Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Reactionary Thoughts About Marriage

1 Hindu marriage vowsApparently the Hindu makes a series of vows during the marriage ceremony: one to work to financially support the family, another to have children and a third to treat each other with respect.

All very traditional. All so very quaint.

To the Hindu, though, there must be a reasonably clear answer to the question: What is it to be a good husband?

Is there an answer for the post-modernist? If not, is there not something lacking? Something important.

2 Igbo initiation into manhood
Among the Igbo of Nigeria manhood must involve marriage and this must involve childrearing. Celestine A Obi tells us that the ambition of becoming a father is so essential it is built into some of the Igbo names. One name: Nwabu-uwa apparently means: a child is all the world to me.

Manhood though is something that boys must be initiated into in the right way. Celestine describes the process like this: "As soon as a boy comes to the age of reason, he undergoes a civic juvenile test by which ho is initiated into the juju cult by iba nammuo (the walk to the spirit land). By this ceremony ho is initiated into the secrets of "egwugwu" and told of "ana-be-mmuo". These are secrets which he can never reveal to anyone of the female sex nor to the yet uninitiated of his own sex."

There are secrets one must keep from one's wife. Is there not a great deal of wisdom in this? And is the essence not: a certain distance - a certain sense of propriety - must be maintained. One must be a man for one's wife. One must certainly not lose one's sense of self - one's sense of difference. Is there not something terribly flaccid and unwholesome in the desire to merge, to disappear and have no secrets?
Oh, the wisdom of the Igbo!

3 Igbo womanhood
Celestine has a lovely passage on young Igbo women:

"The girls of the village take particular pains to attract the attention of eligible young men and do not hesitate to advertise their personal charms. On gala days, every available ornament is brought into requisition. The girls revel in dancing and seize every opportunity of displaying their charms deliberately walking upright and chest-out. "Why all this show?" one would be inclined to ask. You would not blame them, if you understood the motive. This is the time for a silent but vigorous campaign for a good husband. This ambition glows fervently inside every girl and restlessly demands an urgent satisfaction before the teeming full and pointing breasts sag and bow to age."

The Igbo (as they were, doubtless) fuse the sex drive, the desire to marry and the desire to raise children. The most primitive drives are still one with the central social roles.
How odd that seems from the perspective of one for whom marriage felt like an empty formality, like some feudal relic, and the thought of having children only arrived at an age at which most Igbo contemporaries would have become grandparents.

What a tremendous fragmentation of passion and social imperatives we now have. Not that there is a lack of social life, of socialising (and the Igbo with their separation of girls and boys were probably not the best at socialising) but the Igbo integration of individual desires and the dictates of the social whole (which, at the very least, needs children for its perpetuation) has been shattered.

It seems that this split is not accompanied by any psychic incision that might be painful and difficult to live with. At most there is, on the one hand, a certain confusion about gender roles (and what does it mean nowadays to be a man now that roles have become either stereotypes or lifestyle choices?) and, on the other hand, an appreciation of the demographic facts of the matter that birth rates in the West are declining and pension and health systems are heading for a crisis.
(Check out Celstine's work at

1 comment:

Werther said...

I share your feelings and your nostalgia. Good insights.