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The Igbo concept of family and what we can learn from it

Growing up in a multicultural family, I have always been captivated by the rich tapestry of customs, traditions, and languages that make up our world. As I embarked on my journey of marriage to a proud Igbo man, I have come to appreciate the many cultural differences between the different cultures even more. One aspect that particularly caught my attention is the way the Igbo people from Nigeria define and use familial terms, such as "brother," "aunty," "uncle," and "cousin." The inclusive nature of their familial relationships has opened my eyes to the beauty of a more extensive family network and further deepened my love for our multicultural life.


The Wide Use of Familial Terms in Igbo Culture:

In Igbo culture, it is common to refer to close friends, cousins, neighbors, and even more distant relatives as "brother," "aunty," "uncle," or "cousin." These terms create a sense of unity and camaraderie among community members, fostering stronger bonds and connections. This inclusivity is exemplified in the expression "Nwanne di namba", an Igbo phrase that translates to "brother/sister in number." This phrase refers to people who are not biologically related but are considered brothers or sisters due to their shared experiences or strong bonds. This cultural practice reinforces the importance of unity, support, and solidarity among individuals who may not share blood ties but are connected in other meaningful ways.



Brotherhood within Age Groups:

Igbo culture places significant importance on relationships and connections within the community, particularly in the context of age grades and associations among both men and women. Brotherhood among age grades and sisterhood among "umu ada" exemplify these connections. Age grades, or "otu," are groups of people born within a specific time frame who form associations that participate in community development, social activities, and uphold cultural values. The brotherhood among age grades fosters unity, collaboration, mutual support, and shared experiences among members.


This wide understanding of the term brother/sister is in stark contrast to Swiss culture, where we tend to limit these terms to our immediate family members or very close relatives.

Daughters of the Community:

In contrast, "umu ada" refers to the group of daughters from a particular family, lineage, or community. In Igbo culture, the sisterhood among "umu ada" emphasizes the importance of women's roles in preserving their heritage and traditions. This sisterhood provides a sense of belonging, emotional support, and a network of resources for the women involved.



Both brotherhood among age grades and sisterhood among "Umu Ada" highlight the importance of relationships and connections in Igbo culture, transcending biological ties and fostering a sense of unity and solidarity within the community. Such closeness is often underlined with a shared uniform worn by all members of a "family", group or community. This wide understanding of the term brother/sister is in stark contrast to Swiss culture, where we tend to limit these terms to our immediate family members or very close relatives.


The Inclusive Nature of Igbo Family Relationships:

What I find most endearing about the Igbo family structure is the inclusiveness and warmth that transcends traditional boundaries. By embracing distant relatives, friends, and neighbors as part of the family, the Igbo people nurture a sense of belonging and community that is truly inspiring. This has taught me the importance of extending love and support to those beyond our immediate circle, enriching our lives and the lives of those around us.



Clarifying Blood Relations in Igbo Culture:

Due to the wide use of these familial terms in Igbo culture, it can sometimes be necessary to clarify the exact relationship between individuals. For example, when an Igbo person wants to emphasize that someone is their actual blood brother, they might say "ofu nna - ofu nne" translating to "same father, same mother." This phrase helps distinguish between the more general use of the term "brother" and a true sibling relationship.


Through my journey, I have discovered that family can extend far beyond our immediate relatives, offering love, support, and connection on a much broader scale.

The Beauty of a Multicultural Family:

As a Swiss woman married to an Igbo man, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about and embrace the beautiful traditions of both cultures. Our multicultural family has allowed us to combine the best of both worlds, creating an environment of love, understanding, and unity. Through my journey, I have discovered that family can extend far beyond our immediate relatives, offering love, support, and connection on a much broader scale.


The cultural differences between Igbo and Swiss customs surrounding family have not only enriched our lives but also opened our eyes to the beautiful possibilities that arise when we embrace diversity. Our multicultural family is a testament to the power of love and understanding, transcending cultural boundaries and fostering a more connected world. Let's celebrate these cultural differences, learn from them, and continue to build bridges between our diverse communities.

Last but not least

I decided always to end my blog posts with an Igbo proverb or quote and a song (not necessarily Igbo) that speaks to my heart. Feel free to share your favorite proverbs or a song you are currently listening to!


Igbo quote of the week: "Igwe bu ike," which translates to "Unity is strength."

This proverb emphasizes the importance of coming together and supporting one another, reflecting the core values of both Igbo and Swiss cultures in our multicultural family. By embracing unity, we can create a more connected and harmonious world for ourselves and future generations.


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