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Oma: The Injustice Of Tradition

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My people, I am shocked that certain barbaric acts still exist in this world of ours. As a matter of fact, I cannot speak for any other part of the world, but Nigeria where I hail from and whose tradition I am quite familiar with. Despite the over play of religion, our people seem to put that aside when they wish to delve into traditional wickedness. They claim that they have no choice but to obey the laws of the land set aside by our forefathers. But when it concerns them, they suddenly realise that they are being maliciously victimised.

Tradition is a good thing and should be practiced so that we do not lose our roots but not when it harms the dignity of another human and puts them in harm’s way, then we should consider letting it go. We are not robots who can only do what we are asked to do. We are humans with the ability to adapt to change. Why then do we refuse and let people suffer unjustly? Particularly when it affects the women who are presumed to be the weaker sex? They claim it is a man’s world and so have no regard for the feelings of a woman.

I was recently privy to a conversation about a lady who had just lost her husband and was made to drink the water used in bathing him, her hair shaved with a blade and yet made to sleep in a room with the corpse of her husband. I couldn’t believe my ears as I had thought that this was a thing of the past – never to be faced by any woman on the face of the earth. The shocking part is that the people who carry out these acts on the widow and who see to it that she observes all of these things are also women. When she is falsely accused of killing her husband, these women have the responsibility to jeer at her and you hear comments like, ‘My dear, it is tradition o! We all have to experience this when our husbands die’.

You may think that this is only common to the Eastern part of the country but while I worked in a Western government, I remember a man from the West who died in the line of duty and his office had this huge amount of money to give his next of kin. Ordinarily, that should have been the widow. However, his family members were quick to write the man’s office which is a foreign owned organization, asking that the man’s remuneration be paid to them. They claimed that tradition demands that they determine what the woman gets and from the huge sum, they were not even willing to give her up to 1 million Naira to take care of her grown kids and live a good life.

I have nothing against shaving my hair as a way to mourn my husband. But why can’t I do that with a clipper and get it nicely done? Why do I have to sleep with his corpse? Is his death not enough torture? A man that I have been sleeping with, had sex with, kissed, have a part of him grow in me into another human is now a spirit and I have to live and dine with his body? Isn’t the fact that he is my husband and I could be feeling his spirit around enough psychological torture? Drinking the water used to bath him is even the height! Aren’t they aware that chemicals are used to preserve the body of the dead? He has been in a morgue with other dead people and you expect me to drink the chemicals that were washed off his body?

I don’t know what you call this or what you think this is but I am really interested in finding out what you think of it? Do the men also shave their beards to mourn their wives? Cut with a blade and callously to inflict injuries on him? Will he drink the water off the wife’s body? Will he sleep on her grave? Does he get openly accused for killing his wife and made to take oaths? Does he also get to not go to work until months have gone by mourning his wife? If he even does, it is not enough justification for any human to go through this? Or for any child to see their parent go through such treatment? Are they also to blame for the death of one of their parent?

I am saying this because I am a woman, and I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I need to research what the tradition of my to be husband’s people have to say about a lot and that will determine if I get married to him. But won’t I become a Nene (old woman) if I am to keep searching for a man whose tradition won’t subject me to inhumane treatment? Or should I run off with a foreigner when my heart is with an indigene? Or maybe I should just pray that when death comes, it takes me away first before my spouse?

I am a woman! Your mothers are women! Your sisters are also women! Your daughters too. They too will be women who will also face this cruelty. Let us incline our hearts towards change for a better future.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Andrey Popov

Oma Ehiri is a lifestyle blogger and a Digital Media Consultant. She is also a Talent Manager with Ascend Talent Management and the Media Brand Ambassador for Veba Textile Mills.Life is her source of inspiration as she curates her thoughts on her website, www.sotectonic.com. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @oma263.

28 Comments

  1. Yvonne

    February 9, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    My dear that’s “our tradition” for you.
    The women suffer “the tradition” most.
    You toil day and night with your husband just to build a future for the kids and when he’s no more,the so called greedy relatives won’t allow you and your kids have a peaceful life. They even go fetish just to reap where they didn’t sow.
    Women suffer the most, truth is such “bullshit” don’t exist in the western world.
    One has to marry even if she likes it or not but it’s more advicesable for a married woman to have something doing(a job) incase of unforseen cirmcumstances thereby securing her future and that of her children.

  2. MC

    February 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    I am soooooooo lost right now. So so so so lost!
    HUH!?

  3. Lily

    February 9, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    This is why I do not want any emenike, uche, or emekus in my life. I ask God to give me a Bob, Tyler,or Harry lol but on a serious note sadly things like this still happen even in our present day. When my dad died these so called umu Nnas and umu Ada’s started looking at our lands and properties in the name of so called tradition. Thankfully my mother was a business tycoon on her own even before she met my dad so she was able to handle the situation..I Rember during the burial the umunnas said that my dad wasn’t going to be buried if the burial right wasn’t performed just to frustrate my mom but she wasn’t intimidated at all. She used police mopole and army to keep every one in line lol. To cut the story short I advice all girls to find something doing just incase of a rainy day. So when things like this happens atleast you can feed your kids.

