A SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF MARRIAGE CEREMONY A STUDY OF NIGERIA IGBO
This work examines changes in marriage ceremony, where sharp increases in divorce, extramarital births, and cohabitation before marriage reveal a decline in the institution of marriage. It is argued that the context and meaning of the marriage ceremony are undergoing profound redefinition rather than irreversible decline. Data from a 1984 survey of 2000 marriages celebrated between 1960 and 2013 were used in the analysis, which was limited to couples in which neither partner had previously been married and both were under age 45. The proportion of newlyweds who cohabited before marriage increased from 10% in the 1960s to 60% in the early 1980s. Marriages not preceded by cohabitation changed little in content. In the traditional form, 60% of couples had betrothal parties and 90% had religious ceremonies. In marriages preceded by cohabitation, only 1/3 had betrothal parties and 70% had religious ceremonies. Traditional marriages had more elaborate meals to celebrate the marriage, more guests were invited, and the parents played a greater role in planning and financing the wedding. 80% of such weddings took place in the bride's parents' community. In "deritualized" weddings that more frequently follow cohabitation, the ceremony is simpler, fewer guests are invited, the couple themselves undertake a larger role in planning and financing, and the ceremony more frequently takes place near the couple's rather than the bride's parent's home. In an intermediate, so-called "classic" form of wedding, the spouses have cohabited before marriage but they retain the religious ceremony and other socially recognized aspects of the wedding. Although there has been some decline in religious wedding ceremonies, it is not nearly as sharp as the decline in personal religious practice, especially among couples who marry after cohabiting. Religious wedding ceremonies reflect and express links to the local community or extended family.
The wedding is one of the only rituals or events that many cultures of the world consistently have in common. Weddings are found in almost every society. A wedding can feed consumer appetites and the industry that supports it. Costs for the average Nigerian wedding can range from 250,000 to 500,530 or more (“Cost of Weddings” 1990s). The costs of other tribes in Nigerian wedding ceremonies vary low or high cost even up to millions (Das 2005). Despite this large range the Nigerian wedding industry averages only $11billion annually while its American counterpart is a whopping $50 billion each year (“Cost of Weddings” 2006, Das 2005). Remarriages constitute 30% of the American wedding industry (Ingram 1999) while in Nigeria, remarriage is relatively uncommon.
Given the amount of money spent on this cultural ceremony, it is reasonable to assert that it carries a great deal of personal, cultural, and social significance. I’m going to contrast and compare Nigerian and American weddings through an examination of film.
This study is similar to Best’s (2000) study of American proms, another related cultural tradition. Specifically I will examine portrayals of wedding ceremonies as presented by both Hollywood and Bollywood films.
I will be analyzing the components of the wedding ritual as well as analyzing the material and cultural interpretations of marriage ceremonies a sociological analysis. Perspectives vary by differing roles; there are commonalities and differences in values. I hope to elucidate what this event means for those anticipating and engaging in the wedding ceremony.
It is important to look at these rituals as they pertain to the popular culture in the United States as well as in Nigerian. While wedding ceremonies in the U.S. can vary dramatically, this study will be restricted to the ideal “white wedding”. Therefore, I will also limit my examination to Christian practices and ceremonial components that were popularized prior to the 19th century and have continued to the present day, particularly within the white middle class. The Nigerian wedding ceremony will be analyzed using the Vedic ceremony (i.e., those rituals most commonly associated with the Christians or Muslim practices) commonly found in the higher caste systems.
Previous research in this area has been limited in its analysis of Nigerian wedding rituals (Kolenda, 1984). Similarly, there have been only a few examinations of pre-wedding preparations or postwedding preparations for Nigerian weddings in regards to work (Sniezek, 2005). There are a small number of sociological analyses of the Nigerian wedding and their rituals in recent decades (Chesler, 1980; Ingram, 1999; Wallace 2004). Most studies have limited their research to romance and marriage ideals (Coontz, 2005). Few studies have been performed cross culturally about the execution of the wedding ceremony itself (Dunes, 1996; Kolenda, 1984). Some similar studies have been performed, however, analyzing related rituals and other rites of passage such as American proms and debutante balls (Best, 2000). Proms and their counterparts can hold many clues to the significance of the components embedded in the wedding.
The present study explains the involvement of families and community as they relate to negotiations between public and private displays and interactions in an explanation of this ritualized event. This study will differentiate between rituals allocated by religious requirements and those that have developed due to capital displays and class structures. These topics are analyzed through the marriage ceremony.
This research addresses the following questions. First, what are the rituals that are embedded in the marriage ceremony? Are wedding rituals in more modern societies drastically different from those in more traditional societies or are there commonalities? Second, how are we socialized into these rituals and how do participants come to understand their roles in these events? Changes in marriage ceremony. Finally, what are the cultural and social meanings of these weddings?
