Meaning And Definition Of Marriage: Characteristics, Types And Functions

Table Of Contents

  • Meaning Of Marriage
  • Marriage Pre-requisite
  • Characteristics Of Marriage
  • Types Of Marriage
  • Functions Of Marriage
  • Forms Of Marriage In Nigeria

Meaning Of Marriage

Marriage is an important concept in the society. This is not easily defined due to the variations and diversities in its operation especially with respect to marriage system throughout the world. In spite of this, some definitions have been observed for clearer understanding of the concept. Marriage is traditionally believed to be legally recognized relationship between an adult male and female, that carries certain rights and obligations.

Marriage can also be defined as a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are recognized legitimate offspring of both parents. Marriage confers legitimacy and assigns roles to the partners and establishes a permanent setting in which procreation can take place. Marriage as a universal social institution creates new rights and obligation, roles and social relationships not just between the spouses but also between the kinsmen of the spouses. Marriage upholds the legitimacy of children.

Marriage Pre-requisite

Normally, every society has its obligations and requirements before marriage can occur. These are decision making, who to marry, and the payment of bride price:

1. Decision Making

Decision Making is always one of the critical things associated with human existence. Human beings are always left in certain situation to take decisions especially with respect to their personal existence. Traditionally, we believe that marriage is mainly the union of two persons and two families. Based on thatm certain things are always involved in taking decision. As soon as one attains the puberty level, the person is always under pressure to settle down with a wife or husband. In most times, this pressure comes from the respective families.

Decision making is therefore one of the necessary conditions to be observed for a marriage to be contracted.

2. Who To Marry

Having taken the decision to marry, it behoves the person to look for who to marry based on cultural prescription. In considering who to marry, the issue is always governed by cultural beliefs. In African societies, it is customary for the parents of a man or woman to have an overriding say in deciding whom their son or daughter marries. In most cases, the parents decide who their children marries. This indicates that the rules of endogamy and exogamy always affect the choice of marriage.

3. Payment Of Bride-price

The payment of bride price is one of the conditions to be fulfilled for a marriage to be contracted. This indicates the payment made to the girl and her parents. It is also called bride wealth or marriage payment. This payment indicates that the groom has successfully completed the marriage obligations required by the bride’s family. By doing so, they can then be seen as husband and wife.

In most societies, bride price is relatively dependent on certain variables such as educational attainment of the girl and even the economic status of the girl’s parents. In most times, it is always experienced among the Eastern part of Nigeria. The higher the educational attainment of the girl, the higher the bride price and vice versa.

Characteristics Of Marriage

1. Marriage is always a union between two persons and the two kinship groups. The strong involvement of both families reduces incestuous practices.

2. Marriage requirements in Nigerian societies are always done in processes. That is, it follows sequential stages till it gets to the final completion.

3. The right, duties and obligations of spouses are spelt out by societal norms and customs.

4. Divorce is viewed as permissible concerts in most societies. It varies from society to society. In the traditional African societies, divorce is permissible even though attached to certain conditions. For instance a man is expected to reclaim his Bride price pending on when the woman remarries in case the wife divorces her husband and vice versa.

5. Polygamy is allowed in tradional African societies whereas monogamy is mainly tenable in Western countries.

6. There must be payment and exchange of goods for a marriage to be contracted. It is one of the attributes of Marriage in the society.

Types Of Marriage

Marriage patterns differ from society to society. It determines the number of people involved. People always avoid the crime of incest when looking for a marriage partner. There are basic types of marriage and they are as follows:

1. Monogamy

This is a marriage pattern whereby there is only one husband or one wife at a time. That is, it means the marriage of one man to only one woman. Monogamous norms restrict the individual to one spouse at a time. It means that a man cannot marry more than one wife. He can only have another wife after he must have divorced the first wife.

2. Polygamy

This is a pattern of marriage involving more than one husband or wife at a time. It is seen as a marriage of on individual to more than one person of the opposite sex at the same time. It is referred to as plural marriage due to the fact that it permits plurality of mates.

