Widowhood: A Double Headed Monster

Sinyuy Geraldine
Posted November 28, 2019 from Cameroon

 

 Widowhood: A Double Headed Monster

 

            The drama was shocking, it was a hot dry season period in my village when the “Sun set” (metaphorical way of saying that the king has died. According to my tradition, kings disappear, they do not die. In order to announce the departure of such a personality, my people will say that the Sun has set or the King has disappeared). When it was made known to the public and the new king had been enthroned, women were not allowed to appear in public fully dressed. I was a little girl then. So, as tradition dictated, all the female folk, young and old alike, moved about with only loin clothes stripped just above their breasts. The rest of their upper bodies till the head were not to be covered. I was part of this horrifying drama as we all received the harsh tropical sun on our bare backs, chests and mooned heads.  The situation was made worse as the whirlwinds blew dust from the baked earth and flushed them on our faces, heads and any exposed parts of our bodies. My community had only earth roads and till today no tarred roads exist in my village.

In my country (Cameroon) and in my community (the North West Region), women suffer untold pain, violence and injustice when their husbands die. I will like to start this story from what I observed and lived as a young girl in my clan. This part of the narrative involves collective violence suffered by the female folk, young and old alike in my community. The King of my clan departed from this earth when I was barely 10years old. As per our culture and tradition, the king is metaphorically considered the husband of all and father of the clan. So when he died, all the female folk in my clan had to strip half naked as a sign of mourning. No female was to wear anything that covered her body above the breast when going outdoors. And so, we stripped loin clothes round our breasts and no blouses were worn for a period of four weeks. Worst of all, the women who were closely connected to the palace had  a  place in a common hall in the palace where they sat on the earth floor strewn with wet banana leaves for the same period of time. They had no right to sleep on a bed, so the bare floor and the banana leaves served as their seats and beds. They sat and ate on this same floor and drank whatever they had to drink. The men however, wore their clothes as usual and only participated in shaving their heads, a custom that involved everyone during this time. As a sign of mourning, the men only took off their caps when they went out to public places. They wore the clothes they wished to wear. No one imposed any form of dressing during this mourning period on them.

       I saw women in my community sitting on banana leaves at many occasions whenever a man or some elderly woman died in a family. The men always had chairs on which they sat and drank palm wine from horns. The women sang dirges and wept each time a new person or group came to condole with the bereaved family, but the men never sang any songs. They sat in groups under sheds or some fruit trees in the yard, talked, and drank palm wine all through. They neither sat nor slept on wet leaves on bare earth floors for when night came; they went to their homes and slept on their comfortable beds while the women endued the harshness of the hard earth floor. What is so shocking about this to me is that the women docilely accepted this patriarchal kind of lifestyle and no one saw anything wrong with it. Even if they did, they suffered it silently.

Now, let me relate other stories about what women suffer in some parts of my country. I have gathered these stories as I travel and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds in my country. I was told by some students that when a woman loses her husband in one of the tribes in the Western Region of my country, she will be taken to a river and given a straw basket to place in the middle of the river and if that basket is carried by the waves downstream, it means that she is the one who killed her husband and the entire village will beat her as a sign of punishment. This accusation is usually false as we all know that any light object is bound to be borne by the water waves. But when a woman dies, this same test is not given to the widower.

I have also gathered that in this same region, there is a terrible practice carried out on women who have lost their husbands.  A woman is taken to a stream and bathed by her brother- in- law. Prior to this public bath which she is given, she is not allowed to bathe for seven days beginning from the day her husband dies. After this public bath, she has to be forced to have sexual intercourse with one of her brothers-in-law as a sign of cleansing. The consent of the woman is not sought as far as this is concerned for it is an established tradition and should not be questioned.

       Besides the above mentioned horrendous practices which violate human rights and strip women off their dignity, many women are rendered homeless after the deaths of their husbands as the husband's family usually seizes the property claiming that the woman contributed nothing to the man's wealth.

