By Jethro lbileke
In the entire Benin Kingdom and other parts of Edo State, it is a taboo for a woman who is traditionally married to a man, to engage in extra-marital affairs with other men. It is regarded as a taboo, with grave consequences. When such occurs and is not confessed, it is believed that it could result in dire consequences for the husband and children of the adulterous woman.
For this reason, prospective brides are oftentimes required to subscribe to oaths of faithfulness, which are sworn to at the family shrine of the bridegrooms, after goats and other things mush have been offered to their ancestors.
There are stories of cases whereby either the husband or some of the children of adulterous women die, as a result of the women not confessing to their extra-marital affairs. But, funny as it may seem, the guilty women hardly suffer any consequence.
The majority of girls and young women who spoke on the taboo said they would rather decline a marriage offer than take the oath.
For example, Kemi, a girl in her 20s who hails from Ogun state, but was brought up in Benin, said she will choose to remain single if the only condition that will enable her marry a Benin man is to take the oath.
She said; “It is not as if I want to live a promiscuous life, but, I cannot marry any man who will demand that I take some oaths for fear of infidelity. I am a Christian, if he doesn’t trust me enough, let it be. That is why I have turned down several offers for marriage from Benin men.”
Adaora from Imo state also said she would not want to be married into a family that believes in fetish things. “How will I marry a man who believes that I must first take an oath of faithfulness, at this modern age? I won’t even date such a man, let alone, marrying him,” she said.
Speaking to the Magazine on the issue, Mr. Kenneth Iguisi, a traditional Benin man, said it is a taboo, a serious and dangerous thing for a woman married to a Benin man to have affairs with other men.
He said: “In the entire Benin Kingdom, it is a taboo for a woman that is properly married to a man, especially in the traditional way, to engage in extramarital affairs. For instance, if I marry a woman and I paid the prescribed bride price to her family, her family and my family agree and ordain it that the woman is mine forever, except either of us seek for a divorce. Outside that, if she has affairs with other men, there are spiritual forces behind the ordination that will bring the repercussions. It could result in the death of either the husband or some of the children of the adulterous woman.
“Also, if the woman uses any proceed of the affairs to the advantage of her husband, for example, if she cooked for her husband with the money she received from her lover, if the husband eats such food, he will die. And if he knows, but tries to conceal his wife’s infidelity, he will still die.”
Iguisi, however, explained that if the innocent husband is a strong traditionalist, it may not affect him, but it could affect his children.
According to him, “There are things (charms) that strong traditionalists have in their body that protect them against such things. So, the effect will be on the children. When such deadly repercussions begin to occur, the woman has to confess and there are rituals and sacrifices that must be performed to cleanse the taboo. Goats and some other things will be sacrificed to appease the ancestors.”
It was gathered that in most cases, it is the husband and children of an adulterous woman that suffer the consequences of her unfaithfulness. It was said that it’s only in few cases whereby the man is ‘strong spiritually’ that the thing might boomerang on the woman.
Iguisi is, however, of the opinion that the taboo is no longer revered as it was in the past, and so, it no longer deters modern-day women from marital infidelity.
He said; “In the time of old, these things do happen, and it instilled fear of committing adultery in women. But today, it is believed that because of Christianity, women no longer have fear for such tradition anymore. If they are called upon to perform some traditional rites, they decline. For such reasons, it no longer evoke fear in them.”
Findings by PM News correspondent revealed that before a woman is initiated into such a marriage, certain rituals are performed in accordance with the specification of the family.
It was gathered that old women in the family of the husband carry out the purification rituals. They will invite the wife-to-be, question her if she is really ready to marry the man by subjecting herself to the family rites. If she answered yes, they will then take her to the family shrine where certain rituals will be performed on her by the women, after which they will report back to the men in the family. Next, they will dissolve white native chalk in water, soak a certain leaf in it and then spray the mixture on her, her clothes and the entire house, to cleanse the house.
But in case the woman confesses to having extramarital affairs, and the man still wishes to retain her as his wife, a goat will be sacrificed, with some other things, to appease the ancestors. But in case the woman insists on leaving the marriage, she will inform her family and they will return the bride price paid on her to the husband’s family and she would be free to go.
How a stupid tradition transformed me to into frigidity – Faith
My name is Faith. I am from the Benin royal family. I got married at 23. I’m quite aware of the tradition and it is taken more seriously in the royal family than in other families. I passed through all the rituals and was made to swear at my husband’s family shrine never to have affairs with any other man, apart from my husband. To me, that wasn’t something difficult to comply with; after all, all my sexual needs were cared for by my husband.
