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Life After Death: Exploring Kindred Aggression

against Widows in Rural southern Nigeria.

Research Grant Proposal
Name of Principal Investigator: Akpobome Diffre-Odiete
Statement of the Problem
It is presupposed that there is a relationship between ancestor worship and the root causes and
manifestations of kindred and community aggression against widows in rural southern Nigeria.
There is a fear of ancestor punishment and the fear of being ostracized by the community if
certain harmful mourning rituals are not conducted for widows (Odje 2003, Ilega 2001, Ubrurhe
2001, Amadiume 1995). The fear promotes aggressive practices against widows, and intimidates
their sympathizers to tolerate the practice. Traditionally, it is believed that the ancestors direct
how marriage and family lives are conducted. Therefore, are they responsible for the aggressive
behaviour and practices of the living against widows? Why would the dead want those they once
loved to suffer aggression? Do victims of these practices bear the pain as pleasurable obedience
to their ancestors or do they merely tolerate their pain for fear of being ostracized by the
community? How do we verify that the ancestors are the real sources of these aggressive ideas
and practices? It is my conviction that a religious approach is what is needed in seeking to
address these questions.
An understanding of the relationship between ancestor worship and the root causes of acts of
aggression against widows will help in an attempt to control the practices involved. This research
therefore intends to explore the religious dimension in seeking to understand and to control these
practices in order to achieve lasting solution to the situation. Widows in rural Nigeria are not
only subjected to aggressive and inhumane traditional practices, but are also inherited by their
deceased husbands kinsmen as part of the deceaseds estate (Odje 2003, Amnesty 2005,
Amadiume 1995, Otite R. 2006, Whyte 2002, Turtoe-Sanders 2007). Existing research has
focused on the manifestations and effects of aggression against widows in Africa, especially in
the rural areas. However, an in-depth study of the root causes of these practices has not been
conducted. The causes are only mentioned in passing in research works. Research is needed in
order to better understand the dynamics of these practices, including the societys general
acceptance, tolerance, and perpetuation of these practices. This will increase our understanding
of how to control the phenomenon.
Aims of the Research
The overall aim of this research is to explore the root causes, manifestations and effects of
aggression against widows in family relationships. However, the specific aims are:
1. to determine the root causes and effects of aggressive behaviour and practices against
widows within family relationships and the wider community.
2. to document the incidence of aggressive behaviour and practices against widows as part
of the mourning rituals and inheritance practices in the research communities. This
involves methods such as observer participation, conducting of interviews, photographs

