The return of the corpses of married women of Idoma descent for burial in their father’s village instead of the husband’s is a long-standing tradition amongst Idoma people and is often a source of bewilderment to millennial Idoma generation and non-Idomas.
After fielding a few questions on this, I decided to dig deeper to see if I could come up with the reasoning behind this practice and it seems to date back to the 19th century when slavery was rampant in Idoma land. Aside from selling people into slavery, human sacrifice to the gods was rife and it was common for men to marry women under false pretences.
According to oral history, as narrated to me by an elderly man in Upu village, Otukpo, some Idoma and non-Idoma men would marry Idoma ladies and sell them off to slave traders or offer them as sacrifices to the gods. These men would then return to their wife’s family with news of her death and burial.
When cases of fake early deaths of wives became too much, Idoma elders decided, after consultations with Alekwu, that they needed to put a deterrent in place, hence the introduction of the customary law which states that “the corpses of a wife must be returned to her family for burial”. This law is still adhered to till the present day and is usually reinforced at Idoma traditional marriage ceremonies through the Idoma saying which literally translates into “we only give out the waist and buttocks not the head”.
While some people are proud of this Idoma culture, there are others who cannot hide their disdain for it, but with ritual killings still very prevalent in Nigeria, I do not think Idoma elders will be in a rush to change this law anytime soon.
What is your take on this practice? Let me know through the comments section below.