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"The moment we [Africans] lost our languages was also the moment we lost our bodies, our gold, diamonds, copper, coffee, tea." - Ngugi wa Thiong'o

A woman marries a man in European/Christian tradition whereas it is a man that marries a woman In Igbo/African Traditions – The Fallout

Ephesians 5:31 of the Christian bible states; - "…a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is purely European tradition. Therefore, if a man leaves his father and mother to join his wife, it invariably means that he has left his father’s house to go and live with his wife in her own house. The woman has married him.

But in Igbo/African tradition, it is the woman that leaves her father and mother to join her husband and the two will become one. Hence, it is the man that marries the woman. This particularly makes sense considering that Ephesians 5:23 states: “for the husband is the head of the wife…”

So if the husband is the head it is reasonable to assume that the subordinate will have to join the head in his own house. Or could it be possible for someone to be the head in another person’s house?

However, in Europe the marriage starts when a man proposes to the woman, though this trend is changing now as some women have started proposing to men. The man is expected to go on his kneel to make that marriage proposal. If the woman accepts, the next thing will be the marriage ceremony.

It is similar in African tradition. The man makes the marriage proposal but will never do that on his kneel. He is the head; why should he then kneel for his wife? Rather it is the wife that kneels during the introduction of her future husband to her extended family. She kneels to take a cup of wine from her father, and then kneels to present the cup of wine to her future husband. This is a symbolic way of presenting/introducing her future husband to her family.

The only time that the husband kneels is after accepting the cup of wine from his wife; and at the presence of his father in-law; he kneels together with his wife and drinks the wine. This is also a symbolic way for the man to officially ask the permission of the bride’s father to take his daughter as his wife.

Thereafter, the husband is told what it will take to make the woman his wife. He will have to pay dowry; settle every entitlement that is due to every segment of the community and bear the total cost of the traditional wedding ceremony, etc. Afterwards he can proudly call himself a married man. Thence, he’ll own the bride and her belongings including any child she had out of wedlock, if the man wishes.

Unlike in African tradition, it is the bride’s family that cater for the cost of the European/Christian wedding ceremony. That means that the bride family is marrying the man, contrasting the African tradition. As it is said; ‘who pays the piper calls the tune’. So the man is taken to a church or to a marriage registry where he is the first to say ‘I do’ and the first to sign the marriage register, and the first to ‘tie the nuptial’, at this point, the man is fully tied.

In the end the marriage certificate will be handed over to the wife signifying that henceforth; she owns the husband - after all he has left his father’s house to join his wife. Everything that the husband owns from now on belongs to the wife. If there’s a divorce, the woman is very likely to have custody of the children and keep the family home despite that it was the man who bought the house.

While in African wedding; during divorce it is the man that gets custody of the children and the family home because the woman left her father’s house to join her husband. Now, she has to go back to her father’s house she left in the first place. But there’s a catch here. The table can turn if the woman had played a good wife before her in-laws. Smart wives play this card. And thus, the husband will find it very difficult to divorce the woman, except she wants it. As the husband's family will always protect 'a good wife' - not even a second wife would be allowed even though the man is entitled to it in African traditional marriage. 

It is pertinent that African traditional wedding ceremony and European Christian wedding ceremony is differentiated. It is obvious that most African men don’t fully realise the implication of involving in a Church or registry wedding – you are married by your wife in this instance. And by so doing, your marriage is governed by the European law, which happened to be the basis of all the African civil laws.

Nevertheless, African traditional wedding is regulated by customary laws. And customary law is recognised by the Nigerian constitution, if you live in Nigeria. However, it is usually the wives who request for church/registry weddings, perhaps because they know that their rights are well protected under English law. But their husbands oblige them believing that it is the only way of proving their marriages before the law.

Your African traditional wedding is conducted under the customs and traditions of the people, which are enforced by the customary courts. And the customary courts are recognised by the constitution. All you have to do is to register your traditional wedding at your local government council and a traditional marriage certificate will be issued. By so doing, it becomes searchable and confirmable by interested authorities. It will serve the same purpose as the marriage certificate issued by a Church or a Marriage Registry.

As an African, now that you know the difference between Igbo/African traditional wedding and European Church/Registry wedding; would you want to marry your wife or allow your wife to marry you? For your information, if your marriage is contracted under customary law as well as English law; English law supersedes. The decision is yours.