Walking a dead woman down the aisle in the name of tradition

Source: Ghana/Vicky Wireko-Andoh/Vicky.wireko-andoh@todaygh.com   
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You may call it bizarre and you would not be far from wrong.  The case where a young man was forced to perform the traditional marriage rites before the burial of his deceased girlfriend beats logic.

But it obviously made a lot of meaning in faraway Mozambique, specifically in the Southern Province of Inhambone.

Bride price for a deceased

According to a BBC news report which appeared in the Today newspaper of 20th June, 2017 entitled “Paying bride price for dead wife”, a man in the Southern province of Inhambone had to pay the traditional bride price locally known as “lobolo” for a dead woman he was dating and who got pregnant.

Unfortunately, the woman died due to complications of childbirth.  From pressures piled on him by the woman’s relatives however, death was not meant to separate them.  The relatives insisted that he performed the traditional rituals which, per their custom, was meant to bring two love birds together.

So, not ready to listen to any excuses, and definitely not to any rhetoric about the altar pronouncements of “until death do us part “, the bereaved family forced the young partner of their deceased to pay the “lobolo”.  They had reportedly warned that she would not be buried unless the rites were performed.

The young man definitely stood accused by the Inhambone custom.  He fell to the wrong side of the customary law for failing to fulfill his obligations including being introduced to the dead woman’s relatives during their affair and before her passing away.

For any young man, such pressures from a deceased girlfriend’s family was enough fear going into any future marriage or even a mere relationship.  Would they command curses on him if he simply walked away?  Would the dead lover hunt him for the rest of his life?  How would he gather courage to go into any future relationships?

Customary beliefs

Customary beliefs are seen by die-hards as sacrosanct and therefore traditionalists would do everything to craft all kinds of interpretations for action or inaction.  But in reality, if one is ever faced with such a problem in this day and age, should one just walk away, perhaps move town and damn the consequences?

For the young man in question, he conformed and decided to stick to the traditional dictates of his deceased girlfriend’s people.  And so, to ensure that at least the funeral happened and perhaps close the chapter, the young man had to buy clothes and shoes for the dead woman.  In addition, he agreed to pay more than $800 to the family of the deceased and went ahead to hold a symbolic wedding ceremony.

According to the brother of the young man, they could only raise $178 out of the amount so the family asked them to sign a pledge promising to pay the outstanding amount on the day of the wedding to the dead woman.

Kumawood or Nollywood

One may liken it to a scene from either a Kumawood or a Nollywood film made up from nowhere.  The reality of a wedding with a corpse sounds too far-fetched but it happened.  And what a way for any young man to be ushered into marriage.

When others of his age group get married it calls for a lifetime celebration with the best of foods and wines.  In their best clothes and shoes, they dance the day away and pose to the cameras for memorable pictures and videos.  So, what is this practice where in the name of outmoded tradition, a son is compelled to enter into a marriage with a dressed-up corpse, amid tears and heavy hearts.  Are we moving forward or we are in reverse gear?

The drama which unfolded in faraway Mozambique does not only sound bizarre, it is a repressive and inhumane practice that should not be encouraged anywhere. Unfortunately, however, we on the African continent are just as guilty of such practices, hiding behind customs and traditions that would not fly anywhere.

Obnoxious practices/rites

In our backyard Ghana, we cannot dissociate ourselves from obnoxious and counterproductive practices that are causing pain and hurt and eating away our progress.   Human rights and freedom of individuals have been curtailed in many communities because of outmoded beliefs and practices.

In widowhood rites of some tribes here in Ghana, widows are locked up alone in a room with their husband’s corpse for what productive reason, no one can explain.  Widows go through painful rituals as separation rites before their late husbands are buried.  A lot of times, accusing fingers are pointed to the widow for having a hand in the husband’s death even if the man died of protracted illness and autopsy reports are available to families.  It is even worse if the man should die suddenly.

Widowhood rites are outmoded and against human dignity.  They should not be encouraged in their current state as practiced in some communities.

There are many more traditional rites that continue to draw us back as a society.  In this day and age and with all the child rights conventions we have signed on to, some communities believe that autism is a curse and would dispose of autistic babies and others born with unusual characteristics.  Under the guise that they are river babies, they are bundled up alive and left in the bush or by a river to die.

There are equally chilling stories about what women and children pronounced by their relatives or communities as witches have to go through.  While some are abandoned in witches’ camps to undergo humiliation and maltreatment, others are chained at supposed prayer camps with dog chains.

The other disturbing practice dictated by tradition in some parts of Africa, Ghana not excepted, is female genital mutilation.  Enough has been said and argued, even in international space, about female circumcision and the emotional trauma it leaves some young women for the rest of their lives. Yet, in the name of custom, the dehumanisation of young women in those communities continues, irrespective of fierce protests from activists around the world.

As governments around the continent of Africa commit to the development of their people, as governments continue to lay emphasis on gender and child protection and of course champion the human rights of the people, they also need to cast a good eye on outmoded practices that stifle development.  We need to take charge of our backyards and support progressive thinking and practices that would create dignity for our people.  A wedding with a corpse bride takes any community two centuries back in terms of development.