Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Firstborn Son Syndrome

I was looking for a fitting image then I remembered Lion King
My father believes he is very modern in his thinking, but when it comes to inheritance hmmmm, I don’t even think he has ever thought, ever wondered “What can I bequeath my daughters?”. Females just don’t inherit and that’s that.
That attitude extends to so many things, e.g. His first son had access to the two family cars from age 17 and Dad bought him his own brand new car at 21. On the other hand, none of my elder sisters learnt to drive at home.  No! It is your husband’s responsibility to teach you how to drive and if he is ‘modern’ enough, he might buy you one (imagine then his consternation when my then single 4th sister bought herself a car in the 90s). lolss
Three Christmases ago, we traveled home to the hometown for Christmas, and Dad spoke about renovating the family house. He then asked his girls to rally round and chip in. Huh?? I love my Dad but we told him in no uncertain terms that his first son, the owner of the house should kindly attend to his inheritance.

This brings me to my topic for today male primogeniture. The customary practice that makes it acceptable - in the absence of a will – for the first son to be the sole heir to his father’s property. This is a normal practice amongst the Ibos of Eastern Nigeria - I don’t know much about other tribes in Nigeria. To be honest it has never really bothered me. After all, you can’t long for something you never had can you? But it is a depressing one. Men, Isn’t your daughter a part of you? Doesn’t she bear your genes? Are you not the supplier of her second ‘X’ chromosome? Why then do fathers forget all that when it comes to inheritance?

A commenter defended this sad tradition on a BBC report saying : IN NIGERIA, THE INHERITANCE IS PURELY MALE TO THE THRONE... WHO DETERMINES THE SEX OF A FETUS? IT’S THE MALE SPERM NOT THE WOMAN'S EGG (I have never seen such a  whacked understanding of Mendelian laws)...

This particular aspect of our culture has led me to term the malaise some Ibo first sons suffer from as ‘The Okpala syndrome’. A disease characterised by a strong sense of entitlement, never do wellism and abject disregard for other siblings. He is a son. A first born at that. Why work hard at school – what is the purpose of hardwork – to afford a home, a car, to be powerful? Well, the first born son has that offered to him on a plate. His father is proud to show off the fruit of his (cough) labours, his ‘Y ’contribution to mankind, so he is given all the material wealth he could ever ask for: nice wheels, the apartment, he has the opportunity to get the best of education, automatic VP position in his father’s business. 
Furthermore he is the apple of his mother’s eyes (Re: his birth cleared her of shame and reified her superior wife status); the son who can do no wrong. The younger female siblings are taught to defer to him, they wait on him hand and foot, when he visits the mom rushes into the kitchen to prepare his favorite meals etc etc. Among his kindred, he is feted, he is  given a seat among elders, he is allowed a say over issues affecting his family and community at large. All by virtue of being the first ‘Y’ bearing sperm that hit the target.

Now you understand how the Igbo society can produce the caliber of first born sons I write of?

What is the effect on the first son? He gets to think ‘why buy the cow when I’m getting the milk for free?’. He doesn’t have the incentive to work hard. To achieve more. What’s the purpose? He’s got it all.
I look around my neighborhood growing up, at family friends and the story is the same everywhere. A huge percentage of firstborn sons have become the black sheep of the family but their culturally elevated status insulates them from deserved insults and from acrimony from the rest of the family.

In the end it comes back to Why daughters think marriage is an escape; Why wives end up giving birth to football size teams in their search for the elusive ‘XY’ chromosomed fetus that will stabilize their position; and Why we have a lot of Efulefus (first born sons who have no purpose in life but to squander their inheritance).

My Sis adopted the neutral-gendered way in training her kids....well maybe not the no 'her' and 'his' style of the school in Egalia, Switzerland. She insisted that no one refers to her first son as Okpala or give him any special privilege as a first son. House chores were shared equally. I remember the weekly Sunday breakfast tradition wherein the kids and the father cooked, while my sister has a lie in. The cooking/preparation was shared equally between daughters and sons - yam peeling, plantain frying, vegetable washing and cutting, tomato grinding etc. The boys learnt early that, cooking isn’t girls' work. And their Dad made sure the girls were savvy with DIY and electronics.
My dear nephew (despite Sister’s effort) has gotten his fair share of reminders from external sources that he is a lucky young man who stands to inherit much. He is alright inspite of it all, but I think the greater success my Sis and hubby achieved was with their daughters. My nieces have grown up with a healthy sense of entitlement as daughters who have rights equal to that of their brothers and they will not be overlooked!!.

I look at them and I have some faith that someday in the near future, daughters/sisters will be bold enough to administer the best cure to the Okpala syndrome – kick ‘em to the curb.

