Traditional forms of marriage…. when Western values eroded our ways


LONG before the coming of whites in Africa, Africans had their ways and systems that ensured communities thrived.
Unfortunately, though Africa has been liberated from Western political domination, it is now being dominated by Western and Eastern ideological neo-colonialism.
Western prestige, Western know-how, Western technology, Western methods have permeated every aspect of African societies.
For instance, the coming of the whites led to undermining of various traditional practices.
One of the most affected was the marriage practice.
Traditionally the Shona had various forms of marriage that were designed to guarantee social cohesion.
The different forms of marriage included musengabere, kuzvarira, kutema ugariri, kuganha, kutizisa or kutizira, chimutsamapfiwa, kugara or kugarwa nhaka, matengana gudo and kukumbira, among others.
According to Caroline Mucece Kithinji, in a paper titled Impact of colonialism on traditional African marriage among the Igoji people of Kenya: “With the coming of colonialism, traditional African marriage practices of betrothal and courtship, dowry payment and the actual marriage ceremony are changing with no regard as to why they were practiced.”
Alik Shahadah writing in the African Holocaust journal states that; “Marriage in African culture, from north to south, east to east is hands-down one of the most significant rites of passage. It is the most celebrated ceremony in all African cultures. African weddings are a spiritual and social family affair and involve the combining of two lives, two families and even two communities!
“Marriage is that cultural process which ushers in new life. It was a cherished and most celebrated rite of passage since the dawn of African civilisation.”
In pre-colonial Zimbabwe, marriage was a critical institution of the community.
To illustrate the strength of the marriage system in the pre-colonial era is the statement: “In the olden days two people met twice and got married on the third meeting and these marriages lasted a lifetime. Today couples date for three years and get divorced six months after finally getting married”.
Colonisation and the advent of modernisation and globalisation corrupted the African way of doing things.
Today divorce cases are now a common occurrence.
According to Shahadah, because of the invasion of Western philosophy there is: “Over sexualisation and promiscuous nature of societies with people becoming less tolerant and at the first sign of a flaw they get out of the marriage. The family structures that make people sit down under peer review is vanishing and the taboos of shame and dignity are also evaporating so a man or a woman can conduct themselves immorally without worry of the society’s shame.
“In traditional African societies any abuse against a woman for example would be discussed with the community elders. Disputes which once could easily be fixed by intercession are now reasons for irreconcilable squabbles.”
Forms of traditional marriages preserved the African culture and kept families together.
In an interview with The Patriot, Mbuya Chipo Chuma from Nyatsime, Chitungwiza, said the traditional practices of marriage were meant to build families and communities and were steeped in unhu/ubuntu.
“Chivanhu chedu chakanakira kuti chinochengetedza unhu hwedu sevanhu vatema,” she said.
“Kuroodzana kwakare kwairemekedzwa, kwakanga kusina kurambana kwatekeshera nenyika uye zvirwere.”
Writer and law practitioner Dr Masimba Mavaza said adoption of Western values has contributed to the increase of Zimbabwean divorce cases in the UK.
“Zimbabweans stumble on the UK culture of rights and, in many cases, do not know how to handle it,” writes Dr Mavaza.
“In typical African families, women play domestic roles, while the men are the bread winners.
“Women do household chores, raise children and respect their husbands but in the UK, women find they have ‘rights’ just like, if not more than men
“Divorce has become stylish as more and more families appear to take pride in ‘separating’.”
In his book Tsika DzavaShona, writer Jairos Gombe gives a detailed account of how some of the marriages took place in pre-colonial times.
Gombe writes about kuganha, a form of marriage in which a girl identified the man of her choice and went to his home.
Her efforts were not resisted and the man was expected to accept the woman who was deemed a gift from the ancestors.
“Danho rokutanga rakanga risingatorwi nevabereki vomusikana kana vomukomana asi kuti nomusikana pachake,” writes Gambe.
“Musikana airongedza twese twake…kana asvika paimba pemunhu waakada uyu aisvikogara nechekunze kwemusha kusvikira aonekwa nevanhu vaizomubvunza zvaaida.”
This type of marriage gave ‘power’ to the girl-child as she chose the man and household she wanted to belong to.
“Vabereki vemukomana aganhwa vaigara pasi nemwanakomana wavo, nekumubvunza kuti anoziva nekuda here musikana amuganha. Kana mwanakomana achibvuma nekuda musikana, vabereki vaitanga kugadzirira pfuma yekuroora ingaenda kuvabereki vemusikana,” writes Gombe.
Musengabere is another type of traditional marriage which involved ‘abduction’ of the girl.
Pre-colonial traditions allowed a man to identify the woman of his choice.
He would target the girl when she went to the river to fetch water or firewood in the forest.
He would then ‘kidnap’ the woman of his choice.
After the ‘kidnapping’, the marriage process started.
Like kuganha, the woman was encouraged to accept her husband.
Marriage also happened through kuzvarira (pledging).