  4. Wifey

    February 9, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    God forbid in this day of Ebola!
    Even if Ebola did not exist.. its just nasty and wrong.

  5. Theresa

    February 9, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    There are laws to protect people from being exploited by tradition. It’s left to the victims to use it or accept the status quo. We are in the 21st century, no educated woman should allow herself go through inhuman rituals just to please people who care less about her, her children and her deceased husband. It’s not like the dead man will rise up sef!

    As to women who perpetuate this cycle, there is something called Stockholm syndrome, or the abused becoming the abuser scenario. We need strong and bold women who can reject these evil practices that do no one good, and set a precedent for their end. Unfortunately these traditions continue because people are too timid to say no. Even educated people. Oh well…

    • Bleed Blue

      February 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Stockholm syndrome ke? That’s not really…erm…applicable here oh…

    • Theresa

      February 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      Actually its not really out of place, if you look at it loosely :-).
      The women who enable such abuses, who maltreat their fellow widows even after they have been abused, demonstrate that they have accepted and even justified the abuse that was meted to them. They accept that their abusers were not guilty but just following dictates of ‘Tradition’. That my friemd is a classic Stockholm syndrome, when a victim justifies abuse and can mete the same treatment to another without feeling remorse.
      Anyways…this tradition is not right, Stockholm syndrome or not 🙂

    • Bleed Blue

      February 11, 2015 at 10:13 am

      That the tradition is awfully wrong, I can agree with you 100%.

      That “when a victim justifies abuse and can mete the same treatment to another without feeling remorse” is classic Stockholm Syndrome…I cannot agree. Stockholm syndrome is far removed from any 3rd party. Neither is it a case of the abused becoming the abuser scenario which you mention in your initial comment.

      What you refer to is called “cyclical abuse” which affects not just 2 parties, but goes on to affect numbers beyond.

      Stockholm syndrome on the other hand, is that feeling of emotional attachment or sympathy or sometimes even romantic feelings developed by the abused towards his/her abuser. In empirical evidence terms, it has no bearing on how the abused will go on to perpetrate the same treatment to others.

      Ok ok, I know what you’re thinking…..Jeez Bleed Blue! Enough already with the activated ITK mode. No vex na, blame it on the aproko moves expected by the literary and debating society of my youth 🙂

  6. Sisi

    February 9, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Huh, these things still happen? that drinking the water part made me almost puke gosh, so when she drinks the water which would probably make her end up in a hospital and God forbid something bad happens they turn around to say she killed her husband and his spirit killed her too okwa ya, hmmmm

    • iriawotubo

      February 10, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      @sisi, no be small thing o

  7. NaijaPikin

    February 9, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Don’t mind those cowards. They see death as a way to reap where they did not sow.

    people usuing tradition to commit crimes for days. rubbish

  8. Myne Whitman

    February 9, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    If this is really happening, and a woman of this writer’s age or thereabouts actually went through with it recently, then something is wrong with us women and not even the so-called tradition! I’m tempted to say name the town and show pictures or it didn’t happen, but then again I can ask why do we have laws and education and we do not use them?

    • Ujay

      February 10, 2015 at 4:13 am

      Myne, and others who are wondering in disbelief, please when you get a chance, check out Healing Hearts Widows Foundation hhwsf.org
      It is an organization I am associated with that works extensively with widows, especially in Eastern Nigeria. If you want to hear some horrendous, 1st hand accounts, complete with court cases (evidence and all), get in touch. Will put you in touch with the founder, a lawyer and now a widow as well. Think Nollywood plus more, its still happening TODAY, even as I type!

  9. Ocean Beauty

    February 9, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    Just thought of this particular tradition over the weekend and said to myself that God allowed me and to witness this barbaric act as a child. Because if it happened in this age, i will make the IGP my bestie and then crush those bloody inlaws.
    In addition to drinking that poison, getting incisions, shaving her hair, my mum was told she can’t wash her hands before and after eating until one week elapses. It was so bad and this didn’t happen in the eastern part of Nigeria. She told them she would never shave off her head or do anything contrary to her beliefs. She was just 28yrs. They seized every document they could lay their hands on. When the heat was too much she escaped. The battle is still on till now.
    When you are hit with this kind of tradition in addition to mourning, you think your brain will remember law and education? Most times the death of the husband is usually unexpected. It takes grace to pull through this situation

    • ides of march

      February 18, 2015 at 6:57 am

      Gosh where is a gun when you need one? I’d only fire off 1 warning round, next one goes into the first ‘trespasser’ that crosses my threshold, then they’d know I’m besides myself with grief! Nonsense and ingredients!!!