What is your culture like? Do girls have a share?

Disclaimer - I know some of you have perfect first-born sons, brothers and cousins. I am not talking about that minority!! Also there are exceptions 1)if the family is poor :) 2) if the first son came after 2-10 girl siblings. Sisters know how to make a brother behave! lolssss


  1. LOL.. nice post.

    In my family, everyone is treated equally. In fact, as the first born, I always get the first stroke of every cane and the last of general gifts. I am the only boy of four children and the first child. So, my parents knew if they didn't handle me with iron hand, I'd go wayward...

    In the yoruba culture, the Okpala would be referred to as 'arole'. The first born son that is given all the special treatment as 'heir' to the throne of His father. So, the yoruba culture is not different but my family chose not to follow and I thank God they didn't.


  2. WOWW....

    You hit the nail on the head. This thing annoys me so much. It was like that in my house. My brother was given special treatment on everything. I can't even begin to imagine doing half the things he got away with.

    But as you pointed out, there are a few Igbo families where this isn't the case, like my cousins. There is one boy and three girls. I greatly admired my aunt and uncle for raising all there kids equally.

    The sad thing is that this ignorant practice isn't showing any signs of slowing down in Nigerian culture.

  3. My daughter married a Muslim guy. She has two children, first a boy and then a girl. She was expected to "wait on" her husband's mother while she was alive and her husband was never allowed to lift a finger to help with the babies when they were around his Mom. At home it was different. My daughter is happily married and her son just turned 18. He's a delightful boy, but there is a favoritism shown and that disturbs me. Still, if it works for them, it's none of my business.

    I had a convo with a Nigerian Highchief yesterday and I congratulated him on his recent marriage. I said I wished him happiness and many children. He responded that he wanted 3 boys. It seems girls are not as valued in this culture. It's a shame really.

    There's an old saying "A son is a son till he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for all of your life." Truer words were never spoken. I adore both of my kids equally. My daughter and son are precious and equal. I think you may have to come and live with me and take me and your dad as new adoptive parents, not just cypber parents.

  4. It's the same in Edo culture. Women are referred to as half current. lol. Tell me about having numerous kids because you are searching for a son. My father can testify to that, which is why he has 8 daughters and one son. Thankfully, my brother wasn't raised like that although i know he is a little spoiled but i think that has to do with the fact that he is the last born so everyone babies him but he doesn't have a sense of entitlement and he works just as hard as everyone. Dude is in pharmacy school and i'm very proud of him. My mom did a good job raising him :)

  5. Seriously, it's so disturbing. I hate that kind of bullshit thinking. Not only does it hurt the females in so many different ways, but it doesn't help the sons either. Feeling entitled and acting superior hurts everyone. I feel for you, but growing up in an italian family with two older brothers my father was the same way. Believe me, it has hurt him. We don't have a good relationship. I was curious if you did or didn't have a good relationship with your dad. I found it hard to have a good one with someone who doesn't value me. I also think both of my brothers have entitlement issues which hasn't helped them in life. I love your sister. Good for her with her daughters. We can only hope as each generation passes this shit goes away! GREAT/INTERESTING/INFURIATING WITH SOME POSITIVITY AT THE END POST!!!! LOL!

  6. lol. I was going to say not all (ibo) families are like that until I saw your disclaimer. nice post by the way. It has a lot of truth in it. Generally men are more valued by women in society and in igbo land especially, they validate the boys much more than the girls..probably because of issues that come up with extended family when it comes to inheritance after the death of the father. (I know someone who has eight siblings and they are all girls. I keep wondering why her parents don't stop trying).its unfortunate that those 'guilty' parents do not strike a balance between validating their sons and also instilling in them a sense of responsibility which is what I feel should be the main focus of the validation in the first place.
    All this depends on the family though.Personally in my family we were all treated equally and a sense of responsibility was instilled in us especially myself and my brother as we are the eldest...

  7. If your Dad feels daughters have no place in the inheritance, then I must say that he is no mordern at all. Personally, I don't think it is as bad in the yoruba culture. I come from those family you termed as 'minority' so maybe I shouldn't talk too much sha as my whole Dad is really mordern even though we live in Nigeria

  8. In order for this to be an effective father and son relationship, a father must be a good role model to his son. This does not mean perfection. No one is perfect, and no one is expected to be right all the time.

  9. I am from an edo Muslim family. My dad had 7 wives. All bore him male and female children except my mum who had only me. A female. Then my dad dies and every wife's male child is represented in my Father's estate except me, because I am a woman. Apparently I have no rights and the reason I can't represent is because if I get married my husband can automatically take over the portion of the estate entrusted to me. Apparently everyone is fine with the idea except me.

