Culture according to the Centre for Advance Research on Language is shared patterns of behaviours and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialisation. Culture includes religion, food, wear, dressing, language, marriage, music, greetings, sitting, love, what we believe is right or wrong, and a whole lot of other things like widowhood practices and rites. Culture is an individualistic, man-made concept of collective identity that is open to complete subjectivity. The fact that so many ‘cultures’ exist with some contradicting others is evidence that it’s based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions that grew overtime which can be modified, improved, replaced or removed.
Nigeria is made up of over 300 ethics groups with over 520 languages all having different cultural practices in widowhood. While widows in the Northern Nigerian seem to have better stories to share in their widowhood, especially as regards to rites, with the various ethnic groups of the South, discussion can only be addressed with the degree varying not absence of.
Among the widowhood practices and rites which a woman at the death of her husband will be made to undergo, which unfortunately are still very much prevalent in most of ethnic groups are: She is made to shave her hair, pubic and armpit.
She is made to cry at midnight and by graveside
She is made to drink water washed from his body to prove her innocence.
She is made to go to the forest at midnight to bath.
She is made to cook and have the last supper with husband’s corpse.
She is made to eat with same plate unwashed for days often plastic plates so to be burnt because she’s termed unclean as everything she touches is unclean.
She is ostracised or force to be ostracised from family in her refusal of one obnoxious act or the other
She is made to do more than this as her culture demands in her grieve.
As if these are not enough, a new one is about to emerge; which is throwing of the ring into his grave.
The time has come for all these practices and rites to be outlawed, especially now that it is obvious to us that not performing them will not bring any evil as proclaimed in the olden days, seeing that the rich and powerful go without the rites and nothing happens to them other than getting richer with a mental wellness to raise their kids while the poor are stripped of their dignity which attacks their psychological well being leaving them to struggle to raise their kids with an unbalanced mental health.
When a widow I interviewed narrated a story of her ordeal of widowhood including being asked to shave her pubic hair in this 21st century from the same city where another influential widow walked away after the burial of her husband, I wept at man’s great injustice to man.
Today widows go to burial with paid security men in uniform only to disappear from her home immediately the corpse of the husband is lowered to the grave as she and her children automatically get ostracised.
The loss of one’s husband is enough trauma for a woman and her children. If there are enough empirical evidence confirming she killed her husband; the wrath of the law should take its course. Other than that, the addition of these rites and practices are coercion, an emotional rape by culture and human rights violations to the highest order.
This action forces her to lose her dignity or lose her family; either ways her emotional wellness is dwarfed including that of her children. I must say that to continue our sharing of rice, clothes and envelope and the various skill acquisitions programme empowerment for widows without addressing the issues of our culture that promotes segregation, victimisation and exploitation, we cannot continue to pray with her while ignoring her pain. We must visit the basis. If the rape of culture is not eliminated, all we are doing in empowering widow is peripheral.
In celebration of International Widows Day 2019 join Almanah Hope Foundation as we say “end every widowhood rites that violates women dignity”. Our organisation is in the process of drafting the bill that will be submitted to National Assembly for enactment as soon as the 9th Assembly is inaugurated, join us and let’s begin the process of bridging gender gap by eliminating the violence against women in widowhood.
Hope Nwakwesi is the founder of Almanah Hope Foundation