Africa Speaks: Marriage 2

Young couple on Niger river ferry (toward Tera), Niger, 1992

Contents: . . . Dowry . . . Consanguineous Marriage . . . An Unusual Wedding . . .
Rivalry . . . A Tragic Marriage . . . Promise . . .
Hausa Marriage Ceremony . . . Zeinabou . . . home page


Dowry

Alzouma Amadou Amadou: 5/11/92

In Niger before a man takes a wife he must first pay money to his family-in-law. This money stands as a dowry and "opens the doors of love" for the man. When a man brings a dowry to a girl, he is the only one allowed to visit and go with the lady.

The dowry, in our Elders' time, was made up of any kind of material that the man brought to his lover. Sometimes it was animals. But today people have different ideas about the dowry. It has to be paid in money. The law fixed the amount around 50,000 CFA [about $200] but people do not respect this law. They give as much as they can, some pay 250,000 CFA [$1000] or more. The country has financial problems and it is difficult for someone who is not working to pay the 50,000 CFA established by law as a dowry. Men are beginning to complain about the existence of a dowry. This is the reason why there are not many marriages today.

We also have another important factor, that is women's liberation. They see the dowry negatively. For them it is as if a man buys a woman. So they are fighting to get rid of the dowry system.

Copyright © 1998 Alzouma Amadou Amadou

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Consanguineous Marriage

Mahaman Issaka: 5/15/92

Consanguineous marriage is very widespread in our area. It occurs when two relatives marry one another. This can be considered as a forced marriage since in many cases it is arranged by the heads of the families, which are related by blood. In general the prospective husband and wife, who are usually cousins, are not asked for their opinion about their marriage.

Consanguineous marriage is bad in many ways. It is an important source of problems which affect the married couple, the two families, and the children of the couple, who may suffer from certain congenital sicknesses. Sometimes the husband and wife in such marriages come to love each other and their marriage is a success, but more frequently the marriage is a failure.

Here is an example of the problems this kind of marriage can entail. Ali, a very young civil servant, was forced to marry his cousin, Fati. Because he didn't really love her, there were always problems in the household. One day he had enough and sent her back home.

Naturally, his parents-in-law (his aunt and uncle) were not happy about that. His mother-in-law (aunt) started gossiping in the village, asking whether Ali was the real son of her brother (Ali's father). She began insinuating that her brother had married a prostitute (Ali's mother.) When she heard about that, Ali's mother went to see Fati's motherand a fioght ensued.

That fight caused the relations between the two families to deteriorate to the point that neither family now has any respect for the other.

Copyright © 1998 Mahaman Issaka

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An Unusual Wedding

Mahaman Issaka: 5/15/92

Last Monday morning my friend Kassoum sent for me and announced that he was calling together all his friends and relatives to celebrate his marriage. Everybody was surprised to hear that, because the first gathering of both the men and the women was to be held that very day and nobody was informed before, neither by radio nor by the newspaper. At eleven o'clock, the compound was already full of people talking about their surprise and their joy when they first heard that the oldest son of one of the most influential traders had at last found the girl of his choice and had decided to marry her.

More surprises were to come. We gave 100,000 CFA ($400) to the girls to organize their tomtom instead of the usual 25,000 CFA. They were also given six suitcases full of clothes and evening dresses, and two trunks containing shoes and cosmetics at the end of the meeting, whereas in the country the bridegroom gives only one suitcase and a calabash of shoes to the bridesmaids. In addition, the cocktail party was held in the conference room of the Hotel Gaweye, gathering four hundred guests of all professions: traders, students, officials, soldiers and workers.

To close the event, the newlyweds invited the young men and girls to dance till six o'clock in the morning at the Pacha night club. Before they went there, everyone went home to change their clothes, as did the rich young groom and bride. There were soft drinks everywhere all night long, and we enjoyed ourselves all week, eating and drinking.

It was indeed an innovation in the history of marriage ceremonies in Niamey.

Copyright © 1998 Mahaman Issaka

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Rivalry

Sani Dan Lamso: 12/9/91

There was a very beautiful girl in my village, named Yada. Everybody loved her. She was so good looking and gentle that all the young men wanted to marry her, and there was a great rivalry.

Every man wanted to show he that he would be her best future husband. Each man tried by all means to eliminate the others. Some spoke ill of the others, mostly about their background, saying that they were lepers, slaves, bastards, and so on. Every young man wanted to give more gifts to the girl's parents than the others. So Yada's parents' compound was always full of suitors.

