Africa Speaks: Marriage 3

Young mother at Niger River ferry crossing, Niger, 1992

Contents: . . . Amina's Marriage . . . Polygamy . . . My Marriage . . . Child Bride . . .
Modern Marriage . . . home page

Amina's Marriage

Maman Issaka

A forced marriage occurs when a father gives his daughter away to a man of his choice, without consulting either the girl or her mother.

Some years ago, Abdou, a wise man in our village, decided, probably for prestige or personal benefit, to marry his daughter, Amina, to Ali, the senior brother of our village chief. Ali is old enough to be Amina's grandfather; he is about 75 years old.

Amina herself is very young and is as beautiful as a bee. In short, she is the most beautiful girl in the village. Seeing the number of suitors who paid her visits, among these some workers from town, no one thought that her husband would be from the local area.

The marriage of Ali and Amina took place, and only a couple of weeks after the wedding, life in the household became a scandal: Amina considered Ali as her grandfather and refused him as her husband. Everything went from bad to worse: Ali complained about how much money he had spent for the wedding. Amina's father wanted to force her to stay with her husband. Amina's mother protested energetically, which caused a divorce between the parents, and Amina's departure from the village.

From that day, no one saw her or knew what became of her. But wise men in the village, after many attempts, convinced Amina's father to reconcile with his wife, and then to let all his daughters choose their husbands on their own.

Ten months later, Amina came back home. She is now planning to be married to one of her suitors.

Copyright © 1998 Maman Issaka



Soumana Hamadou: 5/17/91

I come from a large family whose head, my father, has four wives. Except for my own mother, each of these women has many children. So the family is respected and feared because of its large size. This size reflects not only the wealth of my father but also his power. Except for me, every member is proud of living in such a family. Why am I not proud? What are the causes of the fears that lie in me? Why do I always condemn polygamy?

My mother is my father's first wife. Just after I was born, he married a second wife; she now has eleven children. Some years after, he married a third woman who now has five children.

The year I got through my baccalaureate, that is the General Certificate of Education (advanced level), my father celebrated the event by taking a fourth wife. Among all these wives, the fourth is the only one to have a modern education. She was my classmate when I was in primary school. She left school after failing to pass the BEPC. But when she came to Niamey, where I was in lycee, she frequently visited me, and that is how we fell in love with one another.

That was why I had some troubles with my father, when he announced to me that we would marry Zongo, that is the lady's name, to celebrate my success. I told him that he must not do so because he had many children to raise and that the best thing was to take care of those who already existed.

He became angry and told me that I have no say in such a matter, and he blamed modern education. He even made up his mind not to send any more of his children to school.

Another thing I have always in mind and which still affects me deeply is the climate I grew up in. As I had always been successful at school, the other wives of the family were jealous. Thus they always kept beating their children and blaming them for not being successful as I was. Sometimes the other people of the village, those who are said to love me and my mother, came in our house in order to advise me to be careful because of the jealousy of these women. Thus as a little boy I used to go and eat in my grandfather's compound. I spent all my free time there, receiving counsel or lessons and sometimes medicines. These medicines are said to protect me from harm by these jealous people. So it has a defensive purpose.

Grandfather also told me not to eat the meals prepared by these women. So whenever they brought some food to me, it was my mother who ate it. Often she gave the food to other people, frequently to the "talibets," that is the pupils of the Koranic school, who are required to pass from door to door in order to have their daily meal. Sometimes grandmother sent for my mother and advised her not to eat the meal, and it was thrown away.

Another sad thing is that my mother, having no other child except me, has been and is still at this time I am a writing these words, the dustbin of these women's bad words and spitefulness. Sometimes I am obliged to go home in order to tell her not to weep and to console her and to show the others that she has a son. I even try to persuade her that she had a son who is better than a hundred sons, this in allusion to my nickname Foma Zangu, meaning "one past one hundred."