  10. Engoz

    February 9, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    …and she drank the water?
    Some people won’t like what I’m about to write but ENOUGH of this pity party of women! There is absolutely no cogent reason why any eastern Nigerian woman should allow herself to be subjected to such barbarity in this time and age. She must be barbaric herself and very, very likely to continue the tradition. Beware of such people!
    Traditions were made according to what pertained to that era. Of what usefulness is this barbarity? Any eastern women drinking a corpse water must be mad in the head. I refuse to believe that an eastern Nigerian women is a ‘helpless victim’ but rather a person who has refused to educate herself on her God given human rights. Igbo women in the past were not ‘helpless victims’, they knew their rights and the men dared not overstep their boundaries. They had their own political institutions and had the guts to question the British to promote them too since they were promoting the men. If they knew any better they would have dealt away with this barbaric tradition with the kind of power they wielded. How much more a lady that lives in this century? And apparently knows better. Again unless you are crazy would any woman subject herself to such cruelty with ‘razor blade’, I’ve been desensitized from pitying any damn woman that engages in such.

    • Hannalee

      February 9, 2015 at 11:47 pm

      This is a very myopic view and lacks empathy. Our reaction to this report should be positively shocking enough to provoke the right behaviour to produce change. The first question should be why” this happens, and why do we allow it happen. A woman who goes through such traditional abuse is no difference from a woman who allows her husband cheat on her without remorse. ABUSE SADLY IS ABUSE. and the victim is never to be blamed.

    • Engoz

      February 10, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      The women who perpetrated these crimes against other women were also victims because they also went through such rituals themselves. We should also not blame or prosecute these funeral ‘barbers’ because the victim should never be blamed? This is highly beyond feeling empathy in this time and age but of one that should engage more practicality, education and tough love.

    • tunmi

      February 10, 2015 at 3:03 am

      Thank you. If we tell them to start planning for death now, they will curse us. My field is risk and as such all risky events are considered, death included. Men and women, adults, married and unmarried, have a plan right now in the event something happens to you. And use the damn courts to your defense Haba!!!!

  11. PACE

    February 9, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    This is one of the many reasons why I think most parts of the African culture should be scrapped. A good chunk of it is absolutely baseless and should not suffice in this day and age. Our culture was formed by our fore-fathers. These same fore-fathers that sold their fellow kinsmen to the white man in exchange for seamans schnapps, a view of themselves in the mirror amongst other very worthless gifts. While the white man was building ships to sail to the other end of the world, planes to fly to other countries, guns to defend themselves they were chasing rats about the bush, drinking palm wine and having forceful carnal knowledge of their females. These fore-fathers of ours had very little education nor exposure. Despite all this, I’m expected to live by the rules they set even in 2015? It’s about time we get moving with the times. Even if these so called ‘culture’ worked for them in their times, we should not subject ourselves to such.

    • Tunmi

      February 10, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      Hold up, that’s an inaccurate summary of precolonial history. Tradition needs to evolve yes but what you wrote was not how our forefathers lived. Trading was not new, neither was the concept of slavery. Now European slavery and that of the US was very different. In most African societies, slavery was not by color and slaves could move up the societal rank (ex. Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart and several of the old Naija films based in the village/traditional setting).

      Also they fought back once they realized the European’s form of slavery was vastly different. As in kingdoms fought back, most notable one major group in Ghana (forgot their name). So no, all were not sold willingly. And honestly, the Africans were winning the fight until the maxim gun was invented.

      Tradition does need to evolve, and it will when we the people who own it make it change. People were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Twins used to be killed in Nigeria until the wealthy decided to keep theirs (not because of some foreign missionary). So it is up to us to change and make tradition adapt for example the Healing Hearts Widows Foundation hhwsf.org @ujay mentioned

  12. Laslas

    February 10, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Make these traditions gender equal and they will end in no time. For example, when a woman dies, let the husband sleep beside her corpse for seven days and drink the water that was used to bathe her.

    • Dom

      February 11, 2015 at 11:27 am

      I love you Chike but this relationship is not going anywhere. Let me start planning somthing else. loooollllllll.

  13. ona

    February 10, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Wow so these practices still exist? no wonder nigeria can never Develop. We are still living in the past. We are still following the so called rules made by dead ppl who died over 200 yrs ago. Why force a woman who lost her husband and her life partner to shave her head and drink water used to bathe the dead corpse of her husband. Is losing a husband not enough pain? Why subject her to more pain? Will it bring back her husband? This practices have to STOP. Tradition was made by man and it can be abolished by man. Tradition was made for man not man for tradition

  14. ona

    February 10, 2015 at 5:20 am

    Rules are meant to be broken

  15. The Bull

    February 10, 2015 at 5:31 am

    It is high time we do away with most of these baseless cultures in Africa, i do not see the advantages most of them bring. just a way of taking advantage of people..

  16. nice

    February 10, 2015 at 8:04 am

    The tradition that says a wife must drink the water that is used to cleanse the deceased has always been a foolish tradition and it only still shows how stupid many people are who want to uphold such a meaningless traditions.

  17. joy sotunde

    February 10, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Ona I concur

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