Marriages are traditionally arranged by family members rather than either the bride or groom! This practice is particularly prevalent in the rural areas. Kola nuts, a bitter nut from a tree, are formally sent by the suitor's family to the male elders of the bride-to-be, and if accepted, the courtship begins.

This is all woven together in community prayers for the marriage. Although Islamic law gives the father the choose his daughter's husband, without her consent, this is no longer widely practiced among the MNK. Once the father and elders agree to the proposal, the young woman is told.

Polygamy has been practiced in this area since pre-Islamic days. Within Islam, men are legally allowed up to four wives, so long as he is able to care for each of them equally. The luckiest young woman is the one who is the first wife of a man usually 10 years her senior. It is not unheard of for a girl of 17 to be married to a man in his 50s or 60s. Can you pick out which is wife #1, #2, or #3 in the picture above?

Wives are expected to live together in harmony, at least superficially. They share work responsibilities of the compound, cooking, laundry, etc., but little else. Often the first, second, or third wife won't know of the impending arrival of a new wife until the morning she actually arrives. Resentment simmers just below the surface. The crowning glory of any woman is the ability to produce children, especially sons.

Passage Into Adulthood
  Usually associated with the physical act of circumcision, the Mandinka practice a rite of passage which marks the beginning of adulthood for MNK children. Boys and girls, ranging in age from four to fourteen (pre-pubescent), are circumcised separately. In years past, the children spent up to a year in the bush, but that has been reduced now to coincide with their physical healing time, between three and four weeks. This group of children form a special, internal bond, one which remains throughout life.

During this time, they learn about their adult social responsibilities and rules of behavior. They learn secret songs which teach them what it is to be an MNK. These songs teach them how they are to relate to members of the opposite sex, including their parents, their siblings, their relatives, and eventually their spouses, as well as their elders and their peers. They are cared for and taught by elders of the same sex; these persons become their life-long sponsors, a very special relationship.

Great preparation is made in the village or compound for the return of the children. A huge celebration marks the return of these new adults to their families. The children are given new clothes and treated with new respect by their elders. Boys and girls are honored with a dance.

One very important rule was learned in the bush: never reveal anything you learned in the bush to a member of the opposite sex. At this point, the lives of men and women separate.

As a result of these traditional teachings, the Biblical concept of men and women uniting as one in marriage is totally foreign to the Mandinka mindset. A woman's loyalty remains to her parents and her family; a man's to his. What is his is his; what is hers is hers. Islam does not teach that the marriage union has a spiritual dimension.

Copyright © 2010
All Rights Reserved

Problems with site