How marriage system in Africa is based….. In the previous article, the meaning of social institutions and the major types of social institution in Africa was analyst. In this unit and the next you will be learning about the marriage and family systems as a form of social institution in Africa. Marriage and family institutions are major social institutions in Africa. Marriage and family are closely related concepts. Marriage is one important step that leads to family formation. In this unit, particular attention will be placed on the concepts of marriage and family, the types of marriage and family and the role of marriage and family in African societies.
Marriage is a system by which a society recognizes the right of a man and a woman to live together and have a stable sexual relationship. Marriage is diverse throughout the world. Although marriage has some common qualities, it differs from one society to the other. Marriage brings about new rights, new roles and new social relationships. In every marriage, there are three important prerequisites. Firstly, the families of intending couples are involved; secondly, there is the payment of a bride price and thirdly, there is a form of religious undertone to marriage ceremonies.
In most societies in Africa, parental consent to a marriage partner is very essential. In contracting indigenous African marriages, the decision of the intending couples’ larger families supersedes the decision of the couples themselves. The family has a say over who their son or daughter marries with regards to age, religious affiliations, ethnic groups and so on. Every African community has ‘rules of incest’ or incest taboos. That is, rules discouraging intermarriages between close relatives. For instance, it is a taboo for a father to marry or have sexual intercourse
with his daughter. The same goes for mother to son, brother to sister and sometimes, cousins to cousins. However, these restrictions vary from societies to societies. For some societies in Africa, there is an exception to the rule. Some royal families members may be allowed to intermarry or have sexual intercourse so as to preserve the royal blood from been contaminated if no royal equal can be found. For example, part of a king’s coronation is to sleep with his mother. In another society, an heir to the throne or a king who does not yet have a wife may be required to marry his sister if there are no eligible ladies that fit the royal status. Among the Ashantis in Ghana, marriages between cousins are allowed.
An essential step to be taken in contracting a marriage between a man and a woman is the payment of bride price by the man’s family to the woman’s family. This comes in form of paying a certain amount of money and some listed items to the bride-to-be’s family. On the other hand, the money or properties a woman carry from her father’s home to her husband’s house is referred to as a ‘dowry’. Bride price and dowry are significant in African marriages, although the requirements vary from society to society. For instance, among the Turkana of northern Kenya in East Africa, bride price is paid in cattle. The number of cattle to be collected from an eligible suitor depends on how rich he is. It should be noted that sometimes, the bride’s family may write off the bride price a groom is supposed to pay. This kind of marriage may be referred to as ‘gift marriage’.
Different Kinds of Marriage
Generally, the number of spouses an individual in a marriage has is used to determine the kind of marriage it is. There are rules in every country which govern how many persons a man or a woman may marry. The following are some of the forms of marriage a society may have:
Monogamy is a major form of marriage. This is the marriage of one man to one woman at a time. Individuals who separate from or divorce their spouses and remarries another in their place are referred to as serial monogamists.
Polygamy is another major kind of marriage. It is a plurality of marriage. It is a form of marriage in which a person is married to many spouses. It is very common in African societies. There are two variants of polygamy namely polygyny and polyandry. Polygyny is the marriage in which a man marries more than one wife while polyandry is a marriage in which a woman is married to many men. For instance, in Nigeria and South Africa, men are allowed, traditionally, to marry more than one wife.
how marriage system in Africa is based
There is another form of polygamy called ‘group marriage. This is a combination of polygyny and polyandry. In this case, groups of men and women enjoy more or less equal conjugal rights over one another.
Levirate And Sororate
These two are also referred to as affinal marriages. An affine is a relative by marriage. In the levirate form of marriage, a man is required to marry the wife or wives of his deceased brother. It is closely related to another form of marriage known as widow inheritance. At times, a man may marry his father’s widow or widows, other than his mother or those widows who are senior to his mother. The man may be older than some of the wives or be in the same age group. Levirate is more easily constituted in polygynous societies than in monogamous ones. If a living brother is already married to one wife that is permitted to marry by law, he may out rightly refuse to marry his deceased brother’s wife or wives. Levirate marriage is common among the Luo people in Kenya and in Uganda. This kind of marriage is also commonly practised in Nigeria, however, it is gradually fading out.
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