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.

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