Prior to the advent of the European Administration there were three possible types of marriage which a Mambila might contract marriage by exchange, bridewealth marriage, and finally slave marriage. Today only marriage by bridewealth is possible since the Administration has abolished slavery and exchange marriage.
Before describing the three types, traditional prohibitions applicable to all marriages will be cited:
1. A man may not marry any woman with whom he shares a known ancestor.
2. It is not allowed for a man to be married to two siblings at the same time.
3. A man must not marry a woman who has been previously wed to a younger kinsman.
4. There is no explicit rule forbidding close male kin to marry into the same households, but it is deemed inadvisable to do so.
5. To marry a woman older than oneself is said to be dangerous, for the vaginal secretions of an older woman injure a man younger than herself.
Finally it should be added that, whatever the type of marriage contracted, the husband is expected to provide his wife with a house of her own. A recently acquired second wife may temporarily share a house with a first wife, but the husband should see to it that a separate house for her be built as rapidly as possible. On only two occasions did I see a house which two wives shared; the husbands, in both cases, had recently contracted a second marriage and had only begun to build house for their second wives.
This type of marriage was contracted when a male gave a kinswoman to another man, receiving in return a kinswoman of the latter as a wife. If possible, a man would choose a full female sibling for this purpose. If none were available a half-sibling or still more distant kinswoman might be used. In order for a man to provide a female, she must belong to the same Memin as himself. Ego might give a paternal half-sister, if his father had married both his and the girl's mother by exchange, for she would be a member of his Memin. If on the other hand his father had married both wives by bridewealth, or one by bridewealth and the other by exchange, the offspring would not be members of the same Memin and therefore Ego could not use his paternal half-sister for an exchange.
In order to make the institution of exchange marriage clear a hypothetical case will be cited.
Let us assume that both B and M married their wives by exchange. Also that C has decided that would be a suitable wife for himself. C contacts N and asks him whether he would like to exchange his sister p for d. If N agrees, C asks the senior male member of his Memin with whom he resides whether he may make the exchange. He would also ask the father of the girl who is to be given - in this case his own father - whether he agrees. N would ask the permission of M and the senior male of his Memin. Then C would through an intermediary, - preferably his own father or older brother - approach M and ask his permission to marry p. M should say that, if both N and p agree, the marriage may take place. Though both the senior male of the Memin and the father or mother's brother of the girl (depending upon whether the girl belongs to her mother's or father's Memin) should be consulted, the person who normally has the deciding voice in the matter is the male who has been given the right to exchange the girl, and the girl herself. If the prospective bride and groom have not yet met, they are presented to each other after the consent of the others has been given.
If both of the girls agree on the spouses offered to them the date of marriage is set. If one of the girls does not like the proposed husband she may refuse. Pressure may be brought to bear upon her, but if she remains steadfast the negotiations are broken off.
If all of the parties concerned agree to the marriage the prospective bridegrooms send to the father to guardian of their bride elects a cock and a spear. The acceptance of these gifts is symbolic of the recognition of the giver as the husband of the recipient's daughter or ward, and from this moment the taboos between son-in-law and parent-in-law come into effect.
It was considered advisable for the groom to give a gift of a chicken to the bride's mother at this time, but not essential. A hoe may be given to the bride.
In the event that the marriage between C and p ended in a divorce, the paired marriage, namely that between N and d, would likewise be broken. If C sent p away - or if p left on her own violation and was not made to return by her own kin - the senior male of C's Memin would call back d, and she would have to leave N. I have been told that if p left C and if C's own kinsmen decided that C has acted so badly towards her that she was right to leave, they might not insist upon d leaving N. However I have no recorded instance of such an event. Of the more than 50 cases of exchange marriages ending in divorce, which I have recorded, in all instances the disruption of one marriage automatically ended in the break-up of the other paired marriage.
A woman who married by exchange married an individual, but also assumed responsibilities towards her spouse's Memin. If her husband dies and she is still of child-bearing age, she may be asked to wed a younger kinsman of her deceased husband and will be expected to comply. She may refuse the spouse offered to her, but unless she wishes to sever all connections with her deceased husband's Memin, and cause the break-up of the paired marriage, she must be willing to wed one of her husband's Memin members.
Children of exchange marriages belong to their father's descent group, or Memin. This is true as long as the marriage of their parents is not broken. If the parents divorce, the children will then give up membership of their father's Memin and become members of their mother's descent group. To revert to out hypothetical marriage, if C and p separate, N and d will do likewise, p will return to the compound of her father or her guardian with her children and d will do likewise. The change in affiliation occurs whatever the age of the children, but if the children are old enough to decide for themselves they may stay with their father's kin when their mother leaves him. Should they do so, the rights exercised over its members by the Memin cannot be exercised over them by their father's group. If one or more of the children are girls they may not be used by the father's group to exchange.
If one of the marriage pairs were fruitful and the other not, the prolific couple might give up one or more of their children to the less fortunate pair. The Memin affiliation of the transferred children would then be changed. There were no specific rules to deal with such cases. I have been told that frequently of one couple had three children and the other none, one might be given to the barren pair, two children might be handed over. The reason that my informants gave for this practice was that if the Memin of the husband, or the husband of the barren pair were dissatisfied with the arrangement they might break the marriages. If this were done the man whose wife had borne children would lose them. Therefore it was better to hand over control of some of the children, and keep them satisfied. What better way to placate them than by giving up what is said to be most desired by the Mambila, children?
When an exchange wife dies difficulties may arise. Let us assume that p dies. If d's husband mistreats her, or for any reasons at all she is unwilling to remain married to N, it is difficult for her to leave him for the own kinsfolk cannot send back p to replace her. Sometimes another woman would be sent to take d's place by her own Memin. In cases of this sort d's children as well as any further offspring born from the marriage of N and d's substitute would belong to the Memin of N. If N refused to give up d, a raiding party might be sent by her Memin to capture her, or else she alone might flee back to her own kinsfolk. N might go to d's Memin and try to persuade them to send her back to him, and/or he might organise a raiding-party to try and capture her or another woman from d's Memin or hamlet. Situations of this type were often a cause of skirmishes between villages.
