Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, by D. Amaury Talbot, , at sacred-texts.com
FROM a case brought before the Ikotobo Native Court it would appear that among the Ubium Ibibios the death penalty was inflicted upon a woman who married a man from another town. In the course of his evidence the defendant, Okonnor Asom, head chief of Ikotobo, stated on oath:
"Three years ago Etuk Udaw Nwa Mbiam came and told me that the plaintiff, Obot Udo, refused to remain as a wife with her former husband Akpan Idui, and had said to the latter, 'If you can find a new husband for me to marry, I will wed him instead of you; for I would rather be a sort of sister to you than remain as a wife.'
"On learning this I said to Etuk Udaw, 'If you think that plaintiff would like to marry me, please bring her to my house so that I can see her.' After four days, he brought the woman to Ubium market, and called me to come and look at her. I did so, and she told Etuk Udaw, 'I should like you to take me to defendant's house.' Three days later, therefore, he brought her with her sister Ema and, Udaw Etuk Ukpon. When they came I gave them palm wine. They drank, and plaintiff said, 'I am willing to marry you.' I answered, 'Very well. I will come to your
town, Ndukpo-Isi, and see your former husband and your mother. If they agree, I will refund the dowry.'
"I went according to promise. Akpan Idui said, 'If the plaintiff agrees to marry you, you can repay the dowry to me, and after that she will be to me as a stepdaughter.'
"On the same day I went to the mother and spoke of marriage, but she answered, 'The townspeople of Ndukpo-Isi have a law that should a girl from their town marry a stranger she must die.'
"Next morning the mother came to my house and said: 'Akpan Idui has quarrelled with me, asking, "Why have you prevented the girl from marrying a new husband, so that the dowry might be repaid to us?'"
"Five days later a messenger came from Akpan to call me to Ndukpo-Isi. On my arrival he said, 'Plaintiff's mother has now agreed for you to refund the dowry.'
"I therefore took manillas to the value of thirteen goats, and on that same day gave one fathom of cloth and one gown to the girl's mother, saying, 'Take and give these to your daughter as a sign that she is my wife.'
"After two weeks plaintiff and Ekkpo Manga came to my house. The woman slept there for two nights, after which she went back to her mother. Two weeks later Udaw Etuk Udaw came to me and said, 'Have you heard what has happened to your wife? 'I answered, 'No.' He said, 'Udaw Afaha Ama told her that if she continued married to you she would not be allowed to five.'"
From this case, and the still more horrible penalty exacted, even to the present day, among the Okkobbor people as related in another place, 1 it would appear that the regulation as to endogamy was enforced against women marrying out of their own town or clan; but no trace of any custom restricting men in like manner has come to our notice.
Many indications seem to point to the probability that among the tribes of this district communal marriage was practised at no very distant date.
Once when we were about to leave Okon Ekkpo (Jamestown) a deputation of chiefs under the leadership of Efa Abassi of Ibaka came up to say that they wished to go back to the old custom by which not the husband alone, but his "age class" or "company" might claim damages from the co-respondent in case of unfaithfulness on the part of the wife of a member.
This custom of claiming common damages for infidelity would seem to indicate a former state of affairs in which wives of members were regarded as the common property of the whole "society." In such a case the idea which prevails, not in this district only, but also among the Ekoi and many other tribes, that a wife's unfaithfulness entails misfortune, sickness and even death upon her husband, may in earlier days have extended until it was supposed to affect the "age class" as a whole.
Should a husband fall ill, his first idea is to suspect his wife as the probable cause. The case of Nka Anang, heard in Awa Court, on August Ist, 1913, is typical of many. In this the complainant stated that he
had fallen sick, and, thinking that the illness must have been sent as a consequence of his wife's unfaithfulness, taxed her with this: on which the woman confessed to having three lovers.
