Igbo marriage as a communalist system: a critical analysis
This work studies lgbo marriage as a communalist system. Marriage has a foremost place in African social economy. In the same manner, marriage has a significant value particularly in lgbo traditional culture. The lgbo conceive marriage as fundamentally natural, divine and a social institution. Igbo marriage institution is marked by extensive prohibitions on union between close relatives and the use of marriage obligations to interlink basic social groups within numerous and widely scattered communities. In lgbo society, marriage involves not only interpersonal relations but also in the final analysis intercommunity relations. The community defines the limits, the functions and the use of marriage. Marriages are contracted within the communities which bear witness to the contract and offer them guidance and directives. Today, the common experiences related to how people engage in marriage activities among the lgbo show that the younger generation has lost some of these cultural values, which characterize marriage. There are a lot of western influences among the contemporary lgbo people which have contributed to the neglect of these vital values in lgbo culture. Presently, some lgbo young men and women marry without the consent of their parents or community. The rate of divorce has steadily increased in our society and many young lgbo consider marriage as a private matter rather than a communal affair. In this work, we shall employ analysis to expose and sieve out how lgbo systems of marriage reflect their communal life system. By analysis, I mean a systematic examination and evaluation of information by breaking it into its components. Today, some of these cultural values have been lost by contemporary lgbo people. This development in one way or the other has diminished the communalist values that exist in the lgbo system of marriage, which is known for bringing people, families and communities together. Therefore, this work reveals that the old way of contracting marriage in the lgbo traditional society is dying away and some foreign culture is gradually replacing it. It is important to state that this development is detrimental to the continuation of the ideal among the people.
1.1 BACKGROUND OF STUDY
One of the principal characteristics of the African culture and in particular the Igbo society is the obvious fact that they are communalist in nature. This very view embodies the substance of the beingness of Africans or Igbo people. It is the quintessential aspect of what or who they are. “It is a system of social order in which among other things, the supremacy of community is culturally and socially entrenched, society is hierarchically ordered, life is sacrosanct, and religion is a way of life.”[i] It is a life system in which each one is an integral part of the whole, and derives his or her identity in the context of the community. This socio-cultural system of living embraces the whole aspect of individual persons in Igbo society, including their marriage activities.
In the Igbo society, marriage is not an activity of one person, as the adage goes that Ofu onye anaghi alu nwayi na ala Igbo (marriage is not an affair of one person). It is a matter of the community most particularly the family or the clans of those involved. These are the organs of the community who take decision on who to marry, which family to marry from and even decide at what age one should marry or not to marry.
This indicates that an individual, a young man or woman does not take the law into his or her hands, to make a deliberate decision with regard to this matter. The community is involved in the decisions concerning marriage in order to preserve the communalist values that are therein. Thus, marriage is something considered valuable and important that every care is taken in order not to make a wrong choice in terms of the person, family or community. As a result of this, people do not marry anyhow in order to preserve the cultural values of the community, especially in terms of inter-relationship involved in marriage, which expresses in a holistic sense of brotherhood and openness.
Today, the common experiences related to how people engage in marriage activities among the Igbo show that the younger generation has lost some of these cultural values, which characterize marriage. There are a lot of external or western influences among the contemporary Igbo people which have contributed to the neglect of these vital values in Igbo culture. In the present day, there are many cases in which some Igbo people young men and women marry abroad, specifically with white people without the consent of their parents or the community. Others engage in the court marriage, while others only meet in the church and marry themselves there exclusively by their own consent. Most awful are those who live together breeding children without any form of marriage
Sad enough, in the Igbo contemporary societies the above mentioned cases are spreading like a harmattan fire .And as such, this development in one way or the other has diminished the communalist values that exist in the Igbo system of marriage, which is known for bringing people, families and communities together as brothers and sisters sharing the same value system. Based on these abnormalities discovered in modern circumstances of marriage in the Igbo society, we are motivated into choosing this topic: “Igbo Marriage as Communalist System: A Critical Analysis.”
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
lgbo Marriage is a formal union of a man and a woman, the extended families, the kindred, and the two families involved. Marriage in Igbo society has undergone tremendous changes due to modernity and western influences. Today, marriage institution in Igbo culture is almost a mere shadow of its old self. Contacts with other cultures have influenced the Igbo cultural values thereby changing them drastically. As a result of the spirit of individualism introduced by modern influences, it is no longer news in lgbo land that young girls engage in marriage without the due consent of their family or the community. People today consider marriage as a private matter rather than a communal affair. The rate of divorce has steadily increased in our society today. Traditional lgbo family values break rapidly due to modernism and western influences. Looking at the changes and the extent to which they have affected traditional Igbo family life, the questions that loom large are; what actually is the nature of marriage in Igbo traditional setting? Does it have any communalist character? If it does in the affirmative, is it still obtainable today? How can such traditional value be revived in modern Igbo society devastated by external influences? Thus, this research shall make an attempt to respond to these questions in order to bring out these traits of communalism in Igbo traditional marriage.
