What is Akanfoɔ Awareɛ?
Awareɛ is a traditional practice or process in the Akan culture, where a man pays bride price to a woman’s family for her hand in marriage. This bride price is usually in the form of Alcoholic drinks, money, cloth for the bride and her parents, and groceries. It is described in the Akan language “ɔbaa tiri nsa”, which means the acceptable way to cohabitate with a woman and build a family.
In the Akan culture, a woman who is of age is expected to wait patiently for a man to propose to her and perform the necessary rites to her family before she moves to stay with him. Without awareɛ, a man is considered a bachelor, and a woman, is a spinster. Marriage brings honour to both families and confers respect to the couple. In Akan tradition, marriage between two individuals also means marriage between their families. This translates to the Akan maxim that says: “awareɛ yɛ abusuabɔ”.
Awareɛ is usually a half-day event. There are traditions to be observed at different stages of the ceremony, with the main highlight being the payment of the bride price. All customary rites and payment of fees signify values required by the cultural norms of the Akans.
What is Involved?
The major requirements for awareɛ include but are not limited to the following;
Who are Involved?
Agya ne Ɛna (Parents of groom and bride)
Families of the groom and bride
Key Roles Explained
Both parents of the groom and bride are important in the Akan traditional marriage process. However, the Agya (father) of the groom and the bride assume an integral role. The groom’s father initiates the marriage process on behalf of his son. And on the bride’s side, the Agya plays the role of giving out his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Akan culture acknowledges family succession. This is translated in the common Akan parlance as: “Agya bi wu a, agya bi te ase.” Therefore, in a situation where the biological father of the groom and bride are unavailable, their successors can play this important role in awareɛ.
Awareɛ brings families together for a peaceful co-existence. In places where there is conflict, it can promote unity and tranquility. For instance, parents who are separated due to a conflict may reunite for their child’s marriage. This reunion, sometimes lasts even after the marriage is over.
In rare situations, separated parents may find it impossible to come together for the marriage ceremony. Here, the bride’s father may receive the bride price and all that is due him and further direct the groom’s party to the bride’s mother to fulfill her part of the requirements. This shows the importance of parents’ consent in awareɛ.
Each family selects an ɔkyeame as a mouthpiece for the ceremony. On the side of the bride, the ɔkyeame can be the bride’s maternal uncle or aunty. The same applies to the side of the groom. Ɔkyeame is supposed to have good communication and negotiating skills (according to Owurasah, 2015). He or she is expected to be a responsible and respected person in the family or the community.
The roles of ɔkyeame include facilitating communication between both families, easing tensions and clarifying misunderstandings, and ensuring that the correct cultural protocols are observed.
About two to five people are drawn from both families to offer advice and support to the married couple. The advisors consist of responsible men and women who live exemplary lives and can be trusted for good counsel. They can also provide arbitration to the couple in times of conflict.
What Is the Process?
A man who is in love with a woman and wants to marry her will inform his Agya (father) or his uncle, in a situation where his biological father is not available, about his intentions. Agya will ask him some questions to be sure that he is up to the task of marriage. He will then inform his wife about their son’s marriage intentions for further discussion. But, if the mother of the groom is not available, then her sister can play this role.
Next, the man’s parents will investigate the woman’s conduct and family background. If they are satisfied with the outcome of their investigation, then Agya, through a delegation, will approach the woman’s parents about his son’s intention. This practice is known as kɔkɔɔkɔ, that is Knocking.
Kɔkɔɔkɔ– Knocking Ceremony
What comes to mind with the idea of ‘knocking’? We knock on a door when we want to enter and be received. The same principle applies to the Akan marriage tradition. The groom’s party entering the bride’s family to introduce themselves and to announce the marriage intention is expected to knock before they are welcomed. This is done with two bottles of Schnapps and a fee. The conversation may sound something like this “I have been sent by my son (name of his son) to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage”.
The woman’s family through an Ɔkyeame (Linguist) will then ask the delegation to go and come later for an answer. This waiting period allows the woman’s parents to find out from their daughter if she agrees to the marriage proposal. If her answer is positive, then it is time for the woman’s parents to also do their background checks on the groom-to-be and his family.
The Actual Awareɛ Day
The ceremony takes place at the woman’s parents’ home, on the agreed day and time. According to tradition, the ideal time for awareɛ is early in the morning. The early morning prayers are believed to be very effective. It is also believed that when something is done early in the morning, it carries a lot of weight and becomes prosperous.