  10. It is the same in Edo culture
    However, I grew up in a house with only daughters - so we learnt to do everything i.e. gardening, car-washing, plastering, basic plumbing etc

    I now have only sons - so they are learning to do everything including basic cooking (toast, fried eggs etc), laundry and cleaning.

    This summer is going to be a significant one because my first son has made me promise that I will teach him how to cook jollof rice :)))

  11. Aww, these responses are surprising i must admit. I thought I was gonna be told I was exaggerating. ro something.
    @Climb2nowhere - I do love my dad. heck I am his pet. But I grew up with so sort of I have accepted that hiis love for his girls is separate from his idea of what theyare entitled. Dad is not rich too so that helps to quelch acrimony :). I feel you dear. We can only promise to do better with our kids.

    @Le Prof - LOL. I remain humble Sir. I knew there'll be a first born Son lurking somewhere to defend their status. Thank God for your parents iron hand. Hope you bear them no ill will; maybe if they didnt do that, you'd have been part fo the statistics I write about. We are proud of you.

    @Prism - You've been there huh? I feel your pain. God has been faithful so I bearnogrudges but.....

    @Mom - I'm just hearing that saying for the first time and its so true. So why dont parents act like it? So annoying. meanwhile where di you meet a Nigerian high chief? Mom!!!!!

    @Madame Sting - Lol..Your family scenario was actually my 3rd disclaimer; First sons born after 2-3 senior sisters are usually well behaved.

    @Stelzz - I love your analogy Stelzz. There should be a balance between validation and its associated sense of responsibility. The son is supposed to be the patriach of the family, hold it together not tear it apart.

    @Ilola - lol. What can I say? I love him like that. I have accepted that he is a product of his times. I can only promise that in my time, it will be better.

    @Siryoz - Welcome and thanks for commenting!!
    I think the fathers are mostly good models in their own right but when you treat a child like he is the best thing since sliced bread without him working to get that praise, you spoil him. imo.

    @Mamuje - That's cold darling. I am beyond words. But you are such a trooper and you're a success. That's all the finger you can give 'em.

    @NIL - Your son asked to be taught how to cook? Wow! You are doing such a good job Mom. Thumbs up there. Make sure you warn him to do it right cause you're putting it up for Blogville to see and judge :p

  12. @Climb2nowhere - I do love my dad. heck I am his pet. But I growing up, I have accepted that his love for his girls is separate from his idea of what they are entitled. Dad is not rich too so that helps to quelch acrimony :). I feel you dear. We can only promise to do better with our kids.

  13. wow,this was insightful,it happens rather everywhere,but I think it's about time the ladies rise up and take a stand,my younger brother does a lot of cooking and household chores and he knows that I'm not under him coz I'm a girl,when I get married and have my own kids,I'll erasaesuch ideas from my boy's head.

  14. Wow! I never stopped being amazed at how much I do not know.

    While I'm quite aware of the preference for male children, seeing as my mum kept trying for a boy until she had my brother, who was the 5th, I never realized that gender affected inheritance. Mamuje's story shocked me.

    Reading these comments, I see that in spite of these "not-so-nice" aspects of our culture, a lot depends on how our parents raised us and that's the lesson I'm taking away fro this.

    We must each make a conscious decision to raise balanced and well grounded children, ensuring that these parts of our culture do not get passed on to the next generation.

  15. You really got it! This makes me so mad. We should all be treated fairly -- regardless of sex, ethnicity or creed. xo style, she wrote

  16. Oh Darling, you know your Mum gets around. Friend me on FB. He and I are friends and chat. Very nice guy. Calls me "Mummy Linda". I like that but I hope he doesnt think I'm really a "mummy" like in Egypt.

  17. we are 3 girls in my family and my sisters and I have learned how to do things 'men can do'....Extended family members always try to explain how 'useless' girls are and how my dad should marry another wife. I have spent my life trying to prove that women are equal and if not better than Maybe thats why emotionally i cannot stand men, but i have a boyfriend i love, he is the only man i can tolerate...Im just tired of men trying to put females down. I went to Nigeria and my male cousins were openly insulting me that my dad is a 'mumu' for allowing me further my education and giving me as much 'privileges' as i was really hurtful and that was when i made up my mind that 'nobody send me' if anytin happens to my dad today im sure his brothers with sons will come n try to claim everything....but im trying to empower myself. Im ready for dem gaddem! Im so upset remembering my holiday!

  18. i think it happens in all cultures in naija o.
    at least i am so sure of my own which is yoruba...
    if i start writing my own story i won't but the thing is just pointless and yes a lot has to do with if the head of the family thinks its a big deal or not..great post miss!!