A poor family with a daughter would negotiate with a rich family and ‘exchange’ the daughter for food.
The man would supply regular food and crops to the girl’s family.
The girl remained at her homestead and when she was mature, left home to join her husband.
The man would supply regular food and crops to the girl’s family.
In his book Mhuri yeZimbabwe, Taazadza Munhumutema highlights that kuzvarira, as a form of marriage, was done to fulfill different purposes.
Munhumutema notes that the marriage was initiated as a result of problems encountered by the girl’s parents.
“Chimwe chaiita kuti vabereki vazvarire imhosva inenge yaparwa mumusha,” writes Munhumutema.
“Kazhinji mhosva iyi inenge iri huru uye inenge yatongwa kwamambo, nyakupara mhosva
atongerwa kuti aripe mhosva nemombe dzakatikuti.
“Kana asina pfuma iyi ndipo paazofunga zvokuputsa mukunda wake kumunhu mupfumi kuti abatsirikane.”
Kutema ugariri was another way of getting married.
It was a marriage that was initiated in the event that one could not afford to pay roora, he would then volunteer to work in the fields (and home) of the in-laws.
“Kana murume asina pfuma yekuti aroore anoenda kwababa vemwanasikana waanoda kuwanana naye ovaudza kuti arikuda kuwana mwanasikana wavo asi haana pfuma yekurooresa,” writes Munhumutema.
“Murume anoda kuwana nekutema hugariri anopihwa munda waano rimira baba vemwanasikana. Kurima uku kwainge kwakawoma, nekuti kwairimwa nemaoko.”
Another form of marriage which was common in the past and is still practised is kutiza mukumbo (elopement).
This takes place when a man impregnates a girl before marriage.
The boy makes arrangements to collect the girl at night and take her to his home.
The girl packs her clothes and sneaks to a meeting point outside the home accompanied by a friend.
Chigadzamapfihwa was a form of marriage which saw a man being given a wife by his in-laws as a token of appreciation for living well with a deceased wife.
The purpose of such marriage was to provide a wife to take care of the family left by the deceased relative.
In one of his articles, writer Munhamu Pekeshe described traditional forms of marriage as spiritual and cultural acts.
“Marriage of old times was steeped in Mwari religion and Bantu cultural symbolism,” said Pekeshe.
“Traditional marriage cannot be understood outside traditional religion and Bantu culture.”
According to Dr Paul Kyalo in a paper titled A Reflection on the African Traditional Values of Marriage and Sexuality, the African traditional marriage system had solutions to many of the problems that todays’couples and families face.
“The institution of marriage has continued to dwindle because of a lot of social economic and cultural factors. With the passing of time, certain ills have befallen marriage that it has dealt a devastating blow to society. This has produced along its trail a myriad of social problems as a result; single parenthood, divorce, separations, rape, homosexuality, lesbianism and prostitution, the list continues. These cases are rapidly on the increase,” said Dr Kyalo.
“Though marriage suffers handicaps in the society, there exists within the African traditional marriage system resources available, which if discerned and learned properly can help checkmate or even stalemate some of the ills it suffers today.
“There is value especially in the traditional marriage system this value is underscored in life. Marriage was geared towards the procreation and promotion of life. Seen within this context, there exist the ‘kernel’ essential properties that held traditional marriage systems, even though there existed also the ‘husk’ material elements that fade with the passage of time in marriage. Underlining all this was the life of the community (sic).”
Dr Kyalo reiterated the centrality of the community in a marriage.
“In marriage the family is the person’s channel of integration into the clan and the wider society. Consequently, in marrying his wife. . .the man accepted the responsibilities towards another family and she likewise, this social and communitarian character of African marriage means that the two communities are bound so closely together through a marriage that certain condition such as a rift between the two communities can actually nullify a marriage between two person. Enmity between the clans notwithstanding any amount of cordiality and love between the two individual can not only nullify a marriage but also make it impossible in the first place. The value of marriage is communal and the couple’s consent has validity only in this communal social context (sic),” he said.
“It should be remembered that the sacredness of the value attached to this union and the commitment which is made to one another deserves that the institution is protected and connected to the community. Marriage is not just an individual or the couple concerned business as noticed today it concerns all and is affected by all. For instance, the traditional system in Africa required a high degree of cooperation between members of the same household (family) and lineage (or other wider grouping of kin or community) given the absence of specialized services and of centralized welfare institutions, there was considerable dependence upon kith and kin, orphan hood, widowhood and divorce, while always personal tragedies (despite the assumptions of some European family historians and demographers) were not faced alone (sic),” he said.
Pekeshe notes that today’s marriages have totally deviated from the traditional way of doing things.
“Today, marriage means a Christian wedding preceded by a commercial transaction while traditional marriage cannot be understood outside traditional religion and Bantu culture,” he writes.
“In old times, marriage was a process that started with courtship and ended with masungiro.
“Courtship then was a marriage proposal while today it is a sex proposal.”


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