            Three days ago, I decided to conduct interviews with some women in order to find out what widows suffer in their communities. I talked with an elderly woman who should be in her 60s and she told me that when her husband died, she was not allowed to even go to the toilet alone. Someone, another widow, had to hold her hand and accompany her to the toilet and then bring her back to the room where she was confined. (It should be noted that in the villages toilets are dug a few metres away from the house. These are latrines and not water system toilets).  She had no right to go anywhere until the mourning period was over.  I saw pain on her face as she recounted the sad story to me. I asked her why she was treated that way and she said:

                      "Once your husband dies, they know that your own is finished. You are no longer considered as anything. That is why they do that."

            She told me that in another village which is also situated in my region, widows are not allowed to communicate with any person who is not a widow. When she needs to give a message to anybody, she has to send another widow to tell the person what she wants to say. If the widow’s sisters’ husbands are still alive, then they are not allowed to go near or talk to their bereaved sister. In this case, the widow has no secrets as she has to say everything to a stranger if none of her sisters is a widow.

            I also had a telephone conversation with a friend who lost her husband three months ago.  She is a Moslem and she told me that she was told to plat her hair only once a week and on a particular day (Friday) by a particular person who is also a widow. She also had to undo the hair only on a Friday. She was not allowed to go out in public, and according to tradition, she had to be secluded from the rest of the family. She had to sit at a particular corner of the parlour, veiled, and a curtain hung in that area to separate her from the rest of household. To this one she revolted.

            According to her, it was forbidden for any male friend, relation or co-worker to visit her no matter what distance the person had travelled to come and condole with her. She kicked against this one because she saw that it was inhuman. However, other women in her circle have to go through it because they cannot fight for themselves.

            Besides, a woman whose husband has died is not supposed to bathe for seven days. She is also forced to wear only the single dress she had on the day her husband died until the three months of mourning are over.  My friend kicked against this tradition of not bathing and the single dress rule and selected a few dresses which she could interchange during the mourning period.  She was also told not to go outdoors, even to her lawns, but she resisted and walked out from time to time to take fresh air.

            These stories and the torments which widows experience in my country are but a tip of an iceberg. Losing one’s spouse is already enough psychological stress and then the socio-cultural practices which other people come to impose on the widows increase both the psychological and physical stress on the widows.  It should be noted that there are no rites for men who have lost their wives to perform. The widowers in our communities are free men. They move as they want and may even get another woman when the corpse of their wife is still unburied.

            I stand with her; I stand with all the women who suffer all forms of violence. I say no to widowhood rites that do not dignify women. These rites geared at tormenting widows are barbaric and have to be stopped!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story was submitted in response to #IStandWithHer.

Comments 26

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Laetitia Shindano
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Chère Géraldine

C'est vraiment triste de constater que les veuves de ton pays et particulièrement de ta communauté sont elles aussi victimes des violences basées sur le genre comme les veuves de ma communauté. Félicitation pour les recherches que tu as menées en vue de mieux comprendre ce problème.Maintenant ,il faut agir .

Merci de nous partager les éventuelles stratégies de lutte que tu comptes mettre sur point contre ce phénomène.

Laetitia

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Salut Laetitia. Merci pour votre commentaire sur mon histoir. C'est vraiment terrible, ces traditions qui ne donnents pas la paix aux femmes qui onts perdues leurs marris.

Jill Langhus
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Hi Geraldine,

Wow! These sad stories are shocking! Thanks so much for sharing, and standing against these antiquated and harmful practices, dear. I kept thinking you should write a book compiling all of these and publish it to spread awareness, especially since you're already compiling the stories.

I'm glad to see you back on the forum, dear. I hope you're safe and well and that you have a good weekend!

XX

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Hello Sister Hannah, good morning and thank you for reading my story. We need to stand up and say no tothis horrendous treatment of widows.

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Hello Jill, what a driving force you are behind my writing spirit. Yes, I am happy to have found time to be here one more time. It is so good to be here. Yeah, i went out and did interviews to get stories of women. They are sbocking really.

Jill Langhus
Dec 04, 2019
Dec 04, 2019

Hi there:-)

Aw. Thank you:-) I'm glad you're finding time, too!

Maybe a blog, if not a book:-)

Yes, they are:-(

XX

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 05, 2019
Dec 05, 2019

Hello Jill. Good morning and thanks for your suggestions. Where do i blog?

