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

Is the Marriage Market Stillborn?

‘… If the bride price is not paid, the bride will die at childbirth’. These words thwarted every ambition for happiness, books (1)progressive living and well-being for the character ‘Akunna’ in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘the Bride Price’. The author used this work as a medium to explore several social issues of which for me, the marriage economy falls into. The theme focused on the politics around establishing a marriage in our society. An important strand in the conflicts it projected is the contentions around the dowry. One will ask why the bride price of a woman is so important. In ‘Akunna’s 400_F_49638666_kfrIsxJnFg2vQurfpzWy2XHMd8ddqzARexperiences, we see a poignant story of faith in the economic difference being educated can make in a woman’s bride price. Through several social upheavals twisted along cultural lines, this work does not just expose how cultural beliefs can rape the mind. It adds to the existing body of knowledge that reminds us of the importance of marriage, not just for meeting physiological needs, but also for its economic benefits as it indirectly contribute to the local economy of people.

According to Margaret Mead, marriage is a socio-economic arrangement where consideration is made of wealth, class and job skills wealth of the man and woman. For better or worse, marriage for Akunna’s society had more than a social relevance. While it is portrayed to be protecting a withering culture of class and caste, the relevance of any victory the ‘Ibuza’ culture might have had in this work is most conceivable in today’s world from an economic lens.

It is not in doubt that marriage is the lifeblood of the economy. Believe me, where the economy is, that is k1312803714413356-3d-marriage-word-sphere-on-white-backgroundwhere all governments pitch their tents. This is proven through by the realities of the over-protectiveness of the rules of engagement for the marriage institution by many states in the world. Within international development, civil right debates are dominated around issues on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married or not, arguments have been made on the emotional and cultural implications of this. Most interesting is the economic dynamics of this new paradigm to private and social benefits. But the fear for the unknown impacts of legalizing non-heterosexual union decades away keeps the decisions hanging. All of this speaks of the importance of marriage to the local, national and global governance.

While many states consider the pressures of legalizing homosexual marriages, most African countries like Nigeria do not find it a images (10)threat. So I am often caught in my thought wondering what the consequences are for my country and others alike.

While the pressure pots are yet to hit our constitutional door steps, shouldn’t we first of all soften on the stance of whether gays and lesbians should get married and worry more on what is happening to the commitments at the heart of the already established marriages?  What in the society has influenced the increase in divorce rate, the desensitization of stigma around single parenting, the delay in age of marriage and more so the rising choices for homosexual relationships? Is there a collision of forces? what precisely has influenced this paradigm shift on the part of men and downloadwomen to produce a loveless economy laced by rising impression that marriages is bond-less and a terminable institution?

Commitment is the core of every marriage. The global economy is driven by sexual, emotional and other forms of commitment between two (or maybe more) people. At the induction of every marriage commitment, a tree of economic growth is planted that increases many sectors of the economy. Need I say that marriage has been the springboard for producing a nation’s labour force? But that core, is threatened heavily, so is the economy.

bld016719Many elucidators have given numerous perspectives in response to the evolving trends; some have charged falling sex ratios, changes in supply and demand balance, rise in age of commitment, amongst others. But then, different societies may have their account of what is changing the pattern of the wind that drives marriages.

Zainab Alkali’s ‘The Stillborn’, gives an insight which may account in certain ways to the position of young women. It represents a 51QTyupPXRL._SL500_AA300_shift in mindset that has organically taken root coming from a disenchantment of a failing marketing approach. De Beauvoir states that ‘marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society’. Marriage is a woman’s destiny, and the hunger to fulfil that destiny injected into every young woman is reinforced with the carrots of a heterosexual intensely romantic relationship dangles just everywhere. With all naivety, the character of ‘Li’ in ‘the Stillborn’ hung to the dream of a romantic marriage that will provide material and emotional support and be the answer to all her problems. In ‘Li’s theory, all she had to do was provide him sexual satisfaction, cook his meal and cuddle him to her breast, and then the dreams will come true.

