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Advanced Level Family and Religious Studies Questions & Answers

                    
QUESTION:  Marriage in African traditional religion is
a communal rather than an                                         individual affair. Discuss the
validity of this assertion
.
The
African continent is famous for its diversity in all spheres, therefore, the
religions of Africa are very numerous too. Religion is a fundamental phenomenon
among African people, it is the fulcrum of their life yet its essential
principles are too often unknown to foreigners who thus make themselves
constantly liable to misunderstanding the African worldview and beliefs.
Religion
enters into every aspect of the African’s life and it cannot be studied in
isolation. When we speak of African Traditional Religion, we mean the indigenous
religious beliefs and practices of Africans. 
The word traditional means indigenous, that which is aboriginal or
foundational and it is handed down from generation to generation. Marriage can
be defined as the intimate and complementing union between a man and a woman in
which they become one physically in the whole life Oduyoye (1995).It is a
contract between two or more people of the opposite sex. The ambit of this
essay is however to show that marriage in African traditional religion is not
an individual thing but a communal thing despite the fact that individuals are
the main beneficiaries of the whole process of marriage.
Marriage
in African traditional religion is a community activity that involves all the
members of the society, meaning those who are physically living in the
community, the ancestors and those yet to be born as purported by Mbiti (1969).This
means that marriage is not an individual thing because it involves both the
physical and the metaphysical world .By metaphysical world, we refer to the
ancestral world. The entire community including the living and the deceased are
involved in the marriage process. Although the African continent has quite a
number of ethnic groups, they however share some basic principles like belief
in the spiritual life. Bareness and failure to get married are equally
attributed to the ancestors. This logically implies that marriage in African
traditional religion is not an individual thing but a communal thing since
ancestors do belong to the whole clan.
There
are different forms of marriages in the African traditional religion which
include monogamy, polygamy, levirate and polyandry just to mention but a few.
In African traditional religion marriage is a cherished fecundity whose focus
is procreation. This means that people get married in order for them to have
children. The whole process of child-bearing involves a lot of people. In all
the above forms of marriage, members of the community play an active role from
proposal stage up to the time of formal marriage. By having children, one
confirms his or her ability to participate in the expansion of the lineage or
clan. By procreation marriage revitalises human society and assures it of immortality.
This logically implies that marriage is a communal rather than individual
affair.
Bourdillon
(1987) postulates that people marry into families, hence marriages are a family
affair rather than an individual affair. When two spouses get married they
involve their family members. Marriage is a step by step process taken on by
the entire community through ceremonies and rituals. It is during this process
that the aunt (tete) is given the full responsibility of teaching the daughters
cherished values that will prevent misbehavior in marriage. When a community
seeks out for a daughter or son in law, they look for one that lives up to
their cultural expectations. Recommendation of the right candidate during
marriage is normally done through consultation from family members. There is
also the involvement of the family messenger (Sadombo) who is the facilitator
of payment of ‘lobola’ process. This is evidence enough to prove that marriage
is not an individual affair.
Marriage
is a rite of passage that confirms a transitional period from one social
category to another. It involves a change of family, clan, village and even the
country. Bahemuka (1983) posits that marriage promotes unity and interpersonal
relationships between the families. It involves not only interpersonal
relationships but also intercommunity relations. It creates very strong bonds
between individuals belonging to different families and clans, especially when
children are born. Therefore it is not an individual affair.
According  to 
Gyekye,  Hastings  and 
Magesa,  although  marriage 
might  seem  to  be
between  individuals, the marriage
covenant is in fact between  two
families. Marriage is closely 
connected  with  the 
continuation  of  the 
lineage,  an  ideology 
that  touches upon  one 
of  the  very basic ideas  of 
African  family. The  two 
married  individuals  have an 
obligation  to  accept 
the  members  of 
each  other’s  family 
as  their own family. Traditional  marriage 
rituals  express  an 
understanding  of  marriage 
not  as  a 
contract between  individuals  but 
as  a  joining 
of  two  lineages. The 
lineages are united  in  terms of naming and self-perpetuation  extend 
to  two  clans, 
the  husband’s  and 
the  wife’s (Magesa  1997, 110, 128:  Gyekye 
1996, 79 and  Hastings 1973, 29).
Kirwen (1974), in  support of the above
posited that  levirate  unions 
bring  out  clearly 
the  nature  of 
African marriage  as  a 
lasting union that 
transcends  death.    In 
this  way,  he 
makes  a  connection with  the 
world  of  the 
living  and  the 
ancestors  and  highlights 
the  important  role of 
the  community  in 
the  success  and 
continuation  of  any 
marriage  in  Africa. 
This idea is  prominent  in 
Maasai  marriages where  widows 
remain  part  of 
the  family of  the dead husband. This proves quite clearly
that marriage is not an individual affair.
Most
African families are polygamous families that is to say they are composed of
more than one wife. However, one thing to be taken note of is the fact that the
main factor behind polygamy is not sexual incontinence, but the overriding desire
and necessity to have children. Taking a second wife is so often a consequence
of the barrenness of the first Odeyoye (1995). Traditionally, sex and marriage
are sacred realities and the whole aspect of sexual immorality was derived from
its sacredness as a procreative function. It was therefore the duty of the
elderly to teach the young ones about proper ways of marriage through informal
education at the men’s court (dare) as propounded by J.M Gombe.This proves that
marriage was a community affair rather than an individual affair.
Viginity
is held in high esteem in African traditional marriage. The bride wealth
(dowry) for a virgin is high. In some tribes, the mother is given a cow as
tribute to her successful upbringing of the girl and the viginity status will
be made public. Marriage is a process that involves a number of people rather
than an individual affair. Blessings and fortunes in African traditional
marriages were shared communally.
Conflict
resolution in African traditional marriages is done communally. It involved the
two sets of parents from the two families whereby the grey headed would
intervene during conflict resolution. According to Penwill (1951), amongst the
Akamba marriage, a man who engages in dubious marital relationships is called a
Muany’a, a vagabond and is despised by everyone in the community and a woman
without a proper husband is called a “mukoma nthi” meaning one who
sleeps on the floor or a person of no fixed abode. This is proof enough to
support the idea that marriage in African traditional religion is a society
activity.
However
despite the vast evidence supporting the idea that marriage is a communal thing,
in some sense it is an individual affair. Sexual benefits in marriage are
mainly for the two individuals who are in a relationship. It is an abomination
for someone who is in marriage to have extra marital affairs. Sex in this case
is a sacred fruit reserved for those in marriage hence the reason why some to
say marriage is an individual affair.
In
addition to the above, although procreation is overall a benefit for the
community the act belongs to the individuals. 
There is self-satisfaction through having a sexual partner. In most
African societies a person who fails to have children is regarded as a failure.
A man without a child in the African society would consider himself dead and
finished. The desire for children has always been the main motive inspiring the
Africans to marry as well as having personal fulfillment.
Considering
the above facts, one can logically infer that although there are some
individual gains in the whole process of African marriage, marriage is a
communal event. The theory of individualism has no space in African societies,
they are socialists in nature. Africans live a communal way of life, therefore,
marriage to a greater extent is a communal affair rather than an individual
affair.



                           Compiled by Mhuri
Muneni
He is a teacher at Errymaple High School in Zvishavane 


B.A Degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies.
Post Graduate Diploma in Education,
Shona and Religious Studies.

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