The groom and his family arrive and wait at the entrance of the bride’s homestead until they are invited. As soon as they are ushered in, the groom and his family, led by the ɔkyeame form a queue and enter the home gently. Alternatively, they can enter singing and dancing to a song of their choice.
Once they are in, the ɔkyeame from the bride’s family would welcome them and ask them to feel at home. Next, the guests are offered water by maidens (usually young women from the bride’s family or community) before they are asked to tell their reason for coming.
The Awareɛ List
The awareɛ list varies according to families and levels of financial standing. The variation is significant because, in the Akan tradition, awareɛ is viewed as a sign of commitment on the groom’s part and not some sort of a business venture. For this reason, families look out for the ability of a man to take good care of a woman rather than selling her off with a lengthy and unreasonable list.
It is acceptable for the groom’s family to come back for clarification on the required items where necessary. Again, and perhaps more importantly, the groom’s family may approach the prospective in-laws for negotiations on the bride price and other financial requirements. This is why the list is given out to the groom well in advance to allow him to prepare because, on the day of the ceremony, no negotiations will be allowed.
Traditional Attire for Awareɛ
A couple is free to choose from a wide range of apparel for their traditional marriage ceremony. However, the most popular attire worn by the groom and bride for awareɛ is kente, a colourful Ghanaian textile made of hand-woven cloth.
Tiri Nsa- Bride Price
The Tiri nsa is the most important item among the requirements for marriage in the Akan culture. The prospective in-laws require the groom to pay their daughter’s Tiri nsa which entails a bottle of Schnapp and a fee. The Tiri nsa is shared among members of the bride’s family who are present to witness the ceremony. It is what testifies that the woman has been married to the groom. Without the Tiri nsa, the awareɛ is not complete and it must be paid in full. While it is acceptable to demand money in place of an alcoholic drink in some customary practices in the marriage process, the alcoholic drink (Nsa) in the bride price is non-negotiable.
Please note: If the bride was put in a family way by the groom before their marriage ceremony, then, the groom will be made to pay “Kwaseabuo Sika” to the bride’s father. This is a fee charged for dishonouring the bride’s father by getting the bride-to-be pregnant before paying her bride price. This fee is determined by the bride’s father. If the groom feels that the amount is too much, he may plead for a reduction and must pay it in full before he will be allowed to proceed with the payment of the bride price.
The groom is required to pay Danta to the bride’s father. Danta comprises a fee, a full piece of cloth, and a pair of ahenema (traditional slippers). The groom presents Danta as a symbol of respect and appreciation to his prospective father-in-law for nurturing his daughter who is now the bride.
Just as the custom demands the groom to give Danta to the bride’s father, so is he required to present Afayideɛ to the bride’s mother. It involves a fee, a half piece of cloth, and a pair of ladies’ slippers. Usually, the amount of money given to the bride’s mother is less than that of the father, although some families demand the same amount as that of the bride’s father. Afayideɛ is meant to show appreciation to the bride’s mother for carrying her in her womb and for covering her with her cloth.
Abusua Sika- Token for The Bride’s Family
The groom is also required to pay a fee to the family of the bride called “abusua Sika”. This money is shared equally between the bride’s father and mother to be shared with their relatives who have come to witness the marriage ceremony. In a situation where the money is not sufficient, the bride’s father or mother will add up from the money received for the Danta or Afayideɛ respectively.
Bedwa sika- Token for Elders
This is a fee the groom presents to show respect and appreciation to the council of elders who are gathered to witness and offer their support to the marriage ceremony. The elders sacrifice their time and cover distances to be at the event. Therefore, the custom demands that they should not go empty-handed.
The groom is required to pay a fee to the bride’s grandmother or the elderly woman who helped to groom the bride with home training. This amount of money usually is minimal compared to that of the other requirements.
Akonta Sekan- (Brother-in-law’s fee)
This is a fee the groom pays solely to the brother (s) of the bride in appreciation for their love and brotherly protection for their sister who would be his wife. If the bride does not have a brother, then her male cousins can receive the fee.
Bride’s ring- The groom puts a ring on the finger of the bride as a physical representation of their marriage. The ring also serves as a symbol of unity between the married couple and their families.
Bride’s bag and its belongings: This includes six pieces of cloth, underwear, headgear, some pairs of slippers, and any other things the bride requires for her upkeep.
Dwetire Sika- Bride’s dowry
By tradition, the groom is required to give his bride dwetire sika (dowry) on the day of their marriage. The dwetire sika is an amount of money that is expected to provide some sort of financial backing to the bride who is moving into her new home. Since the Bride’s dowry is mainly between the couple, usually, its detail is not disclosed. Interestingly, the bride may bear with the groom in the face of financial constraints to present something small to her. The groom may add up later when the situation improves.
