Left Behind

The subjugation of women is deeply rooted in the culture and tradition of the Nigerian society emanating from the inferior status ascribed to women. They are regarded as objects of rights, rather than subjects of rights. They are considered their husband’s property and compelled by cultural practices to be and remain subservient to him during his lifetime, death and thereafter.

Left Behind is a project that examines the plight of widows in Nigeria. They are compelled to go through the mandatory observance of prescribed burial rituals, which vary across cultures. Widowhood robs them of their status and consigns them to suffer social discrimination, stigma and even violence. In some communities, a widow is forced to perform inhuman burial rituals such as sitting unclad on a floor for a period of time without a bath, drinking the bathwater of the corpse, shaving her hair completely, crying or screaming aloud, or being prevented from seeing the corpse of her husband. The reasons given for this inhuman treatment are that it is necessary for proving the widow’s innocence, that it shows respect the dead, facilitates the movement of the husband’s spirit to the spirit world and thereby protects the living from the dead.

Most of the women photographed are from the South Eastern part of Nigeria where the practice of extreme forms of inhuman mourning rituals is commonplace. For them, these ancient practices are enforced by the men and implemented by the women. Many communities have abolished these inhuman practices, but others are obstinate because they claim it is tradition.

This project was supported by Magnum Foundation Fund.