Posted by: rumnet | January 3, 2012

CHANSA COMMUNITY IN UPPER WEST REGION:

CHANSA COMMUNITY IN UPPER WEST REGION:                        Where Widows Marry After 5yrs Rituals 

(published in the november edition of the advocate)

By Alhassan Imoru

Chansa is a community of about 1,500 inhabitants and some 80 households located four Kilometers from Wa, the Upper West Regional capital.

To get to Chansa, one has to travel along the Upland Hotel road which at first is smooth, but terminates half way into a dusty, untarred stretch until you reach the community stretch until you reach the community.

Hawa Adam

The main occupation of the inhabitants is farming and both men and women cultivate crops like yams, cassava, maize, guinea corn and groundnuts.

However, it is men who own land and may jointly farm with their wivers or, in rare cases, give part of the to their wives to farm on.

“But after the harvest, it is the man who decides how the produce from a joint farm should be used,” Adam Erasung, a community youth leader, revealed to The ADVOCATE at Chansa recently.

Asked why only men should decide how the produce from a joint farm should be used, Erasung replied without hesitation: “Of course, the man is the family head and must make the decisions.”

Chansa is lucky to have social amenities like a Primary School, a Junior High School (JHS) and a Community Health-based Programme (CHPS) compound, to cater for the educational and health needs of the population. The community also has a borehole but no electricity.

Pregnant women in the community complain that they cannot give birth in the CHPS compound because of a Ghana Health Service directive banning Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) from making deliveries.

“Even though we have a trained TBA in the community she is of no use and help to expectant mothers, who have to be rushed to the Wa Regional Hospital in hired vehicles at great cost and at the risk of their lives to give birth,” Erasung said.

A father spoke of the ordeal he had to go through when the wife was to give birth recently. “I called a friend taxi driver operating in Wa by my mobile to come immediately to convey my wife who was in labour to the Wa Regional Hospital to deliver.

“Unfortunately, I had no ready cash to pay for the services of the taxi driver and pleaded with him to give me sometime to settle the bill which he graciously accepted,” he stated.

Widowhood Rites

A long-held traditional custom on widowhood rites being practiced in the Chansa community even in this 21st Century, is seriously in fringing upon the rights of women especially, and belies the nearness of the community to the Upper West Regional capital, Wa, and to modernity.

Under the custom, women whose husbands die have to undergo inhuman rituals which may last up to five years before they can marry again, whereas men can marry within a year or less upon the death of their wives.

This came to light when the National Co-ordinator of the Africa Human Rights Education Project (AHRE), Madam Glady’s  Atiah, interacted with Community members at Chansa recently.

The community engagement was to introduce a project dubbed: “improving the Economic and Social Status of Women in the Wa Municipality through Human Rights Education,” to be implemented in two communities- Chansa and Danku.

Under the project, community members especially women, children and landlords will be educated on their human rights pertaining to health, education, child neglect, wife battery, decision-making and basic community needs.

What Men Undergo

 

The Chansa widowhood rites story begins with what men undergo as told by 68-years-old, Seidu Kunchini, whose first wife died in 2006, leaving behind five children.

“When my wife died I was adorned a white smock turned inside-out and a white piece of cloth tied around my left wrist as custom demands,” seidu said.

According to him, he continued to wear the smock and the wrist ban until after the performance of the funeral rites of his late wife, which he provided a cow for.

Seidu said as a man there were no taboos he had to adhere to and could even have extra-marital activities (sex) before the funeral rites of his spouse.

He disclosed that the performance of the funeral rites of a deceased spouse depended on the financial circumstances of the man, adding: “But as soon as the final funeral rites are performed, the husband can start knocking at the doors of the parents of a new wife.”

The way is paved for the man to marry a new wife after relatives of the deceased woman boil water for the husband to bath, which signifies a “farewell bath.” Thereafter, the wife’s relatives are called to pick a piece of cloth or any item from her property whilst the rest are left for the children.

When the community were asked what they would want to be change in the widowhood rites, all the men present mentioned the requirement that the man should provide a cow for the performance of the funeral of the deceased wife.

According to them, some men use the high cost of cows as an excuse to postpone the funerals of their late wives for periods ranging from two to three years or more.

The Plight of Women

A 40-year-old widow, hawa Adam, who spoke on the plight of women whose husbands die, said her spouse died in 2008, leaving behind five children- three boys and two girls- all of whom has single handedly been catering for.

“When my husband died my sister-in laws removed the clothing I was wearing and gave me a white piece of cloth turned inside out to wear. Also, I was adorned a large head-gear (scarf), to signify that my spouse was dead.

“I was terrified and scared of the unknown for the period I had to wait for the performance of the funeral of my late husband,” Hawa recalled.

As part of the taboos prescribed for widows, Hawa was not to bath with soap and sponge, rub pomade of any kind, take any herbal medicine, dance, or mix in a crowd whilst waiting for the performance of the husband’s final funeral rites.

 Even hunters avoid widows who are considered to have bad luck. When a hunter meets a widow by chance whilst on his way to a hunting expedition, he has to hand over the gun to the widow and collect it back before proceeding on his mission.

 One elderly widow recounted this horrific experience she had to experience when her husband died several years ago.

 “My sisters-in-law grounded millet which they spread all over the floor in the room I was confined. In no time ants invaded the room but I was asked to sit bare on the floor and should not show any sign of pain even when bitten by the ants,” she disclosed whilst sobbing.

 From the testimonies of the widows, it was evident that the performance of the funerals of dead husbands could sometimes be deliberately delayed for up to three or five years, during which the widows were not to have sex or marry.

 “If a widow is caught having sex with another man when the late husband’s funeral rites have not committing adultery and attracts further sanctions,” the women disclosed.

 Community members present at the interaction, especially the men, were not happy about the ordeal widows in Chansa had to go through and were unanimous that there was the urgent need to modernise the widowhood rites.

They described as “unfair” the situation where women whose husbands have died can sometimes wait up bands have died can sometimes wait up to five years to be able to marry again, while men can marry in less than a year in the name of widowhood rites.

 It is hoped that the Africa Human Rights Education Project to be implemented in the Chanse community will sensitize the men, who are custodians of culture and traditions, to make reforms to the widowhood rites so that women are not discriminated against in this modern times.

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