Thursday, February 08, 2007

Marriages Without Children Considered 'Failure' in African Cultures, often Fall Apart for This Reason

Plight of childless couples in Africa
According to the African views of marriage, its main purpose is to produce children. Children are greatly valued in the African life. They are the seal of marriage. In many parts of the continent, once a marriage has produced children it is very rare to see it broken up, since nobody wishes to part with his or her children. On the other hand, if no children are born that marriage often breaks up, although arrangements may be made to preserve it but to get children at the same time (John S. Mbiti, An Introduction to African Religion, 1975, p. 108).
. . .
[T]he Mbiti quotation above is interesting as well as dangerous. It imples (sic) placing an exaggerated premium on having children in marriage.

In African culture, it is almost a lesser evil not to marry than to marry without being able to procreate. In fact, any marriage without a child is simply considered a failure.
. . .
With the above mentality, many childless African couples have found themselves in the quagmire of rejection by their in-laws, scorned by family members, and ridiculed by the society. The man is particularly pressured by his kinsmen to give up the fruitless woman for another who can do them proud.
. . .
[T]hough Christianity considers child bearing as the supreme gift of marriage , and in fact encourages couples to welcome it, she never judges any marriage as failure on the grounds of childlessness. The Catholic Church . . . insists that childless couples could derive their satisfaction and fulfilment (sic) in other various ways beside child bearing. Such couples could find fulfilment (sic)in giving special attention to love-sharing, which the church now considers the first end of marriage.
I once attended the wedding of a friend from Nigeria. I knew that the couple wanted children, but was surprised just how much her family's toasts centered around wishing them offspring - especially with her plans to start medical school right away.

I see now the wide gap in cultural understandings, which I have found present even from region to region within the US. I always consider myself lucky to be from New York, and now living in Cambridge. In both places, the decision not to bear children is not unheard of, and there is ample support for choosing a life with another focus. Although there are some parenting-evangelists and detractors, I have not faced the tough road my counterparts in more rural or religious regions of the US have. Now, even they, have reason to be grateful, proof that it could be even worse.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having (very) firsthand experience, yes this is exactly the case. It isn't simply a quotation. It is a fact of life and it is deeply cultural. It isn't changing any time soon either if ever. The only difference is if the couple manage to live on another continent and avoid too much interaction with the family. A difficult thing because our families are extended families. Nuclear family? No such beast. In African culture, when people get married, the prayers are for a fruitful marriage, meaning many children. If you don't have children within a decent amount of time 1. your marriage is considered a failure and 2. your husband might very well go and have kids with someone else. You as the wife would Stay married to him rather than divorce him. You wouldn't get much sympathy - after all you "drove" him to it.

I have good friends who have gone through this. I must say I am surprised at the bit about the Catholic church - hope I understood it correctly. My knowledge is that the churches fully support the culture...want a child? Let's pray and fast. Literally, people move heaven and earth to have kids.

Sometimes the man's family would insist his wife to be get pregnant before they got married, just to be sure she was fertile...

And don't dare say you don't want children... if you do you are seen as being really really strange. And in need of help.