TOPIC: GENDER INEQUALITY IN IDOMA MARRIAGE SANCT-
IONS, CIRCA 1990 TO 2010.
OKEWU ADA ONYEJE.
This paper brings to limelight the Marriage Sanctions of the Idoma Ethnic group in North Central Nigeria, circa 1990 up to 2010. Further researches into the Idoma Marriage Sanctions has shown that the female gender has more duties and repercussions in cases of performance and negligence. This clearly shows the bias nature of the marital culture as one would wonder why the male gender is left out in adherence. More so, a deeper study of this prevailing marital practices among the Idoma Ethnic group of North Central Nigeria depicts the place of the woman as relegating to the backyard. It concludes by stating that, a restructuring should be met in a case of genuine justice, if not a total wipe out of this bias marriage sanctions which has greater influences on the female gender would be a better option. The work however employ the use of primary data sources as its main source of data.
Gender, Gender Inequality, Marriage, Sanctions and Culture.
This work makes attempt to pinpoint the marriage sanctions as vested in the marriage culture of the Idoma people of Benue State, circa 1990 to 2010. Further details in the work unveils subject topics such as the “meaning of gender, gender inequality, marriage, sanctions, culture”, Women in Idoma Society, Women and marriage in Idoma Society, Marriage Sanctions in Idoma Society among others.
This section is concerned with the definition of terms such as gender, gender inequality, marriage, sanctions and culture. The Oxford Advanced Leaners Dictionary, defines gender as “the state of being male or female”.1 However, gender inequality refers to a case of unfair and imbalance treatment of persons based on their gender. Gender inequality has its grounds deeply rooted in most African societies as it covers the physical, cultural, sociological, biological and psychological spheres of life. In fact, the cultural aspect is so strong because societies are often governed by culture and societies to a large extent, determines the behavior of its male and female members. It is therefore obvious, “that gender relatives are notions and beliefs about appropriate relationship between the masculine and feminine genders”2.
However, for the purpose of this discussion, marriage is the legal relationship or the state in which two people become husband and wife. In majorly all societies on the globe, marriage is considered a very sacred and unique institution as it often brings about responsibilities, companionship, love, integration, socialization, procreation and lots more. Its seriousness is usually seen even in the way and manner the society prepares maidens and young grooms for marriage, the sacredness of pre – marriage nurturing and the marriage ceremonies proper. In essence, it could be stated that marriage in any society on the globe and as discussed in this paper is a very vital institution. And so, since the marriage process is considered very sacred by the human race, certain rules, norms and values regulate this institution.
Nevertheless, sanctions as used within this context refers to the punishments vested on offenders and deviants of marital norms and values. It is hoped that such punishment would address and bring back home anyone straying away from imposed beliefs and principles. Culture as a term refers to the art, custom, beliefs and way of life and social organization of a particular group of people or set of individuals. Certainly, culture plays great role in the shaping of any society as relating to their day to day activities. It goes a long way in affecting the attitudes and behaviors of its components.
IDOMA PEOPLE AND THEIR MARRIAGE CULTURE.
It is quite challenging telling the exact time the Idoma came into their present location. Interactions with persons and oral traditions shows that the Idoma have lived within the Benue Valley as far back as antiquity. Thus, the history of the Idoma people precedes the history of their present central location, Benue State (created 1976) and even the history of our mother land, the Republic of Nigeria (created 1960).
Oral tradition and dance are one among the fundamental method of which the “baton” of history has been passed (from generations to generations) in Idoma land. Notable among the various dances of the Idoma people is the Ogirinya dance. It’s a highly energetic dance that requires jumping at regular intervals.
In addition, the Idoma people are known for their love of local delicacies, as there is an annual food festival in Benue State to celebrate women and the various traditional cuisines. Most renowned among their delicacies is the Okoho Soup which is made with the peculiar Okoho plant, bush meat and many other ingredients. More so, the social organization in Idoma nation is basically kin – based. The nuclear family being the smallest unit is inseparably tied to the extended family involving the lineage and the clan. A number of agnatic families combine to form a clan and a number of them may constitute a hamlet or even a village. Clan titles are further considered important social aspect of the Idoma. For instance in Otukpa, “the clan head of Olachagbaha has the title of “Oche Oche” and salutation of “Agbo”. The clan head of Olaowuno has the title of Atamata and salutation of “Anaogene” while Olaoodo clan head has the title of “Olema” as salutation.”3
However, marriage as an institution in Idomaland is about “love, good character, caring for one another, family responsibility and tolerance”.4 According to “Idoma marriage custom and law of what is referred to as “Idoma marriage declaration of 1959”, only male or female of adolescent age of 12 years and above is allowed to marry or be given out in marriage”.5
From time immemorial, the choice of marriage partners was made by parents and relatives. But with the change of time and advancement into socio economic relations as well as foreign cultural influence, the choice has now been left in the hands of the young people themselves. The marriage can only take root if families and relatives of the two sides are not related by blood kinship. It’s a great taboo to marry a close relative, as such may lead to chains of misfortune not only in the family, but death.