However, my predicament began three years after my marriage and our first son, when my husband travelled to the United States of America. At first, he promised me that he would come back after a while to take me and our son to live with him in the U.S. But, eight years after, I am still here alone. He only comes once in two or three years to see us, and then, returns to the U.S. During his first visit, he made me pregnant and I had my second child in his absence.
Agreed, he calls regularly to check on us and money is not a problem; we have more than enough to keep us going. We live in our own duplex in choice area of the GRA, me, my two children and my niece who lives with me. I could say that life is good for us. But, how about my sexual needs?
Whenever I complain to my husband that I can no longer endure abstinence from sex, he would ask me “what good things of life do I need that I don’t have.” But, is that all there is to life? How about my sexual needs, will the Dollar sleep with me? I know he is there in the US having fun with ladies of his choice, he told me himself.
Many of my friends also don’t help matter at all, they understand what am passing through. They will tell me how much they envy the life of luxury that I live, but they seem not to appreciate the fact that I am also a woman with sexual feelings. If I tell them how much I miss having sex, they will ask if I didn’t have enough of it in my university days.
Trouble started about two years ago, when I met a man that showed me extraordinary kindness. I went to pick my children from school that afternoon and my car developed a fault. While other men were yelling at me to leave the road for them, this man came down from his car, helped me to push my car away from the road. He called a cab that took me and my children home and waited till my mechanic arrived to fix my car. We exchanged phone numbers and, naturally, we became friends.
At first, it did not go beyond ‘hello, hello’ friendship. He actually was a complete gentleman. But, as time went by, I started developing feelings for him. Whenever I get emotional, I call him on phone. When I got to know that he wasn’t living with his family, I will deliberately call him at night and we will chat and chat and chat. Actually, I seduced him, and, before long, we started having phone sex. Perhaps I would have slept with him, but he refused to let me come to his residence.
After a while, I told my friend about the oath I was made to swear to and the consequences. He suggested that we restrict our friendship to a platonic one, since he would not want anything bad to happen to anyone, let alone my children. Honestly, leaving him was not easy for me, because, I’ve really developed strong feelings for him.
Out of frustration, this stupid tradition has compelled me to develop hatred for sex. Now, I no longer have sexual feelings, I think I’ve become frigid. The last time my husband visited, he was surprised when I did not show any enthusiasm for sex. Even when I allowed him into me, he knew that I was not as I used to be. Now, my first love is my teaching job.
I won’t advise any woman not to subject herself to this traditional rituals and oath. To me, I think it’s a wicked and stupid tradition and a punishment for women. It allows men to do as they like, but expects women to stay faithful.
Tradition brought my marriage to an abrupt end – Ehi
For Ehi, the tradition brought an abrupt end to her marriage of four months. The Esan-born woman told PM News how she decided to terminate her marriage for fear of violating the oath she took during her traditional marriage.
“I am Ehi. I am from Ekpoma, in Esan south-west local government area of Edo state. I got married to my ex, a Benin man about four months ago. We met at a friend’s birthday party and became intimate. Thereafter, we got married. He did not reveal his plans to me when we met, but a few weeks after our wedding, he told me he was considering ‘returning’ to Japan, where he lived before. At first, I took it for a joke, but it became real to me when I discovered that he was already processing his travel documents. When I asked him how long he would be away, he said maybe five years or more. I asked him if we would be travelling together, but he said no, that I will have to move in with his mother.
“There and then, I told him the marriage will not work. I can’t deceive myself, there is no way a man will leave me here in the cold in Nigeria for several years and expect me to remain faithful. I’ll rather not be in a marriage than be married to the picture of a man. Immediately, I called my family members and told them to refund his bride price to his family, and I moved back with my mother at New Benin area.
“From experience, I know that that kind of marriage is a trap. I am aware of a woman whose husband also abandoned her and travelled to Europe. Over 12 years after, the man is yet to return for even one day. God forbid, I will never allow any tradition to enslave me.”
Imelda Elogie-Osayade, a journalist from Auchi, in Etsako West local government area of Edo state, volunteered comments to TheNEWS
Do you believe in the tradition?
Yes, we have the same tradition in my place, that is Etsako, in Edo north. Once you’re married to a man and the man pays bride price on you, you should not have affairs with any other man, except you’re no longer interested in the marriage or the man drives you out of the marriage and has parted ways with you. That case, there would be an agreement between the two families that the relationship is no longer valid. That is the only condition that could permit the woman to have affairs with other men.
