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Seun Tuyo: Are Our Cultural Traditions Not Just Holding Us Back?

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There is a Ghanaian proverb which says, ‘A woman is a flower in a garden, her husband is the fence around it.

Every girl dreams of finding her perfect man; her own “prince-charming-knight-in-shining-armour” who will dazzle her and sweep her off her feet all the way to the altar to exchange vows. She dreams of someone she’ll grow old with and live with happily ever after. That is Cinderella story…let’s face it, life happens! Anything can jolt you out of this fairy tale back to the harsh realities. Many do not have the privilege of growing old together and living happily ever after. Tragedy changes everything.

A few days ago, a colleague, Kunle, shared his grief on the loss of his brother in-law. He had visited with his sister and the immediate family to share his condolences. The man had passed on quite suddenly – no prolonged illness or accident, he hardly made it to the hospital after complaining of headaches and an unusual feeling. He was pronounced dead on arrival.
Needless to say his immediate family, particularly his wife was very distraught and broken. He described the mood in the house when he arrived as “agitated”. He went on to explain the family intrigues that ensued. The in-laws (the family of the late man) displayed no sympathy for his widow and children. Their actions suggested foul play, their fingers pointing at the woman indicating she may have killed their son and needed to do some explaining which will be followed by “their traditions”.

Kunle had raised some questions that left me thinking.  Were these not the same people who came to ask for the hand of his sister in marriage? Same people, who excitedly ate, drank and danced at their wedding ceremony, child naming and anniversaries? Would the man have wanted this?

This got me thinking, and has been on my mind ever since. I do not know if he left a will or not, the summary is this: a young couple, married for a little over five years, blessed with two lovely children, struggling to make the best out of what they have and suddenly, tragedy strikes!

This story is quite common in this part of the world. Every widow has a unique story which starts from one message: “your husband is dead”. Once this is pronounced everything changes. You are left with a vacuum even though his presence never leaves you. You can still hear his laughter and feel his touch, as though he was still with you.
You are left to fulfil your shared dreams and aspirations about the future of your immediate family.  To add to this, the family that once related with you in one accord while he was alive (I know this is not so in all cases though) now treats you like a pariah. The message behind the new behaviour shown directly or indirectly is clear: You killed him. There is no time to ask “Why me?”. It is your reality. The unpleasant travails of a widow begin. Attempting to describe, in detail, the different ordeals people have encountered (usually cases peculiar to different communities), in this article will be tough.

Widowhood is frequently linked with grief, emotional instability, rejection and depression, especially for women who have no form of education, handicraft or business to fall back on. The death of a spouse has an enormous effect which goes beyond dealing with emotional loss to also dealing with ridiculous changes from extended family members and the society generally.

Some describe it as a “social death” for women because they suffer the most extreme forms of discrimination, stigmatization and deprivation. In Nigeria, our culture and traditions worsen this situation.

In many cases, there is no will; she is left to raise their children alone with almost no time to grief. This is even more heart-breaking to discover that some in-laws aren’t as considerate as you expect they should. Even while the dead waits to be laid to rest, there is already a battle for inheritance of his belongings, including you.

Cultural traditions are powerful. However, we can carefully change or eliminate those considered to be destructive. It is sad to note that till date, some women still champion the enforcement of these cultural traditions in some communities. Someday, the roles could be reversed and they will in turn be widows. If these traditions don’t stop, they will have a taste of their own medicine as victims. Several international and local organizations continue to put pressure on changing such beliefs through sensitization and advocacy programmes and also, providing assistance to victims, there is progress, but there can be more if efforts to alter destructive traditions originate within the culture that practices them.

It is the 21st century. This is 2015. There is absolutely no excuse! Do not wait to learn from your own experience. The importance of couples freely discussing life after their demise cannot be overemphasised. Death is inevitable and has no age restrictions. Privacy, secrecy and procrastination will not help. Husbands and heads of the family, act now while you can because when you are gone, you go with all your help that could have mattered. Wives, get involved and ask the right questions.  Have common investments that will work for the immediate family when you are gone. There is no harm in writing a will. This can be an emotional process but it is not an open invitation to death.  It is a legal way to secure the interests of your wife and children when you pass on. Once you write one, make it a point of duty to update it.

Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section, you never know whose life you may be saving.

I really hope these can help nudge someone and strike up a conversation that will make a difference.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Sam74100 

Seun Tuyo is interested in social development. She loves to interact with people and has a desire to make a profound and positive impact around the world. She suffers moments of weaknesses at the sight of a cold bottle of Coca-cola and Chocolates. Feel free to reach her on twitter and instagram @seuntuyo.

