Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 313-324
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 313
Healing Bereavement through Rituals: A Review of the
WeppaWanno Widowhood Purification Practices
Michael Onyedika Nwalutu
University of Toronto, Toront o, Canada
Email: k
Received January 15th, 2012; revised February 22nd, 2012; accepted April 4th, 2012
This paper explores the traditional widowhood rites in Mid Western Nigeria’s WeppaWannoland, as a
spiritual and psychosocial process of purification and healing for loss induced trauma. The choice of
WeppaWannoland in this investigation stems from this people’s peculiar and extensive purification ritual
which is designed to heal the bereaved in three-dimensions-spirit, soul and body. The investigation fo-
cuses on the differential impact of bereavement practices on WeppaWanno widows, for there are two dis-
tinct marriage statuses prevalent in the society, and to set the scene for comparing the merits of indige-
nous rites with Western bereavement practice and resulting respective experience. This work incorporates
indigenous health and healing along with psychoanalytical approaches in making sense of the bereave-
ment rituals. In this investigation, I shall be drawing largely from a pool of data from ethnographic field
work carried out between 2001 and 2004 in WeppaWannoland, and other related materials.
Keywords: Healing; Widowhood; Trauma
Introduction-Background of Study
The WeppaWannoland is located on the western side of the
river Niger, across from the Igala kingdom. It is flanked in the
west by Avianwhu, in the south by Ekperi, both Etsako clans,
and in the north by Ibirraland. It is located between Latitude
6˚E - 7˚E and Longitude 6˚N - 7˚N. The Niger itself runs from
the north to the south along the eastern border of the land. The
vegetation of the area varies from secondary rain forest in the
south and along the bank of the Niger, to tropical grassland and
savannah. The population of WeppaWanno is sparse. It was
estimated to be about 43.2 persons to a square mile in 1936-
1937, and between 150 to 350 persons to a square mile in the
1970s. By 1991 when Etsako East Local Government (county
council) was created, comprising seven clans namely; Avian-
whu, Ekperi, Okpekpe, Okpella, South Uneme, Three Ibies, and
Weppa Wanno; the population was approximately 143,903
people, with Agenegbode as administrative headquarters and
Okpella and Fugar exhibiting the features of semi-urban towns.
Aspects of the people’s cultural heritage that have been ire-
trievably dislodged by two major imperialist incursions that
redefined the political, and therefore, the economic and socio-
cultural history of WeppaWannoland, are the Amoya and
Adegbe constructs of female categories. The Islamic jihadist
invasion and slave raids of the Nupe Kingdom that took place
in the first half of the nineteenth century followed by the West-
ern colonial conquest and Christian missionary incursions in
early twentieth century, eroded the customary foundations upon
which the powers exercised by women in these categories were
rooted. The imbalance in power dynamics entrenched by colo-
nialism served to reinforce Western-type patriarchy in the soci-
ety, influencing how marriage, and therefore widowhood and
bereavement practices were enacted. In the cultural blending
following these invasions, noticeable distortions were made to
existing cultural practices (Bello-Imam, 1995: p. 97; Harunah,
2003: p. 379; Nwalutu, 2004: p. 42). The Adegbe and Amoya
female statuses became the center of interest in this work con-
sidering the shift of WeppaWannoland from a balance between
matriarchy and patriarchy as evidence in some pre-colonial
African societies to the Western type patriarchal chiefdom. In
seeking to understand the implications of imperialism in com-
plex repositioning of female gender and widowhood practices
in WeppaWanno, I realized that although much has been writ-
ten about gender formation, categorization and manifestation in
Africa (e.g Ogundipe-Leslie, 1994; Cornwall, 2005; Arnfred,
2004; Ngunjiri, 2010), a little has been done to help in under-
standing the influence of the double-tragedies of Nupe/Islamic
invasions and Western/Christian incursion on the repositioning
of femin ity an d the depl etio n of power inher ent in fe male stat us
as reflected in the contemporary Adegbe and Amoya statuses in
WeppaWannoland. In addition, not much is documented that
could expose how these external socio-political forces have
worked to reconstruct and reshape feminine gender categories
and power relations which in turn dictate how widowhood ritu-
als have been adapted and rationalized in WeppaWanno society.
The superimposition of Islamic and Christian norms, values and
mores on WeppaWanno tradition as a result of colonization
supplanted the original male—female power balance, leaving in
its wake a type of Arabic-Western pseudo-patriarchy and a
community embroiled in socio-political chaos.
Why WeppaWannoland? Why Me? Statement of
The geographical position of WeppaWanno locates it in the
centre of Nigerian socio-cultural activities. Situated in the mid-
dle of Edo state, Nigeria, the community is bordered across the
Niger River by Idah, the capitol city of the Igala kingdom; Igbo
nation in the East, and Yoruba nation in the West. Wep-
paWannoland represents a cultural confluence of these various
regions of the country, resulting diverse Nigerian cultural heri-
tages finding their niche in its cultural blend. As an Igbo indi-
gene from Eastern Nigeria, I arrived in WeppaWannoland, Edo
State (province), of Mid-Western Nigeria in 2001 (with my
research colleague and two indigenous interpreters) on an eth-
nographic research trip aimed at exploring history and culture
in order to situate the biographical work on Pa Isibor Michael
Aken’Ova (MON). It was during one of the interviews that
were an essential part of this research that we encountered the
stunning dimension of pre-colonial gender and power relations
embodied in the Amoya and Adegbe institutions peculiar to
WeppaWanno that are fast waning, leaving a trail of social ills,
communal conflicts, and court cases. Most of our female inter-
viewees were widowed Adegbe village group heads who would
interject their responses by relating what situations used to be,
and would have been, in cases of Amoya widows, thus drawing
our attention not only to changes enforced by the colonial rulers,
but the existing divide in power relations of gender, not just
between male and female binary opposites, but within “female”
as a gender category. Comparable institutions are not known
either in Eastern Nigeria where I hail from or in any other geo-
political zone of the country.
The Igbo peoples east of the Niger practiced a widowhood
ritual that was distinct from what obtained in other regions. The
tradition was eliminated almost completely by the combination
of colonial encounter and the introduction of Christian faith.
Most of the other cultural communities in southern Nigeria
faced acculturation permeated by both Islamic and Christian
values resulting from imperialist expansions in early histories
of their societies. For although the indigenous peoples inhabit-
ing the larger part of what presently is known as the North-
West geo-political zone (including such states as: Jigawa, Ka-
duna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara experienced
Islamic conversion and Arabic imperialism and domination
dating back to 11th century A.D. (Isichei, 1983: p. 143); socie-
ties in the North-East geo-political zone, including: Adamawa,
Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe were later to be in-
fluenced by the Islamic religion and Arabic culture via the ex-
tension of Jihadist movements later in the century (see: Fa-
funwa, 1974). The influence of Islamic faith and culture on the
societies within the North-Central—Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Na-
sarawa, Niger, Plateau—and areas in the present Federal Capi-
tal Territory, Abuja trickled down (to a degree) through various
jihadist movements and the social dynamics of inter-tribal rela-
tions. The peoples in the South-East (including: Abia, Anambra,
Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states); South-South (Akwa Ibom,
Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states); and South-
West (Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo states) geo-
political zones were almost not influenced by Islamic move-
ment, hence were largely converted into Christian faith in the
era of colonization. I deemed it expedient to investigate the
widowhood rituals as an aspect of WeppaWanno healing and
health traditions, not only to contribute to the burgeoning lit-
erature in African cosmology, health and healing but because of
the community’s peculiar marriage and widowhood features
(Bello-Imam, 1995; Harunah, 2003; Nwalutu, 2004) that could
be found in no other population in the six geo-political zones of
Nigeria. Okeke-Ihejirika (2004) and Opara (2000) acquiesce in
the truism that marriage and motherhood are priority issues in a
traditional African female’s aspiration, yet Achebe (2005),
Isichei (1983), Aderinto (2001), Fasoranti and Aruna (2007)
upheld Mba (2005) and Mbiti (1975) that the pains and grief
emanating from widowhood practices in contemporary African
societies might dampen the joy of motherhood especially when
indigenous comprehensive processes of recovery are neglected.
