Felix Ikem, Nsukka
Like many other ancient domestic animals, Igbo native cow otherwise called Efi Igbo, is gradually going into extinction. The population of the said domestic animal dwindles every year to the extent that it is almost becoming difficult to get it in a large number.
Daily Sun investigation revealed that but for the fact that the specie of cow is used for funeral and other traditional ceremonies in most parts of Igbo land, it would have completely gone into extinction. This, perhaps accounted for its prohibitive cost.
When our reporter visited a popular cow market in Orba in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, a cow seller, Innocent Asogwa, lamented that several people were no longer into the business of rearing the animal because it takes long time to mature and bear calves:
“Since our people embraced formal education, you can hardly see anybody who goes into the business of rearing this animal. Secondly, it is not everywhere that this animal can survive. It is not every grass that it can eat and if you don’t have that kind of grass in a particular area, it will not survive.
Beyond this, the animal is so much costly. A sizeable Igbo cow costs as much as N170,000 unlike that of Fulani cow which you can get for N75,000.”
Another seller, Mr. Samuel Eze, said: “Apart from the fact that it carries pregnancy for nine months, it bears only one calf. No cow bears more than one calf and it may take more than two years before it gives birth again. In the process of giving birth, it may bear male child which of course you know cannot give birth. More so, Igbo native cow doesn’t have rapid growth like other species of cow including the one we call crossbreed.”
He explained that there are other types of cow including the Hausa cow. On the myths surrounding the Igbo native cow: “In so many occasions, we have witnessed cases where some people who have not killed cow for their late parents but went ahead to donate cow for their in-laws or friends lost their lives after brief illness. It is very much practical and a reality in Igbo land. If you dare doubt it, you risk the consequence which is usually death.
“Again, if you have not killed cow for your late parents, you are prohibited from eating the Efi Igbo meat brought from funeral or even taking Igbo native cow around with tie. It is an ancient tradition that has refused to die.
“But of course, you know that if not for the use of this native cow for funeral and rituals in Igbo land, it would have gone into extinction. Our people don’t see it as a business venture like northerners who have up to 300 cows in their farms.”
A senior lecturer in the Department of History and International Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Christian Opata, said the native cow occupies a very strategic position in Igbo tradition and cultural practice:
“There is this belief that after man, cow comes next in the hierarchy of the domestic animals. And if you look closely, you will find out that most Igbo societies have the notion because once the issue of killing of human beings and using of human beings for sacrifice or rituals ceased, the highest animal that is used now is cow.
“Some people use other big animals like horse but the use of cow is always higher in number when compared with other animals. This you can confirm if you visit some ancient shrines or even museum. In some of the shrines, you will see a high number of cow heads that have been used as against other animals.
“Native cows are used to appease the gods and make some cleansing in Igbo tradition. For example, assuming a deity appropriated a particular family and the family wanted to get themselves free. In the past, what was obtainable was that the family would give out one of their own to appease the deity, but these days the practice has changed. What is being done is that the family will bring a native cow instead of human being.
“In this case, in most societies, when this particular culture was evolving, the early people in this area used this cow and made it as a law that until this type of cow was used, that the autological forces there had not been abused and the deity would not listen.”
The traditional ruler of Owerre Nsukka autonomous community in Nsukka Local Government, Igwe Emeka Ugwu, stated that Efi Igbo was like human being when it came to sacrifice:
“In the olden days, human blood was used to appease gods of the land. But today, such practice has been abolished and replaced with blood of Igbo cow.
“Cow and human beings share some similarities. First, they carry pregnancy for a period of nine months. Second, they don’t have hunch back.
“You cannot donate cow for the funeral of another person while your late parents or parent as the case may be is yet to be welcomed by the people in the spirit world. You have to first of all kill a cow in their name or names before you can take or donate a cow to another person. That is the practice. It kills people here in our community and even in every Igbo land.”
Investigation revealed that despite all the preaching by different Christian denominations against this practice in Igbo land, the tradition has persisted. At one time or the other, some of the Christian denominations banned their members from using Efi Igbo for funeral. The ban notwithstanding, many of them go at the back door to use the cow for the funeral of their parents or loved ones, in a bid to save themselves from the unknown or for fear of any possible repercussion.
At the moment, the use of Efi Igbo for funeral and other traditional rituals in Igbo land has become a surviving grace for this specie of cow. How far this practice can go in saving the Igbo native cow from going into extinction is everybody’s concern especially as the bitter attacks on the practice by so many Christian denominations, particularly, the new generation churches grow by the day.