love-carrots-low-res-iStock_000013121473MediumLike her friend ‘Faku’, these women became disillusioned as their belief and faith in marriage meeting their needs remained a stillborn. Marriage was not a Siamese twin relationship where their heart beat together and two halves made a whole. They had believed a lie, for them, pursuing the promises of the carrot was like chasing a moving target. Finally, there is a shift in mindset for the women and a redefined approach to seal the cracks on the wall of their life. Their new understanding redefines marriage and their expectations; it recasts the patriarchal society and the favoured role given to men. Questioning conventions, ‘Li’ uses her new mindset as a weapon of self empowerment.

Such disillusionment and rapid changes in the economy has raised many daughters of ‘Li’ who see it more practical ???????????????????????????????????????for educated single women to sustain themselves and their children without a man’s help. The traditional value of marriage keeps withering away by the day, in the mind of a man, maybe the character of ‘Habu’ saw commitment to ‘Li’ as a constrain, controlling and confining him to the eventual robbery of his masculinity.

Like gold, diamond and currency markets, the marriage market can suffer swing in prices with small changes to the supply and demand ratio. Such swings can be caused by a changing perception. In the case of marriages today, the swing hits strongly at the level of commitment given by individuals in the institution and those outside.

10318535-married-couple-bride-and-groom-figurine-inside-a-roll-of-us-dollar-banknote-bills-isolated-on-whiteThe lack of that organic growth in the culture that sustains marriage in the heart of people needs attention of everyone interested in sustaining economic growth driven by marriage.

Succinctly, this review has not given an explanation of what is happening to marriages, it only suggests and adds to existing perspectives using works of fiction. The views that the characters in ‘the Stillborn’ conceptualizes may again give insight on how to progressively focus on sustaining our socio-economic development, considering that individual and family patterns fit into larger socio-economic structures of our society.download (1)

Nonetheless, how high the demands for marriage will be in the future will depends on what approach of  development each person and the society adopts. If we choose to consider a holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being and happiness of the people, the marriage concept may suffer a shock as individuals will define marriages on the backdrop of happiness, self esteem amongst others. But if we choose economic approach, then it may continue to survive just the way it is.

-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Marriage is a Private Affair

images (5)‘… when it comes to marriage, it’s not that simple’ Nnaemeka said in Achebe’s ‘Marriage is a private affair’.  Iimagese  believe him, considering the different dynamics the marriage concept has produced over the years. Marriage permeates almost every culture and society in the map of humanity, promoting sexual, emotional and other forms of commitment between two (or maybe more) people. That commitment in itself has serious implications to the economic development of a people. It has continued to thrive through many decades and centuries. But in the wind of change, many things wither.

It is amazing to see how like humans, social concepts evolve and change. Marriage too has changed. In growing up days, we were all children of two parents. The only kid who had just a mother had lost his father not long before. As the years rolled on, more students images (6)had one parent and later in life when I visited homes of friends, their parents were more of house mates and that commitment that bonded many marriages was fast withering. More so, some mothers I knew were never called wives before their children came forth.

In this era, the increasing rise of homosexual marriages is undeniable. The changes also spreads to parenting. Few years after Elton John and his husbands’ adoption denials caused media frenzy and increased awareness on homosexual parenting thereof. There are so many intersections to this issue and I cannot exhaust them.

images (3)Whether or not we choose to acknowledge marriage as an institution, it sure has lots of benefit and administrative convenience going for it. Married workers are considered more productive, hence marriage benefits earning. Marriage gives automatic inheritance rights and grants social security benefits. It protects and can reward your emotional investments when things don’t work out unlike when you just date. There are many more unspoken advantages of being married than I know of.

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This week, I am reviewing this concept through works of fiction to help elucidate the politics and drivers of the marriage concept. On my table already is Achebe’s ‘Marriage is a private affair’. Suggestions of other works of fiction I could consult will be highly appreciated.