Society

Congolese Mourning Rites That Are Abusive To Widows

Representatives and victims in the Congo are pushing back on ancient traditions that render women without rights after the deaths of their husbands, even prohibiting them from eating or drinking when they want.

Woman washing black clothes in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo
Emmanuel Libondo

SIBITI â€" Being gifted as inheritance to the brother of your dead husband, seeing everything you own confiscated, being able to wash only when your in-laws decide. These are some of the abusive traditional practices suffered too often by widowed women in the Lékoumou region of the Republic of the Congo.

A recent gathering of various women's protection groups and local representatives confronted this custom, known as "le Ngo." Participants, including native women representing local neighborhoods, denounced such abuse.

"From the day of her husband's death, she's banned from looking at those around her, or from trimming her nails or doing her hair for more than a year," says Marie Florence Minengué, representative for the neighborhood of Moussanda. "The widow is only allowed to eat at the times set by her late husband's parents and must wear a knee-length cloth instead of an ankle-length one. This is a way of making women be seen as responsible for their husbands' deaths."

Catherine, who has been a victim of this kind of prejudice, says her husband was wounded with a machete by his own parents because they thought he was a sorcerer. "He died of his wounds in the hospital," she says. "His parents abandoned me with his corpse and took away all his belongings. They even took my own goats, sheep and cows, leaving me with my children without any livelihood."

Patricia, another local representative, details other examples of such indignities. "Not only are widows only covered with only a simple raffia cloth, they're also allowed to drink only with the family-in-law's permission," she says.

Angélique Mouandza-Ndossa, president of a women's advocacy group, says the abuse "must be seen as violence against women in general, and treated as such." The code of the Congolese family indeed states that "traditional mourning rites are voluntary. They cannot be forced upon widowers or widows. Abuse and mistreatment of widows or widowers during mourning ceremonies will be punished, in accordance with the penal code."

Catherine Nkoué Ngoulou, local leader of the Congolese Ministry for the Promotion of Women, says that all levels of authority must do everything they can to fight against these customs with ancient tribal origins. "Our department regards mistreatment towards widows as violence against women, and we're waiting for the Parliament to ratify a bill that will protect widows."

In the meantime, some of the participants said that some progress has been made. For example, in the neighborhood of Mapindi, a local committee has been formed to ensure that widows are not shunned or abused after their husbands' deaths. Indeed, local leaders want to take an entirely different approach to women who have lost their husbands: help them.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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