Even if the woman has a misunderstanding with her husband and the man sent her out of the house, that does not still give her the liberty to engage in affairs with other men. She has to wait for some time to see whether the man will come to resolve the issue. If it was the woman that offended the man, her family will beg the man to take her back or the man himself could even come to take his wife back if he has forgiven her.
But in the instance where the man failed to take her back and she decides she wants to leave the marriage, the woman must make it known to the husband’s family that she wants to quit the marriage and the necessary things must be done.
What are the implications for a woman who did not take all these precautions and engages in extramarital affairs?
When a woman who was properly married begins to have extramarital affairs, or she abandoned her marriage because of quarrels, it will affect not even the woman, but her children. But, if the man is aware of the situation and he fails to carry out the necessary traditional rites, the man will be the one to pay with his life.
In such a situation, there are some animal sacrifices that must be performed. According to Etsako tradition, the man who had affairs with the woman will buy a male goat, the woman will be made to walk across the goat before it will be sacrificed to appease the ancestors.
The Benin tradition demands that the woman must be taken to the ancestral village of her husband, she must confess and name every man who had slept with her. In case she can not remember all of them, she must take some quantity of sand in her hand and say the men that have slept with her are as many as the sand. The sand represents both the ones she can remember and the ones she cannot remember. After that, elderly women in the community will perform the stipulated sacrificial rituals and the woman will be made to swear never to engage in extramarital affairs again.
People have always seen the repercussions of engaging in extramarital affairs. For instance, I know a family whereby the woman left her marriage for several years but later returned. The man went ahead to accept the woman without carrying out the normal traditional rites. He later died because he was aware of the wife’s unfaithfulness but he did not report it.
Even if he did not know of it, but it was reported to him and he failed to do the right things, he will still die. But if the man does not know and the woman concealed it, her children will die. In most cases, it does not affect the woman, except they made her swear that she should be the one to suffer the consequences.
I know the case of a young woman who’s husband decided to send back to school after giving birth to her first child. The husband stopped sleeping with the wife for fear of getting her pregnant so that she could concentrate on her academic work. But the woman began sleeping around at school, until one fateful day when she was caught.
Her husband’s brother who caught her knew that he would be affected if he kept the information from the family. So, he reported to the family, and she confessed. She was made to swear never to do that again. The bottom line is that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Marriage is not by force.
Were you subjected to these oaths?
No, I was not, because the family I got married to are Christians and I did traditional and court marriages. I believe my husband and his family trusted me. It’s only when they have doubts that they would have taken me to their village for rituals. For now, they allow everything to go, but any moment I give them reasons to suspect me, they will take me back to confess if I’ve done anything or not.
Suppose your husband’s family asked you to swear, would you have agreed?
As a Christian, no, I won’t. If I went ahead to swear, it will mean that I’m doubting God and myself. What matters is to know and appreciate the value of marriage, know the relationship in marriage and be committed to it.
Do you think this tradition has stopped marital infidelity among women?
To some extent, yes. In my opinion, the consequences are grievous enough to deter sensible women from engaging in extramarital affairs.
Elder Francis Onoiribholo is a devoted religious leader in a Benin-based church. He told our correspondent the Christians’ view of adultery quite differs from the view held by traditionalists.
“I am aware of the tradition. It is not a question of whether I believe it or not. I met the tradition, it is an age-old tradition, both in Benin and Esan.
“Adultery itself is a sin, whether you are a Christian or not, it’s a sin. Christianity abhors adultery. In Bible times, adulterous women were stoned to death. But the way Christianity sees it is different from the way traditionalists handle it. They believe that if the woman fails to confess adultery and undergo atonement, something bad will happen to either her husband or her children.
That is true because, I’ve seen something like that in my village, even before I became Christian. The man was sick and the woman confessed that she has thrown her leg into the bush. That is the language they use for it in Esan land. Cases like that call for atonement. They will sacrifice some goats and other things, to appease the deities,” Onoiribholo said.
However, many are of the opinion that the advent of Christianity appears to have mitigated the effect of the tradition, as women no longer see it as something to be respected or be in fear of it. They believe that modern religions have polluted traditions and have emboldened women to break traditions without pangs of guilt. According to them, women simply go into fasting and prayer to appease God, after engaging in extramarital affairs.
Could all these be true? What is your own opinion? Please feel free to express your view in the comment box below.