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE RESEARCH
Marriage is like the sphinx—a conspicuous and recognizable monument on the landscape, full of secrets. To newcomers the monument seems awesome, even marvelous, while those in the vicinity take its features for granted. In assessing matrimony’s wonders or terrors, most people view it as a matter of private decision-making and domestic arrangements. The monumental public character of marriage is generally its least noticed aspect. Even Mae West’s joke, “Marriage is a great institution . . . but I ain’t ready for an institution yet,” likened it to a private asylum. Creating families and kinship networks and handing down private property, marriage certainly does design the architecture of private life. It influences individual identity and determines circles of intimacy. It can bring solace or misery—or both. The view of marriage as a private relationship has become a public value in the United States, enshrined in legal doctrine. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court portended a momentous line of interpretation by finding that the U.S. Constitution protected a “private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.”
At the same time that any marriage represents personal love and commitment, it participates in the public order. Marital status is just as important to one’s standing in the community and state as it is to self-understanding. Radiating outward, the structure of marriage organizes community life and facilitates the government’s grasp on the populace. To be marriage, the institution requires public affirmation. It requires public knowledge—at least some publicity beyond the couple themselves; that is why witnesses are required for the ceremony and why wedding bells ring. More definitively, legal marriage requires state sanction, in the license and the ceremony. Even in a religious solemnization the assembled guests know to expect the officiating cleric’s words, “By the authority vested in me by the state of . . . I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
In the marriage ceremony the public recognizes and supports the couple’s reciprocal bond, and guarantees that this commitment (made in accord with the public’s requirements) will be honored as something valuable not only to the pair but to the community at large. Their bond will be honored even by public force. This is what the public vows, when the couple take their own vows before public witnesses. The public sees itself and its own interest reflected in the couple’s action. In the form of the law and state enforcement, the public sets the terms of marriage, says who can and cannot marry, who can officiate, what obligations and rights the agreement involves, whether it can be ended and if so, why and how. Marriage prescribes duties and dispenses privileges. The governmental apparatus in the United States has packed into marriage many benefits and obligations, spanning from immigration and citizenship to military service, tax policy, and property rules. Husbands and wives are required to care for and support each other and their children. Social Security and veterans’ survivors’ benefits, intestate succession rights and jail visitation privileges go to legally married spouses. Even though state governments, not federal authorities, have the power to regulate marriage and divorce, a 1996 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office found more than one thousand places in the corpus of federal law where legal marriage conferred a distinctive status, right, or benefit. From the founding of the United States to the present day, assumptions about the importance of marriage and its appropriate form have been deeply implanted in public policy, sprouting repeatedly as the nation took over the continent and established terms for the inclusions and exclusion of new citizens. Political authorities expected monogamy on a Christian model to prevail—and it did, not only because of widespread Christian faith and foregoing social practice, but also because of positive and punitive laws and government policy choices. Political and legal authorities endorsed and aimed to perpetuate nationally a particular marriage model: lifelong, faithful monogamy, formed by the mutual consent of a man and a woman, bearing the impress of the Christian religion and the English common law in its expectations for the husband to be the family head and economic provider, his wife the dependent partner. Because mutual consent was intrinsic to it, this form of marriage was especially congruent with American political ideals: consent of the parties was also the hallmark of representative government. Consent was basic to both marriage and government, the question of its authenticity not meant to be reopened nor its depth plumbed once consent was given.
Public preservation of marriage on this model has had tremendous consequences for men’s and women’s citizenship as well as for their private lives. Men and women take up the public roles of husbands and wives along with the private joys and duties. These roles have been powerful, historically, in shaping both male and female citizens’ entitlements and obligations. Molding individuals’ self-understanding, opportunities, and constraints, marriage uniquely and powerfully influences the way differences between the sexes are conveyed and symbolized. So far as it is a public institution, it is the vehicle through which the apparatus of state can shape the gender order.
The whole system of attribution and meaning that we call gender relies on and to a great extent derives from the structuring provided by marriage. Turning men and women into husbands and wives, marriage has designated the ways both sexes act in the world and the reciprocal relation between them. It has done so probably more emphatically than any other single institution or social force. The unmarried as well as the married bear the ideological, ethical, and practical impress of the marital institution, which is difficult or impossible to escape. Karl Llewellyn, a legal theorist of the mid-twentieth century, was referring to marriage when he observed, “The curious feature of institutions is that to society at large they are a static factor, whereas to the individual they are in first instance dynamic. Society they hold steady: they are the received pattern of its organization and its functioning. The individual . . . is moulded dynamically by and into them.” Llewellyn emphasized that the institution of marriage was “a device for creating marital going concerns.”
