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Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 86-92
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2013.31A014
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Character and Culture: Towards a Man of Character
—The Relevance of Traditional Igbo Family Values
Paul Ikechukw u Og ugua
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Received January 8th, 2013; r evised February 18th, 2013; accepted February 21st, 2013
Character and culture describe man both as an active and a passive agent in life. It is by being fashioned
by culture that man cultivates character and by the use of this character so acquired that he develops and
upgrades his culture; for culture is dynamic, that is elastic; as such there is need for eternal vigilance on
the part of man to see his culture evolve and become better at every point in time. This can come about
either spontaneously or through an agency; it is the duty of an agency to act upon what is given, required
to produce a good result, in our instance to act on Igbo-African family values. This entails a dialogue of
man and his milieu, for character grows form a healthy and salutary agent, so knowledge of, belief in and
application of values is indeed a precondition.
Keywords: Character; Culture; Family Values; Morality; Philosophy; Authority; Commitment; Love
Experience has shown us that man has a problem or else why
expressed resentment indicated in defiant difference, silent
resignation and dauntless violence against groups and leader-
ship? Man’s existence arouse fundamental questions, why is
man different from every other created thing? Why has he un-
specialized nature? Why must he struggle to survive? Why is it
that nature refused to take care of him as it takes care of other
creatures? Barclay Harold (1986: p. 43) wonders:
What is so peculiar about humans that would result in the
genesis of such a unique entity as cultural behaviour and
its total demand over the nature and character of the hu-
You can see then that there is a link between culture and
character. Linton recognized that man has both primary and
secondary needs but sees the origin of these as obscure.
Socrates realized that man is confused and admonished him
to know himself. Man has not made strides in this assignment
due to his failure to know who he is, and his mission on earth.
Culture which is a normative and developmental concept stands
a chance of helping man to not only understand himself but
equally understand and realize his mission on earth. Our prob-
lem is that we talk glibly of culture. Culture is a vast universe
of discourse. By normative development Chuta (1992: p. 5)
A harmoniously, progressive and purposeful advancement
of human civilization in human history. It is to be a har-
monious advancement in the sense that despite the diver-
sity and variety in the cultivation and application of re-
sources, there should be a recognition of a leadership of
mutuality, common interest and destiny among different
peoples of the world.
With the additional terms like character which involves vir-
tue and will and traditional Igbo family values my universe of
discourse is further “voluminous” But it might interest you to
know that an Igbo-African academic Prof. Maduabuchi Dukor
has done an in depth study in the area of values. For him, the
study of values requires a rigorous and vigorous logical analy-
sis and it is largely epistemic and ontic in its origin. Dukor
(2010: p. 15) emphasized that many see values as limited to
ethical values and pointed out thus, “… the values of a people
go beyond ethic to values of technology, architecture, food
habit, poetry, music, sculpture, painting, farming, swimming
and a whole arts”.
As the structure of what I want do permits, I will examine the
concepts involved in this paper, thereafter, I will look at the
relationship between character and culture in history of man’s
thought; and then dwell exclusively on how the traditional Igbo
family values could help in the cultivation, development and
emergence of a man of character. As soon as I have done that, I
will recapitulate what this paper holds.
Some Basic Terms
Culture is often used and yet frequently misused. Culture is
from the Latin verb “colere” from the Latin term “colo”, de-
clined thus “colo, ere, -ui, cultum” meaning to cultivate or to
worship. It is equally from the Latin word “cultura” meaning
cultivation or tending. Ogugua (2004) writes, “Besides cultiva-
tion, the idea of nursing, improving and rendering fertile is
Culture can be said to be the “modus vivendi” of a people.
By this we imply not a way of life, but a mode of life which is
shared among the people and transmitted from one generation
to the other for the survival of the people and preservation of
their identity. Culture is strictly a human phenomenon, hence is
dynamic. It is a normative and developmental concept. In the
words of Taylor in Ogugua (2004) culture is that complex
whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, cus-
tom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a
member of society.
