The African marriage rites are very important to the African peoples. The marriage rites are followed strictly and are very traditional. Marriage is the beginning of new life and when two people become one.
In African Traditional Religion, marriage is a cherished fecundity and is intended for procreation. Marriage involves not only interpersonal relations but also intercommunity relations. The survival of kinship in the social structure depends on marriage; marriage always establishes very strong bonds between the individuals belonging to different families and clans, especially when children are born.
When a community seeks out a wife or a son-in-law, they look for one that lives up to their expectations. A person with good moral qualities, industrious in physical work, respectful towards their elders and a good reputation. Physical attractiveness doesn’t matter as much as the community’s expectations. Fertility is the central requirement in marriage. There would be less of a chance of proposal if a woman or a woman in her family were suspected of being barren. Other things that might slow down the wedding process includes witchcraft, impotence, sterility, bad reputation…etc. The purpose of marriage is the social reproduction of the kinship group.
The entire community, including living and deceased, are involved in the marriage process. There are certain rituals and taboos that must be observed in regard to marriage. Respect of in-laws and the observance of distance between in-laws, just to name a few. Prayers and sacrifices are offered to the ancestors on behalf of the groom and the bride. Fertility and healthy deliveries are prayed for. A marriage ceremony takes place over a certain period of time. Marriage in African Traditional Religions isn’t simply saying a few words. Marriage is a step by step process taken on by the entire community. Several ceremonies and rituals are preformed over time and at different locations.
The stages of marriage differ from community to community but there are basic stages. First, friendship exists between the groom and the bride. Second, courtship is done but in some communities isn’t needed. Lastly, bride wealth is giving to the bride’s family. It is a means of providing privileges to children at their mother’s home of origin. Without a bride wealth, no man can claim any child as his. Dowry is also given to help the families of the couple getting married because the families loose both of their contributions to their families.
There are different forms of marriage. Monogamy is a form of marriage, which means a man stays devoted to one woman but this is rare. The more children a man is seen as being very successful and a mark of importance. This is known as polygamy, having many wives. The husband is expected to love all of his wives equally. The first wife or the senior wife is given preferential treatment. Another form of marriage is called levirate union. This is when the original husband dies and the brother-in-law inherits his wife. Whoever takes the widow of a deceased relative or brother is permitted to get children in the name of the deceased. Sororate marriage is when a woman is barren and she asks her sister to marry her husband to conceive children and remove shame from his/her family name. Ghost marriage is if a man dies without children, the clan or community may find a wife for him to “marry” so as to provide children for him. Lastly, woman marriage is when there are no males left to inherit a widow and the widow is treated like a man and is allowed to marry another woman. Whatever children she has before her union with another woman are counted as her children and she is considered their legal father.
And so, marriage is very important in African Traditional Religion. Once a child is born, the marriage is complete. Through the birth of a child, a husband and wife belong completely to one another, and the bond between the two families and communities is sealed. “Life is when you are together, alone you are an animal”(Magesa, African Religion, p.65).