Customs and Traditions in Marriage…
STAYING MARRIED SERIES
CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS IN MARRIAGE
LOUISA BAABA BONDZIE
Marriage can be defined as the legal or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. Traditionally, marriage is seen as a union between two consenting adults (man and woman) who have been joined together under the customs of the people. Marriage is not just between a man and a woman, but two families. This discourse is done through the spectacle of Akan customs and traditions.
The most common structure of the Akan is Matrilineal Structure that allows families to live in a traditional extended family household. The matrilineal structure is a lineage formed from the mother’s side of the family. Because they are part of a matrilineal linage, the Akan must follow the customs of matrilineality.
The structure is formed by their ancestors.
The matrilineal clans are to be responsible for their farms, marriages and members of the lineage.
Given this family structure, ancestors never made provision for the aged homes, professional nannies, house helps or maids because there were always others they could lean on for support in time of need.
In the era where the extended family system was strong, each person was important to the other in the family. Therefore, marriage was vital and very sensitive which was not done haphazardly.
Irrespective of the variations that exist in the customs of all ethnic groups in Ghana, there are two non-negotiable things; they are compulsory to take place.
One of them is the coming together of both the families of the bride and that of the groom-to-be.
The second is the payment of the bride price.
Traditional marriage is polygamous.
It is recognized under the Customary Marriage and Divorce Law, PNDC Law 112 (1985).
TRADITIONAL BELIEFS CONCERNING MARRIAGE
- Marriage is a life-long union (Awar no kwan war ntsi sз rokՉ awar a bisa)
- Marriage strengthens our family system (clan)
- Marriage brings honour to the entire family
- Only fathers contract marriages for their sons, but in their absence maternal uncles can do it.
- Fathers give out the daughter’s hands only in their first marriages.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MARRIAGE
This is the normal traditional marriage between a man and a woman. The full marriage rite has to be performed to authenticate it. Except this type of marriage rite is performed, a marriage ceremony is not accepted to have fully taken place.
FIE AWAR OR W)FA BA AWAR (CROSS – COUSIN MARRIAGE)
In this marriage, a girl marries the son of her maternal uncle or vice versa. Because of the Matrilineal Structure of the Akans, the uncle’s children belong to their mother’s family. This type of marriage is not considered as incest but accepted wholly.
When a man marries the widow of his brother or uncle after inheriting him. It is believed that, the person has inherited everything including the wife and children. This helps maintain the family property.
This has to do with a marriage between a younger sister of a deceased wife and her widower. The younger sister is planted in the stead of her deceased sister. This happens when it is believed that the man has married the deceased daughter very well. He is appreciated by giving him the younger sister of the deceased.
ESIWAA AWAR (BETROTHAL)
In this marriage, a man can ask for the hand of a little girl in marriage and take care of her till she is old enough to join him as a wife.
NWEWEE / MPONA (ENGAGEMENT)
This is a situation where a man and a woman after they have made a promise of marriage to each other, go ahead to stay together and give birth as a married couple. The Akans do not consent to this system. When the man dies before the woman, he is buried by his family and his children will not be considered as his because the Akans believe children are only born in marriage. In a situation where the woman dies before the man, he is made to perform the marriage rite before burying her. This is to deter men from taking women for granted but ensure marriage rites are fully performed before living with them.
HOW MARRIAGE IS CONTRACTED
When a man is ready for marriage and he finds a woman, he first informs his mother who in turn informs the father. Akans believe that, fathers have the prerogative right of marrying for their sons. Immediately the father is informed, it means the process has been initiated.
NHWEHW3MU (BACKGROUND CHECKS)
The mother of the would-be-husband has to do background checks of the would-be wife. This is done to ensure that, there are no communicable or hereditary diseases like tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, insanity or epilepsy in the family.
To find out about any known criminal record like stealing or murder.
To also find out if the woman is quarrelsome.
At this stage, the man’s family present a delegation led by his father or his eldest maternal uncle to the woman’s family. This is where they make their intentions clear. This gives the man the right to publicly converse with the woman. Until this knocking is done, any public display of their relatoonship is prohibited. The delegation presents a drink and a specified amount to the girl’s family at this stage. The would-be-husband does not join the delegation but allow his family assess the woman. By virtue of the drink and the money presented, the woman cannot accept any marriage proposal from another man (W’ab) basia no dua mu).
The family of the woman has to also do a background check on the man to also ensure the man is suitable for their daughter. The investigation brings to bear the same things the man’s family looked out for.
When the lady’s family is satisfied with the investigation, they invite the man’s family. The father of the woman collects a drink or money which will aid him to open his mouth to talk.
At this meeting, the marriage list is given to the man’s family. It is required that the guy’s family bargain for a reduction in the bride price. It is a sign of respect. At this juncture, the date for the marriage is fixed. On the day of the marriage, every item on the list is presented.
The marriage is said to be sealed when the lady’s family receives the items.
The man’s family has to lastly present a Thank You Money (Ndaase Sika). This is just to say thank you to the woman’s family for giving them a wife. The woman’s family will also, in turn, present gifts to the man’s family for such an honour done them.
ITEMS ON THE MARRIAGE LIST
TSIR NSA (BRIDE PRICE)
This comprises a drink and a specified amount. It seals the whole marriage process. The drink is taken to the elders of the lady’s clan to inform them that their daughter has been married off. This is what gives the clans the right to inform each other when there are funerals. In case of divorce the “Tsir Nsa” has to be returned to the man’s family.
B)W-DO-TOWA (FATHER’S DRINK)
The father is given a cloth and a specified amount. This is a compensation to the father for all his efforts and toils in raising his daughter. It is believed that the father has kept sleepless nights from the time his wife got into labour till the child grew up and has smoked all his pipes during those nights. He should therefore be compensated.
TAM BOBAA (MOTHER’S DRINK)
It is a compensation to the mother and it is made up of a cloth and a specified amount. It is presented to the mother as an honour to her. It means her toil for her daughter has not been in vain.
TSIR ADZE (BRIDE PRICE)
This is a specified amount presented to the bride to settle her economically for her to be profitable and contribute financially in the marriage. This money is usually huge. In the olden days, the women were at home and did not work. This money was given to them to start a trade.
AKONTAN SEKAN (TOKEN TO BROTHER -IN -LAW)
This is also a specified amount given to the brothers of the bride. Where she does not have biological brothers, her maternal cousins will take it. This is also to compensate the brothers for losing their sister to another man.
EHYIADZE(GIFTS FOR THE BRIDE)
This is the personal stuffs the guy has to present to the lady. It is made of clothes, undies, scarfs, footwears, jewellery, etc. In the days that the women didn’t work, these things were of greater importance.
MP3TSEA NA BAEBOL (RING AND BIBLE)
The Bible is usually given out when the bride is a Christian. In the olden days, rings were given to brides who have been to school but now it is given to every bride to signify that they have been married. The man does not wear a marriage band because traditional marriage is polygamous.
The moment the traditional right or obligation have been carried out, the couple can as well proceed to a court of law to register their marriage.
IMPORTANCE OF MARRIAGE TO THE AKAN
- It helps in procreation, divorce is therefore granted when one party is not able to give birth.
- IT creates friendship between the two families.
- There is the benefit of earning or acquiring property
- It brings companionship
All African cultures take the traditional marriage ceremony very seriously.
In Ghana, it is designed for the mature and those who are ready to shoulder the responsibilities.
Though modifications need to be done, the customs that are involved in the marriage should not be changed since these customs have helped in maintaining traditional marriage despite numerous challenges.
Marriage is beautiful and should be held in high esteem