Recently, a Twitter user shared the list of things to provide for the traditional marriage rites of his cousin. This three-page list contained items that will be given to the bride’s father, her immediate family, the extended family, the youths, daughters born to the family (separate items), and then all the women in the extended family. In this list, there are items for these mentioned persons during the “knocking on the door”, “second stage of dowry payment”, and the “traditional marriage”, proper. Excluding dowry, which must be paid in cash after negotiation, and some gift items for the bride’s father (native dresses, trousers, shoes, etc.), the estimated amount for the items on the list was N557, 600. Note that this does not include entertainment for guests and preparation of the venue for the ceremony.
These items are just what a young man has to provide for the bride’s father and her extended family before his marriage intentions are considered. If you consider how much this young man will spend for this marriage ceremony, you will have no other choice but to wonder if a traditional wedding has been turned into an extortion avenue.
The above wedding list is just one out of the majority we see every day. There are some you will see and shout. Some give the impression that the brides’ parents do not want their daughters to marry the grooms in question. Some lists look as if, after the items were provided, the brides’ families will open a retail business with the items as their first stock. Of course, people don’t question the essence of the contents of these lists because they (the lists) are insured by the word “culture” and the clause “marriage is not for children”. As a result, people are compelled to do what they do not wish for.
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But, one may need to ask, “Are these lists a true representation of ‘culture’ and ‘test for manliness’?”
Marriage is sacred in African cultures. It is never seen as a trivial matter. Further, it involves the collaboration of family members from both sides because the union is seen as the union of two families. This is why, in Africa, a bride and groom are not allowed to meet and marry without the consent of their parents. In addition, the bride’s father is not allowed to give out his daughter in marriage without the consent of his kinsmen, just the way the groom’s father will not be entertained by the bride’s family if he does not show up with his kinsmen.
This can explain why the list includes extended family members (both the males and the females): if none of them are “lobbied” and settled, the bride will not be given out. But that is where culture ends. The contents of the list has nothing to do with culture (at least, to a large extent). They were added and removed by kinsmen for reasons bothering around greed and test of the groom’s “manliness”.
Before a man is allowed to marry his wife, the bride’s family does background checks on him. This is where they scrutinize his behaviours and that of his family (including that of his ancestors). If he wasn’t found wanting, his ability to “handle” a woman will also be tested. Since a woman is not meant to provide for the family, the groom’s ability to take care of his wife and children is put to test. Different cultures have different ways of testing this. However, it is beginning to appear that the current way of doing this is by checking how far his bank account could be stretched.
The way the size of a man’s farm, compound, plantations, and animal’s coops were checked in those days is just the way his wealth is checked today. This can only explain why many African communities continue to include items in the lists for traditional wedding rites.
The truth is that the reason behind providing gift items for kinsmen during traditional marriage ceremonies has been defeated. Those items are no longer provided to test the groom’s ability to support his family but have turned into means of making money and obtaining materials from the groom.
Apart from that, people take loans to marry, so a man’s ability to fulfil the list does not guarantee his wealth. But from the look of things, this aspect of culture will soon phase out because families are beginning to conduct traditional marriages in the cities (instead of returning to the village) to avoid troubles with the kinsmen list.