Marriage is a basic institution in every human society. African cultures do recognize the basic character of the institution of marriage. Thus, in the Ghanaian society marriage is considered so important that every man or woman who reaches adulthood is expected to marry and bear children. Women in the Ghanaian society want and hope to be married, in fact, an unmarried woman is almost an anomaly – something peculiar and abnormal. Marriage is a requirement of the society, an obligation every man or woman must fulfill. Traditionally in many African societies, a young man who has gainful employment of any kind and earns some income is expected, in fact urged, to marry. Any undue delay on the part of the young man to marry will cause his parents or the elders in the lineage to worry and even to interfere in his private life in order to advise and encourage him to marry.
In the traditional Akan society of Ghana, for instance- and this incidentally is true also of contemporary Akan society – if a man who has reached the age at which he is expected to marry does not do so, or is not seen as making attempts to do so, he will be regarded, and pointed to a fool. The word Kwasea is a highly abusive word in the Akan culture, meaning more than the English word “fool” conveys. In one respect, the fool is simply one who is not wise. But beyond that, in the Akan society, a fool is one who is considered to be irresponsible, worthless, good-for-nothing, deserving no respect from others. Thus, the word Kwasea in that context essentially has a moral meaning or reference: it describes a man who refuses to bear his share of social responsiilty and thus behaves antisocially, unfairly and unethically. In the traditional Akan society of Ghana if a man is well off and yet remained single, he will be considered irresponsible, even cruel, by his kinsmen or community and perhaps also abnormal , for falling short of the ideas and expectations of manhood – of being a man.
In Ghana – and in Africa generally- because of communal ties and the extended family, marriage is not merely an affair between two individuals who have fallen in love and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. It is a matter in which lineage groups of both the man and the woman are deeply interested. A marriage might seem to be between two individuals but in fact the marriage contract is between two families, the family of the man and that of the woman. Thus, the man and the woman are warned straightaway that they are not being married to an individual but to a family. In many societies in African marriage is said to be the union of families rather than of just two individuals.
Advantages of the familial type of marriage.
The familial type of marriage has advantages. It must be mentioned first that the interest shown by lineage members in the marriage and the goodwill demonstrated from the outset generally continue after the marriage is contracted and in many cases turn into financial, psychological, or emotional assistance for the couple. Just as the couple may be called upon to give assistance, they also are made to feel that other members of the two lineage groups are always prepared to come to their aid, when necessary. It is undeniable that a number of Ghanaian couples have been given assistance of various kinds by members of the lineage groups of both the husband and the wife.
Also within the context of the familial type of marriage arrangement in which success of the marriage becomes a concern of the members of the two lineage groups, there are always at hand men and women ready to counsel the couple, to help sort out their marriage problems or patch up quarrels, and so help bring harmony back into the marriage. The men and women who on those occasions serve as marriage or family counselors offer advice, admonition, and encouragement based on their experiences in the practices of marriage. They perform a function that in other, most western societies is performed by professional family or marriage counselors. But, as lineage members, they would be more involved emotionally, in their counselling duties and are likely to be more effective. Any couple can benefit immensely from the counselling intervention of such experienced kinsmen and kinswomen. Any help that a couple may give to other members of the lineage groups will be reciprocated and often will be more than compensated for. On the whole then, the advantages of the familial type of marriage may be said in the long run to outweigh the disadvantages.
Disadvantages of the familial type of marriage.
The familial type of marriage, however has disadvantages as well. I said a moment ago that in the African context, marriage is between families rather than individuals. This view of marriage must not be taken as meaning there is a constant invasion of the privacy of the married couple by the members of the two contracting lineages. What the statement means, according to my understanding and personal experiences, is that the man should – and is expected to – show interest in the affairs of his wife’s lineage, and the woman in those of her husband’s lineage, to the extent possible. If the couple comes to be consumed only with their own affairs – that is, the affairs of their nuclear family or household consisting of themselves and their children – they would be branded as selfish. The couple could consequently, not only invite the moral and social snub of their lineages, but also cause a denial of the goodwill and needed help that could have and practice of marriage are clearly inspired by the communal spirit of the traditional African society.
