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Culture And Torture

SITTING on the floor of a smoke filled kitchen, Rosaline Ngum mutters something as I approach her. I stretch out my hand for a handshake, but she politely tells me, "I'm not allowed to shake hands with people.
A close look at Rosline conveys clearly ,how sorrow has encompassed her being. With tears on her cheeks she tells me she`s not had a bath for a week now since her husband died.
"She would clean her woman skin (meaning her private parts) on the day of the corpse removal, then we would dress her up with a black gown, which she would wear for one year," says an old woman sitting on a stool beside the widow. "It’s our tradition. Our forefathers practiced it and we must continue. If we do not she would become mad".

The wife is often held responsible for her husband`s death, even in the case of proven illness. It is common in most villages in the North West Region of Cameroon, to find widows stripped naked, sleeping on bare floor for weeks, rubbed with unpleasant substances, not shaking hands or sharing items with people except other widows, widows can also be forced to marry one of their in-laws, to preserve family control of their late husbands' property, and be forced to drink the water that was used in washing the corpse.
A 23 year old lady recounts narrates; "For three weeks, prior to the final cleansing ceremony, I slept on the bare floor and had no bath nor change of clothes Since then I developed terrible back ache.
Ironically in most cultures in Cameroon, men are subject to few or no rituals when they lose their wives. In some tribes the man is given a new wife to prevent the late wife's spirit from disturbing him while sleeping at night
When a woman in my locality loses her husband; I pay regular visits to her trying to dissuade her from accepting to be tortured in the name of widowhood rituals. Out of 10 women I talk to, just one would heed to my advice. Culture and superstition are strong barriers to change so far as discriminatory practices against women are concerned in Cameroon. Even some highly educated ones belief it is normal for them to be treated as sub-humans. They refuse to go against the tradition, for fear of curses, and accept any form of treatment that would present them as’’ good’ to their community. I believe exposing such obnoxious traditional practices to the wider world through the media, both traditional and online, is a strong way of alerting the world about the plight of these women, for a surer solution.I have written many articles and done a number of video documentaries on Gender Based Violence in Cameroon, widowhood inclusive. I am currently using Pulse Wire as a channel to expose the ordeals of women in my country,and to discuss solutions to our problems.With Pulse Wire, the solution is near.



Andrea Arzaba's picture


Thank you for your comment my dear. It made me realize how injustice prevails in equality issues! And it is unbelievable situations like this happen NOWADAYS!

A big hug to you,


Leina's picture

Thanks Andie,for the

Thanks Andie,for the concern,there is hope for a better tomorrow.
Leina's picture

Leina, there is hope,

Leina, there is hope, especialy with the aid of brave women such as yourself working towards resolutions and equality, bravo!

Leina's picture

There is hope indeed sister

There is hope indeed sister with our hand joined together.Thanks for the push!

aimeeknight's picture

Wow, thank you for sharing

Wow, thank you for sharing this story. My heart breaks for your countries widows. I am amazed at all the good work you are doing. Keep writing and speaking out!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Leina's picture

Dear Aime, I am

Dear Aime,
I am grateful for the encouragement!

flickerstudios's picture

Im very proud to see u girl

Im very proud to see u girl.. keep going.. you will find change..i say this still happens though we r in 21st century is bcoz lack of education..every human being should b thought the value of something Lei

Leina's picture

Thanks so much for

Thanks so much for encouraging me.With poeple like you we are certain of a better future.

Fungai Machirori's picture

That's wrong!

Sometimes I hate culture. How dare they take away her right to bathe?! Ugggggggggggggh. Completely exasperated by the way culture treats women.

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Leina's picture

It`s a crazy world,but we`re

It`s a crazy world,but we`re not bound to be crazy poeple.the wrongs must be righted.thanks dear for joining your voice

Mei Li's picture

Thank you

For the accessibility to this problem in your community. I will share it on Facebook as well and hope more and more people connect and read it.

Do not lose hope - you said one woman will heed your advice...

I speak out against traditions that allow discrimination to perpetuate into younger generations...My friend and I just went to a poetry reading last Friday and a guy was reading a very religious poem with harsh undertones condoning violence toward women. At the end of the poem, he received great applause! She turned to me and said, I wish I had my Separatist poem, which talks mostly about the opposite of what he did. I said, I wish I had my Anarchist poem! We agreed that we would return the following week with poetry they may not expect. She said she didn't want to disrespect people who were predominantly applauding him because he was religious, but I told her that there may be a few people in the room, even if there is ONE person in the room who is discriminated against because of religious oppression - it may elevate that person and encourage them to speak for themselves as well. I know sometimes it seems to be a losing battle, but I consider 1 out of 10 a great victory :) Just remember, you are not only allowing room for change in the mindset of that one woman, but hopefully she will also educate her children in a different manner because of YOUR persistence.

