Days Black People Not Re-Enslaved By Trump

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

No Wedding No Womb: African?

For the past two weeks the topic of No Wedding No Womb has been a constant source of, shall I say, bickering on my twitter feed. As is usual in the blogo-twitter sphere a lot of the commentary was predictable based on gender, age, socio-political leanings and most whether one was disposed to the idea that single parenthood is "OK". However; given that the author of said "movement" claimed that it was directed at black people, the sheer lack of discussion of how black people (meaning those in the US and descended from those who came via the slave trade) traditionally built their families and then how contact with the west affected these concepts of family.

For example, most Africans who came to America via the slave trade were completely comfortable with the concept of polygamy. It was normal for men to have multiple wives and multiple children by these women. The current social construct that a man ought to have and love only one woman is a very new concept for the African in America and is directly related to his exposure to white Christian "morality". So it would be fair to say that any black person espousing such thing as One Man one Woman marriage is merely parroting white culture to Black folk. Yet because many Black people in American are not aware of what their ancestors brought with them they are unable to discern what is an imposed system of thought and behavior and what is a natural progression of one of their own. This doesn't mean that all African customs are perfect and above critique but the African has the right to put his culture at the center of his thinking and to critique and change it in a manner suitable for his own needs instead of attempting to please or gain the acceptance of some other group.

In examining the No Wedding No Womb we note that the overall message is that in light of the high numbers of children born to unwed mothers and the observable social issues that are related to such a phenomenon, both black men and women ought to take seriously the idea that one ought to be married before having children. So what I'd like to ask is does such an idea correlate to any traditional African thought on family, marriage and child rearing. To that end I decided to look at the Akan people and the work of J.B. Danquah in "God: Coast: Akan Laws and Customs and the Akim Abuakwa Constitution. In that volume we find a discussion of courtship, marriage, divorce, etc. I think such an examination of the Akan is appropriate given that a large number of Africans in America came from that area of Africa and therefore came here with these concepts. Let us take a look:

Owing to the existence of multiplicity of wives in our institutions, the wife has to retain her maiden name thoughout and it does not need to be changed for her husband's."

While not directly related to the central issue of NWNW, this quote is interesting given the current propensity of women to take hyphened names (something I can not stand) upon getting married. Clearly if Black women wanted to return to the source, they could simply not take their husband's name at all (and husbands would not expect it). It also shows (at least as presented by Danquah) that marriage is clearly not a property based system as it was/is practiced in Europe as it relates to women. Clearly in the above a woman retains her identity within a marriage. Therefore; when we run across women who make claims that marriage is, by definition, the subjugation of women by men, then we know that woman has no knowledge of traditional African thought on the subject.

Let us continue on with Danquah's discussion of Courtship:

It has been my special experience to notice in forensic cases and elsewhere, the very affectionate qualities which young men and women display in their love affairs. A young man will make love to a girl, giving her presents in money or its kind as assurance of his love, and the girl will sometimes give return presents as a sympathetic assurance of her affection. Usually he meets with his sweetheart at different places and at the dances, but not very often in public for fear of scandal... Soon the fact of her courtship would get abroad, and it would be the young man's lot to announce it to the girls parents or guardians.

We would note here that Danquah has stated pretty clearly that there is pre-maritual sex going on here. This will be confirmed in later quotes. We can say that at least for the Akan, sex before marriage was not considered odd at all, but publicly flaunting one's "love affair" was frowned upon until (or unless) the man presents himself to the woman's family. The obvious question would be what happens if the man "knocks up" his lover? Well we'll get to that. What is important here though is that such an idea of abstinence prior to marriage can be seen as foreign and so we must ask who's ideology is one pushing when one pushes such a thing? Where did it come from? And what outcome has adopting such an ideology lead us to?


Money presents of a value recently regulated by law according to the position of the husband, are given to the parents and other near relatives of the girl's family. The intended husband should also, as far as his means allow him, make occasional money presents to the mother or grandmother of his betrothed, otherwise the absence of such presents may be a ground for cancelling the betrothal, for it is a test of the husband's benevolence. This, though not enforced by law, is a custom which the ardent lover never fails to comply...When a lover has completely gained the heart of his fiancee, it falls upon him to introduce himself to the parents of the girl. This may be done by appearing personally or sending messengers with drinks, to make the announcement. When the parents consent is given she automatically becomes betrothed to him. There is no need for engagement rings or other superficial imitations of the deed. In course of time the husband, having previously obtained certain domestic necessaries, would inform his parent or guardian of his intention, and it devolves upon the father, uncle or other guardian with whom he has been living, to send to the parents of the intended wife, for the purpose of "begging" them to give their daughter in marriage to his son or nephew. as the case may be

And so we see here something that is quite common across the continent. A man who wishes to marry must give gifts to the family of the woman he wishes to marry. There is no doubt that such gifting is not only a means of showing "benevolence" but also a way of making sure that a man has the means and drive to support both his wife and future children. You'll note that the husband to be must have "obtained certain domestic necessaries" prior to announcing his intention to his parents/guardians with whom he's been living. We also should note the extensive use of the phrase "uncle" or guardian. It is clear here that there is an assumption of extended family (or non related persons of responsibility) availability and involvement in the affairs of both single persons. Secondly we can observe that there is a linkage of both families. I don't know how many black Americans today can imagine having family members "beg" the intended's family for a wedding.