Should an exchange wife run away with a lover from another village, her kin were expected to attempt to make her go back to her husband. But if she refused to do so and her lover refused to give her up, there was nothing her husband could do but resort to force. If this were impossible he had to accept the fact that he had lost a wife. Not being able to produce the run-away wife, he could not call back the kinswoman whom he had given for his own wife. Elopements of this kind were rare for, by leaving a husband in this way, a woman forfeited the support of her Memin which she might need in the future.
A wife who was very unhappy with her husband might go back, either by stealth or openly to her own kin. They would probably attempt to persuade her to return to her husband, unless she could produce evidence that he had treated her very badly. She might be made to return by force. However if she were determined to leave him and at every opportunity returned to her kin, either they or her husband would recognise that the situation was hopeless and break the paired marriage, thus making the separation legal.
Meek has written that a wife obtained by exchange was likened to a slave and was treated as such. This conflicts with the facts as I was able to learn them. Many of the older woman in Warwar have told me that they left one or more husbands to whom they had been married by exchange of their own volition, and were not forced to return. the most commonly given reasons for such action were: maltreatment, lack of food, barren marriage and finally illness.
I know very little about this institution. It is considered to be a grave insult to refer to a person's slave ancestry and therefore I was never able to obtain any record of such a marriage. I believe that such marriages took place in the village in the past, but I have no concrete information on the matter.
My informants say that there were few slaves in the past and these were mostly women. They would be either prisoners of war, young girls sold for food during periods of famine, or habitual criminals, usually thieves, who had either been sold by their own kin groups, or given as compensation to a group which they had wronged. Men were less commonly taken as slaves. Male war captives were killed, unless they were captured as very young children, in which case they would be adopted into a kindred of the capturing group and not be looked upon as slaves. Males would rarely be sold for food for there would be no demand for them, the same reason being given for the fact that male criminals would rarely be sold to other groups.
Anyone might marry a female slave. I do not know whether a free woman could marry a male slave but I doubt it. children of female slaves and free men were themselves free and affiliated with the descent groups their fathers. They were said to have no maternal kins since women-slaves had forfeited their ties with their own kinsfolk.
Meek quotes Captain Izzard as saying that formerly there was no other form of marriage than that by exchange. He continues saying that this is incorrect for he believes that both exchange and bridewealth marriages were concurrently functioning institutions. I believe that Meek is right in this; there seems no reason to doubt that bridewealth marriage was practised in the past and many things favour the thesis whereby among the Mambila exchange and bridewealth marriages are equally ancient institutions.
The postulated genealogies do not go further back than five or six generations. Some of the earliest marriages noted in these genealogies are said to have been by bridewealth. None of the elders - when questioned - mentioned the possibility that exchange marriage was an older institution than the other. Today bridewealth marriage is the only type practised since slavery has been abolished and exchange marriage prohibited by the Administration.
A brief description of the ideal pattern regarding marriage by bridewealth follows:
A boy of about 15 chooses from among his young female acquaintances one who, he thinks, will make him a suitable wife. The girl should be aged from 10 to 12 years. The prospective fiancée might be from the boy's village or a neighbouring one. When the boy has selected such a bride, he signifies his intentions by offering her corn-beer when it is available. After this has been done several times, he may ask her whether she agrees to become his fiancée. If she agrees he asks her to give him a gift as a token of her engagement. The most frequently given token is either the raffia cord rope that young girls frequently wear around their necks, or a brass bracelet. If she refuses to give him such a token, the relation is broken off.
After a girl has made a gift, the lad asks one of his senior kinsmen, either a male or a female, most frequently his own mother, to go to the girl's compound with a brass bracelet. This bracelet is offered to the girl in the presence of her parents. If they allow her to accept the gift, it expresses their acceptance of the young man as a prospective husband for their daughter. The two are now formally engaged.
The young boy has certain duties towards his future in-laws: he is expected to gather as many age-mates as possible to come and help his mother and father-in-law at the busy farming season. If his inlaws live in a neighbouring village, he may bring his following to work for two or three days at a time; if in the same village, only for one day. In the latter case he would come more frequently. At any rate he should lend his aid at least twice a year, more if possible.
The lad is expected to make gifts, such as decorated calabashes, baskets, bead necklaces, wicker-work rattles, palm-oil, salt and meat to his sweetheart. These gifts can be sent at any time but preferably after the harvests when most of the feasts and dances take place. About every ten days, the fiancé is expected to come to his girl's house and spend the night. He is allowed to sleep on the same mat with her but no attempts must be made to have intercourse. If a man or boy has intercourse with a non-nubile female, he may neither marry nor have sexual intercourse with her again. Whenever the girl makes corn-beer to sell her fiancé should come to her compound and buy a pot, paying at least five times the normal market price. If a boy meets his 'inamorata" in a solitary place, he frequently attempts to caress her sexual organs; she is expected to resist but the resistance is feigned.
When the groom has reached the age of 24 or thereabouts, he sends a senior kinsman to inform the girl's parents that he now wishes to marry her. If they are satisfied with his behaviour they agree. If not, the young man may decide to wait a bit longer, or her may make up his mind to bring matters to a head. If the two choose the latter course two alternatives are open to them: they may elope or the girl may be impregnated.
Eloping is not commonly resorted to. If the lovers decide to adopt this course, the girl meets her lover at some distance from her own settlement and they go together to the village selected as a haven. This would usually be the groom's village unless he resides in the same one as the bride. In this case they would probably choose as a hiding place a village in which the fiancé had kin. If the couple are caught by the girl's parents before reaching the selected retreat, they are safe and the girl's parents can do nothing. The groom will send an emissary to the girl's parents explaining what he has done and why, offering to legalise the marriage by the gift of a cock and a spear. Normally the fiancée's parents are angry at first but later clam down and accept the "fait accompli"; they agree to the marriage. I have only heard of one case in which they consistently refused. The result was that after a few months the girl went back to her parents and abandoned her lover.
The more common practice for two lovers who wish to marry and cannot get the consent of the bride's parents is to have recourse to a pregnancy. If a girl is pregnant her parents are anxious to get her married off for it is said to be a bad thing for a girl to deliver a child when she is unmarried. No stigma is cast on a non-wedded girl with child nor on the resultant offspring but her parents will be criticised if it is known that she wished to marry before her child was born and they would not permit it.