After Marriage Customs
First, there is the customary marriage ceremony. The couple may proceed to have a white wedding after the traditional marriage. In the case of a white wedding, the priest who is in charge would have to confirm from the bride’s parents that the necessary customary rites have been done before the marriage by ordinance can take place. However, if they choose to end with the traditional marriage, then the groom walks away with his “ayeforɔ” (new wife).
KEY QUESTIONS ASKED DURING THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY AND THEIR IMPORTANCE
After the groom and his family have assembled the items required for the bride’s hand in marriage, the groom and bride are asked some questions demonstrated as follows;
Ɔkyeame: Have you come with your people to ask for our daughter’s hand in marriage?
Groom (answers politely): Yes, I have.
With this affirmation, the bride is officially called to appear before the gathering of people to answer some questions as follows;
Bride’s father: Should we accept the bride price paid by the groom for your hand in marriage?
The bride is asked this question repeatedly and if her answer is a “YES” throughout, then her family accepts the bride price and the payment of other customary fees follows.
The Abusuapanyin (family head) from the bride’s family will then pour libation or pray to ask for protection and blessings, which includes children, upon the newly married couple.
Other Types of Marriage in The Akan Culture
This is a type of cohabitation where a man has not paid the bride price of a woman but they both live together like a husband and wife. However, this type of awareɛ is not recognized in the Akan culture, so when the man dies, the woman is not under any obligation to perform the widowhood rites. The reason is that the two have not been joined by their families in marriage as required by the custom.
This is when a young girl, who is not mature for marriage is betrothed to a man (usually older than the girl). The man, who is supposed to be her future husband performs his duties to the girl’s family in terms of providing her needs and assistance for his prospective in-laws. The man does all these with the hope of marrying the girl when she is of age. One thing about asiwa is that, when the girl grows up, she may reject the man because of the age difference or simply out of lack of love.
This kind of marriage among the Akans happens when a young girl is used by her parents as collateral for a loan and is married by the creditor or his relative because her parents could not repay the loan. However, if the parents are able to pay the loan, then they can take back their girl child who was used as the collateral.
Kuna’wareɛ in Akan culture comes in two ways. The first one is when a successor of a deceased person marries the spouse of his or her deceased relative. Alternatively, kuna’wareɛ can be the marriage between a man and a woman who have both lost their spouse and decided to come together in marriage.
This type of marriage is mainly associated with Kings. In a situation where a King loses his wife to death, he may request to marry another woman from the family of his late wife. This means that the King marries from the same family to replace his late wife. Alternatively, a king may approach the family of his wife who is old and weak, and request to marry a younger woman from the same family. Here, the King sends his old wife to her family in exchange for the younger one.
This is the marriage between a royal or a wealthy man and his female servant. When an afena (maidservant) maintains good behaviour while performing her duties, she may find favour in the eyes of her master or his relative and mfena’wareɛ can take place.
IMPORTANCE OF MARRIAGE
The Akans perceive marriage as an important aspect of their sociocultural life and hence, recommend that this cultural practice is upheld by all. Marriage brings prestige to the families of the bride and groom. A girl who gets pregnant outside of marriage is seen as a shame to her family. Members of society tend to hold a man and woman who are joined in marriage in high esteem because they are responsible. Thus, marriage confers respect for a couple.
Marriage is a tool for peace and unity. It brings two individuals who are from different families and social backgrounds together. As a couple, when something is happening in the family of one party, the other and his or her family are expected to show concern and support each other. In the Akan culture, marriage means the unity of the bride and groom and their families.
Furthermore, marriage brings children to the families of the couple. Akans regard children as a blessing to the married couple. Marriage brings a man and woman together to start a family of their own. The children from this nuclear family grow up and procreate, adding to the size of the extended families.
Marriage also helps to check fornication. This is explained in the sense that, when a man and woman are joined in marriage both parties are obliged to perform their duties and responsibilities which includes sexual obligation. It is believed that when both parties perform this duty as expected, there would be fewer chances to indulge in acts of fornication and sexual immorality.
Owurasah, G. 2015. Language of Customary Marriage Among Akans. University of Ghana available at: http://ugspace.ug.edu.gh
Umseeka Tv (2023) Secrets of Akan Traditional Marriage in Ghana Ep.1. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMGt8_z8dYY (Accessed 5 May 2023)