You are on page 1of 13

DORMAN GEORGE

TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE SYSTEM AMONG THE PEOPLE OF GBI


PETROCHEMICAL ENGINEERING
4761510
11/12/2013

TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE SYSTEM AMONG THE PEOPLE OF GBI

Introduction The Gbi people of Volta region are one of the Ewes speaking people of Ghana that are found north of the southern Ewes. Other people who are located in the same group are the people of Ho, Kpando and Buem (Agbodeka 1997). They can be classified into two broad groups based on language and origin. The first group, comprises the majority of the people, and generally called Wedometowo by other Ewes who speak Ewe as a mother tongue and have a common migration and settlement history. They are descendants of two of three major Ewe groups that migrated from Notsie during the wicked reign of Togbe Agokoli I in the 17th century. The second groups of Northern Ewes speak a variety of Guan and Akan dialects as well as Ewe as a second language, and claim different origins. For easy clarification, the Gbi people falls into this first group and shall be referred to as the Ewe group, while the second group are also called the Guan group. The Gbi are the people of Peki and Hohoe. The people of Hohoe are settled now at the north of Peki and they are known as Gbi Dzigbe and Peki which is also at the south of Hohoe just about 50 kilometers from Hohoe are also known as Gbi Nyigbe. Collectively, the different Northern Ewe groups were influenced by Akan and by German and other European missionary activities and lived under German and British colonial rules and also share similar socio-political and economic experiences since the independence of Ghana. One outstanding feature of the communal structure of African society and the ever present consciousness of ties of kinship is the emphasis on the importance of the family. When one speaks of the family in Ghanaian context, one is referring, not only to the nuclear family consisting merely of husband, wife and children, but to the extended family, which comprises a

large number of blood relatives who trace their descendant to a common ancestor and who are held together by a sense of obligation to one another. Marriage is considered a basic institution in every human society. It is recognized as a social institution, not only for establishing and maintaining the family, but also for creating and sustaining the ties of kinship. Without the institution of marriage there would be no family, nuclear or extended and therefore no kinship ties. Marriage according to Longman Dictionary of contemporary English is a union of man and a woman by a ceremony in law. Marriage by a priest is Lawful in England without another ceremony; it is a state of being so united. It is therefore for life i.e. it should last all one's life and is a serious business. Genesis 2: 18 and the Lord God said: it is not good for a man to be alone. Let us make him a help like unto himself. And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name. And Adam called all the beasts by their names and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the fields: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself.

In Ghana, marriage is constructed according to the custom of ethnic group of which the couple live. Usually this includes a religious ceremony and a civic registration ceremony commonly known as a wedding. Generally, marriage in Ghana is recognized as a union between a man and a woman with the knowledge of both families of the bride and the groom. In the Volta region of Ghana area, marriage is a union between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife and have gone through all procedures recognized in the society for such a purpose. In Ghana, the purpose of marriage is to provide companionship for the couple, the means to offer support for each other, and a legitimate avenue for sexual satisfaction and
3

reproduction. Marriage is usually a group affair which involves not only the immediate relatives of the couple but more distant kin folk. However, in selecting and accepting a potential spouse, certain important conditions have to be met. Members of each family are screened for incurable or contagious diseases, criminal backgrounds, violent behaviour, respectfulness, employment status or standard of living, and religious background. Generally, many Ghanaians prefer a spouse who is hardworking and respectful, peaceful (not violent or do not advocate violence), and of the same or compatible religious background. Christians and Muslims do not generally intermarry. However, conversion from one religion to another is preferable prior to marriage. There are three-(3) primary criteria in classifying the marriage process:

1. Customary marriage 2. Civic registration 3. Religious marriage

Customary marriage forms the basis of all three-(3) types. Inquiries are made by both families to ensure the family of the prospective son-in-law or daughter-in-law is respected. Usually violent behaviour, immorality, witchcraft, incurable or contagious diseases, and insanity in a family are not approved. The customary rites or marriage ceremony, as practiced by the woman's ethnic group, are performed by the man's head of family, by the father or uncle or any member of the family who is recognized by the community as honourable. Presentation and acceptance of drinks and gifts known as dowry bride wealth signifies the consent of family members to the marriage. It is also a sign or a token of support for the marriage and is used to compensate the parent for the loss of the services of their daughter. The dowry or the bride wealth does not represent the prize at which the woman has been sold to the man. Customary marriages differ

