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REG NO: PSY/36/15






SIGNATURE: ……………….

QUESTION: Discuss why marriage was a mandatory in the African Traditional Societies

A form of marriage has been found to exist in all human societies, past and present. Its

importance can be seen in the elaborate rituals and complex laws that surround it. Although these

laws and rituals are as varied and numerous as human cultural organizations are, there are some

universals that do apply in each society. The legal function of marriage is to ensure the sexual

rights of the partners with respect to each other and to define the relationships of children within a


Marriage has historically conferred a legitimate status on an offspring. It entitles him or

her to the various privileges set down by the traditions of a particular community, which includes

the rights of legitimate participation in the activities of the kindred, ownership and inheritance of

properties and privileges accruing to the family lineage. In most societies, marriage establishes the

permissible social relations allowed to bona fide members, including the acceptable selection of

future spouses.

Until the late 20th Century, marriage was rarely a matter of free choice. In Western

societies, romantic love between spouses came to be associated with marriage, but in most other

developing nations of the world, this was not the primary motive for the choice of spouses in

matrimony. One's marriage partner was carefully chosen. In Igbo land for example, many norms

and mores determine the legality of each marriage!

Endogamy, the practice of marrying someone from within one's own ethnic group is the

oldest social regulation of marriage. When the forms of communication with outside groups are

limited, endogamous marriage is a natural consequence. Cultural pressures to marry within one's

social, economic, and ethnic group are still very strongly enforced in some societies in Nigeria and

other communities along the coastal lines of Sub- Saharan Africa.

Exogamy, the practice of marrying outside the group, is found in societies in which kinship

relations are the most complex, thus barring from marriage, large groups who may trace their

lineage to a common ancestor. Once there is any blood relationship, the engagement is cancelled.

This is where the Igbo surpasses other ethnic groups in enforcing pre-marital genetical counselling.

Marriage in African culture, from North to South, East to West is hands-down one of the

most significant rites of passage. It is the most celebrated ceremony in all African cultures. African

weddings are a spiritual and social family affair and involve the combining of two lives, two

families, and even two communities! There is no great civilization that has ever existed that

abstained from marriage as one of its core fundamentals of nation building.

Marriage is sacred in Africa and beyond, because it solidifies relationship that enrich

communities and nations by bring forth new life and new hope. African cultures celebrate the

coming of the rains, the first harvest and the birth of a child. Marriage is that cultural process which

ushers in new life. It is a cherished and most celebrated rite of passage since the dawn of African

civilization. But marriage is not a human right: Human rights don’t need licenses or certificates.

Marriage is instead a privilege afforded by communities, between man and woman for those who

meet the criteria.

Marriage is the only known incubator for the raising of balanced socially functional

children. It is a civilized union of man and woman. The ideal setup for a child to be raised into full

functionality in the African context as a contributor to civilization. It is the institutionalization of

complementary relationship between male and female energies, enshrining in the child sentiments

and values from both sexes. This is the formula which is secured with marriage.

Extended family systems sits in this equation by sharing responsibilities and enshrining

balance. Even if a woman is unable to contribute by having her own biological children her role

as a mother is expressed in a communal set up. And hence why the Pan-African proverb of it takes

a village to raise a child. Parenting is communal, and the harmony of male and female energies are

critical in enshrining balanced humans.

In all the communities the bride plays a very special role and is treated with respect because

she is a link between the unborn and the ancestors. A bride might eventually bear a very powerful

child. Women are mothers of civilization which earns them a high status in society, thus protecting

women and children is a biological human instinct.

And if a people cannot get the man and the woman into equitable agreement and

commitment– then what about the nation, and the continent? In a good marriage means partners

compliments each other, and makes both parties better. Marriage is a journey through life which

enhances and enriching entire communities. Marriage promotes sharing, tolerance, consideration,

empathy, selflessness, and other virtues. Lack of marriage is the death of a nation and a people.

Communities that fail to recognize marriage become decadent and self-destructive with a range of

social, economic and health issues (HIV, etc).


In our traditional societies in which the African extended family system remains the basic

unit, marriages are usually arranged by elders in each concerned family unit. The assumption is

that love between the partners comes after marriage and more thought is given to the

socioeconomic advantages accruing to the larger family from the marriage than romantic love. By

contrast, in modern societies that have accepted western lifestyles where Christianity and nuclear

family predominates, educated young adults now opt to choose their own mates. It is assumed that

love determines proper marriage, and less thought is normally given to the socioeconomic aspects

of the match. However, this has increased divorce rates due to misconceptions of the traditional

values attached to the pre-literate marriage customs that ensured the longevity of marriages.


Caldwell, J. C., & Caldwell, P. (1987). The cultural context of high fertility in sub-Saharan

Africa. Population and development review, 409-437.

Diamond, J. (2012). The world until yesterday: What can we learn from traditional societies?.


Meekers, D. (1992). The process of marriage in African societies: A multiple indicator approach.

Population and development review, 61-78.

Ukaegbu, A. O. (1976). The role of traditional marriage habits in population growth: the case of

rural eastern Nigeria. Africa, 46(04), 390-398.