Questions to ponder over
In what ways can marriage be rightly regarded as a gender issue in some African societies?
To what extent does the African preoccu-pation with reproduction explain the exotic forms of marriage that we see?
Why does bridewealth continue to be an issue in African societies today? To what extent would the absence of bridewealth contribute to conjugal harmony.
Marriage and Some Concerns: Coalition on Women’s Manifesto
- Reform customary marriage to eliminate substantial payments in money and in kind;
☻ Abolish compulsory widowhood rites;
☻ Abolish wife [widow] inheritance;
☻ Reform intestate succession law to ensure equal rights of inheritance for sons and daughters;
☻ Prohibit forced marriage and abductions and child marriages;
- Coalition’s Concerns (Cont.)
☻Prohibit practices encouraging sex between close relations for purpose of providing children for their birth families;
☻Strengthen the laws against defilement;
☻Eradicate completely female genital mutilation (FGM);
☻ Prohibit the banishment of witches to witches’ villages;
☻ Abolish ritual servitude; [Trokosi ?]
☻ Prohibit child labour & fosterage practices which threaten the healthy development of children;
From African Perspectives: What is Marriage?
A young couple – man and woman, are living together in a rented room in Accra. The girl is Frafra and the man is Ga and has never visited the North. He provides ‘chop’ money and the woman cooks his meals. They share the same bed at night and the girl seems pregnant.
Does this relationship fall within marriage?
- Marriage: Perspective of the Property Rights of Spouses Bill
Section 3 (1) states: Cohabitation refers to a situation in which a man and woman hold themselves out to the public to be man and wife.
(2) Persons who have cohabited for a period of five years or more shall be deemed to be spouses and have the rights of spouses for the purposes of this Act
Guinea Bissau Marriage
In this archipelago of 50 islands .. off the western rim of Africa, it’s women, not men, who choose. They make their proposals public by offering their grooms-to-be a dish of … fish, marinated in red palm oil. … he takes a bite and is married.
He was 14 when the girl entered his grass-covered hut and placed a plate in front of him containing an ancient recipe. To have refused, explained the old man .., would have dishonored his family — and in any case, why would he want to choose his own wife?
POSTED: February 1, 2007 CNN International.com
- DEFINITIONS OF MARRIAGE
The classical definition (Notes and Queries):
“a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners.”
Implications: It is a pairing of (2) two living opposite sex adults (male & female). Its main purpose – to reproduce.
The definition fails to accommodate some of the marriage practices known to Africans.
1.African Marriages involve not only bride and groom but also their respective natal families.
- Unusual [exotic] forms of marriage exist.
- RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
Marriage establishes rights & obligations betw. couples & their families which are regulated by social & cultural norms.
Assertion/management of these rights & obligations has implications for well-being of individuals: spouses, children, & kin.
Critical questions: How far do these rights & duties affect choice?
- How far do they take account of changing cultures and globalisation?
- Domestic Rights Abuses
Domestic rights concerns are not new to Africa, but recently, they have become a public concern, thanks to NGOs.
Concerns centre on violence against women, men & children; this calls for laws.
Violence takes various forms: beatings, insults, denial of needs, denigrations, etc.
Govts. have become concerned about domestic abuses. In Ghana DOVVSU [Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit] was set up to handle domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Bill was passed in 2007
- Comment on Wife Beating
The final report of the Ghana Multiple Cluster Survey (MICS) 2006 has revealed that a higher percentage of women said wife beating was justified.
The MICS indicated .. 47 % of women believed that a husband is justified in beating his wife. “This belief is held among …women in rural areas (57%) .. urban areas (36%)“ – Dep. Govt. Statistician.
The report indicated acceptance of domestic violence was highest in Upper West region (76%) and lowest in Gt Accra region (28%)
Source: GNA – 18 June 2008
- Marriage: An Advocacy Issue
Marriage=>intercourse=>pregnancies=> =>childbirth. [Traditional African Ideal]
STDs/HIV Abortions => Death
School Drop-out [the present case]
Marriage is too important to be left to individuals
African marriage concerns the individual & the public; it has therefore become an advocacy issue to which a number of NGOs in Ghana now owe their existence.
