Theological Response to the Culture of Necrogamy in Ibibio Land

Theological Response to the Culture of Necrogamy in Ibibio Land

Mbosowo Bassey Udok (University of Uyo, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2574-6.ch016
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This chapter investigates the practice of necrogamy known as udo okpo by the Ibibio people in the light of theology. In Ibibio community, udo okpo as a practice has a long history till today. It is used as a means of facilitating human exploitation and sanctioning economic and financial hardship in the society. The practice has violated the fundamental human right of citizens especially the victim of udo okpo practice. The chapter adopts descriptive/survey methods of investigation making use of personal interview and participant observation. Findings reveal that instead of social integration of families by marriage, udo okpo practice brings about disunity among the affected families. With the use of theological methods namely, liberation theology, and cultural hermeneutics, the chapter portrays that cultural practices that dehumanize or put people in bondage are not the will of God for his creation. The chapter recommends that the church, government, and non-governmental organizations should organize educational programmes for the citizens on how to handle sociocultural practices.
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Necrogamy as a cultural practice has a long history in Ibibio. It is a form of marriage which is as old as marriage itself. In Ibibio, necrogamy which is referred as udo okpo is necessitated by a tradition that demands that a man is liable to marry or is forced to marry the corpse of the woman he had entangled himself with in sexual relationship without properly undertaking and fulfilling the necessary traditional marriage obligation. In a personal interview with the Paramount Ruler of Itu, one of the core areas of Ibbibio, Edidem Dr. Edet Akpan Inyang, he revealed that the name “necrogamy” may sound new in the vocabulary of the traditional African marriage, but the practice is not new. In Ibibio, necrogamy has been a long-standing practice that does not respect personality and status. He added that in the past, cases of necrogamy were few because marriage was indeed honourable in the sense that it involved both families. A youngman was not given any opportunity to indulge in sexual relationship. The family of the man would have finished all the necessary arrangements before the woman is released to the man for marriage (Inyang, Pers. Comm. 2019). Apart from that, the nature of African society in the past namely communalism made it impossible for laudable cases of necrogamy to be made possible. That is to say, marriage, even though involved a man and a woman, was a communal venture; the larger families of the couples were involved. The progress of the couple was the concern of the extended family. Edidem Inyang added that very few people had secret relationship with the opposite sex without involving the larger family (Inyang, Pers. Comm. 2019). Such persons were known as defiance or defaulters of the cultural norms. If a woman dies in the cause of such relationship, the defaulter is sanctioned by asking him to marry the corpse of the woman. He goes on to say that in the present, in many cases, when a man and woman have agreed to marry, two of them would start staying together without any official way of involving their families. In the short or long run, when the woman dies, the family will demand for udo okpo.

In another interview, the Clan Head of Itu, Etubom Barrister Nyong Udo Inyang holds that few cases of necrogamy that existed in the past were practiced to maintain the sacredness of marriage as well as acting as detrimental measure to any young man who did not see marriage as honourable (Udo-Inyang, Pers. Comm. 2019). He added that the practice of necrogamy pushes its way to the modern culture. For him, the major reason for escalated cases of necrogamy today is blamed on economic recession and high cost of marriage ceremony (Udo-Inyang, Pers. Comm. 2019). Most young men that reach the age of puberty in the present time cannot afford the cost of marriage ceremony. From here, some get in to cohabitation in recourse to the present economic situation. Other reasons include progression which is one of the major reasons of the union between a man and woman in Africa (Udok and Onunwa, 2018:68)

Theologically, God instituted marriage for various reasons, first, for intimacy. Genesis’ account puts that the Lord God said, it is not good for a man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (2:28). In other words, in continuance of God’s creative work as stated in Genesis, “… in the image of God he created him, male and female, he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it…” (1:27,28). This implies that God instituted marriage to serve as a bond of love and companionship between a man and woman.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gender: Gender is social construct about behavior regarded as appropriate for the members of each sex. Gender does not refer to the physical attributes in terms of which men and women differ, but to socially form trait of masculinity and femininity. It is the man-woman distinction.

Theology: Theology involves the use of two Greek words namely Theos (God) and logos (discourse). This involves the study about God and his relationship with human beings in the universe.

Culture: It is the total way of life of a people which involves ideas, customs, traditions, beliefs, bahaviour, laws, norms, and indeed a total worldview of a people in a particular society.

Necrogamy: It is a form of marriage with a deceased partner. Since the dead partner is not alive to exchange the marital vows, the living partner is made to marry the dead under duress. It is a form of social exploitation.

Christian Theology: This concept refers to the understanding of the activities of God in Jesus Christ in relationship with human beings in the universe. It also an academic discipline that involves the use of faith and reason models but the emphasis of faith above reason.

Praxis: A Greek term, literally meaning “action”, adopted by Karl Marx to emphasize the importance of action in relation to thinking. Praxis is accepted as a model in liberation theology which has considerable impact within Latin America in the late 1960s.

Liberation Theology: This refers to a movement which developed in Latin America in the Late 1960 with emphasis on deliverance from poverty, oppression and any form of slavery. It also designates any theological movement laying emphasis on the emancipating power of the Gospel.

Cultural Hermeneutics: This concept is culture-based method of biblical interpretation. It encourages users of this exegetical method to pay attention to his/ her socio-cultural context and the questions that arise therefrom.

Abuse: Abuse connotes misuses, maltreatment, insult maltreatment, exploitation and all forms of corrupt practices. It involves using something wrongly or harmfully. Therefore, necrogamy may be viewed as misuse of true marriage intentions.

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