Feb. 17, 2017

HOW WIDOWS BECOME VICTIMS IN AFRICA (IGBO LAND) (1)

I have concerns about the way some African women especially in Igbo land are treated in their marital homes when things go wrong. These concerns are not just products of imagination or sheer fiction but borne out of reality and practical experience.

During my vacation in Nigeria (December 27, 2016 to January 29, 2017), I had some time to listen to individual stories. One peculiar encounter was with a widow in her late fifties. This lady narrated to me the excruciating regrets she had and is still having as a result of the harsh treatments from her in-laws at the death of her husband who passed in 2015. The impression her brothers In-law had was that the deceased had money and that the wife hoarded the entire wealth to herself.

The man who died was a civil servant. He was sick and home bound for more than two years. He suffered total paralysis. The wife cleaned him up daily, bathed him, fed him and emotionally took care of him for those lengthy period. He had no health insurance, so every damn bill was paid out of pockets by the wife who was a common school teacher. Occasionally, she would stop work to tend to her husband. Sometimes they rushed back to the hospital and spent weeks before getting back home. This lady tried to update the in-laws as she struggled to look after her sick husband, but they seemed disinterested. None came to visit. None sent any help across. Only their close friends who knew how tough things were for the woman and her little children visited to offer some help and compassion. Then their priests too, who anointed the sick man from time to time.

Unfortunately, the man died. Hardly had news got home did the so called in-laws began to query about their brother's property. Your guess that it wasn't for any sympathy is as good as mine. The interest was in gaining from his well exaggerated assets. “How much did he leave behind? Where's his car (of course sold to help with medical bills at some point)?” Some were audacious to ask her to bring the money she received as donations from friends who condoled with her. They anchored on these demands and made it clear that they wouldn’t contribute to the man's funeral if she didn't provide the last dime. And they kept to their words. This lady's tears and explanations couldn't make them change. She was totally abandoned. In-laws, kinsmen and husband's friends all ganged up to make life most miserable for the grieving lady.

Finally, this widow rallied support from her own relatives and friends. She was able to bury her husband. Matters were not over yet. Just few days after the funeral, she was summoned by the same in-laws to appear before the elders of the village. This time, some of them had expressed dismay at what they described as extravagant funeral ceremony she organized for her late husband. These are the same people who didn't care to assist when their “brother” was sick leaving her to bear the task of being sole care giver for two and half years. They refused to participate in the funeral of their so called brother. Now they feel the wife has spent more than was necessary. They took the woman to the traditional ruler of the village with well packaged allegations. They accused her of flirting around, and that the money she used to sponsor the funeral was from her boyfriends. They insinuated that she was partly the cause of her husband's death because she failed to take adequate care of him. The woman was enraged and as well frustrated. She shared how disheartened her husband's people could be and how badly they treated her. According to her, she expected that they felt sorry for their reactions towards the burial and perhaps summoned her to ask for forgiveness. To her surprise, none of them raised the issue of how to take care of the two little kids the husband left for her. None of the husband's siblings asked to know how life without her husband was going to be. All they came up with were accusations upon accusations.

This woman then told me that many women are in her shoes in Igbo land, entangled in wickedness and intimidation from the so called brothers, kinsmen and community of their husbands. That so many are dying in silence in their so called marriages, is no exaggeration. She cited three areas as indicators that women are victims in marriage in Igbo land till date: 1). When a woman fails to deliver male child for her husband. 2). When the woman's husband falls sick. 3). When the woman's husband dies. 

Somehow, I thought that all these traditions are past but Ms. Martha’s story proved me wrong.

And just this afternoon, I spoke with another young Igbo lady who lost her mom and her 45 years old husband the same week in September, 2016. This is real. I'll share her story and experience very soon. 

 Concerns:

How can we stop these obnoxious widowhood practices in Igbo land? Are men really fair to women by the way they treat them during the death of their husband, or do men receive similar treatments? What can we do?

I bet you, it's not the same in the civilized world. It's different in Europe and America. 

Do you want to share your story? Email, fathervinarisukwu@familypriest.com.