In consonance with the C18th English poet William Cowper’s famous statement that, “variety is the spice of life,” my article this week will take a break from the usual thrust of Peace and Security in Ghana to other subjects.
While still in shock after her husband’s death, the widow received a visit from the “Abusuapanin”/Family Head of her husband. Contrary to her expectation that the visit was to commiserate with her, Abusuapanin came to launch his “manifesto,” very far from sympathising.
Abusuapanin’s declaration included the following.
Immediately after the funeral, the widow must vacate her matrimonial home for him Abusuapanyin .
The widow must ensure that the body of her husband is transported to the deceased’s home town a day before the burial.
Abusuapanin will inspect and approve of the coffin before the widow buys it.
He will have a fine grave dug, to be paid for by the widow.
The widow will bear all costs.
As the widow listened to Abusuapanin’s manifesto, not believing what she was hearing, her tears flowed freely with pain and anguish.
Unfortunately, this is not the first such story, neither will it be the last! In the name of custom and tradition, in C21st Ghana both in towns and villages, widows still undergo harrowing experiences of widowhood rites when their husbands die.
I often hear the question “but didn’t the man leave a will?” In some cases, wills were left while in others the men died intestate. I am quickly reminded that even if the man dies without a will, PNDC Law 111 comes to the rescue of widows.
In an example of a lady whose husband willed their house to her, the mother-in-law angrily stated that, “if that woman says my son’s house belongs to her, let her stay in, and we shall see!”
“M3bo wo dua”
In our society where highly placed men and women invoke curses easily, and prefer referring cases to the supernatural for ‘adjudication,’ the poor lady was reminded by friends and well-wishers of Shakespeare’s saying “discretion is the better part of valour!” She was advised to avoid any “spiritual warfare” with her mother-in-law! She left the house quietly!
A well-known lawyer humorously translates the Twi expression of the threat of invoking a curse “m3bo wo dua” into English literally as “I will hit you tree/stick!”
It was hoped that, the coming of covid-19 would be a good opportunity to revise some archaic Ghanaian traditions. Keeping corpses for long periods while elaborate preparations are made for “befitting funerals,” involving hundreds/thousands of mourners was a candidate for revision. But no, it has not happened!
Indeed, when the number of mourners was restricted, some families waited until the ban was lifted to have lavish and ostentatious funerals.
Abusuapanin wanted an expensive funeral for his brother to be paid for by the poor widow! This was after shamelessly declaring that, his family had no money for the funeral. Unfortunately, some ‘Abusuapanins’ push widows through this ordeal, not caring about how they provide the money.
Why are we so showy and indulge in unnecessary competition when we don’t have the means? Young people starting life borrow money to outdo the wedding of colleagues. Families which cannot afford it still want big funerals.
On 31st October 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a total lock down on the UK effective Thursday 5th November 2020 in response to the resurgence of covid-19. Around the same period, Belgium started airlifting covid-19 patients to Germany because her medical system had collapsed.
Somehow, Africa in general and Ghana in particular defied the predictions by westerners that, African streets would be littered with corpses.
From previous pandemics, the resurgence is more dangerous than the initial attack. However, from our first round experience, Ghanaians have rather become complacent leading to apathy and carelessness in observing the protocols. We have stopped wearing face masks!
In Kenya, the resurgence has been blamed on both leaders of government and opposition for deliberately turning a blind eye to enable them campaign for votes in the forthcoming elections!
Funerals attract large numbers of people who throw caution to the wind as they drink and feast at the expense of poor widows.
We need a vigorous national campaign against harmful primitive customs and traditions including widowhood rites and Female Genital Mutilation.
Finally, with covid-19 back the second time in Europe, we must avoid big funerals which will provide breeding grounds for undesirable ‘super spreaders’ in Ghana.
We must intensify our observance of safety protocols!
Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
The writer is a former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya and Council Chairman of Family Health University College, Accra