Hence, to elucidate on the means by which such inherent values that make Igbo marriage system truly peculiar can grow irrespective of the modern day influences. The lgbo society is undoubtedly communalist in nature, exhibited in their various life styles, including their marriage life. Thus, it is obvious that the influences from the external culture have introduced a lot of error in the system. Communalism in lgbo marriage cannot be denied irrespective of the shifts in its original nature as obtainable today.
1.3 PURPOSE OF STUDY
The objective of this research work is to examine the nature of marriage in the Igbo traditional society. And above all to highlight the communalist values therein, which have made marriage in Igbo cultural setting distinct from other cultures and also to deepen this value in modern Igbo society devastated by the influences of the external cultures. This aim is solely important, since it shall also highlight the values of African communalism that are characterized by brotherhood, co-operation, and spirit of being-with.
1.4 SCOPE OF STUDY
The scope of this research work shall concentrate in making a critical analysis of the nature of marriage and communalism, in Igbo cultural society; within the ambience of Africa social and political philosophy. It shall further occupy itself with the exposition of the notions of marriage, communalism, their various types, in order to bring out the relevance of marriage and communalism in modern Igbo cultural society.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
It is anticipated that at the full realization of this research work, it will re-inculcate in the Igbo people to appreciate the value of marriage and the brotherhood that is involved in it. It will also strengthen people who are already in marriage to appreciate these communalist values. This research work to a reasonable extent shall educate the younger generation, especially those who are influenced by external cultures or orientation to appreciate the values in Igbo culture. In this same manner, it shall give a new perspective to various families, communities and all other cultural groups in the Igbo world on the need to rediscover the spirit of communalism among the new generation. It shall encourage both the young and the old in going back to our true cultural values which identify us as real Igbo people, instead of living in the mistaken identities, due to western influences. On the other hand, it shall be of help to many Igbo; who have made the mistake of considering marriage as an individual matter; to appreciate the communalist values and their benefits as Igbo people. It will equally help students of philosophy, sociology and anthropology to imbibe this value especially in acquiring a good citizenship education.
The work shall employ the method of analysis to explore the nature of marriage and communalism in the Igbo traditional society. This method involves breaking down philological issues, it shall be applied in this work to analyse the nature of marriage in lgbo culture, and its communalist characteristics. This work is made up of six chapters. Chapter one comprises the background, statement of problem, purpose, scope, significant, methodology of studies; and the definition of the key terms used in this work. Chapter two will be reviewing literatures that are relevant to the topic under review. Chapter three examines the structure of marriage in Igbo society. Chapter four shall consider the concept of communalism, types and characteristics of Igbo communalism. Chapter five shall then deal with communalism in lgbo marriage. Lastly, chapter six shall concentrate on the evaluation and conclusion of the work.
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Marriage as a universal concept is a term which has been attributed with a lot of definitions. Marriage is a universal social institution and one of the major roles in the transition to adulthood. Marriage is a union between adult male and female, who are free without any compulsion, are joined together as husband and wife for the purpose of companionship and procreation. Moreover, it means a lot to various people according to culture, social or religious backgrounds.
Adrian Lam in his article; The Concept of Marriage, defines marriage as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.”[ii] While Havilland William added that, “Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people called spouse that establishes rights and obligations between the spouses, between the spouses and their children, and between the spouses and their in-laws.[iii] The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. In many cultures, marriage is formalized via a wedding ceremony. It is also a union between a man and a woman such that the children born by the woman are recognized legitimate offspring of both partners.[iv]
The term ‘communalism’ etymologically stems from the Latin word “communalis’ meaning “shared or owned in common”. In French language, it is “commune” which means to “share”. An interpretation of these etymological views show that two or more people are involved since one person alone cannot engage in the act of sharing. So, since two or more people are involved, it then means that there will be a consensus to share. This agreement to share when accomplished ensures a bond or cohesion. No wonder Nze opined that “communalism is not a social movement; it is not a crowed or mass behavior. It is a pattern of living which guarantees social solidarity and cohesion. It has a unifying strength and it can unite families, towns, countries, continents and the world.”[v] The above meaning of communalism places it as a global idea which gears toward a unity of purpose. This therefore informs us that communalism is a societal system where in oneness everybody is entitled to a right and duty to contribute and share in a common life of the society.