The Girl's uncle, (i.e, her mother's brother), has to be informed before any grant of marriage is made of his niece, but his consent is not always necessary.

So to extend the idea of "It takes a village to raise a child" it apparently takes extended family to wed one was well. It should be clear thus far that marriage in the Akan perspective is very much a group event rather than the increasingly individualistic approach taken by US society.


...Should a father or guardian of the girl refuse to give her in marriage, and signify his dissent thereto, the connexion should henceforth cease...It will be impossible to "elope" with the girl or to contract marriage under any circumstance whatsoever. He may continue his love but he must be sure that should there be any scandal, the issue of the illegal connexion will be "illegitimate" -- Not that the child would be disinherited, or in any way inconvenienced in it's general progress in life, for illegtimacy of children is unknown in our institutions. The putative father, can, therefore, in course of time apply to his child's uncle or other maternal relation for the presentation of the child to him. In this case he will be required to pay certain fees, generally comprising the amount the baby's mother (i.e. the lover) and her parents must have expended on account of the birth and care of the child. The baby's uncle or grand parents will also be pacified by payment to them of a sum of money. This rule also applies to the case when with no object to marriage at all, an accidental issue springs from the connexion of a young man and girl

We can take the above to be a clear example of how an African group dealt with such issues as unwed pregnancies: The man is clearly prohibited from being recognized as "father" until he compensates the mother and persons in her family that helped in the care of the child. In addition he has what is clearly "punitive fines". It is also clear that it is not consistent with Akan thinking to declare a child "illegitimate" as understood by Europeans. Danquah addresses this issue in a later part of his book:

The law, as it stands at present, recognizes as legitimate a child born to a man who had cared for an unmarried girl for whose baby he stands as the putative father. Marriage is necessary to make a child legitimate, but it would seem that among the Akans a bastard child is not particularly one whose mother and father are unmarried, but one whose paternity is indeterminable, his father (or fathers) not being known. Hence the name Aguaman-ba (child of harlotry)

This stands in clear contrast to the American definition of bastard in which regardless of the verifiability of the father, so long as the parents are not married, the child is considered a bastard. It is also evident that even the Akan have a low opinion of "hoedom" since clearly there is a stigma attached to a woman who cannot ID the father of her child.

Continuing into the meat of this issue:

If on the other hand, Kwaku had kept Adjoa in concubinage for any length of time, she being unmarried, and he subsequently applied to the parents of Adjoa for a grant of lawful marriage, the previous issue of their connexion automatically become legitimate as soon as the marriage is lawfully solemnized. It therefore follows that if the family refuse to grant the application for marriage, the issue of Kwaku and Adjoa's connexion would be 'illegitimate." and Adjoa's family would be the proper persons to give names to them.

We see here that legitimacy as used by the Akan only pertains to the circumstances of the relationship as it pertains to "ownership" of the child. That is a father cannot "legitimately" act as father or make any claims on "his" child unless he "does the right thing." You'll note that in this case, the father does not even have the right to name "his" child. So we can see that for the Akan, marriage brings privileges and a male who forgoes marriage does not get the benefits. Danquah illustrates this:

Now as regards the custody of children in general, the law is clear on the point. A child belongs to his father- or rather to his father's household, and so long as the child remains with his parents his custody is in the hands of the father. A mother cannot take a child away from the father. If the child is young the father may be ordered by Tribunal to leave it in the nursing hands of its mother. After the first two or three years of infancy a father can always claim possession of his lawful child [my emphasis]

It is clear then that child "illegitimacy" as discussed in NWNW has a solution in an African context. Firstly by de-stigmatizing the unwed mother by recognizing that it is the responsibility of the male lover to perform the proper actions to obtain legitimacy for his fatherhood. Secondly; since the concept of legitimization is squarely on the shoulders of the parents and not the child, The child is not penalized by the social group. Thus any man wishing to claim his "fatherhood" MUST legitimize himself by ACTING and DOING what is expected of fathers. there is a built in social construct that would discourage "single parenthood." After all to have to pay the mother, the grandmother and uncle(s) of a woman one got pregnant just to claim paternity is not something I think lends itself to "spraying their seed all over the place" as the author of NWNW posted in her FAQ. Look at the rules as set down by the Akan:

According to Akan customary laws, the upkeep of a child is the father's duty. From childhood until the age of puberty a father is held responsible for the care and welfare of his child. This personal responsibility for a child is held to be terminated when a son is given a gun and a wife or a daughter is given in marriage

You'll note that a father's male child is not considered generally a "man" until he is given a gun (a means of self defense, family defense and means of killing animals for meat) and a wife. Nor is a man considered legitimate father unless he has married a women who he has children with regardless to whether those children were created before or after "marriage". It is clear then, that a workable solution to the issue that NWNW seeks to address would be for African-Americans to be less "American" in their outlook on child-bearing and marriage and taking on a more African/Akan outlook. It is clear that slavery and the acceptance of certain European norms of thinking have brought Africans to a point where children are going uncared for and improperly socialized. Where both boys and girls are not being shown or taught constructive social relations which places value on fatherhood, motherhood, uncle-hood and grandparent-hood. Where children (and even "grown adults") are free to be disrespectful of their elders. In short as a collective our acceptance of Europeans norms have arguably resulted in mass dysfunction.