The Nigerian is an elaborate person who doesn't waste any opportunity to party, his poor finances not withstanding. Weddings are one such avenue for our public show of extravagance. Some one-a comedian on one edition of Nite of a thousand Laughs-had observed that the most expensive thing in Nigeria was marriage because of the detail put into it : introductions, traditional wedding, church wedding, thanks giving service and then the honey moon which due to its tone in Nigeria he referred to as an ÔÇśexcursion'.
The comedian however also questioned why we Africans should bother our selves with such routine especially the Church wedding part asking if the white men did our own traditional wedding. He concluded that its was all part of our continued colonialism by the west.
The westerners who brought us all these practices-a church wedding after the traditional one- funnily do not put any emphasis on weddings. Couples meet on the road, in the train, in a pub, wherever, get discussing and walk down the road to a registry and get married. Parents, friends and relations only get to know about it later. Around here-perhaps due to the sacred importance we attached to the union, it is different. I will spare us the details.
But that is really not the issue this piece wishes to address. I grew up to know of a particular pattern marriage took. It is always the traditional wedding first before the Church or white wedding. Recently however, the leadership of the Catholic Church in some sections of the country-Nsukka Dioceses for example- have reversed the trend by breathing down their faithful a new decree or dogma as they call it that the Church wedding shall hence forth be superior to the Traditional union and must be performed first. In fact, the way the law is, it leaves the impression that the Church doesn't now attach any importance whatsoever to the Traditional union and doesn't really care if it holds or not. What was important was the Church union.
Their reason? Many young men take wives, perform the traditional rites and don't ÔÇôespecially due to the financial demands- go the whole hug to bless the marriage on the alter. The two begin to co-habit, bear children and all that which is not Christian and of course keeps both parents and off springs from the church sacraments. Hence the new order.
With due respect to the Catholic Church and the Bishops who have promulgated these ÔÇśdecrees', I beg to disagree. With all sincerity, I appreciate their reason, but I simply can not come to terms with any thing-religious or other wise- which seek to relegate our cherished traditional values to the realms of antiquity and of no value whatsoever. This is exactly what this new law is doing.
The early Christian missionaries succeeded to a great deal because they some how found a way of infusing their teachings along our traditional beliefs not necessarily against it. That way, our people were at home so to speak with most of the teachings thus it was easier for them to come to church. Some essential values such as the sanctity of marriage were preserved and protected. When a Church teaching is such that it has the propensity of setting the Church against the people, such a law is all but healthy.
I am an advocate of the old order-our traditional wedding first- not because I am a curator of some sort or an old school fellow who feels so attached to the traditions and thus antagonistic to change. No, I am taking this stand based on what I see as the very great importance the traditional wedding bears-an essential part of our culture- which the new law threatens to erode.
The traditional wedding includes all such rites as the payment of the bride price which symbolizes more than any ceremony on the alter can, an entry into a lifelong union by both families, wine carrying or Igba Nkwu-for the Igbos- which is sort of a public acknowledgement by the bride that yes this is the man I love and married to, exchange of gifts etc.
These ceremonies do not only have strong significance in upholding the sanctity of marriage and advancing our culture, it also helps to better unite both the family of the bride and groom who are both now united by the marriage of their children. It helps to foster unity, and better understanding between people of varying beliefs and more importantly, members of these two families contribute to ensure the union is a success.
When we de-emphasis these, and glorify the exchange of ring on the alter-which is essentially an alien practice borrowed from the West- we are simply putting the cart before the horse and inviting a series of other problem while trying to solve a religious one. Amongst many of these other problems, we are giving youngsters permission to get married with or without the consent of their families.
While I subscribe to change without which our society could not have evolved from what it was fifty years back to what it is now, I wish to strongly advocate for a retention of those traditions and practices which distinguishes us as Africans, makes us unique and gives us an identity.
With our music getting essentially hip-hop, our dressing getting wilder, our mother tongue becoming extinct and our traditional weddings taking the back stage, I am afraid we-Africans-are gradually losing what we have as an identity. The Catholic Church of all institutions should appreciate this.