Marriage in Africa
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Colonial-era anthropologists tended to see marriage as a mechanism within kinship systems.
However, the breadth of speakers at the Cadbury conference showed that the wider relevance of marriage has been realised not only in the field of anthropology, but also history, law, politics, literature and gender studies.
Actors, stakeholders and decision makers. Roseanne spoke about how political and economic change in twentieth-century Kenya fostered a gendered marriage system amongst low-income, rural couples. Her fieldwork within Accra has suggested that for women, for whom being unmarried is stigmatic, these unions are viewed as an interim economic and social solution, with marriage still being the end goal. Men on the other hand, see the relationship as an alternative to marriage, which to them represents stress and responsibilities that they hope to avoid.
Other papers expanded on this idea, showing how marriages often involve unions between more than just two individuals. Panel speaker Karen Lauterbach University of Copenhagen discussed how, for charismatic pastors in Ghana, marriage is not a private institution but one with both spiritual and public dimensions.
Aids death of DJ highlights anguish of South Africa
In her discussion of the inter-racial relationships entered into by South Asians - particularly Sindhis - in Ghana, doctoral researcher Nimrita Rana University of Birmingham highlighted a spectrum of complex inequalities and negotiations, and the potential for very different outcomes between couples, children and families. This theme was pursued by Carina Ray Brandeis in the first of three special lectures. The personal trajectories of several prominent African nationalist men included periods of time spent in Britain and the formation of close relationships with white British women.
It is clear then that marriage is a fluid and complex concept, and this multiplexity was reflected in some of the themes that permeated through the discussions that followed.
What are the historical trajectories of marriage in these different contexts? What are the gendered dimensions of marriages? How do we factor in issues of class and race? Whose perspective are we or should we be looking at? Do the women discussed have agency over their marriage choices? What are the broader societal pressures at play for women entering different forms of union? Hegemony, subversion and choice. Plurality, agency and constraint were also themes in the second day of talks.
The morning opened with a special panel on religiosity, ethnic diversity and family law. Focussing particularly on Ghana, where different forms of religious and customary marriage are recognised by law, speakers Akosua Adomako Ampofo University of Ghana, Legon and Rose Mensah-Kutin ABANTU went on to explore some of the factors that enable inequalities of power and resources between spouses.
Drawing from her field research, Rose explained how women can end up in situations where they contribute significant amounts of unpaid labour into the establishment and maintenance of farms from which they may ultimately derive no benefit. Akosua explored the growing influence of Christian pastors, the everyday work of Christian marriage counsellors, and the potential for biblical texts to be interpreted selectively in the course of marital dispute and advice.
Insa Nolte University of Birmingham discussed her research in South West Nigeria, where Islamic and Christian marriage practices exist in tandem with customary law. These women were particularly sceptical about the likelihood of a husband consulting a first wife before marrying a second wife, and about intense competition between wives.
Instead, therefore, they sought marriages outside of the country with white, European men. See Adomako, Okyerefo and Pervarah, This offered some interesting discussion points for the questions that followed the panel. For example, how can class structures limit options available to groups of people who already experience marginalisation in other ways? Which marriage is legitimate?Dope 🔥🔥🔥 #RelationshipGoals
Custom, colonialism and historical trajectories. In the afternoon, parallel sessions addressed different contemporary and historical aspects of marriage. The other panel, meanwhile, stressed the importance of legacies of colonial interventions upon customary unions. Doctoral researcher Sarah Delius University of the Witwatersrandfor example, discussed marriage in the context of debates around the end of slavery in colonial Sierra Leone.
This led to ambiguous colonial emancipation policies, based on gendered legislation, which considered both wives and slaves to be legally inferior. Colonial interventions in customary law in Kenya also led to a legally ambiguous marriage system, which resulted in a proliferation of non-consensual and violent marriages. However, Rhian Keyse University of Exeter discussed how the fluidity of these laws also provided resourceful women with room for manoeuvre and articulation of contestations during marriage dispute cases, which they may not have had with more rigid rules.
What was special about this case is the fact that the archives contain a personal testimony from Zeruya, shedding light on the real lived experiences of women, whose voices, like those of slaves, are usually missing from colonial records. Elizabeth Thornberry Johns Hopkins took a fascinating perspective on marriage in early twentieth-century South Africa.
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