By Dr Nii Armarh Aryeh
In ancient times marriage was formalised with the approval and participation of the head of family. It normally linked the extended family to other extended families both within and without the quarter; it was therefore vital both for social cohesion and for bringing new members to the extended family through the process of kpodziemó or out-dooring. Among the Gá-Dángme marriage is a union of a man and a woman to live as husband and wife within the rules of traditional law, including the potentially polygamous character of the marriage transaction.
To be valid, traditional law marriage required the following:
Status of the parties;
Consent of the parties
Consent of the of the parents or persons in loco parentis;
Gifts or bride wealth; and the marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity.
To contract a valid marriage the parties should be of the appropriate age and status. Girls are usually considered ready for marriage once they complete their education or apprenticeship. In the olden days many girls married as soon as they attained the age of puberty, but the practice is now generally frowned upon. Men may marry once they complete their apprenticeship or have learnt a trade and are capable of independently generating their own income. However, many men choose to acquire some basic property before contracting a marriage.
As individuals remain firmly within the structure of the extended family, the extended families often exercise enormous control over the young unmarried person. The parents of a young man frequently influence his choice of wife, sometimes even recommending a particular girl whose character and family are well-known to them.
Should either or both parents be dead, or should they be incapable of properly acting on behalf of their son an influential uncle or prominent figure in the figure may take it upon himself to contract a marriage for the young man. Such an individual frequently continues to exercise some influence over the young couple, often advising them on matrimonial problems and counselling them on how to raise their children.
The agreement of the parties to marry is usually a straightforward matter, providing there are both of ages and can support themselves financially. In that case, if a man wishes to take a girl as wife he initially requires her consent. If such consent is forthcoming, the man then approaches the girl's family either directly or through persons acting on his behalf. The family's consent may be withheld for a number of reasons: they may feel themselves socially superior to the man and his family; that the man is incapable of supporting their daughter; or simply object to some factor in the man's background.
The man's initial approach to the family of the girl is known as the shibimo; it the Gá-Dángme equivalent of the English banns. The shibimo advertises to relatives and the world that a woman has been promised to a particular man. The girl is discreetly advised to be less familiar with adults of the opposite sex.
Once the shibimo has been carried out, the man my take a number of other steps to conclude the marriage. He first gets his family to present two sets of gifts to the woman's family: the agbo-shimó (literally, "request to enter") and ebaa-tsee (literally, "fig-leaf") gifts. The agbo-shimo shifts simply puts the girl's family on notice of the man's intention of marrying her; and ebaa-tsee further puts potential suitors on notice of the fact that the girl has been promised to someone else the girl advertises the ebaa-tsee to others may by habitually appearing in public in adult attire and adorning herself jewels given by the man.
Once the above stages have been completed a date may be fixed for the ga-woo or engagement. The ga-woo represents a firm encroachment of English ideas on Gá-Dángme notions of marriage, the Bible and gold ring being the principal gifts. The Bible indicates the man's intenetion to convert the traditional marriage into a Christian marriage should his future circumstances allow. In the meantime, however, it remains a potentially polygamous traditional marriage; and the man enter into further marital relationships with other women. In practice, the wife's consent may be necessary for further marriages, although the traditional law does not strictly require it.
The gá-woo proper is an all-women's affair; one set of women carry over gifts from the family house or residence of the man to the family house of the girl where they are met and entertained by another set of women. If the girl belongs to the Krobo sub-group of the Dángme, a small stool is included in the gifts. this symbolises the stabilising role of the wife in ensuring that the matrimonial home becomes the seat of the new family and a point to which the children may always return in later life.
Once the ga-woo has been successfully carried out in this way the women return home rejoicing and carrying sundry tokens of the happy occasion. Thereafter the couple may freely co-habit and consummate the marriage without undergoing a wedding or kpeemo. In the present age most-weddings are celebrated in church. In the past the traditional Gá-Dángme wedding was celebrated at the residence of the wulomo. The parties dressed in white, the national colour of the Gá-Dángme and were accompanied to the wulomo's shrine by relatives and friends. The high priest administered the shibimo shiwo vows to them and sprinkled water on them ritually.
