Marriage down the Traditional path
Reality zone with: Vicky Wireko
We do certainly, as a people, have rich traditions. That was the repeated whisper of admiration from a British lady who sat right next to me at a traditional marriage ceremony last week at Osu in Accra.
She and five other colleagues had travelled all the way from London to be part of their Ghanaian work colleague’s marriage. They had been forewarned that there would first be a traditional marriage ceremony which was to be followed by a white wedding a couple of days later. It was their first visit to Ghana and they really were enjoying it here.
Yes indeed, we have super rich traditions that we ourselves are oblivious of as we go about copying blindly imported cultures that sit out of place and with very little meaning of course. Last week in this column, l looked at the richness in our local names as well as the naming ceremony of the Gas. As usual, I continue to receive comments from my readers either by phone, text or e-mail messages. Each one of them seems to have enjoyed reading my article which was entitled, “what is your name”? One of the readers, a cultural Anthropologist who is doing a research on the use of foreign names, especially in the Central Region, picked some tips from my article. Another reader shared the sentiments I rose regretting that parents continued to dish out “slave names” to their children. And guess what His best Ghanaian name is Nkrabea Effah Dartey has a secret admirer neither for his political stance nor for his legal brain but for the legacy his parents gave to him for life – his name.
Witnessing yet another traditional marriage last week has rekindled in me, the pride of being a Ghanaian. We have unique yet diverse traditions as rich as the precious metal, gold. This traditional marriage I had the privilege to be part of, last week, had many sides to it. It was three traditions – Ga, Ewe and Kwahu – Blended and cooked at the same pot. Completely and truly delightful. A small minus, though, is the lateness attached to such ceremonies. The fact seems that, time is not of essence in our cultural marriages. I have witnessed it many times and this latest one was one of them. One noticeable thing also that has come bouncing back to me, in all the ceremonies I have attended, is that traditional marriages seem be an all women’s show. The few men who attend are there as observers.
In all the ceremonies, right from the beginning when the groom’s family and the rest of their entourage walk in through the gates with the dowry fully dressed up, and till the show is brought to a close, tradition speaks in volumes. Reflecting on all that goes on at such marriage ceremonies, one can easily follow the line of thinking of our forebears. When years ago they put the traditional marriage ceremony together, one thing was very clear in their minds, the preservation of the sanctity of the family system.
As I curiously watched this multi-tribal marriage ceremony that depicted in part the customs of the Gas, the Ewes and the Kwahus (or generally the Akans), an entire marriage journey for all young couples was meticulously being enacted in front of both families as well as friends.
Never mind the contemporary exaggerations which have introduced cost into traditional marriages, the ceremony seems to put order in marriages and understanding between the two families that are being brought together through the customary marriage. For even before the ceremony, a delegation from the groom’s family would have been to the bride’s family to require for the dowry, depending on the tribe the bride came from. A bonding between the two families begins from here.
The day itself is a grand day for both families, especially that of the woman. I cannot believe that the mere shouts of “agoo” (meaning permission to enter) and the mini “negotiation” to gain entry to perform the marriage rite mean a lot. And so a symbolic fee is “paid” to gain the right to enter the girl’s family house where the ceremony is to take place. They call it “knocking fee” and come to think of it, it is quite right too. It will be completely out of place for a young man to get up and walk into a house to pick up a woman he fancies to go and live with him without recourse to the family. A knocking fee is symbolically a show of respect to the woman and her family.
As the Bible rightly says, for those who knock, the door will be opened to them. The groom’s family gets warmly welcomed and as traditional demands, they are offered water and asked of their mission. I find the practice very warm indeed and quite intimate too.
What may seem as a relatively new addition in a customary marriage is the presentation of a Holy Bible, a Hymn book and a ring, However, that is okay because it does underscores a home that must be built on the moral principles of Christianity.
The dowry itself may be of some significance coming immediately after the bible, Hymn book and ring presentation. The dowry is the mainstay of a customary marriage. It consists of the things a man sends to his wife to prepare her to leave her parent’- home and go and live with him, the husband. And so the man provides the woman with something that she will pack her stuff in. This something is what used to be called “air-tights”, a metal steel box.
In these modern times, the suitcase has come to replace the metal box. The dowry normally comes inclusive of the bride’s cloths, scarves and jewellery. Today, such things as under wears, night wear, handkerchief, shoes and sandals are all added depending on the purse of the man and the show off the family wants to portray. Money and drinks are sometimes added as part of the dowry.
Once the woman has been taken care of, it is time for the groom to say thank you to his bride’s parents and also the brothers. In some cases, the family elders of the bride receive something since in our custom it is always said that everybody is born into a family. That acknowledgement is given here too. Appreciation is shown to the father first, followed by the mother and then the brothers. Sadly, sisters are not recognized in customary marriage rites. Yes, yet another discrimination against women in our traditional system.
Is it not intriguing that the discourse and negotiations that go on between the two families is usually done without the two people concerned? They are always brought in at the tail end of the entire ceremony. The marriage, as it were, seems to be contracted between the two most important individuals, the bride and the groom. It may sound odd butt there must be a reason for it.
As the formalities are being brought to a close, fresh new negotiations begin as both families ask to see the bride and the groom respectively. The woman is the first come in. at that point, she is asked three times if the dowry should be accepted. Most often it is yes. The man is also called for and once the couple is outdoored to all present, the ring is blessed and the groom puts it on his bride’s finger. The marriage is sealed in front of all the key members of both families who then become witnesses to the deal.
The modern frills and the unnecessary costs that have been introduced into customary marriages aside, traditional marriages present to us one of the finest traditions we can boast of as Ghanaians. It unites families, it endorses the importance of the union between a man and a woman and it underlines the significance of parenthood. Come to think of it, our ancestors indeed had it.
Whoever put together the different stages for a customary marriage ceremony must have been a deep thinker, a strategic thinker perhaps. They have handed down to us traditions and customs that have a lot of meaning. Traditions that cherish family togetherness and show respect and tolerance for each other. Customary marriage as designed by our forefathers is definitely one of them.
Daily Graphic Page: ---7--- Wednesday, September 22, 2010