Africa Speaks: Marriage 1

Market women at Niger river ferry, (toward Tera), Niger, 1992

Contents: . . . Hadiza's Marriage. . . .Absotou. . . . A Forced Marriage. . . . The Ceremony of Henna
The "Sadaka" Marriage . . . Children . . . home page

Hadiza's Marriage

Yacouba Saibatou, In-class essay 3/16/92

My sister was only ten years when she got married. This event, which I believe today was fortunate, affected me negatively at the time.

In our village, girls get married at a young age. "This practice," said my father, "existed before I was born. So it is no use complaining about it, my daughter."

"But Hadiza is too young, Father," I said. "Give her the chance to know how to cook."

"Listen to me," said my father. "I married your mother at the same age. Anyway, there is no link between marriage and cooking."

I was so upset that I could not help crying. Why would they separate my sister from me?

My sister also was crying because she didn't even know the man who would be her husband.

"It is our duty," continued my father, "to get rid of you, too, at this age, whether you like it or not."

I grew more and more angry as my father continued to talk about that kind of marriage, which he considered an important event. I could not believe it. All kinds of questions came into my mind: How could a little girl be separated from her parents? How could my sister deal with a man she did not even know?

I asked my father some questions in order to know more about the event: What is the real meaning of the marriage? Will it take place in private? What will it consist of?

"Listen to me, daughter. There will be a very big ceremony during which all members of the family will enjoy themselves. Your sister will be brought to her husband and then have chil- dren."

This point made my curiosity grow bigger and bigger.

Now I realize that getting married at a young age is a very good thing; this is still true today. Nowadays girls of the same age give birth--they give birth to fatherless children. No one marries them; they suffer. Those girls are looked down on by society.

Copyright © 1998 Yacouba Saibatou



Sadi Aichatou, In-class essay 3/16/92

In 1986, my sister, who was divorced, used to sell fritters in the market, and every day my niece and I got up around 4 or 5 o'clock to take supplies to her.

One day, when we were about to leave home, we saw something strange in our entrance hall. It was so dark that we couldn't identify it. So we went back, frightened, and told our mother. She woke our father and told him what we had said. He took his torch and went to the hall, but when we were about to follow him, my mother prevented us and waited with us. Then suddenly my father called her and asked her to let us come.

When we arrived, we saw a little girl dressed in new clothes. She was about fifteen years old, and we had never seen her before in our district.

My mother asked her who she was and where she came from. The girl kept silent and a few minutes later started crying. My mother asked her to come in with us and have something to eat. She accepted and when she finished eating, she began to relax and said her name was Absotou.

When my father went to the mosque for morning prayer he heard that the girl was our neighbor's bride, brought from a small village in the night, and that she ran away before her husband came. So at his return my father asked my mother to take the girl back to her husband's house and to give her some advice.

My mother told the girl that she could always come to our house if she had problems or if she needed anything, and that we girls would always go to her house after class. Then she accepted, and went back to her husband.

That story became a subject of joking for us, and each time I called my small sister or my niece "Absotou" they cried and insulted me, and when they called me "Absotou" I beat them.

But now I realize that it was a great problem, since the girl was married to a man she did not love, or even know. She also was too young to be married. I think this kind of early marriage is the cause of little girls becoming prostitutes. I am now sure that if we hadn't seen that girl, now she would have become a prostitute, because she had no place to go. She could never go back to her family, nor to her husband's house.

Copyright © 1998 Sadi Aichatou


Street scene, Niamey, Niger, 1992

A Forced Marriage

Souleymane Seydou Dan Malam 3/16/92

Once, when I was a child, a forced marriage took place in my village. It concerned my sister given in marriage to a man of our village she had never met. My sister refused to accept this man because she had another man of her choice in the village. She tried to leave the village, but it was impossible. My parents told her that she had no choice; she would be with the man proposed by the family even if she didn't love him.

According to the customs in the village, a girl has no choice in marriage. Marriage is not a private affair; it should be left in the hands of parents. However, my sister wept all day long because she could not avoid this situation. At last she accepted the marriage, not because she agreed, but because she couldn't do anything else.