At this juncture, certain obvious questions begin to emerge: Is
the current trend in widowhood practices in WeppaWannoland
sequel to the cultural collision and encapsulation informed by
Nupe invasion and Western colonization? Does it symbolize a
shift from the pre-colonial traditions resulting from the blend of
indigenous practices with Islamic and Christian traditions? Is it
yet a reinvention of an insidious pre-colonial ritual that got
disrupted by Islamic and Christian traditions? Whatever the
response to these questions, I imagined that turned between the
imposed Arabic (Islamic) and Western (Christian) domestic
ideologies which tend to obscure the established indigenous
widowhood rituals, and normalize African women’s subordi-
nate status as housewives (McIntosh, 2009; Ogundipe-Leslie,
1994; Ngunjiri, 2010), the colonizers have subverted the tradi-
tional practices of extensive grief and mourning (designed to
facilitate full recovery of the bereaved from the distress of
spousal loss); and this might be responsible for the current visi-
ble disjunction and dissonance in the prevailing spiritual and
social atmosphere in WeppaWannoland.
It is my view that an understanding of the intersections of the
foreign dominant praxes within the indigenous ritual space is
critical to an evaluation and appreciation of the consequences
of inadequate time for grieving in the contemporary Weppa-
Wanno society with its attendant negative psychosocial out-
comes. For when an indigenous way of life (that sustains and
enhances harmony and balance with the human environment) is
either disrupted or ignored what results is “disease” or disor-
ders (Pesek, Helton, & Nair, 2006; Johnston, 2002; Colomeda
& Wenzel, 2000), that are generally preventable using the in-
digenous world views on health and healing, and for which
colonialist biomedicine has not proven to be a panacea. Using
textual analysis in making sense of the vast literature and data
on widowhood in and around pre-colonial and post-colonial
WeppaWanno African society, I will continue to interrogate the
problems inherent in the extirpation of the WeppaWanno wid-
owhood rituals and their subsequent domination by the brief,
inclement Islamic and Christian practices with the following
questions: How might we begin to understand the pre-colonial
WeppaWanno widowhood rituals as a healing and recovery tool?
What impact did the Nupe invasion and Western colonization
have on the status of WeppaWanno women? How have the
Islamic and Christian bereavement practices influenced wid-
owhood practice in WeppaWanno today? In what ways are the
indigenous WeppaWanno widowhood rituals more beneficial to
the spiritual and psychosocial recovery of the bereaved than the
present foreign traditions? In this investigation I will engage the
lenses of indigenous health and healing, and psychoanalytical
approaches in making sense of traditional WeppaWanno wid-
owhood rituals as a way of evaluating the health relevance of
the pre-colonial bereavement rituals in WeppaWannoland. I
will draw largely from a pool of data collected during ethno-
graphic field work carried out between 2001 and 2004 in Wep-
paWannoland by Felicia Nwalutu and the author in the com-
pany of two local interpreters, Cletus Izobo and Martin Itseme.
I will also be using data from existing and relevant literature on
indigenous bereavement practices in Africa and elsewhere.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Theoretical Framework
This work incorporates indigenous world views on health
and healing and psychoanalytical approaches in making sense
of the pre-colonial bereavement rituals in WeppaWannoland.
Common to the themes in the literature on indigenous peoples’
notions of health and healing is a broad definition that goes
beyond physical wellness to include the tripartite balance of
spirit, soul and body in alignment with human environment
(Colomeda, 1999; Konadu, 2007; Balick, 2006; Linklater, 2010;
Turner, 2006). In indigenous health and healing perspective,
abnormal health conditions are neither rigidly and narrowly
defined as physiological infections by pathogens nor as disor-
ders of the psychological systems as in biomedicine. Rather,
abnormal health conditions could be a result of intrapersonal or
interpersonal dislodgement from the rhythms of life. It might as
well result from disruptions in, or a disconnect from, the natural
environment. Whatever the source of the dissonance, there is an
imbalance in the circle of life to which the individual patient
belongs. Healing, wellness, and recovery must therefore follow
the path of reconciling the individual with other parts of the
circle through relevant therapies and rituals. The widowhood
bereavement trauma is a good example of both interpersonal
and intrapersonal disruption, and according to WeppaWanno
tradition, recovery from the shock of bereavement was met with
a diviner’s prescription for a series of rituals, lasting up to one
year in the indigenous calendar, designed to heal the widow’s
spirit, soul, and body.
The forceful colonization of indigenous peoples put the West
in a position of power from which its representatives arrogantly
devalorized the health practices of the natives as superstition
(Balick, 2006; Linklater, 2010; Turner, 2006). Until recently
Western medical practitioners have debunked the potency and
efficacy of rituals and herbal treatment in alleviating human
distresses. However critical analysis of literature on both bio-
medicine and ethnomedicine continues to find parallels be-
tween indigenous and western health practices. Rasmussen
(2007), for instance, undermines the claim of Western medi-
cine as secular, a claim that created a barrier to understanding
the value of ethnomedical practices that included rituals and
spirituality along with ethno-pharmacology. By revealing bio-
medicine as not being “entirely secular”, Rasmussen’s work
broke the barrier between sacred and secular, myth and science
which advocates of bio medicine have used to negate the pot en cy
of ethnomedical practices so that investigations into indigenous
worldviews on illness, health and healing systems would not be
assessed using the standards of biomedical practices, rather
through the lenses of cultural competence. At the moment,
areas of divergence and convergence are clear between eth-
nomedicine and biomedicine, but the two may be seen as com-
plementary. In her special lecture at OISE, University of To-
ronto, Chinese medical expert, Dr Yan Ki (May, 2011) summed
up the complementary roles of Western and Chinese indigenous
medicine. According to her, biomedicine is effective in curative
or therapeutic healing while ethnomedicine is excellent in pro-
tracted cures and prophylactic applications. This puts paid to
the judgmental argument that categorizes Western medicine as
superior and indigenous medicine as inferior or “alternative”.
For according to Johnston (2002) alternative must not be as-
sumed to mean inferior or traditional, but representing options
people have for treatment. According to Johnston, what consti-
tutes significant difference between biomedicine and the tradi-
tional ideas of health, illness, and healing is the latter’s insepa-
rability from religion and concern with spiritual issues (p. 198).
