Idolatry: extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone. A fetishism.
It’s a widely held belief that the wedding industry is the only viable, locally sustained industry in the Ghana. Oil and gas is still somewhat nascent and has yet to yield all of the promised gains that were dangled in front of the nation once drilling began. To boot, the oil-producing Western Region, despite all of the natural wealth and resources it provides, is one of the poorest and least developed of all 10 regions. Major industries that include mining, lumbering and light manufacturing have had to scale back production and in many cases lay off stay due to the protracted energy crisis.
The only “industry” that has been able to withstand fluctuations and pitfalls in the market is the wedding industry. No matter how bad (or good) things get in Ghana, someone will always be getting married…and they will source and spend excessive amounts of money to do so.
On average, a couple from a middle class background can expect to spend anywhere between $10,000 – $30,000 on a wedding, depending on how ostentatious the bride’s (or in many cases, the groom’s) family wants the occasion to be. The costs rack up over time to include, custom made gowns, several changes of clothes for the reception, the tuxedos, the engagement, gifts for guests, food, event planners, reception venue, the cake, the Moet… There is always something “required” to have a “proper” wedding for the up-and-coming cosmopolitan couple. No attention to detail – or expense – is spared for our weddings. The shame of not having a wedding that was not the talk of the town at its conclusion is a burden many are unwilling to bear. It’s unfathomable! And the sobering reality in Ghana is that more attention is paid to the particulars of the wedding day than to the marriage between two people.
And yet, marriage is probably the most important goal a person can attain in modern Ghanaian culture. Not education. Not entrepreneurship. Not creating intellectual property. Marriage.
Whether one is happy in their marriage or not in Ghana is of little consequence. All that matters is that all persons of a suitable age (25, ideally) find a mate, go into debt in a desperate attempt to impress rarely-seen friends and extended family, a fulfill their social obligation to go and marry. The need to develop the attitude that makes marriage a successful institution is often overlooked. This is evident right from the knocking phase of the typical Ghanaian union.
In this phase, a man expressing a desire to wed his paramour will approach the potential bride’s family. He comes with drinks, cloth and whatever other trinkets that would denote him as a suitable suitor. If the prospective bride’s family accepts his offering, a wedding date will be set. Sometimes, the family will present a list of required items to be brought in exchange for the girl. Sometimes there is a haggling over that list. Historically, a traditional wedding on its own merits served as a legally binding union. In some communities, a bride wouldn’t even have to be present in order to be married. (This has its pros and cons.) But now that Ghanaians have by-and-large adopted a hybrid of Western/traditional/manic approach to marriage, these rules no longer apply. There is an increasing number of “relationship experts” who tout the idea that a couple married in a traditional ceremony are not really married until they stand before a priest and do a white wedding…and of course pay the requisite fees that accompany such a venture. It is because of this pervasive view and the undue pressure that it brings many young couples (and their parents) that the wedding industry has become the money making monster that it is. Furthermore, now armed with the knowledge that he has footed the bill and bought his bride, the industrious male has no inclination to consult her on issues that will affect the pair of them once their union is sealed. He can make major decisions without her input or consultation, because he’s the “provider” of the house. (Note: A man is always “the” provider, whether his wife is gainfully employed and possibly out earns him or not.)
This is not common sense.
This is idolatry.
It is bowing to unreasonable phantom idea of what marriage is supposed to look like.
Pursuant to this (unnecessarily) expensive venture comes the barrage of marriage conferences – usually headed by men – promising women that their failed marriages can be saved if only they would further submit to their husbands. These women and their dissatisfied husbands are still in wedding mode, never fully graduating to the level of mature, selfless individuals who assess the problems in their marriage or plan goals around its success.
It is essential that perceptions about marriage change if we are to build strong families and raise productive individuals. It’s high time we review and revise what marriage means to us culturally, before it is rendered obsolete in this new century. The first notion that has to go out of the window is that a commitment between a sentient man and a woman joined in a traditional environment is inferior to a white wedding.
The second is a rabid need to push personal ledgers into the red when everyone is going to forget the particulars of your wedding by the time they attend the next event on the following Saturday.
The third is to remove the stigma around being single. Being single is not a punishment for a failure to submit to and comply with traditional gender norms, and being married is not necessarily a reward. In either state, you will create your own heaven or hell. Your life will be a success depending on your attitude and what you determine satisfies you personally.
If we do not cease this blind worship of an institution – and all that trappings therein (that has a 50% +/- chance of failure, might I add) – it will only yield catastrophic results.
Inquire of the ancient Israelites if idol worship ever yielded positive results. Selah.