When the word marriage is pronounced, the first thing that comes to mind is having a lasting relationship bonded by holy matrimony. Premised on this understanding then marriage becomes a commitment of two people to one another, for each other and to each other. Among the Batswana as it is in most parts of Africa, marriage is sacred. Hence the reason why it solidifies relationships that enriches communities and nations by bringing forth new life and new hope. Arguably it is therefore not an exaggeration to say “Marriage is a beautiful thing”. The beauty of marriage can further be affirmed based on the aesthetic process under which God created a companion for Adam. According to the second chapter of Genesis, Eve was created by God by taking her from the rib of Adam, to be Adam's companion. In this account God is portrayed as a surgeon who puts Adam into deep sleep and from Adam he removes a rib to create Eve. Marriage should therefore be beautiful, painless and a carefully thought out permanent process. For this reason, marriage remains a beautiful thing, hence the reason why men and women desire to marry in all societies, even in circumstances of poverty and hardship. This understanding in today’s world can better be explained through the faces of newlyweds. It is the joy of love made permanent.
In the days of our forefathers in Botswana the coming of the rains, the first harvest and the birth of a child were marked as important cultural days that called for big cultural celebrations at the “kgotla” (court) and in private homes. Marriage however was a sacred cultural rite of passage because it ushered in new life. Similarly, in Africa today generally marriage is not only cherished but it is the most celebrated rite of passage since the dawn of African civilisation. Presently, in this continent, marriage still remains a privilege afforded by communities to the would be wife and husband and that the bride still plays a very special role and is treated with respect that accords her a sense of pride. In totality today’s marriages are a contract of commitment with rules and regulations that represent the person’s culture.
Marriage bond is the foundation of the family, which in turn, is the fundamental unit of society for both church and state. The family is to society what the blocks are to the wall. This means that the family will be strong to the extent that marriage bond between husband and wife is strong - it is the cement holding each of the blocks together. On similar grounds the nation will be strong to the extent that its families are strong. From keen scrutiny of existing information, this article concurs with the position that the success of any strong nation is the history of its strongest families. The tribe then is a family of families and a great support for the fundamental family.
To put this article into perspective let us now focus our attention to the different types of marriages in Botswana. Typically these are: religious marriage, civil marriage and customary marriage. This article’s main area of interest is the customary marriage and more specifically the different cultures on how to nullify a couple’s marriage after solemnizing their marriage. For instance, generally in the Tswana culture a young man intending to marry tells his uncle and a rite of passage of marriage follows. Even though the rites of passage of marriage for different couples among Batswana can be spearheaded by same uncles and paternal aunts confusion still exists on what should be done. Given this confusion, the question that begs for answers is: Is our culture been forgotten or what. Sometimes some tribes in Botswana even go to the extent of adopting other cultures in performing the rite of passage of marriage. The confusion is sometimes so overbearing to the extent that one does not even know whether to use your own culture for “patlo lemagadi” (asking and dowry) or use the in-laws culture.
The challenge here is that the Tswana cultural heritage and rites is not written down in books or documented but it is in the hearts and minds of the people. Generally in Tswana culture the rite of passage of marriage commonly referred to as “patlo” meaning asking and “magadi” meaning dowry is reserved only for the married men and women. The believe is that married men and women are initiating the new couple into the new life of marriage by giving them counselling “go laiwa”. The counselling session is usually viewed as a time of sharing life experiences of marriage to the new couple which is taken seriously.
Rite of passage of marriage for “patlo and magadi” in Sehurutse people of Mmankgodi is similar with Balete of Ramotswa. “Patlo” is done in the early morning by married men only around 5am at the “kgotla” (court) of the wife to be where they will find other men waiting for them. Women will accompany them and remain behind while men enter the “kgotla” (court). Tradition demands that uncles from both families lead the activities of the marriage rites. After the approval by the uncle at the “kgotla” then men go back to report to the women who accompanied them that their process was successful. Women putting on their “mogagolwane” (shawl) led by “mmamalome” (maternal uncle’s wife) will start with an ululation and the women will go and ask for a girl’s hand in marriage ‘patlo”. This process is reserved for married women alone. After the approval then they will give her counselling “golaiwa” by maternal uncle’s wife and other women present at that moment. After the approval women will go and report back to men and the process of the dowry will start. Usually the dowry can come in a form of cows or cash equivalent to the cows. Interestingly, paying dowry in form of money entails wrapping one banknote in a small sick and they will come together men and women with ululation to the court “kgotla” so that they hand over the dowry to the uncle. After handing over of the dowry the groom to be is called and given a stone on which he has to sit. This process is usually followed by counselling which a preserve is of only married based on the perception that they have the experience, expertise and knowledge on how to nurture a marriage. The uncle of the boy will start and other men will follow after him. After that he is then given a chair and regarded as a man not a boy.
