Nigeria’s post-civil war (1967-1970) era which was characterized majorly by displacements and malnutrition, left many families single-parenting; children lost their parents, parents lost their children, wives lost their husbands, husbands lost their wives and this automatically left either mother or father with the dual function of being fathers and mothers at the same time. Fortunate families that still had both mother and father alive became homeless wanderers’ (like Cain) moving from one part of the country to another, building various settlements and sojourning there.

Grandma once told a story of how virtually all her children were born in different cities such as Benin, Asaba, Onitsha and Owerri. The quest for greener pastures, especially after the Nigerian Civil War made her family partially nomadic. In the midst of all these, they planned their families without a single visit to the hospital.

No doubt, their children were well spaced and they had the desired number of children. Did they achieve these by African magic? Was anything known as ‘Family planning’ in their time? If there was, what then is family planning?

African grandma


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines family planning as ‘the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children, the spacing and timing of their births. Simply put, it is the consideration of the number of children a person wishes to have. It does not just stop at consideration, as ‘action speaks louder than words

As told by Mummy Lawrence, a Lagos-based trado-medical practitioner, “Our parents were so equipped such that they tapped into their natural environment. They took lots of herbs and spices to get them going. They handed down these trado-medical practices to us. The Mama who owned  this trado-medical centre is late, so we the younger ones she groomed had to take over after her demise”.

Trado-medical Centre

On how to plan a family, Mummy Lawrence acknowledged the fact that two methods of family planning are available in the society; the modern and indigenous (traditional) family planning. “Having dealt with traditional family planning for years, the task ahead of us is that which our mothers largely promoted. This culture we met with our parents involves the use of various natural contraceptives, out of which we deal with two:


Rings recently used here are of two types: foreign ring and local ring as opposed to the days of our mothers in which local rings alone were used. These foreign rings could be made of gold, diamond or silver. The client goes for what she can afford or prefers, as both foreign and local rings yield same results when used.

Birth control rings

To achieve the birth control function, the ring is burnt with some herbs including alligator pepper, after which it is removed from the ashes. It automatically becomes medicine after this, and is handed over to the user.

Preparing the ring

 Mummy Lawrence explains: “You remove it during your menstrual cycle and wear it when having sex with your partner or husband. It is usually not for outing purposes as it specifically for mating with your spouse. Also remove it after use. Although some persons do not mind using it anywhere. Usage of this ring is exclusive to women”.

 Apart from wearing the ring on the finger, another birth control method with the use of ring is one in which the woman must rub on her spouse’s forehead to his toes before sex. The semen comes out of the woman’s private part after intercourse which makes pregnancy not to occur. Traditional works are performed on these rings to make them effective.


This method, also known as “washing and setting”, is mostly available in liquid form. As the name implies, this concoction or “agbo” (in Yoruba language), is a mixture of different herbs and water.

Agbo ingredients

To prepare the various items, melon (Egusi), cloves (Kanafuru) among other tree barks and roots are used. These ingredients perform separate functions such as cleansing the uterus, relief of back pains, prevention of infection, among others. The various roots, tree barks and melon are chopped or sliced into pieces.

Sliced agbo ingredients

 The next stage is to put the sliced ingredients into a bottle or container and soak with water for three days, before it can be fit for consumption.

Putting sliced ingredients in container

 The reason for naming this agbo “washing and setting” is because the concoction aids purging, whenever it is taken before sexual intercourse, cleansing the system of black menstruation or seizure and fighting infection when it is time for the woman to get pregnant again. It also makes sperm unable to stay in the woman’s system.

 Other traditional birth control measures include the intake of Negro pepper solution popularly known as “uda water” the use of waist beads, bracelets, upon which traditional works are performed for more effectiveness.


  Finding out people’s reactions to traditional birth control means, one of the respondents said “it is good for me because I am imitating our mothers. It is preferable to taking birth control by injection which could cause fibroid. Blood hardly flows during one’s menstrual cycle, while there is over flow in some cases. Even sanitary pads may not hold blood, as the woman is unable to go anywhere at this period.”

On the flip side, a health practitioner in a public sector parastatal in Lagos, believes that indigenous family planning method is ‘not ideal’. According to her, “some of them fail. It is rare to see modern ones failing. On occasions where modern ones fail, it implies the client did not give a clear explanation of her situation. In the past, a client approaches you by showing you the sanitary pad, she has on, indicating she is on her menstrual cycle and you believe her, but the reverse is the case lately.

“There have been cases where some go for abortions, come with the blood sample from abortions carried out, lying to nurses and doctors that they are menstruating. It was on this discovery of falsehood by some clients, that doctors now insist that they go to the laboratory so as to confirm their status. It sometimes turns out that these clients are pregnant and this automatically makes them unfit for the family planning process”.

Hello, I am Lilian Chudey Pride. Good to welcome you to my online world. I am a Writer, Teacher, Encourager, Author of Life Beyond Motherhood, Dignity of Womanhood and Publisher, online Magazine. I love Africa so much and I derive joy in telling the world about her beauty and strength. I share the challenges of the childless African community, providing Support, Encouragement and Empowerment. While guiding the childless African woman to trust God, I help her to understand her peculiarity, grieve properly, heal and embrace purpose. See my book: Life Beyond Motherhood on Amazon. Welcome to Africa.
Mary Grant
Lilian Chudey Pride


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