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Widow And Widower In Benin Custom

(Last Update July 8, 2020)

The Binis practice this type of marriage. Unlike the infant or adult types this form of marriage is forced on one partner in a marriage by death of the other. Thus, a Widow or Widower marriage becomes a necessity especially if the one alive is still young.

Choice of a Partner: Opinion varies from one Community to another as regards the choice of partners. In all other areas except usen and its environs, the choice of a partner is entirely by the widow or widower. In Usen, the Choice of a partner for a Widow is the prerogative of her deceased husband’s family. They decide who she marries among her late husband’s relations. The people of Usen 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 Widow is made to marry the first son of the late husband

The Negotiation Process: At Usen and its environs, 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.

However, a Widower wishing to marry any young lady is obliged to negotiate with the parents of the lady concerned. 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 have an amorous relationship with any man. She could however receive secret gifts of yams, food-stuffs and money from a suitor wishing to make amorous advances to her.

Mourning the dead in Edo state

Mourning period: 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.

The Widows usually sing the following song both in the mornings and evening: “Óko-oko —Odo mwen “. This is the practice in all Bini Communities. On the seven day, a wake-keeping 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, Widow‘s relations and well-wishers are always around to ensure that they do not sleep through the night.

The Widows have their first bath at 4.00 a.m. on the 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 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 seven days of mourning. 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 for a period of three months. It is after his 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. The people of Isioho, Utekon, Udo, Egben, Ugo and Eho for example, 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 such as Egben, Oluku, Okhunmwun, the Widow only shaves hair on her private part or symbolically buys the right not to shave 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 wherever he goes. He shoots the bow and arrow occasionally to ward off evil spirits. He takes his bath on the third or seventh day, and thereafter, he could visit friends and relations. He is also free to remarry (if he had only one wife).

Bride-Price: Unlike the infant and adult forms of marriage, there is no fixed bride-price in Widow Marriage. The Widow decides on what to demand from her new husband. At Usen and its environs, 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 m 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 if he wants to contract Widow Marriage. What is paid in this regard is as prescribed by the Widow herself. All other ceremonies are as for adult and infant forms of marriage.

Forced Marriage: There used to be forced marriages in Bini communities. This type of marriage was based on the principle of might is right. Some renowned Chiefs or Enigie in the district sometimes exercise this power in the areas under their jurisdiction. A Chief or Enigie could forcibly seize and marry a girl he likes without her parental consent. This type of marriage does not follow the usual ceremonies associated with Bini traditional marriage.

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