The Concept of Marriage in African Tradition

African concepts and practices of marriage are a complex affair where the economic, social and religious aspects overlap one another as seen in the following:-

For Africans marriage is a focus of existence where all members of the community meet who include the departed, the living and those yet to be born.

All dimensions of time meet in marriage and the whole drama of history is repeated, renewed and revitalised.

Marriage is a drama in which everyone is an actor/ actress and not just an observer.


Therefore marriage is duty, responsibility, requirement from the corporate society and rhythm of life in which all must participate. No marriage in African society is seen as a curse, a rebel and therefore failure to marry is rejecting society and so society rejects you in return e.g. among the Banyankole a female who died before marriage the body is not passed through the door but an entrance is created behind the house and the body is not buried in the compound, in addition before burial a young brother is made to have sex with the dead body which is humiliating and in human.

In a similar way among the Samia, a shelter is constructed away from the compound and a man is made to have sex with the dead body before burial.

The importance of marriage can be realised in case one is impotent/ sterile parents try to treat the person in question. In case of failure a wife can be married for the important man and his brother goes in for conjugal rights in order to keep his name/ respect except for mad people who are already considered dead.

Marriage and procreation are a unity in that without procreation is a unity in that without procreation marriage is incomplete. To Africans procreation tries to recapture the lost gift of immortality since all are reproduced and the chain must continue e.g. among the Banyole if one died without children a broom would be put in the grave to show one has swept oneself and should not disturb.

The importance of marriage is summarised by Okot P. Bitek in his book "song of lawino" that "you may be a giant of a man, you may begin to grow grey hair, you may be bold and toothless with age, but if you are unmarried you are nothing."

It is also believed that the dead are reborn in their children and therefore one without descendants has automatically quenched ones fire of life and dies forever e.g. among the Batoro a fire torch would be pushed in the anus of the deceased and also beaten with a thorny bush to show that one has been useless.


Through marriage and procreation the living dead are remembered (personal immortality) since one remains alive even after death and can be named after, can appear to the living through dreams who in turn give libation inform of food and drink e.g. among the Bagisu the living dead can be invoked by names during time of circumcisions.

It is because of such that emphasis is put on polygamy, in case of barrenness, inheriting widows in case one died before having children. There is no greater satisfaction in African society than in the marriage and procreation of their children.

In various customs, the type of music, proverbs are connected to the importance of marriage and children. (Note Baganda songs).


Marriage adds on ones respect i.e. married people have more opportunities than the unmarried.

Of course since procreation is a result of sex play, it is important to note that sex is viewed highly in marriage e.g. among the Banyole if a man dodged to play sex in marriage he would given 12 or 24 or 36 strokes before he defends himself in order to appease the living dead for misusing the woman.

To Africans there were three important events in life; birth, marriage and death; therefore it is mandatory not to avoid this important event in life.

In African tradition everyone had a purpose in life and through marriage and procreation one fulfilled it.

The future of the boys and girls was portrayed in marriage; in that every potential woman and man the future was looked at from marriage point of view.

Marriage was associated with blessings in the home; without marriage the home could not be accessed to wedding feast, gifts, and dowry.

Unmarried life was associated with vices like sorcery, witch craft, out community / tradition or misery.

Therefore remaining unmarried in Africa was strongly opposed and not allowed; that is why if a man seemed cowardly they got him a wife by force so was the woman.

Divorce was not allowed except in very unavoidable cases e.g. witchcraft, dreadful diseases like leprosy and epilepsy.

Barrenness in African tradition did not constitute divorce instead polygamy was employed and the barren was asked to propose or bring her sister, relative to share the man with her in order to live with respect.