BECHEVE : Many loses of the 'Money' Woman' By Abenmire Adi-Williams

 Abenmire Adi-Williams

Fear lives on in Cross River’s Becheve community.

In May of this year, I and a group of women journalists went to the community in Obanliku Local Government area which plays host to the once famous Obudu mountain resort in Cross River State. This community had come alive for its obnoxious “money woman” culture and we were here to see it for ourselves.

Groups of people litter the roads and street corners as we enter; old men drinking local spirits and palm wine, women surrounding another as she plaits her hair, young men talking. Quite unexpectedly, children are running around, chasing one another, hiding behind trees and throwing stones. It looks happier than we expect because of what we’ve heard.

A small distance from the main road, the Igbo missionary, Pastor Richard Akonam who has lived here for twenty years welcomes us to his house and plays the guitar after we have prayed with him. His wife offers us oranges before we go into the community.

We meet the people already sitting out and waiting for us. We're late, they're disappointed and they show it. We apologize. At first, we pretend not to know, we tell them we have only come into the community to know if they have any problems, to know if we can help them. They talk about light, schooling, employment.
The "Money Woman", Mrs. Dorathy

Finally, one person mentions about the money marriage and then another does, and then another. Dorathy, a short, dark skinned lady who had obviously once been fair talks first. She had been married since about the age of five and now about twenty-six, has five kids. It is a short lanky man walking right across from us that she tells us is her husband.

He’s at least seven times her age, old enough to be her grandfather she tells us. She tells us he’s her uncle, her father’s brother. At first, she would try to run away but be chased and held down by other women while her husband raped her, episodes that resulted in five children she single-handedly caters to with the proceeds from her farm. She had been warned to not keep trying to run or he would kill her by tying and drying her under the sun, throwing corn seeds at her private part so fowls could eat from there. She speaks bitterly, referring to her husband with unhidden contempt and swears at him.

There’s Faith, a stout teenage girl who had been given out in marriage to pay a debt her grandfather owed the man she’s given to. It is a small debt of about 2000NGN but prevalent poverty makes it hard to pay up these debts and young girls are therefore, given in exchange.

She tells us she’s been trying to go to school. She sells items to raise money and buy her books but when these books are found, her husband burns them, tells her she’s going to “tear eye” if she keeps reading. It means he fears she’ll get too wise. The night we’re in Becheve, she hangs around us and refuses to leave.

She’s stubborn and has made up her mind she’s not going back to her husband. ‘Even if they’re going to kill me,’ she says, ‘anything they like, let them do.’ She tells us the next morning that her sisters had mercilessly beaten her the previous night for running away from her husband and for telling us her story.They won’t take her back in because when a ‘money woman’ is given out, she belongs to her husband and should cut ties with her family. She’s not going back, she swears, she’s not. After we leave, the Igbo missionary tells us she spent the last night at a drug store.

Another girl we meet had been given to pay her father’s debt for a gambling game he once lost. Yet another, Glory is the money woman who replaces her sister after she dies without a child.

When a money woman gives birth to girls, I is good business for her husband who can sellvthis girls off for money and so if she dies or never births, her family gets someone else to take her place. They all live the same reality, married to way older men they do not even like, living like slaves and having no choice.

With the money woman culture, girls, most times even less than the age of twelve, are given out by their families to men for various reasons which centre on debts and credits ranging from the inability to pay for goods taken to the inability to pay back borrowed money and to exchanging these girls for paltry sums in order to cater to an immediate need. And they cannot leave.

The reason they cannot is a dreaded supposedly potent magic medicine called Olambe. If a money woman dares to escape from her husband, the effect of this magic makes her family pay. Members of her family either dry up or swell up and die, they tell us. Even she is sometimes, not spared and it is believed among them, that the olambe can be easily invoked to make the escaping woman and her family pay.

Besides the traumatizing and dehumanizing circumstances which these girls and women have to endure, there is an abundance of sexually transmitted diseases as well as an excruciatingly high risk of Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) seeing as these girls are married off so early with most of them becoming sexually active even before they turn teenagers.

The absence of adequate education, lack of good medical care and ultimately powerlessness would be many factors contributing to high risks of diseases in these women.

However, a lot of public attention has been drawn, in recent times, to the situation and we can hope that the end of this situation is is very near.
Opinion 4937895660883342136

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