The incidence of pregnancy before marriage is quite high. Not all of such cases are du to deliberate planning on the part of the couple to force the hand of the girl's parents.
A common reason for the girl's parents or guardians to refuse her permission to wed is that she is not old enough. There are no objective criteria used to determine whether a girl has reached a marriageable age so there is frequent disagreement on this score. Some may say that a girl is old enough while others disagree. Young men seem generally to wish to marry early, while the girl's guardians want to postpone the ceremony for as long a time as possible. This is often a point of contention between a man and his future in-laws.
If the girl's guardians agree to the marriage when asked by the young man's kin, the emissary returns to the groom's compound and reports the good news. In the past, five native hoes, a cock and a very long spear were sent to the girl's parents as bridewealth. These were not brought by the fiancé but by a group of from three to five of his oldest kin. Usually, the group included the groom's mother or the person who acts in her stead if his mother is dead. The kin of the girl again consult and, if they agree to take the gifts offered, the girl may be considered to be legally married. From this moment the young man enters into the status of son-in-law vis-à-vis the girl's guardians, that is in-law taboos come into force. Apart from the gifts mentioned above, a hoe or a fowl may be offered to the girl's mother.
After the bridewealth has been offered and accepted, a date suitable for the removal of the bride to the groom's compound is agreed upon. Periods following the harvest are frequently chosen for marriages; they are said to be especially propitious as there is little pressing farm-work to be done. The day that the removal is to take place, young men and girls from the groom's village go to the bride's house to accompany her back to the groom's compound. Most of these are from the groom's own compound cluster. A few from the hamlet may join them as well as from other hamlets in the village. They need not be kin of either the bride or the groom. The group includes the groom's best friends as well as some of his own kin an any other young men or girls who wish to join in the fun. Only one married person is included in the group and this a woman. She need not stand in any special kin or social relationship to the groom but she is normally related to him, if only by affinal ties. Before leaving, the bride visits all of the houses of her compound saying"good bye" to the residents, often extending the list of visits to all the houses making up the compound cluster. When darkness has fallen, the groom's emissaries suggest that it is time to leave. The bride's family puts up token resistance to her leaving; the resistance is overcome by a small gift of one or two shillings and the party sets out. Accompanying the girl are many of her younger kinswomen. No married woman from her own group is allowed to join the group. Along the road, the bride or members of her suite may sit down and refuse to go any farther and will have to be bribed by the gift of a fowl, hoe, or a small sum of money. If the groom's hamlet is a long way off, one or more days may be spent at villages along the road for the bride may only travel by night. However, inmost cases, the village is fairly near-by and is reached the first night. The first stop in the groom's hamlet is by preference the house of a female kinswoman of the bride. if she has no kin in the hamlet, a friend's house is chosen. Sometimes the night is spent in this house, but sometimes only a brief stop is made there and the group goes on to the groom's compound. Whatever they decide to do, as soon as the stop is made, food is sent from the groom's compound to the place where the bride is to stay with her following. The food sent is of the type that is most appreciated by the Mambila namely: chicken cooked in much palm-oil, with many hot peppers, foo-foo and palm-wine. The bride's party insist - whatever the quantity that is brought - that it is not enough. More is brought in; further complaints are common, but rarely is either food or drink brought more than twice. The bride does not eat or eats little.
If the group has planned to stay where they are for the night and the following day, they settle down to sleep. Otherwise after eating they start towards the groom's compound. At the edge of the compound the bride refuses to go any further. A hoe is given to her and she enters. Then, she and her entourage, settle in a house of the compound but it should not be either the groom's or his mother's, unless these are the only dwellings in the compound. In this case the groom's mother's house is chosen and the mother must spend the night elsewhere.
The next morning food of the same type as was consumed the previous night is brought to the group. Again the accusation that it is not sufficient is made. Comments are heard about the poverty of the groom's kin: they supply so little; and tales are related of the feasts that their own groups prepared for such occasions in the past. As in the case of the meal presented the previous evening, the bride eats nothing or very sparingly.
The heads and necks of all chicken cooked for the bride are collected later so that they can be sent to her to her oldest unmarried sister. This is done to show how much the groom's kin group values the bride and how much they have done to keep her content.
Usually at the initial meal in the groom's compound, the groom is called in. This is the first time that he is given a part to play in the ceremony. He usually refuses the first call but a further order for his presence is sent out by the bride's party. In reply, he comes in. very sheepishly. He is offered food, which he refuses, but he is ordered to eat it. Amidst much merriment he is told to chew up chicken bones, which he does reluctantly. The noises of the bones being cracked by his teeth is greeted with loud laughter by the girls and much embarrassment by the groom's part.
During this time, the bride is sitting timidly in the corner, not saying a word. after much joking on the part of the bridesmaids, water is thrown on the groom, an act which is again greeted with laughter and the groom flees from the house. The bride's party then commands the groom's kinswomen to bring them water with which to wash both themselves and the bride. This task is accomplished by the unmarried girls of the groom's compound cluster, and any other girls of the groom's hamlet who happen to be there. During the bathing much water is purposefully wasted and frequent attempts are made to throw some on any of the groom's kin who happen to be nearby. Many trips are made to the source of water before the wants of the bride's group are satisfied. They first bathe themselves and then they carefully wash the bride. When this is finished, they ask for camwood which is used to decorate the bride. The group is in no hurry to finish the work at hand ad much time is spent chasing the groom's young kin, both boys and girls, trying to throw camwood onto them.
When the bride has been completely covered with camwood, and a belt of beads - a gift from the groom - has been donned by the bride, the groom is called. He must make a payment to the bride's party for the coiffure of the bride and for the fancy stool that has been brought for her. The amount varies from three to five shillings for each item. This money is divided between the person who has fixed her hair and the one who made the stool.