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Leina's picture

Hello Mei,thanks for joining

Hello Mei,thanks for joining your voice ,I find your thoughts inspiring!It`s funny how poeple manipulate religion to suit their selfish aims.The God I know and serve hates oppression,he even hates when widows in particular are harshly treated.

Mei Li's picture


I shared your story on facebook and the first comment I received was an empowering one, I wanted to share it with you to see what you thought: my friend Amanda wrote:

It's interesting that widows in so many cultures face severe persecution and that religious tracts such as the Quran and New Testament recognized the plight of widows to such a degree as to mandate no policies regarding their care. Imbedded... in this story, I cannot help but see a profound fear of a woman's innate power. That a community truly believes a woman to be responsible for the death of her husband indicates an underlying belief in some sort of supernatural power inherent within women. The oppression of widows, then, becomes a means of containing their power. Of course, it's a multi-layered issue to be sure and no doubt we could spend hours discussing it. Definitely a perspective worth reading. Thanks for sharing.


"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Mei Li's picture

you...are so inspiring...

I hope you do not take offense...but I was so moved by your story yesterday. This morning I woke up needing to share the issue you wrote of with my own community. I am a poet and read every Wednesday night at a cafe. One of my close friends came to hear me tonight. She is a constant inspiration in my life - completely aware of women's issues in our state, politically active, and working with an organization that refuses to let women be silent.

I researched what you wrote about yesterday. I wanted to know what the substances were that you spoke of the women being rubbed with.

This is the poem I created...I used some of your images because they were intimate and I wanted women to know the details...


for Leina and Rosaline

Oh, Rosaline, sitting on the floor of a smoke filled kitchen
we know what they’ve decided without your hand in the decision
she extends her own to remind you of human connection
forgetting widows aren’t allowed to shake hands
their innate power so sacred and feared
the village thinks you’ve killed your husband
because you have inherited the power of woman
in every inch of your being – can’t clean your skin for seven days
until his corpse is removed – they’ve laid out black rags for you
to wear for an entire year after his death, preaching tradition
handed down by father after father in fear of the power of your breath

They say they’re taking care of you with their sub-human philosophy
that subjecting you to this sense of inhumanity will keep you
from going crazy, and how many widows have you known
to be treated the same – stripped naked, sleeping on bare floors
for weeks, you’re trying not to look outside while they’re braiding
rope from the back of a fig tree, rubbing it with cam wood and palm oil
to be tied around your waist, here’s your bamboo staff and raffia bag
filled with kola nuts, snuff and tobacco to smoke away your grief
you’ll be neglected, dejected and isolated - eating off of plantain leaves
barefoot and not allowed to cook but served by elder widows
after a year you’ll be able to move your naked buttocks
across the ground of the celebratory floor to commemorate
your husband’s death and then sold to one of his brothers
I know you built a house, a home with him
but you are only property to be inherited at the end of this

Even in the case of proven illness, they will find a way to blame
your uterus – even in cases of AIDS, they will call you a witch
and declare slow poison instead of infidelity

I wish you had the courage to wrap your arms around me
and hug me, that I could lay hands over your temple
and teach you not to suffocate the power of being you
that the forefathers of all of our countries
knew nothing but the joy of exploiting their own egos
and an insatiable hunger for blood

remember that even under the patriarch
and with all of the dismantling statistics
we have a population of women reaching 3 billion
and we’re listening – from the huts of Cameroon
to a stage in my desert
i won't stop speaking
for the voiceless
until you're here beside me
ready with your story.


thank you...for inspiring me...for writing what you did, the most intimate way I know how to engage with my own community is through poetry/story telling, so again...I hope you do not mind...

blessings...please keep doing the work you do...

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Leina's picture


Waow Mei!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,
You are awesome.I Lack words to express how moved I was by this piece.You make me feel like jumping over this screen to give you a hug.My God,this is creative.I`d like to share and work with you more frequently .Please let me know the possiblities.There`s alot we can do together.Nothing excites me like what you`ve just done,I love sharing ideas that can provoke solutions.
I Love you sister

Mei Li's picture


I'm so happy you were not offended! A woman came up to me after and asked if I would try to write a piece about FGM in Somalia.

Ahhh...I am so blessed. And I feel lifted that you also felt inspired because I was a little worried you might say, "Hey!!! That was MY story!" But was Rosalines...and really...I know a lot of powerful women in the US who are always looking to impact in large ways. I try to be a great influencer when it comes to fundraising time...and it begins by making my own voice known in my community - even, and especially, for issues concerning women globally. Sometimes when I think of women's issues in America I think about how lost women seem to be in their own self-image, how detrimental the media is to their emotional/physicaly/spiritual well-being and how they could do so much more if they loved themselves first. Reading stories about real issues everywhere, I think, helps us all remain grounded. We understand suffering is universal and we feel a little less isolated in that suffering knowing other people are listening and get it too..