P. I. OGUGUA
Popenoe in Oddih Elebo (1988: pp. 150-151) holds it is the
system of shared values and meaning of a group or society,
including the embodiment of those values and meaning in ma-
terial artifacts. That shows we have the material and non-mate-
rial aspects of culture. Reyter in Oddih Elebo (1988: p. 9) says
it is “the sum total of human creation…” Ogugua (2004: p. 62)
wrote elsewhere that;
Culture should then refer to those elements which help in
refining, cultivating, reshaping, designing and developing
man towards mental and physical endowment.
We can then say that culture is metaphysical as it deals with
meaning; historical since it can be located within space-time
and within specific period of time, and trans-historical as it is
transmitted from one generation to another.
For the Igbo people, culture simply put, can be translated as
“Odinani” which is the embodiment, personalization and to-
talization of the Igbo people’s beliefs, knowledge, values, art,
action, etc. This “Odinani” is a body of norms; its practical
aspect “Omenani” means the doings of the land, it involves the
application of the depositions in the “Odinani”.
Character although a household word is slippery, very diffi-
cult to define as many have confused it with personality. After
looking at personality briefly then we will delineate what char-
acter is. Reading Hugo (1978: pp. 150-151) sees personality as:
1) Social-stimulus value of an individual.
2) aggregate of an individual’s dispositions
3) organization of an individual’s dispositions.
4) organization of an individual’s socially-relevant disposi-
5) pattern of adjustments of an individual’s dispositions.
6) pattern of adjustments of an individual
7) an individual’s unique pattern of dispositions.
8) sum of individual’s roles.
9) an individual’s variant reactive system.
10) subjective awareness of self as distinguished from other
Morgan et al. (1984: p. 512) say that practically everyone
uses the term “personality” with something slightly different in
mind. It is to the fact that confusion will definitely creep in for
not being properly defined. For MIschel (1976: p. 2) it: refers to
the distinctive patterns of behaviour (including thoughts and
emotions) that characterize each individual’s adaptation to the
situations of his or her life.
Allport (1937: p. 48) defines it as: the dynamic organization
within the individual, of those psychological systems which
determine his unique adjustment to his environment.
Personality is derived from the word “persona” meaning
mask. That shows that it is symptomatic, not definite (rigid),
something that can be put off and on at will. Personality can be
influenced by temperament, intellectual power and tastes. Per-
sonality is the appearance of character hence can be said to be
shadowy, changeable, flexible and undetermined. Now let us
examine the concept-character.
Character is the reality while personality is the appearance.
Character is essential, fundamental and deep rooted. It indicates
strength and is measured by it; a hard-won achievement
through struggle, though modifiable through (education) teach-
ing and effort, but not by innate and constitutional things. It is
the essence of virtue.
One can think of character in an ethical sense or in a psy-
chological sense. In the ethical understanding it rhymes with
will-power. According to Donceel (1967: p. 218); “Ethically
considered, character may be defined as the power of self-con-
trol or the capacity of regulating one’s life according to princi-
In this sense, one can think of character development, or de-
velopment, or education and self-control. I have expressed
elsewhere that we cannot rightly hold that a person has no will-
power, everybody has will-power, rather we can maintain
without fear of being in error that a person has a strong or a
Donceel (1967: p. 218) continued; “Psychologically consid-
ered, character may be defined as the organized totality of the
tendencies of an individual”. The multifarious tendencies pos-
sessed by man as a species make it possible for one to develop
one kind of character and another; character is of course
streamlined and determined by the individual’s goals and vi-
sions. “A person or character” pursued purposes without being
distracted by passing impulses”.
Will is related to character. Will is equally measured by
strength. Quinton (1985: p. 439) writes:
To have a very weak will is the next best thing to having
no will at all.
Little wonder, the intellect shows the object and the will
shoots the arrow. Will has to do with activities, hence effort.
Spontaneous character will then exclude the will. Only in con-
trolled character has the will a place, controlled character is
organized totality of man’s tendencies and reactions towards
reality under normal self-control. Donceel (1967: p. 219) ex-
In weak-willed people who lack self-control the differ-
ence between these two aspects of character is negligible.
On the other hand, in people who have learned to control
themselves there may be a considerable difference be-
tween what they would do if they “let themselves go” and
what they will actually do.
He continued; “Perfect self-mystery makes it very di fficul t to
discern a person’s spontaneous character”.
Conclusively, we can say that character refers to the strength
and/or goodness of personality. It is durable and stable. Now
we turn our gaze to the term family, Hawkins Joycee (1995: p.