- REASONS FOR MARRYING
Marriage may confer status, prestige and recognition on the parties involved. In many African societies, even today, full respect is not accorded to unmarried adults.
Marriage in the past was rite of passage for some: marked transition from child-hood to responsible citizenship for individuals.
People marry for economic reasons. A rigid division of labour according to sex implies that a person would not be able to live a secure decent life if s/he has no spouse.
- ADDITIONAL REASONS
Love/companionship: a reason why some people in Africa marry. Take the case of the Mandelas now.
Procreation: Need to bear children conti-nues to be paramount concern for African marriages.
Political & Alliance motives:
Marriage creates alliances within society. Reason why chiefs could not refuse wives;
In some societies one had to marry the person prescribed as one’s spouse right from birth; failure created tensions.
- EXOTIC FORMS OF MARRIAGE
Child betrothal: in some cases infants may be given out in marriage. It occurs in some African societies, incl. a few in Ghana;
Woman – woman marriage: a woman may wed another woman resulting in female husbands. This is uncommon now, but once existed among some African peoples – e.g. the Lovedu, Nuer, Dinka.
Dead men Marriages: a woman may be married to a person who is already dead–the groom in this case is a ghost.
- EXOTIC MARRIAGES (cont)
Levirate – widow may be required to procreate with her deceased husband’s jnr. brother; the issues are recognised as children of the deceased.
Widow Inheritance: The deceased husband’s brother marries the widow.
Espousal to a deity: A girl may be espoused to a god or its priest, as in case of trokosi.
Polygyny: Men may be allowed to marry more than one wife. This used to be common; in some societies wives bring their own sisters, cousins & nieces into the marriage.
Less common now, but it used to be the ideal.
- CONTESTING EXOTIC MARRIAGES
How acceptable today?
- Is anyone being coerced into a form of marriage that he/she objects to?
- Does the particular form of marriage have negative implications for any of the parties – couples & their children?
- Are the rights of others infringed by the existence of certain forms of marriage?
If ‘yes’ is the answer, then there are legitimate concerns for development.
- Levirate & Wife Inheritance
Wife inheritance occurred in both the North and South. It was meant to guarantee conjugal stability for a widow and enable her to continue to benefit from her deceased husband’s property and lineage resources.
Good intention but is it choice or coercion?
In some cases widow can choose from among dead husband’s junior brothers; if she is unwilling she is not compelled. This is the case of some Northern Ghanaian communities.
- The Widow May not have a choice
In other societies, widow has little choice; she must accept the husband’s brother/cousin.
It was reported from Kenya that widows might know or suspect that they were HIV positive, yet not be able to opt out.
Likewise an unwilling brother may be compelled morally to accept a widow. Perhaps he is a Christian and already married or the widow is too old or too unattractive for him.
- The Case of Polygyny I
Polygamy is disallowed in the West; one commits bigamy by having more than one wife/husband.
But does this not amount to denying a choice to individuals? [Christianity may object to polygyny but Islam does not]
If homosexual marriage is allowed, why not polygyny!
Many people condemn polygyny for being unfair to women and militating against women’s interests. But some people, including women, see nothing wrong.
Polygyny: Questions raised
- Does one man have ability to satisfy all his wives sexually, and emotionally?
- Should a man take more wives than his resources can cater for?
[Not an easy question]
- Does polygyny support family planning? it can mean high dependency ratio – each wife trying to outdo the others in births?
- How about Wasteful competition between wives each demanding more than her co-wives.
- Malawi plans to ban polygamy
Gender Minister: the ban was necessary to prevent women from being abused in polygamous relationships. She said problems occurred because men could not give their full attention to more than one woman.’
A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Malawi told the BBC the proposed law would discriminate against the country’s Muslim minority.
He said with about 6% more women than men in Malawi, if polygamy were banned, many women would be left without a husband and become prostitutes.
- The Case of Polygyny II
It is not everybody that feels polygyny is bad.
The parents and siblings of husbands see it differently from the kinfolk of wives.
Mende (S-Leone) women traditionally encour-aged husbands to have several wives; men with single wives were not highly respected. Indeed, a senior wife had control over junior wives and it was in her interest for her husband to have several wives.
