Becheve: Where Girls Are Sold Into Marriage For Debts Settlement
Becheve, a community in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River is an eight hours drive from Calabar the State Capital but it is stuck with an age-long bizarre culture.
Covered with thick vegetation, Obanliku sits on a mountainous terrain thousands of meters above sea level. Behind the cloudy terrain are the heart-wrenching stories of young Becheve girls sold into marriage in exchange for goats, food items, and in settlement of their parents’ debt.
Becheve is a large community in Obanliku with 17 tribes. Despite sharing location with popular Obudu Cattle Ranch and Resort which attracts tourists from across the world, men in this community have refused to give up the ancient custom.
The ancient custom is called ‘Money Marriage,’ and the victims are called ‘Money Woman’ of ‘Money Wife.’
Becheve girls are sold into ‘Money Marriage’ for cash as low as N10, 000. Food items like tubers of yams; livestock like goats and pigs – all depending on the bargaining power of the ‘groom.’
My Parents Told Me Money Marriage Was A Thing Of Prestige
Faith Ikpe was eager to narrate her story. The story of how her parents sweet-talked her into money marriage. She was a primary four pupil when her parents sold her into marriage to a man old enough to be her father.
Her marriage to the man, however, did not kill her dream of going to school. The desire to go to school was so strong that she sold bananas to buy books. But her ‘husband’ saw education as a great threat that he had to squelch any sign of it by constantly flogging her.
“I wrongly thought money woman was a good practice. I was sold when I was in primary four. My mother and my dad deceived me that if I follow the man he will send me to school.
“First term and second term went and they didn’t allow me to start school. I then sold bananas to raise money to buy a few books so I can go to school.
“However my husband didn’t allow me. Every time I tried to go to school he will beat me. I will pass through the window and run to school. Every time I return from school, he will beat me.”
Sounding helpless she begged for government’s intervention. Ikpe also prayed for an end to the demeaning practice and expressed believe that the government can help end it.
“I want to beg the government to put an end to this money woman practice. Those of us who have experienced it, we have discovered that it is all about suffering. I don’t want other young children to experience this.
“Government should please help put a stop to this practice.
“It is very bad for a young girl to be sold into marriage to an old man and the girl used as a slave on cocoa farm.”
‘I Looked Forward To Death’
Money wives are sold into marriage to settle debts but they don’t enjoy the luxury or the money involved. Infact, their purpose in the marriage is to work hard, mostly on their husband’s farms as labourers.
Many of the money wives in Becheve are extremely frustrated. One of them is Dorothy Akpang who was frustrated to the point that she prayed for death. She explained how she spent many days in the bush working as a labourer on her husband’s farm.
“That time, I just look forward to dying. I slept in the bush while working on the farm. I used palm fronds as my mattress.
“All these suffering, I don’t want any of my children to suffer it. I want an end to this. I want that all my children must go to school.”
She also called for the government’s intervention and strongly desired an end to the Money Marriage practice.
“I pray that this money woman practice in Becheve stops. The government should fight this practice for us.”
Akpang described being sold into marriage money woman as “being buried inside a grave.”
Sold Into Slavery:
Society groups, and advocacy groups have tried to make the people of Becheve see the wrong in the ancient ‘Money Marriage’ but they are stuck in this old practice. Richards Akonam is a missionary who has dedicated over two decades to build a strong advocacy against ‘Money Marriage’ in Becheve. He is sad that the culture has eaten deep into the people and it has become a normal practice.
Relatives of the ‘Money Woman’ are proud of their actions that they freely visit the ‘couple’ after the ‘marriage and they are given various items during the visit.
The groom however records every item given out to the in-laws during the visit and the Money Wife continues working on the farm.
“If the mother is the greedy type, she’ll often visit her ‘in-law’ to get stuff.
“While her parents or relatives share money and other gifts given them by the ‘groom’, she is left alone to struggle and find a means of survival.
“The girl (money girl) can only benefit if anyone who has gone to collect anything shares with her. This hardly happens. She will be responsible for taking care of herself by farming or otherwise. None of her relatives will buy or give her gifts. She now belongs to another and helping her translates to helping her owner.”
Sold Into Sorrow
It’s difficult hearing the story of 14-year-old Grace Akpah without shedding a tear. With her face etched in pain and confusion, she tried to narrate her experience but she couldn’t.
“I don’t even know how it all happened,” she said amidst tears.
Her elder sister narrated how Grace was sold into marriage to pay their parents debt.
“My father is dead. My mother and my uncle are the ones that sold her. She feels so bad about how they are treating her. She sells akpu for the man. She sells many other things in the market.
“It will be of great help if the government can help us with the money and pay the man.
Grace’s story doesn’t end with her running away from the money man. Her sister said even if she marries another man and gives birth. The child will be given to the ‘Money Man,’ because according to the customs the child is the man’s ‘property.’
“Yes. Na the other man’s property,” he sister sadly said.
The sad story of a money woman gets more complicated when the husband dies.
When the husband dies, his next-of-kin marries her and if she dies without giving birth to children, her parents are obligated to bring a replacement. This is what the custom demands.
Victoria Tabang, narrated her experience with frustration written all over her face. She explained how helpless she has become that after running to her parents for help, they turned her away.
“I lived with him (her husband) 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.”
Once a girl is sold out for Money Marriage in Becheve, she is considered dead by her immediate family and warned never to return back irrespective of how she is being treated by her husband or his relatives.
Becheve girls are not only sold into marriage from infancy, some are ‘sold’ before birth and eventually given out in marriage once the groom has made ‘payment.’
The child is sold into the marriage and sentenced to working on the man’s farm to back the debt.
Becheve Money Women rarely gets freedom from working for the Money Man. Many remain in the marriage ‘till death do them part’ because the amount of money owed cannot be quantified. Even after the death of the man the girl is sold to the Money Man’s next of kin. And when the ‘Money Woman’ dies, the man is free to go back to his in-laws and pick up another ‘Money Woman.’
This alien practice is sadly a status symbol and show of pride among the men of Becheve. There is almost no family in Becheve without a ‘Money Wife.’
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