Whenever I take a pen in order to write about polygamy, I tell myself that is better for me to fling the pen and crumple the paper, and cry like a little child punished by a cruel father. At the time I am writing these lines, my father lives in Ivory Coast, with his youngest wife--my former classmate--away from the cries of the little children, and away from the sorrows and mourning of the starving women that he left behind.

Readers, the pain is too much and I really can't go further than here unless I want to die.

Copyright © 1998 Soumana Hamadou


Well at garden project near Baleyara, Niger, 1992

My Marriage

Abba Soumaila Saidou: 3/92

I was twenty four years old when I started teaching. I did not have any idea of taking a wife. I did not intend to have one either. But my parents were planning to arrange a marriage without telling me and without my consent. They thought that the choice of a wife for me should follow the old fashioned way they used to choose wives for their sons. I decided to fight this issue, at the price of my banishment from the family.

So my father and I had our first meeting to debate the case. He told me that he and the elders had already chosen one of my cousins to become my wife, and all I had to do was obey them. He added that their criteria for choosing a wife were based on principles that are as old as the earth.

The first criterion is the girl's family background, the second her education and behavior. For the elders, beauty did not count much, nor did love. But I think that marriage is a very serious undertaking, which should not be left in the hands of old people, as it involves two people who are going to live together for ever, In this case, their opinions and judgments should be taken into consideration.

Marriage is related to real feelings of love, understanding, and respect for the beloved. It should not be an act of selfishness but an act of mutual interests. It is a voluntary and conscious step into a new world.

So I rejected the choice made by my parents by pointing out all the above elements which in my mind are essential to marriage. I told my father that I would marry the girl I chose and whom I loved.

Then my parents called a family meeting to discuss the matter. All my relatives gathered in my father's compound. The men sat on mats; women stayed indoors but in earshot.

My father stood up in the middle of the gathering and introduced the case before the assembly. He said the institutions they inherited from their ancestors are nowadays threatened by their own sons whom they had sent to the white man's school, to acquire knowledge but not to disobey them.

After my father's pleading for their old fashioned and conservative ways of setting a marriage issue, I was invited to speak. I stood up, greeting the assembly, and declared firmly that despite the respect I have for the gathering, I would not submit blindly to their will, I would marry when I want and who I love. A roar of protest and disapproval arose from the gathering.

Then slowly but surely I made my way through the assembly and went straight to my room. I collected my clothes, packed them in my suitcase, and left our compound.

After my departure, my mother wept bitterly. She even addressed the men's assembly; such a thing a woman was not supposed to do. She implored my father not to curse me though I had disobeyed him. Had my mother known, she would not have intervened because as a result of her conduct my father went so far as to repudiate her too.

After that time, my mother and I stayed in her father's compound for nearly two years. We waited, hoping the old man's wrath would abate, but the controversy over the marriage came to the surface again, and this time in a more impassioned manner.

Finally for the sake of my mother and to safeguard my family ties, I was engaged, and a week later the marriage was celebrated with a great feast...

Copyright © 1998 Abba Soumaila Saidou


Farm near Niger river, toward Kolo, Niger 1992

Child Bride

Abdou Tanimoun: 4/6/92

I was talking with my friends about marriage in Africa, and particularly in Niger. We told our own opinion of marriage, and when and how we would get married. Almost all of us were against the kinds of marriage practiced in our villages. Each one gave an example. Like most of my friends, the example I gave was a marriage that failed.

When I was about fifteen years old, I had a friend, Adamou. He was two years older than I was. We were very close, and always discussed together our personal problems, to find appropriate solutions.

One day we were to face the most serious problems we had ever met. It was about the question of marriage. Adamou's family had decided to marry him to one of his cousins. That night, I remember, we stayed awake till morning, discussing. But we could not find any solution, since we could not face the parents. He did not love the girl. He did not choose her. But he could not do anything.

We decided that Adamou would never come to the girl's house, and never offer her a gift. Maybe her parents would understand, and change their decision. But they did not, because the boy's opinion had no value.

