WIDOWHOOD AND GENDER-BASED PRACTICES: the dearth of malevolent cultural practices

“Some of the more superstitious townsfolk even believed she was a witch. The fact that she had four dead husbands lined up in a neat row at the local Promise Land Cemetery was not an argument in her defense” – K. Martin Beckner

“In the first year of my grief, there were times when I felt like hiding my personal story of loss and other times when I wanted to wear a sign on my body that read: “Be nice to me, I’m grieving” or “Don’t tick me off, I’ve already got the world on my shoulders” or maybe even “BEWARE – don’t upset the widow”. I needed a variety of signs that I could switch out depending on my daily mood” – Elizabeth Berrien


They surrounded her…the wicked umuada, their faces like owls at midnight searching piercingly. What they were looking for, no one knows. Some screamed, some shouted while the others walked around the house, pacing up and down, tying their wrappers intermittently. I wonder why they wouldn’t tie the wrappers once and for all. Oh, I get it! It is a sign of a Big Woman for one’s wrappers to fall off once in a while. Crazy psychos!

The leader of the owls brought out a pair of scissors and two razor blades from her purse. The lanky one held a basin filled with water. There was soap inside the basin. Three of the women held the widow down. She didn’t resist; she sobbed quietly while dancing to the tune of the owls. She wore black lace and her eyes were weary from crying endlessly. But this time around, she didn’t cry any more. Her sobs were like the whispers of the morning breeze, as if the ghost of the dead husband spoke kind words to her. Godless owls, she thought. Someday, most of these owls would be in her shoes.

But it didn’t end at that point. After every single strand of hair had been scrapped off her head, she then proceeded to drink water used to wash the body of the dead husband. According to legend, it officially ended any association the woman had with the dead husband and broke any links with the deceased.

Pardon me if I am sounding like a confused Nollywood director or producer. I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart (does my heart actually have a bottom?) but I have to use the above analogy to bring to our notice that such widowhood practices still abound in most parts of Africa. What am I even saying? Let me snitch and snitch big time; it abounds in many parts of the South Eastern part of Nigeria. In this modern time, one may be tempted to ask whether this is for real. And the answer is this (in my Jim Carrey’s voice) – YES, it still abounds! This widowhood practice breaches the 1979 UN Women’s Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Social, Political and Economic Charters and the 1993 International Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

In addition to the above, widows are also subjected to other cruel social ostracism dictated by traditional and cultural practices associated with mourning and funeral rites. Some of these women are mandated to cry and wail every morning until the dead husband is laid to rest, even if she feels like crying or not. Kai! Some are also forced to sit on the bare floor and only allowed to call anyone by the use of a gong. When have these widows turned to town criers, if I may ask.

I feel one of the reasons why this bull crap still abounds is because in this part of the world, mourning rites still possess cultural significance. I mean, in some parts of the world, once a person passes away, if you wanna cry, you cry – nobody cares. Just put the dead body into the ground and life goes on. It is a simple as that. But here, people don’t want to do away with these cultures (whether the cultures are evil or not).

Also, poverty and illiteracy plays a major role in encouraging this widowhood practice. Imagine the widow is a wealthy woman; I mean, stinkingly(sic) wealthy. Do you think any god-forsaken person would dare come close to her to explain the cultural bull crap, not to talk of touching her hair? By the time the members of the community spend a week at the police station, they would rewrite the traditions of the people.

It is time to do away with these barbaric practices. Many of the people that still persist in this malevolent cultural practice don’t miss morning mass and worshipping God on Sundays. They belong to different associations in the churches. Hypocrites! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rights of women should not be toyed with and discrimination against women must be stopped.

Also, every woman should remember that it is one woman’s turn to be a widow today, and it would be another’s turn tomorrow. Capisce!

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