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Togo

Traditional Features Of Marriage And Family

Within the traditional model of the family, marriage is virtually universal and closely associated with reproduction. It is an alliance between two lineages, beyond the realm of two individuals.

Traditionally, senior family members have watched closely over the mate selection process to ensure that social rules and beliefs were respected. Only elder members of the extended family were invested with authority to handle marriage negotiations. The blood relatives of both prospective spouses carefully studied the alliance of marriage to determine whether it was possible and worthy. Some types of marriages were prohibited, and others were preferred. Marriages of men inside their parents' minimal lineages and marriages with two living sisters were prohibited. The reasons invoked for these prohibitions were mainly supranatural and genetic disorders. The preferred marriage was between cross-cousins and, specifically, between second cousins. The groom's elder family members paid several visits to the lineage members of the bride to sort out concerns and determine whether the marriage was feasible. They also negotiated the amount and composition of the bride-wealth, or bride-price.

Marriage ceremonies used to last many days. They were opportunities for the extended families to get together. The actual marriage ceremonies started with payment of a bride-wealth to the bride's blood relatives. The bride-wealth could be composed of specially prepared food, palm wine, clothing, jewelry, and money (Manoukian 1952). During the ceremony the bride was handed over to the lineage members of the groom. This was followed by the consummation rituals, which included the verification of the bride's virginity. The bride was required to be virgin at marriage; this was an indication that she was raised in a respectable family. The amount of the bride-wealth was revised down if the bride was found not to be virgin (Nukunya 1969).

Polygamy, the marriage of a man with more than one woman, was an important aspect of marriage. Traditionally, men could take additional wives to increase the size of their family line. Farming was rudimentary and relied on heavy physical labor. Additional wives and children helped to make the farm more productive. Thus, a large number of relatives was therefore associated with wealth and prestige. This was the philosophy of old men, who were the ones in control of community resources. Their philosophy of life was law in the community.

Customary laws discouraged divorce. Blood kin were active in resolving disputes among spouses, and generally succeeded; it was rare that intermediation by the family did not save the marriage. If the wife initiated the divorce, then her relatives had to pay back the bride-wealth. In the husband initiated the divorce, he could not reclaim the bride-wealth.

When a married man died, customs allowed one of his brothers to inherit his wives. The wives and children then became part of the immediate household of that brother and remained part of the family line. This practice was called the levirate and was consistent with the social and economic values attached to wives and children.

Children were raised following strict social rules. They were taught to show respect to all adults in general. Everyone in the community was concerned with their socialization, not only their biological parents. Children were expected to win the trust of adults to gain knowledge. The transfer of knowledge was in the oral tradition, and only well-behaved children could have the knowledge revealed to them. Boys and girls were socialized differently in ways that were consistent with the roles they were expected to play as adults.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsTogo - Traditional Features Of Marriage And Family, Factors In Change Of Family Life, Contemporary Marriage And Family Patterns