The shibimo vow consisted of a series of undertakings by the couple to strive continually for the success of the new relationship; to bring up their children righteously; to devote themselves daily to the intellectual and moral development of the children; and to jointly work hard and ceaselessly to make the children the proud possessors of a worthy heritage.
The above is generally the procedure for contracting marriage to a maiden, but there are exceptional situations. The first is the marriage of an elderly couple; frequently such persons have no desire to attract the publicity of a public event to themselves. There is therefore usually only a discreet exchange of gifts between the extended families.
However, where a woman co-habits with a man merely as a mistress or jolley she may not expect any special treatment by the man's extended family. This has not stopped several women from openly parading themselves as the mistresses of particularly wealthy men, and probably hoping thereby to come into some property at a future date.
If the mistress is sufficiently wily she may get the man to lavish expensive gifts and ornaments on her; gifts made to such women, being tokens of love, are not recoverable upon the termination of the relationship. A variation of the jolley theme is where a man takes a sweet-heart or lorbi and discreetly maintains her during the subsistence of his own marriage. The rights of the lorbi are the same as those of the jolley; however, gifts inter vivos to a jolley or lorbi are valid.
Another exception occurs where a girl is discovered to be with child prior to marriage. In that case the family makes careful enquiry of the girl. Once it has been established that a particular individual is responsible for the pregnancy, his family is approached. If they consult their son and thereafter accept responsibility, agbo-shimo and ebaa-tsee gifts my be presented, entitling the man's family to claim the child.
The Gá-Dángme does not demand expensive gifts as bride wealth. Two basic forms of marriage are contracted depending on the size of the gift: two-cloth marriage and six-cloth marriage. A two-cloth marriage results from a marriage transaction conducted in the normal way. A six-cloth marriage is a different affair; the man usually announces that he intends the marriage to be a six-cloth marriage and therefore offers thrice the bride wealth demanded in an ordinary marriage. The wife of a six-cloth marriage acquires special status; should the husband contract any further marriages she is considered the senior and privileged wife. The children of a six-cloth marriage tend to have special prerogatives in the enjoyment of the father's property during his life-time.
To be valid, a traditional marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity recognised by the people. Because of existing rules of exogamy, individuals may not marry a wide class of persons, including cousins, the siblings of step-sisters and brothers, uterine brothers and sisters and their children.
The traditional drink or nma-daa (millet-drink, but now invariably made from corn) together with imported schnapps or gin play an essential part in the marriage transaction; without it no traditional marriage can be said to have been properly conducted. Bottles of schnapps and gin accompany the emissaries who first apprise the girl's family of the marriage proposal.
Various items may be represented by sums of money and handed over to the girl's family in addition the man may present a special gift such as a sewing machine to his prospective wife. Nma-daa is used as a celebratory drink, drank particularly at the conclusion of each stage of the marriage transaction.
Once a marriage has been successfully concluded, the girl either goes to reside with the man or co-habits with him on appointed days. The later is normally the case where the man has other wives. The children of the marriage, although members of the extended family of the man, also play a role in the mother's extended family. During their youth the children may reside with either parent, if both parents do not share a common residence. However, where the father owns property they may reside there, particularly during adolescence and while learning a trade.
During the subsistence of the marriage the husband remains the head of the household, and is under obligation to bring the children up according to the moral precepts of the Gá-Dangme. He must protect the family from physical danger; inculcate the values of the community in the children, particularly boys; instruct them and ensure their intellectual development; and secure their futures financially.
On the birth of each child he or she is formally afflicted to the father's extended family through the kpodziemó or outdooring ceremony. On that occasion members of the child's maternal and paternal families assemble in the courtyard of the parent's house or the ancestral home. The purpose of the gathering is to formally introduce the child to the lineage and to the community. He or she is given a name derived from the father's line. The Gá-Dángme maintains an alternate generation system of nomenclature; as a rule children are given the names of the grandfather and those of the grandfather’s brothers and sisters. Also, a child may be given a day name or the name of an illustrious ancestor.
Other aspects of the kpodziemó ceremony are to bless the child and to offer prayers for his success in life and longevity. A man or woman of exemplary character is usually selected to perform the blessing ceremony for the child; children are often said to take after the personality and qualities of the individual who performs the ceremony.