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Marriage and family in African context
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Marriage and family in African context

In African culture is completely incomprehensible that an adult has no children. For example, in Uganda and Rwanda, people without offspring have a special name “ekifera” which means “abnormal” or “ill” person. It is understandable that every adult has offspring, heirs. People without children are considered bewitched or punished by God.

For a man to be ready for marriage, he has to prove that he is worthy. He has to prove it by building a house. He may inherit land from his father or he may have to buy it, but he never brings his bride to someone else’s house, and especially not to his parents’. Before the wedding he has to build a house and prepare land for crops so that he shows he is able to take care of and feed his family. If a man is able to ensure this, he is considered ready to be married. In addition it is even better if he is able to get a cow, goat, or sheep...

Marriage and family in African context

Christianity considers that marriage is connecting two people, but in African culture it is viewed differently. Marriage is the connection of two families, and children are a blessing. Individualism, i.e. solitary life without offspring in African culture isn’t of value and is looked upon negatively.

When young man chooses a young woman for his wife, first he talks with his family and tells them which girl he would like for his wife. If his parents and relatives agree, they begin negotiations with the girl’s relatives. So it is the relatives who now proceed with the proposal.

Marriage and family in African context

The negotiations can take days, and they are always conducted with drinks, usually beer, and the end result depends upon how good the negotiators are. They usually negotiate about dowry - about the price that the man should pay for the girl.

A number of things are taken into account: for example, how many years of schooling did the bride finish? And is she hardworking, obedient? Does she respect the elderly, etc. They are, in effect, paying recompense for the bride, a kind of repayment to the family for losing this particular member of the family’s work force.

Marriage and family in African context

As well, the prospective bridegroom has to bring presents for the father and mother in law... items like clothes or housewares - pots or something similar. In that way it shows that the son in law is hardworking and can provide a good future for their daughter.

In return, the relatives of the bride cry and list all values of the bride and are really sad because such good girl is leaving the family, but they also show how glad they are because by building a new family, she will bring new heirs into the world. And they are asking their daughter’s new family to take care of her like her own mother and father would.

Marriage and family in African context

In marriage, the husband is expected to take care of the building of the house and to buy any cattle and if necessary he goes to war. The wife’s duty is to keep the house clean, and to cook and feed the family. She takes care of garden; she digs and grows crops and in that way assures food for the family.

Marriage and family in African context

In the household, everyone washes his or her own laundry (by hand, of course). A wife does not ever wash her husband’s clothes. Even for the children, she only washes their clothes while they are very young. As they grow a little older, they are taught how to wash their own clothes.

Weddings and births and children are the centre of human life. In the beginning, after the wedding, bride stays in house for six months and in that time it is expected that she will become pregnant. If she doesn’t fall pregnant, it is not a good sign. A wife who doesn’t give birth is considered a failed investment for the husband and for the community, so she can be sent back to her family, leaving the husband free to get another wife.

Marriage and family in African context

Divorces are very rare in Africa. If there are problems in the marriage, the first person to talk to the spouses is the father of the family. If after multiple attempts he doesn’t succeed to make peace between “warring parties” extended family is called to try to make peace with the married couple.

When a child is born the marriage bond is unbreakable. The child is an external sign that the marriage has been fulfilled and that the spouses are now an inseparable unit. Children strengthen the relationship; the presence of a child confirms that the unity is complete.

Marriage and family in African context

A family’s wealth is considered according to the number of children. Families with larger numbers of children are more appreciated in their communities. Children are a joy and welcomed because they assure a family’s future. At the same time the family gains by having help with the work to be done. As the children grow up, they are expected to fetch water from a nearby stream or well; it is also their duty is to collect firewood for cooking, which makes it easier on their mother and father.

So you see, in Africa, it is the children who are the ones who bring life and a brighter future to a marriage and to the community.

Translated by Angleka Fitz
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

 
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