Soon after this, the bride's group prepares to leave. The groom accompanies them a part of the way and is expected to give them some palm-wine or corn-beer to drink before leaving them. The first cup from each jug of corn-beer is drunk by one of the groom's kinsmen. The second is shared by the groom and the oldest girl who has accompanied the bride. After that, all drink together. The bride who has come to see her retinue off pretends to go with them when they leave the groom. The groom must offer her a present of six pence or one shilling before she agrees to stay.
The bride and groom return to his compound. He enters the house that has been prepared for himself and his new wife. One of the groom's unmarried kinswomen brings the bride to the threshold of the house. She will refuse to enter until a small gift, usually of one shilling, has been offered to her. She enters and again must be given one or two shillings, before she sits down. A cooked fowl ad foo-foo are brought in; the wife is presented with another shilling before she begins to eat and a final two or three shillings is given to the bride by the groom before she joins him on the nuptial bed.
For three days neither the husband nor the wife are supposed to leave the compound. They are expected to spend a large part of the time in their house together. Neither are allowed to do any work. After three days the groom is permitted to indulge in all of his normal activities, but the wife is only permitted to grind corn or guinea-corn. The mother of the groom supplies the young couple with food. She is expected to provide chicken for them at least once daily. This food is brought to the couple's hut where they eat together. As both are still "shy", they are not expected to eat very much in each other's presence. Both the bride and groom take snacks when alone. The special cooking of fowls in palm-oil continues for at least ten days. Sometimes it will be done for twenty days if the groom's family area able to afford it.
This period, whether it be ten or twenty days, is ended when the bride is sent back to her own compound for Tschuk medicine to be made. This medicine ensures her fertility and that the agricultural efforts of the couple will be rewarded with good crops. The bride is sent back to her parents' or guardian's compound accompanied by the groom's elder brother, if available, or by any senior kinsman. She carried with her three chickens and one or more calabashes of palm-wine which will be given to her kinsfolk. The blessing which the bride derives from having Tschuk made for her, is partially transferred to the groom when she returns to his compound. Before her entering the compound, the groom is called to the gate and leads her into the compound by holding her index fingers with his own. This act transfers a part of the blessing.
While the bride is away, the groom is expected to sit quietly in the compound and not indulge in unnecessary conversation. After the ritual of Tschuk has been undergone, the pair resume their normal activities.
In the case of a woman who has been married before much of the ceremony is omitted. The cock and spear must go from the groom to his in-laws, but much of the rest of the activity associated with first marriages may be done away with. Frequently a woman who has already been married will go to her new husband's compound alone. He may give her the gifts that he would offer to a girl at her first marriage, but only rarely is this done. Usually only one gift is made; this takes place when the new wife goes into the groom's house for the first time. The decoration of the bride with camwood is never one at a second marriage. Fowls are often cooked for her and the heads of these fowls are sent back to her own kin, but not as many are killed as would be the case for her first marriage. If a woman has already been married many times the only gift may be the cock ad spear.
The fact that the groom has or has not been married before has no bearing on the wedding ceremony. If it is the bride's first marriage, all of the usual observances will be followed, irrespective of how many times the groom has been wed. Should it be the groom's first marriage and the bride's second, the abbreviated ceremony will be performed.
The amount of bridewealth transferred today is greater than it was in the past. The discussion to follow will be divided into two parts: firstly, the bridal payments in the past ad secondly, bridewealth today. The past refers to the period up to the 1930's.
In the far distant past only two native hoes would b given in exchange for a bride. I was told that the amount steadily increased through time until in the 20's the groom would be expected to give the bride's guardian about five hoes if the girl had not been previously married. for the second and subsequent marriages, the amount of bridewealth decreased.
Bridewealth was normally transferred from the groom to the bride's kin before the bride was allowed to go to the groom's compound. If the groom and his in-laws were on very good terms the payment of bridewealth might be postponed.
A cock and spear would complete the property transferred to the bride's guardian. This should not, strictly speaking, be classified as bridewealth since it is also given in the case of exchange marriage. Neither the bridewealth nor the cock and spear might be reclaimed by the groom in the case of a divorce.
The table below indicates who had the first claim on the bridewealth received at a girl's marriage according to the traditional system:
Type of Marriage of Bride's Parents
|First Claimant to the Bridewealth|
|1. Exchange not broken by divorce.||The Bride's father or guardian.Guardian would be of Memin of the girl's father. Ideally, the father's brother.|
|2. Exchange followed by divorce.||Mother's brother or male acting in his stead:a member of the girl's mother's Memin.|
|3. Bridewealth. First Marriage of offspring of the marriage.||Bride's father or man acting in his stead: a member of the father's Memin.|
|4. Bridewealth. Subsequent marriages of oldest daughter and marriages of other daughters.||The mother's brother or man acting in his stead. Member of the bride's mother's Memin.|
|5. Slave. Free male married to a slave woman.||Bride's father or man acting in his stead. Member of father's Memin.|
In all but one of the above cases, the recipient of the bridewealth is a member of the bride's Memin. Case No 3 is the exception: the bridewealth is given by the groom to the girl's guardian who later passes it on to the bride's father. This is done to repay him for the payments that he made for the girl's mother. In spite of the fact that the ultimate recipient of the gifts is not of the girl's Memin, members of that group make all the arrangements for the marriage.
In the table above we have listed the first claimant only. He should pass on the amount received to a young male of the same generation as the bride. The ideal recipient is the girl's sibling. The arrangement seems to have been that the person who would later give the girl in an exchange marriage would be the one to receive the bridewealth.
The Memin of the groom was responsible for supplying him with the hoes an cock and spear necessary to obtain a wife. Frequently, the groom himself owned the necessary objects which had been given to him when a sister or other kinswoman was married. In case of need he would first turn to his father, if he were living in his compound, whether or not father and son belonged to the same Memin. If the father was unable or unwilling to help, the prospective groom would ask the senior male member of his Memin for help. The latter was said to be obliged to provide it.
Today, the amount of bridewealth demanded is much larger than it was in the past. the parents of a girl may request from 4 to 8 on the occasion of her first marriage. For a woman who has been married before, the amount demanded is less: as little as 1 might be asked if she has been wed several times.
