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Date: December 18, 2018, 08:49:44 PM


African marriage cultural dissonance: Culture : - Nigeria's Premier Online Forum


African marriage cultural dissonance

By: dayan (M) |Time : August 23, 2016, 09:41:36 AM
Why do certain Nigerian ( Igbo and Yoruba for example) cultures always blame the woman for failing to produce a child for a marriage? Why are the men usually sidestepped in the blame game?

For much of this author's childhood, and even young adulthood, I never could understand why women -in southern Nigeria -were always blamed for a marriage's failure to produce a child. I thought it unfair and even primitive to blame a woman solely for such a problem, afterall a woman cannot make a child by herself alone.

All that was until I started to research the subject and dig back into history. To understand where that mindset came from one needed to recall what marriage was before the advent of the colonialists in Africa.

Historically, for Africans (the Igbo of Nigeria for example), there was (and is) really only one reason for the existence of the institution of marriage, and that reason is children. Sex existed of course, but there was a sort of dualism of mindset around the subject: On the positive side it was seen as something made for recreation after a day's work. On the negative side it was seen as something which has the potential to bring -either unprepared, or inadvertent – children into this world, and as such can disrupt society in some very bad ways. Nevertheless, it was certainly not seen as bad or dangerous in itself, and was never central to, or the raison d'etre for, marriage. A marriage could not be reasonably instituted just on the basis of sex ; it was always about producing children for the family and the clan.

The Igbo -before the advent of the colonialists who imported the Greco-Roman marriage culture by parsing it off as Christian or biblical – never transferred sexual fidelity in marriage. Before marriage, a woman's fertility belonged to her original family, particularly the father (or any surviving male family member). Upon marriage, that fertility was then transferred to the woman's husband after bride price had been paid, and all rites performed.  A man married a woman to produce children for him and his kindred, not for sex. Not to say that sex was not expected; it was never central to the deal and could never be a deal breaker. Not producing a child was the deal breaker.

In fact, for the Igbo, sex was looked upon with certain condescension, intrigue, and bemusement; a man who is serious with life issues never revered or cared about things surrounding sex. That is why some of the surviving men and women from pre-colonial days mouthed sexual terms in stark and undisguised manner, often unsettling “modern”, “educated” or “civilized” counterparts from the cities. Private parts were freely called by their proper names, and in high pitch voices, by these “olden days” people. People who understood the world those people came from simply ignored their vulgarity, and gave them a break! These were “ndi mgbe ochie” (people of the old).

But back to the issue of blaming women for failure to produce children for a marriage.

A woman was expected to produce children regardless of the paternity (desirably though from the husbands kindred). What was common was that once a woman waited to get pregnant by her husband and failed to achieve that within a relatively short time, she simply tried to get pregnant by other of her husbands kindred members, and usually she would succeed, unless she had fertility problems.
As a matter of fact, once the woman entered her matrimonial home, the husband's family immediately started to count down on her to get pregnant. The pressure started to mount firstly from her mother-in-law (the husband's mother), then to the other female members of the husband's family who would be mainly impatient in their demand that she produces a baby. And if she failed to do so, her marriage came under sustained pressure until it dissolved, or if she were wealthy or loved by the husband's family, could be allowed to “marry” another woman who would step in to produce children for her.
It is for this reason that a perfectly heterosexual Igbo woman -who could not have a child for whatever reason -could “marry” another woman who would then be expected to produce children for her.

This culture of disregard for sex, or not making sex central to marriage, is why there was a culture of concubinage among certain Igbo clans. The Igbo has no word for “concubine” and the practice certainly was not seen in a negative light by society, until the colonialists tagged it immoral. The term for concubine in Igbo is “Iko”, and simply means lover. Some Igbo today go by surname “Ikonne” which means “mother's lover", and this goes to show that it was a thing of pride to take a mother's lovers pet name. When the colonialists encountered that culture, they simply transliterated the word “Iko” for adultery.  The Igbo sense of morality was not pivoted on sex; it was based purely on “egbe bere Ugbo bere” -live and let live, an African version of the golden rule -do to others what you would have others do to you. That a woman's lover impregnated her did not mean that he could claim the baby. The only owner of the woman's children was the man who paid her bride prize and performed the marriage rites to have her as wife. Sex was separated from child ownership.

Of course there was “adultery” in Igbo culture, but its definition is different from the colonialist meaning for the word, but this piece cannot cover all that. What this piece is merely stating is that there is a historically cultural (African) reasons behind the blame on women for failing to produce children for a marriage. One can still question the fairness of that practice (that the woman would have to leave her matrimonial home for failure to produce children), but there is an institutional (African) remedy available to her, namely that she could try getting pregnant by her husbands kin, or that she marries another woman (or women) to do what she could not do. She was only expected to leave were she to fail on all counts.

The problem today, therefore, is that since Greco-Roman marriage culture has been adopted in our part of Nigeria, each member of the couple is now held personally and equally responsible for the failure to produce children. But, in doing so, the couple has to produce children, or there is no other remedy or recourse available to them. Children born to western marriages are acceptable to the marriage -hence family- only when the paternity of the child is understood, beyond reasonable doubt, to belong to the husband in the marriage. To that extent, every effort is employed to ensure that every child born to a marriage biologically belongs to the husband, and should the child's paternity not be so ascertained, a major conflict, alienation and marriage dissolution occurs.

The jury is still out whether this culture serves us better than the one it replaced. The rising cases of out-of-wedlock childbirth, divorce, and the growing numbers of spinsters in parts of Nigeria should warn us that maybe we need to take a second look.

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