Written by Francis Ewherido - Nigeria
|An Igbo Traditional Marriage event|
Recently, I came across a number of write-ups from Europe and America questioning the relevance of the marriage institution. This thinking is mainly borne out of the increasing rate of divorce, and people now living together without being married and having children outside wedlock. In their thinking, if the primary purposes of marriage are companionship and procreation, why go into it when you can cohabit and procreate without being married?
This thinking, though defective, is understandable. More than 50 per cent of marriages in the US end in divorce. The rest of the West is not too far behind in divorce rate. Among African Americans, especially, you see a girl of 25 already a mother of five children from three or more fathers.
But this multiple-fathers trend is not peculiar to them. Here in Lagos, it is not uncommon to see a woman with three grown-up daughters living with her. Between the daughters, they have 10 children from five or more fathers. Some of these absentee fathers are agbayas(good for nothing. That is what you are if you abdicate your parental responsibilities).
The rates of divorce and cohabitation are also increasing in Nigeria. So it is not entirely surprising to hear some Nigerian youngsters also saying that marriage is going out of fashion. Some of these guys "are having the time of their lives." They "camp" girls in their houses without paying any bride price or performing any marital rites.
They owe the girls and their families no allegiance, no commitments, no bond, no strings attached and they can float away like a butterfly anytime they want to. And the situation is perfectly okay with these daughters of Eve because they are either desperate, in lust or do not give a damn.
What is the fate of children brought up in these settings? I have been observing two of them over a period of four years. Even before chest out (sign of puberty), they had started making up and strutting the streets like adults. Now they have reached puberty and gone full blast. They are between 14 and 15 years old, but I will not be surprised to see a protruding tummy tomorrow. May be a few abortions have already taken place.
The increasing rate of divorce all over the world is a major source of concern to everybody. In the last few weeks, I met about five wonderful American couples: two of them have been married for over 50 years, while the others have been together for over 40 years. They are even more worried than we are over here. They "can't understand what is happening to youngsters.
In our time, we married before we lived together, now everything has changed," one of them lamented. Another said "patience and tolerance are no longer there." It was gratifying to know that we share common values. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet younger couples and get their perspective on marriage.
Is marriage going out of fashion? To start with, marriage is an institution, not a fashion fad, so the question of going out of fashion does not arise. It was instituted by God for companionship and procreation. But it offers more than the companionship that cohabitation gives, contrary to the beliefs of many youngsters. Marriage is a partnership and merger for life.
"And God said, 'for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one.' So they are no longer two but one" (Matthew 19:5-6).
Marriage is also a covenant, a binding agreement between or among the parties going into it. Marriage, as a covenant is an irrevocable commitment and only death releases you from that covenant. In addition, because marriage is a covenant it involves sacrifice and sacrifice involves death. The death, in this case, is death to self (putting your spouse's interests before yours or subsuming your interests partly or entirely). Sacrifice requires you to give up something (time, money, hobby, etc.).
Marriage and family have always been central to the stability of the humankind. The family, comprising both parents, remains the best option to bring up children. Nobody can wish that away. We need to hang on to those values and institutions that can help sustain and create a better world. We need to guide jealously that which is right with us.
People need to stop making excuses. More than half of new businesses do not celebrate fifth anniversary. Over time, only one in 10 businesses survives. This failure rate is higher than that of marriages, yet new businesses spring up every day. Painful as divorce is, it has become part of our lives, so the increasing rate of divorce should not discourage young people from getting married. Find out why marriages failed and learn from their mistakes. Use our parents and others before us as guinea pigs.
Life is a race (life na waka). Everybody runs her or his own race (everybody get e own waka). The English call it destiny; the Urhobos call it otarhe or urhievwe. That your parents' or any other person's marriage failed does not mean yours would also. If it does, may be you are a poor student of history.
Sometimes it is due to circumstances that are outside your control. Marriage is tangling and it takes two to tangle. What if your spouse wants out, what do you do? May God save us from marrying such people! Sometimes in marriage, you need save your head even if you are unable to save your marriage: But, only as a last resort. No one should die because he or she or the other wants out, which is the reason for some of the gruesome spousal attitudes out there.
But no excuses; if you have other reasons for not getting married, say so or keep quiet. Do not tell us marriage is becoming outmoded because that is a big, fat lie.