22 Comments

  1. natu

    July 31, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I personally do not hold on to any African traditions. I am a progressive individual and the hard fact is that our traditions are regressive.

    • Idomagirl

      July 31, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Me and you!!!! Nonsense regressive traditions.

  2. Dr. N

    July 31, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    One story my mom told me as a child about a widow. She did not even wait till her in laws came. She gathered the papers of his choicest properties, sold them to chinese investors and put the rest of the money away. After the burial, she took her children abroad. The in laws serached for her to no avail. When they got to the site of the properties to claim ownership, there was a serious language barrier.
    I felt she was quite cold and calculating but my mom told me when I grew up I would get it. I have awesome in laws but hubby n I have put our house in order tho we plan to grow old together

    • Gia

      July 31, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Cold and calculating?
      Rather farsighted and intelligent!
      Kudos to your mom!

  3. brainthepoet

    July 31, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I do agree with seun tuyo. But the fact is we still need to pay respect to our african root..

    • ope

      July 31, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      I am sure you are a guy hence your response

  4. Beyholla

    July 31, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Nice article but conditional. If you don’t have any asset or inheritance to leave behind, what’s the use of a will?
    The idea of common investment plan is good but will??? We, Nigerians, would rather rebuke sickness, death and reality than right a will. Lot of education is required to get a behavioural change.

  5. olu

    July 31, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Our culture has both good and bad. The key is to adopt the good and drop the bad as we evolve.

    Of course it easier said than done, especially when we dwell right in the midst of it.

    FYI, not all husband’s families are ‘evil’…….

  6. flora

    July 31, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    I like to contribute to the discussion. Much as Culture is said to be the totality of our existence, there are some that need to be revisited by the community where such are practised. Of interest is the treatment of widows by her in laws. When a man dies it’s the handiwork of his wife, but when the woman dies , she is alleged to have died because of her evil ways/ deeds. Prominent members of her husband’s family take the front seats to deal with the (witch)..what will shock one is the role of the educated ones who ought to know better They are more vocal on the occasion , pointing accessing fingers at the wife. This is unfortunate and could serve as a set back. The best way to tackle these miss treatment of women is for families to be enlightened in churches, schools, mosques etc about the evils of this cultural practice. Also families should encourage the men to make wills as a way of putting things in proper perspectives. Pastors , clergy , imams should encourage this, as any wife who proposes such could be viewed as planning her spouse death. Enlightenment and public focus on these practises may help in no small way. Above all education, empowerment of our girl children may reduce the trauma. Finally prayers will go a long way to soften the hearts of families who indulge in the practice.
    Law’s abound about prohibition of inhuman practises against widows, but only few families enforce them, so we need the intervention of God to see affected women through. God help us! Thanks Seun you touched a very sensitive aspect of our lives. .Well done! !

  7. meserami

    July 31, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    I don’t know why I would ever follow all this traditional bulls*it when the Holy Bible exist,
    God clears states that whoever place hardship and suffering on a widow/orphan would see His anger.
    Haven’t we noticed how useless the lives of all those kinds of inlaw’s lives is?
    Even after seizing all the properties they needed

  8. Ndubuisi

    July 31, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Actually our cultural tradition is not suppose to hold us back but some people in Nigeria are using it as an excuse not to move forward and embrace new ideas that will make the country great. Culture need to be updated to meet current state of living. For example both Japan and Israel have accent cultures but that did not stop them moving forward

  9. The real D

    July 31, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Interesting, coming after Ifeoluwapo Odedere’s article yesterday, where many were singing of celebrating our culture to this. It brings to mind the saying the only constants in life are change, death and taxes. Change being key here, I believe what has propelled the west forward is their ability to adapt and change but we choose to stick our heads in the sand and sing of the glory days while refusing to let go of traditions that are not beneficial to the whole. And all for selfish reasons, many are unable to think beyond their immediate self and the now, to make necessary changes. The in-law that is giving the daughter-in-law hell because all they are actually after is what they can get (properties and money) now. Their aim is to totally destroy the spirit of the widow such that she has nothing left to fight with. Forgetting that Karma, sowing and reaping, just like gravity is a law., They are the same ones that we will hear cry foul and speak about “how wicked man can be ” when it comes to their door step. Our culture is not to blame, it is our selfishness, greed and laziness that we are still turning blind eyes to that is to blame. The same traits exhibited in our government offices to the fan yo go seller on the street today. No one understands the meaning of making decisions that will benefit not only your children but your neighbors children tomorrow.
    The only thing I have told the hubby is this: don’t remarry if something happens to me and we have been blessed with kids until my kids are grown. If we are yet to be blessed with kids then feel free as for financial matters, all of that is already taken care of. BTW, in a country like Nigeria where our justice system does not exist…well let’s just say I don’t trust a will even in countries where their is somewhat of a justice system, people still contest wills.