The rite of passage for marriage for Bakgatla will differ with other tribes but similar in some instances. Firstly the one who wants to marry will inform his parents (father and mother) and they will go and knock “go kokota” at the homestead of the bride. The purpose is be briefed on the requirements of the bride’s family before giving in their daughter for marriage. The list of requirements that has to be met first before the marriage is then given by the groom’s family. Usually when the bridegroom is not Mokgatla, the parents of the bridegroom will be told that they will use Sekgatla in the whole process of “patlo le magadi” (asking and dowry). In Sekgatla, “patlo” comes first and “magadi” will come later (it might be after a week or so”. It is their culture that the two are not combined. But it has become a norm that the two “patlo le magadi” are combined together on the same day. Main players in this rite of passage are the uncle and the paternal aunt of the bridegroom. Usually, when the bridegroom is not Mokgatla, “raditselana” (the link) has to be provided as a guild to the bridegroom delegation which will comprised of uncle and paternal aunt. They go early in the morning before the sun rise only two of them to the “kgotla” (court). At the court they will find the uncle, paternal aunt and other men. Arriving at the court, they are supposed to kneel. Arriving late at the “kgotla” the uncle of the bridegroom will be punished by either by paying by kind (cow or goat) or by cash which is equivalent to a cow or goat. After the approval (given the bride officially) the uncle of the bridegroom will notify the in-laws that they came with women who remained behind so they ask for permission to be released so that they can report back to them. Women will follow suite and do their way of asking for the bride. They need to be married women, with their “mogagolwane” (shawl), headscarf and “nkitseng” (earings). After the approval, they will ask to present the goods that they brought and after been allowed they will get inside the house and dress the bride. The bride will come out after the maternal uncle wife ask for the permission to see “ngwetsiyagagwe”(bride). The bride will parade in front of all women in the courtyard and greet them respectively (not by hand).
Like I said before that the process of “magadi” comes on a different date but needs to be done early in the morning. The uncle and the paternal aunt will go and knock at the bride’s homestead and declare what they have brought as “magadi” (dowry). Usually the dowry for Bakgatla is four cows or money which is equivalent to those cows. That’s when after the approval, cows or money will be presented and if the in-laws want to see the bridegroom he will be presented to the men in the court. Counselling for the bride and the bridegroom is done during the wedding day. Bakgatla like any other tribe, find themselves adopting other cultures practices of combining both “patlo le magadi” (asking and the dowry). They might have valid reasons of doing that but they find themselves shifting their culture of doing “patlo le magadi”.
In Segwato the rite of passage of marriage also differ with other cultures. “Patlo and magadi” are done on the same day. Usually Bangwato recommends that you use their culture when you come for “patlo le magadi” (asking and dowry). The one who wants to marry will have to tell his uncle first. The uncle will then tell the parents of the one who wants to marry so that the process can start. Asking is done early in the morning before the sun rise at the “kgotla” by married men with their coats. There is “raditsela” (the link) which is given to men from the bride’s place. After asking for the bride, they will then hand over “magadi” which comes as a cow or you build a house at the bride’s home and you put furniture on it. After the process the uncle will take his share which is a cow and at the time of the wedding day the same uncle will bring a cow and give it to the bride and the bridegroom. After men have completed their task women will follow at the courtyard for “patlo” (asking). After approval they will ask to hand over goods for “patlo”. Goods which are brought are for the bride, father of the bride, mother of the bride, children for the bride, uncle of the bride, maternal uncle’s wife, paternal aunt, maternal aunt, grandmother, grandfather. The one doing the task is maternal uncle’s wife and “mmaditselana” (the link). They will then ask to dress the bride with the clothes they have brought and also the headscarf and she will parade to be seen by all women in the courtyard and greet them with respect. The same applies at the “kgotla” (court) where the bridegroom will parade and greet all men in the court. After that he is given a chair to show that he is man now.
Even though there are some staggering differences in the rites of passage of marriage, their similarity cannot be under-estimated The rites of passage of marriages of different cultures have been repeated many times by the same uncles, paternal aunt, maternal aunt etc but it always brings confusion. What brings this confusion? There are different factors which can prompt confusion. As earlier indicated, that one of them might be that some cultures are adopting other cultures way of doing things because it is convenient to them. For instance in Sekgatla you need to do “patlo” (asking) first and then you come later and give “magadi” (dowry) later on a different date. But nowadays, they combine the two
Another factor which can create this confusion may be that our culture is not written and our grandfathers and mothers are dying without teaching the coming generation what suppose to be done. “Present generations should take care to preserve the cultural diversity of humankind. We should “protect and safeguard” cultures, and “transmit this common heritage to future generations”. (UNESCO, 1997). We need to avoid turning a blind eye and live like nothing is happening. All of us we have responsibilities to make sure that our culture is preserved. And to preserve it, young wedded couples need to attend marriage rites so that that learn how things are done. It is so hurting to see our uncles and paternal aunt (old school) still heading negotiations of “patlo and magadi” (asking and dowry). Where are the newly wedded couples? And how can they learn when they don’t participate in these rites of “patlo le magadi”? Ignorance can bring confusion. As Batswana let us protect our heritage in terms of the rites of passage on marriage for future generations.