Some women feel that having co-wife means having a helper & do not bearing the burden of household chores alone.
- The South African who marries 4
Zulu businessman Milton Mbele, 44, is to marry the women  aged between 22 and 35 in Ntlane village in Kwa-Zulu Natal ..
Polygamy is common in parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal but only the first wife is legally recognised.
S Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has 3 wives.
“We don’t see anything unusual about our marriage. We agreed to marry him at the same time because we love him,” Miss Cele told the newspaper.
Accessed 25th Sept. 2009
- 44 year old Mbele and His 4 Wives married simultaneously
- POLYGYNY (cont.)
Some women feel that rather than marry a poor man who cannot cater for their needs it is better to marry a well-to-do man, even if he already has a wife [see reports about Zamfara women’s demo in 2000 against male insistence on monogamy].
Some would argue that better to have husband with several wives than unfaithful man, given the health risks (HIV, STDs).
It can be argued that stable polygyny of the African kind is preferable to serial monogamy of the Hollywood type where it is fashionable to marry and divorce and remarry many times in a lifetime.
- Dangers of Infant Betrothals
Among Konkomba & Bimoba these marriages were once common. They implied the ff:
Zero Choice: A child bride can’t appreciate implications of marriage to an older person. Where is her right to choose.
Elopements: These days on reaching her teens a girl discovering that her husband is too old betrothed girls tend to elope with more desirable men. This precipitates needless conflict within communities.
Teenage Marriages: betrothed girls may be rushed into conjugal life by hasty and over anxious husbands fearful of losing brides if they did not consummate marriage quickly. There are several consequences for this:
- CONSEQUENCES OF INFANT BETROTHAL
See Case in the Course Wedsite
- Teenager dropouts: affected teenage-brides often drop out of school willingly or more often under pressure;
- Teenage Mothers: physically & psycho-logically, the teenage mother is too young for childbirth & motherhood;
- Poor Health: teenage mothers and their children tend to suffer chronic poor health and poverty.
Forced marriages increasing in Northern Region
Source: GNA: Dated February, 2010.
The Acting Northern Reg. Director of the (CHRAJ), Mr. .. Seidu has expressed concern about the increasing rate of forced marriages in the Eastern Corridor of the region. He said .. such cases were recorded at Bimbilla and .. at Yendi, Saboba and Zabzugu.
Mr. Seidu … said most of the victims were between 10 and 17 years in contravention of the children’s Act, (Act 560). He attributed the situation to age-long customs and traditions. Mr. Seidu said … the practice was being fuelled by men who claimed they had invested in the upbringing of the girls.
- MARRIAGE RULES
Many societies have rules that regulate the choice of a marriage partner. How acceptable are these rules and norms?
Examples: exogamy and its associate, incest and endogamy
Note: Development is about choice;
Do exogamy, incest and endogamy affect marriage choices?
Exogamy (rule of exclusion) specifies the group within which members cannot intermarry due to perceived kinship relations. In many African societies, but by no means all, the clan and more often the lineage are exogamic.
Some societies are not exogamous; marriage between lineage cousins is permitted. Some allow for first cousin (parallel) marriages.
Some societies are exogamous but permit marriage between cross cousins.
- INCEST: Good or Bad?
Incest prohibits sex between people related by blood or marriage ties.
The span of the social unit within which incest applies varies. But it applies to the immediate family – parents, grandparents, siblings and their children, the spouses of parents and siblings.
In other cases, it applies to the clan and lineage.
– In most societies incest is a moral issue.
– In some it is crime that is severely sanctioned.
– In others, it was ritual matter that was punish-ed by the gods and ancestors.
Regrettably the media are full of stories of incest these days. What’s gone wrong?
- Father in Custody for impregnating daughter
A 45-year old mechanic,.. Agyepong, who allegedly engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter, impregnating her twice and aborting one of the pregnancies, has been remanded in custody by an Accra Circuit court.
Agyepong was said to have impregnated the 18-year old girl … in March 2010 and aborted it and later attempted to abort a second pregnancy .. but neighbours .. got wind of it gave him up to the police.
