chapter  6
10 Pages

Marriage patterns

There are robust patterns in African marriage systems. Marriage in most African countries is a complex institution. The process may take several years, and follows a series of stages most of which are characterized by the performance of prescribed rites. For those who partake, these rites include integration of traditional African and Western family modes (Meekers 1992). Marriage is the joining together of two families, cementing a relationship between established groups. The marriage could be a monogamous or a polygamous union and both are common practice. Another common practice that has remained constant over the years as part of a series of prescribed rites is the payment of agreed bride-wealth by one family to another: usually the husband’s family makes the payment to the wife’s family. Intense negotiations take place between representatives from each family. From these negotiations emerges an agreed bride-price with a time frame for payment. This practice emerged as a significant feature among survey participants on social care with African families. While acknowledging that increased exposure to external influences may be diluting the practice, they confirmed that bride-price, bride-wealth or dowry, and transactions still occupy a position of cultural importance across most regions of Africa south of the Sahara. Three statements cited below give a flavour of current thinking about this practice among the sample group members:

Bride-price, sometimes referred to bride-wealth, is a payment of goods, money or livestock from the future son-in-law to the bride’s parents.