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Widow And Widower Marriage In Edo State

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

By A.A. Olaye

The Edos are the inhabitants of Edo State located in the South-South or Niger Delta Zone of Nigeria. They are relatively homogeneous.

Their persuasive logic are the linguistic and cultural affinities that prevail among her various groups. All the ethnic groups trace their roots to Benin Kingdom. Customs, traditions burial and marriage rites, diet hereditary and ascension to throne and traditional modes of dress are almost similar.

The Edos practice various forms of religion ranging from traditional, Christianity and Islam. Their marriage and family systems are also practiced along these religious and traditional marriage rites.

The history of traditional marriage among the Edo people is as old as the history of mankind.

It is a fact that all the laws or rules pertaining to marriage system of Edo people are borrowed from the Holy books of the Bible and Quran, hence its survival of the destructive axe of modernity drawn from the Western or modern world religion and civilization.

In line with their fore-bearers, the Edos practice all known types of marriages including widow and widower marriages which is our subject of discussion.

Widow and Widower marriage is a type of marriage thrust or forced on one of a married couple by death. It becomes especially necessary if the One alive is still young.

Nothing stops a Widow who is under 60 years of age not to re-marry if a suitable and caring suitor is available. However it is absolutely necessary for a young lady who became a widow by no fault of hers to re-marry.

Widow and Widower marriages are on compassionate love and should not be denied the affected. This is supported by the Holy Bible in the books of Exodus 22:22- 24; Deuteronomy 25:5-10. 1st Corinthians 7:9;39. Just to mention a few.

Choice of a Partner: Opinion varies from one community to another as regards the choice of partners. In all other areas except Usen and some Esan speaking communities, the choice of a partner is entirely by the Widow or Widower whereas in Usen, the choice of a partner for a Widow is the prerogative of her deceased husband’s family.

They decide who she is to marry among her late husband’s relations.

The people of Usen and some Esan speaking communities regard women as the property of their husbands and hence after their death a decision is reached as to who should marry them. In a monogamous home, a close relation of the deceased is given the mandate to marry the Widow left behind.

The choice made for the Widow is based on the consideration that the man is financially strong enough to be able to cater for the woman and her children. But in a polygamous home, the Widow is made to marry the first son of the late husband.

The Negotiation Process: At Usen and some Esan speaking communities there is no formal negotiation by a suitor for the hand of a Widow.

It is obligatory for a Widow to marry the man chosen for her. In other communities, the negotiation is between the Widow and the suitor. They decide on the terms of their new marriage.

Conversely, in parts of Edo North particularly in parts of Etsako East Local Government, once a man dies, his wife is free and must as a matter of compulsion return to her father.

This is practiced because it is believed that any marriage between a man and a woman is till death do them part. So when a husband dies, his widow must return to her family.

However, a Widower wishing to marry any young lady is obliged to negotiate with the parents of the lady concern. But if he wishes to marry a widow, he does the negotiation with her directly.

Unlike in infant and adult marriage systems, the institution of a marriage agent is not recognized in the Widow Marriage system.

Courtship: The Courtship of a Widow is not pronounced. It commences as soon as the Widow completes her mourning period of three months.

During this period, it is a taboo for her to engage in amorous relationship with any man. She could receive secret gifts of yams, food-stuffs and money from a suitor wishing to make amorous advances to her.
A Widow wedding takes place after her mourning period.

The mourning is in two stages. The first stage lasts for seven days. It commences immediately after the interment of the Widow’s late husband. Members of the bereaved family confine his surviving wives to special rooms for seven days during which period they are not expected to receive visitors.

They wear mourning clothes consisting of black shirt, head-tie and wrapper. They do not have their bath during the mourning period.

On the third or seventh day, depending on the family and community, a wake-keep is held and the mourning widows are not expected to sleep.

The belief is that their late husband could cause their immediate death if they happen to sleep.

