Inheritance & Widows in Kom - Kwifoyn enactments
For the second time in recent memory, Laikom has listened to the people and acted in the interest of the people. The first time was about cry-dies and funeral celebrations which involved a lot of wasteful expenditures and left the living dying more of hunger.
This time around, it has been about widows and orphans. Kwifon and the Fon have listened to the cry of the widows and orphans and on the 20th March enacted some changes in the matrilineal inheritance tradition of Kom which for the first time gives a voice to the widows. This is truly good news for all of us, ‘That every Yindo before the disposal of any property or parcels of land of the deceased must have the consent of the widow and the orphans’.
This good news came like a boomerang or a jilt on those who have argued that tradition is untouchable, that it is sacrosanct or holier than even the Ten Commandments. While they can break any of the Ten Commandments without qualms of conscience, they have held that no one can break tradition without dire consequences. The consequences have always been thought to catch the victim rather than the victimizer. In reality it has been the victimizers who suffer from transgressing tradition because they transgress it abusively. This was treated in the book, ‘Inheritance and Christianity in Kom’. Many people are held in bondage here because with impunity, they transgress the rights of the widows and orphans in the name of tradition.
As I mentioned, the Lord listens to the cry of the widow. This time he has done so through Laikom. When I broke this good news to some women in the Parish one woman exclaimed that the Fon is opening a way for tradition to kill them. That is where many people do not understand what we mean by tradition. We shall come back to this question: What is tradition? We thank God that Laikom is now clearing tradition of these abusive elements. Where there is dialogue there is peace and harmony. We pray that God will cause every family in Kom to live in this Peace of God, which will flow down from now henceforth on every family like oil flowing from the beard of Aaron.
I could also sense some anxiety on the faces of those who have the attitude of sitting and waiting for a compound to inherit. They feel bad that the custodians of tradition are putting breaks on their unbridled greed to grab and sell. It was an area where hunters hunted without due regard to the rules of the game, that is why the Fon did not only stop at that, he put breaks, which has been what is lacking in Kom tradition. The Bo-nteh, Quarter heads are now empowered to be the guardians to ensure that there are no longer any transgressions behind the back of the custodians of tradition. Guardians who connive to do any cover up will now be the persons to face the dance of the music. This issue is so overwhelmingly in our interest that all quarter heads must be on the watch out, because this is a bridge to peace among our people. They should take seriously what Laikom says, ‘The first person that Kwifon and the administration shall hold responsible in case of the disrespect of these rules shall be the Bo-nteh or quarter head.
Laikom also says ‘Every Yindo in Kom land shall abide by the rules of inheritance without exception. The rules of inheritance in Kom are very clear. Each young man knows the compound he is designated to inherit. But the Yindo hunters have always come up with stories that their uncle before he died willed the compound to them. In most cases only such people know about the fabricated will. Such strategies undercut tradition and put confusion in the family. Some compounds have remained uninhabited till today because of such claims and others have been in a perpetual and unending struggle between some brothers or some uncles and nephews. If one becomes a Yindo by tradition, you cannot will the compound to whosoever of your choice. The same tradition that made you a Yindo will make him whose rightful turn it is to be a Yindo. As you did not enter the compound on your own, so the next person cannot enter by your own will. It is only according to the very tradition that placed you there. That is what Laikom is rightly insisting upon. One can make a will strictly speaking only on what is private property.
One hopes that the Yindo hunters will get the message and cease their hunting attitude which has spilt friction and untold harm to some families. One aspect that Laikom must watch out for, and the administration must also take very seriously, is the planting of medicine in compounds by the hunters. Such an attitude must be drastically handled to deter people from engaging in it. Christians will be sanctioned if it is brought to the knowledge of the parish priest that one of his Christians did this. In the first place the medicine is for what? To kill, to cause persons living there to be sick, to influence them to pack out or for what? Such an attitude portrays a pagan attitude unbecoming of any Christian worthy of the name. That is what I call cultural intimidation. It is meant to scare the inhabitants away to give room to the contesters. The action can be given several interpretations. It is also a criminal act and can be considered as attempted man slaughter. Christians must not involve themselves in such actions. Dialogue is the answer not medicine.
SNL from the depths of it heart abundantly thanks Laikom for bringing sanity into a tradition that has had untold havoc on the lives of the people. The procedures put in place will bring a certain measure of peace among the people. One also understands that the Second Class Chief of the six quarters of Njinikom met and also decided that in the event of the death of any bobe, they will be no cutting of goats until the family has said who the next Yindo will be. That will certainly guard against people making claims and holding a whole compound to ransom. One prays that this will empower the elders here to handle the issue of inheritance and make sure that it is according to tradition. This will greatly minimize conflict over inheritance which is embroiled in many compounds sometimes leading to the dissertation of the compound.