More so, multiple or polygamous marriage is widely practiced in Idoma land. Nonetheless, it’s based on the individual’s interest and ability to sustain a large family. The pride of every Idoma woman is to have a husband on whom she could boost of. It is an ultimate desire to be referred to as Obonya nyoa (meaning, whose husband is these?).
Nevertheless, marriage as an institution is a serious one among the Idoma people. Norms, taboos, values and culture circulates around this institution as acts relating to it are not played with. Marital taboos are usually regulated by the Alekwu (ancestral spirit) who decides punishment upon offenders of marriage norms. Some of these marital taboos include adultery, a wife giving money to her family member (s) without the husband’s knowledge, a wife going to ease herself in the toilet or urinary while cooking, embracing amorous words or touches from another man, lending money without the husband’s knowledge among others. One would wonder why such an emphasis is placed on the female side in mentioning and implementing the above mentioned taboos.
WOMEN IN IDOMA SOCIETY.
A woman is usually the backbone and pillar of every society. She is the vouch behind the activities of any successful man and stands to prepare the way to greatness or failure of a home. Therefore, the Orokam people, a part of Idoma society in Benue State, usually refers to woman as the “Anya Ole” meaning woman is home. Even in the World politics, highly effective Leaders like Catherine the great of Russia, Mrs. Bhutto, Golda Meir among others were women who left great legacies for their generation and generations to come. More so, upon the Nigeria soil is the deeply imprinted historical riot of 1929, the Aba Women riot which can never be forgotten in the history of Nigeria.
However, some Idoma people are of the view that women are not segregated from men when it comes to benefits but are usually exempted from taking part in certain rituals and activities. Women are considered weaker vessels therefore, are supposed to be catered for, cared for and protected by the men. They are not permitted “to go for wars and not allowed to partake in festivals since the notion of women neutralizing charms”6stand among the people.
Furthermore, certain duties in the Idoma traditional societies are accrued to women. Women are expected to conduct the punishment against adulterous women especially one who is married (“.Alekwu Anya” …which means Women Ancestral Spirit). A girl who is not married may misbehave without dying, but may be humiliated for that when she marries. However, once she accepts the kola nut and money from her spouse and passes it to her Father, she can be said to have been taken, and so cannot misbehave anymore.
More so, in Idoma traditional society, a woman is expected to take care of the home, keep the environment clean and also assist in farm work. The Idoma society being patriarchal gives upper hand to the men, which in turn makes the men assume the position of Lords and then protect their women. In some Idoma Society, the women are left unexposed as they are relegated to the backyard and not allowed to go out for social works owing to overprotection from the men side.
WOMEN AND MARRIAGE IN IDOMA SOCIETY.
Marriage in Idoma Society often involves the opposite sex (male and female) which makes patriarchy a great issue in Idoma polity as the culture gives men the upper hand, therefore making women subordinate to men. The Idoma Woman by marital culture and tradition is expected to be a Virgo intacta (virginity) on the bridal night (at wedding) and also remain faithful to her husband throughout marriage except in cases of divorce and death of spouse. “A lady is supposed to be pure before marriage (Oj’onyirong) and is dearly paid for when these taboos are breached upon. The Ij’orire is the price of virginity in marriage and where not met, a ritual purification must be conducted”.7
However, the wife in the above case is made to call the names of all the people who have committed sexual taboos with her. (You can imagine such humiliation). This period usually spans across childhood to the wedding day as dust may be raised up saying: Odan K’alekwu j’aluka y’emutu a, mb’ege j’aluka y’ache no yum le eliho a (if the gods can know the numbers of these dusts, then they will know the numbers of the people who committed the act of sexual taboos with me). It is said to avoid omission of name due to length of time as to forgetfulness.
