Ewe and Fon - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most Ewe and Fon marriages are patrilocal, although neolocal residence has become popular in the late twentieth century. Polygyny is the rule if a man has means to marry more than one wife. It is often said that an abuse of polygyny leads wives to leave their husbands for other men, often younger and as yet unmarried, so that women also tend to have more than one husband in their lifetimes. Fon marriages are of two general types, one more prestigious than the other. Prestigious marriage includes payments by the groom to the bride's father or premarital farm labor performed by a man for his future father-in-law. Such bride-wealth or work gives a man control over his children. When this is not performed, the mother and her family have all rights over the children; thus, this sort of marriage is less desirable or prestigious for a husband. Herskovits (1938) outlines thirteen different variations of these two major marriage categories. A man must never refuse a wife offered him, and divorce may be initiated only by the wife's family. In many Ewe groups, marriage is less marked by bride-wealth or bride-service, and even if a man offers only the required drinks and cloths to his bride and her family, he may claim the children as members of his own patriline. In case of separation, a father may keep his children with him, although in many cases wives are allowed to raise the children, and rotation of children between divorced parents is perhaps as common among Ewe as it is in the United States. Among Anlo families, it is often the father's sister who arranges the marriage when a young man wishes a certain young woman to be his wife. The simple giving of gifts to the young woman and her family and the sharing of drinks and libations, often a modest affair, is, even so, a marriage ceremony and a binding ritual that links two lineages and sets in motion serious obligations. Pregnancy makes a marriage complete. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, virginity was demanded of brides in prestigious marriages. In Anlo, too, the marriage-payment might be less if the bride was found not to be a virgin; today many couples become intimate before arranging a marriage. Christian Ewe and Fon proceed according to the arrangements prescribed in their churches.

Domestic Unit. Patrilineal three- or four-generational extended family compounds, as well as agnatic extended family compounds, are common. Another model is a nuclear-family household (often with children from previous marriages) that eventually is joined by other relatives, such as the couple's younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and foster children. If the husband has not vowed monogamy, in time, other wives and their children may come to expand the compound (each wife with her own hut or little house). In many cases, other wives and their children form separate households. Adolescent boys may have collective sleeping quarters separate from their mothers and sisters.

Inheritance. Most Fon property, including land, is inherited patrilineally, although some lineage land remains. Among Ewe groups, lineage land and whatever is on it—palm groves, houses, fields, and shrines—ideally remains within the lineage, although much lineage land is being broken up and sold nowadays. Rights to lineage land are primarily patrilineal. Cloth wealth and jewelry sometimes become lineage property too, along with ancestral stools. Individual property, which may include rights to land and fields, may be inherited patrilineally or matrilineally, depending on the Ewe subgroup. (In Anlo and Glidji, for example, much private property, including oil-palm trees, is inherited matrilineally.) In some areas the eldest son inherits land rights, but livestock and other individual property go to a man's sister's son. In Lome inheritance is mixed.

Socialization. Virtually everyone, but especially older siblings, takes care of the children. Grandparents, both female and male, also spend considerable time with children. Fishermen in from the sea often sit around in groups during the afternoon, playing boardgames and watching over young children at the same time. Toddlers are passed from person to person, including adolescent boys, who appear to enjoy taking their turns. Mothers and all female relatives carry babies on their backs for much of the day; sometimes doting fathers or other male relatives also wrap babies and toddlers on their backs. Ewe adolescents experiment with sexuality early in their teen years, and nowadays pregnancy at a young age, even if the mother is unmarried, is not especially discouraged in many communities. Thus virginity is not as highly valued as it once was. Young girls help their mothers, often caring for smaller children or carrying loads to market, boys as young as 10 may go to sea with the men and go over the side of the pirogue to drive a school of fish into the nets. Inland, young boys and girls help perform agricultural tasks and care for animals. Children are present at all important social and religious events and may, at a very early age, become "spouses" of important spirits or gods, thus inheriting sizable responsibilities and the special, often prestigious, identity, that goes with them. Children as young as 10 may go into trance during Vodu (Fon and Guin-Mina) or Tro (Anlo Ewe) possession ceremonies. They also enjoy such events as recreation and take advantage of opportunities for drumming, singing, and dancing performances; teenagers and young adults may court during and after such religious rituals.

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