Background to the study
At a particular point in one’s life, one submits himself to the unavoidable call of death which has made it possible for couples sometimes to lose one another. When this happens the other partner is considered by the society as a widow or a widower. When the deceased partner is a woman or a man, the living partner is called a widow or a widower respectively. These ideas are collectively referred to as widowhood. Wikipedia (2008) avows that widowhood is “the state of having lost one’s spouse to death. These terms are not applied to a person after he or she is divorced from their former spouse, though they may sometimes be used after the former spouse has died” (p. 2)
Widowhood situation/condition is often accompanied by certain practices that are relatively inhuman in nature depending on the culture and tradition of the society where the widow exists. These practices are different in various countries or ethnic groups around the globe. In Africa, for instance, the demise of a partner immediately subjects the living partner to several pains. It becomes generally unbearable when the deceased person is the husband. According to Himanshu (2000), in the past 25 years, it was noted that no group is affected more by the sin of omission than widows. They are painfully absent in the statistics of many developing countries. They are rarely mentioned in the multitude of reports on women’s poverty development programmes.
From the observation of many researchers, women are more likely to be widowed than men. Various factors are blamed for this condition. According to Lee (2002), women live longer than men and for such, suffer widowhood practices than men. He asserts that, “Women tend to marry older men, although this gap has been narrowing. Because women live longer and marry older men, their odds of being widowed are much greater than men’s” (p.38).
Apart from the age difference among couples, Fasoranti (2007), Amoran (2005), Abdalah and Ogbeide (2002) highlighted several other factors. Fasorant is of the opinion that the society has men as the principal breadwinner of the family is likely going to record more widows because of the risks men undergo in order to keep the family.
This condition exposes the widow to, not only suffering to keep the family alone , but also exposes her to a serious mental torture. The point stressed by Ogbeide (2002) could serve as a universal situation in Africa. The nature of the tradition and cultural practices in Africa has their greater effects on the husband. Among the Ibibio and other tribes in the neighborhood, there is a condition where the immoral lifestyle of the wife directly claims the life of the husband living the wife in a widowhood state. In such a condition, the widow is inflicted with several pains that make her condition very challenging. Boye and Eboh (2005) summarized widowhood practices in Africa in the following statement:
Some of the practices widows are meant to pass through on the loss of the husband are, shaving of hair on the head, drinking of remains of bath water used to wash the husband’s corpse, mourn her husband’s death for about three to twelve months depending on the ethnic group(p. 1)
All the countries in Africa observe these practices although it varies among countries due to the dominant tradition that reigns supreme among them. In some tradition, a widow suspected to have a hand in the death of her husband is compelled to live with the corpse to prove her innocence. Various inhuman practices prevail in the life of a widow. And the fact that these practices are global is a clear indication that widowhood practices started at a time beyond memory in the human history. In Genesis 38:11 we found a situation where a widow was made to sleep with the husband’s brother in order to fulfill the traditional demand. This situation calls for the question of what is the church role in curbing these dominant practices. The church, as the moral advocate, should descend on the matter fully to help debunk the society of this wanton knowledge that makes modern slavery out of a free citizen. The Holy Book (The Bible), especially the New Testament, should serve as a pointer to the treatment of widows in the society. It is based on the above background that the researcher seeks to investigate the role of the church towards widowhood practices in Ibibio land
1.2 Statement of the Problem
In the contemporary society, the number of widows is on the increase. Widowhood is a reality as a result of the fact that death is inevitable. Widows in the Bible were cared for and shown sympathy (Deut. 14:29; 24:19-21; Act 6:1-16). However, in Ibibio land, they are subjected to various dehumanizing laws after being accused of killing their husbands. They are oppressed, victimized and their rights are being infringed upon by their in-laws and the society at large. This all encompassing situation has created a lot of concern among researchers who had poured out their heartfelt though on papers on the same topic.
Many of these books did not get to the deepest root in the consideration of widowhood practices in their different settings. Most challenging, these books were not set in the Ibibio communities to assist the researcher in assessing the truest information binding on widowhood practices in Ibibio land. Widows, among the less privilege members in the society, are sometimes considered as the most miserable destitute one can think of. Kareem (2014) asserts that, “widows face a lot of social and economic challenges”. (p.234).
Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of the research is to explore the response of the church towards widowhood practices in ibibio land. The study sought to:
- Examine widowhood practices in Ibibio land.
Investigate the effect of these practices on widows in Ibibio land.
Highlight the factors that are responsible for widowhood practices in Ibibio land.
Justify the role of these factors in the widowhood practices in Ibibio land
Assess the possible response of the church to the practice of widowhood in Ibibio land.
1.4 Significance of the Study
This work will be of significance to students, legal practitioners, the priests, Christian counselors, ministry of social welfare, community development and women affairs who are frequently confronted with these issues.
This work will help legal practitioners to make law that will protect the rights of women.
The work will help priests to be able provide the spiritual needs of widows.
The work will help Christian counselors to be able counsel women who have lost their husband.
The work will be of help to the ministry of social welfare in the sense that they will know how to provide the basic and necessary physical needs of widows.
With widows tremendously increasing as a result of death, the study will help in addressing the various issues pertaining to widows. It will also increase knowledge, solve problems and answer some questions in the educational field. Additionally, this work will give other researchers the opportunity to further research in this area. It will bring to prominence, the plight of widows in Ibibio land; this study will also contribute to the already existing body of literature on Ibibio land and gender studies. The study will be of immense benefits as the outcome will improve the church’s priests performance and commitment in the churches no matter their denomination.
The study will make use of descriptive survey approach, hence primary and secondary sources will be consulted. On the primary source, oral interviews will be conducted and on the secondary sources books, journals, other printed materials and internet sources will be consulted.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This work on widowhood practices: A challenge to the church is limited to Ibibio tribe in Akwa Ibom State. The researcher intends using Uyo local Government, Catholic Church (Orthodox) and the Redeemed Christian Church of God (Pentecostal) as case study.
1.7 Definition of Terms
Widow: According to Hornby (2005), a widow is a woman whose husband has died and who has not married again. Chukwuma (2001) defines a widow as “a woman married to a man under the statute, customary law of Islamic law, who has the misfortune of losing her husband through death”(p.104). From the above definitions one can say that a widow is a recognized married woman who loses her husband through death and remains unmarried.
Widowhood: According to Hornby (2005) widowhood is “the state or period of being a widow or widower”(p.1681). According to Adamu (2005) widowhood is a state in the life of an individual.