The Oasis Reporters
April 2, 2018
At a time when local governments were responsive to grassroots development even with paucity of funds, then Ndokwa East Local Government Area Chairman in 1993, Ifeanyichukwu Onwukamike remembered the mothers that midwived his birth to the world.
He looked around the health centers in the local government and mumbled something, ‘our traditional birth midwives held their own with aplomb and professionalism. I must do something to enhance their ability and modernize their operations for when there is no doctor in the difficult terrains of Ndokwa East, the traditional healers and midwives are there.
He chose Madam Ogbeyanu Josephine Ewiri alongside Madam Janet Ogwuobodo then sent them on a three week course under the Delta State Ministry of Health, Department of Primary Health Care, where she bagged a Certificate of Proficiency as a Trained Birth Attendant.
Ogbeyanu Ewiri’s initial training came from her mother, Mary Adefune Ewiri, from the Omenigbo family in neighbouring Ibedeni town who delivered countless number of mothers and even their daughters, granddaughters, great granddaughters and beyond in Ase and the neighboring towns of Ijaw speaking Abari, Isoko speaking Edherie and of course, Aboh speaking Ase, Ibedeni even as far as Onyah, Ibrede, Umuolu, etc.
The family lineage was that of attending to pregnancy issues, such that Adefune and her two daughters, Agnes and Ogbeyanu would only need to massage a pregnant woman with palm kernel oil, and within minutes, accurately predict the age of the foetus and the position of the baby without the benefit of scanning machines and it never failed. The fame of the family grew. They received token gifts or even nothing, seeing their vocation as a service to God and humanity.
When their mother, Adefune died at over a hundred years old, Agnes Ewiri Asaba took over the family vocation, doing virtually for free until she visited Lagos, then Nigeria’s Capital city to see her children. Some Ase citizens resident in Lagos who knew her fame persuaded her to extend her stay and attend to pregnant women as a masseur and birth attendant, with accompanying modest financial success as her services proved useful.
Her only sister, Ogbeyanu, born in 1929, stepped into the gap as a renowned traditional massaer and birth attendant with hugely successful deliveries. With massages alone, the family was skilled in turning babies and positioning transverse lie, breech babies, etc for easy deliveries eliminating need for ceasarian sections. At times the baby in the womb would be too big to pass through the birth carnal, they’d know what herbal medication to offer and babies came out easily and safely, and the mothers too would be safe.
Sadly, those ancient skills are vanishing as the younger generation are not interested in such vocations that served Nigeria’s communities well in the past.
Ogbeyanu Ewiri had her early childhood in Ase town before sojourning with her father, Onyekuruke Ewiri and mother, Adefune Omenigbo, her other siblings, Agnes, Manasseh, Israel, Hezekiah, and Anieze in Lokoja and other parts of the north, making them all fluent speakers of the Hausa language.
She would later meet with her future husband, Williams Okerieke, a teacher in the early fifties and after their marriage, the couple would later begin to traverse the riverine towns of then Aboh Division (now split into Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Ukwuani Local Government Areas) and other parts of the then Midwest state (now split into Edo and Delta States).
She was a devoted Catholic, a petty trader and a seamstress, renowned with her popular Singer sewing machine, making school uniforms and Christmas clothes for children in her neighborhood with commendable expertise.
She was a great singer with a sonorous voice and member of the popular “Egwu Amara” Dance Group in her community. She was also known as the mother of songs, because of her huge repertoire, and she’d often fish out appropriate and almost forgotten songs to the delight of all.
She was buried on the 17th of March, 2018, mourned by her daughter, Grace ; sons, Aloysius and Sabbastine, In-laws, Grand children, great grandchildren, cousins, nephews, nieces, family at large and hundreds of younger people who’s deliveries she midwifed.