42 Abisi Grass and Widow Marriage

Above: to be very old and active
A “married women” can take two more husbands after her first three marriages. One is called the Grass Marriage, / isus kpe/ and the other the /isus po∫i/. the widow marriage.

The “grass marriage” isus kpe

This type of union is undertaken in secret.
Kpe literally means “in the grass” because the suitor has enticed the woman while she was in the bush collecting wood or for another task far out from her house while the man hides in the high grass.
This marriage is possible only after men and women have completed at least their first and second marriages. As a man said :“we cannot visit her at her parents’ house like the other women” .
This approach is very risky, retaliation by the other husbands can be violent.
The woman’s parents are told about the relation only after she has already joined her new man.
People consider this practice akin to simple theft because it is validated only after it has taken place by the payment of a goat and two hoes to the women’s father.
Whereas the relations between the first three husbands are guided by restraint and good fellowship—they offer each other pots of beer whenever they are at the same place- the relations between these and the “grass husband” are characterized by antagonism and belligerency.
Moreover, the patrilines of the “grass husband” may suffer certain disabilities in consequence of his action. The people where he took the women will not deal with his own people and his brothers may no longer be able to claim a woman from them for an entire generation or until the woman has left her “grass husband”.
Grass marriages” are generally unstable and women usually quickly shift their residence to one of her former husbands.
Because the social status of this marriage is low, women usually do not take more than one such union.
In the sample of seventy-five marital history of women over 40 years old, 17% had a kpe marriage. This number is high considering the problems it causes and the difficulties related to marriage rules.
Since women could not have more than one husband per section and if they already had their three girl marriage, there was only one section left where kpe was possible.
Kpe is generally (76% of cases) replaces the tiyikirat marriage.
Kpe seems a good alternative for a woman who is not satisfied by her parent’s choice and it also shows that women are free to decide who will be their next husband after she was a girlwalked around by her father”.
This number drops to 23% when it’s their fourth marriage which is mostly /po∫i/ widow marriages in 84% of cases.
Kpe marriages were not very stable, they lasted less than a year if it was the third marriage or two years only if it was the fourth.

The po∫i marriage

For this marriage, rights to a woman are inherited by the older or younger brother of the deceased husband.
Widowhood is followed by a mourning period of seven months. After this time, a divination is performed on the grave of the deceased to find the name of one of his agnates to inherit his widow.
They cut the throat of a “greeting rooster” on his tomb. If he dies legs up the dead is contented and happy with the name provided otherwise, they search for another name to submit.
Beer is drunk during the discussion and back home, they announce who shall be the women’s new husband.

Abisi Widow Status and the Levirate

Many African societies (elsewhere also, like in the Jewish bible) have a marriage called levirate (meaning “husband’s brother.” in Latin whereby a widow, marries the brother of her deceased husband.
Many countries have outlawed it because, generally, it is a forced marriage imposed against women’ freedom rights.
In Abisi there were few cases where a single man had only the po∫i choice because they were marginal to all the work groups necessary for bride services and only had this opportunity.
But for Abisi women, it’s completely different.
After her husband’s death, she has many choices.
If the woman lives elsewhere with another husband, she will go back to her late husband’s house to show her sadness for their loss.
But she can also wait for seven months before going back to learn who is her new given husband. But the results of the divination are in no way binding.
She can choose her own course of action: return to a previously deserted husband, take a “grass husband” or marry any member of the deceased’s section who comes to court her, regardless of the name chosen by the divination.
In fact, some women, depending on their age, are continuously solicited by men, especially those who could not retain their other wives.
If she goes to a man from another section than his dead spouse, the alliance will be considered like a grass marriage and the man will have to pay bride wealth while the brothers of the deceased will inherit marriage rights for free.
One reason why Abisi considers the po∫i like a marriage (an isus) is because the children she may have will belong to the new husband and not to the dead husband as it sometimes occurs elsewhere.
When the death of a man threatens the group stability, people may wish his patriline to go on extending with the widow’s children.
This may be the case if the woman chooses to marry her husband’s brother but it is not the same thing if she marries outside his kinnokirat.
Abisi marriages did not confine a woman to only one husband’s exclusive responsibility, she had other houses to choose from and especially her dedicated Riner husband who vowed to take care of her if she was in need.
Contrary to some situations where widow inheritance is a way to ensure the survival of widows too old to work because they do not have any other choices, in Abisi, one of her husbands may die but not all her other ones.
She is a “part-time“ widow because she has other living husbands. Also, it would have been exceptional for an older woman not to have children who could take care of her.
In my census, the po∫i account for 36 % of the women’s marriage mostly for their fourth one (84% of po∫i marriages compared to 21% for the third).
They marry their riner’s brother (44%) or their kiso’s brother (40%).
They all had children with the deceased riner and up to 25% had children with the deceased kiso.
Very few married po∫i for a deceased tiyikirat (11%) or kpe (3 %)
The po∫i marriage are more stable than the kpe because women are generally older and may have children in the dead husband’s house.
Women prefer stability with their children over adventure with a new kpe man.

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