Curbing harmful traditional practices in Nigeria

By Olawale Oyebade
Nigeria, a country of 374 tribes have so many traditional practices although most of it are not documented. Some critics have decided that our cultural practices make us a special people.

In this vein,  despite our level of civilization in Nigeria, our cultural practices which are passed from generation to generation continue to have a stronghold on our relationships and our very existence.

 Some of the towns and settlements in Africa at large and in Nigeria in particular are still tied to the past as they believed that whatever happened to them is tied to their cultural belief. Nothing to the African happen perchance. Something somewhere is probably responsible for it, an average African would reason.

Nigeria has some general traditional practices that cut across all tribes such as;

Female genital mutilation also known as female circumcision.

In some parts of the country, it has been discovered that the horrific practice of female genital mutilation is still being practiced. If the wife refused, the mother in law and the husband especially the ones still hooked on this practice would take the baby girl to be circumcized. This, they believed, would make her not to be promiscuos.

The question then is; what do they do about the males then?

Female genital mutilation is a very painful and unnecessary process and in some cases, scar the children involved emotionally and physically.

 Child marriage; this is

prevalent in Northern Nigeria and it is an age-old traditional practice of giving out underage girls for marriage. Its obvious the trauma these girls would have to go through after getting married to far older men.

 It is shocking that even in this 21st century, we still get to hear cases of girl-child marriage in this country. No girl should ever be forced to, or allowed to marry at an age less than 18. Anything contrary is simply barbaric.

 ‘Sharo’ festival is another one you might have heard about.‘Sharo’ means flogging. It is an age old tradition practiced by the Fulani people in which a groom undergoes the most unimaginable form of endurance test. In this case, the groom is severely flogged in an open ceremony. The groom must endure the flogging, not wince, cry or show the pain he’s in. If he passes this test, he is then presented with the bride.

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If it happens that the groom fails the test, he goes home empty handed.

 In the case of Widowhood Practice

Traditional practices related to widowhood in Nigeria are quite scary and sometimes demeaning to say the least. This practice is quite popular in all over Nigeria. Some widows are made to undergo all sorts of horrific forms of purification or tests to determine if they had a hand in their husband’s death.

Some poor widows are even made to drink the water used in washing their dead husband’s corpse, while some others are made to sleep in the same room with the corpse, etc. This horrific traditional practice has come under huge criticism, with many calling on the government to enact a law that bans this practice.

Others require that the woman shaves her hair and wear only clothes in the colour of white for a period of one year. She is also required to go through a special ceremony before she can return to life as usual.

  Witch killing is probably one of the scariest of them all.

Witch killing or witch hunting is a horrific traditional practice carried out in many parts of Africa and sadly, this includes our very own Nigeria. This is the traditional practice that encourages the torture and murder of anyone suspected to be engaged in witchcraft.

This dehumanizing practice goes as far as killing, maiming, burning, and burying alive of anyone suspected to a witch, including little kids.

Due to the extreme barbaric nature of this practice, it is no longer being openly practiced except in rural areas.

However, news surfaces occasionally about children, tortured by their parents for being witches.

 Casting of the dead into evil forest is another evil practice in which, after an individual dies from unnatural causes such as suicide or even a rare natural cause, such as being struck by lightning; the individual is not buried but cast into the forest to be eaten by termites and vultures.

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In some communities, if an individual dies after swearing an oath or after confessing to an atrocity, such a person is also cast into the ‘evil’ forest.

One cannot ascertain if this despicable practice is still being carried out, but we can’t rule out the possibility especially in remote areas.

Apart from the collective cultural practices of each town, each family unit àlso has their cultural practices which mostly consists of dos and don’t s.

 In most of this families, the descendants may be educated and may have travelled far from their source yet they find it hard to break away from this strong family cultural practice.

In some families, it is compulsory for a new bride to be subjected to a family rites in which she would have to appear nude at the family shrine while the priest in the seclusion of the shrine would perform the specified rites on her.

The details of the rites are never divulged to the person that would undergo the process and they are sworn to secrecy never to divulge whatever happened at the shrine.

According to the family elders, it is to instill loyalty and discipline in the new wife. Also, the rite would ensure that she is productive in their household.

No one wife that goes against this. It is a compulsory rite that could spell doom for intending couples if ignored.

In some families in Nigeria, the wife dare not cut her hair. It would be taken as a serious offence.

It is assumed that she planned to kill her husband with that singular act. As a punitive measure, she could be made to pay a fine of a goat at least before she is allowed back in her matrimonial home.

In the severest cases, she could be sent packing without an option of fine and the orders of the elders are sacrosanct. No one dares go against them in order to avert calamity. No tale of “I love my wife, you should not separate us” is seen as insignificant.

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  This act is taken with that level of seriousness because widows even  till now in most African tribes must have their heads  shaved as soon as their husband died.

 No one dares refuses to have their heads shaved. After all, it is the simplest of the widowhood practices.

There are more bizarre ones. In some families, the pregnant wife when she falls into labour has to climb up a ladder before she is taken to the hospital for delivery. For every woman that have been through labour before, they know how difficult it is to move a leg when you are hit with a wave of contraction. How could such a person be made to climb a ladder? It is sheer torture!

However, obedience is the keyword in this kind of families in order to avert calamity befalling the erring couple. Many people have tales of woe to recount following any act of insurbodination to the directive of their family heads.

Though not all traditional practices are harmful, however most of them especially with regards to women are barbaric and inhuman. It is an agelong and archaic means of enslaving the women folk.

Such a practice is capable of wreaking havoc on young marriages as it could pose a mental torture for the women.

Unfortunately, our generation finds it difficult to break away from the past as they believed that the calamity that their forebears threatened could happened to them.

 it has negative effect on this generation as majority of them do run away from home to prevent them from participating in it.

 This has in no small measure contributed to braindrain in Nigeria as these people seek protection in better climes as they often couldn’t challenge the elders in order not to see the wrath of the god of the land or family.

Oyebade writes from Akure

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