The intriguing South Sudanese wedding ceremony in which women are forced to marry ghosts

South Sudanese young lady
South Sudanese young lady

Among several tribes in South Sudan, it is a common and proper tradition for a woman to be married off to a dead man. Amazingly, after marrying the dead, such women are not labelled as widows but rather as well married women who have functioning families and children for their dead husbands.

In South Sudan, ghost marriage is as normal as regular marriages and several women are forced to undergo such ceremonies with a huge cost to pay if they refuse.

Although practised in a huge part of the general South Sudanese community, the culture is most prevalent among the Dinka and Nuer tribes that mostly live along the Nile and are inhabitants of the Nile Valley. Both tribes speak different languages but they share several traditional and cultural customs, the most significant being the ghost wedding ceremonies.

A woman is made to have a ghost marriage for several reasons; one of the most popular reason being that her husband-to-be suddenly died before the set date of marriage. In such cases, the ghost marriage will happen when both families have been introduced to each other and the union has been made official.

South Sudanese families
South Sudanese families prepare for the traditional

During the wedding ceremony, the brother of the dead represents the dead partner and the wedding ceremony proceeds like many other regular wedding ceremonies. Once the ceremony is over, the woman is respected as a married woman and when it comes to childbearing, she is likely to have kids with the brother of her dead husband.

In some other situation, a family can decide to marry for their son, especially the firstborn son, all in the name of keeping the family line alive. Here, a brother will also have to take the place of the dead and take the woman as if she were his very own.

Once married, the brother of the dead partner is left with the responsibility of taking up the role of a proper husband, however, when officially counting his wives, the wife of his ghost brother is not considered or recognized as his.

Despite being an unorthodox way of marriage which many women dislike, there were several women who in their own interest, did not mind the ceremony at all.

Usually, such women are well placed and influential with a lot of property they would rather not part with. For many women, ghost marriages were a way of retaining their wealth rather than have to share it with a man or completely lose it all in regular marriages.

South Sundanese women
South Sundanese women protesting

Although a strong part of their tradition and culture, over the years, the ghost marriage ceremony has declined. The drastic decline has been due to factors such as western education and modernization.

While several women continue to be married off in ghost marriages against their will, a bigger number is now able to speak against it while others continue to see it as a meer part of the culture.

In general, ghost marriages are slowly becoming a thing of the past as the practice is not as vibrant as it used to be. However, it is not likely to be totally wiped out of society anytime soon as several groups in South Sudan still find it very necessary and keep passing it on to the younger generation.

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