The use of rituals in healing especially by the spiritual healers
and diviners includes the recognition that sickness or ailment
may result not just from bacteria, virus infection or malfunction
of the psychological or neurological systems, but from a dis-
connect between the individual(s) concerned and the circle
constituting the holistic reference of life (including relation-
ships with the spiritual and physical environments) or from the
dislocation caused by traumatic experiences like loss or depri-
Unlike biomedicine that pathologizes situations that could
not easily be explained by science, ethnomedicine uses its
modes of enquiries to ascertain the point and dimension of dis-
connect and allows ritualized or therapeutic remedies as re-
quired. For instance, biomedical practice prescribes nerve se-
dating drugs for a patient suffering from trauma-induced de-
pression, often worsening the situation, in contrast with eth-
nomedical practice of indigenous groups in North America who
would recommend enquiries and resolution at the healing circle
and use of a sweat lodge to arrive at spiritual and mental ca-
tharsis (Turner, 2006: p. 121). This pattern of healing also ap-
plies to the widowhood rituals in the pre-colonial WeppaWanno
society. It is easy hence to see why the biomedical approach to
mental health or psycho-social problems still leaves so much to
be desired.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) description of
health includes physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
Colomeda and Wenzel (2000) insist on the other hand, that the
meaning of health and its application in everyday life should be
determined by the culture and worldviews of the people con-
cerned, not imposed on them by a dominant culture (p. 244),
raising the question of what happens when a people’s cultural,
and therefore, healthcare system is violently disrupted? Link-
later (2010) depicts colonization and its medical tool as a
forceful suppression of indigenous people’s ways of life. Simi-
larly, Fanon (1991) recounts the ambivalent attitude with which
indigenous peoples relate to the colonizer’s “modes of pres-
ence”. The domination is not only perpetuated through captur-
ing and using the means of production and distribution of
knowledge, but also using medicine as a tool to access a peo-
ple’s life-ways.
However indigenous peoples’ understanding of human health
as comprising the physiological, spiritual and intellectual in
(constant relationship with) the terrestrial, celestial and tran-
scendental (spiritual powers) is only beginning to make sense to
science-obsessed Western medical practitioners whose attempt
to perpetuate the colonial project using medical maneuvers is
increasingly frustrated by positive results achieved by indige-
nous health practices in specific contexts. Many health issues
that could not be resolved by biomedicine have been resolved
by indigenous healing procedures. Only in this light shall we
begin to imagine and estimate the enormity of the disruptions
implied in the displacement of the WeppaWanno people’s be-
reavement rituals with the culturally counter-productive Arabic
and European practices.
Trauma in Bereavement: Indigenous Healing
from Psychoanalytical Lens
This paper further examines the WeppaWanno widowhood
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 315
rituals through the lens of psychoanalytical thoughts on trauma.
Trauma is an emotional or psychological shock that may pro-
duce disordered feelings or behavior (Davis, 2001). Expatiating
on the effects of trauma, Franz Fanon sees the psychological
roots of Black people’s trauma in the Diaspora as a product of
slavery, colonialism and deep seated racism that have had last-
ing effects on the psyches of families and communities (Hayes,
1996 in Gayle, 2010: p. 108). Of relevance to WeppaWanno
widowhood rituals here, is the understanding that psychological
trauma has lasting psychosocial implication for the individual(s)
concerned. It is Fanon’s view that trauma and psychosis are not
merely a consequence of wars between the colonizers and the
colonized, but rather, are symptoms attributable to racism, bru-
tality, and protracted attacks on daily experiences of the colo-
nized peoples, the effects of which are repressed in the subcon-
scious minds of the victims (p. 110). However, Fanon addresses
group or collective psychological trauma with reference to the
impact of Western colonization and slavery on the psyche of
Black peoples in the Diaspora, while this work is focused on
the healing effects of widowhood rituals on the personal psyche
of individual widow(s) in their native context. Sigmund Freud’s
psycho-analytical model expounded in his work “mourning and
melancholia” might also be useful here.
I have to emphasize at the onset that the use of a Western
analytical framework represented by Freud to buttress my em-
phasis in the indigenous health and healing approaches is not
intended to be confrontational, but it is rather a deliberate move
to elicit similarities in views and possible departures. For ex-
ample, both Freud and indigenous health approaches recom-
mend prolonged, rigorous and complete bereavement and
mourning exercise as a way of purging the psyche of the be-
reaved of the trauma of loss and its paralyzing effects. Sigmund
Freud, Erich Lindermann and Colin M. Parkes agree with the
indigenous tradition of widowhood bereavement in which suf-
ficient time is allowed the bereaved to navigate around the huge
barrier of emotional impairment and receive a renewed self
image and the mental stability to engage in a new relationship
(in Kahn, 2002: p. 178). In fact, Parkes berates both Europe and
North America for their apparent lack of rituals of bereavement
and institutional opportunities in these societies which he
claims result in enormous negative socioeconomic conse-
quences (p. 178). I will argue however that although Freud, his
contemporaries and other psychoanalysts appeared to have
corroborated indigenous approaches on grieving and mourning,
they seem neither to understand nor agree with the ritualistic
aspect of the grieving exercise. For in the WeppaWanno wid-
owhood traditions the focus is not simply on the mental or
psychological recovery from trauma, but on the holistic cure of
the bereaved person-spirit, soul and body. It is at this point that
Western scientific view on health digresses from the indigenous
worldviews. Moreover, the indigenous rituals of bereavement
ensure a healthy spiritual environment within which the widow
is reestablished in a new relationship with members of her
community, while the psychoanalytical view is concerned pri-
marily with the individual psyche as is manifest in the be-
reaved’s disposition and behavior.
According to Freud, we invest a great deal of psychic energy
(libido) on people we deem very important to us and our rela-
tionship with them. This energy is also invested in all important
memories and associations linked to such relationships and the
more important the relationship, the greater the energy invested.
If the person invested with such energy dies, the energy be-
comes homeless, producing acute grief in the bereaved person
(in Kahn, 2002: p. 172). The enormity of grief accompanying
this situation is tantamount to the importance of the relationship
that was lost. Freud argues that it is through a protracted, pain-
ful and laborious grieving that the bereaved engage in retriev-
ing the psychic energy invested in each memory associated
with the deceased and that the trauma diminishes with the pro-
gress of the mourning. At the end all the invested energy will
be retrieved for investment in a new relationship. Freud’s ar-
gument here is consistent with the experiences shared by be-
reaved WeppaWanno women who have gone through the in-
digenous widowhood rituals and is similar to the response Dr
Njoki Wane received interviewing a group of African refu-
gees in Israel. According to Wane, she was interviewing a
group of elders from African community in Israel to ascertain
their view on the persistent cases of anti-social behavior, psy-
chotic dispositions, depression and related psycho-social disor-
ders in their community. This team of knowledgeable elders
disclosed to her that they needed sufficient time to grieve for
their loved ones who died in the desert while they were in tran-
sit to Israel (Wane, 2011). According to them, the activities
marking their settlement in Israel have not allowed them ade-
quate time to mourn their losses, accounting for the increasing
rates of suicide and trauma-induced depressions.
In line with Indigenous people’s healing practices and
Freud’s argument, a widow engages in a painful and laborious
retrieval of the psychic energy invested in each memory and
association with the deceased during the protracted bereave-
ment rituals in the pre-colonial WeppaWanno community. The
pain diminishes with the progress of the mourning and at the
end, all energy are retrieved for investment in new relationships
(in Kahn, 2002). Consequent upon his interest in the subject of
grief reaction, a Boston psychoanalyst, Erich Linderman ob-
served that to liberate oneself from the pain and paralysis of
acute grief it is necessary that mourning process be completed.
