An Igbo lament from eastern Nigeria. We hear the concerns of a widow as she reflects on six pragmatic reasons for mourning a dead husband.
Six times the widow recalls her husband’s death.
When the yam-planting season sets in early, (1)
she cries in his memory and goes back home dejected.
During the cutting of the supports for the yam, (2)
who will supply her with the bamboo she needs?
She weeps, pausing after she has cried copiously,
when helplessly she watches the palm nuts ripen:
can she defy custom by climbing a palm tree?
Widowhood makes her pay others for cutting the palm bunch
a service rendered freely in earlier days.
With her husband absent from meetings of the kindred
who will inform of her of their deliberations?
When a festival is being prepared
who will send her to Eke-Ututu market for a chicken? (3)
The last time she weeps copiously for her lost husband
is the day she sits drenched under her unrepaired thatch. (4)
That day she knows nothing hurts like losing a husband.
from “Igbo Elegiac Poetry”,
African Studies 37, 2 (1978), 294.
- It was her husband’s job to prepare the field for planting.
- Yams need bamboo poles to support the vines.
- Eke-Ututu refers to the early morning trading on market day.
- Her own tears blend with the rain falling through her roof in an image of utter desolation.