Jill Langhus
Dec 06, 2019
Dec 06, 2019

Hello there!

You're welcome. Oh, I'm not sure. A lot of WP women have blogs, I think. I don't have one. You could do a Google search and see which ones are the most popular and/or easy to use? Or, just continue to use WP as a blog, of sorts:-) Let me know how it goes.

Hannah B
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Wow, thank you for sharing this amazing and difficult story!
I agree with you - we should be supporting women in all stages of their lives, not subjecting them to more pain and isolation because they are widows. I stand with you and all of the women in Cameroon who must face these indignities.
Warm regards,
Hannah

lizzymark
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Its really a monster,its difficult for these women and its wrong they are denied their rights. Hope they find help and support.

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

A monster indeed Lizzy. I know that in Nigeria there are also such terrible treatments of widows.

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Dear Geraldine,
It is only because of your and other World Pulse sisters from Cameroon speaking out, that we are learning of the horrendous treatment of so many women over such a long time, when their husbands die. All of these laws were made up by men, and there is no reason for it to continue. What a tremendous step being taken, for you to question it, and to report on the few with you who have questioned it and stood up to it in their communities. I don't believe that any of these awful, damaging and disrespectful practices have been around since the beginning of time. They have been imposed by men selfishly wanting to maintain control. All the best with your work to end these so called "traditions".
in sisterhood,
Tam

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Hello sister Tamarak, so lovely getting a reaction to my story from you. Yes, men make all these laws in order to subjugate women and we must put an end to it.

Anita Shrestha
Nov 29, 2019
Nov 29, 2019

Dear Sis
Thank you for sharing

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Thanks dear Anita. It is my responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless.

Lisbeth
Nov 30, 2019
Nov 30, 2019

Dear Geraldine,
It's the reality in our Africa countries. Just that others are moderate. Some are excluded to camps and are classified "witches".
How sad! Banana leaves because they think it will be used to fly them in the night as "witches" haha.
The untold part of Africa. Thanks for sharing and have a great day.
Hugs

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Hello Lisbeth. Great reading your comment on my story. Really, it is awful thing to treat women who have lost their husbands the way they do. There are even worse things that are done to women and we hear very luttle or even nothing about them.

Lisbeth
Dec 04, 2019
Dec 04, 2019

I can't agree less dear. It's disgusting :-(

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 05, 2019
Dec 05, 2019

For sure.

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 01, 2019
Dec 01, 2019

Hello, Geraldine,

Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to the stories of widows from Cameroon and write these so we will be aware of such inhumane, horrendous practices. This was exactly what I was thinking, "Losing one’s spouse is already enough psychological stress and then the socio-cultural practices which other people come to impose on the widows increase both the psychological and physical stress on the widows."

It's unjust and unfair for widows to go through those you've enumerated and yet widowers are exempted from those.

Thank you for raiing your voice on this matter! Thank you for standing with the widows!

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 02, 2019
Dec 02, 2019

Hello Karen. So good to hear from you. Yes, the women are treated as though the blood in their veins is less red than the one that flows in men's veins. Women need to team up to stop this nonsense.

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 03, 2019
Dec 03, 2019

Hello, dear. You are right. Keep up the great work. Have a great day!

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 03, 2019
Dec 03, 2019

Thanks Karen. Good morning.

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 06, 2019
Dec 06, 2019

You're welcome, dear. Have a great day!

Omoh Virginie
Dec 03, 2019
Dec 03, 2019

Hello Geraldine.
Yes, indeed this practices are gross and absolutely barbaric, heart wrenching and all. Women deserve better treatments, infact it is long overdue. This pain inflicted on us for just being fermine must stop, we go through all forms of violence but yet still stand strong and tall. I stand with you sister, to stop the practicing of such inhumane widow rites on women. She shouldn't be forced to if she doesn't want to.

I have your courage and ability to speak, together we fight for equality.

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 03, 2019
Dec 03, 2019

Hello Virginie, thanks so much for your reaction to my story. So good to know you are from Cameroon as well. You bear withness with me about these barbaric treatments of widows. Yes, we have to fight against such and other forms of violence against women. We are all God's creatures and equal before Him.