Monday, October 25, 2010

Tying the knots

In most African customs, "tying the knots" is business between the family as opposed to a contractual ceremony between the two individuals concerned in western culture. It is preceded months earlier with the cola nut ceremony. The envoys of the groom's family meet the bride's family and in a small meeting, they obtain the promise that the girl they're seeking will be reserved for them. During this meeting, the bride's family receives a number of cola nuts and cash to seal the deal. 

In most west African societies, the actual tying of the knots or "tying of the marriage" as we say, is often performed in the absence of the groom and his new bride. Marriage is not considered a simple union between two people. It is a solemn engagement between family units, of which the groom and bride are just representatives. The male members of the families usually meet in a big gathering.  The setting is usually circular with the bride's family on one side and the groom's on the other, surrounded by their friends and other well wishers. The eldest member of each family speaking through a griot negotiates and irons out the specific terms of the marriage contract.

The dowry is set. Traditionally it used to be in a requested number of grams of rough gold and livestock. Nowadays, the cash is set in CFA Francs. The average cash dowry is no more than CFA 100,000 -approximately $225- a symbolic amount paid to the bride on behalf of the groom. The bride will also receive lose fabric, usually yards of wax print material. Her family may also request a cow for her fathers -the bride's father and her paternal uncles- which, after tough bargaining may be paid in nature or the equivalent value given in cash.

The bride's family will request a boubou -big traditional outfit- for her father or a respected uncle. Similarly, the mother(s) of the bride -her mother, mother sister wife and her aunts- will be given lose fabric or cash as a marriage gift. 

Once an agreement has been reach in the negotiations, then the bride's hand is officially given in marriage. 

This marriage contract does not get into the determination of what is expected of the partners as husband and wife. Instead, the rights and duties are presumed understood and may be reiterated in the family's advices to their son or daughter and during the blessing portion of the ceremony.

The "tying of the knots" usually precedes other ceremonies such as the "head washing" we cover in a previous post.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Head Washing Ceremony (End)

As you would sit a child down, the matron gently lowered her in a sitting position. Half way through the motion, she raised her back in the standing position. She lowered her again and just like the first time, she raised her again. The third time around, Mariama was fully sitted on the stool. This ritual symbolises preparation to sit firmly in one's marital home.
The drums stopped for a moment. One of the women stroke up a new song and the other joined in. The drummers beat their instruments again. Dipping her two hands in the bucket, the matron said an expression, which is translates as "In the name of God", then she washed the bride's hands, then her face. Three successive times, she dipped her hands in the bucket and passed her wet hands on Mariama's hair front to back, front to back. She took the right foot out of the new sandal, washed it, repositioned it in the shoe. She took the left foot and did the same.

This ceremony is calling head washing but is not limited to the head. The washing of these parts of the body is for purification. It symbolizes the bride coming pure to the marriage.

A woman then handed her the towel, she patted all the washed areas dry. Sitting in the circle with her head covered back with the topa scarf, Mariama could hear the women clapping and singing a several songs over her. She barely heard what they were saying. She felt in a sort of out of body experience. All she felt for sure was the excitement that she would be soon with her new husband.

The women slowly walked her back to her mother's room. From there, after dinner, she'll be taken to a house a couple of streets away. A room has been prepared for her and her new husband for the next seven nights and six days so they may spend time together. They'll be catered to, visited by family and friend's and the celebration will continue around town until then. They will get to know each other personally, physically and emotionally. It's her family's wish that the early morning hours of that first night, the matron comes out with a blood stained white sheet to announce that she had saved herself for marriage.

In the next post, we'll address the tying of the knots.