One day later, there was a quarrel between the newlyweds and the man chased her away. I felt very nervous and gave my parents some advice: this would not have happened if they had let her choose her own husband. At first I didn't condemn my parents because they had chosen the man they wanted for her husband, because it was the rule of our customs. I believed that customs are very important for human beings, and we must not cut ties with tradition.

Now there is an evolution in the world. Things are changing through time and space. We shouldn't be completely tied to tradi- tion. We should choose what is good in tradition, and what is good in modern ways. In terms of marriage, parents and sons have to consult each other, discuss, give each point of view, and together choose the best way for success.

Copyright © 1998 Souleymane Seydou Dan Malam


The Ceremony of Henna

Maman Kouloungou Harouna 6/27/91

In my region, a little village near Maradi, the wedding ceremony is considered one of the great moments and occasions in the year to enjoy oneself. But in this wedding ceremony, I want to talk about a specific detail about the way the new married bride is prepared and brought to her husband. This is the Ceremony of Henna.

The henna plant is used by both men and women to tint their hands and feet during feasts, and the ceremony plans an important part in the bride's life. The ceremony is like a play, that lasts seven days.

When the girl finds that she is going to marry someone, her fellows are very angry because they are going to lose their friend, with whom they are always joking, walking, and working at the village. So they hide her. But the girl, needing to take a rest, is obliged to go out one day. She is seized by a group of women who were looking for her for a long time. These women carry her to the house of one of her aunts. Here she is kept in security to fulfill the Henna Ceremony.

From this time on, she has not a single moment of liberty, and because of this she wails constantly. Nobody asks the girl's consent. The old women pound the henna and mix it into a paste with water. Then they cover the girl's hands and feet with the paste for one week. The girl has to sit "in the henna" and she is not allowed to do any kind of work.

On the night of the seventh day, the girl is carried to the house of a woman who is the only one who has the power to make the ceremony. The woman has been appointed by the chief to this cultural level of power. The woman is generally an experienced person, and has done the ceremony many times before, so she welcomes the bride and all her relatives and asks for the beginning of the ceremony.

A circle is made of braided mats, seats, carpets and other materials. The musicians are in the middle of the circle with their instruments and they began to play gongs and flutes. After the guests are seated, the chief of the ceremony gives the order to bring the girl through the circle of women and girls. Men are not allowed to attend the ceremony.

The bride is set on a traditional stool for the bath of henna. A mixture of the plant with water and various perfumes and protective medicines is poured over her body. The girl has to take off her clothes and stay with a single cloth around her. She is wailing, which means that she doesn't want to be married, and the women assistants tell her to be patient and accept her new situation as a wife, with all the duties and work s

he has to endure from this day on at her husband's home.

During the henna bath, kola nuts are distributed around the circle. This is a request to the spirits to give the bride lots of blessings.

The ceremony ends with dances. First, the aunts of the girl have to carry her on their backs and dance with her around the circle, one after the other. Then it is the turn of the bride's friends and relatives to dance and show their happiness. But they don't have to carry her on their backs.

At the end of the dance, women come and give money and gifts, which they throw on a carpet near the chief woman who is conducting the ceremony. Lots of money and gifts are collected. This is to pay the chief woman for conducting the rite of the ancestors.

After thanking the chief woman, the relatives take the girl on a horse to the house of her husband for the wedding night.

This henna ceremony can take four or five hours, and no light is permitted, no torch or lamp. The ceremony has to take place in the dark. The significance of the ceremony is to show that the girl accepts her new family, and the community in general accepts the marriage, by attending the ritual.

New elements may have to be introduced in these traditional rites, when aspects of the new civilization are introduced into society. Even today, I am very proud of keeping the ancestral rites and traditions. These ceremonies have a moral influence, and can advise or guide a person on certain important occasions.

Copyright © 1998 Maman Kouloungou Harouna


Woman at Rio Bravo, on the Niger river, Niger, 1992

The "Sadaka" Marriage

Mahaman Issaka: 6/27/91

In our area there are at least three kinds of marriage. These are the child or precocious marriage, the forced marriage, and the "Sadaka" marriage. The Sadaka marriage is when a father gives away his daughter in marriage to a learned Islamic man, or a poor man who can't afford the expenses involved in a wedding. Our forbears didn't know this kind of marriage because it arrived only with the advent of Islam.