145) says it means “Parents and their children; a person’s chil-
dren; set of relatives; group of related plants, animals, or
In this work, we are not concerned with family in relation to
animals, plants or things. Reading Hugo (1978: p. 226) writes
family means “Two or more persons living together related by
blood, marriage, adoption.
In this context, we are not concerned with adoption for it is
foreign to the traditional Igbo people. Harris Odimegwu (2000:
p. 184) says that “The term ‘family’ refers primarily to a house-
hold, …” If left as it is, it is incorrect, because household means
people eating from a pot. Even his addition of: “A group of
people who have blood relations with each other and who are
bound by kinship ties and feelings” has not and cannot remove
the stress on “primarily” .
The family is essentially and fundamentally a cultural insti-
tution and natural society of man which springs up from a mar-
riage between a man and a woman particularly; ties between
kindreds existentially. The family is a cultural unit and instru-
ment that is too fundamental in building, cultivating and form-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 87
P. I. OGUGUA
ing character of every person.
Has this given us the African understanding of family?
Igbo-African understanding of family is wider and more exten-
sive. The family involves not only a man and woman, their
offsprings, or even the extended family; it includes the dead,
the not yet born and even God himself.
Value in a nutshell means according to Reading Hugo (1978:
1) the object of an interest, terminal or instrumental
2) object possessing a valence.
3) a character trait culturally-defined as desirable.
4) anything culturally-defined as desirable…
Be it as it may, Dukor (2010: pp. 15-16) insists that discus-
sion of moral normative cultural values of the African requires
logical analysis in terms of prepositions, predicative and en-
tailment and finally into magisterial, legislative and universal
law-like statements or prepositions which can be true or false.
He stressed that the moral normative values consist in what can
be called ethical or axiological values while aesthetic and artis-
tic values make up the non moral normative values in African
This work concerns community values from the postulation
of Dukor; and we are of the opinion that these values apply to
what man does to generate what he termed aesthetic values. It is
not in contest that God is the foundation of African cultural
values, for Dukor who argued that African cultural values are
anchored on Theistic Humanism. Why?
Probably because African man’s idea of God is anthropo-
According to Dukor (2010), most of the precepts of moral
values deducible from community values are in the form of
proverbs and wise-sayings that they need to be translated or
converted in a logical way to categorical prepositions. These
values are respected by the people as they have theistic origin;
and work for the consciousness of the community, that is
building, maintaining and upholding of the community. So, we
can hold and rightly too that the Igbo-African have an inbuilt
mechanism for guaranteeing ethical, moral and peaceful rela-
tions, that is stability in the community as these values are seen
as laws and respected as such.
“All in all, the Igbo cultural values and philosophy is an ad-
venturous philosophy that abhors laziness and promotes right
conduct within the calculus of Theistic Humanism. It particu-
larly lays emphasis on hardwork and accordingly recognizes
merit and achievement”. As such, “it is really not necessary to
get the Police to enforce moral values in Igbo society since the
spirit of moral responsibility and communalism or kingship
takes care of deviances”, Dukor (2010: pp. 6,20,17).
Character and Culture in the History
of the Modern Man
Character is the goodness of personality. Man is a cultural
animal and cannot be anything outside that; we can see that
character and culture are tied together. Culture becomes the
process and the instrument of getting at character. Boethius (n.d)
said the person is an individual substance of rational nature.
Many are men by constitution and not by actions, are they not
rational creature s? They are.
To be really rational is to tend consciously and continuously
towards the end of the human “animal”. If one does it, there is
the propensity that one will become a man of character. Char-
acter is the essence of virtue; for every virtuous man is a man of
reason who pursues his targets, visions and goals without let-
ting innate and constitutional things i.e. temperament, passion,
etc to interfere.
Character formation has been attacked severally; some of
these attacks are what we have set out to examine in this sub-
theme, in 19th century the Will was central in ethical and psy-
chological discussions, but not today. Why” Hundreds of years
back, virtue and character were central topics in ethical theory
discussions, today duty has usurped this position. Lionel Trill-
ing in Quinton (1985) observed the situation and poignantly
The concept of Will will no longer figure significantly in
the systematic psychology of our day. Those of us who
are old enough to have been brought up in the shadow of
the nineteenth century can recall how important the Will
was once though to be in the conduct of the personal
life; … “How confidently our parents and teachers
pointed to the practical as well as the moral advantage of
having a will of developed strength and discipline”.