The amount of the bridewealth is fixed by a younger unmarried female-sibling of the bride. If the bride has no female-sibling a younger kinswoman - preferably one residing in the compound of the bride - arranges the amount. She may consult with older women but the ultimate decision rests with her. I asked several men and women why the father and/or the mother of the bride did not fix the amount, and they all replied that this would be tantamount to selling their daughter. It would be shameful, they said, for a man even to attempt to influence the bride's younger sibling to demand a high price.
The amount is decided a few days before the bride's removal to the groom's compound. The groom is told what he is expected to pay. If he is unable to obtain the full amount, he sends a sum that he believes will be acceptable. The bride's guardian and senior kinsmen in her local group count the money; if they think that it is not sufficient they send it back to the groom, telling him so. If the groom can get no more, he returns the original sum and begs his fiancée's kin to accept it. The bride's group should accept it for it would be considered very mercenary for them to insist upon being shown the total amount.
Once the two parties have agreed that the amount sent is satisfactory, the entire sum is normally sent back to the groom. The bride's kin may keep a small part of it, but this is rarely done. In the past bridewealth was kept by the bride's kin but this is no longer the case. When it is sent back to the groom's kin they say that they will accept it after children are born to the pair and the marriage is seen to be stable.
None of the young men, that is under forty-five, of whom I inquired, had finished paying the total amount due. Usually small amounts are sent by the groom to the bride's kin at infrequent intervals. The claimant to the bridewealth has the right to ask for a part of it at any time, and if the groom is able to he should give it.
Some of my informants said that the person who had first claim on bridewealth in the past (See Table), might still today exercise this claim. The majority disagreed saying that, allowing for two exceptions, the male who had cared for the girl was the person who had the right to claim the bridewealth. The first exception to this rule is if the girl has been brought up by a step-father who is not related to her father. In this case, the step-father has no claim; he should however be offered a gift - to compensate him for the trouble of bringing up the girl - by the claimant. The claimant, in this case, would probably be the father or the father's brother of the girl, or it might be the mother's brother. The second exception occurs when the bride is the first daughter of a divorced couple who had been wed by bridewealth. In this case, the bridewealth should be given to the girl's father - if he gave bridewealth for the girl's mother - irrespective of whether or not she had been living with him. If the father did not give marriage gifts and did not bring up the girl, he has no claim.
The most common occasion on which the two opinions conflict is when a girl's parents have been married by bridewealth, and she has been brought up in her father's compound. According to the first opinion quoted above, the bridewealth should go to the girl's mother's brother. The holders of the second opinion said that it should go to her father. In the few cases which I was able to check, the father claimed the bridewealth and was allowed to exercise the claim. In most cases, a small gift was sent to the mother's brother. All my informants agreed that in cases of this sort, the father of the girl arranged the marriage.
The fact that, irrespective of who is allowed to claim the bride-wealth it should be passed on to the bride's male-sibling, makes the fact of who has the right to claim it academic. The whole question of bridewealth is complicated, first by the fact that, as a rule, none of it is paid until several years have elapsed after the marriage is consummated, and secondly that the system of the distribution of bridewealth is in a state of flux and no pattern has so far been worked out to satisfy all.
The custom of returning a part or the whole amount of bridewealth to the groom in case of a divorce was not followed in Warwar. I believe that it was not practised in any Mambila village until recently. The Native Authority Court at Moamga has made a new ruling forcing the wife's kin to make full restitution in the case of a divorce, unless they are able to prove that the reason for the divorce is that the husband mistreated his spouse. I was told that this new practice was introduced by the first and only Mambila court clerk. It is reported that he did so because he had been married and divorced many times; unwilling to forfeit the payments that he had made, he told the chiefs who were acting as the panel of judges at court that the Administration had ordered that the Mambila begin to follow the Fulani practice of returning bridewealth to the groom in the case of divorce. The Administration did, in fact, never issue such an order. As yet no Warwar male had taken a case to court in order to get his bridewealth restored, though husbands from some of the neighbouring villages had begun to do so. My informants in Warwar say that, as it is not the traditional practice and anyone doing so would be considered to be a "bad man" by others in the village, they do not follow this new ruling. The fact that seldom has more than a token amount been paid makes minimal the loss incurred by not claiming restitution of bridewealth.
In this section I do not propose to refer to slave marriages since my information on this subject is much too scanty and indefinite.
I shall first of all describe the ideal pattern, that is how authority should be allocated within the household according to Mambila norms, and then describe how far and under what circumstances this ideal pattern is departed from.
The account of the ideal pattern may give a somewhat biased view for the majority of my informants were male, since at the time it was not possible to obtain information from a large sample of women.
It the couple are married by exchange, the husband is said to be able to exercise more authority over his spouse than is the case for a pair married by bridewealth. A Mambila would not phrase it in these terms; he would say that a man married by exchange would have more freedom in exercising sanctions over a recalcitrant wife than would a man married by bridewealth. The sphere in which authority may be exercised in both cases is the same, but the resentment felt by a woman married by bridewealth can more easily be translated into action than would be the case for a woman married by exchange. This will emerge in the discussion of the steps that a woman may take if her husband is overbearing.
Men are said to be initiators of action within the household, other than that exclusively concerned with the woman's sphere of activities. For instance, a man may tell his wife he wants his food prepared and the quantity that she must cook, but not how she is to cook it. Cooking is said to fall within the woman's sphere and a wife would resent being given instructions on how to proceed. Further, a man would not tell his wife how to sweep out the house or the compound yard, but he might tell her when the task is to be done.
The same applies not only to household duties, but also to farming and tasks connected with child-rearing. If a man finds his wife remiss in carrying out her duties, he may criticize her. If the remarks are phrased in a gentle manner and are justified, the wife should accept them; however, if she believes herself innocent and has been married by bridewealth she may run away and return to the compound of her parents or guardian. The husband is then expected to go after her and appeal to her kin to send her back. A hearing will be held in which the husband will be allowed to state his case and the wife hers. Present at the hearing may be the elder kinsmen of the wife's Man and the wife's mother; other elders from the local group of the wife may attend and give their opinion, but the final decision rests with the wife's senior kinsmen and mother. The wife's kin will decide which of the two is the guilty party. If the wife is judged guilty the man will be expected to pay a small sum of one to two shillings to the girl's female guardian, in most cases her mother, and then her kin will try ad persuade her to go back to her husband. If the husband is considered to be responsible for the girl's running away, a large fine may be levied which will be divided up among the wife's kin who are present at the trial; the senior men at the hearing get the largest part of the fine. The amount of the latter may vary from 3 to 8 shillings depending upon the gravity of the wrong committed by the husband. Either after the fine has been paid or after the husband has given a promise to pay, the wife will be persuaded t return to her spouse. If they quarrel frequently and the husband is always found to be in the wrong, the wife may be told by her kin not to return to him.
