I have heard that Africans marry for children. Does it mean that there is no love in their marriages?
It is still very true that their love for children is the main reason that pushes Africans into marriage. Unlike in some Western cultures where a man and a woman might decide to get married and just live their lives—the two of them—without considering having children, in Africa spouses think their marriage is wholesome only when they receive the blessing of children. Without children, the chance of a marriage surviving is close to zero. The reasons are many. First of all, some in-laws begin blaming the woman without even bothering to consider that the problem could easily be the husband as well; this could lead to tensions which cause the wife to leave. In another case, the husband uses this as a reason to begin cheating on his wife, the excuse being that he needs someone to be his heir. A wife in this predicament may decide to leave her marital home as she is permanently tortured by the feeling that she has not been able to provide her husband with a successor.
Children are highly valued in marriages in Africa; they are the bond that holds the spouses together and supports them through difficult times, especially so because children in some cultures are considered reincarnations of lineage ancestors. David Owusu-Ansah, although writing about the role of women in Ghanaian society makes this point in passing: "Women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children.. Within the traditional sphere, the childbearing ability of women was explained as the means by which lineage ancestors were allowed to be reborn. Barrenness was, therefore, considered the greatest misfortune" (99).
Is it true that couples prefer male children to female?
This was more so before than today. In the past, the need to maintain the continuation of a family's name was very strong and husbands saw in a son the guarantee of that continuity. This was simply because a girl within the traditional set-up got married and took her husband's name, abandoning her father's. If such a family had only girls, then the family name died out as soon as all the girls got married. This feeling is no longer very strong because although most young women in Africa would still love to get married and have their own family someday, they are beginning to consider marriage as a matter of choice rather than the necessity and symbol of success that it used to be. Though it is happening extremely slowly, young women are beginning to think life without marriage is not a sentence to a life of doom, as was believed before.
Again, because of the patrilineal nature of most African societies, boys were the choice when it came to successor-ship issues. The irresponsible behavior of certain sons, however, has forced some parents to install girls as their successors, and they have performed very remarkably in this role. The result is that men are beginning to realize that it is not the gender but the person who matters, since brute force is no longer necessary to protect the family. These changing belief patterns have led to many more families not spending sleepless nights worrying about the need of having a male successor born into the family; their daughters can still take over and manage the family.
Is it true that marriages in Africa are arranged?
In most cultures of the world, including Western cultures, there were arranged marriages, so one cannot help being surprised that Westerners appear scandalized to hear of arranged marriages in Africa. In the West, marriages were arranged between families in an effort to maintain a family's wealth, especially to get a promising young man or woman into a family, and for other reasons. In Africa marriages were arranged for similar reasons too, especially if the parents of the bride thought that the son-in-law to be was responsible and promised a stable future for his family. It used to be that way in Africa, and the bride had little to say but to abide by her parents' will. This, however, is no longer the case, as girls nowadays come and go with whomever they want. The difference here is that because of strong family structures in Africa, a young man or a young woman will not get into a marriage disapproved of by his or her parents. The most either can do is try to convince the parents why he or she thinks it will be a good marriage. If the parents are still adamant and the young man or woman is too, then like Pilate in the bible, the parents will go along with the marriage. They would, however, make it clear that they had spoken up against the marriage, so should things go wrong, they would be beside their child to support him or her, but they would not share in the blame. So nowadays, African parents can suggest a potential spouse but will not, generally speaking, impose it on their children who, in fact, are the ones who now bring home their future spouses. This notwithstanding, although African boys and girls can bring to their parents' attention whomever they want to get married to, the parents still have a right to object and the children will listen to their advice.