According to him, incomplete or absence of mourning will
entrench the bereaved person in depression, interpersonal with-
drawal, loss of interest in life and such physiological problems
as ulcers (p. 177). Also critical to our understanding of the
pre-colonial WeppaWanno widowhood experiences in the long
process of ritualized recovery program is Kahn’s (2002) obser-
vation that to liberate themselves, most bereaved people must
allow themselves to cry, be willing to talk a good deal about the
loss, the pain of the loss, and what they anticipate the loss will
mean in their lives, express any guilt and anger they feel to-
wards and for the lost person, and be given empathetic support
for these (p. 180). The works of Parkes (1996); Gorer (1965)
and Linderman (1944) stress the need for extensive mourning
to liberate the bereaved from paralyzing grief and enable them
go on with their lives.
WeppaWanno People an d Their Pre-Col oni a l
Gendered Female
It is pertinent for me to explain at the onset the binary female
categories and statuses in pre-colonial WeppaWannoland in
order to elucidate the cultural changes, and by extension
changes in widowhood traditions prompted by the two foreign
invasions of this indigenous community. The social position of
every pre-colonial Weppa-Wanno female was assigned, based
on customary positioning at birth. This practice also influenced
how inheritance, title and power relations as well as forms of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
marriage were enacted and legitimized. In other words, the
experience of widowhood rituals an indigenous WeppaWanno
woman shared was a function of her natural position at birth
(within the socially established binary category of Amoya and
Adegbe). The first position, Amoya in Weppa-Wanno affects
all the odd numbers among the female children of a family.
Adegbe status is assigned all the even numbers of a family’s
daughters. In other words, every first, third, fifth, and so on,
female child born in a family in Weppa-Wanno belong to the
category Amoya while the second, fourth, sixth, and so on are
The positioning of Adegbe and her off-spring in a complex
relationship of power and preeminence over Amoya, and often
over their male brothers, could be a reinvention and reposition-
ing of female authority that existed in the community’s early
migration history (Anaehomhe, 1980: p. 23; Nwalutu, 2004: p.
5). By virtue of her birth positioning Adegbe masks as, and per-
forms “male” as a gender constructed by the society in which
she lived. The Adegbe marriage is the union between a man and
a woman obtained by the payment of a small dowry by the
former. Male children of this union belong exclusively to the
woman and her extended family, and the dowry or bride price
paid on the daughters born from this union is divided equally
between the husband’s and the wife’s families. This type of
marriage contract entitles the man to the sexuality of his wife
only. Leslie Ogundipe (2004: p. 75) succinctly argues that it is
within marriage that Nigerian women suffer the most oppres-
sion. Her exemplar points to the loss of privilege and status by
the female daughter or sister shortly after marriage. She reasons
that with marriage, a daughter automatically transitions to being
a client or possession. She becomes voiceless and often right-
less in her husband’s family. Ogundipe’s narrative tacitly de-
scribes the experience of the post-colonial Nigerian female, and
an Amoya daughter in the pre-colonial and even the earlier
post-colonial WeppaWannoland. The reader would not just be
puzzled to observe that contrary to Ogundipe’s view, an
Adegbe enjoyed more privileges than her male siblings both in
her father’s home as a daughter and in her husband’s home
after marriage, but be tempted to ask why this binary treatment
exists for female daughters of same parentage. A comparable
system is in place for sons as well. For example, only the
Adegbe son is entitled to take the Okhe title in his father’s life
time (Ajawe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004). Only the Adegbe son can
become an Obotsu (clan high priest) because titles can be made
for them as soon as they are born and as such they can rise to
the rank of a priest (Obotsu) and qualified to hold the Akwi
staff specific to that office. Moreover, the oldest Adegbe in her
father’s kindred and village is entitled to hold a priestly title
called Oseghie and occupy a position known as Ekwi or Ok-
wekwi. This position elevates her from the rank of a senior
elder to that of a semi-deity in her life time, and at death she
joins the rank of village ancestors. In this position, each year
which begins with the Ukpe (New Yam) festival in August, she
is expected to carry her Ubechi (a woven tray), a table and chair
to the market place where she takes her place alongside the
male elders of the village. Women bring young children to her;
she carries them and places them on her table, pronounces
blessings on them and sets them down. In return the grateful
mothers drop gifts on the tray (Emhoabino, 2003; Campbell,
2002; Charles, 2002; Campbell, 2001). All these socially as-
cribed benefits and the nexus of social responsibilities an
Adegbe daughter was entrusted with also accounts for why
Adegbe widows in the pre-colonial WeppaWanno were not
subject to familial or communal taboos and rituals. If she en-
gaged in widowhood rituals after her spouse’s death, unlike an
Amoya, she undertook them voluntarily.
Judith Butler arguing that feminity is not a product of choice
but the forcible citation of a norm, made a case for proliferation
of gender beyond the binary frame of “man” and “woman”, to
encompass individual performance, so that other categories
such as “Adegbe” might be a means to undermine heterosexual
presumptions, rather than just a paradigm of gender perform-
ance (1993: p. 23f). Also Amoah (2007) called for the theorizi ng
of different types of women whose “differences are marked by
age, religion, class, sexual orientation, geographic location, and
gender, all of which impact upon the experience (and reflection)
of gender” (p. 98). However the Adegbe performative of male-
daughter hasn’t to do with her sexual orientation. She is
physiologically strictly “female” but her society accorded her
the transgender male position in her cultural space. Adegbe
marries a person of the opposite sex (Ajakwe, 2002; Ajegba,
2004; Emhoabino, 2003; Campbell, 2002; Charles, 2002; Cam-
pbell, 2001). She may also live with or have external male-
concubines. However, in case of infertility in marriage she
reserves the right to marry a wife for her husband who will
serve as a second wife, and the aim is to secure offspring for
herself and her husband, making procreation the main motiva-
tor. The Adegbe, in fact, performs almost all the exclusively
male social duties, and enjoys the accompanying privileges. For
example, an Adegbe is not only initiated into the exclusively
male cults and masquerade groups, she also receives her share
of village land and builds her house like her male brothers,
because Adegbe is a male-daughter. Unlike her Amoya sisters
and brothers, she is not bound by community taboos, and at
marriage she could voluntarily perform widowhood rituals in
case she lost her spouse. She remained under no obligation to
perform widowhood rituals. The status of Amoya remains the
same as ascribable to women in every other patriarchal society
in Africa. She is a female daughter. The term Amoya also indi-
cates an actual wife or “full” marriage resulting from the pay-
ment of a full dowry by a suitor to the family of a female
spouse. After the rituals of marriage were enacted, she would
be incorporated into her husband’s family or household and her
children would belong to his extended family (Amhofueshi,
2002; Akheonovao, 2002). At death an Amoya is expected to
be buried in her husband’s home and would not be entitled to a
second burial. Amoya is bound by all the taboos of the lineage,
village and the intra-communal taboos. Although all the Wep-
paWanno pre-colonial traditional rituals including the widow-
hood enactments were imperative for an Amoya wife, they
were not mandatory for an Adegbe. However the Nupe (Islamic
incursion of the late 18th century), and the Western colonial
annexation of the late nineteenth century (and by extension
Christian missionary influence) not only eroded the existing
binary opposites in WeppaWanno women’s categories but ex-
tirpated most of the community’s traditions, leaving in its trail,
only an encapsulation of the people’s cultural heritages and
obvious psychological distress. Although the WeppaWanno
widowhood ritual is extant - in its postcolonial state—it is a
watered down and waning tradition.