and digital audio recording, to document widows experiences and instances of

aggression in purposive sample of households.
3. to determine if community norms exist for determining the nature, level, and procedure in
which kinsmen administer mourning rituals on/inheritance of widows.
4. to determine whether kinsmen deviate from the nature, level, and procedure established
by community norms when administering the mourning rituals and inheritance of
5. to determine the extent to which ancestor worship promotes aggressive practices against
Background of the Study
Widow ritual mourning and widow inheritance are cultural practices that exist in many African
societies (Whyte 2002, Onwuejeogwu 1992, Wilson 1950, Gluckman 1950, Turtoe-Sanders
2007, Ayisi 1972). In order for one to understand these practices, one must first understand the
systems of marriage and kinship in African societies. Scholarly work done by A. R. RadcliffBrown and others (1950), Lucy Mair (1974), Eric O. Ayisi (1972) and others form the basis for
this understanding.
In African societies, marriage is regarded as a union of families, not just the two individuals
(Odje 2003, Ubrurhe 2001, Ilega 2001, Radcliff-Brown 1950, Bottomore 1971, Amadiume 1995,
Ayisi 1972, Caldwell 1990). Moreover, the definition of what constitutes a family in these
societies includes the living and the dead members of the kin group (Kuper 1950, Mair 1974). As
such, certain rules have to be observed in order to maintain the solidarity of the relationship
between the families (Ayisi 1972). Marriage is therefore, a religious affair (Ilega 2011). Thus
ancestor worship plays a role in family affairs since the ancestors are seen as the guardians of the
family. They direct family affairs through divination, and are capable of inflicting illness, death
and other forms of punishment on those who go astray from the norms (Ilega 2001, Odje 2003,
Otite R. 2006). This belief is so strong among the Urhobo of southern Nigeria that it influences
all aspects of their daily lives, including their traditional oral poetry, which serves as a voice for
the dead and the living (Ojaide 2003, Darah 2005, Okpako 2011). Another aspect of how spirit
forces are believed to influence daily life among the Urhobo is the concept of iphri. Iphri
literally means argument, and is the spirit of an aggressive ancestor being reincarnated in a
new member of the family. It inspires aggressive behaviour in such individual, who is expected
to carve a wooden sculpture that accommodates the iphri. Whenever he is moved to act
aggressively, he offers an offering of appeasement through the sculpture to the ancestral iphri.
This helps to re-establish the equilibrium essential for peaceful social relationships (Foss 2004:
59). Like the case of the Kalabari (Horton in Kottak 2004 [1978]), also of southern Nigeria, the
iphri sculpture is not carved for aesthetic reasons, but to house the spirit of the aggressive
ancestor that has reincarnated himself in the person. Thus, the fear of incurring the displeasure
and wrath of the ancestors constitute the most effective sanction when it comes to property
inheritance and family matters among the Urhobo (Odje 2003).
In general, marriage is viewed from four perspectives in Nigeria. Islamic marriage is practiced
among the Muslims of the northern parts. In other parts of the country, Christian, statutory and
customary types of marriage practices exist. However, even when couples marry under statutory
law or as Christians in southern Nigeria, customary practice is what generally prevails in family
matters (IRBC 2006). According to the customary law, a married woman is regarded as property
of her husband, and can therefore not benefit from the estate of her deceased husband, rather, she

is to be inherited, like any other property, by the deceaseds kinsmen. She is also subjected to
certain mourning rituals before she is to be inherited. Any attempt by the widow or her
sympathizers to alter these practices may result in aggression against her. These practices are
prevalent among various ethnic groups in Nigeria (Onwuejeogwu 1992, Amadiume 1995, TurtleSanders 2007, Odje 2003, Otite R. 2006, Edet in Kunhiyop 2008, Genyi 2013).
The mourning rituals that the bereaved widow goes through are religious as well as sociocultural in nature. They are meant to humble the widow (Ezejiofor 2011), to show respect to the
departed husband, and to prove that the widow has no hand in the death of her husband, either by
poisoning or by witchcraft (Turtle-Sanders 2007). They also help to sever the marital union with
the husband who is now deceased (Dickson 1997) in preparation for inheritance marriage to the
deceaseds kinsman.
Inheritance and mourning practices often involve acts of aggression against widows. There are
various reports of inhumane practices during the mourning period. These include sexual
harassment (Ezejiofor 2011); imposed shaving of the head with unsterilized objects, sleeping on
the dirty bare floor for several months, naked ritual walk to the market place at dawn,
kidnapping, disinheritance, restricted number of bathes (Whyte 2002); accusations of witchcraft
(Ezejiofor 2011); derogatory names (Otite O. 2003); drinking the water used to wash the
husbands corpse (Edet in Kunhiyop 2008); imposed fasting, ejection from the home (Ezejiofor
2011, Turtle-Sanders 2007); and exposure to HIV and AIDS (UNDP Nigeria 2006). Although
some of the listed practices seem to be induced by broken relationship between the deceaseds
kinsfolk and the widow, they usually use religion, particularly the ancestors, as the excuse and
authority for their actions (Ezejiofor 2011, Whyte 2002). The condition of the widow have,
however, been ameliorated through the influence of Christianity, which regards many of these
practices as pagan and inhumane (Whyte 2002).
Research Site
I purposely selected three communities in southern Nigeria: Eziokpor and Ephron-Oto in Delta
State and Ukpom-Abak in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria for this research because of their rural
setting and their high adherence to traditions. This will help to capture the practices in their
natural setting.
Eziokpor is a traditional Ukwani clan, located some 3 km from Abraka where the Delta state
university is located. The Ukwani people are related to the Igbo of eastern Nigeria in linguistic
and cultural affinity. Eziokpor clan comprises of three closely located villages: Eziokpor ObiEgo, Eziokpor Umu-Oshi, and Eziokpor Unor. The system of government here is male
gerontocracy. The eldest woman, Ada, performs the mourning rituals for widows. I have good
contacts with the community leaders here.
Ephron-Oto is a small village-kingdom with a population of about 1,200 inhabitants. The village
is located in the middle of Urhoboland, with only one access road. My visit there for linguistic
research in 2010, 2013, and April 2014 has familiarized me with the people, their culture and
their language, which is closely related to mine.
Ukpom-Abak is a village of the Anang people of southern Nigeria. They are culturally related to
the Efik. Ukpom-Abak has villages in the interior parts of the tropical forests of the Niger Delta.
I lived in Ikot-Iyere, one of the villages of Ukpom-Abak from 2003 to 2006 where I also learnt
the peoples culture and language during my days of studentship at a Bible college.