When it happens, it is normally a pious act performed by the father who decides to thus give his daughter in marriage. After spending a week "in the henna" as in the traditional ceremony, the bride is sent to the house of a young man designated by her father.

The Sadaka is a generous act in many ways: the bride's family incurs as many expenses as in any kind of customary marriage, but the husband does not incur any expense, except the small present given to those who bring the girl to his home, as a sign of his gratitude.

When I was a child I saw many cases of Sadaka marriage and I still remember how much we, the young boys and girls, were impatiently waiting for the announcement. When it was given out, we ran, jumping and shouting, to the lucky man's house to bring the happy news, and most of the time he would give us some coins to thank us.

But things deeply change because many fathers now prostitute that holy system of Sadaka marriage. Nowadays they give their daughters, not to a man who can't afford to get married on his own, but to someone who already has one or more wives. It's also used by many fathers as a way to marry off their old and ugly daughters who cannot easily attract suitors.

In contrast to the true Sadaka, today's Sadaka marriage is an important source of economics and labor to the girl's family, since the prospective husband is told of the marriage months before. So, as the link is already made, he will find it necessary to begin giving the girl presents and to do certain work for the parents, such as farming and building. In many cases, when the prospective husband becomes aware of the Sadaka marriage--new style--he firmly refuses the offer.

Two years ago, such a case happened in our village. Abdou, a rich trader, was a polygamist; he had two wives. Mallam Riga, a very old marabout, decided to give Abdou his senior daughter, as a Sadaka marriage. The old man's decision was known many months before the D-date. Knowing who Mallam Riga was--a veritable blood-sucker--the rest of the village began to have some doubt about the pious side of his act.

On the D-date the bride was brought to Abdou's home, accompanied by a very large and cheerful crowd. Abdou respectfully thanked everybody but regretted he could not accept the offer because he had no extra room for a third wife. But everybody knew that Abdou was so rich he could lodge as many wives as he liked. It was then that people began to wonder if he had understood Riga's intention, which was to give Abdou a wife and in return suck his wealth. The girl at last was taken to one of her cousins as his first wife.

Because people have corrupted the Sadaka with materialism, we nowadays notice that the practice of this type of marriage is fast dying out.

Copyright © 1998 Mahaman Issaka



Gandah Nabi Mahamadou 3/21/92

A family without children is a hearth without fire. Having a wife who cannot bear children is like taking care of growing a kola tree which cannot bear fruit. In Africa people usually don't see the use of growing a tree which cannot produce. That is to say, having a wife who cannot bear children. Thus having children, and lots of children, is more important than possessing anything else.

A person would rather be poor with many children, than to be the wealthiest man with no children or only a few children. In Africa children are all and everything, even if nowadays Africans are trying to limit the number of their children because they have to consider the economic and social context.

For nowadays people don't rely on their farm land any more. In the olden days a man married more wives, not for the sake of love only, as is the case in many civilizations, but in order to get children, to show his virility, to be respected, to demonstrate his ability to support a large family, and also to extend his family line.

Children are also a source of labor and wealth. Boys can work in the fields, and, at a girl's marriage, her parents receive many gifts from their prospective son in law.

Often children (or the lack of children) are the cause of many conflicts between couples or in families. For example a young couple can divorce each other when they realize that they cannot have children. And if they don't divorce the man may marry a second wife in order to beget children or to prove he can produce.

If it happens that the couple doesn't divorce, and the husband doesn't want to take a second wife, the couple spends much of their time visiting doctors for consultation, or they can spend most of their savings to marabouts or magic makers who claim they can help them solve their problem.

When a couple has children, and one of the couple dies, there is always a dispute about who is going to take care of the children, for everyone feels he should be in charge of their education--grandparents and other relatives, on both paternal and maternal sides.

The mother might want to educate her own children. However, usually it is those from the paternal side who claim to be the most responsible for the children's care, because according to law, children belong to the father, not the mother. Most of the time children are torn from their mother at a very young age.

Copyright © 1998 Gandah Nabi Mahamadou


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