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To Ihuoma and Others alike

Ihuoma is a beautiful woman, she is a village sweetheart, but she has a stain. No, it’s not the stain of blood; it’s the stain of widowhood. She is not just a widow; she is a serial widow with more than one dead husband to her conjugal resume. Her life is littered with the ghost of husbands; her skin now sticks to the black grieving uniform which mortifies her soul. The burden of raising her children hangs around her neck. It is not lightened by moonlight play for unlike everyone in the village, she is socially dead. She only knows sympathizers who just trickle in these days. This is the story of Ihuoma in Elechi Amadi’s renowned book ‘The Concubine’.
TheConcubineWhen marriage is broken not by divorce but by death, the live of the once better half becomes broken. Many things converge to determine the depth of their grief. The strength of their bond, the level of dependency on the union, and their partner, the self concept of the surviving partner, all of these work together in colouring grief. The surviving partner’s ways of life is interrupted and subsequently fragmented.
Were these to be their only fight, then it could be manageable. But some cultural rites of ritual seclusion, helps to strip the living half of the life and comfort they knew, and suddenly they become invisible. Their lives stops, most of them begin to live on the margins of our society and weeping does not lessen their burden.images (13)
This is the worst nightmare of many married women; hence it is an issue that is dear to the United Nation and other development agencies. It buys into the wider issues of gender inequality, the very things that CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Domestic Violence Against Women) represents. Unlike widowers, widows experience domestic and social violence. This double trauma shatters them.
I have often wondered why the loss of a partner can render another partner so useless that they may actually turn to begging or living on stipends from family members to keep going. This I could connect to the prior economic circumstances of the women. But it obviously does not explain the loneliness which they suffer even beyond the mourning period. Their daily routines have been disrupted, most times in unforeseen ways, they become socially inept. I am tempted to question the self-concept of the individuals but I am cautioned by the truth that we all have rights to any identity we choose and the consequences thereof.tumblr_mdwiolUUWt1rrvcrmo1_500
The 23rd of June is a day for widows according to United Nation. Hence we need to cleanse the land of sin against widows. To cleanse this sin of omission done against this group of secluded or excluded women, we have to reconsider the economic and social impact of our social culture on them.
We can beginning by improving inheritance rights and encourage access of social amenities. Like Ihuoma, the survival of many widows may be through scraping the earth for whatever is left by others to feed the family. Many communities have economic arrangements that deny women ownership of inelastic commodities like land and other forms of properties that can yield economic comfort to the surviving family.
thumb_COLOURBOX559156The coping strategies of women like Ihuoma are not very predictable, some people though exhausted by intense care giving to a terminally ill spouseBL08_1323899f may have prepared for the imminent widowhood. Where the widow is young and unprepared, the realities are harsh. It is often suggested she remarries for her (and maybe her children’s ) economic and social security, as death can shrink any existing income. Remarriage is a challenging survival strategy because of the stigma many societies give to women carrying the widowhood title.  ‘The concubine’ presents this in the choice made for Ahurole over Ihuoma by Ekwueme’s parents.
Many times, in a partriachal society, widowhood is a dead end. The challenge of trying to keep body and soul together does not go without a fight. This is captured in the struggle between Ihuoma and Madume. In the end, every widow hopes for a cobra to come to their rescue as it did for Ihuoma.
Such help is still possible in the present day world with some adjustments in our laws and policies. For a start, couples should be encouraged to register marriages formally. We can create policies that ensure that assets are registered in the name of both spouses.
destinybloom.orgCEDAW legislates for equal inheritance rights, and our countries have ratified it. Perhaps we can pressure our government to make CEDAW effective by signing it into law.
On a lighter side, perhaps we can also ensure that on our guest list for the next birthday, wedding, or social parties, we include the living half of a couple that we once enjoyed their company together. In this way and others, we can empower and reach out to widows today.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye


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  1. Reblogged this on 85 Degrees and commented:
    Quite an arresting post. I’ve not read “The Concubine” yet. However, this blurb wets my appetite even more (as I’ve already heard about the book). Lessons from the book point us to a larger global issue which concerns widows around the world–not just in Africa. In a situation where the deceased husband leaves virtually nothing but plenty mouths to feed, the wife turned widow suffers. Untold hardship , vulnerability, and abuse (in some cases) set in. Today, I send prayers to all widows as the world remembers them.

    • Dear Uzo, thanks for stopping over and for this comment. I enjoyed reading that short story on your page. Regarding †he issue of widows, I am a bit vexed at it. I feel all of these is a negative off-shoot of how marriage is structured in many societies. My understanding is that marriage should better people in it’s institution. However, daily realities are showing that it betters more †he states and leaves individuals in them lesser than they should be. Women especially lose more than they can be repaid as a result of taking up †he identity of a “married woman”. This is more so true in Africa. With a loss of name, comes a loss of beneficial network. All of these have economic implication. Hence when their partner passes on, †he struggle to find their person back, transit to a new identity and face their responsibility is devastating.

  2. Hey I hope all is well at your end? Come back, I miss your posts!

  3. When I read your post, I remembered the previous communication I have had with my wife, she wanted to die at the age of 50 and she wanted to go first before me. I told her that in statistics men are were die first and she said she don’t want it. I guess she’s really afraid to live alone inspite of having a childre of our own. Woman should always have their fallback in case they are 100% dependent to their husband and remarried is not the solution but education. Welcome back 😀 nice to see you again.

    • Thanks Vill, it feels good to read from you again. How are you? And yes I could understand your wife’s perspective. But losing a partner is a difficult thing and women are rarely ever prepared for it. However education and some few changes can help provide them with better survival strategies. I surely wish you and your wife long life and happiness.

  4. Victoria

    This piece is very poignant and the issues resonate very strongly with me. My father died when I was just 11 and my mother was left to raise 5 of us. To say the least it has been a very long and ‘eventful’ journey for those of us he left behind. Amongst the many challenges experiences we lived through the social exclusion was particularly telling and as children we wondered why uncle ‘x’ or aunty ‘y’ didn’t come around as often as before or why we couldn’t go to our treasured family hang-outs any more. Sustenance and education were constant struggles let alone socializing. Then we had to fight to keep what little estate my father left us from a merciless culture of primogeniture. Rising from those ashes, my mother now convenes and encourages young widows. Thank you Ada for keeping a spotlight this important issue.

    • Dear Vic, thanks for sharing this detail. At my age, I cannot imagine what it is like losing one parent. Your Mum must be a Super Woman and a hero! We can only try to be there for our self when life hits hard. It is really tough for women.

  5. I just happened to see my painting in your blog dated June 23, 2013. I don’t recall anyone asking my permission to use my image on your post. This is called copyright infringement.

    • Dear Cynthia, accept my sincere apologies. I am indeed sorry for this. I would normally make reference to sites where I resourced a picture from. I notice none of the pictures on that post was referenced at all. That also is a big oversight. Kindly forgive this. I will take the painting down.

    • I just looked through and I noticed that I had referenced this as “Painting by Cynthia Angeles titled Grief” but in the wrong column, hence it was not visible to viewers. My sincere apologies again. I have taken off your beautiful picture until you feel otherwise.

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