Significance of the Research

By investigating the relationship between ancestor worship and kindred aggression against
widows, this project builds on existing efforts to establish a more comprehensive framework for
a better understanding and control of aggression in relation to family relationships.
Understanding how ancestor worship and religious beliefs influence aggression against widows
will contribute to efforts to understand the dynamics involved in conflict over inheritance matters
in family relationships. The project has practical applications for the management of genderrelated conflicts over estate inheritance and the place of women in the society. In many Nigerian
societies where majority of people do not make a will, and where the cultures do not encourage
it, the death of the husband, who is usually the breadwinner, usually creates an economic
breakdown and thus an avenue for conflict, violence and dominance over property inheritance.
During such crisis, the widow is usually the first victim of accusations, economic sanction, and
aggressive abuses. This project will contribute to aspects of social science research such as
conflict management.
Literature Review
Simmel (1904), Freud, Durbin, Bowlby and others (in Bottomore 1971), have long posited the
notion of an aggressive instinct in human nature. However, Bottomore (1971) argues that such
position is inconclusive in an attempt to provide a complete explanation for the occurrence of
aggression. This is so, as aggressive instinct can be regulated and controlled like other instincts.
He argues that conflicts do not occur all the time, and therefore saw the need for an investigation
into the social conditions that lead to conflicts. Simmell (1904) had earlier on asserted that the
sociological significance of conflict is, in principle, never contested. Writing on the root causes
of conflicts in Africa, Otite and Obagbinoko (2008) argue that a particular kind of conflict and
violence is incidentally a reflection of the factors that give rise to the conflict in question,
particularly socio-economic conflicts that arise from socio-economic deprivation.
The belief systems of people, particularly in Africa, cannot be successfully divorced from the
sociology of conflict. Weber (1952 [1946]) argues that there is a relationship between interestsituations such as economic and political factors and the religiosity of people. Moreover, as
earlier stated, the socio-economic situation of a given society determines whether conflict occurs
or not. It therefore seems that both the aggressive instinct and the religiosity of people arise from
their socio-economic situation.
However, Bailey (1966) offers a different view, emphasising an anthropological explanation for
how religious beliefs influence the socio-economic lives of people. He observes that each
society has a customary apparatus of ideas, through which its members understand the world
around them as well as the working of their own society. These ideas are usually linked to
supernatural origin and they guide the actions of the people (Nidia 1978).
In a study of socio-religious matters, it is usually difficult to determine the boundary between
religion and social phenomena (Nidia 1978) because of the fusion that exists between religion
and culture (Ezejiofor 2011). This explains why kinsmen adhere to traditional mourning and
inheritance practices and the general tolerance of aggressive practices towards widows. Earlier in
the background of the study, I have explained the peoples belief concerning the role of the
ancestors in marriage and general family affairs. The influence of traditional religious practices

