By Pius Sumba
Marriage (the union of a man and a woman), usually to the exclusion of all others, perhaps remains one of the mysteries of our time. Even those who have been married for over 50 years can hardly precisely tell what keeps them soberly loving and wanting more of the relationship. For some it is God’s grace that keeps them accepting and loving each other more and more, while for many others, it has remained a great nightmare of all times thus the rampant marriage breakages. The African perspective of marriage is that marriage is a sacred relationship that is meant to be everlasting. This is evident amongst the different cultural groups such as the Banyakitara, Luo, Baganda, Madi, the Ibo of Nigeria, Banyarwanda, Itesots etc. It is however noted that all these cultural groups share a similar tradition on marriage. Marriage was seen as a sacrosanct relationship (bond) not just between the couples but rather also their families and clans. Therefore, parents from both sides, uncles and aunts and other responsible members of the community were all involved in the partner search (hunt) until the couples were married and still continued to support them to cope up with their new gender roles.
In some instances, a baby girl would be booked while still young and grew up being prepared to be married in a particular family. However, in most cases, they would wait until the couples to be were of the required age and then the boy’s family through the uncle and the girl’s family through the aunt would come to an agreement on their children getting married. This was often done without the boy and the girl knowing only to be surprised later when they are almost getting married in most instances. Virginity, especially of the lady was highly treasured and was greatly rewarded with at least a cow if the lady passed the virginity test on the first night she was availed to her husband. The aunts would in the morning as soon as possible go to check whether the improvised white bed linen remained white or was generously soiled with blood.
Although virginity was so highly valued, it was not often talked about openly but the young lady would be seriously warned of nature taking its course should she defile her sacred body. This was believed to be in form of lightning strikes, difficult labor, infertility and other calamities that would be fall the girl. Whenever the young boy and the girl were of age, they would be encouraged to freely associate with their respective peers so as to learn certain core skills and techniques like building huts and knitting respectively. These they would be corrected on by their uncles or father; who by now would have become so close to the boy, while the aunts and the mother of the girl would also get closer to her. Phrases like, “one day you will be like me” would be used to stimulate the young boy / girl’s thinking in preparation for family responsibilities.
Traditionally, everyone believes that a good marriage can only exist when the couples come from good families. After all “the son to a frog is a frog, isn’t he?” And of course “A palm fruit can never fall far from the tree”. “Only a mother who sits well has her daughters well sat”. How can a tree bleed milk? Because of this, a thorough history taking, crosschecking and an indirect physical examination of the families involved would be done to ascertain that the family is genuinely good.
However, this was more emphasized on the side of the girl’s family. The boy’s family would use the boy’s uncle or a trusted close relative or family friend to create a link with the girl’s family and therefore privately find out all that needs to be known about the family issues like witchcrafts, practice of incest, greed, theft, unexplained deaths and ill-health, abortions (miscarriages), lightning strikes, inter alia were properly screened against. A family with any of these would be believed to be accursed and therefore not to be married from. A woman was believed to manufacture both happiness and sadness. A good woman is that who manufactures more happiness than sadness.
Thus the saying, “a woman can prolong or reduce the life span of her husband.” So if Ms. Right from Mr. Right’s family was got, an agreement would be reached between the two families after which a negotiable bride price would be paid to the girl’s family in appreciation for her up bringing. This was majorly in form of female animals like goats and cows which were believed to be reproducing at the bride’s home as she would likewise be reproducing at her own home. These therefore were believed to somewhat console the bride’s family so as not to miss her too much, for in seeing the animals’ lineage, they would somehow be reminded to think of their daughter’s own lineage too.
The pride price agreement was pivotal to the traditional marriage ceremony arrangement and cerebrations. The night of this celebration was yet another fateful night that kept all concerned family members, friends and relatives anxiously awaiting the outcome of the young couple’s first encounter. The lady was at all cost expected to have been a virgin until this night; the aunts would therefore provide or improvise a white linen and lay it on the young couple’s beddings and would as soon as possible in the morning rash to ascertain that it was genuinely and generously well soiled by blood-a proof of the lady’s virginity. In case she passed the virginity test, her mother would greatly be rewarded with an extra cow.
The young couple then would be supported in their quest for establishing a new family that would insure continuity of their family lineage and as well contribute to the community well being.
It should be remembered that traditionally:
a) Virginity was paramount for a girl to have a descent marriage.
b) If a girl got pregnant outside marriage, the boy was required to pay some animals-preferably 2 goats (adopted from Luo Culture) in atonement for this forbidden act. One goat would be eaten by the elders as they gathered to appease the gods to forgive their children and the other would be taken to the royal family or the head of the lady’s clan. If this was not done the lady was expected to have a bad pregnancy outcome.
c) If however this child begotten outside marriage (the bastard) was born: the boy’s family was required to pay another two cows to claim the child before discussing the bride price. These measures kept check on misconduct among young people and prevented children being born bastards.
d) Traditionally, all children belonged to the community and therefore it was the community’s responsibility to ensure proper upbringing of the children in conjunction with the family. The family was expected to instill community virtues in the children as they were being passed out to the community.
e) Marriage was meant to be permanent.
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