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Edo Women
 

A MAN LOSES A WIFE

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(i) BY DIVORCE: It has already been made clear that legal annulment of a marriage was practically unknown before the advent of the white man. Heads fell on both sides when a woman bolted from her lawful husband. There was of course, no question of a refund of dowry. Invariably the husband retained the children who had passed the breast feeding age.

(¡i) BY REFUSAL: There comes in most married couples’ lives when either thinks life was much happier before they met. Such a time came to our forebears, and if that awful realization came to the woman first, she bolted for freedom with the inevitable slashing of a few throats or overt war If the man, however, found the woman’s cup of sins was full and overflowing, he had a quick remedy; all he did was to get into his room count TWENTY COWRIES which he handed over to his wife and showing her the door. There was the end of an unhappy marriage, the annulment being as binding as if it was a decree by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, with the difference that there was no NISI nonsense about it. Before the eyes of the departed spirits it was DECREE ABSOLUTE.

Sometimes, if the woman was still in love with the man or did not want to leave her children, as she must do if she left the husband, she tried some delaying manoeuvres: she went round showing the twenty cowries to the elders of the Egbele, who, of course, came down to the husband with “What is this I hear about you and YOUR SERVANT?” Sometimes the elders succeeded in talking round the angry husband, but since the annulment had been absolute to take back this woman, he had to remarry her by slaughtering a goat at the ancestral shrine to tell the spirits that he had recalled all he had said but if he was a man who had genuinely had enough of a tigress, he merely answered the elders’ question with, ‘what I have given, I have given!” PERIOD! The case of Princess Fatima, daughter of Momodu I and junior sister of Princess Imapu, daughter of Eromosele the Great both daughters of Ehiaghe, happened as recently as mid-September, 1992. The critical time I have described above came to Chief Osolease of Uhaekpen Usugbenu. Feeling he could no longer stand Princess Fatima, although he felt hazy about Esan native laws and custom, he entered his inner room and came out with 50k which he handed over to the Princess who herself was totally ignorant of what that meant. She came to the Palace and showed Momodu II the Ojirrua her senior brother and the Royal Family Ominjiogbe) the 50k. The king shook his head and said, “Go back to that husband of yours - that is NOT what custom says” Ile poor woman trotted back from Eguare to Usugbenu and informed the aggrieved husband what the Onojie had said. It dawned on him; he might be wrong, quickly sought advice. Spent a considerable time looking for cowries, counted twenty and gave it to Fatima. The Onojie was satisfied that marriage had irretrievably hit the rocks.

In some cases, some proud women thought it would be a disgrace going to beg the husband indirectly by showing the cowries round, and so, as soon as the angry husband handed over the cowries to one such woman she made for home as the crow fillies. Here comes the rub: if within a day or two, flared  temper settled, and the man had found that his only wife was gone and so he was face to face with all the hardships attached to OHALE (Bachelorhood) he went meekly to his wife in the parents’ village aid made her believe that before her was a penitent and not the devil of yesterday, and as a result the woman followed him hack home, in the eyes of his Egbele and the departed ancestors, he had committed a crime worse than adultery. It was as heinous as having anything to do with a widow before formal inheritance! It would cost him a big fat she-goat slaughtered at the ancestral shrine and shared by his Egbele, before he could call the woman his wife again. Also he had some account to settle with his parents-in-law.

(iii) BY CONSENT: Sometimes a man feeling he was too old for one of his wives, could slaughter a goat to remove that woman from his list of wives; he could then give her to his son. This was one of the ways by which a brother (same mother) could have a brother as an uncle or a sister as a niece (Makes the head of a non-Esan reel)

It sometimes happened that an indulgent father not wanting to expose an erring son who committed adultery with one of his wives, removed such a woman by the same procedure from being his wife and he handed her over to his greedy son. Here, remember the case of Prince Ekute of Ugboha, the inherited wife Oduaki and Ekute’s heir Jreyokan

Although this re-marriage by consent was permissible, it was against Esan custom for a man to take the wife of his son, dead or living. No amount of goat flesh or blood could make the living elders or spirits of departed ancestors be a party to this collusion! It was just not done! Similarly, it was not customary for a man to inherit the wives of his junior brother who has a maternal brother: the right went to this maternal brother.

(iv) BY DEATH: This was the more painful way of losing .a wife, for it included mental and physical sufferings for the husband. As soon as the wife died, arrangements were made for the return of the dead body to the village of her birth. If she was old and with grown-up children, the body was accompanied in a festive mood by as many people as possible, depending mostly on the popularity of the dead woman and/ or children. The corpse wrapped in white cloth and resting on a form made from seven palm branch stalks, was carried feet first by two men of Igene rank, one at the head and the other at the feet. Depending upon the mood of the man at the head, the corpse bearers walked or ran as if they were strongly under the influence of alcohol. Superstition made many believe that the movements of these carriers were controlled by the dead body! thus before leaving the husband’s village, the corpse ‘paid’ courtesy visits to the homes of her friends and ‘went’ to say goodbye to places she had cherished while alive. With singing and drumming the dead woman was returned to her own village.

If the wife had no children and was young, the body was solemnly returned to her people for burial.

MOURNING:
As soon as the body had been returned the husband went into compulsory mourning. He discarded al! his clothes, tied a small black or smoked cloth round his loins, smeared the forehead, hands and feet with charcoal and strings of a delicate forest creeper called IRIALOLO were tied round the ankles, wrists and neck, and for the next seven days he carried a bow and arrows (seven) from which he shot away one every day. In a broken pot green UKHINMIN leaves were burnt. the smelling fumes being supposed to be capable of driving off the spirit of the dead wife which might be angling to come to the living husband. For these seven days the widow must sleep on the bare ground, never cleaned himself and remained round his house - generally cutting a pitiable figure for himself. On the last day he shot away the last arrow, threw away the bow and the pot of leaves, discarded black and all the paraphernalia of mourning of which Irialolo is symbolize. He then came home, took a bath and there ended his customary public mourning for his wife.

If he had died the wife was bound to go through a similar period of mourning. She put a small white cloth on the bier with her back turned to the dead body, and after the body had been taken away for burial she discarded her clothes and decked herself in black with Irialolo round her wrists, ankles and neck. She armed herself with IHINMIN, a many sided fruit from a tree much like oil bean tree (Pentaclethra) and believed to be much shunned by spirits! In some places she carried the female blade for cutting yams (ELQ), while in others, she also carried the bow and seven arrows, all these  being meant to frighten away the spirit of the dead partner. She wept loudly every day and on the seventh day she went to the husband’s farm, wept round it, scratched up seven yams with a stick, tied them up in a bundle (the only time customs permits a woman to carry a bundle of yams), and returned home. She then discarded her mourning accoutrements, washed and then ended her public mourning. To a woman really, the death of her husband was not only a grievous loss but brought her great and painful humiliation. Under the section on Women Association, it will have been seen that a woman sank in her status like lead in water, on losing her husband in the village. If she was the most senior woman of the village, she then became the most junior, and to achieve that position, she had to be inherited; if not and she merely stayed with her children, she had no position at all

Children of a dead father or mother had their hair shaved off and were kept away from farms, markets or going about alone during the seven days of mourning.

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