on the people is so strong that even a Supreme Court Justice of Nigeria once wrote to support the
view that the widow is part of the immovable estate of her deceased husband (Odje 2003:401).
The implication of this belief is that widows are therefore being treated, not primarily as fellow
humans, but as a possession to be acquired.
Realizing that the behaviour of kinsmen towards widows is inhumane, several attempts have
been made to address the problem. However, the problem is only being suppressed and the
practices being forced underground in the urban areas, while it is still being practiced in rural
areas. Even people who spend all their lives in the cities are being affected because when they
eventually die, their corpses are taken to their rural homeland for burial. There, the widow is also
subjected to aggressive rituals, and if she objects, the deceaseds kinsmen may go to the city to
seize their deceased brothers property (Whyte 2002).
There are a number of United Nations (UN) Conventions and Covenants aimed at controlling
violence, discrimination and human rights abuses against women. Nigeria is a party to these and
other international treaties (CRR in IRBC 2006). The federal and some state governments of
Nigeria have also made further attempts through legislative reforms, judicial intervention and
other means (Emery in Ezejiofor 2011, IRBC 2006). Women-led non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) have also contributed through advocacy and participation in international
conferences aimed at alleviating the plight of women (Whyte 2002). However, Ezejiofor (2011)
laments that though these are positive moves, they have not actually brought an end to the
numerous cases of aggression and violence against widows in Nigeria, because these approaches,
including the UN guiding principles are routinely ignored (Aboribo and Okoro 2008).
The need to do further research on the root causes of the problem and ways to seek a lasting
amelioration cannot be overemphasized. Peterman (2011) laments the scarcity of large-scale
empirical research on the subject and calls for further in-depth country-specific research and
analysis. Emery (in Ezejiofor 2011) calls for multi-faceted approach in order to engage with
different audiences and loci of power. Sociologists and anthropologists in Nigeria have recently
made a public call for a holistic approach that must include scholarly research into the political
and religious backgrounds of violence in Nigeria (Ogunsola 2014).
The Nigerian experience shows that social problems that are rooted in religious backgrounds
cannot be solved solely through secular approaches. Although religion has been used as a tool for
fomenting violence, the resurgence of interest in the study of religion in the present century is
evidenced by symposia, conferences and projects that are being organized by universities and
other scholarly bodies around the world (Ejenobo and Akpobome 2013).
The focus of previous research on the subject of kindred aggression against widows is mainly on
the manifestations and effects of the problem. The causes have only been referred to in passing
and have not been adequately studied. This proposed project seeks to complement existing
knowledge by exploring religion, amongst other social-economic factors, as root causes of the
problem. I am convinced that a better understanding of the root causes will contribute greatly to
an increased understanding of how to control the phenomenon.
Research Method and Procedure
Hypothesis: The central research question is, is there a relationship between ancestor worship
and the root causes and manifestations of kindred aggression against widows in rural southern
Nigeria? From this, the hypothesis emerges: the fear of ancestor punishment and of being

