Instead of marriage being a joyful union as intended by the Creator, it has lately become unattractive to many young people especially Christians, due to various factors like the difficulty of choosing the right partner, shirking of responsibilities of family life, married young men flirting with other people’s wives, likewise married young women making babies for men outside marriage.
This article discusses some traditional values and responsibilities of stakeholders of African Christian marriage, which have either been neglected or compromised thereby contributing to the increasing rate of divorce in Ghana, like some other countries.
Traditional customary provisions
Marriage ceremonies have been communal since Bible times. Stakeholders of marriage include family relations, friends, church representatives and other well-wishers. The Akan “beguafo nsa” (drinks for the witnesses) offered to the stakeholders often attest to this. Such representation assumes a collective responsibility for a sustained marriage.
Prayers, contributions and well wishes offered to the couple also make married couples somehow accountable to all stakeholders in ensuring that the marriage works. Therefore, like preparation for an academic entrance examination an individual needs to be adequately prepared before entering the marriage institution.
Traditional preparation for marriage
The family unit must directly help the young person to acquire education and vocation to earn a living, and good moral values such as faithfulness, self-control and the ability to handle challenges and live responsibly. Close relations often serve as mentors in this regard. The family would also conduct investigations into the family of a proposed spouse for any history of negative character or traits.
Traditional marriage is strictly a marriage of four families (both maternal and paternal of the two persons). Divorce is hence difficult because it affects all the families who are committed to making the marriage work. In instances where persons not from the family pose as family members to arrange marriage, although may be convenient due to certain factors like urbanisation and distance, their commitment cannot be compared with the families’. Globalization with its related technology should not erode our culture but rather facilitate the due process.
Exorbitant bride price
This can bring financial stress on the marriage from the onset. It creates the impression of the woman being “sold” and “bought”, and sometimes causes bitterness in some men which triggers at the least provocation. Others also show disrespect for the woman. Excessive bride price can lead to unstable marriage.
Role of taboos
Part of customary preparations for marriage involved taboos which prohibited pre-marital sex, which is biblically and traditionally regarded as a taboo (Akan: akyiwade), and spiritually regarded as evil (Akan: mmusu). It does not attract the blessings of God, but brings curses which affect the individual, his or her family and community and its entire land. Adherence to the taboos helped to prevent wayward and street children, and unexpected pregnancies, many of which today result in “emergency” ill-planned marriages.
Giving in to sex before marriage has no proven success in attracting a dependable partner for a healthy marriage. Abstinence is rather a test of discipline which differentiates people who just want fun in a relationship from those who are committed to marriage. Sex should also not to be seen as the only way of demonstrating love and affection in marriage. If it were, some people would not later abandon their spouses or fiancées despite the sexual satisfaction they receive.
A life of sexual indiscretion often leads to lack of attraction to responsible partners, inadequate sexual satisfaction, infertility and other related health problems. These are also a threat to successful marriage. The individuals themselves have a sole responsibility in preparing for marriage as a continuous learning process. The religious adherence to this process previously resulted in healthy marriages.
A mature person must first cultivate those qualities which one expects from a would-be partner, such as love, the very image of God. He/she must also prepare to support the prospective family economically. A wasteful spending attitude easily depletes an abundant wealth, but a prudent attitude maximises the output of the least resources.
Mental preparation from teachings, reading books on marriage and the Word of God, and improving one’s level of education helps to make better judgements about issues and resolve challenges without any interference of negative counsel.
Socially, the young person needs to appreciate that other people’s actions can affect him/her positively or negatively. It is therefore necessary to learn to cope with negative situations, and still be a good model so as to influence the positive in the home and society.
“Leave”, “cleave”, to become one flesh
Adequate social preparation facilitates the ability to “leave” one’s present relations and “cleave” to a spouse physically, emotionally and spiritually to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). “Cleave”, if translated from its original Hebrew word means “glued to” one’s partner to become one; any attempt at separation causes damages. That is not to say breaking ties completely with especially the extended family; but becoming more attached to the spouse than them. It also avoids unnecessary interference from in-laws.
Walter Trobisch advises that it is needful to stay closer to one’s spouse than the children. Of course, it is natural for a spouse to be jealous of anybody or anything which drifts the attention of the partner. Closeness, including sexual intimacy, helps to protect and strengthen the marriage.
Probably because our society considers sex as indecent to talk about, inadequate sex education hinders sexual satisfaction in some marriages. It either leads to marriage failure or various forms of adultery, such as married persons engaging other sexual partners to satisfy them and paying these partners either in cash or in kind. Eventually, these married persons become more attached to their other partners; to the detriment of the marriage.
The 2014 Ghana Demographic Health Survey (GDHS) report indicates that about 14 per cent women and almost 10 per cent men responded that they were living together with partners they were not married to which is described as “living in an informal arrangement with a partner”. However, the formal arrangement of both our customary marriage and marriage under the ordinance shows that cohabitation is not endorsed by society.
A scary and unstable marriage is a societal problem. However, adequate preparation with all parties playing their respective roles ensures healthy marriages which translate into a healthy society. Young people should see marriage as a noble institution and work through useful traditional customary processes with prayer in order to find their God-given partners. Together, they can enjoy life. It therefore behooves the entire Ghanaian society, especially Christians, to go back to our customs, and refine them in order to readapt those aspects which are in consonance with the word of God for the betterment of society.
Wrter’s address: Presbyterian Church of Ghana-SMT,
Ramseyer Training Centre