In the case of exchange marriage, the wife may escape to the compound of her guardian. However if she tells her guardian that the only reason for her leaving was that her husband criticized her, she is likely to get little support from him and the rest of her kin. They may request her to go back immediately, or attempt to persuade her to return with her spouse when he comes to claim her. Much pressure will be brought to bear upon her should she refuse. No fine will be levied on the husband. If the husband is found to have been at fault, the only step that the wife's guardian can take is to allow her to divorce her husband, which of course entails the breaking-up of the paired marriage.
According to the ideal pattern, women married by exchange are more firmly tied to their husbands than is the case with marriages by bridewealth. These are often said to be temporary, that is remaining in force until one of the two persons involved and/or the kin of one of the spouses wish to break it. The assumption at the time of such a marriage is that it will probably not be a permanent alliance. On the other hand, marriages by exchange are expected to be lasting and though they are not frequently broken, it is still considered to be an exception when divorce occurs.
An intensive study of a small number of households has led me to believe that authority is seldom exercised within the elementary family. Husbands and wives know their respective rôle and it is rare that either must be forced by the other to play it. For example a husband may in theory tell his wife when to cook a meal, but normally a wife knows at what time the meal is expected and acts accordingly. The manner in which instructions are accepted is the result of psychological factors: certain wives are docile and do not resent being given orders by their spouses whole others become very angry when told what to do.
If one were to set up two polar extremes, one representing households in which the husband is dominant, and the other in which the wife is the ultimate authority, we should find no examples of either. The majority of households would be found veering towards the pole of male dominance. The main difference between the ideal and real patterns of distribution of authority perhaps results from the abolition of exchange marriage. There is no question in the mind of Mambila men that husbands married by exchange were able to wield more authority in the past than may the husbands of today, irrespective of how they are married. It might be said here that the Government did not annul the exchange marriages which were in force at the time that they abolished exchange marriage, but prohibited the enforcement of rights which traditionally resulted from this type of marriage. Therefore in the discussion that follows, all marriages - that is both exchange and bridewealth marriages - will be treated similarly since the rights which a husband may be able to enforce today, irrespective of the type of marriage, are the same.
The husband represents his household in inter-household affairs. From the point of view of extra-household affairs, a woman is regarded as a minor. Sometimes a husband has difficulty in having his wife fulfil responsibilities towards persons outside the household, once he has incurred them. One example of this was encountered when a friend of mine was much embarrassed because he could not make his wife grind enough flour so that he could brew beer for a village celebration. All households were expected to make beer for this occasion. As a general rule a wife does not object to following her husband's instructions when they pertain to extra-household activities, that is to say his authority in these matters is accepted.
Conflict most often arises in the realm of household activities. It is here, too, that one finds the greatest range of variation. Some husbands are able to make suggestions or give orders with impunity, whereas others so not dare make the mildest proposals. These differences are mainly due to personality variations. The fact that a wife has many kinsfolk residing in the village or hamlet, or that her kinsfolk will look with sympathy upon her complaints, dos not seem to play any rôle in determining her response to these manifestations of authority.
The only strictly structural factor that plays a predominant part in the allocation of authority between husband and wife within the household is that of residence after marriage. In the few cases of uxorilocal marriages that I was able to study, the wife could exercise much more authority in some cases and was freer from her husband's authority in others, than is true for women living in accordance with the traditional virilocal pattern. At first, it was thought that this resulted from the fact that the couple were living with the wife's kin, and that the wife would be able to martial support of her husband became what she considered to be overbearing. Further research has led me to the conclusion that the reason why women are in such a strong position in uxorilocal marriages is that only a weak-willed man would be agreeable to settle permanently with his wife's kin.
As we said earlier, there is little need for the exercise of authority in the relation between a husband and wife, since both know their rôles and, as a general rule, do their best to conform to them. The fact that marriages are easily broken and that many are, leads me to believe that if there is any major conflict between spouses, the marriage will not endure. It is to the man's advantage not to act in such a way that his wife will leave him for he will not only lose the bridewealth that he has given but also his children.
A man married by exchange is granted exclusive rights of sexual access to his wife. An adulterer is fined 5 goats, as well as 1 or 2 chickens for having intercourse with a woman married by exchange to another man. The chicken or chickens are sacrificed to propitiate the husband's ancestors while the husband keeps the goats. But, on the other hand, it is said that woman, married by bridewealth, should not have intercourse with any man but her husband, but if she commits adultery the adulterer will only be fined one or two chickens. These chickens might be sacrificed to either the wife's or the husband's ancestors. The oracle would determine which group has been offended. The fact that, in the second case, either one of the ancestors might have been offended, while in the first it could only be the husband, shows that in the case of exchange marriage, jural rights are automatically transferred to the husband's Memin; they are not in bridewealth marriages.
Sexual rights in exchange marriage may be said to be transferred to the groom acting as an agent for his Memin. That is if the husband dies, one of his younger kinsmen should inherit his wife. A woman married by bridewealth is free to leave her husband's kin group at his death. If she chooses to remain, and marry one of his kinsmen, the latter must pay bridewealth.
We have already seen that a woman married by exchange becomes responsible to her husband's ancestors, and not her own, for her behaviour. This is not necessarily the case for a woman married by bridewealth. The husband of a woman married by exchange is responsible for the payment of any fines that she may incur. This is not the case for a man who married his wife by bridewealth. The estate of a woman married by bridewealth is distributed among her own kin, whereas that of a woman married by exchange is inherited by her husband or a member of his kindred if he himself is dead.
