By - Isaac Olawole Joseph
“A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers” – African Proverb
In Africa, weddings are celebrated and highly valued. The above quote sums it all. Africans pride in their matrimony and it gives both parties involved an enviable status.
Traditional weddings in Africa have been well revered in times past. However, there has been a paradigm shift in what was obtainable in the past and what is practised now. Africans place so much value on their traditions of which weddings form an integral core. However, the narratives have started changing; westernisation has set in and some values of African traditional weddings are being eroded.
Ethnic groups across Africa have different traditional values which are peculiar to them. These traditional weddings and the practices involved are being passed down from one generation to another; with each of the values of such traditional weddings being strictly adhered to. There are custodians of such traditional wedding values who ensure that this priceless heritage stand the test of time.
However, the world is changing; Africa is experiencing changes and the modus operandi of handling these African traditional weddings are changing too. While one can argue that change is constant; it is also pertinent to note that these changes have altered some age long customs of the African traditional weddings. Narratives are beginning to change in the quest to attain self imposed civilisation; African traditional weddings have started to lose some of its most enviable and exciting wedding customs while the Westernised model of doing marriage is being celebrated.
Placing abreast the old and the new narratives of the African traditional system considering few African Traditional Weddings and how the narratives have changed over time:
In the old narratives of the African traditional wedding system using the Yoruba tribe as a case study, marriage is seen as sacred and upheld as such. This is why a lady is not expected to have sex out of wedlock. It was seen as a taboo and a shame to the family of the lady caught in such mess. But in the new narrative, old trends have given way to the new trends. Men and women engage in sexual practices outside of wedlock. The sanctity of the Yoruba traditional wedding gets being destroyed. This act is not uncommon among unmarried folks who take pride in sleeping around; but the worst of it all is that many of these people still go ahead with the Yoruba traditional wedding even after the sacrilege. The custom of being a virgin before marriage and the pride therein holds no sway anymore.
Also, in the old narrative of the Yoruba traditional wedding system, there is always an intermediary who mediates between both spouses before their marriage is endorsed. This intermediary is known as “Alarina.” The job of the intermediary who might be a male or a female is to serve as a link between the man and the woman. The “Alarina” has a platonic relationship with either of the spouses and scouts on their behalf based on their demands. However, that seems to be archaic now as men now walk up to the lady they like to ask for their hands in marriage. The age long custom of informing parents before making a decision as regards marriage is now being eroded. Men and women today already give in to proposals before their parents even get a wind of it. Needless to say that even in this age, some parents get to know their daughters have accepted a proposal for marriage through the social media. How horrible the narratives changed!
Akan is an ethnic group in Ghana with a well-crafted age long traditional wedding custom. The man meets secretly with the lady in what is termed “kasasie.” The man would then take along his family members alongside his friends to the bride-to-be family where they make their intentions known. This is known as the ‘abowmu bodze’ or ‘opon-akyi bo’ or knocking ceremony. A lot of gifts are brought and some money given out too. Nowadays, a ring and a bible is given to the bride’s family. This is however as a result of the influx of Christianity into marriage. With the consent of the bride-to-be parents, the father of the man pays the expenses of the marriage.
However, this narrative has changed as it is the son who now pays the expenses of the marriage. Also, after the marriage, the wife’s family brings her over to her husband’s home as a symbol of handling over; however, this has changed as the lady leaves immediately with her husband or later but without her family.
The Zulu traditional wedding starts with the lady informing her father of her intentions to get married; the father then organises a ceremony to inform the public of his daughter’s availability. After a suitor is found, the traditional “lobala” is done which is an avenue for both families to get to meet each other and exchange gifts. The “umabo” is the main traditional wedding ceremony. However, the narratives are changing, as nowadays, because of the influx of civilization, people now do white weddings which were not part of the custom initially.
Also, traditionally, the bride’s family is not expected to attend the “Umabo” but things have changed now; they now attend the ceremony. Also, brides nowadays now negotiate with the groom’s family to reduce the number of days they are expected to stay at the groom’s family house.
It is true that the African society is dynamic. And in a quest to protect our heritage, it is justifiable if we argue in support of our fast fading heritage. But the question is: Are all of these heritages still tenable in this present dispensation? Maybe yes! Maybe not! But, what is bothersome is that this question will not go away. However, in a bid to accommodate times, a blend of the old and new narrative would be a perfect option.
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