Nneka Iwunna | Left Behind

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Country of origin: Nigeria
Project location: Nigeria
Program: Magnum Foundation Fund
Year: 2017

For many women, becoming a widow does not just mean losing one’s husband, but often it means losing everything else as well. In many of the developing countries, a woman who is widowed becomes a non-person. This project is a reminder of the women who are left behind at widowhood. 

In this project, I examine the plights of widows in Nigeria. They are compelled to go through mandatory observance of prescribed burial rituals, which varies across culture. Widowhood robs them of their status and consigns them to suffer social discrimination, stigma and even violence. They are forced to perform some barbaric burial rituals including sitting unclad on the floor for weeks without bathing and drinking the water that was used to clean the husband’s dead body, all in a bid to prove innocence in their husband’s death. 

Most of the women I photographed are Igbos, from the Eastern part of Nigeria where extreme forms burial rituals are dominantly practiced. Mourning rituals for them is an ancient practice enforced by the men and implemented by the ‘Umuada,’ the first daughters of the town. Many communities have abolished the barbaric practices, but others are obstinate because they claim it is tradition. 

The Church in Nigeria plays a vital role in protecting widows from inhuman burial rituals instead they are allowed to perform other mourning rituals to pay respect to the dead husband.