among societies. Despite the differences, drinks and cash are widely used. Although cash is involved in the northern part of Ghana, drinks and cola are also used. One characteristic of customary marriage is that it allows polygamy thus it allows the man to marry more than one woman. However, Christians who complete a religious marriage usually abide by the biblical principle of one man one wife. Religious marriage involves administration of the marital union by a Priest, religious minister or Imam. However, the customary marriage and the registration of the marriage in the court or district metropolitan assembly should occur before Christians marry. The Islamic marriage ceremony conforms to the Islamic law and traditions. According to Muslim traditions, parents arrange a suitable partner. Compatibility is not considered important, the choice is entirely in the parents hand. Professor N.K Dzobo (1975:35) in Traditional School of Marriage, defined marriage as one of the supreme aims of life in the traditional Ewe society and as a union between man and woman to perpetuate the lineage through procreation. Marriage, he noted, has been instituted as the acceptable and respectable mode of ensuring the continuity of the family line. Children, he pointed out emphatically, are therefore expected to be the first fruits of marriage and young men thus always look for young women who come from families that have a high birth rate. He therefore goes on to say, marriage, consequently has become a means whereby a man and a woman fulfill the main aim of their personal lives; i.e. to make possible for the lineage to continue in existence.

Most Ewe and Fon marriages are patrilocal, although neolocal residence has become popular in the late twentieth century. In many Ewe groups, marriage is less marked by bride-wealth or bride-service, and even if a man offers only the required drinks and cloths to his bride and her

family, he may claim the children as members of his own patriline. In case of separation, a father may keep his children with him, although in many cases wives are allowed to raise the children, and rotation of children between divorced parents is perhaps as common among Ewe as it is in the United States. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, virginity was demanded of brides in prestigious marriages. In Anlo, too, the marriage-payment might be less if the bride was found not to be a virgin; today many couples become intimate before arranging a marriage. Christian Ewe and Fon proceed according to the arrangements prescribed in their churches. According to the culture of the Ewes of Ghana, marriage is one of the most important aspects of life and it is observed among the many transitional rites of the people of Gbi in the concept of the rites of passage involving the use of several art forms. Atsu Dzatse (1990:29) "Gbi de konuwo" thesis also recounts that marriage to the Ewes of Gbi is considered as a form of an intimate personal relationship between man and woman and it needs a lot of interpersonal adjustment. The Gbi' therefore take marriage as a school of learning and it is called "Srooeoe" which literary mean "a state of being married to learning i.e. adjustment". Generation in Gbi are said to be bound together in the act of marriage-past, present and future generations. The past generations are many but they are represented in one's own parents, the present generation is represented in one's own life, and future generations begin to come on the stage through childbearing. It is also a very tragic thing when no children come out of a marriage. Then people do not consider it to truly a marriage, and other arrangements are made to obtain children in the family. To the people of Gbi, marriage is one experience in which a person is considered to be complete "perfect" and truly a man or a woman. It makes a person really

"somebody" it is part of the definition of who a person is according to Africans' views about man. Without marriage a person is only a human being minus.

Pre-marital customary rites To start with the definitions and concepts of Rites of Passage and transition, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, defines Rites of passage as a special ceremony or action that is a sign of a new stage in a person's life, especially when a boy starts to become a man. However, ceremonies about rites of passage could be performed for both sexes but in the case of Gbi traditional society, young girls are the only sex that goes through these rites laboriously. The other sex i.e. the boys only go through parental and societal instructions as the custom and observations. Amenuke S.K et aI, (1991 :29) also highlighted the fact that, the term "rite of passage" comprises various rites, rituals and ceremonies which mark a person's transition from one stage of life to another. The transitional stages according to them enumerated are birth, puberty, marriage and death and that a person passes through them respectively. The stages begin from childhood, adolescence, adulthood and ancestor-ship (death) in that order. Puberty rites have been instituted in the Ewe society not so much as the celebration of the capability of a boy or a girl to procreate but as an informal school to prepare young people for marriage. In some cases, they are therefore immediately followed by a wedding ceremony. The puberty rite for girls among Ewes of Gbi is known as "Gbotowowo which means (living outside the house). The rite has such a name because when the pubescent has her first menstrual period, it is believed that, she is ritually unclean and so is not allowed to stay in her house but
7