ostracized by the community promotes aggressive practices against widows and its tolerance by
the victims and their sympathizers.
Research Procedure: The research will take two phases. I will select and train a research
assistant for each of the two phases. Having had a close rapport with the communities previously,
I will only re-establish contact in each phase. An established rapport with them will help to form
an environment that is conducive for informants to respond. While going about re-establishing
rapport, I will also select purposive sample of currently mourning widows and those who have
completed their mourning rituals for participant observation and ethnographic interviews. Those
who have completed their mourning will no longer be under kindred scrutiny and monitoring, so
they may be more responsive without hindrance. Participant observation will be the primary
method for data collection. Considering the cultural practices during most of the mourning
period and the fear of being ostracized, participant observation is more suitable for documenting
the experiences of the affected widows. I will balance my level of participation in the daily
activities of the people I observe with ethnographic interviews that I will conduct with other
members of the affected households such as adult children and other relatives. I will also conduct
in-depth interviews with key informants chosen from among the kinsmen of the deceased,
community leaders and the general populace.
Research Schedule: This is a one year research project from which a final report will be
produced in December 2015. In order to meet up this goal, my proposed schedule is as follows:
Phase 1: Work at first two sites (January - June) : I will spend three months each at Eziokpor
and Ephron-Otor during which I will re-establish rapport with the community members, select
purposive sample, key informants, and set up pre-test protocol for purposive sample interview. I
will observe daily activities, conduct unstructured interviews with affected widows and
households, and semi-structured interview with key informants. Transcription of the narratives
will be on going, with the aid of the research assistant.
Phase 2: Work at third site, data analysis, and final report (July - December): The distance
between Ukpom-Abak and the first two sites will make me spend the next three months (July
September) there separately. I will follow the same procedure at the last site. This phase will
conclude with data analysis and final report (October - December).
Data Collection
A combination of various methods will be used for data collection. This is to help yield the best
results. Participant observation will be the primary method. This will be combined with other
qualitative methods such as unstructured household interviews and semi-structured interview of
key informants. During these interviews and observations, I will document life histories using
field notes (jottings, diaries, and log) and digital sound recording, with the permission of the
respondents. Wherever permitted and possible, I will also take photographs of events. Laura
Mullers (Benard 2006) use of the combined methods in the study of gender harassment in
various United States Army posts was considered successful.
Sampling: Since widows mourning practices do not involve any form of organized network
among widows, a systematic random sampling is very difficult. Therefore, purposive sampling
method will be employed because of its usefulness for building a sampling frame for small
populations that are difficult to find (Benard 2006). Affected households and key informants will
be selected through purposive sampling. This will help to maximize variation on the independent

variables (Bernard 2006) such as religious affiliation of the deceased, his household, his
kinsmen, and the key informants and widows profession and social status. A purposive sample
of 60 affected households will be selected (20 from each of the research sites). Additional 60 key
informants (20 from each site) will be recruited through a priori analytic framework (Johnson
1990), that is, diverse social settings that are characterized by informants status and access to
various experiences in the community. Such status include relationship to the deceased, social
status (do they have a say in community decision-making processes?), gender, knowledge of
community norms, age, religious affiliation, and personal belief on the plight of widows. The
total number of respondents will be 120. Using various respondents will allow me to check and
crosscheck their narratives and assessment of norms with each other.
Participant Observation: Bernard (2006:368) puts it that participant observation is a strategic
method that lets you learn what you want to learn and apply all the data collection methods that
you may want to apply. It involves getting close to people while making them comfortable
enough for you to observe and collect the needed data. This method is paramount to this study
because its objective from the beginning is to solve a human problem (Bernard 2006), in this
case, the problem of aggression against widows in rural southern Nigeria. Although culture
shock may be anticipated in this method, Bernard (2006) recommends that doing daily highly
task-oriented work, and making clinical methodological field notes about ones feelings will help
minimize the shock.
Unstructured Household Interviews and Life Histories: Due to the mood of mourning
widows and cultural restraints, unstructured interviews will be an excellent way to establish
rapport (Benard 2006) with the the widows, their households, and the Umuada, daughters of the
land that monitor the activities of the widow (Whyte 2002). In addition to this, life histories
relating to widows aggressive experiences will be collected. The aim of collecting the life
histories is to document the incidences of aggressive experiences, to help determine the root
causes and effects of these practices. It will also help to compare the widows experiences with
the narratives of key informants to determine if kinsmen deviate from the level and procedure
established by community norms (if there are) for administering the mourning rituals and
inheritance practices. I will allocate at least 5 hours per meeting to each of the the 60 purposive
sample households for observation, unstructured interviews and life history documentation. The
interviews will be conducted with the widows whenever possible, and/or with their children and
family members, when not possible. Their sympathizers and the communitys monitoring team
may also be interviewed. Their responses will be verified with one another, and with those of
other households.
Semi-structured interviews with Key Informants: Using semi-structured interviews, I will
interview 60 key informants selected from the communities, who are traditional leaders, elders,
kinsmen of the deceased, traditional priests and religious practitioners, and other key actors in
the aggressive practices. The aims of the semi-structured interviews with these informants are to
determine the root causes of aggressive practices and behaviour against widows, to determine if
community norms exist for the practices, the nature, level and procedure for these practices and
to determine the extent to which ancestor worship motivates aggression against widows. At least
3 hours per meeting will be spent with each of the 60 key informants. Several of such meetings
will be held during the allotted research period.
Data Analysis

