But is that always the case that culture is a vehicle and a tool for national development? The answer is obviously no.
There are certain negative cultural practices which are inimical, dehumanizing and infringe on the fundamental human rights of people who become victims to such cultural practices.
Widowhood rites and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are among some of the negative cultural practices which are still being practiced in some communities in the Upper East Region. Indeed one would have thought that in this 21st century, such negative cultural practices would have been abolished long ago.
It must be pointed out that, the practice of Widowhood rites and FGM are not only dehumanizing but infringes upon the fundamental human rights of victims. No wonder the constitution of Ghana and International conventions have totally condemned such barbaric acts.
At a recent meeting organized by Action Aid Ghana (AAG) in Bolgatanga with the chiefs of the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs to chart a path to address the issues, it was discovered that although some of the chiefs had worked hard to eliminate some of the negative cultural practices through the support of AAG and its partners the Women and Orphans Movement (WOM) and the Belim Wusa Development Agency( BEWDA) , the practice is still going on in some of the communities in the Region.
For instance, on the practice of widowhood rites it was revealed that widows are subjected to inhuman practices such as being forced to strip naked, forced into confinement, disallowed from eating some particular types of food and forced to select a husband from the deceased husband’s family for remarriage.
A research conducted by AAG and its partner, BEWDA, showed that five communities in the region which included Mognori, Bardo, Mandago, Widana and Waanre in the Bawku Municipality and the Pusiga District still practice FGM.
To demonstrate that such negative cultural practices still exist in this modern era, a 39-year-old widow, Mrs Vida Nsoh from Anateem near Bolgatanga, showed to the full glare of the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs the ordeal she went through when she lost her husband last year.
She said when she lost her husband she was forced to strip naked and given leaves to wear around her waist and some of the leaves were put in her ears to block them from hearing so that I could not talk to anybody.
During the funeral she was asked again to strip naked and a rope was used to tie around her waist and was made to wear the leaves again.
“I was given some concoctions in a calabash to drink. After I had finished drinking the concoction, I was asked to start beating the empty calabash for some length of time”, Mrs Nsoh said.
She said her ordeal continued as she was asked to walk around a hot pot of boiling pito three times and forced to weep all in the name of tradition and culture. “I was also sent outside naked when my late husband’s relatives wanted to consult a soothsayer. I was further given TZ mixed with some black substance for me to eat. Fire was set and I was asked to put the leaves I was wearing into a broken calabash and put them on burning fire whilst some girls in my neighborhood claimed to fumigate me on the fire by swinging me around the fire”.
Mrs Nsoh’s ordeal is routine widows go through all in the name of tradition. These were but few stages of the ordeal.
The President of the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs, Naba Segri Bewong who could not hide his emotions remarked “We cannot allow such inhuman, inimical, barbaric and uncivilized acts to continue to be happening in this 21st century. We have been given all the powers as stipulated in the constitution to ban such negative and dehumanizing cultural practices and we must be seen as chiefs banning such barbaric practices in our communities if they do exist.
According to the Paramount Chief “Widows in such trying moments must be consoled by the society and not subjected to such brutal acts”.
He said he had banned such practices in his traditional area and appealed to the House to take bold steps to ban all inimical and negative culture practices in communities in the Region where they exist.
The Paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area, Naba Baba Salifu Aleemyaruum, told his colleagues that he was able to abolish the widowhood rites in his traditional area but could not rule out that it could be ongoing in the interior and remote parts of the area.
He appealed to AAG and other stakeholders to support traditional authorities in the Region to undertake vigorous sensitization programmes to end the rites.
Mrs Betty Ayagiba, the Director of the Orphans and Widows Movement, said through the support of AAG and other stakeholders, her outfit had registered over 7,000 widows in 17 communities in the Region and are being supported with economic alternative livelihoods such as training to acquire skills in handicrafts and small ruminant rearing.
Ms Juliet Adams, the Programmes Officer of AAG, said to help reduce the phenomenon, AAG and WOM had organized a number of sensitization programmes on the rights of women, held engagement meetings with some traditional leaders about the negative widowhood rites and FGM including the formation of Community Based Anti-Violence Teams to handle issues of maltreatment of widows.
She said some chiefs particularly from Bongo, Sakoti, Winkongo, Kongo, Nangodi and Vea have become advocates of negative widowhood rites and other negative cultural practices which had led to the reduction of the phenomenon.
The Programmes Manager of AAG in charge of Upper East, Mr James Kusi-Boama, appealed to other chiefs to ban these practices.
The Country Director of AAG Sumaila Abdul-Rahman and his Deputy, Mr Yakubu Mohammed Sanni, said AAG was concerned with issues related to the marginalization of people particularly women and children and said AAG would continue to work to support the Regional House of Chiefs to reform negative cultural practices that inhibit the development of women.
Whilst commending AAG and its partners for spearheading the crusade against negative cultural practices in the Upper East Region, there is still more left to be done. The laws must be allowed to bite.
Institutions including the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHARAJ) including politicians and the media must be seen playing very active role to end the problem.
Civil Society Organizations must join the crusade and not leave it to AAG alone. Traditional Authorities must be encouraged to step up their efforts to curb the menace since they are the custodians of tradition and culture and command much respect in societies. Their active involvement could help stem the tide.
Story by: Samuel Adadi Akapule/myjoyonline