The wedding days came closer and closer, and nothing could be done to avoid it. The marriage was celebrated and the girl came into Adamou's house. As she was his cousin, he knew her from before, but for me, that was the first time I saw her. What a pity, I thought. She was so innocent and so small that I could not imagine. She could not do any housework. Day after day, I noticed that my friend changed. He became sad: his life was completely disturbed, and his wishes had failed. It was an uneasy time.

One day we met together. Adamou told me that the situation was more serious than we had imagined. The bride urinated while sleeping, and this made the beds and the whole room smell. Then he told me that he was planning to leave the village and stay away as long as the "wife" was there.

That day, he reminded me of some themes we had discussed in class: that forced marriages led young men to exodus and girls to prostitution. I was at a loss. I tried to do something to make him change his mind. Together we decided that he would stay, but never sleep at home, or more exactly, never sleep in the same room with the girl.

In short, the "wife" was really a child. All she did was cause disorder. I was amused one day when I found Adamou very angry because his "wife" had taken his pen, picked out the tube, and poured out the ink. How funny!

Finally we went to see my father and asked him to go to Adamou's family and tell them that their son could no longer bear that life. At that time all the village was informed of the story of that girl. Finally, the marriage was annulled. The two young people separated.

As a consequence, the relationship between the two families became bad. The girl's family accused the boy's parents, and said that they were not able to make their son accept what they wanted. And my friend got in trouble with his family: his parents told him that he had dishonored them.

Copyright © 1998 Abdou Tanimoun


Modern Marriage

Chaibou Abou: 5/11/91

Young Africans who are educated in the "white man's schools" possess knowledge of other societies, and thus want to see changes occurring in African societies. They try to get rid of the negative requirements of the traditions.

On the other hand, the Elders are dead set against any kind of change in traditional society. This leads to a perpetual conflict between the elders and the new generation.

I remember one conflict--among so many others--that opposed the youth and the elders of the village. It was about marriage: Yacouba, one of our fellows, was asked by his parents to marry Amina, the girl they had chosen for him. Yacouba was only sixteen years old at that time. According to the traditions, young people do not have the right to choose their lover. Their parents choose for them.

One day, Goje' called his son, Yacouba, and said to him: "We have chosen Amina to be your wife. Now, all you have to do is to get ready for the wedding. Yes, the traditions require it."

At once, Yacouba gathered us (the students of the village) and told us about the matter. We discussed it all night, and our eventual decision was: Yacouba should not marry Amina whatever may be the cost, because one cannot marry a girl he doesn't love, just because his parents want him to do so.

Being informed of our decision, the elders decided to call a meeting the following day. Early in the morning, the street crier started shouting in the lanes of the village asking all the people to gather at the public place in the dead center of the village.

When all the inhabitants of the village gathered, one of the elders, Mai Wake', stood up to harangue the crowd. "Listen," he said. "We, the Elders Committee, have something to share with you. The laws that have stood in our society since the beginning of things are now being threatened by this cursed generation."

He pointed at the young people. The crowd was startled, and grew eager to hear the rest of the story.

Mai Wake' continued: "Yacouba, son of Goje', refuses to marry the girl his parents have chosen for him. Now, listen to Madougou for the decision we have taken concerning this matter."

Modougou stood, cleared his throat, and began: "Yacouba, son of Goje', is no longer one of ours. He is to be expelled from our society. Whoever does not follow the rules set by our ancestors is not worthy to live with us."

The crowd (except the young people) shouted and clapped their hands to show their approval.

When the crowd was silent, Madougou continued: "You young people, you need to know that the ways of the white man are not our ways. So let what is white be white and what is black be black, and stick to our traditions. Our last word is, once more, that Yacouba is no longer a member of this society; yes, the traditions require it. Now the meeting is over."

We young people argued that Yacouba must not leave the village, because he has the right to choose his lover

Copyright © 1998 Chaibou Abou


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