Necrogramy or posthumous marriage refers to a marriage or union where one of the couples is dead. A corpse husband or a corpse wife is joined to a living significant other.
This type of marriage is most common in France. Requests to get married to a corpse husband or wife have come in their hundreds each year ever since World War I. The fiancées and girlfriends of slain soldiers sought to tie the knot with their fallen lovers via proxy and by 1950, the French government legally clarified the ritual.
Under that 1950 legislation, the living spouse must get the approval of the nation’s President and Justice Minister. When the approval is given, then a simple ceremony is held for the living spouse and the corpse husband or wife in which the bride or groom stands beside a photo of their significant other.
In such ceremonies, the phrase “till death do us part” is eliminated from the vows and “I do” is replaced with saying “I did.” Although necrogramy is most practiced in France, some other societies do not shy away from marrying a corpse husband or wife to a significant other.
China, Sudan, and even the United States are some of the societies in question. In the United States, the practice is mostly carried out among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
In 2004 there was a case in South Africa where a man shot his fiancée and then himself during an argument. The two were later married because the families and friends wished to remember them as a happy couple. This may not strictly be the case of necrogramy being considered here but it is worthy of mention as it points to some possible reasons for marrying dead people.
The steps to be legally married to a corpse husband or wife vary from culture to culture, let’s look at how it’s done in Sudan and among those who practice Mormonism;
In Sudan, posthumuous marriages are carried out as weddings in the wake of fatal feuds. Within the Nuer ethnic group of southern Sudan, Alice Singer in Marriage Payments and the Exchange of People writes that “If a man dies without male heirs, a kinsman frequently marries a wife to the dead man’s name,”
Such a case would see the actual father of the woman’s child as the genitor [biological father] who behaves socially like the husband, but the ghost is considered the pater [legal father].
This arrangement is often carried out in cases when the Nuer man dies in a feud with the aim of securing both the property and ongoing lineage of the dead man.
To partake in the agreement, the woman receives a payment at the time of the posthumous marriage the fee which may include “bloodwealth” money is known as the bride price and comes from those responsible for the death of the man as well as payment in the form of cattle that once belonged to the deceased man.
The Nuer use these posthumous marriages to maintain the social order by redistributing wealth and property.
The doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints see marriage as eternal and therefore consider death to only be a blip in the matrimonial journey. For this reason, Mormonism binds a couple to one another for the rest of their lives and beyond.
For this to hold, however, both spouses would have to conduct themselves according to the LDS interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Due to this belief – that marriage is eternal – wedding ceremonies can be performed on those who have already died, in a manner similar to posthumous Mormon baptisms.
In the places that posthumous marriages are practiced, the reason alternates between transferring property, legitimizing children or just plain emotional reasons.
When a posthumous marriage is conducted, the living spouse inherently becomes a widow or widower. The living spouse will also be brought into the family of the corpse husband or wife which can give them a sense of comfort and moral satisfaction.
In most cases of posthumous marriages, the new spouse is not entitled to the usual financial aspects of a marriage, such as liquidation of the matrimonial regime or the granting of intestate inheritance (meaning the laws governing inheritances of people whose spouses die without a will) do not apply. The living spouse may, however, receive a pension and can be entitled to insurance benefits.
It would be hard to pinpoint the number of women or men in Africa that are married to corpse husbands or wives because some of the marriages are kept quiet but it may certainly be a lot more common than you think.