Many happenings give cause for worry about the ease with which we throw away our good values and traditions that give us our identity as Ghanaians. It may take a different discourse to discuss fully, the factors that prone us to negative cultural adaptation at a fast rate.
Adoption of cultural waste
It is a fact that, global interaction has created a world of cultural evolution among nations but in our situation, the many years of subservient relationship with our colonial and slave masters had eroded our traditional safeguards against the adoption of cultural waste that are dumped on us. One long lasting negative effect of slavery and other forms of foreign domination had been the remnants of slave mentality that manifest in identity crisis and the tendency to look down on our social values and everything about us including hating our God-given black colour.
Unfortunately, our education has served the enslaving purpose of our colonial past and created a lot more elites who pride themselves in how they have adopted the lifestyles of the slave masters. The reference to these elites as “Colonial Gentlemen” whose confidence lies in how they have imitated their colonial master indicates the depth of the identity crisis. Disappointingly, education, which should liberate us, has become an enslaving tool.
The disorientation tends to prone us to easy adaptation to Western cultures even when what we are adopting has no linkage with our heritage or we do not seem to understand its foundation. Examples abound to buttress my assertion. History teaches us that the slaves of old, fought against the imposition of foreign names on them by their slave masters. In our time, we regard the use of foreign names as prestigious. Some people shamelessly pride themselves in the fact that they and their children cannot speak any Ghanaian language but rather speak foreign languages like English. Can one imagine an American president or British prime minister who occupy the highest office of their respective countries unable to communicate in English?
The Ghanaian traditional marriage has suffered the same fate just like all other good things that gives us identity as a people. Our traditional marriage has been devalued and subordinated to Western marriage to fulfil the so-called “civilisation mission” of our colonial masters.
The Ghanaian traditional marriage
The family constitute an important economic and social unit of every society. Different cultures and social groups have unique marriage rites, which fits their traditions and heritage.
Each culture has its unique marriage ceremony to reflect its family values. The Western culture operates a Nuclear family system where the family is composed of the father, mother and children. In the Ghanaian context, the family has a broader meaning beyond father, mother and children. Even members belonging to the same clan who are spread all over the country consider themselves as belonging to the same family. It is difficult to define the borders of the Ghanaian family. A German friend who lived with my family for some time asked me to explain who was a member of my family and their relationship with me. He got confused when I kept introducing different relatives as my father, my mother, my sister and so on. His confusion was about the number of people in my house at any point in time and how a person could have many mothers, fathers and an unending list of sisters, brothers and children. It was a difficult question for me because in our Ghanaian situation, my mother’s sister is not my aunt as in English language but my mother and my father’s brother is not my uncle as in the English language but my father. Though I have two biological children, it would take a lot of courage for me to explain to an outsider, my relationship with all the young people who live in my house especially when students are on vacation.
The Ghanaian traditional marriage reflects our broad definition of family. When a man and woman decide to marry, they have to inform their parents who would inform the larger family members. The Ghanaian traditional marriage is regarded as a marriage between two families and involves a lot of consultations, negotiations and due diligence among the families of the would-be couple.
The Wikipedia defines wedding as the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage and by that definition, the Ghanaian traditional marriage ceremony is wedding by all standards. An important part of the Ghanaian traditional wedding is the “Knocking” which literary connotes the man’s family knocking at the doors of the family of the would-be bride to inform them of the marriage proposal. It is only when the “Knocking” fee, which is usually a symbolic small amount and drinks has been accepted by the woman’s family that the family of the would-be bridegroom could announce the marriage proposal. In effect, the “Knocking” stage is what could be described as “ENGAGEMENT” in the Ghanaian traditional wedding, which connotes betrothal or a promise of marriage between a man and woman.
It is a common practice that the traditional marriage rites which involve payment of dowry, gifts to parents, uncles and brothers of the would-be bride etc., are discussed and concluded between the two families before the day of the traditional wedding. The two families undertake due diligence and background checks to resolve all misunderstandings before the wedding day. Payment of dowries and gifts from the family of the groom are only symbolic with minimal costs that had been discussed and agreed by the two families.
It is important to note that though the Ghanaian marriage transaction involves direct engagement of the families of the would-be bride and groom, their consent especially the consent of the would-be bride is highly respected. On the day of the traditional wedding, the father of the would-be bride asks her daughter whether her family should accept the dowry and all the gifts presented by the man’s family with the objective of asking her hand in marriage. It is only when the bride consents to the family’s acceptance of the gifts three times that the traditional marriage is contracted. This aspect of the Ghanaian traditional wedding is an important safeguard against forced marriages and it takes place in the presence of all well-wishers at the traditional wedding after the would-be bridegroom had been introduced to the public.
The Western concept of family consists of the father, mother and children. In the Western marriage, ENGAGEMENT is a promise of marriage between the two people to be married and marked by the presentation of a ring from the man to the woman without much ceremony. The Western marriage is devoid of the detailed and more complex consultations and negotiation involving the two families as happens in the Ghanaian traditional marriage.
Consequences of multiple weddings
Judging from the rich cultural content of the Ghanaian traditional wedding, the network of social relations that are created and the social support built around marriages, it comes as a surprise that its social importance had been devalued to “engagement” which denotes casual relations. Religion and identity crisis as to who we are have reinforced the ignorance and the low esteem for the Ghanaian traditional wedding.
Throughout history, anytime a group of people imitate other cultures without understanding and proper reasons to do so, they end up incurring avoidable cost that serves no purpose. The misunderstanding about the value of the Ghanaian traditional wedding has made marriage very expensive for young people. Would-be couples undertake the traditional wedding, which they ignorantly describe as ENGAGEMENT after which they go to court for the ordinance marriage and then end it with a societal Western type of Wedding. In effect, a young couple may have about three weddings – the traditional Ghanaian wedding which is a requirement for all the other weddings, the court wedding and the Western type of wedding, which has become the norm.
It is a pity that young people have to go through grave financial difficulties in planning traditional weddings, court weddings and the Western-type of weddings only to start their married life with debt that could be avoided. The situation is worsened by the increasing commercial interest of Wedding Planners, which had unleashed competition among young would-be couples in the Western wedding. Young couples go to any extent to have big Western- type of weddings that would be the talk of the town for a long time. Ignorance they say could be very expensive.
It should be possible for a couple to bless their marriage after the traditional wedding based on their Christian beliefs. With proper understanding, a couple could have a simple blessing as part of the traditional wedding or during a normal Sunday church service. Indeed, what we refer to in Ghanaian parlance as ENGAGEMENT is certainly Ghanaian traditional wedding and our description of the WESTERN WEDDING is in fact, blessing of the traditional marriage based on the Christian beliefs of the couple.
The church has an important advocacy role to play in educating Ghanaians especially the youth to realise that Ghanaian traditional wedding is not ENGAGEMENT. This would save the youth from expensive Western-type of weddings. The avoidable expenditure associated with marriage and weddings is contributing to the phobia of some young people for marriage and the increasing rate of divorce. My problem is not only about the expensive nature of the weddings today but the bigger issue is that marriage rites help to define who we are.