Today Africans have ways of perceiving marriage which is poles apart from the picture our ancestors held. Some are lured into marriage by economic gains while others enter the bond as a result of pressure put upon them by others. These are not good reasons to get married!
The traditional picture
In the past parents were responsible for arranging their children’s marriages. Dating and courtship was arranged by parents.
At 12 years, a young girl was considered ready for marriage and her parents only relaxed when they saw her married. Traditionally in the Kalahari, the search for a marriage partner usually begins soon after the child is born.
Girls get married between the ages of twelve and sixteen after their first menstruation. Boys, in contrast, could be ten, twenty even thirty years older than their wives.
They must prove their manhood by killing a large animal to show society that they will manage to safeguard and provide for their family.
All marriages were arranged by the parents and could involve up to a decade of gift exchange before the wedding took place. These gifts were not a bride price but a primary celebration of the occasion.
Traditionally in Egypt, marriage is announced by a procession of drums, bag pipes, belly dancers and men brandishing flaming swords. Many Egyptian women enter into marriage as early as twelve years old.
When a man is ready for marriage, his mother or other close female relatives help him to find the matching bride; he can also seek help from a female khatbah (matchmaker).
Sometimes parents betroth their daughter to a man without her approval, but this happens only if the girl has not reached puberty.
Rwanda’s traditional marriage differed from the above; girls were married between sixteen and twenty. Parents also took into consideration the physical development of the girl. The families of the betrothed tended to know each other very well.
The modern picture
Marriage is considered the most basic social institution. Families and society continue to exert pressure on young people to marry regardless of the many other aspects of their lives, particularly their careers.
Unlike in the past, most couples today select their own spouses, though approval of the family is expected. The most important thing about marriage today is the personality of one’s future husband or wife.
Issues of colour, ethnic group, and religion are no longer important. Above all what matters today is love. However people continue to value the ability to provide for ones future family.
A newlywed’s experience
Susan Irene Kafuuma, barely a month into marriage, told us of the recent changes that have taken place in her life.
“The life of a spinster is so challenging, young people who have chosen to delay marrying are under a lot of pressure from parents and society. It calls for one to focus on what he or she needs in a partner”, says Susan.
She explicitly adds: “Pressure shouldn’t be the reason for marriage; it will prevent you from finding ‘the one’.”
She doesn’t regret her marriage but believes that she has got the best in life. She says that young people who have rushed into marriages have found it hard to hang in there because they didn’t take time to get to know their spouses properly.
“Despite the pressure, my husband and I took time to get to know each other. As a result I believe that our future is brighter.”
Susan and her husband face great challenges not least because she lives in the United States while he works in Rwanda.
But in the knowledge that she has married her true love, Susan is confident that their marriage will overcome such difficulties to last a life time.