Widowhood Bereavement Rituals in the Pre-Colonial
A review of the indigenous people’s peculiar and extensive
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 317
spiritual purification ritual which is designed to provide a
three-dimensional (spirit, soul and body) healing to the be-
reaved person is the major motive of this investigation. I must
stress at this juncture that as a justification for this investigation,
the peculiarity of the WeppaWanno traditional practices stem-
med from the impact of double cultural encounters that resulted
in what Lori Colomeda and Eberhard Wenzel referred to as
culture collision (2000: p. 251). Widowhood and bereavement
is a tensed mourning and grieving period in the life of a female
spouse who loses her husband (Aderinto, 2001; Fasoranti &
Aruna, 2007). All over the world, it is recognized that the loss
of a loved one is a source of intense emotional stress (Kahn,
2002), and given the prevailing customs and traditions, the
bereaved express and deal with their feelings of loss in order to
regain their lives.
The pre-colonial widowhood bereavement ritual in Wep-
paWannoland has three stages which are equally important as
they are meant to address the three dimensions of humanity: the
soul, spirit and body (Emhoabino, 2003; Campbell, 2002;
Charles, 2002; Campbell, 2001). The first phase (soul tie-
breaking) starts at the point of death of a woman’s husband.
The widow is separated from the remains of her husband and
she is allowed to wail and mourn as freely and extensively as
she would as she proceeds to her natal home to inform them of
the death that has visited her. She is accompanied on a wailing
trail through major villages of WeppaWanno to her natal home
by a group of consisting of all married women in her marital
village (Ajakwe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004; also see Mbiti, 1975).
The Ikpoba and Ukpogho (female and male elder in her marital
village quickly converge to wail after the widow’s train leaves).
The women’s group of her natal village on hearing the wailing
train would join it to return her to her husband’s house before
the funeral begins. As soon as the wailing-train returns the
widow and her children are ushered into a mourning chamber
and the funeral commences (Ighietsemhe, 2002; Inakhe, 2002,
Achebe, 2005). The widow, and to a lesser extent her children,
are excluded from all communal work. She is also not allowed
to engage in any familial chore for a period of time from seven
days to three months from the day her husband is laid to rest. It
is important to mention here that this process applies to male
and female alike, although it depends on the peculiarity of
situation. All familial functions like cooking, fetching water
and firewood are undertaken by volunteers from both the
women’s groups and the Otu or age grades to which the cou-
ple’s children belonged (Anaemhomhe, 1980; Nwalutu, 2004,
Achebe, 2005), to allow the woman and her children sufficient
time for soul searching and recovery. At her husband’s burial,
the widow is provided with a piece of white cloth that has to be
torn according to the number of children she had with her
spouse. When the coffin is lowered into the grave, it is opened
for the last time and the widow and her children each present a
piece of the cloth to the deceased, informing ‘him’ that that is
the cloth his child (name mentioned in each case) uses to send
him on his way (Ajawe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004). Finally the
widow uses the wrapper that she wore during her husband’s
sickness and death to perform the same ritual.
The second phase has a longer duration, lasting up to three
months from the day the husband is laid to rest. The widow
wears mourning dress made of black cloth for three months (in
some villages, white was preferred). This was a crucial period
of spiritual enactments accompanied by customary rituals of
purification and sacrifices as prescribed by the village di-
viner(s). It culminates in the deceased person’s second funeral
if he so deserved. At the end of the three months of mourning,
the widow would go to the farm road with a small knife in her
hand, and weep for her husband all over again. It is important to
note at this juncture that the rite of severance of the marital
union between a deceased man or woman as a continuous ritual
goes on through one year of mourning (Anaemhomhe, 1980;
Isichei, 1983; Fasoranti & Aruna, 2007). The final ritual occurs
one full indigenous calendar year after the death of the widow’s
spouse. The two most important enactments for the widow were
the “the mourning clothes removal ritual” that took place at the
Unuchi shrine in the widow’s marital home (an extended family
shrine under the supervision of an Obotsu or Omo Unuchi in
whose compound the shrine was located). Through this enact-
ment the relationship between her and her late husband was
severed and she was then free to remarry her late husband’s
brother or a man from any other homestead in the community
(Anaemhomhe, 1980; Okeke-Ihejirika, 2004; Opara, 2000).The
second event was the ceremonial “cleansing bath” which took
place at night at the Oghor River, officiated by the Owa Ikhute
priest or priestess (The chief priest of WeppaWannoland) and
the oldest Adegbe women from the widow’s marital and natal
villages. Other rituals and sacrifices were conducted to ensure
that the widow’s new husband would not die of spiritual afflic-
tion in the event that any of the rituals was left out. I wish to
further expatiate on the mourning clothes removal ritual at this
point. At the end of the grieving period for an Amoya or
Adegbe widow (all rituals and taboos are voluntary for Adegbe
but imperative for Amoya), she changes her wrapper. Before
she does this, she consults the diviner. What the oracle pre-
scribes for her to provide is what she takes to the Unuchi
(shrine) of her husband’s family. It is believed that the spirit of
her late husband communicates with her through the oracle, and
the demand of the oracle is assumed to be her late husband’s
demands. The items requested by the oracle are considered to
be what her late husband needs in order to free her from their
relationship. The prescribed items usually include a he-goat or
rooster (as directed), some quantity of red oil and palm kernel
oil. At the end of the mourning period, the woman buys a piece
of white cloth to be tied on her by an older Adegbe. A few days
later, the he-goat or rooster she purchased is taken to the
Unuchi (shrine) along with the white cloth she now removes.
At the Unuchi, the Omo Unuchi slaughters the animal and
sprinkles its blood on the white cloth called “ataza” which he
ties on the Unuchi shrine. “Ataza” means the removing of
mourning cloth and signifies that the widow is now free to
leave her husband’s family and/or marry any man of her choice.
Her husband’s family retains no more claims to her. An Amoya
who loses a husband and is not willing to remain in her hus-
band’s family is also expected to perform this ceremony. How-
ever, only the Adegbe may change her mourning wrapper and
wear another dress during her widowhood. An Amoya must
wear black clothes throughout this period. The ritual will also
be performed at the widow’s late husband’s Unuchi. In Wanno,
the most senior Amoya wife performs this ritual for an Amoya
whose husband dies and the cloth is returned to her husband’s
Unuchi. In Weppa an Adegbe performs this ceremony for an
Amoya whose husband has died.
It is believed that if an Amoya widow fails to carry out this
ritual and a member of her late husband’s family marries her,
the consequence would be death for the new husband. The new
suitor is expected to bring 1 shilling 9 pence (the equivalence in
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Naira today) to the Omo Unuchi which is the cost of purchasing
the white cloth for Ataza that the widow removed. The custom
also requires this widow to sleep with another man who is not a
member of the widow’s husband family before her new hus-
band brings her to his house in order to ward off a certain death
that befalls a potential husband if this is not done. This ritual
was incumbent on an Amoya widow who wished to remarry,
but was not binding for an Adegbe widow. She was free from
such taboos.