In addition, “an average Idoma girl is respectful, honest and industrious as well as homely. The Idoma people have strong attachment to the worship of Alekwu – spirit of the ancestors which is believed to checkmate the chastity of female when betrothed or married. This Alekwu belief instills fear and discipline in some women who would want to explore and stretch their liberties to its limits. They do not want to become victims of the dreaded gods of the Land after all, and so they do everything positive to keep their man”.8
Furthermore, marriage in Idoma society considers the “place of woman as for the upkeep of the home and their husbands. Women serve as advisers to their husbands, carry out domestic chores, bear and take care of children. She is expected to groom, punish and instruct young ones on how to dress and also relate with spouse when they get married”.9
Nevertheless, the acts of adultery and like behaviors on the side of the woman is greatly frowned at. Confessions and cleansing are made as regarding to touching a boy’s sexual organ mistakenly or wife’s own been touched including the main act of fornication or adultery. Also, “a man must not visit another woman’s house without her husband consent and a gift from a man must be shown to the husband before being used”.10 Some interviewees further went on to state that, “a relative’s gift must not be shown to her husband while that of a non – relative must be told to her husband and if a wife wants to erect a structure or an infrastructure in her Father’s house, she must inform and get the approval of her husband”.11
More so, women are in marriage “solely for the home and so considered as weaker vessels, thus subjected to the rule of stern faithfulness”.12 She is to take care of her husband as he also does in turn towards her. Her husband’s laundry, feeding among others should be well performed where and when necessary.
IDOMA MARRIAGE SANCTIONS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS.
The acts of adultery on the part of the woman is a great taboo among the Idoma people of Benue State. An adulterous woman is made to offer some rituals to the Women’s Shrine (Ekwu Anya), she is further stripped naked along the road while other women flog and sing as she dances to the humiliating abuses and remarks. The above sanction is believe to have the possibility of redeeming her of the abomination she has got herself into.
Also, a wife going to “ease herself or cooking during her menstrual period is considered a great taboo especially among the traditional worshippers”13 in Idoma land. Though civilization has changed some of these practises, it still holds among the traditionalists as such is believe to have the tendency of contaminating the food of the gods. Therefore, making their sacrifices unacceptable and void.
Nonetheless, a wife giving money to her family member without the husband’s knowledge is also a taboo. A woman extending money to her family members without the consent of her husband may suffer punishments such as severe health challenges, death and even loss of her sons. She may redeem herself by confessing to her husband, sacrificing to the shrine if a traditionalist and further forsaking such acts.
Embracing of amorous words, touches or gift from another man is also a great taboo among the Idoma people of Benue State. In a case where the above occurs, she is to report to her husband who would summon the accused man. However, if she decides to cover such acts and continue to enjoy the gifts, words and touches from another man other than her husband, she may also fall sick and die.
In showing love and care on the side of the Idoma husband to his wife, it is part of his duty to provide food and other essential materials for the well-being of his wife and family. The above responsibility makes the Idoma men to pick the challenge of being very hardworking so as to provide adequately for his wife and family. However, in a case where the man proves to be indolent, the wife also has the obligation to report him to the elders of the family which would call the straying husband unto order. If the above husband refuses to incline to the admonitions of the family elders, an option to either divorce the man or endure in his home is given to such wife.
In addition, guilt in most occurrences are considered genuine as it shows through the manifestation of the offender. The offender under the spell of Alekwu most times remorsefully confesses and testifies to the wrong act. A woman who is pronounced as guilty, hardly denies the fact as there is usually a repercussion if an affirmation is made to this.
However, interactions with interviewees and victims who at one time or the other in their lives as women have felt the harsh nature of the bias Idoma marriage culture had lots and lots to narrate. One of which had to divorce her husband owing to the fact that she couldn’t just pass through the ritual processes having been caught in adultery. She debated on how senseless the ritual instruction of going round the village naked in the 21st century meant to her and thus stated, “Gone are the days when such mattered”.14
More so, just as the faces of men differ, so did the interviewees opinion concerning the implications of the Idoma Marriage Sanctions. Many approached the ideology with mixed feelings stating it to be “bias, imbalance and partial”.15 An interviewee further stated that, “as far as you are an African, you do have diabolic background but Christianity has changed everything”.16 He sees it as superstitious, not healthy and strange because a man who commits adultery is left scot-free. Westernization has come to stay and has helped curb tradition.