To avoid fights between them, her parents thought it wise to invite all of them in their compound on a Saturday afternoon. When the young men had all arrived, Yada's parents asked their daughter to choose one boy that she loved more than the others. It was a tough contest. We--all the suitors (I among them)--were anxious and afraid of defeat. Fortunately, the girl chose me. I was so delighted that I didn't know how to thank her.

However, two weeks later, the marabout told me Yada's parents didn't want me to be their son-in-law because they had heard that I smoked cigarettes. This news shocked me very much. I even decided to kill myself, but at the end I changed my mind. I decided it wasn't necessary, since the girl still loved me.

But since that day I have stopped smoking!

Copyright © 1998 Sani Dan Lamso

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Parc W animal preserve, Tapoa, Niger, 1992

A Tragic Marriage

Iyo Ibrahim: 1/20/92

Two of my sisters were married to people they had never seen before the wedding. These events affected me so much that I decided to put an end to this kind of practice.

Even now, some people think that parents have the right and duty to find a husband or wife for their children. But times have changed, and behavior, especially the behavior of young people, has changed too.

In 1978, an uncle from Maradi met my father at the village on a market day. My uncle asked my father if they could marry their children, so that the family relation should be strengthened. They both agreed without even asking the boy and the girl concerned.

When my uncle's delegation came for the first (betrothal) ceremony, we young people were surprised to hear what was planned. We had to accept things as they were because we could not change the decision of the elders. They did everything according to the traditions.

A few months later the marriage itself was celebrated. The problem now was to see how the married couple would get along with each other. My sister was unhappy to find such an ugly man and refused to stay with him. The following day she left her house and went to an aunt's village far from her father's. She was sent back to her husband's house, but she left again, and this time she left the country and went to Nigeria. She was gone for years before we had news of her.

The situation was so bad that I decided to speak up. One day I called a meeting of the whole family and told them what I thought of such a marriage. I told them we were no longer living in the time when a parent chose a wife or husband for his child. I said they should let their children choose the person they wanted to marry.

As I finished talking an uncle stood up and started insulting me. He said that I had no right to speak to them in that way. He said I was their child and I was born in their hands, so was there anything that I could teach them? All the rest of the family agreed with that bold man except a cousin who was a student. When he intervened, the others were very surprised to hear such words from him. They said it was the white man's education that made us act like that. Then they all agreed to keep on doing what, according to them, would strengthen the family relationship. I mean, to force their children to marry people in the family circle.

My cousin and I agreed that we were beaten but we were sure that the truth would soon appear.

The disaster came when another sister of mine was forced to marry an uncle who lived not far from our village. This time, instead of running away like her eldest sister, she killed herself.

When I heard it, I told the elders to think anything they liked, but it was enough. I would not accept any more such marriages in the family.

I went to see some members of my family who I knew would understand my point of view. When I showed them the inhumanity of these sort of marriages, they agreed to meet the elders. They explained to the elders how bad it was to force someone to marry a person he had not chosen himself. After some hesitation the elders finally decided to not intervene in the young people's love affairs.

However, this was not the end of such practices. A few years later, when I was home for holiday, my family called a meeting. Around sunset my uncles and aunts began to gather in my father's compound. I did not understand why such an important meeting was held only a few days after my arrival.

My eldest uncle, Karim, was the spokesman. As I was going out, he called me and asked me to sit among them. I did no

t notice the presence of my father or mother at the meeting.

"If we meet today," said Karim, "it is to discuss your case. Here it is almost seven years that you have been working, Iyo. All the boys in your age group, and most of your younger brothers have already gotten married, but you are still a bachelor. If it comes that you die today, who will be your heir? My son, a man without a wife is like a big tree without fruits. We--your uncles and aunts--want you to decide which of our daughters you will take as wife."

I stood still, without knowing what to say to them. Finally I said that I did not mind those who got married. It was their business. But I had not planned to get married yet and it was out of the question to choose a relative as wife. My aunt Zara wanted to interrupt me, but Karim asked me to continue talking.

I informed them that I had already chosen the girl I wanted to marry and said I had been living with her for four years. I was waiting until she finished her studies to celebrate the marriage. Her name was Amina; she was from Doutchi.

When Zara started talking, she wondered why things were going so bad. "If we ask you to marry a girl from the family, it is for your own good and for the good of the family. All of us you see here, none of us decided who would marry; our parents decided it for us. We wish you to understand it and take advantage of the chance we gave you to choose your wife in the circle of the family," she said.

I told them that times have changed. Young as well as old people have to accept this fact. I wanted to choose my wife. It didn't matter where she was from.