If a woman married by exchange is killed, the husband's kin group claims compensation; in the case of bridewealth marriage, the woman's kin would make the claim.
I believe that a woman suspected of witchcraft might be administered the sasswood ordeal if permission were granted by the head of her husband's Memin, if she were married by exchange. The consent of the head of her own kin group was not necessary. In the case of marriage by bridewealth, the consent of her own Memin head must be obtained, and no reference need to be made to the head of the husband's kin group.
Rights "in Genetricem" are never transferred to the husband in bridewealth marriage. In the case of marriage by exchange the situation if more complex. It may be said that rights are never finally transferred to the pater until the mater has died. The words "mother" and "father" are not used here because, as we mentioned earlier, children may be given by their parents to the other participants in the paired marriage, and the latter then assume all the rights that are normally exercised as parents over one's children, without being in fact their parents. We have said that rights "in genetricem" are not finally transferred until the death of the mater because if the marriage ends in divorce the children will change their Memin affiliation from that of their pater to that of their mater. Children are always under the jural authority of that group which is able to wield such authority over their mater. If the mater is under the jural authority of their pater's group, so they will be; if at a later time she comes under the control of her own Memin, they too will be controlled by that group.
Bridewealth and exchange marriages may be further compared as to their incidence through time. For the purpose of this comparison the recorded marriages are divided into 2 categories: those which took place between 25 and 50 years ago, and those consummated over 50 years ago. The dating is somewhat hazardous, the error being more likely in the direction of pre-dating than of post-dating. The method used for dating marriages is the following: marriages which have resulted in the birth of offspring of 25 to about 45 years of age today are put into the first category, while the parents of persons who are 50 or more years old, as well as the grand-parents of persons of 25 or more years old, are classed as unions having taken place 50 or more years ago. The tables below show the incidence of the 2 types of marriage for both periods in the four hamlets of Warwar.
Type of Marriage
Type of Marriage
Taken at face value, these figures indicate that the number of bridewealth marriages has increased in relation to exchange marriages over the more recent period covered by the data.
In using the data given above, we must not forget that only unions which resulted in offspring are recorded. Therefore if we accept the statement of the Mambila that bridewealth marriages were often of very short duration in the past, and frequently did not result in offspring being born, the incidence of this type of marriage is probably underestimated.
It was probably true in the past that the majority of Mambila married several times by bridewealth while only marrying once or perhaps twice by exchange. One can only get indirect confirmation of this by studying the marriage histories of Mambila living today. The table below gives the number of marriages contracted by 62 women and 68 men presently living in Warwar. If we look at the figures for those in our sample who are over 40, we find that the vast majority were married many more times by bridewealth than by exchange.
£= Bridewealth Marriages X = Exchange Marriages
|Age||Females,||each married||Males,||each married|
|20-29||16||once £||14||once £|
|4||twice £||4||twice £|
|30-39||8||once £||12||twice £|
|8||twice £||4||once £|
|2||once , once X|
|40-49||4||twice £, once X||2||twice|
|4||once £, once X||2||3 times|
|2||once X||2||4 times|
|2||4 times £, once X|
|2||3 times £, once X|
|2||5 times £, once X|
|50-59||2||twice £, once X||4||4 times £, once X|
|6||once £, once X||2||4 times £, twice X|
|4||once £, twice X||2||5 times £, twice X|
|2||3 times £, twice X|
|1||8 times £, twice X|
|60-69||2||twice £, once X||4||4 times £, once X|
|2||once £, once X||2||4 times £, twice X|
|2||5 times £, twice X|
|Total of persons involved||Females||Males|
|Total of marriages||80||182|
|Total of X marriages||30||38|
|Total marriages of both types||$||110||220|
Polygyny is not common among the Mambila. In Warwar only 13% of the married men - 17 out of a total of 133 - had contracted plural marriages at the time that I conducted my census. Only one of the 17 had 4 wives; one had 3 and the rest had 2 wives.
There appears to be no correlation between status and/or wealth and polygyny. The age distribution of those men (see chart at the end of this section) who have more than one wife shows that it is not the older men who have contracted the preponderance of plural marriages. Seniority is the major criterion for determining status. One should not be surprised to find that 11 of the males who have contracted polygynous unions are between the ages of 30 and 50, for this group includes by far the largest number of married males.
The individual houses of co-wives are built in the same compound. Some husbands build the houses of their wives in close proximity one to the other, while others see to it that the houses are separated by other dwellings in the compound.
The fact that the Mambila have no single term to refer to a polygynous family is not surprising in view of the fact that, in their eyes, this group is seen as a number of independent households; each wife has her own granary and plots. There is no expectation that co-wives will co-operate more with one another than they will with other women in the compound. The degree of co-operation between co-wives varies tremendously; perhaps the most important factor which determines it is the age of the wives. Older women in this position co-operate more, not only because it is probable that they have lived in the same compound for a long period of time and know each other well, but also because they seem to be less jealous of each other than is the case for younger women. Also, older women sometimes find it difficult to cope with multiplicity of the tasks allotted to them; they will therefore be grateful for any help that will lighten their duties. Younger women, on the other hand, take pride in the fact that they are able to work hard and do not need help in the same degree. Perhaps because they have been married for a shorter period of time, younger women do not have a feeling of security vis à vis their spouse, and fear that co-wives will either through magic or other means make their husbands cease liking them. It is a fact that there are many accusations of witchcraft in this context, this being an expression of hostility between co-wives that the society will condone.
The relative status of co-wives is determined solely by their age and not by the order in which they were married. Since any great discrepancy in ages of spouses is disapproved of, a man's wives tend to be about the same age and therefore their statuses are roughly equivalent.
Most polygynous marriages are of short duration. Middle-aged and old men have at one time or another had 2 or more wives simultaneously, but their marriage records show that this situation was temporary. A man does not gain status by having more than one wife. The men in the village who had acquired and kept more than one wife were said either to have powerful love magic, or else to be the type that women liked. The fact of having love magic makes a man confident in his relations towards potential spouses, and women are said to like self-confident men. It is obvious to the observer that some of the young men who wished to obtain more than one wife were unable to do so because of lack of confidence.