Anthony Quinton thinks that character is not substantive,
rather it is procedural for there is no set of desires which one
(man) has particularly. For him, character is the same as self-
control or strength of will. Man is different from other animals
because of his ability to think about things which are outside
his immediate perception with the aid of language. Language
and culture are exclusively human. It is by meeting our envi-
ronment with thought and humanizing it that culture which is
already present as it is God-given becomes all the more ‘modi-
fied to meet the needs of the period. Through this process char-
acter emerges, for Quinton (1985: p. 439) character is:
Comparatively unspecific, unlike abilities and skills … It
is in essence resolution, determination, a matter of pursu-
ing purposes without being distracted by passing im-
A frontal blow came with the sexual liberation which the
Victorian period thinkers and 20th century rationalist thinkers
espoused. Before this period, character and will occupied a
central place in morality. Strenuous self-discipline, or one may
say asceticism was stressed. This was against the nonstrenous
morality of the 18th century which preceded it, and this non-
strenous morality was a reversal of the gloomy fanaticism of
the 17th century and the epoch characterized by religious wars.
Long-terms aims approved during this period were secular and
terrestrial. By implication, those things which were seen as
“agreeable or useful” were done. Does it not look like the prin-
ciple of Machiavelli, the end justifies the means?
The morality of the 18th century was relaxed. This suited the
ideal life of the protestant commercial middle class which ac-
cording to Quinton (1985: p. 441) “Has been progressively
reconciled to life on this sinful earth by the worldly success that
had accrued to its hard word and foresight”.
The authority and presence of Benjamin Franklin helped in
maintaining this “culture” till the middle of the 19th century
when a more severe ascetic idea of life replaced it. Victorian-
ism was concerned with all aspects of an ideal of self-reliance
so to speak. Industry, hardwork, honesty and fidelity to prom-
ises were stressed as they were of great importance to the busi-
ness world. Sexuality was confined to monogamy; benevolence
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
P. I. OGUGUA
was confined to the unfortunate and not the merely pitiable;
waste was deplored. Quinton (1985: p. 441) writes. Decorum
must be maintained, serving as a kind of fireproof of matting to
keep down smoldering impulses to passion and extravagance.
Victorian morality was attacked by rationalists of the late 19th
and early 20th centuries i.e. Butler, Bernard Shaw, Russell, B
who were eager to revive the enlightenment. They attacked the
Victorian ideas on sex, relations of men to women, adults to
children; property; and the decorum or “easy calm” which pre-
served this order replete with moral ills (errors). They looked
forward to a new morality-rational, which will help people to
perfect themselves. They were people of strong character and
will; hard workers; Shaw was ascetic above the demands of
Consequently hedonism came to the fore. There was the
1890’s decadence; innate private sensation. After 1918, old
pieties were ridiculed as sensation’s pursuit went off gear
Quinton (1985: p. 442) writes. Vulgar Freudianism, the idea
that all inhibition is bad, unhealthy, the cause of neurosis,
helped to fill the sails of this pleasure-boat.
What of the Instinctualism of Lawrence D.H?
Another attack was initiated by aestheticism, i.e. Ruskin and
Pater; which gave room to permissive morality quite inimical to
character and will. The emancipation from the Victorian messy
situation took two forms of moral reform. Firstly, is negative
permissive morality which was characterized by passive con-
sumption, recreational satisfactions. The society ensured that
the means of satisfying these pleasures were affordable. The
most admired quality during this time was amiability. Secondly,
is the ecstatic morality which advocated the enjoyment of in-
stinctual pleasures unrestricted even beyond a level necessary
for self preservation. It was confined to the young mostly.
Quinton (1985: p. 443) writes:
On this view all frustration or inhibition is bad and un-
healthy. Older ideas of the natural goodness of mankind
are reanimated, often with the qualification that innocence
can survive only in communities sequestered from the
corrupting influences of the urban, industrial world.