"You are talking nonsense," said Moussa, another uncle. "We cannot let you marry a girl whose background nobody knows. Your father, your mother, as well as your uncles here, all have the same blood in their veins. This is to tell you that we dare not accept you bringing a stranger among us," he added.

I was determined to defend my case. I stuck to my position and asked them to stop the discussion. I wondered why my parents thought that their ways were the best. I told them that there was nothing they could do for me to replace the love I had for Amina.

Nobody spoke. My uncles and aunts gave up and left, one by one, as if to say "This is the end of a world, the world of our traditions and customs . . . ."

Copyright © 1998 Iyo Ibrahim

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Promise

Iyo Ibrahim: 3/9/92

Before he died, my uncle Ali called his only daughter and me, and advised us to be grateful to anyone who helped us, to be on our toes to face life, and never to think that life is easy.

To his daughter Mariama, he said that he wanted to see her choosing her husband freely, and to live peacefully among their children. Because of the old man's poor health, we realized that something terrible would happen, so when he allowed us to join our friends, we both burst into tears.

When his death was announced, his statements started to vibrate in my mind and his image occupied my thoguths. At that moment Mariama came to me whimpering. She seized my hand and swore that she would fulfill her father's wishes. "I will be very happy if it happens so, Cousin," I replied.

When mourning was over and the situation was normal again, Mary, (her common name) and a young man called Sami made friends. They seemed to be made for each other, and this was badly seen by those who were jealous. I myself saluted this action, because Mary was living this happiness her father wished her to have.

But it was an illusion, because her mother had already chosen another man for her. Unlike Sami, this one was rich, and sent presents to his so-called mother-in-law. He even promised to take her to Mecca as soon as the marriage was performed. That day Mariama decided to tell her mother that she too had made her choice according to the wish of her father. At this statement she was beaten furiously and her mother decided to stop her relationship with the other boy.

To show her disagreement with her mother, Mariama decided not to eat any food until her mother understaood her. When I asked Mary to run away from this treatment, she refused, and told me to remember her oath. That was the reason she would not let her mother choose a husband for her.

Finally I decided to intervene and told the mother what our uncle had said before he died. She responded by telling me she preferred her daughter to marry a wealthy man who could help her now that her husband was dead.

"But what use is a marriage in which one of partners does not like the other one, and why deny one's feelings?" I asked her.

My request confused her and she told me that I had nothing to do with her business. Since then I feel sorry for the victims of this kind of situation and solemnly condemn those who practice it.

Copyright © 1998 Iyo Ibrahim

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Hausa Marriage Ceremony

Abass Dawoui 5/25/92

I grew up among Hausa people, and I have had the opportunity to see how marriage is celebrated there.

Hausa people were very ethnocentric in the past; nobody from another ethnic group was allowed to ask for a Hausa girl's hand. They marry each other in order not to have "blood mixture," in their own words.

This is how the union of two young people begins: The family goes to ask for girl's hand; the young boy has nothing to do with it. The family obtains the agreement of girl and her family. Then the girl's family sets some amount of money as dowry.

Immediately a date will be fixed for the marriage, and within the allotted time the two families have the opportunity to get ready for the ceremony. When the delay is up, the bride and bridegroom will be transferred from their families to their relatives.

Copyright © 1998 Abass Dawoui

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Street scene, Niamey, Niger, 1992

Zeinabou

Hawa Moussa

Zeinabou was a beautiful lady. She was twenty years old when I knew her. She was by nature polite and kind, and she loved children.

Because of these qualities many gentlemen came to her as her suitors. Among them were Camara, the lawyer; Saminou, a teacher in Lycee Agbba; and El Hadji Adamou, a wealthy man in the village (Sarou). But among these gentlemen, Saminou was her choice.

However, El Hadji had corrupted Zeinabou's family. So when the day of her marriage came, her parents told her they had already chosen El Hadji as her husband.

El Hadji was as old as Zeinabou's father, Malam. And besides that, he had two wives and his first daughter Jakini was older than Zeinabou. All these led the girl to react negatively. But Malam was strict and his decision was irrevocable. Eventually Zeinabou was married to El Hadji in spite of her tears and her youth.

One Sunday, at night, Zeinabou disappeared. She left a note with an unfinished sentence on her bed: "If my parents had not imposed on me a husband ..." We found the same message in her parents' house and in Halima's house (Halima was one of her best friends).

Some of her clothes were found near Goubou (a very deep river). Later on, Ganuwa, while hunting, found her shoes and some of her dresses in front of a dark cave on a hill.

Zeinabou disappeared and left behind many interpretations: "If her parents had not imposed on her a husband, she ... ?"

Copyright © 1998 Hawa Moussa

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