From the Editor’s Desk: Iyawo Saara is a term coined from the Arabic term – Sadaqh wife – translation: a woman (or as it is in most cases, a young girl) given out as alms in marriage.

I first came across this term in the late-eighties, when, as a child, I listened in as my aunt and herchild friends discussed one of their friends who had been kidnapped, in broad daylight, by a gang of thugs when they were on their way back from school. The other girls had fled the crime scene, eventually converging at the home of the parents of this particular girl. They had reported the incidence in tears, but to their surprise the parents hadn’t shown any concern, they had simply told my aunt and her friends to go home, they would ‘handle’ it.

They were gathered together that afternoon because my aunt and her friends, who refused to give up the search for their friend, had finally discovered where she was and why she had been kidnapped.

The story was simple, her parents had given her out as Iyawo Saara, because the girl was stubborn, the parents were afraid that if they allowed this girl to continue schooling she would become even worse. There were whispers about their daughter that she was a lakiriboto, (a lesbian) and to forestall such an ‘evil’ befalling their child, they had forcefully given her to a much older man, who already had several wives.

The fate of Iyawo Saara is a terrible one. This is due to the fact that because she had not been married off ‘properly’, in the ‘traditional’ manner of the Yorubas, she had no respect from her ‘husband’ or the members of his family. Therefore her position in the household is usually that of a sex slave and a drudge.

An Iyawo Saara is the lowest on the rung of ‘married women’, even lower than a mistress.

So, when I recently heard a story about a new ‘bride’ who was given out as Sadaqh earlier this year, I was in shock! This is 2015 and Nigerians still give out their daughters as alms. Unfortunately there was little or nothing I could do about it because I do not even know the girl in question personally, I overheard strangers discussing the fate of this poor girl on a bus rather gleefully. This girl’s story was similar to the above, she was stubborn, ran with a wild bunch of girls, according to the people on that bus heading to Beere, the ‘tipping point’ was when her father discovered she had gone and tattooed her arm. Her father had ‘given her the beating of her life’ and then bundled her off to a muslim cleric as ‘iyawo saara’. As at four weeks ago, they said she was still being ‘locked up for her own safety’, so she can ‘calm down.’

The enslavement of people is a criminal offence in Nigeria, but apparently this does not apply to women who have been given out as gifts into ‘marriage’.

I started asking questions about the legality of this act and if anybody had come across such heinous acts. My digging eventually led me to ask about ‘Iyawo Saara’ on Facebook. A few people came on my thread (as per usual the men) and said there was no such thing in Islam, but Adeola Opeyemi, one of the bright young things in Nigeria’s literary circles spoke up and said there is such a thing… below is her write up about Iyawo Saara: Sadaqh wife. Read and weep.

How does one describe this evil garbed in the cloak of religion and tradition?

In a small town on the outskirts of Ile-Ife, south-west Nigeria, I met Bukky (not real name) in 2012. She was a very young (probably in her late teens) new bride of a middle-aged man who lived not too far from my grandma’s house. While asking my grandmother how such a girl ended up with a man that old, I was told that the father had given her to him as a gift.

The girl’s father, in this case, happened to be a friend of the groom. I argued and raved. My octogenarian grandma’s stand, by the way, was different; she didn’t see anything wrong with the union. I persisted in emphasising that it’s a new age and that people shouldn’t do that shit anymore. But why should grandma even agree to that? It had been done nonetheless. My rants were mine and mine alone. My grandma didn’t care! Nobody I knew seemed to!

That wasn’t the first time I would encounter such marriage. Why would one even refer to that as a marriage? It isn’t! It’s a farce! A socially-accepted form of slavery and rape!

Growing up in Ilorin, a north central capital in the 90s, I saw a lot of marriages like that.

Unlike the ‘normal’ traditional marriage where there is a late wedding eve with songs and drums – all the pomp that could be mustered- and the bride accompanied to the groom’s house while her bridal train sang all the way, brides given as gifts are bundled up and delivered to the groom’s house like courier packages. The situation made further nauseating considering that the whole delivery is done in the night or in the early hours of the morning before sunlight. Pomp – any form of it – is definitely done away with in this form of marriage. The Nikkai ceremony or marriage proper for such give-away bride takes the form of a ‘visit of appreciation’ from the groom and his people few days after she has been given out.

Iyawo saara or Sadaqah marriage as this union is called, is a practice I thought had vanished with the 90s. I also used to think it only existed in the north and among the Ilorin indigenes who have always claimed to be descendants of the Fulanis and Hausas. I realized how wrong I was when I met Bukky in 2012. Bukky’s case made me realise this is neither a northern practice nor a dead one.

This practice of giving out female children as gifts originated from a misconstrued Islamic belief that the parents of a bride can decide to forfeit the bride price and give away their daughter, for free, in a case where the groom needed a bride but couldn’t afford the bride price. Like many misunderstood parts of the religion, a lot of people have comfortably ignored the fact that the Qur’an stated that the only way such marriage could be termed valid is with the consent of both parties (bride and groom) involved. Normally, a lot of people would argue that it is impossible to marry off a girl in this modern age without her consent but in a situation where the girl feels indebted to her parents or as the case is most times, she is petrified as to what could happen to her if she refuses her parents’ choice, it is quite easy to force such a girl into a union without her consent or with a consent given out of fear. When and how does the parents’ consent become the same thing as a child’s consent, especially in something as important as marriage?

While a cavalcade of Islamic scholars have and would continue to argue that such union is not a valid Islamic practice, we cannot ignore the fact that this is an act that is being practiced in the name of religion among Muslims.

It makes me wonder if a female child is the same as yams, rice, money or clothes to be given away to fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam – which is alms-giving.

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7 thoughts on “Iyawo Saara: In the Name of Religion, Tradition and other Evils

  1. Thank you for this write up. In Nigeria, we still have little value for the female child. In the east, the practice is to marry off the young girl who has the misfortune of getting pregnant in her father’s house. She is ‘married off ‘ to a very old man or a disabled one, or even to a woman who had no husband/child but wants to keep her father’s lineage on. If she is lucky, they will treat her well, especially if she delivers a baby boy. But if not…

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  2. Reblogged this on adebayoadegbite and commented:
    9jaFeminista raises an important point about one of the customs from a dark past which we think we have left behind. It is amazing that ugly incidents like the examples that the writer gives can still happen in our “civilized” time. Old habits die hard but I personally feel by raising awareness about issues like this we can reduce the problem and make sure that our women are free to make their choices. Our aim as people no matter what group we belong to or the opinions we hold should be an society that is fair and just to all.

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  3. Forced marriage in Nigeria is still a big problem and the Muslim world. Believe it or not, it is fully supported by the Old Testament (check out virgins being used as war loot in judges chapter 21.) Well, only the reeducation of an open-minded society can change this.

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