Edo - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygamy is the preferred form of marriage, although in the twentieth century monogamy has come to be favored by some Christians and the educated. Marriage used to be contracted when the proposed wife was very young. There were betrothal and wedding fees. Formerly, divorce was very rare, granted only under circumstances of infectious disease or impotency, but the establishment of Native Authority courts by the British at the beginning of the twentieth century had the effect of making divorce easier to obtain. Colonialism brought Western education and Christianity, both of which are associated with a preference for monogamy. Residence is virilocal but increasingly neolocal.

Domestic Unit. The basic unit is the household, which varies in size from a single man (least common) to an extended family (most common). This family can consist of a man with his wife or wives and their children and, in some cases, married sons and their wives and children and even younger married brothers. Widowed or divorced mothers, daughters, and sisters can live there as well. If the marriage is polygamous, the wives and their children all live in separate apartments within the larger compound. Women past childbearing age often move to their own houses.

In precolonial times the family groupings in the city were much larger, since the chiefs had more wives and children and numerous slaves and servants. Thus the households of high-ranking chiefs might have included several hundred people. Today in Benin City the average size is seven to ten per household, and the number of nuclear families is increasing (Sada 1984, 119).

Inheritance. The system of primogeniture prevails among the Edo: the eldest son receives the rights to property, hereditary titles, and ritual duties. The eldest son performs the funeral ceremonies for his deceased father and inherits his father's house and lands. Although the bulk of the estate goes to the senior son, the eldest sons by the other wives of his father receive shares as well, in order of their seniority. When no sons are left, the property sometimes passes to the father's brother or sister, or sometimes to a daughter. A woman's property is inherited by her children. Royal traditions indicate that primogeniture may not always have been the rule of succession to the kingship, but it clearly has been in place since the early eighteenth century.

Socialization. In Benin the extended family is the unit of socialization within which the individual learns the necessary social and occupational skills. Babies are cared for by their mothers, grandmothers, and elder sisters. Weaning takes place when they are 2 or 3 years old, unless the mother bears another child in the meantime. Boys and girls play together until the age of 6 or 7, but then they begin to take on gender-related activities: boys accompany their fathers to the farm or, if they are artisans, to the workshop. Girls go with their mothers to the farm and learn how to sell things in the market. Formerly, the circumcision of boys and clitoridectomy of girls took place in infancy or early childhood but, in the latter case, is becoming less common. Since the early part of the twentieth century, but especially after World War II, urban crafts and small industries have adapted Western apprenticeship systems for the training of workers. Western-based education also offers avenues for the acquisition of skills. Since 1955, primary-school education in both the urban and rural areas has been free and compulsory. Secondary schools are primarily in the towns, and only the initial stages are free. Edo State has two institutions of higher education: the University of Benin, in Benin City, and Edo State University, in Ekpoma.

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