Several methods will be used for the analysis of the data collected. These include Ground
Theory, Analytic Induction, and the use of Causal Flow Charts. These will involve my
identifying and organizing themes as well as the use of systematic logic (Bernard 2006).
Ground Theory: I will use Ground Theory method in the process of transcribing and coding the
life histories and the interview data. This method (Bernard 2006) helps the analyst become more
grounded in the data, which leads to a better understanding as one closely studies the text. The
procedure involves the construction of theoretical models based on the relationship of the
different themes that arise from a study of the data. The grounded theory method will help to
detect the relationship between ancestor worship as a religious practice and the root causes of
aggressive treatment of widows in rural southern Nigeria.
Analytic Induction: An additional method of data analysis to be employed is the analytic
induction. Through this method, causal explanations of the phenomena will be built from a close
examination of the cases presented in the data (Bernard 2006). This method will further test my
hypothesis which states that the fear of ancestors punishment and the fear of being ostracized by
the community promote aggressive practices against widows and its tolerance by the victims and
their sympathizers. This will be done by examining each single case of aggressive experience as
narrated by the 60 purposive sample households. If one explanation fits the hypothesis, every
one of them will be tested until all either fits it or falsifies it (Bernard 2006).
Causal Flow Charts: Causal Flow Charts consist of a set of boxes that are connected by a set of
arrows. These boxes describe states (such as being a widow), and the arrows indicate how one
state leads to another, such as how the state of being a widow leads to that of being a victim of
aggression. This is a method used for interpretation or representation of ideas, which arise from a
study of data, observation of patterns, and arrival at a conclusion about the causes of things
(Bernard 2006).
Selection and Training of Research Assistant
I will hire one student from the Department of Languages and Linguistics, Delta State
University, Abraka to assist me with the transcription of the interviews and life histories at the
first two sites. The university is located about 3 km from Eziokpor. My affiliation with the
Department as an alumni and ex-President of the students association there will facilitate my
hiring of a student. For work at site 3, I will hire a student from the Linguistics department of the
University of Uyo, located 10 km from the research site. I have good relationship with a
professor who is the past head of the department.
Investigator Competence
I have a Diploma and a B. A. in Religious Studies. I also have a B. A. in Linguistics and Urhobo
studies. In addition, I am currently studying for my Master of Divinity degree. During my study
of linguistics and Urhobo (the language, land, history, and culture of one of the peoples of
southern Nigeria), I also took courses in cultural and linguistic anthropology. Levi-Srauss (1952)
argues that the works of Schrader and Benedict demonstrate the important role of linguists in the
anthropological study of kinship. I have also taken courses in missionary anthropology. Over
eight years of studying the religions, cultures and languages of the peoples of Nigeria prepares
me for this research on kindred aggression, motivated by religious beliefs, against widows in
rural Nigeria. The research question on which this proposal is based stems from issues arising
from an independent research I conducted in three clans of the Urhobo people. The research,

supported by Foundation for Endangered Languages, Berth, U.K., resulted in the documentation
and publishing of a word list on noun and verb groups related to family relationships and other
cultural domains. During that research, widows made up over 50% of my respondents. I have
participated in seminars, conferences, and workshops held by religious and academic
institutions, which dwell on issues of security and peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. I have also
done course work and independent studies in research design and cognitive research methods.
I have worked under Prof. G. G. Darahs direction in research projects involving travels in most
parts of what constitutes the present research site. As Professor of Oral Literature and Folklore,
Darah has supervised me while conducting unstructured and semi-structured interviews,
documentation, and transcription of narratives. I already have good contacts with the local
communities and traditional leaders. Therefore, this rapport will be useful to this research

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