However, communalism according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is the” belief in or practice of communal ownership, as of goods and property or a strong devotion to the interest of one own minority or ethnic group rather than those of society as a whole.”[vi] Collins English Dictionary on other hand defines communalism as:
a system or theory of government in which the state is seen as the loose federation of self-governing communities or as an electoral system in which ethnic groups vote separately for their own representatives. Secondly, as paying loyalty to the interests of one’s own ethnic group living or ownership? Communalism’ as the process of collectivization; communalism is the process of forming collective communities where property and resources are owned by the community and not individuals. And in the progression of communalization it is the process of communalizing, or forming communes, where property and resources belong to the community and not individual. While in communitarian, it is a communal system based on cooperative groups that practice some of the principle of communalism.[vii]
Communalism, for Iroegbu, means “a theory of a just society in which the community is the foundation of the political life, and in which the autonomy of the members of the community is assured.”[viii] For him, the basic element in the definition is the community and the individuality of which none is contract with the other. However, the various understandings of the term ‘communalism’ underlines the key characteristics of a human community namely: mutual participation and equal sharing of certain fundamental values or goods in the community. According to Ekennia, “the term communalism as is associated with African social life has a political origin; it becomes famous in the 1960’s during the period of struggles for independence from the western colonizers.”[ix]
Prior to this period, Africa had no particular theory or ideology. He holds that any description given to the social and political life was by their colonizers.
To buttress this point, Mbonu holds that “you have to dig dip to the mind of Africans to know their social system. We never thought of it in terms of theories. Our fathers never discussed it or wrote about it. But we can describe the mechanics of our society.”[x] With this, it is noticed that the practice of communalism is as old as Africa but the term is not. The meaning of communalism as we have exposed, when viewed from the African way of living tends to portray that which has the entire ingredients of what makes a communalism.
Expostulating on communalism as pattern or mode of living in Africa, Onyibor defined African communalism as:
African communalism can be described as a traditional mode of being in African community characterized by human communal living. It is a way of life emphatically centered on human interest and values; which stress on oneness and unity of purpose: Communalism tries to strike a balance between man, his community and environment. It does this through the application of two principles namely; harmony and participation.[xi
The south-eastern part of Nigerian is the home of the Igbo speaking people. They constitute almost 100%of the population of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states and about 30 to 50% of the populatio
n of Delta and River states. Being highly mobile and itinerant, the Igbo people are found in significant numbers in all major cities of Nigeria, as well as in other parts of the world. The Igbo language itself is highly dialectical. Thus one can expect variation in certain rites and practices from one part of Igbo land to another; birth, marriage and death are rites that are held in great esteem among Ndi Igbo.
The word culture has no univocal definition. It is commonly define as the people’s way of life. Meaning the way they do things. Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.[xii] Culture is also defined as “the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.”[xiii]
Culture is passed on from one generation to another, through learning, transmitted in peoples writing, religion, music, clothes, cooling, and in what they do. Culture is more than just material goods, that is things the culture uses and produces. Culture is also the beliefs and values of the people in that culture. Culture also includes the way people think about and understand the world and their own lives. Thus, “Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.”[xiv]
It is mankind’s primary adaptive mechanism.[xv] From a common ground culture is that which characterize a particular group of people and their very ways of life which differentiates them from other people.
The word ‘tradition’ itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safe keeping. A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning on special significance with origins in the past. Edward Stills in his book Tradition, define tradition as anything which is transmitted or hand down from the past to the present.[xvi] It is an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom).[xvii] However, tradition is considered as a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.
It is the final ceremony to consummate the marriage in Igbo culture. It takes place in the bride’s family compound. The guest list from both the grooms and brides families is often unlimited. Depending on the resources of the two families, several hundreds or even thousands of people come to witness the occasion.
The entire extended family system, going as far back as they know is invited. Both the groom and bride would normally invite their friends, colleagues and co-workers in addition to members of their respective extended families. As is the case with other rites that come before lgba Nkwu, some communities specify items that the groom must present to the bride’s family. These would include kolanuts, palm wine and other assorted drinks, heads of tobacco, snuff, cloths, jewellery etc. For the bride’s family, it is also the occasion to show their love and care for their daughter. The brides compound is typically decked up for the event with extra chairs and tables brought in for the numerous guests expected. Oftentimes, dance groups and musicians are in attendance to entertain the audience.