3. Levirate

This occurs when a widow marries a brother to her dead husband who may or may not have married before. That is, a man marrying the widow of her dead brother. This leads greatly to the continuity of the original marriage contracted. In the societies where this is practiced, the widow is not referred to as the deceased brothers’ wife rather seen as the wife of the deceased.

4. Widow Inheritance

By widow inheritance, it means a system of marriage whereby a male kinsman such as the deceased’s son or close relative marries his dead brothers or fathers widow and becomes her legal husband. Their children belong to him. This system of marriage is also practiced in some African societies.

5. Ghost Marriage

This is a marriage system where the younger brother of a dead bachelor is expected to marry and have children in the deceased name.

6. Sororate

This marriage pattern allows a man to marry the sister of his dead wife. In most times, the condition allows the parents of the deceased to provide her younger sister to the man for marriage to enhance the continuity of the relationship. This system is practiced in Africa by the Kgatla people of South Africa.

7. Gynogamy

This is also called woman-to-woman marriage. This marriage involves a process where by a woman carries out all the traditional requirements of marriage on another woman. A woman can involve in this practice in the case of childlessness.

8. Same Sex Marriage

This marriage practice allows the same sex to marry the same sex. That is, it allows a woman to marry a woman, and a man to marry a man.

9. Endogamy

In every society, the institution of marriage consists of norms that prescribed whom a person may or my not marry. Endogamy demands marriage with a certain group, which is usually determined by such criteria as residence, nationality, class, race or religion. It is a marriage between ones group e.g between two relations where custom forbids outside marriage.

10. Exogamy

Exogamy entails a marriage outside one’s own group. That is, it refers to convention, theory or practice of marrying outside of certain locally defined and prescribed webs of relationship such as the family, clan or lineage. Exogamous marriages help to bind groups together and also foster unity among them.

Functions Of Marriage

Marriage as a universal concept performs the following functions:

1. Creation Of Unity

Marriage enhances human social relationship. This is true as it creates friendship and oneness among the families involved. Both families and even kindreds are highly united as a result of the instituion of marriage.

2. Legalization Of Sexual Relationship

Marriage is the sole institution in the society which legally has the responsibility of the satisfaction of human sexual desire. It strongly legalizes sexual desire between a man and a woman. Apart from marriage, every other sexual relationship is societal seen as illegal.

3. Conferment Of Status

This is a relationship that confers status to both the couple and the children. The new status conferred on the spouses distinguishes them from the bachelorhood and spinsterhood. The society upholds much respect to the married people. The conferment of status is for both the couple and their children.

4. Security Needs

Marriage is one of the institutions that provide security to both the couple and their children. Due to the togetherness and compatibility of the couple, they tend to have strong feelings of security. Also, married women feel secured than unmarried ones.

5. Inheritance Rights<Procreation And Continuation Of Geneological Lineage

The main theme of every marriage relationship is for procreation. This procreation brings about the replacement of species which enhances the continuation of genealogical lineage. For instance, the presence of male children in the family brings about the continued existence of such family. By that fact, the lineage of such people will continue to be traceable.

Forms Of Marriage In Nigeria

There are three major forms of marriage in Nigeria and they will be discussed as follows:

1. Customary Marriage

This is the form of marriage that is practised according to the custom and tradition of the people. In thise case, there must be a traditional marriage formalities before such union will customarily take place. Due to cultural variation, the mode of practice depends from society to society.

2. Statutory Marriage

This is a marriage contracted according to the ordinance or act. It usually takes place in court or registry. The statutory marriage does not give room for marriage that is done according to the customs and tradition. Rather it sees the law as being supreme and also the only appropriate institution for the legalization of marriage.

In statutory marriage, a legal certificate is always issued to the couple for authentication of the relationship. This certificate is a legal warrant for the co-habitation of the couple as husband and wife.

3. Religious Marriage

The religious marriage is the form of marriage contracted in line with the laid down religious rules and regulations. In Nigeria, this is observed through Christian and Moslem marriage practices. These faithfuls strictly follow biblical and koranic injunctions while contracting marriages.

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