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African Culture: Why Marriage in Africa Is a Community Affair

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Marriage in Africa is a community affair since two or more families are involved rather than just two individuals coming together. Since children born to parents belong to extended families, marriage is an extension of the relationship and union of families. 

Below, we discuss the processes and traditions of marriage in Africa and why it’s a community affair. 

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Why Marriage in Africa Is a Community Affair

A couple pose for pictures outdoors. Image source; Freepik

Validates Marriage

Communalism is an African cultural value that unites every aspect of African society. This unity is described by the word ubuntu, a word originating from Zulu and Xhola, and can be roughly translated as “humanity towards others.”. In other words, the interconnectedness of individuals.

You may have observed that African marriage isn’t a private affair between two people as common in the Western world, but the unification of two or more families for generations.  

As such, the families come together to validate the marriage after both parties fulfill their obligations. It’s not uncommon for the man’s family to pay the bride price in most African cultures. 

In parts of Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, and Western Africa, such as 

  • Ghana
  • Benin
  • Kenya
  • Nigeria
  • Niger
  • Tanzania
  • Cameroon
  • Sierra Leone
  • Togo
  • And Central African Republic,

The man’s family presents diverse forms of gifts, such as cattle, money, and kola nuts, as the bride’s price. 

The bride’s price, or bridewealth, customarily called dowry or lobola,  is a symbol of compensation and handing over rights from the bride’s family to the groom’s family.

Witnesses the Union

Men in traditional attire. Image source; Freepik

Moreover, the community serves as a witness to marriage in Africa. While a typical Western couple could get married with one or two witnesses, the marriage customs in Africa are different and involve the community.

From your nuclear family to every extended family member to distant relatives, every member is invited to witness your transition from singlehood to marriage. 

The presence of the community in sub-Saharan Africa is also a silent message for the new couple to make the marriage work, as failing means the stakeholders or family failed. 

Supports in Cash and Kind

Since marriage is a community affair, it can be expensive and burdensome for the couple. Thus, the family or community comes together to support you financially for the various ceremonies. Traditionally, in Ghana, the bride’s family is responsible for helping the bride prepare for the traditional marriage. 

This support could include sponsoring the gifts she’ll give to the elders, the cooking, serving and packaging, decor, and clothes.

The groom and his family are responsible for paying the dowry, buying the rings, and setting a major budget for the wedding. In this case, his family, especially his father and uncles, came together to support him if he couldn’t take the financial burden alone.

Social Support

An African community can give you social support before, during, and after the wedding. It’s responsible for your well-being, advising you and your partner so that your marriage can work.

As pregnancy, childbirth, and babies come into the picture, the mothers of the couple and other family members come over to care for the mother and baby for a couple of months, or have time for his baby and wife and adjust to the new developments.

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Sustains the Family Lineage

In most African communities, marriage serves as a means to procreate and preserve family lineage. As such, it goes beyond a personal affair. This means families or society have a lot of authority in deciding who you marry, sometimes choosing a wife for a potential groom. 

Families also investigate one another to ensure there are no underlying health issues within the family their son or daughter will marry into. The background of the families is also examined to ensure that future spouses won’t be affected by any major issues.  

Mediates Disputes

To support the couple in their journey, the family of the bride and groom is responsible for mediating misunderstandings beyond their control. This process is to ensure a smooth resolution and to avoid embarrassment should the challenges the couples are facing escalate. 

Common Challenges Couples Face in Modern African Societies

A couple have challenges. Image source; Freepik

Privacy

Since marriage in Africa is a community affair, families are involved in every stage of the marriage. This could include where the couple lives, when they have kids, and how they raise their kids, among others. 

In most families, the couples are required to stay in the family’s houses. As such, many couples have no privacy of their own to make decisions at will.  

Authority and Control

Traditionally, the man is the head of his family. However, in the African context, the groom has to answer to the head of the family community, especially in circumstances of mediation. Older or elderly family members may exert their authority over the couple, depriving them of control in their marriage.

The couple may comply with the decisions of both families to continue to benefit from their support. 

Pressure

The couple is also under pressure to procreate to continue the family lineage. In situations where the groom or bride is an only child, the circumstances can be frustrating, especially coming from elderly women from both families.  

Sometimes, the pressure of child-bearing doesn’t allow the couple to have privacy in family planning.

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Considering Africans are always members of a community, marriage in this context is also perceived as a communal event. Marriage in Africa mostly lasts due to the support of both families. 

While the traditional system of marriage in Africa is changing due to the adoption of globalization, urbanization, and dynamic gender roles, it’s critical to preserve African values while adopting modern systems.

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.

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