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Cultural Cruelty. My draft help please

I will be interviewing a group of widows tomorrow as part of my assignments. i am also still doing some more research. So here is an incomplete draft of my findings so far. Its the skeletal system of my assignment. Please comment. I appreciate question, they help me to think. Thanks!

Cultural Cruelty.

Is widowhood not painful enough? Is it not devastating enough that a woman looses the man she hoped to spend her life with to the cold hands of death? Why must her trauma be compounded in the name of culture? Why should she be subjected to inhuman treatment just because she outlives her husband?
Every day, women become widowed in Nigeria. Many become instantly at risk of experiencing humiliating and dangerous treatments in the name of widowhood rites and some even stand the risk of loosing their lives as a result of these practises.
These widowhood practises and rights are common and vary from one community to another. Many of these practices violate a woman’s human rights. Yet women go through them. Many times without protesting. Why? They are often in a state of shock when all of this is happening. Their grief is still fresh, some do not even wish to live in that moment because of the enormity of their grief. Therefore, many cannot speak up for themselves in that critical moment.
Mourning Practices.
Culture stipulates that a widow go through certain traditional mourning rituals before and after the burial of her husband. She is expected to perform these rites as a mark of respect to her husband. Many practices are also borne out of the belief that a marriage does not end at death, therefore rites are performed to sever the link between the deceased and his widow. In many cases, the wife is often a major suspect when her husband dies regardless of the cause. She is expected to perform some rites to prove her innocence. The common one which is found amongst both Yorubas and Igbos is to wash his corpse and give the water to her to drink. If she lives after drinking this(unhygienic and possibly poisonous) substance she is deemed innocent. .A crucial question which show that all these reasons themselves rooted in discrimination against women is why such practices are not necessitated for men who are widowed. The fact that men are not mandated to undergo these practices implies that the same rules in fact do not apply. This is another case of discrimination and not respect or such.
Amongst the Yoruba of the South Western region of Nigeria, a woman is expected to be clad in black for the period of her mourning which lasts between forty days and one year. From the time of her husbands death she is expected to sit and sleep on a mat or on the floor and remain in confinement for seven or twenty one days during which she can leave the house only to attend her husband’s burial. During her confinement, in some communities she is not expected to wash herself or change her clothes. Among the Akure people, the woman would be expected to unweave her hair and have a low-cut. In some Yoruba communities, she is expected to eat only from broken plates and cook with broken pots.At the end of the mourning period the final rites are performed for the
widow after which she is free to remarry. These final rites include being washed in the night after having a final wailing, making some rituals which are expected to finally put the spirit of the departed to final rest and the “outing”, which involves change of dresses and being led to the market.

