Marriage among Anlo Ewe’s
General accounts of marriage customs among Ewes and other tribes in Ghana have striking similarities and we may be doing a great disservice to our heritage by condemning Anlo men and women in their choice or lack of spouses.
The rules regarding the choice of partners in Anlo was that cohabitation and marriage between relatives of certain categories was prohibited. The most important prohibition is marriage between uterine kins and between affines. (dagadaɖiviwo, ƒoƒoviwo, tɔgatɔɖiviwo)
Though certain marriages in Anlo were prohibited, marriages between certain relatives were favoured because it was believed that marriage between persons not bound by ties of kinship was not likely to be stable. Due to this fact Anlo parents from the outset took special interest in the marriages of their children and initiated moves to find them suitable spouses, sometimes even before the children were born. Ƒomesro or kinship marriage was very popular and such unions were stable because of kinship obligations. Kinship exerts peacefulness on social relations and also very important in Anlo inter-personal relations. Tasivinyruivisrɔ or cross-cousin marriage was by far the commonest type accounting for about 89% of recorded marriages in years gone by followed by marriage of members of the same clan.
Economic considerations is now being favoured over good character and kinship ties as the main choice of finding a marriage partner and parents influence has become limited. Like money, other agents of change, namely education and Christianity has led to a change in the traditional structure and economic activities has brought the individual Anlo into contact with other people outside his kin group an old beliefs are being suppressed by new legal institutions.
In the old traditional Anlo society marriage was designed to ensure that the lineage would continue to flourish. To many of us, these changes has affected our emotional security on the solidarity of the kin group and we are now searching for new ways of satisfying the need for love and the traditional sanctions which stabilize the marital bond have disappeared resulting in instability and divorce.
Anlo belief that "there is nothing nearer a man's heart than to see his daughters married to men he loves"
Ewe marriage, ceremonies and customs
The informal relations between young lovers are given a stamp of seriousness and permanence by a ceremony known as 'vɔƒoƒo', or knocking. The bridegroom’s parents send his father’s sister and his brother mother’s sister to the bride’s parents to ask formally for the hand of the bride.
On arrival at the girl’s house, her parents enquire the reason for the deputation and after hearing it, send them away for about a week whiles they consider the matter. The reason for postponing this is that, customarily we do not give immediate reply to any question of major importance. This also gives them time to make enquiries about the man and his parents if they have not done so already. It is important they establish the man is of good stock, able to support his wife in the manner to which she has been accustomed, and from a family free of hereditary defects, witchcraft and criminal mentality.
If the bride’s people are satisfied on all these counts and the girl also agrees to the proposal, the groom’s deputation is informed on their second call that their request has been considered and accepted. For this information two bottles of imported or locally brewed gin are offered by the deputation in appreciation. This payment is known as 'vɔlenu' or knocking fee.
As soon as the groom’s people learn of the acceptance of their request, preparations start in full swing for raising the marriage payments ‘Srɔnu’ or ‘tabianu’ and when this is ready the groom’s paternal and maternal aunts carry it to the bride’s parents home either in a large trunk or wooden box, or in a large pan called ‘ƒovi’ this is then inspected and accepted if or if found to be insufficient, the whole load may be carried back.
The marriage is concluded by the giving of marriage payment and a series of elaborate ceremonies each of which is considered necessary for the establishment of a legal union of which the handing over of the bride to the groom’s parents or ‘dedeasi’, the powdering of the bride or ‘togbagba’; the consummation, or ‘ɖoɖoabadzi’ and the seclusion ‘dedexɔ’ are most important.
The formal handing over of the bride, which takes place in her father’s house, is a short ceremony where both parents give a short advice to the couple, followed by the declaration by both of their willingness to marry. The responsibilities of each to the other are then meticulously enumerated and concluded by a short prayer to the ancestors. The importance of this is to transfer sexual rights to the groom after the powdering.