Both forms of morality are hostile to character and will hence,
juvenile. There is no doubt that Freud through his psychoanaly-
sis, by stressing on forces which can affect behaviour without
the agent’s knowledge buried responsibility. His account of the
superego as the product of aggression destroyed the individual
and forced him into a kind of self-mutilation. Quinton (1985: p.
There is an instructive aspect to his account of conscience
in what he says about civilization. Although, he sees it as
having some of the qualities of a collective neurosis. He
takes the renunciation of instinct it requires to be prefer-
able to the alternative of uncontrolled aggressiveness.
The suicidal blow of character and will formation was onto-
logical; the decline of religion. This opened the gate of hell, and
with red fiery blazing eyes, men became cabals perpetuating
murderous mayhem occasioned by radical agitation in the in-
terest of various underdogs and irrational or thoughtless men.
All the values of religion were sidetracked and God was de-
clared dead by Nietzsche, and some out of sympathy declared
him old, unconcerned with the world or on leave or in IBB’s
term stepped “aside”.
A litany of other features in our day which might have risen
due to this characterless self include: total extinction by nuclear
war, holocaust, genocide, heightened level of brutality in poli-
tics, as the modern man believed Machiavelli that the “end
justifies the means”. Crime rate has increased at home; organ-
ized crime is a billion-dollar business, despotism thrives
There is no doubt that large moral change has taken place in
the modern times; the contents of morality has changed, and the
form too. The conception of the moral agent is no longer the
Deeper Insight of Philosophy
Classical philosophers gave virtue a central position, for
them virtue was the primary moral notion. For them, the central
question was “how should I live” or in more direct way “what
kind of person should I be? Plato was concerned with the types
of human character to produce, little wonder he talked of vir-
tues and vices. He did not busy himself with prescriptive job of
positing moral principles or laws which is the essential charac-
ter of Kantian and neo-kantian ethics.
Plato has virtue as a key word in his moral philosophy like-
wise Aristotle. Plato went to the extent of equating virtue with
knowledge. Before Plato, in the Homeric era, the word “Arete”
was translated as virtue. “Arete” was used for excellence of any
kind. In this kind of understanding and background there is a
place really prominent given to strength. By implication, cour-
age stood out. Alasdair Macintyre in Sommers C. H (1985: p.
What is alien to our conception of virtue is the intimate
connection in heroic society between the concept of
courage and its allied virtues on the one hand and the
concepts of friendship, fate and death on the other.
To be courageous is to become a person; reliance can be
placed on. Courage becomes necessary for the cultivation of
friendship. Courage is a quality necessary to sustain a commu-
Modern ethics is epistemological. Instead of stressing on
“being” stress is laid on “doing” kant made duty the central
topic in his moral philosophy. For him the vital question was
“what shall I do?” Christiana Hoff Sommers (1985: p. 171)
The morality of “doing” is logically simple: we determine
what we ought to do by seeing whether it maximizes hap-
piness (utilitarianism) or is universalizable (Kantiansim).
It is not surprising then why modern ethics is a set of foot-
notes to Kant. For these modern ethicists, qualities associated to
character are of secondary concern. There is radical one sided-
ness of moral philosophers on principles and not on qualities
which make one what he is. Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories are
instructive. Justice then for Plato is not acting according to law
though connected with it.
Telling the truth is not an obligation for Aristotle as it is for
Kant. It is quality of character and can only be designed in
principles with great artificiality and complexity (that is in a
metaphorical sense). Aristotle though might have subscribed to
a set of principles, has boaster etc. John Stuart Mill in Sommers
C. H (1985: p. 173) noted the difference between the negative
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P. I. OGUGUA
and positive rendering of principles thus:
Christian morality (so called) has all the cha racters of a reac-
tion’ it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its idea is
negative rather than positive, passive rather than active, inno-
cence rather than nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than
energetic pursuit of the Good; in its precepts ( ) “thou shalt not”
predominates unduly over “Thou shall”.
Of course, if Mill has said the Biblical morality, he would
have been more correct; for he is talking of the Decalogue.
Although Christians go by the Decalogue, it is ancient promul-
gation though from God. Christ’s pronouncements were posi-
tive and active, developmental. He said “be thee perfect…”
Love one another” etc.
