Accepted Papers:

Being married to a Spirit: Mourning Rituals for a Wedding in south Bioko (Equatorial Guinea)  


Nuria Fernández (UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia))

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper examines the rituals that women undertake when they marry a spirit and take on a two-fold status: a legally married person and a widow. The previously enforced prescriptions, now ritualized and relegated to a symbolic plane, leaves the woman free to enter into new conjugal relations

Paper long abstract:

The Bubi from the south of Bioko Island distinguish between two types of marriage: commonlaw marriage ("estilo de país") and "traditional" marriage. In the latter, a spirit is attributed to a woman as a husband and as the legal pater of any children she may have. Present day "traditional" marriage ceremonies contain elements drawn both from the marriage ritual as it existed formally and from mourning practices for a deceased husband.

An analysis of these elements, as they occur in today's "traditional" wedding ceremony, reveals a series of interesting transitions in the concerned woman´s status. During a first phase of the ritual, in which the woman acquires her spirit-husband, she goes from being single to being married. During a second phase, she goes from being married to being a widow: the wedding takes on the appearance of a mourning ceremony for her new husband who has already become a spirit. As a result, the woman, all the while remaining legally married with her spirit-husband, is free to form new relations or to continue her conjugal life with her children's genitor with whom she can contract a commonlaw marriage.

This distinction between legal paternity (spirit-husband) and biological paternity (conjugal partner), has important implications for group membership and for the regulation of kinship relations. It is both fundamental to the reproduction of kinship system as a whole, and, by relegating previously enforced prescriptions relating to marriage and mourning to a symbolic plane, has greatly contributed to the improvement of the status of Bubi women.

Panel W085
Mourning, intimacy and the special character of the conjugal relationship