Culture And Tradition


Marriage was a complex affair in the traditional society. It was the point where all the members of a given community met the departed, the living and those yet to be born, therefore, without procreation, marriage was incomplete. Everybody, therefore, had to get married and bear children, that was the greatest hope and expectation of the individual for himself and of the community for the individual.

Preparing for marriage was a long process, marked by rituals and in choosing a marriage partner, different customs were observed. A fairly widespread practice was the one in which the parents and relatives of a young man approached the parents of a particular girl and hence started marriage negotiations. In other societies it was the young people themselves who made their own choice and afterwards informed their parents about it. In the traditional societies, marriage was not allowed between close relatives. Where marriage was allowed within the same clan, carefully scrutiny followed to make sure that the couple were not close relatives. Taboos existed to strengthen marriage prohibitions. For example, it was feared that children of close relatives would die, and that the living-dead who were displeased with such a marriage would bring misfortune to those concerned.
The actual wedding ceremony lasted for many days and was full of rituals. In others the bridegroom and his party had to fight the bride's people in order to get her. There are lots of cultures and procedures that came before marriage and which had a lot of meaning. The custom of presenting a gift to the bride's people is still widely practiced. Different names are used to describe it, such as 'bride wealth', 'bride-gift', 'bride-price', 'dowry'. The gift may be in form of cattle, money, foodstuffs and other articles. This marriage gift is an important institution in African societies. It is a token of gratitude on the part of the bridegroom's people to those of the bride, for their care over her and for allowing her to become his wife. Under no circumstances is this custom a form of 'payment'. The man and his people were not the only people who gave: the girl's people also gave gifts in return, even if these may have been materially smaller than those of the man. To be unmarried is childhood, to be married is maturity and a blessing.

When the rite was over, the couple went into their special house and consummated their marriage. Virginity was the symbol that life had been preserved, that the spring of life had not been flowing wastefully, and that both the girl and her relatives had preserved the sanctity of human reproduction. A virgin bride was the greatest glory and crown to her parents, husband and relatives.


Polygamy was common in the traditional society. In popular usage, it is applied to mean the state of marriage in which there is one husband and two or more wives. It raised the social status of the family concerned. Often it was the rich families that were made up of polygamous marriages. If the first wife had no children, or only daughters, it followed almost without exception that her husband would add another wife, partly to remedy the immediate concern of childlessness, and partly to remove the shame and anxiety of apparent unproductivity. When a family is made up of several wives with their households, it means that in time of need there will always be someone around to help. This is corporate existence. For example, when one wife gives birth, there are other wives to nurse and her care for other children during the time she is regaining her vitality. If one wife dies, there are others to take over the care of her children. In case of sickness, other wives will fetch water from the river, cut firewood, cook and do other jobs for the family. If one wife is barren, others bear children for the family, so that the torch of life is not extinguished. The custom of inheriting the wife of a deceased brother is fairly common. By brother it should be understood to mean not only the son of one's mother but any other close relative. The brother who inherits the wife and children of his deceased relative, performs all the duties of a husband and father. The children born after this inheritance generally belong to deceased man.


Divorce was an 'accident' in marital relationships. Once the full contract of marriage had been executed, it was extremely hard to dissolve. The causes of divorce included sterility or barrenness especially on the part of the wife. This was probably the greatest single cause, since the inability to bear children blocked the stream of life. Where the husband was impotent or sterile, his 'brother' performed his duties and thus saved the marriage from breaking down. If the wife was barren, the husband could take another wife and keep the barren one which also in turn saved the 'first' marriage.


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