Changing the Cultural Trajectories: Nupe Invasion
and British Colonization Project in WeppaWanno
Areas along the Niger-Benue river, and particularly the area
of the two rivers’ confluence, witnessed in the 19th century a
struggle for supremacy over the monopoly of trade with British
merchant companies. For any group to win, they had to have
access to weapons of warfare, men of war and also be in the
position to produce the desired commodities for exchange. It
was the commercial interests of the British merchant capital
that provoked Bida slave raids into Weppa-Wannoland, south
of the confluence and adjacent to the Niger river. To King Ma-
saba of Nupe, the advantages of trade with the Europeans were
obvious, and a year after captain McCoskry, (a British mer-
chant sailor)’s visit, Masaba was demanding muskets and gun
powder from Baikie. The year after Baikie’s departure in 1865,
regular exchange with European trade ships began on the Niger.
In reference to the volume of trade goods in that same year,
1865, Whitford who had thought he would fill an European
ship annually with ivory, palm oil, shea butter, lead ore (galena)
and cotton was surprised that the response he got to trade was
beyond his imagination. He later wrote “we anchored off Eggan
(near the present day Lokoja)…and in 3 weeks bought 5 T. of
ivory, 6 T or 7 T of shea butter and several thousand country
cloths; latter for sale on the coast”( Mason, 1981; Nwalutu,
2004; Oshomha, 1993). Contradictions exist in the various
sources as to the factors that motivated the Nupe invasion of
WeppaWanno. Haruna (2003: p. 412) corroborated the ac-
counts of Anaemhomhe (1980) and Nwalutu (2004) both of
which insist that economic conquest and slave trade were the
motivateing factors in the Nupe invasion of WeppaWanno. As
with every other imperialist conquest, this was soon followed
by religious cum cultural domination.
The account of Bello-Imam (1995) takes a different trajec-
tory. In his words, “Nupe invasion which is a derivative from
the Jihad of Uthman Ibn Fudi of the 19th century is the antece-
dent and indeed precursor of the islamization of South Ibie
people” (p. 97). The development of slavery in Hausaland was
only remotely connected to the demands of the world market.
Every three years, Bida (Nupe) raiding forces moved into
Weppa-Wanno, usually in the dry season, and these invasions
occurred consistently from about 1857-1895 when they were
finally rebuffed by Weppa-Wanno local forces. The invading
army consisted of both males and females (disguised as males)
mounted on horseback and armed with guns, swords and spears
(Ajakwe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004). The villagers were ordered to
submit a specific number of persons or face a military action. If
a village proved recalcitrant, villagers were harassed and in the
ensuing confusion, some individuals were tracked down and
taken captive. From 1861 onwards, Etsu Masaba’s army be-
came fiercer and more ruthless in their approach, burning vil-
lages and looting their food stores, resulting in famine and epi-
demics. The Nupe were not without the co-operation of local
volunteers and accomplices. In Weppa-Wanno, such agents or
slave dealers as Ikhegbe and his son Obozuwa in Iviukhua,
Etsukha of Iviegbepui, Ogai of Iviebua and Asekhamhe of
Imiava emerged (Ajakwe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004; Emhoabino,
2003; Charles, 2002). They took the initiative to acquire slaves
for exchange with the Nupe slave raiders. These partners also
worked together in the procurement and final disposal of cap-
Resistance to Nupe-Raids and the Loss of
Adegbe as a Social Power Construct
In about 1862, the Ukpi Drummers (top title holders) across
WeppaWanno communities decided to confront the problem of
incessant slave raids by Islamized Nupe forces, and possibly
solve it through negotiations with the Nupe generals. These
negotiations resulted in the leadership being forced into signing
a treaty accepting Nupe dominance. Not only were they re-
quired to send an annual tribute of harvested crops to the King,
Etsu Masaba, but they were also told that they must send hu-
man tribute once every three years to Bida, or face continued
slave raids. Some Ukpi drummers who complied became Is-
lamic converts. To meet the other requirements of the treaty,
orphans and children of the very poor were sent as slave trib-
utes to the Nupe Kingdom by the powerful WeppaWanno war-
riors who, by excelling in strength through military escapades,
began to collaborate with the invaders (Bello-Imam, 1995;
Harunah, 2003; Ajegba, 2004; Emhoabino, 2003). The Wep-
paWanno warriors who become slave supplying agents to Nupe
kingdom were Ikhegbe and his son, Obozuwa in Iviukhua;
Etsukha of Iviegbepui, Ogai of Iviebua and Asekhambe of
Imiava. “They took the initiative to acquire slaves for exchange
with the Nupe slave raiders. Theses partners also worked to-
gether in the procurement and final disposal of captives”
(Nwalutu, 2004: p. 47). Those who refused to comply, fled,
deserting their towns and villages.
One obvious consequence of Nupe raids in Weppa-Wanno
was the creation of a new set of social relations, patron-client
relationships replacing relatively egalitarian structure that pre-
dated the invasion. The mighty and powerful dominated the
weak and poor. Kinship idiom broke down almost completely
to make room for patron-client relationship in which the weak
and poor depended on the powerful for protection and to some
extent, economic survival in return for services rendered in
form of agricultural labor. For the weak to continue living he
had to attach himself or come into the protection of a powerful
man by building his house right beside his and making his
fence to touch his patron’s wall (Ajakwe, 2002; Ajegba, 2004;
Emhoabino, 2003; Nwalutu, 2004). This also meant that the
powers enjoyed by less noble men in WeppaWanno society
(who were either weak or unable to procure arms); and by ex-
tension the Adegbe female, melted away into the protective
embraces of the rich and powerful WeppaWanno warriors. By
so doing the poor came under the protection of the rich and
under his service. He automatically became unwilling slave to
his patron. It was under this type of uncertain socio-political
and economic atmosphere that the British chartered company—
the Royal Niger Company followed closely by the British colo-
nial machinery and missionary groups made their way into
WeppaWanno land in 1897. It is worth the emphasis here to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 319
hint that the strategies of evangelization used by the Christian
missionary outreaches were far more appealing to the people of
WeppaWanno than the forceful islamization they faced under
the Nupe raids earlier in the century. Besides, their inability to
align Christian missionary activities with the disruptions and
chaos perpetuated on their socio-cultural life by the Western
colonial project made people’s positive disposition to Christian
faith inevitable. Many therefore became converted from tradi-
tional and Islamic religions to Christianity.
The Royal Niger Company (RNC) and the British
Penetration of WeppaWan noland
The history of the Royal Niger Company is a history of
mergers, outbidding, and buying out weak firms. In 1875, a
liquidated Holland Jacques and company were bought by John
Sendhouse Goldie Taubman, and his younger brother, George
Goldie Taubman was put in charge. Out of this company, the
Central African Company was formed in 1876. In 1879, the
United African Company was formed as an amalgamation of
the West African Company, Miller Brothers, James Pinnock
and the Central African Trading Company to check the threat of
the French firm Compaigne Francaise del’Afrique Equatoriale.
In 1882 in order to expand its assets, a new company, the Na-
tional African Company was floated which took the assets of
the United African Company. It was the National African
Company that obtained the charter on the 10th July 1886 and
changed its name to the Royal Niger Company Chartered and
limited (Isichei, 1983; Bradbury, 1973; Bradbury, 1957). The
title for its chairman and Vice-chairman became Governor and
Deputy Governor respectively, thus started the colonization of
the various nations that later formed Nigeria.
