Opinions Sun, 23 Aug 2009

Ghanaians and Wedding: Are We Losing Our Mind?

Nana Akwasi Twumasi

The only thing that Ghanaians probably do better than everybody else on our planet is to adopt a foreign culture and try to outdo the originators of that culture. The extent of our addiction to cultures other than our own is simply mindboggling. Ever had the chance to listen to some Ghanaians who want to impress people with their “American accent” when it’s obvious they’ve not stepped a foot in the United States? Ever seen Ghanaian men wearing thick winter jackets and Timberland boots in Ghana in a 110 degree Fahrenheit weather? Ever watched a Ghanaian movie lately and seen some of our women whose bellies are reminiscent of those who eat fufu daily, wearing tank tops to show-off their nauseating and misshapen physiques? Nowadays, I even hear that some of our women throw a fit when their boyfriends or husbands don’t buy them flowers. Since when did our starving and emaciated women begin to prefer flowers to food? As disturbing as this trend may be, none of them, I think, comes close to our adoption and practice of wedding: a modern European transplant that is ruining the lives of many young families.

Understandably, I can’t delineate with certainty exactly when “wedding” invaded our culture. However, I can say with certainty that before this European tradition crossed our shores, we were marrying and being given into marriage. We had our traditional marriage where the parents of the prospective bride-to-be demanded from the groom-to-be pertinent and inexpensive items to consummate the marital process, namely: cooking utensils, sewing machine, cloths for the bride, alcoholic beverages (Whisky), and a dowry—these items vary depending on ones tribe. Let the reader be aware that, whereas some of the above listed marital exigencies may have been ideal years ago, they may not serve any practical purpose for some people in our society today; however, what they represent in our culture make them timeless. In our culture years ago, before a woman entered into marriage, she was trained in the culinary arts. A married woman didn’t need a microwave to warm fast-foods for her husband and children. She prepared tasty meals from raw food sources. Hence our forebears saw the significance of sending their daughters into marriage with cooking utensils. Secondly, a married woman was supposed to be provided for by her husband. In this wise, the husband-to-be had to present cloths to his wife-to-be. Thirdly, a married woman must have vocational skills, such as knowing how to sew (either as a profession or sewing for her children and spouse, if need be). Thus the husband-to-be presented a sewing machine to his wife-to-be. Last but not least, alcoholic beverages were used to appease the ancestors to sustain the marital union (some people bypass this for religious reasons). In certain places of modern Ghana, this rich tradition has been replaced with wedding. Our young men are thus forced to go for loan to offset the high costs of this “newly” adopted tradition. Once upon a time, it did not cost a man his whole bank account or a substantial portion of it to marry his wife. The paramount question for all to mull over and share with our fellow Ghanaians is this: why do we think our cultural traditions are inferior to those of the West?

This article would be incomplete if I did not mention, categorically, that not everything our ancestors handed down to us would be applicable today. For instance, in time past, it was common for parents to marry for their children. In some cases, the first time a man saw his wife was when he took her home as his wife. The man, in this case, married his wife without objecting to his parents’ choice. This practice may have been appropriate years ago or even today, under certain conditions; but, overall, many will agree with me that it will not work today. One example comes to mind: a young Ghanaian living in Spain was “introduced” to a lady by his parents. He was sent many pictures of the girl, and he liked what he saw. The young man, heeding the advice of his parents in Ghana, did not think it was wise to travel to the Motherland to have a “feel” of his wife-to-be. After a year of long distance courtship, the parents married the lady for their son. Later, the young man filed for his wife to join him in Spain. Upon seeing his wife at the airport, he quickly learned that a picture is not always worth a thousand words. The man was furious, because the lady was not as attractive as she had appeared in her pictures. Unable to control his disappointment, the man bolted away, leaving his wife at the airport.

Wedding, as a tradition, is not inherently wrong. However, it is being forced on the younger generation, and that is wrong. What’s more, some of the elderly in our society who are supposed to know better wed their spouses after decades of traditional marriage. Perhaps, the following scenario may paint a better picture: a family friend of mine who is married and has five children currently lives in Europe (name of specific country withheld). He is struggling to make a living like most immigrants. On top of that, he happens to be an “elder” in a charismatic church in Europe. In 2004, he saw the need to wed his wife of over 27 years in spite of his financial woes. Consequently, he traveled to another part of Europe and secured 4000.00 GBP from one of his sons who had gotten out of school and was saving for his future. The entire 4000.00 GBP was splurged on wedding his wife of over 27 years. This was the same man who pleaded to have one of his sons live in my family house in Ghana, because he couldn’t afford to rent a place for him. Apparently, his knowledge of the Holy Book tells him that spending 4000.00 GBP to wed his wife of three decades was more important than the welfare of his children.

