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Why Culture of ‘marrying the dead’ persists

By Sunmola Olowookere


An agelong tradition whereby a man that takes a woman to wife without paying her bride price is forced to perform the marriage rites on the dead spouse, was brought more to the fore last month when a man simply identified as Oje was forced to “marry” his dead wife, Amarachi.

Both of them were of Igbo descent and it caused a ruckus between the two families as the man vehemently kicked against the strange practice.

As the man kicks, the family is however bent on compelling him to perform full marriage rites on the corpse of his bride. They accused Oje of not paying Amarachi’s bride price before her demise and noted that the punishment for his action was for him to now “marry” the wife properly before she could be buried.

Rather than going into extinction like many African cultures and traditions, the bizarre practice seems strong as ever.

According to investigations by The Hope, the practice is common in riverine areas of Nigeria such as Ijaw/Apoi, Ilaje, parts of Edo state, Ikale, the whole of Ijaw nation, Delta, Itsekhiri, Urhobo and some Igbo tribes especially areas along the river lines.

Also, a few years ago, a man identified as Chudi who reportedly cohabited with a lady known as Ginika in Lagos without properly engaging her in marriage before she died in his custody, was forced to marry her corpse before she could be buried.

After some skirmishes, the embattled Chudi agreed to pay N800,000 to the family of the deceased as part of the marriage rites including her bride price.

The deceased ‘s family at first insisted on collecting N5 million, but after much pleading the parties arrived at the price as a way of settling the matter with the police before Chudi was granted administrative bail to travel for the marriage proposal to the corpse of the lady.

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 Chudi landed in trouble after he took custody of the late Ginika as a wife without paying her bride price and the consent of her family.

He lived with her at Idimu, Lagos and they had two kids before she died at an undisclosed private hospital where she went to deliver her third baby.

The supposed husband, Chudi went to her family to report the death but was arrested and handed over to the police for abduction and suspected murder.

The deceased family in the petition alleged that Chudi abducted the late Ginika some years ago and hid her from the family and they just discovered that it was Chudi who abducted and killed her.

Sophia Anukwu, a Corps Member who hailed from Anambra state hinted that the trend was common amongst Igbos, whereby a man is forced to marry a dead woman.

She explained that her mother told her that it was the tradition, particularly if the woman had children for him outside of wedlock. While agreeing that the tradition does not make sense, she shared that she had seen two men go through it adding that another distant relative is undergoing the same process.

” He is already looking traumatized and I feel this is unfair. Is it right to make a man carry out marital rites on a dead woman?”

Chuks Sunday, a spare part dealer believes that the practice serves a good purpose.

His words: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. For all I know, the practice serves the purpose of legitimizing the kids resulting from such relationships. They are illegitimate kids as far as society is concerned because their parents were never married. It has a retroactive effect on the status of those kids in the society. Secondly, the nature of the practice also serves as a deterrence to any man thinking of co-habiting and knocking up people’s daughters without carrying out the proper rites of marriage. With the foregoing, you will agree with me that the practice is important to a society keen on maintaining its moral and social balance.”

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An Ijaw/Appoi prince, Samuel Olomu said that the family would demand for everything due to the family by any means possible which is oftentimes violent, and that sometimes a fine is imposed on the erring husband.

He explained that this was because people from his area value daughters so much that they even demand that their married daughters be brought home for burial.

He expressed that this culture became popular to establish a tie with the offspring of the deceased as they would come home regularly to check on their mother’s tomb.

Olomu said that he was not aware of any repercussions for any erring husband that refused to honour the age-old tradition except for violent reprisals as such a man will be in the black book of his wife’s family.

He said that the practice is common in riverine areas such as Ijaw/Apoi, Ilaje, parts of Edo state, Ikale, and some Igbo tribes especially areas along the river lines.

He recalled when his sister-in-law died and was taken home for burial. He said that her family commended his brother for having fulfilled all rites on the deceased while she was alive and the burial process went smoothly because the husband had already fulfilled all familial obligations to his wife’s family.

He said that the deceased was from Uwebe in Edo state and that the family only collected wine and some money from them while they carried out the burial by themselves.

He revealed that the refusal of any erring husband to abide by the tradition is met with violence by the deceased’s family but he, however, assured that refusal to abide by tradition happens in rare cases.

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Narrating his ordeal, a septuagenarian, who prefers to be anonymous said that his first wife was an Apoi woman who died before he could perform the marriage rites on her although she already had three children for him.

He said that he went through hell when she died from an accident about 10 years into the marriage. He said that he then realized that it was a terrible taboo for a man to take a woman as a wife and not perform the required marriage rites on her as mandated by the custom.

According to him,  he kept postponing it until his wife met an untimely death and he was made to pay through the nose and dragged through some unhealthy and spooky practices.

Following all these, he said that he was fined with several bottles of wine and spirits.

He narrated that it was then taking on a pattern with his family as all his daughters went away from home to live with men without getting married and they began to give birth in those places.

The old man said he was afraid that it was becoming a generational curse and he had to start praying and  encouraged them to come for their traditional marriage.

“I was very persistent. I even made them do Invitation Cards and prepare for the ceremony correctly. One of them whose husband lived outside the country and could not come home, we used his picture frame in his place. I called it the correction of marriage. My mind is now at peace after they all did their traditional marriages”

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