MARRIAGE is an institution dating back thousands of years and was adopted and cherished by virtually all human communities.
It is so ubiquitous that one may feel it needs no introduction as virtually all of us are in marriage or are products of it.
Marriage has been mostly dyadic involving two people, a man and a woman but, various cultures around the world have, at different times in their long histories, permitted or tolerated polygamy and even polyandry especially in parts of Asia.
To be marriage it had to be a sanctioned relationship between an adult man and an adult woman that is open, residential, sexual and permanent. In many cultures around the world until today, “sexual adulthood” permitting one to go into marriage, especially for girls was sometimes as low as 14 years.
In most tribes of pre-slavery Sub Saharan Africa, marriage was highly regarded but was often a challenge especially to men.
The biggest challenge was the scarcity of girl brides because there were much fewer girl children than boy children.
This reality was brought about by the fact that most households preferred boy children and despised girl children who were going to be married off to distant families and were not therefore going to carry forward clan names.
When there was famine and this was regular, girl children would be sacrificed to feed boys so that a household would have an heir.
There were of course a few matrilineal tribes where kinship and family name was carried forward by girls rather than by boys.
In traditional Africa however, maturity and social completeness came with marriage and life outside marriage was cursed and had to be avoided at any cost.
The stigma and social cost of being unmarried was very high; So high in some tribes that it sometimes resulted in suicide especially for men who were the ones with responsibility to bring about and form a marriage.
There were many tribes in which an old boy or young man who died before marriage could not be buried until a ritual mock marriage was conducted to appease his spirit so that he will not demand a wife from the grave.
Marriage was transcending culture and social organisation to become spiritual consciousness and sacred duty that was beyond the will of the individual or his family.
The only discretion one had was one of choosing the bride or groom, not one of going into marriage.
But even with this level of sanctity, African marriage was marked with almost permanent conflict and even violence.
Disagreements, verbal exchanges and physical confrontations were too regular. Indeed there were also tribes were marriages broke off very regularly so that a man rarely had a wife for more than five years and many marriages lasted less than two years.
People in these tribes remarried several times in their lifetimes and this was regarded by these tribes as normal.
In Sub Saharan Africa of today, marriage has undergone many changes, most of which were brought about by foreigners.
While rural Africa still has many elements of traditional Africa on the issue of marriage, urban Africa has become mostly foreign, dictated by European law, Arab traditions, foreign religion, the United Nations and contemporary foreign values. A number of problems now beset African marriage as follows;-
• It is mostly tribal while tribal space has shrunk and most Africans live outside their tribe;
• Using European law, it is no longer recognised as a right ;
• It is also no longer recognised as a strict duty;
• There are minimum ages to go into marriage but no maximum ones and some people are coming vey late to marriage;
• The authority to approve marriage is distributed in several authorities;
• Even though there is no shortage of men, many girls are waiting for years to find grooms because of the chaos governing this function in the Europeanised Africa;
• Even though there is no shortage of girls, many men looking for wives do not know where to start especially in Europeanised urban areas;
• There is no one with responsibility to facilitate marriage formation and one has to verify what he is told by his partner himself or herself;
• Marriage and adultery have gradually become one and the same thing as most urban marriages start in adultery ;
• Adultery has become compulsory as a way to secure brides or grooms;
• The failure of the marriage process, not economic difficulties, is mostly the one creating and sustaining prostitution.
• The failure of the marriage process, not economic difficulties is the one creating and sustaining street children
A new book called THE AFRICAN SOCIAL CHARTER; Harmonised National Culture for Sub Saharan Africa is revising and recasting African culture and social order.
This book by Mutagaywa Ngemera takes up marriage with a view of restoring its precolonial status as both a Human Right and a Sacred Duty to both adult men and women.
In doing so marriage is elevated even higher from where it was in precolonial times as a strict duty but also a ring-fenced activity that one must join but can only join through a tightly supervised process. Marriage is restored to its glory because it facilitates the nation overall to;-
• Properly allocate sexual facilities so that each adult has a sexual partner and is not restless or clandestine.
• Bring about orderly conception and reproduction.
• Facilitate more effective child upbringing.
• Enable economic sharing between two adults of different gender.
• Provide for compassionate mutual help at home whenever needed.
• Provide for a home based nurse who can administer first aid on any part of the body when needed.
THE AFRICAN SOCIAL CHARTER defines human development to include lifelong marriage so that a low percentage of married people will be interpreted as a failure of the development process.
This also means however that development is not new as marriage has existed for thousands of years. The emergence of new forms of human development like formal education does not remove or dilute old ones like marriage.
THE AFRICAN SOCIAL CHARTER solves all problems associated with marriage that are listed here by creating a social superstructure to support and defend it. This includes both a body of rigid rules and a social organisation to manage it.
The National Social Organisation will perform several roles created by The African Social Charter to ensure that all people enter marriage at appropriate ages and remain in it.
The duty to go into marriage and the cost of so going into it are shared by the individual groom and the community through the National Social Organisation.
There are minimum ages to go into marriage and people have to come to those ages to be able to go into marriage.
There has to be an effective social organisation to take care of all children to ensure that there is no destitution or street children irrespective of parentage or circumstances.
This is to imply that for the national marriage order to succeed, it must be facilitated and be part of the wider social system that will start following up children ten or more years before they are due to be married so that they come to marriage untarnished.
THE AFRICAN SOCIAL CHARTER; Harmonised National Culture for Sub Saharan Africa overall presents revised African culture and social order that is intended to replace 900 tribal cultures in 42 countries of Sub Saharan Africa. It is an ambitious project to uphold and upgrade African culture including African marriage.
The author, Mr Ngemera, is describing The African Social Charter which took 20 years to write as an Epistle and Book of Destiny because it has the potential to make a big difference to Sub Saharan Africa if it is adopted and implemented.
The new harmonised culture is coercive and a law by itself that demands total obedience from all Africans from Cape Town to Juba.
Political borders created by the Berlin Conference were ignored by this project because African culture has always been broadly one.