Amongst the Igbo people of south eatern Nigeria, the mourning period takes between one week and a year depending on the tradition of each community. The woman’s head is shaved totally with razor or knife. She is often ostracised and required to sit on a mat or on the floor for a stipulated period of days or weeks which varies from place to place. During this time, she cannot sit on a bed or stool, she even has to sleep on the floor or the mat. She cannot sleep on the bed for this period of time. In some cases she is expected to eat from plates and cutlery which must not be washed until after the mourning period. She is expected to wail mandatorily at specified times in the day for three of seven days as a mark of respect for her late husband. This wailing must be done or the woman might be beaten by the husbands female relatives to produce the wailing. She is expected to wear black throughout the period of mourning and some communities insist that she must not change her attire during the period leading to his funeral.
There are two major rites practised in the South east which amount to widow rape. The first is the Aja Ani rite. Some 12 days after her husband’s funeral, the woman is escorted to a place by the aja ani the priest where he performs what is to be a cleansing rite for her. He has sexual intercourse with her whether she consents or not. The other ritual is the Ichi iyi ili (fetching water from ten streams). This rite is performed by leading the widow to a stream where she has sexual intercourse with ten men. This is regardless of whether she wants to or not. After this every part of her body is shaved by a female in law, then she bathes and goes home. If she refuses to go through these rites, the woman is not accepted into the society. She cannot buy or sell and is totally ostracised.
death of her husband either three times in a day or once in a day for three or seven days..
In North Central Nigeria, before the husband’s burial, the widow’s pubic hair is shaved in public. She is not allowed to attend his burial yet before the burial, a part of the corpse or all of it is washed and the woman is given the water to drink. She is cofined in a room where food is thrown at her. She is also expected to wail periodically.
These practices put the lives of women at risk. The sexual cleansing and shorning of her hair places her at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Inheritance Practices
The inheritance practices often leave a widow penniless and vulnerable. In many societies, no sooner has the man died that relatives come and cart away the belongings. The widow who is usually still in a devastated state cannot even fight for the property which she has a stake in. Often, the wife’s personal belongings are also carted away.
Amongst the Yoruba’s, the usual practice is for the property to be divided based on the number of children. Some of the property is also given to the deceased siblings and relatives. One must note that the wife has no rights to the property, she has access only through the children, especially if they are male. It is a usual practise for uncles and adult relatives of the deceased to hold the properties in trust for the children, especially if they are young. The widow is not allowed to hold the property in trust this since she herself has no stake. This also leaves the family in economic despair in a situation where the mother has no money of her own. This is because many times these relatives spend the money on their own family, sometimes selling lands, houses and other property which they are to hold in trust. If the widow has no male children, this is more likely as elders in the family are less likely to intervene. The widow herself is regarded as a property of the family and cannot inherit anything.
Amongst the Igbos, the property goes to the deceased’s sons. If there are none, the daughters and the wife cannot lay claim to the property. They could be chased out of their home with only their clothes. The property taken in this two cases ranges from houses, land to personal effects like shoes and clothing.
In the North the usual practice is to divide the property amongst the male children, except for amongst Muslims where the male children getting double of whatever a female child gets.
Undoubtedly, these inheritance reduce many otherwise affluent or even comfortable women to abject poverty. These women have to fend for themselves and their children. They have to many times start from scratch as what they built with their husbands is snatched from them. Many have to withdraw their children from school for a season while they try to fashion a way around the new obstacles facing them. Apart from the financial implications of this treatment of widows, it also has psychologically damaging implications. Imagine loosing a longed one and being denied access to things that offer emotional connection, the loss becomes all at once sudden and total. The widow is thrust into it as the absence of her spouse and any material thing that show that he existed leaves no room for easing into her new status. In her grieving process, no matter how much she wants to, she cannot take in the scent of him again by burying her face into his favourite shirt.


Maria de Chirikof's picture

very powerful and compelling

It is a fascinating look at widowhood and the things associated with it. But how to replace these outdated rites for ones that are as culturally correct yet not harmful?! I think that is one reason it is so hard to stop a lot of these types of customs is it is seen as an attack and diminishing of a culture rather then an attempt to enlighten it. That is something that needs to be addressed for a real solution to occur I think, what do you think?

It was very good and I look forward to hearing from the widows you interview! Great job,


olakitike's picture

Thanks for your comment

Thanks for your comment Maria. I think some of the disinheritance culture is basically an issue of greed now as the perception of women is changing. many just use culture as an excuse to eat where they have not sown. I think the important thing is to leave the choice to the woman and not enforce anything on her. I found out in my research that those who were not forced of themselves chose to wear black to honour the man's memory. I think the important issue is to leave the woman in peace at such a devastating time. Thanks you comment is encouraging

Nusrat Ara's picture

A good job. The

A good job. The dicriminations are endless. For real progress it has got to change.


olakitike's picture

I agree Nusrat. things

I agree Nusrat. things absolutely have to change, like you said they are so much that I can't even include all my findings in the article. thanks!

Khushbu's picture


Hi Olakitike

You did a wonderful job. The article is so powerful. The things you have mentioned in the article literally gave me goosebumps. I cant imagine the cruelties that widows go through, in every society. Do you not have any women's organization that is working towards addressing these issues? In Nepal, we have an organization called Women for Human Rights (Single Women's Group). Anjana will be interviewing her, i suppose. They are doing a great job, and i think it is important to have such groups to give the rights that widows are supposed to.

Your article is great, and you should be congratulated for it.

All the best!


Khushbu Agrawal

olakitike's picture

Thank you! There is an

Thank you! There is an organisation that is operating in the East, I will include them in the final draft. Thanks a lot

busayo's picture


You have done a wonderful job on the plight of the widows in Nigeria, this is a good piece.
i pray things change for better for this categories of people.

All the best

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria

olakitike's picture

thank you so much for your

thank you so much for your kind words ma.

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