-
That patriarchy is the greatest invention of the oppressive mind and that none of that taboo means anything worthy of critical consideration, only categorical dismissal. There is no good reason, Chizzy. You are just as qualified as I am to pour a drink for your ancestors, Amarachi. The truth is that men have always felt threatened by women and have found ways over time to make the women feel like they were not as important but it is a lie. You deserve to be initiated into adulthood in the same way that boys are. I think you will dance just as vibrantly in a masquerade costume. What we call norms today are merely residue of past society. So don't let anyone ever tell you that you are not supposed to do anything. Not me, especially not me, not our father, not even our mother.
Girl, you are man enough.