Though a gap exists between being and doing, there are con-
nections between them. One cannot be what he is, save by be-
lieving certain things, knowing these things and doing these
things, moral quality can be ascribed to him on account of his
performance. Ethics of being is wider than that of doing, it
involved it but ethics of doing cannot involve that of being. Do
you know one can possess moral principles and the will to act
and yet not have moral qualities?
When we talk of a just man, we impute motives and inten-
tions, with the character of the agent. Kantians and Utilitarians
find it difficult to deal with motives. For Aristotle, just mani-
fests a kind of character.
The primary, moral question remains “what ought I to do”
the answer should be “Do this…” hence is positive and impera-
tive. Connection can as well be made with moral code. The
fundamental moral question posited above can be answered
equally by positing a quality of character i.e. “Be just”, “Be
brave”, etc one moral perplexity can be extensive as to touch
his whole way of living instead of just a situation. If it becomes
so extensive, his fundamental question take a more basic scope,
it becomes “what ought I to be” Mayo in Sommers C. H. (1985:
p. 175) holds:
And here the ethics of character gains a practical simplic-
ity which offsets the greater logical simplicity of the eth-
ics of principles. We do not have to give a list of charac-
teristics or virtues, as we might list a set of principles. We
can give a unity to our answer.
It will be difficult to think of logical unity, for it will mean
deducing some principles from others and ultimately reducing
these (some) principles to a few.
The moral quality of agents can be deduced and derived from
the moral quality of actions. Kant and Hume determine the
quality of an action by its rightness. The cognitive pre-occupa-
tion of ethicists led them to ignore virtue, character and will in
this modern period. May I ask if you do not have idea of what
is morally right, how do you get people to do it?
It does seem imitation and pursuit of parental approval aid in
building of character in a normally brought up child. Do you
know that self examination can aid in moral development? This
is internally induced having established the primacy of being
over doing and the fact that there are connections between them,
let us dwell on how traditional Igbo family values can aid in the
development of a man of character.
The Place of Traditional Igbo Family Values in
Bringing about a Man of Character
We have to point out “hic et nunc” that the family values are
not the same as Igbo traditional values, but that these family
values reflect these general values. The core traditional Igbo
values are life, offsprings, wealth, love and peace. It is a quin-
quagram. Although the concept, the immediate family which is
the fundamental unit and instrument of character development
equally is the domain of religious worship and awakening, and
the head of the family as the star link between the family
members and the ancestors, spirits and God controls this family
worship and religious activities or rites.
An ideal traditional Igbo home is characterized by a very
high degree of intimacy, of love, of devotion. The man is usu-
ally a polygamist and yet the wives are satisfied. In the tradi-
tional Igbo (family) home a ge is esteemed. Age is re garded as a
blessing from God and everybody prays to have grey hair,
“Honour your father and mother” of the Bible is a lived norm in
this home. Many a time children grew up in the presence of
grandparents Norman Lamm in Sommers (1985: p. 469) writes,
this shows some
Kind of living relic of the past, and developed a natural
respect and reverence for age not because of any specific
function of the elderly, but because age itself was valued.
But in the West, there is no desire for this relic of the past as
the elderly are put in old people’s home. In the traditional Igbo
family, roles were more or less defined. Everyone knew what
was expected of him. Self-restraint and renunciation are em-
phasized in the traditional Igbo home. The contemporary man
thinks “thou shall not” is an excessive inhibition which can
distort the personality development of a child.
As God is part of a traditional Igbo family, it presupposes a
commitment by all members of the family to a source whic h is
transphysical, ontological. This commitment includes some
aspects of Igbo culture and/or a combination of these aspects of
Igbo “Odinani”—the totalization of Igbo knowledge, belief,
arts, values, etc.; “Omenani”—the functional aspect of the
“Odinani” which means the doings of the land; Igbo traditional
religion, and God. In short, there is axiological cohesiveness in
the Igbo traditional home.
Now let us reduce these values into a troika for easier han-
dling and integration but more so to reflect the significance of
the number three in Igbo land. So we can now talk of a Trini-
tarian model value. We reduce these to love, authority and
commitment. That does not mean there is no regard for life and
offspring, these are presupposed. Again, wealth is not totally
excluded but it has not yet much place to play in the family for
most families were of the subsistence type. Peace we say is
subsumed in love, for love breeds peace. Moreover, life can
only be sustained and maintained through commitment. Does it
make any meaning why then I have decided to discuss love,
authority and com mitment? Let’s com mence.