Whether or not marriage is as natural as is often claimed, entry to the institution is bound up with civil rights. Marriage is allowed or disallowed by legislators’ and judges’ decisions. The separate states from Maine to California, which have the power to regulate marital institutions as part of their authority over the local health, safety, and welfare, determine who gains admittance. Consequently, marriage has also been instrumental in articulating and structuring distinctions grouped under the name of “race.” In slaveholding states before the Civil War, slaves had no access to legal marriage, just as they had no other civil right; this deprivation was one of the things that made them “racially” different. Long after the era of slavery, a white person and an African American did not have the civil right to marry each other in the majority of states (not only in southern states).
A white and an Asian wishing to marry in many western states found themselves similarly tabooed. Marriage law thus constructed racial difference and punished (or in some instances, more simply refused to legitimize) “race mixture.” Sixteen states still considered marriage across the color line void or criminal as recently as 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled them.5 It is striking, too, as the history in the following chapters will unfold, that the marital nonconformists most hounded or punished by the federal government were deemed “racially” different from the white majority. They were Indians, freed slaves, polygamous Mormons (metaphorically nonwhite), and Asians. Prohibiting divergent marriages has been as important in public policy as sustaining the chosen model. By incriminating some marriages and encouraging others, marital regulations have drawn lines among the citizenry and defined what kinds of sexual relations and which families will be legitimate. On the contemporary scene, same-sex couples have made their exclusion conspicuous.
By contesting their deprivation, they have thrown a spotlight on marriage as a matter of civil rights and public sanction. Excluded or policed groups such as same-sex couples (or, in the past, slaves, or Asians who believed “proxy” marriages valid, or native Americans who had non- Christian traditions) have readily understood that they, as minorities, may have to struggle for equal status on the terrain of marital regulation. The majority, meanwhile, can parade the field, taking public affirmation for granted. Aspiring minority groups (ex-slaves during Reconstruction are a good example) have often tried to improve their social and civil leverage with conventional marriage behavior, recognizing that the majority has an investment in the sanctity of marital roles, whoever holds them.
No modern nation-state can ignore marriage forms, because of their direct impact on reproducing and composing the population. The laws of marriage must play a large part in forming “the people.” They sculpt the body politic. In a hybrid nation such as the United States, formed of immigrant groups, marriage becomes all the more important politically. Where citizenship comes along with being born on the nation’s soil as it does here, marriage policy underlies national belonging and the cohesion of the whole. Therefore the federal government has incorporated particular expectations for marriage in many initiatives, and especially in citizenship policies, even though there is no federal power to regulate marriage directly (except in federal territories).At least three levels of public authority shape the institution of marriage. The immediate community of kin, friends, and neighbors exercises the approval or disapproval a couple feels most intensely; state legislators and judges set the terms of marriage and divorce; and federal laws, policies, and values attach influential incentives and disincentives to marriage forms and practices.7 The United States has shown through its national history a commitment to exclusive and faithful monogamy, preferably interracial. In the name of the public interest and public order, it has furthered this model as a unifying moral standard.
Secular rather than religious authorization of marriage has been a consistent tradition in the United States. This was not inevitable, but rather a latter-day outcome of a specific history of church-state conflict in Christian Europe. Following upon the birth of Christianity, the Catholic Church had to endeavor for far more than a millennium to put the norm of faithful, lifelong monogamy in place and to bring its adherents’ marital behavior under ecclesiastical administration; then European monarchs succeeded for the most part in wresting this regulatory control from the Church.8 Kings of would-be nations in England and Europe sparred with the Church for three centuries for control over marriage because they saw this power as decisive for the social order. Typically, founders of new political societies in the Western tradition have inaugurated their regimes with marriage regulations, to foster households conducive to their aims and to symbolize a new era—whether in colonial Virginia, revolutionary France, the breakaway republic of Texas, or the unprecedented Bolshevik system in the Soviet Union.9 Modern sovereigns generally want to prescribe marriage rules to stabilize the essential activities of sex and labor and their consequences, children and property.
1.2 STATEMENT OF RESEARCH PROBLEM
In the social sciences, wedding customs have mainly been studied by anthropologists. Ever since Radcliffe-Brown’s well-known account of rites of passage among the Andaman islanders (1964), anthropologists have studied wedding ceremonies in various nonwestern societies (De Coppet, 1992; Munn, 1973; Turner, 1969; Young, 1965). Research on the much less dramatic western wedding ceremony is scarce, however. Rich accounts exist of wedding customs in western societies (for Dutch examples, see De Jager, 1981; Dekker, 1978), but these abstain from analyzing wedding customs in relation to sociological concepts. An important exception comes from Whyte (1990), who studied marriages in the Detroit area. Therefore, the researcher took this topic to study the sociological analysis of marriage ceremony in Nigeria
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