A Modern Akan Dilemma

Western influences and attempt to fuse or reconcile such influences with longstanding traditions have created many quandaries for today’s Akan and other Africans. Marriage is one area rife with such quandaries.

Just as a Western or Caucasian marriage (wedding) is not part of Akan or African culture, so is it that a married Akan woman does not have to adopt her husband’s last name. A woman’s name, like a man’s, was carefully chosen at birth by the parents and involved some serious rituals in the naming process. It is a constant in a person’s life and therefore not subject to alteration or adjustment. The practice of taking the husband’s name is foreign, not only to the Akan, but throughout Africa. An Akan man is entitled to name a child that he brings forth, not someone else’s child. Thus, a name given to a woman from birth is preserved, whether she marries or not.

Traditional African marriages and Western, or European, marriages are two distinct events that separately identify each culture. However, most Africans now perform both rites–the traditional and the Western–in response to the demands of some Africans, especially Christians. Ironically, much in the Christian tradition of weddings is not as pure in origin as most westerners would like to think; indeed, the origins of some practices would shock many. Marriage is purely a social venture tied inextricably to the culture of a people. If the Bible speaks of wedding as a way of marriage, it is because the translators were referring to the system of marriage they knew and were familiar with. A westerner of any religious persuasion would still have to marry by way of a wedding because that is the only way to marriage.

Two elements of Western wedding practice that have permeated African traditional marriages in recent times are the Bible and the ring. Incidentally, the ring has no origins in Christian doctrine. Ancient Egyptians were the first known people to wear rings. Roman nobles wore them to reflect social status. Socially, slipping a ring onto a finger became a medieval Roman rite adopted by the Church. The O-shaped ring was a primitive ideographic symbol that meant an “opening” or maturity–an opening that is symbolically enacted for a stretched forefinger to enter! Other objects such as wood, stones, and bones have been utilized at one time or another on various parts of the body as symbols of maturity (i.e., an opening, bones on lips, rings in noses and tongues). It was one among many ornaments that marked a girl’s passage into puberty.

For example, in ancient England, indented (gapped) teeth in females were considered symbols of pride and maturity. It is to be noted that, in Western or European cultures, a ring is given at the inception of the marriage. In Akan tradition, in contrast, a ring may be given to a wife after years of marriage and after the wife has distinguished herself as a qualified and marriage-worthy woman; in other words, in Akan thought a marriage ring must be earned. Westerners would suffer even greater shock if they knew the origins of the phrase “tie the knot” in relation to Christian marriage. In primitive times women were virtually “tied down” to be raped. To tie the knot therefore describes an ancient mode of forced sexual intercourse. Massey tells us, “the capture of the female by the male is so ancient that it may be compared with the capture of the hen by the cock.” He continues, “The knot then is the sign of capture and covenant, which include all the various modes of marriage.”  Reinterpretations through generations of human development have translated knot-tying as a symbol of marriage, when in fact it was a violent means of sexual intercourse.

In most Christian African communities, church officials have assumed leading roles in traditional marriages, transmitting confused doctrines to an equally ignorant couple. The presence of a church official is considered an indication of God’s presence and approval for an otherwise pagan marriage. Family heads and members become mere observers at marriages of their own children and family members. All ceremonial drinks are substituted with money because the liquor and drinks demanded by custom are considered heathen. St. Augustine, one of the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, observed:

But when acquainted with other modes of life other than their own meet with the record of such actions, unless they are restrained by authority, they look upon them as sins, and do not consider that their own customs either in regard to marriage, or feasts, or dress, or other necessities and adornments of human life, appear sinful to the people of other nations and other times. 

The man who is credited with stabilizing Christianity was, in that passage, clearly talking about foreigners’ attitudes to cultures other than their own.

From the book “The Akan of Ghana. Aspects of Past & Present Practices” (page 102) – by Kofi Ayim (Published 2015)

Posted by on Aug 15 2020. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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