And so, people usually do things due to enshrined beliefs without taking into cognizance their implications. It’s quite contradictory and ironical that “a woman who leaves her husband to another man has made his soul old therefore, she must come back through ritual to make his soul new else he dies. But a man who cheats on his wife does not make her soul old”.17 How possible is it that one takes “Panadol for his neighbor’s headache” and expect it to cure in the other? Thus, how can a husband take the responsibility of dieing (absence of ritual purification) for his cheating wife? It sounds funny and takes more form of a fallacy though. What is wrong on one end should also recompense on the other end where and when necessary.
Nevertheless, still on the implications of the Idoma Marriage Sanctions, more persons have talks to let out. In order to show the unfair treatment of women to men in cases of adultery, another interviewee stated in lamentation, “what a culture? What a world? My husband Gabriel could go to his concubine and even have an evidence of this through an issue (child) while I perform the loyal duty of a wife to him at home”.18 In fact, this is so inhuman and disheartening as some of this women feel obliged to remain with their husbands throughout life owing to religious doctrines against divorce. However, she may not be spared by this same religious doctrines if she does likewise.
Furthermore, one Clara of Cross River states that, “I’m so happy to reunite with my family after several years.”19 She was caught in the act of adultery and separated from both her husband and children for about 4 years. This act spanned into several developments which were ailing especially to the young children. It led to a family relocation, change of children’s institute of learning, emotional and psychological disorder especially to her last child who was just 6 years old at the time among others. And so, the question now is, “Why treat an Idoma wife as if she accepting to marry her man has automatically turned her into a slave?” “Was it not with her consent alongside that of her family you began to call her your wife?” Why not give her the due respect a wife should have?” “Or do you still have that archaic notion that she wouldn’t have been better off without your name?” (Please, she still has that of her Father waiting patiently day and night in the store room of history…..and so Idoma traditional extremists’ wakeup).
In conclusion, having looked at the marriage culture of the Idoma Ethnic group of North Central Nigeria and its greater concentration on the female gender. It could be stated that the female gender faces the greater part of the Idoma Marriage Sanctions which speaks against adultery, unfaithfulness, dishonesty among others, while the men are left almost totally out of these punishments. These sanctions have over time caused impeding implications to its victims and even those around them. It has resulted to untimely death, broken homes, caused psychological and emotional disorder in children, made so many women to feel worthless even in their matrimonial homes, humiliated lots of young brides in their new homes, caused unplanned relocations, stereotyped many among peers in their societies, just to mention but a few.
However, nothing is being done as the Modern Idoma people who still believe in these practices view it as an ancestral heritage that has been passed and can never be changed. Nevertheless, this paper is of the opinion that, there is still a need for restructuring in cases of fairness and genuine justice. If not, a total wipe out of this bias marriage sanctions which has greater influences on the female gender would be a better option.
- Sally, Wehmeier et Michael, Ashby (eds). Oxford Advanced Learner’s
Dictionary, Sixth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- G. B. Egbe, (PhD) et al. (eds) Journal of Gender and Women Studies. Vol.1
No. 1, 2014. p.169.
- Simon, Akor. Male. Personal Interview. 15 / 10 / 2016.
- Mary, Akogwu. Female. Phone Interview. 7/ 02/ 2017.
- J. A. Obekpa. Idoma Origin and Tradition. Makurdi: Opashi Lithographic
- Jonah, Lucky. Male. Personal Interview. 22/ 02/ 2017.
- Rose, Ogwuche. Female. Phone Interview. 8/ 02/ 2017.
- Hope, Abah. Myths about Love Life of Idoma Ladies, 2012.
- Omachoko, Onoja. Male. Phone Interview. 24/ 02/ 2017.
- Jonah, Lucky. Male. Personal Interview. 10/ 02/ 2017.
- Isidoi, Onehi. Male. Personal Interview. 10/ 02/ 2017.
- Jonah, Lucky. Male. Personal Interview. 22/ 02/ 2017.
- Ekoja, Solomon. Male. Phone Interview. 22/ 02/ 2017.
- Jane, Agbo. Female. Phone Interview. 7/02/2017.
- David, Abah. Male. Personal Interview. 10/02/2017.
- Okewu, Jonathan. Male. Personal Interview. 10/02/2017.
- Kunde, T.M. Male. Personal Interview. 10/02/2017.
- Mercy, Onuh. Female. Phone Interview. 8/02/2017.
- Clara, Oryigebe. Female. Phone Interview. 9/02/2017.