Historical sociologists have referred to this imperialist ag-
gressive conquest and occupation of colonies as systemic cycles
of capitalist accumulation. The British era which ended in the
1920s culminated in the period of financial expansion that also
saw the uprising of an American cycle. The historicization of
Weppa-Wanno imperialist experiences continue to point to two
major external dominating incursions that influenced its con-
temporary socio-cultural life. But many social and cultural
analysts deliberately or unwittingly prefer to address only
Western coloni zation, leaving o ut the earlier Is lamic disrupt ions,
which definitely leaves a gap in the historicizing of Weppa-
Wannoland. The Royal Niger Company by 1896 began its
penetration of the Weppa-Wanno towns and had as its priority
the ‘total abolition of slavery’ and all forms of enslavement in
order to free labor from servitude. Although a laudable goal,
and one no doubt taken seriously by Christian missionaries, it
supported the company’s goal of “buying cheap and selling
dear”. The company had realized that if it must make profit, it
would be easier for her to negotiate cheaper prices from small
scale independent but numerous producers of palm oil, palm
kernel and cotton than with few large client holders.
The devolution of leadership roles to male-only aristocrats
following the Nupe invasion placed four major holders of Ukpi
chieftaincy drums along with the Owa Ikhuthe shrine priest into
WeppaWanno in positions of leadership. This team also consti-
tuted the jury of final appeal in all WeppaWanno disputes, rep-
resenting a complete shift from the supreme council of three
female judges that had obtained in the society’s early migration
period between 12th and 15th century A.D. (Anaemhomhe, 1980;
Nwalutu, 2004). Thus both male and female indigenous peoples
were simultaneously victims of Islamic and British subjugation
and control throughout the region originally referred to as the
Oil River Protectorate (of which WeppaWanno was a part)
prior to the amalgamation of Nigerian sub-regions into a coun-
try in 1914 (Isichei, 1983; Achebe, 2005; Amadiume, 1997;
and Mba, 1982). Both genders were, in their various capacities,
involved in the resistance and struggles for independence, albeit
the efforts by the male pressure groups, activists and nationalist
were given more media attention.
WeppaWannoland under Comp any Rule
The British defeat of the Bida emirate in 1897 and the libera-
tion of slaves and captives henceforward, led to a tremendous
increase of the Royal Niger Company’s operations, leading to
the “opening up” of the hinterland and the search for new eco-
nomic opportunities for British merchant capital. This eventu-
ally culminated in the opening of trading posts in Egori water-
side (in the present day Agenebode waterfront) by the Royal
Niger Company. The Royal charter awarded to the Royal Niger
Company empowered it to exercise “all rights, interests, au-
thorities and powers for the purpose of governance (and the)
preservation of public order”. The implication of this is that the
Royal Niger Company could maintain their own police force, a
constabulary or military force, set up courts (which over-ran the
existing customary court), and impose taxation. The company
employed some WeppaWanno sons in the police force. In
WeppaWanno the mobile court heard cases in the Royal Niger
Company’s premises at Egori waterside. I have to interject here
that it was at this point that modernity and tradition collided.
The British interest in the Niger area was purely economical
and borne on the wings of the machinery of capitalist accumu-
lation. The debunking of African concept of indigenous African
communal and selfless leadership pattern gave way to individu-
alism and competition as is evident in every quarter in Western
civilization today (Ngunjiri, 2010: p. 169). Female power and
societal roles in WeppaWanno as in other colonized African
nations became marginalized and repudiated (Okafo, 2009;
Haruna, 2003; Nwalutu, 2004; Anaemhomhe, 1980). In the
traditional WeppaWanno society, as is the case in other African
societies, the notion of leadership as solely the business of men
was alien because to Africans gender roles are harmonized—
meaning that while gender roles were complementary—leader-
ship roles tended to be in the hands of men or older women
beyond the age of menopause.
Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika regrets the limitations that emerg-
ing Westernization placed on the mobility of traditional African
women, a nd by exte nsion men, who now have their social rela-
tionship “structured within a hybridized social order where men
and women must deal with both foreign and indigenous dictates
that were brought together through Western influence” (Okeke-
Ihejirika, 2004: p. 4). Thus Adegbe females had to negotiate
their place within a new social order, as subordinates of their
male counterparts. Evident in Eboh (2000) and Ogundipe (1994)
is the fact that foreign incursion into African societies eroded
many of the traditional cultural and socioeconomic opportuni-
ties African women had—opportunities that were neither recent
nor post-colonial. This displacement is one of the bases for the
contemporary Amoya and Adegbe (and by extension, these
women as widows) struggle to regain their culturally assigned
positions, with their rights to good health and privileges in
WeppaWanno society.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Implicati ons of Foreign Dom i nat ion and Cul tural
Encapsulation for Traditional Widowhood Rites
in WeppaWanno
I will continue by arguing that the post-independent Wep-
paWanno patriarchal society, like every other community in
western Nigeria, has evolved not from its cultural past but from
a past incorporating the double cultural tragedies implicated in
the Nupe Islamic invasion and British colonial rule (Haruna,
2003; Nwalutu, 2004; Anaemhomhe, 1980; Opara, 2000;
Okeke-Ihejirika, 2004). The regents of the Nupe kingdom and
subsequently the British ruling authorities replaced “subju-
gated knowledge with their own specialized thought because
they realized that gaining control over this dimension of subor-
dinate groups’ lives simplified control” (Collins, 1990: p. 226).
The traditional extended family structures that were mutually
communal gradually gave way to Western and Islamic style
nuclear family structures that were more individualistic and
egocentric (Okafo, 2009: p. 101; Haruna, 20 03: p. 494; N wa l u t u ,
2004: p. 54; Anaemhomhe, 1980: p. 55). The incompatible cul-
tural blend introduced by both Islamic and Christian incursions
in WeppaWannoland brought about significant changes in
widowhood bereavement traditions, with consequent retrogres-
sive outcomes on the indigenous people’s social, mental, spiri-
tual, and physical health.
In the resulting dilemma that plays out in WeppaWannoland-
Adegbe daughters and widows in the community are unable to
access justice from the extinct traditional justice system that
established them—now replaced with English and Sharia cus-
tomary court that bears no relevance to the community it was
meant for and in which they place no confidence. Also claims
of Adegbe widows’ male offspring to the leadership positions
have been successfully challenged and thrown out of the British
court system inherent in contemporary WeppaWanno jurispru-
dence. Many Adegbe daughters and their children have been
ruled against in the recent past because the substance of these
cases found no validation in post-independence British patriar-
chal codes (Okafo, 2009: p. 111; Kukuru Division 130 K.D. 2,
National Archives Ibadan). As more and more indigenous fam-
ily structures have been redefined through women marrying in
either the Eurocentric (Christian), or Arabic (Islamic) forms of
marriage, Adegbe status gradually has become a titular position,
devoid of power and fame. Consequently both Amoya and
Adegbe widows now have to abide by the dictates of a cultur-
ally hybrid form of widowhood containing few, if any, indige-
nous values. In the light of this development, the widowhood
practices that were originally designed for healing and psyche
recovery of the bereaved have been downplayed as supersti-
tious ritual. They are now observed as merely social ceremony
with little or no attached spiritual values. The widow-converts
to Islam have only a few days of mourning permitted by the
Quran. Christian converts limit their funeral and mourning to
between seven and thirty days from the day a spouse dies. In
fact, some Christian denominations in WeppaWanno require
funeral services to be carried out within seven days, and no
special ritual observation is permitted thereafter. Anthropolo-
gists and psychologist frown at Western bereavement practices
that they collectively consider inadequate and untoward. Gorer
and Burgoine (1965) particularly regret that northern Europe
and North America considered “more than a little mourning
unseemly”. Parkes (1996), who attributed this weakness to the
inability of Europe and North America to ritualize mourning
and provide religious and institutional opportunities for it, be-
lieves that the bereaved in Western societies fare significantly
worse than those in traditional societies.
