The quest for development and growth has been the preoccupation of the human race which has steered to setting up organisations, institutions and structures for these purposes. And so, the Umuada as a matriarchal sect in the Eastern part of Igbo land is one of such and has been in existence longer than imagined. They play a stereotyped role that is, without a doubt beneficial to their society, functioning at burial ceremonies, wedding ceremonies and also political involvement to foster growth and development. Within the pre-colonial Igbo society, the Umuada were indispensable; a sect concerned about the females of the community in addition to being a voice of, hence acting as checks and balances in their community. They aided, until now, in restricting the excesses of traditional rulers in the community, domestic violence and issues of amorous relationship including other forms of disputes.
Who are they? They are the daughters of a lineage or a community married, single or separated. And function in their matrimonial and paternal homes explaining why they do not end their catering attributes in the homes of their husbands but work for all of mankind.
The Umuada have been symbolic in their ventures hence inspiring feminism that spurred the courageous women leading to the first historic women’s riot, simply giving into the jurisdictions of their communal concerns. But there is a general perception of the kind of role these women play in their community and it has further fueled the perceived negative notion.
As portrayed in Nollywood, one side of the coin is persistently projected to viewers who thus have a constricted view of who they are and the roles they stand for or what they stand for. The view of Umuada practice to widowed women is not a thing to applaud; regardless they carry out their roles based on their traditional belief system. Though modern times has many questioning some cultural roles and their place in the 21st century.
Being the female version of the Umunna sect in Igboland, they also step in especially in cases of marriage disputes, functioning like the law court but are definitely a mobile court that addresses issues they fear will bring humiliation and discord to their society; no one likes a bad name. In an essay, “Culture and Anarchy” by Mathew Arnold, he interrogates the society and how rules inspire decorum and help in creating a civil society including the Umuada.
In interrogating the Umuada functions, how far is too far in executing their functions as regards enforcing their rules and laws? Their intentions footed with good intentions aim towards the development of the community. As it is, women have a dual personality to play in the society; they are daughters in their patrilineal homes as well as wives in their husbands’ homes and stretching at both angles to makes things right.
Peacebuilding being one of their functions of these matriarchs cannot be overemphasised and though their roles may seem mundane to the modern man, they originated from the traditional belief of the veneration of Ala the Earth goddess in Igbo land and so were expected to be honest, morally sound, courageous, truthful and peace-loving to effectively carry out their duties to the land. So they are representatives of the spiritual functions of Ala.
Umuadas are mainly noted for their maintenance of peace and justice as well as law enforcement in traditional Igbo society with their actions ceasing deviations from social norms like bad hygiene, waywardness and even unfriendly habits. Summarily, the Umuada of pre-colonial Igbo society can be said to be the police of their time.