The two parties then a fix a date for the wedding which must be a good day ‘asinyuigbe’ and the ceremony takes place in the evening when the moons are dark. On the appointed day the bride is sent for and brought to the groom’s father’s house which by tradition is the venue of the wedding. Upon her release she is accompanied to the groom’s place by her own mother’s sister and father’s sister and a host of others and a young girl follows them with the bundle of linen or marriage colthes. In the bedroom the ‘srɔdeba’ has already been laid, covered with white bed sheet. For the purposes of the ceremony the groom buys two yards of imported cloth, a yard of silk head kerchief, ‘seda-taku’ and a stool ‘atizikpui’
At the house, the spokesperson who is the bride’s father’s sister hand her over to the grooms father with these words;
"The parents of the bride have given her to us to bring to you in response to your request. From now on responsibility for her maintenance lies with you. She must be well fed. You must take good care of her when she is sick. We do not quarrel in our house and we do not want her to quarrel in your house"
The groom’s father receives the bride and offers his thanks to all the messengers then follows several admonitory speeches by those present, notably the groom’s mother’s brother concerning the basic necessities of happy married life; patience, tolerance and understanding of each other’s point of view. Above all hard work and co-operation in economic and household activities and this done the grooms lineage head pours a libation to the ancestors addressing them is this way;
‘Today is an important day for us, the living, and it is fitting that we call you also, our ancestors, grandfathers and grand mothers, to come and join us on this occasion. The reason for our appeal is a good one 'ɖagbee' your own son (name of groom) has asked (name of bride) to be his partner and this evening we shall have the consummation and the seclusion ceremonies. Successful marriage is realized in good health, fertility and prosperity. We therefore ask for our new couple long life. Let them live till grey hairs appear on their teeth and have as many children as possible. In commemoration of these requests we offer you alcohol and cool water, for all of you to drink. You made everything. You can see the invisible. Perish our enemies and let our benefactors flourish. Once more here is water. We call all of you to come and drink’
The bride at this time, on her first visit to her future home, is thought to be very shy, and therefore called throughout the duration of the ceremonies ‘ŋukpetɔ’ the shy one.
The consummation ceremony is performed by the mistress of ceremonies which is usually the father’s sister of the groom and known to have experienced a successful marriage and herself been lush or productive, the belief being that the bride will follow in her footsteps. The MC holds ‘ŋukpetɔ’ by the hand and leads her to the door of the bedroom. On opening the door she makes the ŋukpetɔ look into the room three times, then cross the doorstep to and fro six times. The seventh time she is taken inside and it is believed that if ŋukpetɔ’s feet touch the doorstep, she will not be a good wife. There her clothes are replaced by the two-yard cloth bought the groom. She is then seated on the ‘atizikpui’ where she is rubbed with powder from a rare tree called ‘eto’, followed by this address from the MC;
"I have rubbed you with this powder, and from today, you have become the wife of X . Henceforth you are not to sit on any seat offered you by another man other than your own husband and with these words she is helped from the stool on to the bed where she is joined by the groom and are made to embrace each other whiles the MC addresses both of them; you are now ‘atsu kple asi’. Man and wife breed as much as you can."
With her duty done the MC closes the door and returns to join those waiting next door. Custom demands that ‘ŋukpetɔ’ should play hard to get for several minutes though they both know it’s only a formality before they get busy.
After a long time the MC knocks on the door and the grooms opens the bedroom door and allows the MC to examine the white bed sheet. If it is bloodstained, there is jubilation. The girl is led away to the bathroom where is washed in hot water by the MC.
The original idea behind the consummation is the public declaration of ‘ŋukpetɔ’s virginity, for this reason the groom must make an additional payment id she is a virgin. Establishment of virginity is a matter of great pride for both the bride and her parents in addition to establishing her unblemished reputation, it entitles her to the use of ‘blitsikpi’ golden bangles (bracelets), and ‘atsibla’ (a kind of under-garment for women worn immediately above the buttock. It has the effect of hiding the actual shape of the buttocks by making it more profound) after her seclusion period. Her parents also rejoice because her virginity shows they have performed their parental duties and in addition her mother receives several gift items for a good work done.
After consummation the bride remains in seclusion in grooms house for a period of between 4 and 8 months and the main idea is to emphasize from the onset the husbands monopoly over her sexual services. Many times the bride comes out of seclusion with a big belly, as this represents a successful union and children considered a most powerful stabilizing influence on marriage.
With the spread of Christianity and education certain attitudes, practices and habits have changed. As a result of literacy, the use of the ring 'asigɛ' as a symbol of proper marriage is now in fashion and the rubbing of the 'eto' powder and the seclusion has disappeared completely
Traditional beliefs on Divorce and its effects
The Ewe term for divorce is 'atsugbegbe' that is literally, 'refusing the husband. It is said that a man may not refuse his wife but must be divorced by her as it is believed that vengeance for his taking the action will be exacted of him by the spirits of his lineage ancestors, whose interest in large families he has violated.
The stability of marriage was apparently high and absolute in the past and was regarded as a permanent union between the spouses and their kin groups, and divorce was allowed only for fragrant breach of the husband's obligation to his wife and her parents. Divorce may also occur for childlessness and for the wife's adultery.
The ancient view is the belief that a boy accused by his lover of being responsible for her pregnancy, even though he is certain that the accusation is false, may not refuse, because if he did it will be held that he had refused a first child and hence would himself be punished, again by the dead, by never having other offspring.
A woman may seek divorce because of childlessness, desertion or cruelty
Childlessness is another important cause of divorce. A sterile husband does not find favour with his wife or with her relatives who want her to have children to care for her and themselves in old age.
A barren woman is in the same difficulty with her husband's relatives. Sterility and impotence were regarded by our ancestors as both shameful diseases and men do not easily admit to them.