- Source: Daily Graphic, Feb. 16th 2011: p.19
- Endogamy & Preferential Marriage
Endogamy, as a norm, encourages selection of spouses from within group that one belongs
Ethnic Endogamy: requires selection of spouse from within one’s ethnic unit. Pure ethnic endogamy is uncommon, but it is anticipated.
Breaches of endogamy norms are not usually penalised, however non-ethnic spouses often suffer discrimination and life can be unplea-sant for them at the hands of in-laws.
Occupational Endogamy: people of the same profession may be required to marry each other. Not very common in Africa but occurs.
- Endogamy II
Members of a religious denomination compelled to marry only members of the faith. This is common. Islam does not normally encourage marriage to non-believers unless there is an understanding that the spouse would convert. Some Christian denominations do likewise.
Caste Endogamy: Castes are not common now. Ex: Hutus-Tutsi in Rwanda. Tutsis in the past married Tutsis, but took Hutu concubines.
Racial Endogamy: e.g. marriage in Apartheid in S. Africa
These norms & practices deny people choices and impede attempts at building unified communities.
- Bridewealth: Giving & Receiving
The customary items Wife-Takers (W-T) are required to give to Wife-givers (W-G).
W-T è W-G
The items that W-G has to give to W-T (Bride /bridegroom) as part of the marriage settlement W-G è W-T
NOTE: Where both sons and daughters are entitled to property from their parents, dowry may be seen as married daughters’ share of the patrimony. This is not common in sub-Saharan Africa. It occurs in India, Mediterranean region etc.
- Value of Bridewealth (B-W)
In most of sub-Saharan African bride-wealth is customary and mandatory. But there are societies where B-W is not mandatory or is not significant.
Where it is required, a marriage may lack legitimacy and social recognition without the settlement of b-wealth. This can have serious repercussions for both spouses and their children, since such a couple are merely co-habiting.
- Some Implications of Bridewealth
Legitimises marriage: husband & wife are seen to have a legitimate status with associated conjugal rights. (Cohabitation may lack this).
Has documentary value and acts as a record for a marriage. Its presentation is witnessed.
Compensates bride’s parents for loss of her child-bearing and her labour.
Husband can claim paternity rights over issues born by the wife.
In some societies, it enables wife-giver to find a bride for the bride’s brother, cousin etc. in replacement.
- What Goes into the B-Wealth?
An assortment of things (in agreed quantities); societies differ as to items used. Items may include:
- Livestock: cattle, goats, sheep etc.;
- Consumables – foodstuff and alcoholic beverages, salt, tobacco etc.;
- Cash (sums of money);
- Cloth (traditional and/or manufactured cloth);
- Labour (farm labour, etc.)
- Unusual items (some no longer easily available) – cowries, metal goods, special traditional cloth (raffia bark cloth in the GDR),
- Example of Marriage Prestations in Accra: December, 2007
Demanded &Presented at Knocking Rites:
2 bottles of schnapps;
2 bottles of Gin;
An amount of money
If this is the customary standard, then compare it to the new demands of the engagement and the church wedding that follows.
8 half pieces of cloth – wax prints
2 pieces of Kente cloth
Some scarves 1 pair -local sandals (ohenema)
1 Suit case 1 wooden stool (Asesegwa)
2 bottles of gin 2 bottles of brandy
2 bottles of whiskey 2 bottles of schnapps
2 crates of beer 2 crates of soft drinks
1 Bible 1 Catholic Hymnal
Cloth for bride’s mother; Cloth for bride’s father
Bridal money: to be given to bride (¢2ml)
Some money to be given to mother-in-law
Some money to be given to bride’s father
Akonta sika – sum of money for brother-in-law (¢20)
Handkerchiefs, panties, brassier, ladies hand bag
- Bridewealth: Perceived as Problem
Number of questions:
Its quantum – what and how much is demanded and what and how much is actually taken.
Affordability – is it too much for the givers?
Availability–Are items demanded easily available?
Would a couple be prevented from living together if they could not afford all the goods?
Answers to the questions vary from society to society and sometimes even within the same society, and from time to time or depending on individuals.
B-W therefore is not necessarily a problem in all cases, though it could be a genuine problem.