Taking a female chieftaincy title in Igbo land used to be a practice exclusively reserved for wealthy, married, and elderly women. But these days, age is no longer a criteria as younger women with sound education, success in politics or business, and high corporate achievements are allowed to take up female chieftaincy titles.
When a woman wants to take up a female chieftaincy title in Igbo land, she must buy several items such as coco-yams, kola-nuts, pepper etc which she must take, in addition to a substantial amount of money, to the league of female chiefs in her husband’s community informing them of her desire to join them. This initial expression of desire to become a female chief must be done through the leader of the league of female chiefs in the community.
The leader of the league of female chiefs in the community summons a meeting of the league, and during the meeting, the items and money brought by the aspirant is shared and distributed among members of the group according to hierarchy (which means that leaders will receive a slightly higher portion than others) after they have certified her worthy of taking up a female chieftaincy title in line with the peculiar traditional standard operational in that particular community.
At such a meeting, the aspirant for the female chieftaincy title will take charge of providing and assortment of drinks for refreshment. After this initial meeting, the aspirant will sponsor a second meeting, and provide more items – tubers of yam, bags of salt, drinks, etc for distribution to members of the league of female chiefs. The reason for the stringent screening and presentation of gift items before a woman can take up a female chieftaincy title in Igbo land is to ensure she has the financial and material means to cater for other less privileged women, children and orphans when times become hard in the community.
If any female aspirant can prove herself worthy of this high calling, she can then be given the right to take up a female chieftaincy title in her husband’s community. This implies she will receive the right to assume a new name that fits her nature and how she wants the community to perceive her.
Afterwards, private activities are performed by the aspirant and other female chiefs before she is publicly presented to the public through a formal ceremony.
During the formal presentation of the new female chief to the public, she is expected to perform a majestic dance in public twice, with other female chiefs of the community who received portions of the gift she brought to their league singing and dancing behind her to show their support and solidarity.
Who sponsors the public presentation ceremony? It is the new female chief that does so.
From that day of the public presentation, the new female chieftaincy title holder in Igbo land is expected to support, help, and promote the efforts of the male chiefs towards ensuring the survival and progress of their community.
Most wealthy men in Igbo land, when taking up chieftaincy titles for themselves in their various communities also sponsor their wives for a female chieftaincy title too. In the end, male chiefs in Igbo land feel proud when they and their wives are addressed “Chief and Chief Mrs…”in public.
Igbo culture recognizes women as equal entities to men but of a different specie. That is why female chiefs are equally celebrated and respected in Igbo land.
Finally, despite the perceived equalities Igbo culture holds for men and women, female chieftaincy title holders cannot partake in traditional activities reserved for men such as breaking of kola-nuts, going for war, climbing palm trees, performing masquerades etc. So, also are male chiefs forbidden from meddling in activities and functions exclusively reserved for females.