Hence, Widows relations and well-wishers are always around to ensure that they do not sleep throughout the night.
The Widows have their first bath at 4.00am on the third o! seventh day. The bathing usually takes place at road junctions within the town.

It is a taboo for Widows to see any person on the way to their bathing spots. The belief is that during this exercise, the spirit of the late husband visits any of the wives who may be directly or indirectly responsible for his death.

On getting to the bathing spot, the Widows have their bath and discard their mourning clothes on the spot. Their relations and other well-wishers rejoice with them as soon as they arrive home without any mishap.

The second phase of the mourning starts immediately after the end of the first three or seven days of mourning according to the family and community. It is after this period that the Widow can think of marrying a new husband.

As from the evening of that day, the Widow starts to rub her face with black-charcoal.

This used to last for three years in the past but nowadays, it lasts a period of three months and is optional according to the family and community. It is after this period that the Widow can think of marrying a new husband.

After the three years or three months mourning period, the Widow undergoes a purification exercise.

This purification exercise varies from one family to another. Some families and communities believe that it is obligatory for the Widow to kill a goat at the ancestral shrine of her late husband to appease his spirit and those of his ancestors to enable her to re-marry.

In some communities, the Widow shaves her pubic hair and also buys the private hairs from her deceased husband’s relations. She is free to wed as soon as all these formalities are rightly observed.

A widower’s mourning period is shorter than that of the Widow. A Widower mourns his late wife for a period not exceeding seven days. This however varies from one community to another. But the mourning period starts immediately after the interment of the late wife.

During the mourning period, he carries with him a bow and arrow where-ever he goes. He shoots the bow and arrow occasionally to ward-off evil spirits this is optional

according to family and communities .He takes his bath on the third or seventh day, and thereafter, he can visit friends and relations. He is also free to re-marry.

Bride-Price: Unlike the infant and adult marriage types, there is no fixed bride-price in Widow marriage. The Widow decides on what to demand from her new husband.

A Widow who refuses to marry the man chosen for her by her late husband’s family is absolutely bound to refund the bride-price paid on her to either the members of her late husband’s family or his eldest son.

A Widower is under strong obligation to pay a prescribed amount of bride-price in accordance with the type of marriage he is contracting. He is also obliged to observe all necessary formalities associated with the type of marriage.

He does not pay a fixed bride-price in case he wants to contract Widow marriage. What is paid in this regard is as prescribed by the Widow herself.

Delivery of Bride to her Husband: The first day of a traditional wedding is full of exciting events. A market day is earmarked for delivering the Bride to her husband.

A market day is regarded as a blessed day for a wedding. And on the evening of the accepted day, the Bride’s relations and well-wishers gather in her father’s house to prepare her for the matrimonial journey to her husband’s house. She is advised to be of good behaviour when she gets to her matrimonial home since respect for her family would depend on that.

The Bride-groom in expectation of his wife coming decorates his house and makes other preparations in readiness for relations and well-wishers of his father-in- law’s intention to honour his promise of sending his Bride to him on the agreed day.

Consequently, the Bride-groom’s relations, friends and well wishers assemble in his house to welcome the Bride to her matrimonial home.

The Bride arrives in her husband’s house in a colourful procession. Some female members of her family help to carry her gift box of clothes, gold ornaments, brooms, goats, etc along some time.

WHY RE-MARRY: It is absolutely necessary for a Widow and Widower who is still young or relatively young to remarry for the following reasons but not limited to:

1. Continuity of Heritance: This is when a brother marries a late brother’s wife or first son marries his father’s young wife.

2. Economic Support

3. Affected becoming a societal nuisance e.g. prostitution and fornication.

4. Acceptance in the Society to prevent frustration, dejection, poverty and hypertension arising from thoughts.

5. Support to fatherless and motherless for good upbringing and better citizenry.

6. Re-gain love and re-main focused on life.

A.A. Olaye is the Director of culture at the Edo State Ministry of Art, Culture & Tourism.
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