Wedding while grieving: The reality of African traditions

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 08:15 | By
Nigerian musician Davido and his girlfriend Chioma Rowland. The two are said to have gotten married days after losing their three year old son who drowned in the family pool. PD/COURTESY

The pain of losing a loved one is immeasurable as it goes down deeper to the heart, soul and body of the bereaved.

And when it comes to a parent losing their children, it takes a while before they heal or recover from this loss, thus a common African saying, “no parent should have to bury their child”.

That is why when reports of popular Nigerian artist Davido hurriedly marrying his long-time lover Chioma Rowland days after losing their only child shook the world, mainly because this is unheard of.

Majority of Africans could not fathom how a grieving couple could go ahead and have a wedding while their only son was still lying at the morgue.

Baby Ifeanya, a three-year-old boy was found dead in the family’s swimming pool having drowned, after he was left under the care of his nanny.

Until his death, his parents were not officially married although Davido had proposed to Chioma in 2019.

Sources close to the duo told the Nigerian blogs that Davido had to officially marry the deceased’s mother as a way of comforting her as she felt like the only thing that joined them was no longer there.

However, a look into the Igbo traditions, the tribe where the couple originates from reflects what most if not all African communities make certain demands in such situations.

Despite Christianity replacing the majority of the cultural traditions, part of these traditions have totally refused to die off.

According to Igbo culture, Davido did not have any rights to claim or bury the child since the couple were not officially married.

This then forced him to take one of the controversial steps to marry his fiancée to be able to claim his son and have the blessings to bury him at his home.

Most of these traditions including this one seem to replicate across most African communities including here in Kenya.

No right to burial

Mwadime wa Mwawuri, an elder from the Taita community says these traditions apply everywhere including at his community living by the sprawling hills of Taita.

“In our community, as long as the father of a child has never stepped in our home to say that he has a child with our daughter, we consider that child ours. He does not have any right or say about the child,” he says.

Mwawuri says most of the youth tend to run away from the responsibility of undertaking the marriage rites and only appear when tragedy strikes them.

He says this happens, especially for people who meet in the cities, away from their homes, which then clouds their judgment to perceive such traditional steps as important.

“Most of the time, a woman gets children with a man yet we know nothing about this man or his people. But when a tragedy happens, you find this man claiming either the woman or children. Traditionally, we cannot allow that man to bury any of them,” he says.

While some men will ignore and let the woman deal with the tragedy, the majority of men push to redeem themselves so as to be granted parental rights.

This happens when the man pays or commits to pay part of the dowry for the woman who is the mother to his children.

“If the man commits, then it should be in written form, but he must also show his willingness by paying a fraction of the dowry,” he notes.

Mwawuri says even though some families within the Taita community still uphold these traditions, some of them have abandoned them after religion and education took over in Africa.

He, however, says conducting a full marriage ceremony is going to the extreme levels or torture to both parents.

Mwawuri notes the tradition is not keen on enforcing the bereaved family to carry out a wedding to officiate their marriage while their child is lying cold at the mortuary as this is likely to be misconstrued by people who might not be aware of the tradition.

“A wedding is a happy event and the couple should be able to enjoy their day. I cannot imagine a grieving couple wedding just to appease the traditions. The pain of losing a child is already too much for them and they should be allowed to grieve without further torture,” he notes.

Traditions in the society

Pastor Anthony Mwangi popularly known as Pastor T says culture will always be there in every stage of life such as birth, marriage and death.

He notes, some of the traditions cannot be washed away since they have been in existence since immemorial.

“Some of these traditional guidelines might not make sense to this generation, but previous generations will tell you of how not abiding by some of these traditions brought negative consequences and, therefore, they had to uphold them,” he notes.

Pastor T says for Davido’s case, following the tradition by marrying Chioma was the only option he had on the table lest he lost the right to bury his only son.

“Sometimes we have to bend down to the traditions because we do not have other options. We should consider that not every culture is bad because some of them bring accountability,” he adds.

He says contrary to the previous generation, the current crop of generation face culture with an open mind and interrogate these traditions instead of following or implementing them blindly.

 Pastor T notes that there is a need to re-evaluation these cultures and traditions to align them with the modern world.

He says communities cannot completely abandon them, but it is important to make sure they align with the current generation of people who are religious and educated.

“We cannot keep a child because the parents are not married, so how do we make sure the father can claim the child without having them go through the torture of marrying while still grieving. 

More on Features