I would love to collaborate with you any time, any day. I will keep listening with a keen ear to you :)

much love back Leina!

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Eliana's picture

Dear Leina, I was very

Dear Leina,
I was very touched by your excerpt from the life of widows in your country and in the culture and tradition of Cameroon. As it always is for traditions, they are hard to put aside. I admire your taking action and talking to the widows and trying to persuade them to follow these rituals. It is surely frustrating that out of 10 women only one will listen and take advice. But I think it is a first step to show that some women are mature for the changes and are no longer willing to follow these traditions. So keep on moving your path. You will see that the number of women understanding and listening to you will grow as you keep on doing your job. Your action will be appreciated. Of course it's a matter of time to see fundamental and relevant changes in your work. But you are doing a great and valuable job. So keep on moving your path. Maybe if you are able to involve the women who chose to go against traditions and make them be active part of your parcours, this willl help others because they see that there is nothing bad happening if the women don't follow traditions. Actually it's only a suggestion and unfortunately I know to little about the feasibility of the proposed action.
Thank you for your work for the widows.
Peace to you


Leina's picture

Dear Eliana,

Dear Eliana,
Thanks for your contribution!I can sense there is hope for a brighter tommorow through proposals like yours.

ariniaina's picture

Hi Leina, I understand what

Hi Leina,

I understand what you're talking about. People are afraid to change the traditions even if they are barbarians. Women are afraid of the comments that the society will say. Women prefer remaining silent and follows the "rules" even if they suffer from them. I heard a lot of stories like that here in Madagascar.

Though one thing is sure, I believe that with a woman like you, change is possible. Keep up the good job!



Thanks for visiting my blog

Leina's picture

Hi Ari, It is

Hi Ari,
It is terriying how women are allowing themselves to be deprived of their rights because of ignorance and superstition.Thanks for giving an ear to this.

Keyonna's picture


You are such a voice of the voiceless.
Keep it coming.

K. Clyde

Leina's picture

Thanks Keyonna,

Thanks Keyonna,
I`m gald to know you gave an ear!

olakitike's picture


It is amazing how these kind of practices reproduce themselves across cultures. i wrote a piece like this last year you can read it:

I believe the power of women networking lies here, when we connect and share our stories, we find that we are not alone. We can then collaborate to fight the problems that face us.
Best Wishes,

Leina's picture

waow Ayobami,I have been

waow Ayobami,I have been speechless for some seconds after reading your piece.It is really a cross cultural thing.What do you think about us coming together to do a west African project against this babaric practice.The same melody is echoing from Ghana.The media has not exposed this sufficiently,I did a video documentary on this in Cameroon.Sister maybe we should lobby for funds to do a documentary on West African Widowhood rituals.Sister,I am waiting for your ideas concerning this,I think we need a giant step.I `d like to collaborate more with you on this.
Kind Regards

Jan K Askin's picture

VOF week 3 assignment

Dear Leina,

Focusing specifically on the status of widows in your article, you make a stronger case for the subjugation of women in general. I think using the specific to underscore the general is a good writing technique.

I am so impressed by your clear thinking in regards to the forces working against women in Cameroon. Long held beliefs and traditions practiced for generations are indeed difficult to counter.

Your sister in the US, Jan

Jan Askin

Leina's picture

Dear Jan, I`m so

Dear Jan,
I`m so thankful that you went through this.Would be glad to hear more from you.
Much love

Kim Crane's picture

not alone


I don't know which is more inspiring: your informative post about the treatment of widows in Cameroon or the wonderful conversation it has sparked on PulseWire! I was moved by your determination to bring attention to this issue. I hope you don't feel discouraged that only 1 out of 10 widows you talk to rejects practices that harm them. 10 out of 10 of these women now know that they are not alone and that there is at least one other person who cares about them.

Why wouldn't a marginalized woman reject the systems that oppress her? I guess I don't really know the answer but my guess is that, like many of us, she probably believes she can't change the culture all by herself. Without property, without a voice, without the support of family and society, these women must feel they are going through this pain all by themselves. How wonderful that you are there to tell them that they are not alone. How amazing that Ayobami and others are here to tell us that there are women all over the world going through similar struggles. What an incredibly powerful support system this could become—together maybe we can start to change the culture. Let us know what we can do to support this cause!


Leina's picture

Hello Kim,

Hello Kim,
I`m so thankful for your encouraging words and your will to support the course.The best I think we can be is to be a voice of the voiceless by exposing the plight of these women to the wider world.This explains my quest for the creation of a media center for women.I am also looking at a documentary on West African Widowhood rites.Any ideas on how we can go about that.Please let me know your thoughts.Thanks immensely for your interest.
Kind regards

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