In this exercise I examined documented evidence of, and lit-
erature on, widowhood rituals that existed before the Nupe
(Islamic) invasions and Western (Christian) colonization of
WeppaWannoland in order, first, to problematize the brief and
uneventful Islamic and Christian widowhood bereavement
practices that perpetuate post-bereavement depression and re-
lated mental abnormalities. Second, this work has succeeded in
highlighting the critical role of indigenous bereavement rituals
on the health and recovery of widows. Third, I have succeeded
in engineering a thought process that will continue to interro-
gate the legacy of colonial domination over cultural practices.
Finally this exercise contributes to the growing literature on the
rituals of indigenous widowhood bereavement as part of a
healing process, with the hope of reviving interest in this
gradually disappearing tradition, and generating scholarly de-
bate to stimulate its recovery. Moreover, contemporary African
legal systems are fraught with overt and covert sexist interpret-
tations of customary law incorporated by the African male au-
thorities that served the colonial regimes (Okeke-Ihejirika,
2004). Such sexist interpretations tend to strengthen men’s
privileged positions while women are left at the margin to con-
tend for their property and marital rights, often on very uncer-
tain grounds (p. 6). Dismantling the machinery of colonialism
inherent in post-colonial African societies (and in those of other
indigenous peoples all over the world) has become the priority
of African decolonizing projects in both social and academic
spheres. I will draw from Mudimbe’s injunctions to “decolo-
nize the social and human sciences by destroying the myths of
‘Africanity’ and mystifications inherited from the ‘inventors’ of
Africa and her culture (1988: p. 37)”. I strongly believe that re-
invention of such traditions of indigenous people as widow-
hood rituals will benefit the people of WeppaWannoland for
they have much to offer in aiding recovery from loss-induced
trauma. This case study affirms the need for indigenous soci-
ologists and scholars to prioritize rediscovering traditional
health and healing practices that have been castigated, de-
bunked and overlooked by mainstream sociologists.
This paper is an attempt to publish the report of a rigorous
field research funded by Mr. Joseph Aken’ova from 2001-2004
in honor of his late father Pa Michael Isibor Aken’ova and in
appreciation to his mother, late Madam Lucy Aken’ova for
their exemplary parenting.
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power and authority in Northern Igboland, 1900-1960, Social His-
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Aderinto, A. (2001). Subordinated by culture: Constraints of women in
rural Yoruba community, Nigeria. Nordic Journal of African Studies,
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Archival Documents
1) H. C. B. Denton; Intelligence Report on Etsako Clans of Kukuruku Division. 25th July 1936, Ministry of Local Government and
Chieftancy Affairs, Benin City
2) Kukuru Division 130 K. D. 2, National Archives Ibadan
3) K. D. 578 Kukuruku Div 2. National Archives Ibadan
4) K. D. 765 Kuku Div 2. National Archives Ibadan
5) K. D. 174 Kuku Div 2. National Archives Ibadan
6) Kuku Div 83 Vol III, National Archives Ibadan
7) Edo State of Nigeria Gazette No. 8 Benin City—22nd February, 2001, Vol II Sect. B5 and B6.
Interview Conducted by Felicia Nwalutu Ph.D; Michael Nwalutu, Martins Otseme and
Cletus Izoboh 2001-2004
Respondents Place of Interview Date
1. Ajawe, Momoh (Chie f) Owah-Ova o May 19, 2002
2. Ajawe, Momoh (Chie f) Owah-Ova o Aug. 18, 2002
3. Ajawe, Momoh (Chie f) Owah-Ova o June 14, 2002
4. Ajawe, Momoh (Chie f) Owah-Ova o Aug. 28, 2002
5. Ajegba, Peter W. Aviodo-Ovao June 14, 2004
6. Akheonovao, Idemosi Agenegbode Aug. 28, 2002
7. Akheonovao, Idemosi Agenegbode Ma y 18, 2002
8. Akosi Yusuf Agenegbode July 2, 2002
9. Amhofueshi Igebina (Pa) Aghiere Aug. 28, 2002
10. Campbell Catherine (Madam) Auchi June 11, 2002
11. Campbell Catherine (Madam) Auchi Nov. 2, 2001
12. Charle s J ohn Owah-Ovao Aug. 18, 20 02
13. Echi, M ary Ebodethiomhe Agenegbode Aug. 28, 2002
14. Eghabor, George Oshiapi Okumagbe of Weppa-Wanno) Emokhemhe Sept. 7 2002
15. Ekhanaede Alexander Igene gba Babatunde Jimoh Agenegbode July 2, 2002
16. Emhoabino, Vincent Uyo June 27, 20 03
17. Emokhor, Kadiri Owah-Ovao Aug. 18, 2002
18. Enakhena, Joseph Steven (Pa) Benin City Nov. 7, 2001
19. Igbodekhe, Momodu Ivioghe Aug. 28, 2002
20. Igbodekhe, Mulemu Momodu Ivioghe Aug. 28, 2002
21. Ighietse mhe, Ikhimebemhe Iviukwe June 14, 2002
22. Ighietse mhe, Ikhimebemhe Iviukwe Aug. 28, 2002
23. Inakhe, Patrick Aviodo-Ovao Nov. 4, 2002
24. Group I nt erview with some Members of Isimekha quarters Ivioghe July 2, 2002
25. Group I nt erview with some Members of Iviagbokwi family Iviukwe May 18, 2002
26. Itseole Esimhokh a (Pa) Oshiolo Aug. 28, 2002
27. Itseole Esimhokh a (Pa) Oshiolo Nov. 4, 2002
28. Group Int erview with some M embers of Iviagbokwi kindred Iviukwe May 18, 2002
29. Izoboh, Agiaye Oshiolo Nov 4, 2002
30. Ogbake J. A. (Prince ) Aviodo-Ovao May 20, 2002
31. Ogbake J. A. (Prince ) Aviodo-Ovao June 14, 20 02
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32. Ogbechia Ogbolu Aviodo-Ovao Nov. 14, 2002
33. Okaku family memb ers Aghiere Aug. 17, 2002
34. Okaku, Inomayo Itega, and Os hiomoba Aliu Aghiere Aug. 17, 200 2
35. Okpo Ighietsemhe Ikhunebe mhe Iviukwe Aug. 28, 2002
36. Okpo Ighi etsemhe (Madam) Iviukwe Aug. 28, 2002
37. Okumagbe & His Counc il Chiefs Agenegbode Jan. 5, 2004
38. Omoba Fati (Mrs.) Ivioghe July 2, 2002
39. Omonia Sule Ow ah-Ovao Aug. 1 8, 2002
40. Oshiom egie Matthew Benin City Sept. 27, 2004
41. Ovoema, Matthew Ebakhalumhe Agenegbode Aug. 28, 2002
42. Unuabode Agenegbode June 14, 2002