As will be found related under "Burial Customs" (p. 232), the oracle was usually consulted after the death of a chief in order to discover whether this had been brought about through infidelity on the part of one of his wives. When the answer was in the affirmative, the unfortunate woman charged with the crime was either entombed alive or impaled above the grave of her dead lord. 1
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Two things arouse the hatred of Ibibio women beyond all else, namely when one steals from another the love of a husband, or when one wife is fruitful and another barren. In such a case the favoured woman is always in grave danger; for her childless rival will usually go to any lengths in order to destroy her. Many such seek out a juju man or famous witch-wife, and at the price of all their possessions buy themselves into some terrible "affinity," such as crocodile or water snake. Once capable of assuming this were-form, the jealous woman is supposed to build herself a house beneath the river, and when all is ready, lure her rival to the spot on some pretext or other, and there drown her.
A case showing the savage jealousy of a childless wife to one more favoured was reported by an Efik woman informant. Owing to our sudden removal
from the district the facts are unconfirmed, but even so they are so typical of the state of feeling among childless women that it seems worth while to give them.
A man had two wives, the last married of whom showed signs that a babe was about to be born to her, before hope of such a thing was vouchsafed to the elder wife. One night, therefore, the latter took a small penknife, like the cruel mother in the old northern ballad, 1 and crept into the room where her happy rival lay sleeping. So savagely did she slash at the victim of her spite that the unborn child was killed and the prospective mother died not long after. The murderess is reported to be still undergoing punishment.
So rooted is this hatred on the part of barren women that they are said to wreak it even upon the children of dead rivals. Such a story was told by a very old Ibibio woman:
"Once a man had two wives, one of whom bore him a fine piccan, while the other was barren. After a few years the fruitful woman died, leaving her son to the care of her fellow wife. Now it chanced that the latter, whose name was Afia, went out to her farm to gather the ripening corn, but lo! birds were eating it. So she hired someone to make snares for her and set them in the farm for the protection of the crops.
"Next day she went to visit these and found a bird caught in one of them. Its plumage was very gay and fine, so she determined not to kill it, but
made a cage of split palm stem, and therein bore it home.
"When market-day came round, before setting out she called to the small boy, her stepson, and said, 'Look after the bird while I am gone.' No sooner had she left the house, however, than the child set the cage upon the grass, and took the bird in his hand, whispering to himself, 'I wonder if such a small bird is old enough to fly away.' So saying he unclosed his hand a little, on which the bird flew up and settled upon a plantain leaf outside. At first the boy was frightened, but comforted himself saying, 'I do not think it can fly far. It is so small. Surely I shall soon be able to catch it again." Then he ran out and tried his best to do so, but the bird spread its wings and flew away into the bush, where it was hidden amid the dark trees so that the boy could not follow.
"When the stepmother came back, she went straight up to the cage and looked at it, but saw no bird. So she asked, 'Where is the bird which I told you to guard during my absence?'
"Tremblingly the small child answered, 'I did not think that he could fly away, so I took him out to see if he had yet learnt to move his wings!' To this the cruel stepmother replied angrily, 'Go out and recapture my bird. Without him do not dare to come back to the house.' Shaking with fear the little one answered, 'The bird has gone so far! I cannot catch it any more.'
"On this the stepmother seized him and beat him very cruelly, hitting him on the side so that he
died. She did not want her husband to know that she had killed his son, and therefore took the little body and hid it under the bed. Then she began to cook 'chop,' not knowing that a neighbour had witnessed what she had done.
"When the husband came back from mimbo-cutting he said: 'Bring "chop"': on which the woman brought what she had prepared and placed it before him. Then he said, 'Call my son to come and eat with me.' She answered, 'The boy has already eaten.' On this the man fell to. After his hunger was a little satisfied he said, 'My son always "chops" with me. Call the boy. I will not finish without him': to which she replied, 'He has gone out to play.' So the husband said, 'Very well, I will keep some of the food until he returns.'
