I remember way back in 2001 when I was gearing to start my final year project, prior to that time I had heard stories of how most students would take the easy way out by lifting projects written by old students who had graduated decades ago so as to avoid the tons of research it would take to write a fresh one and I wasn’t ready to bother writing anything when I could just follow others and take the easy way out.
That’s how I found myself leafing through old projects at the school library trying to find a topic worth dubbing.The rule was to submit three topics from which one would be approved by my supervisor, then I struck gold when I stumbled on “Inheritance In Igboland” and just to spice things up, I left school and travelled all the way to University of Uyo to get two extra topics to make up my list for which I had to part with N1000 with the promise of paying an additional N5000 for the whole work if per chance any of them was approved (I was such a Mugu back then).
Fast forward back to school, you can imagine my disappointment when all three topics were rejected, I can’t remember what the problem was with the UniUyo topics but I was specifically told that the “Inheritance In Igboland” was too broad and I may not have ample time to do justice to it. What options was I left with? That’s how yours sincerely was left with no other option than to sit her ass down and write a brand new project topic which had never been written in the department before.
After much discussions and with the help of my Supervisor who was a White lady, Irish I believe, I came up with “Inheritance Rights Widows” and ofcourse I used my hometown Abiriba as a casestudy. Thus started my journey and discovery of the world of widowhood, the incessant and hectic trips to my hometown, getting to meet the widows, women and heads of women groups. Learning about my history and cultural trends, the matrilineal structure and its effects on widowhood. Getting to interpret my questionnaire in my dialect so they could understand and transcribe their responses back to English just to make my study as empirical as possible.
My major focus ofcourse was tracking the distinguishing factors of Age, Ethnicity, Economic and Child bearing Capability and the roles they play in a widow’s ability to inherit from her husband.
According to my findings:
AGE: A widow’s age does not play a role in inheritance. Women generally do not inherit in Abiriba, a widow is expected to fend for herself at the demise of her husband therefore a younger widow has an advantage of meeting her needs by falling back on a job or skill set or even remarrying while a much older woman has no chances or remarrying and may be too old to engage in economic endeavours. Two options open to her are either relying on her children or her family and siblings if she has no children.
Ethnicity: Based on the matrilineal structure of the Abiriba people, A non- Abiriba woman who is married in Abiriba is regarded as not just a man’s wife but also his relative, therefore she becomes part of her husband’s kith and kin and is expected to partake in the inheritance process at the demise of her husband over the Abiriba woman but truth be told when push comes to shove, she is told she is “Onye Mba ” (Outsider) and most times is disinherited. It should be noted that in some cases where a man’s family has some level of conscience, The “ outsider’s” children are given preference unlike an Abiriba woman’s children.
Economic Capability: A widow who is financially stable and capable of meeting her needs and that of her children do not feel the brunt of disinheritance unlike her counterpart who has nothing going for her . Being financially capable though does not make the brunt of disinheritance easier to bear.
Childbearing Capability: Being able to have a child in marriage has little or no significance in inheritance. Just like previous factors, the widow has nothing to gain, in most cases one would expect a childless widow to be shown the door at the demise of her husband but she is left to live peacefully except in cases where she may be sent packing if it was noted she was never at peace with her husband and her inlaws prior to his death.
The Role Of The “ADANNEs” In Marriage and Inheritance
The ADANNEs are usually a man’s female siblings and sometimes female cousins. They wield a lot of influence on a man’s decisions in a bid to safeguard their interests because based on the matrilineal structure of the Abiriba people, they, combined with their males are the rightful heirs to a man’s estate. They would never blink at making a woman uncomfortable in her matrimonial home just to protect their interests.
My findings were heartbreaking to say the least but one thing I took away from that experience was that women are the beginning and the end of their problems. How you may ask?
A typical Abiriba woman is born into the knowledge to never expect to inherit therefore she must strive towards being independent, strong and able to withstand any adversity, at worst fall back on her own family. The day widows would stop being disinherited would be the day women decide to speak up collectively.
It is worthy of note that over the past decade, there is an emerging crop of men who are educated and are aware of the significance of leaving behind a protected estate for their widows and children in form of IRONCLAD WILLS which relatives would not be able to contest.
In summary, in as much as a culture portrays a people’s way of life which must be adhered to at all times, same time every culture is subject to change and is being eroded on a daily basis, nothing is ever cast in stone. I believe some day we’ll get to that level where a widow would be able to reap from the labour she toiled so hard with her spouse, till then arm your selves through education, jobs, and skill sets.