WHEN IS MARRIAGE, MARRIAGE?
I arrived Awka on January 26, 2010 with great joy because the traditional engagement of Joy of The Sun newspaper and Austin of Mbaise was coming up the next day. As Joy's family members were busy, preparing for the great event, another family, separated only by inches from them, was also busy, organizing a burial ceremony.
I remember vividly the English book we used for the G.C.E (London) called, 'Combined Operation', which superbly taught prÃ©cis and comprehension. I wondered how they would 'combine' the two mutually exclusive events - weeping and merrymaking! Well, excitement made the day long for me in coming. With lots of fan fare, Austin and his people arrived. Soon, they and the host community entered into negotiation. I was co-opted by Mbaise people, who probably forgot that I was the guest of Awka people.
As I was discussing with the Scripture Union Awka Area Zonal Rep, whose mission really was to ensure that Joy and Austin kept their Area 'Don'ts', someone told us to join Mbaise people in their canopy. We did. One of the people started attacking believers that insist that traditional engagement is not wedding. I responded immediately, stressing that traditional engagement does not give any marriage rights to the couple-to-be. 'What have we come to do here today?' he asked me in anger. I told him that it was to gain the consent of Joy's family members for the proposed marriage between her and Austin.
'If all things are equal,' I told him, 'this ceremony will transform to marriage in a later date, when they will become husband and wife'. That was an insult to him and to his people. He raved, insulted and abused me as much as he could. He belonged to the class that lacks decency, even when they are talking to a stranger they do not know his name.
I reminded him that his language was vulgar and that he should learn how to press home his points without insulting people. 'That is how you people go around, misleading people. I was a member of the Assemblies of God Church for years. Austin and Joy are married today. If I were Austin, I will make sure she is pregnant immediately,' he said. 'There is no problem with that. Let us see whether Joy will follow you home today. In Igbo traditional society, after engagement, the people will go home with their new wife. Let us see what will happen at the end of this programme,' I told him, 'Joy and Austin are believers and Scripture Union members in particular. They know that they are not yet married.' He walked away, fuming.
I tried to explain to one of his people who, though he was echoing when he was speaking, but courteous. 'After engagement, which you claim is marriage, why is the lady referred to as 'Miss' in their wedding card? Should the wedding card not be written as follows: – 'The families of so and so invite you to the Marriage Ceremony of their daughter, 'Mrs' XYZ and son Mr. ABC' if their engagement bestowed them the honour? Or do they not know that they are married?' He had no answer for that. At the end of the day, Joy did not follow them to Mbaise and nobody even asked her to do so.
During a wedding, the officiating minister always asks, 'Who giveth this lady to this man?' This means that nobody has done that before. A daddy or someone delegated by him would step forward to handover the lady to the Pastor who then hands her over to the husband-to-be. Secondly, the minister asks the two people standing to be joined, whether they were aware of any impediment that would preclude their joining, 'Knowing that as many people that are joined otherwise than God's Word allows, are not joined by Him, neither is their marriage lawful'. Thirdly, he asks the man, 'Will you take this lady to be your wedded wife?' After his positive response, he asks the lady.
My niece and her husband-to-be insisted that I should give the message during their traditional engagement many years ago. In the message, I emphasized that what we were doing would not bestow any marital privilege to the two people. After the message, someone emerged from the blues, grabbed the public address system and announced that the man and my niece were free to be sleeping together from that day. It was like a dream, an open coup. And that was a lady I raised up from cradle. Trust me, I took the same microphone to rewrite his announcement. At the end, I took her back to Lagos till God joined them.
I know that our legal system recognizes customary marriage, court marriage and Church marriage. An unbeliever can stop at any point. But for God's children, each ceremony leads to the other until they are joined in the Church. Most of the things done at the reception after joining in the Church, are now taking place during the traditional engagement but unfortunately, it will never transform to a Church. Let the people of God wait till God, their Father, joins them if truly they are His children.