The Igbo word is “Ihunanya” which can be transliterated as
seeing with the eyes. By implication, what one perceives or
experiences with his senses. Love is expressed in concrete
terms, for the word “Ihunanya” suggests, it need to be seen.
When it is seen, it cannot be easily denied hence social ties are
built and promoted. The story of the good Samaritan is akin to
Igbo concept of love; and not the abstract connotation of the
Western world. The Igbo say “Ihunanya na egosi onwe ya na
olu”—love expresses itself in work. Ekwunife (1997: p. 82)
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P. I. OGUGUA
Hence one manifests love by observing social norms and
taboos of the community where one lives.
The family is subsumed in the community, and as “Ala” is
the god incharge of morality, any “nso alu, “mmehie”—taboo
of the earth-deity and moral fault respectively affects the cohe-
siveness of the union spiritually and offset every kind of bal-
ance in even the family. Any kinds of offence with regard to
morality are offences against love.
In a highly structured traditional Igbo family, a practical
conformity with its norms is enforced and its ideological com-
mitment stressed. To refuse to conform to any family etiquette
is against love. A woman who refuses to perform her duties in
the family offends love. Even to prepare late meals is against
love. When one refuses to perform his duties in the family he
expresses resentment and hatred towards the members of the
family; and the survival of the society depends on survival of
the family units.
There is not doubt that at times as the ideological pattern is
being enforced, it may overuse its discipline and this over-
whelms the element of love. In the traditional Igbo family, love,
devotion and peace were all present, and so was discipline or
else there will be no family unit or cohesion. What Lamm in
Sommers C. H (1985: p. 472) said of Traditional Jewish is true
of the traditional Igbo family He writes:
But sometimes it happened that the discipline was too
strong, so that it became rigid, thus diminishing the ele-
ment of love, warmth, spontaneity, and the sense of inti-
If we look at love here we see that it is not prescriptive, not
couched in a set of moral principles, not solely concerned with
rightness of action, but is concerned with a set of charac-
ter-traits which is geared towards building a solid, civilized and
real man. Love aids to help this man of character to emerge
through discipline, it shows that there is a nexus between char-
acter and will for the Igbo man. He tries to plant self-control in
the children of the family. It does not mean that the Igbo don’t
talk of doing, they do, for they hold that it is through doing,
activity, conformity to the family norms, etiquette and social
values that this man of character emerges. The concern of the
Igbo man with character is seen in the cult of Ikenga, qualified
as the cult of the right hand. We end by saying that love and
peace are interrelated. Now let us examine the value authority.
The family is not just an association of persons biologically
related who live under the same roof. It is the centre of gravity
that makes it a family. Most of the time the father is the source
of authority in the traditional Igbo family. Why I did make a
categorical statement is because in some families people like
Unoka of the Things Fall Apart lived; and there the women will
unannouncedly take over this central position to weld the fam-
The father is an authority and force to reckon with in the tra-
ditional Igbo family. He is usually the oldest in the family and
the Igbo revere old age; so respect is accorded to him by his
wives and children. Rights are not stressed for he does not run
the family in a democratic way where everybody has a vote to
cast. The Igbo believe that wisdom is the portion of the elders,
so they did not think that children have or possess some kind of
“intuitive wisdom to which the parents must make obeisance”.
Normann Lammin Sommers C. H. (1985: p. 473) tends to sup-
port this kind of idea when he wrote; often, as you are well
aware, the failure of parents to exercise disciple for their fun-
damental lack of concern.
That the traditional Igbo father did not treat his children as
“pets” or “pals” does not mean that he is a tyrant, one without
feeling for his children. He is not the absolute sovereign for
above him are the “Ndi iche”, the spirits, gods and God. The
father unlike the Romans did not have the legal right to put his
child to death for disobedience, rather the child may be unfor-
tunate to be sold into slavery if the father felt that he gave him
unnecessary high blood pressure. Parents direction was be-
nevolent, loving and this gave the family its reference point and
focus as a unit built on love. At times excessive shower of love
and over protection of the children gave room for over indul-
gence of the children, that they grew up arrogant, careless
without culture and fear. It was during this period that parents
will warn openly in front of their children other adults who had
reprimanded them or corrected them just to show their prowess
How could this value authority aid in raising a man of char-
acter? The father must realize that every authority comes from
God and use the (power) position entrusted unto him judi-
ciously. He is the centre of gravity, to be weak means that he
has destroyed his children, his family and even the society. He
must ensure that he sang his mysteries of life as and when due.
