Being A Bloodless Widow Is Worse Enough! We Need Thoughtful NDC MPs
Since the popularization of the infamous profiling of Madam Lydia Seyram Alhassan as a bloody widow, I have been reflecting over what it means to be a widow. One of the fault lines of western democracy in Africa is the extent to which the political regime has been monetized, making it possible for anyone with financial muscles to go to the august house – parliament.
Ideally, democracy or any form of political system is expected to present the best of brains to represent the masses in parliament. Representative capacity is based on brain capacity. When the early western thinkers, inter alia, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, J.J. Roseau and Montesquieu were thinking about power and how power is controlled, they labored day and night and consequently gave us the concept of social contract.
Social contract, which established the relationship between the ruled and the ruler, was developed over the philosophizing of the ontology of Man and the state of nature. Is man innately good or bad? Is the disposition of the state of nature good or bad and how do we compare and contrast the state of nature and civil society?
Among the Akan, the evolution of a civil society or political society was borne out of the sociality of the man. Among the Akan, man is a dependent being. He is also a cultural being.
Consequently, as a socio-cultural being, man finds meaning in life by belonging to a community of other human beings. Even so, the socio-cultural bent of man impliedly means that man has limitations. It is impossible for man to do everything by himself. It is also impossible for man to subsist independent of other human beings. But more importantly, the Akan conceptualized man as having proclivities for both good and evil.
In the end, in western philosophy and Akan philosophy, the imperative to have a society that was structured on laws gave birth to political organization. Throughout history, we observe that when people come together, they think of power: who controls power and how is power controlled?
All forms of political philosophies are meant to ensure that a balance is created to prevent the creation of a political monster! How do we have the Leviathan or Prince without political apostasy?
Our parliamentarians are part of the internal mechanisms needed to ensure that power is not abused. Persons who go to parliament are, therefore, expected to exude a high level of integrity. As lawmakers, who engage in cerebral activities to forestall the creation of a power drunk/monster, parliamentarians are to embody the ideals and virtues of society. Their lifestyle and attitudes should reflect the social and political mood of the larger society. As representatives, they are to talk and act in manner that is in consonance with the ideals of society.
Sadly, most of our parliamentarians have become persons who are incapable of cerebral work. They are more interested in celebrating obscene and culturally offensive slogans than cerebration. Their work as lawmakers has been submerged and supplanted by their uncritical opposition to government. In most cases, most of our parliamentarians only show evidence of unity when it is about their interest. If it is about increment in their salary, they hardly exchange brawl. But when it is about national interest, they demonstrate the highest of inanity.
Since the infamous ‘bloody widow’ tag, which originated from the National Democratic Congress (NDC), I have been thinking about whether these parliamentarians really have a modicum of knowledge about Akan culture, particularly in relation to widowhood. I limit myself to the Akan culture because Madam Lydia Seyram Alhassan is bearing the overburdening axiom of a practice that is very much akin to the Akan. It is sad that after centuries of immersing ourselves in western education, we have become mis-educated and mis-informed about our culture. We have been alienated from what it means to be Akan, Ga, Ewe, Dagomba, and African. The more we uncritically drink from the fount of western education, the more we mis-know who we are as a people.
Ten years ago, my father, Anthony Prempeh, responded to the heavenly call. His death was a blow to me, because he was my best friend. But more importantly, his death brought me face-to-face with my ‘Akanness’. Following his death, I understood the hues and nuances of Akan culture, particularly in relation to widowhood rites. A week to the burial of my father, my mother, in the company of her matrilineal members, had to go to my father’s family house, wailing and cursing death. She ate only one boiled egg a day. She was expected to do that to express how sorrowful she was and how my father’s death had been very devastating. More importantly, she was to do that to demonstrate her innocence of my father’s death. This practice is also wrapped in the guise of separating the dead from the living.
The highpoint of proving her innocence comes with widowhood rite. One will not understand the centrality of widowhood rite until one understands the socio-conjugal relations between husband and wife among the Akan. Among the Akan, the relationship between husband and wife is fraught with tension. The Akan word for husband is ‘mekuno’. An etymological study of the word reveals that the word is a contraction of the expression, ‘me tu me ku no,’ to wit, ‘I am able to kill him.’
The matrilineal social structure of the Akan (apart from a few Akan sub-groups) alienates a man from his wife and children. A man and his children do not belong to the same family. The Akan woman never produces children for her husband. Children also do not inherit or succeed from their father’s family. While the Akan concept of a person argues that a child gets his personality from his father, a child belongs to his mother, since blood – the symbol of life – is received from the mother. Among the Akan, therefore, pater – social father – was more important than genitor – biological father. In effect, the Akan is always interested in asking the question: who is taking care of the child? The question: who gave birth to the child? is asked under a very strain situation.
This social system of the Akan makes marriage less stable. It also makes divorce easy to obtain since the bridewealth among the Akan was basically cheap and less valuable, compared to patrilineal societies. Nevertheless, because of the propensity of the Akan man to shirk his responsibility towards his children and his wife, in some Akan communities, a potential husband was asked to swear the ‘Foolish vow’. In the ‘Foolish vow’, the man said something like this: ‘This marriage I am establishing, if anything good comes out of it, it belongs to my wife and her family. If anything bad comes out of it, it belongs to me and my family.’ While this may have the trappings of being idiotic, it was meant to ensure that the Akan woman and her children never suffered neglect from the head of the family.
Notwithstanding this social mechanism, Akan marriage was ridden with suspicion – which makes the woman the prime suspect in the event of her husband. Since scientific autopsy was hardly known among the Akan, appeal to the cultic world was the means through which the cause of death was ascertained. In the case of the woman, aside recourse to divination to explore the mind of the divine about the cause of her husband’s death, she was asked to subject herself to rigorous widowhood rite to prove her innocence. Thus, among the Akan, the obverse happened: the woman is guilty until proven innocent. While the severity of the practice is waning, residue of it remains among some Akan groups, including the people of Assin Bosomadwe in the Central Region of Ghana.
After my father had been buried and a successor chosen, there was a gathering of my maternal and paternal families. It was during that gathering that my mother was asked whether she wanted to be subject to widowhood rite. While the question has the façade of choice, she was actually not expected to say no. Asking about her concern was simply a matter of courtesy. If she ever said no, that would have deepened the suspicion that she might have killed my father/her husband. Indeed, this was against the backdrop that my parents had cordially lived together for over 30 years, until the death of my father. In fact, since I became conscious of myself, I never saw a third party coming in to mediate my parents’ marriage relation. But while autopsy had indicated the cause of my father’s death, my mother was still considered a suspect! That is how torturous being a widow could be!
Widowhood is, therefore, a patriarchal, androcentric practice that profile and tag women as bloody. It is, therefore, regrettable that lawmakers, whom we pay with our taxes, could brazenly demonstrate idiocy in the name of politics. It is so unfortunate that this bunch of irresponsible parliamentarians will remain obstinate even when they were told that their tag was below the belt. Elsewhere in the world, molesting a woman would have been enough to stir an endless firestorm. Unfortunately, men with balls in between their thighs, who bow before women in the closet, will foolishly defy their conscience to remind a woman of her most painful moment in life. If these men, who have no qualms of conscience, were responsible enough, they would have gone public to apologize to Ghanaians. But since most of us do dirty politics, we will still vote them into politics another time. Sad day for Ghana, indeed!
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra
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