goes out to live in a special hut built in the village for menstruating girls for the duration of her menstruation. After nobility-rites the next major ceremonial event in a girls life is marriage. Every parent looks forward to such an accession. As a preliminary to marriage, it is considered the duty of parents to usher the young woman to society. . In Gbi, this ushering is aimed at heightening the young girls physical qualities. It has therefore an aesthetic motive. A woman in Gbi must appear beautiful to attract a suitor. Because of this motive, the young girl is adorned with rich "Kente" and wears silver or golden ornaments usually depending on the wealth of her family. She wears an elaborate traditional headdress made of either artificial hair or horse hair. Usually, these adornments are done at the time when the parents of the girl are enjoying her dowry drinks presented to her parents for her hand in marriage.

Knocking The informal relations between young lovers are given a stamp of seriousness and permanence by a ceremony known as vofofo, or knocking. Among Gbi families, it is often the father's sister who arranges the marriage when a young man wishes a certain young woman to be his wife. The simple giving of gifts to the young woman and her family and the sharing of drinks and libations, often a modest affair, is, even so, a marriage ceremony and a binding ritual that links two lineages and sets in motion serious obligations. On arrival at the girls house, her parents enquire the reason for the deputation and after hearing it, send them away for about a week whiles they consider the matter. The reason for postponing this is that, customarily we do not give immediate reply to any question of major importance. This also gives them time to make enquiries about the man and his parents if they have not done

so already. It is important they establish the man is of good stock, able to support his wife in the manner to which she has been accustomed, and from a family free of hereditary defects, witchcraft and criminal mentality. If the brides people are satisfied on all these counts and the girl also agrees to the proposal, the grooms deputation is informed on their second call that their request has been considered and accepted. For this information two bottles of imported or locally brewed gin are offered by the deputation in appreciation. This payment is known as velenu or knocking fee. As soon as the grooms people learn of the acceptance of their request, preparations start in full swing for raising the marriage payments Srenu or tabianu and when this is ready the grooms paternal and maternal aunts carry it to the brides parents home either in a large trunk or wooden box, or in a large pan called aeovi this is then inspected and accepted or if found to be insufficient, the whole load may be carried back. Door Knocking; basic requirement is a bottle of Gin or Schnaps, general practice is to add another bottle meant to pacify for wakingup the Family so early at dawn to request hand of a damsel (the Gbi usually perform this ceremony at dawn).

Marriage ceremony
The marriage is concluded by the giving of marriage payment and a series of elaborate ceremonies each of which is considered necessary for the establishment of a legal union of which the handing over of the bride to the grooms parents or dedeasi, the powdering of the bride or togbagba; the

consummation, or ooabadzi and the seclusion dedex are most important.

The formal handing over of the bride, that takes place in her fathers house, is a short ceremony where both parents give a short advice to the couple, followed by the declaration by both of their willingness to marry. The responsibilities of each to the other are then meticulously enumerated and concluded by a short prayer to the ancestors. The importance of this is to transfer sexual rights to the groom after the powdering. The two parties then a fix a date for the wedding which must be a good day asinyuigbe and the ceremony takes place in the evening when the moons are dark. On the appointed day the bride is sent for and brought to the grooms fathers house which by tradition is the venue of the wedding. Upon her release she is accompanied to the grooms place by her own mothers sister and fathers sister and a host of others and a young girl follows them with the bundle of linen or marriage clothes. In the bedroom the srdeba has already been laid, covered with white bed sheet. For the purposes of the ceremony the groom buys two yards of imported cloth, a yard of silk head kerchief, seda-taku and a stool atizikpui. At the house, the spokesperson who is the brides fathers sister hand her over to the grooms father with these words; The parents of the bride have given her to us to bring to you in response to your request. From now on responsibility for her maintenance lies with you. She must be well fed. You must take good care of her when she is sick. We do not quarrel in our house and we do not want her to quarrel in your house. The grooms father receives the bride and offers his thanks to all the messengers then follows several admonitory speeches by those present, notably the grooms mothers brother concerning the basic necessities of happy married life; patience, tolerance and understanding of each others point of view. Above all hard work and co-operation in economic and household activities and

