By Ilesanmi Augustine
Marriage in our society is considered an achievement, people believe that a man without a wife would not command respect likewise a woman without husband is seen as incomplete. Hence when a man comes to ask the hand of a woman in marriage, their friends and family are happy for them and rallied around to support them.
Every society has its own norms, values and morals which help them to structure their universe. The centrality of traditional marriages as the nucleus of society is the undergirding factor for their comprehensive marriage rites. Marriage is a sacred institution, inextricably attached to the people’s culture, religion and tradition. It is a process rather than a discrete event that marks one’s transition from one stage of life to another, it involves rituals, negotiations, and transactions that stretch over years. It is a community practice within which the values of a community are shaped and preserved.
One of the rites of passage in the life cycle of man which runs from the cradle to the grave is marriage which connotes meaningful transformation in the life cycle of man. It is an important point that involves transition or crossing from one stage of life to another in which people are metaphysically and sociologically remade into new beings with new social roles.
It is one of the oldest institution that has both social and religious connotative values in the society that makes the end and beginning of a new era between two different individuals, who agreed to live together and through their own union creates everlasting friendship between house of their birth. It is the focus of existence and the point where all the members of given community meet: the departed, the living and those yet to be born.
All the dimension of life meet here, and the whole drama of history is repeated, renewed and revitalized. It is a drama in which everyone become an actor or actress and not just a spectator, a duty and requirement from the corporate society, a rhythm of life in which everyone must participate. Otherwise, he who does not participate in it is a cause to the community, he is a rebel and a law breaker, he is not only abnormal but under-human, failure to get married, under normal circumstance means that the person concerned has rejected society and society rejects him in return.
In the formation of family, the role of traditional marriage cannot be over-emphasized. It is one of the ways of cultural manifestations in the society. The values of traditional marriage lies in the fact that it is the oldest form of marriage in Nigeria before modern marriage(church and registry) was introduced, it is the marriage conducted in accordance to customer and traditions of the people and is still the basis for modern marriage.
Today, family as a unit of social system appears to have come under serious attack as a result of high rate of marital instability in the society. Traditional marriage customs as being used in the olden days are norms that could influence people’s dispositions and values place on marriage and invariably the quality of that marriage.
Various scholars ascribed the increased in marital instability to educational, social, economic and cultural changes in the marriage system, incompatibility, unfulfilled expectations and childlessness which may affect every aspect of life of the victim and the society in general.
In the olden days, marriage seemed to be stable. Divorce was not common despite the fact that parents where the ones selecting marriage partners for their children which was called “arranged marriage”. Divorce was not common in arranged marriages except for the reason of infertility. Overtime, as a result of modernization and individualization, the situation has changed. Young people have gained considerable freedom from parental supervision and choice in marriage.
The question is, what would have brought about the current changes being experienced in the marriage institution today? In order to trace the problems of marriage, one has to go back to the root and check people’s customs and see those things that were being done in the past that tended to make stable but are no longer practised or fading away.
On account of marriage contract, there are a number of processes and procedures involved in the formation of marital unions among all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. A man does not just meet a woman and take her home as a wife, indeed, this rarely happens in any culture. Rather, a man sees or get introduced to a lady, and then, the process of inquiry into her background starts.
The process of inquiry helps to uncover common ancestry or blood relation and unfavourable traits in the family. After such thorough inquiry has been done and such traits were not discovered then, process such as courtship, formal introduction, engagement, bridal negotiations, payment of pride price or wealth and eventually, the traditional and customary takes place.
Ethically, there are some aspects of the customs that appear to influence traditional marriage positively. These factors include: family involvement in marriage, period of courtship, bride price, dowry and financial independence, value placed on virginity and process of conflict settlement.
Traditional marriage customs place great importance on parental consent and family involvement in the choice of couple’s marriage partner. This could have accounted for the relatively fewer divorces in the past because elders could assumed to see through their noses more clearly than the young people that would have been blindfolded by love.
Courtship, which is the time spent by people intending to marry to study themselves appears to contribute to stability in traditional marriage. It is seen as a character study stage in which most teething problems that ought to be encountered in marriage would have been solved within the period.
Another factor of value that tends to influence to traditional marriage is bride price, an essential requirement of a valid customary marriage. It is describe as a custom that ensures marital stability as it places a legal bound on the wife. In the olden days, pride price was held in high esteem without which marriage consummation was impossible.
Another, value created by traditional marriage is that there is truthfulness between husband and wife. Most marriage seem to break up today due to infidelity of all kinds. Traditional virginity test which helps to check indecency and pre-marital sexual relationships seem to have been abandon.
Today, attitudes toward pre-marital sexual relationship is becoming more liberal. In Yoruba traditions, virginity tests used to be conducted by spreading a white cloth on the matrimonial bed on the night of marriage consummation. In the morning, the cloth would be examined for blood stains. The husband would send a gift of money and kolanut to the brides parent. If the new bride was found to be a virgin, this tended to build trust and a long lasting relationship later in the future.
In another development, conflict resolution is an aspect of customs that upholds traditional marriage in the society. Elders with wisdom and experience were usually engaged to settle discord between spouses. Traditional resolution techniques such as mediation, adjudication, reconciliation and negotiation as well as cross examination which were employed by Africans in the past, offer great prospects for peaceful co-existence and harmonious relationships. The elders in every culture, are the power house of wisdom and knowledge. Since all family members are deeply involved in the marriage, they tend to see to the success of the marriage. Whenever there is problem, dispute and disagreement, it becomes easier for family members to intervene because they were part of the whole process in the first instance.
The conflict resolution in traditional African societies provides opportunity to interact with the parties concerned, it promotes consensus-building, social bridge reconstructions and enactment of order in the society. Owing to the cordiality developed during the suitor’s visit to the wife’s house or female’s visit to the bridegroom’s family during courtship, it could be easy to settle discord between the spouses if such arises later in their marriage. Also in the olden days, spouses tended to endure each other because of the shame of constantly involving kinsmen to settle dispute. The elders were saddled with the responsibility of handling cases such as lack of good care for woman and children by the husband and infidelity while fighting among adolescents or young people were in the past accorded an impromptu settlement by the passers-by who normally ensured restoration of peace and harmony by scolding.
The ability of the husband to provide for his home or to meet up with the responsibility goes a long way to faster love and peace in a marriage. In a situation where the husband is not able to meet the needs of his family, there tends to be problems and incessant quarrels in such homes. The Yoruba people will say “atigbeyawo kekere owo obe lo soro” (it is easy to get married, but what is difficult is to provide daily food for the wife). This places responsibility on the husband as the bread winner of the family.
As the rate of marital instability and divorce is high in the society, there is need to uphold the traditional marriage customs as an antidote to marital instability as being used in the olden days are norms that could influence people’s dispositions and values place on marriage and invariable the quality of that marriage. The traditional marriage is the most original and most dignifying of marriage ceremonies in the society, hence the need to revive, respect, project and protect the core values through cultural re-awakening and cultural pride.
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