Soul searching across the Sahara
DIFEMOU, Mali — There’s no electricity and no school in this…
“Mama Bonyo,” as she’s called, had resigned herself to a life of homelessness and poverty.
A widow for 10 years in a rural village of western Kenya, she had refused to undergo a ritual known as “cleansing” to disconnect her from her husband’s spirit.
In some sub-Saharan cultures, a widow is forced to have sex with a “cleanser,” often from outside the community, to break the bond between the woman and her late husband. Otherwise, she will be haunted by his spirit, it is believed. Without the ritual, the woman is not permitted to remarry or own property.
Although such rituals “are intended as ways of showing public respect for the dead … they expose the widows to psycho-emotional and physical indignity” — and possibly HIV/AIDS — writes Samson O. Gunga, of the University of Nairobi , in a journal article about widowhood and remarriage in Kenya.
When members of the Oduwo Church of Christ learned of Bonyo’s ordeal, they “decided to cross this dreaded cultural bridge and did the unbelievable,” said Charles Ngoje, a minister and director of the Winyo Mission Center in nearby Rongo, Kenya.
The Christians solicited contributions from church members in Kenya and the U.S. and used the funds to build a house for the widow
Upon seeing the completed house, Bonyo fell to her knees and thanked God.
Ngoje thanked the contributors, who “made it possible for this church to wrestle down a monster that has held many widows and orphans captives, locking them in shackles and chains of poverty and hopelessness.”
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