Friday, June 24, 2016

Customary Marriage in Ghana and the UK by Gladys Abaaween and Stephen Ramsden

Marriage is known to be the union between two people who have agreed to come into union, after passing or going through all the procedures recognized in a society for the purpose of mutual help, companionship, child bearing etc. In both countries, marriage does not only unite two people, but also unites the two families together as one, and it does not also matter whether you are abled or disabled, which means it serve the same purpose.

Marriage is regarded as a very important thing in the lives of all Ghanaians. People who attain a certain age (30 and above) and are not married can often be looked down upon by others, including even their family. There is a societal pressure on marriage, as it is viewed as important in such a way that it promotes peace and unity, enhances love, provides a ground for procreation, mutual assistance, legitimacy to sex, and is also seen to raise the social status of the individual, to mention but a few. In the UK, although still viewed by many as important, the circumstances are different. Marriage can be at any age, however it is more common to get married at an older age (the average being 32 years old).  It is uncommon for someone to look down on you if you are not married as it is seen as your choice.

Customary marriage, which under law is between a man and woman, forms the basis of all marriages in Ghana. By this, it is meant that individuals who wish to take any other types of marriage, such as marriage under ordinance or religious marriage, must first go through customary marriage processes, which means getting the agreement of both the respective parents of husband and wife. The following are the customary marriage processes or preparations that couples will have to go through in their respective countries between a man and woman (UK and Ghana) not including religious practices:

First of all, a formal request must be made by the prospective husband for the hand of the woman in marriage, usually, his father goes to the family of the women on behalf of his son to ask for the lady’s hand in marriage. In the UK, marriage is usually initiated by a proposal of marriage, simply called "a proposal", although some prospective husbands may also still ask the women’s father for his permission to marry her. The man traditionally proposes to the woman and the actual proposal often has a ritual quality, involving the presentation of a ring (an engagement ring) and the formalized asking of a question such as "Will you marry me?". The man may even go down on one knee before proposing. If the proposal is accepted, the couple become engaged. Interestingly, in the UK, the 29th February (in a leap year) is said to be the one day (coming round only once every four years) when a woman can propose to her partner!

In Ghana, the second phase of marriage preparation is family investigation, where the would-be groom (man) and bride (woman) set themselves the tasks of knowing the background of each family, this is where certain questions are answered on issues concerning serious or genetic diseases such as leprosy, epilepsy etc. This second phase is unique to Ghana, and does not occur in the UK.

Thirdly, in Ghana, there is period of courtship whereby the couple-to-be study themselves and get to know each other much better, including their likes or dislikes, interests etc. During this period, the would-be couple can be presented formally as a couple, but are not permitted to engage in sexual intercourse. However, more young people in Ghana are now having sexual intercourse before marriage during this stage of their relationship. In comparison, a period of courtship in the UK usually takes place before an engagement as boyfriend and girlfriend, and celibacy is becoming less commonplace.

Following this, in Ghana, a knocking ceremony would take place. This ceremony is only initiated when the couple are both satisfied that they are compatible with each other, and can be together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the groom, along with his father and some elder members of the family, visits the brides’ house to announce their marriage intentions. The groom’s family would then ‘knock at the door’, and this process often involves the presentation of gifts/items, depending on the tribe or ethnic group, often including cola nuts, drinks, and a dowry (financial payment). This process is not commonplace in the UK, although traditionally a dowry may be paid in some instances.
Lastly, registration of marriage would take place. In Ghana, this is a recently developed situation, and is followed mostly by those who are religious (such as Christians and Muslims) as a final stage of getting married. In the UK, marriage registration would also take place, but it can be both religious and/or legal (recognized by law). In fact, the marriage ceremony itself in Ghana and the UK is quite similar. After a marriage, it is commonplace in both cultures to traditionally hold a reception that involves cutting the cake, and even going on honeymoons!

Here at the LIFE project, we engage the issue of marriage through our boys and girls club. We educate young people on the importance of legal marriage in our culture and how safe sex can prevent pressure to marry due to unplanned pregnancies.

Overall, whilst there are differences between our cultures in terms of marital practice, we have learnt that Ghanaian and UK marriage are both valuable, as they both demonstrate the love a couple have for each other.

By Gladys Abaaween and Stephen Ramsden

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