The Traditional Nanny(Omugwo woman)
Grandparents love grandchildren, no doubt. But this love could get more profound with the grandmothers. This is because the ancient omugwo tradition allows them to be with that grandchild from its neonatal stage.
The omugwo is an old Igbo tradition which entails providing after birth care to both new mother and her baby. This care is the responsibility of the new mother’s mother. In cases where she can’t be available, the new mother’s mother-in-law takes this responsibility. In some instances, both grandmothers might want to be present for the omugwo. In this, tradition demands that her mother arrives first after which her mother-in-law follows suite.
The omugwo woman could come weeks before or a few days after delivery. A typical omugwo is a 3 months affair even though in recent times, it’s been affected by different factors. These 3 months are spent tutoring. The new mother is to learn everything she would need for future births. For this reason, an Omugwo during a woman’s first issue is necessary. She acquires first-hand knowledge from an experienced one. She’s taught how to handle a neonate from bathing to feeding. She’s also taught to read the baby’s emotions at varying times and to sing lullabies.
The attention of the omugwo woman is not only directed to the baby, but to its mother too. She undergoes a series of hot baths with consistent consumption of hot pepper soup made with the ‘uda’ condiment. An Mbaise woman going for omugwo would certainly not forget to go with the popular ‘aju mbaise’. A term which refers to mixtures of herbs and condiments suitable for a new mother’s healing process. These herbs are also believed to remove blood clots from the woman’s body. The new mother’s stomach is tied with a wrapper, which is believed to bring the still swollen belly back to its initial shape.
The tradition is basically to save the new mother from after birth depression and extreme stress. Therefore, her supposed duties as a wife are being performed by the omugwo woman. These duties range from cooking for the family and other house chores.
After 3 months, the omugwo is over. It is believed that the new mother has learnt all that is required and is ready for future childbirth and care. Regardless, the omugwo is done every time the mother delivers again. The omugwo woman is sent off after 3 months but not without gifts from her son-in-law. In some Igbo cultures, there’s an omugwo list which bears things to be bought by the son-in-law. Certainly, wrappers, powder and pieces of jewellery are no exceptions on this list. It’s majorly a form of appreciation to the omugwo woman for her assistance.
But with civilization, this tradition has been affected by certain factors. Its time frame has become reduced to as low as two weeks, or it’s bypassed completely.
Intertribal marriage too has become prominent so, the issue of conflicting ideas on the omugwo matter might come through.
Grandmothers are no longer less busy. There are now working-class grandmothers. People also live far from home, which makes access to them almost impossible.
Some new brides may be in conflict with their mothers-in-law, and the same can be said of some grooms. So basically, the omugwo which is supposed to be a bonding period between either party could become a battleground.
The omugwo is to heal, to teach, to learn and to bond. It might fade off in the coming years, and even if it doesn’t, it might eventually lose its foundational essence.