All of us are anxious to live here in peace subject to the laws of the State and those traditions that are contrary to the laws of the State have to be eliminated. Wherever there is conflict between tradition and the law of the State, the law of the State must prevail. It is only by doing this that we shall all feel secure. The rights of the widows and orphans have now been upheld by Kom tradition. The most operative word in this change is that the consent of the widows and her children must be sort. It is no longer by imposition or forceful tactics but by dialogue. This consent goes beyond property and land to the person of the widow. It means the Yindo can not have the widow as a wife as a right but through consent, that is through dialogue. No widow should again stand up here to say that she was being forced. If the Yindo claims his so call right over the widow by force that is rape. Rape is criminal and the widow should report the matter to the administration or State Council. The game of love is done through dialogue and negotiation and not by force. Let no man be found guilty of rape, because it a crime in the Cameroon penal code for which no man can escape penalties. It also means that the rights of a widow in a monogamous marriage are assured according to Cameroon law. The Yindo shall continue to play his role form a distance as a guardian or caretaker, leaving the widow and the orphans to continue to enjoy the rights they had in their compound when their father was still alive. These rights are guaranteed by the Cameroon Law and have been reinforced by the Maputo declaration, which our President endorsed into Law for Cameroon on the 28th May 2009. What has that protocol got to say about widows?
States Parties shall take appropriate legal measures to ensure that widows enjoy all human rights through the implementation of the following provisions:
a) That widows are not subjected to inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment;
b) A widow shall automatically become the guardian and custodian of her children, after the death of her husband, unless this is contrary to the interests and the welfare of the children;
c) A widow shall have the right to remarry, and in that event, to marry the person of her choice.
Right to Inheritance
1. A widow shall have the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her husband. A widow shall have the right to continue to live in the matrimonial house. In case of remarriage, she shall retain this right if the house belongs to her or she has inherited it.
2. Women and men shall have the right to inherit, in equitable shares”
Even though Our Bishops reacted negatively to what this Protocol says on the reproductive rights of women, the whole tenure of the Protocol is to protect of women from the inhumane practices of men. Cameroon is signatory to this declaration. That means it applies to Cameroonians and the judiciary must use it to protect the abuses of the rights of women, where ever this is to be found. We still have to digest this in Kom and other tribes that indulge to the maltreatment of widows and orphans after the death of her husband
All Yindos must recognize the fact that all Cameroonians live under Cameroonian laws and not under traditional laws especially when these traditional laws are repugnant or contrary or contradict the Cameroon laws. There is only one law system in Cameroon, the laws of the State.
It is also the same situation with the Church, where traditional laws and church laws or gospel values are opposed to each other; the laws of the Church take precedence. It is good also for us to realize that tradition is made by man and can be changed by man. Traditional laws are an accumulation of customs that have been found worthy of the common good of all living under that tradition. If tomorrow it is seen that some traditions are obstacles to the growth and development of the people the Kwifon and Fon who enacted the tradition can amend or change or even abrogate them. This is what is also done with the Constitutions of any State. Amendments and sometimes changes are meant for the common good of the people. When we come to Church law called Cannon law which spells out the conduct of the moral, discipline, spiritual, and liturgical lives of its members and the rights of every one in the Church, it has been changed several times over the years for the common good of all the Christians.
Tradition is made by man and can be changed by man. This is the normal way by which any society improves on its own standards of growing, developing and regulating better relationship between persons in the society. The church wishes her ministers to oppose all forms of discrimination and abuse of the rights women, orphans and the rights of any persons marginalized in the society. The Church has always and everywhere advocated the preferential option for the voiceless of society. To do other wise would be to betray the cause of Christ and contradict the gospel message.( Luke 4:18) No minister of Christ worthy of his stature can afford to sit and watch practices carried out against the Gospel values and against what the church preaches and be mute. She also says that in this matter of discrimination against women, the women must be the first to lead the fight for their own liberations ‘If anyone has to work to advance the dignity of women in the Church and society, it is the women themselves who must see it as their responsibility’ (This is the Laity No 49).
The Kom woman must stand up firm before psychological torture and defy cultural intimidation of all sorts. The liberty of the widows and orphans would not come on a platter of gold from a male chauvinistic society which thinks that their rights are being threatened or who take women just as part of the furniture in their homes. In today’s society women are more worth than that. Some of them have been Senior District officers, Delegates, Directors, Ministers, Prime Ministers and others even Presidents of States. The education of the girl child is being taken seriously in our present day society by parents who see the girl more capable of being their retirement benefits. And indeed they have been up to the task even in Komland. For this we duff our caps to them.
One must also admit that the Kom Fondom has been one of those Fondoms in the North West Region that listens to her people and makes life better for them. We Thank God for that.
Long live Kom Fondom, Long live the Church and long live The Republic of Cameroon.
Fr. Yufanyi Evaristus