She will be his wife, but they aren’t Married.

Peace is finally returning to the household. Eric, our driver, was planning to get engaged a few weeks ago. Now people don’t just get married in the Ga or maybe Ewe tradition, it is a series of steps. The first step is called Knocking. Knocking is where the groom-to-be and his father’s side of the family go “knock” at the door of the bride-to-be’s father’s house. It begins weeks or months before with a negation between the families agreeing on what the groom-to-be will bring when he knocks. Usually, it a standard set of gifts for these type of events, and the amount gets negotiated between the families. For example in Eric’s case her father requested 100 cedis, but would have said one million in the vocabulary of the old money. That amount was negotiated down to 80 cedis ($85), along with two bottles of schnapps (one foreign), three cases of minerals, two bolts of cloth (18 yards), and food for all who come to the Knocking.

[Emmanuel’s Mother & Husband, with his grand son tied to her back]

The point of Knocking is to introduce himself to the family, though in practice it seems an excuse for a big party. Afterwards, both families will investigate the other to see if there are any reasons they should not get married. Emanuel’s mother cares for a second family these days because of a couple’s indiscretion in bypassing this important step. Seems the son of the man who is her husband now had taken a common-law wife, and together they had children . The couple was under great pressure to adhere to their traditions and get married, so he began the process, and came knocking.

In the investigation phase, it was learned that these two were first cousins, and by law and tradition, marriage was prohibited. In truth, Emmanuel tells me, nobody would have cared, but it freaked the man out and he abandoned the kids and their mother. The mother took off shortly afterwards, and so even though Eric’s mother is 53 and not even kin to these kids, and already having raised seven of her, she now has two more. “So you see Mr. Steve, it is a good tradition,” Emmanuel says.

[Picture of boy hiding at gate is one of the kids]


Eric has been saving for this for the past six months, putting a little aside, including in a Susu (or investment club) with one of the guards and a couple of friends [read about Susu]. When he was down to just needing to the money for the Schnapps and the Minerals, I said, “let Suzanne and I add those,” hoping I’d get to go along and experience the whole thing. It almost happened a few weeks ago, but then there were some funerals, and it was delayed to Sunday last, when I was preaching at Asbury-Dunwell Church and I couldn’t come.

Eric borrowed the same TroTro that had taken us to the coast with Karl & Ashley [read about it here], and off he went with his father’s side of the family to knock. All week he had been so excited, but on Monday, I could tell it had not gone well.

[Eric & Trotro]

There is much I don’t understand about the process, but it seems that Eric had not been treated well. Usually it is the bride’s father’s family who provides the food, but somehow Eric had been tagged with that expense. So he had sent money ahead, and at the last minute added some more. After knocking, Beatrice’s father sent around a sheet of paper for people to write down whatever drinks they wanted. It felt like a celebration, Eric figured, like this was their way of saying thanks since up to this point they had contributed nothing. Wrong, he was given that bill too.

Eric was embarrassed because he did not bring enough to cover this, and then add to that, they demanded a cash gift of 100 cedis, instead of the agreed upon 80. In protest he didn’t eat or drink anything, and came away broke, embarrassed, and not able to go to the next step. “I will not marry,” he says, “but she is my wife.”

It seems that when Eric went to knock, news had reached the bride’s father, that she was knocked up, pregnant, with child, whatever and when you add that to the fact that they learned that Eric worked for and Obruni, he said “Even if I had all the gold of Accra, Mr. Steve, it would not be enough.”

So they did not talk until Wednesday, when he told her it was off, and she asked “why did you go forward with it if you did not have enough?”

I’ve seen a change in Eric these past few weeks, like he is realizing how much his life is changing. For as long as I’ve known him he has been saving for this day, and its not at all how he hoped it would turn out. I think about this three step process that leads to marriage here, its a good idea. As he told me the story, and told it again, I kept thinking that at least he knows this about them now before their families are forever connected. Here more than in the states, a marriage is a connection of two families, two clans, two tribes, two villages, there is a lot of people involved.

The next step would have been another party, and more gifts and in greater number for Eric to supply. He would have, as all the families watched, asked for her hand, and then another six months or year would pass (for him to raise even more money for gifts). Then there would be a traditional wedding, a church wedding (or blessing by the reverend minister) and lastly a state marriage, to be recorded by the Republic of Ghana. But now it seems the, well I don’t know. I guess he will record the marriage with the state, and then officially she will be his wife, but they won’t be married.

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2 thoughts on “She will be his wife, but they aren’t Married.

  1. Steve, this is so heartbreaking. I have only experienced the positive side of this Ghanaian tradition. I knew it was a finanical burden, but see it in a new light.*L*

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