The head of a polygynous must tread warily if he is to avoid making his wives jealous. It is important that a husband show no partiality; if he offers a gift to one, the others must not be ignored. His sexual favours must be equally distributed, the usual practices being for him to sleep on alternate nights with each of his wives. This he should do even if one of his wives is the mother of a new-born child and intercourse is tabooed. A frequent cause of jealousy results from a man helping one of his wives more with farm-work than he does the others. This is done frequently when one wife needs the added assistance either through illness or conflicting responsibilities, such as tending a new-born child. Even when the need is obvious, a husband is expected to explain to all his wives that he is not singling her out because he prefers her to the rest but on account of her need for help.
Before abandoning the subject of polygynous families, it will be illuminating to examine the attitude of Mambila towards plural marriages. It varies enormously: young women frequently condemn the practice; they say that if their husband were to take a second wife, they would leave him. This is, in fact, a common cause of the break-up of a marriage. A few young women say that they would not object to their husbands' taking a second wife, as long as he did not show her any preference. The negative attitude towards polygyny is not of recent origin; perhaps it is more widely held today since a small minority of the women are nominal Christians and these, of course, condemn the practice. But the evidence for adducing that this attitude is not a new one can be obtained from the study of marriage histories. Many of the older women, when asked why they had left one or more husbands in the past, gave the reason that their husbands had contracted a second marriage.
We have already mentioned that older women have a tendency to get along with co-wives better than the younger women. There are several reasons why this is so:
1.An additional wife means less work if the second wife is willing to cooperate with the first. This is more than likely when the second wife is elderly, because old men do not marry young women. She will be happy to help and, in return, be helped by the first wife.
2. A woman who has been married a long time to the same man has a fixed status in the local group, and this is not likely to be taken from her by the new wife.
3.A woman's sexual desire decreases with age, and therefore the fact that the husband contracts a new marriage does not mean that she will be deprived of wished-for sexual pleasures.
4.When an old man acquires a second wife it is usually not because he has become emotionally attached to his bride, but for other reasons: he may inherit a wife from a deceased kinsman, or his first wife may be unable to cope with necessary tasks. etc.
The opinions of men on the institution of polygyny fall into two categories: No Mambila men, other than the handful of Christians, are in theory opposed to this institution, but the great majority do not favour plural marriages for themselves. The reason given by most men is that, if a man has two or more spouses, his peace disappears: either the wives bicker among themselves or with their husband. Empirical observation bears their statement out.
The minority of males, who either are or would like to be married to more than one wife, give two reasons for favouring polygyny.
1.The more wives one has, the more children one is likely to have. The possession of children does not enhance a man's status but is nonetheless considered to be a good thing from the father's point of view. One reason for this attitude is that if one has many children one will not suffer from want in old age.
2.A man should abstain from sexual intercourse with a wife for at least one year after she has given birth to a child. Children are said to be less healthy if there is not a period of at least 18 months between the births. The first-born child suffers if his mother becomes pregnant less than a year after his birth, for the quality of the mother's milk is said to deteriorate after conception.
The only effective method of contraception known by the people is coitus interruptus. This method is not approved of. The husbands advantage in having more than one wife is that abstinence need not be practised as frequently or for so long a period.
In spite of the men's arguments in favour of polygyny, only 30% to 35% of all men admit to wanting more than one wife. The ratio of young men favouring plural marriages for themselves is higher than is the case for middle-aged and older men. This may result from stronger sexual drives among the younger men and also from the fact that the Mambila recognise that the young are more likely to have children than older men. Finally the middle-aged and older man value peace and quiet more than do the younger elements of the population. As polygyny is associated with bickering, the tendency is for the middle-aged man to give up the advantage of polygyny in favour of peace and quiet.
of polygynous families
The vast majority of Warwar men marry either from the village or from nearly villages only. Only a very few find wives in distant settlements.
The table below gives in very general terms the areas from which wives were chosen by males of the village.
The first column includes all the marriages for which I have recorded sufficient information. Column Two includes only the marriages existing today. Column One includes the marriages in column Two.
|Type of Marriage||All Marriages||Existing Marriages|
|Number included in sample||247||131|
There seems to be a marked tendency for marriages between members of the same hamlet and village to be on the increase. This may be the result of the abolition of warfare. It is now no longer necessary for either the individual or the group to have allies in neighbouring communities. Another explanation may be that in the past locust infestations were not uncommon, and when these occurred the entire crop of one or more villages might be destroyed. It would then be of great value to have kin in unaffected villages who would be able to help by giving food. There are, no doubt, other possible explanations for this phenomenon.
61% of all the extra-village marriages recorded took place between men from Warwar and women from one of the 4 nearby villages. Each of these villages shares a common boundary with Warwar.
As the distance between any two villages increases, rarer become cases of inter-marriage. I am unable to give the longest distance over which I have recorded marriages, for I could not locate on any map some of the villages given to me as being the provenance of wives of the local males. Two villages about 10 miles away each supplied 8 wives; these 2 were the farthest settlements to provide more than 1 or 2 women.
The following table gives the provenance of all the women who married Warwar men of which I have a record. It also shows the distance of the various villages, when known, from Warwar.
|Woman's Previous Home||Approx. distance from Warwar||Married Males from:|
|Extra-Village Home||in miles||Ndiel||Tiket||Tigul||Tscharl||Total||% of Total such Unions|
|Kutsura (Fr Cam.)||?*||-||-||-||-||1||0.5|
|Total Intra-Village Marriages:||19||28||11||20||78|
|% Intra-Village Marriages:||27%||35%||31%||33%||32%|
|% Intra-Hamlet Marriages:||6%||16%||6%||5%||9%|
|Total of Intra-Village but Extra-Hamlet marriages:||57 = 23%|
|Total of Intra-Hamlet marriages||21 = 9%|
|Total of Intra-Village, including Intra-Hamlet, marriages||78 = 32%|
|Total of Extra-Village marriages||169 = 68%|
|Total of Recorded Marriages||247|
|* "?" is used when the distance is unknown.|
|Figures in the squares give the total number of women marrying in their own hamlet.
Figures in brackets
give the total number of extra-hamlet but inter-village marriage.
Women circulated in the direction of the arrow.
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