If there is a traditional rite whose only evocation evokes a black mood, it is indeed that of widowhood. In Cameroon according to the tribes, it is a feared custom of men but even more women because of its practices deemed humiliating.
Beyond practice, it is a symbol. The widowhood rite as perceived by our ancestors as a traditional act whose aim is to accompany the spirit of the deceased towards the world of the dead. It is a rite of purification practiced by a widow. Today one can regret the fact that those who practice it, do not master its meaning at all: hence the observed slippages.
As a result, it is everyone’s interpretation. For some, it is a compulsory passage in which the in-laws decide the fate of the widow or the widower, and another time it is the occasion to take revenge on the widow who would have benefited from the income of the deceased while alive.
However, we realize that it is the widow who suffers every time. Practices are multilevel. At the announcement of the death of the husband, the woman goes directly into widowhood: she remains lying and sitting on the floor, she is deprived of clothes, she walks her head down with her fists closed and her face is covered with ashes or white kaolin whilst mourning.
She remains locked in the house of the deceased, naked, without food, without the right to wash and without the right to visit. After the burial, she is subjected to another series of tests.
Every morning, she is forced to run in a half-naked body. And during this time, the body is at the mercy of the mosquitoes, the first morning dew and thorny grasses. This stage is called the “antelope” race.
Then loaded with a trunk of banana tree whose leaves trail on the ground, she must carry out the junction of the family concession. Following her, the sisters-in-law run after her, trampling on the leaves in order to slow down her course for increased effort. In case she falls, she is whipped with the banana ribs.
Then, she carries a pebble on her head with which she performs a dance while shouting the name of her late husband. And while she sings, she is beaten by her in-laws on the pretext that she is the cause of her husband’s death. Of course, these rites vary from one tribe to another, but in general it is the same trend.
The rite of widowhood practiced on the woman is considered very constraining compared to that of the man. In some families it is justified by the fact that the custom of widowhood is a way for the woman to repay the dowry that the deceased paid before taking her as a wife. And in others, this is justified in the case of mixed marriages. When a woman goes into marriage in another tribe, she is the object of bullying especially if she does not master the custom of widowhood of her in-laws.
For men, on the other hand, the treatment is very supple. And it comes down to giving gifts to the various members of the family of the deceased. In view of the inequalities and deviations observed during the widowhood rites, one may wonder whether it still has any meaning today and whether it is still worth practising?