  19. interesting - heard about this loads and obviously nigerian movies in those days did not cease to highlight the okpala sydrome to us.

    I am yoruba and i don't think it is the same for us, if it is, then it isnt practiced in my family. I don't even know if my dad has a will, we don't even talk about inheritance at all.. all i know is we are treated equally, i am the first and i am a girl and if anything I think I get what I want more than my brothers...

    and i remember years ago my dad bought a car in my name, way before I could drive.. which was odd.. but who am i to complain.. i still cant drive.

    I love culture, but some aspects of it needs to be corrected. I love your sisters approach.

  20. A version of this debate is going in in my facebook page..more on domestic violence and why female abuse is always ignored, its really upset me o, maybe na in worse my malaria..i will paste the link here, read if you want but delete after reading, i choose to be an anonymousish blogger o

  21. Kindly permit to reply from any angle (i.e not necessay from first paragraph)

    My younger brother is the first boy and brought himself up the way your sister did (gender neutral) this is bcos he left Nigeria for studies in a more eglaitatrian society and found out that women are just as human as men so of course he needs to work just as hard to get whatever he wants. He cooks, cleans etc for himself, dates one woman at a time (never dates black women but thats for another blog when i feel better) and never ever cheats on them. He is hardly at home for family meetings and gbo gbo e.

    Now my dad initially brought us up that way initially he said he cant afford school for female kids, just males...this is a first class manchester trained economist.. But when he got ill, who stood by him, the women, the boys were either too far away studying or npopping champagne..That said he spent greater anount of money for their tuition (went to top notch schools) but i want to believe that its because he wanted to give them all the opportunituy not to be a layabout hubby (not that its a guarantee, but you get my point)

    At my 16yrs of age my father is still announcing my marrying a rich man.laff wan kill me. 1. my man to sharp to be a dodoyo stroking the ego of a coffin dodger whose d*ck might not function. 2. even at 40yrs older than me he will consider me too old, 3. The available 16 yr old competition na cut throat and last but not the least my man has to be God fearing and intellectual, else no dice oh, no marry (dont tell my parents make them no go deliverance house)

    all that said, I understand why it was necessary backj then, but fact is times are seriously changing,

    In conclusion they should do away with this carrying of the family name thing as women can add that to their names now, it didnt stop okonjo or obasanjo.

    p.s if i dont make sense, blame malaria will proof read later,

    when the dizzyness reduce i shall read the blogs i missed

    pp.s arent you ging for one of those blog award thingys cus i must vote for you oh ehen! lngkmd

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. So true, am from EDO, so i understand.

    P.s, thanks for coming over, appreciate your comment.

  24. Mmmmh!! I think this is a global problem oh! Some places are more obvious than some, but first sons everywhere are first in line for inheritance (unless otherwise stated). As for their usual wayward attitudes, i think that's more prominent in rich families. But in families that have to work, lots of first sons feel the pressure to contribute.

    How you been Ginger? Muah

    PS. Like you've noticed, I've changed my blog url! I decided to keep the blog on Blogger after all. Check out the link: Sorry for the inconvenience X_x

    Muse Origins (formerly The Corner Shop)

  25. Never experienced anything like that. Clearly, old customs die hard. It's going to take more strong-minded women like your sister to raise a new generation of sons in order to make change happen, which means they'd better carefully select like-minded husbands.

  26. dude, i asked my dad straight up if he was going to include me in his will. he said yes sharply haha. i hate those traditional customs that give men an upper hand.

  27. When you were talking about your father asking you and the girls to chip in, I was like "gbam!" someone finally brought this up. When we were growing up, my brothers had all the priviledges. Now as adults it seems the women are carrying all the burdens of the family. Frankly I am tired of it all. I just want to scream sometimes.

  28. Your writing makes me feel grossly inadequate! Very very well said, I couldn't have done any better justice to the topic. So you're bitter, now I know :). But you're absolutely right...its more shocking that in this age of technology and scientific advancement, people still place such undue emphasis on male children. Sad sad sad.

  29. Do we have the same father do you think? (I cannot drive to save my life). :)

    1. lol. I am telling you, I hold him soo responsible for my inability to drive in this my old age :)

  30. Continue to do these before the cash has this ideal look.
    Lunch has actually been well-liked, very expected you should never
    somewhat more compared to in the marketplace today. However get
    and thus stop the perfect blown up schematics of your total GE cooktop and reveal your account.
    In addition , Cerebral ranges straight away include
    a Couple of years guarantees.

    my blog - top 10 toasters reviews



Related Posts with Thumbnails