Mamprusi - Marriage and Family



Marriage. In theory Mamprusi royals must marry commoners. In effect, they seek to spread their matrimonial alliances as widely as possible. Among royals and commoners members of the same gate are forbidden to marry, and marriage to patrikin with whom precise genealogical connection can be traced is frowned upon. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriage—that is, marriage to a cross cousin who is not the child of a parent's own sibling—is regarded as a good marriage, particularly by Mamprusi Muslims. Men aspire to polygynous marriages. Chiefs and important commoners have many wives. Mamprusi frown upon sororal polygyny, saying that marriage with two women from the same house leads to quarrels among the wives and difficulties in management for the household head. Marriage is established by gifts of kola. Two prestations of kola are sent by the head of the husband's gate to the head of the wife's gate. Both are sent via the chief or chiefs of the villages in which the partners reside. The first, message kola, establishes that the woman has spent the night with her future husband. If this kola is accepted, the pardon kola follows. The marriage kola is distributed to members of the woman's gate, and a portion of both prestations is taken by the chief or chiefs and distributed to elders. Chiefs thus involved will subsequently mediate in disputes arising within or from the marriage. The exchange makes children legitimate members of the father's gate. A son-in-law acquires important ongoing responsibilities with regard to his wife's kin. He must attend the funeral of senior members of her gate and give her grain, a sheep, and cash to contribute. He must raise a group of dancers and gun bearers to celebrate the deceased. A husband's failure to provide the requisite funeral contribution is grounds for divorce. When, as frequently happens, Mamprusi men marry women of neighboring ethnic groups, they follow the woman's group's customs for establishing the marriage.

A determined woman can now leave a marriage she dislikes. This is said to be the result of modern government intervention, but it seems likely that even formerly, it was not impossible for a woman to leave one husband for another. It is more difficult however, for her to return to her kin. Men also cannot easily dismiss a wife of long standing. Although marriage is unstable in the first years, it becomes more stable after the birth of children. After a husband s death, his widow may choose to marry one of his brothers, but cannot be forced to do so against her will. Young widows may return home and accept gifts from suitors, which they will use to trade. They are then supposed to choose a husband and return the gifts to the rejected suitors. An elderly widow is household head if she has a married son with whom she lives in her deceased husband's house. A widow without sons will reluctantly return to her own kin.

Domestic Unit. The core of the household is the patrilineal family. Royal households normally include a polygynous household head, perhaps with his younger married sons and unrelated dependents. Commoner households more often include older married brothers with children, and often three generations of agnates reside together. Older men are often polygynous; important chiefs and wealthy commoners have many more than the maximum of four wives permitted Muslims. Marriage is invariably patri-virilocal. A woman retains membership in her natal lineage. Although she normally will be buried in her husband's house, a final funeral is performed for her in her natal home.

Although women observe an etiquette of respect when dealing directly with their husbands, and the male household head is treated with deference by resident family members, women control the domestic domain. Significantly, a male household head is said to be subordinate to his father's sister if such a relative is in residence. The internal hierarchy of the household is based on the ranking of women in polygynous marriages. A senior wife has authority over junior wives, and their children sleep in her room. She supervises their collective performance of the major domestic tasks and may also organize trading enterprises. Mothers-in-law have authority over their husband's wives.


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