In the hilly community of Becheve in Cross River, young girls are used as currency, exchanged for food and money.
The people of this hazy town in the hills call the practice, “Money Woman Marriage”.
The Becheve tribe is made up of 17 sister tribes who live in the thick mountainous terrain of Obanliku Local Government in Cross River State, an area that is also home to the former tourist attraction, Obudu Cattle Ranch.
Together, these tribes practice an ancient tradition where young girls are given out as “money wives”, sometimes before they are born, in exchange for some lump sum or to settle a previous debt, or further still, to offset some gifts or handout.
These wives are essentially handed out to their husbands as chattels, to do as they please, while the family is absolved of the debt or continues to enjoy access to some benefit.
Sometimes, the relatives of the money wife continue to visit her new husband (owner) to pick up gifts and money.
Apart from the ‘main man’ who gives out the girl into ‘Money Marriage’ the relatives of the girl’s mother are free to go and collect stuff from their ‘in-law’. Anything offered them during their visit is given monetary value and recorded by their in-law (the man who is marrying the girl).
“If the mother is the greedy type, she’ll often visit her ‘in-law’ to get stuff,” he said.
The girls have no say in any stage of this. The decision is often made while they are young. Some are even sold off before they are born.
As one would expect, the girls are often left scarred mentally, and many times, physically.
To them, growing up as girls in a healthy family environment is a luxury that they cannot relate to.
The tradition is closely tied to what the missionary calls the “greed of the men” or more accurately, the pride of patriarchs in Becheve families.
As Channels reports, one would be hard-pressed to find a family where a man does not own a “money wife”; she is essentially property, and when the husband dies, she is passed down to his next-of-kin.
Even worse, if the money wife dies without giving a child, her family is liable to give a replacement.
Regardless of the stringent and elaborate rules that guard this tradition, the woman is not considered.
Once she is brought over, the money wife ceases to be her family’s responsibility. As her new husband sees her more as property than a woman for whom he is liable to care, she is often left to fend for herself.
Victoria Tabang, who spoke in the local dialect said she has remained helpless since her husband’s death.
“I lived with him since I was young but upon his death, I couldn’t do anything. I’m expected to just remain here. Even when I went to my people, they drove me away, saying I now belong elsewhere,” she told Channels.
By way of an obsolete tradition that strips young girls of their dignity and agency, many young money wives are scattered all over Becheve or under the welfare of the missionary, left to pick up what bits of their lives they can put together.
The Wife of the Cross River State Governor claims that efforts are underway to stem the practice and support the women left at a disadvantage by the practice.
Yet, it remains to be seen how this attempt to rip a barbaric tradition will be interpreted by the Becheve people.
What they see as a marriage practice could be called a form of slavery, a harsh variant of the sexist traditions that are found embedded in many Nigerian cultures.
Becheve’s Money Wives deserve all the help that can get to be free of these relics of our past.