This study is designed to determine established widowhood practices in Ukana Clan, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and to identify the health effect and implications of these practices on the widow and her children. The survey research design was utilized for the study and the main tool for data collection was the researchers structured questionnaire. The sample consisted of one hundred respondents selected by simple random sampling technique: five villages were randomly chosen from the clan which formed the frame of the sample population, the researcher personally collected the data, responses were tabulated for easy calculation, data were analyzed by the use of percentage. The major findings of the study were as follows: established widowhood practices including wailing, confinement, drinking of water used to wash the corpse 90% psychological/social problem 98%. It was recommended that the public and private sectors as well as non-governmental and religious organizations should campaign against all widowhood practices that are determined to health, government should also enact laws abolishing traditional widowhood practices perpetrators should be punishable by law.
Background of the Study
Widowhood or vinducty is the state of having last one’s spouse to death, it can also be considered as the phase of marriage following the death of the spouse which results in personal loss, and comprises of everything from the immediate psychological impact to the material deprivation of income, a home or unpaid contribution to the domestic economy.
Olutu (2000), pre-old age and old age deaths is a common and frequent occurrence in Nigeria with life expectancy being less than 60 years. In this scenario, women line an average 6 – 10 years older than themselves. This creates a generational gap raising a large crop of widows.
At the current levels of mortality, widows would be 10 – 13% of the adult female population that is about 3.5 million indeed about 40% of dissolved marriage one due to the death of a spouse (more often the men) Nigeria journal of health education volume 12, No. 1. (2004).
Culture demands, that on the death of the husband, the widow must undergo certain traditional rituals and practices before and after the burial of her spouse. Culture is known to be the way of life of a people, their custom and traditions, which determines their behaviour patterns.
It is something, which the society gives itself to in the context of its material resource and social organization. It provides the key for unlocking the mystery of human attitude and enduring habits.
Culture is dynamic and gradually changes over time. For instance, modernity and civilization do have a changing impact on the culture/beliefs and values of the people. If a culture is repugnant to the laws of the land, civilized behaviour pattern and morality, it is expected that such culture be jettisoned or moderated to fall in line with civilized and accepted values and norms.
Onsewezie (2001) of significance here are the rites that are connected with the death of a male spouse, African attaches great importance to major passages in life, birth, marriage and death. Various rites surround each of these milestone.
Women in Ukana Clan, Essien Udim Local Government Area remain victims of harmful rites that there associated with the passing away of their beloved spouse.
Death even in circumstances in which causes natural and explicable are never perceived as such in Ukana community but one attributed to Magi co-religious factors and widows one targets of accusation and bewitchment of sorcery and as such blamed for the death of their spouses.
Previous historical surveys shows that the experience of widowhood was deeply gendered although widowhood was a condition, which was shared, by men and women alike, their contrasting experience revealed the patriarchal society in which we live. The loss of a wife rarely alters a man’s status while the death of a woman’s life when a woman dies, everything is done to help the husband forget his sorrow and resettle in life.
Food is prepared by various female relations and served to him form time to tome aiming at decreasing his agony. Occasionally, another woman is brought into keep him company and help in settling him mentally, the story is different when the man dies (Nigeria Journal of Education, volume 12, No. 1, (2002).
Widowhood practices can be said to be universal in application, however, Adibe, (1996) observed that some widowhood practices are culturally related and the severity of the rites vary from language to language.
In South Africa and Kenya, there exists the widow “protection act” which protects the right of the widow and their properties (property rights of women) (2002) in the Yoruba culture, the girl child has the right to inherit alongside with the sons but the story is different in other parts of the continents.
This aspect of report reflects on the Nigerian society as a whole and Ukana Clan in Essien Udim Local Government Area in particular in matters relating to traditional widowhood practices which according to Okoye (1996). Reveals the atrocious injustices, dehumanization, denial and exploitation meted out on the Nigerian widow. These practices are associated with rituals and taboos, which are degrading and inhuman. Some of these rites subsequently jeopardize the health and welfare of the widow and her children.
At this point, it become necessary to examine those practices and processes the widow has to go through immediately it become obvious that her husband has died. The wife immediately becomes a suspected murderer and the onus is on her to prove her innocence. She is made to swear to an oath that she is not responsible for the death of the spouse. The widow during this period is believed to be under ritual impurity or contamination and must be purified. This process begins with the widow wailing loudly very early in the morning to be assisted by her relations and friends to lament her ill-luck in losing her husband. This bitter wailing is expected to go on until the remains of the man has been buried.
Another prominent feature of this practice is the seclusion and general isolation from the rest of her relatives and neighbours. In the words of the wife of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was passing through a similar ordeal, lamented “you know because of our culture, I am not entitled to go anywhere now, I cannot go to the market or visit friends or do what I ought to do to keep myself, I cannot do this until he is buried”, Vanguard, Nigeria (May 29, 1996).
In the olden days, the period of mourning usually lasted for twelve calendar months with the first twenty-eight days being the most rigorous and tasking. During this period, the widow is not allowed to go to the stream or market or enter farmlands. The widow’s right to communicate with people especially men is highly restricted.
Her hair, including the pubic hair is shaven with a razor bade or broken bottle by the “iban isong”. She is also restricted from taking her bathe and washing her personal belonging during the morning period. In additional to this obvious lack of personal hygiene, the widow is expected to have only one set of clothes tagged “mourning clothes usually black”.
She is divested of all her clothes and ornaments, on jewelry may be worm no cosmetic, applied. Alongside, this seeming neglect is the restriction in the use of tool. She is not allowed to cook her meals but other older widows are called upon to cook for her as a sign of receiving her into the widow’s fold. The tool is served with broken pot which remains unwashed throughout the morning period. Another serious dimension to this practice is the case where the woman is made to drink the remains of the water used in washing the husband’s corpse. In some other situation, the woman is forced to sit on the bare floor or on the mat in the room where the husband’s corpse is kept resulting in psychological agony.