There are definite disadvantages to a couple in such an understanding and practice of the institution of marriage. One is the very definite possibility of interference in the affairs of the couple by the lineage members. The interference could be irritating to the couple. And, if adequate patience and understanding are not shown by either of the couple, the marriage could be ruined. It is a matter of common knowledge that many a Ghanaian marriage has been ruined through the interference in the affairs of the couple by the lineage members, mothers and sisters being the greatest culprits. It must be pointed out, however that as far as the lineage members are concerned, they do not “interfere”; they merely show an interest in the couple’s welfare.
Another drawback to the familial understanding of the marriage contract is that the number of demands made on the couple by lineage members can be numerous. The demands vary from general financial help, assistance in looking for a school for relatives’ children and assistance in looking for employment for relatives’ children to endless contributions toward defraying funeral expenses. Unless the couple happens to be wealthy, these endless demands, if they can be met, can badly affect their financial position and make living itself very for them. Even though in the circumstances of the extended family system and its accompanying obligations, such demands may be understandable, they can, nevertheless, becomes burdensome.
One outstanding reason for marriage is to produce children in the way considered proper by society. Even though children are born outside marriage in many societies,, this is not considered most acceptable, this is not sanctioned by most cultures. Thus, there are many young men and women in many societies who will not persuaded to have children unless, and until, they get married; they cherish the idea of getting married before they have children. Even though in the traditional Ghanaian social context of “illegitimate child” does not generally exist and for this reason, any child born of unwed parents will be fully and joyfully welcomed into the extended family of either the man or the woman, nevertheless, it is considered proper for a man- and for a woman too – to get married before having children. Thus, marriage is recognized as the most proper way to procreate.
Providing parental care
One compelling reason why marriage should precede the bearing of children is to provide adequate parental care for the child. A child brought up under the care of either the father or the mother alone is deprived of full emotional care, even if the father is able to provide for his or her material needs. A growing child whose parents are not married lack the social standing or respect normally accorded to children of married couples. Such a child may occasionally suffer ridicule from children who are of his or her age or even from relatives within the lineage who may have knowledge of his or her background. This treatment may affect the mental health or emotional stability of the growing child.
Sustaining the ties of kinship
Marriage is the recognized social institution, not only for establishing and maintaining the family, but also for creating and sustaining the ties of kinship. Without the institution of marriage, there would be no family, nuclear or extended and therefore no kinship ties. Marriage is thus essential to the development and enlargement of kinship ties which are a well known feature of the Ghanaian or African society.
An avenue to respectable social status
A young man will be encouraged to marry also because the responsibility associated with marriage elevates a man or woman to a respectable social status. Fulfilling marital responsibilities, particularly in providing for the material welfare of a wife and children requires that a man make responsible use of his money. And so it is, that sometimes young men are encouraged to marry in order to save money – money that would have been spent irresponsibly on useless and foolish social acts. Thus, in the traditional Ghanaian society, a man who is married is highly respected. He is the one to be called upon by the younger members of the lineage for advice, to be asked to settle disputes and so on. All this is because he is considered a responsible person.
Proper avenue for sexual satisfaction
Marriage provides a proper and socially acceptable avenue for sexual satisfaction. While society does not ignore the natural sexual urges of the adolescent boy and girl, it believes, however that the most appropriate way to give expression to those urges is through marriage. Premarital sexual intercourse can cause emotional pains and stresses, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, not to mention transmitted sexual diseases and the deadly HIV/AIDS. Thus premarital sex can not be a proper avenue for sexual satisfaction.
The understanding of marriage as primarily a companionship also means that another reason for marriage is the search for support. The support is mutual in the sense that it is given by each other of the couple to the other, each should bear the other up. But the support is, and must be, total in the sense that it is aimed at fulfilling all the needs of each of the couple; emotional, financial, intellectual and other needs. It means that each should contribute all that he or she can to make the marriage a success. It follows, then, that cruelty, wickedness, selfishness, greed, lack of compassion and other related vices should be cast out of the marriage relationship.
Avenue for the a fuller and happier life
It follows from all that has been said above regarding the purpose of marriage that marriage is expected to be a source of a fuller and happier life for a married couple. This is the reason for the feelings of frustration, pain, and sorrow when a marriage relationship breaks down. A good and satisfactory marriage leads to the happiness of the couple. Every effort therefore must be made to make a marriage relationship a success.
Preparing for marriage.
In the African society, marriage is considered so important that both families of a prospective couple and the wider society follow certain practices that are intended to ensure the success and survival of a marriage relationship.