Widow inheritance is a custom commonly practiced in Africa. In this custom, a man inherits the property and wife of his deceased brother or relative. The custom is practiced in order to ensure that a widow and her children are taken care of after the death of her husband.
But unlike other African cultures where widows’ inheritance is spoken in hush tones, in Zambia, the custom is supported and portions of it given statutory legal effect by The Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act Chapter 57 of the Laws of Zambia, which legalises the marriage between a man and his deceased brother’s widow.
This act particularly applies to the Bemba, the Nsenga and the Lenje tribes in Zambia.
A common custom, the patriarchal system allows a man to inherit his deceased brother’s wife by getting married to her. This is done to ensure that the properties of the deceased are passed on to the family.
Women are generally seen as lesser beings in application to this custom. As such, the woman owns no property and is present to serve the needs of the deceased relative including gratifying him sexually. This sexual gratification, it is believed, is a form of deep spiritual cleansing. This is because the spirit of the dead hovers and clings to the shadow of his wife. As such, there is a need to perform this ritual to remove his stain.
Whatever decision she makes after getting married to him is rendered null and void. Refusal to marry him means that she becomes an outcast in the community and will be termed a witch.
However, this marriage becomes unlawful if the woman divorces the man before his death.
Although there is in existence, the “Wills Act” and the fear that this might lead to the widespread of HIV/AIDS, the custom still stands. Currently, Zambia ranks 7th amongst African Countries with the highest HIV prevalence rate.
People from these tribes argue that it is a tradition with “good intentions” because it saves the woman from economic problems and is a continuation of her previous marriage.
Sources: guardian.ng, parliament.gov.zm, dspace.unza.zm