If he sings his glorious mysteries first then he has buried him-
self alive. It must take this turn, joyful mysteries when he mar-
ried newly and has got some children; sorrowful mysteries
when he trains them; and glorious mysteries when they have
grown and are now resource persons who can take care of him
in his old age.
The father must strive to train his children in the service of
God, and use his authority to bend his children and enforce
discipline in them so as to implant good character in them. His
desire for children, his love for them must not fool him so as to
allow them develop as they wish. He must be frugal in his ad-
ministration of punishment. Virtue stands in the middle. If he
frightens them unnecessarily then he forces them to harm
themselves as they will never develop into full personalities. He
must be a man of his words, or else the children will see him as
a barking dog, a toothless bulldog.
He must realize that every child is different with his individ-
ual differences, and then treat each child as he should. He needs
to combine love and authority, for it is this proper combination
that breeds intelligent discipline.
We have said that God is part of the traditional Igbo family,
so the father then is only a representative of God, a symbol.
According to Lamm in Sommers C. H. (1985: p. 475):
The father effectively acts as the psychological focus for
the child of an authority greater than the father himself.
He is a surrogate, a broker, of a kind of authority that is
beyond the family itself.
By implication, he is not incharge in “toto”, authenticates
and legitimizes his authority. The father is committed to God,
the spirits, the ancestors and the “Odinani” of the Igbo world.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 91
P. I. OGUGUA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The fact that God sanctions this authority of the father cements
the relationship in the family, making it cohesive and well
structured organ or instrument for change, and development in
The focus of authority is metaphysical beyond the father we
see and discuss with. This commitment aids in the reconstitu-
tion of the family units. Little wonder, the children were given
traditional education with religious commitment for they are the
ones to carry on the family lineage in the future. The Igbo un-
derstanding of immortality and the necessity to have a child to
pour libation and make sacrifices to one when dead might have
made this commitment deeper and stronger.
Recapitulation and Prescription
We have shown that to be a man of character is to be a man
of culture. Again that character and will; and culture are related.
We saw the relationship between character and culture in
history. We emphasized that being is more significant than
having; and stressed on the need to have a set of character traits
instead of a set of moral principles to pursue; the former leads
to development of qualities necessary to become a man of
character while the latter leads to what should be done. But one
can possess this set of moral principles and the will and still not
have moral qualities. In the end we stressed on how the troika
of traditional Igbo family values could help in raising a man of
We suggest that authority in the family need to be focused,
so as to allow organization to be easier, and not give room for
confusion which will also arise if the children do not know who
to ask, to whom to go and seek guidance. This does not mean
that authority cannot be divided, it can, but it must revolve
around the centre of gravity—the father.
If there is a fatherless family somebody must become the
centre of gravity, it can be the mother, or any of the children for
nature does not allow a vacuum to be created. There is need for
division of labour and responsibility in every family. It helps in
giving room for order in the family.
Love must be the foundation of the family. For if there is no
love then the family becomes handicapped for there is nothing
which binds people intimately to one another. Hegel holds that
the mode and principle of relations in the family is love. He is a
member of the family and is equally loved as any other.
The mode of relation is different from any other association
anyone enters into. Apart from any real religious commitment,
there is need to centralize commitment of the members of the
family. On account of a lot of centrifugal forces and pulls in our
society the focus of family union or cohesiveness is better “on-
tological” and transcendent instead of immanent. It need be
transphysical so as to create a sense of awe in the members.
Our family will be strong when we live our traditional values
and not when we know these values. We need to know these
values, believe these values and then practicalize these values.
Of course, we know from experience that equating virtue with
knowledge is faulty. The most primary question is “what per-
son ought I to be?” this later question is important to the extent
it can lead to the first question and help in realizing the answer
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