  10. Madame Kofo

    July 31, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    I see the insurance industry taping into this B.S culture and making big money in life policies, accident policies, sudden death insurance, funeral insurance, house insurance, living will, automobile insurance, annuity, etc, etc, you catch my drift? Nigerians will brought into the 21st century and will be compelled to embrace modernization, then most of these human made obstacles that we call “our culture” would slowly vanish! When a woman is rendered new widow as a result of sudden death of her husband, the insurance policy will kick in, she would therefore, NOT need her in-laws to start making all kinds of noise because of money.

    I think the insurance industry is going to blow up in Nigeria very soon! Do a little research, you’ll see what I’m talking about. This “our culture” B.S would definitely adapt to the times……..

  11. Osahon Nosa Ekhator

    August 1, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Great job Seun, nice article. I think we should all pray, so you don’t get to be at the receiving end when things like this happen. It could be your mum, your sister, your wife even you. Life in African is a different ball game. At the moment, it’s still happening, we should all discourage it.. A “will” could do a lot of good….

  12. Osahon Nosa Ekhator

    August 1, 2015 at 2:44 am

    ***Africa***

  13. gia

    August 1, 2015 at 3:27 am

    As nigerians we are supposed to keep the best parts of our culture and get rid of the ones that constitute an obstacle to the social development of our country…sadly the nigerian government isn’t too much intrested in doing so..for example marrying underaged little girls is still a common practice in some parts of nigeria…and at the same time the lack of interest towards the protection of our local languages leaves you wanting…i don’t know why but africans are the only group of people who were not able to successfully keep up with the times while preserving their culture…
    You don’t see japanese people committing harakiri anymore…you don’t see italians killing each other in the colosseum anymore…and yet you can still see their “japanese-ness”/”italian-ness”…

  14. suziette

    August 1, 2015 at 3:35 am

    its sad but true, our tradition is still archaic but it depends on us

  15. Authentic Sunshine

    August 1, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Why people feel the need to write epistles longer than the article itelf, my simple mind may never fathom…..oh well…….laundry, cleaning, weekly cooking beckon

  16. Northern Star

    August 1, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Hmmm, pardon my epistle……
    My dad died, couldn’t cry till 3 days later after searching for C of O. Then mum had stroke, bros got attacked spiritually. They (my dad’s bro aka word uncle) got 2 landed properties from us but in the end ………..he’s down and out with over 25 kids (wives in and out) he can’t cater for and they in turn don’t care for him too…….will tell my story one day.

  17. Banke

    August 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Well done Seun. Women continue to have their rights restricted by traditional and modern laws worldwide.

  18. Hian

    August 2, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Have your own and stop being letting love blind you to the reality of life when it comes to finances and investments in your marriage. Put those investments in the name of Mr B and Mrs A XYZ. Have a Will! Our mothers did not know better and did not have what we have now. Work, own a business if you can. If you choose to be a stay at home mother, have your eyes and ears in all financial decisions. Widows suffering today are suffering due to ignorance. We have no excuse to be maltreated by these inlaws in this day and age. Cover your bases. Cold as it may sound. A good man will ensure things are in order esp for the children while both of you are alive and well.

  19. Steego

    August 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Hello Seun, this is one of those your topics that have very blurred lines through demarcations. I say that with the position of the traditions you are referring to and the modernization expected. Our problems with traditional beliefs and practices is that we the ”modern children” and our new religious alignment do not want to either know these traditions or what they stand for. It is a sad situation for a widow to face a family that looks at him or her as the killer of their son/daughter. Traditionally, this is why it is necessary to know a little bit about the family you are marrying into or from. In the days when traditions were upheld and followed in the case a woman looses the spouse and there is a younger or older brother in the family, she is traditionally bequeathed to him. It is not traditional to turn on the widow in a relationship. It is the wickedness in people. Couples like you advised must tidy up their affairs to protect each other and their children in case of death or ill health. There are so many questions underlying here, a) how unified are the couple b) how integrated are they into each other’s families c)how much of a support have they been to each other. d) is their marriage and US one or a ME and I situation.
    Bottom line have a will..

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