Sexual vigour or desire 'lili' and the power of procreation 'vidzidzi' and a man who is sterile 'tsidzenyela' ie 'the producer of coloured sperm' as they were able to distinguish that fertile sperm was white and the unproductive sperm was coloured in ancient times.
If medicines fail to cure the 'ametutu' and it is suspected that the trouble lies with him, she would be advised to leave and try her luck elsewhere. But sometimes a woman may remain and sleep with a fertile man. Our ancestors explained this to mean 'vumasɔmasɔ' or 'disagreement with the blood'.
The seriousness with which the Anlo regard barrenness may be found in the following:
The procreation of children is the principal function of life in this world. A dead tree is resuscitated by its own seed. So it is with human beings. When we die, our children replace us. Our concern about the disease is demonstrated in no uncertain manner. When an adult dies childless special rites are performed on the dead body.
A dead man has a stick thrust into his genital organ, and nyakpe leaves are tied on that of the woman, with the injunction 'you must not come into the world in this manner again'
Divorce and how it affected our ancestors.
As we discussed earlier the principal reasons for divorce was childlessness and this may be satisfied by further marriages which could be polygynous but not polyandrous. From the lineage point of view it is unnecessary for a man to divorce his first wife before taking another. On the other hand a woman in the same predicament has no choice but to divorce before remarrying.
In the past it was possible to divorce without taking the matter to the courts. Kinsfolk of the spouses met, discussed the marriage, and agreed among themselves on its dissolution. The party in the wrong was fined to 'kpata' (pacify) the offended party.
A woman may seek divorce because of cruelty, adultery or desertion.
Cruelty often takes the form of beating, and Ewe men were fond of beating their wives in quarrels. In ancient times, a wife may also be beaten for not cooking on time, for not coming back on time from a trading trip or for general disobedience. A woman's parents have an active feeling of distaste to the idea of a husband beating their daughter, he may be warned several times or even fined, but if he remains hardened in wrongdoing, the only thing is 'to take the wife from him'
The most important single reason for which a man can divorce his wife is adultery. But he will not divorce her if he has great affection for her, especially if the fault is not her own. In ancient cases of adultery it is the adulterer, not the adulteress who is fined at the village chief's court based on the reasoning that the adulterer has violated someone's right in a woman, while the woman is more of a victim than an offender.
In most cases it was difficult to accuse the wife of adultery if she does not admit it, since coitus never has a direct witness; unless the culprits are caught in flagrante delicto the husband could not take action and hope to be successful. Village gossips and accusations may not be admissible in the courts. If however a woman is bent on leaving her husband, she may leave his house on any flimsy excuse and go to her parent's home where she can make public her relationship with her lover and thus provoke the husband into taking action.
Desertion is another common ground, and usually when a husband leaves his wife behind while going on a fishing expedition abroad without making adequate provision for her support. A variant of this is lack of support, and even though they may be living together, the husband refuses or cannot support her.
A husband's liability to support his wife is stated in specific terms. He is expected to 'na asigbe' (i.e give market-day money) to his wife. This is the money with which she provides food for the household. The actual amount given may depend on the size of the household, the husband's financial position, and the market conditions. Wives depending solely on this asigbe money needed a good deal of economy to make both ends meet. But many do not have to depend on that alone. Their husbands have fruit and vegetables in the garden and fish from periodic fishing trips and wives have to make their own contribution from independent income.
Often you will hear women complain their husbands give asigbey at very long intervals, sometimes once in two months instead of once in four days. Situations of this kind are likely to arise where a husband has attached himself to one wife to the neglect of the other or others. When it is found out that a husband is not being fair to his wife, she may be taken away from him.
A very popular song was composed and it runs as follows;
Ne eɖe nyɔnua enue woɖuna,
Ne eɖe nyɔnua avɔe wotana,
Esi nedzoa ƒe nenie enye sia?
Matsɔ ɖonye daɖi,
Wo abe ɖe metɔa?
If you marry a woman she must eat,
If you marry a woman she must have clothes to wear,
How long is it since you deserted me?
And if I remain your wife,
Don't you think others would think me worthless?
The implications on this song for marital stability were quite clear. If a husband fails to maintain his wife, she will be forced to seek divorce.
Another frequent cause of divorce is the institution of polygyny itself. The relationship between the co-wives is always potentially explosive. A husband will have to flatter to maintain the balance of his affection between them. A man would love one wife more than the other and however much he tries to behave to the contrary, the result is friction and in the long term it’s the fittest naturally the favourite, who survives.
Since our kinship obligations require that a man must never support his wife against his own sister, it goes further to explained that where a woman is socially absorbed into her husband's lineage, marriage is stabilized, but where a wife is not so absorbed and thus remains a member of the lineage into which she was born, paternal descent tends to divide marriage by dividing the loyalty of spouses.
source: Kinship & marriage among the Anlo Ewe by G.K Nukunya.