MARRYING FOR THE DEAD, WOMEN MARRYING WOMEN. HOW JUSTIFIED IN AFRICAN CULTURE? VOL 6 NO 10

 The above mentioned practices may sound very ridiculous but let us not be too quick to condemn our people without reflecting deeply on how much and where the rain started tormenting us that they had to provide such cultural shade as a remedy to their untold difficulties. In other words, let us attempt inviting theology into understanding this culture to have impact on it and be affected by it.
In Africa cultural milieu, marriage is a complex affair with economic, social and religious aspects which often overlap so firmly that they cannot be separated from one another. In Africa, precisely in our Igbo culture, very strong and inseparable family ties are established through marriages. No wonder the saying “Ezigbo Ogo bu ikwu ato “ meaning a good in-law is a third relation. By implication, marriage cannot be a private ceremony.
Far more significantly, marriage is the focus of existence. It is the point where all the members of a given community meet – the departed, the living and those yet unborn. Lending credence to this perspective, Igbos see marriage as a form of pledge to the society in order to continue to participate in upholding and transmitting the cultural and societal values, and thus maintain the tie between the living and the dead., between the different generations, and between the communities and families. Not getting married therefore, is seen by the society as a failure.
A deeper reflection reveals that in Igbo land and in most parts of Africa, marriage and procreation are a unity. Procreation is the raison d’etre of marriage. While love may be the motivating factor for the European mind, and by extension, the Catholic teaching on marriage, the motivating factor for the African and Igbo in particular, is the result of marriage. Children occupy the central point in Igbo marriage.
At this juncture, I wish to recognize and appreciate J. S. Mbiti religious undertone in support of our motivating factor. In his words, “without procreation, marriage will be incomplete. Marriage and procreation are a unity which attempts to recapture, at least in part, the lost gift of immortality. It is a religious obligation by means of which the individual contributes the seed of life towards man’s struggle against the loss of original immortality. Biologically, both husband and wife are reproduced in their children, thus perpetuating the chain of humanity” (Mbiti J. S., African Religious and Philosophy. Oh. 133). In line with this Mbiti’s religious clarification on marriage and procreation, it is noteworthy that in 1Gen. 1:28, at the beginning of marriage (between Adam and Eve) in the garden of Eden, there was no mention of love. The only command given was that of continuing human life: increase and multiply. And so, for Mbiti, any marriage which does not achieve this aim of perpetuating the chain of humanity runs into serious trouble and is doomed to fail. Hehehe, this may sound very absurd for the western mind, which places love as ultimate in marriage.
The true fact is this, a childless marriage is a great source of worry and a serious disappointment for the couple. In fact, the women suffers it the most. She is blamed for everything that went wrong., deprived of inheritance in the family of her husband, and sometimes treated like a witch. Of course, it’s no news that only after the birth of a male child that she becomes really secure and specially welcomed as a responsible housewife in her husband’s extended family and Umunna.
Following from the above, the concept of personal immortality should help us to understand the religious and ontological significance of marriage in African societies. And procreation is the absolute way of insuring that a person is not cut off from personal immortality. Meanwhile, those Catholics who find themselves in an irregular marriages like polygamy, polygyny, marrying for the dead, women marrying women and so on, were most often forced into it by circumstances and not that they chose it as a snob of Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Let us make a brief clarification on the last two.
Marrying for the dead, which is termed posthumous marriage, is a system of marriage that offers men who are already dead, the opportunity to have wives and descendants. Most African families use this to solve problems of childlessness or even male child absence. In this form of marriage, the married woman is expected to procreate for the diseased but not restricted to any cultural norms to choose her lovers from the immediate family of her husband. She may be expected to be a bit reserved, using her sexuality with self control but shall not be given order about number of men to meet. Though relevant for perpetuating the so called chain of humanity, but there are serious adverse effects on the all round development and education of the posthumous children. For instance, a posthumous wife may be involved in a silent or micro-prostitution, thereby setting bad examples for her children. Worse still, posthumous children from prenatal stage are plagued with impoverishment and malnutrition. They grow to fend for themselves by all means- emotionally and morally murdered. The effects of Absent Father Syndrome.
On the other side of the spectrum is women marrying women. According to Chinua Achebe, in his book, “The Female Colonial King of Nigeria”, woman to woman marriage in Africa has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality or lesbianism. Just like marrying for the dead, it is an improvisation to sustain patriarchy. A widow or an appointed female son in a family that lacks male child can decide to marry a woman in order to get a male child and retain the inheritance of the Father. The female husband enjoyed equal privilege with her male counterparts but with some restrictions. Both the female husband and the female wife have boyfriends (Achebe calls them male sperm donors) but any child from the female husband is taken as an outcast, whereas that of the woman married to the family is a legitimate child.
Following from the above, there is need to reflect on how Christianity can help to harness this cultural heritage of the African person with respect to marriage and procreation as inseparable for the perpetuation of the chain of humanity and preservation of personal immortality. What do we do? Some actually suggested adoption rather than illegal marriages, with the view that Christian Love remains the ultimate goal of marriage

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