Our ancient ancestors who laid down the cultural and legal foundations for our customary marriage were too good. Typical example is the Sefwi (Akan) Marriage process, which is often overlooked amongst the Akan marriages. Let take a look at it.
Among the Sefwi, a girl cannot get married unless she had experienced her first menstruation and has been so declared publicly at a special puberty or nubility rite, known as manzaa-yire. Perfomance of Manzaa-yire, which the other Akans called Bragor, makes her legible for marriage. After Manzaa-yire, which involves the woman walking in town to prove her maturity, a man (boy) who is interested in marrying her tells his father or uncle or ebusuapanin (family head) to approach the parental family of the girl (woman). In some circumstances, the man may approach the girl’s father directly, without having first met the girl to commence marriage negotiations.
1. The first process is called Abobom and Nsere (Betrothal): Here the man`s family visit the girl`s father to convince their daughter about their son`s interest in his daughter. The father then seeks the consent of his daughter. According to legal historian Professor Kodwo Mensah-Brown, if the girl agrees, her father is generally paid a ‘betrothal fee’, or, better, ‘betrothal consideration’, called “Abobom”, or knocking fee (which the Fantes call Abowmubɔ- dze). The Abobom is in the form of a drink (e. g. a bottle of gin), or in cash. After that the man`s father, in tandem with customs and tradition of the people, formally asked for the hand of the bride, by paying a sum known as Nsere (Request). Nsere is usually paid in kind, usually a bottle of gin.
Legal implication: With the payment and the acceptance of the abobom and nsere, betrothal is effected, equivalent to promise of marriage, and this opens the door for the concluding of the marriage contract. From the moment that betrothal takes place, the man is responsible for the general well-being of the girl. There is no fixed period of betrothal; and between this and the marriage itself, at least among the Sefwi, the couple may live under the same roof. The betrothed cooks for the man and assists him on his farm, in return for maintenance by him. They may even have children. Mensah-Brown (1968) contends: “Here, the relation of the parties may be likened to a tolerated concubinage, known among the Sefwi as soma egyaa (soma-concubine; egyaa -marriage).” Whilst a woman is in soma egyaa, a second betrothal to another suitor is not allowed. However, when the woman finds another man and had sex with him, her betrothal man cannot sue for ayefer (punitive cash) from the man who had a fling with his betrothal. The woman can also walk out of this ‘soma egyaa’ when she feels unhappy.
(2) The second process after abobom.nsere, is the beginning of the Marriage Contract (Tiri aseda) itself. Here, the father of the girl accepts gifts and payments from the father of the prospective groom. This gifts and payments are called Tiri Aseda (Head Thanksgiving), other Akans call it Tiri or Tsir Nsa. Among the Sefwis, the tiri aseda include a pot of palm wine and a bag of salt, after paying all the expenses for the marriage negotiation.
(3) After the tiri aseda, the third process is the prestations (payments and gifts). The man`s family continue to make further payments to his betrothal`s family to prove his worthiness as a future husband. These prestations include certain collateral gifts which by custom are offered to members of the girl’s family. This paves the way for the fourth process, Asetena-bɔ.
(4) When the man has proven himself worthy to his betrothal and her family, a day is scheduled, upon consultation between the two families for the Marriage Covenant known to the Sefwis as Asetena-bɔ. Mensah-Brown (1968) explains that the Asetena-bɔ ceremony, which is the marriage proper, is performed the very day that the suitor’s sponsor (father or uncle of ebusuapanin) pays the standardized sum to the bride’s father, in which sum is included the marriage consideration. On this day, the man also provides salt and drink for the ceremony. At a meeting of the suitor (or his representative) and the bride’s parents and family, three holes are bored in the ground in a triangular form, to signify the native cooking hearth, bukyea. Some salt is put in each of the three holes and a libation of palm wine is poured over each of them. This concludes (or completes) the contract. The Asetena- bɔ ceremony is meant to signify that the contract which is being concluded is like a cooking-pot. It is the expectation of all (especially the families) that it should possess the stability of a pot on the hearth. It is expected to last and not be broken up. The salt in the holes symbolizes the wish that the union be a happy and prosperous one. As it is said: ‘The marriage should be as delicious as soup. We put salt in the soup to make it palatable’. Libation is poured to call the ancestors, and all the transcendental vital forces protecting the community, to witness the contract and bless the newly wedded couple.
(5) The asetena-bɔ ceremony or the marriage covenant ceremony, paves way for another important ceremony, Homo-bɔ. Here, the woman is proclaimed to the public as the wife of the man with all the rights and obligations. The man then provides the new wife with all the necessaries that she would need in her new home, namely, clothes, trinkets, cooking, utensils, head-gear, etc. This is known as ayeyi (lit. praise) — a token of appreciation of the wife, and to guarantee that she would be well looked after. The ayeyi used to be a strict, indispensable social requirement, so much so that if upon being presented with the gifts, the wife was not satisfied with them, she could refuse to accompany the delegates of the husband to her new home; and this could lead to a dissolution of the marriage before its consummation.
Mensah-Brown, Kodwo. “Marriage in Sefwi-Akan customary law: A comparative study in ethno-jurisprudence.” Presence Africaine 68 (1968): 61-87.
Roberts, Penelope A. “The State and the regulation of marriage: Sefwi Wiawso (Ghana), 1900–40.” In Women, State and Ideology, pp. 48-69. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1987.