Importance of Marriage In Africa;5 Myths For Women

The Role of Marriage and Importance of Marriage In Africa.These subsistence societies, with their mediocre or nonexistent surpluses threatened (except in rain-forest areas) by the vagaries of rainfall, were based on food production. This was generally the job of the women in a family, but that might depend on their number. No individual, male or female, can work more than five acres a year with a hoe.

Why Is Marriage Important to African society.Importance of Marriage In Africa For Women.

Importance of Marriage In Africa

More women meant more land worked, and this gives women intrinsic value as instruments of both production and reproduction. More women meant more children and greater numbers of kin. Girl children would become producers in turn; men would attract wives who would expand the circle and the group’s social impact while expanding its productive force.

If women were at once employed and despised in production, they were valued, even glorified, in reproduction.20 Today it is said that African women arc defined by the three S s: silence, sacrifice, and service. In Benin, women were referred to as “the enclosure of another mans compound” or “the inlaws’ horse.” The rich man was not one who accumulated wealth or lands; land was a sacred gift of the gods, inalienable, and the only rights to it were for its use. In earlier African societies, where land was seldom scarce, the concept of landownership was meaningless. Accumulating wealth derived from production meant little as well—ultimately, such wealth meant owning a hoc, and almost anyone could own one.

What mattered was the ability to work land and the control of enough hands to do so. Women and the children they guaranteed constituted real wealth, just as cattle did in pastoral societies. Ownership of women was ordinarily reserved for men, who were permitted to acquire wives by bride-price. The more animals, the more wives and the more children—which made one wealthy.

Rules Of African Marriage;Importance of Marriage In Africa.

In contrast to the dowry, a contribution made by the prospective bride’s family, the bride-price is paid by the groom’s family to the family of the bride-to-be for their loss of the double wealth in work and children that she represents. This practice, though transformed, corrupted, and in some areas forbidden by governments, remains deeply rooted in African society. That it was indeed a question of compensation was underscored among the Wolof, where goods received as bride-price were used immediately to procure a wife for one of the brothers of the woman being given up—that is, to replace.

In rural societies, the infrequent use of money was reserved for long-distance trade, controlled by chiefs and rulers; it was marital alliances that controlled these societies’ economic, social, and even political balance. Agreements were made by those responsible for the group—elders, family heads, and kin chiefs—between families whose alliance was sought or even whose alliances were due to or dependent on other people. The bridegroom gave goods, utilitarian or prestigious: cattle, copper bracelets, cloth.

That cattle were so often given under these agreements is significant: The family giving the woman could become wealthier at the same time as the family receiving her. The prospective groom, usually young, did not own enough to provide these goods himself. For this he depended on his lineage head. Sometimes, especially in southern central Africa or in rain-forest areas such as that of the Igbo (southeastern Nigeria), the bulk of his contribution was made in labor. He joined his in-laws by agreeing to take part in various tasks, and this could be part or all of his debt. A bridegroom was sometimes reduced almost to servitude by his future mother-in-law servitude by his future mother-in-law.

The woman was mainly expected to be a good child bearer. Whereas in the western Sahel unmarried pregnant women encountered strong disapproval and were even chased out of the village,25 in Ogooue-Maritime, Gabon, a young woman had to prove her fertility by becoming pregnant before marriage. If the child was male, the future husband’s family took care of it and awaited the arrival of a daughter before ratifying the marriage by paying the bridc-pricc. Only then had the young woman proven her “high quality.”24 This indicates that though the birth of a daughter (a guarantee of continuity of the labor force) may not have been prized, it was not a dishonor. Even recently, the father of a well-off family in Accra who had just had twin girls was congratulated by relatives: “So now you are rich!”25

If the wife left the conjugal home for one reason or another and returned to her own family, the family had to give back the gifts received. The contract was broken, and the family recovered the force represented by the woman, often to use it for another engagement. Wives (especially in matrilincal areas, where their rights were better protected) would not hesitate to return home, perhaps only for brief periods, whereupon their families would be prepared to renegotiate for them.26 Husbands, in contrast, rarely sent their wives back; doing so was unlikely to lead to recovery of the bride-price. A husband could, however, complain to his in-laws about his wife’s services and enlist their help in getting her back on course.

There are some exceptions to all this. Thus, for example, the peoples, few but diverse, of the Niger plateau practiced wife swapping. The first British observers, shocked by a practice so far from conventional Western models, saw only an absence of decency, morality, and propriety. To them, these peoples were “so to speak, a cultural cul-de-sac characterized by a scries of interesting archaic traits ranging from widespread complete nudity to certain utterly unique marriage’’ practices.

In fact, their exchanges were governed by strict and complex rules. The wife, who had to be a virgin for her first marriage, had to contract several more marriages thereafter, on the condition that she live with only one husband at a time. As for the husband, he was required to offer his wife to his brothers and his sisters’ husbands and allowed access to his brothers’ wives.

Of course, such marriages included the payment of bride-prices to the wives’ families. It was sometimes assumed that the wife would have a special relationship with a lover—himself married, the notion of bachelorhood being nonexistent—on the condition that, once ac-access to his brothers’ wives. Of course, such marriages included the payment of bride-prices to the wives’ families. It was sometimes assumed that the wife would have a special relationship with a lover—himself married, the notion of bachelorhood being nonexistent—on the condition that, once accepted by the husband, he pay the husband a ritual compensation.

The lover owed the woman protection, even more than her husband did. Children generally went to the first husband, who gave them to their fathers in exchange for payment. The system was expensive, and the richer the man the more he could participate. Such a man developed his “clientele,” with the lover and his wives becoming his dependents in the same way as the other husbands and brothers of his wives. Without going this far, many central African societies considered the woman a commodity that the husband could offer to honor a visitor—a blood brother or kinship ally. This practice existed in Buganda, but the young woman still had to be a virgin when she first married.

by Abdullah Sam
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