To make matters worse, there are some within the Christendom who have argued tacitly that ones marriage isn’t complete without wedding. To say that advocating such a view reflects ones nonchalance toward scriptural truth or ones unmitigated stupidity, is to put it mildly. If wedding is a prerequisite for proper marriage in the sight of God, then some of our parents and grandparents are undoubtedly going straight to hell, because they never heard of the word “wedding” before they passed on to the afterlife. Marriage is a universal phenomenon and cultural as well; therefore, it will differ from one place to another without necessarily violating God’s law. As an example, God gave away Eve to Adam as his wife without any sermon from a preacher, without any extravagant celebrations, and definitely without a so-called “reception.” This union bore the hallmarks of marriage: Adam “paid” a dowry by giving up one of his ribs for Eve; God was the father-cum-witness who gave Eve away. In another biblical example, Samson saw a Philistine woman, and asked his parents to get her for him as his wife. As part of the marital tradition of the Ancient Near East, the Bible records, “Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was CUSTOMARY for bridegrooms” (Judges 14:10, NIV). As I alluded to above, wedding is a tradition/custom; and that which is a tradition/custom for a group of people in one part of the globe should not be a binding precept for people living elsewhere. Whereas marriage is a God-ordained phenomenon, wedding is not. One can marry successfully without going through the wedding route. This is the simple, biblical, and unadulterated truth. Any attempt to prove otherwise would involve a wrong hermeneutic approach to the scriptures. Interestingly, some of the so-called preachers who promulgate such falsehood have a large following made up of women who are on the prowl for affluent members of their congregation who can furnish them with the extravagance associated with wedding.

What are our children going through these days to marry the people they love? Brace yourselves for the next example: In the late 90’s, I had the experience of accompanying a family friend to New Jersey to ask for permission to marry his girlfriend. After we had introduced ourselves and declared our mission, we were gladly welcomed, putting everybody’s mind at ease, until the time arrived for the prospective in-laws to make their demands. This young and hardworking individual with a menial job was asked to shed $6,000.00 as a dowry, in addition to the costs of wedding and an extensive list of items to buy. At this point, I was almost compelled to ask these in-laws: for $6,000.00, were they giving their daughter away in marriage or selling her to her husband? I had to fight hard to control myself. Prior to this trip, this young man was confident he had the finances to marry his trophy wife until he realized that he could become homeless after paying the dowry and estimated cost of wedding. The young man was very much attached to his wife-to-be so he took his in-laws’ demands with a grain of salt. He postponed the marriage in order to prepare himself financially for the task ahead. After two years of hard work, he was able to wed his girlfriend. In Ghana, I have even heard of our young men going for loans to pay for the costs of wedding and dowry. How sad! Our young men (and women) spend a significant portion of their savings to wed their spouses, and do we ever pause to ponder the questions: should a newly wed couple be blessed with children shortly after marriage, would they have accrued sufficient resources to send them to good schools? After spending a significant portion of their savings on wedding, what financial resources would a newly wed couple fall upon in times of need should they run into financial problems shortly after marriage? Lack of money is one of the leading causes of divorce, and by noosing our children with this adopted European tradition, do we have any reason to wonder why most of their marriages begin to suffocate shortly after wedding?

Finally, those who are fortunate to have worked hard to save money for such an expensive undertaking, it is still not too late to reconsider your decision. You could opt for the traditional and inexpensive marriage and use your hard-earned money for the following: 1) Put the money in a bank account and add on to it. This will give you the financial backbone to send your children to good schools. 2) Save the money as an inheritance for your children or grandchildren. 3) Use the money to help your relatives who are in need. Truth is we all have hardworking relatives who are in need. 4) Use the money to establish a business for your in-laws so that you don’t feel the pressure of having to remit them at frequent intervals. Bear in mind that these in-laws who want you to spend your money “unnecessarily” in wedding their daughter will be the same people to call at 2:00 am, asking for money. 5) Last but not least, donate the money to an orphanage or the needy so it could be used to take care of those who really need it. You may never know; your next help might come from someone who is in a position to help you because of your generosity. My advice to young-unmarried-men is this: if your wife-to-be or the parents or guardians of your wife-to-be insist on you having a wedding when it is clearly not within your financial interests, then, for once, learn to use your head and not your heart: run for the hills, because such wanton, ignorant, and inconsiderate attitude may be a forewarning of what will transpire in your life should you proceed with the wedding. Also, we should inculcate in our young beautiful queens that the inexpensive route (traditional) to marriage may put them in a better financial position to take good care of themselves and their children in the future. In our modern day Ghana, wedding is for the well-to-do, the spendthrift, the overtly ostentatious, and the ignoramus who think they can’t do without. In our true cultural tradition and before God, wedding is never a prerequisite to marrying the person of ones dream.

The author can be reached via nanaakwasitwumasi@googlemail.com
Columnist: Twumasi, Nana Akwasi