"A long time passed and yet the boy did not come, so the man asked further: 'Where is it that my son has gone to play?' To this the wife answered, 'I do not know.' After waiting yet some time the man said, 'I must go myself to seek him.' So he set out and searched all around, but could not find the child. On his way back he saw the old neighbour sitting by her door, and asked her, 'Have you seen my son?' She answered, 'Have you asked your wife?' To which he replied, 'Yes, and she told me that he had gone out to play.'
"The old woman said, 'I heard what she said to the boy about the bird which he let fly. Also I watched her kill him and hide him under the bed. Go, therefore, and look at the bottom of your wife's bed and see what you find there.'
"In silence the man did as she bade, and there found the little dead form. Gently he carried it out to his own room, then called to his wife and asked, 'Who did this thing? Whoever has done it must wake up my son again for me.' The woman replied, 'If you want to have the boy again, give back my bird which he let fly.'
"On this the man sent to fetch his wife's father and mother, that they might see what their daughter had done to the dead woman's child. On their coming they said, 'Never have we known such a thing as this. Do, therefore, what you choose with the woman.'
"On that the husband turned to his wife and asked, 'Can you give me back my son?' To this she replied, 'Get back my bird, and perhaps I may think of bringing back the child of the woman whom I hated.' This so angered the husband that he slew her. After which he went out to the bush and hanged himself: for he did not care to live now that his only child was dead, since there was none to bury him or pour out the ghost offerings over his grave."
A terrible revenge sometimes taken by discarded wives upon husbands who have rejected them was confided to me by an Efik woman.
"When a man took a dislike to his wife without cause," she said, "he used to drive her forth from his house, giving merely, as sufficient reason, that he did not want her any more. Often the woman would cling to him, praying that he would relent and not send her away. Sometimes the neighbours, knowing her to be innocent of any fault, would come and
beg him to take her back. Should entreaties still prove vain, in the olden days, unless she cared to seek another husband, she had no course but to go sadly away, alone and outcast; since by marriage she had lost all part or lot in her father's property, and was no longer considered of her former family, but as belonging only to that of her husband. Driven thence, therefore, she was without refuge, alone and empty of heart, for the husband kept all children whom she had borne him."
In such a case the only way "to bring repentance to her lover, and wring his bosom" was "to die"--not alone, since that would have been but a matter of indifference to her callous lord, but in such a way as might indeed "wring his bosom." Evening after evening, therefore, the outcast wife. would creep round the compound whence she had been thrust, waiting until chance came to inveigle one of her own piccans out from its sleeping-place. When she had succeeded in this, she bore the little one down to the river, and, standing on the brink, gazed out over the swift-flowing water. Cold, deep and black, it swept by, tenanted by crocodiles, water snakes and a hundred unknown terrors; yet to the outcast less terrible than the life which would henceforth be hers. So with a bitter cry she fell forward, as a log falls, the babe tight clasped to her breast, and the cruel current sucked them under, to be washed up, perchance, on some far-off beach, or seen no more of men.
Next morning when the husband woke and found his piccan gone he mourned for its loss, and, perhaps, for its sake, cast a thought of regret to the woman
whom he had driven away, wishing that he had been less harsh, so that their child might still have played in the sunshine. Then, when his turn came to cross that other river, and wife and babe were found awaiting him upon its farther shore, he might, it is thought, be moved to kindliness and take her once more for his own, so that she need no longer dwell husbandless and deserted in the world of shadows.
Not long ago a case occurred in which a man, grown weary of his wife, decided to put her away. The woman could not bear to leave him, and as she was young and pretty the pitying neighbours advised her to dance once more before her husband. She did so, and when the dance was ended and he still stood unrelenting, ran and threw her arms about him, crying: "I will not let you go! I will not let you go!" Alas! Her frail arms had no power to restrain the errant fancy or bring back to her the lost affection of her fickle lord.
130:1 "By Haunted Waters." P. Amaury Talbot.
131:1 Only a few years ago one of the present Provincial Commissioners, Mr. R. A. Roberts, in passing through the Eket district, came across one of these sad sacrifices set up by the roadside.
132:1 "Fine Flowers in the Valley."