10

this done the grooms lineage head pours a libation to the ancestors addressing them is this way; Today is an important day for us, the living, and it is fitting that we call you also, our ancestors, grandfathers and grand mothers, to come and join us on this occasion. The reason for our appeal is a good one agbee your own son (name of groom) has asked (name of bride) to be his partner and this evening we shall have the consummation and the seclusion ceremonies. Successful marriage is realised in good health, fertility and prosperity. We therefore ask for our new couple long life. Let them live till grey hairs appear on their head and have as many children as possible. In commemoration of these requests we offer you alcohol and cool water, for all of you to drink. You made everything. You can see the invisible. Perish our enemies and let our benefactors flourish. Once more here is water. We call all of you to come and drink. The bride at this time, on her first visit to her future home, is thought to be very shy, and therefore called throughout the duration of the ceremonies oukpet the shy one. The consummation ceremony is performed by the mistress of ceremonies which is usually the fathers sister of the groom and known to have experienced a successful marriage and herself been lush or productive, the belief being that the bride will follow in her footsteps. The MC holds oukpet by the hand and leads her to the door of the bedroom. On opening the door she makes the oukpet look into the room three times, then cross the doorstep to and fro six times. The seventh time she is taken inside and it is believed that if ukpets feet touch the doorstep, she will not be a good wife. There her clothes are replaced by the two-yard cloth bought by the groom. She is then seated on the atizikpui where she is rubbed with powder from a rare tree called eto, followed by this address from the MC; I have rubbed you with this powder, and from today, you have become the wife of (name of groom). Henceforth you are not to sit on any seat offered you by another man other than your

11

own husband and with these words she is helped from the stool on to the bed where she is joined by the groom and are made to embrace each other whiles the MC addresses both of them; you are now atsu kple asi. Man and wife breed as much as you can. With her duty done the MC closes the door and returns to join those waiting next door. Custom demands that oukpet should play hard to get for several minutes though they both know its only a formality before they get busy. After a long time the MC knocks on the door and the grooms opens the bedroom door and allows the MC to examine the white bed sheet. If it is bloodstained, there is jubilation. The girl is led away to the bathroom where is washed in hot water by the MC. The original idea behind the consummation is the public declaration of oukpets virginity, for this reason the groom must make an additional payment if she is a virgin. Establishment of virginity is a matter of great pride for both the bride and her parents in addition to establishing her unblemished reputation, it entitles her to the use of blitsikpi golden bangles (bracelets), and atsibla (a kind of under-garment for women worn immediately above the buttock. It has the effect of hiding the actual shape of the buttocks by making it more profound) after her seclusion period. Her parents also rejoice because her virginity shows they have performed their parental duties and in addition her mother receives several gift items for a good work done. After consummation the bride remains in seclusion in grooms house for a period of between 4 and 8 months and the main idea is to emphasize from the onset the husbands monopoly over her sexual services. Many times the bride comes out of seclusion with a big belly, as this represents a successful union and children considered a most powerful stabilizing influence on marriage. "Botsre" is an art form used at Gbi marriage customary rites. This is a symbol of accepting a new member into another family. Beads are prepared on a string of cotton thread and worn onto the

12

wrist of the welcoming bride into the grooms new family in Gbi. Botsre is not only used to welcome new members but it is used to recognize new height in one's life position or transition.

Domestic unit Patrilineal three- or four-generational extended family compounds, as well as agnatic extended family compounds, are common. Another model is a nuclear-family household (often with children from previous marriages) that eventually is joined by other relatives, such as the couple's younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and foster children. If the husband has not vowed monogamy, in time, other wives and their children may come to expand the compound (each wife with her own hut or little house). In many cases, other wives and their children form separate households. Adolescent boys may have collective sleeping quarters separate from their mothers and sisters.

REFERENCES 1. Cultural Studies for Junior Secondary School, Pupils book III; by Abbiw M. K et al, (1989). 2. The Ewe in Pre-colonial Times; by Ammenumey E.K. 3. African Marriage, Right or Wrong? Dzobo, N. K. (1975) 4. Kinship and Marriage Among the Ewe, pages 63-85; by G.K Nukunya 5. Ewe Marriage and Ceremonies; article by Kenneth Ashigbey 6. Ghanaian Traditional Marriage Customs; article by Kimma Wreh and Oscar Kofitse

13