Slave descendants ‘cannot marry’
Wednesday, September 16th, 2020
- While the ohu are marginalised as outsiders - with no known places of origin or ageless ties to the lands where their ancestors were brought as slaves - breaking taboos about relations with the osu is accompanied, not just by fear of social stigma, but of punishment by the gods who supposedly own them.
In a tragedy reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, a couple in Nigeria killed themselves earlier this month after their parents had forbidden them from marrying because one of them was a descendant of slaves.
“They’re saying we can’t get married. All because of an ancient belief,” the note they left behind said.
The lovers, who were in their early thirties, hailed from Okija in south-eastern Anambra state, where slavery was officially abolished in the early 1900s, as in the rest of the country, by the UK, Nigeria’s colonial ruler at the time.
But descendants of freed slaves among the Igbo ethnic group still inherit the status of their ancestors and they are forbidden by local culture from marrying those Igbos seen as “freeborn”.
“God created everyone equally so why would human beings discriminate just because of the ignorance of our forefathers,” the couple said.
Many Igbo couples come across such unexpected discrimination.
Three years ago Favour, 35, who prefers not to use her surname, was preparing for her wedding to a man she had dated for five years, when his Igbo family discovered that she was the descendant of a slave.
“They told their son that they didn’t want anything to do with me,” said Favour, who is also Igbo.
At first, her fiancé was defiant, but the pressure from his parents and siblings soon wore him down and he ended their romance. “I felt bad. I was so hurt. I was so pained,” she said.
Prosperous but ‘inferior’
Marriage is not the only barrier slave descendants face.
They are also banned from traditional leadership positions and elite groups, and often prevented from running for political office and representing their communities in parliament.
However, they are not hindered from education or economic advancement.
The ostracism often pushed them to more quickly embrace the Christianity and formal education brought by missionaries, at a time when other locals were still suspicious of the foreigners.
Some slave descendants are today among the most prosperous in their communities, but no matter how much they achieve, they are still treated as inferior.
In 2017, 44-year-old Oge Maduagwu founded the Initiative for the Eradication of Traditional and Cultural Stigmatisation in our Society (Ifetacsios).
For the past three years, she has been travelling across the five states of south-eastern Nigeria, advocating equal rights for descendants of slaves.
“The kind of suffering that the black people are going through in America, the slave descendants here are also going through the same,” she said.
Maduagwu is not a slave descendant, but she observed the inequality while growing up in Imo State and was moved to tackle it after watching the devastation of her close friend who was prevented from marrying a slave descendant.
During her trips, Maduagwu meets separately traditional persons of influence and slave descendants, then mediates dialogue sessions between the two groups. - BBC